The Hour Has Come – Br. Keith Nelson

Br. Keith Nelson

John 12:20-36

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.”[1]

This one phrase from John’s Gospel encapsulates the essential sprit of what we call the Paschal Mystery – Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection to New Life. On this Tuesday evening in Holy Week, these words are also something like a “preview of coming attractions,” awakening our hopes and grounding our intentions as we prepare for the single, liturgical arc of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and the Great Vigil of Easter.

We believe that our sincere and wholehearted participation in this liturgical drama is one of the central means by which we participate in the saving work of Christ. This is the unfolding drama of how, in his own particular life and flesh, Jesus underwent the human experiences of suffering and death and was, in defiance of all expectation, raised from death by the One he called Father. As a liturgical tradition, we do not simply re-enact or reminisce about very significant events that happened long ago in ancient Palestine. No. To see what we are doing as pious commemoration would be to keep the Crucified at a safe distance in the historical past, separate from ourselves. Rather, the unboundaried space opened to us as the assembled body of Christ invites us truly to enter the sacred, inner dynamic of the events by which we have been claimed and marked as His own forever. On a personal level, this week invites us into a more intimate, transformative encounter with the mystery of our own suffering, death, and resurrection. Each of us has undergone, and will yet undergo, countless passions, deaths, and resurrections – in churches, yes, but also in hospitals and office buildings, by bedsides and firesides, under the open sky and around kitchen tables. Though these experiences are potential fountainheads of meaning through our union with Christ, many of them go unnamed as such and so their graces remain unrealized. In the chapter from our own Rule entitled “Holy Death,” we receive this reminder: “Week by week, we are to accept every experience which requires us to let go as an opportunity for Christ to bring us through death into life.”[2] This is the paschal mystery writ small, in lowercase letters, across the individual history of every child of God. The small mystery enclosed within one’s own skin is grounded afresh in the Great Mystery of Christ’s Body by reading our small print alongside the bold, capital letters of this week’s unitive liturgical action. Continue reading

Exceeding Expectations – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Matthew 21:1-11

It is hard to believe that a week from tomorrow marks one year since my brothers Curtis, John, Luke, and I embarked on a journey to the Holy Land to lead a pilgrimage.  Each of us brothers prepared two reflections to give at designated sites during our two week journey.  I was assigned to give my first meditation at ‘The Shepherd’s Field,’ in the countryside just outside of Bethlehem where tradition says the shepherds would have encountered the great angelic hosts proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ birth.  My second meditation I gave at the teardrop-shaped church on the Mount of Olives called ‘Dominus Flevit,’ which is Latin for “The Lord wept.”  It was here that I could begin to piece together in my mind the scene we celebrated at the beginning of this morning’s liturgy. 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

Hospitality – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke Ditewig

Genesis 18:1-16
Luke 19:1-10

Traveling in the desert is dangerous. One may faint from heat or be blinded by light. Caves offer safe shadows. One cannot survive alone. In the desert culture of Abraham and today, when meeting someone you share provisions. Generosity may save a stranger’s life. In our first lesson, God visited Abraham and Sarah in the person of three strangers. Abraham hurried from the tent, invited them to stop and rest in the shade of the tree and then hurried off to prepare a meal and serve them. Hospitality, tonight’s radical practice, is essential in a desert and everywhere. We all need welcome and sharing.

We assume self-sufficiency though most of us experience much need and forget our past. Remember the children of Abraham spent 400 years as resident alien slaves in Egypt. After being rescued and later receiving land, God instructed: “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt”[i] Being a stranger shapes behavior. We know what it feels like. God said: “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”[ii] Later our ancestors were aliens in exile under Babylonian rule. We know what it is like to be traveling and to be outsiders. Having been strangers, we welcome strangers. Continue reading

Sermon for Wednesday of Lent 3 – Br. David Allen

davidallen_1

Mt. 5:17-19 

        In today’s Gospel reading Jesus said that he had not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them.  In other words, Jesus said that he had come to teach the true spirit of the Law and the Prophets.  He went on to say, “not one letter, not one stroke of a letter would pass from the law until all is accomplished.” 

Until all is accomplished. How are we to understand that?  I think in saying that Jesus was referring to a time when the full spirit of the Law would be established.

When we look, for example, at the situation that presently exists in this country and in other parts of the world, I am afraid that the full spirit of the law still needs to be established in most parts of this world. Continue reading

Radical Practices: Resistance – Transforming, Not Conforming – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Romans 12:1-2, 9-21

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Continue reading

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

The Radical Practice of Rest – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Matthew 11:28–30

There is within us all a very sacred place, a gift of stillness, light, and love central to our being. We could call it our heart or soul or the indwelling of Christ. It’s at once a point of utter nothingness, while also giving birth to all things in heaven and on earth. It’s a place capable of holding with infinite gentleness both incredible beauty and terrible pain. Against all reason, it’s the place God chooses to call home, and so it’s our home, too. It’s the place where Christ is born, and from where we share Christ’s love and compassion in the world. It’s God’s eternal Kingdom within us, our common inheritance as children of Light.

Very often, though, it seems so difficult to even visit this place, let alone claim our inheritance. We live our lives as if in a dream, where we’re separate from God and from all there is, and often we don’t even realize we’re dreaming. But then something happens, we start feeling restless, a part us senses our perpetual slumber, and we desire something more: to awaken to God’s Loving Presence, and dwell in that sacred place. And our Beloved God is encouraging us all the time, tirelessly offering this generous gift. Unfortunately, we tend to slumber deeply, but there is a way of being more receptive to this gift, and it’s truly very, very simple. Continue reading

Being Born from Above – Br. Jonathan Maury

Br. JJonathan MauryGenesis 12:1-4a
Psalm 121
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17

Though cautiously doing so by night, still, Nicodemus feels compelled to come to Jesus. This elder, a respected leader among the religious authorities, comes to see the mysterious rabbi from Galilee. However, mere curiosity does not motivate Nicodemus’ visit. He seems, rather, to be one of the “many [who] believed in [Jesus’s] name because they saw the signs that he was doing” (John 2:23) during that first Jerusalem Passover festival at which Jesus appears in John’s gospel.

“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”(John 3:2) Nicodemus, I would say, exhibits a certain amount of courage and imagination. Courage in approaching Jesus in the wake of his disruptive action in the temple; imagination in that though there is much that Nicodemus already knows of God, he comes to Jesus aware that there is likely still much that he does not know. Continue reading

You can change! – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Luke 11:29-32

There’s a word that shows up in this Gospel lesson appointed for today; the word shows up continually in the Scriptures and in the vocabulary of the church: repent.  Repentance is both better and worse than you might imagine.  The English word translated as “repentance” is the Greek word “metanoia”: a preposition “meta (after) and “noia” (to think or observe).  “Metanoia” – repentance – is something we conclude in hindsight where we realize we had it wrong: something we have done or left undone, said or left unsaid that was wrong.  Maybe a conclusion or a judgment call about something or someone which we now see wasn’t right.  It may be a whole pattern of actions, brazenly in the open or in the secrecy of darkness that may have snowballed out of control, and it’s wrong.  It’s got to stop; we can see it, sadly. And so that’s the other piece about repentance.  Repentance isn’t just wisdom gleaned from experience; repentance is regret gleaned from sorrow.  We cannot go on, we simply cannot live with ourselves that way any longer.  Repentance is hindsight teeming with regret, enough so to fuel a change in life.  Repentance is both better and worse than you might imagine.  Continue reading

The Radical Practice of Waiting – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Isaiah 40:27-end
Psalm 130
Mark 4:26-32

“All good things come to those who wait!”  My mother used to say that to my brothers and sister and me when we were growing up – and I hated it!  “No, can’t I have it NOW?” – we’d plead.  “Please, can you buy me a Chelsea football shirt?”  “No, you’ll have to wait till the end of the month.”  “O no, why can’t I have it now?”

In our Western society, we hate having to wait.  At the supermarket, deciding which lane will be the shortest.  You make a choice, and it’s the wrong one.  All the other lanes are moving much faster.  Shall I swap?  If only I’d chosen the other lane: now I’ve got to wait.  Or you are driving, stopped at a red light, that’s been red for ages – and then it goes to green, and the car in front doesn’t seem to have noticed – O come on!  Or at the airport: you look at the board for your flight, and see the dreaded word ‘DELAYED.”  O no, I’ve got to wait another hour. Continue reading

Sermon for the First Friday in Lent – Br. David Allen

davidallen_1

Isa/ 58:1-9a

What do you usually think about as we begin the season of Lent?  Discipline? Penitence? Fasting?

Lent is usually thought of as a season of discipline.  The other three words, Austerity, Penitence, Fasting, are important for the full development of Discipline.  It is more than any one of those.  Lent is a season for Spiritual Formation.  Lent is a time for us to let the Holy Spirit form in each of us the image both of a child of God and of a good  servant of God.

The 1st lesson read today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah gives some contrasts between wrong ideas about fasting and positive ways in which we can use fasting as a way of doing something good for those who are in need. Continue reading

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

Jesus’ Transfiguration; Our Transfiguration – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Matthew 17:1-9
Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I* will make three dwellings* here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved;* with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.[i]

Mount Tabor is about 100 miles north of Jerusalem,just west of the Sea of Galilee.  It is forested with pine trees and offers stunning, panoramic views.  On a clear day, to the north and west, you can see Lebanon; to the east, beyond of the Sea of Galilee, you can see Syria, Jordan, and Mount Hermon.  Jesus and his disciples would have known the words of Psalm 89 about these majestic mountaintops.  The psalmist says, “The north and the south* – you created them;Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.”[ii] These mountain tops are sovery beautiful and breezy. Mount Tabor is only about 2,000 feet above sea level, but that is a lofty height above the sea level of Galilee, which is nearly 700 feet below sea level.  Mount Tabor is a place where you are glad to linger. It’s heavenly. Continue reading

Sermon for St. Matthias, Ap. – Br. David Allen

davidallen_1

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
Jn 15:1, 6-16     

Today we remember Saint Matthias, who was chosen to take the place that Judas Iscariot had held among the Twelve Apostles.   Peter pointed out to the other Apostles that the hole left in The Twelve by the betrayal of Jesus by Judas needed to be filled in.  By the rules of the time the choice had to be by the casting of lots.  (Cf. Acts 1:15-18)

Luke wrote in the Book of Acts that the lot had fallen to Matthias. (v.26)

We don’t know much about Matthias.  The stipulation was that it be one of the wider group of disciples who had been with Jesus from the time of his baptism by John, and that it be one who had witnessed the Resurrection.(Cf. Acts 1:21-22)    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

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