Mutual Support & Encouragement – Br. Curtis Almquist

Lenten Preaching Series: A Framework for Freedom

SSJE Rule of Life, Chapter 43: “Mutual Support and  Encouragement” 

Colossians 3:12-17; John 15:9-17

The story is told of a weary man, aged beyond his years, who walked slowly into the office of a country doctor.  The man appeared spent, even by the brief walk back to the doctor’s examination room, and he sat down heavily onto the examination table.

“What seems to be the problem?” asked the doctor.

The man answered, “Doctor, life is very short and very hard, and I find no joy.”

The doctor listened to the man describe his symptoms, then examined him.  On finding no physical abnormalities, the doctor wondered how he could possibly be of help? Finally, the doctor’s face lit up when he thought he might have a remedy.  The doctor said, “There’s an amazing clown appearing in our local theater. Prokevia is his name. He’s absolutely marvelous!  Go and see him, and perhaps he will remind you of the joy that lies hidden in your life.”

The man looked up at the satisfied doctor, breathed a sigh and said, “My dear doctor… I am Prokevia.”

You may understand Prokevia’s suffering if you are a wonderful person.  Continue reading

The Good News of Temptation – Br. Robert L’Esperance

Looking to the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, Br. Robert L’Esperance invites us during Lent to the practice of self-examination. In this practice we are often reluctant to undertake, he uncovers the good news of temptation: Temptation, and an awareness of our own failings, are essential if the boundless love of a boundlessly loving God is to be real to us.

This sermon currently is available only in audio format.

Afterword

Dear Friends,

First, I hope you enjoyed the Brothers’ video series “A Framework for Freedom”. This was an experiment for the Brothers and they have enjoyed your support and comments.  The series will remain available at www.ssje.org/framework and we welcome you to share this resource with any friends that might find it helpful in their journey.  Supporting booklets are available.

Second, I ask that you please consider a donation to the SSJE Annual Fund, your gift will help support the Brothers’ ministries and future experiments.

www.ssje.org/donate

Wishing you a wonderful Eastertide,

Jamie

Mr. Jamie Coats
Director, Friends of SSJE

Why These Ashes? – Br. David Vryhof

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day which marks the beginning of the penitential season of Lent.  During this period of forty days we give ourselves to prayer, fasting and self-denial in preparation for the celebration of Easter, the day of Resurrection.  In a few moments we will present ourselves for the imposition of ashes, drawing on a tradition of the Church that is over a thousand years old.

Why these ashes?

Ashes are an ancient sign of sorrow and repentance.  They symbolized mourning, mortality and penance.  There are numerous references to the symbolic use of ashes in the Hebrew Scriptures.

  • In the Book of Esther, Mordecai put on sackcloth and ashes when he heard of the decree of King Ahasuerus of Persia to kill all the Jewish people in the Persian Empire (Esther 4:1);
  • Job repented in sackcloth and ashes after he was struck by calamitous circumstances (Job 42:6);
  • Foreseeing the destruction of Jerusalem, the prophet Daniel “turned to the Lord God, to seek an answer by prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes” (Daniel 9:3);
  • In response to Jonah’s call to repentance, the people of Nineveh proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth (Jonah 3:5-6).

The use of ashes as a symbol of repentance was a recognized practice in Old Testament times. Continue reading

The Rule of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist

Featured

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

In addition the Brothers have a series of other resources that we hope might be helpful to you in exploring living with a Rule.

Living Intentionally: Creating a Rule of Life

We invite you to download our Living Intentionally Workbook for Creating a Personal Rule of Life. Walk with Br. David Vryhof step-by-step through the process of writing your own Rule.

A Framework for Freedom:

We invite you to discover the freedom that comes from living by a rule of life, by journeying through “A Framework for Freedom,” a 7-week self-guided video course to help you say “Yes” to your life.  Watch the series now.  Subscribe to a daily email.

In Lent 2012, we preached a series on the challenges and rewards of living by a rule of life. Drawing on chapters from SSJE’s Rule. Read and listen to the sermons.

A Living Tradition:

Each day of Lent 2011, we posted a short “living commentary” on our Rule, with a Brother or two offering his unique perspective on the document which shapes and forms our prayer and practice more than any other apart from Scripture and The Book of Common PrayerTo read that conversation, click here.

 

Marbles and Omelets – Br. Mark Brown

Mark 9:2-9

This cope I’m wearing today has great sentimental value: it was hand crafted as an ordination gift from my parents.  As it happens, the process leading up to my ordination was rather harrowing, so this festal garment is a reminder that, in the end, things work out.  Ultimately.  As Julian of Norwich put it, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be very well”. At least ultimately.

Today Jesus gives Peter and James and John a preview of “ultimately”.  A few days earlier he had told them that the Son of Man was to undergo great sufferings, rejection, death, and, after three days, be raised from the dead.  The vision of transfiguration on the mountain was a kind of preview of resurrection.  Perhaps because he knew the experience would be so harrowing he wanted the disciples to see for themselves how it was going to turn out in the end.  All would be well—at least on the other side of the cross. Continue reading

Introduction

A rule, from the Latin regula, suggests not so much a code of legislation but a means of regulating and regularizing.  A monastic rule sustains identity by mandating the rhythms of worship, spiritual discipline, prayer and rest, work and ministry.  It sets the patterns by which authority is distributed and where accountability is expected.  It delineates the bounds of the community and describes the processes of initiation.  And it connects the ideals of the particular community or order with the gospel and the Christian mystery.

Our Rule is a contemporary one, created by the Society of Saint John the Evangelist over a period of eight years and formally adopted in September 1996.  It replaces the original Rule, written by our founder in the 19th century.  While it draws on the teaching of Richard Benson and other early members, the new rule addresses a whole host of issues that we knew to be vital for the health and faithfulness of a community making the transition into the third millennium.  It is an authentic expression of our life for today, both who we are and who we hope to be.

Our sole motive in creating a new Rule of life was to strengthen our own community and our awareness of the particular vocation that God has given us; in other words, we produced it specifically for ourselves.  Friends urged us to publish it for those who know us and who are seeking a deeper understanding of a way of life to which they feel attuned. And we offer it for those who do not know us yet, but who, in this time of widespread spiritual hunger when the monastic way is exerting a considerable pull on people’s imagination and interest, seek a window into the life of a contemporary religious community.

The response to its publication has been overwhelmingly positive. Roman Catholic and Anglican religious communities on both sides of the Atlantic have welcomed it, in some instances using it to enhance the teaching of their own Rules.  And large numbers of men and women of a variety of faith communities in their daily meditations have drawn strength and renewal from its teachings.

“He began to teach them” – Br. David Vryhof

Mark 8:27-33

“Then he began to teach them…”

It’s a bit surprising, isn’t it, to find these words at the midpoint of Mark’s gospel.  The fact that they occur here is a sign to us of an important shift in emphasis.  Up to this point, the accent has been on Jesus’ power and authority; from now on, the emphasis will be on his rejection and death.  Up to this point the gospel has witnessed to Jesus’ messiahship; now it will begin to explain its meaning.

“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.  He said all this quite openly.”  Continue reading

01: The Call of the Society

Br. Curtis Almquist

Read by Br. Curtis Almquist

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, the eternal Word by whom all things were created, to become flesh and live among us.  In all the signs that he did and the teaching that he gave, he made known to us the grace and truth of the eternal Father.  When his hour came the Son consummated his obedience to the Father, and expressed his love for us to the uttermost, by offering himself on the cross.  He was lifted up from the earth in his crucifixion and resurrection from the dead in order to draw all people to himself.

We whom God calls into this Society have been drawn into union with Christ by the power of his cross and resurrection; we have been reborn in him by water and the Spirit.  God chooses us from varied places and backgrounds to become a company of friends, spending our whole life abiding in him and giving ourselves up to the attraction of his glory.  Our community was called into being by God so that we may be entirely consecrated to him and through our common experience of the glory of the Father and the Son begin to attain even now the unity that God desires for all humankind.  “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one.  I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Our mission is inseparable from our call to live in union with God in prayer, worship and mutual love.  Christ breathes his Spirit into us to be the one source of our own conversion and of our witness and mission to others; “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  We are sent to be servants of God’s children and ministers of the reconciliation which the Lamb of God has accomplished.  Our own unity is given to be a sign that will draw others to have faith in him.  Christ has entrusted to us the same word that the Father gave to him, so that those who hear it from our lips and perceive it in our lives may receive the light and through believing have life in his name.

By giving us the grace and courage to make lifelong vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience in an enduring fellowship, God makes us a sign of his eternal faithfulness.  A community of men who pledge to stay together until death is a powerful sign to the world of the grace that enables those who love Christ to abide until he comes.

The divine Wind that blows where it chooses has not restricted our Society to a few ministries.  Varied gifts within our brotherhood bear witness to the living power of Christ and extend his salvation.  Though our gifts differ we share one call to be consecrated in truth, through the power of God’s word and the grace renewed by feeding on Christ and drinking his life-blood in the Eucharist.  As a sign of our identity God gives us all an affinity with the witness of the beloved disciple embodied in the Gospel of John.  We bear the name of St John the Evangelist to show the Church what is the source of our inspiration and our joy.

What Should We Be Doing? – Br. David Allen

James 1:19-27

The Letter of James has been described as a sermon written in letter style.  Its style is hortatory. It tells us what we should be doing in order to be recognized as good Christians.

The portion of this letter designated as today’s first reading can be divided into three parts: The first part might be described as first of all recognizing the importance of careful listening and self control.  The second part asks us to translate our understanding of the Word of the Gospel into action in our daily lives.  In the third part it defines   the meaning of religion as being mindful of the needs of those in distress, especially widows and orphans, and keeping free of worldly attitudes and sinful thoughts and deeds. Continue reading

02: Our Dedication to the Disciple whom Jesus loved

Read by Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Read by Br. Geoffrey Tristram

We hear God’s living word in all the Scriptures but the testimony of the disciple whom Jesus loved has special power for those whom God calls into this Society.  It gives us joy to know that Jesus drew this man John to himself in order to enjoy the blessings of close friendship.  We believe that through our religious vocation Jesus is drawing us also into the deepest intimacy with himself.  We find a profound significance for our own lives in what the fourth gospel tells us of the beloved disciple’s friendship with Jesus and his call to be a witness to the mystery of the incarnation.

This is the man whom Jesus wanted to have closest to his heart at the last supper.  The image of the trusted friend lying close to the breast of Jesus is an icon of the relationship we enjoy with the Son of God through prayer.  It is by being close to him that we are reunited with the Father, for Jesus is “God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart.”  And contemplating the closeness of the disciple to Jesus at the supper can deepen our awareness that the communion we have with Christ in the Eucharist is no mere abstract idea but a real and growing bond of personal love.

The beloved disciple did not hide from the suffering of Christ at Golgotha but took his stand there with Mary.  By being steadfast together at the cross, enduring all that others found unbearable, they remained in Jesus’ love.  If we abide in that perfect love shown on the cross we will receive the grace to face together all that we are tempted to run from in fear.  Christ’s gift of enduring love will be the heart of our life as a community, as it was in the new family which he called into being from the cross when he gave Mary and John to one another as mother and son.

Only love can understand what God gives and reveals through Jesus.  The beloved disciple understood that the pouring out of water and blood from Jesus’ side signified the giving of the Spirit.  Love will open our eyes to the Spirit’s power in the sacraments, in prayer, in action and service.  He went into the empty tomb, and believed at once in the mystery of the resurrection.  Love will make us men of faith who know God’s power to bring life out of death.  The beloved disciple recognized the Lord in the stranger by the shore.  Love will expand our ability to know him in all persons, in all things and in all places.

The beloved disciple lived on, faithful to Christ’s call to “remain until I come.”  The years spent exploring the depths of the revelation in which he had taken part bore fruit in the great gospel which bears the name of John.  We have taken this name to show that we too are Christ’s friends and witnesses.  Through us also many come to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and through believing have life in his name.

03: Our Founders and the Grace of Tradition

Read by Br. Keith Nelson

Just as we believe that our Society had its origin in the response to God’s creative call of our founders Richard Meux Benson, Charles Chapman Grafton and Simeon Wilberforce O’Neill, so we believe that it is sustained through our own obedience to the voice of God continually calling us on.God speaks to us in many ways to maintain and renew the vocation of the Society.God speaks to us through the Scriptures and the Christian tradition, through men and women of the Spirit of different ages and cultures, through our own experience and through contemporary voices that engage us with the challenges of our own time.Among the many voices that mediate God’s call to us, the witness of our founders and predecessors in the Society has a special importance.

God calls us to remember them and to value their testimony.Reflection on our community’s own tradition, and a dialogue between our contemporary experience and that of our predecessors, helps us to sustain our identity as we strive to rise up to the demands of the present.As we explore the spiritual legacy of our forbears we remember that they are not dead figures from the past.Risen in Christ, they belong to the great cloud of witnesses who spur us on by their prayers to change and mature in response to the Holy Spirit who makes all things new.

Faithfulness to tradition does not mean mere perpetuation or copying of ways from the past but a creative recovery of the past as a source of inspiration and guidance in our faithfulness to God’s future, the coming reign of God.As we meditate on the grace of tradition each of us will hear the call to become, in Father Benson’s words, “a man – not simply of the day, but a man of the moment, a man precisely up to the mark of the times.This makes the religious – so far from being the tradi­tional imitator of bygone days – most especially a man of the present moment and its life.”

Our Society was the first religious community of men to be firmly established in the Anglican Church since the Reformation and embraced from the beginning both the contemplative and active dimensions of the religious vocation.As we struggle with God’s call to us today to be active in ministry, prophecy, teaching and service, and to have a deep life of prayer and worship, we shall find encouragement in remembering the example of our forbears in their dedication to the mystical and apostolic aspects of our calling.

There are many aspects to the witness of those who formed our Society’s tradition.Their lives inspire us to be indifferent to celebrity and success and to trust the power of hidden prayer. They stir us to be prophetic critics of Christendom and its compromises and to be dedicated to the renewal of the Church.They summon us to have a world-wide vision of mission, to be adaptable to a wide variety of settings, to be available in ministry to all classes of people.They teach us to integrate the catholic and evangelical traditions and dedicate ourselves to the ministry of reconcil­iation and unity.

Inevitably, the Society’s past is also marred by many failures.God will have much to teach us through them, as long as we humbly keep in mind our own biases and shortcomings.

Saints Cyril and Methodius – Br. Robert L’Esperance

Mark 16:15-20

On December 27, 1866, our founders, Richard Meux Benson, Charles Chapman Grafton, and Simeon Wilberforce O’Neill took monastic vows not as members of the Society of St. John the Evangelist but as Mission Priests of St. John the Evangelist.  Shortly after profession, Father O’Neill was sent out to India.  He began the community’s work of evangelization which flourished and grew.  Father O’Neill died shortly after reaching India, but his work was seminal and the Society remained in India into the 1960’s. Continue reading

04. The Witness of Life in Community

Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Read by Br. Nicholas Bartoli

God has called us into being as a community and our life as a community, though fraught with struggles and failures, is a powerful act of revelation, testimony and service.

In community we bear witness to the social nature of human life as willed by our Creator. Human beings bear the image of the triune God and are not meant to be separate and isolated.  All of us are called by God to belong to communities of personal cooperation and interdependence which strive to nurture and use the gifts of each and to see that our basic needs are met. Jesus called his disciples to be the light of the world, a city set on a hill, which cannot be hid; through the vitality of our life as a community we are meant to help people remember their own calling to form community.  In an era of fragmentation and the breakdown of family and community, our Society, though small, can be a beacon drawing people to live in communion.

One of the ways in which we promote community is by being the nucleus for a wider fellowship.  This is formed through the relationships we establish in our varied ministries, especially the hospitality of our houses; through the Fellowship of Saint John, whose members keep a rule of life in harmony with ours; by the participation of our personal friends and families and by our neigh­bors regularly joining us in worship.  Our proclamation of the good news is also an invitation to be in communion with us.  “We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us.”  This wider family is a true expression of community sustained by many energies of mutual service.  We not only serve our brothers and sisters by acting as a spiritual center and home and ministering to them; they support us in innumerable ways in prayer, through their gifts and voluntary labors, by teaching and inspiring us and by working together with us in Christ.  Some who find themselves relegated by neglect and prejudice to the margins of society will find a special grace in participating in this wider fellowship around our community.

Our human vocation to live in communion and mutuality is rooted in our creation in God’s image and likeness.  The very being of God is community; the Father, Son and Spirit are One in reciprocal self-giving and love.  The mystery of God as Trinity is one that only those living in personal communion can understand by experience.  Through our common life we can begin to grasp that there is a transcendent unity that allows mutual affirmation of our distinctness as persons. Through prayer we can see that this flows from the triune life of God.  If we are true to our calling as a community, our Society will be a revelation of God.

Our life as a community should also be a sign to the Church to rise up to its true calling as a communion of the Holy Spirit, the Body of Christ and the company of Christ’s friends.  We are not called to be a separate elite, but to exemplify the life of the Body of Christ in which every member has a particular gift of the Spirit for ministry and shares an equal dignity.  Fr. Benson taught that “there are special gifts of God indeed to the Society, but only as it is a society within the Church.  The small body is to realize and intensify the gifts, to realize the energies, belonging to the whole Church.”  Our witness and ministry is not merely to separate individuals; it is for strengthening the common life in the Body of Christ.

05. The Challenges of Life in Community

Read by Br. Robert L’Esperance

Every Christian is called to live in community as a member of the Church. Christ in his wisdom draws each disciple into that particular expression of community which will be the best means of his or her conversion. Our way of life in this religious community is one of many expres­sions of the common life in the Body of Christ. We can be confident that Christ has called us into our Society because he knows that the challenges and the gifts it offers are the very ones we need for the working out of our salvation.

The first challenge of community life is to accept whole-heartedly the authority of Christ to call whom he will. Our community is not formed by the natural attraction of like-minded people. We are given to one another by Christ and he calls us to accept one another as we are. By abiding in him we can unite in a mutual love that goes deeper than personal attraction. Mutual acceptance and love call us to value our differences of background, temperament, gifts, personality and style. Only when we recognize them as sources of vitality are we able to let go of competitiveness and jealousy. As we actively seek to grow, and discern which men are being called into our Society, we must ardently seek for signs that God desires to increase our diversity in culture and race.

We are also called to accept with compassion and humility the particular fragility, complexity and incompleteness of each brother. Our diversity and our brokenness mean that tensions and friction are inevitably woven into the fabric of everyday life. They are not to be regarded as signs of failure. Christ uses them for our conversion as we grow in mutual forbearance and learn to let go of the pride that drives us to control and reform our brothers on our own terms.

The Society’s dedication to the fourth gospel draws us to see reflected in it certain values which we especially take to heart as we live in community. In John’s gospel the community of disciples is portrayed as a circle of Christ’s friends, abiding in him in obedience and love, and depending on the Advocate who leads them together into the truth. In this portrait we recognize an implicit critique of the tendency for communities to harden into institutions, and for officialdom to replace the spontaneity of mutual service. Our faithfulness to our calling will be seen in the ways in which we fearlessly subject our life to hard questions in the light of the gospel, resist inertia and rigidity, minister to one another generously as equals, and stay open to the fresh inspiration of the Spirit.

Because community life provides so completely for all our basic needs we must rise to the challenge of making sure that our sense of personal responsibility stays strong. Community life is arduous, and not an escape from the toil of earning a living. It is essential that work is distributed in such a way that each brother shares in its demands to the full extent of his ability. We are called to maintain an ethos that stimulates each of us to learn new skills by which he can serve the brotherhood and develop his ministry to others.

06. The Spirit of Poverty

Read by Br. Mark Brown

Read by Br. Mark Brown

The poverty we embrace through our vow has its source, supreme example and eternal home in the being of God, who is a Trinity of Persons.  In the Godhead there is no possessiveness, no holding back of self.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are One in mutual self-giving and receiving.  Faith sees the cross of suffering and self-giving love planted in the very being of the God revealed to us in Jesus.  When God made room for the existence of space and time and shaped a world filled with glory, this act of creation was one of pure self-emptying.

But God broke all the limits of generosity in the incarnation of the Son for our sake, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”  By the vow of poverty we bind ourselves to have the same mind . . . that was in Christ Jesus.”

The poverty that comes from God is not a barren emptiness.  Christ “became poor that by his poverty [we] might become rich.”  It is only because we are being “filled with all the fullness of God” that we can pledge together in this shared vow to give ourselves away in a common life of worship, hospitality, evangelism and service.  “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

By this vow we renounce personal ownership.  We are to be of one heart and soul, holding all things in common.  By sharing everything we will be in harmony with the very being of God whose Triune life is boundless sharing.  We will have a foretaste of the life of the communion of saints.  We will recognize that the concern with individualistic fulfillment and private security that prevails in our culture is a trap from which we are being set free.  More and more we will come to know that we were all baptized into Christ to be set free from self-centeredness.  Our fulfillment comes together as members of one Body, and the Spirit will summon us again and again to surrender individual desires for the sake of our brotherhood and our mission.

If our religious poverty is to be authentic we must stay soberly aware of the essential differ­ence between the deprivation of those whose poverty is forced upon them, and the way of life we choose by vow.  We continue to be privileged by our education, our access to power and our material security.  Nevertheless, the Spirit has many ways of making us poor and we are in no doubt that they will be costly to accept.  In particular we can be sure that the Society’s life will be marked by fragility and many frustrating limitations.  The resources to meet the demands made on us will seem inadequate, and our numbers too few.  Our energies will seem insufficient for the claims made on them, and the task of balancing our life and husbanding our strengths too difficult.  Even some of our ideals and dreams will need to be surrendered; the way God actually calls us to live may seem less appealing or less heroic than other forms of the religious life.  God will give us our poverty. Every day we will be called to grow in reliance on grace alone and to surrender those inner and outer riches that hold us back from risking all for Christ, who risked and gave all for us.