Monday, June 30, 2014

Sermon: Ephrem of Edessa

 Icon of Ephrem of Edessa
Sermon for June 10, 2014 ~ 10:00 Healing Service
Feast Day of Ephrem of Edessa
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
St. Philip’s In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
For online access to the readings click here
I speak to you in the name of One God:
Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit. Amen

My mother always had a tune under her breath. 
She was constantly humming
and occasionally breaking out in song. 
As a music major, she studied all the major composers
and practiced diligently on the piano,
modeling for us how to be faithful to a passion. 
My mother always had a tune under her breath,
a gift that did gladden my heart.

When I read about Ephrem of Edessa,
that the Syrian Church called him
“the harp of the Holy Spirit,”
this sense of having music “at hand” –
both literally and metaphorically –
framed how God’s grace was in his being. 

What do you know about this deacon
from the very early church?

We hear that he was
·        Born in 308 in Edessa, near Antioch (Syria)
·        Baptized at 18 by and traveled with the (then)
Bishop James of Nisibis
to the Council of Nicea in 325.[1] 
You know what that council created, right?
His journey to Nicea must have formed him
in a deeply profound way,
as pilgrimages in our day, do, too. 
·        Upon his return, he taught and founded a School of Nisibis, the center of learning for the Syriac Orthodox Church. 
·        He wrote commentaries of the OT and NT
as well as homilies – having been credited
by one historian as having authored 3 million lines
·        Ephrem gained his moniker
“The Harp of the Holy Spirit” from
the Christian hymns that he wrote
to defend Trinitarian theology
against Gnosticism
(which challenged the nature of Christ’s divinity). 
To counter the popular songs of the Gnostics,
he composed hymns in defense of the Nicene faith. 
Hymn 443 is one of them,
filled with scriptural references from
the Gospels, Paul’s letters and the Psalms.
·        Sounds a bit like a reality show –
which community can capture
the popular imagination of the people? 
Regardless, God gifted Ephrem
with the sense of beauty and artistry
from which he could spread the Gospel. 
Think of how Paul was so gifted with words,
in this way Ephrem was gifted in song.
·        He retired to a cave where he lived simply,
devoting himself to writing
and going into the city to preach. 
·        During a famine in 372-373,
he worked distributing food to hungry people
and organizing a ministry of an ambulance service. 
He worked long hours
and eventually became exhausted and died in 373

God blessed Ephrem with many gifts
– hymn-writer, teacher, poet, devotion to God –
but he didn’t use all those gifts all at once. 
Like us, we have many gifts
but they are called upon during our life
in different degrees and in different situations.   

Little did he know that when he was baptized
he would use his gifts in these different ways.
He didn’t know how his life would unfold.

Nor do we, do we? 
Do we sometimes wonder
what good are these gifts,
such as our faith, in an uncertain future? 

What gift have you been given that
has yet unfolded in the service of God’s reign?

Today’s Gospel speaks directly to
living into our faith
in the midst of that uncertainty. 

Jesus said,
“I still have many things to say to you,
but you cannot bear them now.” 
Jesus guides the disciples (that would be us, too)
to understand the role of faith in community. 
He uses “to bear” metaphorically –
the burden that is unbearable is the future.  
Jesus assures disciples that
the future will be something
that they cannot now articulate. 

So it is with us –
our faith will unfold in ways that
we are not able *now* to bear how the future unfolds. 

Theologian Rudolf Bultmann said,
“The believer can only measure
the significance and claims of what one has to undergo
when one actually meets it. 
The believer anticipates the future in faith,
not in foreknowledge.” 

Three times, Jesus uses the word “declare”: 

When the Spirit of truth comes,
“… he will declare to you the things that are to come… he (the Spirit) will glorify me…
and declare it to you…
all that the Father has …
he (the Father) will declare it to you.” 

Here, Jesus invokes the Trinitarian presence of God
to proclaim how faith forms the community
for the future. 

This is the early church rendition of
“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” 

Today’s good news is that
Jesus promises the presence of the Spirit
in the life of the community.
The Spirit softens the hearts of believers to be
open to fresh expressions of God’s love
and unpredictable ways to use God-given gifts.

May we, today,
anticipate fresh expression of God’s love
in our community. 
May we, today, (while we are uncertain of the future,)
know the love of God that arises from the Spirit.

Our teacher is ready when we are. 
Our sacred songs will gladden our hearts
and fuel our devotion.
Our God will love us through the end of the age. Amen