Homily from Saturday Night- Rites of Passage & Renewal of Vows

Delivered by Sr. Shoshanah Kay, Co-Minister

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, He takes away;
and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it,
that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean
because of the word which I have spoken to you.
Abide in me, and I in you.
As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine,
so neither can you, unless you abide in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches;
he who abides in me, and I in him, he bears much fruit;
for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:1-5 (NASB)
I am neither a preacher nor a theologian.
I know less than I should of our Franciscan history,
and less than I wish of the pivotal Jewish stories
that lie deep in the rich spiritual soil that nurtures our Christian roots.

But I do know, that every year at Passover,
Jewish families gather for a meal
which begins with a young child asking:
“Why is this night different from any other?”

And, in answer, they share a meal which tells their story.

Tonight, we do the same. We share a meal which tells our story.

And as we do, we remember our first steps into this community.
We feel the blisters and callouses of our walking together.
We look back — and see how far we have come.
We look ahead — and see how far we have yet to go.
We ask for sustenance to stay the course,
— for the will to stick together.

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How is this night different from all other nights?

This night — of all nights — is the night of our “yes”.

You who are professing, your yes stands on the shoulders
of our yes — our OEF yes —
which is tangled into the yes of the Franciscans of Reconciliation
and the yes of the Order of Lutheran Franciscans,
and which stands on the shoulders of the TSSF yes,
which stands on the shoulders of the OFS yes
and the TOR yes and the OFM yes
and the Capuchin yes
and the Poor Clare yes
and the Franciscan Sisters of the this, that & the other yes,
and the yes of all other unknown and here-unnamed Franciscans
which stand on the shoulders of the Francis yes and the Clare yes
which were in response to the “yes” of Jesus
born of the “yes” of Mary,
informed by the yes of the Law
and the yes of the Prophets
and in response to the yes of the Angel Gabriel
who said “yes” to the Lord God Almighty
who spoke the first “yes” — the yes to life; the yes to creation
— the yes that spoke the entire cosmos into being —
the yes that, not so very long ago, breathed your life into being
and now whispers, ever so softly into your ear this night:
“Yes. Yes. Come. Do this. Do this with these ones this night. Yes.”

So here we are . . .

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My Spiritual Director is Hermana Mary Jude.
She is a strong woman, born in Jamaica, raised in New York City.
A Roman Catholic nun who has ministered tirelessly for many years
among the Latino community in Connecticut.

She laments: “People feel I am harsh. People say I am severe.
Why couldn’t God make me sweet?”

She says: “God is at work in all things — especially in our places of conflict.
It is always we who are strong in the Lord
who must make the first moves toward reconciliation.
We cannot sit back and blame. We cannot sit back and wait.
Jesus leads the way. Jesus shows us how to live in this world.
Jesus shows us how to be with one another. We must follow him.”

Hermana Mary Jude is the Mother Superior of her local community.
She, just days ago, celebrated 50 years in Religious Life.

We had a grand celebration in her honor — una gran fiesta.

La Gran Fiesta began in the afternoon with a mass
and continued well into the evening with food and dancing,
and “speeching” and hugging and presents and cake.

The priest asked the 30 or so Sisters present, many of whom are now aging,
to raise their hands if life in community had been easy.
The Sisters laughed. Not one raised a hand.

He then dared to ask: “Has it been worth it?”
The Sisters smiled — each and all — and, yes, each raised her hand.

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So here we are . . . .
On the night of our Gran Fiesta
as the beautiful and tragic events of our world rise and fall around us.

For these few days — for this night —
we are here — together — in the flesh —
— we in OEF and you on the way to being in,
— those we love whom we have asked to come
— those invited from the vast and spreading tree of the Franciscan Family
— branches that came before us
— branches that extend beyond us
— sturdy branches and tender shoots, side by side,
each and all — branches of the True Vine,
listening together, this night, for a word from Jesus our Lord
our Savior
our Redeemer
our Liberator
our Light
and our Love.

Jesus left many words for us.
This is but one.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Abide in me.”

In John’s Gospel,
this comes after the Last Supper,
after Jesus washes the feet of his disciples,
after Judas has left,
when it was night.
It comes after Jesus predicts that confident committed Peter
— so ready to risk
— so ready to say “Yes!”
would, in fact, say “No. No, I don’t know this man.”
It comes just before Jesus goes to the garden to pray, to sweat blood,
as his friends stay so very close — and fall asleep.
It comes just before he is arrested and tried and crucified.

“Abide in me. Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

This story, told as it was,
between the wine of the meal and the wood of the cross,
— this story is our story too —

So where are we in this story?
Not just you and me, but we. Where are we?
Where is OEF in this story of submitting to the Gardener God?
The Gardener God who cuts off that which does not bear fruit
and prunes that which does?

Cutting. Pruning.

But with the assurance from Jesus our True Vine that:
“You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”

And with the promise:
“Abide in me, and I will abide in you.”

With the instruction:
“No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.
Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”

And with the blunt statement of the simple fact:
“I am the Vine; You are the branches. Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

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We just might need some submitting
to some cutting
to some pruning,
to some shaping
and to a whole lot of abiding . . .

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So here we are . . .
on the night of our Gran Fiesta.

Some of us are perceived as harsh and severe
and wish God would make us sweet.

Some of us are perceived as sweet
and wish God would give us more guts
more strength
more resolve to stand firm
and speak up
and to please just Do something, damn-it.

Needing some cutting…
Needing some pruning…
Needing some shaping…
And a bit more abiding…

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How is this night different from any other?

We are here — together — just as we are.

We come with our Rules in our hands,
and our crosses hanging exposed, before our hidden hopeful hearts.

We come weighed down with our baggage and burdens and grievances,
reaching toward healing and hope and light in the darkness.

We come singing and dancing and ready to risk.

We come attentively listening and quietly waiting.

We come with a mix of doubt and faith in our souls
and a brazen “yes!” on our lips.

And 6 more are this close to jumping in with us.

No. Not jumping. Stepping forward. Kneeling.
6 more are this close to kneeling down — shoulder to shoulder —
with one another and with you and I
— the whole motley mix of us — beloved forgiven sinners —
at the foot of the cross
which lies in the dead center of our story.

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My Baptist mother was troubled when I became Roman Catholic.
She was afraid.
Afraid I was leaving a faith that, for her, was so full of light and joy.

She was disturbed by the crucifix, by the in-your-face gruesomeness of it all.

“I don’t like to see Jesus hangin’ there.”, she complained.
“I like the empty cross,”, she said, “because Jesus is risen.”

And he is.
But before he rose, he died.
And before he died, he was nailed to a cross.
And before he was nailed to the cross,
he laid down his will again and again and again.
And as he was nailed to the cross,
he laid down his will yet again.

Which some understand as God needing Jesus to die.
And some understand as God-in-Jesus was willing to die.
And some understand as we killed him.

But, whatever your understanding of the why, the reality is:

This Jesus, whom we Christians claim to be the
living, breathing, walking, talking, touching, healing,
in-the-flesh Incarnation of the
Living, Loving, Divine Creator of the Cosmos,
forever and for all eternity,

This Jesus
hung on a cross, naked and bleeding,
incomprehensibly saying:
“Abba/Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.”

~ + ~ + ~ + ~

We just might need some forgiving . . .
And some submitting to “Thy will be done” . . .

~ + ~ + ~ + ~

Forgiveness: the dead center of the cross.
The Cross: the dead center of our story.

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My sister does not self-identify as a “religious person”.
She identifies more as a “positive-energy person”.

My sister lives on a dead end street.
But she won’t call it that. (and don’t dare tell her I just did!)
She says: “My street is not a dead end; it is a living beginning.
Go as far as you can go.
And there you will hit the living beginning.”

So let me rephrase my dark catholicism into something more positive-energy:

Forgiveness: The Living Beginning at the very Center of the Cross.
The Cross: The Living Beginning at the very Center of Our Story.

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Why is this night different from all other nights?

Because this night — one more time — we say “yes”.
We share the meal that tells our story.
We profess: “Not my will, but Thy will…”
We promise forgiveness.
In the footsteps of Francis and Clare,
and in the company of these our sisters and brothers
in this little ecumenical Franciscan Order,
we submit to our Gardener God.
We say “yes” to abiding in Jesus, our True Vine,
the Living Beginning at the very Center of Our Story,
— knowing it is not easy,
— praying it will be worth it.
Grace and Peace,
Shoshanah Kay, OEF, Co-Minister

OEF Chapter/Convocation
July, 18, 2015

About John Michael

Pastor, teacher, husband, dog walker, gardener, petrocollapse agitator, contemplative, hiker. Currently serving as a Formation Coordinator for OEF and Dean of VT/NY conference of Lutheran Synod.

One Comment

  1. Sooo beautiful…your writing, the love with which it was delivered…and US. Wildly ecumenical, Jesus loving, some in habits, some not. ALL together. ALL accepted. ALL welcomed. ALL LOVED.

    During the profession of vows, I leaned over and whispered (through tears) to Sister Magdalena (as Brother Obadiah chose not to wear a habit or take a new name, and as brother Just Plain John chose a white habit), “I LOVE who we are…”

    I’m so grateful to be a part…

    Congrats and Welcome to the Family to the novices and professed:

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