Sunday, July 21

Sermon for the ninth Sunday after Pentecost /Memorial of Saint Victor of Marseilles.

I admit to some personal discomfort putting the image of a soldier on the cover of our order of service. It is hard for me to reconcile the duties of the military with the work of Christ.

Especially since soldiers and policemen are the tools of oppression in our culture, a kind of oppression Amos was familiar with.

Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat. Does this not echo our current economic situation?

What is interesting in this passage, though, is how God’s threat pre-figures the Crucifixion: I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day. Is this “punishment” rather a cure?

The most chilling verse in Amos today is the articulation of the worst famine of all; a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. I’ve lived without food (or very little of it) and I’ve lived without the Word of the Lord. Living without the Word was worse.

But God sent us God’s Word made flesh. The beginning of today’s excerpt from Colossians echoes the opening of John’s Gospel. Christ is the Wisdom of God through which God created all things.

But here creation is not just made through Christ, but in addition we are told Christ holds all things hold together, creation is sustained through Christ.

I imagine Teilhard de Chardin, one of my favorite theologians, had this passage in mind when he spoke of love as a binding force in the Universe.

“If there were no real propensity to unite , even at a prodigiously rudimentary level, indeed, in the molecule itself ~ it would be physically impossible for love to appear higher up in the ' hominized ' or human form.”

Speaking of theologians, though, there is a tendency in many forms of Christianity to think of the reconciliation through the blood of the cross as appeasing an angry God, that somehow Christ’s sacrifice changed God’s mind. It’s important to remember that the initiative was God’s. Through him God was pleased to reconcile to God’s self all things. The blood of the cross, to quote William Barclay, shows there is “no length to which God will not go to waken love in people’s hearts.”

This reconciliation Paul speaks of, is the very name of this oratory, and is the very charism of the order that grew from this worshiping body. A worshiping body that throughout its history consisted of people who, one way or another, found ourselves living in the ruins of some thing in some place, on the outside of what once was, aware of our estrangements from the Body of Christ as there are seemingly endless reasons for one to be estranged from another. 

I opened tonight’s sermon speaking of  an estrangement from the military. In choosing which saint to feature today, I was tempted to choose a lesser known, lesser venerated saint that I had less trouble with. Then I realized what I was doing. I was avoiding reconciliation.

Victor was a soldier, who worshiped the Prince of Peace. Perhaps he had his own struggles with reconciling those inconsistencies. And certainly, as I’ve followed my spiritual path, I’ve come to recognize my past condemnation of anyone who voluntarily joined the military (my own sister included by the way) was an intolerant attitude, not recognizing the struggles we all go through to find our way in the world. I still believe that Christ calls us to pacifism. But Christ calls me also to look at all the ways I fail to live up to a loving relationship with Christ, and not to be judgmental towards others.

Another aspect of Victor’s story that initially troubled me was the public denunciation and destruction of another faith’s form of worship. I feared sending the wrong message through that aspect of the story. I cannot abide condemning anyone else’s faith. Of course after a moment of reflection I saw this in a different light. Victor was being forced to worship against his will. This is a much worse offence, and certainly I can have sympathy for the destruction of an object of oppression.

I wish I could say Christianity was never guilty of forcing people to become Christians. Sadly I can’t. Compared to say, a Crusader saint, Victor is a much easier saint for me to reconcile with. And here in particular is where I need to rely on God’s love, God’s reconciliation for all people. I, on my own, without God’s help, cannot find love for people who convert under pain of death or imprisonment. It’s a profound way in which I find myself estranged.

We, once estranged, as Paul reminds us today, are called to give ourselves over to the reality of God’s Reconciling love. For those of us in the order, we humbly seek reconciliation between church and world, between divided Christians, between Christian and the church, recognizing that we also are the estranged who are reconciled only through the blood of the Cross. In the commitment to Reconciliation, the Order witnesses that we are no longer alone but are part of Christ's loving desire for all people.

The community which is the founding house of the order has and continues to ask for your prayers as we discern our future. This discernment involves how the particular ministry of this oratory will be directed going forward. We are in a real sense all in this together.

This is not an easy process. Paul’s rejoicing in his sufferings for his community’s sake, his understanding that in his flesh he is completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, has a certain relevance in this time and place.

Let us turn to the comforting words of Christ. I don’t think Jesus is reprimanding Martha in today’s Gospel. Certainly you’ve known someone that you just want to say, “Oh honey, honey, it’s okay…” “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” What cannot be taken away is that we have been spared the famine of hearing the words of the LORD.

Readings for the Week
Proper 11 (16) (July 21, 2013)
  • First reading and Psalm
    • Amos 8:1-12
    • Psalm 52
  • Second reading
    • Colossians 1:15-28
  • Gospel
    • Luke 10:38-42
Saint Victor of Marseilles

Saint Victor is said to have been a Roman army officer in Marseilles, who publicly denounced the worship of idols. For that, he was brought before the Emperor Maximian. He was tortured and thrown into prison, where he converted three other Roman soldiers, Longinus, Alexander, and Felician, who were subsequently beheaded. After refusing to offer incense to the Roman god Jupiter, Victor kicked it over with his foot and was then executed under a millstone.
In the 4th century, Saint John Cassian built a monastery over the site where the bodies had been buried in a cave, which later became a Benedictine Abbey and minor Basilica. This is St Victor's Abbey (Abbaye Saint-Victor).