Building Strong and Storing Up Treasure – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

I Corinthians 3:10-14
Matthew 6:19-24

When I was in seminary – now, quite a few years ago – I took a course in preaching.  Whether or not it did me any good, I’ll let you decide.  One of the things I remember from that class was the professor’s admonition to first seek out the tone and intention of the text, and then craft a sermon that reflects that same tone and intention.  In other words, consider the author’s purpose and follow it.  If the text is written to encourage its readers, your sermon should be encouraging as well.  If the text is hopeful, your sermon should reflect that hope.  If the text is condemning of a certain attitude or behavior, you should translate that into a similar warning that modern-day hearers can hear and understand.

The two texts we have before us today seem to share a common tone or intention.  They seem to be cautioning us that our choices and our actions, our work and our personal interactions, have consequences that are long-lasting.

The first text, taken from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, uses the metaphor of building.  Paul claims he has laid a foundation, which is Jesus Christ, and that others, including us today, will be building upon that foundation.  What we say or do matters, because by our words and deeds we will be contributing to the strength of the building or detracting from it.  Paul promises that each person’s work will, at some point, be tested by fire.  If it is strong and pure, it will survive.  If not, it will go up in flames. Read More

Stars and Rock – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke Ditewig

Genesis 15:1-6
Luke 6:43-49

When will it happen? How much longer? What’s coming? Part of our trouble is waiting, not seeing answers or provisions as we expect.

God promised Abram a son. Years had passed. Still nothing. God comes again in a vision and says: “Don’t be afraid.” Abram says: “What? You haven’t given me a son! I’m still childless. So my heir will have to be Eliezer, a slave born in my house.” How do you hear and see the tone? Perhaps angry, blowing up and shaking his fist. Perhaps dejected and slumping with head down.

God’s response is accepting and gracious: No. My promise is true. It’s ok you’re upset. Look up and count the stars. You will receive that much. Every day, look up and remember I am with you. I will provide.

Abram believed God. Here “believed” has the connotation of ongoing, not a one-time thing.[i] Abram continued to believe. While angry or dejected, while questioning with shaking fist or slumping head, Abram believed. While waiting for years, Abram believed. Belief and trust include doubt and struggle. They are not blindly ignoring the hard. Like Abram, believing and trusting God is an ongoing reliance and assured confidence in the midst of struggle. Trust does not deny struggle but indeed names the pain with continued expectation. Read More

Back to the Basics – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

Matthew 22:34-46

I was an elementary school teacher before entering the monastery.  One of the things a teacher learns is that it’s important from time to time – particularly after the summer break – to go back to the basics.  You can’t build or make progress without a good foundation, so it’s important to make sure your students have a solid grasp of the basics before moving on to new or more challenging subjects.

Going back to the basics appears to be what Jesus the teacher is doing here.  Our gospel text today comes at the end of several tests that the Pharisees and scribes have put before Jesus.  It is clear that their intention is to trap him[i] into saying something that would either offend the authorities or turn the crowds against him.  To this point, he has successfully eluded these traps.

Here is another trap.  “Teacher,” someone asks, “which commandment is the greatest?”  If they can trick Jesus into picking a favorite command, he’ll be guilty of downplaying the other commandments.  Since every commandment represents the very word of God, picking and choosing among them would be heretical. They are trying to force him into an impossible situation where any answer he gives can be challenged.  I suppose it’s a little like asking a parent which of their children is their favorite.  Choosing one of their children will make the others feel less important or less loved.  The wise parent will say, “I love them all the same. Read More

Solid Rock – Br. Luke Ditewig

Luke 6:43-49

In the Holy Land, there is much solid rock, whether exposed, under a couple inches or under ten or more feet of soil. To build, one digs down however far it takes to use the foundation of solid rock. People build in the summer when it is dry not raining, yet it is hot. It is very hard work to break through the clay and dig down to solid rock. One may be tempted to skip the harder part, yet a sure foundation is essential to survive the winter floods.[i]

Jesus said, “I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them.” Hearing and doing Jesus’ words take great effort, like digging down through hard clay under hot sun. This parable ends Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain in Luke and another version ends the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew.[ii] Jesus ends with a call for necessary, risky, costly action.

What are you hearing from Jesus? What’s the invitation? Take heart. Though not easy, the effort required is wise, good, and will save amid storms that have, are, and will come. Read More

Called to Commitment – Br. Keith Nelson

Isaiah 26:1-6; Psalm 118:19-24; Matthew 7:31-27

In Hebrew scripture, the authors of the Jewish Wisdom books frequently contrast two Ways – the way of good and the way of evil, or the way of meaning and the way of vanity. A consistent theme ascribed to the way of holiness, integrity, and truth is its weight. This way has substance – it is heavy, solid, and stable. Those who follow this way have roots, as in Psalm 1: “They are like trees, planted by streams of water, with leaves that do not wither.” By contrast, the way of evil or vanity is light, ephemeral and insubstantial. Those who follow it become like chaff which the wind blows away, like dew or clouds that evaporate, like grass which withers in the sun, or like the web of a spider brushed casually aside.

Jesus’ parable of the two house-builders, which concludes the sermon on the mount in Matthew, participates in this tradition of the Two Ways with its stark opposites: the wise man and the foolish man, the immovable house built on rock and the flimsy house built on shifting sand. This is is a sobering reminder that authentic discipleship demands the concentrated weight of commitment expressed in actions. Accepting wise and prudent commitments is a practice that gives our life with God substance. Read More