The Advent Crisis and Invitation – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Winston Churchill was reprimanded at one point by Lady Astor for ending a sentence with a preposition.  Churchill responded, “This is the kind of thing up with which I will not put.”[i] Well, I’m thinking here about endings, lots of things coming to an unexpected end in our world and in our nation, some of it surprising, or relieving, or galvanizing, or frightening.  And this coincides with the church year having just ended. Today, the first Sunday of Advent, marks the beginning of the new year for the church, Advent being observed the four Sundays prior to Christmas. Continue reading

Salvation Revisited: 2015 Advent Preaching Series

2015-Adventseries-badgeSalvation Revisited: An Advent Preaching Series

During this season of Advent, at the 5:30 pm Eucharist on Tuesdays, we will be exploring the theme of ‘salvation.’  Salvation is a theme that is central to Christian faith and particularly appropriate during this season, as we await the coming of our Savior.  Over the course of these four Tuesdays, Brothers will be sharing their reflections on what salvation means and how we might receive or experience it in our daily lives.

Dec 1, 2015 – “See, I am Making All Things New” – Br. Curtis Almquist

Dec 8, 2015  – “Coming Home” – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Dec 15, 2015 – “The Sacred & Imperishable Proclamation” – Br. Mark Brown

Dec 22, 2015 – “Salvation: From What, To What?” – Br. David Vryhof

Unexpected Jesus – Br. Luke Ditewig

For my first two years here in SSJE, I was the only new man, the sole postulant and then novice with professed brothers.  Those were very good and relatively easy first years for me. I enjoyed using my gifts and learning our ways.  After two years, our prayers for new men were answered as Jim and John arrived and several more since.

I had not wanted to be the only new man. There was a clear call to come when I did. Before Jim and John arrived, I was fairly comfortable with my experience and perspective of SSJE. New men challenged that. I felt confused, lost—yet with time, more alive—as their presence and relationship further revealed my limitations. Their perspectives broadened my understanding of the community and more importantly challenged me to see and honestly share more of myself. Continue reading

Where Our Feet Are – Br. John Braught

Br. John Braught

Advent is a time of expectant waiting. We wait for the coming of the Savior, the birth of Jesus. We expect that when the Savior comes – and He will come – He will lead us in the way we should go. The prophet Isaiah reminds us, “Thus says the Lord, Your Redeemer: I am the Lord your God, who teaches you for your own good, who leads you in the way you should go.” (i) Yes, we who follow Jesus can expect Him to lead us; but first, Advent reminds us, we have to wait. We have to wait for the Savior. We have to wait before He can lead us in the way we should go. Continue reading

Hope – Br. David Vryhof

davidvIn this three-part sermon series we are pondering themes commonly associated with the season of Advent.  Last week, Br. Curtis spoke about judgment and salvation.  Next week, Br. Mark will speak on desire and longing.  Tonight, our focus is hope.

It is impossible to live without hope.  We can live without many things, but we cannot live without hope.  Martin Luther, the great 16th century Reformer, boldly stated that Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.”  Hope inspires us and sustains us; it gets us out of bed in the morning and consoles us in the evening.  It enables us to persevere in hardship, to rejoice in suffering, to carry on in the face of overwhelming odds.  It enlivens us, cheers us, and brings meaning and focus to our lives.  We cannot live without it. Continue reading

The Judgment of Love – Br. Curtis Almquist

curtis4This evening is the first of a three-part Advent sermon series we have entitled “Ero Cras,” which is a Latin acrostic translated “Tomorrow, I [that is, Jesus Christ] will be there [that is, there for you].”[i]  Following the liturgy on these three Tuesday evenings we invite all of you in the congregation to join us for a soup supper, and with opportunity to ask questions of the evening’s preacher.  These next two Tuesdays in Advent, the preacher’s focus will be “Hope” and then, “Desire and Longing.”  This evening my focus is “Judgment and Salvation.” Continue reading

End Times – Br. Curtis Almquist

curtis4Luke 21:5-9

For several reasons, we are in a bit of a time warp listening here to what Jesus said.  Jesus would have spoken these words in about year 30 c.e., making his prediction about the temple’s impending destruction.  It did happen, but not until forty years later, in 70 c.e., when the Roman Empire’s occupation forces did completely destroy the temple.[i]  Not one stone was left upon another, just as Jesus predicted.  Luke is writing his Gospel account 15 years later than that, in about year 85 c.e.  Luke is quoting Jesus based on what Luke has been told by eyewitnesses to Jesus, plus what other people have remembered Jesus’ saying.  The temple was destroyed; there were indeed wars and insurrections, which increasingly compromised the pax Romana; and in the midst of these horrific experiences, Luke had his own experience of Jesus’ good news: how who Jesus claimed to be and what he promised to do was all true.  Luke was a believer. Continue reading

Christ the King – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

geoffrey 150xFifty years ago John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.  Over the past few days we have seen those horrific images repeated over and over again.  And we watch the horror with a strange fascination, rather like 12 years ago on September 11th, as we watched again and again the horrific images of the falling twin towers, as they were repeated over and over again.

Evil has always been a source of fascination.  We can hardly bear to look, but find it hard to look away.  Writers over the centuries have been drawn to it constantly.  In Dante’s Inferno and Purgatorio we have a riotous and fantastic description of hell and purgatory.  By comparison, his depiction of heaven – Paradiso – is rather dull. Continue reading

An Open Heart – Br. David Vryhof

davidv“[You are] like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.” These words of Jesus may seem a bit perplexing at first, but Jesus’ subsequent explanation of them reveals that what he is objecting to in his opponents is their hardness of heart.
“John came neither eating nor drinking, and [you] say, ‘He has a demon’” Jesus observes; “the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and [you] say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” Two messengers have come to you, Jesus is saying, and you have refused to believe both. One came as a desert ascetic, “neither eating nor drinking”; the other came as “a friend of sinners,” eating and drinking with all manner of persons. You rejected both. You would not open yourself to God’s call to repent and believe.

This word challenges us today to look into our own hearts, to see if they are open or closed, to notice if they are turning towards God or away from God. It seems especially important that our hearts be open during this season of Advent, as we attentively await the coming of the Lord. Continue reading

God’s Rabble – Br. Mark Brown

Romans 8:18-25; Psalm 65:1-5; Matthew 12:15-21

This evening we continue our series “In the Mean Time”, in which we reflect on faith, hope and love. “And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” [1 Cor. 13:13] Advent situates us in the meantime between the first and second coming of Christ.  In the meantime; and the times can be mean. Yet, faith, hope and love endure. Continue reading

A Big Somethin’ – Br. Mark Brown

“Their sound has gone out into all lands…” So goes a bit of Psalm 19. Our sermons now go out into all lands on the Internet. So I hesitate to admit what I’m about to, lest I expose myself to international ridicule and opprobrium. Others will have to decide whether to suppress this confession in the electronic media: some days, when I feel like I could use a little self-indulgence, I make my way over to Burdick’s Chocolate Shop. Then I order a pot of tea and “a little somethin’”. The “little somethin’” is usually a slice of their chocolate mousse cake: a thin but intense layer of chocolate ganache on top, then a thick, creamy layer of chocolate mousse, and at the bottom, a layer of chocolate sponge cake—soaked in Poire William, (that’s the liqueur that comes with a whole pear inside the bottle). Three clearly differentiated layers unified in a common theme: chocolate! Three manifestations of chocolate in one glorious epiphany. Hallelujah for chocolate! It makes me happy to know that something in this world can be so delicious.

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Look – Br. Curtis Almquist

Ephesians 1:17-19; Matthew 13:13-17

This concludes a four-part Advent preaching series entitled “Practicing Patience,” as we wait, watch, listen, and, this evening, look for the coming of Christ.  What about looking?  Where, at what, why, when should be looking?  There is a difference, after all, between our experience and those who were waiting, watching, listening, and looking for the Messiah 2,000 years ago.  We are not in the position of Mary and Joseph or Elizabeth and Zechariah, nor are we in the position of the shepherds in the hills, nor the magi in the east, nor nasty King Herod on the throne who were waiting for the first coming of the Messiah.  As Christians we recognize Jesus born in Bethlehem as the Messiah, and that was 2,000 years ago.  What we now celebrate on Christmas Day is a remembrance.  It’s not a reenactment, nor is it a re-visitation – Christmas is not “the second coming” of the Messiah – but a remembrance, a living reminder, that Jesus the Messiah was already born among us, and is really present to us now, which invites a whole different way to look at life every day.  That’s a promise, and that’s also a problem. Continue reading

Making Space for God – Br. James Koester

2 Samuel 7: 1-11, 18; Psalm 89: 1-4, 19-26; Romans 16: 25-27; Luke 1: 26-38

Every year at this time I am caught off guard, and it happened again yesterday. For the last several weeks we have been reading lessons, which frankly can terrify me:

But the bridegroom replied, “Truly I tell you, I do now know you.1

You that are accursed depart from me, into the eternal fire prepared
for the devil and his angels.2

… for you do not know when the master of the house will come … [and]
he may find you asleep…. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.3

And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to [John the Baptist], and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.4

These gospel lessons, beginning toward the end of the Pentecost cycle are not all that fun to ponder. After all, who among us wants to be reminded week after week that it is quite possible to be denied, especially if we have denied; to be left out, when we have left others out; to fall asleep when we have been charged to keep alert.

But suddenly everything has changed, and I am caught off guard. It happened once again yesterday.

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the
son of Abraham.5

For the last several weeks we have been pondering lessons which point us to the coming of Christ at the end of time to be judge and ruler of all. Suddenly, suddenly our focus shifts and we are invited to ponder the coming of Christ, not in glory at the end of time, but in lowliness in time as the babe of Bethlehem. We are invited to ponder Jesus, not as judge, but as messiah; not as ruler, but as savior and we do that today by pondering the familiar story of Mary’s strange encounter with Gabriel; a story which we remember here at the monastery three times each day.

The angel of the Lord announced unto Mary:
And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you….6

We remember this encounter because it both fulfills and begins a whole sequence of events reaching back to one garden and forward to another, from one tree to another: from Eden to Gethsemane; from the tree of life to the wood of the cross and beyond. Mary’s ‘yes’ spans time and space and opened her to become the temple of the Lord that David longed to build. In spite of David’s desire to build, it was in Mary that God chose to dwell, for the building blocks of the temple are not wood and stone and gold, but flesh and blood and a heart full of love. And that is precisely what God found in Mary.

By saying ‘yes’ to God and becoming the Mother of the Saviour, Mary made room for God not only in her womb, but in her heart. Because of this act of great love she became, as Orthodox tradition calls her, More Spacious than the Heavens for “He whom not even the universe could contain was contained within the womb of a virgin, making her more spacious than the Heavens.”7

David longed to build a temple fit for God to reside and in the heart of an unwed teenager, God found that temple not because she was a master builder in wood and stone but because she was a master builder in love.

Like that day two thousand years ago, God longs for a temple in which to reside. He longs for a temple, not of stone and light, no matter how glorious, but of flesh and blood and a heart of full of love. Like Mary, you are God’s temple and God’s spirit dwells in you8 for when you say ‘yes’ to God you open yourself to God and God’s glory abides in you; when you say ‘yes’ to God, the Word is made flesh and dwells among us.9

Although everyone loves a baby, Christmas is not actually about babies. Christmas is about saying ‘yes’ to God. Christmas is about making space for God. Christmas is about becoming God’s temple. Christmas is about becoming, like Mary, ‘more spacious than the heavens.’ Christmas is about opening the temple of your heart to the love, and life and light of God.

We have just a week to get ready for Christmas and there is a lot to do: there are presents to buy; trees to decorate; puddings and cakes and cookies to make; gifts to wrap; parties to attend; cards to send. But the most important thing to do is that there is a ‘yes’ to say and a temple to build.

Only you can say ‘yes’ to God and only you can open your heart to God. Only you can build that temple in your heart where the one whom the heavens cannot contain may dwell.

Two thousand years ago, Gabriel appeared to Mary looking for a heart of love where God might dwell, and all creation waited with baited breath for her ‘yes’. Today the sound of angel wings stir the air and Gabriel is once again looking for someone whose heart is full of love. Won’t you this Christmas open your heart to God and say ‘yes’ so that the Word might once more become flesh and dwell among us? Won’t you say ‘yes’ to God and offer him the temple of your heart? Won’t you say ‘yes’ to God and make space in your heart so that like Mary’s heart yours too will be more spacious than the heavens? Won’t you say ‘yes’ to Gabriel so that God’s light and life and love might dwell in you?

Won’t you say ‘yes’ to God?  Gabriel and all creation are waiting with baited breath for your answer.

 

1  Matthew 25: 12

 

2 Matthew  25: 41; Christ the King, Year A

 

3 Mark 13: 35, 36; Advent I, Year B

 

4 Mark 1: 5; Advent II, Year B

 

5 Matthew 1: 1; Gospel appointed for 17 December, Year 2

 

6 The Angelus: A Devotion of the Incarnation recited daily at 6 AM, 12 noon and 6 PM

 

7 See 1 Kings 8: 27 and 2 Chronicles 6: 18

 

8 1 Corinthians 3: 16

 

9 John 1: 14
 

Thirsty Trees or Bickering Children? – Br. David Vryhof

Isaiah 48:17-19; Psalm; Matthew 11:15-19

This morning I’d like to propose as objects for our meditation the towering sycamore trees planted along Memorial Drive just outside our monastery.  Sycamores are thirsty trees and thrive in wetlands or near rivers or streams.  Their roots sink deep into the ground, soaking up nourishment and providing stability for their hefty trunks and branches, which often grow to 130 feet or more in height. Continue reading

Conception of Mary – Br. Mark Brown

Gen. 3:9-15, 20; Psalm 98; Eph. 1:3-6, 11-12; Luke 1:26-38

Somewhere Oscar Wilde is to have said that we ought not to disparage the legends told about a man, because it’s by them that we have an inkling of his true physiognomy. I’m sure Wilde would have agreed that the same is true for women: that the things that are said about someone—even when not strictly factual—reveal the true contours of a person’s humanity, the sheer force of the personality.  Continue reading

Watch – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

One of the things that used to be fun about driving to Heathrow Airport was, as you approached the airport, the road took you through a tunnel under the main runway, and as you entered the tunnel there was this large airport notice on the side of the road – “WATCH FOR THE SIGNS.”  We used to laugh because this road sign sounded so much like an apocalyptic warning, such as we hear during the season of Advent.

In this second of our Advent preaching series, the word I have been given to reflect on, is the word watch.  It is amazing how often this word comes up in Scripture, and it is clearly one of the main characteristics of a faithful Christian disciple, that we WATCH.    So why watch?  What does it mean, to watch, and why should we watch? Continue reading

Longing for the Light of Christ – Br. Mark Brown

Isaiah 60: 1-3, 18-19; Psalm 36: 5-10; 1 Peter 2: 4-10; John 1: 1-5

If we know someone is coming, we wait for them.  After a while, waiting becomes longing.  Now, as we approach the darkest day of the year, we long for the return of light.  Now, as we see that “darkness covers the land and deep gloom enshrouds the peoples” (as Isaiah put it), we long for the return of light.

We’ve been celebrating the return of light for thousands of years.  Nearly every culture has ways of celebrating the Winter Solstice, the day when the hours of sunlight, having become less and less, begin to increase again.

“Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night…” [BCP p. 70]  For most of human existence the “perils and dangers” of the night have not been metaphorical or poetic or emotional.  The night, the darkness, was a time of actual physical danger—danger from predatory animals, danger from unseen enemies, danger from simply not being able to see things.  Darkness could mean death, actual loss of life. And, so, light has become the giver of life. In celebrating light, we celebrate life. Continue reading

Longing for the Salvation of Christ – Br. James Koester

The Third Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 35: 1-10
Psalm 146: 4-9
James 5: 7-10
Matthew 11: 2-11

Several years ago one of my favourite newspaper columnists[i] wrote about how she loved going to Church on Christmas Eve, especially if there was a light snowfall that night. She wrote about how she loved to hear the nativity story and sing the Christmas carols familiar from her childhood. She wrote about how she would line up with the other members of the congregation and kneel before the altar, decorated with poinsettias, and receive Communion. She wrote about all this and then ended her column wondering why she bothered because even though she had grown up an Anglican, she had long ago stopped going to Church a long time ago because she didn’t believe a word of what was said in Church on Christmas Eve, or any other day for that matter.

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Longing for the Judgement of Christ – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Matthew 25:31-end

One of my favorite buildings in all the world is the Chartres Cathedral in North France.  I had the privilege of living in France for a year near Chartres and I used to love visiting and getting to know the amazing work of art.

I especially loved the stunning west front of the cathedral and those incredible stone carvings of Adam and Eve, the prophets, apostles, saints and martyrs.  But at the very center, that favorite scene of all: the Last Judgment.  And it was illustrated by that favorite symbol – the weighing scales.  Each poor soul would in turn, stand before the terrifying judge of all, as his good works were put into one side of the scales, and his evil deeds into the other.  Would he be a sheep or a goat?  If his evil deeds outweighed his good, down he would go into the fires of hell.  But if on balance he had done enough good works, up he would go to join the heavenly host.  And what a host!  You’ve never seen such smug, self-satisfied faces as those in heaven!  And we may sympathize with the view that if they are the ones going to heaven, I might prefer the other place! Continue reading

Longing for the Peace of Christ – Br. David Vryhof

Advent I

Today marks the beginning of the season of Advent, and thus the beginning of the Church’s year. Advent is a time of waiting, of longing, of anticipation. We are awaiting the coming of Christ. Over the next four Sundays, we will try to put into words what that means for us; we’ll describe what we are longing for and what we can expect to receive from the Christ who comes to us. The series is called, “Longing for Christ,” and the four parts are these:

I will be speaking today on the topic, “Longing for the Peace of Christ.”
Next week, Br. Geoffrey will speak about “Longing for the Judgment of Christ.”
Br. James will follow in week three with “Longing for the Salvation of Christ,”
and Br. Mark will complete the series by speaking on “Longing for the Light of Christ.”

_________

Human beings share a universal hope and longing for peace. It is a desire which seems to be deeply rooted in who we are. There are exceptions, of course: people so deeply damaged by life that their capacity to love and be loved is all but extinguished; wounded people whose lives are marked by hatred and fear, who wish others ill and who strike out at them with violent words and actions. But this is a distortion of what we are meant to be, a sign of our brokenness and of our separation from God. We were made to live in peace with one another and with the whole creation, and this desire is still present in most of us. We hope and long for peace.

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