All Things Are There – Br. Keith Nelson

Luke 21:34-36

It’s no secret that we live in a culture driven by obsession with surfaces and exteriors. We are driven constantly to the surface of things, actively discouraged from remembering that we even have depths. Our energies are spread thin across the surface as our will, our imaginations, our sensations, are driven to fixate upon exterior objects.

We have perpetual need of the reminder in 1 Samuel: “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

God gazes upon your heart – the center of your inmost being – at this very moment. Many of you are here on retreat, a time in which you are invited to rest in God’s presence and let God love you.

When you are still and present to yourself and to this loving God, what does God see in your heart? Read More

The Great Dinner – Br. James Koester

Luke 14:15-25

You may have noticed that food and eating play an incredibly important role in Scripture. You can’t get very far reading the Bible before you come upon a story, or a saying, or an image, that somehow involves food or feasting. That’s true beginning in Genesis and ending in Revelation. In Genesis we are told that after God created the first human, God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and placed Adam, where he was to care for the garden, and might eat his fill of everything, except of course the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.[1] Scripture closes with God standing at the door knocking, waiting for us to open so that the Lord may enter and eat with us, and us with God.[2] Between these two passages is a veritable Biblical guide to food and etiquette.

But like so much else in Scripture, food exists, not simply to fill our bellies, although it does. Scripture speaks of food as a sign, a symbol, a sacrament, of something much larger. This is certainly true in Isaiah, where the prophet declares that, 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

Fish for People – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke Ditewig

Matthew 10:7-15

After years fishing with our father Zebedee, I was shocked and amazed to be following a rabbi. My brother and I know how to be on boats, to weave nets, and listen to the sea. Instead, we went from village to village witnessing Jesus teach and heal, living in community, and helping with crowd control.  We were up close traveling, eating, and talking with Jesus. We witnessed miracles. Scripture came alive. We changed by being with Jesus, and we saw each other change in our group. We received the good news and lived it. What a joy to see Jesus spread it.

Then Jesus sent us out to do the same. Like many invitations, I didn’t understand and pushed back first. Who was I to preach, heal, and cast out demons? Who were we as fishermen and ordinary folk to do the same stuff as Jesus?

But we did. We went out speaking in households and in the markets, to individuals and crowds. We found we indeed were given a voice and authority. We prayed for the sick, and they were healed. We prayed for the possessed, and demons left.

Jesus invites beyond our expectations, and Jesus enables. Jesus both gives power and teaches humility. We were sent out with little, indeed less than our usual. We found receptive people who hosted us in their homes and provided for us. We couldn’t serve on our own terms, in control with our own provisions. We had to rely on others. As Jesus had said, some places rejected us, and so we left.

Being chosen to follow Jesus is a shocking and amazing journey. What’s your experience? How has following Jesus surprised and changed you?

What is Jesus inviting? It’s ok if you don’t understand it now. Jesus will enable and reveal.

Jesus sent and empowered me to fish for people. [i]


[i] Matthew 4:19

Living Water – Br. James Koester

John 4:5-42

Religious art is fascinating, not simply because of what it depicts, but how the artist portrays the subject matter. Art, in whatever form, is about interpretation, and the arts acts as the interpreter, using a particular medium or form to do so, with each interpretation radically different than the next. It is fascinating to see how different artists interpret and portray the same subject.

One such piece of art that fascinates me, and I’ve seen it several times, is a small porcelain figurine that depicts this encounter between Jesus, and the Samaritan woman. [1]

Jesus sits on one side of the well. He is tall, handsome, masculine, with lots of shoulder length hair. He is deep in conversation with the woman. She stands, leaning over with her elbow resting on the wellhead. She looks directly at Jesus. Her hair is loose and flowing, and her dress is falling off one shoulder. Her hand is under her chin, just so. She is enticing, alluring, and attractive. Read More

All Good – Br. Luke Ditewig

Matthew 5:43-48

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Perfect? This sounds impossible. Remember one of your favorite teachers, whether a family member or in school, perhaps a coach. Imagine a favorite teacher saying: “Keep growing into more. You can do it.” How does it feel to hear that?

Today’s Gospel is the last in a series from Jesus:[i] You have heard it was said … but I say to you … .” With each one, Jesus invites beyond what has been already learned. You have heard: Don’t murder. But I say beware of your anger and insulting each other. You have heard: Don’t commit adultery. But I say beware of lust. Keep the spirit of the law. You have heard: Hate your enemy. But I say love your enemies.

Like a parent, teacher, coach, or one whom we admire, Jesus says: There’s more than the basic rules you already know. This is the way of adulthood.[ii] Keep on growing into further maturity, into an expansive spirit with integrity and mercy toward everyone, all the time. Scholar Dale Bruner writes the word translated as perfect is not about the height of accomplishment to which we reach up but rather the width of mercy, reaching out to embrace, and Bruner translates it as “perfectly mature.” [iii]

In the parallel passage in Luke, Jesus says: “be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.”[iv] The New English Bible puts Matthew’s line as “be all goodness, as your heavenly Father is all good.” Eugene Peterson paraphrases it in The Message: “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. … Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” Read More

Great Dinner – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke DitewigLuke 14:15-24

The kingdom of God as a great dinner, as banquet, is an old image. 700 years before Jesus, Isaiah wrote that one day God would make a feast of rich food and well-aged wines for all peoples. At that time, God would also destroy death and wipe away all tears.[i]

Over time, a few groups reinterpreted Isaiah’s vision inserting limits, saying it was not for everyone but rather for good religious folk, those who kept all the religious laws, not for unbelievers, not for foreigners.[ii] Likely some reclining at the dinner with Jesus were expecting him to affirm the reinterpretation: Blessed are the righteous, those who keep the rules, who (like us) will be worthy to be welcomed to God’s party.[iii]

Instead, Jesus tells this story. “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many.” One invites, get confirmations, and from that number prepares appropriate food. When the food is ready, guests are invited a second time to come over, like as we say “now come to the table.”

Contrary to all custom, the guests refuse, giving ridiculous excuses. “I bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it.” Yet anyone would look at a piece of land extensively before buying. “I bought five yoke of oxen, and I have to go try them out.” Yet oxen must work well together yoked. It would be foolish to buy without testing them first. The third says, “it’s my wedding night. I can’t come.”      These are not: I’m so sorry. Something I couldn’t have foreseen just came up. These are absurd. They are offensive, public insults to the host.[iv]

For good reason, the master of the house became angry. One rightly expects retaliation, or cutting off relationship, or withdrawing and stewing. When you or someone you love is insulted, threatened, hurt or attacked, what stirs in you? How do you want to respond, or what do you find that you do with your anger? Right the wrong with revenge. Fight back with force. Wound with words. Hit to hurt. Shame. Read More

An Invitation of Urgency – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim WoodrumPhilippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32

The other day I ran across a video on YouTube that made me incredibly uncomfortable.  The scene was of the famous conductor Leonard Bernstein rehearsing Sir Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations with the BBC Orchestra.  In the video, the famous maestro singles out the trumpet section on a particular passage of music and tries to instruct them on what he would like to hear.  Confused, one of the trumpeters asks for clarification on the sound Mr. Bernstein is looking for.  The maestro answers:  well, not a brassy ‘waaah’, indicating how he thought they had just played it.  With an agitated expression on his face and obviously disagreeing with the maestro’s assessment of their performance, the second trumpet player responds to Mr. Bernstein, taking a tone that is both ungracious and confrontational.  The air in the room is tense as you would expect when a brilliant musician with a bruised ego pushes back against one of the most renowned conductors of that era.  At the end of the brief two minute video Mr. Bernstein summons the rest of the orchestra to move on and the camera catches the principal clarinetist smiling nervously, almost disbelieving what he just witnessed.[i]  I don’t know about you, but my reaction would probably be like that of the clarinetist.  Even though conflict and confrontation are sometimes inevitable in life, I have to admit, I certainly do not go looking for it. Read More

The Advent Crisis and Invitation – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Winston Churchill was reprimanded at one point by Lady Astor for ending a sentence with a preposition.  Churchill responded, “This is the kind of thing up with which I will not put.”[i] Well, I’m thinking here about endings, lots of things coming to an unexpected end in our world and in our nation, some of it surprising, or relieving, or galvanizing, or frightening.  And this coincides with the church year having just ended. Today, the first Sunday of Advent, marks the beginning of the new year for the church, Advent being observed the four Sundays prior to Christmas. Read More

The Invitation to be loved – Br. David Vryhof

davidvI John 4:13-21 / John 3:1-17

Tonight is the second sermon in our five-week Lenten preaching series, “Love Life.”  In this series we have been focusing on the Gospel of John and its theme of love.  Tonight we consider the “invitation to be loved” which the gospel offers us.  We are invited by THE GOD WHO IS LOVE to enter into a loving and intimate relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit…. and to extend that love to others, particularly those in the community of Christ’s followers and those who are in need.

In the First Letter of John we learn that “God is love” (I Jn 4:16) and that God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God” (I Jn 4:15).  This is the testimony of the believing community, who have come to know and believe the love that God has for us” (I Jn 4:16) through the testimony of Jesus and the testimony of the Beloved Disciple found in the Fourth Gospel.  They have discovered their true identity as beloved children of God and are learning to live – or to abide – in that identity.  “See what love the Father has given us,” the author exclaims, “that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are!” (I Jn 3:1) Read More