Salvation: From What? To What – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

This afternoon marks the conclusion of our four-part Advent preaching series, entitled “Salvation Revisited,” in which we have been exploring the meaning of “salvation,” a concept that is at the heart of the Good News that Christian faith offers and proclaims. If you’ve missed any of the three previous sermons in the series – by Brothers Curtis Almquist, Geoffrey Tristram, and Mark Brown – you can read or listen to those sermons on our community’s website, www.ssje.org.  This afternoon, our focus is once again on the meaning of salvation, this time asking the question: “Salvation: From What? To What?”

The very notion of “salvation” rests on the assumption that there is something wrong that needs to be put right; if all is well, there is no need for a savior. What is it, then, in the view of Christianity, that is wrong and needs to be put right?  Frederick Buechner summarizes it when he writes:

I think it is possible to say that in spite of all its extraordinary variety, the Bible is held together by having a single plot. It is one that can be simply stated: God creates the world; the world gets lost; God seeks to restore the world to the glory for which God created it.[i] Continue reading

The Judgment of God – Br. Robert L’Esperance

David Watson, priest and canon of the Church of England, wrote about his conversion experience in his autobiography You Are My God. This conversion experience began when his college chaplain, a priest named John, inquired about Watson’s faith. Watson writes:

“John began by asking if I felt any need of God. I couldn’t honestly remember feeling any need, apart from the impulsive cry when I was suffering from a hangover. That surely was enough. Perhaps in my more reflective moments I was unsure of the purpose of my life. ‘Is that what you mean by a need of God?’ I asked John. He explained that a sense of purpose is certainly included, but that our primary need of God exposes itself in our need of forgiveness. In countless ways we have broken God’s laws, we have gone our own way, we have done our own thing. That is why God is naturally unreal in the experience of us all, until something is done to change that. Surprisingly, I did not need much convincing about this. I was ashamed of some things in my life; I would not like the whole of my life exposed. Also, I could see logically that this was a possible explanation of my sense of God’s remoteness and unreality. If he did exist, and if I had turned my back on him, it followed that there would be a breakdown of communication. ‘Yes,’ I said after further discussion, ‘I’m prepared to admit that I have sinned and so need forgiveness.'” Continue reading

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

Thank God I’m Not Like Them – Br. David Vryhof

Luke 18:9-14

When I was a boy I looked down on my Episcopalian neighbors – mostly because they played outside and watched television on Sunday and we didn’t. They didn’t go to church nearly as often as we did – and sometimes there was beer in their refrigerator. Their boys received a quarter every time they rehearsed or sang with the children’s choir at their church; we did it for free. They went to public schools; we went to Christian schools. Yes, there was a lot to be proud of, plenty of evidence that we were a notch above them on God’s scale.

But even as a boy I could see myself in this parable. The contrast between the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is so stark and so dramatic that even children have a hard time missing the point. I knew my feelings of religious superiority were wrong.

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“Free Passes for All?” – Br. Mark Brown

1 Kings 21:1-21a; Psalm 5: 1-8; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3

We’re meant to be shocked. The effusiveness of the tears, the wiping with hair, the kissing and anointing of a man’s feet are meant to be embarrassing.  Something is out of control, a line has been crossed.  The clinical term for this is “disinhibition”. Ordinarily we feel healthy inhibitions around violating social norms. Intoxication, drug use, mental illness, brain damage, dementia, post-traumatic stress—any of these can cause disinhibition and we cross lines.  Bathing feet with tears?  Wiping with hair?  Non-stop kissing–of a man’s feet?

We’re told the woman is a sinner, but that’s all we know.  We’re probably meant to assume that her sins are of a sexual nature, but we don’t know.  And we also don’t know what the tears are about.  Are they tears of remorse? Possibly. Are they tears of release and joy, the tears of a burden lifted, tears of gratitude?  Possibly.

Or, perhaps they’re tears of sheer frustration, tears of weary frustration. Perhaps the woman realizes that whatever wonderful thing happens today while she’s with Jesus, tomorrow will be a lot like yesterday.  Whatever conditions, whatever situation, whatever human frailty drove her sinful behavior yesterday will still be there tomorrow.  Tomorrow’s sin will be a lot like yesterday’s sin. Continue reading

Come and Have Breakfast – Br. Mark Brown

John 21:1-14

The Sea of Tiberias, the Sea of Galilee, is actually well below sea level, so the heat in warm weather can be really oppressive.  And the outcroppings of black basalt along the northern shore just keep on baking the landscape through the night.  It’s not surprising that Peter would be stripped down to the minimum required by Jewish modesty.  They’re probably all in their hot weather work clothes. But that Peter immediately covers himself when he realizes the Lord is near may remind us of someone else. Adam and Eve hid their nakedness when they heard the Lord in the garden.

Peter, too, is deeply ashamed. Those three denials are seared into his heart forever. And, yet, in spite of his guilt, in spite of his fear, he makes his way as fast as he can to the Lord’s side.  We can imagine him in his confusion thrashing his way through the shallow water trying to get his clothes on right, stumbling over the rough stones.  He knows his guilt. But he also knows his Lord.

A cloud of despondency has hovered over the scene.  They’re tormented by the coulda-shoulda-wouldas of those terrible days in Jerusalem. And they can’t even catch fish. Grief, shame and a sense of  utter failure pervade the atmosphere.  And they’re probably all, like Peter, feeling utterly exposed in their despondency, utterly stripped down, totally vulnerable.

The Risen Lord’s response?  Let’s have breakfast!  It’s OK—come and eat!  I’ve already got a good fire going.  Bring one of those fish you just caught.  It’s OK—don’t bother to dress up—I’ve seen you with your shirts off before—come as you are! The bread is already toasting.  And I may even have a little wine here somewhere… It’s OK; c’mon—you must be hungry, you must be thirsty.

Easter Innocence – Br. Curtis Almquist

John 20:1-18

We have this old phrase, “misery loves company.” Peter and the Beloved Disciple were keeping company in their misery, but not for the same reasons. The Beloved Disciple was grief stricken over the horrendous crucifixion of his dearest friend, Jesus, with whom he had stayed until it was finished. Peter, on the other hand, was frightened and appalled by his own betrayal of Jesus, whom he had denied and abandoned from the bitter outset. The two disciples were together but in very different places when they hear the news from Mary Magdalene that Jesus’ body is gone. They run towards the tomb independently, no surprise. The Beloved Disciple would be ecstatic, remembering Jesus’ promise that if he were killed, he would come back to life; he would be resurrected. Peter, on the other hand, would be in agony. He, too, had heard Jesus’ prediction about his resurrection. But Jesus’ resurrection for Peter would be so very, very difficult because of his having to face Jesus. Peter would need to ask Jesus’ forgiveness… again. Not that Jesus would not forgive Peter, but that he would, as Jesus had undoubtedly forgiven him so many times before. How many times had Jesus forgiven Peter already? More than Peter could imagine.[i] You may recall Jesus had renamed Peter “his rock,” not just because he was so strong, but because he was so hard-headed.[ii] Peter here is running in very familiar territory as he races to Jesus’ tomb, only this time it’s much worse. This time, Peter has crossed a line; he now is more a follower of Judas and than Jesus.

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Choices – Br. David Vryhof

Luke 15:11-32

There was once a man whose younger son wanted to make his own choices in life.  Now it pained the father to let him make these choices because he suspected that his son was not really mature enough to make wise choices – but still he gave him the freedom he wanted.  (There are times when this is a good thing for love to do.)

At any rate, his son was pleased, and he began to make his choices.  He chose, first of all, to have his share of his father’s inheritance turned into spending money.  Then he chose to leave his father’s home, taking all his money with him.  Next, he began to choose some new friends, and together with them he chose some ways to spend his money.  And with each choice that he made, that deep inner part of him, the part of him that made choices, was becoming something a little different than it was before. Until at last he found that his choices had ruined him.

That was the turning point. Continue reading

Presumptuous Sins – Br. Curtis Almquist

Psalm 19:7-14

If I were to stand in Harvard Square and conduct a survey on the subject of “sin” – asking people, “What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘sin’”? – I would hear quite a variety of answers, from apathy and indifference to strong-held convictions. To hear the word, “sin,” a good many people would probably roll their eyes and talk about the things that you’re not supposed to do or say (things which one is perhaps prone to do or say). Some people would immediately talk about guilt, real or imagined. Some might say that the concept of sin is too over laden with psychological baggage, or with radio preachers’ histrionic rhetoric, or with naïve or impossible standards. Even among Christians there is quite a diversity of opinion on the notion of “sin”: sins of commission and omission, what they are, why they matter, how they get done and how they get undone, that is, forgiven. For a Christian, one’s convictions about “sin” is informed by their interpretation of the Scriptures. (Virtually every page of the Bible has some reference to sin, in one form or another.) In the early 1970s, the great psychologist and clinician Karl Menninger wrote a book entitled, “Whatever Became of Sin,” acknowledging that this notion of sin is as old-fashioned sounding as it is pervasive.

There is a qualifying adjective for sin in the psalm appointed for today, Psalm 19. The psalmist prays, “Keep your servant from presumptuous sins” , also translated, “keep your servant from being insolent.” The word insolent comes from the Latin, īnsolentem, meaning “arrogant,” which is an unwarranted pride or self-importance; a haughtiness. This “presumptuous” qualifier brings some clarity to this subject of sin: arrogance, unwarranted pride or self-importance, haughtiness, a “presumptuous sin.” Now I’ll mention here, as an aside, that the great Boston preacher, Phillips Brooks, said that “all sermons are autobiographical.” For the sake of full disclosure, I want you to know that I can speak with some expertise about “presumptuous sins.” Continue reading

CONVERSION – Br. David Vryhof

Micah 6:6-8; Luke 19:1-10

This evening we begin a five-part preaching series entitled, “Breaking the Word.”  Each Tuesday in Lent we’ll be considering a different word.  The words we’ve chosen – conversion, forgiveness, grace, redemption and passion – are words that we Christians use frequently but which we may not fully understand.  We seldom take time to explore their meaning or to reflect on their significance for us.  That’s the purpose of this series.

Tonight’s word is “conversion.”  It’s a word that, for some of us, might have some mixed, or even negative, associations:

  • It may elicit unpleasant memories of encounters with religious groups or individuals that make it their chief aim to convert others to their point of view.
  • It may bring to mind a certain style of evangelism that strikes us as manipulative or intrusive.
  • It may conjure up images of “hell-fire and brimstone” sermons, or of massive crusades in which charismatic preachers try to whip up the emotion of the crowd to affect a response to their message.
  • It may remind us of people we have know who have been “converted,” but who bore witness to their conversion in remarkably unattractive ways.

As our bulletin notes, the word itself simply means “to turn around.”

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Shrove Tuesday – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Today has traditionally been called “Shrove Tuesday.”  The word “shrove” is derived from an Old English verb “to shrive,” which means “to hear confession,” or “to grant absolution.”  To shrive is about cleaning out the cobwebs in the closets of your soul – things done and left undone, things said and left unsaid – which may clutter or weigh heavily on your conscience.  And so this word “shrive,” from which we get the traditional name for today, Shrove Tuesday, is buttressed right next to Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of season of Lent, a season of penitence and abstinence.

Some of you may have grown up with the custom of a pancake supper on Shrove Tuesday, which is no accident.  Going back to the Middle Ages, the custom of eating pancakes and sausages had a practical purpose, since eggs and fat were used, and eggs and fat were forbidden during the fasting of Lent.  In one fell swoop, the larder is cleared out and you have one last blowout meal before you face (tomorrow) Ash Wednesday.  In Germany, today is traditionally called Fetter Dienstag (fat Tuesday).  Likewise in France and here in the States in New Orleans, this is traditionally called Mardi gras (fat Tuesday), which is a day of feasting and merrymaking marking the climax of the carnival season.  Play hard today because tomorrow’s down to serious business: Lent. Continue reading

Unwelcome Truths – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

Luke 4:16-30

Perhaps it was in the way he carried himself, the way he strode confidently to the front of the room to take his place before the gathered assembly of friends and neighbors.  Maybe it was the way he looked out over his audience with calm and serene eyes that sparkled with an inner certainty, as if he was the keeper of a great secret.  Or maybe it was the quality of his voice that was different, a ring of certainty they had never noticed before, the unmistakable authority with which he spoke, the powerful authenticity of words coming from one who knows whereof he speaks.

Whatever it was, when Jesus rose to read and comment on the scriptures in the synagogue of his hometown of Nazareth, those present fell silent, fixed their eyes on him and listened.  They knew who he was, of course, but there was something different about him that day, something they had never seen before, or – if it had been present – they had completely failed to notice.

With the certainty of a man on a mission, he asks for the scroll of the book of the prophet Isaiah, confidently unrolls it to the 61st chapter, and reads,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

With every eye now fixed upon him, he carefully rolls up the scroll, hands it back to the attendant, and sits down. “TODAY,” he says, boldly and clearly and with unmistakable authority, “this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”[1] Continue reading

#Penitence: Loving Penitence – Br. James Koester


4_PenitenceWe Brothers are helping people write and introduce fresh prayers into the Prayers of the People by learning about the seven principal forms of prayer identified in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer: adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, oblation, intercession, and petition.

We invite your prayers to the God of forgiveness in words and images on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram in the format #prayersof #penitence … you may want to start “I am sorry…”
View the prayers of othersprayersofthepeople.org

To read more sermons about the seven forms of prayer: Teach Us to Pray


Br. James Koester offered this homily on the prayer of penitence at the Monastery as part of the Teach Us to Pray series, January 26, 2010.

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle: Acts 26: 9 – 21; Psalm 67; Galatians 1: 11 – 24; Matthew 10: 16 – 22

We continue tonight our preaching series on prayer, drawing as we have done for this series, from the Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer and its teaching on prayer. There we read that “prayer is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.[1] In addition, the Catechism teaches us that the principal kinds of prayer are “adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, oblation, intercession, and thanksgiving.”[2]

Tonight we look at the prayer of penitence, a prayer most apt for us as we approach the coming days of Lent, but one equally appropriate as we examine it through the lens of the feast we mark tonight, the Conversion of Saint Paul, for penitence, to be life-giving, needs to be grounded not in fear of reprisal or retaliation but in our own ongoing conversion to the loving will of God. Continue reading

Powerful Words – Br. David Vryhof

James 3:1-12

Listen again to the words of our epistle lesson from The Letter of James as paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message:

“A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything – or destroy it! Continue reading

Becoming John-like – Br. James Koester

Feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Isaiah 40: 1-11
Psalm 85: 7-13
Acts 13: 14b-26
Luke 1: 57-80

Six months ago we celebrated the birth of a baby. And not just any baby, but a particular baby whose birth and life and death and life changed the course of world history. But the birth of that baby did not just change world history; it also changed the lives and histories of countless women and men throughout the centuries, including each one of us. None of us here in the chapel tonight have had our lives untouched by the One whose birth we celebrated last December. Even the most skeptical and cynical, the most casual, or simply the most curious here tonight have been changed in incalculable ways by that birth. If that were not true, why are you not home making supper even as we speak?

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Maundy Thursday – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

This sermon is available only in audio format.

Overhauling the Systems – Br. Mark Brown

Is. 7:1-9/Ps. 48/Mat. 11:20-24

It’s hard to know quite what to make of this: the “woes” to Chorazin and Bethsaida, the damning to hell of Capernaum.  I’m tempted to suspect that this anger actually reflects the concerns of a later generation.  Matthew seems to have been written about 50 years after Jesus’ death. Perhaps Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum were Jewish communities that resisted conversion to Christianity, or even persecuted Christian Jews. Continue reading

Temptation – Br. David Vryhof

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7 and Matthew 4:1-11

Some of you may have noticed as you entered the chapel this morning the icon displayed on the small table in the antechapel. The name of the icon is “Ladder to Heaven,” and it dates from the 12th or 13th century. The original icon can be found at St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai desert. Continue reading