Love God and Do What You Want – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Acts 14: 19 – 28
Psalm145: 9 – 14
John 14: 27 – 31a

When I was 7 or 8 I made a book of coupons for my mother, which I presented to her on Mother’s Day. Each coupon was good for something different. One as for taking out the garbage. Another was good for breakfast in bed. I don’t remember what the other ones were good for, but the idea was that she would take out one of the coupons, return it to me and I would do whatever the coupon was good for. Curiously, she never used them. I found the coupon book years later among her things. My hunch is that my book of coupons said more to my mother than any number of breakfasts in bed.

Each of us have different ways of showing love. We might be one of those people completely comfortable telling another I love you. Or we might be one of those whose love for another is shown, not so much in words as in deeds: flowers, acts of kindness or generosity, thoughtful gestures, small favours. That may be the way we show love. Continue reading

Listening for Jesus – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Acts 2: 42 – 47
Psalm 23
1 Peter 2: 19 – 25
John 10: 1 – 10

Finally the phone call came, and I went down to the post office to pick up my parcel. On this particular day the woman ahead of me in the line was picking up her package of bees. I’d seen them as I came into the post office. They were sitting, by themselves, on the loading dock. The postal workers won’t let them inside the building. They don’t like having to deliver bees, but the postal regulations require them to do so. My package on the other hand was sitting in the corner, near the counter. I knew it was mine because I could hear the goslings inside, honking away.

As incredible as it seems my four goslings had hatched on a Monday. They had been sexed, packed and shipped from Oklahoma before the end of that day, and there I was, picking them up in West Newbury on Wednesday. They came in a box about the size of a clementine orange box with a bit of straw and a heat pad. I put them in the car and drove them home, talking to them the whole way. When I got them home, I carefully opened the box and picked them up one at a time as I gave them something to drink. Having done that I was able to install them in their goose coop. Continue reading

Ring Your Bells! – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Romans 6: 3 – 11
Psalm 114
Matthew 28:1 – 10

There was a dreadful custom at one time practiced in some Anglo-Catholic circles, including in a certain monastery on the banks of the Charles River. For the last two weeks of Lent, beginning on the Fifth Sunday in Lent, (which used to be called Passion Sunday), and carrying on until Holy Saturday, after each of the Offices, Psalm 51: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; in your great compassion blot out my offenses[1] would be mumbled in unison. Our brother, David Allen remembers this going on here when he made his first visit to the community in the late 1950’s. He thinks it came to an end sometime in the mid-1960’s.[2] You can just imagine the effect of a dozen or so men, sitting here in the Choir, mumbling the psalm in unison. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; in your great compassion blot out my offenses. Continue reading

Radical Practices: Witness – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

1 John 1: 1 – 4
Psalm 96
Luke 24: 36 – 53

There are a few of us in the community who will remember, and there may be others of you who will have heard the story, probably countless times, of how our brother Tom, when he was the Superior, used to pray at the Mid-Day Office for the gift of martyrdom to be given to our community. Some of us were quite ready to grant him his prayer, and make him the first official martyr of the Society. (As an aside, I say official martyr, because while the African martyr Bernard Mizeki was not a member of our community, he was certainly a product of our Society, as he was: introduced to the Christian faith; prepared for baptism; trained as a catechist and sent out on mission where he was later martyred, by members of our community in South Africa. Because of that, I like to think of him as our martyr.)

We say in our Rule of Life in the chapter on Life Profession that the grace to surrender our lives to God through our vows has been given to us in Baptism whereby we die with Christ and are raised with him. It is the same grace that gives strength to martyrs to submit gladly to death as witnesses of the resurrection. From the beginning monks and nuns have been encouraged to understand their own commitment in the light of the freedom and trust that enables martyrs to give up their lives to the glory of God. The witness of the martyrs should never be far from our minds as we go forward in the vowed life day by day.[1] Continue reading

Jesus Wept – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Ezekiel 37: 1 – 14
Psalm 130
Romans 8: 6 – 11
John 11: 1 – 45

I’m not sure how old I was. I might have been around 13 or so. One Sunday, our Rector, Mr. Pasterfield, challenged us in his sermon to find the shortest verse in the Bible. The one clue he gave us, was that this verse could be found in the Gospels. The rest was up to us. As the Brothers here in the community will tell you, I am often up for a challenge, and this one tweaked my budding inner theologian, so home I went, to see what I could find.

If I remember correctly, it took most of Sunday afternoon for me to find it, and I didn’t have any help from my parents. (In fact, I am not convinced that they knew either what the shortest verse was, or where to find it.) I started by skimming the chapters, and if I thought I had found it, I would count words, and then letters. Slowly I narrowed down the possibilities. At some point in the afternoon, much to my delight, I found it, right there on the thin onion skin pages of the King James Version of the Bible that sat on our bookshelves. It was just two words and only nine letters long: Jesus wept.[1] Continue reading

From Ashes to Easter – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany

Leviticus 19: 1 – 2, 9 – 18
Psalm 119: 33 – 40
1 Corinthians 3: 10 – 11, 16 – 23
Matthew 5: 38 – 48

It is hard to believe that our journey from the ashes of Ash Wednesday to the baptismal waters of the Easter Vigil begins in only ten days. It seems that just a few days ago we were gathered here, around the Christmas crèche, singing carols and celebrating the Feast of the Nativity. Already, the season of Epiphany is almost over and we stand at the threshold of Lent. Our Lenten journey will begin, as it does every year, with the mark of our mortality, which we will wear on our foreheads, until newly washed and smelling of the oil of chrism, we emerge dripping wet from the baptismal font. This journey which we take each Lent is not simply a liturgical or sacramental journey, it is a journey through life, when we face again the paradox of our humanity, which is that we are both fallen and redeemed. We are both sinners and saints. We live both in the wasteland outside the gates of Eden and in the garden outside the Empty tomb. We have something about us both of our First Parents, Adam and Eve, and the Second Adam, our Lord and Saviour. Continue reading

The Politics of Prayer – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Hebrews 12: 1 – 4
Psalm 22: 22 – 30
Mark 5: 21 – 43

It’s been quite a week. It’s been quite a week and, no doubt there is more to come. We have seen protests, demonstrations, and acts of witness, support and solidarity. We have seen millions in this country and around the world on the streets, in airports, in front of hotels all voicing their concern, their objections, and their resistance. It’s been quite a week, and there promises to be more to come. It seems that there is a new normal taking root, not just in this country, but around the world. My hunch, and it’s only a hunch, is that what we have seen in the past week, is what the next four years will be like, so we had all better get used to it.

For us a Christians as we watch the news, read the newspapers, talk with our friends and neighbours the questions at times like these is always: “should the Church be involved? Should the Church ever be involved?” There are those among us who would argue that the Church should stay out of politics; that the Church should never take a stand on this issue or that; that the Church must limit itself to the spiritual realm and leave the temporal realm alone. There are those who would argue that Jesus was not political; that he came to establish a heavenly kingdom and not an earthly one; that he opposed the mixing of the things of God with the things of Caesar, and so should we. Continue reading

The Mystery of Bethlehem – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

There is a reason why we celebrate Christmas at the end of December, when the weather has turned cold, the days are short and the nights are long and dark. There is a reason we celebrate Christmas at the darkest, coldest time of the year. There is a reason why we come out into the dark, cold night and make our way to churches and chapels, cathedrals and monasteries all over the world, on this night of all nights.

Our ancestors in the faith knew why, because they knew something about night and about darkness. They who lived in a world lit only by fire, knew that the world, at least at this time of the year, was indeed a dark, cold place. They knew something about the dark. They knew, as we probably don’t, how easy it is to get lost in the dark. They knew, as we probably don’t, that there are indeed things to be afraid of in the dark. They knew, as we probably don’t, that danger lurked in the darkness of the night. Continue reading

The Radical Practice of Enclosure – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

My parents would certainly never have used the word enclosure, nor thought that the practice they were inculcating in their children was a monastic practice, but growing up I lived in a house that lived, to a certain extent, by a limited rule of enclosure.

One of the ways we practiced this was that our bedrooms were off limit to our friends. Bedrooms were not regarded as play areas, and while we could play there quietly on our own, we could not invite our friends into them. We entertained our friends in the living room or the basement, but not in our bedrooms. I was always a little uncomfortable when visiting a friend’s house to be invited into their bedrooms. I had the feeling that I shouldn’t be there. Continue reading

I Dream the Dream of the Dream of God – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Jeremiah 23: 1 – 6
Canticle 16 or Psalm 46
Colossians 1: 11 – 20
Luke 23: 33 – 43

Those of you who have been on retreat with me in the past, or heard me preach, especially at Emery House, will know that I frequently go back to the same starting point over and again. I often begin with what is my favourite collect, the collect for the Second Sunday after Christmas:

O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.[1] Continue reading

Our Coming to Christ Changes Everything – Br. James Koester

Preached at Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Psalm 119:137-144
2 Thess 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

Several years ago, I found myself in Jericho. I was there with a group of pilgrims and we had stopped off to see the excavations. Jericho is thought to be the oldest city in the world and is of course the scene of that famous battle when the people of Israel marched around Jericho and the walls came tumbling down.[1] But we hear about Jericho in the gospels as well. It was to Jericho that the man who fell among thieves was going and about whom Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.[2] It was in Jericho that Jesus healed the blind man, whom Mark names at Bartimaeus.[3] And it is of course where our gospel story takes place today. Continue reading

Earth Shattering Decisions – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Feast of Saint James of Jerusalem, Brother of Our Lord, and Martyr, c 62

Acts 15: 12 – 22a
Psalm 1
1 Corinthians 15: 1 – 11
Matthew 13: 54 – 58

If you have ever been to Jerusalem, you have perhaps found two of my favourite places. The first is quite easy to find, the Armenian Cathedral of St. James’, just near Jaffa Gate. The problem with the Cathedral is that it is only open when there are services on, and the best time to go is late afternoon for Vespers. It is sung by the cathedral clergy and students who attend the seminary across from the Cathedral. Once Vespers is over you have about 15 minutes to look around before being ushered out. I love the Cathedral, for obvious reasons. Who couldn’t love a cathedral dedicated not to one St. James but two!

The first St. James, the more familiar, is St. James the Apostle, brother of St. John and son of Zebedee. It is he, whose shrine at Compostela in Spain is at the end of the Camino, the pilgrim way that has become so popular in recent years. This St. James was beheaded by order of Herod Antipas and in a side chapel of the Cathedral, near the door, is his shrine. Spain has his body, but the Armenians in Jerusalem have his head. Continue reading

Telegrammes from God – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Feast of Saint Edward the Confessor and Requiem for Brother John Goldring SSJE

Wisdom 3: 1-6
Psalm 23
1 John 3: 1-2
John 20: 1-9

I first met John in the fall of 1981. I was at the Mission House in Bracebridge with a group of my fellow divinity students from Trinity College, Toronto for our annual fall retreat. I remember a number of things about that weekend. I remember that it was a wonderful fall weekend, much like the last several days have been here. Father Dalby, whom some of our will remember, was our retreat leader. And John preached at the Sunday Eucharist.

Now I don’t remember what John said in his homily, but I do remember that I, like my other classmates, was stunned by its simplicity, its brevity and its depth.Little did I know at the time, that John’s sermons would become a regular and important part of my spiritual life.  Nor would I have ever guessed on that Sunday in the chapel at Brace bridge, that I would be standing here, 35 years later, presiding at his funeral as his brother and Superior. Continue reading

The Best Is Yet To Come – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Profession of Life Vows by Brother Luke Ditewig, SSJE

Now I can’t claim to be the list king in this community. There is another brother, who will remain nameless, who is the king of lists, charts and calendars in this community. But what I can claim to be is the brother obituariest (the brother’s call me something else, but it’s a little rude so I won’t repeat it!). Anyway, I am the one responsible for writing the obituaries which we read at Compline, on the anniversary of a brother’s death. It’s a job that I take great delight in. One thing I have done is to make lists of all the brothers who have died in the community since our founding in 1866 beginning with Father Coggeshall, who was the first in our community to die in 1876, up to and including Brother Bernie whose death earlier this year was the most recent. By my count there have been 153 deaths in the community. But while I was making that list, I became curious about another list. I began to wonder how many men have made their life profession in our community, and when. So I began to dig, and it has taken quite a lot of digging, because our records are somewhat incomplete. But according to my count Luke, you are at least the 201st person since Father Benson to make his life profession in the Society of Saint John the Evangelist and the 47thto make his life profession here in this Chapel since Father Lockyer, who was the first to be professed here, on 21 July 1938. Continue reading

Sermons for the Beach: A Home in Your Heart

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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.

James Koester SSJEActs 16: 9-15Psalm 67Revelation 21: 10, 22 – 22: 5John 14: 23 – 29

Over the last several weeks I have been busy building raised garden beds. If you have been to Emery House, you may have seen them, or even inspected them. In one I have spinach and beets, in another lettuce, radishes and carrots. In a couple of smaller ones I have planted potato onions, shallots and Egyptian Walking Onions (now isn’t that a great name!). Last week I transplanted the creeping oregano into one and one of the guests carefully transplanted most of the perennial onions into another. Continue reading

Praying Well, Loving Much – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12, Year C)
Genesis 18: 20 – 32
Psalm 138
Colossians 2: 6 – 15
Luke 11: 1 – 13

One of the most amazing places in the world, at least as far as I am concerned, is the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. I know that I have preached about it before, and I am sure that I will do so again, and again, and again.

On one of my visits to Jerusalem, I was there with a small group of people who were participating in a course at St. George’s College. We got into a conversation with one of the Armenian seminarians who was staffing the Armenian gift shop. Our friend Charlene, who claims that she doesn’t speak Armenian very well, got into a conversation, in Armenian, with the young man. The next thing we knew we were taken down, down, down into the depths of the rock quarry that the Church of the Resurrection is built on. As we descended from street level, we passed any number of pilgrims and tourists. We passed two Armenian chapels in the lower level of the Church. At the side of one chapel, near the altar was an iron grille. Having been ushered through the altar rail, our host pulled out a large key and unlocked the grille. We went through the grille single file, and he pulled it shut, locking it behind him. We followed him along a long, narrow wooden walkway and down, down, down more stairs. We finally arrived at the bottom and saw what we were looking for: a bit of graffiti dating from sometime in the very early part of the fourth century, before the church above us had been built. Long before the Church of the Resurrection had been built in the years after AD 335, when it was still illegal to be Christian, pilgrims had been making their way to the place associated with the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord. One of them had drawn on the rock face a small sailing boat and below it had written the words Lord, we have come. It was stunning to be in a place of prayer and pilgrimage that predated the building of the great church. But what took my breath away was what we were shown next. As we made our way out, we stopped at another flight of stairs and headed down, down, down. We were in a great crevice in the rock. When we reached the bottom our guide announced that this was the place where Jesus and his disciples had come and prayed after the Last Supper and before they went to the Garden of Gethsemane. I asked our guide if we too could pray and so the four of us said the Lord’s Prayer together. It was a spine tingling moment that I will never forget. Continue reading

All for All – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost and the Profession in Initial Vows of Keith Nelson SSJE

Genesis 28: 10 – 22
Psalm 139
Romans 8: 28 – 39
John 1: 35 – 51

Well Keith, this day has been a long time in coming. We your brothers in the community have been waiting patiently, and maybe not so patiently, for this day to come, and not just since you came here nearly three years ago to test your vocation. We’ve been waiting even longer than that. We’ve been waiting ever since you came to try your vocation with us the first time, but left after a few months, believing your vocation lay elsewhere. We’ve been waiting even longer than that. We’ve been waiting ever since you first appeared in Cambridge as a student at HDS and started to come to worship here on occasion. We’ve been waiting a long time and are thrilled that this day is finally here at last. Continue reading

Friends, Food and Rest – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

2 Kings 19: 9-21, 31-36
Psalm 48
Matthew 7: 6, 12-24

A number of years ago I was in Jerusalem. A small group of us had made our way from St. George’s College into the Old City. We had ended up at the Church of the Resurrection and after spending some time there, were on our way back to the College. Now I had walked to and from the Church and College dozens of times before, and depending on the route I took, would often pass the Mission of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is literally just around the corner from the Church of the Resurrection. The grey steel doors of the Russian Mission were always closed and locked, in spite of a sign posted by the door telling you what hours it was open. It was never open. It was never open, at least until that day. Continue reading

The Song of the Sea – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Feast of St Basil the Great

1 Corinthians 2: 6-13
Psalm 139: 1-9
Luke 10: 21-24

Those of you who have worshipped with us for any length of time will no doubt have spent some time gazing at our windows. Made by the Connick Studios here in Boston in the late 1940’s they are quite distinctive in their use of colours, especially reds, blues and greens. Having lived with these windows for nearly 30 years, I now notice Connick windows whenever I go into a church that has them.

The windows here in the chapel follow a number of themes. In the Lady Chapel the five lancet windows depict the rosary. Read horizontally each of the bottom, middle and upper sections show the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. The back Rose Window shows in the bottom section images of the Nativity and in the upper section the Twelve Ranks of Angels and in the centre medallion, the Coronation of the Virgin. Over by the door that leads out into the cloister is a window depicting St. Jean Vianney, Patron Saint of Parish Priests and Confessors. That window is located there, because in the days when confessions were heard here in a confessional, that was located near that door. The windows in the St. John’s Chapel show the vision of St. John from the book Revelation. The two windows by the High Altar are of the Virgin and the Beloved Disciple standing at the foot of the cross. The windows of St. Luke and St. Joseph here by the door to the Guest House were given by the workmen who built the chapel and are known as the Workmen’s Windows. If you haven’t looked at them before do so, as you’ll find the various tradesmen shown, including my favourite, a plumber trying to fix a leaky tap. Continue reading

Babel is Healed – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Genesis 11: 1-9
Acts 2: 1-21
John 14: 8-18, 25-27

I must confess that I have always been more than a little envious of those who, at least to me appear to be able, to acquire another language with hardly any effort. I have always struggled to learn a second language.

As a child my parents enrolled all my siblings and me in private French lessons, but when French became available at school, it was like starting over again. Each year was the same, I would struggle all year to learn a few basics, scrap by with a pass at the end of the school year, and then forget everything in the summer and start from square one again on the Fall. I finally dropped out of Latin in high school. In the first year of seminary, I enrolled in Greek. Early in the term of first year the Greek professor arranged for us all to take a language aptitude test. My years of struggling to learn another language all came together with that test, and finally made sense. Continue reading