All for All – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost and the Profession in Initial Vows of Keith Nelson SSJE

Genesis 28: 10 – 22
Psalm 139
Romans 8: 28 – 39
John 1: 35 – 51

Well Keith, this day has been a long time in coming. We your brothers in the community have been waiting patiently, and maybe not so patiently, for this day to come, and not just since you came here nearly three years ago to test your vocation. We’ve been waiting even longer than that. We’ve been waiting ever since you came to try your vocation with us the first time, but left after a few months, believing your vocation lay elsewhere. We’ve been waiting even longer than that. We’ve been waiting ever since you first appeared in Cambridge as a student at HDS and started to come to worship here on occasion. We’ve been waiting a long time and are thrilled that this day is finally here at last.

But if we have been waiting for what seems to us to have been a very long time, then so too has God. God has been waiting a long time. Indeed, God has been waiting a very long time for this day to come. For God has been waiting even longer than we brothers. I don’t think it is too far off the mark to say that God has been waiting since before the beginning of time for this day to arrive. For the very One who has been waiting for this day is the One who called [you] according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son ….[1]

In some mysterious way Keith, God called you long ago, even before the beginning of time, to be shaped into the likeness of his Son, Jesus Christ. How that is happening for you and to you, is what has brought us all to this day and this place. It is not that God wasn’t, or didn’t or couldn’t call to the depths of your soul in other places. Rather this place, unlike any other place you have known in your life, has become for you the very gate of heaven. Like Jacob you too have dreamt of God and in response to that dream you have said: how awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.[2]

Any single vocation is a complete mystery, often even to the individual. We remind ourselves in the Rule that every call is entirely in God’s hands.[3] This is not to say that we are mere puppets in the hand of God responding to the Divine’s every whim. Rather we cannot determine on our own where God’s call will lead us. Nor having taken a step into the future, can we create the future to our own liking. This was certainly true of the disciples, who probably would have gladly turned back, had they knownon that day, that Jesus’ invitation to come and see[4] would lead ultimately to the cross.

Keith, your vocation is no different. You are about to say ‘yes’ to Christ’s invitation to come and see and take a step into God’s future. But like those disciples you have no idea where it will lead. All you know is what Jacob knew: the Lord is in this place.[5] With that in mind, you are about to make your initial profession of the vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience. If you are not a little nervous at this point, you should be, because you don’t yet know, and we cannot tell you, where you will encounter the cross. For having made your profession the darkness of Good Friday will eventually appear on the horizon, but if you wait long enough so too will the dawn of Easter morning and you will discover again with Simon Peter the Messiah, the Christ of God[6], the One sent into the world not to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved.[7]

This profession of vows that you are about to make is not unlike the promises and vows you made at baptism whereby you promised to turn to Christ and follow him as your Saviour and Lord, putting your whole trust in him.[8] But rather than following Him along the path of some other vocation, you are promising to follow him along this particular path: the monastic path as lived by this community. It is a particular path that has encouraged and challenged some of the greatest saints for it will demand your soul, your life, your all.[9]

But having demanded something, these vows will also give something. Father Benson reminds us that:

A vow is a promise made to God, and as such it is a compact with Him. We cannot promise anything to God without receiving a corresponding promise from God. Whatever we give to God, God always gives us something more in return. God is glorified not only that He enables us to make the vow, but as the receiver and remunerator of it.[10]

Keith,today you are about to make a promise to God: that you will live for the next three years under the vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience in this community. At the same time, God is about to make a promise to you: that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate [you] from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.[11]

You Keith, are making vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience and God is making a vow of love. In your vow there is, as Father Benson says: a real trusting of the soul to the love of God…God has promised all we can desire; we need not fresh promises. We trust ourselves to Him who ‘cannot deny himself.’ We give ourselves up in perfect confidence to His love, and He will give more than human words can make known. Give up all to God, and God will give up His holy Being to us. All for all, the all of earth for the all of heaven, the all of man for the all of God.[12]

Today is a wonderful day, because today Keith you are stepping into God’s future, not blindly, but, I hope confidently. Neither you nor we know what that future will hold, except that we do know it will hold disappointment and struggle and uncertainty. But it will also hold, as Father Benson puts it, the life-giving hand of the Eternal.[13] And it is that which we celebrate today as we watch Keith reach out and grasp the hand of the One who loves him, and always has and always will. And as we watch Keith grasp that hand of Love, not for the first time, or the last time, but anew, we remember that we too, brothers and friends have also grasped that life-giving hand of Love. In watching this compact of love between Keith and God we are reminded of our own compacts of love between ourselves and God and know that God’s love for us, like God’s love for Keith, can never be exhausted.And knowing God’s inexhaustible love, not only for Keith, but for ourselves also we too will proclaim with Jacob: surely the Lord is in this place.

[1] Romans 8:28 – 29

[2] Genesis 28: 17

[3] SSJE, Rule of Life, New Members, chapter 36, page 73.

[4] John 1: 39

[5] Genesis 28: 16

[6] John 1: 40, 41

[7] John 3: 17

[8]BCP 1979, page 302, 303

[9] See Watts, Isaac; When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Hymn 474, The Hymnal 1982

[10] Benson SSJE, Richard, Instructions on the Religious Life, First Series, 1927, page 12

[11] Romans 8: 39, 39

[12] Op cit., page 13

[13] Ibid, page 15

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1 Comment

  1. Ruth West on July 12, 2016 at 22:05

    Such a great step for Keith! I am praying for him this night. I know he will be loved and supported by each of you brothers as he puts himself in the hands of his Lord and Savior. Thanks for sharing this challenging sermon.

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