Captives to Truth – Br. Lain Wilson

Feast of Irenaeus of Lyons

2 Timothy 2:22-26

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness” (2 Tim 2:24-25).

I’m not sure “gentle” is how I’d first characterize Irenaeus, the second-century theologian and bishop whom we remember today. In his great work Against Heresies, he sought to combat the heterodox versions of Christianity that surrounded him in a point-by-point refutation of their beliefs. At the same time, he laid out a Christian vision that affirmed the authority of the apostolic tradition and succession, the goodness of creation, and the relevance of the Hebrew Scriptures, a vision that would largely carry forward into the era of councils and creeds and orthodoxy of subsequent centuries.

The heresies Irenaeus faced are different than those that face us, but I think he speaks to us today in two important ways.

First, the truth matters, and it is worth arguing for and defending. We, like Irenaeus, live in an age of contested truth. Irenaeus makes clear his intent to address this head-on in the opening sentence of Against Heresies: “Inasmuch as certain men have set the truth aside, and bring in lying words and vain genealogies . . . and by means of their craftily-constructed plausibilities draw away the minds of the inexperienced and taken them captive, [I have felt constrained, my dear friend, to compose the following treatise in order to expose and counteract their machinations].” Read More

Remain – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke Ditewig

Acts 1:15-26
John 15:1, 6-16

St. Matthias

Today is the feast of St. Matthias who replaced Judas among the twelve apostles. Matthias had been with them since John baptized Jesus in the Jordan. He witnessed Jesus’ ministry with the crowds, heard the teaching, witnessed healings, had his own personal and communal experience of Jesus. Probably he was one of the 70 whom Jesus sent out and later was at the crucifixion. Hardly anything is written about him. The apostles selected two candidates. They drew lots thereby choosing Matthias.

The group probably wasn’t seeking a big personality. They already had that in Peter, James, and John. Now they were amid grief and change as Jesus had ascended back to heaven. Instead, they likely sought stability, one who had stuck it out with them and whom they trusted would remain. Remaining with through grief and loss is hard.

In language from the gospel, Matthias chose “to abide in Christ” and this company of friends. Abide can mean to live in, to make yourself at home. Abide also means to remain or to stick with through challenge. Jesus says the Father stuck with me. I’ll stick with you no matter what. Abide in my love, Jesus says. Remain with me.   Read More

The Two Ways: Psalm 1 Revisited – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

Psalm 1

I suspect that few of us have given much thought to the order of the psalms, but it seems obvious that Psalm 1 is placed at the beginning for a reason.  It sets the tone for the psalter and introduces a worldview that will be repeated again and again in the psalms that follow: namely, that the righteous prosper and the wicked do not.  The distinction is made with very little nuance in Psalm 1:  The righteous are depicted as strong and stable, like trees whose roots go deep into the soil.  “Everything they do shall prosper,” claims the psalmist.  On the other hand, the wicked are ungrounded and are tossed about like chaff before the wind.

Several of the psalms that follow in the psalter will object to this claim.  They will wonder openly why the wicked often prosper and why the righteous sometimes fail, when this psalm seems to promise otherwise.  More than one psalmist voices the lament, “Why?  Why do the wicked prosper?”

It’s a fair question and a reasonable objection.  But modern-day readers may also object to this psalm because we dislike sorting people into such polarized categories.  Many of us know people who, though they may not be ‘religious,’ are nevertheless very fine people.  Many of us also know people who, though they identify as religious, are not as righteous as they pretend to be.  Someone once said, “I would rather make a business deal with a good unbeliever than with a bad Christian.” Read More

Shout for Joy – Br. Lain Wilson

John 12:24-26
Daniel 3:19-27
Psalm 126

“Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy” (Ps 126:2).

“Joy.” The psalmist repeats this word three times in this great poem of restoration. God’s people shout for joy, sing songs of joy, return from the fields in joy. God restores the fortunes of Zion—and their sadness is transformed into joy. Joy is their response, their witness to God’s working in the world.

In the calendar of the Church we remember today the third-century martyr Laurence of Rome. As archdeacon, he was given care of the church’s treasury for distribution to the needy. The story goes that after he was arrested during a periodic persecution of Christians, Laurence negotiated for a few days’ respite to gather the church’s wealth. During that time, though, he instead rapidly distributed it to the poor. When asked to hand over the church’s treasure, Laurence pointed not to gold or gems but to the poor. Read More

Choices – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

Luke 15:1-3; 11b-32

There was once a man whose younger son wanted to make his own choices in life. Now it pained the father to let him make these choices because he suspected that his son was not really mature enough to make wise choices – but still he gave him the freedom he wanted.  (There are times when this is a good thing for love to do.)

At any rate, his son was pleased, and he began to make his choices.

He chose, first of all, to have his share of his father’s inheritance turned into spending money. Then he chose to leave his father’s home, taking all his money with him. Next, he began to choose some new friends, and together with them he chose some ways to spend his money. And with each choice that he made, that deep inner part of him, the part of him that made choices, was becoming something a little different than it was before.

Until at last he found that his choices had ruined him.

That was the turning point. Read More

Our Moral Finitude – Br. Keith Nelson

Br. Keith Nelson

James 4:1-10
Mark 9:30-37

I want to crack these scripture passages open by sharing some things I’ve gleaned lately about ethics from a rather unlikely pair: a wildly popular content creator on TikTok and an early eighteenth century Quaker. Bear with me!

Alexis Nicole Nelson is a foraging expert and an advocate for growing and eating local food based in Columbus, Ohio. She creates irresistibly funny videos, and her sense of wonder for the earth is contagious. But Nelson, who is a Black woman and a vegan, also offers powerful insights about the complex relationship between our food choices, our privilege or lack of privilege, and the ethical conundrums we all face as consumers in an industrial society.  As she points out, the adoption of moral self-righteousness around what we choose to eat or not eat is woefully misguided because when it comes to balancing harm of other humans, harm to animals, and harm to the environment, no food choice is ethically perfect. And yet, Nelson continues to passionately educate others about harm reduction in relation to food-ways, because while perfection is impossible, doing better is attainable. We can continue to improve our own choices and build a lower-impact food culture while remaining humble and empathetic. Read More

Generous Givers – Br. David Vryhof

I Kings 17:8-16
Mark 12:38-44

Preaching is always an intimidating task, but seldom more than on a day like today when we hear Jesus criticizing those “who like to walk around in long robes.”  For a monk, that strikes pretty close to home.

That being said, I truly believe that today’s gospel lesson is about something more substantive than the wearing of robes.  But it does begin there.  Jesus criticizes the ‘scribes,’ important religious leaders of his day, for “liking to walk around” in long robes, for enjoying the respect they received when greeted in the marketplaces, and for relishing the privilege of having the best seats in the synagogue and the places of honor at banquets.  For them, Jesus suggests, it’s all about being seen, honored and admired by ‘ordinary folk.’  They delight in this kind of attention.

This, of course, is exactly what Jesus has already warned us about in the Sermon on the Mount.  “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them;” he cautions, “for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.  Whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others.” (Mt 6:1-2a)  Did you catch those two important phrases: “in order to be seen by them,” and “so that they may be praised by others”?  Jesus expects that we will share what we have and give generously to the work of God in the world, but he asks us to consider why and how we offer alms or do good deeds. Whenever we posture and pose in order to impress others with our holiness or our goodness or our generosity and selflessness, whenever we actively court their flattery and praise, we sacrifice the good favor of our Father in heaven for the cheap and fickle praise of human beings. Read More

The Dangerous Desire for Wealth – Br. David Vryhof

I Timothy 6:7-10, 17-19
Luke 12:13-21

It is a rare person who cannot be tempted by wealth.  Most of us believe that if we were wealthier our lives would be easier and more enjoyable than they are now.  We envy those who are rich enough to satisfy not only their “needs” but also most of their “wants.”  We imagine that they are free of worry and can rest in the assurance that they have what they need to face the future with confidence.

But appearances can be deceptive.  The passages we have before us today warn us that the desire for wealth can be extremely dangerous.  “Those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” 

Desiring to be rich is dangerous.  It can easily lead us into bad choices, which damage our character and our reputation, wreak havoc with our relationships, and result in ruin and destruction.  “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed,” Jesus warns us. Read More

Joy to the World – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Philippians 3:4b-14

St Francis of Assisi

The 4th of October is always a special day, because it is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. I first fell in love with St. Francis when I was a student. I was staying with a friend who was studying to be a priest at the English College in Rome.  It was January, and the biggest shock for me was how cold it was. The fountains of Rome were all frozen, and the marble floors of the college gave little comfort.  So, one weekend, we decided to take ourselves off to Assisi. We took the train, and headed north towards the Apennine mountains. As the train journeyed inland and uphill, it started to snow, and it was quite exciting. After about two hours, we finally pulled into the station, and by now the snow was very deep, and it was getting dark. We got out and looked around, and I remember feeling actually rather disappointed. The town looked a bit dull. But then, I looked up, and there, high above us, clinging to the mountainside like a dream, was the medieval city of Assisi, lit up by the setting sun, shimmering in the snow. It was stunning, and has stayed in my mind’s eye ever since.

During the next few days we walked in the footsteps of St Francis, heard his story, prayed in the churches, played in the snow, throwing snowballs outside the church of Santa Chiara (nearly hitting a nun!), and I remember feeling full of joy. Francis had captured our hearts!  And it was joy above all, which was the gift we received from Francis.  I think he has been blessing the world with joy ever since. Read More

Reap Love – Br. Luke Ditewig

Hosea 10:1-3, 12

There is a new fence going up. So far it is just the posts. They are taller and more robust. The perimeter expands further, and—fittingly—it is beautiful. There is a new fence going up at the Monks’ Garden at Emery House. Everything grown there is given away. The first beets were just harvested; 100 pounds will be distributed this week at the Newbury Food Pantry.[i]

The garden is in partnership with Nourishing the North Shore. We provide the land and water. They grow, harvest, and distribute. We also host land for the Organic Community Garden. We Brothers share in Nourishing the North Shore’s mission: “to ensure equal access to healthy, local food to all members of the North Shore communities in a manner that builds community, fosters connection, and promotes dignity and self-reliance.”[ii] Food justice is expanding step by step in further work with local schools and with a bigger garden: mission in action.

A bigger garden could be used for exclusion and greed, to horde and squander. In today’s text, the prophet Hosea shows bad and good images. God’s people were like “a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit.” With more fruit, they built monuments to idols, like self-praise, ignoring God. “Their heart is false … The Lord will break down their altars, and destroy their pillars.” Read More