Matthew 13: 18 – 23
I tried this once, and it’s not as easy as it sounds.
Whether or not we come from farming, or gardening backgrounds, we all read the parable of the sower with certain, modern assumptions about farming techniques. We assume modern, or at least rudimentary equipment that can plough, and till the soil, preparing it for seeding, which is then done carefully, accurately, and evenly. But it’s not as easy as that.
As I discovered in the kitchen garden, soil can be different in one part of the garden, than it is in another. In just a few feet, you can go from sandy, well-drained soil, to another that is full of clay, and so the rain runs off without penetrating the surface. No matter how well you prepare the soil, it takes great skill for a farmer, or gardener, to develop optimum soil conditions over time. And that is even before you sow the seed.
You may recall that one of my favourite Collects is the one for the Second Sunday after Christmas: O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity….
I return frequently to this prayer, both as a prayer to pray, but also as something to ponder. I find the image of wonderfully creating and more wonderfully restoring our human nature to be a place of rich contemplation, just as my imagination is captured by the image of sharing the divine life. It is this latter phrase that arrests my attention this morning.
We know from Scripture that God is a God of many characteristics. Among the things we can say about God, is that God is a God of revelation. God makes himself known. God is also a God who creates, who teaches, heals, forgives, and restores. Each of these is a revelation of God, and so when we participate in them, with the eyes and hearts of faith we can discover something more about God, especially as God has been revealed to us in the person of Jesus, and in that way share in God’s divine nature, and participate in the very life of God.
But there is another act of Divine self-revelation that we don’t speak of very often. Just as we can discover something about God in acts of creation and creativity, so too can we share in the divine life through acts of rest. God is a God who creates, and God is a God who rests.
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 10, Year A
Isaiah 55: 10 – 13
Psalm 65: 9 – 14
Romans 8: 1 – 11
Matthew 13: 1 – 9, 18 – 23
My father was never much for television. Except for the nightly news, and the occasional serial drama like Upstairs, Downstairs, I don’t remember him watching TV in the evening. He and Mum would sit in their chairs reading, either a book or the newspaper, while we kids watched whatever it was we watched, splayed out on the living room floor.
What I do remember is how quickly he would get up and turn the TV off, the instant something came on that he did not think suitable for children. This was especially true if something about the Second World War came on. In a flash he would be up, out of his chair, and across the living room, to turn the TV off and say, by way of explanation, too tough for kids. I never knew what he was talking about, until as a teenager, I began to learn about the Holocaust.
Amos 8: 4 – 6, 9 – 12; Psalm 119: 1 – 8; Matthew 9: 9 – 13
There is a saying that I am fond of quoting. You have no doubt heard me, as I use it in any number of different contexts. It goes, if you pull a string, you’ll find that the universe is attached. To be fair, it is a misquote of something the naturalist and conservationist John Muir said: when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.
I feel this way a lot of the time. I especially feel it when I read Scripture, and today is no different.
On the surface we have the story of the calling of Matthew to be a disciple of Jesus. In many ways, it’s quite simple. Jesus calls. Matthew follows. End of story. But nothing in Scripture is that simple. This story is not just about the call of Matthew to be a follower of Jesus. It is a story about how God’s reign of mercy, justice, and peace breaks in upon us in unexpected ways.
Matthew, as we know, was not a good boy. He may have been a good ole boy, but he was certainly not a good boy. He was a collaborator with the oppressive imperial Roman occupation. He was on the side of the bad guys and represented everything that was wrong and evil during the dark days of the Roman occupation of Palestine. Yet it was to this man that Jesus said, follow me, and, amazingly, he got up and followed him. Luke tells us that Matthew got up, left everything, and followed [Jesus].
We are reminded in our Rule of Life that [the] first challenge of community life is to accept whole-heartedly the authority of Christ to call whom he will. Clearly that was a lesson needed by those who asked why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners? My hunch is, that’s a question even some of Jesus’ other followers were asking. Why on earth him, Lord? I’ll bet looking around at the other Brothers, it’s a question you ask yourself, every so often. I know I do.
I am not sure when the Feast of the Sacred Heart entered the liturgical life of our community, but it is an image found in Father Benson from the earliest days. Speaking to the All Saints Sisters of the Poor in 1869, three years after the birth of our community, he says:
Love was the guiding principle of [Jesus’] life, and entered into every relationship of his earthly life. Think of the love of Jesus for those who came to him in penitence. Think of the loving grief of that Sacred Heart for all the sin and sorrow and misery that lay around him, – that poor, sin-laden, suffering humanity, which love brought him down to earth to save. And then the love reaching even beyond the grave for the souls gone into the very region of the kingdom of Satan.
On another occasion he tells his listeners,
The love of Jesus is a light within our hearts, quickening the faculties of all our life. However near God might call [us] to himself, it would avail nothing for [our] redemption, it would but show [us our] own sinfulness, and reveal more clearly the meaning of [our] own nature. We must have more than nearness to God, we must have union with [God] – and this can only be in Jesus.
Father Benson is reputed to have said that no religious community should survive past the first generation. I think that what he meant by that is that no religious community will survive if it simply addresses the needs of a bygone era. We aren’t in the business of addressing the needs of the Church from a century ago, or a decade ago, or even a year or a week ago. Each community needs to found itself anew for the present age.
In many ways we have done that in this community. In each generation our community has re-formed, if not re-founded itself, to meet the needs of the contemporary Church. When the Church needed solid catholic priests for parishes, SSJE provided that. When the Church needed missionaries in underserved areas, and places far removed from the center of things, we provided that. When people needed food, or clothing, or education, or medical care, we provided that. When the Church needed people to help form those in leadership, whether lay or ordained, we provided that. When the Church needed competent spiritual directors and retreat leaders, we provided that.
Like our predecessors in the Society our call today is to drink deeply from our own history and tradition, but not to be antiquarians. We are called today to look at ourselves through the lens of our histories, and to discover what it is from the past that may be of service in the present. To recover, or uncover, or discover those elements of our histories – Benedictine, Dominican, Ignatian, Vincentian – that speak to the needs of the contemporary Church. We are called to found a new Society of Saint John the Evangelist for this age.
To do so, we need to know our histories; to drink deeply enough that we are refreshed, but not so deeply as to become bloated and unable to move. We need to be prepared to look critically at our histories and see what can be carried into the future, and what also needs to be respectfully laid aside.
The work of the historian is to study the past from a variety of angles and to discover the various histories in their fullness and complexity. Unlike the antiquarian, the work of the historian does not end there. The historian needs to interpret those histories in light of the present moment so that the lessons of the past are relevant to the present and the future.
That, I believe, is what Father Benson did in the early days when our community was founded. He looked to the past to see what it might hold for the present and the future. This remains our task today: to look at our past and to discover what it might say to the present and the future. In that way, a new Society of Saint John the Evangelist will be founded, one that will address, not the needs of the Victorian Church, but the needs of the church as it exists today, and perhaps tomorrow.
The ancient tradition of the Church reminds us that when it is impossible to be present at a celebration of the Eucharist, and to receive Holy Communion, the desire to be united to Christ in the Sacrament is enough for God to grant all the spiritual benefits of Communion. What follows is a way for individuals, or small groups to open themselves up to the graces of Holy Communion and the blessing of God.
Blessed be the God of our salvation
Who bears our burdens and forgives our sins.
Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved you with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I am truly sorry and I humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and forgive me; that I may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name.
May Almighty God have mercy on me, forgive me all my sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen me in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep me in eternal life. Amen.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
The Collect of the Day is then said, followed by the Readings appointed for the Sunday, or the day of the week. You may wish to read one of the Brothers’ sermons online (www.SSJE.org/goodnews).
The Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed may be recited.
A time of intercession is kept. In your own words pray for your own needs, for those on your heart, the peace of the world, the welfare of the Church, the living and the departed, and especially any who are sick.
One of the forms of the Prayers of the People from the Book of Common Prayer may be used.
Then is said:
In union, Blessed Jesus, with the faithful gathered at every altar of your Church where your Blessed Body and Blood are offered this day, and remembering particularly my own church community, and the Brothers of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, I long to offer you praise and thanksgiving, for creation and all the blessings of this life, for the redemption won for us by your life, death, and resurrection, for the means of grace and the hope of glory.
And particularly for the blessings given me ….
I believe that you are truly present in the Holy Sacrament, and since I cannot at this time receive communion, I pray you to come into my heart. I unite myself with you and embrace you with all my heart, my soul, and my mind. Let nothing separate me from you; let me serve you in this life until, by your grace, I come to your glorious kingdom and unending peace. Amen.
Our Father ….
Come Lord Jesus, and dwell in my heart in the fullness of your strength; be my wisdom and guide me in right pathways; conform my life and actions to the image of your holiness; and in the power of your gracious might, rule over every hostile power that threatens or disturbs the growth of your kingdom, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
The Anima Christi may be added:
Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me;
Blood of Christ, inebriate me;
Water from the side of Christ, wash me;
Passion of Christ, strengthen me;
O good Jesu, hear me;
Within thy wounds hide me;
Suffer me not to be separated from thee;
From the malicious enemy defend me;
In the hour of death call me,
And bid me come to thee.
That with thy Saints I may praise thee
For ever and ever. Amen.
And may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep my heart and mind in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ my Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be with me now and always. Amen.
This form of service has been adapted by James Koester SSJE from the Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book, revised editions 1967 and 2014, published by the Order of the Holy Cross, West Park, New York and Forward Movement; David Cobb and Derek Olsen, editors, and with additional material from the Book of Common Prayer, 1979.
My dear friends,
We Brothers have been deeply saddened watching the news these past weeks and months.
First there was the news of the Covid-19 pandemic, shocking us all by the sheer number of lives lost, and upended. As it became clear that the pandemic was affecting communities of color in disproportionate numbers, our shock turned to grief at the sin of racism these numbers revealed.
With the death of George Floyd at the hands of police, our grief turned to despair, and a profound sense of hopelessness as we watched crowds being dispersed by tear gas and rubber bullets. This sense of hopelessness was made all the greater, as it came within hours of having renewed our Baptismal Covenant on the Feast of Pentecost. There we affirmed the kind of life we want to live that resists evil; seeks and serves all people, loving our neighbor as ourselves; and strives for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being. What we have seen in the news, is not reflected in the words we had said a short time before.
For many, including us, this season has been a time of sadness, shock, grief, despair, and hopelessness. Words seem empty, and hope feels lost. Yet the promise of the Resurrection of Jesus, and the gift of Easter is that hope lives, even when all seems hopeless; and the grace of baptism gives us the means, not only to dream of, but to work for a better and more just world.
The task before us is enormous. Justice and liberty for all will not happen overnight. But each one of us can do one thing that will make a difference in our world. In the days to come, you might want to consider what you can do in 8 minutes and 46 seconds that will bring hope and healing to our broken world.
At a time when words seem empty, and hope feels lost, may the grace of baptism and the gift of Easter, fill us with the courage and will to make them real, and in so doing making the world a more just place.
Know that we Brothers pray for you, for this nation, and for our world.
Your brother in Christ,
James Koester SSJE
My dear friends:
Sitting at Emery House, gazing across the meadow, past the hermitages, and on down to the Artichoke and Merrimack rivers, I am struck by nature’s resiliency. Just a few short weeks ago, this was a very different landscape: the sky was grey, the meadows and fields were brown and dead, the trees were seemingly lifeless, and just looking at the water made me feel cold. Then, everything looked barren. Today, things are different: the meadow is lush and green with new growth, the lilacs are in bloom, the trees resplendent in full leaf, the sky is a pale blue, and the rivers are shimmering. Already I have seen a variety of birdlife that I have not seen here in months.
Over the last two months we have seen other examples of nature’s resilience. As all but essential workers have been sheltering in place, and our ability to travel any distance has been limited to long walks and running necessary errands, air quality in some of the major cities of the world has improved dramatically, because fewer cars are on the road. This has meant that we have seen varieties of birdlife that we don’t normally see around the monastery in Cambridge.
It is my belief that human beings are equally resilient. While Covid-19 has struck deeply and widely across this country, and around the world, upending the lives of every single person, we have an opportunity like never before in our lifetimes. The pain, grief, distress, and trauma of this pandemic are real. But so too is the promise of nature and the hope of Easter.
For the last months, all of us have been going through a painful time of unmaking, as lives, and jobs, and livelihoods have been lost. The disorientation of this season has been profound. The reality is that life as we knew it will never return, and there is much in that for which we will need to grieve. But the promise of nature and the hope of Easter is that in the midst of all this loss, God is making all things new.
As painful as the unmaking has been, the remaking will be equally challenging. But as I gaze across the meadow as it is today, it is the remaking that gives me hope.
As we slowly come to the other side of this pandemic, all of us have an opportunity to begin to remake our lives, and the life of the world in new ways. It is true we have lost much, but so too have we learned a great deal: the importance of friends, the value of community, the wisdom of stillness, silence, and time. As we co-operate with God in the remaking of our lives and our world, these are the things we will not want to lose again. There will be others as well that are especially crucial for you.
As you ponder how you want to remake your life and the world, as we emerge from this time of unmaking and remaking, you may want to reflect on some of the resources available on our website. The chapters in our Rule of Life on community, poverty, silence, rhythm, hospitality and friendship may be especially helpful. Some of the pieces found in the Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Living section, such as the ones on kindness, gratitude, enclosureor simplicity might also be worth considering. You may also want to spend some time with us each day as we pray Evening Prayer. A live-stream video of Evening Prayer is now available Tuesday through Sunday on our Facebook page: facebook.com/FriendsOfSSJE/
In closing, I want to express our gratitude for the gift of your friendship and prayers for us during this time. Your appreciation of our ministry during this time of unmaking has been enormously encouraging. We count on your prayers, as we Brothers co-operate with God during this time of remaking.
Just as we know that you pray for us, please know that we pray for each of you.
Yours faithfully in the One who is, even now, making all things new.
James Koester SSJE
It is remarkable how much a saint for our times is the Lady Julian. Living in the latter half of the fourteenth, and the beginning of the fifteenth centuries, on first glance one would think there was nothing about her life that would resonate with ours. However, like us, she lived at a time of much worry, anxiety, and turmoil. Twenty years before her birth in 1353, the Great Famine swept Northern Europe leaving up to 25 percent of the population dead. Shortly after her birth, the Black Death struck, leaving up to half the population of the city of Norwich itself dead, and killing an estimated 200 million people in total. It would take centuries for the population of Europe return to previous pre-Black Death numbers. Both these events lead to the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, when the city of Norwich was overwhelmed by rebel forces. At this same time early agitation for the reform of the Church, known as Lollardy, initially begun by John Wycliffe, was beginning to take root
It was in that world, not so unlike our own, that the Lady Julian lived and received her showings or revelations during a time when she herself was gravely ill, and expected to die. After receiving the Last Rites on 8 May 1373, she lost her sight, and began to feel physically numb. It was in this state that as she gazed upon a crucifix above her bed, she saw the figure of Jesus beginning to bleed, and received her revelations. Over the next several hours she received sixteen revelations. Following her recovery five days later, she recorded them, first in a short version, now lost, except for a copy, and then many years later in a longer version.