Br Roger Stewart

Sermon for the Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture Readings

Perhaps it was the contrast that prompted Jesus to interrupt. He had just been considering the plight of a poor widow who had donated all she had to live on to the temple treasury and now here were some people speaking admiringly about the opulence of that Herodian temple itself. Jesus tells them it’s all going to come crashing down, and goes on to describe vividly what would happen before that.

October 2022 News

The Brothers at Volmoed were accompanied by John de Gruchy on a day pilgrimage to nearby Genadendal, the site of the first mission station in South Africa (established by Moravians who were also a significant part of the early history of Volmoed and of the valley we are situated in). We were warmly welcomed and shown great hospitality. The site has been substantially restored in recent years. The driving force behind the restoration is Dr Isaac Balie, the first curator of the comprehensive museum, who graciously guided us on an extensive tour, sharing his encyclopaedic knowledge of the remarkable history of the place, including extraordinary verbatim quotations. We were even treated to some lovely organ music, beautifully played by the local organist of over 50 years on the fine instrument they have in the attractive church building there.

Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture Readings

In the section of Luke’s Gospel leading up to our reading this morning, Jesus has been asked by some Pharisees when the kingdom of God would be coming. Somewhat startlingly, Jesus responds by saying, in effect, that the kingdom of God has come, and that it is among them already, though not necessarily easy to discern and certainly not welcomed by everyone.

Jesus then goes on to speak with his disciples about another event, the revealing of an intriguing character he refers to as the Son of Man. This revealing seems to refer to the conclusion of the present age, an age which has continued since Jesus’ time on earth, and which is characterised by the suffering and rejection of the Son of Man and of those who would follow him into the kingdom he has come to establish. The Son of Man is thus to be identified with Jesus himself, who is warning his disciples that there will be difficulties associated with following him under the prevailing conditions.

These difficulties will require perseverance in prayer and steadfastness of heart, and are such as to leave Jesus seemingly uncertain as to whether faith will endure until the end of the age. Jesus chooses to illustrate his point by telling a story about a widow and an unjust judge, a judge for whom the gospel of the kingdom would be anything but good news. There is humour in the story, which Jesus’ original audience might have appreciated more readily than we are able to.

Camino Completo

Together with a good friend, Br Daniel arrived in Santiago de Compostela on 2 October, having set out on the Camino from St Jean across the French border on 18 August. He attended the Pilgrim Mass that evening, which he found quite moving. As he was in his monastic habit, he was asked for blessings and thanksgivings from other pilgrims, which was a special experience. He then continued to Finisterre on the coast, which brought his pilgrimage to an end. He will be spending three days in Madrid before returning to southern Africa to continue his sabbatical in Namibia.

Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture Readings

In the first part of our first reading this morning, the prophet Habakkuk describes his experience in terms that we might use in our own time, and raises questions that we might be asking. He sees wrong-doing and trouble, destruction and violence, strife and contention. The law is too often slack, with justice not prevailing and judgement coming forth perverted. It all sounds quite familiar. Why are we made to see these things? How long do we need to cry for help before we are saved?

The prophet’s response is to stand and watch and wait. His observation is that the spirit of the proud is not right in them. There is something wrong inside all of us that needs to be put right, but the righteous live by their faith.

As if in continuation of Habakkuk’s writing, the first words out of the mouths of the apostles in our Gospel reading are: “Increase our faith!” This seems a reasonable request: if the righteous live by their faith and the world is in a mess, presumably what we need is more faith so that there can be more righteousness. The only problem is that Jesus doesn’t seem to agree, and provides a metaphorical response followed by an analogy that don’t seem immediately helpful.

A New Postulant

Edwin Kriel was received into our Order as a Postulant here at St Benedict’s Priory on Thursday 1 September. The postulancy is a six-month period of deeper discernment which is also the beginning of the process of monastic formation. We are very pleased that Edwin has joined our community and ask you to pray with us that the blessing will be mutual. Edwin comes to us from Worcester in the Western Cape.

They Stand Upright

Yesterday morning, for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, I shared with our congregation this reflection by Debie Thomas, in which she says so much of what I would have wanted to say, and says it so well, as usual. The day before, Volmoed had hosted a memorial service for Elvia Bury and, in the time since her death, I have been thinking about both the Sunday Gospel and Elvia’s life, and how these intersected.

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture Readings

In this morning’s gospel reading, Jesus is talking about possessions again, and about our relationship to them, which is usually reason enough to start feeling nervous, even though the surrounding context has Jesus repeatedly telling his disciples not to be anxious. I think if we listen carefully, we might be surprised by what Jesus is saying, and, perhaps as importantly, by what he is not saying.

A Little Kindness

While preparing to write our latest newsletter, I decided to review what had been happening in the world since the previous one, by scanning the headlines of news stories that had caught my attention during that period. This was admittedly not a scientifically rigorous process, but I found it difficult to escape the conclusion that quite a lot has been going wrong in quite a lot of different ways. This is perhaps hardly news, but it usually comes at me one day at a time, rather than all in a rush like that.

I wonder if it has something to do with the scale of modern life, with large systems that affect so much of our world and so many people all at once. The pandemic has served to highlight the inadequacies of our political and social structures to support the weakest and most vulnerable, but perhaps the scale of modern life also tends to amplify the effects of our worst impulses as exposed through corruption and violence and the destruction of our own environment.

I’ve been noticing again the ambivalent relationship Jesus seemed to have with crowds. While he had compassion for them, he also tended to speak to them in inscrutable parables and to withdraw from them when he could. He trusted himself to smaller numbers of disciples and mostly brought healing to people one at a time, in particular ways that were best suited to each individual. I think our humanity comes to life and is best expressed through relationship, and relationships are formed one at a time.