Marked as Christ’s Own Forever – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

A sermon preached at the Baptism of Josephine Leach Curtis

Romans  6:3-5
Psalm 23
Mark 10:13-16

Babies fascinate us.  They are objects of wonder.  Tiny fingers grasping tightly, with even tinier fingernails.  What a miracle!  Eyes wandering, then beginning to focus and take in the world, then recognizing and responding to the adults who love them.  Lungs that can give a powerful shout; tears that flow when crying.  Tiny eyelashes and soft, soft skin.  Learning new things every day and slowly becoming the persons they are meant to be.

To hold a baby is an experience of wonder.  You are a miracle of God, Josephine. We hold you, look into your eyes, and praise God, echoing the words of the psalmist,

“…You created her inmost parts; you knit her together in her mother’s womb.  We will thank you because she is marvelously made; your works are wonderful, and we know it well.” 

                                                                                                      (Psalm 139:12-13)

But Josephine’s tiny features and emerging personality aren’t the only wonders today.  Today there is also the wonder of God, reaching out to lift her with gentle arms, to embrace and welcome her, just as Jesus did to the children brought to him.  This is the mystery of baptism: that God claims us as God’s own, marks us with the sign of the Cross, seals us with the Holy Spirit, and declares that we belong to God forever.  In baptism, God demonstrates God’s extravagant love for us.

Josephine’s baptism marks her as “Christ’s own forever.”  There is nothing that will ever separate her from the love of God in Christ – no disappointment or failure, no defeat or loss, no suffering or hardship.  No matter what life brings, God’s strong, loving arms will always encircle her, always protect her, always carry her.  She is in the care of the Good Shepherd, the one who calls each of his sheep by name and loves them as the unique beings that they are.

Our hearts overflow with love when we gaze into Jo’s eyes.  We want to protect her, nourish her, and love her; we want to encourage her and support her; we want to guide her and teach her.  We want nothing but the best for her; every good thing.  And if our hearts so overflow with love and if we want so much to care for her, how much more the heart of God, who has created her and called her by name and claimed her as his own.  Blessed be God!

And blessed be you, Jo’s parents and godparents, aunts and uncles, grandparents and friends; you who will be the hands and eyes and voices that will watch over her, protecting and nurturing her.  You will be God’s gentle hands and loving voice; you will be channels of God’s love and blessing in her life until she is old enough to enter into a relationship with God herself.  God bless you in your task.

All praise and thanks to you, most merciful Father, for adopting us as your own children, for incorporating us into your holy Church, and for making us worthy to share in the inheritance of your saints in light; through Jesus Christ you Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Rejoice in Understanding – Br. Lain Wilson

Nehemiah 8:1-12

I have been overjoyed this week to see Br. David, with sign language, showing us the importance of interpretation. At one time or another, we all need an interpreter. We need a translation to understand a text. We need an explanation to understand a law. Or we need an encounter to make real a truth that we may know but do not yet feel.

This is true of the Israelites, as we hear in our passage from Nehemiah this morning. They are gathered to hear the priest Ezra read from the law. At the same time, a group of Levites move through the assembled crowd to help them understand what is being read. The effect is clear: “All the people went their way . . . to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them” (Neh 8:12). The text is important—but the act of interpretation makes the truth of the text they hear real and felt. Read More

And God Waits – Br. James Koester

Romans 8: 28-30

Today is a perfect day for me! I love this feast for all sorts of different reasons.

I love it because it is slightly quirky. Nowhere in scripture is anything at all mentioned about the birth of Mary. All we can really say, unless we believe that Jesus arrived on earth via space ship, is that it happened.

I love it, because who could not love something whose source is a second century document entitled the Protoevangelium of James.[1] While the feast itself may not date to the second century, the very human desire to know more about the people we love, and honour is as real desire. Read More

The Dilemma of “The Unwelcomed Suitor” – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

John 15:18-21

“Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you.”

When I was in college, I was a member of a social fraternity whose particular charism was the promotion of music for the uplift of humankind. We believed that there was a divine spirit of truth in music. Our chief philanthropy was a Music Mission (started by our founder here at the ‘Alpha Chapter’ in Boston), where we would go to nursing homes and hospitals and sing for all those whose spirits were downtrodden: the aging, infirm, or those suffering from dementia. We had a hymnal-like book filled with songs in 4-part harmony that we would break out and sing at meetings, in restaurants, or even an occasional serenade to a young lady we wanted to impress. Now, you might think we were a sweet group of young, geeky, idealistic music nerds who took their craft a little too seriously. But we also were typical college students who loved to get together and have a good time, consuming beer and pizza, and occasionally getting a little rowdy. We loved each other and we would always come to a brother’s aid if an occasion demanded it. Read More

God’s Conditional Love; Why It All Matters – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

John 3:1-17

When I was a teenager I heard a chaplain say that God’s love for us is “unconditional.” On the surface, this sounded fabulous to me because I was a very mixed bag. Actually, I was a mess. And the thought that God actually loves me – me! – unconditionally was something I desperately (though very secretly) needed to know. By that point I was in high school, and it so happens I had trained to be a lifeguard. In actuality, it was like I who was drowning in my own stuff. I needed to be rescued; I needed to be saved from my self-disdain. That’s an adult term, “self-disdain.” As a teenager, I hated myself. So if it were true that God’s love for me, for us, is unconditional, then sign me up.

God’s love for each of us is vast and so personal. Who we are, what we are, however it is we’ve gotten to be where we are, God knows, God lures, God loves. Rather than calling this God’s “unconditional love,” I now think of this as God’s “conditional love.” Because life is inescapably full of conditions and circumstances, changes and chances, and God’s love for us is neither theoretical nor generic. God’s love for us is real and personal, woven into the fabric of our lives from the very beginning. God so loves our own world. Read More

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

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