Troubled into Life – Br. Keith Nelson

Br. Keith Nelson

John 12:20-33

The arrival of Jesus’s “hour” is a pivotal moment of transition in John’s gospel. Like road signs advertising a major attraction miles in advance, significant mention has been made of this hour throughout the gospel. In chapter 2, when the mother of Jesus urges him to change water into wine at a wedding, he initially demurs, saying, “My hour has not yet come.” In chapter 7 and again in chapter 8, Jesus is teaching in the temple and the Judean authorities try to arrest him, but “no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come.” In chapter ten, we encounter a different kind of foreshadowing. Jesus calls himself the good shepherd, declaring, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” Here in chapter 12, with the arrival of Greek Gentiles who wish to see Jesus, the much-anticipated hour has indeed arrived. Every word, gesture, and action of Jesus from this moment on will be charged with new meaning in light of his coming death and glorification.

But even as Jesus moves with confident purpose toward this climactic event, we receive a precious detail about his innermost experience that belies his calm exterior: “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” The word translated soul is important here. It is psyche, from which we get our English word psyche. But it is the same word translated “life” a few verses prior, when we heard Jesus say, “Those who love their life [psyche] lose it, and those who hate their life [psyche] in this world keep it for eternal life.” The life that is clung to and lost is psyche. The life that is held provisionally, offered up, and thus transformed into something greater is psyche. This psyche is individual; particular; dependent; fragile; and ultimately comes to nothing without God. The greater Life which touches and transfigures it is, in Greek, zoe. When Jesus says, “I am resurrection and I am life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,” this is zoe. My point here is that Jesus is troubled in his psyche – his individual, particular, dependent, and fragile human life. In this, he shares so much of what is ours.  Though he knew himself to be held within the greater life, the zoe of the Father, Jesus knew as well what it was like to feel troubled –  at the core of his finite being. Read More

Becoming Whole; Becoming Holy – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Romans 6:19-23

Saint Paul writes about our “sanctification” as if we would know what he is talking about. In the original Greek, the generic meaning of “sanctification” is “the state of proper functioning.” To sanctify someone or something is to set that person or thing apart for the use intended by its designer. A well is “sanctified” when it is used as a source of water. A wineskin is “sanctified” when it is used to store wine. For us, eyeglasses are “sanctified” when used to improve sight. In the theological sense, things are “sanctified” when they are used for the purpose God intends. A human being is “sanctified” when they live according to God’s unique design and purpose for their life.[i]

When we wake up each morning, we can presume God’s presence, and power, and provision. We have been kept alive for as much as one more day to know God, and to love God, and to serve God as only we, uniquely, can do. [ii]  We wake up each morning on a mission to bear the beams of God’s light, and life, and love as only we, uniquely, can do. It’s why we are still alive. Which turns life into such an amazing adventure. This is the core meaning of “sanctification”: living our lives according to God’s unique design and purpose for our life. Read More

Revelation and the Mystery of Life – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Commemoration of Edmund James Peck

Psalm 107:23-32

The portion of Psalm 107 appointed for today – about “going down to the sea in ships… plying trade in deep water… the stormy winds… and then beholding the works of the Lord” – this psalm reads like a biography of Edmund James Peck, whom we commemorate today. Born in the tenements of Manchester, England, in 1850, he entered the Royal Navy while he was still a child, intending to make the Navy his life career. But then a series of near-fatal illnesses and shipboard accidents amazingly led him to experience what he called “the movements of grace,” an experience of Christ “saving him,” quite literally. He became convinced he was to volunteer as a missionary to the Canadian Arctic. And he set off. He would spend most of the next 40 years among the Inuit and Cree people on an immense island in the Arctic – Baffin Island – an area of almost 200,000 square miles. There are two seasons on the Baffin Island: winter and August, when the summertime temperatures sometimes even reach 40 degrees. Read More

John Cassian and the Perfection of Life – Br. Curtis Almquist

We commemorate today a monk named John Cassian, born into privilege in the mid-fourth century in what is now Romania. As a young man he was struggling as a follower of Jesus at a time when the church and world seemed to be falling apart, and for many of the same reasons familiar to us today. As a young man, Cassian traveled to Bethlehem, then to Egypt to be formed by some of the great desert hermits. At the beginning of the fifth century, Cassian moved from Egypt to what is now southern France, and there founded a monastic community for monks, and later a community for women.

Cassian was a prolific writer. His most famous works, still in print and quite relevant today, were his Institutes, dealing with the external organization of monastic communities, and his Conferences of the Desert Fathers, dealing with the training and perfection of the heart. Cassian’s influence was vast in both the eastern and western churches. Benedict of Nursia – his Rule of Life – and Ignatius of Loyola – his Spiritual Exercises – owe their most basic ideas to John Cassian.

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Watching, Waiting, Working for Jesus – Br. Curtis Almquist

2 Peter 3:11-18

After Jesus’ crucifixion, his followers shared their memories of him, trying to make sense of what he had predicted. That is often the case as we look back on life, the “ah-hah” experience that comes when we remember and understand someone or something from a new perspective: “Oh, I get it. That’s what he meant when he said such-and-such.” “Oh, that’s what was going on then. I can see it now.”

  • Jesus had earlier predicted that when he arrived in Jerusalem he would be killed, not crowned. Most of his followers had not understood him at the time.
  • That after his crucifixion he would regain life, be resurrected. When they first heard it, most of his followers had missed what he was saying.
  • That he would then return to his “father” – he would leave them, but not leave them without comfort or power. God’s Spirit would come to be with them. When they first heard it, most of his followers could not make sense of that.
  • That his followers would take up their own cross and suffer. They had not missed that, because of what had been happening for decades. The Roman Empire had found Jesus’ followers seditious and treasonous; they were like sheep to be slaughtered.[i]

Our first lesson, from Saint Peter’s second letter to the church, was written around year 65, more than a generation after Jesus had finally left them, had ascended. One last promise that Jesus had spoken, his followers clung to: that he would return to earth, that he would come again in their lifetime, so they understood.[ii] They had lived with that hope. But Jesus’ return had not happened, and there was every imaginable explanation why. Peter is writing here about the meantime, in a very mean time, how then shall we live in the absence of Jesus’ return? “What sort of persons ought we to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness?” He answers his own question. Peter’s words still pertain.

  • Peter writes that we are waiting on the Lord, but it’s actually the Lord waiting on them.” Why? For our repentance: to realign ourselves to life on Jesus’ terms and to change our ways: to repent of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf.
  • And then Peter calls his readers to “lead lives of holiness and godliness, at peace,” he says, “without spot or blemish… and not carried away, such we they lose their own stability.”

Lent is upon us tomorrow. The forty days of Lent remind us of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. For Jesus, those forty days were not a time when he would confront the misaligned political and economic powers that surrounded him, about which he was well apprised. Rather, those forty days were a time to re-align himself to why God had given him life: to claim the right purpose, the right power, the right voice God had given him. There he was in the desert to be purged of anything in the world that tempted him to stray from his reason for being.

And for us, Lent will give us forty days for the purgation of our own souls, where we may have colluded with the very powers we condemn. The focus of Lent can create space anew for the light, and life, and love to Jesus to teem in us and through us to our desperately broken world. Lent is to help us.


[i] Romans 8:36.

[ii] See Matthew 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32. See also Acts 1:11.

Venting the Light – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis AlmquistMatthew 5:14-16

The story is told that Winston Churchill stuttered as a young child. This is the Winston Churchill whose later eloquence was probably the single-most important factor in saving western Europe from tyranny in the 1940s. Churchill stuttered as a self-conscious, frightened little boy.  Now there’s a developmental theory that would say his oratorical brilliance as an adult developed as a compensation for his childhood sense of inferiority.[i] This “compen­sation theory” says that, for example, in our childhood or youth the challenges, say, of birth defects, of illness, of discrimina­tion, of poverty, of family craziness, or of other unfortunate circum­stances provide the very stimulus for all later higher achievements. In other words, this compensation theory would say that small, sickly, self-conscious, or sad chil­dren are driven by this principle of compen­sation to develop into towering leaders of activity and strength. Churchill would seem an example of it, and some of us here may identify with that very notion.

But there’s another “take” on why it is we grow into who we are, which is called the “acorn theory.”[ii]  Grow­ing up is not about compensation; it’s about recov­ery. Each of us enters the world, some­thing like an acorn, with the seed of calling, with a sense of identity, with a vision of destiny. And so, of course Churchill stuttered as a child! Given this nascent, daunting sense as a child that his voice, his voice would be the instrument to save the western world, of course he stuttered as a child.  Wouldn’t you?  We may well have glimpsed our destiny or life’s calling when we were yet a child, but we might have avoided it, or denied it, or run from it.  In Jesus’ words, we may have put the light of our calling under a bushel basket. Read More