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Posts by Br. James Koester

The Providence, Provision, and Protection of God – Br. James Koester

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Br. James Koester

Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10
Psalm 71: 1 – 6 1
Corinthians 13: 1 -1 3
Luke 4: 21 – 30

It all started out so well, Jesus, in the synagogue, in his hometown. No doubt, the benches were full that Sabbath morning, as would have been usual. Maybe people knew that Jesus, and some of his pals, had come home for a visit. They had perhaps heard that Jesus had seen, as perhaps they had, that crazed and crazy John the Baptist down the Jordan valley[1]. They might even have known that Jesus was just back from spending six weeks, alone, in the desert[2]. They might have heard that Jesus had taken up as a wandering teacher and preacher, and was developing quite a reputation[3]. They knew that something was going on out there, in the world beyond their little village on the top of a hill. But they may not have connected this kid, now the grown man sitting among them, with anything more than a wayward come home. As I said, it all started so well, and in fact, except for some mild curiosity, so routine.

But slowly things began to take a turn. It wasn’t that Jesus was asked to read the lesson from the prophets that day.[4]We do that, and no one gets excited! No, nothing unusual was happening. There was nothing to be excited about.

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And the Twelve Told Him All – Br. James Koester

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Br. James Koester1 John 4:7 – 12
Psalm 72: 1 – 8
Mark 6: 30 – 44

Those of you who have heard me preach before know that when reading Scripture, my attention is often caught, not by the soaring passages, or the amazing miracles, but the details that often creep in around the edge. Yes, the majesty of the Prologue of John, or the poignancy of the Foot Washing at the Last Supper, or the beauty of the Psalms are not to be missed. However, there is more to Scripture than majesty, poignancy and beauty. There is also the ordinary routine of daily living. It is there, in the ordinary routine of daily living, that God can be found as well. And that is why I am drawn, not to the miracle of the loaves and the fish, but to what comes before.

Chapter Six in the Gospel according to Mark is one of those breathless sections of Mark. A lot happens, and I mean a lot. It begins with Jesus’ rejection by his hometown and carries on to the sending out of the Twelve on their mission, the dance of Herodias and the death of John the Baptist, the return of the Twelve from their mission, the Feeding of the Five Thousand, the calming of the sea, and there arrival at Gennesaret. As I mentioned, in 56 breathless verses, Mark crams in an awful lot of action, so much so, that if it were read all at once, our heads would be spinning!

As you may know, this kind of concentrated action is typical of Mark’s Gospel. It reminds me of an excited child coming home from a great adventure trying to condense a whole day’s activity into a few sentences: and then we did this! Then we did that! Then this other thing happened! Then, guess what happened???!!! Read More

Why Does This Story Never Wear Out? – Br. James Koester

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Br. James KoesterGrowing up, I shared a bedroom with my older brothers, Charlie and Chris. This wasn’t a problem, except when it was. On one occasion, they and their friends decided to play parachute, jumping from the top bunk, where Chris slept, down onto my bed. By the time my mother got home and discovered what we had been up to, my bed was a wreck, and my mother was furious. Needless to say, a new mattress and bedspring had to be purchased in order to make my bed usable again.

More problematic, at least for me, was the closet. As the youngest of the three boys, I went to bed earlier than Charlie and Chris. By the time they came to bed an hour or so later then I, it was usually much darker, and the darkest place of all was the closet directly opposite the foot of my bed. Now, I wasn’t afraid of the dark … well, not much at least. What I was certainly afraid of was the darkness of the closet. It seemed like a great gaping black hole, and I was terrified of it. I thought that I could get lost in that darkness forever. I would only be able to fall asleep again if the closet door was closed. And that was the problem. Either on purpose or accidentally Charlie and Chris would frequently leave the door open and I would have to timidly ask them to close it. By then they too were in bed with the lights out, and they would sometimes refuse to get up and do my bidding, so in fear and trepidation I would either whimper until they did so, or steel up my courage and do it myself, scurrying back to bed as quickly as I could, once the dreaded task was completed.

That was a long time ago, and by now, most of us are too old, or too sophisticated to be afraid of the dark. We no longer need big brothers to protect us from whatever is lurking in the back of the dark closet. We no longer dread falling asleep with the closet door open, with that great gaping darkness threatening to swallow us whole. We’re no longer afraid of the dark … well, not much at least. Read More

What is truth? – Br. James Koester

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Br. James KoesterDaniel 7: 9 – 10, 13 – 14
Psalm 93
Revelation 1: 4b – 8
John 18: 33 – 37

Several years ago, while I was still a parish priest, some parishioners came to me with a question. Robin and Anne were actually Baptists, but since we were the only church on the island where they lived, they attended the Church of the Good Shepherd. Some of the things that we as Anglicans took as a matter of course, were of concern to them, or else simply puzzled them. On this particular occasion, they had questions about the use of the lectionary.

Since the lectionary was, they felt, simply a human construct, what would happen if I believed God desired me to proclaim a certain message that in no way related to the appointed texts on that particular day. Would I, they wondered, be free to choose other readings? I don’t remember my answer. I think it was pretty wishy-washy. What I do remember, after nearly forty years, is the question. It still haunts me.

Were Robin and Anne to appear today and ask me the same question, I would have a very different answer. The real question is not, what if God wants me to address something outside the scope of the readings on any particular day. The real question is what to do if the lectionary forces you to look at something you would rather not! Read More

Letter from the Superior

Dear Members of the Fellowship of Saint John and other Friends,

This spring, as we once again read our way through the book of Exodus at Morning Prayer, I couldn’t help but reflect on how the story of God’s people in Exodus has been imprinted, not only in our hearts and minds, but also on the soles of our feet. Like the ancient people of Israel, we are a people on the move. We may not cover much distance in our lives, at least physically, but as God’s pilgrim people, we are always on the move, slowly but surely making our way through the wilderness of this life, to the land of promise in the next. This pilgrim journey of ours is marked not so much by miles traveled, but by hearts melted. As Ezekiel reminds us: A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 

If this journey from stony hearts to hearts of flesh is the story of God’s people throughout time, then it is our community’s story, not simply as God’s people, the Church; nor just as individuals, as Christians; but as a monastic community as well. We Brothers often speak, as Father Benson did, of being men of the moment, but I would also say that we are men of movement. Like all of God’s people, we too are called to be pilgrims. 

Last summer, we Brothers were able to embark together on an incredible pilgrimage to England, celebrating the one-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of our founding, by getting in touch with the deep roots of our tradition and visiting sites sacred to our community. We stood in the place of the Society’s founding, prayed in Father Benson’s parish church, and took a week’s retreat on Iona, where members of our Society once ministered. We laughed, we cried, and we were transformed by our experiences. As so many pilgrims do, we returned home with hearts aflame.

You can see some glimpses of our journey throughout this issue of Cowley, which takes up the theme of pilgrimage. In the Monastic Wisdom reflection, Br. Geoffrey explores the inner dimensions of spiritual pilgrimage. In his article, “Like a Beaten Bell,” Br. Keith reflects on experiences of thin places. You can also read about the recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, through reflections by a former SSJE intern, Amy Nizolek, and Br. David Vryhof. These stories of diverse experiences in diverse lands testify to how, in amazing ways, any pilgrimage takes us out of our everyday life only to return us to it more energized and ready to follow God’s call. Our community’s time overseas galvanized our passion for this life of ours, here in Cambridge and West Newbury. For more on that, check out Br. Jim’s interview about our new vocations website “Catch the Life” (p. 16-19). We hope that these stories of pilgrimage will strengthen and inspire you, wherever you find yourself along your path. 

It’s easy to read Exodus as an account of something which happened long ago, to a people far away. It’s easy to think of Saints Columba and Aiden and Cuthbert, whom we encountered in Britain, as dusty relics of a bygone time. But these are living stories. Their power comes when we allow them to be a lens through which we can examine our life as God’s pilgrim people today. To read Exodus simply as history is, perhaps, interesting. To read it as a pilgrim journey of risk and renewal – in which God’s people discover for themselves the meaning of their life with God – invites us to discover for ourselves the story of our own pilgrim journey, as we journey ever deeper into life in union with God.

BrJames

Thank you for being our companions on this journey.

Br. James Koester SSJE
Superior

The Promise of Divine Fulfillment – Br. James Koester

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Br. James KoesterToday at both Morning Prayer and the Eucharist we are confronted with a scandal. In both places the original audiences would have been shocked by what Jesus was saying. They may have been listening as Jesus spoke, thinking yes, yes, I quite see that. Suddenly, they would have been startled by what they heard. Perhaps they turned to their neighbour with a quizzical look. Maybe they asked someone near them to repeat what they thought they had just heard. Perhaps they tried to clean out their ears, thinking they had misheard the Teacher. But if we read the gospels carefully, what we heard this morning is not new. Jesus repeats it over, and over. Indeed, Jesus lives it. We could even say that Jesus dies it.

Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.[1]

‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured…’[2]

The world isn’t supposed to operate this way! Masters are not supposed to serve slaves; guests are meant to be honoured, not sent down to a lower place. Read More

 Name It and Claim It – Br. James Koester

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Br. James KoesterFeast of All the Faithful Departed: All Souls’ Day

There is an old evangelical saying that comes to mind each year at this time: name it, and claim it. The idea is that you name some virtue, or aspect of God, claim it as yours, and live it as a reality. The idea is to name something, like God’s love for you, to claim it as yours, and then to live, not as if it were true, but live in the reality of its truth. Without using this name it and claim it phraseology, Father Benson uses the sentiment when he reminds us that we are to live … as those who have been with Jesus.[1] He doesn’t tell us to live as if we have been with Jesus, but to live in the present reality of that relationship.

For me, All Souls’ Day is one of those occasions when we are invited to name and claim something, not for ourselves this time, but for others. It’s a bold move, because we are naming and claiming nothing less than the healing, redeeming, and sanctifying love of God, not for ourselves, but for those we love, but see no longer.[2] We do this, not as if what we say in the Creeds is true, but living in the truth of the Creeds, where we proclaim I believe … in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.[3]

What we are doing today is claiming those very things: the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. We claim them, not for nameless entities, not in a general, universal way, but for specific people who we love. Note, we name and claim these things, not for people whom we loved once upon a time, but for people who we still love, but see no longer. Read More

Heralds of Good News – Br. James Koester

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Br. James KoesterGalatians 1: 13 – 24
Psalm 139: 1 – 14
Luke 10: 38 – 42

If truth be told, I don’t much like this passage from the Gospel of Luke about Martha and Mary. It makes me uncomfortable. I hear it as the great Martha put down, with Jesus saying, in effect, “Martha, I like your sister Mary better!”And that makes me uncomfortable. It seems to me to be saying that Jesus prefers some people to others, And that makes me uncomfortable. It seems to me to be saying that Jesus prefers some activities, or rather no activity, to others, or rather any activity. And that makes me uncomfortable. It seems to me to be saying that Jesus prefers contemplation to action. And that makes me uncomfortable. It seems to me to be saying that you can only be in relationship with Jesus when you are sitting at his feet, rather than making him dinner. And that makes me uncomfortable. It seems to me to be saying that when I get busy, doing any number of things, Jesus likes me less, than when I am quiet, and still. And that makes me really, really uncomfortable, because probably like you, I have a zillion things on my to do list, and even when I am supposed to be, I can’t always be quiet and still.

But is that what is really going on here? Is Jesus really making these invidious distinctions between Martha and Mary? Between busyness and stillness? Between housework and hospitality? Between action and contemplation? That’s what we’ve been told over the years, but is it really the case? Read More

Whose Property is Always to Have Mercy – Br. James Koester

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Br. James KoesterIsaiah 35: 4 – 7a; Psalm 146; James 2: 1 – 10 (11 – 13) 14 – 17; Mark 7: 24 – 37

I love this story of the healing of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter from the Gospel of Mark! I love it in part, because I get to say the word Syrophoenician! Just throw that into the conversation next time you are at a dinner party and see how impressed people are with your erudition! I love it because of the breathlessness with which Mark tells the story. You can almost hear the urgency in Mark’s voice, as in just six verses he tells us an awful lot, that is profoundly significant. I love it, because it harkens back to the church of my youth, and it calls to mind growing up at St. Mary’s, Regina. It is from this passage, among other sources, that Cranmer created, what some of you will remember, as the Prayer of Humble Access, or the Zoom Prayer, as a friend of mine calls it:

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, Trusting in our own righteousness, But in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy So much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the Flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his Blood, That our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, And he in us. Amen.[1]

But mostly I love this story because it shouldn’t have happened! There is a hint of the forbidden. We see Jesus acting out of the box. He shouldn’t be where we find him today, doing what he shouldn’t be doing. And that’s just the point. Read More

A Day of Small Beginnings – Br. James Koester

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Br. James KoesterFeast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Isaiah 40: 1-11
Psalm 85: 7-13
Acts 13: 14b-26
Luke 1: 57-80

It doesn’t take much: a young girl, barely a teenager, lowering her bucket into the village well, listening for the splash when it hits the water[1]; an old man, hands shaking with age, alone in the sanctuary of the Lord, spooning incense onto the red hot charcoal of the altar brazier[2]. It doesn’t take much, and suddenly there is a moment, a movement, a presence, a strange voice, a greeting: ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you’[3]; a command and a promise: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’[4]

It doesn’t take much, a young girl, barely a teenager, going about her daily chores; an old man, whose hands tremble with age, performing a duty he had done, perhaps countless times before, yet something is profoundly different. Read More