Called to Praise
I know I speak not only for myself but for Brother Jude and for the brothers of the Province of the Americas when I say we are very glad to be here once again and for all the hospitality, prayers, and support St. John’s offers to us brothers.
Today’s Scripture readings on this Sixth Sunday in Easter call us to praise the Lord, something that may seem like it needs no explanation or sermon, but yet, here we are. Holy Mother Church gave us these readings for today so there must be some reason she calls us to hear and reflect on them.
In our first reading today from the Acts of the Apostle, Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke make their way through Asia Minor into Macedonia (modern-day Greece) after Paul received a vision telling them to go there. In Philippi, they meet Lydia, a luxury cloth merchant. She heard Paul’s preaching and she and her household received baptism.
If you reread Chapter 16 of the Acts of the Apostles in its entirety, you’ll find there are three figures Paul and his companions meet who are transformed by the power of Jesus Christ.
Lydia, as we read, is the first mentioned.
In verse 16, a slave girl is exorcised in the name of Jesus Christ.
And in verse 33, a Philippian jailor is baptized as he comes to profess belief in the Lord Jesus Christ.
As is typical of the St. Luke, these three individuals can represent those who may not be seen as the holiest of people, or part of the spiritual elite in their time. In a way, they represent all of us.
They can be us when we put the pursuit for material treasures ahead of treasures that cannot decay.
They can us when we hurt or decry or imprison or judge wrongfully God’s prophets.
They can be us when we put our faith in humans and human creation rather than in God and His creation.
But, Lydia poses a question to Paul that we all ought to remember as well. “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home” (Acts 16:15).
“If you have judged me to be faithful, come and stay at my home.” And Paul and his companions did so.
Paul and his companions stayed at the home of a woman who, if she lived today, may have run a Gucci or Armani clothing store in the financial district of San Francisco. Just by looking at her, we may see her expensive clothes or the people to whom she sells, and think, “How can this woman follow God when she sells to kings, queens, royalty, the well-to-do, the corporate giant, the real estate gazillionaire, all of whom who oppress the poor or benefit from an unjust economic system? How can she possibly inherit eternal life?”
And here is where we become the pharisee mentioned in Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 18, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people” (Luke 18:11). “I fast, I pray, I give my earnings to the church. I’m not that sinner over there.” And yet, who is the one Jesus says goes home justified? Who is the one whom Paul—perhaps the most influential figure in the New Testament next to Jesus Christ—judges faithful?
Lydia is found by Paul in a place of prayer, or in the King James version, a place “where prayer was wont to made.” Lydia reminds me of the prophet Anna, another character in Luke’s Gospel, who spent her days praying, fasting, and worshipping in the temple of Jerusalem. Upon seeing Jesus, she recognizes Him as the redemption of Jerusalem and sings praise to God (Luke 2:36-38).
We are called to praise the Lord, to be in that place of prayer at all times. Or, as Anglicans have prayed since 1549, “It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thank unto thee, O Lord, holy Father, almighty, everlasting God” (BCP, p. 333).
In our Psalm and second reading from the Book of Revelation today, we hear the heavenly choir and people of God sing the praises of the Most High. Psalm 67, is a particularly suitable choice by the Church to assign as today’s psalm. For hundreds of years, Psalm 67 was the first Psalm monks and nuns would say in the morning after they arose. “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you,” sings the Psalmist.
The Church reminds us of the eternal and abounding love of God for us. “God, our God, has blessed us,” cries the Psalmist. God, our own very God and Father, has nurtured and provided for His people.
When we invite God to dwell not just among us, but with us—in ourselves, in our spirit, in our soul—we become what St. John is talking about in our second reading today. “I saw no temple in the city,” says the Evangelist, “for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb….But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:22-23,27)
Brothers and sisters, today we are figures of that City mentioned in today’s reading.
We, who are called to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.
We, who are called to practice and live the privilege of being a Christian.
We, who are called to love no falsehood, to be our created selves.
We are called to praise Him who made us and, not only desires us, but deserves, our soul, our life, our all.
The spiritual writer Thomas Merton wrote in his book New Seeds of Contemplation, “Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny....To work out our identity in God”
“A tree gives glory to God,” wrote Merton, “by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying [God]...It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree.” (Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation).
The created order of things praise their Creator and so are we called to do the same.
As we recite daily in Morning Prayer, “O all ye Works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever” (BCP, p. 47).
You all are probably familiar with the song in our hymnals composed by St. Francis of Assisi which goes, “My Lord be praised by brother sun / who through the skies his course doth run, / and shines in brilliant splendour” or, in another verse “My Lord be praised by sister moon / and all the stars, that with her soon / will point the glittering heavens.” Even though, poetically, this is beautiful translation of the original, like all translations, it is imperfect. It misses what Francis actually wrote. What he actually wrote was, in his regional Italian dialect, “Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun,” and “Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon,” etcetera.
That one word makes a difference.
God, St. Francis writes, is praised through His creation. All of the creation, from “the moon and the stars...set in their courses...all sheep and oxen, even the wild beasts of the field, the birds of the airs, the fish of the sea, and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea” (Psalm 8) magnifies God by being what God made them to be. They praise God by simply being. We are called, in a way, to catch up to the animals and the plants; to imitate what they do so naturally—to be the person God longs for us to be.
But precisely how are we work out who God longs for us to be? How are we to work out our identity with God?
One can start praying Morning and Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer as a way to sanctify the hours of the day. From morning to evening, we have the opportunity to praise God, giving thanks to Him for creating and sustaining our lives. Those of you with smart phones can download for free daily prayers to be sent to your phone. That way, everyday, you have everything you need to sanctify the day in your pocket.
One also needs the opportunity to sit and listen to where God is directing us. A good priest or spiritual director would be a perfect person to help us in our search for truth. Spiritual direction is not just for monks, or nuns, or priests. Lay people, people of much faith and people of no faith, are discovering the benefits of spiritual direction. Once a month for one hour is usually all the commitment it takes to meet with a spiritual director who, if they are good, will walk with you in your journey towards greater communion with God. The brothers have given me the opportunity to become a spiritual director and I’d be happy to talk more about it with you if it were something you were interested in after Mass.
And finally, we need to seek forgiveness for the times we have fallen away from God. One of the great secrets of the Anglican tradition is that it does possess the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It’s not talked about nearly as much as it should be, but if one is ever inclined, the Sacrament of Confession is available to all who ask it. Know that the priest, or confessor, is never able to reveal anything talked about during confession. I’d encourage you all to seek this wonderful, often ignored, sacrament to enrich your spiritual life and connection with God.
By offering prayer to God throughout the day, by discerning God’s will in our lives, and by repenting of those deeds, thoughts, and words that have led us away from God, we become the new men and women who are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11).
We praise the Lord by living into the truth that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
All the works of the Lord praise Him and magnify Him forever. We are called to do the same.
When we give thanks to God—when we praise him and magnify him for ever—we unite ourselves ever more fully with the created order who, without even trying, give praise and majesty to God, their Creator.
Let us draw ourselves closer to Him and bless the Lord, the living and true God. Let us always give back to God praise, glory, honor, blessing, and every good.
Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Lakeport, CA
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
Brother James Nathaniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org