Sermon – September 24, 2017
Face of Christ, St. Michael’s Day Gospel: workers in the vineyard
I was away from Maine for three weeks in June. One of the weeks was at a Benedictine monastery, at an icon making workshop. One of the brothers told me this story.
A young seminarian was in spiritual formation. Discussing his deepest desires, he asked his spiritual director, “Would you say a Novena for me that I might have a Lexus?” “What’s a Lexus?” asked the spiritual director? “It’s Toyota’s top of the line car; I’ve always wanted one.” The Benedictine director scratched his head and said, “I don’t think this is what I would say a Novena for.” So the seminarian went to a Franciscan Spiritual Director; and asked again, “Would you say a Novena for me that I could have a Lexus?” “What’s a Lexus?” asked the Franciscan; and the seminarian explained its Toyota’s top of the line car. “We pray for relationships, more than things,” said the Franciscan. “Well, I would really value a relationship with a Lexus, said the seminarian.” …. “I don’t think so,” said the Franciscan. Finally, the seminarian went to a Jesuit, and asked, “Would you say a Novena for me that might have a Lexus?” …..” What’s a Novena?” asked the Jesuit. Here is an icon of the face of Christ. Legend has it the Archangel Michael carried the image wherever he went. The image is the first icon in the Orthodox tradition. According to legend, an Egyptian king, suffering from disease, sent a messenger to Jesus asking him to visit. Unable to go, Christ impressed his image upon a cloth and sent it. The king was healed. The image, and the legend, still seem quite strange to me. My Benedictine host reminded me the Bible is full of legends; and legends are often the heart of the truth- more true than true. Many stories make a legend. We still carry around pictures of loved and admired ones today. What would it be to carry around an image of Christ? The face on the cloth still seems strange; and I’ve come to understand it’s meant to be- meant to move me beyond the familiar, out of my hum drum life. Christ is more than my circle of friends, more than I know. I tend to look out from where I stand. Don’t we all? It’s this way or that way, according to where I stand. In
Christ, in the icon, I experience someone looking toward me: “Here I am,” expressed the icon. “Who are you?”… “Who do you say that I am?”… “Who are you- in relation to me?” Working on the icon, I put on one layer of paint, then another, and another. With each layer, I experienced more and more someone looking toward me. As I moved, someone else was moving. It was like a dance, in which the partner began to take the lead. Prayer is something like that. I bring my words and thoughts, my daily experiences. I begin talking. I put my words and thoughts out there- maybe say something from the prayer book. Then I’m still, silent. And I wait, and wait some more- until more than my usual thoughts begins to move. When Jesus tells of the workers in the vineyard, it’s both familiar, and strange- at the same time. People go to work. They start at different times of the day- some at 9 in the morning, some at noon, some at 3pm. And they’re all paid the same. Is this about how to run a business? No….I don’t think you’d stay in business long running a farm or a shop like this. You’d have pay scales. It’s not about running a business. It’s about who we are before God. Whenever we arrive before God, the invitation to a relationship is the same. Here I am. Who are you? Who do you say that I am? When Mathew the gospeller first told the story, he was telling of non-Jews arriving at the synagogue. In the eyes of the synagogue members, the goyim, which is all of us, were late arrivals, 2nd class citizens. The Jews had been around a long time. We were the 3pm arrivals. Jesus says, “Before God, with me, you’re all the same. You late comers, you 3pm arrivals, are welcome.” The newcomers often feel God’s welcome more fully than the old hands. We are always beginners before God. Even with my best friend, or my spouse of many years, I’m invited to find something strange and wonderful, a way to begin again, a way that as I look out, and am still, I meet someone looking toward me, inviting me into the dance, through Christ our Lord.