Seeing and Being Seen – Br. David Vryhof

Luke 19:1-10

When I was a child, I learned a song about Zaccheus.  I won’t sing it for you, but the words went like this:

            Zaccheus was a wee little man; a wee little man was he.

            He climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see…

The fascination of the story for children, of course, is that this small but important man clamored up a tree to get a better look at the popular preacher who had come to town.  He was curious and determined, and he didn’t let his small stature deter him from realizing his goal.

We can picture him running ahead of the crowd, climbing into a tree, and looking down the road as Jesus approached.  He hides himself among the leaves, wanting to see the prophet, but not expecting to be seen by him.  And yet this is exactly what happens.  Jesus stops the procession, looks up into the branches, and summons Zaccheus to come down.  He already knows who Zaccheus is – not only that he is a tax collector, but that he is a chief tax collector – but he also perceives that there is far more to this little man than what his title and role might suggest.  Perhaps he senses Zaccheus’ present dissatisfaction with his life, or perhaps he recognizes his hunger for God.  Whatever it is, he sees something and invites Zaccheus to a life-changing conversation. Read More

Returning Christ’s Embrace – Br. Michael Hardgrove

Luke 13:31-35

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus utters a profoundly anguished lament over his beloved people, and the hardness of their hearts. Yet in his grief he also speaks of his deep and abiding faithfulness towards them and his desire to envelop them in the embrace of his unconditional love. His message then was the same it is to us today: stop running from God’s love, turn back and be saved. I think the Gospel today invites us to see the ways in which we are still opposing, running from, and rejecting the love of Jesus Christ.

Many of Jesus’ own people opposed His invitation to live in the fullness of God’s love, just as we do today. All of us have resistance to what Jesus invites. Speaking of Jerusalem, He exclaims “how often have I wanted together your children as a hen gathers her brood under her wings—and you would not!” This rather striking image of Jesus as a hen, protecting her brood from the fox, sacrificing herself, if need be, speaks to something deeply instinctive within us: the desire to be sheltered in a loving embrace, and to know that we are truly safe and deeply loved. If the image of a hen doesn’t quite resonate with you, think of a mother nursing her newborn baby, protecting her in the warmth of her embrace. That desire to be with her child, that indescribable love, that unconditional love, which extends from the core of the mother’s being. Loving her child more than life itself is as natural for her as breathing or drinking. She delights in her child, and would do absolutely anything to protect her, giving her own life in a heartbeat. That is a hint of how great God’s love for us is; yet, sadly the response by humanity has often been to reject God’s call to love one another as He has loved us. Read More

God does not call the worthy – Br. Sean Glenn

Br. Sean Glenn

Hosea 11:1-9
Matthew 10:7-15

As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”[1]

This morning, we encounter a scene that ought to leave us filled with an awesome wonder. Here, Jesus empowers his followers to be his ensigns—literally, those who en-sign the presence of the Father’s kingdom in the world. And the way they do so is itself a kind of sign, a sign of the character of God. For as they proclaim the nearness of the kingdom, they do not do so with the coercive might of earthly empire or exploitive trappings of worldly rulers.

“Cure the sick,” Jesus says, “raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” The sign of the kingdom of heaven is this unitive, healing, gathering action of raising, cleansing, and casting out. It is a mark of a Spirit that is boundlessly generous.  “You received without payment;” continues Jesus, “give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.”[2] Not only does the nearness of the kingdom of heaven become en-signed on the world by a generosity, but it is a generosity sourced in creaturely poverty, without gold or silver, no containers of excess or tools of defense. Instead, these human beings sent by Jesus are to embody the true Humanity he has come to enflesh: a humanity empty enough to receive the boundless love and light of the Father. Read More

Faith Seeking Understanding – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Br. Geoffrey Tristram

John 20: 19-31

The story of Jesus’ appearance to Thomas is one of the most moving in all the Gospels. And for me, the most powerful evocation of the scene is found in that amazing painting by Caravaggio, called, ‘The Incredulity of St Thomas.’. If you don’t know it I really recommend it for a meditation. Jesus is standing in the room with Thomas and two other disciples. He has just said, ‘Peace be with you’. And now, in the painting, (although the text does not tell us whether this happened), Jesus grasps Thomas’ hand and thrusts it deep into the wound in his side. Thomas and the other disciples stare with utter astonishment.  But Jesus looks tenderly at the amazed face of his friend, as he first uncovers his wound. As Jesus pulls back his robe to show the wound, it catches a ray of brilliant sunlight, and the whole scene is bathed in this light. It is a poignant moment of enlightenment, and of coming to faith for Thomas.

It was seeing Jesus’ body, in all its brokenness and woundedness which brought Thomas to belief. But this beautiful story is not a story of proof but a story of love. For me, the story of Thomas is not primarily a story of a sceptic who comes to believe because his list of doubts is answered; not an intellectual assent to something proven. The story of Thomas is rather the story of a man who comes to believe not because he has enough proof, but because he has actually touched the mystery of divine, self-sacrificial love. Read More

Lovely Be – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke Ditewig

Palm Sunday
Luke 22:14-23:56

Here we kneel at the tomb once more, watching, waiting, numb, and grieving. We stare at love embodied and remember love received. Our song is love unknown, our Savior’s love—to you, to me—love to the loveless shown that we might lovely be.[i]

Remember love shown to children. Jesus invited: “Let the little children come to me”[ii] that we might lovely be.

Remember love shown to blind Bartimaeus who cried out for mercy. Jesus listened, invited, and healed that we might lovely be.[iii] Read More

The Blessed Virgin Mary, the Word, and the World – Br. Curtis Almquist

John 1:1-5

This icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so endearing. On her breast the medallion of the infant Christ. Mary’s arms extended in the orans position, the posture of a priest at the altar. Here Mary pre-figuring how she is carrying and offering the body and blood of Christ who comes from within her.

Mary carries Jesus, who is hidden. God’s taking on our human form, hidden for nine months in his mother’s womb. It will happen again to each of us: Christ’s hiddenness. How Christ who comes to live within us is sometimes so hidden, sometimes working out in the secrecy of our own hearts what cannot be seen. Not yet. Not by us; not by others.

This image of Christ, whom the Gospel of John calls “the Word.” Such a paradox, because the Word pictured in this icon cannot speak even one human word. The Word of God, alive and present in a completely silent way.

And then Mary, whose eyes are not on Jesus. Her eyes are on the world, which she sees and shares with Jesus from her heart. Since the meaning of Christ’s coming is to save the world, the Church’s primary mission must be worldly: the church, not radiating its holiness to a godless world, but giving itself to a world God so loves: people, skies, waterways, plants and trees, birds and creatures big and small. The Church’s primary mission must be worldly, offering God’s love and care to a world dying to be saved. Read More

And They Told Him All – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester,
Superior

Mark 6:30

I love the Gospel of Mark because of its breathless character. We seem to race from one place or event to another, with little time in between, and less time to catch our breath. In a few short chapters, Mark crams in the whole of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.[1]

That breathless quality is displayed in abundance in this morning’s reading as we race around Galilee, following Jesus and the disciples, after the first apostolic mission, when they were sent out two by two, and [given] authority over the unclean spirits.[2]

With so much packed into the reading, the preacher or reader would be forgiven if their attention was drawn to the latter part of the passage, the feeding of the 5000. My attention though is drawn to the beginning, to the regathering of the band of disciples with their leader, following their missionary travels. The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.[3] That is what arrests my attention this morning. I can see this scene perfectly clearly, because I know from experience what that was like Read More

Sin, So Tedious; Love So Enduring – Br. Curtis Almquist

Luke 7:36-50

Most of us, most of the time, do not need anyone else’s help for us to judge ourselves poorly. We are well apprised of how we have missed the mark, perjured ourselves, once more done or said those things we have ought not to have done or said, and not done or said those things we should have. Momentarily we will be invited to make a personal, corporate confession of our sin. We will just plough ahead with this. What is so pathetic is we need not be asked for a show of hands, whether time for confession would be helpful. The ancient liturgy of the church – without benefit of having personally surveyed either you or me – presumes the state of things in our soul, and that, yet again, our personal confession of sin would be both helpful and necessary for most all of us. The distinctive quality of confessions, in my experience, is that they are so tedious and boring.

Jesus judges this woman about whom we hear in today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus judges her. Jesus puts a face to God’s judgment, and it is a judgment of love. It is not a judgment of ridicule, or rejection, or hopelessness, or boredom, or eternal condemnation, but rather a judgment of love.

This woman is a known person. It’s her again. We can presume that Jesus is also a known person. It’s him again. She did not pick Jesus at random. She knows something about him, most likely has heard him teaching, seen him healing before. What she is doing, down on her knees, is making her confession with alabaster oil and tears. It’s an extravagant confession, as is her known sin. No words from her are recorded. What’s to say? It’s her again. Most significant in this Gospel story is not whether Jesus bears God’s love, nor whether Jesus bears God’s love for this woman. Jesus has said that before, and she has heard it. The question – her question – is whether Jesus still loves her? Yes, he still loves her. He still loves us.

An Enduring, Steadfast Love – Br. Sean Glenn

Exodus 12:37-42
Psalm 136:1-3, 10-15
Matthew 12:14-21

If asked the question, “How would you describe God’s character?” how would you respond? Of course, none of us can really answer that question in its fullness. Even with a careful apophasis—that is, an approach to speaking of God in terms of what God is not—we nonetheless remain confronted with the reality that our language about God can only ever attempt to point toward God’s character. It would be a bit like asking the character in a novel to describe the author of that novel. Anything the character might say is limited to the very materials the author has disposed for that character—none of which is actually the author.

Yet today’s readings remind us that there is indeed one way of describing God that very nearly rises beyond our usual linguistic limitations. From God’s “night of vigil”[2] to bring Israel out of Egypt in Exodus, to the incessant refrain of Psalm 136 (“for his mercy endures forever”[3]), to Jesus’ work of blessing even in the midst of his rejection in the sight of the Pharisees,[4] the biblical authors never fail to describe God’s character and self-understanding in terms of love. Read More

Speaking the Language of God – Br. James Koester

Acts 2: 1-21

I must confess that I have always been envious of those who are able to acquire another language. I have always struggled to learn a second language.

As a child my parents enrolled me in private French lessons, but when French became available at school, it was like starting over again. Each year was the same. I struggled all year to learn a few basics, scrape by with a pass at the end of the school year, and then forget everything over the summer. I would start again from square one, once again, each Fall. I finally dropped both French and Latin in high school. In the first year of seminary, I enrolled in New Testament Greek. Early in the term the professor arranged for us all to take a language aptitude test. My years of struggling to learn another language all came together with that test. Finally everything made sense.

If you have taken the language aptitude test, you will know that it is based on learning a few simple elements of Kurdish. The idea is to see how quickly you can learn it and then answer some questions. A week or so after the test, I sat in the professor’s office to hear my results. He began by telling me he didn’t understand why I was having such difficulty learning Greek, as I had a perfect aptitude for foreign languages. Suddenly he stopped in his tracks. Mumbled oh and said to me, James I see why you are having such difficulties. I was reading the score backwards. You have absolutely no aptitude to learn a second language

I don’t know exactly how that language aptitude test works, but after years of trying to learn French, Latin and then Greek, I didn’t need a test to tell me what I already knew. There is something about my brain that simply can’t absorb languages. I joke that even after thirty years in this country, I still don’t understand and can’t speak American. It has been explained to me countless times, what freshman, sophomore, junior and senior mean, but it needs to be explained to me again each time someone uses those phrases. And please don’t tell me you are a rising sophomore because that will just confuse me even more. Read More