Faith and Fate – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Genesis 17:1-8 

The ancient land of Canaan, promised by God’s covenant to the children of Abraham, includes modern-day Israel and Palestine and territories beyond: a huge swath of geographic, cultural, and religious diversity, then and now.[i] Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike claim our heritage in the Abrahamic covenant.

A covenant is not the same as a contract. A contract is a transaction; a covenant is a relationship. A covenant presumes a transformative change can and will happen in all parties if we respect our common heritage and listen to one another. And for the world today, the stakes are so very high, don’t we know? Christians, Jews, and Muslims do not share the same faith; however we do share the same fate.[ii]

The English word “religion” comes from the Latin, religare, which means “to hold fast,” to be steadfast. Religion is a spiritual “ligament” which holds the parts together. The word religion also comes from the same etymological root as our word “rely” – rely not just on God, but rely on one another, for the love of God. I’m speaking about appropriating this “vertical” covenantal relationship with God also in “horizontal” ways with one another: to share our needs, hopes, and fears in faithfulness to one another, to do together what we cannot do alone. It is to share the Abrahamic covenant with the other Abrahamic traditions.

We here are far from Jerusalem, what the psalmist calls “the center of the world,” and right now the center stage with so many world onlookers, some of them malevolent.[iii] What are we to do? I suggest two things:

  • Listen to the other. Wherever we find ourselves in an oppositional posture, to lower our own “dividing wall of hostility” so as to be able to see and listen to the other.[iv] Not to correct them, or to change them, but to listen to them, which bequeaths dignity.
  • Pray for peace. It’s to take Jesus at his word that he has given us his peace, from the inside out.[v] Where we experience absence of peace:

Breathe in the strife; breathe out peace.
Breathe in the strife; breathe out peace.
Breathe in the strife; breathe out peace.
Breathe in the strife; breathe out peace…  

Breathe in the fear; breathe out peace.
Breathe in the fear; breathe out peace.
Breathe in the fear; breathe out peace.
Breathe in the fear; breathe out peace…

“Come, Lord Jesus.”[vi]


[i] The ancient land of Canaan includes modern-day Israel and the West Bank of the Jordan River, much of Lebanon, and portions of Syria, Jordan, and the Sinai Peninsula (now controlled by Egypt).

[ii] I am drawing on the teaching of Sir Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (1948-2020), “The Relationship between the People and God,” presented by Rabbi Sacks at the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in July 2008. Rabbi Sacks served as the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth 1991-2013.

[iii] The Holy Land is a tiny pinpoint on the world map; however the psalmist proclaims (48:2): “Beautiful and lofty, the joy of all the earth, is the hill of Zion, the very center of the world and the city of the great King.”

[iv] In Ephesians 2:14-17, we read that Christ Jesus “is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us…”

[v] John 14:27.

[vi] From 1 Corinthians 16:22, the Aramaic word Maranatha: “Come Lord Jesus.”

The Hour Has Come – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Br. Geoffrey Tristram

John 12: 20-36

‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified’. I find our Gospel reading today, on this day, this Tuesday in Holy Week, to be really moving.  We are in company with Jesus as he gets ready to die. He is fully prepared. As Son of God he knows that his death will bring life and salvation to the world. But he’s also Son of Man, he is just like us: flesh and blood. He is fearful. ‘Now, my soul is troubled he says’. We hear similar words in the other Gospels, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; (Matthew 26:38)

Each day of this Holy Week, Jesus draws closer to his death. We meditate again on his gracious words and actions, culminating in that glorious final commitment from the Cross, ‘Into your hands O Lord I commend my spirit’.  In doing so we can I believe be strengthened to prepare for our own death. Jesus was fully prepared for his death, and we should be too. There is something rather important being said in the Great Litany in the Book of Common Prayer when we pray to be ‘delivered from dying suddenly and unprepared.’ It is good to be ready, to be prepared for when our own death comes. St Francis of Assisi could speak of death as ‘Sister Death’, because she was for him a familiar and welcome companion. It is said of Pope John 23rd -good Pope John- that as he lay dying of a rather terrible stomach cancer, he told his secretary, ‘My bags are packed and ready to go.’  In the Rule of our Society we read, ‘We are called to remember our mortality day by day with unflinching realism, shaking off the sleep of denial.’ (Chapter 48).  Death for the Christian is no enemy, is not to be feared, but is rather a kind angel waiting to lead us into the presence of our heavenly Father. Read More

Breaking the Power of Evil – Br. David Vryhof

Mark 5:1-20

I reckon that most people, reading this story for the first time, would find it quite strange.  It certainly is unusual, and describes a scene most of us would never have imagined.  We would likely attribute the man’s condition to severe mental illness or trauma, rather than suspecting demons at work.  Casting out demons – and sending them into a herd of swine – would be a very odd cure in our minds, and probably not one that we could imagine or recommend.  The story is odd, but let’s take a closer look at it to see what insights it might provide.

The gospel writers recorded the miracles of Jesus as evidence of his divine nature, and this story certainly reveals his amazing power.  But one thing that sets it apart from other miracle stories is that it takes place in the country of the Gerasenes, and it involves people who were not Jews, as Jesus was.  It is remarkable that Jesus would deliberately cross over the Sea of Galilee to reach this place and bring himself in contact with a person who was ritually impure, to say nothing of being possessed by evil spirits.  But Jesus, as we know, had a habit of setting aside the religious laws and practices of his day in order to show compassion – which is what he does here. Read More

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee – Br. James Koester

Mark 4: 35 – 41

Some of you will know that this year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the theft of a number of art treasures from the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum. It was the night of 19 March 1990 that two thieves, dressed at Boston policemen, broke into the museum, stole 13 paintings, and literally vanished into thin air. It’s the biggest art theft in American history, and no trace has ever been found of either paintings, or the men. Still to this day, because of the terms of Mrs. Gardner’s will, which stipulates nothing can be moved or changed, you can go to the museum and see the empty frames where the paintings once hung.

One of those stolen paintings was Rembrandt’s 1633 oil on canvas painting of The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.

If you have ever been caught in a storm on a body of water, you’ll know exactly how terrifying they can be. The world seems to be moving every which way, all at the same time, and there is nothing between you and certain death by drowning except what seems to be a flimsy bit of wood or metal, even if the vessel you are on is a great ocean going liner.

The terror on the faces of the disciples in Rembrandt’s painting is clear, as they strain at the oars, or try to control the sails. Yet in the midst of this is a calm Jesus, roused from his sleep with the urgent query, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’[1] Matthew’s version of this same story has an even greater sense of urgency, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’[2]

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God’s Promise of Universal Peace – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

Isaiah 2:1-5

Happy New Year!  

Today is the first day of Advent, the beginning of the Church’s calendar year.  The lectionary gives us a great gift when it begins the year with this short passage from the book of Isaiah: Isaiah 2:1-5.  Here we read the account of a vision given to Israel’s greatest prophet.  Isaiah sees a mountain – “the mountain of the Lord’s house” – raised high above all other mountains.  And to this place, he tells us, “all the nations” shall stream.  They will say to one another, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”

The mountain Isaiah refers to is, of course, Mount Zion, on which stood the Temple, the dwelling place of God on earth.   The revelation given to Isaiah in this vision is that this mountain – “the mountain of the Lord’s house” – will be a source of wisdom and right judgment for all people.  The Law of Moses, given initially to the people of Israel, will instruct all the nations in the ways of God and teach them to walk in God’s paths.  The result of this will be universal peace, the promise of peace with justice, which will allow humankind to “beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks,” so that “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

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Jesus’ Presence, Peace, Provision, and Power – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist
Isaiah 42:1-9
Matthew 3:13-17

The first lesson appointed for today, the reading we heard from the Prophecy of Isaiah, begins with the words: “Here is my servant; …I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”[i] Now this reading is like a supernatural transcription of what the prophet Isaiah heard from God: God’s spirit being promised to the long-awaited Messiah, and also, God’s spirit reaching to foreign nations and distant lands, to the gôyîm, the non-Jews: people like many of us. How will we know God’s presence and God’s power? What will be the evidence of God’s spirit at work, the outward sign, the fruit of God’s spirit? Justice. Justice to the nations. What will be the preeminent work and witness of the Messiah? Justice.[ii]

In the scriptures, justice is broader than what is dictated by law or custom. The biblical understanding of justice is that everyone is given their due, especially the poor and the weak. The Prophet Isaiah continues, “abruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench,” which shows a kind, gentle, dignified respect for others, especially the weak.[iii] The Prophet Isaiah closes with the words: “[The Messiah and we, the Messiah’s followers] will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth…” The Messiah’s mission begins and ends with justice. The biblical understanding of justice is that everyone is given their due. Justice! Read More

Sword of Love – Br. Lucas Hall

Br. Lucas HallMatthew 8:23-27

“They begged him to leave.” With this, the townsfolk in today’s Gospel reading confess that there are more than two demoniacs among them.

Jesus comes to the country of the Gadarenes and encounters two men, possessed. He rebukes the powers that ensnare the men, allowing them to flee into a herd of pigs. The animals are driven mad and throw themselves into the water to drown. This terrifies the swineherds, who rush into town, recounting the whole story. At this, the townspeople come out to meet Jesus, and beg him to leave.

This story is consistent with Christ’s promise to bring not peace, but a sword. Christ is a calmer of storms for the afflicted, but a harbinger of upheaval for communities built on and preserved by sin. By begging Christ to leave, the people have preferred livestock to humans. They have preferred to abandon and exile the afflicted, selling their neighbors to purchase stability. For the sake of peace, they have preferred pigs to men. But this is a false peace, a veneer that serves to obscure the brutality of their society. And it is into this peace that Christ, God’s right hand, thrusts his sword. Read More

Cherishing Life, Not Clinging – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis AlmquistSaint Philip and Saint James, Apostles

John 14:6-14

In the calendar of the church we remember today Saint Philip and Saint James, both of whom were chosen by Jesus for his original circle of twelve Apostles. But here I must make a disclaimer. We know almost nothing about them. This Apostle James is not James, son of Zebedee, who, with his brother, John, had lobbied Jesus to sit at his right hand and left hand when Jesus came into power in Jerusalem.[i] Nor is this the James, the brother of Jesus, the brother traditionally known as the author of the Epistle of James and the sometime-Bishop of Jerusalem.[ii]  This is James #3, son of Alphaeus, whom we know nothing about.[iii] This James is often called “James the Less,” which is not exactly flattering, but helps avoid some confusion with James #1 and James #2, about whom we know more.

As for Philip, he came from the same town as two other Apostles – the brothers Andrew and Peter – and that was Bethsaida, alongside the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. In the Gospel according to John, we read that Jesus “found” Philip.[iv] Like with the other Apostles, Philip took a long time to understand Jesus. In the Gospel according to John, we read about the multitude of hungry people listening to Jesus teach. Jesus then asked Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” We are told Jesus already knows what he is going to do, and so this is a test for Philip. Philip essentially fails the test. He answers Jesus, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” Jesus then feeds the multitude with a boy’s five barley loaves and two fish.[v] On another occasion Philip fails the test again. He says to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus answers Philip in exasperation, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’”[vi] Read More

Peace, Comfort, Hope – Br. James Koester

Br. James KoesterIsaiah 40: 1 – 11
Psalm 85: 1 – 2, 8 – 13
2 Peter 3: 8 – 15a
Mark 1: 1 – 8

Each year I get a little crankier and a little more annoyed by Christmas.

Now, don’t get me wrong, before you write me off as some kind of a monastic Scrooge, let me explain what I mean.

If truth be told, I actually love Christmas. I love the lights, and the tinsel, and the tree. I love the decorations, and the carols, and the crèche, and the baking, (perhaps especially the baking!). I love Christmas. What makes me cranky, and annoyed, is that what many people really just want are the lights, and the tinsel, and the tree. What many people really just want are the decorations, and the carols, and the crèche, and the baking. What many people really just want is the baby and the celebration. What many people don’t want is a saviour. But isn’t that the whole point of Christmas? And you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.[1]

For many, Christmas is about a cute, pudgy, sweet smelling baby, nestled in a bed of clean straw, in a romantically quaint, clean, rustic looking barn, amidst softly falling snow, much as we had yesterday. What they don’t want, is a saviour. And they don’t want a saviour, because that would suggest that we need saving. That would suggest that life isn’t all that we so often pretend it to be. And who wants to admit that life, especially my life, is not perfect, or that I can’t fix it? Read More

Radical Practices: Resistance – Transforming, Not Conforming – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Romans 12:1-2, 9-21

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Read More