Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sermon: Alcuin

Sermon for May 20, 2014 ~ 10:00 Healing Service
Feast Day of Alcuin, Deacon and Abbot of Tours, 804
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
St. Philip’s In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
For online access to the readings click

I speak to you in the name of One God:
Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit. Amen

Today we commemorate Alcuin,
Deacon and Abbot of Tours in 7th / 8th century.

Of all the things –
this man was credited with inventing
the first known question mark. 
Yes, according to author Lynne Truss
then-Roman Emperor Charlemagne invited Alcuin
to design a system of grammar aids
for readers.[1]

It’s important to know that Alcuin was raised – formed, really, with quite a lineage. 
He was educated at the Cathedral School of York under Abp. Egbert,
who was, himself a student of Bede (author and scholar of The Ecclesiastical History of the English People giving him the title "The Father of English History".)

Well, this formation created in Alcuin
a well-spring of gifts
from which he was able to serve as “prime” minister
to then-Emperor Charlemagne.

Alcuin drew inspiration from his own formation
for the school he would lead at the Frankish,
or western European, court.

Alcuin developed a system of disciplines,
including the “trivium” and the “quadrivium”. 

Like our “reading, writing and ‘rithmetic,”
he defined minimum schooling on three subjects:
grammar, logic and rhetoric. 
Once a student gained proficiency in these three,
Alcuin’s system established
the next four subjects to learn:
arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. 

These seven subject make up the core of education
in the liberal arts.
Alcuin was formed from a very early age
in a way that gave him insight
to how others might also be formed.

Alcuin’s intellectual insight provided
gifts for his community – and for ours, still, today –
for the raising up of the body of Christ.
He showed us about offering his gifts to others.

Alcuin was not only intellectually gifted,
he was deeply religious. 
In 767, Alcuin became a deacon in the church.
He was never ordained as a priest and
lived his life as a monk.

During the reformation under Charlemagne,
Alcuin was influential in developing
many of the Collects we have today,
including the Collect for Purity
at the beginning of the Holy Eucharist. 

“Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid…”

I think that it was because of how Alcuin applied
his education to reforming the religion
that the lectionary texts offer Ecclesiasticus today. 

These verses define how wisdom is manifest:

He seeks out the wisdom of all the ancients,
and is concerned with prophecies;
he preserves the sayings of the famous
and penetrates the subtleties of parables;
he seeks out the hidden meanings of proverbs
and is at home with the obscurities of parables.
He serves among the great
and appears before rulers;

and the last line,

His memory will not disappear,
and his name will live through all generations.

This reading certainly profiles Alcuin.

Have you ever known someone so wise,
so able to integrate sayings of great people
and illuminate hidden meanings
of events in your life?
Maybe this was a parent, or a teacher, or a therapist?

While working as a chaplain in a hospital,
we encountered people of different faith traditions
and some of no faith tradition. 
One of the first principles we learned was
“… each individual has a source of inner wisdom
from which they can draw
to make meaning of their current situation…”

In other words, our role as chaplain was not
to explain what this meant for the person. 

Our role was simply to mid-wife
the person’s own truth to the situation. 
In so doing,
we respected the wisdom of that person’s
formation and education –
and their language to make sense of their needs. 

In our gospel reading today,
we hear from Matthew
the closing lines from a chapter
chock-full of Jesus’ “the kingdom of heaven is like…” parables.
"Have you understood all this?" They answered, "Yes."
And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."

In other words,
Jesus said that understanding
is not an optional element of discipleship. 
Understanding, wisdom, is essential
to living a whole hearted life. 
Jesus asks the disciples to apply those lessons,
to the kingdom of heaven which is here on earth – right now. 
Jesus affirms the disciples’ Jewish past
(of scripture, tradition, perspectives)
and invites them to hold that
with the knowledge of Christ’s coming to the world.

The good news is that God’s “new” grace
makes “old” knowledge a real treasure.

So what about us? 
You came today seeking healing for
or some situation in your life. 

AND you have deep life experiences, given by God, that when added to your knowledge of scripture,
your love of tradition and your perspective on life
it constitute deep wisdom in your own right. 
What happens when you add Christ’s love to that?

Today, Alcuin invites you, and me,
to harmonize our “old” formed wisdom
with the “new” grace of Jesus. 

The good news is that
God empowers us to use
our inner wisdom and our clear truth
to find healing and wholeness in our life. 

God’s love for us is everlasting,
from our earliest formation as children
until our own last words. 

For today, know that
God is with you and me throughout the
uncertainties and confusions of our time,
as God was with Alcuin.  


Thomas Merton wrote this prayer
that offers some insight to this depth of faith, his balance of wisdom, humility and hope:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything
apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this
you will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

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