Real Talk – Br. Lain Wilson

John 21:15-19

“How’re you doing?”

How do you usually answer this question? “I’m fine,” perhaps, or “I’m okay.” In our daily interactions we get asked seemingly polite questions like this over and over, and we are conditioned to respond politely.

They don’t want to know your whole life story.

Unless they do. But we can’t know their intention—unless they persist, unless they make known their intention.

“How’re you doing?” “No, really, how’re you doing?”

How do you feel knowing that someone else truly cares to know something true about you?

“Peter felt hurt because [Jesus] said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’” (Jn 21:17).

The passage is clear here that Jesus’s repeated asking is the cause of Peter’s hurt. But I think there’s something else going on beneath the surface. It’s not just that Peter is hurt because he is being doubted, but rather that there may be some basis for this doubt.

I think Peter’s hurt at the questioning reveals something true about him: that he has been hurting, that he has been grieving, grieving this whole time—grieving his failure, his cowardice in denying Jesus. Perhaps, that he has been questioning his own love of Jesus—or, rather, his own worthiness for that love. Read More

Not to Condemn But To Love the World – Br. Keith Nelson

1 John 5:9-13
John 17:6-19

As your preacher on this seventh Sunday of Easter, I must confess I struggle with a key concept found throughout the gospel and epistles of John.

“The world” in these writings is a multi-faceted term. Its meaning shifts and accumulates layers of meaning every time it appears.

Sometimes the world is simply the material reality around us, the created order. In John’s prologue we hear: “He [that is, Jesus] was in the world, and the world came into being through him.” This meaning aligns with the most ancient usage of the Greek kosmos, which means “a harmoniously ordered arrangement” or even “adornment.” It is a fitting term for creation as Christians understand it, the material expression of God’s love. This kosmos finds its order and beauty in Christ the Word and exists only through him: “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” Read More

God’s Pity – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Psalm 72: 7-8, 12-15, 17

If you have occasion to study a tapestry or quilt, where you can view both the front side and the back side, you often discover that though the front side may be more beautiful, the back side is more instructive and shows all the quite-hidden work that has enabled what is presented on the front side. That is a fact of life.

There is a word which surfaces in the Psalm we prayed a moment ago. This same word appears many times elsewhere in the psalter: pity.[i] The word “pity” comes from the same etymological root as our word “piety.” Pity is a holy compassion, and it begins with God’s piety. The psalmist cries out:

Have pity on me, Lord, for I am weak;
heal me, Lord, for my bones are racked.[ii]
The psalmist also proclaims:
[God]shall have pity on the lowly and poor
[and]shall preserve the lives of the needy.[iii]

Isn’t it so reassuring that God, as the master weaver, knows us: knows what we present “up front,” and knows from whence it all comes, our “back side.” Isn’t it comforting that God who created us, calls us, uses us, is thankful for us, knows us well, pities us with a loving compassion.

Today we remember our departed Brothers of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist who, over the years, died in the month of May. We cherish these archival memories of our predecessors. God took pity on them, the complex and sometimes-tangled threads of their lives, and wove into them such amazing, distinctive, colorful, often complex and beautiful lives. We remember these departed Brothers both with amazement and with gratitude. We also remember how they give witness to God who looks on us all with such loving pity, and with such promise.


[i]For example, Psalm 9:13; 17:10;  25:15; 26:11; 72:13; 109:11.

[ii] Psalm 6:2.

[iii] Psalm 72:13.

Jesus’ Name; Jesus’ Heart – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

John 14:7-14

In my childhood and early adolescence I was fascinated by magic and magic tricks. Which also happens to be when I first heard Jesus’ words, “I will do whatever you ask in my name.” It was like my discovering the ultimate magic trick. I started asking away in Jesus’ name about most everything I fancied. Everything. It did not work. Not often. It was sure not anything to depend on. I remember “dropping” this Bible verse like dropping a fad. I only later discovered the context of Jesus’ invitation. It’s not just about asking Jesus; it’s also about naming Jesus.

There is an enormous power in knowing someone’s name and then using it. To know someone’s name gives you an access to their identity and a claim on your relationship. I imagine we all know when that power is misused, when someone “name drops.” When someone feigns to know another person – who they are, what they believe, how they can be accessed. If someone invokes the name of a person, but without the license to use their name, it will backfire, eventually… because the namedropper will eventually be exposed. People will know: the person whose name was invoked would not say that. It is inconsistent or incongruous… and the pretender will be discredited.

Which is the key in claiming Jesus’ invitation that he will give us whatever we ask in his name. We must know Jesus to invoke his name. We must know the mind of Jesus, the heart of Jesus, the words of Jesus to speak in his name. And the purpose, the goal for invoking Jesus’ name, is for one reason only: for the sake of love. It’s to know Jesus’ love and then to love others on behalf of Jesus, to love others in Jesus’ name.  Our asking things of Jesus cannot just be on behalf of our own private self, but on behalf of all whom Jesus claims in relationship.

Our community’s principal founder, Richard Meux Benson, says that all of us are related. Father Benson says, “Your life must be a relative life. The moment you are imprisoned in your own self-consciousness, in your own separate individuality, in the selfishness of your own separate existence, you commit a worse suicide than taking the life of your body.” Father Benson says that we are a relative being, and we have no existence except when we ask and act on behalf of another.[i]

We should take Jesus at his word, to ask away. Jesus assures us, “I will give you whatever you ask in my name….” In my adolescence, the problem was not that I was asking for too much; I was asking for too little. We need to know a great deal about Jesus and the enormity of his love – what Jesus would want for those for whom we pray – and then pray our hearts out. And in our praying, we should presume that Jesus will very likely reciprocate, in asking us, asking you, to be a part of the answer to our prayer.


[i] Quoted from Further Letters of Richard Meux Benson, pp. 36-37; 297.

He Calls Us Each by Name – Br. Lain Wilson

John 10:11-18
Acts 4:5-12
1 John 3:16-24
Psalm 23

I’ve been thinking this week a lot about a guy named Paul.

Probably not the one you’re thinking of.

He lived about fifteen hundred years ago, somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean.

We know that this Paul, this specific Paul, lived. And we know absolutely nothing else about him.

But we can even know this much because his name appears on a small lead seal, about the size of a quarter.[1] I worked for over a decade with seals like Paul’s.[2] Although they literally sealed, secured correspondence, they also served like an email signature, including information like titles, jobs, devotions, city of origin. Whatever a sender thought was important to signal about themselves, to make themselves known. Or they just included their names, like “Paul.” And that’s it.

Much of my work, effectively, was doing my best to distinguish one Paul from another.

But this work was so rewarding, because that object, and the name that went along with it, are often the only evidence we have that this person lived, the barest glimpse into a life that may have been as rich, in its own way, as our own. Read More

Passion – How Love and Suffering Coexist – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

John 12:20-36

“Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you…” This is like a teacher getting the attention of the class by saying, “Listen up!”[i]  Various other versions of the Bible translate Jesus’ attention-grabber here as “Believe me,” or “I assure you,” or “I can guarantee this truth,” or “I tell you for certain…” Does Jesus have your attention? We are primed to know this is very important what Jesus is about to say; however we have to do some homework to make sense of its importance.

Two things. Jesus describes how a grain of wheat must die to bear fruit. A farmer would tell us that as long as a tiny grain of wheat keeps on being a kernel in the head of a stalk of wheat, it remains just that: a lone kernel of wheat among many such kernels. It’s only when a grain of wheat is detached from the head and buried in the ground that it can germinate and produce a whole stalk of wheat. Jesus describes this process as a grain of wheat “dying.” Of course Jesus is speaking metaphorically. What does Jesus mean? Because he has signaled that this is very important: a grain of wheat needing to “die” to bear fruit? Jesus is speaking both about generosity and about suffering. Read More

Conditional Friendship, Unconditional Love – Br. Lain Wilson

Feast of Richard Meux Benson

John 15:9-17
1 John 4:7-12

“You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

I’m struck today by this little word “if.” “You are my friends if.” When was the last time you said that to a friend? “You are my friend if you take my side.” ”You are my friend if you do what I say.”

But how often does this “if” go unspoken? “You are my friend,” we say, while thinking, “if you do what I expect, if you believe or read or vote the way I do.” How often do we find ourselves unconsciously closing the door on those who do not fulfill our unspoken ifs?

The founder of our Society, Richard Meux Benson, whom we celebrate today, had a dim view of friendship, in large part because of these ifs. He recognized that, in practice, earthly friendships are often divisive, based as they are on “certain idiosyncrasies which we may share in common, and which naturally . . . separate cliques from the rest of mankind.”[1] In short, he later wrote, “earthly friendships are apt to make us feel lonely both in their enjoyment and in their removal.”[2] Read More

Expansive Love – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke Ditewig

Matthew 2:14-21

Fiber, beads, pigment, wax, wood, copper, historic rosters and photos, digital image and database software. We Brothers played with these and more for a week of creativity. Diverse mediums for diverse persons, each in the image of our Divine Maker.

Matthew opens his telling of the good news with a genealogy notably including four courageous women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. Their stories and that of sinful husbands Judah and David are scandalous. All four are foreigners. Jesus’ bloodline is not only Jewish but also Canaanite, Moabite, and Hittite. Jesus came for the world from the world.[i] 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

Shamelessly Free – Br. Lain Wilson

Malachi 3:13-4:2a
Luke 11:5-13

If you’ve been around children for more than about five minutes, I’m sure you’ve gotten frustrated. They interrupt and question when you just want to have a nice conversation. They run ahead, or behind, or zigzag, or sit down when you just want to have a nice walk. Think about that behavior. Now imagine yourself doing it. Does it make you uncomfortable? Do you think about what other people may think about your doing or asking? Name that uncomfortable emotion. Is it embarrassment or, perhaps, shame?

The word in our Gospel reading translated as “persistence” literally means “shamelessness.” Your friend knocks at the door late at night, and knocks, and keeps knocking, without regard for what you think about him. He needs something. Like a child, he is unashamed of his need, unashamed to ask, unashamed to persist.

Children appear in both our readings this morning, and imagining a particularly shameless child helps us to understand not only what it means to persist in prayer, as Jesus exhorts us, but to persevere in a relationship with God. God, Malachi tells us, will have compassion on those who serve God, as parents have compassion on “children who serve them” (Mal 3:17). I imagine this group not just as obedient children, but as shameless children, unembarrassed to revere God, unconcerned by what others, who see no profit in serving God, may think about them. This is the shamelessness of the psalmist, who persists in giving thanks to God despite those who mock him. This is the shamelessness of Saint Paul, who is unashamed of the Gospel (Rom 1:16).

This is difficult. We face enormous personal and social pressures to care about what others think, to conform, to grow up. But when we apply this to God, how easily we complicate our relationship with God. What childlike shamelessness gives us, I think, is single-minded freedom. Think back to that child. How would she express her need, how would she pray, how would she relate to God? Where do you feel resistance in doing likewise? What would it take for you to turn to God like her—unencumbered, unembarrassed, unashamed? Ask Jesus to give you that freedom—the freedom to ask, to search, to knock . . . the freedom to be shameless.

Amen.