Being with you today floods my heart with so many memories.
Back in the 70s, my wife Linda and I
were legal aid lawyers in Greeley,
but we spent every free moment in Boulder.
Partly it was the combined olfactory effect in Greeley
of Montfort’s feedlot, the rendering plant,
and the sugar beet factory.
But it wasn’t just the smell.
We were Buddhists back then and spent a lot of time
meditating over at the Shambhala Center.
In the 80s, we were Idaho Episcopalians.
We spent one Holy Week visiting with the Fisherfolk Community
down in Woodland Park.
We worshipped here on that trip
and your good rector, Jim McKeown, offered us sage advice
Today we are back, older, maybe not wiser, but humbler.
When I think of who I was back then,
it really has been quite a conversion.
I was converted to a faith firmly rooted
in Jeremiah’s covenant theology
summarized in today’s lesson.
In Jeremiah, God promises us salvation through a new covenant.
Salvation means -- as the Catechism says --
reconciling us to God and each other in Christ.
Those relationships heal us.
They make us whole.
Covenant relationships are where life gets worth living.
When God wants to draw us to himself,
God always – always – does that as a group project.
God forms a covenant establishing a relationship
among a group of people with himself in the middle of it.
All our Hebrew Scripture lessons this Lent
have been about covenant faith.
Lent 1, we heard how God made a covenant with all humanity
when he set a rainbow in the sky.
Lent 2, God made a special covenant with Abraham
to form a holy nation.
Lent 3, through Moses, God set out the terms of the covenant,
how he would be their God and they would honor God
by treating each other justly and caring for the alien in the land.
Lent 4, the people rebelled, refusing to treat each other justly.
Today, in Jeremiah, God promises to form a new covenant with us
written not in stone but in our hearts.
God will make us his people by showing us mercy
and call us to show mercy to one another.
I will put my law within them, says the Lord,
I will write it on their hearts and they will be my people.
That’s what Jesus does in the Eucharist.
This is my blood of the New Covenant shed for you.
Jesus unites us in the mercy covenant sealed with his blood.
Jesus changes our relationship with God,
and that changes our relationship with each other.
We are one people, worshiping one God
because we are all under the one mercy.
2nd Peter says, Once you were not a people
but now you are God’s people.
Once you had not received mercy
but now you have received mercy.
When I was here 40 years ago,
I was a very spiritual young man.
I took my spirituality seriously, and was just a tad smug about it.
I was a bit more enlightened than thou.
The object of my practice was a detached serenity
so I could float above the soap operatic mess of ordinary life.
I was a bit like a young African named Augustine
when he was that age.
He was out-serening everyone he knew
back in the 4th Century.
He was a Platonic spiritual Christian
for whom serenity was the name of the game.
He formed a little commune at Lake Como, Switzerland
where he and his fellow seekers
could avoid the stench of the city,
gaze at the beauty of nature,
and think lofty thoughts.
But a death in the family compelled him
to come back home to Algeria
to run the family farm.
The Church there in Algeria was having a hard time
and was desperate for priests.
Augustine was almost as desperate not to be a priest.
He knew that priests spend more time
with people than with God.
Not what he was after.
But they insisted so he grudgingly consented.
Then they made him a bishop and he wept.
For the rest of his long life,
Augustine served a beleaguered diocese
while civilization crumbled.
He died with the barbarians besieging his city.
Repeatedly he defended the Church from critics and secessionists
who condemned us for our human frailties.
He had to defend the very human frailty
he had once kept a mile away from.
Out of that life he wrote the theology
which became the foundation for Western religious thought
for centuries to come.
Along the way something shifted in Augustine.
Instead of seeking his own spiritual elevation,
trying to get himself in some sort of serene zone,
his attention turned to his fellow Christians
and all fellow Romans.
He served them faithfully, even though
they could be wrong-headed, obtuse, and incorrigible.
That was hard because their faults were a mirror
of Augustine’s own weaknesses.
But he kept attending to them until
he saw God in their midst.
He saw God loving and forgiving them
Notwithstanding their faults.
He saw that loving God of mercy,
and fell in love with him.
After that, serenity as no longer his top life goal.
He had discovered that love is the center of Reality itself.
He discovered that God is love and he loved with God back.
He wrote passionate prayers to God, like this one:
How late I came to love thee O Beauty
so ancient and so new. . ..
You were within but I was outside seeking you. . ..
You were always with me but I was not with you. . ..
In the frustrating messiness of human interaction,
Augustine came to life, vulnerable, passionate life,
wise and holy life.
Did he make mistakes? Of course, human mistakes.
He still needed mercy.
We all need mercy.
We need God’s mercy.
We need each other’s mercy.
That’s what the new covenant is about.
God writes the new covenant in our hearts
with the costly mercy of Christ’s own blood.
You have probably guessed why I love Augustine.
These 40 years have been my descent to the earth.
I am no longer a mystic who grudgingly practices Christianity.
I am a Christian whose contemplative prayer, such as it is, serves
the pedestrian purpose of helping me share the mercy.
Christianity brought me to the earth
And I’m glad of it.
Robert Frost said,
Earth’s the right place for love.
I can’t think where it’s likely to go better.
The point, brothers and sisters, is simple.
We need each other.
No one can become whole alone.
No one can become herself alone.
We need each other.
That’s why we’re here.