Crescent Hill Baptist Church

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Crescent Hill Baptist Church Louisville, Kentucky Pentecost 16 August 31, 2008 W. Gregory Pope

Series: The New Monasticism VOWS OF COMMUNITY
Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28 We continue our conversation on the church as abbey and monastery, and ourselves living as monks and nuns in the world. Last week we considered Vows of Transformation and Service. For the next three weeks we will consider Vows of Community. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux called community his greatest penance, punishment for his sins. It can be that difficult. But community is also the only hope for conversion any of us have. It can be our salvation. Robert Bellah, Parker Palmer, Robert Putnam and other insightful analysts of western, postmodern society have identified loss of community, rampant materialism, and extreme individualism as among the sources of extraordinary stress in the lives of people. Today many Christians long for more vibrant community, and yet most of us lack the required skills and practices. With our wariness of vows and commitments, and our individualistic and mobile lifestyles, we are not very good candidates for community life. And yet, life in community is central to Christian identity, purpose, and ministry in the world. [1] The monastic model of community addresses all of these deeply spiritual needs. And they do so in ways that can guide the church as it seeks to develop spiritual health and transformation in the lives of people. It begins with a commitment to community. Community is holy. The intimate connection of human beings sustains us and challenges us as we seek transformation in the image of Christ. Tomorrow begins a new ministry in our congregation. We are calling it a Connection Ministry. We have 33 individuals who have agreed to stay in monthly contact with 12 households each for the sole purpose of staying connected as a congregation and making sure we know of needs in the lives of our congregation and seek to meet those needs through prayer and relationship. To be healthy Christians we need a commitment from others to live in community with us and to make a commitment ourselves to be there for others. The degree of commitment varies among Christians. The Rule of Benedict describes four types of monastics, which I think can easily relate to four types of Christians and church members. The first type he calls Cenobites, the best kind of monk. Cenobites are seekers of the spiritual life who live with others in a monastery (or church) under a Rule or covenant. They are not a law unto themselves. They allow the purpose and discipline of community to give aim to their spiritual life, rather than each person doing their own thing. [2]

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Crescent Hill Baptist Church

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The second type are called Anchorites or Hermits. They live alone in a monastery outside community. Benedict did not favor this type of monastic. He knew that solitude was crucial to the spiritual life. And he said the only people who should live as hermits are those who have come through the test of living in a monastery for a long time. [3] While community is crucial to transformation, living as a hermit in solitude could be something Christians do from time to time for retreat and reflection, but not as a permanent lifestyle. A third type are the Sarabites. Benedict describes the Sarabites as the most detestable kind of monastic, who with no experience to guide them and no rule, have a character as soft as lead. Their law is what they like to do, whatever strikes their fancy. [4] They separate themselves from a disciplined life and spiritual guidance and serious purpose in order to concentrate their energies on themselves. They live lives of moderate commitment. They listen to no one’s wisdom but their own. [5] They lack the humility to at least listen to tradition and learn from the lived-out experience of others. [6] Similar to the Sarabites are the Gyrovagues, who spend their entire lives drifting from region to region in different monasteries (churches). Always on the move, they never settle down, and are slaves to their own wills and gross appetites. [7] They go from community to community, never staying anyplace long enough to be called to accountability by the community. They take from every group they visit but they give little or nothing back. They know how to shop for a monastery or church but they do little to build one. They live off a community but they are never available when the work of maintaining it is necessary.” [8] They are what we might call spiritual shoppers or church hoppers. They run away from commitment to community. This violates the monastic vow of stability, which involves not simply remaining in one place but a deeper stability, the stability of a mind that stays still and does not endlessly search, constantly switching from one thing to another, hoping for something new or better somewhere else. Whenever anything becomes too demanding they move on to something new. [9] The kind of community we are looking for is the kind described by Paul in our scripture reading this morning. It’s a description of how we are to live in Christian community, but also how we are to live with those outside Christian community. It is a way of living together characterized by love, peace, goodness, and service. Paul says, “Let your love be genuine. Love one another with mutual affection.” It is not surprising to find love as central to biblical community. But often we have placed other things as central: political and theological ideology, beliefs, behaviors, similar socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. Scripture calls us to something deeper than that - a community that is characterized by mutual, genuine love. It’s been said that home is where one is truly loved. We are seeking to make a home here for weary travelers where all can be loved and cared for. Paul reminds us that love issues forth in action, in physical expressions of care and compassion. He says, “Contribute to the needs of the saints.” Such a call reminds us of the description of the early church where Luke tells us people would sell what they had and share with those among them so that no one was in need. An essential part of being community is we take care of one another’s needs as cenobites who live in covenant together, not as gyrovagues who only take and never contribute to the community. Paul calls us beyond ourselves to extend love and community to strangers. It is the primary monastic virtue of hospitality. “Extend hospitality to strangers,” writes Paul. “Proper honor must be shown to all,” wrote Saint Benedict. Namaste. The God in us bows in reverence and honor to the God in others. Hospitality has been described as “making room inside yourself for another person.” [10]

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Maria Russell Kenney makes the observation that hospitality is not found among the spiritual gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12, but in our text for today, Romans 12, what is sometimes referred to as the “Conduct for Christian Living.” Some of us appear more “gifted” than others at extending hospitality, like Margaret Graves who said she learned it from Mildred Birch. But like prayer and worship and study, offering hospitality is a spiritual discipline in which we are all called to learn and grow. The fact Margaret said she learned it from someone else reminds us it is more of a spiritual practice to be learned than a spiritual gift to be received. [11] Hospitality to the stranger is a way of love to which we are all called. There is nothing that would characterize us as a monastic community more than the practice of hospitality. Many of us are familiar with hospice, that profound ministry of caring for the dying that makes all the difference in the world for the dying and their families. The earlier idea of hospice care was rooted in monastic spirituality, not as care for the dying, but as hospitality to the living. Hospice originally referred to places of rest, food, and companionship offered to pilgrims, travelers, strangers, and those in need. [12] Chris Rice has written about the transforming power of hospitality to the stranger. I think you will find that his words resonate with our experience. He asks: What will happen as we reach out across divides to the stranger? Mess will surface, both personal and institutional, mess that we’ll have to cry out for the Holy Spirit to touch and heal. Who “our people” are will begin to change, bringing a mixture of joy and fear as strangers become companions. Through a continual interplay of God’s grace and our perseverance, small signs of hope will begin to break in, giving glimpses that the way things are is not the way things have to be. Our vision of transformation will begin to change as we see that the depth of social division and how it has infected our world is deeper than we imagined. In short, what will happen in the exchange with the stranger is that a whole new set of challenges will emerge through which we will have to learn how to be the church.” [13] I think he’s been living among us for the past eighteen months. Because that’s exactly what is happening to us. And the diversity of our congregation will continue to transform us as individuals and as a community if we will open ourselves to one another, and make room inside ourselves for the stranger, so that strangers become family. Hospitality transforms and heals. It builds a bridge between enemies and everything else that divides us. [14] Hospitality is an act of peacemaking. Paul says “Live in peace with one another.” And that’s hard work. How to settle disagreements and seek forgiveness and reconciliation is the topic of conversation for the next two weeks. But before we’re willing to pursue harmony and forgiveness, we must make a vow of promise to community. We must never forget that God is present among us through one another. One writer put it this way: “The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.” [15] To live in peace is not a call to ignore evil, but it does mean we respond to evil in ways this world does not understand. You did not hear it this past week at the Democratic National Convention. You will not hear it this week at the Republican National Convention. Neither candidate would get elected if they put forth a Christian perspective on evil and peacemaking. Paul says, “Hold fast to what is good. Hate what is evil, but do not repay anyone evil for evil.” Paul Dekar writes some powerful and profound words about evil in the human soul and evil in the world and how we as Christians are to live with it. He says: We are called not to reject the dark side of the human soul. We are clearly called to discriminate and to

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choose what is good, what is right, neither to perpetrate evil, nor to cooperate with it by silence or passivity. As long as humans make the error of imagining that evil can be done away with by amputation, coercion, or total war, we will inevitably create more evil. It is in the nature of evil to be against something. If we are set against evil, we will become like it by using its methods and terms. We will create more evil in the very attempt to eradicate it. (Our torturous treatment of other human beings at Guantanamo prison is a prime example. In our attempt to eradicate evil we perpetuate it.) God, on the other hand, seeks to save rather than destroy, so God chooses to suffer. God does not perpetrate evil, says Dekar, but experiences evil by suffering, and it this way wrestles with it and overcomes it. The victory of Christ is not that of a warrior with a sword but that of a wrestler who stands his ground. The One who harrows Hell is the Crucified One, covered with wounds but undiminished in mercy and compassion. [16] Evil makes us angry and rightfully so. But as followers of Christ, we are called to use the energy of anger not in the service of evil but of compassion. [17] “Bless those who persecute you,” writes Paul. And “if your enemies are hungry, feed them.” That is community and hospitality of a new world order. Jesus called it the kingdom of God. Paul concludes this list of commandments for Christian community with the call to “serve the Lord.” This is crucial because it places the reason for community above our love of community and roots our love for community and our desire for harmony in a greater context. In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer concluded that “the one who loves their dream of community more than Christian community itself will destroy Christian community.” Whenever life becomes about me and my ideals, community isn’t possible. If pursuing community itself becomes our aim, we lose the sense of welcome, because receiving the stranger might unsettle our balance. The reason for community is to help us follow Christ and to help us help others live Christlike lives. The reason for our communities must be missional. The reason for our communities must be the ongoing ministry of Christ in the world. One of the primary virtues of monastic life is that it calls us to a purpose greater than ourselves. It teaches us to put others ahead of ourselves. Only then is community possible. To live in a monastic community is to find yourself with an ongoing opportunity for genuine Christian love in the practice of acceptance of one another, a place to pursue compassion and selfless love toward each other. The personal vow of community is to say to one another: “It will be OK. And if it isn’t, you will be OK. Because whatever happens, you have me.” [18] On our spiritual journey - the journey that really matters the most - we must resist the temptation to go it alone. The fact is: If we want to have life in Christ, we must have life within the body of Christ. It takes a community of faith to raise a Christian. We call it the family of God. ____________________________ 1. Jon Stock, Tim Otto, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Inhabiting the Church: Biblical Wisdom for a New Monasticism, Cascade, 2007, , vii

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Crescent Hill Baptist Church

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2. Joan Chittister, The Rule of Benedict: Insights For the Ages, Crossroad, 1992, 31 3. St. Benedict, The Rule of St. Benedict, ed. Timothy Fry, Vintage Spiritual Classics, 1998, chapter 1. 4. Ibid., chapter 1 5. Chittister, 34 6. Esther de Waal, A Life-Giving Way: A Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict, The Liturgical Press, 1995, 19 7. Benedict, chapter 1 8. Chittister, 35 9. de Waal, 20 10. Lonni Collins Pratt and Father Daniel Holman, Benedict’s Way: An Ancient Monk’s Insights For a Balanced Life, Loyola Press, 2000, 69 11. Maria Russell Kenney, “Hospitality to the Stranger,” in Schools For Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism, Rutba House, 2007, 46-47, 53 12. Paul Dekar, Community of the Transfiguration: The Journey of a New Monastic Community, Cascade, 2008, , 108-109 13. Chris Rice, “Lament For Racial Divisions Within the Church and Our Communities Combined with the Active Pursuit of a Just Reconciliation,” in Schools For Conversion, 62 14. Dekar, 109 15. Dekar, 103 16. Dekar, 112-113 17. Dekar, 101 18. Pratt and Holman, 134

select Aug 31, 2008 sermon and respond as blog feed back to Greg return to Sermon Index CRESCENT HILL BAPTIST CHURCH 2800 Frankfort Avenue Louisville, Kentucky 40206 (502) 896-4425 We would like to hear from you. Return to oldsite Home page Return to newsite Home page

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