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

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

Another Way – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Mark 9.2-13

I remember, or maybe I was told, how one day Little Nick clung to his mother’s leg for dear life. It was the first day of kindergarten, and I suppose I was wondering something like “What kind of madness is this? Am I supposed to leave the warmth and safety of Mom for a strange and scary world?” I don’t want to go.

Later, waking up one morning, and feeling a new love pressed close under the cozy blankets, I begin to think of certain responsibilities. “Do I really need to go to work today? Can’t I just stay here in bed, wonderfully entangled with my beloved under the covers. The world seems so cold and cruel by comparison.” I don’t want to go. 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

Broader Horizons – Br. David Allen

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Mk. 7:24-30
(Also cf. Mt. 15:21-28)s

Today’s Gospel reading is the story of Jesus and a woman whose little daughter was afflicted with an unclean spirit.  The woman was a Gentile of Syrophoenician origin.  This story occurs in only two of the Gospels, the Gospel According to Mark, which we heard this morning, and that of Matthew.

I have been praying with these two versions of that story for several weeks, since I was asked to preach on this lesson.

There are several small differences between the two versions; differences in how those who recorded this event saw it.  I think that these differences are of far less importance than the final result. Continue reading

Cut it Out – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Preached at Yale Divinity School

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

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

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

The Meeting Place of Our Heart – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Genesis 1:20-2:4

While growing up, I was fascinated by questions like “What does it mean to be a human being? What makes us who we are? Why are we the way are?” I would read a lot of sociology, anthropology, psychology, and probably a few more “ologies” I can’t remember at the moment. And it was all very interesting, if ultimately not quite as enlightening as I had hoped. And I remember often encountering one particular sort of statement about human beings that would always give me pause, a doubtful, skeptical kind of pause. It was the kind of statement that would compare humans, usually very favorably, to other forms of life on our planet. 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

Fishing for the Fisher – Br. Keith Nelson

Br. Keith Nelson

Matthew 4:12-23

Jesus said, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of people.”

“Fishers of people” – in older translations of the Bible, “fishers of men” – is one of those phrases in the Gospels that I have noticed myself avoiding over the years in my meditation with scripture or when it surfaces in the lectionary. I don’t have much first-hand knowledge of fishing, but that’s not the source of the disconnect, because I don’t have first-hand knowledge of most activities and objects that were common in first century Palestine. When I hear the phrase “fishers of men,” I have mostly tended to think of a certain strategy of Christian mission legitimated by the imperative to “spread our nets” throughout the known world and “catch souls for Jesus” by any means possible. In other words, I think of mission malpractice, tightly interwoven with the history of British and American imperialism. So I have to sink deeper to hear these words from another angle, an angle that will yield the Life and Light I seek in these sacred pages. Thinking of myself or other people as fish is also challenging: fish out of water, hooked, confused, gasping for air and wondering how on earth they got from point A to point B.

But here I realize I’ve gotten ahead of myself. I do, in fact, have some personal acquaintance with fishing, lured up into my conscious mind by the words of today’s gospel reading. For your consideration, I offer you two brief stories from the “gospel of Keith.” Continue reading

Who is Jesus for you? – Br. John Braught

Br. John BraughtThe Feast of the Confession of Saint Peter the Apostle
Matthew 16:13-19

For many prayerful people, God’s love is largely theoretical. They can intellectually grasp that God is love, but they do not feel it. I have been among this class of people, and I have listened to others express a similar lament. When someone tells me they intellectually know that God is love but they do not feel it, I ask them the same question that was put to me when I felt this way: “Who is Jesus for you?” Often, this question takes people by surprise. Often, (and it was the case for me) there is an uncomfortable silence, and a level of uncertainty is expressed. For many prayerful people, Christians among them, even people who love God, and who desire to follow God; many of them remain ambivalent about Jesus. Continue reading

Antony & Adoration – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke Ditewig

Today we remember Antony of Egypt, the founder of Christian monasticism,who moved out into the desert alone to pray. When Antony emerged from the desert and learned of a great persecution of the church, he returned to the city and cared for those in trouble. Later he returned to the desert but many people came out to see him and hear his wisdom. Judges repeatedly called Antony down to the city to advise them in their rulings.

Solitude for prayer, for focusing on relationship with God, is key to our life and what we offer on retreat. Monasticism like ours is life shared together, a company of friends who prioritize friendship with Christ. Continue reading

Overcoming Discouragement – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David VryhofIsaiah 49:1-7

The words of Isaiah, the prophet: “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity” (Isa 49:4).

We’ve all been there, haven’t we?  In that valley of desolation and discouragement; that place where we start wondering if our efforts have made a difference, if they have been appreciated, if they’ve been worthwhile, if we’ve accomplished anything of value.  Isaiah is discouraged.  The people are in exile and all his efforts to redirect them to God have been met with indifference.  He feels like a failure.  “I have labored in vain,” he sighs, “I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.”

Discouragement is something we all experience from time to time.  We may feel trapped in a dead-end job or a strained relationship, and have no sense of how to move forward.  We may be enduring a chronic illness, with no relief in sight.  We may find ourselves consumed with worry about our finances or our home or our work, and we wonder if things will ever get better.  A sense of hopelessness settles over us, and we despair of our future.  It’s difficult to imagine our circumstances improving and we’re not sure if we have the strength to go on. Continue reading

Sermon for St. Aelred of Rievaulx – Br. David Allen

davidallen_1

Phil. 2:1-4
Mk 12:28-34a

Saint Aelred, whose feast we keep today, was born in 1109 in Northumbria, England, and became a Cistercian Monk in 1133.

        In August of 1991 members of the North American Congregation of the SSJE made a three week visit to the U.K. to places significant in the life of our Society.  After a week of retreat on Iona we made a short visit to the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey before going on to Durham Cathedral. Traveling east through the outskirts of Edinburgh we proceeded westward across England following the course of Hadrian’s Wall.  At a point where we could just see York Minster at a distance, shrouded with scaffolding, we turned north onto a smaller road through wooded hills heading for Rievaulx. When we descended into the valley we came to the ruins of the abbey, high walls and no roof.  It was hard to imagine what the Abbey Church must have looked like with windows and a roof. Nevertheless, it was thrilling to see the beautiful valley where Aelred had lived and prayed.  After our visit to Durham we went on to other significant places before returning to Oxford and then the USA. Continue reading

Jesus’ Baptism; Our Mission – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

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

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

Test the Spirits – Br. Keith Nelson

Br. Keith Nelson

1 John 3:18—4:6

“You don’t have to believe everything you think.”

It’s a phrase that seems to appear everywhere these days, from bumper stickers to headline articles in the Huffington Post and Psychology Today. It captures, in a brief and memorable phrase, some real wisdom about the nature of the mind. The mind is capable of being held hostage, by seemingly demanding and imperious thoughts and feelings, all day long. “What the hell is his problem?…I need to buy milk!…I love her so much I would die without her…That is the cutest puppy I’ve ever seen!… Why am I so worthless?” The mind is also capable of gentle, inner observation, quiet equipoise, and spacious non-judgment, capacities which can open a space of sanity and healthy detachment in our experience of self. Through the development of an inner, witnessing presence, we can begin to see the truth in that phrase: “I don’t have to believe everything I think.” We can forgive ourselves for the negative thoughts that arise and we can avoid the ego’s swift, smug self-congratulation for positive thoughts that all too quickly dissolve. We can actively engage our thoughts in prayer with a certain level of objectivity, as in the Ignatian spiritual practice called the examen of conscience – also sometimes called “examen of consciousness.” We can cultivate our inner muscle of release or self-emptying of thoughts through even older forms of contemplative prayer. We can begin to find in our thoughts essential clues to our integration and our salvation. We can lay claim to the thoughts that tell our true story. Continue reading

The Power of the Name of Jesus – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

In the ancient worlds of Greece and Rome, the power of a name was very real.  It was widely assumed that the essence of a being resided in its name, and that if people could gain access to the names of supernatural beings they could influence them and perhaps entice them into serving their purposes.  Magicians and sorcerers abounded who promised to reveal their secrets to common people.  Their spells often included dozens of divine names.  It was hoped that at least one of them would “hit the mark” and force a supernatural being to bring about a desired result.

The ancient Hebrews did not normally engage in such magic; in fact sorcery was forbidden under their laws.  But they shared the cultural assumptions of their Gentile neighbors about the power of divine names.  The sacred name of “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” was a thing of immense power, so sacred that it could not be spoken. The essence of God’s being was carried in a four-letter word, YHWH (Yahweh) that could be recited only by a priest and only on special holy days.  Another Hebrew word, Adonai, which we translate as “the Lord,” was used to refer to God in everyday discourse. Continue reading

Sermon for the Last Day of the Year – Br. David Allen

davidallen_1

1 John 2:18-21
John 1:1-18

On this last day of the current year we can look back over the year now coming to an end. We can repent of our failures, and we give thanks for our blessings.

As we look forward to the New Year about to begin we can expect challenges. We should look with courage and hope, and we give thanks for rewards.

The first reading tells us knowledge of the truth will protect us from the antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Continue reading

Joy to the World! – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Br. Geoffrey TristramIsaiah 52:7-10 / Psalm 98 / Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12) / John 1:1-14

It’s Christmas Day. I love Christmas – and I love singing at Christmas! Christmas is a time for singing: everyone and everything seems to be singing. Have you noticed when you are in a really good mood, or at a birthday, or you’ve just heard a wonderful piece of news, you want to sing, or ring bells, or jump up and down – you can’t help it – it’s just joy! Particularly at Christmas, the Scriptures are full of singing. Our Psalm today: “Sing to the Lord a new song for he has done marvelous things – lift up your voice, rejoice and sing.” And not just people, but the whole of creation: “Shout for joy all you lands, lift up your voice, rejoice and sing … let the sea make a noise, let the rivers clap their hands … let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.” (Psalm 96) At Christmas, it is as if the whole of creation is singing with joy! 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