A Clear Witness – Br. Lain Wilson

Luke 12:1-12

We remember today the southern African missionary and martyr Bernard Mizeki. Born in modern-day Mozambique, he came to the Christian faith while a young man in South Africa, where he was baptized in 1866 by Father Puller of our Society. In 1891, he traveled to Mashonaland, in the northeast of modern-day Zimbabwe, to serve as a missionary to the Shona people.

In the year of his death, 1896, rebellion against the British South African Company spread to the Shona people, and Mizeki resisted orders to escape to safety. Resentment and violence served as a backdrop to Mizeki’s own death that June at the hands of one of his adopted kinsmen, the tension between traditional religion and Mizeki’s work spreading the Gospel message coming to a tragic head.

Martyrs capture our imaginations. We may read about the great martyrs of the early church who endured shocking, inhuman treatment, and we can wonder at their strength of conviction, at their fearless resolve, at their seeming superhuman capacity. They were very close, in time and culture, to Jesus and his words from our Gospel lesson: “do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more” (Lk 12:4). As we read about these martyrs, it is easy for us to wonder at and admire them . . . and at the same time to handle them with a critical distance: then and now, them and us. Read More

Know Limits

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Heat radiated off the pavement as I cycled past tree-dotted lawns. The temperature had already reached ninety degrees, and it was still climbing. My breathing was labored, tunnel vision had set in, and my thoughts were focused on just getting around one more bend in the road. One hundred more feet. One more rotation of the pedals.

This was just outside of Belmont, in northeast Mississippi, during a heat wave in August 2021. I was three days into a bike trip south on the Natchez Trace Parkway when I hit my limit.

I mean this in a very literal way. I could not make myself move forward. You may not have had a physical experience like this, but I imagine that you will have experienced something similar in another part of your life. Commitments piling up with not enough hours in the day to address them, no matter how hard you work. The red numbers staring at you on your budget sheet, with no possible way to close the financial gap. Demands on your time and attention from family or friends that you emotionally cannot meet. Your story is your own, but I would bet that something like this is, or has been, a part of it. Read More

Journey

We are beginning the long, green season after Pentecost, preparing to walk with Jesus as he travels the road of his earthly ministry. We’ll be walking with him day after day, week after week, for the next six months. What do you cling to that may weigh you down on this journey? How might you be open to unexpected grace?

Br. Lain Wilson, SSJE
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Real Talk – Br. Lain Wilson

John 21:15-19

“How’re you doing?”

How do you usually answer this question? “I’m fine,” perhaps, or “I’m okay.” In our daily interactions we get asked seemingly polite questions like this over and over, and we are conditioned to respond politely.

They don’t want to know your whole life story.

Unless they do. But we can’t know their intention—unless they persist, unless they make known their intention.

“How’re you doing?” “No, really, how’re you doing?”

How do you feel knowing that someone else truly cares to know something true about you?

“Peter felt hurt because [Jesus] said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’” (Jn 21:17).

The passage is clear here that Jesus’s repeated asking is the cause of Peter’s hurt. But I think there’s something else going on beneath the surface. It’s not just that Peter is hurt because he is being doubted, but rather that there may be some basis for this doubt.

I think Peter’s hurt at the questioning reveals something true about him: that he has been hurting, that he has been grieving, grieving this whole time—grieving his failure, his cowardice in denying Jesus. Perhaps, that he has been questioning his own love of Jesus—or, rather, his own worthiness for that love. Read More

Struck Silent by Love – Br. Lain Wilson

Isaiah 44:1-8
Psalm 92:1-2, 11-14
John 20:1-9

The summer after I graduated from college, I received a phone call. The caller introduced himself as Agent So-and-so, of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

I was struck silent for a moment or two. Not least because I was having a mild panic attack: “What did you do, Lain?!”

After I recovered, I learned that a college friend had listed me as a reference on his application to the FBI. I don’t recall what I said during the phone call, but I do remember two emotions. Profound gratitude—for being thought worthy of this, for being trusted. And a profound sense of responsibility—my testimony, in however a small way, had power.

Testify, witness, confess—these words recur throughout our readings this morning, as does the underlying sense of revealing some truth about God. “You are my witnesses!” God tells God’s people through the prophet Isaiah, after the promise to restore God’s blessings: I will pour my spirit upon your descendants” (Is 44:8, 3). “It is a good thing to give thanks to the LORD,” the psalmist sings, “to sing praises to your Name . . . to tell of your loving-kindness” (Ps 92:1-2). And two millennia later, these words by Robert Herrick, whose poem we sang before the service: “All these, and better Thou dost send Me, to this end, That I should render, for my part, A thankfull heart.” Read More

Listen

God is always speaking to us: in word and image, relationship and experience, memory and imagination. God is always speaking to us, and it’s up to us to learn how to listen. Amid all that troubles your heart, what makes you believe that peace is possible? How is God speaking this word of assurance into your heart?

Br. Lain Wilson, SSJE
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He Calls Us Each by Name – Br. Lain Wilson

John 10:11-18
Acts 4:5-12
1 John 3:16-24
Psalm 23

I’ve been thinking this week a lot about a guy named Paul.

Probably not the one you’re thinking of.

He lived about fifteen hundred years ago, somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean.

We know that this Paul, this specific Paul, lived. And we know absolutely nothing else about him.

But we can even know this much because his name appears on a small lead seal, about the size of a quarter.[1] I worked for over a decade with seals like Paul’s.[2] Although they literally sealed, secured correspondence, they also served like an email signature, including information like titles, jobs, devotions, city of origin. Whatever a sender thought was important to signal about themselves, to make themselves known. Or they just included their names, like “Paul.” And that’s it.

Much of my work, effectively, was doing my best to distinguish one Paul from another.

But this work was so rewarding, because that object, and the name that went along with it, are often the only evidence we have that this person lived, the barest glimpse into a life that may have been as rich, in its own way, as our own. Read More

Death and Life – Br. Lain Wilson

Acts 5:27-33
Psalm 34:15-22
John 3:31-36

Have you ever faced a life-or-death situation?

For many of us, the honest answer will be no. Proportionally few of us serve in the armed forces, or are subsistence farmers, or fetch water by walking down long, dangerous roads. Or do as Peter and the apostles did, defying the authorities to preach in the name of Jesus, witnessing to the truth and risking death for it (Acts 5:28-29).

What allows those facing such danger, such precariousness, to go on? Need, for sure—the need to act or harvest or fetch or preach that impels them forward. But more than that. Trust. Trust in training and comrades; trust that the earth will bear fruit; trust that the spring will provide water. Trust, as the psalmist sings, that God is near to the brokenhearted, that God will deliver the righteous out of all their troubles and will keep safe all their bones (Ps 34:18, 19, 20).

And while we may not face life-or-death situations, trust is still embedded deeply in our lives. Trust in government and economies, in safety nets and supply chains, in smartphones and airplane doors. We trust these things will always exist, that they will provide or support or protect. We trust, until something shakes that trust and reveals that we may be closer to life-and-death situations than we think. The chapter in our Rule on “Holy Death” gets at this: in our “hardships, renunciations, losses, bereavements, frustrations, and risks . . . death is at work in advance” in our lives.[1]

But if what results when trust fails—all the bad and scary parts of life—can point us toward death, so can trust that succeeds, trust in what won’t fail us. And that trust points us to a death that is not final but transformed: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” (Jn 3:36) and “has passed from death to life” (Jn 5:24). If our daily experiences of loss and failure and frustration prepare us for the certainty of our deaths, our daily experiences of trust—and the hope and joy and love that accompany them—do so as well. The also prepare us for death, show us how death is at work in advance in our lives, but a death transformed by Jesus’s saving work: “In Christ we are still one with [the departed],” our Rule goes on, and we believe, we trust, “that we will be reunited when Christ gathers all creation to himself, so that God may be all in all.”[2]

You may not face a life-or-death situation every day. But our trust that “God is true,” that God hears our cry, that God is near to us, that God saves us, makes every day a death-and-life proposition.

Amen.


[1] The Rule of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (Lanham, MD, 1997), 97.

[2] Ibid.

Cross

God’s faithfulness leads us to the foot of the cross. We are worthy to stand there with Mary and John to witness God’s redeeming, reconciling, healing, righteous love, worthy to join them in a new family of love. We find there, finally, firm, stable ground on which our belief may rest and rise, a place where we may stand upright before and alongside our Lord and God.

Br. Lain Wilson, SSJE
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