Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sermon: St. Bernard of Clairvaux

19 August 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 15:7-11 (Ecclus 39:1-10, Rev 3:7-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In our ever-changing world, it’s easy to forget how important the past is. And for us Lutherans, it is very easy to forget that we are part of a Church that spans back in time well beyond the time of Luther, a time that includes the middle ages – even though in many ways, those were dark times for the Christian Church.

In this darkness, there were still lights. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who lived in the 12th century, 400 years before Luther, was one such light. Bernard was a monk who prayed and an abbot who led men in prayer. He was a Christian who delved the depths of God’s love, as well as a doctor of the Church who wrote on matters theological. He was a man under orders who understood that his duty to the truth meant, at times, even criticizing popes.

Luther quoted St. Bernard in his own sermons and lectures. Our Lutheran Confessions mention Bernard eight times, even quoting him in support the Lutheran teaching on faith, and calling him a “holy father.” Two of St. Bernard’s hymns are in our hymnal, and we are singing them tonight: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded and O Jesus, King Most Wonderful.

St. Bernard was a doctor of the church, but he was always a student of the Scriptures, one “who [devoted] himself to the study of the law of the Most High,” who sought out “the wisdom of all the ancients,” “concerned with prophecies,” one who preserved “the discourse of notable men,” a disciple of parables and proverbs. And Bernard was certainly to “appear before rulers,” respected for both his learning and his piety, St. Bernard was a reformer before the reformation.

But St. Bernard was not a people-pleaser. He did not shy away from wagging a finger at prince or pope when they needed to be rebuked. Bernard never sought fame and glory by seeking high office in the church – whether as a bishop or as a bureaucrat. Bernard’s weapons of choice were prayer and the pen.

Our Lord Jesus promises: “If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples.”

Nearly a thousand years after the life of St. Bernard, we Christians can pause on this day and reflect on one of the Lord’s humble, and yet fruitful servants. For as we confess in our Augsburg Confession: “Our churches teach that the history of the saints may be set before us so that we may follow the example of their faith and good works, according to our calling.”

Though none of us are called to monastic life, we are all called to pray. Though none of us have the vocation of universal “doctor of the Church,” we all have the vocation to study the Scriptures. Though none of us are called upon to give up all worldly possessions and live as paupers for the sake of the kingdom, we are all called upon to be good stewards with what the Lord gives us to manage for the sake of the Kingdom.

We are, like St. Bernard, living in difficult and dark days. Both the Church and the world have made peace with the “synagogue of Satan.” And we indeed, like the Church of Philadelphia that our Lord addresses in the Book of Revelation, “have but little power,” and yet, we are called upon to keep the Lord’s Word in spite of it all, in “patient endurance,” knowing that the Lord sets before us “an open door” leading to eternal paradise, a door that no-one, neither “life nor death, nor angel nor ruler” is able to slam shut.

For as St. Bernard reminds the Church, the Lord says clearly: “I have loved you.” And the Lord promises to watch over us in every time of trial.

We Christians are blessed by the long train of saints, from the apostles, through the early church fathers, down through the days of the middle ages and reformation, right up to the saints we have today: parents, friends, grandparents, teachers, and other Christians the Lord gives us as gifts to set examples for us to follow, and who serve as channels of His love and grace to us through their various vocations and godly callings.

Though St. Bernard of Clairvaux never sought the riches of the world nor the praise of men, we Christians remember him with reverence, affection, and joy for the life given to him at baptism, and the life he offered to the Lord as a living stone in the temple of the Lord’s Holy Church. The praise of the writer of Ecclesiasticus is most fitting to be read in honor of our brother, Blessed Bernard, who himself followed in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ:

“He will be filled with the spirit of understanding; he will pour forth his words of wisdom and give thanks to the Lord in prayer. He will direct his counsel and knowledge aright and meditate on his secrets. He will reveal instruction in his teaching and will glory in the law of the Lord’s covenant. Many will praise his understanding, and it will never be blotted out; his memory will not disappear, and his name will live though all generations. Nations will declare his wisdom, and the congregation will proclaim his praise.”

Praise and thanks to God for providing the Church with such saints. For they provide us with courage in times of trouble. As our Blessed Lord promises: “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full,” and, “I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.


Matthias Flacius said...

A few comments on Bernard:

He did not actually write "O Sacred Head Now Wounded." The hymn is part of larger late medieval Cistercian hymn that focuses on the crucified body of Christ. However, his writings and sermons certainly shaped the understanding of this hymn's later medieval writer.

Additionally, Bernard went on numerous preaching tours in which thousands of people from various social classes heard him preach repentance. He opposed the early form of the dualist heretics (Cathars) in southern France with preaching tours there.

Although an ardent proponent of strict monasticism, he recognized that most Christians were not called to that religious vocation.

He did preach the Second Crusade for his former monk, Pope Eugenius III. He emphasize the opportunity for the lay knights' conversion through repentance. Bernard specifically instructed crusaders not to attack Jews in Europe and censured a preacher named Ralph who encouraged others to attack Jews.

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Very nice sermon, Father. I'm very thankful that Bernard, a great icon of Christ, is the occasion of great preaching among more of our people. Well done.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Here is a sermon Bernard preached. See if you think it's up to snuff.

Why Another Crusade?

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux
(About 1145)

YOU 1 can not but know that we live in a period of chastisement and ruin; the enemy of mankind has caused the breath of corruption to fly over all regions; we behold nothing but unpunished wickedness. The laws of men or the laws of religion have no longer sufficient power to check depravity of manners and the triumph of the wicked. The demon of heresy has taken possession of the chair of truth, and God has sent forth His malediction upon His sanctuary. 1
Oh, ye who listen to me, hasten then to appease the anger of Heaven, but no longer implore His goodness by vain complaints; clothe not yourselves in sackcloth, but cover yourselves with your impenetrable bucklers; the din of arms, the dangers, the labors, the fatigues of war are the penances that God now imposes upon you. Hasten then to expiate your sins by victories over the infidels, and let the deliverance of holy places be the reward of your repentance. 2
If it were announced to you that the enemy had invaded your cities, your castles, your lands; had ravished your wives and your daughters, and profaned your temples—which among you would not fly to arms? Well, then, all these calamities, and calamities still greater, have fallen upon your brethren, upon the family of Jesus Christ, which is yours. Why do you hesitate to repair so many evils—to revenge so many outrages? Will you allow the infidels to contemplate in peace the ravages they have committed on Christian people? Remember that their triumph will be a subject for grief to all ages and an eternal opprobrium upon the generation that has endured it. Yes, the living God has charged me to announce to you that He will punish them who shall not have defended Him against His enemies. 3
Fly then to arms; let a holy rage animate you in the fight, and let the Christian world resound with these words of the prophet, “Cursed be he who does not stain his sword with blood!” If the Lord calls you to the defense of His heritage think not that His hand has lost its power. Could He not send twelve legions of angels or breathe one word and all His enemies would crumble away into dust? But God has considered the sons of men, to open for them the road to His mercy. His goodness has caused to dawn for you a day of safety by calling on you to avenge His glory and His name. 4
Christian warriors, He who gave His life for you, to-day demands yours in return. These are combats worthy of you, combats in which it is glorious to conquer and advantageous to die. Illustrious knights, generous defenders of the Cross, remember the example of your fathers who conquered Jerusalem, and whose names are inscribed in Heaven; abandon then the things that perish, to gather unfading palms, and conquer a Kingdom which has no end.

Note 1. From a sermon given in part in the English edition of Michaud’s “History of the Crusades.” Bernard had been delegated by the pope to preach the Second Crusade, which ended in complete disaster to the army sent out by Europe.

Is this in any way compatible with Lutheran thinking???

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Another Bernard quote:

In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may obtain the assistance of her prayer, neglect not to walk in her footsteps. With her for guide, you shall never go astray; while invoking her, you shall never lose heart; so long as she is in your mind, you are safe from deception; while she holds your hand, you cannot fall; under her protection you have nothing to fear; if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favor, you shall reach the goal.

- Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Anastasia:

And don't forget this quote about the Blessed Virgin Mary:

"gratiae inventrix, mediatrix, salutis restauratrix saeculorum."