Friday, August 04, 2006

Reflections around a sermon

The Revised Common Lectionary in year B has this sucession of texts that orbit the multiply of the laves and fishes/feeding the 5000. Most of this is done by spending time in John Ch. 6. The Gospel for this Sunday is John 6:24-35 . The patern of sermons of the past few Sundays and the discussions that have followed have in one way or another lead to our reflection as a congregation God's provision. Last week, though the protion of john 6 that was read did not speak of it, someone brought up the conection of God's provision and the Mana God provided in the wilderness. In this weeks text The gospel makes the conection between the feeding of the 5000 and the Mana in the desert explicit.

Where I am at and kind of stuck is the relation between belief and eating in the text, and the issue of God feeding us. Jesus as the bread of heaven. Part of my being stuck is that in the discussion Kate, brought up St Mary of Egypt as an example of God's provision and of God being our food.

So, I read the life of St Mary of Egypt this week, and there are connections between her story and the Gospel. Her story is also filled with problems. More to the point possible distractions. Trained as an historian and in ancient and medieval history in particular I found that historical critical faculty kicking in, especially as Mary recounts being prevented by an unseen force "like soldiers" keeping her from entering the church beyond the narthex. A thought is this really possible evidence for soldiers guarding some churches? Probably not but I was trained to take such supernatural accounts and find a more mundane explanation, or to just ignore it if there wasn't one to be found. But more problematic, was that her story is told in the first person though as the story has it she only told it to one person and never wrote it down and two the whole story wasn't written down by the person who heard her story either, nor by anyone who knew the Priest Zosimas, but a vistor to the Monesatary where Zosimas was a monk and priest long after his death. He heard it from other Monks. There is of course no other cooberating evidence. But this is a problem with Hagiographies in general.

Then there is the issue of how women are presented: as I read I could see a certain reading of the hagiagraphy that could see another way that women are put in their place. She is depicted as an independent but imoral woman, who has an insatiable desire to have sex. The story has this very independent promiscuous women repent of her ways and go live in the desert alone and then when she meets a man is self depricating and even though the priest reconginzes what is to him her obvious holiness she is still self-efacing. But then it was at that point when the priest Zozimas continues to insist that he is only a priest but that she is clearly a great and holy ascetic with greater spiritual gifts than he that the above line of critique fell apart.

" Zosimas threw himself on the ground and asked for her blessing. She likewise bowed down before him. And thus they lay on the ground prostrate asking for each other's blessing. And one word alone could be heard from both: "Bless me!" After a long while the woman said to Zosimas:

"Abba Zosimas, it is you who must give blessing and pray. You are dignified by the order of priesthood and for may years you have been standing before the holy altar and offering the sacrifice of the Divine Mysteries."

This flung Zosimas into even greater terror. At length with tears he said to her:

"O mother, filled with he spirit, by your mode of life it is evident that you live with God and have died to the world. The Grace granted to you is apparent -- for you have called me by name and recognized that I am a priest, though you have never seen me before. Grace is recognized not by one's orders, but by gifts of the Spirit, so give me your blessing for God's sake, for I need your prayers

Here is a priest depicted as bowing and requesting the blessing of a woman ascetic in whom he recognizes a greater holiness and greater depth of relationship to God than he as one who has lived the monastic life nearly his whole life and been a priest for many years. Now that turns all our debates about ordination and issues of male and female and of giftedness all on its head.

In the end I struggle with the possibility of sharing this hagiagraphy in my sermon because I am not sure we can hear what it has to say. But perhaps it is this very difficulty that makes it imperative that if at any time the e story of St Mary of Egypt must be told.

As I said there are many paralles in the story with John 6. And then I can't get out of my head the image of a preist and monk bowing before a naked woman ascetic who has lived years in the desert without any human contact saying you are holier than I please bless me, your gifts of the Spirit are greater than mine, and she replying that no for he is a priest and then boht of them bowing to each other each blessing the other. That is powerful, and makes me wonder if much of our theological disputation just really misses the mark. Perhaps I need to contemplate more hagiagraphies if I am going to be doing theology. You want something radical, you want something to chew on here it is, sit before the disputation of Zozimas and St Mary over who is holier. Neither claiming holiness for themselves. Ya, all of us have much to learn.

I think I need to sit with St Mary a little more and contemplate her story and I may very well have a sermon Sunday.