Everyday Saints – Br. Lain Wilson

All Saints’ Day

Revelation 7:9-17
Matthew 5:1-12

I had a tough day yesterday.

Not that anything was particularly bad; everything just seemed slightly off. I felt like I wasn’t able to see things head on. I couldn’t wrap my head around what needed to be done, I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t seem to stay on top of things. I had to sit down, take a breath, and say to God, “I need something. I don’t know what I need, but I need something, just to get me through to the next thing.”

It was just one of those tough days. I’m sure you’ve had one or two of those yourselves.

But it was also a day that felt completely self-indulgent. With so much going on, here and around the world, with so much pain and suffering, who am I to complain about an off day? Surely it’s better to acknowledge my own struggle and move on to praying for these bigger issues. I had a tough day, but so many people are having tougher ones.

I’m sure you’ve felt this way, too.

Yesterday was a tough day.

And yesterday reveals why today is so important. Read More

Everything You Do Matters – Br. Lain Wilson

Feast of Saint James of Jerusalem

When was the last time you wore a uniform?

I remember all the uniforms I’ve worn over the years, whether for sports or school or choir. They each signaled commitment, belonging, and interest, and equipped me for performance. I also remember something my parents told me: that when I wore a uniform, I wasn’t only representing myself—I was representing the group I belonged to. I took on the reputation of the group when I put on the uniform—and, just as importantly, my behavior contributed back to that reputation. Whose you are matters, and everything you do while wearing the uniform also matters.

I have these two themes, belonging and action, on my mind today, the feast of Saint James of Jerusalem. The early Church recognized him, as we do, as a brother of Jesus, as attested in our Gospel lesson. But he wasn’t just a relative. Other biblical texts, including our readings from Acts and 1 Corinthians, show that James was one of the leaders of the Christian community in Jerusalem. Nonbiblical sources, meanwhile, signal that James was not only one of but the leader of the Jerusalem Church, a figure of towering importance for a community that faced fundamental questions of identity and mission. In particular, James was the leader of the group that argued for continued observance of at least some Jewish laws by followers of Jesus, in contrast to leaders like Paul who advocated for the development of a Christian community free of requirements of the law. Read More

Shamelessly Free – Br. Lain Wilson

Malachi 3:13-4:2a
Luke 11:5-13

If you’ve been around children for more than about five minutes, I’m sure you’ve gotten frustrated. They interrupt and question when you just want to have a nice conversation. They run ahead, or behind, or zigzag, or sit down when you just want to have a nice walk. Think about that behavior. Now imagine yourself doing it. Does it make you uncomfortable? Do you think about what other people may think about your doing or asking? Name that uncomfortable emotion. Is it embarrassment or, perhaps, shame?

The word in our Gospel reading translated as “persistence” literally means “shamelessness.” Your friend knocks at the door late at night, and knocks, and keeps knocking, without regard for what you think about him. He needs something. Like a child, he is unashamed of his need, unashamed to ask, unashamed to persist.

Children appear in both our readings this morning, and imagining a particularly shameless child helps us to understand not only what it means to persist in prayer, as Jesus exhorts us, but to persevere in a relationship with God. God, Malachi tells us, will have compassion on those who serve God, as parents have compassion on “children who serve them” (Mal 3:17). I imagine this group not just as obedient children, but as shameless children, unembarrassed to revere God, unconcerned by what others, who see no profit in serving God, may think about them. This is the shamelessness of the psalmist, who persists in giving thanks to God despite those who mock him. This is the shamelessness of Saint Paul, who is unashamed of the Gospel (Rom 1:16).

This is difficult. We face enormous personal and social pressures to care about what others think, to conform, to grow up. But when we apply this to God, how easily we complicate our relationship with God. What childlike shamelessness gives us, I think, is single-minded freedom. Think back to that child. How would she express her need, how would she pray, how would she relate to God? Where do you feel resistance in doing likewise? What would it take for you to turn to God like her—unencumbered, unembarrassed, unashamed? Ask Jesus to give you that freedom—the freedom to ask, to search, to knock . . . the freedom to be shameless.

Amen.

Rejoice in Understanding – Br. Lain Wilson

Nehemiah 8:1-12

I have been overjoyed this week to see Br. David, with sign language, showing us the importance of interpretation. At one time or another, we all need an interpreter. We need a translation to understand a text. We need an explanation to understand a law. Or we need an encounter to make real a truth that we may know but do not yet feel.

This is true of the Israelites, as we hear in our passage from Nehemiah this morning. They are gathered to hear the priest Ezra read from the law. At the same time, a group of Levites move through the assembled crowd to help them understand what is being read. The effect is clear: “All the people went their way . . . to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them” (Neh 8:12). The text is important—but the act of interpretation makes the truth of the text they hear real and felt. Read More

Life Isn’t Fair – Br. Lain Wilson

Season of Creation

Matthew 20:1-16
Jonah 3:10-4:11
Philippians 1:21-30

Today, as we enter this fourth Sunday in the Season of Creation, we stand at the edge of a vineyard in the early evening light. We stand at the edge of a vineyard, staring in frustration and anger at the small silver coin we hold in our hands.

Life isn’t fair.

Can you imagine yourself as one of the laborers who have arrived early, preparing to work all day, looking ahead to receiving your pay for a job well done? As more and more laborers come into the field over the course of the day, do you feel yourself becoming slower, more fatigued, but assured, at least, that these extra hours among the vines will be rewarded? And as people come in even as the sun is beginning to set, and your feet are dragging and you just want to be home, do you know that at the very least you will have earned your daily wage?

And in this early evening light at the edge of the vineyard, how do you feel when you receive your pay: a small silver coin, the same as everyone else?

Life isn’t fair.

But where does this sense of unfairness come from? You have agreed, after all, to the usual daily wage—the expected, standard payment for a day’s work. It’s not any less than you’d get any other day. No, the sense of unfairness comes from anticipation—seeing others receive more, you expect to benefit likewise. You imagine a scenario in which—despite the agreement you made and despite everything you’ve come to expect in your life as a laborer—you are paid more because you deserve it.

I’m sure you can think of a time in your life when this has been true for you. You learn about a coworker who gets a bonus or raise, and you say to yourself, “I’ve been here longer than them. I deserve as much or more.” Or you spend more hours practicing your sport or instrument, or perfecting your craft, and you reassure yourself, saying, “I’ve put in more hours than them.” Or, “They didn’t do what was expected, or enough, so they doesn’t deserve that.”

I’ve been there, and I’m sure you have, too. I’m sure we’ve all been there because we live in a competitive society, a competitive world, where we are expected to fight for every advantage, for every advancement that we can. We compete for jobs, we compete for honors, we compete for attention. We don’t necessarily like it, but it’s just the way life is. And not only that. We are also surrounded by a natural world whose very beauty and diversity is the result of competition; those species that are best adapted to compete for limited resources survive. Unlike our nonhuman neighbors, though, when we face uncertainty and factors outside our control, when we strive for whatever possible advantage we can find, we tell ourselves that that effort, that labor, makes us somehow more deserving. And if our expectations are thwarted, we tell ourselves that life is unfair.

Is it any surprise, really, that Jonah feels himself so ill-used? Sent on a long and perilous journey, he arrives in Nineveh and proclaims to the citizens there, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jon 3:4). The people believe him, God is merciful, and, against Jonah’s expectations, his labor is not even rewarded with the destruction of the city! That he has been an agent of good, of the people of Nineveh’s transformation of heart, does not cross his mind; what is the point of God’s justice if God is just going to relent? I mean, is it really too much to ask that God at least just follow through? If God is always going to be “merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing” (Jon 4:2), then what is the point? What has his labor been for? How is this God fair?

God’s answer is to allow Jonah to experience the unfairness of God’s mercy. God makes a bush to grow and shade Jonah from the heat of the sun, an act of mercy that is free and undeserved. And then God makes the bush to die back, exposing Jonah to the elements: an act that is similarly free and undeserved. What right does Jonah have to be upset? “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow” (Jon 4:10). We can hear an echo of our gospel passage here: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Mt 20:15). Where does fairness enter into this?

God isn’t fair. But God’s unfairness isn’t arbitrary or abstemious. God’s unfairness is universal and prodigal. It’s the unfairness of a landowner who pays everyone the same out of his boundless generosity. It’s the unfairness of a father who welcomes back with open arms and a spread table the wayward son. It’s the unfairness of a God who, in the psalmist’s words, is “faithful in all his words and merciful in all his deeds” and who “upholds all those who fall” (Ps 145:14-15), whether they deserve it or not.

We experience the unfairness of the world, but we also experience the unfairness of God’s prodigality toward us. The psalmist expresses this, “The LORD is loving to everyone and his compassion is over all his works” (Ps 145:9), but I prefer Shakespeare here: “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep; the more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite.”[1] So says Juliet to Romeo, but it could be God saying these words to us, God revealing to us our greatest gift: that we are loved, infinitely and unconditionally, undeservedly and unfairly. And through the gift of the Spirit, the Comforter, the Advocate, we are given this love, made aware that we are loved as God’s children, and knit together into a Body. But we are not made a Body to labor for our reward. We have already been rewarded. We are knit into a Body to work is with God. We are knit into a Body to be collaborators, co-laborers with God in the ongoing miracle of Creation. “If I am to live in the flesh,” Saint Paul writes from prison, “that means fruitful labor for me” (Phil. 1:22).

And what is this work, this co-labor? If we have been given this great gift of love undeservedly, if we have been given this Spirit, this Comforter, this Advocate, what greater sign can there be than for us to do likewise? What greater confirmation that we are loved than that we can love: “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we ought to love one another” (1 Jn 4:11). Experiencing the overflowing bounty of God’s love and generosity, we too can turn toward our neighbors, human and other than human, and love them, and advocate for them, and be the Advocate for them, knitting them into our Body. We can raise up the low, the marginal, the undeserving, the forgotten in our midst; we can make the last to be first. We can respond to the unfairness of life by loving unfairly, as God unfairly loves us.

Life isn’t fair. Thank God for that.

Amen.


[1] Romeo and Juliet, 2.2.140-42.

Inbreaking Consolation – Br. Lain Wilson

The Martyrs of Memphis

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 

“Arrived. Streets white with lime; wagon loads of coffins. A sad coming home.”1 

So wrote Sister Constance, whom we remember today along with other Episcopal religious and priests who perished in the 1878 yellow fever epidemic in Memphis, Tennessee. Sisters Constance, Thecla, Ruth, and Frances, and priests Charles Parsons and Louis Schuyler were six of the over five thousand people who died between August and October. 

At a time when so much of the city’s population was fleeing—fleeing according to the wishes of the civil authorities—these sisters and priests came to the city, into danger, into a “scene of desolation and death.” Over the course of just under a month, this corps of sisters and priests worked themselves to exhaustion nursing the sick, caring for orphans, coordinating and disbursing donations, and celebrating mass.   Read More

Are You Ready? – Br. Lain Wilson

Matthew 25:1-13

Are you ready?

The wise bridesmaids in Jesus’ parable are ready when the bridegroom comes. They have foresight and plan appropriately, and so can follow the bridegroom into the banquet hall. They are ready.

Or were they? Or, rather, is this readiness?

In his retreat address on “Readiness,” our founder, Fr. Benson, sounds a seemingly odd note. Readiness is doing your best under the circumstances that face you—which may mean that you fail. It may mean you fail most of the time. But, Fr. Benson continues, “it may be that [your] failure is the way in which most is to be done. It may be that [you] will effect more than another person who might have brought some natural gift to the work and have succeeded in it.”[1]

Readiness, then, is not the preparation and training for success, but rather the presentness of our attention and the immediacy of our response to God’s call. This kind of readiness would have seen wisdom not in bringing extra lamp oil, but in waiting on the bridegroom—waiting and trusting that what he sought was not a lit lamp but a listening heart. Read More

Shout for Joy – Br. Lain Wilson

John 12:24-26
Daniel 3:19-27
Psalm 126

“Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy” (Ps 126:2).

“Joy.” The psalmist repeats this word three times in this great poem of restoration. God’s people shout for joy, sing songs of joy, return from the fields in joy. God restores the fortunes of Zion—and their sadness is transformed into joy. Joy is their response, their witness to God’s working in the world.

In the calendar of the Church we remember today the third-century martyr Laurence of Rome. As archdeacon, he was given care of the church’s treasury for distribution to the needy. The story goes that after he was arrested during a periodic persecution of Christians, Laurence negotiated for a few days’ respite to gather the church’s wealth. During that time, though, he instead rapidly distributed it to the poor. When asked to hand over the church’s treasure, Laurence pointed not to gold or gems but to the poor. Read More

Make Your Gifts Your Prayer – Br. Lain Wilson

Leviticus 23:1-11, 26-38
Matthew 13:54-58

A juggler enters a monastery. He soon discovers that, unlike the other monks, he’s not good at typical monkish things: he can’t cook, he can’t sing, he has terrible handwriting. The only thing he can do is juggle, and what use is that? In despair, he goes one night to a statue of the Virgin Mary . . .  and juggles—offering to her, as his prayer, the only thing he has.

The medieval French tale of the “Juggler of Our Lady” imparts a familiar lesson: God gives us gifts that God wants us to use and to offer back in prayer and worship. Our reading from Leviticus this morning gets at something similar: “When you enter the land I am giving to you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring the first sheaf of your harvest to the priest” (Lev 23:10). This section of the reading is from the oldest layer of this passage, and significantly is directed not at the collective, or to priests, but to the individual farmer. “I have given you, as a gift, this land—you shall give me, as a gift, the fruits of that land.” Read More

Fearing a Risky Call – Br. Lain Wilson

Genesis 46:1-7, 28-30
Matthew 10:16-23

Almost exactly two years ago, a long period of uncertainty ended in clarity. Clarity that God was calling me here, to this community. And while that clarity was a relief, what I didn’t expect was that that would be the easy part. Leaving my job, packing up my apartment, saying goodbye to my friends—all these practicalities showed that responding to God’s call was definitive, transformative, and risky.

Our Gospel lesson today sits in the middle of what’s called the “Missionary Discourse.” Jesus’s disciples have answered his call, and Jesus has told them that they will share in his ministry of proclaiming the good news, healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers, and casting out demons. But he also tells them that they will share in his sufferings: betrayed and arrested, hated and beaten. These disciples are risking all when they say yes to Jesus.

What is an acceptable risk? In my own answer to God’s call, I didn’t face betrayals, beatings, or hatred of all. But I did face the unknown—what if this doesn’t work out? What if friends or family don’t understand what I’m doing? Part of me—a lot of me—was afraid of the unknown, afraid of what the answer to these questions might be. Is the risk worth it?

Jesus calls us to risk all, but he also offers us a simple assurance: “have no fear.” “Have no fear.” This is the same assurance God gives to Jacob as he uproots his family and all his possessions to join his son Joseph in Egypt: “Jacob, Jacob . . : do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there” (Gen 46:3).

All this may strike us as strange or difficult to live into. Fear is a natural, human reaction to risk. But I think Jesus’s point is not that we should be fearless, but that that fear shouldn’t dominate our lives and thoughts. “Jacob, Jacob . . . I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again” (Gen 46:4). We can feel fear, but not let it dominate because, if we live into God’s call to us, God has promised to be with us. “Have no fear. . . . I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 10:26, 20:20)

What is God calling you to today? How does saying yes to God unsettle your life, your sense of security? What are you afraid to risk? Hear Jesus’s words—“have no fear”—and know that he will be with you, always.

Amen.