The Samaritan Woman – Br. Robert L’Esperance

Br. Robert L’Esperance

John 4:5-42

The story of the Samaritan woman has been a powerful draw for me ever since I began to pray with scripture.  It’s probably my favorite gospel story.  Yet, I have never been able to say why that is so.

I’m guessing that it is something about the character of the woman and her story.  A story that I understand to be the story of a woman who is the quintessential outsider.  A woman who can only exist at the boundaries of her own society.  In it, but not of it.  This woman, who has had five husbands and now fornicates with one who is not her husband, lacks essential respectability.  And simultaneously, she is a religious pariah to the dominant religious establishment that surrounds her and her homeland.  This woman who can only exist at the margins.  Outside the bounds that hold both respectable society and respectable religion together. Continue reading

Treasure – Br. Robert L’Esperance

This is the ninth installation in a sermon series on the five marks of mission of the worldwide Anglican Communion.  The five marks of mission are: to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom; to teach, baptize, and nurture new believers; to respond to human need by loving service; to seek to transform unjust structures of society; and finally this evening, the first of two sermons on the fifth mark of mission: to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

There are any number of eloquent theological statements about our Christian responsibility to care for the earth and its creatures.  Doubtless, one of the most eloquent and compelling is the recent encyclical letter of His Holiness, Pope Francis, Laudato ‘si.  If you haven’t read I highly commend it to you.  Not only is it eloquent but it’s also courageous.  Pope Francis does not shrink or mince words in pointing out the culpability of capitalist society and its exploitation of the environment resulting in devastating consequences for many powerless and exploited poor people. Continue reading

Parable of the Wicked Tenants – Br. Robert L’Esperance

robertMatthew 21:33-43

This morning’s parable would have seemed very real to Jesus’ audience.  Some of the crowd probably knew large sections of Scripture for memory so they would have recognized the allusion to the prophet Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard.  In it, the prophet likens the chosen people and their promised land to a vineyard planted in fertile soil, lovingly tended, and yielding only the bitterness and disappointment of wild sour grapes.

The story relates not one violent incident but three, in a pattern of escalating violence. Patterns of violence begetting more violence like those we hear about almost every day.  It sickens us as I imagine it sickened Jesus’ audience.

But the wronged party, in Jesus’ story, the owner, does not react in quite the way his audience or we would expect.  Here is Jesus’ invitation to look hard at our sense of justice and retribution. Continue reading

Asking the question – Br. Robert L’Esperance

robertHilary of Poitiers

1 John 2:18-25
Luke 12:8-12

“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God.  And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”

Hard words, very hard words; and words that seem to me rather uncharacteristic of the Jesus portrayed for us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Luke. Continue reading

Love Came Down at Christmas – Br. Robert L’Esperance

robertJohn 1:1-18

Christmas is a mystery.  In some ways, it’s a familiar story about a birth under less than ideal circumstances, like so many births.  But, it’s also an utterly fantastic birth.  A boy- child without human father born of a virgin mother; heavenly choirs of angels sing tidings of this birth to simple shepherds; a new star appears in the heavens to mark the site of the birth and strangers travel from faraway lands to pay homage.

We talk about the Incarnation but we really don’t know what we are talking about when we do.  The Word, the creative principle of the cosmos, fully becomes flesh yet continues to be fully the Divine.  What does that mean?  There seems little room for such an unreasonable possibility.  It’s entirely unreasonable.  For centuries, Christians have tried to wrap their heads around this birth.  The whole premise is beyond possibility.  And that’s at least part of the reason why we have these stories so beyond possibility about a birth so utterly unreasonable.   Continue reading

Parable of the Talents – Br. Robert L’Esperance

Matthew 25:14-30

“Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.”1

“…I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground…I was afraid…”1

That slave, who received one talent, often speaks for many of us.  Isn’t fear of making a mistake, of trespassing, capable of paralyzing us into passivity and inaction?  And when fear and inertia entrap us it is easy to imagine ourselves living in the freedom of the gospel while we are, in fact, trapped in slavery to the Law.   Continue reading

Angelic Realms – Br. Robert L’Esperance

Genesis 28:10-17robert
Revelation 12:7-12
John 1:47-51

This afternoon, I want to say two things about angels and encounters with angels.  First, that it seems to me that all angelic encounters are first and foremost about being open to the Other and intimacy with otherness.1  And second, that the mission of angels is bound up with the presence of both light and shadow in each of our lives and that all of our lives are bound up in angelic realms.

Talking about angels pushes us into that most remarkable region of the human mind that is able to entertain ideas and experiences that exceed our conceptual grasp. Belief and myth fall into this region.  Religion was born in a world that had little use for the modern idea that belief has to do with intellectual assent to hypothetical and dubious propositions.  Belief in its spiritual sense means to “prize, to value; to hold dear.”  It’s a heart movement not a head movement, having much more in common with intuition than rational thought.  It is closely connected to the concept of faith which in its biblical sense means “trust, loyalty, engagement, commitment.”  Jesus set great store on faith but he wasn’t at all interested in whether people believed in him in the sense that we most often use that word.  He wanted commitment not intellectual assent.2 Continue reading

Organic Church – Br. Robert L’Esperance

robertMatthew 18:15-20

A few years ago, a friend of mine told me about how one Sunday morning his son aged thirteen or fourteen didn’t come down for breakfast.  He yelled up the stairs and got a faint groan.  Ten minutes before they were supposed to be out the door to church, Greg walked into the kitchen, disheveled, still in his bathrobe, and said he wasn’t going to church.  “I don’t want to do this church thing today.”  To which his father replied, “Nope, son, no choice about that in this family.  Church is who we are.”

My friend was right.  Whether it’s right to force thirteen year olds to go to church, I can’t say.  I’m not a parent and that I should ever be one seems, well, let me say, dubious at best.  But I believe that my friend spoke Truth when he said that Church is who we are. Continue reading

Vocation Is the Journey – A Conversation about Vocation with Br. Robert L’Esperance

Q: When did you first have a sense of your own vocation?

I grew up in the age of cheap gasoline. There was a gas station down the street from where I lived, and I have a distinct memory that the gas was twenty-nine cents a gallon. When gasoline was cheap, a favorite family pastime was to go for rides. Sometimes our rides took us to attend Vespers at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, which was about forty miles from where I grew up. This was still in the day when the Roman Catholic liturgy was in Latin, and there was an area in the chapel that was screened in with curtains, because the monks were still under strict cloister. I remember that, from the extern area, you had a view of the altar but couldn’t see the choir monks. I was fairly small; I could peer through the opening in the curtain.

When I had my first thought about being a monk, I was probably about seven years old. I remember looking through the curtain down the nave of the abbey church, which seemed huge to me, to where I could see the monks at the far end of the choir in their white robes. There probably were about seventy monks at the time, so there were a lot of these white bodies down at the end. And I just remember having the thought, “That’s what I want to be when I grow up.” Continue reading

Pulling weeds – Br. Robert L’Esperance

robertMatthew 13:1-9, 18-23

This is a true statement:  I love to pull weeds.  I do some of my best thinking while pulling weeds and the other day I found myself sifting through memories of my brother, Paul Wessinger.  Paul was passionate about gardens and gardening and our deep friendship first began to grow around our shared love of flowers.  Paul loved all kinds of gardens.  I think Paul would have liked the monastery cloister garden.  In many ways it’s like Paul, off-beat and unexpected.  Honestly, it’s like few other gardens I’ve seen.  Paul would have liked that because he told me that the older he grew the more he liked the unexpected and the off-beat.

The changes in himself, that Paul often talked about with me, began slowly and gradually, like those germinating seeds Jesus talks about in today’s parable.  Paul seemed to loosen-up and grow more flexible, even radical, the older he got.  He reminisced often with me and he told me that in his younger years he had been quite rigid and inflexible; later in his life he lost his certitude about many of his ideas and beliefs about God and jettisoned a whole host of rigorous rules handed-on to him for living out his monastic vocation.  By the time I arrived at the monastery, Paul was approaching his nineties and his spirit was soaring higher and higher into territories that he never imagined.   Continue reading

The Sacred Heart of Jesus – Br. Robert L’Esperance

robertWhether you’ve liked them or not, you’ve likely seen representational art portraying Jesus with a human heart floating outside his chest, sometimes surrounded by thorns and topped with a flame of inextinguishable fire. Such images can conjure up emotions and questions both positive and negative. The image I’m referring to is known as the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It’s a widely popular devotion in Catholic Christianity and we remember that devotion today. Continue reading

Dying to Live – Br. Robert L’Esperance

SSJE141The Restoration of the Religious Life in the Anglican Communion:  The Profession of Marian Rebecca Hughes, 1841.

Matthew 16:24-27

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Ayman Nabil Labib was a Coptic Christian.  “Like many Coptic Christians in Egypt, Ayman Nabil Labib had a tattoo of the cross on his wrist. And like 17-year-old men everywhere, he could be assertive about his identity. But in 2011, after Egypt’s revolution, that kind of assertiveness could mean trouble. Continue reading

Easter IV – Br. Robert L’Esperance

robertJohn 10:1-10

Preaching from the common lectionary, as we do here at the monastery, presents challenges.  One reason for this is that we often listen to texts read as though they stand alone.  When, in fact, they are often part of some larger narrative.  Often we are unaware of the context of a particular passage.

For instance, this morning we hear Jesus telling the Pharisees that anyone who enters the sheepfold except through the gate is a thief and bandit.  He’s not, at this point at least, calling himself the good shepherd.  That will come later.  For now, he calls himself the gate saying that “Whoever enters by [him] will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”1  Why does he say this and what does it mean?  In my reflections this morning on Jesus as the gate to greater life, I would like to take us back a couple of chapters in John’s gospel. Continue reading

The Sweetness of Nothing – Br. Robert L’Esperance


Matthew 18:1-6

Recently, I’ve been reading Le très-bas or in its English translation, The Very Lowly by Christian Bobin.  This is the first time I’ve ever read anything by this French Catholic author.  It’s the first time I’ve ever heard of Christian Bobin for that matter.  The Very Lowly is a biography of St. Francis of Assisi.  But it isn’t like any biography I’ve ever read before.  Les très bas reads more like poetry even though it’s written in prose.  Honestly, it isn’t like any book I’ve ever read before.

Le très-bas is described on the book’s back cover as “exquisite and moving.”  It is very much both of those things and I have found myself reading it as lectio divina.  Savoring the depths of its insights as a meditative exercise while basking in its strikingly beautiful language. Continue reading

Belonging to Jesus – Br. Robert L’Esperance

robertEzra 6:1-8, 12-19, Luke 8:19-21

Today’s Hebrew Scripture lesson from the scribe Ezra describes the decrees of good King Darius and the search for documentary evidence concerning the First Temple and its records.  The Third Temple, built by Herod and in its final construction stages in Jesus’ time, is said to have contained tens of thousands of genealogical records.  After the Babylonian exile, there was an almost obsessive preoccupation with proving the purity of one’s family bloodlines.  Many of Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries searched these records in their effort to demonstrate their good standing in the post-Exilic community.  Galilean families, living in a mixed Gentile- Jewish area and often marginalized by the Judean elite centered in Jerusalem seemed to have been particularly intent in proving their connection to this community and as we know, Jesus was a Galilean. Continue reading

I Believe in Miracles – Br. Robert L’Esperance

robertActs of the Apostles 9:1-20
John 21:1-19

I wonder how many of you remember Kathryn Kuhlman.  Ms. Kuhlman, who died in 1976, was a well known evangelist and faith healer.  Her television program featured a now familiar mix of preaching, music (with Dino at the piano) and faith healings.  Ms. Kuhlman began each of her broadcasts with these very carefully enunciated words, “I believe in miracles” or more precisely in Ms. Kuhlman’s own inimitable pronunciation, “I believe-a in miracles.” Continue reading

Wednesday in Holy Week – Br. Robert L’Esperance

robertJohn 13:21-32

“After he had received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” (1)

There is sad irony that Christ’s crucifixion has served to set-up new victims even after the sacrifice of the ultimate victim. Finding scapegoats has a long and shameful history. For centuries, humanity has tried to find someone to blame for what we cannot fathom or comprehend. It seems to me that when we think of the crucifixion we often try to understand who should take the blame: whether the proverbial “Jews” of John’s gospel, the Romans, the chief priests and the elders, the Pharisees, or maybe, today, we can blame Judas. Continue reading

Prayer Shock Therapy: Praying the Psalms – Br. Robert L’Esperance

Psalms are very much at the center of a monk’s daily prayer. Not including the offering of daily Eucharist, SSJE Brothers pray corporately five times each day. In four out of five of those occasions, singing psalms is at the core of our communal prayer.

Biblical scholars tell us that most, if not all of the psalms were originally meant to be sung, which seems to account for their rhythmic style. The name “psalms” comes from the Greek psalmoi, to sing to the accompaniment of a harp or lyre.

Here at the Monastery we sing psalms using traditional Gregorian chant. Chanting, I’ve been told, is one of very few human activities that engage both left and right brain hemispheres simultaneously. Something happens in the body through the rise and fall of the chant pattern. What happens when we chant the psalms I cannot really explain in words. But whatever happens seems to both lull the body into a more relaxed state and heighten its attention at the same time.  Continue reading

The Judgment of God – Br. Robert L’Esperance

David Watson, priest and canon of the Church of England, wrote about his conversion experience in his autobiography You Are My God. This conversion experience began when his college chaplain, a priest named John, inquired about Watson’s faith. Watson writes:

“John began by asking if I felt any need of God. I couldn’t honestly remember feeling any need, apart from the impulsive cry when I was suffering from a hangover. That surely was enough. Perhaps in my more reflective moments I was unsure of the purpose of my life. ‘Is that what you mean by a need of God?’ I asked John. He explained that a sense of purpose is certainly included, but that our primary need of God exposes itself in our need of forgiveness. In countless ways we have broken God’s laws, we have gone our own way, we have done our own thing. That is why God is naturally unreal in the experience of us all, until something is done to change that. Surprisingly, I did not need much convincing about this. I was ashamed of some things in my life; I would not like the whole of my life exposed. Also, I could see logically that this was a possible explanation of my sense of God’s remoteness and unreality. If he did exist, and if I had turned my back on him, it followed that there would be a breakdown of communication. ‘Yes,’ I said after further discussion, ‘I’m prepared to admit that I have sinned and so need forgiveness.'” Continue reading

Disordered Parables – Br. Robert L’Esperance

Sergius, Abbot of Holy Trinity, Moscow
Matthew 13:47-52

We live in a messy world; a world of contradiction, paradox, confusion, disorder, and inconsistency.  We seek protection against so much of what seems uncontrollable in the patterns of our minds.  The future can seem frightening because of this imperfect world we live in.  “Thus we search for predictability, explanation, and order to give ourselves some sense of peace and control.”1  Continue reading