And it was night! – Br. James Koester

Of all the days in Holy Week, this is the one which I find most poignant. On another significant occasion we have been told in John’s Gospel that Jesus’ “time has not yet come”.[1] He was not yet ready. We were not yet ready. The world was not yet ready. God was not yet ready. But today, today all this is changed. Gathered there in the Upper Room with his disciples, Jesus declares “now!” “Now the Son of man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.”[2]

So what has changed? Why now? Why not before, or some other time, or even some other place? Why here? What now? This difference is that “it was night”[3]; three of the coldest, loneliest words in Scripture …“it was night.” It was into the darkness and under the cloak of darkness that Judas went to do his deed of betrayal.

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Praying Your Way Through Holy Week, a meditation by Br. Eldridge Pendleton

Now, during our Lenten observance we have come to the beginning of Holy Week, a time of remembrance dedicated to the final days of the life of Jesus, from the exhilaration of the cheering crowds who welcomed him into Jerusalem and then through his betrayal and arrest, his suffering at the hands of an angry mob, his awful crucifixion, death, burial and glorious resurrection from the dead on Easter morning. This is the last week of Lent and whether we have been able and diligent in maintaining our discipline or not, this week, like so much of our relationship with God, offers us another chance to return to it, and to immerse ourselves in the spiritual mystery of this holy season. For it is the supreme mystery of our Christian faith we are about to witness this week. Make no mistake about it. The events of Holy Week and Easter are not merely annual reenactments of the tragic events of the life of an important historical personage. This is spiritual mystery on its deepest and most cosmic scale. Its sacred drama encompasses the depths of sin, human degradation and death, and then carries us forward to Jesus’ triumph over death and resurrection to new life. These are mysteries we, too, struggle with daily all our lives and which remain beyond our comprehension.

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Judgement of God – Br. Curtis Almquist

Psalm 7:6-11

 

There is a curious request in Psalm 7, which we’ve just prayed together.  The psalmist asks for God’s judgment.  “Judge me, O Lord.”  And this request, this desire for God’s judgment, doesn’t just appear in Psalm 7.  It’s repeated a number of times in the scriptures, particularly in the psalms.[i]

Being judged is a sore subject for many people, maybe for you personally.  You might have faced a kind of corrosive judgment in growing up; you may live with it now.  The worst kind of judgment, demeaning judgment, is not what we hear from other people, which may be terrible.  The worst kind of judgment is what we hold in our own hearts against ourselves.  Demeaning self judgment often takes on an internal shouting match: silently yelling at ourselves how we should be better or different or changed in some way.  A proclivity to be self-judging, in a way where we always lose, not only zaps the life out of us, but also compromises our hope for the future.  It’s a minefield from which there may seem little prospect of escape.  And so, to hear the psalmist ask to be judged, to seek it out and solicit God’s judgment, may seem incredulous.  What are we missing here?

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REDEMPTION – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Tonight I want to talk about redemption.  It’s also the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, so as I begin my reflection on this theme my mind turns to Ireland, with thanksgiving to God for the work of redemption which has happened over these past years among the people of Northern Ireland.

I spent three summers working in Belfast at the height of the troubles.  I saw the ravages of broken relationships, divided communities, fear, suspicion and despair.  But I also met extraordinary people who gave of themselves sacrificially to offer reconciliation, hope and redemption to a people in great pain.  There have always been such people in Ireland who have given of themselves in order to mend what is broken, to redeem what is lost.  In those months when I lived in Ireland I heard time and time again a story which is very dear to me, and speaks to me very profoundly about the deep mystery of our subject this evening.  It’s a story which took place in the 15th century in Dublin.  Two clans were locked in bitter conflict: the Ormonds and the Kildares.  There was a lot of violent killing, and there came a point where the leaders of the Ormond clan locked themselves inside the chapter house of St. Patrick’s Cathedral to escape death.  For many weeks the Kildare clan waited outside, swords drawn, besieging them.  But one day something amazing happened.  The Earl of Kildare “came to himself,” and said to himself, “This is foolish.  We are two families: we believe in the same God, and here we are acting foolishly.”  So he walked to the cathedral, approached the great door of the chapter house, and shouted.  “Let’s call this off.  Let us shake hands.”  But there was no answer.

What he did next has gone down in Irish history.  With his sword, he began to gouge a hole through the wood of the door.  When the hole was big enough, he thrust his hand and his arm through it.  (On the other side there were desperate men with swords.)  And his hand was grasped by the hand of the Earl of Ormond.  They shook.  The door was flung open, and the feud was over.

This was an extraordinary act of courage, risk and sacrifice; a great act of redemption;   an image of the redemption wrought by God.  For in Jesus Christ, God thrust the divine hand of friendship, forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption, through the great door separating us from God.  And we grasped the hands of Jesus, those hands of love, and hammered nails through them, and hung him on a cross to die.  To those looking on it seemed that this man’s life and mission were a miserable failure.  Yet, and this is the heart of it, a deeper mystery was silently at work.  Through the death of Jesus Christ a far deeper and cosmic act of redemption was actually taking place – the redemption of humanity from sin and death.  As the Letter to the Ephesians puts it, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.” Eph. 1:7

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Called by God – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Isaiah 6: 1 – 8 (9 – 13); Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 15: 1 – 11; Luke 5: 1 -11

Did you hear it? Did you hear that just a moment ago?

No? You didn’t?

I thought I heard something. Maybe I am hearing things!

There! There it is again! Did you hear it this time?

Ah you, you, back there. You heard it too didn’t you?

So I’m not hearing things, or rather I really am hearing things.

There, there it is again! Very faint. Almost a whisper.

James. James. James

There you heard it too this time, didn’t you?

That’s the problem isn’t it? It always seems to be a whisper. It never seems to be a shout. Or, at least, not for me. For whatever reason, God never seems to shout when trying to get my attention. God always uses his “inside voice” as my mother used to call it: “Jamie,” she would say, “use you inside voice,” whenever I shouted, or spoke too loudly or cried out something. That’s the voice that God always seems to use, at least with me: his “inside voice”. Shouting, and calling, and crying out, and throwing people off their horses is great stuff, but that’s not how I hear God. I hear God in a whisper; in a look; in a turn of the head; in a subtle expression on a face. That’s how I hear God. Not in shouts and cries and loud calls.

It seems that it was easier for those first disciples. It seems that Jesus spoke to them, spoke to them directly, and in no uncertain terms. To Simon Peter and his companions today he says: “Do not be afraid: from now on you will be catching people.”[1] In other places, Jesus was even more specific. He says to those two followers of John the Baptist, Andrew and his companion: “Come and see.”[2] And to Matthew as he sat at the tax booth “Follow me.”[3] It would have been so much easier if that were the case for me. Instead with me there is just a small voice saying over and over and over: James, James, James. Read More

Petition: The Prayer of Petition – Br. Curtis Almquist

 

Br. Curtis Almquist offered this homily on the prayer of petition at the Monastery as part of the Teach Us to Pray series, February 2, 2010.

This evening is the conclusion of a seven-part sermon series we have entitled, “Teach Us to Pray,” which was the very request the disciples made of Jesus.  This evening I will speak about the Prayer of Petition.  The English word “petition” comes from the Latin petitionem, which is a request or solicitation.  The Prayer of Petition is asking God for help or healing or hope – whatever may be our need or our awareness.  Petitionary prayer is the most spontaneous prayer, the most uncensored prayer, the prayer that tumbles off our lips without coaching when the demands of life are too great and we feel too small.  I have heard people pray specifically for parking places, for the rain to come, for the sun to appear, for a job, for protection, for passing an examination, for someone to be well, for someone not to die.  You may have your own experience of praying very particularly, very specifically for someone or something.

I can still remember my own prayer of petition at one point when I was in junior high school.

  • I prayed on my knees beside my bed; I prayed with my hands tightly folded, my back straight; I prayed with eyes closed, absolutely no peaking; I thought it best if I kept saying “please.”  I said “please” to God a lot.  And this is what I prayed for, the most important thing in whole world:
  • I prayed very, very hard that I could get to try out for the seventh grade basketball team… which happened.
  • I then prayed I would make the cut and get a uniform… which happened.
  • I then prayed that I could mostly sit on the bench during the games because I was too self-conscious and too clumsy.  I was benched.
  • I then prayed I would get a little court time to play during some games, but just enough for me to earn my basketball letter for my letter sweater… which happened.
  • And this oh-so-fervent praying without ceasing was mostly for the sake of Jackie Claypool, whom I wanted more than anything to like me.  If I was a lettered basketball player, she would surely like me.

And that’s how I prayed, and prayed, and prayed. Read More

Jesus, God Emmanuel – Br. Curtis Almquist

John 8:51-59

51Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.’ 52The Jews said to him, ‘Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, “Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.” 53Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets also died. Who do you claim to be?’ 54Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, “He is our God”, 55though you do not know him. But I know him; if I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him and I keep his word. 56Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.’ 57Then the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’* 58Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.’ 59So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

Several years ago, the author Bruce Filer produced a book entitled Abraham, about the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  The book soared to the New York Times Bestseller List for more than six months.[i] Abraham is a very important name today, as it was in Jesus’ own time.  For Jesus to claim what we hear in this gospel passage – “before Abraham was, I am” – was two strikes (or we might say, two stones [sic]) against him: it sounded both preposterous and blasphemous.  Preposterous because it was through Abraham that a nation had been formed and God’s everlasting promises were made  many centuries prior to Jesus.  Everyone knew that.  Jesus is a nobody from Nazareth.  “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” they used to say.[ii] Jesus is preposterous.  Secondly, Jesus’ saying, “before Abraham was, I am,” seemed blasphemous because this sounded very much like the conversation Moses had with God, recorded in the Book of Exodus, who identifies himself as “I am.”[iii] The Hebrew actually translates, “I will be who I will be,” nevertheless Jesus’ saying “before Abraham was I am” was too close for comfort.[iv] The crowd was prepared to stone him, they thought quite justifiably. Read More

Slow Growth – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

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.”

We ourselves are sometimes in too much of a hurry, spiritually, expecting God, at our bidding, to work miracles overnight.

And we often judge the progress of God’s kingdom by what we can see.  But so often the real growth happens unseen. Read More

Loving Penitence – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester offered this homily on the prayer of penitence at the Monastery as part of the Teach Us to Pray series, January 26, 2010.

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle: Acts 26: 9 – 21; Psalm 67; Galatians 1: 11 – 24; Matthew 10: 16 – 22

We continue tonight our preaching series on prayer, drawing as we have done for this series, from the Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer and its teaching on prayer. There we read that “prayer is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.[1] In addition, the Catechism teaches us that the principal kinds of prayer are “adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, oblation, intercession, and thanksgiving.”[2]

Tonight we look at the prayer of penitence, a prayer most apt for us as we approach the coming days of Lent, but one equally appropriate as we examine it through the lens of the feast we mark tonight, the Conversion of Saint Paul, for penitence, to be life-giving, needs to be grounded not in fear of reprisal or retaliation but in our own ongoing conversion to the loving will of God. Read More

"God does sit with us and grieve" – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

I had a bright, shiny sermon prepared for today about the wedding at Cana in Galilee, and about how in that story Jesus’ presence transformed everything so that everything and everyone in the story seemed to shimmer in the radiance of God’s glory.  And then I saw the horrifying photographs of Haiti.  Death, destruction, suffering and devastation.

In my prayers, I reflected on that other day which I always find so challenging.

August 6th, the day when we celebrate in church the Transfiguration of Christ, when on the holy mountain Christ’s face was irradiated with divine glory, is also the day when we remember the disfiguration of the people of Hiroshima, whose faces were irradiated with deadly heat and radiation.

We who are Christians, we who know and worship a God whom we call Love, we need to try to make sense of what has happened in Haiti.  We may not be able to completely understand, but we need in some way to make sense of it for ourselves.  I heard a Haitian woman yesterday as she held up her hands say, “One minute I try to hold on to my faith.  The next I say, ‘God, why us?’” Read More