It’s good to think of others – Br. Jack Crowley 

Br. Jack Crowley headshot

Br. Jack Crowley

Maundy Thursday 

John 13:1-17, 31b-35 

Well good evening everyone, it’s so good to see you all. Tonight we start our celebration of a glorious long weekend.  

I’ll start this long weekend by asking a simple question. Who’s ready to get their feet washed? Or should I ask, who got their feet ready to be washed? 

If you are anything like me, at some point every year on Maundy Thursday, I become self-conscious of my feet. I took a good hard look at my toenails. I ask myself questions like what if my feet smell tonight? Do my feet look weird? What does a normal foot even look like? I know these questions sound ridiculous coming from a man who wears sandals year-round, but it’s what I do.   

There’s just something about foot washing that’s provoking. It causes a reaction in us. Knowing our bare feet are not only going to be exposed but also handled by someone else makes us feel vulnerable. These moments of vulnerability can be powerful.   Read More

Humility, Allowing Our Hearts to Soar – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Matthew 23:1-12

A little more than twenty years ago Philip Simmons died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: ALS – or Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was a young professor of English at a Chicago college, married, the father of two children. At the same time Philip Simmons was dying from the cruel ravages of ALS, he was more alive than he had ever been. [i]

He writes about learning to fall. He speaks of falling, quite literally, because of the ALS; he also writes about falling as a figure of speech. We fall on our faces, we fall for a joke, we fall for someone, we fall in love. He asks, in each of these falls, what do we fall away from? We fall from ego, we fall from our carefully-constructed identities, we fall from our reputations, from our precious selves. We fall from ambition, we fall from grasping to control…  And what do we fall into? We fall into passion and compassion, into terror, into unreasoning joy. We fall into emptiness; we fall into oneness with others whom we realize are likewise falling. Ultimately it’s a falling into grace, falling into the real presence of God.[ii]  The name for this falling, the gateway into this mysterious presence of God, is humility.

In our Gospel lesson appointed for today, we hear Jesus speak of humility: “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” The English word “humility” comes from the Latin humilis: “lowly,” or “near the ground.” Humility is the opposite of feeling oneself to be high and lofty, above and beyond all the people whom we find inadequate. The English words “humility” and “humus” are cousins, “humus” being the organic component of soil. Humus is what makes soil rich. The autumnal leaves falling from the trees compost into humus, which is essential to life. Read More

Revelation and the Mystery of Life – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Commemoration of Edmund James Peck

Psalm 107:23-32

The portion of Psalm 107 appointed for today – about “going down to the sea in ships… plying trade in deep water… the stormy winds… and then beholding the works of the Lord” – this psalm reads like a biography of Edmund James Peck, whom we commemorate today. Born in the tenements of Manchester, England, in 1850, he entered the Royal Navy while he was still a child, intending to make the Navy his life career. But then a series of near-fatal illnesses and shipboard accidents amazingly led him to experience what he called “the movements of grace,” an experience of Christ “saving him,” quite literally. He became convinced he was to volunteer as a missionary to the Canadian Arctic. And he set off. He would spend most of the next 40 years among the Inuit and Cree people on an immense island in the Arctic – Baffin Island – an area of almost 200,000 square miles. There are two seasons on the Baffin Island: winter and August, when the summertime temperatures sometimes even reach 40 degrees. 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

Properties of Mercy – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Matthew 9:27-31

Our lection this morning is one of three or four concentrated stories of healing in Matthew’s gospel. Usually, they are considered together in context. But this morning we hear only one of these: two blind men following Jesus and crying loudly, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” Jesus engages with them and asks, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They reply, “Yes, Lord.” He then touches their eyes and says, “According to your faith let it be done to you.”

For me, this story brings to mind a prayer which we find in the Rite I liturgy of the Eucharist in the Prayer Book. The Prayer of Humble Access[i], while beautifully worded in the archaic poetry of the Rite, evokes different feelings in people depending on their experience. Some find the language self-deprecating. Yet, others find in it inspiration. It begins: “We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table.” Read More

Acts of Humble, Loving Service – Br. James Koester

Matthew 8: 1 – 4

Today’s passage from Matthew’s gospel, though brief, just four verses, is significant, because it captures some of the essential qualities and characteristics of God. In this encounter between Jesus and leper, we see again the nature of God, and God’s desire for all humanity.

…a leper … came to [Jesus] and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” [Jesus] stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.[1]

What stands out for me this morning, is not only what is said, but also what is done, for Jesus stretched out his hand and touched the leper. While leprosy is contagious, it is not necessarily contracted through touch, as was once believed. That Jesus touched the leper, is significant, and in itself demonstrates something about God. In that one action, we see that nothing is beyond the touch and reach of God.

What is also significant is the dialogue. Lord, if you choose … I do choose….

The essential quality, characteristic, and nature of God is one of healing, wholeness, and life, for the God who in Jesus came that [we] may have life, and have it abundantly,[2] is the same God who reaches out and touches, saying I do choose. Be made clean.

Yet while it is God’s nature to choose to reach out and touch us, our nature runs in the opposite direction, as we choose to hide, to turn our backs, and to reach out for what is forbidden. In our pride and arrogance, we choose to stretch out our hands, not to God, but to the forbidden fruit, thinking that by eating it, we will become like God.[3]

The paradox is that we become like God, not by stretching out our hands in pride, but by choosing to stretch them out in humility and loving service, just as did Jesus.

The fruit that makes us like God, is when we choose to stretch out our hands in loving service, touching the untouchable, and bringing to them the healing, health, wholeness, and life which God chooses and desires for all humanity.

This passage, though brief, is significant, because it reminds us what God is like, and what God desires for humanity: healing, health, wholeness, and life. In choosing to reach out and touch, Jesus invites us to do that same. When we do, we become like God, whose very life and nature is bound up in acts of humble, loving service.


Lectionary Year and Proper: Friday, Year 1, Proper 7

[1] Matthew 8: 2 – 3

[2] John 10: 10b

[3] Genesis 3: 5

Physician and Saviour of our Souls – Br. James Koester

Matthew 9: 10-17

One question sometimes asked about Jesus, concerns his own self-understanding. How did he understand who he was, and the purpose of his mission? We get a glimpse of his answer today. ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’[1]

It was as physician, healer, restorer, forgiver, saviour that Jesus, at least here in Matthew, saw himself. Such an understanding should not surprise us. In the opening chapter of Matthew’s gospel, the angel tells Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’[2]

It is in that context, Jesus as saviour, that the rest of Matthew’s gospel unfolds.

The thing about a saviour is that, just as we don’t need a doctor if we are unaware of our illness, we don’t need a saviour, if we are unaware of our need for salvation. And that for me is the key, to Scripture; to Lent; even to myself. Read More

Seeing Clearly – Br. James Koester

Luke 6: 39 – 42

There’s a lot going on in this sixth chapter of Luke’s gospel. It begins with two different teachings about the sabbath. It includes the calling, and naming of the twelve apostles. We hear Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, here given as a Sermon on the Plain, rather than Matthew’s more popular Sermon on the Mount. And then it ends with a collection of teachings, or sayings, perhaps gathered from a variety of occasions, and put together by Luke, as a sort of catalogue of teachings.

What we have this morning are three of those teachings lumped together. One about the blind leading the blind; another about a disciple and their teacher; and the third about the speck and the log.

I wonder though, if these are not so much a collection of random teachings, as an invitation by Luke to some serious self-reflection. Read More

Humble Recognition – Br. Jim Woodrum

Matthew 8:5-17

In our lection from Matthew this morning we observe something in Jesus that is rarely expressed in the gospels: we see a display of emotion.  Other instances include Jesus feeling compassion: as in the hungry crowds who endlessly follow or seek an audience with him.  Or in the case of the rich young ruler who when asking what he must do to inherit eternal life, the gospel of Mark says that Jesus loved him before telling him to go and sell all his goods then follow him.  With all the dinner invitations Jesus received, I am sure there had to be some merriment and laughter during his ministry and I wish we had a confirmation that Jesus did in fact share a good chuckle with his friends.  We know that in John’s gospel, Jesus wept in grief over the sadness surrounding the death of his friend, Lazarus.  Today, we hear that Jesus was amazed.  What is it exactly that could amaze the incarnation of God?

In this story we observe two men, from two cultures, sharing the same geography.  Both men are powerful; both men have authority; both men have a following.  From the outset, it may look as if the only thing different about them are how they look.  One man is a Roman centurion, an enforcer of the Roman occupation of Palestine, a Gentile dressed in the finest uniform of the Roman army which displays his elite social status.  The other man is an itinerant rabbi, a teacher and reformer, a Jew dressed in the clothes of nomad.  The one thing they have in common is humility.

Jesus has displayed his humility in the willingness to reach the most disenfranchised of his people.  In the reading just prior to our gospel this morning, we observe Jesus grant the request of a leper who asks to be made clean.  Lepers were outcasts of society due to the vileness of their disease which was highly contagious and for which there was no cure.  Jesus not only confronts the man who requests to be healed, but actually touches him in the process.  This alone would have made Jesus ‘unclean’ in the eyes of the temple leaders and unfit to enter the temple.  Yet Jesus heals him and tells him to go show himself to the temple leaders and to give his gift in thanksgiving Read More

The Unexalted Place for Humility – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis AlmquistJames 1:17-27

Some years ago I was sharing a conversation with my spiritual director, who was a seasoned Jesuit priest. He had risen in the ranks of leadership over the decades and, to me, was a treasury of wisdom. Re­flecting on his own years in the Society of Jesus, he said to me: “Be very kind to people on your way up, because you’re going to meet these same people on your way down.” There is a word for this, a word on which we should be on good speaking terms. That word is “humility.” The English word “humility” comes from the Latin humilis: “lowly,” or “near the ground.” Humility is the opposite of feeling oneself to be high and lofty, above and beyond the minions who otherwise surround us. The English words “humility” and “humus” are cousins, “humus” being the organic component of soil. Humus is what makes soil rich. Humus is formed by the decomposition of leaves and other plant material in the ground. Humility is composted from leading a well-cultivated life. I’ll come back to that.

Jesus navigated life with humility. The ancient prophecies that had anticipated the coming Messiah predicted the Messiah’s humility: “Lo, your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey….”[i]Jesus himself takes up this theme of humility when he speaks of how we should enter this kingdom of God. He says to enter “as a little child.[ii] And Jesus gives the warning, “Those who exalt themselves shall be humbled and those who humble themselves shall be exalted.”[iii]Jesus was critical of those who trumpet and parade their piety, their purity, their generosity, their grandiosity, their accomplishments from the grandstand. Rather Jesus commends us to live out our lives in a very unostentatious, uncalculated way, not even letting our left hand knowing what our right hand is doing. This is the grace of humility. Read More