Wholeness in the Midst of Brokenness – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Luke 23:32-34; 39-43

During Lent, we dedicate a considerable amount of time reflecting on our relationships with God and each other, focusing on concepts like repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Repentance involves recognizing that we’ve deviated from God’s intended path for us and deciding to change direction (the Greek term for ‘repent’ is metanoia, meaning “a transformative change of heart”). Forgiveness entails releasing resentment or even the demand for compensation for harm caused. Reconciliation is about reuniting or coming together again after a separation. Despite the positive nature of these concepts, achieving them can be challenging. This difficulty often stems from a place of brokenness, encompassing damaged lives, relationships, expectations, and hearts.

This evening is the last installment of our preaching series “In the Midst,” which endeavors to help us know and experience Jesus’ presence in the midst of all that challenges and even troubles us. The theme of tonight’s sermon is “Wholeness in the Midst of Brokenness.” I’ve chosen to explore this concept from the vantage point of Jesus’ crucifixion in the gospel of Luke.

To begin, it is important to recall just what crucifixion was in first century Palestine. Crucifixion was a method of torture and execution used by the Roman empire against those they deemed criminals or enemies of the emperor. Victims were nailed to a cross made of wooden beams and suspended. This suspension made breathing difficult unless the victims attempted to pull themselves up by their wrists while pushing with their ankles, a task they couldn’t sustain for long due to the pain caused by nails driven through their joints. Technically, crucifixion was execution by asphyxiation which could last hours. When the victim was believed to be dead, the executioner would confirm this by breaking the legs of the remaining corpse hanging from the beams. Crucifixions were public events usually held just outside the city gate. They were intended to traumatize not only the victims but also those who witnessed the spectacle on their way into or out of town. Read More

The Strife of a Racialized World

Navigating the Strife of a Racialized World

Ubuntu: I am because you are.
– Southern African Proverb

Imagine a world where one sees another and identifies that there is a sacred interconnection albeit mysterious with that person based solely on being equally created in the image of God. I long for such a world. Conversely and sadly, we live in a racialized world, one that does not emulate the dream of God. The need for racial reconciliation and healing is a journey and what I call our “lifetime work.” Julian of Norwich’s popular optimism (“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”) will start to come true as members of the human family lean into ubuntu, which is translated as “I am because you are.”

Navigating the strife of a racialized world comes naturally for me, a Black Episcopal priest who is a native Mississippian serving as the rector of a large, predominately White parish in Memphis, Tennessee. Indeed, I bear myriad stories, experiences, and observations about the sin of racism. Fortunately, I am not polarized by them as I choose daily to see the image of God in all people. This navigation path was imparted to me by my parents, grandparents, and an array of wise mentors who could talk about race, hope, and the dream of God for hours.  Read More

Unheard Voices – Br. Lain Wilson

Luke 16:19-31

Whose voice aren’t we hearing?

This has been the question that rings loudly in my mind as I hear our Gospel lesson today. In it, we learn a lot about our characters: what Lazarus wanted in life, what the rich man is desperate for in the afterlife, and that Abraham cannot—or will not—give to the rich man what he desires.

“Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue,” the rich man begs (Lk 16:24). No, Abraham replies. There’s a chasm fixed between us, and no way across.

“Send [Lazarus] to my father’s house . . . that he may warn [my family]” (Lk 16:27-28). No. There’s nothing the dead can do for the living that the living can’t get from the law and prophets.

This story illustrates Jesus’s own statement, from just a few verses before, that “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped” (Lk 16:17). The rich man’s reversal of fortune is because of how he lived his life. The remedy was there in front of him all along, in the law and the prophets. We have that remedy, too.

But whose voice aren’t we hearing? Read More

Mending a Broken World – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Genesis 2:3:1-7
Matthew 4:1-11

Today is the first Sunday in the holy season of Lent. ‘I hate Lent!’ So said Jonathan Swift. ‘I hate Lent, with its different diets and herb porridge, and sour devout faces of people who only put on religion for seven weeks.’ I actually like Lent. Many of my brothers would I think say the same. It’s a time to get serious. Not just giving up chocolate. The Jesuit James Martin wrote, ‘Don’t give up chocolate; give up being a jerk!  It’s time to get serious about God and our lives. It’s a time to go into the desert of one’s heart to encounter God. A time for deeper prayer, repentance, silence and solitude. To look with unblinking eyes at the state of our lives, our relationships, our world.

The world we live in is a beautiful gift, God’s gift to us. And yet we know that God’s gift has been ravaged and broken. Our greed has plundered the land and damaged the environment. Millions live in abject poverty and hunger. Our wars, as in the Ukraine right now, have and continue to kill and maim and disfigure millions. Our sin has broken and scarred our relationships with one another, broken up families, divided people of different cultures, races, and beliefs. Our world, God’s precious and fragile gift to us is torn and divided violently at every level.

This terrible process is described in the New Testament as the work of ‘diabolos’ or the devil. That Greek word ‘diabolos’ used in the New Testament, literally means, ‘the one who throws apart’. The work of diabolos is essentially to divide, to break up that which was one. Read More

Best Gifts – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke Ditewig

Clement of Rome

Luke 6:37-45

You’ll get what you give, Jesus says. Forgive and be forgiven. Judge and be judged. Compassion. Accusation. There’s reciprocity in relationship. Don’t give what you don’t want to get, especially with feedback, correction, or teaching, acknowledge your own needs. Keep at own work first. “Take the log out of your own eye so you can even rightly see the speck in your neighbor’s.” You might need help. Logs are heavy. Jesus gives a direct word because community is hard work. We need each other. It’s easy to find fault, to hold onto hurt, distance, and cut off.

Today we remember Clement of Rome, an early church leader. There was division at the church in Corinth when some younger leaders convinced the whole to remove the ruling elders. Clement wrote a pastoral letter calling the community to stick it out and abide together, to keep and listen to its elders. Clement called for maintaining hierarchy and for balance with mutuality. For a couple centuries, some included Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians in the New Testament. Clement wrote: “All work together and are mutually subject for the preservation of the whole body.” Read More

Missional Muddle – Br. James Koester

Matthew 28: 16-20

At a time when there is so much tragedy around the Church’s witness to the native and First Nations peoples of North America, one wonders about the appropriateness of remembering a nineteenth-century man who spent much of his life as a missionary in Canada’s north. It’s hard to disentangle the very real harm that settler or western religion, culture, and institutions have done in our attempt to follow Christ’s command to go therefore and make disciples of all nations…[1]from the desire to make known the God who is love.[2]

An Englishman by birth, Edmund James Peck spent thirty years in the Canadian Arctic, often separated from his own wife and family for years at a time. We don’t know what Peck’s racial biases were. Like all of us though, at least all of us of European descent, he must have had some. Yet his work on behalf of the Inuit of northern Canada was prodigious. He took a syllabic writing method developed for the Cree of northern Manitoba and adapted it to Inuktitut. By the 1920’s Peck’s syllabic writing method was so widespread that most of Canada’s Inuit people could read and write, and pencils and pocket notebooks so popular, they were in great demand. In 1897 the four gospels were printed as were extracts of the psalms and the Prayer Book.[3] Read More

Where are we now? – Br. David Vryhof

Isaiah 43:1-7; Ephesians 4:1-6, 25-5:2

So where are we now?

We have come, at last, to the end of one of the most bitterly contested national elections this country has ever seen.  For many of us, finally naming a winner doesn’t bring the resolution we hoped it would; it feels like we’re all on the losing side in this contest.  We are like two battered and weary fighters standing in the middle of the ring, faces bruised and bleeding, bent over with exhaustion, waiting for the referee to raise the arm of one of us.  Our country is as divided as ever.  Our political leaders are locked in seemingly irresolveable conflict that limits their effectiveness at home and diminishes our influence abroad.  We are facing the largest public health crisis the world has ever known, with the numbers of new cases soaring to unprecedented heights in half of our states.  We’re tired – of this pandemic, its restrictions, and all the pain and loss it has brought.  We’re weary – of this toxic political deadlock, of the vilifying that characterizes election campaigns, of the threat of violence and lawsuits, of the seeming intractability of systemic racism, and of so much more.

What message of hope can the Church possibly offer?

Our answer begins with a reminder of who we are.  We are human beings, created in the image of God, knowing ourselves to be loved by God in all our diversity.  We are people who belong to God, who have been invited to live in a relationship with love with our Creator, who have been forgiven and redeemed by Christ, and who can reflect God’s glory in the world.  The prophet tells us that God has called us by name, and we are precious and honored in God’s sight: every one of us.  There is not a single human being that God does not love. Read More

Lost and Found– Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Luke 15:11-32

Versions of these kinds of complicated family dynamics exist throughout the world – always have, always will – but as for this particular Gospel story, that’s what it is. It’s a made-up story by Jesus about two lost brothers and their father. This is one of Jesus’ parables. As were the two parables that Jesus tells immediately preceding this: about a lost sheep and a lost coin.

Sheep may know they are lost, but they are certainly not repentant. Lost coins are completely clueless. And yet, when either is found, there is rejoicing. The scholar Amy-Jill Levin reminds us that in Jesus’ parable about the brothers and their father, no one has expressed sorrow at having hurt one another. No one has expressed forgiveness.[i]And yet there is rejoicing. Sort of. Two out of three. So what’s Jesus’ point? What’s his point in this trilogy of parables?

Don’t wait. Don’t wait until your offender “gets it.” Don’t wait until you have received an apology. Professor Levin says, “share a cup of coffee; go have lunch.” If creating a banquet for this other person is too much of a stretch, at least keep in mind that’swhere this is headed: a heavenly banquet, where all will be well, and all will be reconciled. In the meantime, if you cannot begin to reconcile, cannot even imagine doing it, know that some day you will, if not in thislife, then the next. In the meantime, don’t be mean. Move away from resentment… a right move which will help prepare the way in your own heart and maybe in the other’s. Jesus reminds us he’s come “to seek and save the lost.”[ii]All of us get lost periodically. Most of us, most of the time, cannot find ourselves without help.


[i]My inspiration is Amy-Jill Levine in her Short Stories by Jesus; The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi  (2014); pp. 25-70.

[ii]Matthew 18:11; Luke 19:10.

Salvation: From What? To What – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

This afternoon marks the conclusion of our four-part Advent preaching series, entitled “Salvation Revisited,” in which we have been exploring the meaning of “salvation,” a concept that is at the heart of the Good News that Christian faith offers and proclaims. If you’ve missed any of the three previous sermons in the series – by Brothers Curtis Almquist, Geoffrey Tristram, and Mark Brown – you can read or listen to those sermons on our community’s website, www.ssje.org.  This afternoon, our focus is once again on the meaning of salvation, this time asking the question: “Salvation: From What? To What?”

The very notion of “salvation” rests on the assumption that there is something wrong that needs to be put right; if all is well, there is no need for a savior. What is it, then, in the view of Christianity, that is wrong and needs to be put right?  Frederick Buechner summarizes it when he writes:

I think it is possible to say that in spite of all its extraordinary variety, the Bible is held together by having a single plot. It is one that can be simply stated: God creates the world; the world gets lost; God seeks to restore the world to the glory for which God created it.[i] Read More

Reconciliation with Creation: Reflections Written on a Summer Day – Br. Mark Brown

“So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you
do not give up all your possessions.”
– Luke 14:33

SSJE134I’m writing from a room at Emery House with a bay window looking out over the meadow and the river beyond, which I can just make out through the trees along the bank. Some of you have probably stayed in this room (we call it the “Meadow Room”) while on retreat. I hear someone mowing in the distance behind me; Sophie, our “labradoodle,” is playing in the field across the road. There’s a lovely soft breeze today, the kind of delicious whispering through the woods that makes Emery House such an intoxicating place to be on a summer day.

The Brothers have been here since the 1950s, when this farm, which dates from 1635, came into our care, thanks to the generosity of the Emery sisters. But it was not only generosity to the SSJE that motivated these remarkable women. Sarah, Mary Elizabeth, Frances Louisa, and Georgiana Emery were devout Episcopalians who lived modestly on this farm, even after coming into a large inheritance. The legacy they received enabled them to be active in a number of ministries to the poor; in time, their paths crossed with Brothers from the SSJE, who were involved in some of the same charitable work. Read More