Guest homily: “On Rebuilding the House of God”
Offered to the Saint Benet Biscop Chapter of Oblates, Saint John’s Abbey, Collegeville MN, by the Rt Rev. Michael G. Smith, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota, September 16, 2017
“Cyrus the king issued a decree: Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the house be rebuilt, … Also let the gold and silver vessels of the house of God … be restored and brought back to the temple which is in Jerusalem (Ezra 6:3,5).”
Way to go, King Cyrus! What a great idea he had to rebuild the house of God. Or rather, what an incredible plan God had to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, and what a great idea it was to use King Cyrus in its implementation. If only we could be so blessed as to be chosen to be used in God’s plan to rebuild the house of God.
The Venerable Bede, commenting on this sixth chapter of Ezra, wrote: “All the writers of sacred Scripture, promise good things for the builders of the holy church if they do not tire from adversities and cease from their holy labor. For divine help will be present, by which the Lord’s house that has been begun may be brought to completion in the heart of their listeners by their believing and living well.” It sounds like Bede had internalized wisdom from the Rule of Benedict.
A little over a week ago, in my Facebook feed, there appeared a post which stated: “Bishop Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter recommends reading this fine lecture by Prof. Tracey Rowland on ecumenism today and its future.” And so I read the lecture, and, Bishop Lopes, you were right, it was worth the read.
Professor Rowland is an Australian and she writes about what she calls “receptive ecumenism” and “re-weaving the tapestry ecumenism” and how she sees both types in the Ordinariate. What caught my attention, however, was when she notes that many Christians find themselves divided across rather than along, confessional lines because of very different answers to fundamental theological questions within a particular community.
For example, “a Catholic who believes that scripture is normative for one’s faith and practice is closer to a Sydney Anglican in matters of belief and practice than he is to a fellow Catholic who says that what is written in the Gospels needs to be re-contextualized with reference to contemporary social theory.” If you know anything about Sydney Anglicans, that is a remarkable statement, and a sign that the house of God is truly being rebuilt.
But I’m sure the very same could be said about those of us here present, whether we identify as Roman Catholic or Anglican. There is probably less theological difference between us than between us and fellow members of our respective communions. Part of our mission as members of the St. Benet Biscop chapter of St. John’s Abbey Oblates is to foster ecumenical dialogue and prayer between Anglicans and Roman Catholics. Is it possible that the Lord might just use us in some way to rebuild the house of God?
Whether, from a Roman Catholic perspective, we value the temple’s “gold vessels” of the Anglican patrimony, or from our Anglican view of cherishing the restored “silver vessels” of the English school of catholic spirituality, we share much in common. And now we share our holy father, Benedict.
Jesus reminds us again this evening that the one who hears his word and believes in the One who sent him, has eternal life. We, my sisters and brothers, are on a journey from death to life (John 5:24). As St. Benedict writes in the Prologue of his Rule: “As we progress in the way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.” May it be so for us, and may the Lord use us to rebuild the house of God. Amen.