Welcome to the Society of Saint John the Evangelist

A Joy Most Ravishing – Br. James Koester

Life Profession of Jim Woodrum SSJE

Exodus 33: 7 – 1, Psalm 139: 1 – 12, 1 John 4: 7 – 12, John 15: 9 – 19

Well I am certainly impressed. Never in a million years did I imagine that so many people would show up today. I really only expected the brothers, the guests in the guesthouse and our regulars at the Saturday Eucharist. But look at you! You have come from near and far: Georgia, and South Carolina, from New York and parts in between. You have come from any number of places around Cambridge and Boston, and all to show your dedication, your devotion, your loyalty, your faithfulness, your friendship to someone whom we are told, was of remarkable life and learning.[1] And you are all dressed up to boot! That’s all pretty impressive, and we are honoured by your presence at this celebration today. The one person that I don’t see here though, surprises me by his absence. I don’t see the Mayor of Boston here. And that surprises me. Of all the people who should be here, he’s at the top of the list. Why isn’t he here with us today as we celebrate the feast of St. Botolph, the Patron Saint of Boston?

That is why you are here isn’t it? To demonstrate your devotion to St. Botolph. Why else would you come out on a Saturday in June? Clearly your devotion to the Patron Saint of Boston is high on your priorities and has brought you all here today.

Seriously Jim, take a look around and see all these people, from many different parts of your life, who have come here today as you take this next step in your vocation as a brother of our community. It’s pretty impressive. They may have just discovered their devotion to St. Botolph, but they already knew they had a devotion to you!

And that is what we are here today to celebrate: devotion. No, we are not here today to celebrate our devotion to St. Botolph, although from the little which scholars can say about him with any certainty, he was clearly a man who inspired devotion, both in his lifetime and after his death. Like you Jim, people travelled great distances to see him when he was alive, and ever greater distances after he died about the year AD 680. No, we are not even here to celebrate our devotion to you, Jim, although clearly there are many who are devoted to you, such that they are prepared to travel great distances just to be here with you today of all days.

What we are here to do today, is to celebrate your devotion to God and God’s to you. And clearly Jim, you have been devoted to God all your life. Growing up as a Southern Baptist, you learned at an early age to love God, but more importantly, you learned that God loves you. Over the years we have heard sermons from you about the tremendous impact that this awareness of God’s love has had on you for your whole life. This confidence in God’s love, and your love for God, we have heard about it in your sermons, and have come to know from the hymns you have taught us.

My sin – oh, the bliss of this glorious thought –
My sin – not in part, but the whole –
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul![2]

Curiously it is not a great leap from singing It Is Well with My Soul in the Baptist Church of your childhood, to kneeling in an incense filled Church during Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in the Episcopal Church that you discovered after high school. Both experiences are rooted in a faith that is born first, in the heart.

It is your heart, Jim that is so evident to those of us who have known you over the years. And it is your heart that has brought you, not only to this place in your life, but to this place. Driving home one winter night you heard some Episcopal monks from Cambridge, Massachusetts singing on the radio. You have told the story many times, and while you have never said it, it was love at first sight, or perhaps I should say first hearing. But I think that’s what it was. Something that night touched your heart and soon, and over a period of years, you came courting. I can tell you now, the feeling was mutual. But it was more than that. Not only did you fall in love with us. You realized that this was the place where your love for Jesus could be lived to the full, and that after all is what this life is about. It is about loving God so completely, we want to give our whole lives over to the mystery that is God, Father, Son and Spirit.

And what was clear from the very beginning of those visits, was how much you love Jesus. Anyone who has heard you preach, or sat in on one of your retreats, knows that to be true. Is it any wonder then that the lessons you picked for today’s liturgy are all about that love of God as expressed in friendship? Listen for a moment.

Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.[3]

Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.[4]

‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants* any longer, because the servant* does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.[5]

We say in our Rule of Life that for us no honor exists that could be greater than Jesus calling us his friends.[6] In many ways Jim, of all the gifts you bring to our community that is the most important one, your friendship with Jesus. And it is the one which Father Benson returns to over and again.

O live in the love of Jesus! Father Benson tells us. So shalt thou find thyself satisfied…. In the love of Jesus thou wilt know what the glory of God is. In the love of Jesus thou wilt experience by mysterious foretaste the abundance of redemptive glory. O cherish the love of Jesus![7]

We come to this life because our love for God consumes us, and we can live in no other way. Our Rule puts it this way: We whom God calls into this Society have been drawn into union with Christ by the power of his cross and resurrection; we have been reborn in him by water and the Spirit.  God chooses us from varied places and backgrounds to become a company of friends, spending our whole life abiding in him and giving ourselves up to the attraction of his glory.[8]

Father Benson put it this way: The Religious Life is a life of manifold difficulty and incomparable danger, but it is a stern necessity to everyone that God has called. And to those whom God has called, it is a life of joy most ravishing.[9]

I like Father Benson because he is a realist. He knows from experience, as do you Jim, and as do we your brothers, that this life is a life of manifold difficulty and incomparable danger. But you have also discovered,  as have we who live with you, that this is the only life we can live, because in spite of the difficulties and dangers, it is [indeed] a life of joy most ravishing.

There will be days Jim, when you want to throw in the towel, and the Rule and Father Benson are clear about that. We actually say in the Rule that a time may come when [a brother’s] steadfastness could be tried to the limits of endurance. Then he may long to take back his promise, and leave us. Setbacks and disappoint­ments will shake his constancy. He may be tempted to use changes that have taken place in the Society, in the Church, or in himself as pretexts for canceling his commitment.[10] I assure you, we all know, and have known, those days, and I know that you have too. But in the words of Father Benson, Jim: cling to Jesus! Cling only to Jesus![11] For the gift that you bring to us, your deep and abiding friendship with God, and with Jesus, God’s only begotten Son is the one thing necessary,[12] and with that, then all things truly will be well with your soul and you will find the joy most ravishing of which Father Benson promises to those who are obedient to the call of God.

This is a wonderful day for all of us, and especially for the brothers in the community. It is a day we have been looking forward to for years. It is a day that fills us with awe, inspires us with hope, and encourages us because of its sheer daring audacity. Not everyone is crazy enough to want to be a monk, and that’s probably a good thing, but those who do, as long as they cling to Jesus will find it a life of joy most ravishing!

By the way, happy St. Botolph’s Day everyone!

Brs. Luke Ditewig, Jim Woodrum, Keith Nelson on the occasion of Br. Jim’s Life Profession

 


[1] Attwater, Donald; The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, entry for St.Botolph,  page 73

[2] Spafford, Horatio G., It Is Well With My Soul, 1873

[3] Exodus 33: 11

[4] 1 John 4: 11

[5] John 15: 12 – 17

[6] SSJE, Rule of Life, The Graces of Friendship, Chapter 42, page 84

[7] Benson SSJE, Richard Meux, Instructions on the Religious Life, Second Series, page ??

[8] SSJE, Rule, The Call of the Society, Chapter 1, page 2

[9] Benson SSJE, Richard Meux, unpublished notes from the Summer Retreat of 1875 as printed in Look to the Glory, page 62

[10] Rule, Life Profession, Chapter 39, page 79

[11] Find the source

[12] See Luke 10: 42

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8 Comments

  1. Walt Bressler on June 24, 2017 at 12:12

    I congratulate your becoming a brouther, Jim, in the Society of which you yearned to be a part. As a lay brother in Christ and a friend, I could not be happier for you. I know that the entire congregation of Emmanuel Bristol feel the same. Walt

  2. Robin Teasley on June 23, 2017 at 21:00

    Congratulations, Br. Jim! You and the community at SSJE will be blessings to one another!

  3. James S. Kovacs on June 23, 2017 at 12:31

    Congratulations, Brother Jim! May your continued journey be blessed as you are a blessing to so many!

  4. Pat Wylie on June 23, 2017 at 11:35

    Thank you again Br. James. The sermon is even better on reading because we can re-read portions. We continue to be blessed by our time at the monastery and by the occasion of Br. Jim’s life vows. (We Southern Baptists make pretty good Episcopalians wouldn’t you agree?)

  5. Ruth West on June 19, 2017 at 19:56

    I, too, add my congratulations to Br. Jim, along with the many other friends. I’m sure he likely remembers a song in that Baptist Hymnal entitled “Trust and Obey.” He is a very victorious example of following Jesus in the words of that old song. “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey…” I wish for him and for all you brothers in Christ Jesus continual blessings. Thanks for this good sermon.

  6. Agatha Nolen on June 19, 2017 at 07:31

    Congratulations to Jim on his acceptance of his true calling to Christ through SSJE. I look forward to offering my congratulations in person on my next trip to the monastery.

  7. Barb Yatsevitch on June 19, 2017 at 06:43

    I just learned you are ALL going to England. I will hold you in my prayers and pray you have a fabulous trip! In His abundant Love, Barb

  8. Margaret A Fletcher on June 19, 2017 at 06:42

    Dear Br. James, What a ravishingly beautiful sermon, full of abundant joy. Congratulations to Br..Jim. margo

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