During the month of August, while the Chapel is closed, we are reposting sermons that we hope will inspire you to embrace play, silence, and recreation. The Chapel will reopen on Tuesday, August 30, 2016.
It is so good to be back again, worshiping in this lovely place, after our time away of retreat and community discussions. And it is so good to see you all again. I do hope you have had a great summer – a time for rest and refreshment.
We had a wonderful retreat. To spend those days amidst the natural beauty of Emery House was a great gift. Certainly for me, and I know other Brothers, it was an occasion to deepen our contemplative vision. In the Letter to the Hebrews which was read this morning, verse 14 says, “For here we have no abiding city, but we are looking for a city that is to come.” And I think that’s really what the contemplative vision is all about. It is about seeing with the eyes of faith; seeing that this life which we have is not the only reality. When our contemplative vision grows, we see that the apparently ordinary things of life are shot through with the glory of God. Spending time on retreat is a wonderful opportunity to really see again heaven breaking through – or as William Blake put it, “to see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.” Continue reading
In July 2011, our brother Tom and I spent a few days in Rome. In many ways, the highlight of our visit was the pilgrimage we made, deep underground, into the Christian catacombs. I remember it was a very hot day, but as we walked down and down, through the intricate labyrinth of tunnels, the temperature plummeted. I remember shivering with cold, but also with awe. We were on holy ground, for on each side of the tunnels were recesses for burial chambers. Here, in the very first centuries after Christ, Christians buried their dead. As my eyes slowly got used to the dim light I began to see that the walls were covered with a plethora of beautiful colored frescoes. Continue reading
Today’s Eucharist is the Monthly Requiem in which we especially remember those members of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist who died in the month of September. Continue reading
“How do you recruit new monks?”someone asked me the other day. The answer is: we don’t recruit new members of the community. We make ourselves known – on the internet – but I would never encourage a man to come as a postulant. In fact, I often try to put people off! It’s really important, that if someone wants to join the community they have to ask – and maybe ask several times, before we say yes. Continue reading
Acts 16: 9-15
Revelation 21: 10, 22 – 22: 5
John 14: 23 – 29
Over the last several weeks I have been busy building raised garden beds. If you have been to Emery House, you may have seen them, or even inspected them. In one I have spinach and beets, in another lettuce, radishes and carrots. In a couple of smaller ones I have planted potato onions, shallots and Egyptian Walking Onions (now isn’t that a great name!). Last week I transplanted the creeping oregano into one and one of the guests carefully transplanted most of the perennial onions into another. Continue reading
Today we remember St. Joseph. We are celebrating his feast day liturgically, but the sermon this evening is the last installment in our Lenten preaching series on prayer. I’ll be talking about praying with sacred texts. St. Joseph, being a very humble man, would surely approve. You are all invited, by the way, to join the Brothers in the undercroft following the service for soup and conversation with the preacher.
Praying with sacred texts. There haven’t always been sacred texts; there haven’t always been texts, or even words. It took a long time for there to be such things –roughly 13.77 billion years. God’s creation seems to have been wordless for all but the last 100,000 years or so, depending on who you ask (a mere blink of the eye). Written texts are not much more than 5,000 years old. The oldest texts that we think of as sacred are only about 3,000 years old—practically just yesterday. Continue reading
When I was in my teens, I hated going to church. I thought Christianity was very unsophisticated – and I preferred exploring the rather more exotic religions of the East. They seemed infinitely more cool than church!
But on one of the occasions when my poor parents managed to get me to go to our local parish church, I heard something read which stopped me in my tracks. It was today’s gospel: the story of the Prodigal Son. It was the father in the story who caught my attention. Continue reading
Much has been, and much can be said about the Parable of the Prodigal Son, so I won’t this morning try to say it all in three minutes.
We all know the story, and my bet is that at one time or another we have all acted it out in our life. We have been that son or daughter who has squandered our inheritance away in dissolute living. We have been the envious and sullen elder sibling, resentful of the attention lavished on the returned prodigal. Perhaps we have even been the loving and generous parent spending our time hoping against hope and scanning the horizon for the return of the one who was thought to be lost. Perhaps at different times we have been different characters in the parable. Perhaps we have even been all three at the same time.
In the part of the Sermon on the Mount read as today’s Gospel Jesus tells us that perseverance in prayer is important. Keep on asking, keep on searching, and keep on knocking. Keep asking and that for which you seek will become clearer. Keep searching and the way to find what you seek will be understood. Keep knocking and the door through which you can find the goal of your search will be opened for you.
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream….
Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “the Lord has done great things for them.”
They were weighed down with sleep—but they stayed awake, it says. Icons of the Transfiguration often show the disciples lying on the ground while Jesus and Moses and Elijah stand in glory on the mountain peak. Perhaps Peter and John and James are in that half-awake, half-asleep state we all know. That dusky neither daylight nor dark state, that in betweenness familiar to people everywhere. The disciples do awaken more fully to the mystery light before them in the days ahead, in the months and years ahead, those bracing months and years ahead—and in the eternity to which they have finally arrived. Continue reading
In the calendar of the church we today commemorate Adrei Rublev, the 15th century Russian monk, generally acknowledged as Russia’s greatest iconographer. He was born around 1365 near Moscow, and while very young he entered monastic life and later studied iconography. The icon you see before you here in this chapel is a reproduction of Adrei Rublev’s most famous icon called “The Hospitality of Abraham.” This reproduction was written by our own SSJE brother Eldridge Pendleton. I say, “written” by Br. Eldridge, not “painted” by him, but written because icons tell a story.
A few days ago I held a baby. That might not seem like such a remarkable thing, but I can’t remember the last time I’ve had a chance to do it. I suspect it’s been a couple of years. Babies don’t frequent monasteries much.
Holding a baby is wonderful. That is, it’s an experience full of wonder. I marveled at his tiny fingernails, perfectly shaped on the end of delicate little fingers. And his full brown eyes, captivated by the lights in the ceiling of the chapel. The incredible softness of his head against my cheek, and the sweet smell of his hair. At first he was squirming, but then he settled in, dropped his head on my shoulder and relaxed. I could feel his breathing. I thought, what a miracle! To be alive! To be breathing, and seeing, and hearing, and touching. Wonderful!
People often ask me: “What has surprised you living in the Monastery?” One surprise is how much we acknowledge, encourage and remember death. We acknowledge our own corporate and personal brokenness and fragility more than I experienced in other communities. We say in our Rule of Life that the Christian life is a path of death and detachment, daily letting go and dying to our old selves, letting go of abilities, personal preferences, and expectations for how God will call or use us.[i]
One of my earliest experiences of exciting worship came when I was about fourteen years old, and found myself among a huge gathering of worshippers in London. Even before things began, the singing started, and got louder and louder. You couldn’t help but pick up the atmosphere, and get swept along. I started singing as well. I remember one of the songs was printed on the booklet we all had: and some people started swaying and waving their arms in the air. But the best moment came at three o’clock, when the Chelsea football team came running onto the pitch, and the crowd exploded with shouts and cheers.
I couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 at the time. It was a gorgeous summer day and I was out making my rounds of the neighbourhood. I stopped in to see Mr. Ratcliffe who lived three doors down from us. He was a friend and a contemporary of my grandparents and I must have been a frequent visitor to his garden as he wasn’t surprised to see me that day. I headed in through the back gate and found him down on his hands and knees weeding. He greeted me with a smile and called out to me: “Hello Jim!” At that I pulled myself up to my full 3 foot something height, looked him in the face and said sternly, “My name’s not Jim, its Jamie!” And with that I turned around and walked out. Clearly the story got back to my family as it and my reply have become one of the family stories told and remembered frequently over the years. It particularly delighted my father who would push the irony of the story to its limits, because, after all, Mr. Ratcliffe’s name was of course, Jim! And my grandmother’s nickname was, of course, Jim
In the tradition in which I was raised, the Christian Reformed Church, a predominantly Dutch Calvinist denomination headquartered in western Michigan, the psalms played a prominent role in worship. In fact, the Psalter Hymnal, the official hymnal of the denomination in which I grew up, gave about two-thirds of its pages to the words of the psalms set to music. In the tradition in which I now practice my Christian faith – the (Anglican) monastic tradition – psalms are a mainstay of worship as well. We Brothers sing and pray the psalms several times a day, moving again and again through a cycle which covers the entire Psalter. Continue reading
Recently I was reminded of the story of John Newton, the 18th century London-born seaman who authored the extremely-popular Christian hymn, “Amazing Grace.” Newton was captain of a ship that plied in the slave trade, but in 1748 he underwent a dramatic conversion. His conversion took place at sea, in the midst of a raging storm, when he cried to the Lord for mercy and the ship was delivered. As he reflected on what had happened, Newton began to believe that God had addressed him through the storm and that grace had been at work in him. Not long after, he penned the words to the well-known hymn, “Amazing Grace,” in which he acknowledged that God’s grace had rescued him when he was lost, and given him sight when he was blind. Following his conversion, Newton left the slave trade, became an Anglican minister, and advocated for the abolition of slavery. Continue reading
The Gospel reading today is The Lord’s Prayer in the version from Luke’s Gospel. Luke gives us a shorter form of that prayer than the familiar one we are used to, based on Matthew’s Gospel.
I feel that Jesus did not intend for the disciples to feel bound by a particular form of words. This is based on Jesus’ teachings on prayer and examples of his own prayers found in all of the Gospels. Jesus’ words in response to the disciples’ request, “Lord, teach us to pray,” are intended, I believe, as examples and guidelines to use and to expand upon when we pray.
Most of us know some version of the Lord’s Prayer by heart; but do we really listen to what each clause means? How well can you explain it when asked about what it means?
Let’s take a very few minutes to think about what we mean when we say the Lord’s Prayer. I shall use the form of that prayer that we use in our worship here at the monastery, the contemporary form from the current Episcopal Prayer Book.
At the beginning of the prayer we address God as Our Father in heaven. This acknowledges both the way Jesus referred to God, and the way Jesus taught his disciples to think of God as our heavenly Father “by whose Name all fatherhood is known”. (Hymn 587)