A Joy Most Ravishing – Br. James Koester

Life Profession of Jim Woodrum SSJE

Exodus 33: 7 – 1, Psalm 139: 1 – 12, 1 John 4: 7 – 12, John 15: 9 – 19

Well I am certainly impressed. Never in a million years did I imagine that so many people would show up today. I really only expected the brothers, the guests in the guesthouse and our regulars at the Saturday Eucharist. But look at you! You have come from near and far: Georgia, and South Carolina, from New York and parts in between. You have come from any number of places around Cambridge and Boston, and all to show your dedication, your devotion, your loyalty, your faithfulness, your friendship to someone whom we are told, was of remarkable life and learning.[1] And you are all dressed up to boot! That’s all pretty impressive, and we are honoured by your presence at this celebration today. The one person that I don’t see here though, surprises me by his absence. I don’t see the Mayor of Boston here. And that surprises me. Of all the people who should be here, he’s at the top of the list. Why isn’t he here with us today as we celebrate the feast of St. Botolph, the Patron Saint of Boston? Continue reading

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

Sermon for St. Justin, Martyr – Br. David Allen

davidallen_1

1 Cor. 1:18-25
Jn 12:44-50

Today is the Feast of Justin, martyred in Rome, 167 A.D.

Justin was born early in the 2nd Century, near Shechem in Samaria.  He was brought up as a pagan.  In his youth he began to study philosophy.  He searched for a philosophy that would be true to his view of life.  After some searching he adopted Platonism.  But not long after he had chosen that he met an old man at the sea shore who convinced him of the truth of Christian teaching.  It was a chance meeting, but one having great significance.  Justin said of this encounter, “Straightway a flame was kindled in my soul!”  Soon after that he was baptized.  As a Christian Philosopher, wearing the robe of a philosopher he taught Christianity.

At about the middle of that century he gathered some students and formed a school of Christian philosophy in the city of Rome.  During this period he began writing in defense of Christian doctrine and beliefs.  Three of these writings have survived. Continue reading

A Life Eternal – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas Bartoli

“A life without eternity is unworthy of the name of life. Only eternal life is true.” Those are words from Saint Augustine, his way of articulating the importance of eternal life on our journey along the path of Jesus. We don’t see eternal life, mentioned as such, very often in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but John also must have thought it was crucial since in his gospel it appears over a dozen times. For example, sometimes we’re told  that that whoever believes in the son of God has eternal life. Other times we’re given a contrast between the perishable things of this world and the imperishable peace and joy found in the eternal life of Christ.

 

So, why does John seem to have so much to say about eternal life compared to the other gospels? Well, some say  John uses the term “eternal life” as a way of referencing God’s Kingdom, definitely a central theme of the gospels, and I think this holds some truth.

Although, if so, then in speaking of it in terms of eternal life John is also helping us understand a bit more about what the Kingdom of God is like. Continue reading

Look to the Glory – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Acts 1: 6 – 14
Psalm 68: 1 – 10, 33 – 36
1 Peter 4: 12 – 16, 5: 6 – 11
John 17: 1 – 11

I am not naturally inclined to poetry. It’s not something I read a great deal of. I don’t spend my time reading the great poets or memorizing poems. When I was in Grade Eleven, we were given a choice of a number of options to choose from in our English literature class. One option was Canadian Literature. The other option was poetry. I of course, signed up for the Canadian Literature section. The problem was, so too did a number of my classmates. The end result was that I, and several others, were simply reassigned to the poetry section in order to even out the class sizes. I remember distinctly that one of the assignments of this class was to write five poems during the course of the term. I wrote my first poem at the end of the first class and handed it in. I still remember it:

O God, why me?
I chose Can Lit,
But got stuck in poetry.
O sh….

Well, you get the idea. 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

Sermon for Feast of the Ascension – Br. David Allen

davidallen_1

Acts 1:1-11
Eph. 1:20ff
Lk. 24:44-53

Today is the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  What does the Bible tell us about this Feast?

        At the end of Matthew’s Gospel we can read that “The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. … Then Jesus came and   to them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, that I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”

(Cf. Mt. 28:16-20)

        These verses are in accord with Jesus’ teachings to his disciples, but there is no actual description of the Ascension.  Did Matthew assume a description was not needed:  Apparently so. Continue reading

Miracle Working Icon of the Mother of God – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Sirach 38: 27 – 32
Psalm 107: 1 – 9

Matthew 6: 19 – 24

I have never been much of an artist. I can’t draw very well, and in fact I describe myself as one who draws stick people badly. At least, that is the story I have told myself for most of my life, not only as an excuse, but also as a defense. If I had to draw something, I would use that as the explanation of why I didn’t put the time or effort into it.

But then something happened. I visited the sister of another member of the community one afternoon and saw on her walls framed cross-stitch samplers that she had done. In an instant I knew that I had to learn how to do that, so by the end of the afternoon she had equipped me with a needle point hoop, floss, needle, fabric and pattern and after a brief lesson, I went home. Little did I know, that that afternoon’s cross stitch lesson would be a life changing event for me. I am not being overly dramatic when I say that my life has never been the same since. Continue reading

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 was 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

Longing for Nourishment – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

1 Peter 2:2-10

Those of you who have had an opportunity to stay with us here at the monastery or have had an occasion to join us for a Sunday meal know that I am a foodie.  I enjoy cooking and eating all kinds of food, but most I most especially have a passion for southern cooking.  While I love living here in New England and jump at an occasion to enjoy a Lobster Roll or warm up with a bowl of chowder, one of the things that I miss the most are the tastes of home.  And so on the Sundays when I volunteer to cook lunch, I more often than not will cook food with a southern flair:  Chicken Fried Shortribs, a variety of greens wilted in a homemade bacon jam, and classic peach cobbler a la mode is just one of the many meals you may experience when I’m in the kitchen.  Continue reading

Sermon for Wednesday of Easter 4 – Br. David Allen

davidallen_1

Jn 12:44-50

The Gospel Reading for today is a discourse of Jesus making it clear that he did not come into the world on his own as an individual. We heard; “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.” (Jn 12: 44-45) 

This 12th Chapter of the Gospel according to John marks the transition from Jesus’ Ministry to his Passion and Resurrection. The relationship of Jesus with God the father was close. Continue reading

Triune Living – Br. Keith Nelson

Br. Keith Nelson

Wisdom 7:7-14 &John 8:25-32

Feast of St. Gregory of Nazianzus

When I read and reflect upon our SSJE Rule, I am still often caught off guard at how core theological tenets of Christian faith are so vividly applied to the pressing realities of everyday human existence. For example, I return again and again to these words in our chapter on “The Witness of Life in Community”:

Our human vocation to live in communion and mutuality is rooted in our creation in God’s image and likeness. The very being of God is community; the Father, Son, and Spirit are One in reciprocal self-giving and love. The mystery of God as Trinity is one that only those living in personal communion can understand by experience. Through our common life we can begin to grasp that there is a transcendent unity that allows mutual affirmation of our distinctness as persons. Through prayer, we can see that this flows from the Triune life of God.[1] 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

What’s the Next Right Thing? – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

John 14:6-14

When a man first comes to the monastery to test his vocation, you may be surprised to know that he does not get a large ‘how to’ manual on being a monk.  Nor does he receive a week-long orientation in the essentials of monastic living.  Much of what a postulant and novice learns is by observation, trial and error, and asking questions when they arise.  When he sings the Offices with the Community, (regardless of his proficiency in music fundamentals) he learns a strange musical script with a four-line staff and peculiar square notes that when stacked on top of each other means they ascend and when written in progression means they descend.  He learns that the bell rings ten minutes prior to each service although he may find himself sitting in chapel alone and confused for fifteen to twenty minutes when the Angelus bell rings at noon and no one shows up.  There is often that awkward moment when learning to acolyte that he lights the candles on the altar at noonday prayer only to have them extinguished with an explanation that candles are not lit at the noon office.  I sometimes joke that I’ve been here over five years and I’m still learning new things each week, although now they are more often epiphanies that dawn on me mysteriously, out of the blue.  For me, our lesson this evening from John’s gospel illustrates how the experience of novice monks is not dissimilar from that of Jesus’ disciples. Continue reading

Easter Remembrance – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

Luke 24:13-35

 The gospel tells us that two followers of Jesus were walking and talking as they made their way to the village of Emmaus, a distance of about seven miles from Jerusalem.  Just a couple of days had passed since the tragic death of Jesus, and the confusion, fear, disappointment, and grief of that event weighed heavily upon them.  Some of those closest to Jesus had contributed to the tragedy: he had been betrayed by one of his own disciples, denied by another, and abandoned by his followers and friends, who had fled for their lives.  Furthermore, the body had apparently gone missing!  Some women who had visited the tomb earlier this same day had reported a strange encounter with“two men in dazzling clothes,” who had greeted them with the amazing news that Jesus was not there, but risen!  They had reported this curious and inexplicable experience to the disciples, but the disciples took it to be “an idle tale” and sent them away.[i] And now, as these two were walking along, they were trying to make sense of all of this, trying to comprehend the incomprehensible, trying to work through their grief and confusion, trying to find some point of light to illumine the darkness and despair that had overshadowed their hearts. Continue reading

Easter Doubt – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

John 20:19-31

This morning we hear one of the most quintessential stories in all of the gospels; so definitive in fact that it has given birth to a term that is used to label a person we deem as a skeptic.  When someone we know is unwilling to believe something without concrete evidence, we call them a ‘doubting Thomas.’  Beginning with Easter Day we hear an abundance of post-resurrection stories witnessing to the disciples and those close to Jesus seeing, speaking, and eating with Him, giving credence to the fantastic rumors that His body had not been stolen, but that He had in fact risen from the dead three days after his gruesome crucifixion, just as He had prophesied.  Our lection from John begins with one of these accounts:  it is the first day of the week following the crucifixion and Jesus’ disciples have hidden themselves behind locked doors out of fear for their lives.  Jesus appears among them bidding them peace, and then he immediately shows them his hands, feet, and side: the wounds that were inflicted on him to assure his torture and resulting death.  John says: ‘Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.’

But the gospel writer says that one of them was missing:  Thomas, who was called ‘the twin.’  Where was Thomas?  Was he out surveying the scene, plotting a safe exit from Jerusalem for the others?  Was he discreetly purchasing food and other provisions that they needed?  We don’t know, all we can surmise is that Jesus’ disciples were hiding in fear and that Thomas was not with them.  Considering the little we know about Thomas, this is not altogether surprising.  There seems to be an implicit bravado associated with him.  Earlier in John’s gospel, it is Thomas who exclaims “let us also go [with Jesus}, that we may die with him,” demonstrating that Thomas was utterly devoted to Jesus at the most, and at a hothead at the very least.[i] Continue reading

Calling by Name – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke Ditewig

John 20:1-18

Jesus came standing next to Mary Magdalene, but she did not know it was him. When Jesus called Mary by name, she recognized him. A most brief and beautiful portrait, so intimate, so familiar. Mary felt she had lost everything: her Lord, her friend, her way. Called by her name, Mary was found; she regained sight, saw Jesus beside her.

Jesus calls us by name. Some people hear God speak literally, audibly, as Mary did. That is not my experience. If it is, I missed it. If you experience that, be grateful. I do hear God call me by name, and it is powerful, resurrection power, like what Mary experienced. I bet you have experienced it too. 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

Faith in a Seed – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas Bartoli

John 18:1 – 19:42

Our efforts cultivating the fruit of the earth were modest at best, because growing up in Brooklyn meant not have having much gardening space. In our backyard, we had a few small rectangles of soil in which to plant our hopes for fresh vegetables and herbs. We experimented with everything from eggplants to pumpkins, but what I remember most is the tomato plants tended by my father and grandfather, taller than me at the time and filled with beautiful ripe tomatoes. That such a prodigious crop could come from so tiny a handful of seeds never ceased to amaze me. And after we had planted the seeds for next season, I waited with a mixture of hope and awe for what seemed like a miracle, new tomato plants rising from the ground in which the seeds were buried.

Nowadays, many of us who live in cities don’t consider anything about our food very miraculous, and we probably aren’t familiar with placing all our faith in a seed. But the lives of our ancestors, certainly in Jesus’ time, were intimately woven with nature’s cycles of death and new life. The fruit of each plant gives its life for the rich potential of its seeds, and each seed itself must die so to bring forth new growth. Continue reading

A Radical Act (Maundy Thursday sermon) – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Some years ago I had the privilege of taking a course with Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, a theologian who was then on the faculty of the Divinity School at Duke University.  Dr. Hauerwas, the son of a bricklayer, was a straight-shooting, no-nonsense kind of guy who believed that living as true disciples of Jesus in the world would necessarily put us in conflict with the culture in which we live.  I remember being surprised to hear him say that participating in the Eucharist was one of the most radical actions any Christian could undertake.  Tonight we will understand why this is true.

Tonight we watch in wonder as the only-begotten Son of God, the Eternal Word who was “in the beginning with God” and through whom “all things came into being” (Jn 1:1-3), stoops to wash the dirty feet of his disciples.  Tonight we behold the Incarnate Son of God, the “King of kings” and the “Lord of lords,” tying a towel around himself, pouring water into a basin, and assuming the role of a servant.  The King kneels before his subjects; the Master washes the feet of his disciples. Continue reading