God Loves Humans – Br. David Vryhof

Isaiah 58:1-12;
Matthew 6:1-6,16-21  

All of us have secrets: secret thoughts, secret feelings, secret fears, hopes and desires.  All of us know more about ourselves than we care to share with others.  We allow others to think we have pure hearts, but we know that we harbor impure thoughts.  We hope others will notice how unselfish we are, yet we know that selfishness still resides in us.  We want people to see us as strong and courageous, but we know that often we are weak and afraid.

We live with secrets, all of us.  We’re sometimes shocked when we learn something about a person that we never would have guessed, something that had been hidden from us.  But the truth is that we will never fully know even the closest of our friends and companions.  We are mysteries to each other, like icebergs of which we can see only the tip.  And we are mysteries to ourselves.  We will never fully understand why we think and act in the ways we do.  Only God knows the secrets of our hearts.

Jesus often exposed the secrets of others.  He perceived the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  He discerned the true motives of the crowds that followed him.  He saw into the hearts of his disciples.  He knows our secrets.  He knows that what we do on the outside does not always match up with what is going on within us.  We may appear to be seeking God and trying to do what is right, and yet inwardly we are preoccupied with the impression we are making on other people.  We may give the appearance of serving God, but it may not actually be God’s approval that we are seeking, or God’s purposes that we are trying to advance. Read More

Watching, Waiting, Working for Jesus – Br. Curtis Almquist

2 Peter 3:11-18

After Jesus’ crucifixion, his followers shared their memories of him, trying to make sense of what he had predicted. That is often the case as we look back on life, the “ah-hah” experience that comes when we remember and understand someone or something from a new perspective: “Oh, I get it. That’s what he meant when he said such-and-such.” “Oh, that’s what was going on then. I can see it now.”

  • Jesus had earlier predicted that when he arrived in Jerusalem he would be killed, not crowned. Most of his followers had not understood him at the time.
  • That after his crucifixion he would regain life, be resurrected. When they first heard it, most of his followers had missed what he was saying.
  • That he would then return to his “father” – he would leave them, but not leave them without comfort or power. God’s Spirit would come to be with them. When they first heard it, most of his followers could not make sense of that.
  • That his followers would take up their own cross and suffer. They had not missed that, because of what had been happening for decades. The Roman Empire had found Jesus’ followers seditious and treasonous; they were like sheep to be slaughtered.[i]

Our first lesson, from Saint Peter’s second letter to the church, was written around year 65, more than a generation after Jesus had finally left them, had ascended. One last promise that Jesus had spoken, his followers clung to: that he would return to earth, that he would come again in their lifetime, so they understood.[ii] They had lived with that hope. But Jesus’ return had not happened, and there was every imaginable explanation why. Peter is writing here about the meantime, in a very mean time, how then shall we live in the absence of Jesus’ return? “What sort of persons ought we to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness?” He answers his own question. Peter’s words still pertain.

  • Peter writes that we are waiting on the Lord, but it’s actually the Lord waiting on them.” Why? For our repentance: to realign ourselves to life on Jesus’ terms and to change our ways: to repent of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf.
  • And then Peter calls his readers to “lead lives of holiness and godliness, at peace,” he says, “without spot or blemish… and not carried away, such we they lose their own stability.”

Lent is upon us tomorrow. The forty days of Lent remind us of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. For Jesus, those forty days were not a time when he would confront the misaligned political and economic powers that surrounded him, about which he was well apprised. Rather, those forty days were a time to re-align himself to why God had given him life: to claim the right purpose, the right power, the right voice God had given him. There he was in the desert to be purged of anything in the world that tempted him to stray from his reason for being.

And for us, Lent will give us forty days for the purgation of our own souls, where we may have colluded with the very powers we condemn. The focus of Lent can create space anew for the light, and life, and love to Jesus to teem in us and through us to our desperately broken world. Lent is to help us.


[i] Romans 8:36.

[ii] See Matthew 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32. See also Acts 1:11.

Welcome Dear Feast of Lent – Br. James Koester

Nearly four hundred years ago, George Herbert[1], the great Anglican poet, wrote his poem, Lent[2], better known by its first line: Welcome Dear Feast of Lent.

Welcome dear feast of Lent: who loves not thee,
He loves not Temperance, or Authority
But is compos’d of passion.

The Scripture bids us fast; the Church says, now:

It is a poem I return to each Lent, because that first phrase turns everything upside down for me. I need to be reminded that Lent is not a time of misery, but of joy and delight. It is the springtime of the Church, and holds within it the promise of new life, similar to what we see emerging all around us, at this time of year.

Like any gardener anxiously eyeing the weather, and scouring seed catalogues, waiting, waiting, waiting, to begin the hard work of preparing the garden for another season, we turn our eyes inward, and begin the hard work of preparation, so that like Mary Magdalene, we too can encounter the Risen Lord in the garden of our souls.

Though her eyes were filled with tears, and at first unable to see clearly, Mary, like Herbert, was richly rewarded.

Who goeth in the way which Christ has gone,
That travelleth byways:
Perhaps my God, though he be far before,
May turn, and take me by the hand, and more
May strengthen my decays.

We begin Lent today in this way: kneeling, with ashes on our foreheads, and reminded of our sins. This is not in order to make us feel guilty and miserable, but in order to open our eyes, and ears, and hearts, and hands, to the mystery of love, and the One who is Love. With eyes and hands open, we may find God taking us by the hand, and leading us the rest of the way. When that happens we, and all God’s people, will discover the fast which God chooses:

Is not this the fast that I choose: [says God]

to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
   and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
   and not to hide yourself from your own kin?[3]

Lent is not a time to be miserable. It is a time to feast on the mercy, love, and justice of God. And that feast begins, kneeling in the garden of our souls.


[1] George Herbert (1593 – 1633), priest and poet

[2] Herbert, GeorgeLent as found in George Herbert, The Country Parson, The Temple, The Classics of Western Spirituality, edited by John Wall, Paulist Press, New York, 1981, page 204

[3] Isaiah 58: 6 – 7

Tears in the Desert – Br. Lucas Hall

Jeremiah 17:5-10; Psalm 1; Luke 16:19-31

Our first reading today is from the book of the prophet Jeremiah. Over time, Jeremiah has garnered for himself the nickname, “The Weeping Prophet.” He’s earned it. Called to be a prophet at an early age, he is initially reluctant, but trusts in God, and diligently urges his people toward repentance. They don’t listen, and respond with dismissiveness, hostility, and violence. As such, the disaster Jeremiah has been foretelling comes true; the armies of Babylon come and overthrow the houses of Israel and Judah. Jerusalem is captured, and the Temple is destroyed. Jeremiah is cast into exile in Egypt, where he dies, estranged from his homeland and his people. He can do nothing but lament; he has no other option but to weep in the desert.

When Jeremiah tells us, then, that the one who trusts in God shall be like a tree planted by water, unafraid of the drought, still producing fruit, it is reasonable to ask, “Where is Jeremiah’s river? Where is his fruit?” His life appears to be a drought, from start to finish. Does Jeremiah condemn or contradict himself? Where are the waters to cool his scorched tongue?

It is further reasonable to ask this about ourselves. When we are in seasons of drought, when we are striving our hardest to live in faithfulness to God rather than to the flesh, it makes sense to say, “I feel like I’m withering; where is my fruit? I feel like I’m in the desert; where is my river? I’m a poor beggar and sore all over; where is the refreshing water to cool my tongue?” Indeed, it can be difficult to offer any prayer at all in this state of mind. When the tongue is dry, when the lips are cracked, it is a great, even painful effort to speak. We may feel we are living in the poverty of Lazarus, and yet receiving the treatment of the rich man, begging for a cool drink. Not only the mouth, but the soul itself may be parched. In the desert of Lent, we are especially prone to this drought. How, then, can we pray?

Here, Jeremiah’s story is instructive. The lament, the weeping, the tears in the desert are no sign of God’s abandonment. These tears are rain to the thirsty land, the wellspring of the river of life in the midst of the desert, the water that soothes the dry mouth and the tormented soul.

“Jesus wept” is the most iconic depiction of the tears of grief leading to life; Christ’s tears both show his human sorrow and foreshadow the abundance of life that will literally burst forth from the earth at the resurrection of Lazarus. Hagar’s tears in the wilderness after she and her son had run out of water are met with God revealing a well. Writing around the year 600, the monastic saint John Climacus wrote in his Ladder of Divine Ascent that, “Prayer is the mother and daughter of tears…If God in His love for the human race had not given us tears, those being saved would be few indeed and hard to find. Groans and sadness cry out to the Lord, trembling tears intercede for us, and the tears, shed out of all-holy love show that our prayer has been accepted.” St. Symeon the New Theologian, another monk, writing at the end of the 10th century, argued that holy weeping is a recurring gift of immersion in the waters of baptism, cleansing us and giving us life whenever we are bathed in our tears. Tears in the desert are no sign of God’s abandonment; they are a sign of repentance, a sign of sorrow for the world, a sign of awe, a sign of love. They are the waters within, just waiting to course through the desert when words are too much and not enough.

We are in Lent. It is the season of the drought. We can look around and see plentiful sorrow, and we may be unable to fix it. We may find no words, no actions, are sufficient to dress the wounds of the world. So, take heart; do not shun your tears. Do not be ashamed or afraid or dismissive of weeping, for when the heat of the desert seeps into our bones, tears can be living water.

Sermon for the First Friday in Lent – Br. David Allen

davidallen_1

Isa/ 58:1-9a

What do you usually think about as we begin the season of Lent?  Discipline? Penitence? Fasting?

Lent is usually thought of as a season of discipline.  The other three words, Austerity, Penitence, Fasting, are important for the full development of Discipline.  It is more than any one of those.  Lent is a season for Spiritual Formation.  Lent is a time for us to let the Holy Spirit form in each of us the image both of a child of God and of a good  servant of God.

The 1st lesson read today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah gives some contrasts between wrong ideas about fasting and positive ways in which we can use fasting as a way of doing something good for those who are in need. Read More

Turning Discipline into Discipleship – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Ecclesiasticus 2:1-11
Psalm 112
Mark 9:30-37

The autumn of my 4th grade year I had the sudden desire, much to the surprise of my parents, to play football.  I say my parents were surprised because I had never even shown the slightest interest in watching a football game much less playing football.  Maybe it had more to do with the fact that my friends were not around to hang out with after to school because they were at football practice, after which they’d come home to  eat supper with their families before doing their studies and going to bed.  Whatever the reason, I remember begging my folks to let me play, even against their counsel.  Finally, my Dad said to me, “If we let you play, you’re in until the banquet at the end of the season.” I was overjoyed and after I had agreed to the stipulation, we were off to pay the fee, get weighed in, and get my football pads.

Now, it only took one practice of getting hit and knocked into the dirt for me to appreciate my parents’ wisdom, and I came home and told them as much.  My father graciously thanked me before reiterating, to my dismay, that I would play Center for the East Pee Wee football team until the banquet.  Even a trip to the ER to treat a laceration to the elbow which required stitches did not change his mind.  The solution:  elbow pads.  I played through the season and you may be surprised to know that I did not get MVP nor most improved; just a participation trophy and a scar on my elbow.  This story came to mind when praying with our lesson from Ecclesiasticus:  My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for testing.  Set you hear right and be steadfast, and do not be impetuous in time of calamity.  Cling to him and do not depart, so that your last days may be prosperous.  Accept whatever befalls you, and in times of humiliation be patient.  For gold is tested in the fire, and those found acceptable in the furnace of humiliation.  Trust in him, and he will help you; make your ways straight, and hope in him. Read More

From Ashes to Easter – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany

Leviticus 19: 1 – 2, 9 – 18
Psalm 119: 33 – 40
1 Corinthians 3: 10 – 11, 16 – 23
Matthew 5: 38 – 48

It is hard to believe that our journey from the ashes of Ash Wednesday to the baptismal waters of the Easter Vigil begins in only ten days. It seems that just a few days ago we were gathered here, around the Christmas crèche, singing carols and celebrating the Feast of the Nativity. Already, the season of Epiphany is almost over and we stand at the threshold of Lent. Our Lenten journey will begin, as it does every year, with the mark of our mortality, which we will wear on our foreheads, until newly washed and smelling of the oil of chrism, we emerge dripping wet from the baptismal font. This journey which we take each Lent is not simply a liturgical or sacramental journey, it is a journey through life, when we face again the paradox of our humanity, which is that we are both fallen and redeemed. We are both sinners and saints. We live both in the wasteland outside the gates of Eden and in the garden outside the Empty tomb. We have something about us both of our First Parents, Adam and Eve, and the Second Adam, our Lord and Saviour. Read More

The Poverty of God – Br. Jim Woodrum

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:22-30; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  With those words we begin the season of Lent; a season that the prayer book describes as one of ‘penitence and fasting.’  It is traditional for people to give up something during Lent; something that is a part of the daily fabric of their lives, perhaps something that is a treat or is looked forward to regularly for comfort.  For instance, many people give up drinking their favorite soda, or eating chocolate.  Others may give up watching a favorite TV show or spending time on social media.  Whatever it is, when we are triggered by habit or desire for this creature comfort, its absence ultimately serves to remind us of our ‘poverty.’  Read More

The Gift of Tears – Br. Curtis Almquist

curtis4John 11:1-45

Whenever you are around people who are very, very happy, you will likely see tears.  These are tears of joy, wonder, gratitude, satisfaction that come from a deep place in a person’s soul, when someone has experienced a kind of greatness so amazing, almost too great to behold.  Something simply bursts with a release of ecstasy streaming down a person’s face.  Of all the things that can be planned in life, tears of joy and gladness do not need to be choreographed.  They simply happen.  And it is the same for the tears of sorrow, tears of pain or loss, burning the eyes like from the salt of the sea, and coming from a place as deep and endless as the ocean.  Tears of sorrow expose a person’s deepest vulnerabilities, longings, and losses. Read More

Collaborating In Love: Bearing Fruit – Br. James Koester

James Koester SSJEIt’s been a long winter. We still have snow on the ground at Emery House but it seems that spring has come, at last. Things are late however. Two years ago the snowdrops bloomed on March 8 and the squill ten days later. As yet snowdrops are just up, and bloomed for the first time today. The garlic and onions I planted last fall are beginning to poke their heads out of the ground and the chickens are getting incredibly restless. Whereas a couple of weeks ago they would not even emerge from the coop, now they can’t wait to get out in the morning.

Since moving back to Emery House I have learned a lot: about chickens and ducks and geese; about garlic and onions and leeks; about tractors and mowers and bees (and that some mowers and bees don’t mix!). But I probably only know just enough to be dangerous, and not enough yet, to be a good farmer. I am certain there is a great deal more to learn, and I am sure I will learn some of it this year. Read More