Pentecost and the Work of the Spirit – Br. Curtis Almquist

Acts 2:1-21

I was twenty years old when I was baptized. I chose to be baptized. I had been raised in a Protestant tradition of the church that understands baptism as an ordinance for individuals who are at an age of accountability. You had to be old enough to know what you were doing to be baptized. And this is just how it was for the first four centuries of the church. To be baptized one normally had to be prepared through a rigorous, three-year formation called the “catechumenate.” Only then could one personally make their own baptismal vows, publicly accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and choosing to follow him.[i]

In a few moments all of us who are baptized will be invited to renew our own Baptismal Covenant.[ii] We will be asked to respond to a series of very exacting questions. Yes or no: “Do you believe…?” “Will you continue…?”  “Will you proclaim…?”  “Will you strive…?”  “Will you respect…? Will you protect…?” The Baptismal Covenant is earnest, adult language. And yet, while all this is going on, our baptismal candidate, Babatunde Baxter Ogunnaike, will probably have his attention on other things… like the stained glass windows, or taking a nap, or wanting his second breakfast… which all gives witness to a different understanding of baptism. Read More

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

Not to Condemn But To Love the World – Br. Keith Nelson

1 John 5:9-13
John 17:6-19

As your preacher on this seventh Sunday of Easter, I must confess I struggle with a key concept found throughout the gospel and epistles of John.

“The world” in these writings is a multi-faceted term. Its meaning shifts and accumulates layers of meaning every time it appears.

Sometimes the world is simply the material reality around us, the created order. In John’s prologue we hear: “He [that is, Jesus] was in the world, and the world came into being through him.” This meaning aligns with the most ancient usage of the Greek kosmos, which means “a harmoniously ordered arrangement” or even “adornment.” It is a fitting term for creation as Christians understand it, the material expression of God’s love. This kosmos finds its order and beauty in Christ the Word and exists only through him: “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” Read More

Building Strong and Storing Up Treasure – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

I Corinthians 3:10-14
Matthew 6:19-24

When I was in seminary – now, quite a few years ago – I took a course in preaching.  Whether or not it did me any good, I’ll let you decide.  One of the things I remember from that class was the professor’s admonition to first seek out the tone and intention of the text, and then craft a sermon that reflects that same tone and intention.  In other words, consider the author’s purpose and follow it.  If the text is written to encourage its readers, your sermon should be encouraging as well.  If the text is hopeful, your sermon should reflect that hope.  If the text is condemning of a certain attitude or behavior, you should translate that into a similar warning that modern-day hearers can hear and understand.

The two texts we have before us today seem to share a common tone or intention.  They seem to be cautioning us that our choices and our actions, our work and our personal interactions, have consequences that are long-lasting.

The first text, taken from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, uses the metaphor of building.  Paul claims he has laid a foundation, which is Jesus Christ, and that others, including us today, will be building upon that foundation.  What we say or do matters, because by our words and deeds we will be contributing to the strength of the building or detracting from it.  Paul promises that each person’s work will, at some point, be tested by fire.  If it is strong and pure, it will survive.  If not, it will go up in flames. Read More

Who Is It that Conquers the World? – Br. Keith Nelson

For your homiletic dessert I have whipped up 500 words about one word. The word is nīké, if you enjoy New Testament Greek; or Nike, if you have ever heard of basketball. “To conquer.”

The word “conquer” makes me uncomfortable generally, and even more so when it appears in Scripture. But for those of us who place the Johannine witness at the center of our discipleship, it is a word to be reckoned with.

In our reading from the First Letter of John, we heard: “And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5)

Do you think of yourself as a world-conquerer?

This isn’t an isolated use of that word. In John’s gospel, we hear Jesus at the Last Supper say, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world, you face persecution. But take courage: I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33). 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

Overlightened by Good News – Br. Jack Crowley

Br. Jack Crowley headshot

Br. Jack Crowley

John 20:1-9

Don’t worry, each of these sermons is only five minutes long. You won’t be here all day. There will be plenty of time for the garden party.

One of my favorite parts of today’s Gospel passage is how it is overshadowed by good news. Overshadowed is probably not the right word, so I’ll make one up, maybe overlightened would be better.

The good news of Jesus’ resurrection overlightens the bad news of how this Gospel passage starts. That morning started really dimly. The only thing the Beloved Disciple knew that morning was that Jesus was dead and his body was missing.

So he ran. The Beloved Disciple ran, but he did not run away. He did the opposite. He ran to the tomb.

I always try to imagine how the Beloved Disciple’s felt during that run to the tomb. At some point in life, we all get acquainted with that feeling of anxiety and excitement swirling together. That feeling that makes your leg wobble, but you keep moving because sometimes that’s the only thing you can do.

The race to the tomb was an act of desperation, an act of faith, and an act of life. We all have our own race to the tomb. More importantly, we all have our own race to the resurrection. Our own jagged journey to the realization that life continues after death. This is not it. This thing of ours keeps going after we die.

Can you imagine the joy the Beloved Disciple must have felt when he realized what had happened? The good news that Jesus had in fact risen. The Beloved Disciple realized not only what had happened, but what Jesus’ resurrection implied. We too will rise again.

Until we get there, we too have lives to live. Lives mixed with action and contemplation. Lives full of running and realization. The good news is that we know the good news. We have time. We have time and more than a lifetime to figure it all out. What we cannot get done now, we will get done on the other side of this life.

Of course this does not mean we get to be lazy. The Christian life is a demanding life. It’s a life that demands meaning, and for us to make that meaning with God, ourselves, and one another. We must do this every day of our lives and beyond.

God’s Pity – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Psalm 72: 7-8, 12-15, 17

If you have occasion to study a tapestry or quilt, where you can view both the front side and the back side, you often discover that though the front side may be more beautiful, the back side is more instructive and shows all the quite-hidden work that has enabled what is presented on the front side. That is a fact of life.

There is a word which surfaces in the Psalm we prayed a moment ago. This same word appears many times elsewhere in the psalter: pity.[i] The word “pity” comes from the same etymological root as our word “piety.” Pity is a holy compassion, and it begins with God’s piety. The psalmist cries out:

Have pity on me, Lord, for I am weak;
heal me, Lord, for my bones are racked.[ii]
The psalmist also proclaims:
[God]shall have pity on the lowly and poor
[and]shall preserve the lives of the needy.[iii]

Isn’t it so reassuring that God, as the master weaver, knows us: knows what we present “up front,” and knows from whence it all comes, our “back side.” Isn’t it comforting that God who created us, calls us, uses us, is thankful for us, knows us well, pities us with a loving compassion.

Today we remember our departed Brothers of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist who, over the years, died in the month of May. We cherish these archival memories of our predecessors. God took pity on them, the complex and sometimes-tangled threads of their lives, and wove into them such amazing, distinctive, colorful, often complex and beautiful lives. We remember these departed Brothers both with amazement and with gratitude. We also remember how they give witness to God who looks on us all with such loving pity, and with such promise.


[i]For example, Psalm 9:13; 17:10;  25:15; 26:11; 72:13; 109:11.

[ii] Psalm 6:2.

[iii] Psalm 72:13.

Renewed Life – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke Ditewig

Acts 8:26-40
John 15:1-8

Glorious spring is here with green popping up everywhere. Trees bud and flower with abundant, renewed life. Jesus describes himself as the true vine, us as branches, and God as the vine grower. Abide with me, Jesus says. Dwell, remain, stay connected to receive life from me. “Every branch that bears fruit [my Father] prunes to make it bear more fruit.” Pruning indeed helps bear fruit. It’s letting go in order to live.

Here’s what I was taught to look for when pruning trees. First, water sprouts, new young growth often all over a tree’s trunk and major branches. Second, branches touching or crossing each other. Third, anything growing backward toward the trunk instead of out. Fourth, branches that are actually dead. In all this, clear the center trunk, encouraging outward angled growth with space for each branch to grow.

Pruning lets go what is alive but not growing in a helpful direction. Pruning lets go what is dead but still taking up space. Pruning lets a tree more fully live and bear more fruit. Letting go is hard on trees and in our lives, yet key to living well. We Brothers say in our Rule of Life: “… we are to accept every experience which requires us to let go as an opportunity for Christ to bring us through death into life.”[i] Read More

Jesus’ Name; Jesus’ Heart – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

John 14:7-14

In my childhood and early adolescence I was fascinated by magic and magic tricks. Which also happens to be when I first heard Jesus’ words, “I will do whatever you ask in my name.” It was like my discovering the ultimate magic trick. I started asking away in Jesus’ name about most everything I fancied. Everything. It did not work. Not often. It was sure not anything to depend on. I remember “dropping” this Bible verse like dropping a fad. I only later discovered the context of Jesus’ invitation. It’s not just about asking Jesus; it’s also about naming Jesus.

There is an enormous power in knowing someone’s name and then using it. To know someone’s name gives you an access to their identity and a claim on your relationship. I imagine we all know when that power is misused, when someone “name drops.” When someone feigns to know another person – who they are, what they believe, how they can be accessed. If someone invokes the name of a person, but without the license to use their name, it will backfire, eventually… because the namedropper will eventually be exposed. People will know: the person whose name was invoked would not say that. It is inconsistent or incongruous… and the pretender will be discredited.

Which is the key in claiming Jesus’ invitation that he will give us whatever we ask in his name. We must know Jesus to invoke his name. We must know the mind of Jesus, the heart of Jesus, the words of Jesus to speak in his name. And the purpose, the goal for invoking Jesus’ name, is for one reason only: for the sake of love. It’s to know Jesus’ love and then to love others on behalf of Jesus, to love others in Jesus’ name.  Our asking things of Jesus cannot just be on behalf of our own private self, but on behalf of all whom Jesus claims in relationship.

Our community’s principal founder, Richard Meux Benson, says that all of us are related. Father Benson says, “Your life must be a relative life. The moment you are imprisoned in your own self-consciousness, in your own separate individuality, in the selfishness of your own separate existence, you commit a worse suicide than taking the life of your body.” Father Benson says that we are a relative being, and we have no existence except when we ask and act on behalf of another.[i]

We should take Jesus at his word, to ask away. Jesus assures us, “I will give you whatever you ask in my name….” In my adolescence, the problem was not that I was asking for too much; I was asking for too little. We need to know a great deal about Jesus and the enormity of his love – what Jesus would want for those for whom we pray – and then pray our hearts out. And in our praying, we should presume that Jesus will very likely reciprocate, in asking us, asking you, to be a part of the answer to our prayer.


[i] Quoted from Further Letters of Richard Meux Benson, pp. 36-37; 297.