Unwelcome Truths – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

Luke 4:16-30

Perhaps it was in the way he carried himself, the way he strode confidently to the front of the room to take his place before the gathered assembly of friends and neighbors.  Maybe it was the way he looked out over his audience with calm and serene eyes that sparkled with an inner certainty, as if he was the keeper of a great secret.  Or maybe it was the quality of his voice that was different, a ring of certainty they had never noticed before, the unmistakable authority with which he spoke, the powerful authenticity of words coming from one who knows whereof he speaks.

Whatever it was, when Jesus rose to read and comment on the scriptures in the synagogue of his hometown of Nazareth, those present fell silent, fixed their eyes on him and listened.  They knew who he was, of course, but there was something different about him that day, something they had never seen before, or – if it had been present – they had completely failed to notice.

With the certainty of a man on a mission, he asks for the scroll of the book of the prophet Isaiah, confidently unrolls it to the 61st chapter, and reads,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

With every eye now fixed upon him, he carefully rolls up the scroll, hands it back to the attendant, and sits down. “TODAY,” he says, boldly and clearly and with unmistakable authority, “this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”[1] Continue reading

Jesus, God Emmanuel – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

John 8:51-59

51Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.’ 52The Jews said to him, ‘Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, “Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.” 53Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets also died. Who do you claim to be?’ 54Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, “He is our God”, 55though you do not know him. But I know him; if I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him and I keep his word. 56Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.’ 57Then the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’* 58Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.’ 59So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

Several years ago, the author Bruce Filer produced a book entitled Abraham, about the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  The book soared to the New York Times Bestseller List for more than six months.[i] Abraham is a very important name today, as it was in Jesus’ own time.  For Jesus to claim what we hear in this gospel passage – “before Abraham was, I am” – was two strikes (or we might say, two stones [sic]) against him: it sounded both preposterous and blasphemous.  Preposterous because it was through Abraham that a nation had been formed and God’s everlasting promises were made  many centuries prior to Jesus.  Everyone knew that.  Jesus is a nobody from Nazareth.  “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” they used to say.[ii] Jesus is preposterous.  Secondly, Jesus’ saying, “before Abraham was, I am,” seemed blasphemous because this sounded very much like the conversation Moses had with God, recorded in the Book of Exodus, who identifies himself as “I am.”[iii] The Hebrew actually translates, “I will be who I will be,” nevertheless Jesus’ saying “before Abraham was I am” was too close for comfort.[iv] The crowd was prepared to stone him, they thought quite justifiably. Continue reading

Slow Growth – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Mark 4:26-29

This parable of the seed growing secretly (Mark 4:26-29) is found only in Mark’s Gospel – and its teaching is urgently needed in our speed-crazed world.

God created time, and hallowed time – and I think God likes us to spend time, and not try to beat it!

“I waited patiently upon the Lord: he stooped to me and heard my cry,” the Psalmist says.

“O tarry, and await the Lord’s pleasure.  Be strong, and he shall comfort your heart.  Wait patiently for the Lord.”

We ourselves are sometimes in too much of a hurry, spiritually, expecting God, at our bidding, to work miracles overnight.

And we often judge the progress of God’s kingdom by what we can see.  But so often the real growth happens unseen. Continue reading

#Penitence: Loving Penitence – Br. James Koester

4_PenitenceWe Brothers are helping people write and introduce fresh prayers into the Prayers of the People by learning about the seven principal forms of prayer identified in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer: adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, oblation, intercession, and petition.

We invite your prayers to the God of forgiveness in words and images on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram in the format #prayersof #penitence … you may want to start “I am sorry…”
View the prayers of othersprayersofthepeople.org

To read more sermons about the seven forms of prayer: Teach Us to Pray

Br. James Koester offered this homily on the prayer of penitence at the Monastery as part of the Teach Us to Pray series, January 26, 2010.

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle: Acts 26: 9 – 21; Psalm 67; Galatians 1: 11 – 24; Matthew 10: 16 – 22

We continue tonight our preaching series on prayer, drawing as we have done for this series, from the Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer and its teaching on prayer. There we read that “prayer is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.[1] In addition, the Catechism teaches us that the principal kinds of prayer are “adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, oblation, intercession, and thanksgiving.”[2]

Tonight we look at the prayer of penitence, a prayer most apt for us as we approach the coming days of Lent, but one equally appropriate as we examine it through the lens of the feast we mark tonight, the Conversion of Saint Paul, for penitence, to be life-giving, needs to be grounded not in fear of reprisal or retaliation but in our own ongoing conversion to the loving will of God. Continue reading

The Blessed Virgin Mary – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Since the Middle Ages, Saturday has normally been a day to especially remember, to commemorate the Blessed Virgin Mary, a tradition we follow here at the Monastery.  Hence the liturgical color for today: blue, because of heavenly blue.  One of the titles ascribed to Mary is “Queen of Heaven.”

We know from the Gospel accounts that Mary said “yes” to the visiting angels who bore the news to Mary that she was to be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah.  In our hymnody, this has been called “the glad tidings” of the angels.  That’s how it ended, but it’s not how it began.  Mary’s first reaction to the angels’ news was fear and disbelief?  “How can this be?” she says.  Of course the Gospel account was written down many, many decades following this event, and so what we read in the Gospels are the remembered, edited snippets of what happened long ago.  We don’t know how long it took Mary to finally say “yes” to God: “Be it unto me according to your word” as we read the Gospel account.  Nor do we know if the angels visited other women prior to Mary, women who said “no, no thank you.”[i] Continue reading

“Something for today” – Br. Mark Brown

Br. Mark Brown

Today we remember Vincent of Saragossa, who died under torture in the year 304.  His offense was having given outspoken witness to the Christian faith before a Roman tribunal.

It’s good to remember the witness of the martyrs–the memory of their deeds inspires us. But there is also a danger.  There’s a danger of forgetting about what we can call ordinary, day by day martyrdom.

The word martyr has come to refer to someone who gives up their life in witness to the faith.  But martyr is an ordinary Greek word that means witness, any kind of witness.  And we all give witness.  To something.  Because we human beings are profoundly social creatures, we give witness every moment of the day.  To something. All that we say, all that we do.  All we don’t say, all we fail to do—every bit of it gives witness.  To something.

What’s the something?  What’s the something for today?  To what shall we give witness today?  What shall it be?  It will be something—we will give witness today.  To what shall it be?

#Oblation: The Prayer of Oblation – Br. Mark Brown

5_OblationWe Brothers are helping people write and introduce fresh prayers into the Prayers of the People by learning about the seven principal forms of prayer identified in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer: adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, oblation, intercession, and petition.

We invite your prayers to the God of vision in words and images on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram in the format #prayersof #oblation … you may want to start “I offer to you…”
View the prayers of othersprayersofthepeople.org

To read more sermons about the seven forms of prayer: Teach Us to Pray

Br. Mark Brown offered this homily on the prayer of oblation at the Monastery as part of the Teach Us to Pray series, January 19, 2010.

This evening we continue our series entitled “Teach Us to Pray”.  In October we heard sermons on the Prayer of Praise, the Prayer of Thanksgiving, the Prayer of Intercession, and the Prayer of Adoration.

This evening: the Prayer of Oblation, that is, the prayer of offering, of self-offering. Next week the Prayer of Penitence, the following week, the Prayer of Petition.  Each week we invite you for soup and conversation with the preacher following the service downstairs in the undercroft.

The Prayer of Oblation.  Let’s begin with baptism. In our baptism we are baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We are baptized into his light, immersed in his light.  We are baptized in his Spirit, baptized into his love, inundated by his love, engulfed by his love, permeated by his love.  In our baptismal vows, we promise to respond as best we can to our immersion in his light, his life, and his love. Continue reading

“God does sit with us and grieve” – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

I had a bright, shiny sermon prepared for today about the wedding at Cana in Galilee, and about how in that story Jesus’ presence transformed everything so that everything and everyone in the story seemed to shimmer in the radiance of God’s glory.  And then I saw the horrifying photographs of Haiti.  Death, destruction, suffering and devastation.

In my prayers, I reflected on that other day which I always find so challenging.

August 6th, the day when we celebrate in church the Transfiguration of Christ, when on the holy mountain Christ’s face was irradiated with divine glory, is also the day when we remember the disfiguration of the people of Hiroshima, whose faces were irradiated with deadly heat and radiation.

We who are Christians, we who know and worship a God whom we call Love, we need to try to make sense of what has happened in Haiti.  We may not be able to completely understand, but we need in some way to make sense of it for ourselves.  I heard a Haitian woman yesterday as she held up her hands say, “One minute I try to hold on to my faith.  The next I say, ‘God, why us?’” Continue reading

From Battle, Murder and Sudden Death – Br. James Koester

In this homily, given at the Society’s monthly requiem, Br. James offers a helpful perspective and way to pray for the living and the dead of Haiti.

There is a phrase that comes to us from the Great Litany, which when I heard it growing up in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s elicited a smile from me. It was so beyond my world experience that I could only think it quaint, coming as it did, from another time and place, far removed from the realities of my own life: “From battle, murder and sudden death; Good Lord, deliver us.”

Growing up as I did in Canada, removed from the immediate effects of Viet Nam I knew no one my age who contemplated seriously the thought of going to war. No one I knew in my neighbourhood had been murdered and sudden death came only in car accidents, and even those were rare occurrences. In my world, death came after a long life, and usually happened in your own bed. Continue reading

One Thing:  In Honor of Richard Meux Benson SSJE – Br. David Vryhof

R.M. Benson – I Kings 19:9-12; Psalm 27:5-11; I John 4:7-12; John 15:9-17

Today we remember the founder of our community, Fr. Benson, who died on this day in 1915.  We have received a great deal from him, and his example and teaching continue to inspire our life and mission today.

Fr. Benson was a man who made a strong impression on those he met.  One of his contemporaries described him as “shabby, untidy, ill-kempt, and quite eccentric,” but at the same time claimed that  there was “a divine tenderness (that) shone through all that was most uncouth” (p.19).  It seemed to those who knew him that his gaze was always fixed on things above, which were just as real to him – and far more valuable – than things below.  He lived in the presence of God. “He conveyed a sense of the immediacy and nearness of God,” says Donald Allchin.  “There was something in him and around him which spoke of eternal and heavenly realities” (A.M. Allchin, in Benson of Cowley, p. 19).   Continue reading

The Rule of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist


We Brothers welcome you to a share one of our daily practices: listening to and reflecting on a chapter of our Rule of Life.

  • To listen to the SSJE Rule of Life, read aloud by a brother, click on the chapters to the left.
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Aelred of Rievaulx and SSJE’s Stone & Light – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis AlmquistJohn 15:9-17

In the calendar of the church we remember today Aelred of Rievaulx, who was born in year 1109 not far from Durham, England.  He was educated in Scotland and as a young man served in the Scottish King David’s court.  At age 24, Aelred decided to become a Cistercian monk.  Cistercian monks were 11th century French reformers of Benedictine monasticism, and they set out to more strictly follow the Rule of Saint Benedict.[i] By the end of the 12th century, more than 500 Cistercian monasteries had been built in France, England, and throughout Europe.  Aelred, at age 38, was made Abbot of the great Rievaulx Abbey, the first Cistercian Abbey in the north of England, founded just 15 years earlier in 1132.

Chapel_ArchesI imagine some of you here have visited the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey.  It’s in the most serene, pastoral setting and with the most stunning architecture, something distinctive for Cistercians.  Many of the most beautiful buildings of the Middle Ages were Cistercian monasteries: Fountains Abbey, Tintern Abbey, Byland Abbey, Aelred’s Rievaulx Abbey, to name just a few.  More than one hundred Cistercian monasteries were built in England alone.

Cistercian architecture has been called the architecture of silence: austere and simple, focusing on stone and light, with open, proportional space, and visual harmony.  The early Cistercian architecture drew inspiration from Romanesque, then Gothic architecture, two traditions which also inspired the architect of this monastery and chapel, Ralph Adams Cram.[ii] I’ll describe several architectural features of Cistercian monasteries which we also find here in this beautiful monastic chapel. Continue reading

Here Be Dragons – Br. James Koester

Br. James KoesterFeast of the Baptism of Our Lord: The First Sunday after the Epiphany

Isaiah 43: 1 – 7; Psalm 29; Acts 8: 14 – 17; Luke 3: 15 – 17, 21 – 22

Did you notice it? Did you notice something different this past Christmas? There was something palpably different with our Christmas celebrations this year and I believe it had to do with the crèche.

It’s not, I think, that the crèche itself that was especially unusual. We have had unusual and thought provoking crèches in Christmases past. Some of you may remember the year we had the Holy Family as street people seeking shelter from the wind in the back corner of the chapel with Mary looking like one of the bag ladies we often see in Harvard Square. There was also the year that Mary was faceless, and in place of her face was a mirror so that when you gazed at her you saw your own reflection and somehow you knew that you too were meant to bear, and carry and give birth to the Incarnate Son of God in our world today. You may remember the year we had the almost life sized iconographic depictions of the Mary and Joseph and the Christ Child with the ox and ass peering over the stall. And last year we had that wonderful shadow-box Nativity scene carved from a single piece of wood. No, we’ve had unusual crèche scenes before, and oddly enough the crèche we had displayed this year was not all that unusual. No, what was unusual about this year was not the crèche itself, but rather how it demanded you to encounter it. Continue reading

The Love of Jesus – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

1 John 3:18-24

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

Our reading from the First Letter of John includes a verb which is repeated in the Gospel according to John and in the three Letters of John: love.  This is a distinctive kind of love which is not obvious in English but readily apparent in the Greek.  When John peaks here of love – for us to “love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” – he is using the word agapē love.[i] This is not the love of inclination (another verb), that is to love people who are like-minded or who have our similar interests: if you love opera you may be inclined to love other opera buffs; if you love rooting for the New England Patriots, love anchovies, love Republicans… you’re inclined feel like one of them because you share something in common.  No, the verb used here is not the love of inclination.[ii] Nor is this the love of affection, that is people who are dear to you, who have found their way into your heart, not necessarily because of some shared value, or preference, or interest you share, but more likely something very personal and where you find genuine affection for one another – someone’s who’s a very good friend, who travels the way with you, understands you, cherishes you, challenges you.  You might call them your buddy or soul mate.[iii] No, not that kind of love does John speak of in this letter.  Nor does John use here yet another Greek verb for love, eros, erotic, passionate love, the love of our sexual chemistry.[iv] Continue reading

God’s Epiphany – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Br. Geoffrey Tristram

“Wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, asking ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?  For we observed his star in the east, and have come to pay him homage.”

Who were these extraordinary people?  Only Matthew mentions them, but they have worked on the imaginations of centuries of worshippers.  By the 5th century these wise men had become kings.  By the 8th century they each had a name, and by the 14th century one was Asian, one European and one African, to represent the three continents of the known world – so Christ reveals himself, his Epiphany – to the whole world.

What fascinates me about them is what it is which caused these men who were probably wealthy, well-respected, comfortable – what made them leave their homes, and go on this long, dangerous journey?  The poet W. H. Auden put it this way, “We three know that this journey is much too long, that we want our dinners, and miss our wives, our books, our dogs.  But have only the vaguest idea why we are what we are.  To discover how to be human now, is the reason we follow the star.” Continue reading

The Flight into Egypt – Br. Eldridge Pendleton

Br. Eldridge PendletonJeremiah 31: 7-14; Psalm 84: 1-8; Ephesians 1: 3-6, 15-19a; Matthew 2: 13-15, 19-23

I have been reading Tracy Kidder’s Strength in What Remains, the story of a young Burundian Tutsi who fled for his life to the United States after great suffering and months of running and hiding during the genocidal holocaust that swept through Burundi and neighboring Rwanda fifteen years ago.  Throughout the long months of massacre in which he lost members of his family, friends and neighbors, Deo Gratias, for that is his name, lived in the forest a hunted man, constantly on the run, starving and sick, until a friend and former classmate at medical school (and, ironically, a Hutu, the ethnic group responsible for the slaughter), saved his life by helping him get a visa and a plane ticket to the United States.  Deo arrived in America virtually penniless, and without a job or the ability to speak English.  He barely survived.  Then a series of miraculous encounters involving a former nun, a lawyer, a childless couple and Dr. Paul Farmer turned his life around and enabled him to get a degree from Columbia, finish medical school, and embark on a project to build a free clinic in a remote area of Burundi that would not only minister to the sick but also bring peace and reconciliation to the warring ethnic factions of that region.  Experiencing years of such abject tragedy could easily have embittered him, but instead it had the opposite effect.  This is an amazing story of one man’s determination to work wonders against all odds, and how his personal dedication and sense of mission have inspired others and liberated them from fear and violence.

I came to this story of the Holy Family’s flight into exile in Egypt with the modern story of Deo’s escape to the United States fresh in my mind and remembered the many millions who have had to undergo similar traumatic moves to flee evil and death.  Continue reading