Conversing with God – Br. Jack Crowley

Br. Jack Crowley headshot

Br. Jack Crowley

Exodus 32:7-14
Psalm 106:6-7, 19-23

Moses was the star of the show this morning. The hero who stood in the breach defending his people from God’s wrath. I can’t imagine how Moses must have felt, walking down Mount Sinai with two stone tablets in hand, being verbally interrupted by God to find out his people had turned astray.

One of the many things I love about Moses was his verbal relationship with God. I use that word verbal intentionally. Moses and God had a lot of conversations. Starting from being called from the burning bush on Mount Horeb, all the way to Moses’ last moments on Mount Nebo with God lovingly telling Moses how his people would reach the promised land. Moses and God had this beautiful back and forth verbal relationship that blossomed over time.

These conversations were not always easy. Moses had the courage to speak to God truthfully, but Moses also had the stamina to listen to what God had to say – even when God was angry. Moses grew from being a man too afraid to speak to Pharaoh directly, even though God directly told Moses to do so, to being a man who verbally defended his people straight to God’s face. Read More

Practicing Forgiveness in the Midst of Resentment – Br. Jack Crowley 

Matthew 18:21-35 

If you came here tonight expecting some lighthearted readings, I’m sorry to disappoint. You know things are serious when Jesus starts using words like prison and torture. So, what’s the cause of such gravity? 

Forgiveness. Jesus is talking about forgiveness. In our Gospel tonight, Jesus frames forgiveness in serious and powerful tones.  

We know the power of forgiveness. We know this already in our hearts. We know what an amazing feeling it is to forgive and be forgiven. We know those awesome moments of reconciliation when friends heal rifts and grow stronger. 

We also all know the power of resentments. Resentments have the power to strangle moments of joy out of our lives. Resentments have the power to keep us up at night, fuming in our beds. Resentments have the power to harden our hearts and make us into people we don’t want to be.  Read More

Jesus’ Understanding for the Misunderstood – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Mark 3:13-19, 31-35

The scene captured in this Gospel passage does not typically show up in beautiful stained glass windows in churches. This is a troubling scene. In the family system it is a rough day for Jesus, his siblings, and his mother, Mary.[i]

Here is the back story. Away on a mountaintop Jesus had just appointed his twelve apostles, and then he returned to Nazareth, which is the setting for this Gospel lesson.[ii]  A considerable crowd has surrounded Jesus outside his family’s home as he teaches. There is very mixed energy in the crowd. Jesus’ mother and his brothers must have been inside their home, because the Gospel of Mark reports they then go outside and send word through the crowd for Jesus. Why? Is it so they can stand with Jesus and give their public assent to his teaching? No. Does his family want to protect Jesus? No. We read the family makes their appearance to restrain Jesus.[iii] The verb used here to describe their reaction to Jesus literally means “he is out of his mind” or “he has gone mad!”[iv] What we witness is an attempt at a family intervention.

The terse situation seems only to escalate when we hear Jesus’ reaction to the report that his family has appeared on the outskirts of the crowd. Jesus seems to respond rhetorically or dismissively: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, Jesus says, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Read More

Conditional Friendship, Unconditional Love – Br. Lain Wilson

Feast of Richard Meux Benson

John 15:9-17
1 John 4:7-12

“You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

I’m struck today by this little word “if.” “You are my friends if.” When was the last time you said that to a friend? “You are my friend if you take my side.” ”You are my friend if you do what I say.”

But how often does this “if” go unspoken? “You are my friend,” we say, while thinking, “if you do what I expect, if you believe or read or vote the way I do.” How often do we find ourselves unconsciously closing the door on those who do not fulfill our unspoken ifs?

The founder of our Society, Richard Meux Benson, whom we celebrate today, had a dim view of friendship, in large part because of these ifs. He recognized that, in practice, earthly friendships are often divisive, based as they are on “certain idiosyncrasies which we may share in common, and which naturally . . . separate cliques from the rest of mankind.”[1] In short, he later wrote, “earthly friendships are apt to make us feel lonely both in their enjoyment and in their removal.”[2] Read More

Divine Opia – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

John 1:43-57
Psalm 139:1-5,12-17

During my middle school and high school years, my parents imparted valuable social skills that they believed would benefit me as I transitioned into adulthood. My mother specifically emphasized etiquette. For instance, when invited to someone’s house for dinner, it’s customary to wait for the host to signal the start of the meal, often indicated by them picking up their silverware first. Additionally, it’s essential to be mindful not to comment on someone else’s food, especially if it’s something you don’t personally like.

On the other hand, my dad underscored the importance of staying informed about current events, just in case you might be engaged in conversation with an elder. He also highlighted the significance of a firm handshake and holding doors for others—even if they’re a few paces behind you. Most crucially, he emphasized making eye contact when speaking to others for better connection, perceived honesty, mutual understanding, and respect.

All of these have served me well, although I admit that maintaining eye contact in conversations is difficult for me. I had always wondered why eye contact proved challenging until I was diagnosed with a neuro-difference about six years ago. For people who have ADHD (like me) or are on the Autism spectrum, maintaining eye contact can prove disconcerting. Read More

The Joy of Friendship – Br. James Koester

Aelred of Rievaulx, Monastic and Theologian, 1167

We remember today, Aelred, the twelfth century abbot of the Cistercian monastery of Rievaulx in northern England, who died on this day in the year 1167. Aelred is most remembered for his writings on the gift of friendship, hence the marvelous collect that we once prayed on this day:

Pour into our hearts, O God, the Holy Spirit’s gift of love,
that we, clasping each the other’s hand, may share the joy
of friendship, human and divine, and with your servant
Aelred draw many into your community of love….

The gift of friendship, both human and divine, which we celebrate today, is perhaps one of the most debased gifts of our time, for we can friend any number of people, many of whom we have never met in person, with the click of a computer key. At the same time, we can un – friend them just as easily. People also speak of friends with benefits, or hook – ups, by which they mean people who enjoy physical intimacy, without the problem of emotional intimacy or commitment. Aelred, I think would be appalled by it all.

For Aelred, friendship was a sacrament of God’s love. It is a way, not the only way, but a way in which you and I can taste here and now the mystery of God’s love for us. God has not friended us with the mere click of a computer key, and nor will God un-friend us with the click of the same key. At the same time, God does not regard us simply as a friend with benefits without the complexity of emotional intimacy or commitment.

What many regard as friendship today, is not what Aelred wrote about, when he described friendship as the medicine of life for friendship, Aelred says, heightens the joy of prosperity and mitigates the sorrows of adversity by dividing and sharing them. Hence the best medicine in life is friendship.

It is only in true friendship that we can know and be known in ways that heal our sorrows and multiply our joys. Such friendship takes hard work and a level of emotional commitment not found solely on a keyboard. While a computer may help to nurture such a friendship over time and long distances, it cannot replace the face – time that true friendship requires to survive and thrive.

In the same way, God longs for face – time with us, not the cursory click of a keyboard, or the fleeting acknowledgement that often passes for prayer, or a friend with benefits relationship that carries with it no degree of emotional honesty, intimacy, or commitment. To paraphrase John, and Aelred, for God so loved us that he gave his Son that we, clasping each the other’s hands, human and divine, might be friends with one another, and our joys heightened, and our sorrows mitigated.

Recognizing the Lord – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Sirach 48:1-11
Matthew 17:9-13

The prophet Elijah is one of the great figures of the Bible, and straddles both the Old and New Testaments. In our first reading today from the Book of Sirach, we have this great paeon of praise for Elijah: ‘How glorious you are Elijah in your wondrous deeds’. There is also a profound hope that he would come again, to prepare the way of the Lord. This hope grows through the Hebrew scriptures, and culminates in the very last verses of the Old Testament, in the Book of Malachi: ‘Lo I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.’  And to this day, when Jewish families celebrate Passover, they leave a place at the table for Elijah, and at one point a son goes to the front door to see if Elijah has come.

In our Gospel reading from Matthew, the disciples Peter, James and John are coming down the mountain having just experienced the glorious Transfiguration of Jesus. At the Transfiguration they saw Elijah, as well as Moses, who were talking with Jesus. As the disciples walked down the mountain they questioned Jesus about Elijah. They wanted to know why Elijah had not come earlier, as promised in scripture, preceding the coming of Jesus. Jesus told them that Elijah had already come, but that people did not recognize him. ‘Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.’ John came preaching repentance and prepared the way for the promised Messiah. In this way, he was fulfilling the role of Elijah, but the religious leaders simply did not recognize him. They did not recognize him. The scriptures are full of this theme of failing to recognize the one who is in their midst; of not truly seeing; of spiritual blindness. Of course, Jesus’ enemies did not recognize who he was. Remember all those chapters in John’s Gospel, where the Pharisees keep asking him hostile questions about his identity. ‘Where are you from? Who is your family? How do you know so much – you’ve never been taught. You are not yet fifty; how have you seen Abraham?’  Finally, in chapter 8: 25 in exasperation, ‘Who are you?’  as the prologue to John puts it, ‘He was in the world, yet the world did not know him,’ Read More

Shamelessly Free – Br. Lain Wilson

Malachi 3:13-4:2a
Luke 11:5-13

If you’ve been around children for more than about five minutes, I’m sure you’ve gotten frustrated. They interrupt and question when you just want to have a nice conversation. They run ahead, or behind, or zigzag, or sit down when you just want to have a nice walk. Think about that behavior. Now imagine yourself doing it. Does it make you uncomfortable? Do you think about what other people may think about your doing or asking? Name that uncomfortable emotion. Is it embarrassment or, perhaps, shame?

The word in our Gospel reading translated as “persistence” literally means “shamelessness.” Your friend knocks at the door late at night, and knocks, and keeps knocking, without regard for what you think about him. He needs something. Like a child, he is unashamed of his need, unashamed to ask, unashamed to persist.

Children appear in both our readings this morning, and imagining a particularly shameless child helps us to understand not only what it means to persist in prayer, as Jesus exhorts us, but to persevere in a relationship with God. God, Malachi tells us, will have compassion on those who serve God, as parents have compassion on “children who serve them” (Mal 3:17). I imagine this group not just as obedient children, but as shameless children, unembarrassed to revere God, unconcerned by what others, who see no profit in serving God, may think about them. This is the shamelessness of the psalmist, who persists in giving thanks to God despite those who mock him. This is the shamelessness of Saint Paul, who is unashamed of the Gospel (Rom 1:16).

This is difficult. We face enormous personal and social pressures to care about what others think, to conform, to grow up. But when we apply this to God, how easily we complicate our relationship with God. What childlike shamelessness gives us, I think, is single-minded freedom. Think back to that child. How would she express her need, how would she pray, how would she relate to God? Where do you feel resistance in doing likewise? What would it take for you to turn to God like her—unencumbered, unembarrassed, unashamed? Ask Jesus to give you that freedom—the freedom to ask, to search, to knock . . . the freedom to be shameless.

Amen.

Ways to Heal – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke Ditewig

Luke 5:27-32

Jesus selected a small group of disciples to particularly teach and transform, a very unusual assortment including uneducated fishermen. Choosing a tax collector is striking. Working for the occupying Roman Empire, he was considered a traitor, outcast by the Jewish community. Other disciples would have resisted or been uncomfortable by Jesus’ latest invitation.

Walking along after teaching and healing, likely amid a crowd asking questions, Jesus saw Levi. Jesus paid attention to the periphery and saw those rejected or overlooked. Looking widely, Jesus saw Levi, saw a human with dignity and worth and honored him with a call. Seen and invited, Levi experienced Jesus’ healing mercy.

 “Why eat with tax collectors and sinners?” say self-confident and serious religious folk. Condemn traitors. Build barriers. Stick together. Keep clean.

Because the sick need a doctor. “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Jesus comes as Great Physician to those who accept they are sick, who are in need.

Sometimes Jesus healed immediately by touch. Jesus also healed and formed over a long time, teaching and living especially with that small group of disciples. Like a doctor, Jesus offers ways to engage healing, including slowly in community. Here are three: look, honor, and receive.

Look widely. Pay attention not only to those close to you. Look to the periphery, see and welcome the outcast and stranger.

Honor mystery. We Brothers say in our Rule of Life: “… honor the mystery present in the hearts of our brothers and sisters, strangers and enemies. Only God knows them as they truly are and in silence we learn to let go of the curiosity, presumption and condemnation which pretends to penetrate the mystery of their hearts.”[i]

Receive wisdom. What do others have to teach you, especially companions you didn’t or wouldn’t choose?

Jesus comes offering healing, including through ways to give and receive together. Look widely. Honor mystery. Receive wisdom.


[i] SSJE Rule of Life, Chapter 27: Silence

Best Gifts – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke Ditewig

Clement of Rome

Luke 6:37-45

You’ll get what you give, Jesus says. Forgive and be forgiven. Judge and be judged. Compassion. Accusation. There’s reciprocity in relationship. Don’t give what you don’t want to get, especially with feedback, correction, or teaching, acknowledge your own needs. Keep at own work first. “Take the log out of your own eye so you can even rightly see the speck in your neighbor’s.” You might need help. Logs are heavy. Jesus gives a direct word because community is hard work. We need each other. It’s easy to find fault, to hold onto hurt, distance, and cut off.

Today we remember Clement of Rome, an early church leader. There was division at the church in Corinth when some younger leaders convinced the whole to remove the ruling elders. Clement wrote a pastoral letter calling the community to stick it out and abide together, to keep and listen to its elders. Clement called for maintaining hierarchy and for balance with mutuality. For a couple centuries, some included Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians in the New Testament. Clement wrote: “All work together and are mutually subject for the preservation of the whole body.” Read More