Unheard Voices – Br. Lain Wilson
Whose voice aren’t we hearing?
This has been the question that rings loudly in my mind as I hear our Gospel lesson today. In it, we learn a lot about our characters: what Lazarus wanted in life, what the rich man is desperate for in the afterlife, and that Abraham cannot—or will not—give to the rich man what he desires.
“Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue,” the rich man begs (Lk 16:24). No, Abraham replies. There’s a chasm fixed between us, and no way across.
“Send [Lazarus] to my father’s house . . . that he may warn [my family]” (Lk 16:27-28). No. There’s nothing the dead can do for the living that the living can’t get from the law and prophets.
This story illustrates Jesus’s own statement, from just a few verses before, that “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped” (Lk 16:17). The rich man’s reversal of fortune is because of how he lived his life. The remedy was there in front of him all along, in the law and the prophets. We have that remedy, too.
But whose voice aren’t we hearing? Read More
Mending a Broken World – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
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Today is the first Sunday in the holy season of Lent. ‘I hate Lent!’ So said Jonathan Swift. ‘I hate Lent, with its different diets and herb porridge, and sour devout faces of people who only put on religion for seven weeks.’ I actually like Lent. Many of my brothers would I think say the same. It’s a time to get serious. Not just giving up chocolate. The Jesuit James Martin wrote, ‘Don’t give up chocolate; give up being a jerk! It’s time to get serious about God and our lives. It’s a time to go into the desert of one’s heart to encounter God. A time for deeper prayer, repentance, silence and solitude. To look with unblinking eyes at the state of our lives, our relationships, our world.
The world we live in is a beautiful gift, God’s gift to us. And yet we know that God’s gift has been ravaged and broken. Our greed has plundered the land and damaged the environment. Millions live in abject poverty and hunger. Our wars, as in the Ukraine right now, have and continue to kill and maim and disfigure millions. Our sin has broken and scarred our relationships with one another, broken up families, divided people of different cultures, races, and beliefs. Our world, God’s precious and fragile gift to us is torn and divided violently at every level.
This terrible process is described in the New Testament as the work of ‘diabolos’ or the devil. That Greek word ‘diabolos’ used in the New Testament, literally means, ‘the one who throws apart’. The work of diabolos is essentially to divide, to break up that which was one. Read More
Formed, Known, and Consecrated – Br. James Koester
I find this passage from the prophet Jeremiah to be deeply consoling. We live in an age, and a culture where what goes in front of, or after your name is crucial. It matters hugely if you can add Dr., The Reverend, or Brother, in front of your name. It is equally import if you can add PhD, M.Div., or SSJE after your name. Success and happiness hang on titles and initials. People spend their lives, and enormous amounts of capital, chasing after a sense of self-worth believed to be found in them. And into this culture Jeremiah speaks a word of truth, and a promise of hope.
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you…
Clearly Jeremiah here was reflecting on his own sense of vocation and call. What is significant is that he roots the seeds of that vocation, not in titles or initials gained after years of training, but in a relationship. Jeremiah roots his vocation not in what he has done, but simply who he is, someone formed, known, and consecrated by God while still in his mother’s womb. Read More
Knowing God and Making God Known – Br. Lain Wilson
“By this we know.” We hear this phrase four times in our reading from the first letter of John this morning. Knowing is fundamental to this letter, as are three interrelated questions: what we know, how we know it, and what we are going to do with that knowledge. As we begin this season after the Epiphany, as we recall God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, these three questions can guide our own discovery of God in and among us now.
First, what do we know? From this first letter of John, quite a lot. We know that God is light. We know what love is. We know we belong to the truth. We know God lives in us. This is big stuff—the foundation of our faith, of our relationship with God and with each other. So big, though, that these truths can feel remote from our daily lives. What does it mean for you, here and now, to know that God is love, and that God lives in you?
Reflecting on how we learn, how we come to know, can help bridge these eternal truths and our daily, particular experiences. For John, we know by sense—by what we see, hear, and touch—by example, and by assurance from someone we trust. Each of these modes is familiar to us, and I’m sure each of us learns better in one way than another. I know I learn best by touch, by moving my body, and by holding, tinkering, and manipulating. Read More
Home for Christmas – Br. David Vryhof
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“Did you go home for Christmas?” That’s a question you’re likely to hear these days. “Were you at home for the holidays?” “Did the kids come home for Christmas?” It’s a common theme at this time of year. We naturally associate the holiday season with “coming home.” Retailers pick up on the theme, offering us images of families gathered before the fireplace or around the Christmas tree. “I’ll be home for Christmas” plays over the loudspeaker in the grocery store. The idea of being “home” for the holidays appeals to many of us.
But what does “home” mean, really? Is it a place we can return to, or is it more of a longing? For many of us, the word “home” summons up a whole range of things that are past and that cannot be retrieved. The house we grew up in belongs to someone else. Our parents may have divorced – or died. Our siblings may be scattered across the country. The neighbors we once knew have drifted away. For us, “home” isn’t a specific place anymore; it’s more like a whole set of longings… or a collection of special people… or a treasure chest of memories that combine to make us feel safe and loved.
Many of us love the idea of “coming home.” But for others of us, perhaps, “home” was never that fine a place to begin with. Home was the place where mom and dad argued all the time until they finally split up, or where unkind and even abusive words were spoken. For us, “home” wasn’t a place where we felt safe or loved. We’ve had to find our “home” elsewhere – with different people and in different surroundings.
Being “home” for the holidays is important to many of us. But what can the miracle of Christmas teach us about being home? Read More
Not Made to Be Trapped – Br. Lain Wilson
Isaiah 45:5-8, 18-25
I’m sure most of us have set mousetraps. I’m sure most of us have also accidentally set them off. I think this experiences helps us to feel what Jesus tells us at the end of today’s Gospel. “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” The root word of “takes offense” in the Greek is often translated “stumbling block,” but literally means the trigger of a trap. Just like touching the mousetrap’s trip, in encountering Jesus we may feel surprise or pain, pull away reflexively, or, if we are unlucky, get caught in a trap.
What did the messengers from John expect to find when they encountered Jesus? A king ready to lead a liberating army? What must they, sent out to see if this man, finally, would be the one foretold—what must they have felt when this man gave as his bona fides his work as a healer, a restorer, and a bearer of good news? Maybe they felt a little surprised or a little hurt. Maybe they tried to create a little distance. Maybe encountering Jesus was a trigger that sprang the trap of their own expectations.
And don’t we do something similar? How often do we come to Jesus and expect him to conform to or affirm our priorities, prejudices, and opinions? We place all these things in front of us so that they mediate and make conditional our encounter with Jesus. We fail to meet Jesus face to face, to take him on his terms, to receive him as he offers himself to us. This is the trap we build, and that we ourselves spring. Read More
Trust in the Lord – Br. Luke Ditewig
Hosea 8:4-7, 11-13
I enjoyed swimming in the ocean last week. A friend gave me earplugs when we went swimming last summer, but I didn’t wear them this time. In the moment, I frolicked without a concern. But that evening and the next day, all sounds were muffled in one ear. It took a lot more effort to hear and pay attention. The loss made me appreciate what I previously had. Why settle for something so much less? Remember what it’s like to lose part of your perception.
The psalmist tonight says idols, gods which humans make, are not worth worship. “They have mouths but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. … Those who make them are like them; so are all who put their trust in them.”
Idols cannot perceive. They are not alive. Don’t trust them, says the psalmist. Rather, “you who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord.” Likewise God speaks through the prophet Hosea, not about other nations but God’s own people. “With silver and gold they made idols for their own destruction. … an artisan made it; it is not God. … Though I write … the multitude of my instructions, they are regarded as a strange thing.” Focused on what they made, they do not hear or pay attention. It’s like their ears are full, muffled to God’s voice. Read More
Something Better and More Lasting – Br. James Koester
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It was Lent 1977, and Anglicans around the world were asked to flood the Ugandan postal service with Easter cards. A few weeks earlier, the Archbishop of Kampala, Janani Luwum had disappeared. The government reported he had been killed in a car accident while resisting arrest. Weeks later his bullet riddled body was found dumped by the side of the road. He had been murdered, not simply on the orders of Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator, but probably by Amin himself. I took several addresses, and months later I received cards in return, expressing gratitude that the events in Uganda had been watched by the world, and that the people had noticed.
The history of the church in Uganda, indeed the history of the church, is a history of martyrdom. Today we remember the martyrdom of 32 young men, pages in the court of King Mwanga, who in 1886 refused to give up their loyalty to Christ, and so were martyred, in an attempt to wipe out the small Christian community in East Africa. Read More
Turn Aside and Behold a Great Sight – Br. Sean Glenn
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It is a cold November evening. The city streets outside your home are silent. The chill in the air is accompanied the thick feeling of foreboding. The silence of the empty streets breaks first as clocks throughout ring their peels to mark the 7:00 o’clock hour. Ten minutes later, the silence gives way a second time—not for the benign chime of mechanical clockwork, but for the sound you and your neighbors had been dreading for days: the distant rumble of military aircraft. You hold your breath for a moment. Perhaps they’re ours, you hope. But your hope dissolves into the sharp sour taste of adrenaline as the sound of the civil defense siren begins its dreadful wailing. They’re here, you think, God have mercy.
For the next twelve hours, you and the handful of your neighbors who made it to the safety of the bomb shelter huddle in terror as the night above you booms and the earth around you quivers. When the night passes and you emerge from the bomb shelter, the scene upon which you emerge is one of horror and devastation. A third of your city’s factories lay obliterated. The medieval streets you know so well are hardly recognizable—almost every building destroyed, the sandstone brick of structures that still stand glow red from the heat of incendiary bombs. And the building you perhaps hoped might have been spared—your town’s fourteenth-century cathedral, stands as but a shell of itself as the remaining wooden elements of its construction burn away.
Such is the scene that would have met the residents of the town of Coventry in England on the morning of 15 April, 1940. The night before, the Luftwaffe had littered this industrial center in the heart of England with hundreds of tons of explosives and incendiary bombs. Hitler’s goal had been to cripple England’s aviation production and chip away at the morale of the civilian population. The bombing lasted for 13 hours, spending, in total, some 30,000 incendiaries along with 500 tons of high explosive bombs. In one night, more than 4,300 homes in Coventry were destroyed and around two-thirds of the city’s buildings were damaged. 568 people lost their lives in the chaos.
Adjacent the bombed-out ruins of Coventry Cathedral’s fourteenth-century footprint stands the twentieth-century Cathedral. Although consecrated in 1969, plans for the cathedral’s rebuilding began the day after her destruction—not as an act of defiance, but rather as a demonstration of hope. Hope that a day would dawn when such violent conflict would be unimaginable. As a part of Bishop Walter Hussey’s aim to renew the arts in the Church of England, the new cathedral nave features exquisitely colorful abstract stained glass windows.
Yet as one enters the new cathedral, this glorious sea of color is not immediately apparent. Indeed, if one simply stands at the liturgical west facing the high altar but advances no further, there is almost no indication that the building has any stained glass in the nave at all. We have to move our perspective in order to detect this particular beauty. If we make the journey to the high altar and turn around, only then does the building seem to fall into place—for this beatific vision in glass is only visible from the liturgical east end, looking west.
I don’t think it is any accident that this particular aspect of this sacred space requires a definite turning. The act of turning aside from the paths we think we know is a theme that runs right through every invitation of the spiritual life, and Lent is a perfect season in which to practice this subtle but life-changing posture.
When Moses first encounters God in the resplendent flames of the burning bush, he has to turn aside from the path he had chosen for himself that day.
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight.
“I must turn aside and look at this great sight,” says Moses. We hear a distant echo of these words in this morning’s gospel, but we might miss what the author of Luke is inviting us to do—especially if we carry the kinds of baggage I know I certainly do around the word “repent.” In my own experience, this baggage—no, let’s be real, it is more like freight—this freight convinces me that repentance is something dreadful and scary. There are historical reasons for this, to be sure, and the church has had her own part to play in the ways we sometimes incorrectly receive Jesus’ call to repent.
But the word used here by the author of Luke—μετανοιετε (metanoiete)—is a surprisingly light word; it does not drag the kinds of freight with which my own fears so often burden it. Metanoiete means, very simply, change your mind. Or, we might even say, consider things from a different perspective.
Before we do anything else—before we act or try to amend our lives—we need to try to see things from a different perspective. This is precisely what Jesus invites from his audience this morning.
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.’
His hearers have come to him with their own concerns and fears brought on by a reality of this world that the residents of Coventry knew; a reality that we, too, know. Terrible things happen—towers collapse and crush people, rulers intimidate and murder, the powers and principalities of this world attempt to lighten the darkness of life with the flames of their own power. But these flames only consume and destroy, for we “have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.” When presented with an opportunity to explain the problem of theodicy—of why bad things happen to innocent people—Jesus doesn’t follow through and provide a cut and dry answer for us. Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.
And so I invite you to pray with those parts of your own experience where a change of perspective has brought a new radiance to otherwise dark and dreadful things. Where have you heard the spirit bid you “turn aside, turn around,” so that you might behold the glow and vivid colors of stained glass you hadn’t seen before? Or to encounter a new kind of light emanating from the flames of a fire that doesn’t consume the creatures of creation, but rather makes them more resplendently what they are?
Holy Spirit, inspire us with your holy and immortal fire, and grant us grace to change our minds and put on a new perspective, that we may more fully behold the radiance of God’s mercy and charity in all we encounter or experience. Only then can we amend our ways. Only then, by your power, can we be helped, can we be saved.
 Exodus 3:1—3 NRSV.
 Or, as Terry Holms has named it, “God’s gift of space to turn around in.”
 Luke 13:1—5 NRSV.
Jesus’ Sabbath Keeping: the No and the Yes – Br. Curtis Almquist
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Jesus would have known and practiced this prophecy of Isaiah – perhaps known it by heart – as Isaiah speaks about the sabbath day. “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.”
One way to “remember the holiness of the sabbath” is by what you don’t do: not working with your hands; not traveling about. As Isaiah says, “refraining from trampling the sabbath… not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs.” However sabbath-keeping is also about what you do practice: to abide, to pray, and to share meals with your family and community. But there’s more. Isaiah says, to actually do some very specific kind of work on the sabbath: “to offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted.”
Jesus heard the prophet Isaiah in both of these ways: the holy sabbath being both about restoration of one’s own personal life, and a call to action on behalf of others in need so that they, too, can have a life. This active service in sabbath-keeping is something Jesus practiced on behalf of the poor, the sick, the oppressed, the outcast. And, as we know, it got him into a great deal of trouble because it appeared he was working on the sabbath. He was. He was working, in a principled way, so that others would have enough of a life to be able to practice the sabbath. Jesus could say, “blessed are the poor”… and “blessed are the hungry” because of the responsiveness of God’s people to the poor and suffering in need.[i] Jesus did not say, “cursed are the poor” and… “cursed are the hungry,” but rather, “blessed are the poor”… and “blessed are the hungry” because their needs were being addressed, and work was being done by the faithful… sometimes even on the sabbath.
[i] Jesus’ Beatitudes in Matthew 5:2-12 and Luke 6:20-26.