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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Closer than Our Own Selves – Br. Lain Wilson

Jeremiah 20:7-13
Psalm 18:1-7

What do you do when all options in front of you are bad ones?

This is the situation that Jeremiah finds himself in this morning. God has called him to his vocation as a prophet, to proclaim God’s word. In doing so, Jeremiah is mocked and plotted against, even by those close to him. In not proclaiming God’s word, though, he experiences pain, “something like a burning fire” (Jer 20:9).

All this because of who God has called him to be.

Is it any surprise, then, that Jeremiah hurls against God one of the bitterest invectives in Scripture? Different translations have different force—“O Lord, you have enticed me,” “you have seduced me,” “you have deceived me” (Jer 20:7)—but the basic accusation is that God has broken trust, that God has forced the prophet into submission.[1]

This is an accusation you can only hurl against someone you deeply love.

And it is, perhaps, something that we can relate to.

God calls each of us in ways that we may not understand, that we struggle to accept, that we may rail against. Our vocations, our experiences, our very lives may be excruciating mysteries to us. For reasons beyond our understanding, we may, like Jeremiah, end up in places and at times asking ourselves, “how did this come to be,” able only to cry to God, “Is this what you intend for me?” Read More

You Are a Spice Rack – Br. Lain Wilson

John 7:37-52
Psalm 7:6-11

I’m sure most of us have spices in our pantries that just don’t get used that often. For me it’s fennel seed. I don’t really know what to do with it, and I’m happy using all the other, familiar spices.

And I’m sure that most of us can agree that cooking with just salt and pepper can be fairly boring.

As rich as the psalmist’s conception of God is, his descriptions of fellow people often feel a bit like salt-and-pepper cooking to me—simple binaries, like “righteous” and “wicked,” or types—the faithless friend. Of course, this isn’t what the Psalms are about; nevertheless, I often can’t help feeling a bit dissatisfied.

This morning’s Gospel reading displays a different dynamic. John describes the crowd as divided into at least three groups, in addition to the various authorities (who are themselves divided), and Jesus and his followers. This is a dramatic scene, with different beliefs, commitments, values, and desires demarcating the lines between and within the groups.

Nicodemus represents this. He’s a Pharisee and leader (Jn 3:1; Jn 7:50), who lays claim to “our law,” committed to both its authority and limitations. He’s also possibly a secret follower of Jesus, having come to him under cover of night earlier in the narrative. What he shows us here is not that his identities are exclusive, but that their coincidence, mixing, and expression make him an individual, set apart from the group. They give him agency, make him able to reach out, to speak for, to meet and relate with others in a different way. Read More

Forgive

Forgiving and asking for forgiveness is a discipline – a hard discipline – that requires relationship. Jesus calls us to be constantly open to another’s desire for repentance and reconciliation. Where, or with whom, are you stuck, fixed, separated by a great chasm? Underneath the cacophony of pain and offense and weariness, what voice aren’t you hearing? What voice may offer to bridge the chasm in your relationship?

Br. Lain Wilson, SSJE
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Hidden Presence – Br. Lain Wilson

Mark 12:28-34
Psalm 81:8-14
Hosea 14:1-9

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Jesus identifies who—and what—God is. He also offers up an indictment of all the alluring temptations in sight that lead us astray from a God who all too often remains hidden from us.

“O Israel, if you would but listen to me! There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not worship a foreign god” (Ps 81:8-9). This command is repeated throughout Scripture, and yet the pages of Scripture are filled with rebuke and lament for the failure to keep to this basic commandment.

This turning away, though, isn’t surprising, because our God is often hidden. In times of anxiety and uncertainty, we crave what is visible, tangible, assured. What people, institutions, processes, products do you turn to for assurance, for certainty? What are your idols today? Read More

Joy in the Midst of Grief – Br. Lain Wilson

Luke 18:9-14
Psalm 30
Philippians 1:15-20

Just over 1600 years ago, a young couple dreamed a dream:

“One night we went to sleep, greatly upset, and we saw ourselves, both of us, passing through a very narrow crack in a wall. We were gripped with panic by the cramped space, so that it seemed as if we were about to die.”

This young couple was Valerius Pinianus and his wife, Melania. They were two of the super-rich of the later Roman world. They were also Christians. And at this period in history these two things, wealth and Christian faith, were increasingly at odds with one another.

Pinianus and Melania, along with many of their contemporaries, were uncomfortable with their vast wealth. They grieved what their wealth afforded them. The open vistas of estates, the splendor and ostentation, the luxury of free time, had become for them a “narrow crack” and a “cramped space.” They grieved the weight of wealth on their souls. And this grief prompted them to make an unprecedented renunciation of their worldly wealth.[1] Read More

Feasting and Fasting – Br. Lain Wilson

Luke 5:27-32
Isaiah 58:9b-14

I love that, four days into Lent, four days into this season of fasting, we’re reading about a feast.

For me, nothing captures this passage from Luke quite like the scene by the Renaissance painter Paolo Veronese. He turns Luke’s “great banquet” into a wild party. The enormous canvas of The Feast in the House of Levi bursts at its seams with dozens of figures: the disciples and Levi, as well as entertainers, soldiers, children, slaves—even a cat and a dog.[1] Jesus is a still, calm center in the midst of riotous humanity.

The scene is seductive—outstretched arms and turned bodies invite us in, like a friend who opens a place in a circle for you to join. The scene invites us in, to join the throng of “tax collectors and sinners” whom Jesus comes to call. The key question of this scene isn’t that of the authorities—“why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (Lk 5:30)—but the one that Jesus leaves unvoiced—“why don’t you join us?”

Imagine for a moment how those at the banquet might have felt. Tax collectors and sinners were the outcasts and the undesirables, cut off from community. Jesus does not seek to segregate and excise them, as others do, to tell them they are unworthy of his ministry and friendship. He calls them. He claims them. Read More

Conditional Friendship, Unconditional Love – Br. Lain Wilson

Feast of Richard Meux Benson

John 15:9-17
1 John 4:7-12

“You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

I’m struck today by this little word “if.” “You are my friends if.” When was the last time you said that to a friend? “You are my friend if you take my side.” ”You are my friend if you do what I say.”

But how often does this “if” go unspoken? “You are my friend,” we say, while thinking, “if you do what I expect, if you believe or read or vote the way I do.” How often do we find ourselves unconsciously closing the door on those who do not fulfill our unspoken ifs?

The founder of our Society, Richard Meux Benson, whom we celebrate today, had a dim view of friendship, in large part because of these ifs. He recognized that, in practice, earthly friendships are often divisive, based as they are on “certain idiosyncrasies which we may share in common, and which naturally . . . separate cliques from the rest of mankind.”[1] In short, he later wrote, “earthly friendships are apt to make us feel lonely both in their enjoyment and in their removal.”[2] Read More

Presence

We come to know God as love, as light, and as indwelling presence, so that we may become love and light and presence for others. In this season, reflect on how you can come to know God more fully. Pray that you may live and act so that others may know God through you.

Br. Lain Wilson, SSJE
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