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 this third sermon from the “Living Prayer” preaching series, Br. Geoffrey Tristram hints at how we meet God not in the past, or in the future, but in the present moment. Now is where God is to be found. The sermon includes meditative time to try this prayer approach.
We continue tonight our Lenten preaching series Living Prayer. Last week Brother David began by speaking of the prayer of the imagination, also called Ignation Prayer. Next week Brother Geoffrey will consider the challenge of praying in the present moment. Tonight we turn our gaze to icons and praying with icons and images.
Until recently most Western Christians were completely unfamiliar with icons. Icons were foreign, strange, outside of our spiritual vocabulary. Probably the single most important book that first introduced many of us to the mystical language of icons was Henri Nouwen’s marvelous little book Behold the Beauty of the Lord[i]. Since then literally dozens of books have flooded the market, but I always return to Nouwen as one does to an old friend. Continue reading
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of Lent. This day marks the beginning of a journey we will make together, a journey towards Jerusalem where we will meet the Lord in his Passion and Resurrection. This is a time for prayer and for fasting, a time for denying the false self and embracing the true self God intends us to become, a time for drawing near to God in the intimacy of love.
Today we remember Antony of Egypt, a founder of monasticism. As a young man gave away a large inheritance and moved out to the desert for disciplined prayer. He lived alone for twenty years. When Antony emerged from that intense solitude, he learned of a great persecution of the church, and he “returned to the city and ministered to those under the sentence of death.”
Psalms are very much at the center of a monk’s daily prayer. Not including the offering of daily Eucharist, SSJE Brothers pray corporately five times each day. In four out of five of those occasions, singing psalms is at the core of our communal prayer.
Biblical scholars tell us that most, if not all of the psalms were originally meant to be sung, which seems to account for their rhythmic style. The name “psalms” comes from the Greek psalmoi, to sing to the accompaniment of a harp or lyre.
Here at the Monastery we sing psalms using traditional Gregorian chant. Chanting, I’ve been told, is one of very few human activities that engage both left and right brain hemispheres simultaneously. Something happens in the body through the rise and fall of the chant pattern. What happens when we chant the psalms I cannot really explain in words. But whatever happens seems to both lull the body into a more relaxed state and heighten its attention at the same time. Continue reading
The other day when I was thinking about what I might preach on today, I kept getting distracted by memories from grade school when we learned about the first Thanksgiving. We would study the story about how the Indians showed the pilgrims how to plant corn and how the pilgrims when they had such a successful crop the following year, invited the Indians to a feast which became known as the first Thanksgiving. This study was usually accompanied by arts and crafts where we made Native American head dresses and pilgrims’ hats and put on a pageant about Thanksgiving for our families, complete with musical numbers and of course an occasional wave to grandma in the audience.
Remember, you’re not praying to an icon. Rather, you’re praying with and through an icon. Say, for example, that you sit down to pray with an icon of the Beloved Disciple.
You’re not praying to the Beloved Disciple, you are entering into a conversation with the Beloved Disciple and asking him:
- What can you tell me?
- What can you teach me about being a Disciple of Jesus?
- What can you tell me about being beloved by Jesus?
- What was it like to be leaning on the breast of Jesus at the Last Supper?
- How can that be for me?
- How can I become a beloved disciple?
The icon becomes a chance for contact and conversation; it invites us into relationship. The icon of the Beloved Disciple isn’t simply a picture of John leaning on Jesus’ shoulder. It’s a representation of the real love that these two people had for each other. So praying with an icon of the Beloved Disciple is really praying about that kind of love, using it to help us pray for that kind of relationship with the Lord.
The other place that I suggest people begin is to look at the hands, because the hands also will lead you.
Are the hands pointing to something? Often it appears in icons of the Virgin that she is pointing to or offering her Son to you. In icons of Jesus he is sometimes pointing to a text of Scripture or his hand is raised in blessing or teaching. If his hand is raised in blessing, receive the blessing. If his hand is raised to teach ask what he might want or need to teach you.
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.
I find this story of Mary and Martha quite fascinating. What is it all about? On the surface, the point of the story is clear: Jesus visits the home of Mary and Martha and the two sisters make very different choices about how to respond to Jesus’ presence. One of them, Mary, sits down at his feet and listens to his teaching. The other, Martha, apparently goes off to do some work.
Then Martha comes back to the room where Mary and Jesus are, and complains that her sister has left her to do all the work. She asks for Jesus’ support in this little tiff with her sister: “Don’t you care that she’s left me to do all the work?” But Jesus doesn’t appear to! In fact, he says that it is Mary who has “chosen the better part.”
“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” [1. John 3: 2]
There was a very fine film that came out a couple years ago that you may have seen: “Of Gods and Men”. It’s about a community of Benedictine monks at Tibhirine in Algeria who got caught up in the violence of war. The agonizing question for them was whether to leave for their own safety or stay in order to continue their ministry to the people of the village.
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)
Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
I remember as a young lad being given a wonderful gift by my parents: a telescope on a tripod. I was maybe 12 years old, and for several years I had been fascinated by searching the sky at night to recognize stars and constellations. I knew where to look for the Big Dipper; I could spy out the North Star and Orion; I could whisk with my eyes through the night and find the Milky Way. The stars probably told stories about life, I thought, and I had a childlike sense, like with the Psalmist, that the heavens declared God’s glory and splendor.1 I loved what I saw at night, lying on my back on the grass of our front lawn, peering into the night sky with my hands cupped behind my head. And so the gift of a telescope was so exciting. It was also a huge disappointment. Continue reading
In the calendar of the church we remember today Saint Philip and Saint James, both of them chosen by Jesus for his original circle of twelve Apostles. But here I must make a disclaimer: we know almost nothing about them. This Apostle James is not James, son of Zebedee, who, with his brother, John, had lobbied Jesus to sit at his right hand and left hand when Jesus came into power in Jerusalem.1 Nor is this James, brother of Jesus, traditionally known as the author of the Epistle of James and sometime Bishop of Jerusalem.2 This is James #3, son of Alphaeus, whom we know nothing about.3 This James is often called “James the Less,” which is not exactly flattering, but helps avoid some confusion with James #1 and James #2, about whom we know more. Continue reading
1 Kings 3: 5-12; Psalm 119: 129-136; Romans 8: 26-39; Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52
Those of you who have heard me preach before may remember that one of my hobbies, indeed as my brothers in the community might say, one of my many hobbies, is genealogy. I love to wander cemeteries looking for the graves of long dead, and the not so long dead. I can be thoroughly content pouring over old census material looking for that elusive relative and I find a great deal of satisfaction in proving that the person listed in one census is the same listed in another 10 or 20 years later, ‘though thousands of miles, or whole countries apart. And while I am quite happy spending my holidays in graveyards and county archives, the task of the family historian has become an armchair hobby as I can pour over those records, and even wander cemeteries from the comfort of my chair and with the services of a good internet provider. One thing I have discovered, at least on my mother’s side of the family, is that I come from a long line of Methodists. Rare is the Anglican on that side of the family. Continue reading
The passage read as today’s Gospel is a series of closely connected events occurring early in Jesus’ ministry; just after he had called Matthew to be one of his disciples.
We heard that as Jesus sat at dinner many tax collectors and “sinners” came and were sitting with Jesus and his disciples. (This was also recorded in the Gospels of Mark and Luke.) In Luke’s Gospel it says that Levi, whom we also know as Matthew, had invited Jesus to eat at his house. It may be that Matthew did not feel it necessary to say in his Gospel where it occurred.
The place where they were eating was apparently fairly big. It not only accommodated Jesus and his disciples, but we know also that many tax collectors and sinners, and some Pharisees were there. Continue reading
Today, we observe All Saints Day. Of course, today really isn’t All Saints Day. It’s the Eve of All Saints, All Hallows Eve, or what we have come to know as Halloween. But, because All Saints is a Solemnity, the highest order of feasts accorded by the Church in its liturgical calendar, we are observing it on the Sunday closest to its occurrence.
The origin of this feast in the Western Church dates back to the seventh century when Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon to the Blessed Virgin Mary and all martyrs. Like so many Christian holidays there were connections between dates chosen for Christian observance and earlier non-Christian practice. Earliest observances of All Saints Day occurred in May connecting it with the Roman festival of Lemuria. Only, later was November 1 chosen for All Saints to mark the occasion when the pope presided over the transfer of holy relics in the city of Rome and what was memorialized as a general commemoration “of the holy apostles and all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world.”1
Hosea 6:1-6; Psalm 51:10-19; 1 Peter 2:4-10; John 2:13-22
A few weeks ago I watched a fascinating program on television about the crocodile god of ancient Egypt. The fishermen and farmers along the Nile lived in constant fear of being eaten by enormous and hungry crocodiles. And so temples were built and homage paid to the crocodile god. They made offerings to persuade the god to eat fish instead of fishermen.
That’s the basic idea of temple in the ancient world: a place to appease a god, a place to influence the actions of a god. Although it’s a big theological shift to the temple in ancient Jerusalem, the idea is pretty much the same. Animal sacrifices were made by the thousands year after year to worship the one true God, to influence his decisions, to flatter him with praise and thanksgiving, and to appease his anger at the misbehavior of human beings.
Genesis 28: 10 – 22
Psalm 63: 1 – 8
John 1: 43 – 51
Several years ago I had the privilege of spending some days on Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province. It was my first, but I hope not my last visit there. I was there to lead the clergy retreat for the Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island during the week and then to preach on the Sunday in Summerside, on the south shore of the Island. Between the retreat and the preaching engagement I had a couple of days to see a little bit of the Island. It was an odd experience for someone who had grown up on the wide open expanses of the Saskatchewan prairie and then lived for a number of years in Ontario where it takes several days to drive from one end of Ontario to the other, to be able to drive from one end the province to the other and still be back at my hotel in time for an early supper, my book and bed.
If you know anything about Prince Edward Island, you’ll know that it is famous for three things: the redness of its soil, potatoes and Anne of Green Gables.