Resources

Thursday
Aug172017

The Rev. Laurie Rofinot's sermon for The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, 8/13/17

Tuesday
Aug082017

The Rev. Reed Carlson's sermon for Transfiguration Sunday, 8/6/17

Thursday
Aug032017

The Rev. James Weiss sermon for The 8th Sunday after Pentecost, 7/30/2017

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday of Pentecost, Year A

The Rev’d. James M. Weiss

St. James’s Parish, Cambridge, 30 July 2017

Genesis 29: 15-28, Romans 8: 26-29, Matthew 13: 31-33 & 44-52

 

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)

 

            Good morning. I am James, a member of the parish now and also for several years in the ‘80s and ‘90s. You are the parish who sponsored me for ordination and my love for this place and this people runs very deep. I cannot thank you enough and I am so happy to be one of you.

 

            Now, I don’t pray often enough or well enough. I’m not sure I know the right way to pray: there must be a method. And what should I expect from prayer anyway?

            Yes, you’re hearing this from me  -- but let me tell you how often I hear it from everyone: devout family members, friends with Gospel values, people seeking spiritual direction, and  -- yes -- other clergy. (I’m letting you in on a little secret here: clergy have as many issues with prayer as anyone else. )

            Perhaps that’s why our second reading is hands down one of the most popular selections from the New Testament. Why? I’ll try to get at it, but I’d be happier to hear how you have learned what prayer is. And indeed, people at St. James’s have a lot to teach each other about prayer. I am talking this morning about private prayer, the kind of prayer we open up to at home on our own – not the prayer of our small groups or of the great weekly shared prayer i at our Sunday Eucharist.

 

            Now first, listen up! Prayer is not chiefly about what we do: it is about what God is already doing in us, whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not. Prayer is like a radio program:  it’s going on already, the music flows all the time. Our task is to tune in and learn to listen. Or better, to move with the music. Or better yet, let the music flow through us and invite others to dance along.

            In other words, the proper subject of the question about prayer is not I, but God. Not “How should I pray?” but “How is God moving or acting or speaking? Is God maybe keeping silence?” As Paul reminds us : “We do not know how to pray as we ought, but … the Spirit prays for us with sighs too deep for words … and God searches our hearts …”  So God has found us even before we begin searching for God … and God can work around the holes in our souls.

 

            That’s the genius of Jesus’s vision in this morning’s Gospel: that God’s energy is at work unseen in our midst. When Jesus speaks of the kingdom of heaven, he is NOT talking about a realm to come after death. He means the slow advance of God’s reign here in our lives. God’s coming may be hidden like a mustard seed in the ground or like yeast in a lump of dough or like a treasure buried in a vacant lot -- but if we give it time to work, it grows in us and we grow with it.

            It changes the way we look at things, it changes who we are. An example of this familiar to many of us is the Twelve Step Program for people helplessly addicted whether to alcohol or drugs or gambling or sex or eating. Over and over again, I’ve seen peoples’ lives and families transformed by the Twelve Steps. Yet they describe their recovery not so much as something they did, but as something they let happen within them: they admitted a need and requested their Higher Power for help … one day at a time …

            Even when they fell off the wagon, the yeast of God kept working to build them up because “the Spirit [within them] intercede[d] with sighs too deep for words”.

 

            But what does it mean when we don’t receive what we pray for – when our seeds don’t become big shrubs, when we keep digging at a project or a person and can’t find the buried treasure? Well, that question puts us  in good company. St. Paul reminds us that prayer takes place in a context of becoming “conformed to the image of [Christ]”. Our requests to God may not fulfill our wishes but they do unite us more closely to God in Christ. In a sense the relationship itself is more important than the gifts we receive from it.

            Remember -- Jesus warned us that his task on earth remained incomplete and he needed each of us to carry it further. So in each of us Christ lives out another life – and we cannot expect any better than what he could expect.

            Whatever anxieties possessed Jesus’s soul and whatever evil powers befell him, he never lost the urgency of God’s justice and love pulsing through him.

            So let’s take our cue from Jesus. Prayer does not guarantee a desired outcome: it prepares us to meet any outcome .. trusting that God’s love can be active in it and God’s justice will go on … and receiving a new strength just as the Holy Spirit gave Jesus.

 

            This summer, on a trip to Norway, Glenn and I visited the museum of the Nobel Peace Prize, which is awarded in Oslo. What struck us was how many Nobel laureates were relatively unknown, in obscure situations, with minimal resources. Even after the Peace Prize, their work remained incomplete and in some cases doomed. Yet these people were mustard seeds and buried treasures who did change the landscape around them. Think of Malala Yousafzai, the 12-year-old Pakistani blogger whose near-assassination gave prominence to the right of girls to education. Or of Rigoberta Menchù,  the Guatemalan woman who kept fighting for the rights of Indians and indigenous people even as her government killed her family one by one, and yet she had the genius to fight also for a program of reconciliation.  Yes, and of Liu Xiaobo, whose struggle for human rights in China cost him his life this month.           

            I am reminded, too, of those boys whom Jodi Michalachki preached to us about a few weeks ago, the forty young  martyrs of Burundi, Hutus and Tutsis who protected each other in the face of death and protested “We are all children of God.”

            Hidden treasures every one – many still unknown, but resiliently at work for peace, health, and justice. Sitting there in Oslo, they reminded me equally of so many people right here in St. James’s who keep alive the fire of kindness and justice and caring and protest, burning in their commitments or jobs or volunteering or activism.

            St. Paul summed up  the point – and summed up the spirit of St. James’s -- so well: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress” and we might add, or cancer, or divorce, or the economy, or election results? No, as St. Paul goes on, “As it is written,‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ . . .   [Yet] I am convinced that . . . nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. “

            So what could our Twelve Step friends and Nobel laureates tell us about prayer and its outcomes?

            First, prayer is not about what we do. It is about tuning in and letting the God do … well, do whatever God needs to do. We won’t know until we settle down.

            Second, it helps to set aside time to pray, a regular period, regardless of everything. Once we come to prayer, our minds will fill up with random thoughts. So to tune in to the Spirit, we practice deep breathing and let those thoughts come and go like traffic on the street while we focus on a friend … Now make one clear request, “Dear God, what do you want me to feel or hear or know or do?” …

            And now let go … slowly read some brief passage from the Bible, from our Sunday lessons, from a poem … or gaze upon a work of art or something in nature … When your mind wanders – and it will wander --, bring it back to your breathing or your text or your view. Keep trusting that the Holy Spirit will guide you … perhaps simply into silence. Sometimes, of course, prayer is not all peace and consolation: sometimes, the Spirit may make us wrestle with something we’d rather ignore – wrestle with ourselves, wrestle with an unsettled relationship, or wrestle as Jacob did all night long with God’s own self.

            So much of prayer involves learning what to hang on to and what to let go. Have you ever noticed that the requests in the Lord’s Prayer are all passive requests, letting go of our world into God’s unpredictable timing:

            may your Name be held holy

            may your will be done our earth,

            may You feed us and keep us from evil.

            No matter what we pray for, no matter how bad the doctor’s diagnosis is, no matter how long a civil war tears a country apart, what God wants to give us chiefly – above all other good gifts – is God’s own self. God does not ask us to be successful, only faithful. And as Paul promises us,

“Nothing … nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

            Let me conclude with Mary Oliver’s poem about praying. She even takes Jesus’s image of an empty field with a buried treasure to remind us of who’s in charge when we pray.

Praying

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.” 

 

Monday
Jul242017

The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini's sermon for the 7th Day after Pentecost, St. James Day 7-23-2017

Proper 11 Year A 1st option 7-23-17 (St. James’s Day)

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Genesis 28:10-19a; Ps. 139: 1-11; 22-23; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

 

 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast. AMEN.

 

 Happy St. James’s Day, everyone! When I left for my hysterectomy surgery in June, I was determined to be back in time to celebrate our feast day together with all of you, and here I am, maybe not back to tip-top energy yet, but ON MY WAY! I used to ask my elder friend Fran Merritt how he was, each Sunday morning in his 90’s that he managed to get to church, and he would say, with his beneficent smile, “Well, I’m upright!” I’m immensely grateful for all the beautiful cards, poems, flowers and well-wishes, and especially for the prayers during my healing; I’m so grateful to our clergy associates, who have been leading worship and will continue to lead worship as I leave again to continue the healing on my vacation starting this week. And I’m most PARTICULARLY grateful to our staff and Vestry for all THEY are doing to keep everything ship-shape in my absence!

 

Every year, as St. James’s Day approaches, Pat and I wrestle with whether to use the readings for our feast day, which feature the Matthew passage that gave us our congregational motto, “Not to be served but to serve” which comes from the end of the passage, in which Jesus calls the disciples together and warns them, “whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant… just as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Or whether to use the lectionary proper readings for the day, in this case, those for Proper 11. This year, we chose the St. James’s Day readings, thinking that the reminder “not to be served but to serve” certainly frames up a mostly timely Christian mandate for us. We thought, too, of the concerted service our many members of the new St. James’s Sanctuary Team are offering as part of the Cambridge Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition that supports immigrants facing deportation.

 

But then at our PRAXIS prayer group on Tuesday morning, I realized that in passing up the regular readings for this Sunday, we were passing up Jacob’s Ladder in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the Letter to the Romans, Paul’s testimony to hope even as the whole creation groans in labor pains. And suddenly, I just felt we NEEDED these passages to support us just now, on this particular St. James’s Day, as another year passes and we continue to “hope for what we do not see” in the way of a parish house and a whole lot more in the world today! Certainly these days it can feel, from time to time, as if “the creation might WELL be subjected to futility,” as Paul says, yes? And I don’t know about you, but as I wait with what I pray is passing for patience, I need to be reminded that I “did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but I have received a spirit of adoption,” adoption into God’s own family, the Spirit bearing witness in my spirit that I do not hope in vain!

 

On St. James’s Day, it always feels like a time to reaffirm our importance to each other and to the world, as we reaffirm the presence of God’s Spirit here with us, to strengthen and guide and support us, so that as “we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ…” Yes, we are called “not to be served, but to serve.” But we are also called to help each other remember that we do not do this alone, or even on our own energy. We do this, by God’s grace.

 

It feels important to remember, on St. James’s Day, that St. James’s is our “Bethel:” beth-El – the house of God, as Jacob named the lonely spot where he dreamt his visionary dream - the place where we can count on God to supply messengers, ascending and descending the heavenly ladder to be present with us, the place where God’s own Self is present with us, reminding us, “I am the Lord, the God of your nurturing, Way-showing, faith-modeling ancestors… know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go…” It’s the place where we’ve erected not ONE stone but MANY in our 152 years, and plan to erect many more, soon & very soon, we hope!

 

And if angels are messengers of God, testifying to God’s loving presence and loving kindness and care for the hapless Jacob, then it’s not a stretch to say, angels are all around us right here, right now, on St. James’ Day. They may be “in disguise” as normal, fallible human beings, but don’t let that fool you. If their actions testify to loving kindness, steadfastness, and care, you’ll know them when you see them. They might be ushering right this very minute, right there at the back of the church! They might be singing God’s glory, or serving on the altar, or meeting in your Vestry to consider a redevelopment question – yes, yet another in the long line of redevelopment questions – between the worship service and the picnic.

 

I happen to know, because I’ve SEEN them for the angels they are – that angels are already firing up the barbecue in the garden and putting on the hot dogs and tofu burgers for the St. James’s Day picnic as they always do, year in, year out, no matter how hot or what the danger of rain! They look remarkably like our friends John & Barbara Butler and Susan and Tom Harris, but make no doubt about it: they are messengers of the love of God!

 

In fact, my dear fellow congregants, those angels might and CAN be YOU, yourself, showing forth God’s presence here at St. James’s and in the community beyond. You may be doing it by the simplest human warmth welcoming newcomers trying us out. You may be doing it as a newcomer yourself, daring to try us out and enriching us with your unique history, insights and questions, your wonderings and longings, your “experience, strength & hope.”

 

You who prepare bags of food in the Food Pantry, grow gardens in elementary school play-yards, lobby legislators about prison reform, even run for elected office, are messengers of God’s love! As you sing concerts in the Arnold Arboretum or write poetry in the local coffee shop. As you bicycle to cut down on your carbon footprint, or stand up to racial injustice. As you give children safe places to play, learn, and experience life’s goodness in economically challenged communities. You are messengers of God’s love as you stay up nights with a vulnerable immigrant family seeking sanctuary so that they will not be deported back into intolerable poverty or danger but can continue to contribute to this great nation of immigrants who bring their creativity, their aspiration, and their endless hard work into the bloodstream of democracy here in United States.

 

And here in the Bethel of St. James’s, it can’t be all “energy out,” either!  I hope some of you angels have also been finding places of respite this summer: here in the worship in this space; or out in the wild, in the company of trees, water, animals and birds, recharging your spirits and replenishing your bodies so you can continue “not to be served but to serve.” After all, we ARE human beings, not some kind of invulnerable celestial stardust. And God’s presence with us means that there are times when we just need to be as small as we are and as vulnerable as we are and as TIRED as we are, and lie down and sleep on a stone awhile (or hopefully something softer) and let others climb up and down the ladder and support us and care for us awhile!

 

BUT, say we, how can we rest?!? “An enemy” is manifestly sowing weeds among the wheat! If we pause for even a minute, the place will go completely to seed! But then we have Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, telling the anxious tenders of the field to “let the weeds remain among the wheat, for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest…

Believe me: as one who tended a large organic kitchen garden over years up in Maine, I know how tenderly you must go about weeding if you don’t want to disrupt the good growth, and how wrongly you can judge an emerging plant. If you want a testimony to how wrongly we can judge between wheat and weeds, just read the story of MIT custodian Francisco Rodriguez’s deportation proceedings – Rodriguez, 11-year resident of the U.S., father of three, tax-paying, law-abiding member of our community, who followed all the rules in applying for asylum from the violence in his native El Salvador and maintained his registration with Immigration & Customs Enforcement year-to-year, yet was suddenly deemed unsafe for our nation and jailed -http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/a-deportation-at-mit-and-new-risks-for-the-undocumented. When we know Francisco Rodriguez’s story, we garden-tenders, we messengers of God’s loving kindness, must become DEFENDERS of the “weeds,” not uprooters thereof!

Whatever winnowing needs to take place can take place in God’s good time and in God’s good hands, not ours. We – angels though we may be, testifying by our kindness to God’s love – are just plain not up to the discrimination needed for that kind of weeding. Every time in human history that we humans have thought we should uproot the weeds wholesale – be it the Crusades; the Inquisition; the fascist movements of the 1930’s; the Stalinist Soviet Union; Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia; Mao Tse Tung’s Cultural Revolution in China – we have been deeply, perniciously, murderously wrong. When we get started on a purist campaign to pull up anything we discern to be evil, we can turn goodness on its head and wreck the whole enterprise of Creation. We are not cut out for that kind of comprehensive policing of goodness. Only God is.

Consider Jacob for one more moment: when he has his dream of the ladder full of angels, he has just mis-led his dad and tricked his elder brother out of his birthright. He’s running from the law! A weed if there ever was one. Yet he is allowed by God to continue to grow “among the wheat.” And long after he erects the stone at Bethel, he becomes one of the patriarchs of our Judeo-Christian faith, renamed by yet another angel, “Israel,” “May God Prevail!”

So back to St. James’s Day. Whether you are called to active service or called in this deep summer to rest, you can count on this: God is with you. Whether you’re utilizing your battery in service or recharging your battery here at St. James’s, God is with you. Weeds and wheat together, we’re called to grow as a congregation in the conviction of God’s goodness. “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” cries Jacob. “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” AMEN.

Wednesday
Jul192017

The Rev. Lyn Brakeman's sermon for July 16, 2017 Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Tuesday
Jul112017

The Rev. Katie Rimer's sermon for July 9th, 2017 Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

Wednesday
Jun282017

Olivia Hamilton's sermon for June 25, 2017, The Third Sunday after Pentecost

Thursday
Jun152017

Jodi Mikalachki's sermon for Trinity Sunday, 6/11/2017

Audio Recording

 

Trinity Sunday, 11 June 2017

Sermon: "All the Saints Greet You"

Jodi Mikalachki

 

          Good morning. I'd like to begin by re-reading two verses from Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor 13: 11-12), today's Epistle:

"Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you."    

Those who have lived in Africa will hear a familiar theme in Paul's closing words about greeting. "Please greet everyone over there," you will have been told before going on a voyage, especially a voyage home. Conventional as it is, this request is heartfelt. No-one who cares about you could possibly see you off without sincerely asking you to greet your people on their behalf. And no sincere person could possibly receive that commission without wanting to carry it out. So like Paul in today's epistle, I want to be sure you know that all the saints greet you. In particular, I bring you greetings from saints with whom I've been blessed to live and serve for the last three years in Kenya:

  • ·        from children and teachers at Mathare Menno Kids Academy and Mukuru Mennonite Academy, elementary schools in two of Nairobi's poorest neighborhoods, and at Utooni Starlight Academy in a drought-stricken farming community of eastern Kenya
  • ·        from Hope Community Centre in Central Kenya, where abandoned babies and former street children are growing up and studying in a stable, caring environment
  • ·        from the Dominican Missionary Sisters, who mentor and educate South Sudanese refugee children living in Kenya
  • ·        from Somali teachers serving in Dadaab refugee complex, equipping themselves and their pupils to return and build a stable Somalia
  • ·        from the Missionaries of Charity with whom I worshipped in Kasarani, my neighborhood on the outskirts of Nairobi, where they care for men with severe mental and physical disabilities, some of whom also send you their greetings
  • ·        from my neighbors at Pan Africa Christian University, a Pentecostal University where I lived in peace, safety and Spirit-filled community for three years
  • ·        from the staff of Utalii Hotel and tourism training institute, where I had a pool membership that helped me endure the stress of driving in Nairobi
  • ·        and from my colleagues in the Mennonite Central Committee, who come from different Kenyan cultures (Luo, Luhya, Kalenjin, Kikuyu, Kamba, Maasai) and are members of different Kenyan churches (Catholic, Christian Reform, Mennonite, Indigenous, Presbyterian)

I have been blessed to serve with a wide range of saints over the past three years, Christian and Moslem, and it is a great privilege now to extend their greetings to you, my community here at St. James's.

          For those who don't know me, my name is Jodi Mikalachki and I have been a member of St. James's since 1992, participating especially in the choir, but also in the food pantry and the women's meal in my earlier years. In 2002, I left Cambridge to test my vocation to two religious communities, one in South Africa, and one in New York, returning to St. James's between and after those experiments. In 2008, I left again to serve with the Mennonite Central Committee in Burundi, where I stayed for six years before moving to Kenya in 2014. And here it is, 2017, and I'm back at St. James's, visiting dear friends and walking the familiar streets of Cambridge. In the coming weeks, I'll also spend time in Canada with my family and on retreat. And then I'll go back to East Africa, returning to my beloved Burundi, where I'll be teaching at the national university in Bujumbura.

          All this is more than I could have asked for or imagined. I am so grateful to the almighty and everlasting God whom we just invoked in the Collect for Trinity Sunday. Could we look at it again?

Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

I've been told that every collect has three elements: (1) a name of God; (2) a function or action of God; and (3) a request to participate in this action of God. Here's how I read today's collect in those terms:

  1. a name of God—>"Almighty and everlasting God"
  2. a function or action of God—>giving us grace to acknowledge the glory of the Eternal Trinity and to worship the Unity of God
  3. a request to participate in this action of God
    1. being brought at last to see God in the eternal glory of the Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—one God

          It seems to me that my job this morning is to say something that would support our shared request—shared all over the Anglican communion this Trinity Sunday in every time zone on Earth—to keep steadfast in faith and worship, and to see God at last in the eternal glory of the Trinity, one God.

          That's a big job. I take courage from others who have been called upon to support our shared Christian endeavor so that we might keep steadfast and see God at last. And I begin with those poor, confused people in today's Gospel lesson who met Jesus on the mountain in Galilee to which he had directed them.

"When they saw him," Matthew tells us, "they worshiped him; but some doubted."

Well, no wonder. Most of us in this sanctuary today are privileged to know and understand a great deal more about who Jesus was and is—and about the Triune God who was and is and is to be—than that small band of doubting worshipers on the mountain in Galilee. They could hardly have begun to process all the trauma and baffling joy of the past weeks in Jerusalem and Judea. Nevertheless, they went where Jesus had asked them to meet him—they showed up—and then he sent them out again, to all nations, to the end of the age:

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

          Imagine for a moment if they hadn't started on the immense task Jesus gave them. Imagine if they'd said, "We've been through enough. We just need to stay here in Galilee, sharing what we've learned with family and trusted friends, hugging this good news to our chest until we have a better idea what it means." Is anyone here from Galilee? Palestine? The Middle East? A country bordering the Mediterranean? "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations"—all peoples in all places. How many of us would know the good news of Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead if that early band of doubting worshipers had just stayed home?

So, we've all benefited from missionaries. What I'd like to share with you today, however, is how I've benefited—how we all benefit—from the ways that cultures different from the one we started with take on the gospel and make the news good again. In particular, I'd like to tell you about a group of students in Burundi who refused to be separated along ethnic lines during Burundi's long civil war. They're called the Forty Young Martyrs of Buta, and they were killed at their rural high school on April 30th, 1997, just over twenty years ago now.

          This was during Burundi's long civil war, fought along ethnic lines between Hutus and Tutsis. There was no particular victim group in this war, and no single group of oppressors or perpetrators either. Hutus and Tutsis killed each other all over the country in a war of attrition that finally ended in 2004. Shortly after Easter 1997, in the midst of that war, the minor seminary of Buta was attacked by more than 1000 paramilitaries armed with rifles, grenades, and an anti-aircraft gun they mounted on the hill above the school. The boys of the senior class were cornered in their dormitory and ordered to separate by ethnicity—Hutus on one side, Tutsis on the other. Joining hands where they lay, terrified, under their cots, they proclaimed that they were all children of God. When they were eventually flushed from their hiding places and forced to stand against a wall, they refused three times to separate along ethnic lines. A grenade was thrown, guns were fired. Boys fell to the floor and lay in their own blood and that of their classmates. During breaks in the shooting, those who could move went to the aid of their classmates, staunching wounds, saying prayers, and hearing the final testimonies of friends who prayed for the attackers and asked God to forgive their murderers. In the end, forty boys died; many others were seriously injured.

 

          I have come to know Buta quite well over the last few years. In particular, I know Father Zacharie, who was the principal of the school at the time of the martyrdom, and who helped prepare the boys for the stand they made that day. I've also come to know some of the survivors of that massacre. A few weeks ago, in late April, I attended the 20th anniversary of the martyrdom. I met more survivors over that weekend, and for the first time, parents of some of the martyrs. Their witness is very much within living memory. I have talked and prayed and sung and danced with men who survived that massacre, and with men and women who washed the broken bodies of their own children and prepared them for burial in 1997. I have seen the strength in their unity and their continuing resolve not to be divided along ethnic lines. And I have seen the terrible cost of martyrdom—the undimmed anguish of parents, some of whom live in significant material poverty that an educated son might have relieved. I have seen the empty space between two brothers where a third once stood. I have listened to a mother's quiet assertion her martyred son is an angel with God, even as she told me about her other children, none of whom now lives anywhere in Africa.

          I've also heard the testimony of the survivors. Many have grown into impressive adults—eight are priests, several more, doctors. Others are businessmen and professionals in a country where few their age go beyond primary school. As they completed their studies and became adults, they formed an association to care for all the survivors of the massacre, and especially to reach out to the families of the martyrs. They said when they first began visiting the martyrs' families, all the parents could do was cry. Some parents came to Buta this April for the first time since they'd buried their children there twenty years ago. Christian witness has a real cost.

          During the second week of Easter this year, I got to hear Father Nicolas Nyabende, one of the survivors, preach several times. On the day of the massacre, he'd made it through the first round of fire unscathed. When the attackers left to get more ammunition, he carried a wounded classmate to safety, returning to the dormitory to look for others who needed help. That's when he was shot in the stomach and side, one lung ripped open. Somehow he survived, coming out of a coma two weeks later with quite lucid memories of what some of the martyrs had said as they were dying. You would never know from looking at him that he'd ever suffered a physical injury, much less, psychological trauma. When he grins, which is often, light streams from his face. At mass during the second week of Easter, Father Nicolas spoke to us of Christ's victory. We ourselves, however, are not called to victory, he said, but to combat. Nous ne sommes pas appelés à la victoire, mais au combat! "We are not called to victory, but to combat."

          I've thought about that a lot since he said it. I wonder what he and other survivors have to combat in their lives. Early on, when they were still young adults, some people—including some priests, apparently—tried to use their story for partisan purposes, to stoke the very ethnic conflict they had risked their lives to resist. Father Nicolas told me one day that the martyrs went straight to their reward, but that he and their other surviving classmates still had things to work out in this world.

          Buta, the site of their school, is now a sanctuary, drawing thousands of pilgrims annually from Burundi and beyond. Inside the sanctuary, on the wall above the altar, is a mural of the martyrs, robed like angels, their faces painted from school ID photos. I pray with them whenever I go to Buta. They feel very present to me, and I am grateful for their support as I try to keep steadfast in faith and worship. They help me trust that at the last, I will see God, face to face. In their faces—unique yet united—I see God now.

          Buta is barely what we would call a hamlet, buried in the interior of a small, little-known country in the heart of Africa. The God we worship seems to cherish places like Buta—places like Nazareth of Galilee. They're not places where you'll find the winners of this world—the ones so focused on their idea of victory that they need to call everyone else a loser. That's not our way. That's not our truth. That's not our life.

          We find our life, and even our victory, most paradoxically in the Cross. One of the most encouraging things about the God we worship is how the Trinity transforms the world through the weakness and defeat of the Cross. This is how our God has chosen to make the world good again—through the mystery of the Cross, that instrument of humiliation and death that becomes the primary witness to the love of the almighty and everlasting God.

 

          St. Paul tells us that "the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18). The martyrs of Buta experienced the power of God, and they made it manifest to their nation. Where Burundi's leaders failed and continue to fail their suffering people, a group of terrified school boys proclaimed the message about the Cross. Several of the boys died asking God to forgive their assassins. One boy came up to Father Zacharie right after the massacre and said, in triumph, "Father, they tried to separate us, but we refused!" The survivors—Hutus and Tutsis alike—looked after their wounded classmates in hospital, sitting up with them, bathing them, changing their dressings and bedding, feeding them. In the midst of that terrible civil war, Burundians could hardly believe their eyes: Hutus caring for Tutsis, Tutsis, caring for Hutus. The martyrdom at Buta was the only massacre—and there were many in that long civil war—for which no reprisals were taken, though some people came to the martyrs' funeral with grenades in their pockets. At the ceremony, standing before forty coffins, Father Zacharie and Athanase Muregwa, the spokesman for the parents of the martyrs, both pleaded for peace and an end to the violence that was destroying their country. The boys had refused to be separated, they said, and everyone needed to honor their example. In a time of great national despair, the forty young martyrs of Buta gave their country something to live by.

 

          Maybe some of you feel despair—or have felt it—about the national situation here in the US. Maybe you feel despair about some private situation of your own. We all have a losing battle we're fighting on some front or other. Just remember that you don't have to win that battle. Because We're not called to victory; we're called to combat. So this week, as you return to combat, instead of thinking about victory, think about what you want your witness to be. If you're fighting anything worth fighting at all, you will not see a quick and stunning victory. Think instead about what and whom you would like to honor as you answer your call to combat. Whose hands will you hold as you hide under your bed when the enemy comes? Where are the wounded you can help to carry out of danger? What saving words will you remember and repeat so that others can be inspired by them?

 

          The Cross is a hard place, but it's also a good place. And it's a great place to meet good people. So Sisters and Brothers, put things in order. Agree with one another. Live in peace. The God of love and peace will be with you. And for heaven's sake, don't forget to greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.

 

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Wednesday
Jun142017

The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini's sermon for Trinity Sunday 6/11/17

Audio recording of sermon

 

Trinity Sunday Year A 6-11-17

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Ps. 8;   2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

 

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. AMEN

 

…Bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever.” So says today’s Collect, the Collect for Trinity Sunday. But what if it weren’t a matter of waiting? What if eternity is right now, right here? What if God's own creativity - that fundamental attribute of God that was there in the beginning, there before light and air and water and the biochemistry of all this amazing plethora of creation had come into being - what if this creativity of God is holding us – every one of us – at the very center of the Divine Love, at all times, in all places, if we will only notice it? What if that whirling core of imagination is as present in Fields Corner Dorchester as on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, as everpresent in the slums of Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya as in the Boston Public Garden? As present in the autistic child as in the prodigy playing Prokofieff at the age of 6? What if that holiness, that infinite possibility shimmering within the very concretely limited partiality of our existence, could flare out at any moment and lift us to a completely different state of being, imbue us with hope in the midst of despair, opportunity where there seemed only obstacles, a way forward where there seemed no way?

 

The Welsh poet R. S. Thomas, no stranger to desolation in his small, mountainously chilly, damp, impossibly beautiful, resource-stripped and linguistically oppressed homeland on the west shore of Britain, took up the Welsh language, was ordained an Anglican priest, lived on a sheep farm, and wrote poems that dared despair. Here's one called,

 

The Bright Field 

 

I have seen the sun break through 

to illuminate a small field

for a while, and gone my way

and forgotten it. But that was the

pearl of great price, the one field that had

treasure in it. I realise now

that I must give all that I have

to possess it. Life is not hurrying

 

on to a receding future, nor hankering after

an imagined past. It is the turning

aside like Moses to the miracle

of the lit bush, to a brightness

that seemed as transitory as your youth

once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

[http://emilyspoetryblog.com/2013/10/23/the-bright-field-by-r-s-thomas/]

 

On this Feast Day of the Trinity, how does R. S. Thomas’ poem connect with the Trinity – the divine Three-in-One we celebrate today as the essence of God's nature, an essence made up entirely of love and genesis, life-giving and life-affirming: the Lover, the Beloved - who is Emmanuel, God-with-us, both human AND divine - and the Love that binds them into One Holy and Undivided Trinity?

 

This is the Feast that concludes all our Feasts of the Resurrection in Eastertide, the feast that is meant to ease us from the festivity of Easter into the "ordinary time" of the season after Pentecost that unspools from here until Advent, when the church year begins again. But the Feast of the Trinity is really more of a show-stopper than a show-starter, given the intractability of the Trinity’s intellectual challenges, if we preachers give in to the temptation to try to expound its meaning.

 

Fortunately for you, I don't have any desire to expound theologically today. What I hope for you today is to FEEL the love of the Trinity surrounding you, enfolding you, encouraging and affirming you, inviting you into the lifelong dance of faith and doubt, doubt and faith, knowledge and "unknowing." I want to invite you not so much to think about as to ENTER INTO into the mystery that is God, a God who creates all things, who is also a God who came among us as one of us, palpable, "knowable," lovable, who is also a God who breathes in our own creativity and love, our capacity to touch and reach each other, to become one with all being. If I succeed, I trust you will be both affirmed IN TIME and BEYOND TIME, that you will in that moment of encounter with God, touch into eternity because God IS eternity.

 

I appreciate what biblical scholar Richard Pervo says, that since humans cannot really describe God - because God is inherently “beyond all knowledge and all thought,” as Horatius Bonar’s great hymn says - theology is really akin to poetry. [http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/o/l/o/olovegod.htm] So R. S. Thomas can do a better job of inviting you into God’s presence than a long exposition on the nature of God the Three-in-One.

 

Pervo also proposes that creeds should rather be sung as hymns of joyous praise than proclaimed as bulwarks against skepticism. Creeds written to capture the Trinity are "poems of a pilgrim people over millenia, with some images that seem inappropriate and others that are obscure. Not every woman would be flattered by the poetry in the Song of Solomon, ‘Your neck is like the tower of David, built in courses’ [4:4], but the intent is clear." So it is with creeds: "Creeds are magical because they waft us into a company of untold myriads, encircling the world and encompassing the ages," lifting their voices and their hearts over generations to the great encircling, enfolding, embracing, infusing Love of God.  [Richard I. Pervo, "Trinity Sunday", New Proclamation Year A 2011 Easter through Christ the King]Because we’re 8 o’clockers, we’re going to SAY the Creed, not sing it, but try rehearsing its words as you would a song, not seizing every phrase for interpretation but letting your voice join with the voices of ages past, present, and to come who have rehearsed these words.

 

And what of these concluding phrases of Matthew’s Gospel, all too familiar to our 21st-century ears – phrases which have been repeated and repeated as formulaic marching orders over centuries of Christian mission, with the hard-stop emphasis always on "baptism" and "obey," as if the entirety of Jesus' intention for Christians were these two things, interpreted almost magically, like the rubber-stamp “Good-Housekeeping Seal” of God's approval and accomplishment? If we can step back and regard them afresh, there are actually mysteries aplenty in these few lines. For example, WHAT mountain is the risen Jesus speaking from? It isn't identified. It is ALL MOUNTAINS. It is the many mountains Jesus climbed over the course of the Gospel, in order to have "episkope," Greek for oversight, perspective, the God's-eye-view. And in Matthew, "Galilee" is associated with Gentiles. So this lofty vantage point enables Jesus to reach The Nations, the whole of Creation, not merely "his own" Jewish people. And, Matthew says, "the [disciples] worshipped him, but some doubted." What is DOUBT doing at this concluding commissioning?!? “This is, no doubt[Matthew’s] final reference to "little faith" [as in Jesus’ cry of dismay, “O you of little faith! Doubt is not a failure. It’s fundamental to discipleship.] [For Matthew] … faith is something like moral courage, the God-given ability to stick it out, rather than …acceptance of a creed versus skepticism. Strong faith is empowering faith rather than being “more dogmatically assertive than thou.” In a broader sense the [Gospel] text authorizes the continuing existence and acceptability of doubt. Neither Matthew nor, in this instance, the heavenly Christ worries about doubt per se. Paralysis is the problem. Many of [you] in church this Sunday may have doubts about smaller or larger portions of the creed. [You] still belong on the ship. Matthew worries about those who are not pulling their oars. Doubt some may, but they came in obedience to Christ's command." [Richard I. Pervo, ibid.]

 

And that command that we are to obey? Remember what that is? It's "The New Commandment:" the command to love one another, as Christ loved us. So if we're talking about obedience, it's obedience not to rules or dogmas but to love. Rules are only useful if they contribute to our lovingness. We are BAPTIZED INTO ETERNAL LOVE and our baptism is not meant to show forth some culturally determined social code but the universality of that love, which affirms that all are God's beloved children and all is God's beloved Creation, at all times, in all places.

 

Which brings us back to eternity, does it not? Jesus says, in conclusion, "Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." We began our worship today by reading the beginning of the beginning, the great Creation story in Genesis. We end with Matthew’s ending, which is Emmanuel, God with Us, God IN US, ALWAYS. Today, I don't care whether you can parse the Trinity. I don’t care how much doubt you dragged in with you nor even how much you're lugging back out. I just want you to have at least a few moments - maybe when saying the Creed as if it were an ancient song; maybe right this minute – a moment where you " turnaside like Moses to the miracle of the lit bush," and glimpse that bright field R. S. Thomas glimpsed, and feel invited to be utterly held in God's love, exactly as you are, and to perceive the belovedness of all of us around you and the whole wide world of trees and birds and, yes, fire trucks and cars and Massachusetts Avenue, as God perceives it, for God saw - and God sees - that it is GOOD.  And ever was. And ever is. And ever shall be, unto ages of ages. AMEN.

Tuesday
Jun062017

The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini's sermon for Pentecost 6/4/17