Welcome to the Society of Saint John the Evangelist

Tedi, Ruben, Rob and Nancy – Br. Mark Brown

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1 Peter 1: 10-16; Psalm 98; Mark 10:28-31

The Brothers are just finishing the first stage of an experiment—an experiment in bio-diversity. In the natural world strong ecological systems thrive on a multiplicity of organisms living together, all interdependent and each contributing its unique properties to the vitality of the whole. A similar principle is at work in ecosystems of people: communities thrive on the particular gifts and attributes of a diversity of peoples.

Last September we launched a new initiative here at the Monastery and at Emery House: a Monastic Internship Program—a kind of experiment in monastic bio-diversity. And this Thursday is the last day of this nine month program. In September we will welcome a new group of young people—individuals who may or may not feel called to life-long monastic vows, but who desire the experience of living and working and praying alongside a monastic community for a season of life. This evening we mark the conclusion of this year’s program and express our gratitude to Rob and Ruben and Tedi and Nancy for their presence in our lives—a presence that we hope and pray will continue in one way or another.  So, we won’t say goodbye, we’ll say “welcome to the alumni association”. Our director of development, Mr. Jamie Coats, will be in touch with you soon.

This evening has a bit of the feel of a commencement.  And, we hope that it is, in the literal sense of the word: a commencement, a beginning, a new beginning.  It is traditional on such occasions for old people to give advice to young people–which can be very tiresome so I won’t do it. What I will do is suggest to our interns a list of things to remind us of, we who will remain here in this place.  My list of things for you to remind us of is taken from the little bouquet of scripture readings we’ve heard this evening.

It’s a list of things to remind us of because we need reminding. (By “us” I mean the Brothers and anyone else within earshot.)  A monastery is a school.  But it’s a school where everyone flunks the introductory level course and has to keep repeating it over and over.  St. Benedict called monasteries schools of love. But there is no graduate level of Christianity here—it’s Christianity 101 until the day we die.  So, Tedi, Nancy, Ruben and Rob: here are some things to remind us of as you continue on your way.

Remind us to keep on leaving everything and following Jesus.  The disciples left everything and followed him on the way to Resurrection. We do well to do the same–even though we know that the way to Resurrection leads past Golgotha and Good Friday.  And we do well to leave things behind.  Although we brothers have care of this wonderful building and the generosity of many people helps sustain our ministry, we have very little stuff to call our own.

But we do accumulate, sometimes unwittingly.  If we’re not paying attention, we can find we’ve accumulated a vast treasury, truck loads of fears and anxieties, trunk loads of resentments and grudges, crates of unrealistic expectations and boxes of presumptions and unreasonable demands. Remind us to leave all this baggage behind, to travel lightly on the way.  Remind us to travel forgetfully and follow Jesus.  I think this is what Paul meant when he said “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on…” [Phil. 3:13]  Remind us to be forgetful (at least about the right things).

And remind us that the new life of the gospel is upside down: the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Strength is made perfect in weakness; we lead best when we serve. Christ, mighty as he is, identifies with the meek and the week, the hungry and thirsty.  Washing the feet of the humble and poor, Christ disdains earthly standards of status, wealth and power.

On the other hand, God is Love. There is an infinite quality to the wholeness of God’s love.  In terms of God’s love, all are first and none are last because God’s love is not parceled out—a little here, a little there.  Wherever God is, all of God is; wherever love is, all of love is. All shall be first and none shall be last. This is the radically egalitarian justice of the upside down Kingdom. Remind us to remember that.

Remind us to set our hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring (as Peter’s letter puts it). Grace is not something we do, but something that Christ does—and he will do it.  And once in a while, at least, Christ’s grace may not only come to us, but be manifest in and through us.  This is very easy to forget and important to remember: we are channels of God’s grace.

Remind us that, as Peter says quoting Leviticus, we shall be holy. We may not be holy now, it’s not something we can do on our own, but we shall be holy.  Note the future tense: you shall be holy. Following in his footsteps, walking forgetfully, setting our hope on the grace that lies ahead, we shall be holy–in God’s good time and eternity. God’s promise, Peter’s prophecy and prediction.

And, finally, remind us to “sing to the Lord a new song”, literally and figuratively speaking. We do sing new songs once in a while. And when we sing old songs, we can sing them in a new way.  Or we can sing them again as if for the first time.  And our very lives can be songs, songs of praise to the God who created us. Each new day can be a new song, a new work of art. Everything we do can be a new song. “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.”  “Behold, I make all things new.” Following Jesus means following him all the way to new.  Remind us to follow Jesus all the way to new.

Well, that’s my list. It’s a short list, but it’s a big list—especially for people still trying to get the hang of this Christianity thing.  We’ll probably forget.

But there’s one thing you will not need to remind us of. You won’t need to remind us to be grateful; you will not need to remind us to be thankful for your presence in our life. We’ve got that one down. We deeply appreciate what you have brought to this very peculiar ecosystem of a Christian community. We did set our hope on the grace Christ would bring. And grace showed up:  in you, and through you: Tedi, Nancy, Ruben and Rob! I think we were surprised by this grace and the vibrancy it has brought to our life together.  We have indeed been blessed. And we are deeply grateful and we will miss you.

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10 Comments

  1. SusanMarie on June 25, 2017 at 08:45

    Good, good, good — very good, including the comments! The Brothers at SSJE and all the followers who share their feelings and experiences continue to inspire me and help me to feel part of a community that is learning and growing together. I understand your language; it is the language of the soul. Grace!

  2. Richard W. Wheeler on June 25, 2017 at 07:34

    Dear Friends, I must share with you that I find in your messages a great deal to guide my behavior and contributions to my comunity. I am deeply involved and your contributions are a great benefit for me!
    Rick Wheeler

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  4. David Cranmer on February 18, 2017 at 19:29

    Thank you for the reminder that we are all in Christianity 101 until the day we die. I keep feeling that somehow I am a “bad” follower of Christ because I have made so little progress towards the lifestyle that Jesus and Paul have laid out.

  5. Dann on February 15, 2017 at 17:39

    I appreciate this writing, very much – have struggled with just how I am to leave all behind – did Christ intend all of us to own just one coat and go forth with no scrip? No, I don’t believe so – some must fish, some must plant, but all can be renewed.

  6. Tudy Hill on June 6, 2016 at 20:45

    …and “all shall be first, and none shall be last.” This insight is very generous to those of us in a competitive environment. Thank you, Brother Mark.

  7. Ruth West on June 5, 2016 at 10:21

    Thanks, Br. Mark, for this good sermon.
    The part that struck me and sticks with me is that Christianity is upside down. I had heard this expression in several homilies lately, but did not get it. Now I know, and totally agree. Truly, it is this way with Jesus.

  8. Anders on June 5, 2016 at 09:44

    Thank you. I have spent most of my life feeling like a bad Christian, questioning people’s firmly held beliefs not because they are wrong but because they are no longer serving anybody, nor are they of love. This questioning has come from many places inside of me, including the suffocation of shame and the anger at the abusive misuse of power.
    As my spirit is calming down, being in not-quite-with-the-program-still-Christianity-101 mode, I am finding rest in compassion and gentle courage. Perhaps you have inspired me to be more articulate: “I’m sorry if you feel I threaten you. It’s just that in my heart I sincerely believe in a Lord who promises to make all things new.” That conversation will remain between us and the future.

  9. Jennifer on June 6, 2015 at 09:05

    Thank you. I am so thankful for the reassurance that it’s Christianity 101 until the day we die, for all of us. That all any of us can do is keep following Jesus toward a future of being holy. Sometimes my heart feels broken that I can’t (or won’t) do more now, today. I carry the weight of my busy-ness, pride, worry, self-centeredness, and desire for control. But as you say, I can sing a new song. And I am grateful.

  10. John David Spangler on June 5, 2015 at 06:30

    Thank you, Brother Mark for the reminders. Though not privilleged to be with Tedi, Ruben, Robin, and Nancy, I, indeed all of us, need these reminders as we continue on our journey. I think your observation that singing the songs “. . . we can sing them again as if for the first time.” is very wise. Too often, in our haste, albeit with good intentions, we place more emphasis on the song’s being new than on what it says. As the saying goes, we often throw out the baby with the bath water. The message, grows in being better understood, but it does not change. It is, as Dorothy Leigh Sayers described it, “the greatest story ever told” and is the “old song”.

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