Judas & Peter – Br. Curtis Almquist

John 18:1 – 19:42

I have come to know a young man who is now incarcerated in prison.  He was charged and convicted on multiple felonies.  If you knew the gentle family who raised him, you would be as shocked and numb with despair as they are, asking how in the world could it have come to this… for their son, whom they love and thought they knew so well?

I haven’t been able to get that question out of my mind: how did it come to this?  As I’ve read what we all see relentlessly in the media, I often ask myself, “how has it come to this… for them?”  Why do people make wrong choices?  How do people come to be broken as they are and, and then, so often, do unto others the harm that was done unto them?  Sometimes, it seems it’s with only a fleeting moment’s reaction, and sometimes from a day or week or many years of planning, preparing, and anticipating, a person will act or react in a way that proves tragic – tragic for them or others or both.  It’s a question I’ve had to ask myself a good many times. Read More

Samaritan Woman – Br. David Vryhof

John 4:5-42

Jews hated Samaritans.  In fact, they despised them.

There were a number of reasons why they held them in such contempt:

  • First, they considered them schismatics because they had built a rival temple to the one in Jerusalem.
  • Second, they were seen as heretics because they took only the five books of the Torah to be their scriptures.
  • Third, they were a mixed breed, people of questionable ancestry who had intermarried with foreigners and had been influenced by heathen customs and practices.
  • And fourth, they refused to follow Jewish rituals or keep Kosher.

The very mention of Samaritans could turn the stomach of a Jew.  Jews hated Samaritans – despised them – and avoided them in every possible way.  Jesus knew this, which is why he makes a Samaritan the hero of his best-known parable; he’s the one, you remember, who stopped and helped the beaten man by the side of the road after both a priest and a Levite had passed him by.  It’s also why he points out that when ten lepers were cured, the only one returned to him to give thanks was a Samaritan. Read More

Where He May Be Found – Br. David Allen

Isa. 55:6-11; Mt. 6:7-15

In our prayer and meditation it is possible to compare our first reading, the Second Song of Isaiah (Cant. 10 or MP II) with our Lord’s teaching to his disciples on the prayer we know as “The Lord’s Prayer”. They both are about our prayer response to God concerning the needs of the world and our own needs.

In my spiritual reading I recently came across an analogy along the same lines in the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Jesuit priest, scientist, theologian, and spiritual writer of the last century, in his book, Toward the Future. This was in a chapter on “Reflections on Happiness,” using three different attitudes to life to illustrate differing reactions to words such as those of Isaiah’s Second Song. Read More

Thank God I’m Not Like Them – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David VryhofLuke 18:9-14

When I was a boy I looked down on my Episcopalian neighbors – mostly because they played outside and watched television on Sunday and we didn’t.  They didn’t go to church nearly as often as we did – and sometimes there was beer in their refrigerator.  Their boys received a quarter every time they rehearsed or sang with the children’s choir at their church; we did it for free.  They went to public schools; we went to Christian schools. Yes, there was a lot to be proud of, plenty of evidence that we were a notch above them on God’s scale.

But even as a boy I could see myself in this parable.  The contrast between the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is so stark and so dramatic that even children have a hard time missing the point.  I knew my feelings of religious superiority were wrong.

Obviously, at some point I must have dropped my bias against Episcopalians. But new biases arose and the pattern repeated itself.  Today the temptation is to look with contempt at biblical fundamentalists, or at the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, or at those who count themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”  Being a Pharisee doesn’t go away easily.  I tremble a bit when I read the words that introduce this story: “He told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.”  I have to ask myself, who are the others I regard with contempt?

Obviously this was a problem in Jesus’ day, too – hence this parable. Jesus addressed the issue more than once.

In his Sermon on the Mount he instructed his disciples not to sound the trumpets when they gave alms so that they could be seen by others, but to give secretly without drawing attention to themselves (Mt 6:2-4).

He told them not to stand and pray in conspicuous places, but to go to their rooms and shut the door and pray to the Father in secret (Mt 6:5-8).

He said, Don’t disfigure your faces when you fast so that people will notice your piety; put oil on your head and wash your face and act normally so that only God will see and know your practice (Mt 6:16-18).  Spiritual disciplines lose their power when they’re done in order to draw attention to ourselves.

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them,” Jesus says, “for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Mt 6:1).  Don’t consider yourselves better than others or more righteous.  “Judge not, so that you may not be judged.  For with the judgment you make you will be judged” (Mt 7:1-2)

And we get it, don’t we? And yet arrogance, conceit and self-centered pride creep in, again and again and again.  We find ourselves thinking, if not actually saying, “Thank God I’m not like them.”

How does it happen? How does the enemy so easily ensnare us? St Ignatius of Loyola, the 16thcentury Spanish saint and founder of the Jesuits, has an answer. It’s like this, he says:

First, we recognize that we have riches– wealth or success or physical beauty or popularity or some special talent or a spotless reputation or a good family.

Because of these riches we receive honorfrom others.  They praise us, look up to us, consider us special – and we believe them.

This, says Ignatius, is what leads to arrogant pride– the pride of the Pharisee in Jesus’ story.  We deem ourselves to be special, unlike others, worthy of praise and honor from others, separate from them, higher and better.  Riches, Honor and Pride – that’s the progression, says Ignatius.

And it’s not just something that happens to us as individuals.  It happens to groups of people, to nations, for example, and to religious groups, and to ethnic or racial groups.  We long for “riches,” those things that are most valued in the world – popularity or fame, a certain lifestyle, financial security, social status, worldwide power and influence.  These are the things that bring us honor and respect (or maybe fear) in the eyes of other people.   And these riches and honors cause us to swell with pride. We see ourselves as better, more righteous, more deserving.  And we consider with contempt those less righteous, less gifted, less influential and less worthy than ourselves.

Dean Brackley, author of the book The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times, quotes a letter which a friend of his received from a leading credit card company, inviting him to apply for a new credit card – (he doesn’t say what card it is – I’ll call it the Gold Card, just for now).

Dear _________,

Recently I invited you to apply for the GoldCard…. I believe you’ve earned this invitation.  You’ve worked hard and have been recognized for your efforts.  And nothing is more satisfying than achieving your own personal goals.

Now it’s time for you to carry the card that symbolizes your achievement – the GoldCard.

Only a select group will ever carry the GoldCard.  So it instantly identifies you as someone special – one who expects an added measure of courtesy and personal attention.  And with the GoldCard, you enjoy an impressive degree of convenience, financial flexibility and service….

TheG­oldCard says more about you than anything you can buy with it.  I think it’s time you joined the select group who carry it.

Sincerely,                                              

                                                                        [Brackley, pp.90-91]

Here’s the message: You’re special.  A cut above. Worthy of “an added measure of courtesy and personal attention.”  You deserve the honor and respect of others. You’re special.  The fact that you have the GoldCard puts you in a special class of people (a modern day version of the Pharisee).

These are the ways of a world gone wrong – a world infected by covetousness and greed.  A world that climbs and pushes its way to the top of the ladder, often stepping over others in the process.  A world that grasps after the symbols of power and success. A world of competition, a world of upward mobility….

It’s a world that creates outcasts, that values or devalues people based on their social and economic status, their gender, their sexual orientation, their race and class.  At the top are the glamorous movie stars, the well-paid athletes, the successful CEOs, the rich bankers.  At the bottom are the mentally ill, homosexuals, prostitutes, people with AIDS, homeless alcoholics – the people it is easiest to despise.

“Whenever one group of human beings is treated as inferior to another,” says Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, “hatred and intolerance will triumph.”

[quoted in The Washington Post, Sunday, October 23, 2010 in an article by Navanethem Pillay entitled “How We Can Fight Back Against Homophobia”]

Jesus shows us a better way. He tells us to humble ourselves, to stoop low so that we can listen and learn from the marginalized and the poor, to be indifferent to honors, to drop out of the race for social status, to put ourselves in solidarity with the needy, to cooperate rather than compete, to give rather than take.  His way is a downward way, a way of service and self-offering; it is the way of humility rather than pride.  “[Jesus] emptied himself,” the Scriptures tell us, “taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Phil. 2:7).  He came not to be served but to serve.  He counted prostitutes and tax collectors and sinners as his friends, and ate and drank with them.

And we are to have the same mind.  “Let each of you look not to your own interests,” St Paul writes to the Philippians, “but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:4-5)

There’s no room in the kingdom of God for arrogance and pride.  Everyone’s equal there.  There are no outcasts, no persecuted minorities, no inferior peoples.

“He told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.”  Let’s learn the lesson well.  The world will be a better place.

From the Archive: Slow Growth – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Originally preached on January 29, 2010, this brief homily offers a needed reminder of how different is God’s time from our time, and the rich possibilities for which it allows.
Mark 4:26-29

This parable of the seed growing secretly (Mark 4:26-29) is found only in Mark’s Gospel – and its teaching is urgently needed in our speed-crazed world.

God created time, and hallowed time – and I think God likes us to spend time, and not try to beat it!

“I waited patiently upon the Lord: he stooped to me and heard my cry,” the Psalmist says.

“O tarry, and await the Lord’s pleasure.  Be strong, and he shall comfort your heart.  Wait patiently for the Lord.” Read More

From the Archive: Intercession – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

In this sermon, originally preached on Oct. 20, 2009, Br. Geoffrey offers a helpful discussion of the difference between healing and recovery, as well as the power of intercessory prayer both upon the one prayed for and upon the one who prays.

One of the most wonderful experiences of my life was some years ago when living in England I had a sabbatical, and I spent a few months living in Egypt. Most of the time I lived in Cairo, and the part of Cairo I loved most of all, was not the famous parts with the pyramids and the sphinx, or even the medieval Islamic City of Cairo, but Old Cairo, Al-Qahira, south of the modern city, next to the Nile. The small walled city is Christian, Coptic Christian, and it is full of ancient churches like St. Barbara’s, St. John the Baptist, St. George, St. Mark.

It’s a quiet world set apart from the frenetic world of modern Cairo. Here narrow, windy lanes lead from one ancient church to another. And it was here one day that I walked alone into the Church of St. John the Baptist and I saw a man kneeling in front of the altar with two others, and they had their hands on his shoulders, and there were other people standing around and praying. Read More

From the Archive: Jesus’ Transfiguration; Our Transfiguration – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist originally preached this sermon on Feb. 22, 2009. We’re pleased to repost it in honor of today’s Feast of the Transfiguration.

Mark 9:2-9; Matthew 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-35

In early February, one of my brothers and I were on top of Mount Tabor where this event, Jesus’ transfiguration, took place. We were traveling with a group of pilgrims following the path of Jesus’ birth, ministry, death and resurrection in Israel/Palestine.  Mount Tabor is north of Jerusalem, and about 11 miles west of the Sea of Galilee.  Mount Tabor is forested with pine trees and offering stunning, panoramic views.  On a clear day, to the north and west you can see Lebanon; to the east, beyond of the Sea of Galilee, you can see Syria, Jordan, and Mount Hermon.  Jesus and his disciples would have known the words of Psalm 89 about these majestic mountaintops: “The north and the south – you created them; Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.”i And that is because these mountain tops are so beautiful and breezy.  Mount Tabor is only about 2,000 feet above sea level, but that is a lofty height above the sea level of Galilee and the nearby desert of the Jezreel Valley.  Mount Tabor is a place where you would like to stay; we certainly would have been glad for a longer visit.  (I wanted to get information from the Franciscan guesthouse about staying there!)  And so, on the one hand, it’s no wonder that Peter and James and John were coaxing Jesus to stay around and build some tents, which is how people then and now would set up camp out in the wilds.ii Read More

From the Archive: How Then Shall We Live – Br. James Koester

In this sermon, originally preached on Nov. 10, 2009, Br. James Koester discusses the Community’s yearly retreat, as well as the history, founding, and charism of SSJE.  We republish it this week, as SSJE heads once again into its annual Community retreat.

2 Timothy 1: 6-14; Psalm 77: 11-15; Matthew 5: 13-19

For the past two summers the community has tried something quite different during our annual community retreat. Rather than inviting an outside retreat leader or even asking a particular brother to lead our retreat, and to give the daily meditation, we have asked a number of brothers to give a single meditation within the context of the daily Eucharist. In this way, over the course of the retreat, we hear from a number of brothers and hear a number of different voices. This past summer we added another element to the retreat, and that was a daily tea and conversation, during which the brother who had led the meditation earlier in the day then facilitated a conversation. It was a formula that worked quite well and we had a number of excellent meditations and conversations.

This summer I was asked to help the community think about our history and the role that our history has played in our past and how our history has helped, or not helped, shape our present and our future. While I was getting ready for this, I did some reading and thinking about the history of Anglican religious communities and ours in particular, and was glad to be reintroduced to some of the more colourful characters in Anglican religious history. Read More

From the Archive: Mary of Magdela – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist originally preached this sermon on July 22, 2006, in honor of the day that is also today’s feast day, The Feast of Mary Magdalene.

Mary of Magdala is, shall we say, a complicated person.  This is not the Mary, Mother of Jesus.  Nor is this the Mary of Bethany, sister to Martha and Lazarus.  This is Mary of Magdala, the agricul­tural, ship-building, trading center of Magdala, northeast of Jerusalem. Magdala was a hot spot commercially and socially, and it had a wild and wicked sort of reputation.  We don’t know when or where Jesus met Mary of Magdala.  (The Scriptures don’t record his ever having even visited Magdala.)  We know nothing of her family or upbringing.  Neither do we under­stand Mary’s condition when she first met Jesus.  There really is no substantiated reason for assuming that this Mary of Magdala had been a harlot… other than the fact that she has been distinguished, down through the years, by her “last name” Magdala.  Magdala was that sort of place… and the fact that so much energy has been spent down through the centuries to “clean up” her reputation maybe means that she did have a colorful past.  We don’t know for sure.

What we do know for sure, from Luke’s gospel, is that “seven demons had gone out of her” (Luke 8:2).  Demon possession, though, was associated at that time with both physical and moral or spiritual sickness; Luke’s reference to “seven demons” might just be emphasizing either the seriousness of her former condition (Luke 8:30) or the recurrent nature of it (Luke 11:26).  In any event, we know her to be a person with great need and a person who came to have an equally-great devotion to Jesus.  And we meet her in tonight’s Gospel lesson, weeping at Jesus’ tomb. Read More