We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, and we respect and honor with gratitude the land itself, the legacy of the ancestors, and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Sermon, 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Oct. 29, 2023

Today’s passages are about love:  loving God, loving our neighbors, and loving creation as well.  When we love all that God has made, we discover for the first time, or all over again, even more brightly, that  God’s glory shines through all of creation.  When we enter that sacred glory, we can’t help but open our hearts to God’s deep, healing love for each one of us and for all that God has made. 

As we enter God’s shining, whether it’s walking through the woods on a bright autumn afternoon, the air shimmering golden, or seeing a glimmer of silver light reflected in drops of falling rain, we begin to sense that God’s glory dwells not only in the beauty of creation, but in our hearts as well.  We begin to sense that we, ourselves, our souls, our bodies, are all caught up in this glory, that we are part of God, part of the earth and part of one another. 

This same shining glory that we find in creation is the shining glory that we see in one another when we remember that God made us all, loves us all, that all of us are beloved by God.     

Opening our hearts to God’s glory and being willing to enter it is the path to holiness. 

“You shall be holy, for I the Lord God am holy,” God says to the Israelites. 

God intends for each one of us to claim our holiness by coming to know that all that God made is holy and blessed, that all creation holds the shining glory that is God. 

And then God asks us to gratefully respond to this shining glory with compassion, mercy and justice, for the compassion that we have for one another is a holy act that allows God’s shining to break through, even in the places where God seems to be absent. 

This is the holy love that Jesus defines for the Pharisees. 

Love the Lord your God, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind–and then your heart will break open to everything around you in mercy and compassion, and you can love your neighbors as yourselves. 

When we claim the holiness that God holds out to us, then we in turn hold out God’s shining love to one another and to the earth itself, for we came from the earth and it is to the earth we will return. 

We feel compelled to share the love that God has so freely shared with us, for we know how that love has healed and transformed us, and brought us into the shining glory of God’s love, and we can compassionately share that love with one another.  

In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul describes this holy love. “We were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children.  So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.” 

That’s the shining glory of God’s love—sharing not only God’s transforming and merciful love, but sharing ourselves with one another, for we are all part of God’s glorious shining in this world. 

I was at Shrine Mont this past week for The School of Earth and Soul, a Celtic initiative of study, spiritual practice and compassionate action inspired by the teachings of John Philip Newell.  This is a three year program.  This year, John Philip shared the story of George MacLeod, a modern day prophet in Scotland.

You can find all this information in John Philip’s book Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul:  Celtic Wisdom for Reawakening what our Souls Know and Healing the World, our textbook for this study. 

George MacLeod grew up in the Scottish aristocracy.  His father was a member of Parliament for Glasgow and was the chief recruiting officer of the Birish army in Scotland.    George attended an exclusive school for boys in Britian before going on to study at Oxford.  He became an officer in the British army, fighting in the trenches during World War I. 

Toward the end of the war, MacLeod was traveling back from the front lines in a train full of soldiers, many of whom were wounded.  “Halfway through the journey MacLeod became aware of the presence of Christ, not somehow above or beyond the suffering that surrounded him but in the midst of its pain and brokenness….MacLeod knelt down where he was in the crowded railway carriage and gave himself to Christ.  This led him forever afterward to be looking for the divine in both the suffering and the glory of humanity and the earth.  ‘Christ is vibrant,’ he said, ‘in the material world, not just in the spiritual world.’  And to seek the divine in matter is to look for it in places of both beauty and of agony in the world.” 

Here’s what MacLeod taught about holiness.  What he taught helps us to understand the great commandment to love our neighbors, and that includes creation, as ourselves.  

“Holiness is about healthiness. It is about healthy relationships with the earth and one another as individuals, communities, and nations.  The words holy and whole are derived from the same root, the Middle English word hale, which means ‘health.’  The pursuit of holiness is the pursuit of healthiness in our lives and the world….we are not called to seek liberation from the world, but a liberation of the world.  The time of salvation is here and now, for healing must be here and now.  Salve means ‘healing ointment.’ To be part of

salv-ation is to be part of healing in the world, of bringing what is torn and infected among us back into health and relationship again.’

MacLeod talks about that intersection at the center of the cross, the place where we come back into oneness with God, the intersection of “heaven and earth, the divine and the human, spirit and matter.”

As Newell points out, “Jesus died being faithful to the union of the divine and the human, the spiritual and the physical.” 

So as these seeming opposites merge together into one glorious whole through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we are drawn toward that vision of what we cannot yet see completely. God’s holy love is once more free to enfold all of creation through the compassionate action of those who have accepted the call to holiness. 

As MacLeod says, “’The primacy of God as now’ is what we must recover as the starting point of a new holiness.  Our innumerable and pedestrian ‘nows’ are our points of contact with God.” 

All of those moments, standing in line a store,  the ways in which we relate to our families, the moments we drive past the people begging in the median strips, the moments we spend on social media, the times we take to be with our friends, the times we spend glorying in creation—MacLeod would call all of the moments of our lives “our points of contact with God.” 

“It is not as if the spiritual is some separate category of life that relates in a limited way to prayer and spiritual practice.  The divine is to be sought at the heart of every moment, every place, every encounter.” 

MacLeod asks us to remember that every moment of our lives is holy, and that we are to respond wholly, remembering that  we  are dear to God, and so God shares God’s self with us not only in everything around us, but also and most fully in Jesus, the ultimate revealing of God’s shining, transforming glory in this world. 

And Jesus is the one who asks us to “love the Lord your God with all our hearts, and with all our souls and with all our minds, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.” 

Every moment of our lives provide opportunities to take the shining glory of God into ourselves, to choose the holiness God intends for us, and the to offer that holiness to one another in compassionate shining mercy and love. 

So start with this moment. 

Open your eyes and see God’s glory shining all around and through you.   

Hold out your hands and receive the holy love that God is handing to you.  Let this holy love heal you. 

And then offer this holy love to one another and to the earth.  For as John Philip points out, “when we love, we are most truly alive.  When we love, we are most fully awake to the true heart of the other, made of God, sacred.” 

Hoping that this opening into holiness is only the beginning for us, and that we will become more and more God’s holy people together, I end this time of sharing with a prayer from Sounds of the Eternal: A Celtic Psalter. 

“That your glory rises in the morning sun and sparkles off flowing waters, that the glory of the everlasting world shines in this world, growing from the ground and issuing forth in every creature, that glory can be handled, seen and known in the matter of earth and human relationships and in the most ordinary matters of daily life, assure us again this day, O God, assure us again this day.”