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  • Writer's pictureFr. Daniel S.J. Scheid SCP

Second Sunday of Easter Sermon

Fr. Daniel S.J. Scheid, SCP

Second Sunday of Easter B – April 7, 2024

All Saints’ Episcopal Church, San Francisco

“Listen to the Monks”

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

 

Monastic cenobites, that is, monks and nuns who live in community, governed by a rule, have come the closest over the past millennia and a half to fulfilling the call of Jesus to sell all, give all, and follow him; and to following the apostolic act of first-century Christian socialism – no private ownership, goods held in common, and distribution of resources to each according to need.

 

It was Saint Benedict, in his formative rule, that prescribed this practice with lasting clarity. And while Benedict’s rule is clear about this, the life of Benedictines, and those in most other monastic orders that adapted his rule, was not, and is not, one of depravation. Benedict is equally clear that monastics have lives to live and work to do and ought to be given the stuff that they need to do the tasks appointed them.


But it is not monastics themselves who decide this; rather it is the community, under the leadership of the superior, that decides who gets what and when and how much and why.

 

To non-monastic ears this may sound a bit, oh, I don’t know, soviet in scope, bringing up images of hulking housing blocks and emptied grocery shelves, all in depressing, grainy grayscale.

 

Or, if take your history back a century before that, you might conjure up memories of any one of the utopian communities in this country that started with a flourish and ended with a fizzle.

 

Such communal socialism simply won’t work, modern history claims. It will be frog-marched into authoritarianism or stumble into anarchy.

 

Except, of course, is has worked, and it does work, in religious houses across the globe. Why the difference? What makes, say, San Damiano Franciscans on Dolores Street, or St. Gregory’s Benedictines in Three Rivers, Michigan, communities I know well, but two examples of Christian socialism that has thrived for some 800 and 1500 years respectively?

 

The short, simple, and true answer is Jesus Christ: faith in, worship of, and adherence to the incarnate, crucified, and risen God that all Christians, monks or not, hold in common.

 

With Benedictines, for example, the slightly longer answer – still simple and true – is that they have lasted this long because of faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; to the Rule of Saint Benedict; to the traditions of the order broadly and the individual houses specifically; and to the stability of the present community under the authority of its superior.

 

Other monastic orders’ answers will be essentially the same: the Gospel, their rules, their traditions, their community. It’s a way of being that works. It has legs, staying power.

It is perfect? No, of course not. Monastic houses have lived through corruption of all kinds – some of it damaging and some of it trivial. They are peopled by people, after all – sinners in need of redemption, just like you and me.

 

And in that – that monastics are just like us – they have something to teach us non-monastics who live in a country and a world whose creed is neither Apostolic nor Nicene, but rather capitalistic, militaristic, and nationalistic.

 

Two somethings, actually, in light of today’s readings.

 

First: monastics teach us a stewardship of sufficiency and an ethic of enoughness.

 

As with the earliest church described in the Acts of the Apostles, monastics remind us that all good gifts come from God and are given by God for our use; and are goods and gifts that we freely give back; and that are faithfully managed by those we entrust with their stewardship; and that are thoughtfully and joyfully redistributed back according to needs of the community – these are goods and gifts that will be sufficient and enough.

 

This is an important lesson for parish churches to hear year-round, and not just during our annual or capital appeals.

 

And it is an important lesson for each of us to hear in our own lives. In your own household economy, what is your stewardship of sufficiency, your ethic of enoughness? Does it align more with the Acts of the Apostles? Or with the Acts of the Affluent?   


Second: monastics teach us about the peace of Jesus. The risen Christ is not vengeful. Rather, Jesus wants to heal and restore a fractured and frightened community, and a fractured and frightened world. That’s why the Son of God came to us in the first place.

 

The first word the Word-made-Flesh spoke to the disciples – the same disciples who abandoned Jesus in fearful self-preservation – that word was “peace.” With the peace of Jesus – freely given by him and faithfully received by us and used by us – everything else will fall into place.

 

Monastics live in community. The rest of us do as well, in one form or another – families, neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, congregations. Monastics have the same problems living in community that the rest of us do – the competing egos and the subsequent squabbles; the achieving strivers and the reluctant lazy; the neatniks and the beatniks – these show up whenever two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name or anybody else’s.

 

Monks remind us that, while accountability within the community is essential to its proper functioning, this discipline is leavened with a kind of tolerance that accepts people where they are, even as they’re called again and ever-again to conversion to the Gospel life. Faithfulness to the stability of the community takes patience, a light touch, good humor, love – of course, and a commitment to peace.

 

This is an important lesson for parish churches to hear, especially in times of relative calm like ours, to build up our community’s muscles and memory for times of inevitable conflict.

 

And it is an important lesson for each of us to hear in our own lives. Monks follow the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world follows the gospel of self-preservation, and it tempts us to do the same – hit first, hit hard, hold grudges, never forgive, never forget. When we see global leaders of all stripes do this – and they do – how can we not but follow their examples much closer in the homes of our hearts?

 

Whose gospel do you take to heart? The Gospel of peace proclaimed by Jesus, who is no respecter of locked doors? Or the gospel of belligerence, bellowed from a bunker by frightened politicians and plutocrats?


The words of Saint John the epistle-writer hold: they hold for himself, for Saint Benedict, for Saint Francis – and, if I may be so bold as to place myself in their company – they hold for me, your priest. These words are short, simple, and true. They have legs and they have staying power:

 

We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

 

May your joy, and mine, and theirs, be complete; complete with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, in the peace of the same Triune God which passes all understanding. Listen to the monks; listen to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

 Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

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