The Best Is Yet To Come – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Profession of Life Vows by Brother Luke Ditewig, SSJE

Now I can’t claim to be the list king in this community. There is another brother, who will remain nameless, who is the king of lists, charts and calendars in this community. But what I can claim to be is the brother obituariest (the brothers call me something else, but it’s a little rude so I won’t repeat it!). Anyway, I am the one responsible for writing the obituaries which we read at Compline, on the anniversary of a brother’s death. It’s a job that I take great delight in. One thing I have done is to make lists of all the brothers who have died in the community since our founding in 1866 beginning with Father Coggeshall, who was the first in our community to die in 1876, up to and including Brother Bernie whose death earlier this year was the most recent. By my count there have been 153 deaths in the community. But while I was making that list, I became curious about another list. I began to wonder how many men have made their life profession in our community, and when. So I began to dig, and it has taken quite a lot of digging, because our records are somewhat incomplete. But according to my count Luke, you are at least the 201st person since Father Benson to make his life profession in the Society of Saint John the Evangelist and the 47th to make his life profession here in this Chapel since Father Lockyer, who was the first to be professed here, on 21 July 1938.

So today Luke, you are becoming one of those men; by my count the 201st and the 47th to have made their life profession in our community and in this place, and one of the countless men and women who have done so since the dawn of Christian monasticism in the deserts of Egypt. You can count yourself, not just as a son of Father Benson and an heir to our tradition, but as one who is following the footsteps of all those men in our clerestory windows who are witnessing this event today, from Antony to Father Benson himself, as well as women like Macrina and Clare and Scholastica and Mother Teresa of Calcutta who is being canonized today in Rome.

For centuries women and men have felt compelled to give their lives wholly to God in Christ, who as our profession rite says, is our life and our joy. You are not the first. Nor will you be the last. You are simply the latest.

So what is it, Luke, that is compelling you to do this?

Father Benson reminds us that the call of the religious life is continuous, abiding and progressive.[1] Now if something is continuous, it must have begun as some point. So when in your life did you first get that inkling that you wanted to be a monk? Was it sitting on the beach one day on Catalina Island watching the surf? Did you think that day, what’s this monk stuff people are talking about? Were you sitting in a church history class at Princeton or Gordon when you began to wonder why on earth would someone what to do that? Was your first exposure to the religious life from your parents listening to your Mum’s involvement in spiritual direction and the life of prayer or your Dad’s involvement in your local church as a teacher and lay pastor and evangelist? Did you think that’s what I want, but not quite that way?

You may, or may not be able to pinpoint the moment you said yes to this curious life, but there was a moment in God’s life when God marked you as His:

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.[2]

Your pilgrimage to this day, Luke, began long ago. It began before your Mum and Dad started to share with you their own story of faith. It began before you sat in classrooms as Princeton or Gordon. It began before your time on Catalina. In fact it began when God first knew you and consecrated you and appointed you. You are here today Luke, because God loves you and has loved you from the before the beginning of time, and as St. Paul reminds us in that wonderful Hymn to Love, love never ends.[3] Since that moment when God first knew you and loved you, God has been calling you to Himself. And that call into the heart of God, as Father Benson and our Rule tells us, is continuous because in the communion we enjoy with God in prayer and worship day by day, the voice of the Spirit never ceases to call us into deeper union.[4] Today Luke you are saying yes to God’s eternal love for you, not for the first time, or the last time, but in a sense for all time as you make your profession of life vows.

One of the words which we love here in the community is the word abiding. We love it because it comes to us from the Gospel of John. Over and again, Jesus invites us to abide. Abide in me as I abide in you.[5] As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.[6] This invitation to abide in God’s love is no mere transitory thing. It is not a way station along the way. It is not temporary or fleeting. It is a promise and a covenant and a contract. Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.[7]

Luke, God has found a home in your heart. And today as you make your profession of life vows you are opening your heart to the mystery of God which is a Trinity of being as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In saying yes today you are making a home in your heart for God, just as God has made a home for you in the heart of the Trinity. And as God abides in you forever, the gift of eternal life given you by God,andto all those who know His voice, will never perish.[8]

Father Benson reminds us too that the call of God is progressive, coming to us in the future ever new, calling us to fresh opportunities, and bringing gifts beyond what we know now.[9]  We don’t know, and it’s a good thing, what God will ask of us in an hour, in a year, in 20 years. There will surely be tears and loss and sadness along the way. I can pretty much guarantee that sometime, probably sooner than later, you will be reduced to tears about something. Don’t worry. We all have. Every one of your brothers has at one time or another, wanted to throw in the towel. But if you can see your way through those tears, you will discover a life that you could never have imagined: a life so rich and so rewarding simply because it is a life lived in and for God.

So you are probably at this point wondering why you all have a fork in your hand, aren’t you?

Well there’s a wonderful story of a little old lady who was getting on in life. She wanted to arrange her funeral, so she asked her Rector to come to tea. They chatted and ate cookies and drank tea as they went over the funeral liturgy, choosing hymns and lessons and talking about life and death. Now just before her Rector got up to leave, the little old lady said something quite puzzling.

Now I want you to promise me one thing, she said. What’s that? asked the Rector. And as she handed the Rector ordinary dessert fork she said, Make sure this is put in my coffin. Why on earth do you want a fork put in your coffin? the Rector asked. You know me, she answered, I have never missed a pot luck supper at the parish these last fifty years. Yes, the Rector had in fact noticed that, and had always meant to ask what it was about pot lucks that she loved so much. Well, she said, it’s not that I am a bad cook, in fact I’m pretty good. Even so, I enjoy all the different kinds of meals people prepare, and I get to taste things I would never make for myself, but my favourite moment is when the first course is cleared away and out come all the different kinds of desserts. That’s the moment I wait for, because I know the best is yet to come!

Luke, hang on to your fork, because I think Father Benson would agree with the wisdom of our little old lady, the best for you, and indeed for all of us, is yet to come because the call of God, into the very heart of God, is continuous, abiding and progressive, and today Luke, you take another step into God’s heart who has already claimed your heart as a home.

[1] SSJE, Rule of Life, Life Profession, Chapter 39

[2] Jeremiah 1: 5

[3]1 Corinthians 13: 8

[4] Rule, chapter 49

[5] John 15: 4

[6] John 15: 9

[7] John 14: 23

[8] John 10: 28

[9] Rule, chapter 49

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  1. John Greenman on September 28, 2023 at 08:23

    The call, discipleship, family, stories, were all wrapped up in my relationship with Christ. I attended church with my mother as a little child probably because I wanted to be close to her. When she rose from kneeling, her facial expression was different as though she had been in conversation with someone, Someone whose profound presence and wisdom had refreshed and strengthened her. Later, I was still a small boy this time sick in the hospital, and unexpectedly the Rector came to see me. “We missed you in church today,” he said. With those words, I knew I was seen. I belonged to the church, the family of God with the large Good Shepard window over the altar. I was one of those adoring sheep by the Shepard’s knees or perhaps the one His shoulder. How many times I strayed: “Perverse and foolish oft I strayed, but yet in love he sought me, and on his shoulder gently laid, and home rejoicing brought me.” (Hymn 645). A child can understand the Gospel. The problem for me was foolishly trying to live the Gospel alone apart from the Lord and from others. Thank God for the Gospel of John which reminds us that Jesus is always ready to abide in our hearts if we will abide in Him. Thank you, Brothers James and Luke for sharing the call to abide in Christ, abide in love, and the promises.

  2. Mary Setterholm on September 5, 2020 at 17:38

    The Thomist theology of Exitus et Reditus came to mind as I read this sermon celebrating Br Luke’s life profession. The theological concept was what exits or leaves from God as a marvelous creation or mission returns to God and this return represents fulfillment of loves work from it’s inception. I took great comfort in this sermon for which I was fortunate to be present despite a wandering life.
    There was another angle of thought explored and that was Br James repeated reference to God making a home in Luke’s heart, who let him in. I couldn’t help but visualize our God as homeless and knowing there was a homestead ready to receive God but the occupant had preconceived notions of how God might arrive and knock and so God is rendered homeless. Then some hear a knock but are too busy and God continues to be homeless to the busy ones. So I also experienced a sadness once more as I heard this sermon again through it’s written word. It was a an uplifting conclusion and the cake was delish!

  3. David Watkins on September 3, 2020 at 10:33

    It is always a joy to behold when someone gives his life completely to God. Bless you Br. Luke, as you and all the brothers continue to inspire us and invite us by your example into a closer communion with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

  4. Pat and Bill Reineking on September 3, 2020 at 09:55

    Lovely open letter to all the Lukes out there; and we thank you for your prayers and service and this commitment, just like Mother Teresa and yet unique. This is the day the LORD has made and we are rejoicing in it, and we can trust He gave it to us to grow into Him and His love and creativity. During this day there may be something or other that doesn’t seem to be so godly, but God is still with us and so we grow in better attributes anyway because the Holy Spirit will make it so. I am one who sometimes enjoys dessert, just a taste of the sweet dessert to follow/ and yes, I want a dessert fork on hand to remind me that the best is, even with all this, still to come. <3

  5. Bryan Thompson on September 10, 2019 at 09:51

    We are blessed daily by these succinct and thoughtful posts! Thank you! Bryan Thompson, Charleston

  6. frank carlevale on September 12, 2016 at 18:00

    brother luke good luck on your life profession frank

  7. Agatha Nolen on September 8, 2016 at 21:02

    Blessings on your life profession, Brother Luke!

  8. Bob Herrick on September 8, 2016 at 14:36

    scrumptious !

  9. Nancy Barnard Starr on September 5, 2016 at 16:31

    Lovely, Br James. That ‘moment’ you speak of reminded me of the nudge I felt when my husband and I were visiting Sanibel Island, FL and had a theological conversation on the beach. I told him, if he believed what he said, perhaps he ought to become a priest. Surprise! Caught in my words. One of us did. All the best to Br Luke on this important moment for him, and in the life of the community.

    In Christ’s love,

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