The Body and Blood of Christ: Corpus Christi – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis AlmquistPreached at Emery House

The Feast of Corpus Christi (Latin for the Body of Christ), has been celebrated since the late 13th century in the western church, remembering what Jesus said at the last supper when he pointed to the bread which he called “his body” and the wine, which he called “his blood.”  In the church calendar, we first remember this on Maundy Thursday; however Maundy Thursday is a rather complicated memory.  The name “maundy” comes from the Latin, mandatum, which is a command.  Jesus commands us “to do this,” the very thing that we do here at this noonday: to name and claim Christ’s being really present with us in the form of bread and wine, the very thing he promised.  And there is a second commandment which we remember on Maundy Thursday: Jesus’ calling us to “love one another as [he] has loved us.”[i]  One of the many ways we are to show this love is in the washing of one another’s feet.  And then, on Maundy Thursday, things go downhill as we remember Jesus’ later going to the Garden of Gethsemane, pleading with his disciples to stay with him, watch with him, to be really present to him… then Jesus is seized by the governing authorities, he is flogged, his disciples abandon or betray him, the crucifixion happens.  In the heart’s memory, the institution of the Holy Eucharist on Maundy Thursday is overshadowed by so many layers of suffering. Continue reading

God’s Waiting for Our Availability – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Acts 1:1-11;
Ephesians 1:15-23;
Luke 24:44-53

Ascension Day follows the high drama of Holy Week: the palm-waving crowds, the last supper among friends, the be­trayals, the scourging, the crucifixion and resurrection.  All of those days are full of interpretation and meaning.  But Ascension Day is rather vacuous of meaning.  Jesus says to his followers,“Stay here.  WaitWait until you have been clothed with power.”Why the wait?  I think God is waiting for us, for you and for me, to say Yes with our own lives: our read­iness or at least our willingness to co-operate with God for what God has in mind for our own lives.Dag Hammarskjöld, the great Secretary General of the United Nations, wrote in his diary just before Pentecost in 1961: “…at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone – or Something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.”1  Say Yes to your own life.  God is waiting for us to say Yes to our own lives, which will open up this channel of God’s power at work within us and through us. Continue reading

Radical Practices: Resistance – Transforming, Not Conforming – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Romans 12:1-2, 9-21

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Continue reading

You can change! – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Luke 11:29-32

There’s a word that shows up in this Gospel lesson appointed for today; the word shows up continually in the Scriptures and in the vocabulary of the church: repent.  Repentance is both better and worse than you might imagine.  The English word translated as “repentance” is the Greek word “metanoia”: a preposition “meta (after) and “noia” (to think or observe).  “Metanoia” – repentance – is something we conclude in hindsight where we realize we had it wrong: something we have done or left undone, said or left unsaid that was wrong.  Maybe a conclusion or a judgment call about something or someone which we now see wasn’t right.  It may be a whole pattern of actions, brazenly in the open or in the secrecy of darkness that may have snowballed out of control, and it’s wrong.  It’s got to stop; we can see it, sadly. And so that’s the other piece about repentance.  Repentance isn’t just wisdom gleaned from experience; repentance is regret gleaned from sorrow.  We cannot go on, we simply cannot live with ourselves that way any longer.  Repentance is hindsight teeming with regret, enough so to fuel a change in life.  Repentance is both better and worse than you might imagine.  Continue reading

Jesus’ Transfiguration; Our Transfiguration – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Matthew 17:1-9
Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I* will make three dwellings* here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved;* with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.[i]

Mount Tabor is about 100 miles north of Jerusalem,just west of the Sea of Galilee.  It is forested with pine trees and offers stunning, panoramic views.  On a clear day, to the north and west, you can see Lebanon; to the east, beyond of the Sea of Galilee, you can see Syria, Jordan, and Mount Hermon.  Jesus and his disciples would have known the words of Psalm 89 about these majestic mountaintops.  The psalmist says, “The north and the south* – you created them;Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.”[ii] These mountain tops are sovery beautiful and breezy. Mount Tabor is only about 2,000 feet above sea level, but that is a lofty height above the sea level of Galilee, which is nearly 700 feet below sea level.  Mount Tabor is a place where you are glad to linger. It’s heavenly. Continue reading

Cut it Out – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Preached at Yale Divinity School

…If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched… (Mark 9:42-50)

Don’t do this.  Don’t take Jesus literally – plucking out your eye or cutting off your hand.  You take this literally, you won’t finish the term.  But do take Jesus seriously.  This is hyperbole.  My little sister used to say this same thing to me when I was acting out, when I had tried her patience to the extreme.  She would say, “Curtis, cut it out!”  She got my attention.

So I’ll rephrase Jesus’ point in the form of a question to you.  What needs to go, stop, end, change in your life?  What do you need to cut out or cut off? Continue reading

Jesus’ Baptism; Our Mission – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Isaiah 42:1-9
Matthew 3:13-17

The first lesson appointed for today, the reading we heard from the Prophecy of Isaiah, begins with the words: “Here is my servant; …I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”[i]  Now this reading is like a supernatural transcription of what the prophet Isaiah heard from God: God’s spirit being promised to the long-awaited Messiah, and also, God’s spirit reaching to foreign nations and distant lands, to the gôyîm, the non-Jews, people like many of us.  How will we know?  What will be the evidence of God’s spirit at work?  What will be the outward sign, the fruit of God’s spirit among us?  Justice.  Justice to the nations.  These opening words of Isaiah, God’s prophet, about the forthcoming Messiah, and then, later,when Jesus, the Messiah, begins his ministry, his opening words are about justice.[ii] Continue reading

The Advent Crisis and Invitation – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Winston Churchill was reprimanded at one point by Lady Astor for ending a sentence with a preposition.  Churchill responded, “This is the kind of thing up with which I will not put.”[i] Well, I’m thinking here about endings, lots of things coming to an unexpected end in our world and in our nation, some of it surprising, or relieving, or galvanizing, or frightening.  And this coincides with the church year having just ended. Today, the first Sunday of Advent, marks the beginning of the new year for the church, Advent being observed the four Sundays prior to Christmas. Continue reading

Saints of the Old Testament – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-12, 23-28, 32-12:2

 Almighty God, in the midst of your people Israel you raised up many saints who through faith in your eternal covenant conquered kingdoms,did justice, and won strength out of weakness. Grant us to hold in glad remembrance their holy lives and fearless witness, that by your grace we may press on towards the goal for the prize of our heavenly calling;through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Studying history is both illuminating and humbling: illuminating because of the great benefit of perspective.  Life in-the-present can leave us quite myopic.  What’s going on in-the-now is very close to us – it’s “in our face” – so much so that we often can’t see around it.  Our perspective is inevitably blocked in some ways.  We could take, for example, the political campaign rhetoric during this past year.  Without the benefit of an historical perspective, the long view, we could simply react to various campaign statements just for their “face value,” but miss the wisdom gleaned from history.  Studying history can also be quite humbling.  It can put us in our place as individuals and as a nation in a very long line as life unfolds down through the centuries.  Today’s celebration of the Saints, the holy ones, of the Old Testament takes the long view, and that’s important for several reasons[i]: Continue reading

A Shady Principle Is Brought to Light – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Pentecost XVIII

Jesus said to the disciples,“There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property… 29And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes…”  10 Luke 16:1-13

We could easily find this Gospel lesson appointed for today either confusing or offending.  It seems that Jesus is praising the practices of a dishonest account manager.  The manager falsifies the amounts owed to his employer so that when this manager is out of a job – mind you, he’s being fired because of his dishonesty! – these same creditors with whom he is currying illicit favor would admire him or owe him, and ultimately welcome him into their homes! Continue reading

Holy Cross Day – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world…”Galatians 6:14-18

Jesus was convinced and, ultimately, convincing that on the other side of death – death in its many forms – is life.  Jesus says, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”[i] Here’s the best way for us to lose our life on Jesus’ terms: surrender.  Surrender the lordship of our life to Jesus Christ, who wants to live within us.  The only way to live life – which can be such a killer – is to allow Jesus Christ to live within us.  This was St. Paul’s discovery.  In his writings, St. Paul uses one particular phrase more than 85 times: “…in Christ.”   He speaks of living his life “in Christ.”  “No longer” living life on others’ terms or even on his own terms – he’s “no longer” doing that, he says repeatedly – but now living his life “in Christ.”[ii] Continue reading

Giving Up Life to Discover Life – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

August 30, 2016 – The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his Brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her.  For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your Brother’s wife.”  And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.  But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee.  When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.”  And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.”  She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?”  She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.”  Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”  The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her.  Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.  When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb. Mark 6:17-29 Continue reading

Sermons for the Beach: Time to Play

Web-BeachSermons-Banner

During the month of August, while the Chapel is closed, we are reposting sermons that we hope will inspire you to embrace play, rest, and recreation. 

Br. Curtis AlmquistBr. Curtis’ sermon, “Time to Play,” was originally preached to accompany SSJE’s 2015 video series, “It’s Time to…” about rediscovering the sacred dimensions of Time. Learn more here.

Matthew 18-1-5

If we consider how often the word “play” figures into English discourse, “play” is obviously important to us.  We play games and sports; we play musical instruments; we play cards; we play with our pets.  We watch actors play their parts in stage plays.  And, just for fun, there’s all kinds of word plays, like “I used to be indecisive.  Now I’m not so sure.” (1) We can play an important role in life.  But then, playing can also become quite complicated, like in a power play, or playing up to someone, or playing something down.  One can play fair, or play foul, or  play safe.  One can also play along, or play favorites, or play the field, or play politics, or play into someone’s hands, or play with someone’s head.  Complicated play. Continue reading

The Wedding Feast – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

The Celebration and Blessing of the Marriage of Alexis Kruza and Raymond Chin

There was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding…”John 2:1-11

             We have this wonderful wedding celebration today, but who would have expected this in light of from where they have come?  I’m talking about our Gospel lesson we’ve just heard from the Gospel of John, chapter 2: the wedding at Cana of Galilee.  Just preceding this story, in John 1, Jesus has called his first four disciples: Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, and Nathanael.[i]  They were fishermen from Galilee, not scholars.  We don’t even know if they were literate.  We have no sense they were well-traveled, other than knowing about the Sea of Galilee, which is actually a very large lake.  So we would have every reason to think that Jesus would begin with these first four disciples by teaching them about Jewish law, or the psalms, or the prophesies predicting the coming of the Messiah. He might have taught them about healing.  Jesus might have schooled them about political and religious power: about the Roman occupying forces or about the divisions and competing political rivalries within Judaism among the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Scribes, the Zealots, and the Essenes.  He might have started with his disciples by teaching them how to pray.  Clearly, they have a lot to learn.  He might have found for them a place to live, a home base.  But how does Jesus begin the formation of his first four disciples?  Not in a classroom. Where does Jesus begin?  He takes them to a party, to a wedding feast. Continue reading

You Don’t Need More: The Grace of Contentment

P1270753An ancient monastic principle about inner freedom: freedom to be fully alive is found in the context of limitation. This is quite counter-cultural. In western society we are identified as “consumers” in a market economy that is constantly alluring us with dissatisfaction, where what is next or what is new is promised to be better than what is now. We hear the pitch, “You can have it all … and you should,” as if more is more and never enough. Monastic wisdom counters this delusion with the elixir of “contentment,” a word which comes to us from the Latin contentus: to be satisfied or contained. Less is more. The grace of contentment presumes that what is, is enough.  Continue reading

The Marks of Mission: Teaching, Baptizing, and Nurturing Believers – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

The long-time religion editor of Publisher’s Weekly, Phyllis Tickle, wrote in her book The Great Emergence that every five hundred years or so, the Christian faith holds a “rummage sale.” The church sifts and sorts through beliefs and practices that have grown old, decayed, or died, to make space for what wants to emerge.  That’s every five hundred years.  This sifting and sorting process occurred with the Great Collapse of the Roman Empire (around year 500 ce), the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western Churches (around year 1000), and the Great Reformation (around year 1500). Now, she proposed, we are in the Great Emergence.  What is emerging?  This is a crucial question when it comes to our topic for this evening – Teaching, Baptizing, and Nurturing Believers – not only because it is “politic” to know our constituency; it is also a faithful response to the work of God’s Spirit, whom Jesus says will teach us everything and remind us of all that [Jesus] said to us.”[i] What are we being taught and reminded through God’s Spirit, and where do we look? Continue reading

Be a Reservoir, Not a Canal – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Acts 1:1-8

We read in the Acts of the Apostles that Jesus’ apostles have become very active.  They who, not long ago, were cowering with fear, seem now fearless as they give witness “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  We also give witness to Jesus in our respective vocations, to our own “end of the earth.”  It’s worthwhile remembering how Jesus went about giving witness and doing ministry.[i]  He was very active, clearly; he counterbalanced his activity by regularly making retreats, the very thing you, our guests, are doing here with us.

In Jesus’ ministry, the multitudes are desperate to hear Jesus and to experience his help and healing.  The crowds’ expectations only grow.  And what does Jesus do?  It’s quite revealing.  He withdraws quite regularly. Jesus would minister mightily, and then the Gospels say he would withdraw to deserted places.  Note the plural – deserted places – and he would pray.[ii]  The cry is not the call.  The cry for help is not one-in-the-same with our call to respond.  It certainly was not for Jesus.  There was always more to do.  Jesus shows his truly-human side, without infinite resources, and he practices a kind of “life rhythm” clearly knowing when he must withdraw to rest and pray. Continue reading

Experience the Resurrection! – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

John 20:1-18

Jesus greets Mary Magdalene in the garden near his tomb.  He has come back from the dead, alive, resurrected, and yet he is very wounded.  Jesus’ body is still wounded by the scourgings that preceded his crucifixion, and the horrific piercing wounds to his side and to his hands, hanging from the cross.  None of these wounds is healed.  And Jesus’ heart is also wounded by the betrayal and abandonment of his closest friends, the disciples who literally left Jesus hanging.  The women, who were there when their Lord was crucified, witnessed it all, a horrific experience.  And this surely leaves the women wounded by the trauma. Meanwhile the disciples are hiding – hiding in their own fear, sorrow, and shame – and this, too, shows a wounding.[i]  No one can hurt us like we can hurt ourselves, when we become our own worst enemy.  On this day of resurrection, everyone in the Gospel story is not okay.  Everyone is wounded, and this is likely true for many of us here. We can simultaneously acknowledge Jesus’ resurrection and, at the same time, acknowledge that everything is not all right in our world or in our own lives.  Many of us here today may bear the wounds of life, of one sort or another.  Bishop Barbara Harris says, “We are a resurrection people living in a Good Friday world.” Continue reading

Change is Possible and Promised – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Luke 2:22-24

I think it’s quite intriguing to consider how Jesus developed from his childhood onward.  As Luke says, Jesus grows in wisdom and stature[i], and Jesus also grows in freedom to be fully himself, fully alive.  How Jesus perceives himself, and how he perceives others, and how others perceive him grows, and develops, and changes.  People will change for good – we will change for good – when three things are present: when we are eagerly desirous or absolutely desperate to change; where we can imagine a thread reaching from our past to our present and into our future, which gives us a sense of continuity so that we don’t get lost.  And then there’s one other important component in our being able to change, which I’ll say in a moment. Continue reading

The Blessed Diversity of God’s Creation – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people…
– John 1:1-18

My own cultural heritage is Swedish and German, and both sides of my family would want to lay claim on why we use greenery to decorate the monastery chapel in Christmastide, and why you probably have some Christmas greenery or a Christmas tree in your own home or apartment. The Christmas tree as we know it originated in the Middle Ages in what is now western Germany. The Christmas tree’s popularity grew out of a medieval play about Adam and Eve, the main prop being an evergreen tree called a “Paradise Tree,” decorated with apples. (Green and red. I’ll say more about that.) The notion of a “Paradise Tree” came from the Book of Revelation where we read of “the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”[i] Paradise Trees symbolized hope for a restoration of the innocence of the gar­den of Eden. In time the Germanic people set up these “Paradise Trees” in their own homes on December 24th, the religious feast day of Adam and Eve.  The Germans had borrowed this symbol for the Paradise Tree from the ancient Scandinavians who – many centuries before they had been introduced to Christianity – worshipped the gods of the trees. Continue reading