Sermon for the Initial Profession of Br Josias Morobi

Readings used for the service

There is an old lament in monastic communities that people comes and they goes, but mostly they goes… It reflects the reality that many more people enter a Monastery than are ever life professed. It may seem surprising, but that is exactly how it should be. People come and test a vocation and that testing confirms that most people, even very wonderful people, are not truly called to be monks. So, they go. It is a healthy process – though it can be painful.

This was almost the story of Brother Josias. He came to us first in 2007 when we lived in Grahamstown, now Makhanda, in the Eastern Cape. He was with us until 2013 and was dearly loved, but as they say, people comes and they goes… And at some point, Josias went. He discerned that it was not the right time or the right community for him.

Br Josias with community in 2012

But apparently there is more to the old lament… people comes and they goes, and mostly they goes… but sometimes, they comes back… Times change… communities change… we all change. And so, it is with great joy and happiness that the Order of the Holy Cross welcomes Josias back to what we pray is now the right time and the right community.

I asked Br Josias if he was thinking of taking a name in religion for profession. His reply was swift and clear – nope… But he didn’t leave it at that. Josias, he reminded me, is a form of Josiah, one of the kings in the Second Book of Kings. It is already a name in religion… So, what can we learn from this King Josiah… from Josias’ namesake?

According to 2nd Kings: “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did – with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength…” So, Josias, you have your work cut out for you if you plan to keep up with your namesake…

King Josiah, among other things, is remembered for decluttering Jerusalem. He drove out mediums and spiritualists. He took away idols and called people back to a faithful observance of Passover.

These days it is unthinkable that a faithful Jew would not keep Passover, but at the time of King Josiah, the sacred tradition had apparently been lost. This call to faithful observance, to faithful worship was truly a great achievement in the history of Judaism.

At the heart of Jewish worship is the ancient temple creed: Shema Ysrael. “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” It is part of every worship service.

The author of 2nd Kings tells us that no king loved the Lord more faithfully than Josiah with all his heart, and soul, and might. This description in 2nd Kings is a quote of Schema Yisrael. King Josiah is a faithful and powerful witness of how to be a faithful Jew. In Christian tradition, we might call him a saint.

Of course, if we went a little further into the Book of Kings, we would learn that King Josiah also killed thousands of people… including those mediums and spiritualists that he “cleared” away… Let us hope that Josias’ identification with Josiah stops a few paragraphs before the end…

This ancient temple creed, Schema Yisrael, in important in Christian tradition because it was important to Jesus. It is the answer Jesus gives when asked to name the most important commandment. Jesus says you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your might. Schema Yisrael. But Jesus goes a step further. Jesus adds you shall love your neighbor as yourself – a quote from Leviticus. This combination of creed and law forms the underpinning of Jesus’ faith. Love God and love God’s children and also love yourself.

We have many concepts of love, but for me the most helpful in this context is from The Rev Dr Martin Luther King. Dr King taught that justice is God’s love in calculation. For Dr King, love and justice could not be separated. I believe that for Br Josias, the same is true.

I asked our Br Timothy, Prior of the Community in Grahamstown when Josias was there, for his thoughts on Josias. The first thing that came to his mind was compassion – another word for the love and justice of which Dr King spoke. Timothy noted that Josias has a vast amount of compassion – especially for young people. And Josias has a vast amount of compassion for people living with disabilities. When you put those things together – young people living with disabilities, the brightness of Josias’ compassion is blinding. Perhaps second only to his vocation to monastic life is his vocation to work with young people with disabilities. Or perhaps those vocations are equal…

I was looking at an issue of the Journal of Theology for Southern Africa, a journal in which our own beloved Dr John de Gruchy played a founding role, at an article titled Socio-Ethical Well Being of People with Intellectual Disability in Black Communities: A Christian Socio-Ethical study.

The author of the article notes that treating people with various disabilities is not just a social good, not just a legal requirement, but a moral imperative, and a requirement of Christian Faith. The author reminds us that the Prophet Amos condemned injustice and especially the mistreatment of the poor and powerless, a category that surely includes people with disabilities. Amos placed nothing above justice and righteousness. Ominously, Amos warns that if we do not show concern for the powerless, we will have to answer for the harm that comes their way. But it doesn’t stop with Amos. Jesus’ concern for the poor and the powerless cannot be overstated – it is essential to the good news, the Gospel.

If the topic interests you, you don’t have to rely on my thin, second-hand interpretation. The author is right here… The author is our very own Br Josias. Josias frames the discussion, like he would frame just about any discussion I suppose, in a framework of Christian Morality.

The psalmist tells us that mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other. This is what happens when we bring our passions together – when Josias brings his passion for monastic life and his passion for those with disabilities together… This is what happens for all of us when we live in the various pieces of our vocation and allow them to harmonize with each other, allow them to kiss each other. The light of compassion blazes as bright as the sun. This is something for us all – in ways large and small. Imagine how bright the world would be if we found ways for justice and mercy to kiss in each of us.

St Irenaeus said, nearly two thousand years ago, the glory of God is the Human Person fully alive. Of course, scholars debate if the Saint really said this and, if he did, what did he mean… This is why I am not a scholar… To me, this is a call from St Irenaeus to live fully into the identity that God has given to each of us. But it is also the case that God is not terribly specific in that identity. God may have given us, for example, the gift of making music, but whether we live into that gift by singing on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera or by performing music therapy with autistic children, I don’t think God really cares. What I do know is that in order to feel whole, in order to be fully alive, we must do something with God’s gifts.

I’m not done with Josias’ article from the Journal of Theology for Southern Africa… Josias draws the article to a conclusion with a reflection on Ubuntu. Josias says the value of Ubuntu is manifested in the shared relationships between people, the natural world, and the deity. Archbishop Desmond Tutu described Ubuntu this way – a person is a person through other people.

Josias clarifies that Ubuntu is made concrete through values such as mutual respect, the significance of community, the quality of being and of morality. Someone who lacks these qualities could be said to be a non-person, to lack Ubuntu.

In modern times in Western Europe and North America we have not valued the concept of Ubuntu – to say the least. We have favored instead individualism and self-sufficiency. And this shifted value system has played a part in the formation of South Africa with its blend of European and African values.

St Benedict is recognized as a founding figure of Western Monasticism. If we had to sum up Benedict’s spirituality of being a monk, we could use the word Ubuntu – or as the Arch might say, a monk is a monk through other monks. We could take that a step further by noting that a Christian is a Christian through other Christians.

Martin Luther King observed that the moral arc of history is long but tends toward justice. I think there is truth to that, although the arc is very, very long and the tendency toward justice can be extremely subtle… That’s where we come in.

Josias, God has given you a gift of great passion for justice and God’s gifts require that we use them. Part of your vocation in the Order of the Holy Cross will be to help bend the moral arc of history further toward justice. You will have the power of prayer and the love of your community on this journey. In the short run you may not necessarily have the gratitude of your community… but in the long run, we will shape and guide each other and help to build God’s Kingdom by bending the arc of history just a little further in the direction of justice.

Readings used: 2nd Kings 23: 21-26

The king gave this order to all the people: “Celebrate the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.” Neither in the days of the judges who led Israel nor in the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah had any such Passover been observed. But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover was celebrated to the Lord in Jerusalem.

Furthermore, Josiah got rid of the mediums and spiritists, the household gods, the idols and all the other detestable things seen in Judah and Jerusalem. This he did to fulfill the requirements of the law written in the book that Hilkiah the priest had discovered in the temple of the Lord. Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.

Matthew 22: 34-40

When the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

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