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.”

In the Midst of Violence

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In the Midst of Violence

Br. Geoffrey Tristram


 

I picture the disciples after the terrible, terrifying experience of seeing their dear Jesus crucified. I imagine how they must have gathered together in lockdown as, shocked and anxious, they surely stayed off the streets. “The doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear,” we read in John (Jn 20:19). No doubt the disciples kept describing again and again to each other what they had seen – the scene on Calvary: his words from the cross, his final giving up of the spirit. They were shaken and, I imagine, shaking still, with the violence they had witnessed, and which they worried might be coming for them next.

Violence can tear, break, and shatter not only individuals but whole communities. Think of all those whose lives have been shattered by violence during this last year. Individuals and whole communities in places such as Syria, Ukraine, the Holy Land, but also in Maine, Alabama, Maryland, California  – and even closer to home, the senseless murder of children and teenagers here in Boston, in Lynn, Brockton, New Bedford. The violence which is everywhere in our country, and our world, profoundly touches all of us.

In some of these places, lockdown is a daily experience: places where at night, and even in the day, you lock your doors and don’t go out. Violence can kill individuals, but it can also deaden whole communities, when fear locks down their spirits, and imprisons their hopes and dreams. That is especially tragic for those who are young.

In my meditations on such violence, I’ve been reflecting on a scene from John’s Gospel, one of a succession of confrontations between Jesus and the religious authorities. These confrontations take place, symbolically, at a series of Jewish festivals, and at the climax of each confrontation, there is such anger that stones are picked up to throw at Jesus. He escapes each time, but there is a growing sense that they will eventually get him, as they make their plans to put him to death.

By the Feast of the Dedication, the level of impending violence and hatred surrounding Jesus has gotten very high. John, with consummate skill, simply and laconically states: “It was winter.” Jesus was walking up and down in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. His opponents were waiting for him. John says, “They gathered around him” – like a gang. “Are you the blessed?” one says. “You’re a blasphemer,” says another. “We’re going to stone you,”says another.

Imagine how frightening it must have been for Jesus. But Jesus looked deep within them – and saw their wintry, frozen hearts, full of a violence which froze out God’s love. His voice could not penetrate the hardness of their hearts. Yet with great courage, Jesus confronts them with a highly provocative word of truth: “You do not believe because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

“No one will snatch them.” The verb used here is the one used for wolves, who creep up and snatch a vulnerable sheep. The wolves are always seeking an opportunity; but, so too, the good shepherd is always looking out for his sheep, and they are always listening for his voice, because they know and trust his voice to guide and lead them.

That seems to me a powerful metaphor for so much of the violence that is happening in our nation, especially among young people. What is happening when mainly young men are shooting people dead in schools, in movie theaters, in our inner cities, on Boylston Street?

What voices are they listening to? Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd and my sheep hear my voice.”

But there are many, many other voices, loud, strident, persuasive voices in our society – voices of violence. And these voices can snatch our young people away, like a wolf does. Violence in our movies, violent games and websites all over the internet. Gun laws in this country which are so lax, but which, for political reasons, scandalously cannot or will not be reformed. Violent voices, violent organizations, take root especially where there is little family support, high unemployment, and poor education. In such places especially, it is our responsibility as Christians to stand up in Jesus’ name and speak with his voice of peace. We must counter those voices of violence that speak so loudly.


We must counter those voices of violence
that speak so loudly.

 

 

 


When I was ordained a priest the following words were spoken to me by the bishop, and I think they are true for each one of us who are called to live the way of Jesus:

“You are called to be servants and shepherds among the people to whom you are sent. You are to tell the story of God’s love. You are to search for his children in the wilderness of the world’s temptations, and to guide them through its confusions, that they may be saved through Christ forever.”

These words have always been close to my heart. They say to me now, “How are we being asked to actively face up to the voices of violence in our land, and witness to Jesus’ voice of peace, in our cities and beyond?”

When Jesus set his face to Jerusalem on that final journey, for the last confrontation on the Jewish festival of Passover, he walked right into the heart of darkness. The voices of violence surrounded him on every side: “Crucify him, crucify him!” But in the midst of the violence and terror, Jesus’ gentle voice, the voice of the Good Shepherd, spoke: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

We who love Jesus are called to speak courageously with Jesus’ voice, to bring hope and peace to places filled with violence and hopelessness. What part will you play?

The voices of violence may seem loud and overwhelming, but we are a resurrection people. “Fear not,” says Jesus, “for I have overcome the world.”


What part will you play?

 

 

 


To Consider:

What voices of violence and evil do you hear and witness in the world around you? How are you hiding in fear in the face of them?

Where do you hear the voice of the Good Shepherd calling to you?

How might you actively embody Jesus' voice of peace for others in the face of fear and despair?

To Try:

Take concrete action to speak a word of hope and peace in places filled with violence and hopelessness.

Visit or call someone who might be facing fear or destruction in their own life. Write or call an elected government official about a cause of violence in our world that moves your heart.

What part will you play?

The Good News of Hope – Br. James Koester

Romans 8:18-25

I know that I have told this story before, but I’ll tell it again, partly for those who have not heard it, but mostly because tonight there is a significant point to it.

Years ago, as a young priest, and new to the practice of preaching on a regular basis, two members of my congregation approached me one Sunday after church. They were puzzled by something and wanted to ask me a question. Both Robin and Ann came from the Baptist tradition, and they had a concern about the lectionary. What would happen, they asked, if I felt it important to preach from a different passage of Scripture, than the one assigned by the lectionary. Would I be free, they wondered, to change the reading, or preach from a different text?

Nearly 40 years later, I can’t remember what I said in reply. I do remember the question. It has stuck with me all these years, and keeps cropping up every so often. Today, if one of you were to ask me the same question, I know exactly how I would answer.

The question, for me at least, is not what I would do if I felt it important to preach from a different passage, than the one assigned by the lectionary. The question for me is, what do I do when the lectionary points me in a direction I might not choose to go in, or would prefer to avoid? Because that’s the case tonight. If it were up to me, the gift and promise of hope is not something I’d gravitate to at this particular time. Yet tonight, of all nights we hear, in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.[1] Read More

The Resurrection Gives Hope – Br. James Koester

Luke 24: 1 – 12

Growing up as I did, not far from the geographic centre of North America,[1] I was completely unfamiliar with tides. I was unfamiliar with them that is, until I went swimming one day in the Pacific Ocean. I had taken off my sandals, shirt, hat, glasses, and put them carefully under my towel, to be retrieved when I came out of the water. Eventually I did, and returned to reclaim my things. Except they weren’t there. I looked up and down the shore, thinking I had gotten out in a different place, or that someone had stolen them. It was only after several minutes of scouring the beach that I realized the people who had been sunning themselves were still in their same spots, except that the water was now much closer to where they were lying. That’s when I realized I had not forgotten where I put my things; nor that someone had taken them; but that the tide was coming in, reclaiming, and renewing the shoreline. When I phoned the diocesan office to begin an insurance claim, all Betty could do was laugh and say, oh James, you really are a prairie boy.

Since then, I have been cautiously fascinated by the tides as they ebb and flow, back and forth, in and out, day by day, year by year, eon by eon. Over time it is possible to note changes, as the ebb tide reveals what lies hidden, and the flow tide covers what is familiar, and creates something new.

This act of revelation and renewal, uncovering and covering, unmaking, and making, destroying, and creating, however is not an act of gently lapping waves. It is an act of force, even of violence, as surging waves crash upon the shore, moving boulders, reshaping rivers, tearing out trees, lifting buildings, pushing them inland, or sucking them into the ocean, until at last what once was, is no longer, and coastlines are reshaped, made new.

It is no accident that I have been thinking about tides a lot these last two years.  Many of you have heard me reflect on how this season in our lives has been a tidal season, as our lives have been unmade by forces beyond our control, and what was once covered is now uncovered. Like the ebbing tide which leaves behind the detritus of rotting seaweed, garbage, and dead fish, we see around us the detritus of injustice, inequality, environmental destruction, nationalism, and greed as the ebb tide of the pandemic recedes. The smell of dead fish left behind by the ebbing tides, or caused by the pollution of our earth’s waters, is no different. Disparities revealed in restrictive voting rights, or vaccine availability are no different. They stink just the same.

Today we look out at a world that stinks of injustice, inequality, environmental degradation, nationalism, and greed. Two years of the ebbing tide of a global pandemic have revealed a host of things now uncovered, or which before we had chosen to be too blind to see.

In the same way, the events of that first Holy Week uncovered the stinking detritus of human greed, pride, and arrogance. Like an ebbing tide, that first Holy Week revealed the injustice and jealously that infect human hearts. It was into that stench of injustice and jealousy that God chose to walk. As R. S. Thomas, the Welsh poet described it in his poem The Coming:

And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look, he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows; a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.

On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.[2]

Let me go there, and into a world stinking with war, aggression, religious intolerance, political power games, and military occupation, the Word was made flesh and lived among us.[3] It was this same world littered with greed, pride and arrogance, injustice and jealousy, and everything which infects the human heart, that was shaken to its foundations that first Easter as the stone was rolled away, revealing a tomb empty, unable to contain the life which had been sealed into it.

For Mary Magdalene, Peter, John and those first followers of Jesus, the resurrection was good news, not because it covered or masked the stink of death. The resurrection was good news for them, not because it covered over the stink of war, aggression, religious intolerance, political power games, and military occupation. The resurrection was good news for those first followers of Jesus because it gave them hope. It gave them hope in the midst of a world that stank of death, for if God can give life to the dead, then God can mend, heal, and cleanse a broken, stinking world. If God can raise Jesus from the dead, then all things can be made new,[4] not by masking them, or covering them up, but by recreating them, and making them new, even as they bear the wounds of the cross.

The resurrection of Jesus was good news to those first followers, because it gave them hope.

We come to Easter this year exhausted, not by our keeping of Lent, but by our keeping on, keeping on. We are exhausted by two years of uncertainty, sadness, and anxiety brought on by a global pandemic. We are exhausted, by two years of blatant inequality and injustice. We are exhausted by fear, that what is going on in Ukraine, will plunge the world into even more chaos, and uncertainty. We are exhausted, by the stink of these past two years, as the pandemic tide ebbs out revealing, what has long been hidden.

But if the resurrection was good news for Mary Magdalene, Peter, John and those first followers of Jesus who lived in a world stinking with war, aggression, religious intolerance, political power games, and military occupation, then the resurrection is good news for us, not because it covers the stink of these past years, but because it gives us hope. It gives us hope that in the midst of a world that stinks, God can give life to the dead. If God can raise Jesus from the dead, then God can mend, heal, and cleanse a broken, stinking world, making all things new, not by masking them, or covering them up, but by recreating them, even as we bear the wounds of the cross.

If the resurrection is not good news to a Covid world, then it was not good news to a few dozen people who lived under the heel of a brutal Roman occupation. But the resurrection was good news to them, and it is good news for us.

The resurrection is good news for us, because by it we live in hope, that our broken, stinking world is being mended, healed, and cleansed as the flow tide comes in, not covering the stench, but recreating and renewing the shore.

The resurrection of Jesus is good news for the whole world, because the promise of God for life, is a promise for all creation, and not simply for certain individuals.

In a world that stinks with the detritus of rotting seaweed, garbage, and dead fish, of injustice, inequality, environmental destruction, nationalism, and greed, we see a world not so different than the one those first followers of Jesus saw, that stank of war, aggression, religious intolerance, political power games, and military occupation. In a world that stinks, the resurrection of Jesus is good news to all, because it is a promise of life that is mended, healed, cleansed, and restored.

It is that world, a world mended, healed, and made new by the flow tide of Jesus’ resurrection, which will bring hope to the people of Ukraine and Russia, just as it will bring hope to us, just as it brought hope to Mary Magdalene and those first followers of Jesus, living under the brutal heel of Roman occupation.

The good news of the resurrection is not simply a promise to you and to me. It is a promise to all creation, that all things will be made new. Behold, I am making all things new. That is God’s promise to us today in the resurrection of Jesus, even as the surf surges and pounds, moving, reshaping, tearing, lifting, pushing, and sucking, until at last what once was, is no longer, and all things are made new.

The promise of the resurrection is not a promise of gently lapping waves, but a promise of force, dare I say, a promise of violence, which heals, mends, and cleanses our world.


Lectionary Year and Proper: Year C, Easter Vigil

Solemnity or Major Feast Day: The Great Vigil of Easter

[1] The city of Centre ND claims to be the centre point of North America and is about 330 miles SE from Regina SK.

[2] R.S. Thomas, The Coming,

[3] John 1: 14

[4] Revelation 21: 5

Speaking a New Creation – Br. Jim Woodrum

James 3:1-12

In our lections the past couple of Sundays, we have been hearing portions of the Letter of James. This Letter, I think, presents one of the most important themes that we of modern times need to consider closely: that of integrity of speech. At the outset, it reads like a collection of lessons straight out of a book of social etiquette. James’ words recall in my memory my mother’s admonishment: “Jimmy, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I suspect most of us would consider this maxim to be good and sound. But, I also think to the days of my childhood when someone would speak to another person ungraciously, perhaps calling them a name. You may know the famous playground retort: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Unlike my mother’s advice, this saying I find questionable at best.

What is striking to me about James’ wise council, is that it goes deeper than just manners and childhood retorts. Considered “Wisdom Literature” of the New Testament, James’ Letter draws a correlation between word and action. And, he seems to know something about the nature of speech. His use of metaphor instantly captures our imaginations and brings into focus a truth that is both easy to identify yet difficult to master. This morning we read: Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 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

Whose Property is Always to Have Mercy – Br. James Koester

Mark 7:24-37

I love this story of the healing of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter from the Gospel of Mark! I love it in part, because I get to say the word Syrophoenician! Just throw that into the conversation and see how impressed people are with your erudition! I love it because of the breathlessness with which Mark tells the story. You can hear the urgency, as in just six verses Mark tells us an awful lot, that is profoundly significant. I love it, because it harkens back to my childhood growing up at St. Mary’s, Regina. It is from this passage, among other sources, that Cranmer created, what some of you will remember, as the Prayer of Humble Access, or the Zoom Prayer, as a friend calls it:

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, Trusting in our own righteousness, But in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy So much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the Flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his Blood, That our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, And he in us. Amen.[1]

Mostly I love this story because it shouldn’t have happened! There is a hint of the forbidden. We see Jesus acting out of the box. He shouldn’t be where we find him, doing what he shouldn’t be doing. And that’s just the point. Read More

This is who we are! – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

The Baptism of Christ

Mark 1: 4-11

I have a box in my room where I keep all my precious documents. You probably have something similar. These documents, such as passports, birth certificates, ordination papers, for many, marriage certificates, these documents are all very precious because they tell us what we belong to and who we belong to. That’s incredibly important, because belonging gives us our sense of identity. These documents remind me of who I am. Among the most precious of documents for me are my two passports. Whenever I hold these passports I have an enormous sense of gratitude to God that my own life, my very identity, has been formed by the traditions and values of two different nations.

Our core identity is intimately bound up with the values of the country to which we belong; so, when we see these values violated, as we have seen on Capitol Hill during these past days, we feel a visceral shock to our very core.

Belonging and identity are so bound together, that an even worse experience is to actually have your ‘belonging’ taken away. I will never forget a time of ministry some years ago in South Dakota, when I spoke with some elderly native Americans who told me the harrowing story of how they had been made to leave their ancestral lands and at school were forbidden to speak their native language. ‘We don’t belong here anymore’ they said. How terrible to belong nowhere and belong to no one. Those sad and haunted eyes we have seen on the TV of refugees, thrown out of their country, ‘cleansed’ or fled in terror from their homes and from a country where they are told they don’t belong. Read More

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.”

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