Until the Last Lamb is Free – Br. Keith Nelson

Isaiah 40:1-11
Matthew 18:12-14

If you’ve ever gone astray –

If by choice or by chance, you have found yourself separated – from God; from belonging; from the integrity, the dignity, or the honesty that once anchored you;

If you have found yourself in a place bereft of the guidance, the reassurance, or the forgiveness you so desperately needed;

Or from the touch or the glance or the words that would weave you once again into the fabric of connection, relationship, and love…

If yes, the question Jesus poses in tonight’s gospel is meant for you.

Does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?

What do you think? Jesus asks. Read More

Take courage … I am with you … do not fear – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester,
Superior

Haggai 1: 15b-2:9

I want to begin by saying how glad I am to be back among you, and to express my gratitude to the Brothers for the opportunity to be on sabbatical for the last 10 weeks, and especially to Brother Keith who covered for me. I also want to say thank you, to all of you who have held me in your prayers these last weeks, as I did you in mine.

My time away was extraordinary. I was able to see members of my family, some of whom I have not seen since before 2019. I spent time in Oxford, which, as you know is where the community began in 1866, and is a place over the last years I am coming to know well, and where I feel at home. The Sunday before I left Oxford, I preached in Father Benson’s former parish, standing in the pulpit where he once stood, which for me is always a thrill.

The bulk of my time away however I spent walking in Wales. The experience was exhilarating; the scenery spectacular; the people constantly generous. Even on the day, which my sister described as level 2 fun (in other words, not fun at the time, but fun in hindsight) when it took me 8 hours to walk 9 miles, which included the equivalent of 82 flights of stairs, and along paths far too close to the cliff edge for my liking, I never once thought of giving up, or wondered why on earth I was doing this. Every afternoon at the end of my walk, I was simply glad of a beer, a hot shower, a good meal, and a comfortable bed. Every morning, except for a few days when it was pouring rain; the day of the Queen’s funeral; and a couple days when all I wanted to do was sit in a coffee shop with my novel, I was ready to head out once again and walk. Of a possible 190 miles, I walked 135 of them, so I’m totally thrilled. Read More

Transforming Our Desires – Br. Lain Wilson

Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 16:1-8

Today’s Gospel reading is an uncomfortable one for us to hear.

A trusted servant mishandles his master’s property. After being caught, he worries that he will have to labor or beg to support himself. So he plans to ingratiate himself with his master’s debtors, ensuring he will find a warm welcome after he departs his master’s service. And his master, perhaps acknowledging the clever scheme, commends his dishonest servant.

And Jesus commends this story to his disciples, and us: “the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”

It is uncomfortable to hear that we should be more like the dishonest manager. But if we strip away all the details of this story—the manager’s dishonesty, opportunism, and abuse of authority—what remains? A man finds himself in trouble, reflects on and names his desire, and works to achieve it. If you’ve ever set a goal for yourself, I’ll bet this script sounds familiar. Read More

Life’s Many, Many Crosses – Br Sean Glenn

Br. Sean Glenn

Job 9:1-16
Psalm 88:10-15
Luke 9:57-62

I hope it isn’t controversial of me to say so, but this morning’s readings are, in a word, difficult. If we came to church today looking for encouragements and consolations in the scriptures, we will be hard pressed to find any.

Job’s searching journey of suffering takes him out of an awareness centered purely on the human being—it takes him into the vastness of creation, its complexity, and its awful scale and dimensions. This leaves him with a stark awareness of the sheer immensity of God and the utter smallness of the human creature. My heart breaks for him as he says, “ Though I am innocent, I cannot answer him; I must appeal for mercy to my accuser. If I summoned him and he answered me, I do not believe that he would listen to my voice.”[1]

The gospel doesn’t help much either: three times Jesus presents his listeners with councils that are, to my mind, lacking in a certain pastoral sensitivity. I will follow you! says one. Then prepare for a life with nowhere to lay your head, he replies. He tells another to follow him, who asks if they might first bury their father. Let the dead bury their own dead. Finally, to another, his remarks about the unfitness of any who look back, having put their hand to the apostolic plow. Read More

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