Rev. Cn. Richard Hogue Jr.
Before I get any further this morning, I want to offer a note of gratitude, especially to Bishop Susan, Dean Penny, and our Chapter. Last weekend, during our annual meeting, I had the high honor of being named a Canon of this cathedral. It is my utmost privilege to serve with all of you here at St. Paul’s as the cathedral for the city of San Diego, and as a vibrant, generous community. I couldn’t be happier to be here, and I look forward to all that is yet to come in our collective ministry in the years ahead!
In my role as the Canon for Congregational Life, I have been so blessed this week to be part of many vital conversations in various ministries. Questions came up about the relationship between orthodoxy and orthopraxy—right belief and right practice for those unfamiliar with the terms—and “what is prayer?”, as well as questions about the underlying and often unspoken theologies that inform our worldviews. Whether it was conversations with newcomers, or at Morning Prayer over Zoom, or the Young Adult meetup on Wednesday evening, or the very off-the-cuff movie screening we threw, or the Young Adult Bible Study, there were wonderful questions and observations that are still swimming in my mind. All of these kept me on my toes as I began to meditate on what the Holy Spirit would ask me to say today.
Our readings this morning point to deeper reflection on each of these subjects, offering vast constellations of possible meaning by which we can navigate our journeys of faith. Weaving all these together is worthwhile, because this rich assemblage of readings and our own contemporary conversations are so lifegiving. I want to enter this with a Latin phrase as a compass to find our way, that phrase is: “Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.” It roughly means: the way of prayer is the way of belief is the way of life. It’s a motto that reminds us that prayer, faith, and how we live are all one thing. Put another way, it means we bring into reality that which we pray and believe by living it. It is a cornerstone of Anglican and Episcopal thought, helping us see that our liturgies—how we worship and serve—express our beliefs in an authoritative way.
Micah 6.8, perhaps the most famous prophetic writing of Hebrew Scripture, captures all of this perfectly. There is a rabbi (Rabbi Simlai bar Abba) who once preached that “Six hundred and thirteen precepts were communicated to Moses, three hundred and sixty-five negative precepts… Micah came and reduced them to three principles, as it is written: ‘He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’” While written for a Jewish context, this applies to us as Christians in worship too, because our worship is focused on humbling ourselves joyfully before God in song, the words we say, and then in partaking in the divine through communion, giving thanks for all that God has given us, and for Jesus’ own life and example. It is a beautiful and poetic reframing of who we are in relation to God’s love.
Doing justice is something that heals and repairs a broken and hurting world, loving kindness is engaging in acts of deep generosity and compassion. Walking humbly with God, or as an alternative translation, to walk wisely with our God, is to understand that we are not the center of the universe, but that we are a part of something so much larger than we can ever conceive. That humbling allows us the freedom to do justice, to love kindness, because we are on a level playing with our human siblings as we strive to live lives of blessing. We pray this to ingrain these beliefs into ourselves, so we can faithfully live them into reality as we go about our daily lives.
There are many, myself included, who believe that Jesus’ favorite scripture was likely Micah 6.8. We can telegraph all that it says directly into what we hear from Jesus in our gospel reading this morning.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Each of those are about doing justice, loving kindness, or walking humbly with God. And to be clear, these are present, active blessings, not some distant future. Jesus is saying those who mourn are blessed now, the meek are blessed now, the hungry and thirsty are blessed now, the merciful are blessed now, the pure in heart are blessed now, the peacemakers are blessed now, those persecuted for righteousness’ sake are blessed now. This is the present reality, born of divine love, lived by we who pray it, because Jesus prayed it and lived it before us.
And, one can just as quickly look around at the world and the news from every corner of it, and wonder whether what Micah said and that Jesus lived is foolishness, because, well, look around, how can any of this be true? The world is so fouled with hate, greed, pain, and loneliness, how could anyone believe what Micah or Jesus says are current realities?
This is where I return to the motto of “lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.” We pray that these are real, we believe that it is real, and we faithfully live it as reality. And there are examples of this everywhere, here at St. Paul’s, across our diocese, and our global Anglican Communion, let alone the great variety of our many other siblings in faith. Whether it is our attempts to feed and clothe those who are less fortunate, or inviting those who are suffering to join us in their grief by being compassionate, or the joy of newfound friendship, we do our best to live these blessings into reality. Our prayers, faith, and life may seem foolish in the face of the way the world is ordered, by corporate capitalism and the greed that often defines it, or the ruthlessly power hungry who care for nothing but pulling levers that deeply and often painfully restructure or end the lives of others, or the despondency that so many feel in the face of environmental, political, racial and socioeconomic crises of all stripes.
But, as St. Paul wrote for us and we read today, it is exactly this kind of divine foolishness with which God prepares for divine reality world.
“Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? …For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”
I pray that we are foolish enough to believe and foolish enough to live God’s vision for us. May we be fools and follow Jesus, because we know and see the wisdom of the world and its results. Why not risk the foolishness? Why wouldn’t we live differently? Be what we pray, be happy fools who follows in Jesus’ footsteps. The world is too dangerous and too in need of love for us not to pray foolishly, believe foolishly, live foolishly in the grace and love of God. The world is already different because of it. “Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.”