Christ died for you – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

John 11:45-53

The gospel passage we have before us today wraps up the greatest miracle story in all of the gospels: Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  Other miracles pale in comparison to it, but still, as is so often the case in the gospel accounts, the reactions to this astounding miracle are mixed.  Many of the Jews who witness the miracle come to believe in Jesus.  But others report Jesus’ words and actions to the priests.

Their report prompts an interesting discussion:  Jesus’ increased popularity poses a threat to the chief priests and Pharisees because it risks drawing the attention of the Romans, who, they fear, will crush this populist movement, destroying both their religion and their nation.  There’s no reason to doubt the genuineness of their concern for their faith and for their country, but we must note, too, that the chief priests and Pharisees derive what power they have from Rome, so the threat to their livelihoods, their influence and their social status is real.

Caiaphas, the high priest, has a solution:  Let this one man, Jesus, die for the nation.  The death of Jesus will squelch the movement, he argues, and it is better to have this one man die than to have the whole nation come to destruction.  The evangelist John is quick to point out the irony of the high priest’s statement.  Caiaphas is speaking from a political point of view when he speaks of Jesus dying for the people, suggesting that Jesus die instead of the people.  John, however, understands Caiaphas’ words from a theological point of view.  For John, Jesus dying “for the people” anticipates the voluntary offering of his life that will further God’s plan to save both Jews and Gentiles through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  He will die on behalf of the people, rescuing them from the power of sin and death, and obtaining for them the precious gift of eternal life. Read More

Closer than Our Own Selves – Br. Lain Wilson

Jeremiah 20:7-13
Psalm 18:1-7

What do you do when all options in front of you are bad ones?

This is the situation that Jeremiah finds himself in this morning. God has called him to his vocation as a prophet, to proclaim God’s word. In doing so, Jeremiah is mocked and plotted against, even by those close to him. In not proclaiming God’s word, though, he experiences pain, “something like a burning fire” (Jer 20:9).

All this because of who God has called him to be.

Is it any surprise, then, that Jeremiah hurls against God one of the bitterest invectives in Scripture? Different translations have different force—“O Lord, you have enticed me,” “you have seduced me,” “you have deceived me” (Jer 20:7)—but the basic accusation is that God has broken trust, that God has forced the prophet into submission.[1]

This is an accusation you can only hurl against someone you deeply love.

And it is, perhaps, something that we can relate to.

God calls each of us in ways that we may not understand, that we struggle to accept, that we may rail against. Our vocations, our experiences, our very lives may be excruciating mysteries to us. For reasons beyond our understanding, we may, like Jeremiah, end up in places and at times asking ourselves, “how did this come to be,” able only to cry to God, “Is this what you intend for me?” Read More

Secret Faults and Presumptuous Sins – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Psalm 19:7-14

“…Cleanse me from my secret faults.
Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me;
then shall I be whole and sound,
and innocent of a great offense…”

In the early 1970s, the great psychiatrist and clinician Karl Menninger wrote a book entitled Whatever Became of Sin? where he acknowledged that the notion of sin had fallen into disrepute because it had failed to help people to change.[i]

There is a qualifying adjective for sin in the psalm appointed for today, Psalm 19, which has currency. The psalmist prays, “Cleanse me from my secret faults. Keep your servant from presumptuous sins,” also translated, “Keep your servant from being insolent.” The word insolent comes from the Latin insolentem, which is arrogance, or haughtiness, or unwarranted pride.[ii]  This “presumptuous sin” qualifier may bring some clarity to the subject of sin: arrogance, self-importance, haughtiness: a “presumptuous sin.” Here’s a disclaimer. The great Boston preacher, Phillips Brooks, said that “all sermons are autobiographical.” For the sake of full disclosure, I want you to know that I can speak with some expertise about “presumptuous sins.”

A presumptuous sin is to presume that your “take” on things is the way things are. Period. What you see, what you hear, what you sense, what you conclude, what you remember, how you judge another person or situation or conversation or altercation has a kind of invincible veracity. Your conclusion is correct, and uncontestable, and patently obvious. You might even presume you clearly know the motives in other people’s actions or comments: why it is they have done or not done, said or not said whatever it may be. It’s a kind of presumed omniscience about others. And when our subconscious sense of omniscience leads us to judge another person harshly, to condemn them, or belittle them, or to be quietly satisfied that we are not like them, we are likely in touch with a presumptu­ous sin. Read More

Falling and Rising – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Philippians 3: 4b-14

A visitor to a monastery went up to the abbot, and asked him, ‘What do you monks do all day? The abbot replied, ‘We fall down and we get up again. We fall down and we get up again.’ I think that is a pretty good description not just of the monastic life, but of the Christian life itself. It describes I think each one of us who try to follow Jesus Christ. As we try to live this life, we inevitably fall, mess up, we make mistakes, we sin, we fall short. But what is also true about this life of discipleship, is that when we do fall, Jesus is always there ready to pick us up. That is the paradigm of the Christian life: falling and getting up again, dying and being raised to new life.

Many years ago, I spent time living in a monastery in Belgium. It was very influenced by the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the monks had adopted many Orthodox practices. The one I loved most happened during Lent. Whenever we entered the church during Lent, each of us, including the oldest monks, would not just bow to the altar, but we would fall down onto our hands and knees and touch the ground with our foreheads, acknowledging that we are but dust. But we didn’t stay there! Having acknowledging our fallenness, we immediately jumped up, because Christ has raised us up. I used to love doing that! Read More

Still Savior – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke Ditewig

Exodus 14:21-15:1

Tonight, we remember a key part of our story, the rescue at the Red Sea. We retell the story as part of God’s people, descendants of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah and Rachel, and their twelve sons and daughter.

Sold as a slave, Joseph, saved the whole family from famine by bringing them to Egypt. Later expanding in number, they were made slaves and remained so for 400 years in Egypt, that mighty empire, whose wonders we are still discovering and marveling. Freedom from Egypt? Impossible!

Through a burning bush, God sent a shepherd, Moses, to say: “Let my people go.” When Pharoah refused, God turned the river to blood, sent frogs, gnats, flies, and more. Our people packed their bags and ate a meal of lamb with its blood above their doors so that coming death would pass over them. Finally, fed up, Pharaoh said: Go. Our people fled into freedom! But soon they were dead-end at Red Sea. Pharaoh came after them. Trapped between water and enemy, our people panicked: Why did we leave if only to be slaughtered out here?

Moses said: “Do not be afraid; stand firm and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today;   for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”[i] Read More

The Witness of Flesh and Blood – Br. Lucas Hall

Br. Lucas Hall

Feast of St. Justin Martyr
1 Corinthians 1:18-25

When I was inquiring about a vocation here at SSJE, my favorite musician released a new song, entitled “John My Beloved.” Given the charism of this community, I paid attention. One of my favorite lines occurs toward the very beginning: “Beloved of John, I get it all wrong, I read you for some kind of poem.” I like this line, because it is a direct challenge to the impulse I often have, many of us have, of reducing Christ, this beloved of John, to the realm of abstraction and metaphor. To be clear, the poetic and the abstract have their place, including in the interpretation of scripture. But when we behold the one to whom the evangelists point, we’re beholding not a metaphor, but a man, clothed in the very flesh and blood you have brought with you today.

Today is the feast of Justin, an early martyr. Justin would have been at-home in Harvard Square. He was born to a pagan family in Palestine around the year 100, and he was well-educated in philosophy. More than literate, he was an eager student and writer. But also (not unlike a great many of our local students and writers today) he was frustrated by the philosophies he encountered. He wanted something more. And he found it upon discovering Christianity, and hearing about, not philosophers, but prophets, who “did not use demonstration in their treatises, seeing that they were witnesses to the truth above all demonstration, and worthy of belief.” Justin began to see Christianity as a means to this truth, the beholding of God. He still appreciated philosophy, though, and argued that earlier philosophers were expounders of truths more fully revealed by the prophets and the coming of Christ. Read More

Being Saved by the Good Shepherd – Br. Jonathan Maury

Br. Jonathan Maury

Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

‘Are you saved? Have you been saved?’—the usual opening lines of the would-be Christian evangelist’s speech when accosting a supposed unbeliever. Sincerely held convictions and good intention usually lie behind these expressions of concern for our ‘spiritual’ well-being. But a ‘one-step’ profession of accepting Jesus as your Savior leading immediately to the state of ‘salvation’ is simplistic and can be dangerously ego-centered. Personally ‘achieving salvation’ is not a check-list item for being ‘admitted to heaven’ when we die.

Listen for a moment to words from an Anglican Communion evangelism document entitled ‘God’s Sovereignty and Our Salvation’: ‘Salvation is at the very heart of the Christian hope and the promise of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the gift of reconciliation and transformation, given to humanity by God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’ Salvation as transformation and reconciliation, proceeding from the Triune God who is love and relationship: this understanding and promise signals an ongoing, dynamic, shared process. In this understanding, salvation, ‘being saved’, is a never-ending and ever-deepening relationship of believers with Christ, and with one another.

As the evangelism document goes on to stay, ‘The gift of salvation is understood first and foremost by Christians as given by God through the incarnation, cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.’ This is the salvation, the being saved, which is boldly proclaimed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel calls us to examine what it actually means ‘to be saved’; to embrace the fulness of this salvation and to understand its meaning and urgency for our mortal lives and how we shall live, in these present days. 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

Until the Last Lamb is Free – Br. Keith Nelson

Isaiah 40:1-11
Matthew 18:12-14

If you’ve ever gone astray –

If by choice or by chance, you have found yourself separated – from God; from belonging; from the integrity, the dignity, or the honesty that once anchored you;

If you have found yourself in a place bereft of the guidance, the reassurance, or the forgiveness you so desperately needed;

Or from the touch or the glance or the words that would weave you once again into the fabric of connection, relationship, and love…

If yes, the question Jesus poses in tonight’s gospel is meant for you.

Does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?

What do you think? Jesus asks. Read More

The Great Revelation – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Matthew 2:1-12

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

These wise men who had come from the East, who are they? The New Testament Greek name for them is “magi,” which means magicians, fortune tellers, wizards. [i]  The Greek name magi also includes astrologers, and so it’s no wonder that they reportedly saw a certain star rising, knew its significance, and followed it.[ii]

The wise men came from “the East,” but whether that is near East, or middle East, or far East is only a guess. St. John Chrysostom, fourth-century archbishop of Constantinople, believed the three magi came from Yemen because, in those days, the Kings of Yemen were Jews. A very early Armenian tradition neither saw them as Jews nor as starting out together but rather meeting up along the way, each of them a king from a foreign realm, each of them following this star: one named Balthazar, a king from Arabia; another was Melchior, a king from Persia; and a third, Gaspar, a king from India. I am speaking of three magi, but we are actually not told how many wizards came to Bethlehem. Three is just a guess: three kings because of the three gifts so no one comes empty handed. The gifts were of gold, the most precious mineral on the earth[iii]; frankincense, a symbol of prayer, as the psalmist says, “let my prayer like incense be”[iv]; and myrrh, the fragrance of heaven, used in the anointing for healing and also in the anointing of the dead (ultimately Jesus’ own body).[v] Read More