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

Caught in the Gaze of Prayer – Br. Jim Woodrum

John 17:1-11a

After the death of my parents, I had to settle their estate and then prepare the house that I grew up in to sell. Among the almost five decades of memories were photo albums assembled through the years. In one of these albums is a picture of my Mom and me when I was an infant. She was in her nightgown, her hair in curlers, sitting in a rocking chair holding me. She was lovingly looking down at me and I was gazing up at her, our eyes locked while I sucked on my pacifier. I imagine my Dad seeing the opportunity for the iconic shot and carefully reaching for his camera. It is a picture we have all seen in the many photo albums of our lives or even while walking in the park, eating in a restaurant, or visiting family. The mother gazes at the infant with a gentle outpouring of love, comfort, and safety. The infant returns the gaze, looking up into the eyes of its mother, taking in information, studying her face, expressions, and eyes. This gaze of love is so compelling, you cannot help but to get drawn in. Even though you were too young to remember this interchange, somehow you hold it sacramentally in embodied remembrance.

It was this kind of gaze that came to mind when reading these words in a small book published by our Society called A Cowley Calendar which has a quote of our founder Fr. Benson for each day of the year. On the page marked “Tuesday in the Octave of Ascension” there is this quote: “We must realize that His eye is really upon us. We must therefore rest in the knowledge that He is looking on us. He gazes into our hearts, He knows all the thoughts that are there. He watches when perhaps Satan assaults us with manifold evil thoughts. He encourages us to be strong, to keep ourselves continually gazing upon Him; and if we will only live in His love, then no power of the enemy can tear us away.”[i] In our lection this evening from the Gospel of John we hear Jesus pray to his Father for his disciples in loving intercession. As he begins to pray, the author of John says that Jesus looks up toward heaven. Its almost as if Jesus returns the gaze of his father as he prays about his coming glorification on the cross and then for protection for his disciples. Read More

Loving Living; Living Loving – Br. Curtis Almquist

1 John 5:1-6
John 15:9-17

That’s a lot of love, what Jesus is saying again and again in this Gospel passage appointed for today. In three verses, Jesus names “love” 8 times. How to live? Live loving. Love. Love. Love. Love… With each repetition, Jesus is clearly trying to catch our attention, but how?  What does Jesus’ word “love” mean for us? We need to do some detective work, because the Greek of the New Testament has four completely different words for “love,” words which are indistinguishable in English. What love – which of the four loves – is Jesus talking about here, and repeatedly?  (And, in our short lesson from the First Letter of John, the word “love” appears five times, and it’s the same word for “love” that Jesus is talking about here.)

For example:

  • In English, we speak of the love parents have for their newborn baby.[i] They love their precious little girl.
  • Or there’s the love we have for a close friend. I write a note to a friend, and I close the note with, “Love, Curtis.”[ii]
  • Or there’s the love between two people who have “fallen in love” with one another. They are smitten with passionate love for one another.[iii]
  • Or there is the self-sacrificing love of one person on behalf of another, someone giving up their life out of love so that another can live.[iv]

In English we use the same word, “love,” to describe all of these experiences of love, but in the Greek, these are four completely different words. Which of the four Greek verbs for love is Jesus talking about here? It’s the latter, the self-sacrificing love of one person on behalf of another, someone giving up their life out of love so that another can live. In Greek, this word for love is “agápē,” and Jesus lives up to this kind of love in his crucifixion. It’s with that kind of love Jesus is calling us to live our lives: the self-sacrificing love of our own person on behalf of another, so that they can live. Jesus normalizes this love. Read More