I Believe in Churches – Br. James Koester

Ezekiel 34: 11-16; Psalm 87; 2 Timothy 4: 1-8; John 21: 15-19

A friend of mine once proclaimed quite forcefully and with real passion that he believed in churches. What an odd thing to believe in I thought when I heard him. I believe in lots of things, but I wasn’t sure that I was prepared to say that I believe in churches. I certainly believe in God, and in the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that he continues to manifest his presence among us today in the sacrament of the Eucharist and in the gift of the Holy Spirit. I certainly believe in THE Church, that “wonderful and sacred mystery”1 which is “the blessed company of all faithful people”2 as various Prayer Books have described her. But do I believe in churches? That’s a different matter.

When I first heard my friend talk about believing in churches, I wasn’t prepared to go there. Churches after all, were just buildings and having served in a couple of parishes that had some quite wonderful buildings, I know how easy it is to slip from the worship of God, to the worship of buildings. And yet….

For over a decade now, we in the community have been dreaming, and thinking, and praying, and talking about these buildings. It all began one August during community chapter and discussions when we talked about how there must be an easier way to get in and out of the monastery. From there the conversation developed into wouldn’t it be nice if we had…? And what about…? We even talked about the unspeakable: have these buildings outlived their usefulness? Would we be better off selling and moving somewhere else?

Over and over again the conversations ended up here, in this chapel, talking about this place and what it means to us as a community and what it means to so many of you. For many of us, this place is much more than a building; it is a sacrament of God. Continue reading

Litany of Thanksgiving for the Monastery

Let us thank God whom we worship in the beauty of holiness.

Eternal God, the heaven of heavens cannot contain you, much less the walls of temples made with hands. Graciously receive our thanks for this monastery, and accept these gifts of stone and light which we offer to your honour and glory.

For the Church universal, of which these visible buildings are the symbol,
We thank you, Lord.

For workers in stone and glass and metal, and all those who use their skills for your honour and glory,
We thank you, Lord.

For our benefactors, whose generosity have made this place possible, and who now enable it to be renewed,
We thank you, Lord. Continue reading

Renovation & Renewal – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Every summer my parents would bundle me and my two brothers and my sister into the car, and we would set off on holiday to the other end of England. I remember on the way we would keep seeing enticing signs: turn left – a castle just a mile along that road – or 2 miles on the right to the beach. O let’s go see the castle we’d say – or let’s walk on the beach! But my father would keep driving. We can’t stop – we have to keep going or we’ll never get to our destination before dark.

When I read the Gospels I encounter Jesus with a clear purpose and destination. Indeed he would rise a long time before dawn to spend time with his Father in prayer, in order to refocus on that destination, to keep going straight and unswervingly along the road which his Father had set before him. Continue reading

“I can’t go on” – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof offers encouragement for how, in moments of desolation, we might move from “I can’t go on” to God’s hopeful word, “Do not be afraid.”

This sermon currently is available only in audio format.

Science and Religion – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

“The heavens declare the glory of God.
and the firmament shows his handiwork.” (Ps 19:1)

Does it?  Do the heavens declare the glory of God?  When you look at the heavens, do you see written/declared/proclaimed, God’s glory?

I think I was about 15 when I came across Bertrand Russell’s slim volume Why I am not a Christian and I declared to my friends and my teachers, probably pretentiously, to shock, that I was no longer a Christian.  When I looked into the heavens, I may have seen something inspiring, but I would have told myself that it had nothing to do with God.

Well, as you can see, as the years went by I changed my views.  But I never lost my respect for the scientific method and for the vision and purpose of science, nor sensed any real clash between the purposes of science and religion.  Even back at the Renaissance, there was a clear demarcation between what was called natural philosophy (what we call science), which concentrated on empirical evidence from nature, and theology’s concentration on the world beyond.  Interestingly, Sir Isaac Newton wrote as much about the Book of Revelation as about the theory of gravity.

So it seems particularly baffling to me, why so much fuss is made about the teaching of science in schools in our country.  To try to mix the empirical scientific method, with a priori theories about God, creationism or intelligent design seems wrong-headed.  In my own experience, especially the experience of coming to faith, they are different languages, science and religion, employing different modes of perception.  Continue reading

“Free Passes for All?” – Br. Mark Brown

1 Kings 21:1-21a; Psalm 5: 1-8; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3

We’re meant to be shocked. The effusiveness of the tears, the wiping with hair, the kissing and anointing of a man’s feet are meant to be embarrassing.  Something is out of control, a line has been crossed.  The clinical term for this is “disinhibition”. Ordinarily we feel healthy inhibitions around violating social norms. Intoxication, drug use, mental illness, brain damage, dementia, post-traumatic stress—any of these can cause disinhibition and we cross lines.  Bathing feet with tears?  Wiping with hair?  Non-stop kissing–of a man’s feet?

We’re told the woman is a sinner, but that’s all we know.  We’re probably meant to assume that her sins are of a sexual nature, but we don’t know.  And we also don’t know what the tears are about.  Are they tears of remorse? Possibly. Are they tears of release and joy, the tears of a burden lifted, tears of gratitude?  Possibly.

Or, perhaps they’re tears of sheer frustration, tears of weary frustration. Perhaps the woman realizes that whatever wonderful thing happens today while she’s with Jesus, tomorrow will be a lot like yesterday.  Whatever conditions, whatever situation, whatever human frailty drove her sinful behavior yesterday will still be there tomorrow.  Tomorrow’s sin will be a lot like yesterday’s sin. Continue reading

Finding God in the Marsh – Br. James Koester

1 Kings 17: 7-16; Psalm 4; Matthew 5: 13 – 16

If it’s true that in spring, a young man’s fancy turns to love, then in summer, this young man’s fancy turns to … the beach. And not just any beach, a particular beach, Lumsden Beach.

As a boy, I grew up spending every summer at our family cottage at Lumsden Beach on Last Mountain Lake in southern Saskatchewan. The lake itself is long and narrow; stretching about 60 miles from one end to the other, but at its widest point is barely 1.5 miles from one side to the other. Our cottage is near the southern tip of the lake and a couple of miles beyond us the lake literally disappears into muck, and weed and marsh before coming to an end in the open prairie of the Qu’Appelle Valley.

In the last number of years the marsh at the end of the lake has been restored and the area has become home once again to many bird species including piping plovers, whooping cranes and pelicans.  As dusk falls at the end of the day, it is not unusual to see flocks of pelicans heading down the lake from their fishing spots, to their nesting ground in the marsh. It’s truly a magnificent sight as these large, unwieldy birds fly gracefully down the lake heading home to the marsh for the night.

Like all marshes, this particular marsh plays an important role in the ecosystem of the lake. It provides a home for rare and unusual birds, as well as the not so rare and not so unusual. It’s a wonderful place to catch frogs or watch birds or maybe even spot a beaver going about its business. The marsh provides a whole other world to explore that is neither lake nor prairie as it acts as a threshold from one to the other and back again. Like so many other similar places, the marsh at the end of the lake is a place of discovery and mystery simply because it is a place of transition. It is a threshold one must cross to get from lake to prairie. It is a liminal place that one must enter in order to pass from one to the other. It may be just a marsh at the end of the lake, but it’s also a place of discovery, a place of mystery, a place of encounter. Continue reading

The Spirit’s Gift Continues – Br. Jonathan Maury

1 Kings 17:8-24; Psalm 146; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17

“Pentecost continues! Pentecost is most fundamentally a continuing gift of the Spirit;”

So begins “A Pastoral letter to the Episcopal Church” (2 June 2010) [http://www.episcopalchurch.org/79425_122615_ENG_HTM.htm], issued this past week by Presiding Bishop and Primate Katharine Jefferts Schori.

“Pentecost is most fundamentally a continuing gift of the Spirit, rather than a limitation or quenching of that Spirit,” writes the Primate. Her letter comes in response to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Pentecost letter to the Anglican Communion (28 May 2010) [http://www.episcopalchurch.org/79425_122553_ENG_HTM.htm] concerning current struggles within the Communion. Bishop Katharine expresses concern that the text of that letter “seems to equate its understanding of the Spirit’s outpouring,” as she puts it, “with a single understanding of gospel realities. Those who received the gift of the Spirit on that day all heard good news,” Jefferts Schori continues. “The crowd reported, ‘in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power’ [Acts 2:11].”  Continue reading

Two Women and a Cause for Rejoicing – Br. David Vryhof

Br. Geoffrey Tristram reads Br. David Vryhof’s sermon.

I Samuel 2:1-10; Romans 12:9-16b; Luke 1:39-57

We have reason to celebrate tonight.  This is a joyous occasion, a remembrance of a happy meeting between two expectant mothers who were to play important roles in God’s unfolding plan of salvation.  It is an occasion of happy reunion, of babies leaping in the womb, of women filled with the Spirit proclaiming God’s greatness and shouting their thanks and praise.  It is an occasion of rejoicing – not only in what is, but in what is to come.  A time when faith proclaims what it has begun to see.

Luke prepares the scene by telling us what has happened to these two women.  Elizabeth, he tells us, was a woman “getting on in years” who was barren.  Her husband, Zechariah, belonging to a priestly order, was responsible for serving in the Temple from time to time.  During his most recent service he had entered the sanctuary of the Lord and had there seen an angel who told him that the prayers that he and his wife had been offering for many years were now to be answered.  They would have a son, whose name was to be John. “You will have joy and gladness,” said the angel, “and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.”  And so it was.  Elizabeth, long barren, conceived a child, just as the angel had foretold.

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy an angel was sent also to Mary, a young girl living in the Galilean town of Nazareth.  To her the angel gave a similar yet even greater message: “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son… (and) he will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High… and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  Mary was stupefied.  “How can this be?” she asked, for she was not yet married.  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you,” the angel responded, “therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.”  And as assurance that such an unlikely conception was well within the realm of God’s power, the angel told Mary of the remarkable pregnancy of her relative Elizabeth who had conceived even in her old age.  “For nothing will be impossible with God.” Continue reading