I'm not trying to hide who he is, so don't worry about the appellation.
He's a good friend - one who will tell me what's what and has a belief in the goodness of others that makes me both fear for and envy him.
Because of my lack of mass attendance, Saturday was the first time I'd heard him preach. The readings had been tied together by the vineyard motif: Isaiah's poetry described what the Lord had done for His vineyard; the psalm declaimed that the Lord's vineyard was the House of Israel; the Gospel was Jesus' story about the vineyard and the owner.
So the expectation would have been for Br Saffadeacon to hit on sin, sour grapes, the evils in the vineyard. Did he?
He did not.
Instead, he began with the story of a well-known miracle in South Africa and followed the ripples of good that had followed from that. From there, he went further, to remind us that we are God's instruments of love in the world and that there is a hidden (or not so hidden) kernel of good in everyone and every situation, and that we can each make a difference every day by who we choose to be and what we choose to do.
Thus, in one sermon, where he beautifully (and I suspect unknowingly) outlined the Jewish concept of tikkun olam (a Hebrew phrase that means "repairing the world"), he hit upon the true challenge of the Christian faith - or any faith.
It isn't, as most priests bang on about, to eliminate sin - after all, the elimination of sin does not guarantee virtue. Also, sin is born of fear and pain, both of which are eliminated by the love that Saffadeacon exhorted us to live. After all, "perfect love casts out fear". So the elimination of sin is a natural consequence of living a life of love, which also guarantees virtue.
So, learning to live love - day by day, person by person, situation by situation - will repair the world by releasing the sparks of holiness in each situation whilst eliminating sin. Sounds like a win-win to me.
Simple, right? Love is a great thing, we all feel good when we have it/act from it. It should be obvious and clearcut, and with a little training, easy. Very neat indeed.
My reading of Paolo Coelho's The Zahir offers me a caveat from one of the main characters, Mikhail:
"All men and all women are connected by an energy which many people call love, but which is, in fact, the raw material from which the universe was built. This energy can't be manipulated, it leads us gently forwards, it contains all we have to learn in this life. If we try to make it go in the direction we want, we end up desperate, frustrated, disillusioned, because that energy is free and wild."
Love isn't tame and it isn't ours to direct. It directs us. It doesn't always appear when you want, how you want, in the person you want, in a neat little package to be put away when you're done.
Maybe not so easy after all. At least not for those of us who like to be in control at least 90% of the time.
Again, from The Zahir:
In hospital, love had spoken to me: 'I am everything and I am nothing. I am the wind, and I cannot enter windows and doors that are shut.'
And I said to love: 'But I am open to you.'
And love said to me, 'The wind is made of air. There is air inside your house, but everything is shut up. The furniture will get covered in dust, the damp will ruin the paintings and stain the walls. You will continue to breathe, you will know a small part of me, but I am not a part, I am Everything, and you will never know that.'
I saw that the furniture was covered in dust, that the paintings were being corroded by damp, and I had no alternative but to open the windows and doors. When I did that, the wind swept everything away. I wanted to cling on to my memories, to protect what I had worked hard to achieve, but everything disappeared and I was as empty as the steppes.
And before the clerics who believe they've given everything up for Christ and read this start to preen: don't. It is amongst you that I have found people with the most furniture and the most airtight houses, most closed against love and God because of the fear, avoidance and clinging that reside in you still.
Emptying that house doesn't always mean what we think it does: someone who lives in the world may well have an emptier house than someone who claims asceticism, if he holds those possessions lightly and the ascetic clings to his choice as a medal of his goodness and mark of how much closer he is to God than those who live in the world.
Never forget: this world is God's. Eschewing it in the way many do is simply a slap in the face to the Creator, a child's temper tantrum because the world wasn't what one wanted it to be. And that anger born of pain leaves no space for love.
The space that allows love to transform us is all in the heart, and love works differently in all our lives. Allow it to form shapes and situations you never expected or dared hope for. Let go of who or what you thought you were meant to be: married by 27, an executive VP by 40, a priest, a surgeon. Open your windows and doors and let love blow freely through your house, trusting, even though it may mean that you know not what is beneath your feet.
Frightening and painful as it may be at times, you will LIVE, and be that instrument that Saffadeacon spoke of. An instrument of change in a shattered world.
It's not just the toughest challenge; it's the only challenge.
No, all that wasn't in the sermon. But I love sermons that challenge me, force me to articulate what I believe and let me take them out of the church box and make all sorts of connections. This was truly one of those...simple, to the point, but with lots of room to play.
Thank you, Saffadeacon, for your superb sermon which threw down the gauntlet. I, for one, accept. And fully expect you to remind me in your no-holds-barred way when I'm refusing it.
And on that note, I raise a glass of South African red to you. I'd say "Well done" in Afrikaans, but I can't find a decent translation ;-). English is a bit boring, so I'll borrow a phrase from my childhood:
You couldn't have done better.