Epiphany 2018 – first profession of Br. Armand Koss
Paul just told us in our second reading that “through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” That is good to hear, but it would also have been good to have heard that the wisdom of God is being made known to the rulers and authorities in earthly places, as well as in heavenly places, because we all have been given at least a little authority over some earthly things, and we sorely need the wisdom of God in order to wisely and justly fulfill our duties as stewards instead of as the capricious tyrants that we usually are. Matthew told us a story this morning about one capricious tyrant who was not pleased to be told of the light shining in the darkness, showing the way to be free of our own tyranny.
We are like Herod in Matthew’s gospel story this morning, because like him, we don’t want to give up the rule of our own petty worlds. But we must, because before we can bring the good news of the light shining in the darkness to others, we ourselves must wake up to that light. We must listen to what Isaiah told us this morning and “arise and shine, for our light has come.” We must “lift up our eyes and look around, for the glory of the Lord has risen upon us.” We must abdicate our pathetic little thrones and freely allow God to rule our lives so that we can become truly alive and fully human the way we are created to be. Once that happens, we can then be light bearers to others who are in their own dark worlds created either by their own self-centeredness and self-righteousness or by that of others around them. We can be like the wise men, leading others to Jesus by our own search.
Of course, we swing back and forth between the light and the dark; sometimes joyfully letting God reign in our lives, at other times miserably and mistakenly living under the false assumption that we can do a better job and so pushing God off the throne of our hearts. We don’t usually push God away on purpose. Instead, we most often crowd God out of our lives by cramming so much of our own self-importance inside us. It might be better to say that instead of chasing God away, we block our view of God, because God is always there, waiting for us to stop dreaming about ourselves so that we can open our eyes and see the real world bathed in the glory of God. When we do that, we also see ourselves bathed in the glory of God as we are meant to be.
That is why we are here today. We are practicing opening our eyes, our hearts, and our lives to God by seeing God in the scriptures, in the bread and wine, and in each other. Once we get used to seeing God in those things, we will start seeing God in all things and treat every person and object with the same respect that we give to things in the church. (The monks will remember that Benedict tell us to do just that.) We know we don’t do that, or actually it is better to say that we know we don’t do that yet or we don’t do it all the time or consistently yet, so we need to keep practicing opening our eyes to God not only when we gather together, but also in our own daily private prayer, scripture reading, work, and encounters with other people. If we do these things mindfully, with good intention, constancy, and perseverance, and of course, relying solely on the grace of God, we will slowly start seeing Jesus more fully in everything the more we train our eyes away from ourselves. We will see his star rising and slowly loosen our grip on our own petty kingdoms so that we become less like Herod and more like the wise men – joyfully and freely bringing him our treasures as he becomes the treasure that we bring to others.
And so we are about to hear a person promise to diligently work on seeing God in the things around him – specifically in the daily, extremely boring round of monastic life; and in the people around him – specifically the extremely boring monks in this monastery. Hopefully, God has already given him one of the most important and merciful gifts we can ever receive: the gift of disillusionment, because if we are living with romantic ideas about monastic life (or life in general), we aren’t living in reality, and so often when those idealized, unachievable illusions are shattered, so is the person holding them. Monastic life is just life, and monks are just people (the same can be said about any life and any person, business, church congregation, etc): we will be disappointed by them, and we will disappoint them. So it is a choice to be either suffocated by the monastic schedule, or to use it is a support to build a wonderful life. It is a choice to be either wearied by the monks around us, or to grow in understanding of their struggles and gifts. The choice is not made at a profession ceremony – it is made every day and every moment. Every day we wake up and say: “Today is the day I am a good monk (or parent, or spouse, or employee, or employer). Every night we say: “OK, I failed today, but tomorrow by the grace of God I will try again.” God will and does give us the grace of growing in love, peace, and joy. It takes time, and we all know how difficult it is, so let’s give ourselves and each other the time and space to grow into the star leading people to Jesus. It’s all about him; it’s never about us, anyway. May this first profession of monastic vows be a blessing to not only the one making the vows, but to all of us hearing them, and to the entire world. AMEN