Drawn on to Wholeness – Br. Todd Blackham

Br. Todd Blackham

Exodus 32:7-14
Psalm 51:1-11
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10

Recently, I was sorting through some corn we grew this year up at Emery House.  I can’t tell you how much it has meant to me to watch this stuff grow all season.  Br. James had started the seeds in little bio-degradable cups that Br. Keith and I put in the ground once they had sprouted.  Then we watered and waited and those stalks got taller and like magic the ears of corn showed up.  And then, one sabbath a few of us grabbed some of the prettiest corn I’ve ever seen and brought it in for lunch.  It was magnificent.  I was pretty excited to harvest the rest and bring it back for the rest of my brothers and our guests.  So, I started shucking and let’s just say not all of those ears of corn were as pretty as the ones I had for lunch that day.  Let’s call them “artisanal.”  There were some pollination problems with some that left little holes where the kernels hadn’t developed, and some corn bores had gotten to others and eaten their way through the rows.  It was a mixed lot.

The truth is most of them had perfectly fine kernels of corn on them but not all of them were exactly “table ready.”  At first it was easy to keep the ones that looked good, and toss the ones that had hardly developed at all.  Some of them just needed the ends cut off and they looked fine.  But some I really struggled with.  I might have been fine eating them but I’m not sure I’d set it in front of a guest.  It would have been nice to have a strict standard by which to measure them, but my heart really wanted to salvage as much as I could. Read More

The Resurrection Gives Hope – Br. James Koester

Luke 24: 1 – 12

Growing up as I did, not far from the geographic centre of North America,[1] I was completely unfamiliar with tides. I was unfamiliar with them that is, until I went swimming one day in the Pacific Ocean. I had taken off my sandals, shirt, hat, glasses, and put them carefully under my towel, to be retrieved when I came out of the water. Eventually I did, and returned to reclaim my things. Except they weren’t there. I looked up and down the shore, thinking I had gotten out in a different place, or that someone had stolen them. It was only after several minutes of scouring the beach that I realized the people who had been sunning themselves were still in their same spots, except that the water was now much closer to where they were lying. That’s when I realized I had not forgotten where I put my things; nor that someone had taken them; but that the tide was coming in, reclaiming, and renewing the shoreline. When I phoned the diocesan office to begin an insurance claim, all Betty could do was laugh and say, oh James, you really are a prairie boy.

Since then, I have been cautiously fascinated by the tides as they ebb and flow, back and forth, in and out, day by day, year by year, eon by eon. Over time it is possible to note changes, as the ebb tide reveals what lies hidden, and the flow tide covers what is familiar, and creates something new.

This act of revelation and renewal, uncovering and covering, unmaking, and making, destroying, and creating, however is not an act of gently lapping waves. It is an act of force, even of violence, as surging waves crash upon the shore, moving boulders, reshaping rivers, tearing out trees, lifting buildings, pushing them inland, or sucking them into the ocean, until at last what once was, is no longer, and coastlines are reshaped, made new.

It is no accident that I have been thinking about tides a lot these last two years.  Many of you have heard me reflect on how this season in our lives has been a tidal season, as our lives have been unmade by forces beyond our control, and what was once covered is now uncovered. Like the ebbing tide which leaves behind the detritus of rotting seaweed, garbage, and dead fish, we see around us the detritus of injustice, inequality, environmental destruction, nationalism, and greed as the ebb tide of the pandemic recedes. The smell of dead fish left behind by the ebbing tides, or caused by the pollution of our earth’s waters, is no different. Disparities revealed in restrictive voting rights, or vaccine availability are no different. They stink just the same.

Today we look out at a world that stinks of injustice, inequality, environmental degradation, nationalism, and greed. Two years of the ebbing tide of a global pandemic have revealed a host of things now uncovered, or which before we had chosen to be too blind to see.

In the same way, the events of that first Holy Week uncovered the stinking detritus of human greed, pride, and arrogance. Like an ebbing tide, that first Holy Week revealed the injustice and jealously that infect human hearts. It was into that stench of injustice and jealousy that God chose to walk. As R. S. Thomas, the Welsh poet described it in his poem The Coming:

And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look, he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows; a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.

On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.[2]

Let me go there, and into a world stinking with war, aggression, religious intolerance, political power games, and military occupation, the Word was made flesh and lived among us.[3] It was this same world littered with greed, pride and arrogance, injustice and jealousy, and everything which infects the human heart, that was shaken to its foundations that first Easter as the stone was rolled away, revealing a tomb empty, unable to contain the life which had been sealed into it.

For Mary Magdalene, Peter, John and those first followers of Jesus, the resurrection was good news, not because it covered or masked the stink of death. The resurrection was good news for them, not because it covered over the stink of war, aggression, religious intolerance, political power games, and military occupation. The resurrection was good news for those first followers of Jesus because it gave them hope. It gave them hope in the midst of a world that stank of death, for if God can give life to the dead, then God can mend, heal, and cleanse a broken, stinking world. If God can raise Jesus from the dead, then all things can be made new,[4] not by masking them, or covering them up, but by recreating them, and making them new, even as they bear the wounds of the cross.

The resurrection of Jesus was good news to those first followers, because it gave them hope.

We come to Easter this year exhausted, not by our keeping of Lent, but by our keeping on, keeping on. We are exhausted by two years of uncertainty, sadness, and anxiety brought on by a global pandemic. We are exhausted, by two years of blatant inequality and injustice. We are exhausted by fear, that what is going on in Ukraine, will plunge the world into even more chaos, and uncertainty. We are exhausted, by the stink of these past two years, as the pandemic tide ebbs out revealing, what has long been hidden.

But if the resurrection was good news for Mary Magdalene, Peter, John and those first followers of Jesus who lived in a world stinking with war, aggression, religious intolerance, political power games, and military occupation, then the resurrection is good news for us, not because it covers the stink of these past years, but because it gives us hope. It gives us hope that in the midst of a world that stinks, God can give life to the dead. If God can raise Jesus from the dead, then God can mend, heal, and cleanse a broken, stinking world, making all things new, not by masking them, or covering them up, but by recreating them, even as we bear the wounds of the cross.

If the resurrection is not good news to a Covid world, then it was not good news to a few dozen people who lived under the heel of a brutal Roman occupation. But the resurrection was good news to them, and it is good news for us.

The resurrection is good news for us, because by it we live in hope, that our broken, stinking world is being mended, healed, and cleansed as the flow tide comes in, not covering the stench, but recreating and renewing the shore.

The resurrection of Jesus is good news for the whole world, because the promise of God for life, is a promise for all creation, and not simply for certain individuals.

In a world that stinks with the detritus of rotting seaweed, garbage, and dead fish, of injustice, inequality, environmental destruction, nationalism, and greed, we see a world not so different than the one those first followers of Jesus saw, that stank of war, aggression, religious intolerance, political power games, and military occupation. In a world that stinks, the resurrection of Jesus is good news to all, because it is a promise of life that is mended, healed, cleansed, and restored.

It is that world, a world mended, healed, and made new by the flow tide of Jesus’ resurrection, which will bring hope to the people of Ukraine and Russia, just as it will bring hope to us, just as it brought hope to Mary Magdalene and those first followers of Jesus, living under the brutal heel of Roman occupation.

The good news of the resurrection is not simply a promise to you and to me. It is a promise to all creation, that all things will be made new. Behold, I am making all things new. That is God’s promise to us today in the resurrection of Jesus, even as the surf surges and pounds, moving, reshaping, tearing, lifting, pushing, and sucking, until at last what once was, is no longer, and all things are made new.

The promise of the resurrection is not a promise of gently lapping waves, but a promise of force, dare I say, a promise of violence, which heals, mends, and cleanses our world.


Lectionary Year and Proper: Year C, Easter Vigil

Solemnity or Major Feast Day: The Great Vigil of Easter

[1] The city of Centre ND claims to be the centre point of North America and is about 330 miles SE from Regina SK.

[2] R.S. Thomas, The Coming,

[3] John 1: 14

[4] Revelation 21: 5

The Hope of the Resurrection – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Luke 24:1-12

We hear proclaimed in our Gospel account that Jesus is resurrected. But one thing has not changed. Even though Jesus is resurrected, Jesus’ heart is still broken. Just several days earlier, from the Mount of Olives, Jesus had wept as he looked upon Jerusalem, grieving his own people’s neglect of  “justice and mercy.”[i] That wound in Jesus’ heart has not changed. And Jesus is also still wounded by the betrayal and abandonment of his closest friends, the disciples, who literally left Jesus hanging. And Jesus’ resurrected body is still wounded by the scourgings that preceded his crucifixion, and the horrific piercing wounds from his hanging on the cross, and the wound in his side. None of these wounds is yet healed. Other witnesses are also wounded. The women who were there when they crucified their Lord, witnessed it all, a horrific experience, leaving the women traumatized. And the disciples, wounded by their own culpability. On that first Easter day the disciples are hiding – hiding in their own fear, and guilt, and shame.[ii]  On this day of resurrection, everyone in the Gospel story is wounded.

And so for us: the wounds of life. We can acknowledge Jesus’ resurrection and, at the same time, acknowledge somuch woundedness around us and within us: woundedness from the residual trauma and ongoing suffering and loss because of COVID; woundedness because of our own personal experience of loss – be it our own loss of health, or our loss of security, or our loss of dignity; or our loss of loved ones who have meant the world to us. Jesus is resurrected; however meanwhile we witness such woundedness in our world because of the appalling wars and political upheaval going on right now on every continent of the earth; the woundedness for so many people who have been displaced, who have fled for their lives in terror, having lost their homes or lost their hope. There is also, in our own time, the woundedness of the earth, our common home, in the face of the climate emergency. Saint Paul is speaking to our own day when he writes about “the whole creation groaning in labor pains… and waiting for adoption.”[iii] Read More

The Poison Contains the Medicine – Br. Keith Nelson

Br. Keith Nelson

Numbers 21:4-9
John 8:21-30

Seasoned practitioners of many spiritual traditions have come to understand a basic premise. In moments of profound crisis, the ordeal afflicting our spirit often contains, hidden inside it, a truth we need. We need to encounter, to acknowledge, and finally to reckon with this truth, in order to be healed.

Somehow, the poison contains the medicine.

The corresponding question then becomes:

How do we extract the medicine and live to tell the tale?

In this short story from the book Numbers, Moses uses what anthropologists would call sympathetic or imitative magic. Traditional societies often use an object representing a common threat or affliction – in this case, the mysterious, powerful viper – to heal the affliction caused by the thing itself. Encounters with desert-dwelling snakes would have been frequent in the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites. Moses’ response in the text suggests an imitative logic: fight fire with fire. Subdue the literal burning of snake venom in the flesh with an image of a snake cast from burning, molten metal. This is underscored by the word-magic of the Hebrew: the word for snake, nehash, sounds evocatively like the word for bronze, nehoshet. Read More

Bathed in Glory – Br. James Koester

Bathed in Glory - Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester,
Superior

Isaiah 1:2-4, 16-20

There is a line in this evening’s lesson from Isaiah that has always appealed to me. In fact, a number of years ago when I was asked what my favourite line from Scripture was, I quoted this one. I don’t know if I would still say it remains my favourite, but it continues to intrigue me. Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord.[1]

The line, and indeed the passage, intrigues me, because of what it tells us about God, and God’s nature.

In my imagination, what unfolds before us this evening is a great courtroom drama, with all the twists and turns that implies. Think, if you a certain age, Perry Mason. And I think that’s what Isaiah had in mind. Isaiah is not speaking of an argument, between two angry and hostile parties. He is speaking in terms of a legal argument, where all the facts of the case are laid before the court, which has the power to make an ultimate decision or judgement.

If Isaiah is describing a court of law, and not a verbal argument between two antagonists, then we can ask ourselves, who are the actors in this courtroom drama? Who is judge or jury? Who are the opposing attorneys? Who is the defendant? Most particularly we can ask, what is this case about.

The answer to the last two questions is clear. The defendants are those children of God Isaiah references, who have rebelled, who do evil and deal corruptly, who have forsaken and despised the Holy One, and who are utterly estranged from God. The case is one of rebellion, and it is they, the children of God, who have rebelled, and who are now clothed in the scarlet and crimson of their sins.[2]

Last Holy Week, I had fun dyeing eggs for Easter. Rather than using commercial food dye, or buying an Easter Egg dyeing kit, I looked around the kitchen, and created various dyeing solutions using different spices, vegetables, and fruits.

Not only is Isaiah giving us a lesson in Biblical legal procedures in this passage, he is also giving us a lesson in the art of dyeing fabric. What I learnt dyeing eggs resonates with what Isaiah hints at.

It is no accident that Isaiah uses the colours scarlet and crimson to denote sin, and it is not simply because they are the colour of blood. To dye something scarlet or crimson requires that the article be left in the dye solution for quite some time. As I discovered with my Easter eggs, the longer something is left in the solution, the deeper the colour, and the harder it is to wipe off. Those whose sin has coloured them scarlet, who are red like crimson, Isaiah tells us, have utterly forsaken God, and walked far from the paths of righteousness. We are not speaking here of a pale colour that will soon fade. We are speaking of a colour, indeed a sin, that is deeply, indelibly set.

Nor should it surprise us that Isaiah is not speaking of a nameless, or anonymous people in this passage. He is speaking of a people known to him. Indeed, he is speaking of a people to whom he is speaking: the people of Judah and Jerusalem. By extension, he is speaking to us. We are that sinful, rebellious, corrupt people, whose sins have clothed us in scarlet and crimson.

Because our sin is so indelibly set, like the colours scarlet and crimson, the outcome of our legal case is certain. The judgement can be nothing less than guilty as charged. But that’s where things get exciting. That’s why I find this passage so fascinating.

While the identity of the defendant is clear, and they are clearly guilty, the judge, jury, and attorneys switch sides in an instant, and go from prosecuting the defendant, to pleading with them. …though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.[3]

Isaiah’s audience would have known how difficult it is to reverse the dyeing process, and take something scarlet or crimson, and turn it white. They would have known the impossibility of such a transformation. No amount of washing, soaking, scrubbing, or bleaching, would be able to totally remove the scarlet and crimson dye. What had been dyed scarlet or crimson was indelibly coloured. Nothing can change that.

The surprising thing is that Isaiah suggests it can be changed. The surprising thing is that scarlet and crimson can be made white. With that, the legal case is turned on its ear, and the judge, who one minute was ready to find the defendant guilty, is equally prepared to find them innocent. …you shall be like snow…you shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land. And we know now, the judge, jury, and attorneys to be none other than God, the Holy One of Israel.

If scarlet and crimson are the colours of indelible sin, then the purity of snow, and the loveliness of wool point in the opposite direction. We saw that direction several days ago.

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.[4]

In the Transfiguration, we see Jesus as he truly is, radiating God’s glory, and being shown to be God’s son. ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’[5]

Baptized as we are into Christ Jesus, we see ourselves as God intends us to be. Like Jesus, in him we too are clothed in dazzling white, and bathed in glory. What a far cry is this vision of ourselves, from the one Isaiah holds before us. There we see ourselves stained by sin and indelibly coloured scarlet and crimson. Now we see ourselves pure and lovely, radiating God’s glory.

Both Isaiah and Jesus tell us this transformation, indeed, this transfiguration is possible. All it takes for us to go from being indelibly coloured by sin, is to wash ourselves by ceasing to do evil, learning to do good, seeking justice, rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan, and pleading for the widow.[6]

This transformation, indeed, this transfiguration, from scarlet to snow, and crimson to wool, from a people utterly estranged from God, and indelibly marked by sin, to the beloved daughters and sons of God, happens when we remember who and whose we are. Baptized into Christ we are called to be a people of justice, mercy, and peace, who like the ox knows its owner, and like the donkey knows its master’s crib.[7]

Acknowledging whose we are, and where we belong turns the legal case against us and our sin on its ear. Judge, jury, and attorneys go in an instant from prosecuting our guilt and sin, to pleading our innocence, and forgiving our sin. In an instant the mark of rebellion and estrangement from God is wiped out, as we come to know ourselves as God’s beloved daughters and sons.

For many, Lent is a time to recognize our sin. It is a time to acknowledge they are like scarlet and red like crimson. Lent is a time to recognize that we do evil and deal corruptly. But if that is the only message of Lent, no wonder it makes us miserable.

There is another message of Lent. It is the message of Isaiah, the message of Jesus.  [Though our] sins be like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

No matter how set is the colour of our sin, the message of Lent, the message of Isaiah, the message of Jesus is a message of ultimate release and forgiveness when we will know ourselves as God intends us to be, clothed in dazzling white, and bathed in glory, like fresh snow, and washed wool.

I am intrigued by the passage, and by God’s desire to argue it out with us, because in the end it reminds us that God’s nature is always to have mercy and forgive, just as our nature is to be clothed in dazzling white and bathed in glory as the beloved daughters and sons of God.


[1] Isaiah 1: 18a

[2] Isaiah 1: 2 – 4, 18

[3] Isaiah 1: 18 – 19

[4] Luke 9: 28 – 29

[5] Luke 9: 35

[6] See Isaiah 1: 16 – 17

[7] See Isaiah 1: 2

Wait for the Lord – Br. Luke Ditewig

Wait for the Lord - Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke Ditewig

Psalm 130

Out of the depths, the Psalmist and we cry, from the deep, unseen, chaos, from the pit, feeling overwhelmed by grief, guilt, and death. “Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord. … hear my voice.” Have mercy.

“If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss,” were to see and respond that is done and left undone, no one could stand. Our sin matters, and God forgives. Both truths prompt reverent fearful awe of God.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits. In God’s word is my hope. I wait with expectation like those who watch through the night wait for the morning. Yes, I wait like that. Not just for the night shift to end but with trust that light will break through the darkness. Read More

Reach Out and Hold – Br. James Koester

Luke 2:1-20

I spent a lot of time by myself as a child. It’s not that I didn’t have any friends. I did. And I’d hang out and do stuff with them on plenty of occasions. So that wasn’t the reason. I think I spent a lot of time alone, simply because I enjoyed my own company. I still do. I can occupy myself quite well reading, or working on some kind of project, or even working on something I enjoy. When I was living at Emery House, I could fill an entire day by myself in the chicken coop shoveling chicken you know what, or working with the bees, or weeding the garden, and be totally happy.

One of the things I remember doing as a child, was endlessly drawing maps. It must have been the year geography was introduced to the school curriculum, so was probably about grade 5 or 6. Sitting at my desk, in the family room at home, I’d draw maps of imaginary places. I’d use different colours of pencil crayons to represent different things: blue, obviously for water; green for forests; brown for mountains; yellow for prairies. (In my maps there was always lots of prairie! It was the one landscape I knew firsthand.)

Once I had my map completed, I would trace a journey through it, as my imaginary explorers moved from one place to another, discovering this newfound land of my imagination.

Since then, maps have fascinated me. That fascination was rekindled a number of years ago, on one of my first visits to the Middle East. On that visit I saw for myself what I had often drawn, a small piece of land at the crossroads of history. The sights, and sounds, and smells of Jerusalem are a daunting and exhilarating introduction to cultures and civilizations that come together, meeting, and passing through one another, in a small space. Africa, Asia, and Europe all meet there, creating a confusing and complex intersection of humanity. What I had spent so many hours drawing as a 9-year-old, I was seeing firsthand, as a 40 some year old.

It is that complex history, meeting at the crossroads of the world, which unfolds before us in tonight’s gospel. You already know the story, so close your eyes, and imagine the scene.

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.[1]

There, over 1400 miles away, in Imperial Rome, a decision was made, that thew into turmoil the lives of countless women and men, whose lives were constantly in turmoil to begin with. Rome had occupied Palestine since 63 BC. Before Rome, there had been the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, and countless others. After Rome, came still others. To control the route to Africa, Asia, or Europe, meant the control of the Middle East. The inhabitants of Jerusalem were familiar with foreign control. Mary and Joseph had in fact, spent their entire lives under the thumb of faraway Rome. Is it any wonder the people of Jerusalem and Bethlehem longed for freedom, for a saviour, for a redeemer, for a messiah, who would liberate them from foreign domination? This dream of freedom and liberation was deeply, deeply ingrained in them. It was the very stuff of their prayer, and of their Scripture.

For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.[2]

This dream of liberation and freedom was at the very core of their identity as a people.

I think that longing for freedom is something we understand today, in ways we never before imagined. Who among us, after nearly two years of lockdown, does not dream of liberation, of freedom, of release? We, whose lives have been turned upside-down, by something which, to begin with, we had no control over, long to be set free from the forces of death, disease, and worry, even if only to do something as simple as coming to Church on Christmas Eve. We long to be set free, for a saviour, for a redeemer, for a messiah. How much we are alike, we who long for freedom from COVID, and Mary, Joseph, and the people of Jerusalem and Bethlehem from Rome. Although nearly 2000 years separate us, we are so, so alike. This longing for freedom is now at the core of our identity, just as it was theirs’.

In many ways, that’s what Christmas is about. Sure, it’s about family, and feasting, and festivities. But at its heart, it is about a longing for freedom. Sure, it’s about carols, and ritual, and gifts. But at its heart, it’s about a longing for freedom. Sure, it’s about friends, and trees, and lights. But at its heart, it’s about a longing for freedom.

You and I long for freedom, just as did Mary, and Joseph. And freedom came to them, not by a mighty military army, but in the form of a baby. And freedom will come to us. That freedom came to them, not by a human claiming he alone could fix it, but in the cry of a dependent infant. And freedom will come to us. That freedom came to them, not through might, or power, or privilege, but in the poverty of a child, born in a stable, and laid in a manger. And freedom will come to us.

We long for freedom. And freedom will come. Freedom has come. Just as with Mary, and Joseph, and the people of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, freedom has come to us in the form of a baby, in the cry of an infant, in the poverty a stable and a manger.

Freedom comes to us tonight in Jesus, whom angels praise, and shepherds kneel before in wonder. Freedom comes to us tonight in Jesus, who comes in humility, dependence, and poverty. Freedom comes to us tonight in Jesus, who brings forgiveness, healing, and love.

All of us long for freedom tonight, freedom from death, disease, and worry. And if we open our hands, and our hearts, God will place in them the gift of freedom, in the person of the babe of Bethlehem.

All of us long for freedom tonight, and if we take it, God will place that gift of freedom in our arms, in the person of Jesus, not in might, or power, or privilege, but in humility, dependence, and poverty, that brings forgiveness, healing, and love.

All of us long for freedom. Mary, and Joseph, and the people of Jerusalem and Bethlehem did. And freedom came to them in the form of a baby, born in a stable, and laid in a manger. And freedom’s name is Jesus. We too long for freedom. And freedom comes to us in humility, dependence, and poverty. And freedom’s name is Jesus.

Tonight, freedom is born once again. And freedom’s name is Jesus, who brings forgiveness, healing, and love. All we need do, is reach out and take hold of this tiny, helpless baby, whose name is freedom, and God’s gift of forgiveness, healing, and love will be ours.

Merry Christmas everyone! God’s gift of freedom, whose name is Jesus, is yours this night. All you have to do, is reach out, and take hold.


[1] Luke 2: 1 – 5

[2] Isaiah 9: 4 – 5

Rejoice in the Lord always – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

I don’t spend a lot of time reading for pleasure, but when I do, I usually gravitate towards mysteries.  I love the way skilled mystery writers can weave together a complex plot involving a whole cast of characters, somehow leaving us hanging at the end of each chapter, eager for more.  The situations the detectives find themselves in are always so complicated – there are numerous suspects with possible motives and pieces of evidence that don’t seem to fit, and we’re wondering how this tangled situation will ever be resolved.  But, invariably, in the final pages the truth comes out, the villain makes a fatal mistake, a key piece of evidence comes to light, or the detective has a brilliant flash of insight, and the whole complex situation finds resolution.  95% of the book is spent weaving the complicated plot, and the last 5% is spent resolving and explaining the mystery.

Most of the time I find these kinds of stories satisfying.  (I do like a tidy ending!)  But at times the ending feels too neat and I think to myself, ‘that’s not how life works.’  Situations in life that are as tangled as this don’t resolve themselves quite this conveniently, most of the time. Read More

Sin, So Tedious; Love So Enduring – Br. Curtis Almquist

Luke 7:36-50

Most of us, most of the time, do not need anyone else’s help for us to judge ourselves poorly. We are well apprised of how we have missed the mark, perjured ourselves, once more done or said those things we have ought not to have done or said, and not done or said those things we should have. Momentarily we will be invited to make a personal, corporate confession of our sin. We will just plough ahead with this. What is so pathetic is we need not be asked for a show of hands, whether time for confession would be helpful. The ancient liturgy of the church – without benefit of having personally surveyed either you or me – presumes the state of things in our soul, and that, yet again, our personal confession of sin would be both helpful and necessary for most all of us. The distinctive quality of confessions, in my experience, is that they are so tedious and boring.

Jesus judges this woman about whom we hear in today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus judges her. Jesus puts a face to God’s judgment, and it is a judgment of love. It is not a judgment of ridicule, or rejection, or hopelessness, or boredom, or eternal condemnation, but rather a judgment of love.

This woman is a known person. It’s her again. We can presume that Jesus is also a known person. It’s him again. She did not pick Jesus at random. She knows something about him, most likely has heard him teaching, seen him healing before. What she is doing, down on her knees, is making her confession with alabaster oil and tears. It’s an extravagant confession, as is her known sin. No words from her are recorded. What’s to say? It’s her again. Most significant in this Gospel story is not whether Jesus bears God’s love, nor whether Jesus bears God’s love for this woman. Jesus has said that before, and she has heard it. The question – her question – is whether Jesus still loves her? Yes, he still loves her. He still loves us.

Whose Property is Always to Have Mercy – Br. James Koester

Mark 7:24-37

I love this story of the healing of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter from the Gospel of Mark! I love it in part, because I get to say the word Syrophoenician! Just throw that into the conversation and see how impressed people are with your erudition! I love it because of the breathlessness with which Mark tells the story. You can hear the urgency, as in just six verses Mark tells us an awful lot, that is profoundly significant. I love it, because it harkens back to my childhood growing up at St. Mary’s, Regina. It is from this passage, among other sources, that Cranmer created, what some of you will remember, as the Prayer of Humble Access, or the Zoom Prayer, as a friend calls it:

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, Trusting in our own righteousness, But in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy So much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the Flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his Blood, That our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, And he in us. Amen.[1]

Mostly I love this story because it shouldn’t have happened! There is a hint of the forbidden. We see Jesus acting out of the box. He shouldn’t be where we find him, doing what he shouldn’t be doing. And that’s just the point. Read More