Sunday, 27 June 2010

Sermon for 27th June 2010, The Revd. J. Michael Povey at St. Boniface Church, Sarasota, FL

Sermon for 27th June 2010, The Revd. J. Michael Povey at St. Boniface Church, Sarasota, FL
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Galatians 5: 1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62
62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
The Church sound system played about 45 seconds’ worth of a recording of the bells at Taize from the C.D. “Ubi Caritas”: GIA recordings 1996, Then I said
The bells begin their clamour from atop a free standing belfry.  They sound very much like ours. There are five of them.  These are in France, in a lovely part of Burgundy.
The ringing bells sound an alert, calling people to prayer, calling them to a huge barn of a place called the Church of the Resurrection.  First a trickle, then a flood of people make their way to the Church.  There could be 8,000 of them.  Of that 8,000 at least 7,000 would be under the age of 35.
To enter into the Church as I did in 1999 is to enter into a great play, a wonderful drama. All eyes are focussed on the back-drop of huge sail like cloth, back lit and coloured red, orange, yellow, bright as the blazing sun. There is no platform, no pulpit, and during week days no altar.  There are a myriad of candles, and gorgeous icons.   
 A pageant is about to begin.  There are no actors, there is no audience. Everyone is a participant. It is a pageant of song - lots of songs in many languages.  It is a pageant of Scripture – one verse alone, or maybe two – read in ten or more languages.  It is a pageant of silence, long periods of shared silence, in which one is drawn into the mystery of God. There is no sermon save on one day each week when a teaching is given, a teaching which is simultaneously translated into oh so many languages, using a most sophisticated sound system.   
The pageant is repeated three times a day. In the morning for about an hour; at noontide for 45 minutes or so; and in the evening, for as long as participants wish to sing.
In 1940 just after the fall of France, a young Swiss man cycled from Geneva to Cluny in France. He knew that the towns and villages had been denuded of young males, and he thought that he might be able to help in some small way. Cluny seemed like a dead end.  But he met an old woman who said “why don’t you come to our village, we are so isolated”.    
 In that village he rented a home, and worked wherever he could, hoeing fields or weeding them, or harvesting crops.  The village is called Taize, and it is not very far south of the 1940 demarcation line between occupied France, and what became Vichy France.  
 This young man had decided to follow Jesus.  He had decided to follow Jesus without excuse. He had decided to follow Jesus - period.   He did what every Christian should have done, but few did.  He offered sanctuary and shelter to Jews who were desperate to escape the Nazi killing machines.
In 1942 the Gestapo came looking for him at a time when by God’s grace or sheer happenstance he was back in Geneva for a visit. Friends got word to him, so he remained at home in Geneva.  
 As soon as that part of France was liberated in 1944 he returned to Taize. This time he encountered not the dangers of the Gestapo, but the ire of villagers.  They were angered for he now offered gracious and radical hospitality to German soldiers prisoners of war.  Having put his hand to the plough this man did not look back.
The man’s name is Frere Roger or Brother Roger.  He strayed in Taize for the rest of his life.
In 1949 he was joined by seven other men and they formed a brotherhood, a community of faith.  What was amazing about this community is that the brothers were Protestant and Roman Catholic.  They worked with their hands to support themselves, and prayed together each day in the monastic way.  They asked the local Catholic Bishop if they might use the parish Church in Taize for their prayer.  He posed the question to a higher authority, and the word came from the papal representative in Lyons: “permission granted”. The prelate who gave that permission went on to become Pope John the 23rd.
Christians from all over Europe visited Taize to share in the life of this unique Protestant/Catholic community.  The community outgrew the little village, and moved up the hill to the present Campus.   
During the 1960’s the brothers began their ministry to young people.  They responded to the student riots in France, Germany and other places – those riots which challenged the old order of things - by making Taize a place of grace and hospitality to alienated youth.  
 The brothers realised that their traditional worship form with its Gregorian chant and long Bible readings was all well and good for them, but that it in no way addressed the spiritual needs of young people.  Thus began Taize worship as we know it, with those marvellous and accessible chants, and the pattern of thrice daily worship of which I spoke just now.  At the same time some brothers were sent to South America to live and pray with the urban poor. Others went incognito into eastern European communist countries, and formed subversive prayer groups whenever they could.
I spent a week in Taize in 1999.  There were maybe 2,000 of us there, mostly young. The accommodations are rudimentary – I slept in a room with three triple bunk-beds and six coat hooks – that’s all. The food was atrocious!  I was in an adult study group with Christians from France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. I learned so much from them. 
One afternoon at “snack time” I came across two young men, aged about 16 and 18, and we began to chat.  They were from Switzerland and had a Swiss father and a Vietnamese mother.  I wondered what drew such young men to Taize – was it perhaps for a free holiday, or to meet girls?  So I asked “why did you come to Taize?” They looked at me as if I were either mad or stupid. “To pray of course” replied the older brother.
I learned to pray again at Taize.  Those simple chants with their powerful words reintroduced me to awesome presence of God.  I often sing them as I walk with my dog each morning.
The chants have texts which are simple.  They are often taken from the bible or from one of the saints.  Most of the tunes were composed or adapted by Fr. Jacque Berthier who was a composer and musician at Taize until his death in 1994. 
It is good that we use the Taize chants at St. Boniface, but we do so in a very reserved and Episcopalian sort of way.  It is hard for us to enter into worship as pageant, as theatre, as dance.   
 One of our favourites is “Laudate Dominium”.  The tune has an ancient provenance.  Listen for a moment.   The Church sound system played about a minutes worth of Corelli’s “La Follia op 5 #12 from the Capriccio CD “TOP”  (1993) What we have heard is by the composer Arcangelo Corelli.  It was written in the late 17th or early 18th centuries.  But the tune dates back to the fifteen hundreds. It hails from Spain or Portugal.  It is known as “La Folia”.  That theme has been used by over 150 composers  during more than 339 years. “Folia” literally means “mad or empty-headed” and it most likely was a tune for a fertility dance.  “Oh my gosh - don’t tell the Bishop but we are singing fertility dance music at St. Boniface”.  We are singing: alas we are not dancing!
Pageant, dance, theatre, music all make for good Liturgy.  They are part of the human experience which reflect the dance of God, the song of the Universe, and the drama of our redemption. 
But of course it is not only in Church that dance, drama and pageant can be enjoyed as gifts of God.  I believe with all my heart that theatre, dance and drama can and will be ministries, ways in which folks who might never come to Church can be given a window into the beauty and truth of God.
On August 16th 2005 the 90 years Brother Roger was in his usual seat during the evening prayer service.  A Rumanian woman who was most likely suffering with mental illness crept up behind him and plunged a knife into his back and neck. He died almost immediately. 
1. He who had devoted his life to prayer died whilst praying.  
2. He who had devoted his life to community died surrounded by his brothers.  
3. He who had devoted his life to reconciliation was murdered by a poor woman who could be reconciled with her own illness. Surely he forgave her even as his life rushed away.
I went back to Taize in 2002.  I cheated a bit and stayed in a hotel, eating my meals in good restaurants.  It was not the same.  I could not relive the experience of 1999, nor should I have tried to do so.  I was looking back, not pressing forwards.
Brother Roger, having set his hand to the plough, never looked back in his desire to follow Jesus.  He never looked back when he was stabbed.
Pageant, dance, theatre, music all make for good Liturgy.  They are part of the human experience which reflect the dance of God, the song of the Universe, and the drama of our redemption
In a moment I will ask you to stand, and we shall sing “Laudate Dominum” again.  We’ll sing it with gratitude for all the men and women, of all peoples and nations, who like Brother Roger, have worked for reconciliation, and have given us glimpses of the beauty of God.
Let’s sing it through five times -  just in Latin, and if we dare, perhaps we could also dance a modest jig as we sing!

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