A sermon by Mother Katie
St Luke was a doctor and known for healing – I wonder what he would make of our times?
I’ve noticed a number of doctors on Twitter this week urging us to take the new restrictions seriously as ICUs around the country start to fill up with COVID patients again – which of course has a knock on effect on others needing ICU too. The doctors and health workers in our country need our help at the moment – and we can do that by observing the rules. And I think St Luke’s passage we have today might help us with this – as I read it and prayed over it this week.
Three things spoke to me the first is we need each other – no one is sent alone – we are sent in twos – and sent to join others – community is at the heart of all we do as Christians and it is in community we find and share peace. We can’t do this alone.
So if you are feeling alone in these times as we enter Tier 2 restrictions in London I want you to know that you are very much part of our community – even if you alone at home – and if you need anything – just a chat – or some shopping or medicine picked up – I want you to call me. My mobile number is on the service sheet – and I am never too busy if you need me. You are not alone – God put you with us – and we care for you.
Secondly we don’t need stuff – you can leave the purse and sandals at home says Jesus. God will provide what we need. Internet shopping might have become the biggest temptation of lockdown previously. I think it is easy to focus on stuff or worry about stuff in these times but this isn’t where your peace shall be. You can’t buy peace on Amazon or shop for contentment on Ebay so stop looking. Try some barefoot spirituality instead.
And finally the third thing which stood out for me is stability is good – if we can stay where we are we should stay where we are.
And this last one is, I think, the most interesting one for our times – when due to the pandemic we are being asked to do exactly that – stay where we are.
Stability and staying have long been part of Christian wisdom – particularly amongst the monastics. When I was wondering around Rome I watched nuns and monks and it occurred to me they have much to teach us all at the moment about the wisdom of staying put – and finding meaning and reward in living enclosed lives of poverty and obedience.
St Benedict famously made stability a key part of his rule for living. He frames stability in terms of perseverance – and says stability is a radical acceptance of what is now. It is a way of living which seeks to recognise God in the place and situation before us rather than constantly trying to change it or thinking the answer lies elsewhere. It is the patient endurance of trials and a refusal to run from them when they arise. And in this, he says, lies our growth and sanctification as Christians – it is the strong foundation for all else we want to do and be – and the ability to stay, to abide in God’s presence, no matter what the circumstances is what ultimately brings us healing and reconciliation. St Luke would like that.
Now there are times when staying in a situation is clearly not good for us – and so I want to be clear I am not talking today about abusive situations – from dangers like that we must move away – and there is no virtue to staying and persevering if you are in danger.
But the monastic rule of stability can teach us to live with what is and what we have, in a healthy and life giving way. It can teach us to find the blessing in the ordinary – which is so often where blessing is found – rather than constantly striving for the extraordinary that our society in myriad ways encourages us to aspire to.
And we all fall for it – we all can catch ourselves thinking that the grass is greener over there – that we will be happy if….if we have the right partner; if we have the nice house; if we go on the luxury trip; if we wear the right clothes…if, if, if.
But stability removes the if – and teaches us to be happy now with our small patch whether the grass is lush and green or not. It teaches us to carry peace within – and for that peace to be so stable and abundant that it overflows to others too. For nothing about faith is individual even when we are alone – it is about community – with God and others.
As this little story from the Desert Fathers shows:
One of these desert monks was living in an old pagan temple. And like a good desert monk he busied himself with his handiwork – woodwork and basket weaving. Demons tormented him and told him to flee from their place. He told them you cannot tell me to leave from this place because it is not yours. You demons do not have a place. And that is true, demons are rootless.
So the demons messed up his handiwork and began dragging him out of the Temple. He tried collecting up his tools to resist them but it was useless and as they began to drag him out, he cried out for Christ’s help – Lord save me – and that moment they vanished.
The moral of this story is as long as the monk thought he could do it himself by his own power, he was as unanchored and rootless as the demons. That is why they could attack him with impunity and why he had no peace. Because he had no inner place of stability in which to reside, even if he thought he did. But when he remembered his true place – namely to abide in Christ — and called out to him, the demons fled from him and from that place.
We can only be stable in community with God – that is the safe anchor for our souls.
And for the monastics – staying in their cell was where they learnt this wisdom.
The cell is what we would call our bedroom! And during lockdown I am sure many of can relate to the description of home and our bedrooms being a cell too. No one likes being shut up all the time.
But Abba Moses, Desert Father, said “go to your cell and it will teach you everything.”
For the cell wasn’t a prison; it was a gift. It was the place of deep transformation and where important spiritual and psychological battles could be fought. In the cell monastics learnt not just to face God but to face themselves – and they emerged stronger and more stable for it – more able to be ministers in the world – stronger in community for having the time alone.
For in their cell they had learnt to do without all else but God – but had not found God wanting – the opposite – they discovered God alone is enough.
So I wonder if it would help some of us to reframe this time of staying put, of staying in our cells – as a similar gift?
A time to discover the blessings we already have; opportunity to battle some of the things we need to face; and space to create the depth of relationship that is already ours – by knowing we are held in God alone and his love is enough.
That will certainly be my prayer for St James.
And so I want to close with this prayer from St Teresa of Avila – as a blessing of advice to us all.
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.