Lent: A Journey Toward Easter – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Isaiah 58:1-12
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

If I were to walk up to you and wish you a Happy Ash Wednesday, how would you react?  If I were to say ‘I hope you have a great Lent,’ I imagine I’d get some strange looks, maybe a dubious smile, or perhaps even judged as being irreverent.  Truth be told, Lent actually seems to be the opposite of happy and festive.  We don’t ring bells in excitement.  We don’t have a festive meal to mark the occasion.  We deny ourselves certain creature comforts that have become staples of our happiness.  We look with a strange combination of pity and amusement upon our fellow Episcopalians when they slip up and say “Allelu…!”[i]And we step outside the door of Ash Wednesday with a sigh, trying to psych ourselves up for the journey towards Easter which at this point seems to be nowhere in sight.  Yet, we as Christians know that this is something we must do.  Which way do we go?   Just how far is it really?  Do I have enough provisions to sustain me until I arrive?  How did I get myself in this mess?

I admit, I have often stepped out on my Lenten journey with a sense of dread, fixated on just how it is I’ve gotten it all wrong, how badly I’ve messed up, and putting together in my mind the words I will need to pray in order for God to forgive me and take me back…..if I’m lucky.  This isn’t necessarily inappropriate, but I think it turns a blind eye to a very important truth about our relationship with God.  We often think that we must do the right thing in order to please God.  We must say the right words to ‘woo’ God into thinking that were wonderful, smart, and loveable.  If we act in the right way, God will react graciously.  Continue reading

Turning Discipline into Discipleship – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Ecclesiasticus 2:1-11
Psalm 112
Mark 9:30-37

The autumn of my 4th grade year I had the sudden desire, much to the surprise of my parents, to play football.  I say my parents were surprised because I had never even shown the slightest interest in watching a football game much less playing football.  Maybe it had more to do with the fact that my friends were not around to hang out with after to school because they were at football practice, after which they’d come home to  eat supper with their families before doing their studies and going to bed.  Whatever the reason, I remember begging my folks to let me play, even against their counsel.  Finally, my Dad said to me, “If we let you play, you’re in until the banquet at the end of the season.” I was overjoyed and after I had agreed to the stipulation, we were off to pay the fee, get weighed in, and get my football pads.

Now, it only took one practice of getting hit and knocked into the dirt for me to appreciate my parents’ wisdom, and I came home and told them as much.  My father graciously thanked me before reiterating, to my dismay, that I would play Center for the East Pee Wee football team until the banquet.  Even a trip to the ER to treat a laceration to the elbow which required stitches did not change his mind.  The solution:  elbow pads.  I played through the season and you may be surprised to know that I did not get MVP nor most improved; just a participation trophy and a scar on my elbow.  This story came to mind when praying with our lesson from Ecclesiasticus:  My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for testing.  Set you hear right and be steadfast, and do not be impetuous in time of calamity.  Cling to him and do not depart, so that your last days may be prosperous.  Accept whatever befalls you, and in times of humiliation be patient.  For gold is tested in the fire, and those found acceptable in the furnace of humiliation.  Trust in him, and he will help you; make your ways straight, and hope in him. Continue reading

Rock of Ages – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Mark 8:27-33

As you can tell from the name of our Society, we brothers have a special affinity to the beloved disciple which tradition suggests is John.  There is an icon in the statio that you pass on your way into the cloister that contains the tender image of the beloved disciple reclining on the breast of Jesus.  He was closest to Jesus in his inner circle of friends.  But if truth be told, most days I identify more with Peter.  You may remember in Matthew’s gospel that Simon is renamed by Jesus and given the name Peter which means rock, “and on this rock,” Jesus tells him, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”[i]

But it is not this aspect of Peter that I identify with.  It is because more often than not gets it wrong.  Peter is constantly saying the wrong things and sticking his foot in his mouth.  It is Peter who steps outside the boat to walk with Jesus on the water but is overcome by his fear and begins to sink.[ii]  It is Peter who denies Jesus three times before the cock crows after his insistence that he would never leave Jesus.[iii]  The many stories we hear about Peter suggests that he does not have all the information he needs and often acts or speaks out of ignorance.  Continue reading

Choose Life! – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Matthew 5:21-37

When I first began to study the lessons appointed for today, I couldn’t help but to think back to one of my favorite commercials from the 1990’s.  The setting is just outside a desert fortress where a criminal is tied to a pole and is facing a firing squad.  The chief executioner questions the condemned man: “Would you like a blindfold, Messieur?  The man answers quickly, “No!”  The executioner then asks, “Would you like a cigarette?”  Again, the man answers, “No!”  Finally, he is asked, “What do you want on your tombstone?”  The man pauses briefly to think before answering resolutely, “Pepperoni and cheese!”  The commercial was for Tombstone Pizza which not only offered you convenience:  a full sized frozen pizza served piping hot in just minutes with all natural ingredients, but also a panoply of choices suited for all tastes.[i] As Americans, we LOVE choices!  We do not like to be boxed in with no options.  We want to make the decision with the most concise information and with as little serious discernment as possible.  We are highly individualistic and want to feel like every option is personal, tailored specifically for our convenience.  Continue reading

The Radical Practice of the Real Presence of Christ – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

1 John 4:7-21;
Psalm 63:1-8;
Luke 24:13-35

Like the founder of our Society, Richard Meux Benson, I grew up in an Evangelical tradition of the church.  The word ‘evangelical’ comes from the Greek euangelion, which means “bearer of good news,” and it is the charism of the evangelical tradition to spread by word the gospel of Jesus Christ in the world.  And so from a young age I was taught vivid Bible stories in Sunday School,that were often accompanied by handouts that I could take home and color with pictures of Jesus telling stories to children seated all around him.  I also learned songs that I would sing ad naseum in the car on the way home such as ‘Jesus Loves Me’ and ‘Jesus Loves the Little Children.’As a child I knew Jesus to be my buddy and as long as I had these Bible stories, songs, and coloring sheets, Jesus was with me wherever I went.

As I grew older, my dad encouraged me to leave the coloring activity sheets behind and begin to listen to what our pastor was preaching in church, something that I wasn’t thrilled about because I didn’t understand the message he was articulating.  I didn’t yet have the vocabulary and experience to grasp concepts such as ‘sin,’‘atonement,’ and ‘repentance.’  It would take a while for me to gain an understanding of this adult expression of God, one that seemed so complex and at times frightening.  What did resonate with me was when the pastor gave what was called an “altar call.”  After the sermon and before the final hymn, he would invite anyone who wanted a personal relationship with Jesus Christ to come forward and stand with him as a public profession of that desire which was the next step in the journey of faith.  I think I was eleven when I made my way to the front to proclaim what I already knew in my heart:  that Jesus and I had had a personal relationship since before I could remember.  I always looked forward to that moment in the service to see who else might come to be friends with Jesus the way I was.  I imagine it is with a youthful twinkle in his eye that Fr. Benson once wrote:  “If we are to have Jesus our friend, we must know Him to be continually near.  The companionship of Jesus!   It is strange how many there are who look forward to being with Him in another world, but never think of living fellowship with him here.”[i] Continue reading

Climbing Trees – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Luke 10:1-1

Every time I hear the story of Zacchaeus, I can’t help but to think of the maple tree in the front yard of my grandmother’s house.  I grew up an only child and since my dad was significantly older than my mom, all of my cousins on that side of the family were already grown.  Going to visit my grandmother could be a lonely experience not to mention an exercise in self-amusement since there was no one else to play with.  My favorite activity was to climb that maple tree.  It had a big limb that was positioned low enough that you could grab on and swing your legs around it and then pull yourself up.  Once you were there, the other limbs practically formed a staircase leading to the upper chambers of the tree.  The smaller you were, the higher you could go.  In spring and summer the leaves would hide you from view, and I always had hopes of eluding my parents when they would call me at suppertime.  To my surprise they always found me either from the sheer repetitiveness of this game or perhaps because the tree was directly in front of the family room picture window where my mom watched periodically to make sure I didn’t fall and break my arm. Continue reading

Laudato Si – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

Today, we celebrate in the calendar of the Church, Saint Francis of Assisi who died on this day in the year 1226.  Born 44 years earlier to wealthy parents, Francis grew up in the lap luxury and as a young man enjoyed a care-free lifestyle, gallivanting with the other upper-crust youth of Assisi with whom he was popular.  Upon returning home from fighting in the Crusades, Francis had a conversion experience.  After a prolonged illness he stumbled upon the ruins of a church in San Damiano where he heard the voice of Christ say, “Francis, repair my falling house.”  He returned home and sold some of his father’s expensive silk to pay for the repairs.  Angry, his father brought him into the public square where, with the citizens of Assisi witnessing the display, disowned and disinherited him.  Francis likewise renounced his father’s wealth and tradition says he took off his expensive clothing and laid them at his father’s feet and walked away naked.  He left Assisi and began to rebuild the church at San Damiano all by himself.While engaging in this work, he ministered to the poor of Assisi, especially the lepers who were feared by the townsfolk and were literal outcasts.  Francis would sneak back into town and scavenge for scraps of bread and vegetables to provide nourishment for those he cared for. Continue reading

Staring Mercy in the Eye – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Luke 16:19-31

When I began studying our gospel lesson for this morning, the first thing I thought of was an event from this past week that made all the major newspapers and has been circulating as a video on social media.  The video is of Senator Elizabeth Warren confronting Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf about taking responsibility for fraud committed by his company who then scapegoated lower level employees.[i] Senator Warren’s examination of Mr. Stumpf was scathing and I have to confess I took a slight sadistic pleasure in seeing him wide-eyed and squirming as she fired question after question, admitting damning evidence into public record from what seemed to be this great chasm separating the two.  After seeing the video, I couldn’t help but to think how lucky the rich man in our gospel lesson was to have had his interchange with Father Abraham instead of Senator Warren.  While Abraham’s interaction with the wealthy man is firm, his tone is at least compassionate.  To be honest, I think my curiosity was more the result of my recognition and identification with Mr. Stumpf.  Throughout my life, I have at times made poor choices based on selfish motives.  I too have had to face up to my shortcomings, ask forgiveness, and make reparations for harm caused to those whom I’d hurt.  Perhaps you can relate. Continue reading

Sermons for the Beach: The Soul of Sound and Silence

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, silence, solitude, and recreation. 

Br. Jim WoodrumBr. Jim’s sermon, “The Soul of Sound and Silence,” was originally preached as part of the series, “Finding God in Harvard Square.” Learn more here.

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

Feast of St. Macrina, Monastic and Teacher – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Matthew 11: 27-30

Sometime during my ‘Tween’ years (that terribly awkward period of time spanning from ages 10-12) I remember approaching my parents rather seriously to let them know what I wanted for Christmas.  This was the biggest request I’d ever made.  This wasn’t just something that I wanted strictly for entertainment value, although I did hope it would bring fun and joy.  I felt that it was very practical and something that I discerned that I needed in my life.  I asked my parents if I could have an older brother for Christmas.  Some of my friends had older brothers and while they could be somewhat obnoxious, gross, and crass, the pros seem to outweigh the cons.  Older brothers kept an eye out on you and could defend you against bullies.  Older brothers were wiser and could impart crucial knowledge about the greater mysteries of life.  Older brothers could be companions on the journey through adolescence helping you navigate through some of the strange twists that life could throw you which they had already experienced.  When my parents explained that things didn’t quite work that way, I went a step further and asked if we could adopt an older brother.  As it turned out, that too was an impossibility.  Continue reading

New Wineskins – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Matthew 9:14-17

When I was younger, the analogy Jesus uses about wine and wineskins was lost on me.  This ‘loss in translation’ could have been because I was not at the age where I could drink and had no concept of the intoxicating effects of wine.  Or perhaps because I grew up Baptist and any drinking of alcohol was viewed with suspicion.  I had an idea of what was meant by feasting with the bridegroom and understood the concept of un-shrunk fabric, but what was this concept about new and old wineskins? Continue reading

The Yoke of Freedom – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

One of my favorite windows in this chapel that I like to pray with is the last of the three in St. John’s Chapel which depicts fishermen mending their nets (probably James, John, and their father, Zebedee).  Jesus is standing on the shore beckoning them to follow him.  Many of the vocational stories in the Gospels have this mysterious quality about them:  John the Baptist points Jesus out to his disciples saying “Here is the Lamb of God!”  The two disciples follow Jesus a little ways at a distance until he turns and asks them, “What are you looking for?”  They reply “Rabbi, where are you staying?”  He answers, “Come and see !”  In another scene we wonder about the persuasive quality of Jesus’ call as he sees a tax collector named Levi sitting in his tax booth.  Jesus simply says, “Follow me!”  And Levi got up, left everything and followed Jesus.  In Matthew’s gospel we read:  As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. Continue reading

Breaking Down the Walls of Fear – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43
Psalm 96:1-9
Galatians 1:1-12
Luke 7:1-10

Many of you will know that four of us brothers recently returned from leading a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  With the exception of that wild and dangerous frontier to the north of us known as Canada, it was my first trip out of the country.  And for my maiden journey across the world, it was epic.  I have been asked many times what part of the experience was most significant for me.  I’d like to say it was touching the rock of Golgotha; or renewing my baptismal vows on the banks of the river Jordan; or perhaps even the celebrations of Eucharist on the Mount of the Beatitudes and at Emmaus.  And yes, all of these were greatly poignant but in a way that I expected them to be. Continue reading

What Are You Living For: A conversation about vocation with Br. Jim Woodrum

SSJE82How did you first become interested in the monastic life?

One day back in October 2003, I started exploring the “links” section of the website for the church I was then attending, and I found there a list of monastic communities’ sites. I already knew that there were monastic communities, but for some reason, on this day, the fact that they had websites intrigued me. I wondered, “What the heck do they put on them?”  So I started clicking through – the Franciscans, the Benedictines – and, you know, there weren’t really any surprises; it was just monks and nuns. But the last website I visited was SSJE’s. And it had this line on the front page: “We’re men living traditional vows in a non-traditional setting of Harvard Square. We’re learning to pray our lives.” And for some reason that is what struck me: Tradition in a non-traditional place and praying our lives.  Continue reading

How Can I Keep From Singing? – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Luke 1:26-38, 29-56
Mark 1:40-45

For the next few weeks, we brothers are presenting a sermon series based on the “Five Marks of Mission” of the Anglican Communion.  The Five Marks of Mission are:

  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  2. To teach, baptize and nurture believers
  3. To respond to human need by loving service
  4. To transform unjust structures, challenge violence of every kind, and pursue peace and reconciliation
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth

In this series you will actually hear two different brothers preach on each mark.  My brother Nicholas (who preached on Tuesday evening) and I were given the first mark:  To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom. Continue reading

The Identity of the Beloved Disciple – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

John 13:21-32

In our gospel lesson from John two supporting characters emerge at center stage with Jesus.  One of these characters has been in our field of view the whole time.  The other makes his official debut in the gospel, somehow avoiding notice until this moment at supper where the flickering candlelight makes shadows jump dramatically on the perimeters of that upper room.

The gospel writer says that Jesus heart was troubled as he announces that someone at the dinner table will betray him.  As the disciples’ eyes dart around the room we can feel their uneasiness, perhaps because each of them at one point on their journey with Jesus had considered jumping ship and going back to their old lives and families, back into their individual realms of safety and the familiar.  We read earlier in John that as many of Jesus’ followers were abandoning him, He turns to his disciples and asks if they too want to leave.  You may remember Peter’s response:  ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’*Jesus replied:  ‘Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.’ Continue reading

Extraordinary! – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30

In today’s gospel from John, Jesus is preaching quite boldly in the Temple precincts during the Festival of Booths.  He was drawing large crowds and they were listening to him in amazement because they knew that the religious authorities were hostile towards him.  Yet, here he was in plain sight preaching the gospel and for a moment we hear the crowds carefully considering whether this could be the messiah.

But as soon as they ask the question to themselves they shrug it off, rationalizing their doubts and returning to an almost comical quip about Jesus’ origins.  This passage in the Revised Standard Version of the New Testament reads:  Can it be that the authorities have really discovered that this is the Anointed One of God?  But He cannot be because we know where He comes from.  This is significant.  You may remember earlier in John’s gospel when Philip approaches Nathaniel and says “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”’[i] Continue reading

Welcome Home – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Wasteful, extravagant, profligate, spendthrift.  These are all words that are synonymous with the first definition in the dictionary of the word prodigal.  I have to admit that it was only recently that I learned that word’s true meaning.  I grew up in the Baptist church and all my life have been steeped in scripture.  I estimate that I’ve heard this parable from Luke’s gospel thousands of times in my lifetime.  But I never knew the true meaning of the word prodigal.  I had always just assumed it either meant ‘lost,’ as in the parable of the lost son.  Or perhaps ‘repentant,’ as in the parable of the repentant son.  These certainly could fit.  But after finally looking up the word, it all makes sense.  Prodigal:  spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.

There is not anything particularly unusual about the younger son’s request for his inheritance.  In William Barclay’s commentary on Luke’s gospel, he says that when a patriarch was of a certain age, he could go ahead and settle his affairs early.  By law the eldest son would get two-thirds of his father’s estate and the youngest would get one-third.[i]Jesus places no judgments on the younger son but simply implies that the he wanted to go live his life and asked for his share of inheritance and left.  It seems perfectly normal for a young person to desire this.  In my own life, I remember I couldn’t wait to leave the hills of southwestern Virginia and experience what life had in store for me in a bigger, exciting city. Continue reading

Are You Hungry Yet? – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Luke 13:1-9

Many of you know that I was born and raised in a town on the Virginia/Tennessee border right where the Blue Ridge Mountains meet the great Smokey Mountains.  Among my favorite aspects of the region I come from, besides its stunning beauty, are the smells. Because it is a rural setting, agriculture plays a prominent role in the region’s economy.  The mountain air, especially in the springtime, is clean and scented with the aroma of freshly cut Tennessee sweet-grass which is oftenmixed with the pungent smell of cow manure being turned into the soil for fertilization.  It may seem odd to wax nostalgic about the smell of grass and manure, but since it’s an odor that you experience in Appalachia with regularity, you lose the notion of its peculiarity and begin to experience it as a sign of joys of the approaching summertime:  Such as the delicious food that will soon accompany Sunday dinners and weekend cookouts;-+ Homemade green bean casserole, summer squash gratin, hamburgers garnished with homegrown tomatoes and paired with grilled corn on the cob that tastes as sweet as sugar. Are you hungry yet?  Continue reading

Heavenly Perfection – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Matthew 5:43-48

[i]If you’ve been worshipping with us with some regularity you may know that we have been using the Rite One liturgy on Fridays during Lent.  I love that the liturgy begins with Jesus’ summary of the Law: Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.  For me, while I know that fulfilling these two commandments is a challenge, there seems to be a graceful, even poetic quality to them that makes me want to strive for their fulfillment.

I sometimes wonder though what it would be like to begin the Eucharist with these words:  Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith:  Love thine enemies, pray for those who persecute thee.  Thou shalt be perfect even as thy heavenly Father is perfect.  Is it just me, or does this admonishment have a different ring to it?  Love of God with heart, soul, and mind coupled with love of neighbor as self:  I desire these things.  I’m not sure I can say the same about love of enemies coupled with Godly perfection.  It seems unrealistic. Continue reading