Turn Around – Br. Luke Ditewig

Luke 12:54-59

You can interpret a rising cloud to mean rain or a southern wind to mean heat, Jesus says. Why don’t you understand what’s happening right now? Don’t you see what I am doing?

Just before, Jesus said: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! … father against son … mother against daughter … mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law … .”[i] Though shocking now, family was everything, more powerful than in our current western context. Jesus invites radical change, creating a new community contrary to familial, social, and cultural norms. Discipleship invites conflict and division.

Mennonite pastor Melissa Florer-Bixler wrote: “The peacemaking Jesus intends for the disciples invites conflict in every aspect of our lives. Throughout the gospels, Jesus models this in a life of making enemies. The sword of Jesus’ good news is one that pierces natural alliances. Instead of focusing on the family, Jesus draws together those who were separated by ethnic and social hierarchies … .”[ii] God’s kingdom reorders relationships and creates one community where all belong. Read More

The one, true, and living God – Br. Lucas Hall

The Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist

Today, we observe the feast of St. Luke the Evangelist. There are two biographical bits of information that I think are important to understanding Luke’s theology.

First, Luke was likely a Gentile convert to belief in the Israelite God. He rejected his surrounding culture of Greek paganism, but probably had not fully adopted Israelite religion as a convert Jew. Instead, Luke was probably a God-fearer, a class of participants in Israelite religion that was not bound by the law of Moses, but was bound by the much simpler law given to Noah after the flood for all humanity. God-fearers were, then, on the margins: not quite Gentile, not quite Jew. In other words, Luke knew what it meant to be an outsider.

The second fact about Luke is that he was a physician. In this line of work, he would have treated patients from a wide variety of cultures, social standings, ethnic backgrounds, economic circumstances, and religions. Everyone gets sick. Everyone dies. The frailty of human bodies is a universal experience, something Luke would have been intimately familiar with. In other words, Luke knew that, when it comes to universal human experiences, there are no outsiders.

These two facts, Luke’s status as a social and religious outsider, and his work with universal human sufferings, seem to have worked together to craft a particular theological outlook. In his account of the Gospel, Luke focuses very much on outsiders, those ranking low in the social hierarchy. Maybe the best example of this is Mary, a young woman in a patriarchal society who acts as a direct, even priestly, mediator between God and humanity and a virgin who gives birth. This is not simply Luke expressing social concerns; he paints a picture of Mary bearing Christ in the world, and, in doing so, from her position of social weakness, encountering God more fundamentally than those in positions of high social status, and wielding great power and authority in doing so. Read More

A Way Out of the Cul-de-Sac – Br. Curtis Almquist

Luke 12:8-12

“Blaspheming against the Holy Spirit…” I can still remember stumbling across this Gospel passage when I was a young boy. Yikes. It nearly frightened me to death. For several years of my young life I lived in a kind terror that I would accidentally blaspheme against the Holy Spirit and go straight to hell. It’s not that I would do this intentionally. But that was the problem. I was afraid I might goof up and blaspheme by mistake – kind of like if I were to accidentally step on a crack and break my mother’s back, or walk under a ladder, or say or do something which everyone knew was jinxed.

As it turns out, I was not alone. Since the 3rd century, church luminaries have written at great length what Jesus meant about this unforgivable “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.” From the earliest times up to the present, there is no agreement in the church – from east to west – on what Jesus meant.

John Wesley, the 18th century Church of England pastor and theologian, thought that “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” would be the conclusion that Jesus Christ exercised his miracles by the power of the devil.[i] Wesley asks, rhetorically, “Have you ever been guilty of this, calling good evil and evil good?” He answers his own question: “No, of course you have not.” So, he said, there’s nothing to be afraid of here.

Tom Wright, the contemporary English New Testament scholar and Anglican bishop, says that if we were to call Jesus’ undeniably good work “evil,” we end up in a moral cul-de-sac without any turning room.  “Once you declare that the spring of fresh water is in fact polluted, you will never drink from it.” You are stuck, you will dry up. Bishop Wright adds that “the one sure thing about [Jesus’] saying is that if someone is anxious about having committed the [unpardonable] sin against the Holy Spirit, their anxiety is a clear sign that they have not.”[ii]


[i] John Wesley (1703-1791), Church of England clergyman, theologian, evangelist, and brother to Charles Wesley.

[ii] Luke for Everyone, by Tom Wright (SPCK, 2001), pp. 149-150. Nicholas Thomas “Tom” Wright is an English New Testament scholar and Anglican bishop (Durham, 2003-2010), and a prolific author.

The Faithfulness of God – Br. James Koester

I often wonder, as people who read the Scriptures in a world and a context so far removed from the ones in which they were written, how much we lose, or have lost, in our comprehension of them. Can we really comprehend what they are saying, if we don’t have some understanding of the world in which they were written? We hear the Scriptures read, or we read them ourselves, and because we either don’t know the backstory, or because we are so familiar with the text itself, we read and our hearts are not stirred; we read, and we are not convicted; we read, and a fog of incomprehension descends upon our minds, and we are not converted. Now I know this is not always the case. I know this is a gross generalization and exaggeration. But I know too, at least for me, many parts of Scripture leave me yawning. I don’t know why something is important, and I can’t be bothered figuring it out. It would be better if I were at least scratching my head wondering what it means. Instead, I simply move on until at last a ray of light penetrates the fog of my incomprehension. And that is the danger. When our incomprehension fogs our understanding, the meaning, and the power of Scripture is lost to us, and even for us. When that happens, Scripture loses its ability to stir, convict, and convert us. Read More

The Word of God, in the language of our hearts – Br. Todd Blackham

Colossians 3:1–11
Psalm 19:7–14
Luke 24:44–48

One of the great joys and privileges of monastic life is dwelling in a world that is absolutely permeated with Holy Scripture, the Word of God.  The creative force of God is all around us in our worship.  The daily readings in morning and evening prayer, the Eucharistic lections, the psalmody which forms the heart of our office, as well as all the places it is woven into collects, canticles, and suffrages.

“The effect of the scriptures upon us in the liturgy is largely subliminal,” as our Rule states, but as we are enfolded into this life our hearts begin to be transformed in profound ways.  As the Rule continues, “These hearts of ours are not empty vessels but inner worlds alive with images, memories, experiences and desires.  It is the Spirit dwelling within us who brings the revelation of Scripture into a vital encounter with our inmost selves, and brings to birth new meaning and life.”  The Word of God comes to us not only in a rarified Church language segregated to a single aspect of our lives.  It comes to us in the language of our work and our play, our teaching and rebuking, our encouraging and counselling.  The Word of God comes to us in the language of our hearts. Read More

Salt and Salt Substitutes – Br. Curtis Almquist

Mark 9:38-50

Jesus teaches using stories from everyday life, and he often uses metaphors and similes, sometimes with hyperbolic language which certainly gets one’s attention – like cutting off your own wayward hand. Yikes! We need to hear Jesus earnestly, but not always literally. Jesus has to be interpreted. We need to listen to Jesus on three levels: what did his words mean to his contemporaries 2,000 years ago in the Middle East; what do his words mean to us in our present day and culture; and what do we now learn from God’s Spirit? Jesus said that God’s Spirit, would “lead us into all truth.”[i] We need to pay attention to the guidance of Spirit to interpret the Scriptures and to find our way in life.

So what sense do we make of Jesus’ metaphor about salt? Jesus says, “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”[ii] Jesus says, we are “the salt of the earth.”[iii] So what is salt to Jesus? Where did salt figure into Jesus’ own life?

In Jesus’ day, salt was both precious and symbolic. The expression “sharing the salt” was a phrase describing eating with someone. It was not unusual for guests sitting at a dinner table to be ranked in relationship to the saltcellar. The host and the distinguished guests sat at the head of the table, “above the salt.” People who sat below the salt, further from the host, were perceived of lesser status. In Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, The Last Supper, we see Judas the betrayer scowling, with an overturned saltcellar in front of him.

Not only did salt serve to flavor and preserve food, it made a good antiseptic, from which comes the Latin word sal for these salubrious crystals. The Roman goddess of health was named Salus. Of all the roads that led to Rome, one of the busiest was the Via Salaria, the salt route, over which Roman soldiers marched and merchants drove oxcarts full of the precious salt crystals from the salt pans at Ostia. A soldier’s pay – consisting, in part, of salt – came to be known as his salarium, from which we derive the English word “salary.” A soldier’s salary was cut if he “was not worth his salt,” a phrase that came into being because the Greeks and Romans often bought slaves with salt.[iv] Read More

Sacred and Life-giving Words – Br. David Vryhof

Feast of St Matthew

Proverbs 3:1-6, II Timothy 3:14-17, Matthew 9:9-13.

We are remembering with gratitude today the evangelist Matthew, author of the first of the four gospels contained in the New Testament.  Matthew’s gospel was written to a Jewish-Christian audience and presents Jesus as the promised Messiah and King who has come to establish the reign of God upon earth.  Matthew quotes the Old Testament (or Hebrew scriptures) extensively, arguing that Jesus is the fulfillment of the ancient prophesies that spoke of the coming of the Messiah.

Matthew opens his gospel with this proposition that Jesus is the Messiah, noting the circumstances that surrounded his birth, and explaining their significance.  Then follow five sections, each containing narratives describing the words and actions of Jesus, and a block of Jesus’ teaching.  The teachings elaborate what the kingdom of heaven is, and describe how those who belong to that kingdom are to conduct themselves in the world.  The five sections bring to mind the five books of the law – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy —  all of which have been traditionally ascribed to Moses.  The comparison is intentional: Moses was the great teacher of the Old Testament and of Israel;  Jesus is the great teacher of the New Testament and of Christianity. Read More

Show Mercy – Br. Luke Ditewig

Luke 10:38-42

Jesus visits his dear friends Martha and Mary in their home. Martha is upset that Mary sits listening rather than helping her with the work as host. Some hear this as about work versus prayer or balancing action and contemplation. Paul Borgman points to parallel structure. This story is right after the lawyer who tries to test Jesus by asking “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” and “wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus ‘Then who is my neighbor?’”[i] The lawyer and Martha are both anxious and trying to justify themselves.[ii] I am doing what is right, am I not? I know and follow the law. I am upholding our virtue of hospitality. “Do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?”

Jesus replies to the lawyer with a story of a man robbed and left for dead. A priest and a Levite both pass him by, but a despised Samaritan stops to cares for him. Which one was a neighbor? The one who shows mercy. Jesus says: “Go, and do likewise.”[iii]Jesus replies to Martha. “You are worried and distracted by many things. … Mary has chosen the better part.” What does it mean to inherit eternal life? Listen to God’s Word like Mary, and do it like the Samaritan.[iv]

How are you relating to Jesus? Like the lawyer and Martha, where are you anxious? How are trying to justify yourself?    What good is getting in the way?

Jesus shows mercy to one who tried to test him and to Martha. Jesus also comes to us as a friend, into our homes, knowing our hearts, listening with compassion, and redirecting us on the way to life. Read More

The Good News of Acts – Br. James Koester

Acts 15: 22-31

When I’m working on a sermon, I usually keep a couple of questions in my mind. One is, where’s the good news? If I can’t answer that, then none of my listeners will be able to either. The other is, can I sum this whole sermon up in one sentence? If it takes me a whole paragraph to explain my sermon, then it’s not focused, it’s too complicated, or too long.

Using that same principle, I’m wondering this morning how I would sum up the entire Acts of the Apostles into one sentence. How would I do that? There is a lot going on in Acts, but in a sense there is only one thing going on. Luke tells us at the end of his gospel, and he repeats it at the beginning of Acts. You are my witnesses[1] Jesus says to the assembled disciples in the Upper Room on that first Easter, and again just before his Ascension. You will be my witnesses.[2

If that is Acts in one sentence, what about my other question? Where is the good news? We hear it repeatedly throughout Acts, and we hear it again today. The good news of Acts is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike. That is the whole point of Acts, and it is certainly the whole point of the Council of Jerusalem which determined that it was good to the Holy Spirit and to [the Apostles and elders] to impose on [the Gentiles] no further burden than [certain] essentials.[3]  Had the decision been otherwise, in those days shortly after Pentecost, the tiny Christian community would have remained a small Jewish sect, probably being absorbed and finally disappearing into the dominant Jewish mainstream within a generation, and we would not be here. But this decision to impose no further burden than [certain] essentials breathed life into the Jesus movement in its earliest days.

As followers of Jesus, that remains our purpose, indeed it is the purpose of the Church, and the vocation of all the baptized: to be Christ’s witnesses. Part of our job as witnesses, is simply to state what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life,[4] and what we know to be true. After that, we need to back off, get out of the way, and impose no further burden than [these certain] essentials. In that way we allow the Spirit to do its work in bringing people into an encounter with the living Lord, rather than our personal and singular concept of God.

That, it seems to me, is the good news of Acts, and while we have been invited to join in the work of introducing people to an encounter with the living God, it is our real privilege and great joy to step back and watch God at work, in the lives of those whom we serve.


Lectionary Year and Proper: Friday in the Fifth Week of Easter, Year 1

[1] Luke 24: 48

[2] Acts 1: 8

[3] Acts 15: 28

[4] 1 John 1: 1

Love for the Looking – Br. James Koester

Numbers 21: 4 – 9; John 3: 14 – 21

If you feel you have walked into the middle of a conversation today, you have! No wonder, if you are shaking your head, and thinking, where on earth did all this come from? You’re not the only one to feel that. Any number of people are thinking, did I miss something?

Our gospel today is the second half of that famous encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. You’ll remember the story. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, in secret, declaring Jesus to be a teacher who has come from God.[1] It is perhaps the first glimmer of faith by Nicodemus, who we will see again at the end of the gospel, when, with Joseph of Arimathea, he makes provision for the Lord’s burial, by bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. [2] But all of that comes later, much later, almost at the end of the story. Today we’re near the beginning, and Jesus and Nicodemus have that mysterious, almost mystical conversation, about water, being born again, and entering a second time into a mother’s womb.

Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?[3] Read More