The Man – Br. Curtis Almquist

John 14:1-7

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.  And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

In the centuries before the Common Era, the Jewish people had long awaited the promised Messiah. The Messiah was heralded by the Hebrew prophets by great and glorious names: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Everlasting Father, Holy One, Lamb of God, Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Root of David, Lord God Almighty, Word of Life, Author and Finisher of our Faith, Advocate, Dayspring, Lord of All, Shepherd and Bishop of Souls, The Truth, Chief Cornerstone, Righteous Judge, Light of the World, Morning Star, Sun of Righteousness, Chief Shepherd, Resurrection and the Life, Horn of Salvation, Governor, The Alpha and Omega, The Way, The Savior of the World, King of Kings, Son of God.  This was the promised Messiah. Continue reading

Oh, Stop Complaining! – Br. David Vryhof

Jonah 3:10-4:11; Matt 20:1-16

Today seems to be “Complaining” Sunday. The lectionary gives us a choice of two readings from the Old Testament.  The first is the story of the Israelites complaining against Moses and Aaron in the desert after their deliverance from the land of Egypt (Ex 16:2-15). They’re hungry and tired, and beginning to think that bondage in Egypt wasn’t so bad after all. “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread;” they lament, “for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

The second passage, which we just heard, is from the book of Jonah (3:10-4:11). You’ll remember that Jonah was the reluctant prophet chosen by God to warn the people of Nineveh to turn from their evil ways.  It comes as a surprise and a disappointment to Jonah when the people actually do repent in response to his preaching, and he becomes angry — angry enough to die! he claims. The Lord then raises up a bush to provide shade for Jonah and he is consoled. But when the bush withers, Jonah’s anger returns and he starts complaining again, suggesting to God how unfair it is that God has chosen to be merciful to the Ninevites.  Apparently Jonah thought they deserved to be punished! Continue reading

Words of Thanksgiving – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

After the liturgy, Br. Geoffrey Tristram expresses the Brothers’ gratitude and thanks to all who have supported the community in and beyond this time of renovations.

Living Stones – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Thanksgiving Service for the Renovation and Renewal of the Monastery

We have been looking forward to this day for such a long time!  The day when we Brothers have the opportunity to publically give thanks to God for the gift of our new Monastery – and to give thanks to all of you – our dear friends who have supported, encouraged and cheered us on over these past years of visioning, fundraising, and building.  This past year of the exile in particular has been quite a challenge for us.  St. Augustine once said that a monk out of his monastery is like a fish out of water – and over this past year we have been gasping to be back home.  We’ve come home and it is wonderful to be here with all of you on this glorious day, and wonderful to be able to celebrate this service of praise and thanksgiving.

We believe passionately that God has given us so much: this beautiful new Monastery, our friends, benefactors and advisors – all for a purpose.  We believe we have a mission.  And that is to draw others to know and experience in their own lives, the love of God in Christ. Continue reading

Take Hold – Br. David Allen

1 Timothy 6:1-12

Our First Reading began with several general assumptions, things such as slavery taken for granted as inevitable parts of life in the period of history for which it was written.  But life has changed and history has moved on.  Nevertheless there are lessons to be learned from this narrative when we apply it to our present generation.

We know from our study of history that slavery has been recognized as an abuse of human rights.  It has been outlawed now in most parts of the world for over a hundred years or more.  But we can see that we still have employee and employer relationships that amount to a kind of slavery.  Abuse of human rights can still be seen and viewed from the standpoint of Jesus’ teachings and brought into line with true godliness and mutual respect for one another’s humanity. Continue reading

God’s Subversives – Br. Mark Brown

Jer. 1:4-10; Psalm 49:1-8; Luke 21:12-15

Today we remember St. John Chrysostom, the 5th century Bishop of Constantinople.  John Chrysostom, John “golden mouth” was celebrated for his eloquent preaching. So, with a tip of the hat and a salute to the preacher, I’ll preach on one of the texts appointed for today, from the prophet Jeremiah:

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.”[Jer. 1:6-7] Continue reading

The Mind of Christ – Br. Mark Brown

Luke 6:20-26

Today Jesus comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. Depending on what kind of day we’re having, or depending on our circumstances in life, we may be tremendously comforted by his words—or not. Blessed are we and woe to us…

It is simplistic, of course, to divide humanity into two categories: the poor, hungry and sorrowful on the one hand; the rich, full and laughing on the other. Jesus’ own life would not have fit neatly into either category. The human experience comprises all of the above and much more. The teacher’s warning note is that whatever our experience, whether joy or sorrow, whether poverty or wealth—it will not last. Life is in flux…always in flux. We may get what we deserve—or not. Continue reading

Called to Life – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Luke 5: 1–11

This evening I am so full of thanksgiving that after more than a year we brothers are able to welcome you back to our Tuesday evening Eucharist. It is so appropriate that our Gospel today is all about vocation: about how God calls us to life.

The monastery is here because in 1866 Richard Meux Benson, Charles Grafton, and Simeon Wilberforce O’Neil answered God’s call and founded the Society of St John the Evangelist.  We are all here tonight because in different ways we too have heard the call of God in our own lives and have said yes. Continue reading

Forgiveness and Reconciliation – Br. Curtis Almquist

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:15-20).

This passage appointed for today from the Gospel according to Matthew is undoubtedly helpful, but it requires some digging.  First, a disclaimer.  If you have a presumption that Christians, the followers of Jesus, are always going to be right and do right and never experience or cause an offense or breakdown in their relationships with other people, it’s simply not so.  We can presume otherwise from this passage.  We also know otherwise because of the endless squabbling between Jesus’ closest disciples.  Remember how Peter, on whom Jesus said he would build his church, seems to have reached his limit on forgiving fellow Christians when Peter explodes and asks Jesus, “if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”  Jesus answers him, “Not seven times, but, seventy-seven times,” which is code language meaning forever.1  Of course the subtext is this: offensive, disappointing, inappropriate stuff is going to keep happening between members of the Church.  Jesus says our posture is to forgive.  I’ll come back to that. Continue reading

Welcoming the Guest, the Stranger, and the Pilgrim: A Conversation on Hospitality in the Renovated Guesthouse with Jonathan Maury, SSJE

Q: What physical changes have been made to the buildings that will affect the way guests are welcomed?

The Chapel, Guesthouse, and public areas of the Monastery have been made fully accessible to those with special needs by the addition of improved hand-railings at all entrance stairs and a wheelchair lift at the Chapel entrance. Other lifts and ramps allow visitors to move about most areas without using stairs: to accessible restrooms; to the common room and conference rooms of the Guesthouse; to the conference space and offices in the undercroft; and to meals in the refectory through an inviting, all-year receiving room on the newly glassed-in cloister. Former “pass-through” areas are now within the mo­nastic enclosure as originally intended. These changes will allow the Brothers to welcome guests more comfortably, allevi­ating the awkwardness often experienced through unclear boundaries between public and private space.

Further changes have been made in the Guesthouse to increase accessibil­ity and enhance privacy for our resident guests. The first-floor guestrooms (in­cluding one designed for wheelchair use) are in close proximity to fully accessible bathrooms, allowing us to host at least two people with special needs at any given time. We’ve also made changes to the bathroom facilities on the upper floors: each bathroom entrance opens onto a small corridor leading to three fully-enclosed, individual units with toilet, lavatory sink, and shower. All these changes to physical spaces will aid both guests and Brothers in maintaining inner silence and their sense of presence before God.

Q: What is the theological significance of these physical changes?

We say in our SSJE Rule of Life, “The source of hospitality is the heart of God who yearns to unite every creature with­in one embrace.” The physical changes to the buildings serve as an outward sign of our call to live more deeply the truest kind of hospitality, to ourselves become a sacrament of God’s heart, to offer a welcome which shares in God’s inten­tion and desire for each and every man, woman, and child as images and like­nesses of God. The Rule further teaches that, “Our faith must recognize the one who comes to us in the person of the guest, the stranger and the pilgrim. It is the Lord, who has identified himself with each of his sisters and brothers.” The renovations challenge us to expand our understanding of this each—to wel­come all in Christ’s name and recognize Christ’s presence in each guest, regard­less of gender, age, race, class, sexual orientation, or physical limitation. By making these physical changes, we hope to better learn how to welcome each person equally, eliminating obstacles which might keep any from crossing our threshold and entering sacred space.

Q: How is hospitality characterized in the Gospel?

The Gospel message is a proclamation of God’s hospitality, of God’s inten­tion to gather all people into one, of the divine desire for humanity to live in harmony with the whole creation, that all people may know how infinitely loved they are as children of God. Jesus is encountered in the Gospel narra­tive as guest and as host, in both roles implicit in the practice of hospitality. At the homes and occasions to which he is invited, the Lord comes as a guest to embody the healing, forgiving, and reconciling message of the Gospel. With his disciples, with multitudes in the wilderness, or teaching in synagogue and street, Jesus is present as host at table. From the table of God’s word or of created bounty, Jesus provides what is truly needful and offers himself as the Bread of Life. To any who come to him seeking it, Jesus provides sustenance, both without question or the making of any distinctions. He bids his disciples, as guest or host, to act as he does, and turns the work over to them.

In our ministry of hospitality to others, we Brothers are invited to share in this Gospel work. Always mindful that we ourselves are the Lord’s guests, we are hosts to others who join us at table, either in worship at the altar or at meals in the refectory. A renovation change made to this aspect of our min­istry is the addition of a refectory and small kitchen on the lower level of the Guesthouse. With their own spaces in which to take breakfast in silence, both guests and Brothers can more readily feed on the fruits of morning worship and meditation.

Q: What is the connection between the Brothers’ enclosed and vowed life and the ministry of hospitality?

Monastic life has always been character­ized by the creative tension between solitude and engagement reflected in the life and teaching of Jesus. In order to nurture both of these gifts in our life together in God, we Brothers maintain private enclosure space and hold it as essential to the life of prayer from which all of our individual and corporate ministries flow. The practice of enclo­sure, through appropriate personal and community boundaries, in turn teaches us how to offer guests similar spaces of security and privacy in which to meet God. Enclosure actually helps to create a ministry of hospitality in which we are intentional about the ways we engage with guests, allowing them also to be fully present to the love of God in soli­tude. Our honoring of boundaries in the practice of enclosure becomes a mutual gift between host and guest, enriching our times of engagement in fellowship.
The living of our monastic vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience also flows directly into the hospitality we seek to share. Our vows are a time-tested way of living the vows of baptism shared by all Christians. While with us, guests have an opportunity to befriend their “inner monastic.” On retreat, guests learn of their spiritual poverty as they allow God to provide for their needs, material and spiritual. In making themselves totally available to God in prayer and worship, retreatants experi­ence the gift of celibacy, their “one-ness” before God. And as guests share with us in the rhythm of prayer and worship in silence, they learn to practice obedi­ence, which is, in essence, to listen with open hearts to God.
The Rule teaches us that, “The gift of silence we seek to cherish is chiefly the silence of adoring love for the mys­tery of God which words cannot express. In silence we pass through the bounds of language to lose ourselves in wonder. In this silence we learn to revere ourselves also; since Christ dwells in us we too are mysteries that cannot be fathomed, before which we must be silent until the day we come to know as we are known.” The practice of silence opens a spiritual window through which we may each contemplate the unique nature of our redemption in Christ. So we invite our guests to join us in the Greater Silence, the twelve night hours when we refrain from conversation, and the only words spoken are those of corporate worship. Through solitude and silence, we invite guests to move into that “new day” when they will fully know themselves as the beautiful mysteries which they are before God. Such silent solitude nur­tures in us greater mutual transparency and compassion, by connecting us to that primacy of the love of God which is the foundation of all life.
We hope that people who come to the Monastery will experience how God invites us all into regular patterns in our daily lives, including the rhythm of engagement and silence, community and solitude.
Q: Does any particular personal experience in your life shape the way you step again into the role of Guest Brother?
When I first visited the Monastery, I experienced the trepidation which I remembered from my childhood experi­ence of beginning school. All seemed so new and unknown. But my reception as a guest was so warm and welcoming that I was soon at ease, with a sense of being “at home.” As I again take up the ministry of Guest Brother, I feel blessed by the opportunity to offer others what was offered to me when I came here those thirty years ago—a welcome and inclusion which becomes an occasion for celebrating the new life we have in Christ. This doesn’t necessarily mean speaking of things “religious.” But it does mean being open to the initiation of a new and unique relationship which reflects the boundless hospitality of God.

Q: We’ve talked a lot about how the Brothers hope to offer hospitality. What do the Brothers receive by welcoming guests?

When we have guests on retreat in the house, I often experience the depth of intention and love in their practice of prayer as pure grace. The quality of the silence which we Brothers practice to­gether is, in many ways, deeper and more intense—and more relaxed—when we have guests who are seeking God along­side us. Even alone in our own cells and other places of prayer, we are strength­ened by solidarity with our guests. In this awareness, I experience anew the wondrous interplay of solitude and com­munity, of enclosure and welcome, which undergirds and renews our vocation. Our guests enrich our common life in ways which they will likely never know, simply by choosing to accept Christ’s invitation to be with us for a time.
Each of us Brothers was drawn to become a member of the Society in a particular way but for the same reason: We were called to experience the love of Christ here, in the life we share with one another in community and through the presence of our guests. Christ who dwells in our guests comes to meet Christ who dwells in us. There is a reciprocal grace in the welcome offered, for it is Christ who both speaks and receives it. Hospitality is true mutuality in the Spirit. As we usher our guests into silence and prayer through the ministry of hospitality, they become instrumental for our journey into and final welcome home by God.