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Great is Thy Faithfulness – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

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Profession In Initial Vows – Luke Ditewig, SSJE

Today is a day which we have been hoping for, and praying for, for a very long time.  A day of rejoicing.  Our dear brother Luke is to make the vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience, as a professed brother of our community.

And what a wonderful day, Trinity Sunday, for this profession!  First, because, Luke, you grew up and for many years were formed in the Christian faith by the community of your home parish, Trinity Presbyterian, Santa Ana, California.  Secondly, our understanding as brothers, of what Christian community is all about, is profoundly rooted and grounded in the very nature of God, the Holy Trinity.

Our Rule puts it like this, “The very being of God is community: the Father, Son and Spirit are one in reciprocal self-giving and love.”   And because we, as humans, bear the image of our triune God, we are not meant to be separate and isolated.  There are today, so many men and women who are isolated, lonely, broken.  Central to our mission as a community of brothers, is to share our life of community with others.

What I love about these monastic buildings, is that whilst the monastery and guesthouse are set back, this chapel reaches out right onto busy Memorial Drive.  And our doors are open, saying “Whoever you are, you are welcome here.”

One of Luke’s many gifts is for hospitality: helping others feel welcomed and cherished.  “The source of hospitality,” as our Rule puts it, “is the heart of God.  We have the power to be a sacrament of God’s hospitality, a house of God, offering nurture and protection to all who come under our roof.”  It is communities of faith, communities of love, which form us, and make us strong, and have the power to draw us into the very heart of God.

Our second lesson today is from that beautiful second letter which Paul wrote to Timothy.  He writes, “To Timothy, my beloved child.”  How he must have cherished Timothy, and prayed for him, as a real father in God.  And Paul recalls all those other individuals and communities who had helped to raise and nurture Timothy in the Christian faith: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice.”

Today is a good time to reflect on and give thanks for all those, Luke, who have helped form and shape you into the man that you are today.  Your parents, Bill and Sandy, who gave you life.  The community of Trinity Presbyterian, Inter Varsity, Gordon College, Princeton, and so many more.

Today, you become a full member of this community.  And we, your Brothers of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, welcome you with much joy and love, as a friend and a brother given to us by Christ.

It is good to reflect on where we have been.  To give thanks for all those who have supported us, challenged us, encouraged us and loved us into becoming who we are now.

But we look back, with thanksgiving, in order to look forward.  We cannot stand still.  God is always calling us on to larger life, grasping us, and pulling us forward, as our founder Richard Benson liked to put it.  We are, in Paul’s words, “to press on, to strain forward to what lies ahead.”(Phil. 3:14)

Well, Luke, I wonder what lies ahead?  We don’t know.  You are making this step today in faith.  When God calls us on, to larger life, we rarely see much beyond the next step.  And that takes trust, and so it’s usually a little bit scary!  If you do feel a bit anxious, Luke, as you follow your call, your vocation, know that you are in good company.  When Isaiah, in our reading today, was called by God, his first response was to say, “Woe is me!  I’m lost!”  When Moses was called, he hid his face in his terror.  When poor Jeremiah was called, he was scared and pleaded, I am just a boy and I’m not good at speaking.

But to each one of them, God spoke these gentle and gracious words.  “Don’t be afraid.  I will be with you.”  Luke – today, God is saying those words to you.  Whatever the future may hold, “I will be with you.”

I would say, in my own life, over the years, in spite of all the ways that I have been foolish, made mistakes, been faithless – with my hand on my heart – God has always been faithful.

When I was at seminary, several times a day we were called to chapel by a bell.

And on that bell are engraved three words of St. Paul: pistos ho kalon.  “Faithful is he who calls.”(I Thess. 5:24)  Those words have stayed with me and supported me over my years of Christian ministry.

A little later in our worship, we shall be singing a hymn which I know is dear to Luke, and which expresses the same confidence in our God who is always faithful:  “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father.”  And it’s not just faithfulness, generally – it is God’s faithfulness experienced as a daily gift.

These vows which you are making today, Luke, are not just made today.  In a real sense, in the religious life, we have to make them anew every morning.  There may well be times in this life when you feel that you are being called beyond your strength.  “I cannot do this Lord.”  That’s when we learn to take one day at a time.  “Each morning I recommit myself to follow you Jesus today.”

And the wonder and the joy is that, each morning, the Lord recommits himself to us!  Like the manna in the wilderness, God’s faithfulness comes to us anew, each morning.  “Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness: Morning by morning new mercies I see.”

So, Luke, as you begin living the vowed life, each morning, look for the mercies.  Open your hands, open your heart, to receive new mercies.  Claim them day by day.

So, as we now come to the Profession, each one of us here today, who represent different communities who have helped bring Luke to this point in his life, let us each hold him in our love and our prayers, and commit ourselves to support Luke in his new life as a Brother.

Luke, we bless our faithful and merciful God who has bought you to this day, who promises that he will be with you always, even to the end of the age, and to whom we give glory, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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9 Comments

  1. Ruth West on June 6, 2016 at 12:52

    This, indeed, was an inspiring message. Four years down the path of Luke’s commitment, I feel sure he has lived the challenges you have given.
    God is faithful! May his continuing walk be ever by the side of the Savior.

  2. Benjamin Gillard on June 17, 2015 at 16:14

    Blessings to you, Brother Luke! I remember the kindness and warmth you showed my fellow retreatants and me when we spent the weekend in silence at the Monastery this past May. Thank you for your grace and hospitality. Peace,
    – Benjamin

  3. Barbara Frazer Lowe on June 17, 2015 at 13:55

    Dear, young, Br. Luke Ditewig, Having just attended my grandson’s grad. from Seattle Univ. , hearing many moving addresses, being so close with him, colleagues, their search and openness to unknowns, next days, their huge experience-growth, I wish to send you my heartiest congratulations , praise, receiving the grace of God, in your path ahead = as tho I were just at your grad. (my late husb, relatives, etc.your grad, also) = so I feel very ‘with ‘you; am daily with all of you at SSJE; fortunately; all of you give us your graces, thankfulness for our full lives. barbara frazer lowe

  4. Jeff Lowry on June 17, 2015 at 10:03

    What a wonderful way to commemorate Br. Luke’s
    Profession in Initial Vows. I have not been fortunate enough to meet Bro. Luke, however, through reading some of his sermons and seeing some of his contributions when the brothers have done video series, I can tell he is an intelligent, caring and Godly brother. Not that the other monks aren’t; they are. However it is reassuring to see it in someone from a younger generation and know that the future of the church and SSJE is well in hand. It is my hope that a biographical sketch of Bro. Luke will be in an issue of Cowley Magazine in the near future; that way it can also be in the “why we came – why we stayed” section of the website.

  5. Jeff Schiffmayer on June 17, 2015 at 09:21

    Luke, I think it would be good to re-member that the religious life is a brotherhood/sisterhood not by virtue of sharing the same vows, dressing the same, living together, as powerful as that is, but by virtue of what Jesus has done in saving , sanctifying, and glorifying the family of man, the whole human race. The community exists not for its own sake but for supporting each members identification with the whole family for whom Jesus died, whether they know it or not, including our enemies and especially the least, the last, the lost, and the dead!
    Jeff schiffmayer

    • Jeff Schiffmayer on June 17, 2015 at 09:27

      And also the animals and “this fragile earth our island home.” Jeff Schiffmayer

  6. Sue Eaves on June 17, 2015 at 08:38

    May God continue to bless your life and ministry. It will, indeed, be scary at times but it’s the best kind of scary we can know. Thank you for being faithful in a world so hungry for constancy. Joy to you and your whole community.

  7. Dorothy J Smith on June 17, 2015 at 06:42

    Luke,
    Though the commitment is huge, so are the gifts of community, support in you pursuit of God’s word and a home from which to reach into the world. My prayer for you is that when the walls seem small, your heart and mind will reach into the infinite spaces that God provides. There is a wonderful nurture in your community, never forget how far it reaches and how many unseen hearts have relied upon that connection.

  8. Jeff Spahr on June 13, 2012 at 20:02

    I remember, fondly, Luke as officiant at many prayer services during my stay at Emery House last year. I was particularly moved by his leadership in reading the psalms. Later, he showed true hospitality in taking time from his day to drive me to the bus station when it was time for me to leave. Luke, you are a perfect addition to SSJE. Congratulations on your initial vows. My prayers are ever with you, and my hope and wish for you is that you have a long and prosperous life in Christ with SSJE!

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