Sermon for Saturday of Proper 25B – Br. David Allen

davidallen_1

[Lk. 14:7-11]

The first time I was asked to write a sermon on Today’s Gospel reading was almost 60 years ago in a homiletics class when I was in seminary.  I thought I was being smart when I suggested the sermon title, “Do it yourself Exaltation.”  I don’t remember what else I may have said, but it was something to the effect this was most likely not what Jesus meant when he said to the guests at the house of that Pharisee,  “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Lk. 14:11)

Jesus had noticed that the guests at that Pharisee’s house flocked to the seats of honor, jostling one another for the best places.  He must have felt that such behavior called for some sort of comment.  It was certainly not the sort of behavior that well-mannered people should show in the house of a leader of the Pharisees.  It was not the sort of behavior that one expected to see invited guests exhibiting in anyone’s house.  So Jesus spoke to them in the manner of a parable.  He chose to speak as if he was talking about a wedding banquet, a type of parable. Continue reading

The Unfathomable Meal – Br. Mark Brown

Br. Mark Brown

Matthew 10:16-22;
James Hannington and his Companions, Martyrs

The Holy Eucharist is one of those things that human beings do that has multiple layers of meaning.  Actually, it may very well be the most complex thing that people do—it is virtually unfathomable.  There is no one way to think about or to “do” the Eucharist that conveys every single level of significance.  The Holy Communion can be celebrated in a mighty cathedral with a brilliant corona of artistic and ceremonial embellishment.  Or it can be celebrated on a beach around a campfire.  It’s a table for convivial celebration; it’s an altar of holy sacrifice…. Probably best to be open to the sheer multiplicity of meanings and not limit ourselves by becoming overly attached to one way of doing things. Continue reading

Genus, Phylum and Species – Br. Keith Nelson

Br. Keith Nelson

Homily for the Feast of Sts. Simon & Jude

John 15:17-27

“Whatever the facts, accounts conflict and reliable data are lacking.”[i]  This one sentence summarizes the scholarly consensus regarding the lives of Saints Simon and Jude, whom we remember today. We know that Simon the Zealot is listed among the disciples and that Jude appears at the Last Supper. Western Church tradition has linked them as partners in both their ministry and their martyrdom, possibly in Persia. Every preacher on October 28 must face these few facts and ask God to make meaning and tell good news through them. Continue reading

The Soul of Sound and Silence – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Finding God in Harvard Square:

1 Kings 19:9-13 a;
Psalm 62;
Mark 4:35-41

Last week there was an interesting factoid released on Boston.com rating the ten busiest Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority stations in Boston.You’ll be very proud to know that our very own Harvard Square Station ranked third just under South Station (#1) and Downtown Crossing (#2) with an average of 23,199 travelers entering the station on weekdays.[i]  So it comes as no surprise that at any time of day you can find a diverse and frenetic populace bustling through the Square and its surroundings on an infinite variety of missions be it school, work, or play.  And with all this activity comes a cacophony of sound that you’d expect to accompany the bronze medalist of busyness.  At any moment you could witness a motorcade transporting high ranking government officials or foreign dignitaries speaking at Harvard’s Kennedy School, or an acrobat thrilling an audience with an impromptu performance of stunts, or hear any and all kinds of music being played live while waiting for the T to arrive.  Sometimes the sounds are not so pleasant.  The other day when I was taking a run along the Charles River, I experienced someone laying on their car horn to signal their displeasure at someone trying to make a illegal left turn onto JFK Street from Memorial Drive.  The sound was immensely disconcerting. Continue reading

“YEARNING FOR GOD: Uncovering and Embracing Our Deepest Desires” – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

Mark 10:46-52

 There are a number of ways, I think, in which we could approach this story of Jesus’ encounter with blind Bartimaeus:

  • We could see it as a miracle story, which it certainly is, and compare it with other miracle stories in the gospels, especially with other miracles that involve healing.

 

  • Or, we could see this story as a story of faith. Jesus commends Bartimaeus for his faith, and suggests that his strong and persistent belief was the catalyst for his healing.

 

  • But there is a third possibility, and this is the one that I would choose this morning – and that is to approach this story as a story of desire – a story of our desire for God, and God’s desire for us.

Continue reading

Mary, the Ark of God – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

1 Chronicles 15: 3-4, 15-15; 16: 1-2
Psalm 113
Luke 1: 26-38

It is our custom here at the monastery to keep many Saturdays during the year as mini feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Lord. We do this, not because it is an ancient monastic tradition, although it is; rather it is an ancient monastic tradition because what we say and believe about Mary and her role in the mystery of the Incarnation says a great deal about the mystery of God and our vocation as Christians.

As you may know Mary has a variety of titles, and not just “blessed virgin” or “mother of God” or “mother of the Lord”. One of my favourite ones is “Ark of God”.

For the Israelites of the Old Testament, the Ark of God was a physical reminder of the presence of God it their midst. It was the Ark that rested in the very centre of the Tent of Meeting, the Holy of Holies, and it was the Ark over which God’s glory hovered, for within the Ark was kept some manna from the wilderness; the two tablets of the Ten Commandments; and the staff of Aaron the High Priest. Continue reading

Sermon for St. James of Jerusalem – Br. David Allen

davidallen_1

Acts 15:12-22a
1 Cor. 15:1-11
Mt. 13:54-58

Today we commemorate James of Jerusalem and the First Council of the Church.

        The Gospel Reading for today identifies James as a brother of Jesus (v.55).  The First reading, from the Book of Acts tells us of the decision reached by James as the Spokesperson of the First Council of Jerusalem (vv. 19-21). The reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians gives us evidence of Jesus’ appearance to James following his Resurrection (v.7).  From this the inclusion of James as an apostle and his leadership of the Council are implied.

That Council, and the decision made by James, are of tremendous importance for the identity of the Church.  Freed from bondage to the Law of Moses it would no longer be considered as a sect of Judaism. While not denying roots in the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament, never the less, those coming to believe in Jesus Christ and his promises could begin to be a Body of Faithful believers, showing Jesus Christ to the World. Continue reading

The Soul of Intimacy – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas Bartoli

1 John 4:16b-19,
Psalm 91:1-6,
John 21:20-23

There’s a ghost-like, ephemeral butterfly, who’s been given the scientific name Leptosia nina. Her flight, like a wandering snowflake, is weak and erratic, as she hovers close to the ground, pausing now and again to flitter playfully near a flower or drink from morning dew. Her delicate wings are a translucent, pearly white, each having a small, dark spot, the color of ashen shadow. Her common name is psyche, which in Greek is both the word for butterfly, and the word translated as “soul” in the New Testament. It’s a word that suggests the deepest and most essential part of our being, the place where our most sacred truths live, and where, in moments of stillness and grace, Christ is born in our hearts.

In this light, psychology could be understood as the study of the soul, and psychiatry the healing of the soul. Now, I suppose those definitions might seem ambitious, or in the medical model perhaps even nonsensical, but long before there were fields called psychology or psychiatry, the wholeness of a human being was considered a soul made well again. Admittedly, this begs the question: what is a healthy soul, and what is a soul like when it’s not healthy? John Sanford, in his book The Kingdom Within, suggests that a soul’s primary purpose is one of relationship, relationship to self, to others, and to God. To the extent that a soul is healthy, those relationships are loving and nourishing. For an unhealthy soul, those relationships are broken, painful, or absent. And so our soul is yearning to share itself in the kind of open, authentic, and loving relationship we call intimacy. Continue reading

You are a priest forever – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

Isaiah 53: 4-12
Psalm 91: 9-16
Hebrews 5: 1-10
Mark 10:35-45

If I were a betting man, and that’s a pretty big if, my hunch is that if I took a poll this morning asking people what their favourite bit of scripture was, not many of you would point to something out of the Letter to the Hebrews. My hunch is that Hebrews is not, for the most part, many people’s “go to” bit of scripture. We’re more likely to appeal to something from the Gospels, or maybe one of the psalms, perhaps a bit of Isaiah or Paul when asked to name our favourite piece of scripture. The Letter to the Hebrews, probably wouldn’t make it into the top ten list of favourite passages of scripture. But that is not to say that Hebrews isn’t full of really fabulous or important stuff. Indeed The Letter to the Hebrews is an important text because, among other things, it develops for us a theology of Christ as High Priest and it is in the middle of that argument that we land today.

Throughout The Letter to the Hebrews, the author (and I keep saying “the author” because scholars are uncertain by whom, when or where this Letter was written), the author develops a distinct and elevated Christology. As Son of God, the author claims that Jesus is superior to other beings, including angels; that Jesus is superior to other Biblical heroes, like Moses and Abraham; that Christ is superior to institutions, like the Levitical priesthood. In each case: angels, heroes or priesthood, they either worship, point to or are fulfilled by Jesus, the great High Priest. Continue reading

The Soul of Knowledge – Br. Keith Nelson

Br. Keith Nelson

Fall Preaching Series 2015
Monastery Chapel of St. Mary & St. John, Cambridge

Wisdom 7:15-22
Psalm 139:1-9
1 Corinthians 13:8-12
Luke 10: 17-23

“If you died tomorrow, do you know where you’re going?”

I should have seen this question coming. I was in a second interview for a position at a small, faith-based, non-profit organization. I was inspired by the work the organization was doing, offering non-religious educational and social services to new immigrants. It was the height of the economic recession, I was a recent graduate from Harvard Divinity School, and I was hungry for a job doing work I could believe in.  Though some of the fine points of my own faith differed from theirs, I was hopeful that, with some skillful, interpersonal ecumenism, I could stand on common ground with these fellow followers of Jesus.

Having grown up in the Bible Belt, I had been asked this question before. There is a “correct” answer. It : “Yes. I know that I’m going to heaven because I’ve been saved by Jesus Christ.” I could have said yes. But I knew that for me to say yes in that moment would be to shrink the untamable God I had come to love after years of seeking down to the contours of a theological shoe-box. Continue reading

Camels, Needles and Such – Br. Mark Brown

Br. Mark Brown

Mark 10:17-31

This is one of those gospel passages that may hit us right between the eyes before we have time to duck.  It’s guaranteed to make everybody squirm in their seats, at least a little, with at least a vague sense of inadequacy. We know that camels can’t go through eyes of needles.  But then there’s that “for God all things are possible”, which adds a note of ambiguity to the whole thing.  It sounds as if it might indeed be possible, with God, for a whole caravan of camels to ride through the eye of a needle.  So did we get hit by a piercing arrow, or a bean bag?

Jesus’ teachings are often couched in ambiguity and exaggeration and seem designed to get us to puzzle it out.  He sends us off scratching our heads, giving us the freedom to arrive at conclusions as best we can. Continue reading

Remedial First Grade – Br. Mark Brown

Br. Mark Brown

Luke 11:14-26

This passage from Luke points us to a great paradox in the Christian life: the more we make progress in the life of faith, the more we realize we have failed.  There is more progress in the sense of failure, than in feelings of success.

It’s probably not possible for us to hear these words of Jesus quite the way first century folk did, with all the talk about Beelzebul and the demons.  But “demons”, metaphorically speaking, is something we can all relate to: fear, selfishness, contempt for others, hatred, pride, impatience… We all have our favorite “demons”—or if not our favorites, our familiars: the ones who keep coming to take up residence in the house we thought we had cleaned so thoroughly.  When we think we might have rid ourselves of one “demon”, perhaps by the cultivation of some virtue, we discover others have come to take its place.  A kind of false pride that entices us into judgment of others is perhaps one of the more persistent “demons” of those making “progress” on the way.

It’s an ongoing wrestling match with one “demon” or another in the life of faith.  And we are, indeed, transformed—we do make progress in the spiritual life, we are caught up in a process of ongoing conversion—in Christ, into Christ.

But genuine progress comes in recognizing failure.  We only advance when we realize we have failed.  We only pass if we realize we’ve flunked.  The most advanced level in the school of Christianity is remedial first grade. It’s always back to the basics…

The Soul of Creativity – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke Ditewig

Colossians 1:15-20
John 1:1-18

Welcome to a preaching series we’re calling: Finding God in Harvard Square. For part one this evening, we’re exploring creativity.

In the beginning, God “birthed creation from the formless womb of space.”[i] Birthed breath-taking beauty of earth and sky, bumblebees to blue whales, pumpkins to prickly pears, delphinium to dogwood. God who “counts the number of the stars … knows them all by their names.”[ii] We and all creation reflect the image and nature of God the Divine Artist. Creativity, the ability to make or think new things, is of God’s essence. Creativity reflects God.

Many of us were taught a narrow, restrictive view of creativity. It’s not just the arts. Not just for a select few who others approve of as artists.[iii] We create when writing an academic paper or a poem or an equation, designing a motor, building a bench, setting up a celebration, cooking a meal, or playing a game. All of us create or think new things. All of us reflect God. Continue reading

The Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Isaiah 52:7-10    Psalm 96:1-8    Galatians 6:14-18    Matthew 11:25-30

In the calendar of the Church, we remember today Saint Francis of Assisi, born in year 1181.In the Middle Ages, in Saint Francis’ day, the disease of leprosy, the oldest and most dreaded of all diseases, was a terrible scourge.  Lepers would be seen with the most hideous of skin ailments: sores all over their bodies; bones protruding; eyes forever draining: wounded people, broken down, festering, stinking.  A leper died a slow, repulsive, ignominious, lonely death.  And yet the source of a leper’s problems was not with their skin or bones.  Those merely showed the symptoms.  The problem with leprosy is with the nervous system.  The nerves become deadened to any feeling.  The nerves sense nothing in the affected area.  And as the disease would spread through the body, the person would not be able to feel anything in the affected area.

A person with leprosy affecting their hand would be working using, for example, a broom or garden trowel with a splintered handle.  They might tear their hand but not feel it, not know it, and a resulting infection would settle into this lame hand. Continue reading