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.

Knowing God – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30

Each of the gospel writers has come to know Jesus and in his gospel is trying to convey his understanding to others in order that they, too, might believe in Jesus.  For Mark, Jesus is the “Son of God,” proclaiming the good news that the “kingdom of God” has come near (Mk 1:1,14).  For Matthew, he is “the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Mt 1:1).  For Luke, he is the “Son of God” (Lk 1:35), the one whose miraculous birth was foretold by an angel (Lk 1:30-33).  For John, he is “the Word” who was “with God” and who “was God” from before all time, and who has taken on himself our human nature (Jn 1:1-2, 14): “The Word became flesh and lived among us,” John tells us.

 The gospel writers declare openly what they believe about Jesus’ identity, but throughout their narratives, we see people – including Jesus’ own disciples – struggling to grasp what the evangelists have already come to believe.

In today’s gospel passage from John, the question of Jesus’ identity is, once again, at the forefront.  The people of Jerusalem have heard of this teacher-healer from Nazareth in Galilee and know that the authorities are trying to kill him.  They wonder aloud why Jesus is being allowed to preach so openly among them.  But they also claim to know him, or at least know something about him.  “We know where this man is from,” they say, “[how can he be the Messiah?]” Read More

Stars and Rock – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke Ditewig

Genesis 15:1-6
Luke 6:43-49

When will it happen? How much longer? What’s coming? Part of our trouble is waiting, not seeing answers or provisions as we expect.

God promised Abram a son. Years had passed. Still nothing. God comes again in a vision and says: “Don’t be afraid.” Abram says: “What? You haven’t given me a son! I’m still childless. So my heir will have to be Eliezer, a slave born in my house.” How do you hear and see the tone? Perhaps angry, blowing up and shaking his fist. Perhaps dejected and slumping with head down.

God’s response is accepting and gracious: No. My promise is true. It’s ok you’re upset. Look up and count the stars. You will receive that much. Every day, look up and remember I am with you. I will provide.

Abram believed God. Here “believed” has the connotation of ongoing, not a one-time thing.[i] Abram continued to believe. While angry or dejected, while questioning with shaking fist or slumping head, Abram believed. While waiting for years, Abram believed. Belief and trust include doubt and struggle. They are not blindly ignoring the hard. Like Abram, believing and trusting God is an ongoing reliance and assured confidence in the midst of struggle. Trust does not deny struggle but indeed names the pain with continued expectation. Read More

Hoping Against Hope – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Romans 4:13-25

The promise first came to Abram when he was already 75 years old!  God said, “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great…. In you, all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:2-3).  It was unthinkable even then, unimaginable, impossible, given his age and the barrenness of Sarai’s womb.  But Abram believed God.

The second promise came eleven years later, when Abram was 86 years old!  This time, Abram questioned God, “You have given me no offspring… [Is one of my slaves to become my heir]?” (Gen. 15:3) and God replied, “[No]. Your very own issue will be your heir… Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.  So shall you descendants be” (Gen. 15:5). And, once again, Abram believed God.

But as time went on and there was still no heir, his faith wavered.  Abram and Sarai decided to help God out by taking matters into their own hands.  So, Abram slept with Sarai’s servant and she conceived and bore him a son, Ishmael.  But this was not God’s plan.

The third and final promise came thirteen years after the second.  Abram was 99 years old and Sarai 90.  Still, they had not conceived.  Their dream of having a child had withered over time and finally evaporated completely.  They knew it was now physically impossible.  They had no reasonable hope.  But God insisted, “You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations.  I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you” (Gen. 17:4,6). This time, Abram laughed (Gen. 17:17). Read More

We have seen his glory! – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

Mark 9:2-9

What do we make of a story like this?  Jesus leads three of his closest friends up a high mountain and there he is transfigured before them!  His clothes become dazzling white, whiter than anyone on earth could bleach them!  Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets, suddenly appear beside Jesus, speaking with him!  A cloud overshadows them all, and a voice booms out of the cloud, “This is my Son, the Beloved.  Listen to him!” No wonder the poor disciples are terrified!

What do we make of a story like this that describes a theophany so extraordinary, so spectacular, so dazzling, so supernatural, that it defies logic.  The whole experience lies so far beyond anything any of us has or ever will see or know, it is almost impossible to imagine.

For a few brief moments, the veil is lifted and the disciples see the radiant glory of God beaming from the person of Jesus.  And then it is over, as quickly as it began.

The remarkable incident described in today’s gospel reading calls to mind the earlier story of Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan by John the Baptist (Mark 1:9-11).  There, too, a voice from heaven rumbled out of the clouds, though this time the message was directed to Jesus himself: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  It was a message of love and affirmation, which confirmed his identity as God’s Beloved Son, and signaled the start of his mission. Read More

An Assured Hope – Br. Lain Wilson

Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle

Habakkuk 2:1-4
Hebrews 10:35—11:1
John 20:24-29

What would it mean for you to have proof?

This question is in the background of P. D. James’s novel Death in Holy Orders. A theological college holds a papyrus that purports to disprove the Resurrection. Surely, if this document proves to be authentic, the inspector asks one of the priests on staff, if it is hard proof about something that had until then only been a belief, this would surely be relevant to your faith. “My son,” the priest responds, “for one who every hour of his life has the assurance of the living presence of Christ, why should I worry about what happened to earthly bones?”[1]

Earthly bones very much worry the apostle Thomas, whom we celebrate today. Bones and flesh, blood and wounds—the physicality of Jesus’s body, the fleshly reality of his friend and teacher. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (Jn 20:25) Jesus lets Thomas see and feel his body, giving him the proof he seeks. But not without a rebuke: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (Jn 20:29). Read More

Humble Joy – Br. Jack Crowley 

Br. Jack Crowley headshot

Br. Jack Crowley

John 1:6-8, 19-28 

Good morning and welcome to the third Sunday of Advent. We are just about one week away from the big day. Next Sunday, Advent four and Christmas eve will collide, and liturgical heads will spin.   

Every year during this final stretch of Advent, I always love to imagine how Mary must have felt as the birth of her baby boy drew near. I’m sure Mary was filled with all sorts of emotions. I mean imagine for nine months carrying the son of God in your belly and feeling baby Jesus kick inside of you. Imagine for nine months going to bed every night knowing the savior of mankind was growing inside you.  

Above all else, I imagine Mary feeling a sort of humble joy. Joy. Not just happiness, not just gratitude, not just relief, but joy. Joy and all the good that comes with it.  

Traditionally on this third Sunday of Advent, we celebrate joy. You may have already noticed that our Advent wreath magically grew some roses last night at first evensong. Those roses are our reminder, in the midst of Advent, in the midst of a busy holiday season, to stop and appreciate the simple beauty of creation, to pause and give thanks and feel the simple joys of the season.   Read More

Mary’s Brain – Br. Lain Wilson

Luke 1:26-38

What if this story is all about Mary’s brain?

The beats of today’s Gospel reading are familiar to most of us. Here at the Monastery, we recount them in the Angelus, which we pray before Morning and Evening Prayer. “The angel of the Lord announced unto Mary . . .” pause, “and she conceived by the Holy Spirit.”

So much happens in that pause. And what if it’s all about Mary’s brain?

Of all the young women God could have chosen, God chose Mary. And what is the first thing we find out about her? That she hears the angel’s news, is perplexed, ponders over his words, and questions him. The first thing we find out about Mary is that she responds to God by using her own God-given faculties of reason and intelligence.

Byzantine writer Nicholas Mesarites provides a cognitive description of this episode: “The word comes to the hearing of the Virgin, and enters through it to the brain; the intelligence which is seated in the brain at once lays hold upon what comes to it, recognizes it by its perception, and then communicates to the heart itself what it had understood.”[1] This then leads Mary to question the angel to determine the truth of the angel’s words. Only after she verifies the truth does Mary gives her yes to the angel, and to God. Read More

Unshakable Faith – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

Psalm 27:1-6

Most preachers, when they reflect on their preaching, will find that they have a few themes that they come back to again and again.  For me, one of those themes is the question of what it means to believe.  I return to this theme repeatedly because I want to challenge the popular understanding that believing means holding a certain set of statements or claims to be true – statements, for example, about God or Jesus or the Bible or salvation.  When we speak of believing in this way, Christianity becomes a matter of the head rather than of the heart.

We know that faith does not spare us from the pain of human existence.  Believing does not guarantee that we will never have cancer, or suffer the loss of a loved one, or lose a job, or watch a business fail.  Believing does not solve all our problems or make us rich or popular or successful.  It does not exempt us from the experience of pain and suffering.  It does not make everything right. Read More

Conceived for Glory – Br. James Koester

Feast of the Transfiguration

Luke 9: 28-36

One Christmas, rather than giving individual presents to members of my family, my aunt gave my family several posters to hang in our basement room. That fall we had built a very 1960’s “rec room” where my siblings and I could invite our friends and not have to worry about either noise or mess and my parents could then reclaim the living room as their space. So, my aunt decided to help us decorate the space, and hence the posters that Christmas as her gift to all of us.

There were several posters, but the one I remember best was of Michelangelo’s statue of Moses.  I remember it, not because even then I was a budding theologian, but because I found it so curious. Created in the early years of the Sixteenth Century, Michelangelo’s Moses was regarded by the artist himself as his most lifelike creation. Once finished he is reputed to have struck the statue on the knee with his hammer and exclaimed Now, speak! To this day you can see a chip in the marble on Moses’ knee where Michelangelo’s hammer is said to have hit.

But that’s not what I found so curious about this image. It wasn’t the chip in the marble. It wasn’t the power and force of the figure. It wasn’t the lifelike quality of the statue. No, none of these drew my attention. What drew my attention, and what I found so curious, and what I did not understand until many years later, and you may know this, but what drew my attention is that Moses had grown horns! Yes, there are two stubby horns emerging out of Moses’ head like horns emerging out of the head of a maturing goat! Read More