God’s Unfailing Faithfulness – Br. David Vryhof

Genesis 44:18-45:5

We would be hard pressed to find anyone in scripture who suffered more setbacks in life than Joseph. His brothers were jealous of him and, finding an opportunity to do away with him, sold him to slave traders who were passing through the land.  He was brought to Egypt and purchased by Potiphar, a wealthy and powerful Egyptian, who eventually recognized Joseph’s intelligence, honesty and hard work, and put him in charge of all that he had.  Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him and, when he refused her, she accused him before her husband and he was imprisoned.  Even in prison his character and his deep insight continued to impress others.  He interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s servants and was promised freedom, but was then forgotten and left to languish in his prison cell.  Finally he got his opportunity, when Pharaoh himself had a troubling dream and Joseph was called to interpret it.  This he did, saving the land and its people from a deadly famine.  He rose in Pharaoh’s eyes and became a powerful ruler, second only to Pharaoh himself.

And then we read that his brothers, experiencing famine in their own land, came to Egypt seeking food.  Joseph recognizes them, but conceals his identity from them.  He sends them home with food, but arranges for his younger brother to be brought to him.  In the touching passage we read today, he finally breaks down and reveals his true identity to them.  “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into slavery,” he says; “And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life” (45:5). Read More

A Question about Fasting – Br. David Vryhof

Matthew 9:14-17

“Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” (v.14)

Fasting was a commonly accepted spiritual practice among the Jews and had been for centuries.  It was recognized as an effective way to express sorrow for sin and a means, hopefully, to avoid God’s judgment.  John the Baptist and his followers and the Pharisees regularly practiced it, not only for their own sakes, but vicariously for the nation.

Jesus stands in contrast to them.  “The Son of Man came eating and drinking,” the Gospel writer tells us (Mt 11:19). Jesus and his disciples do not fast – which naturally raises the curiosity and suspicion of those who do.  Jesus’ nonparticipation in this particular spiritual practice points to its theological weakness.  Fasting, as it is often understood and practiced, emphasizes not what God is doing, but what humans must do in order to humor God into behaving favorably.  Jesus claims this is unnecessary because God is present and active now; the Good News of God’s reign is here!  “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they?” (v.15a) The “bridegroom” is Jesus himself: through his ministry of healing and reconciliation, as well as through his association with outcasts and sinners, Jesus is proclaiming the arrival of God’s rule. God is not distant and threatening, but present and active, here and now, bringing forth new life!  And that is cause for celebration! Read More

The Dangerous Desire for Wealth – Br. David Vryhof

I Timothy 6:7-10, 17-19
Luke 12:13-21

It is a rare person who cannot be tempted by wealth.  Most of us believe that if we were wealthier our lives would be easier and more enjoyable than they are now.  We envy those who are rich enough to satisfy not only their “needs” but also most of their “wants.”  We imagine that they are free of worry and can rest in the assurance that they have what they need to face the future with confidence.

But appearances can be deceptive.  The passages we have before us today warn us that the desire for wealth can be extremely dangerous.  “Those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” 

Desiring to be rich is dangerous.  It can easily lead us into bad choices, which damage our character and our reputation, wreak havoc with our relationships, and result in ruin and destruction.  “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed,” Jesus warns us. Read More

Learning to Fly Solo, but Not Alone – Br. David Vryhof

Acts 5:12-26

This spring we’ve watched as a pair of morning doves built a nest on the outdoor crucifix located in our cloister garden.  Nestled on the shoulder of the crucified Jesus, the mother sat motionless on her eggs for days and days.  At last the chicks emerged.

I had the extraordinary good fortune to be watching the nest this past Monday evening.  The two chicks are now adolescents, about 2/3 the size of their adult parents and darker in coloring.  They were sitting side by side in the nest, eagerly looking out on the world.  Their mother appeared and, standing on the head of the crucified Jesus, she fed them.  Then she flew off and perched nearby where she could keep a close eye on them.

You could tell there was something happening.  The young birds began rocking back and forth in the nest, as if working up their courage to leave the warmth and security of the nest.  Finally, one of them took the leap.  It flapped wildly around the cloister, unable to control its flight, banging into the walls and ceiling until it finally fell stunned to the floor.  The second one readied itself for its first flight, rocking in the nest before finally launching its body into the air.  Like the first, it flapped wildly about, crashing into the ceiling and walls, and then landing on the floor.  It waited for a bit, then took off again, this time successfully navigating its way through the arches and out into the garden. Read More

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant – Br. David Vryhof

Matthew 18:21-35

Poet and author Elizabeth Barrett Browning is probably best known for the words she wrote in a letter to her future husband: “How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.”  Her father, Edward, was a controlling man who forbid any of his twelve children to marry, and when Elizabeth defied her father’s wishes to marry Robert Browning, her father never spoke to her again.

Elizabeth wrote weekly letters to her father in the hope that they might be reconciled, but for ten years there was no response.  Then one day, after a decade of silence, a box arrived in the mail from her father.  Her excitement quickly turned to anguish, however, when she opened it and found that it contained all of her letters – unopened.  Edward Barrett’s heart was so hardened towards his daughter that he didn’t open a single one of the hundreds of letters she wrote to him.

Unforgiveness does that.  It hardens the heart.  It magnifies the perceived offense to the point where we can no longer appreciate a person’s value because all we see is how they have grieved us.  If forgiveness is one of the most powerful forces for redemption in the Christian faith, unforgiveness is one of the most powerful forces for destruction.  In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus gives us a parable that speaks to us about forgiveness and unforgiveness.[i] Read More

God Loves Humans – Br. David Vryhof

Isaiah 58:1-12;
Matthew 6:1-6,16-21  

All of us have secrets: secret thoughts, secret feelings, secret fears, hopes and desires.  All of us know more about ourselves than we care to share with others.  We allow others to think we have pure hearts, but we know that we harbor impure thoughts.  We hope others will notice how unselfish we are, yet we know that selfishness still resides in us.  We want people to see us as strong and courageous, but we know that often we are weak and afraid.

We live with secrets, all of us.  We’re sometimes shocked when we learn something about a person that we never would have guessed, something that had been hidden from us.  But the truth is that we will never fully know even the closest of our friends and companions.  We are mysteries to each other, like icebergs of which we can see only the tip.  And we are mysteries to ourselves.  We will never fully understand why we think and act in the ways we do.  Only God knows the secrets of our hearts.

Jesus often exposed the secrets of others.  He perceived the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  He discerned the true motives of the crowds that followed him.  He saw into the hearts of his disciples.  He knows our secrets.  He knows that what we do on the outside does not always match up with what is going on within us.  We may appear to be seeking God and trying to do what is right, and yet inwardly we are preoccupied with the impression we are making on other people.  We may give the appearance of serving God, but it may not actually be God’s approval that we are seeking, or God’s purposes that we are trying to advance. Read More

A Prophet Like Moses – Br. David Vryhof

Deuteronomy 18:15-20 

Do you remember what it feels like to be at the threshold of something new in your life?

Imagine you are a student preparing to go off to college.  It’s new and exciting and full of possibilities – (what courses shall I take?  will I meet someone and fall in love?  will I make lifelong friends?  how will these years shape my future?)  You’re excited, but it’s also a bit daunting because you can’t fully imagine the challenges ahead (will I get along with my roommate?  will I experience heartbreak or disappointments?  will I fail?)

Or imagine a young couple awaiting the birth of their first child.  They’re thrilled, of course, but they’re also wondering, “What will it be like to be responsible for this tiny human being?  Will we be good parents?”  They anticipate the joys and possibilities of parenthood, but they also know it won’t be easy, and there is at least a possibility that it won’t as go well as they hope it will. Read More

Breaking the Power of Evil – Br. David Vryhof

Mark 5:1-20

I reckon that most people, reading this story for the first time, would find it quite strange.  It certainly is unusual, and describes a scene most of us would never have imagined.  We would likely attribute the man’s condition to severe mental illness or trauma, rather than suspecting demons at work.  Casting out demons – and sending them into a herd of swine – would be a very odd cure in our minds, and probably not one that we could imagine or recommend.  The story is odd, but let’s take a closer look at it to see what insights it might provide.

The gospel writers recorded the miracles of Jesus as evidence of his divine nature, and this story certainly reveals his amazing power.  But one thing that sets it apart from other miracle stories is that it takes place in the country of the Gerasenes, and it involves people who were not Jews, as Jesus was.  It is remarkable that Jesus would deliberately cross over the Sea of Galilee to reach this place and bring himself in contact with a person who was ritually impure, to say nothing of being possessed by evil spirits.  But Jesus, as we know, had a habit of setting aside the religious laws and practices of his day in order to show compassion – which is what he does here. Read More

The Salvation of our God – Br. David Vryhof

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

We are just two days past the Feast of Christmas on which we celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ into the world as a tiny babe in Bethlehem.  The familiar stories bring comfort and hope: the young girl and her husband searching for a safe place for the birth to take place, the shepherds in their fields surprised by choirs of angels in the heavens; the wise men guided by a mysterious star.  Each story bears a promise, a promise from God.

To Mary God’s messenger proclaimed a son, to be named Jesus, which means “savior.”  He would be great, the Son of the Most High, and would receive from God the throne of his ancestor David.  He would reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there would be no end. (Luke 1:31-33)

To the shepherds the angel announced “good news of great joy for all the people,” namely that the child born this day in the city of David would be “a Savior… the Messiah, the Lord.”  “Glory to God in the highest heaven,” the choir of angels sang, “and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” (Luke 2:8-14) Read More

Where are we now? – Br. David Vryhof

Isaiah 43:1-7; Ephesians 4:1-6, 25-5:2

So where are we now?

We have come, at last, to the end of one of the most bitterly contested national elections this country has ever seen.  For many of us, finally naming a winner doesn’t bring the resolution we hoped it would; it feels like we’re all on the losing side in this contest.  We are like two battered and weary fighters standing in the middle of the ring, faces bruised and bleeding, bent over with exhaustion, waiting for the referee to raise the arm of one of us.  Our country is as divided as ever.  Our political leaders are locked in seemingly irresolveable conflict that limits their effectiveness at home and diminishes our influence abroad.  We are facing the largest public health crisis the world has ever known, with the numbers of new cases soaring to unprecedented heights in half of our states.  We’re tired – of this pandemic, its restrictions, and all the pain and loss it has brought.  We’re weary – of this toxic political deadlock, of the vilifying that characterizes election campaigns, of the threat of violence and lawsuits, of the seeming intractability of systemic racism, and of so much more.

What message of hope can the Church possibly offer?

Our answer begins with a reminder of who we are.  We are human beings, created in the image of God, knowing ourselves to be loved by God in all our diversity.  We are people who belong to God, who have been invited to live in a relationship with love with our Creator, who have been forgiven and redeemed by Christ, and who can reflect God’s glory in the world.  The prophet tells us that God has called us by name, and we are precious and honored in God’s sight: every one of us.  There is not a single human being that God does not love. Read More