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Monday
Dec112017

Sermon for 2 Advent 12-10-17, The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini

Click here to listen to the sermon. 

2 Advent Year B 12-10-17

©Holly Lyman Antolini
Lections: Isaiah 40:1-11; Ps. 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8

A voice says, “Cry out!” And I say, “O God, what shall I cry?” All people are grass, our constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely we people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but your word, O God, will stand for ever. AMEN.

Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight!’” Such is the cry of the prophet Isaiah. Such is the cry, hundreds of years later, of the prophet John the Baptizer, as Mark calls him, the Way-Shower for Jesus Christ, who took up John’s proclamation of the imminence of God’s Realm when John himself was imprisoned by the decadent, self-serving authorities of their day for his forthright and confrontational talk. And such is the heartfelt cry of many of us today, deeply dismayed and even shocked with the unfolding events of our own time.

Make God’s paths straight?!? Prepare the way of the Lord?!? How in the world, when we ourselves are such crooked instruments, can we prepare God’s way?

Granted, our current frustrations are more acute and worrisome than any I have experienced in my 65 years of life – and I lived through the era of the Viet Nam War protests and the Civil Rights movement – and though they are fed by executive decisions coming at us at an unprecedented rate with an unprecedented lack of preparation so that I, at least, feel in a perpetual state of semi-shock and disbelief, simply trying to wrap my head around the latest executive-order-by-Twitter.

My state of being these days reminds me of a little personal moment back in about 1979, when my husband Tony and I were making our very first move from our rental on Channing Ave. in Palo Alto to our very first purchased house, the little place out within earshot of the Bayshore Freeway on St. Francis Drive. The distance from rental to house was a mere dozen blocks, so instead of hiring a moving company, we made the move ourselves with the help of my parents’ elderly VW bus and friends who had a little Toyota pickup truck. Last to be loaded into the bed of the truck at the end of a long day was our antique upright piano, all cast iron weight and elegant carved mahogany veneer. Up it went into the truck for the short distance. And away we went, with me trailing the truck in the VW bus. There was exactly ONE turn in an otherwise straight shot from apartment to house, a right bend, a mere two blocks from our destination. I watched the truck in front of me take the bend. And I watched the piano slowly but inexorably continue on its straight trajectory, as if it simply hadn’t noticed the truck’s gentle declination. It leaned. It tottered. And, defying all restraints, it vaulted from the truck as I watched, seeming to take an hour in the air before it landed with a resounding “scrunch” on its face on the asphalt, while I hollered helplessly from my perch behind the VW’s driver’s wheel, “NO! NO! NO! NO!” as if the sheer force of my words alone could repel the overwhelming power of gravity and arrest the piano in its flight. When we righted it again and managed to return it to the truck bed, all its 88 keys were at angles out of their moorings, looking horrifyingly like teeth knocked out of its mouth.

We completed the move. The piano was finally in the house, and we managed to lever the keyboard back into its lodging so that it no longer looked like a desperately injured child. And discovered that despite the grievous injuries to the case, the instrument still played, testifying that the cast iron itself – though famously brittle – had held firm. But our spirits were bludgeoned into a weird silence that echoed as we regarded each other over what was meant to be a celebratory pizza and beer that evening.

So echoes the silence of horror in me as I watch our American democracy lean sideways, at risk of upending and crashing to the pavement. I want to shout, “NO! NO! NO! NO!” I feel as if I’m already inventorying lost teeth. But how can we rectify that in which we may feel ourselves to be so deeply complicit? The temptation, in the spirit of John the Baptist’s own intensity and radicality, locust-breathed and wild-eyed in his camel’s hair, arousing the crowds to join him in repentance in the wilderness, is to throw the entire American democratic baby out with the bathwater and try to start fresh. Doesn’t a “straight path” REQUIRE such stringency? How can we otherwise rectify our own roles in long-held inequities and excesses that have led Americans to this political moment?

I read a fascinating opinion piece this week, John Kaag and Clancy Martin’s “In Dark Times, ‘Dirty Hands’ Can Still Do Good.” Granted, Kaag & Martin were writing about a Buddhist spirituality, but I think it has much to say to us followers of Jesus Christ, trying so hard to be faithful in shocking times like these. They were addressing “what Western ethicists call the “problem of dirty hands:” the difficulty of tidying up the world’s atrocities with hands that can never be washed clean, and may get dirtier in the process.

What should we make… of [the] situation that many of us find ourselves in today, perhaps especially we Americans,” ask Kaag & Martin. “What is a person to do when she is at least partly responsible for the evils she would like to escape, reduce or remedy? What if our desire to do good in the world is tainted by our own harmful actions? Is it possible to act morally or maintain spiritual traditions in a broken world?” Can we “prepare the way of the Lord” even when our paths seem so irremediably crooked?

[https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/04/opinion/purity-is-overrated.html?_r=0]

For help, these writers turned to a 13th-century Japanese practitioner of Buddhism named Shinran. (So, not far from the days of St. Francis of Assisi.) “Master Shinran believed he lived in what is known in Buddhist cosmology as the Age of Dharma Decline, a period, not unlike our own,” they write, “when traditional forms of spiritual cultivation were on the brink of collapse. Shinran is famous for suggesting that the way to respond to “dirty” times — of social and spiritual dissolution and decay — is to cultivate a path to the Pure Land, a simple pristine faith in Amitabha Buddha.” That kind of purity sounds like just the thing to we who are listening to John the Baptist – a straight way to God’s realm. But Shinran’s  ACTUAL “way forward” might seem surprising. He turns out not to be committed to any “ideological purity” or indeed to any purity at all, but rather the inverse of that. “While the object of faith may be pristine… Shinran taught that the way to the Pure Land wasn’t, and still isn’t, pure at all. On his account, we can both be complicit and hold ourselves responsible for trying to make a difference. This is a lesson particularly suited to degenerate times,’ write Kaag & Martin. Pure Land Buddhism does not want us to give up our moral lives, but to give up the pretensions that often accompany them. It believes in very modest forms of moral improvement, eked out over the life of individuals and their communities, especially when they are largely flawed...”

...Shinran writes: ‘Each of us in outward bearing makes a show of being wise, good, and dedicated. But so great are our greed, anger, perversity and conceit that we are filled with all forms of malice and cunning.’ This is the sort of admission that many spiritual seekers (and, for that matter, angry, self-righteous moralists or politicians [ count me with my “NO! NO! NO’s!” among them]), don’t want to hear. It suggests that there is no transcendent escape, that, in Shinran’s words “hell is my permanent abode, my house.” To be clear, this admission is not spoken from a place of despair or a certain type of quietism; it is, instead, a brave realism about the human condition that is clear-eyed about the realities of moral and spiritual development...

Kaag & Martin go on: “...When one bathes, or meditates, or hikes, or works out, or eats — one typically does so, at least in the West, by oneself. It is my naturally harvested luffa sponge, my thoughts to control and my mind to clear, my $300 Alpine boots, my home gym, my cucumber on sprouted bread sandwich, my quest for perfection. And decidedly not yours. Part of the problem, Shinran believes, is that each of us actually think we know the way to purity and enlightenment. Each of us thinks we can get there by ourselves. He is quite clear on this point: we don’t have a clue how to achieve salvation. “I know nothing at all of good and evil,” Shinran admits, “ … with a foolish being full of blind passions — in this burning house — all matters without exception are empty and false.” (A very Buddhist view of things.) Write Martin & Kaag, “This is what Western philosophers term “epistemic humility” — a deep Socratic sense that one knows that he or she doesn’t know. For Shinran, this is a pivotal form of spiritual prostration — a laying low of the last vestiges of selfhood.” [Ibid, underlining mine] Spiritual prostration: something I’ve always envied the Orthodox, who may well cast themselves face-down on the floor of the church on any given Sunday.

Like John the Baptist with his locusts & wild honey, Shinran was considered an outsider, nicknamed by the authorities of his day Gutoku – “the stubble-faced idiot.” There are stubble-faced idiots who don’t know they are stubble-faced idiots, and there are those who do. These idiots — the ones with self-knowledge, like Shinran — might be better equipped to mitigate the effects of their idiocy...

...There is no habit of thought that is as pervasive as the aspiration to purity and perfection, but we suspect, along with …Shinran,” these writers says, “that it is almost always self-defeating. It comes as no surprise that the greatest champions of purity and perfection among us are [often] revealed as the most flagrant hypocrites. Until we confront our complicity, we can never improve ourselves or the moral and spiritual circumstances we inhabit and help to create. It is high time to make our home in the “impure land.” After all, it is where most of us already live.” [Ibid.] 

When you hear this, do you suppose John the Baptist might, in fact, resonate with Shinran’s insights? (It’s my suspicion that they may be table mates at the Heavenly Banquet!) After all, though in this Advent - Year B of the lectionary - we read Mark’s and John’s versions of John the Baptist’s call to repentance, in Luke’s version, when the people ask for a more specific spiritual practice, John the Baptist counsels precisely such modesty of effort, such “spiritual prostration,” “’Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized,”writes Luke, “and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ (Not, get rid of the IRS!) Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, (unfortunately, NOT “get rid of your guns! But) ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’” [Luke 3:10-14]

Whatever state of shock we may find ourselves in, this Advent, and whatever we judge our own systemic involvement to be in the conditions that led us here, let us take heart and, dirty though our hands may be, “prepare the way of the Lord” as best we can, knowing our own “crooked paths,” but trusting that the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ will, in God’s own good time, perfect our efforts. In the end it is that simple, humble, self-reflectively honest effort – not grandiose schemes for God’s massive rescue of all humanity through violence and war – that, taking up John the Baptist’s cause, the Incarnate Jesus himself enacted, while demonstrating God’s love and the dynamics of God’s realm in our midst.

AMEN.

Monday
Dec042017

Sermon for 1 Advent 12-3-17, The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini

1 Advent Year B 12-3-17
©Holly Lyman Antolini
Lections: Isaiah 64:1-9; Ps. 80:1-7, 16-18; 1 Cor. 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37
 
You have fed us with bowls of tears, O God; you have given us bowls of tears to drink. Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved! AMEN.
 
Isn’t it striking that this First Sunday in Advent, our “New Year’s Day” in the church year, opens not with a party but with a lament? Isaiah in Chapter 64 seems not just to plead but to HOWL to God, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence-- as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil--to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!” Can anyone RELATE?!?
 
Mountains are quaking in Bali. Fire has been kindling brushwood in California. In our national politics, some of us are defending people – all men so far in the public discourse – who have committed acts of sexual assault against other adults, particularly women, and even against children, merely to serve our own political purposes. Others of us are resorting to ugly misrepresentations of whole classes of people – Muslims, Native Americans, immigrants, people of color – in order to score political points, thereby lowering the entire level of national discourse and even national identity from one of welcome extended to people of every background and description and openness to widely varying points of view to one which protects and further privileges those people classified as “white” who have historically held privilege and who, as a class, continue to do so. Mourns Isaiah, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
 
Mark isn’t cutting us any slack either. His “little apocalypse” in Chapter 13 has Jesus laying out a terrifying scene, sun darkened, moon lightless, stars falling and powers in the heavens shaken. All the normal order of things turned upside down. THEN, says Mark’s Jesus, we will see "the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory,” gathering “his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”
 
Let us be very clear right up at the front about this passage, because it has been terribly corrupted into a message of hate and condemnation when it is no such thing. It appears in Mark as Jesus’ last teaching before his arrest. “Jesus, the one who came as the Prince of Peace, the one who will die instead of raise a hand against his captors, the one whose mission from the Father is to love the whole world, speaks these words right before he is unjustly betrayed, tried, and crucified. It is absolutely incongruous with his [entire] ministry that his last message be one of threat and damnation. In these texts, there is no statement about the wicked, only the gathering of the elect. Jesus’ last words are ones of comfort and assurance and advice on living through the tough times to come as we wait for the second coming." [Beth Tanner, New Proclamation Year B 2012, First Sunday of Advent]
Like the prophet Isaiah, Jesus is longing for “an all-powerful God to come crashing into the world to restore it.” [Ibid.] As John’s Gospel says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” The parable of the fig tree that follows only invites us not to let “the changes and chances of this mortal life” paralyze us with terror, but rather to keep strong in the hope that God is near. [Prayer for Protection, Book of Common Prayer #60, p. 832]
And for all there are people out there who like to strip Jesus’ words in this passage out of context and turn them into a self-serving prediction that they themselves will saved and everyone else will be lost, the entire last paragraph is actually a long reminder that prediction is impossible, because “about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.” Even Jesus himself can’t predict anything, he asserts. He, like us, can only KEEP AWAKE.
And that, above all, is the message of this First Sunday in Advent, for all of us who are finding the condition of the world overpowering, who find that trying to keep track of the breaking news is like drinking out of a fire hose, who feel as if all the civic guardrails are being ripped up right and left, leaving us at the mercy of our worst human impulses, a kind of radical “de-civilization,” and who are tempted to protect ourselves from all this disruption by a kind of narcolepsy, in which we drop asleep on our feet, in the middle of our day, rather than endure the fear, the outrage and the worry that keeps coming at us. Even the attendant at the Mobil gas station on my corner yesterday confessed to me while the pump was churning that he just didn’t know what to think of the world anymore, it seemed like such a mess.
 
To him, to me, and to you, Jesus is saying, KEEP AWAKE. Don’t let yourself snooze off! And don’t just KEEP AWAKE; KEEP HOPING. KEEP DREAMING. KEEP ACTING AS YOU CAN. As Paul assures the Corinthians at the beginning of his first letter, even as he prepares to give them some pretty harsh critique, “… the grace of God … has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind-- just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you-- so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
You are our Father;” affirms Isaiah, “We are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.
If anything can be said of Jesus of Nazareth, it is that he kept awake, kept telling the truth even when the people following him were confused and even as the authorities were becoming ever more enraged. And Jesus kept hoping on and hoping ever, countering his temptation to despair by nurturing the mercy and compassion in his heart, even when nailed to the Cross itself. Even when he sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane and cried out to a seemingly absent God on the Cross, he trusted that God would hear him, and commended himself to God.
Advent here in New England is always a season when the landscape is stripped of its foliage and its bare bones exposed to view. The tenderness and intimacy of the Nativity – Emmanuel, God with us – is still invisible over the horizon. Right now, on this First Sunday, we only feel the dark and cold, the unsparingness of the view. The temptation to lament – or sleep – is strong indeed.
Dare we keep awake to the dire state of things around us, the dismantling of values we hold dear and our fear for the welfare of vulnerable people in our nation and world? Keep awake as witnesses to the truth even when the truth is a terrible and frightening thing and the telling of it puts us at risk? Dare we keep awake also to the PROMISE that, as the Collect for the First Sunday in Advent puts it, in the might of God’s grace, we really CAN “cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now, [RIGHT NOW,] in the time of this mortal life in which [God’s] Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility"? Dare we keep awake to the PROMISE in Christ Jesus that we – humble citizens, feeble though we may feel – can nevertheless be participants in the saving work of God, participants in God’s great, fear-defying RESURRECTION POWER? We may not know how or when. But these passages call us to CULTIVATE trust and remain ever alert for our opportunity, which may come “in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn!” AMEN.
Monday
Dec042017

A Homily for the Burial of Hilda Odessa Philips Fisher 12-2-17, The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini

A Homily for the Burial of Hilda Odessa Philips Fisher
December 2, 2017
©Holly Lyman Antolini
 
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. AMEN.
 
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”  First, I have to tell you that though I have known her son Curtis as a member of our congregation of St. James’s for some years now, I never met Hilda herself. What I know of her, I know from her remarkable, ebullient, ENORMOUS family! Just having been in the same room with a number of them of several generations at once convinces me of Hilda’s own noteworthy force of personality! Not to mention her irrepressibly vivacious spirit, her way of meeting life’s vicissitudes with gusto, exuberance and feistiness. And her basic generosity & warmth, which, though I imagine they were never without their characteristic firmness and expectation, were nevertheless extended far and wide, even to the end of her working life, the last years of which she spent being grandmother to an entire Montessori school full of children! Hilda Odessa Philips Fisher LIVED as if she EXPECTED God’s goodness and mercy to follow her. She lived as if she were dwelling in God’s house, at all times, in all places. Not without struggle, God knows. But with persistence and with zest.
 
Which is why I can’t get over the image of her carrying a brick in her purse, just in case! There’s something about that – about sallying forth into the world prepared for the worst but expecting the best as well – that just seems to sum her up.
 
At a minimum, at any rate, if you’re going to raise 9 children and who knows how many grands and great-grands, you somehow have to be able to restore order, even if you can’t pull up the right name for any given one at any given moment! And that’s not allowing for the work of keeping up with a military man/mariner/truck driver husband as well. Which, as far as I can tell, Hilda managed to do with Harvey C. Fisher I. The two of them respected and loved each other and spoke their minds to each other through long times apart and together, and it’s an accomplishment any of us who have been married can fully appreciate.
 
Paul tells the Roman people in his famous Letter to the Romans, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” I don’t know if Hilda counted herself a particularly “religious” person, although I know she brought her kids up to feel comfortable making their own choice of religious expressions. That she was a woman of faith is indubitable, simply by the verve with which she moved through her life, never counting her sufferings as “worth comparing to the glory about to be revealed.” She didn’t just expect that glory. If that glory didn’t come get her, she went after it. Look at the way she took up working, beginning in retail at Zayres – anyone remember Zayres? I sure do! – after years as a full-time homemaker – which, mind you, was a full-time job with all those uproarious and inventive kids – and even though Harvey C. wasn’t too sure about having a working woman in the household. Work she did, and loved it, and kept it up for decades, even coming out of retirement for it. Sitting around did NOT suit her!
 
Being Caribbean-American in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the mid-20th-century – well before the Civil Rights era – could not have been any kind of a piece of cake, either. From everything I can see, Hilda met that challenge with every ounce of self-respect and determination, and passed that determination on to her children. She did NOT, as Paul says to the Romans, “receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but… received a spirit of adoption” as God’s own child. By the Spirit’s leading, Hilda knew herself to be a child of God no more and no less than anyone else. As Isaiah says, Hilda wore “a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. We will call her 'oak of righteousness,' the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.” Well done, thou good and faithful, servant!
 
So now it’s time to release Hilda – after 91 good years – into the presence and care of God in the land of light and joy. It’s time for her to claim her rightful place in God’s many dwelling-places, as the Gospel of John says, alongside beloved daughter Elenora and husband Harvey, who went on before her. It’s time for all her children to take up her “mantle of praise” and wear it with pride.
 
Because they – and we – are the grateful inheritors of Hilda’s confidence and vitality, meant not to spend our time in mourning and sadness, but, with our bricks in our purses, to gather up all her energy into us and live as children of God in the world, no matter whether the world hands us favors or not. (And the world, God knows, is not handing out favors these days!)
 
As we will shortly say, in the ancient words of the “Commendation” that we human beings have been saying at gravesides for centuries, “All we go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” AMEN.
Monday
Dec042017

A Homily for the Sisters of St. Anne 11-29-17, The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini

A Homily for the Sisters of St. Anne
November 29th, 2017
©Holly Lyman Antolini
Lections: Daniel 5:1-6, 13-28; Ps. 98; Luke 21:10-19
 
Make these words more than words and give us the Spirit of Jesus. AMEN.
 
On any given late-November day, the sun low in the sky, the light slanting pale through bare branches, leaves gathering in dry drifts of brown in the corners of the pavement, the cold biting down, these readings – the portentous story of “handwriting on the wall” holding the careless and depraved king to account in the Book of Daniel, and then the “apocalyptic discourse” of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel, “nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom; great earthquakes, famines and plagues, and dreadful portents and signs in the heavens,” with its accompanying sense of personal vulnerability and threat of arrest, persecution, betrayal, even execution, which was written when the Jewish people’s world was shaken by the destruction of their holy city of Jerusalem, leaving them trying desperately to make sense of this devastating loss to their identity and sense of future, let alone to address the huge question it posed to their sense of God’s nurturing presence in their lives – all of this taken together would seem freighted with foreboding.
 
For us Americans today, the readings seem more pregnant than usual, given the state of affairs around the world and within our country, North Koreans firing intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching any continent, and our own citizens at terrible odds with each other over a seismic shift in the dynamics of our democracy and our place in the world. What handwriting is on OUR wall? Is our own world not shaking?
 
Then there’s the terrible grief in our hearts today, a grief of such depth that it moves beyond speech into a realm of wordlessness, a grief than which there is no greater: our grief for Luke, our grief for his mother Julia and father Brad, our grief for his godmothers and his loving community, our grief for ourselves. Our grief that any young person so full of promise and possibility should reach so sharp and relentless a point of pain and despair that they are prompted to take their own lives, but more particularly, our grief at the manifest pain and despair of THIS young person, whom we know and love, whom many of us have known and loved since his birth.
 
When I learned of Luke’s death yesterday, I learned that he was baptized right here in the chapel among all of you. And in the midst of my own deep sadness, this prompted me to think about baptism, about the luminous hope we invest in sprinkling the newborn baby with the water of blessing and marking them as Christ’s own forever. I like to remind everyone at a baptism that we have now not just firmly rooted the baptized person within the Body of Christ and adopted them into the family of the congregation, but that we have also placed them within the great centripetal force field of God’s love, so that that divine love will evermore draw them in toward God’s heart, however hard they may at times pull away.
There was a time when we weighed the choice to commit suicide with a terrible moral judgment. We’ve learned better. The divine force field of love has drawn us deeper into God’s heart. And now we know that the impulse to kill oneself is like a firestorm in the brain, no less a physical malaise than a stroke or a heart attack. An inspiration not to judgment but to profound compassion.
 
Now we know that just as we grieve, so grieves God. We know that just as we long somehow to be able to reach back in time and pull Luke back from the brink of his decision, so longs God. And we know that, in the deep mystery of his own baptism into Christ, Luke has always been and is STILL HELD in that loving field of force, is STILL BEING DRAWN INTO GOD. Because as Paul told the Romans, nothing – NOTHING – can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, not death, not life, not angels, not rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation. [Romans 8: 38-39]
 
In the end, of course, the apocalyptic writings – whether in Daniel or in Luke – dark and wintry as they are, are not about despair, but about hope, and about bearing witness to that hope. So now, at this time when our hearts are raw and sore, when our tongues stumble over the jubilant words of Psalm 98 and our minds refuse to comprehend that lands could ever again “shout with joy to the Lord,” nor our voices ever again “rejoice and sing,” let us nevertheless cling to the hope beyond hope that was instilled in us in our own baptisms: hope that even that dreadful king Belshazzar would inevitably be brought down in his decadence & pride; hope that, in the power of the Crucified and Risen Christ, whose very own we are, we can endure even the worst that the world can throw at us, if we will only allow God into our darkness. Let us let God give us “words and wisdom” to testify that, as Psalm 139 says, “darkness is not dark to God; the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light to God are both alike.” [Psalm 139: 10-11]
 
Let us lean into the force field of God’s love and, even at such a time as this, let that force field pull us deeper into our baptisms, deeper into the grieving, loving heart of God. AMEN.
Tuesday
Nov282017

Sermon for Thanksgiving Day 11-23-17, The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini

Thanksgiving Day Year A 11-23-17
©Holly Lyman Antolini
Lections: Deuteronomy 8:7-18; Ps. 65; 2 Cor. 9:6-15; Luke 17:11-19
 
Happy are we, O God, whom you choose and draw to your courts to dwell there! We will be satisfied by the beauty of your house, by the holiness of your temple… You crown the year with your goodness, and your paths overflow with plenty, if we allow ourselves eyes to see, and hearts to love. AMEN.
 
I always love it when Year A comes around and we read for Thanksgiving Day this beautiful, evocative passage from Deuteronomy, with its description of the “good land,” welling up with streams and springs, ripe with wheat and barley, fig trees and pomegranates, olives and honey. It brings strongly to mind the garden of my parents’ last home before my dad became president of Stanford and we were forced – and I mean, forced; none of us wanted to go! – into the “president’s official mansion” set off formally on the top of a hill. That abundant garden that embraced our previous house had actual pomegranates growing in it. It also had pineapple guavas, tiny gray blimp-like fruits with frilled stems, sweet and delicate and un-shippable so that they have never become commercial, any more than the plush orange orbs of the loquat have. Avocados grew there, too, and lemons and limes and two varieties of orange, along with persimmons, plums, apricots, and deep, dark, velvety Mission figs so heavy on the immense old fig tree that they had permanently trained its limbs into great swooping repeats of the “orans” position of prayer and benediction under the profligacy of sweetheart roses that framed it in the back of the garden.
 
A good land, indeed! And formative for the gourmand I was becoming even then, and the writer of cookbooks I would later become against all probabilities, my history degree and complete lack of expertise in any culinary art but cheesecake in hand. All of this long predated my claiming of a life of faith and seeking first baptism and then ordination. Yet even then, I instinctively knew that “my power and the might of my own hand” had not gotten me this profusion. Even then, I had an inkling that this wild abandon of God’s creativity was a testament of grace, “the surpassing grace of God”– that yet-unnamed God I did not yet know – a reminder of God’s goodness and love. A reminder that I am always in God’s holy temple, wherever I am. Even then, too, I knew that all this abundance was also a claim upon ME, to return the gift by allying it to my own creativity and my own capacity to extend my generosity in love to others.
 
So this essay of Boris Fishman’s in last weekend’s New York Times spoke directly to my food-lover’s heart, my God-lover’s heart – my cook’s heart! I offer it to you, with only slight abridgement. It’s called, "God Is in the Salad Dressing":
Not long ago, I visited friends in rural Virginia. I cherish them because we have little in common other than our like-mindedness. Susan, a historian, is 11 years older than I am and has four children to my zero. I grew up among atheist Soviet Jews; she among evangelical Christians. Susan was home-schooled and married Pete, a pastor. I’ve remained unmarried for so long even my mother has surrendered.
The family lives in Christ — if my visit overlaps with a Sunday, I join the congregation Pete ministers to in the church on the family property, an old-school Virginia holding of corn, cotton and soybeans, with lots reserved for the family farm, a small publishing house and a bed-and-breakfast.
I love Pete and Susan because they’re spiritual and religious in the way few people seem to be, in my religion and theirs. For them, faith is an experience of learning, welcome and community, with inquiry and debate in lieu of dogma, exclusion and enforcement. They make no big deal of the visiting Jew in the pews.
For me, sitting through a sermon on the Book of Revelation still feels strange, but talking afterward — about whether Christianity approves of tough love (yes, in the Prophetic tradition) and why Susan bakes five loaves of buttermilk bread on the Sundays communion is offered (Christ broke bread, not wafers) — feels like home. Their congregation is as small as you’d expect it to be.
My most recent visit, however, tested the connection between us. Entering the house one afternoon, I could tell something was wrong. Pete was cleaning in a way that didn’t seem to be about cleaning. Susan, who generally gets up at 5 a.m. and by late morning has done what most of us have done in a day, looked through me and said, "I need to sit down and watch a rerun of something." She did, eventually, explain that the night before, they’d received unwelcome news about one of their children. I waited for her to continue, but that’s all she said.
I’m from a family whose boundaries were so faint that my mother used to scroll through the photos on my phone "just to see what you’ve been up to." And so my first impulse was to blurt out, "What happened?" I caught myself just in time. Susan and Pete had always been very open with me. There was a reason they didn’t want to do the same now, and just then, not asking — making peace with not knowing — seemed like the more loving act than scratching for a way in.
But I didn’t want to utter a platitude and tiptoe out. That felt wrong, too. So I said the only other thing I could think of: "Can I make lunch?"
Susan, who does all the family cooking, sighed. "I’ve been meaning to make a big salad for weeks," she said. Settled, then.
…For the next 15 minutes, a house that is never at rest — four animals around us, 50 horses, sheep, goats and ducks outside — fell silent. Pete, lost in thought, made snacks for his wife to eat later while she watched TV; Susan, lost in thought, made lunch for her daughter; and I, lost in my task, made salad for Susan: salad mix, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet peppers, brussels sprouts, radishes, carrots and feta.
The only sound was my peeling, chopping and scraping and a kitchen at work: the oven exhaling; a pan emerging to rest on the grills of the burners; the scrape of a spatula. The three of us entered the most beautiful silence — composed, rhythmic and filled with a kind of grace, perhaps because Susan was grateful to have food made for her, and I grateful to be something other than a nuisance. Where just minutes before I’d felt only awkwardness, now I felt something approaching elation. If I were a believer, I would have said God was there. When the salad was ready, Susan embraced me. And what was an opportunity for an unforeseen boundary turned into a moment of greater intimacy than before. Susan and Pete might have called it fellowship.
The power of food — of cooking, of cooking together — is its ability to briefly blot out almost any pain. It is as elemental as pain itself — from nothing you make something that will sustain you, and people you love, into tomorrow. It will last only till then, but tomorrow, you can do it again. One of the things I love about the family’s church is that it encourages you to experience God on your own terms; food, then, is my faith. The experience of making it, serving it and eating it can be sacred. There aren’t many things in this world immune from ill will — for me, a "well-covered" table, as we say it in Russian, is one of them.
This Thanksgiving, as my family celebrates the 29th anniversary of our arrival in this country — a deep Reagan-Bush time that now seems like a liberal’s fantasy of conservatism — my father will trot out the dishes that make the conflicts in my family go still for several hours as our eyes roll ecstatically back in our heads. America has not always felt like home, but it ails so badly now that I don’t feel the luxury of the casual alienation that is the gift of sweeter times.
And so I pray, in my secular way, that across a million kitchens where our divided people gather this Thanksgiving, instead of saying what won’t help anyone by being said, someone in charge of a kitchen-sink salad asks someone from the other side to help her figure out the dressing. I used olive oil, honey-mustard dressing, lime juice, crushed red pepper flakes and oregano — the best of what there was at hand.
In this prayer for the sacrament of salad dressing, I join Mr. Fishman, with all my heart. And add my prayer that we will no longer forget the very God “who made water flow …from flint rock, and fed us in the wilderness with manna that our ancestors did not know, to humble us and to test us, and in the end to do us good.” That we will submit to the humbling and learn from the testing and rediscover in ourselves our gratitude and our generosity. My prayer for us this Thanksgiving – indeed, my prayer for us all in the United States of America – is that, whatever the strains and divisions of relationship we may be experiencing, whatever outrage at the inhumanity, whatever anxiety about the future, whatever “house of slavery” we are fleeing, whatever “terrible arid wasteland of poisonous snakes & scorpions” in which we may find ourselves, the abundance of the Thanksgiving feast – both its making and its consuming – will confirm God’s loving covenant with each of us and with all life. AMEN.
Wednesday
Nov222017

Sermon for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost 11-12-17, Jules Bertaut


Click here to listen to the sermon. 

I pretty much hate the book of Joshua.  It’s basically an entire book about genocide: the Israelites come into the Holy Land and they kill all the inhabitants.  Men, women, and children.  At God’s command. 

But it probably didn’t really happen that way.  For one thing, the archeological record doesn’t really support it at all.  There’s no evidence of a group of conquerors coming in and killing everyone.  And something like that would leave a mark. 

Also, once you finish the book of Joshua and you go on to the very next book, the book of Judges, there are all those inhabitants, still alive, and the Israelites are trying to figure out how to live alongside them.  In fact, people are still carrying out Canaanite religious practices generations later, in Second Kings.

So the whole book of Joshua is pretty much a mythological history.  It was also probably written hundreds and hundreds of years after the events it describes, after the Babylonian Exile, when the Jews were conquered, taken to Babylon, and only allowed to return after their conquerors were themselves conquered.  It’s like a whole book telling the story that, yeah we seem to be this weak little nation at the mercy of the larger powers around us, but we’re SECRETLY BAD-ASS.  Hundreds of years ago, we got our start by coming in and KILLING EVERYONE. 

I’ve been thinking about this story—a story about a genocide that probably didn’t happen—in contrast to our own national myths.  Our country was founded on the genocide of the Native Americans, but that’s something that’s hardly talked about.  At least, it wasn’t ever talked about in my public school education.  I grew up in Maryland, and we never talked about the native cultures there, let alone what happened to them. 

We hardly learned anything about Native Americans at all.  We got the story of Pocahontas down in Virginia, the first Thanksgiving here in Massachusetts, and the Navajo out west, and that was… about it.  And the stories we got were really sanitized versions. 

Like the Thanksgiving story.  The Pilgrims were fleeing religious oppression (never mind that a major component of that oppression was that they couldn’t tell other people how to live any more).  And then they came here and had a hard time of it until Squanto came and showed them how to grow corn, and then they had a good harvest and invited all the local Indians and had a big party and everyone lived happily ever after. 

No mention was made of the Pequot War or King Phillip’s War in the following decades, or of any of the subsequent wars between colonists and Native Americans.  All the various horrors of conquest—the Trail of Tears, the broken treaties, the intentional giving of smallpox-infected blankets, the Indian Boarding Schools—all that rated barely a passing mention in my history education.  But stories like the First Thanksgiving, stories about us getting along just fine with the Native Americans, those got told over and over again.  It’s like the opposite of the Joshua story: yeah, we seem like a super-powerful country that killed lots of people, but we’re SECRETLY NICE.

This all leads me to wonder what sort of stories we tell about ourselves that are maybe not true.  Like, American society is infused with racism, and I like to think I was always as aware of that fact as I am now.  That’s not true, though, but I don’t like to think about, and I certainly don’t like to talk about, racist things I’ve said, done, or thought.  It’s easier to think I’ve never done those things, because it seems like the alternative is to cringe in shame at my former self.  Like, really Jules, you thought there were no good books by black authors?  When you were in high school?  You were definitely old enough to know better.

As embarrassing as that story is, and other stories like it are, though, telling true stories like that can be helpful.  For one thing, knowing I learned to be less racist than I was gives me hope that other people can learn similarly.  And remembering how I learned better gives me ideas of how to educate others.  Also, and maybe more importantly, knowing I was definitely imperfect fifteen years ago suggests that I probably still am now.  And so I wonder, what am I doing now that will make me cringe in shame when I think back on it in another fifteen years?  And wondering about that gives me an impetus to reflect and change now.

So I invite us all to consider, what stories are we telling ourselves that are maybe not true?  Are there places we’re engaging in racist or sexist or otherwise oppressive behaviors?  Are there harassment claims we’re denying because the accused is an author, or a movie director, or a politician we like, or a friend of ours?  Are we telling ourselves we’ve done enough for the environment, when that’s not true?  As Joshua urges us, let us all chose who we will serve.  Will we serve these false narratives, these fudgings of the truth?  Or will we serve our Lord, the God of truth?

Tuesday
Nov212017

Sermon for Pledge Ingathering Sunday 11-19-17, The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini

Proper 28 Year A 1st option 11-19-17 Pledge Ingathering Sunday
©Holly Lyman Antolini
Lections: Judges 4:1-7; Ps. 123; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30
 
Grant us so to hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest your Word, O God, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life. AMEN.
 
Because my birthday is November 18th, I’ve always had the childlike view that the Collect for this, the second-to-last Sunday in the church year, which we just prayed again to open the sermon, is “my” birthday collect. Maybe that’s also because, as a writer of cookbooks in my former life-before-ordination, “inwardly digesting” God’s Word has always made vivid sense to me, a kind of ever-renewing Eucharist, partaking of God’s Word broken open in the preaching and in the bread & wine, an ever-renewing and ever-deepening “participation in Christ,” as 16th century theologian Richard Hooker wrote of the Eucharist in his foundation-stone of a book, “The Lawes of Eccelesiastical Polity.”
 
That said, if we are, in the preaching every Sunday, “hearing, reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting” God’s Word, then I have to say, this Story of the Talents that we have today is, on its face, a hard pill to swallow: pretty indigestible! It’s hard to listen to a story in which our loving God is evoked as a master of slaves whom he treats unequally. It’s hard to hear this God figure punish the most vulnerable of these slaves with a harshness that lives up to the man’s own expressed fear: “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.”
 
This story can be indigestible even if you weren’t able to join the GBIO Criminal Justice Team and the Anti-Oppression Team last Sunday evening to watch the documentary “13th,” on the 13th amendment of the Constitution that abolished slavery “except,” as it notes, “as punishment for a crime.” Those of us who did watch have been unable to let go of its resonance. The documentary makes a powerful indictment of the decades of racist policies undergirding the phenomenon of mass incarceration in this country, in which our prison population swelled between the 1960’s – at somewhere north of 350,000 total – and 2013 – to nearly 10 times that, or north of 2 million souls, with another almost 5 million on probation or parole – largely on the strength of the ostensible “war on drugs.” This massive growth in incarceration has been dolefully weighted toward the incarceration of men of color. The film makes the case that mass incarceration’s late-20th and early 21st-century manifestation is entirely in keeping with policies that extend all the way back to slavery itself, and particularly the post-Reconstruction period after the Civil War, when state and local governments took advantage of that clause about “punishment for a crime” in the 13th amendment to incarcerate African-Americans on minor charges, effectively re-enslaving large populations of African-Americans and putting them to work in prison chain gangs hired out cheaply to all kinds of white-owned industry beginning in the South, cementing the wide discrepancy in economic well-being between whites and blacks. That pernicious policy was succeeded by the Jim Crow segregation laws that enabled the continuing persecution of people of color, put in place in the same era that the laudatory statues of Confederate generals began to go up all around the country, re-writing the history of the Civil War from a conflict over “the peculiar institution” of slavery to a conflict over states’ rights. The Civil Rights era put a stop to Jim Crow, but overlapped with the advent of this newest chapter of the same old dynamics of oppression: the equally targeted “Southern Strategy” of the “war on drugs” era of mass incarceration.
 
After watching “13th,” it’s terribly difficult not to equate the huge donations of money in Jesus’ parable – each “talent” was worth 15 years’ wages – with the economic privilege of white America, when we know that the total net wealth now owned by white people, as assessed by Bloomberg News as recently as February 2017, is $13 for every $1 owned by African-Americans and $10 for every $1 owned by Latinos in this country, after these generations of inequitable policies and all these years of harassment and incarceration portrayed in the film.
 
And suddenly – when one’s spirit is still twanging painfully from the injustice meted out to so many of the people featured – both presenters and those profiled – in the film – that “hole dug in the ground” out of fear of the master’s harshness looks less like unfaithfulness and more like reasonable caution on the part of the man given only one talent, if that man is the descendent of slaves or immigrants.
 
Deep breath. Fortunately, Jesus never meant us to translate his parable so literally, any more than he meant any of his poetic metaphors to be interpreted literally. FAR FROM IT. Were Jesus among us at our showing of “13th,” Jesus would have been weeping as many of us were literally weeping by the end of the movie. Jesus’ guts would have been wrenched – splangchnizomai, as the Gospels often describe him - as ours were wrenched and still are, torqued into a knot as the movie reinforced our knowledge of this persistent injustice so deeply endemic to our society, so embedded in our economics. (If this knowledge is wrenching your guts as well, come join us on Sunday December 10th from 5 to 7 pm, when Dr. Michelle Holmes and Derrick Jackson partner to lead us in a workshop on systemic racism called “Modern Oppression/Internalized Oppression,” at our monthly Anti-Oppression Team dinner.)
 
No, even this stern Jesus, nearing his arrest and trial and crucifixion in Chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel, would never want us to misconstrue our loving, empowering God in this way. God is no meter-out of injustice, no enforcer of inequity! Jesus’ extremity here is typical of all these Matthean “parables of judgment” we’ve been reading as we move toward the church year’s end. As in last week’s Gospel about the 12 maidens and their oil lamps, he’s pushing our boundaries in the effort, as the parable itself insists, to WAKE US UP. He’s trying to shake us into investing the whole of ourselves – whatever capacities we may have been born with – in everything we undertake. He’s trying to startle us out of our cynical fearfulness, in which we hold back for fear of losing out, and instead to pour ourselves out in a spirit of hopefulness, and thereby discover our investment multiplying itself. So was Jesus himself pouring himself out in the weeks leading up to his arrest, teaching forthrightly and challengingly, into the teeth of the disapproval mounting and turning ever-more dangerous among the authorities around him,
 
So even though it’s Pledge Ingathering Sunday, and even though I could easily tell you – as many a preacher has before me – that the message of this Gospel is actually to invest the full 10 of your great talents in this congregation in your pledge on the orange form in a few minutes, the TRUTH as I hear, read, mark, and learn it, that this parable ISN’T REALLY ABOUT MONEY AT ALL. It’s purely and simply about FAITH – faith in God; faith in yourself and your own value. Some of us have a lot of it. Some of us have a moderate amount. I personally am blessed on a good day to have MAYBE one talent’s worth of faith. There are not-so-good days when my faith looks a lot less than that! There are days when I, like the Psalmist, “have had more than enough of contempt, too much of the scorn of the indolent rich and of the derision of the proud.” There are days when I’m strongly tempted to just dig a hole in the ground and bury my faith altogether. There are days – either because things aren’t going well for me personally or because, writ large in the world as they were writ in the documentary “13th,” things aren’t going well GENERALLY – when I’m tempted to give up on God’s justice, God’s fairness, God’s creative for-us-ness, God’s steadfast love.
 
It’s precisely at times like these, when my faith looks more like a plugged nickel than a talent let alone TEN talents of confidence, hope, and love, that I NEED THE CHURCH. I need a community that can uphold my faith when I want to give up on it. I need a place to WAKE ME UP out of my momentary darkness to the light always extended to us in the Crucified and Risen Christ, who overcame death and the grave to bring the fullness of God’s shalom, God’s justice, peace & love to the world. There are days when I badly need what Paul urges on the Thessalonians: the offering of encouragement and the building up that can come from others with faith larger than mine and stronger than my little plugged-nickel’s worth.  Because, as Paul tells the Thessalonians, we are here to remind and reinforce each other in living as children of day, no matter the darkness around us.
 
Hence my extreme gratitude to be part of a congregation that is as honest and warmly accepting as this one at St. James’s, flowing with the Currencies of Relationship, of Truth and of Wellness (which flow together to motivate our amazing tumbling plethora of social justice efforts, as well as our remarkably broad and committed Church School staff). The kind of congregation that watches “13th” on Sunday and then turns around as part of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization and helps push a truly substantive criminal justice reform bill through the State Senate AND House of Representatives by the end of the week, as fruition of a very long and organized and determined “investment of talents” on the part of many congregations, Muslim, Jewish and Christian, consulting and adapting and working together to increase God’s light in the world, in faith.
 
So it really doesn’t matter how many talents – or mere denarii, or even widow’s mites – of faith you’ve been given, let alone how many ACTUAL disposable assets you have! I just hope you’ll decide to compound them – both faith & assets – as you compound the mighty flow of Holy Currencies at St. James’s by your presence, your prayers, and your willingness to step forward in ministry, so that we can BE children of the day to each other and to our surrounding community & world. Come, fill out a pledge form and be a PART of God’s PROMISED SALVATION, right now! AMEN.

Proper 28 Year A 1st option 11-19-17 Pledge Ingathering Sunday©Holly Lyman AntoliniLections: Judges 4:1-7; Ps. 123; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30 Grant us so to hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest your Word, O God, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life. AMEN. Because my birthday is November 18th, I’ve always had the childlike view that the Collect for this, the second-to-last Sunday in the church year, which we just prayed again to open the sermon, is “my” birthday collect. Maybe that’s also because, as a writer of cookbooks in my former life-before-ordination, “inwardly digesting” God’s Word has always made vivid sense to me, a kind of ever-renewing Eucharist, partaking of God’s Word broken open in the preaching and in the bread & wine, an ever-renewing and ever-deepening “participation in Christ,” as 16th century theologian Richard Hooker wrote of the Eucharist in his foundation-stone of a book, “The Lawes of Eccelesiastical Polity.” That said, if we are, in the preaching every Sunday, “hearing, reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting” God’s Word, then I have to say, this Story of the Talents that we have today is, on its face, a hard pill to swallow: pretty indigestible! It’s hard to listen to a story in which our loving God is evoked as a master of slaves whom he treats unequally. It’s hard to hear this God figure punish the most vulnerable of these slaves with a harshness that lives up to the man’s own expressed fear: “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.” This story can be indigestible even if you weren’t able to join the GBIO Criminal Justice Team and the Anti-Oppression Team last Sunday evening to watch the documentary “13th,” on the 13th amendment of the Constitution that abolished slavery “except,” as it notes, “as punishment for a crime.” Those of us who did watch have been unable to let go of its resonance. The documentary makes a powerful indictment of the decades of racist policies undergirding the phenomenon of mass incarceration in this country, in which our prison population swelled between the 1960’s – at somewhere north of 350,000 total – and 2013 – to nearly 10 times that, or north of 2 million souls, with another almost 5 million on probation or parole – largely on the strength of the ostensible “war on drugs.” This massive growth in incarceration has been dolefully weighted toward the incarceration of men of color. The film makes the case that mass incarceration’s late-20th and early 21st-century manifestation is entirely in keeping with policies that extend all the way back to slavery itself, and particularly the post-Reconstruction period after the Civil War, when state and local governments took advantage of that clause about “punishment for a crime” in the 13th amendment to incarcerate African-Americans on minor charges, effectively re-enslaving large populations of African-Americans and putting them to work in prison chain gangs hired out cheaply to all kinds of white-owned industry beginning in the South, cementing the wide discrepancy in economic well-being between whites and blacks. That pernicious policy was succeeded by the Jim Crow segregation laws that enabled the continuing persecution of people of color, put in place in the same era that the laudatory statues of Confederate generals began to go up all around the country, re-writing the history of the Civil War from a conflict over “the peculiar institution” of slavery to a conflict over states’ rights. The Civil Rights era put a stop to Jim Crow, but overlapped with the advent of this newest chapter of the same old dynamics of oppression: the equally targeted “Southern Strategy” of the “war on drugs” era of mass incarceration. After watching “13th,” it’s terribly difficult not to equate the huge donations of money in Jesus’ parable – each “talent” was worth 15 years’ wages – with the economic privilege of white America, when we know that the total net wealth now owned by white people, as assessed by Bloomberg News as recently as February 2017, is $13 for every $1 owned by African-Americans and $10 for every $1 owned by Latinos in this country, after these generations of inequitable policies and all these years of harassment and incarceration portrayed in the film. And suddenly – when one’s spirit is still twanging painfully from the injustice meted out to so many of the people featured – both presenters and those profiled – in the film – that “hole dug in the ground” out of fear of the master’s harshness looks less like unfaithfulness and more like reasonable caution on the part of the man given only one talent, if that man is the descendent of slaves or immigrants. Deep breath. Fortunately, Jesus never meant us to translate his parable so literally, any more than he meant any of his poetic metaphors to be interpreted literally. FAR FROM IT. Were Jesus among us at our showing of “13th,” Jesus would have been weeping as many of us were literally weeping by the end of the movie. Jesus’ guts would have been wrenched – splangchnizomai, as the Gospels often describe him - as ours were wrenched and still are, torqued into a knot as the movie reinforced our knowledge of this persistent injustice so deeply endemic to our society, so embedded in our economics. (If this knowledge is wrenching your guts as well, come join us on Sunday December 10th from 5 to 7 pm, when Dr. Michelle Holmes and Derrick Jackson partner to lead us in a workshop on systemic racism called “Modern Oppression/Internalized Oppression,” at our monthly Anti-Oppression Team dinner.) No, even this stern Jesus, nearing his arrest and trial and crucifixion in Chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel, would never want us to misconstrue our loving, empowering God in this way. God is no meter-out of injustice, no enforcer of inequity! Jesus’ extremity here is typical of all these Matthean “parables of judgment” we’ve been reading as we move toward the church year’s end. As in last week’s Gospel about the 12 maidens and their oil lamps, he’s pushing our boundaries in the effort, as the parable itself insists, to WAKE US UP. He’s trying to shake us into investing the whole of ourselves – whatever capacities we may have been born with – in everything we undertake. He’s trying to startle us out of our cynical fearfulness, in which we hold back for fear of losing out, and instead to pour ourselves out in a spirit of hopefulness, and thereby discover our investment multiplying itself. So was Jesus himself pouring himself out in the weeks leading up to his arrest, teaching forthrightly and challengingly, into the teeth of the disapproval mounting and turning ever-more dangerous among the authorities around him, So even though it’s Pledge Ingathering Sunday, and even though I could easily tell you – as many a preacher has before me – that the message of this Gospel is actually to invest the full 10 of your great talents in this congregation in your pledge on the orange form in a few minutes, the TRUTH as I hear, read, mark, and learn it, that this parable ISN’T REALLY ABOUT MONEY AT ALL. It’s purely and simply about FAITH – faith in God; faith in yourself and your own value. Some of us have a lot of it. Some of us have a moderate amount. I personally am blessed on a good day to have MAYBE one talent’s worth of faith. There are not-so-good days when my faith looks a lot less than that! There are days when I, like the Psalmist, “have had more than enough of contempt, too much of the scorn of the indolent rich and of the derision of the proud.” There are days when I’m strongly tempted to just dig a hole in the ground and bury my faith altogether. There are days – either because things aren’t going well for me personally or because, writ large in the world as they were writ in the documentary “13th,” things aren’t going well GENERALLY – when I’m tempted to give up on God’s justice, God’s fairness, God’s creative for-us-ness, God’s steadfast love. It’s precisely at times like these, when my faith looks more like a plugged nickel than a talent let alone TEN talents of confidence, hope, and love, that I NEED THE CHURCH. I need a community that can uphold my faith when I want to give up on it. I need a place to WAKE ME UP out of my momentary darkness to the light always extended to us in the Crucified and Risen Christ, who overcame death and the grave to bring the fullness of God’s shalom, God’s justice, peace & love to the world. There are days when I badly need what Paul urges on the Thessalonians: the offering of encouragement and the building up that can come from others with faith larger than mine and stronger than my little plugged-nickel’s worth.  Because, as Paul tells the Thessalonians, we are here to remind and reinforce each other in living as children of day, no matter the darkness around us. Hence my extreme gratitude to be part of a congregation that is as honest and warmly accepting as this one at St. James’s, flowing with the Currencies of Relationship, of Truth and of Wellness (which flow together to motivate our amazing tumbling plethora of social justice efforts, as well as our remarkably broad and committed Church School staff). The kind of congregation that watches “13th” on Sunday and then turns around as part of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization and helps push a truly substantive criminal justice reform bill through the State Senate AND House of Representatives by the end of the week, as fruition of a very long and organized and determined “investment of talents” on the part of many congregations, Muslim, Jewish and Christian, consulting and adapting and working together to increase God’s light in the world, in faith. So it really doesn’t matter how many talents – or mere denarii, or even widow’s mites – of faith you’ve been given, let alone how many ACTUAL disposable assets you have! I just hope you’ll decide to compound them – both faith & assets – as you compound the mighty flow of Holy Currencies at St. James’s by your presence, your prayers, and your willingness to step forward in ministry, so that we can BE children of the day to each other and to our surrounding community & world. Come, fill out a pledge form and be a PART of God’s PROMISED SALVATION, right now! AMEN.

Thursday
Nov092017

Sermon for All Saints Day the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, 11-5-17, The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini

All Saints Sunday 11-5-17

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Revelation 7:9-17; Ps. 34:1-10, 22; 1 John 3:1-3; Matt. 5:1-12

 

"Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen." [Revelation 7:12]

 

Did you know that once upon a time, Christendom celebrated the Feast of All Saints as a three-day festival, beginning with the Vigil of All Saints, called “All Hallows Eve,” which became our secular “Hallowe’en.” Then came All Saints Day itself and, following that, the Day of All Souls. It wasn’t just a Major Baptismal Feast of the Church; it was a positive FESTIVAL of the DEAD.

 

It’s curious to reflect on this tradition in light of the distinctively Central American All Saints observance, El Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, a feast that probably was Mayan in origin and predated the arrival of Christianity but which is still very much honored today. On this feast, the dead are up front and center. Families gather at the cemetery and offer food, drinks and even toys on “ofrendas,” little altars, made to entice the souls of their loved ones on holiday. The place will also be decorated with marigold flowers, as these are believed to help lead spirits back from the cemetery to their family homes, and with skulls & skeletons, often of papier-maché. The living and the dead are believed to share the meals together. We’re doing a kind of adaptation of El Dia de los Muertos today at our coffee hour!

Perhaps some might think all this is a bit morbid and troubling. When my children were small, we often went to visit my brother Tim and his spouse Alden in their immense Bauhaus home in the woods of Connecticut. Alden was active with a non-profit called “Aid for Artisans,” which supported artists in the developing world, particularly in Haiti & Mexico, to create art and receive the actual profits from its sale in the developed world, rather than having to fence the art through expensive middle-people. So Tim & Alden’s house was populated with grinning and marvelously grotesque masks and toys and many, many skulls and skeletons, in every room. My two small daughters used to shiver in anticipation of having to sleep in those rooms, observed by those many skeletons in the shadowy dark.

 

But skeletons and skulls have become a powerful and ubiquitous symbol in Mexican culture, making death a vibrant part of everyday life and putting everyone’s self-importance into perspective. El Dia de los Muertos integrates life and death in a way unfamiliar to many of us in the Northern Hemisphere. Octavio Paz, one of Mexico's most famous writers, wrote: "The Mexican … is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates with it. He thinks of it as his favorite plaything and his most lasting love… At least death is not hidden away: Mexicans look at it face to face…[http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/11/day-dead-unique-understanding-death-171102074921857.html]

 

How does this uncomfortable confrontation with death connect with the other thing about the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls, the nature of sainthood? The three-day feast reflected a very Roman Catholic sensibility about “sainthood.” By giving The Capitalized Saints a day entirely devoted to their more heroic and noteworthy sanctity, and by pushing the generality of our beloved dead into the “souls” category with a separate and humbler feast, it’s only short step to the Roman Catholic idea of those Capital Saints as being somehow intermediaries between us and God, a step higher on the holiness scale than the rest of us who are just scrambling to follow Jesus as best we can.

Yet, says Scripture, we are ALL “baptized into Christ,” not just the obviously saintly among us. ALL we who have been baptized have “put on Christ,” says the Letter to the Galatians. [Gal. 3:27ALL our lives are “hidden with Christ in God.” ALL OF US are equally capable of being illuminated by the light of Christ so that others can see their way in discipleship a little more clearly. Consequently, many Protestant churches like ours moved away from the three-day feast and away from the distinctions between faithful “souls” and Capitalized Saints. Instead, we refer to everyone in the church as “little-s saints,” all vehicles of the Holy Spirit, every one of us with the light of Christ at our core, just needing the breath of the Spirit to blow it into flame.

Most of those very Capitalized Saints were themselves highly dubious about celebrity and its potentially corrupting effect on their capacity to be faithful to the radicality of Jesus. Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Houses in the depths of the Depression, faithful Catholic though she was, practically made everyone within reach of her SWEAR they wouldn’t participate in any effort to canonize her!

 

Like her, many of those we have subsequently honored as Capitalized Saints would much rather have disappeared into the ranks of the “ordinary” baptized, the “little-s saints” that occupy the pews – and the pulpit! – right here in this church. Their theology looked a lot more like the theology of our opening hymn in St. James’s Sings: “ALL saints? How can it be? Can it be ME?” They believed themselves to be of ordinary, stumbling human stuff, just doing their best (and often failing at it), blessed simply that divine grace got ahold of them.

This self-deprecation is not false humility. It’s the very substance of the baptismal life. It’s rooted in the knowledge that we DIE to ourselves in order to LIVE to God. And here we are back at DEATH again. It’s right there in the baptismal language of Scripture. “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God,” says the whole of that passage from the Letter to the Colossians. [Chapter 3, verse 3] And the Letter to the Romans Chapter 6 [verses 3 & 4] says: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

Buried with Christ by baptism into death… so that our rising, our newness of life, our capacity to show forth the glory and the love of God, is not “about us;” it’s about God’s presence; it’s about God’s faithfulness; it’s about God’s most original imagination, capable of bringing hope where there’s no hope, a way forward where all ways seem blocked, and love where love seemed utterly impossible.

 

So in the end, the Mexicans are onto something in their Dia de los Muertos: at All Saints Day, hanging over all the questions of sanctity and heroism and ordinariness and humility is the question of DEATH. Dying and death – things we North American 21st century Christians shy away from! We would love The Communion of Saints to be unambiguously heroic, a kind of Marvel Comics of holiness. And we would love it to completely bypass the dreaded DEATH ITSELF. Just reassure us that our loved ones are all around us, as near to us as breathing. If we have The Communion of Saints, we needn’t deal with DEATH qua DEATH at all, yes?

 

NOT. As deeply as we cherish the notion that all who have passed away remain present in the power of the resurrection, we still have to stare death in the face. Resurrection lies on the OTHER side. If you have lost a loved one in the last year – my loved one lost this year is my beloved cat Pauli whose paw print is back there on the Dia de los Muertos table: the black shadow turning every corner in my house, the litheness missing from every window where birds could be observed, the softness no longer under my palm or weighing on my lap or pushing his head into the back of my neck from the couch shoulder as I watch TV – if you have suffered such a loss, you know that no Communion of Saints can simply lift the grief from off you like evanescent smoke and blow it away into God’s Empyrean.

 

El Dia de los Muertos has it right. We cannot back OUT of death. We must instead, so our baptism demands, move INTO death, even embrace it. I have to go to the cemetery - with marigolds if I must and with offerings of food - but go I must. I must own fully my powerlessness, my weakness, my mortality. I must let go of my own agency, or see it for the compromised thing it is. I must be “buried with Christ by baptism into death,” as Romans says, and only then, receive the grace to share in Christ’s “newness of life.” The loss of my cat; the loss of our loved ones; the loss of our own capacity or health or relationship or sense of future; extreme as they are, all of these are opportunities to move deeper into our baptisms, deeper into community with others who experience loss or powerlessness, deeper into the heart of Jesus’s solidarity with all humanity. Anyone who has attended a bereavement group will tell you that terrifying as it is to let your grief be real, evident, shared with others who grieve, it is an absolutely irreducible necessity to healing and growing beyond one’s loss. Weirdly – baptismally – that sharing of grief, instead of compounding one’s grief, lessens it and heals it.

 

There is nothing heroic about this acknowledgement of suffering. It’s the antithesis of heroic. It’s merely utterly human, and utterly available to God’s gentle, steadfast proffering of the miracle of grace. To acknowledge one’s frailty is to become able to accept that divine grace, and in so doing, to know oneself to belong to God as ALL belong to God, so that we belong to the great family of God’s beloved in all times and places. That’s where sainthood – the little “s” kind – lies. What is imponderable but verifiable about THAT kind of humility, THAT kind of dying, is that it releases in us a courage, a stamina, an endurance, a character and a hope beyond all imagining. It sets that flame of Christ in our center shining.

 

In a moment, we will step out of our pews with our small candles and come forward to light each one from the great Paschal Candle that symbolizes both Christ’s own suffering and death, and his Resurrection, each little light evoking our grief & love for someone who has died. Light will join light will join light until we create a great blaze of loving solidarity across all the ages, right here in the Crossing. The invitation of this Feast of All Saints – this Day of the Dead - is to claim the truth of your baptism – that no amount of grief and loss, no devastation whatsoever, as Paul tells the Romans, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Romans 8:38b-39] AMEN.

Thursday
Nov092017

Sermon for the Eighteen Sunday after Pentecost, The Rev. James M. Weiss October 8, 2017

“You must be holy as [the Lord your God] is holy.” (Leviticus 11:44, 19:2, 20:26, and I Peter 1:16)

A Sermon for the Eighteen Sunday after Pentecost On The First Reading:

Exodus 20: 1-4, 7-9, 12-20 St. James’s Parish, Cambridge The Rev. James M. Weiss October 8, 2017

 

Our college semester is in full swing and finds me in instructional mode so our first reading, with the familiar Ten Commandments, makes me want to share with you some insights about them. Familiar? Did I say familiar? Sure, we learn them as kids, we remember a list of “thou shalt nots” – though many church-raised college students (even at an expensive Catholic college which I will not name) can’t even remember that much. For us, too, their deeper logic may be unfamiliar. Of course, many people bridle against the whole idea commandments, because they say Christian life is about love, not laws. Yet even St. Paul, who in our second reading loved to flaunt his freedom from the law, turned around and made several laws of his own. I’m sure you could name a few. But are the laws really God’s gambit to keep us in restraints? A dear Jewish friend set me straight on this when she gasped, “Laws? No! What you call the laws are the light God gives us to walk by. They give light to our eyes -- a signpost that points us to God. How else can we be holy as God is holy?” She was quoting not only Psalm 19 [verse 8] which our choir just sang but, the core text in Jewish and Christian spirituality, God’s repeated demand, “You must be holy as I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:44, 19:2, 20:26, and I Peter 1:16) Big lesson here: God’s law enables us to be what we are created to be: the very image and likeness of God’s own self. Juse remember: the point is not that we must do good to earn heaven. God is not a stingy paymaster. The point is that when we do good, we are living from God’s energy already in us. God’s grace enables us to do good works. So what is this signpost on the path? Or rather, two signposts. The story is that Moses came down the mountain with these commandments engraved on two stone tablets. Here they are! [I held up two poster-boards in slate gray with the Ten Commandments on them.] This is the only audio-visual aid I get to use in teaching college philosophy. But why two? Some of you know Glenn. He joked that Moses was elderly so God had to write bigger letters. One of my students supposed it was to help Moses keep his balance walking downhill. 2 Whatever the case, they are always depicted as “Two Tablets” or “Two Tables” – on the first, commandments one through four; on the second, numbers five through ten. (The Bible itself doesn’t number them at all, by the way, and different groups number them differently: the Jews have five and five; Catholics have three and seven; mainline Protestants have four and six. But the text is always the same.) You’ll see the two tables if you open your Book of Comon Prayer to pages 317 and 318. And you’ll see where Jesus was coming from when he summarized the Law by saying “Love God, Love your Neighbor” Table One tells us what’s involved in the love for God, Table Two is love for neighbor. The point is that the love for God drives us toward love for neighbor – and the love for neighbor in some way drives us toward love for God. You can’t have one without the other. Jesus even warned that whoever says they love God and does not love their neighbor is . . . . can you finish the sentence? [Some in the congregation called out correctly:] “A liar.” And remember “neighbor” includes our enemies – and in this place I should add, all your fellow drivers in Boston traffic. But do we really take the First Table seriously? We think it amounts to not cursing with God’s name and showing up on Sunday. That’s only the beginning. Jews take the First Table much more seriously and so did our Prebyterian Puritan forebears. The first commandment asks us to look at all the things we worship in this life: not that we are inclined to run after other gods, but the gods of consumerism, security, personal prosperity, all forms of ego both personal and collective … all those things that creep in and keep God within safe boundaries. But our God is different. Our God wants all or nothing. So in the next three commandments God gives us very unusual warnings: Don’t make pictures of me. Don’t speak my secret name out loud. Spend one day a week enjoying me alone. To summarize: they keep a sacred space for God in our imagination, our language, and our weekly routine. Let that space belong to God alone. So commandment two, we must never think that our image of God – whether the concept of God in our theology or the picture in our art works – never think our image equals the vast depths of God’s reality. The mystic Meister Eckhart urged us to meet “the God beyond God”, the God beyond all we imagine. Likewise in commandment three, in Jewish custom, the secret name of God, the name God whispered to Moses, was never to be said out loud. Some Christians ignore this taboo, but in fact we do not know for sure what the name was because Hebrew words are written without vowels. It was disclosed only from one Jewish High Priest to the next. The High Priest would utter it in secret and alone behind the curtain of the Temple only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, in a prayer asking God’s mercy on the sins of the people for the last year. There is a deep lesson in this lost ritual: namely, that the core of God’s identity is about restoring any broken bonds, maintaining a relationship and a covenant, about connection. 3 But the out-loud pronunciation disappeared when the Temple in Jerusalem and its priesthood were destroyed in the year 70. Commandment four is about the Sabbath, but Sabbath is about more than church once a week. It asks us to carve out serious time to rest in God, to rejoice in God, to spend this “God-time” with one’s friends or family, to live for a day without any other agenda. I learned the beauty of this when I lived in Brookline for many years with its large Jewish population. I lived within walking distance of seven synagogues, and I loved the way life slowed down on Saturdays, with Jewish families not cooking or driving or shopping but walking to synagogue, turning off their devices, and …. just …. being. This single-minded attitude of the First Table spills over into all of life, which brings us to the Second Table: we are to honor the source of life (number five on our parents), the sacredness of all human life (no murder), the transmission of life and sacredness of marriage, the right to property and to justice in the courts (no stealing, no lying under oath). Do these cover all possibilities? Hardly. The Ten Commandments are merely a preamble, a preface, and the next 3 ½ books of the Bible offer applications of these ten to over 600 different cases. Murder is wrong, but what about killing to defend oneself or the innocent? Idolatry is wrong, but may we consult an astrologer or read our horoscopes? Adultery is wrong, but what about several other sexual practices? Stealing is wrong, but how am I to use my own property and what is obligation does my property impose upon me with regard to others? The list goes on, but one concern comes back over and over again in the Jewish law: since we must protect human life, God puts us under solemn obligation to care for the lives of those who cannot care for themselves, those on the margin, the poor, the sick, the defenseless? Jewish law was fierce on the merging of charity and social justice. HOw else did Jesus get that way? So the Commandments don’t answer all our questions; rather, they open up a discussion about cases. Only with the additional wisdom of the prophets and Jesus and Paul and the history of Christian ethics do we come to understand the finer distinctions and the exceptions to the rules. Our catechism of the Episcopal Church moves in this direction because – to my surprise -- it does not give the text of the commandments. Instead, if you look on pp. 847-848 of the Prayer Book you’ll find paraphrases that apply them to everyday life. For example, “Thou shalt not kill” forbids us to hold any prejudice and requires us to care for the environment. Thou shalt not steal requires that we seek the necessities of life for all people. So we learn how to apply these “ten preambles” only in community, by prayer and study, using what Pope Francis calls “an ethics of discernment”. And in the Episcopal Church we grant that prayerful people may reach different answers to the same question. And from there either the Holy Spirit will guide us or Christ will have mercy on our failings. I want to close with the last commandment – what I call the “coveting cluster”. “Thou shalt not covet thy neigbor’s wife or goods.” 4 Now isn’t this redundant? Didn’t God already forbid adultery and theft three commandments ago? Is he just filling up space with words? No! This commandment is a sort of key to all the others. You know how impossible parking is in the North End? (I was just there last evening with my friends from Chicago who are visiting us this morning.) In the North End, some families put up signs in front of their garages in large letters: Don’t even THINK of parking here. That’s what the “coveting cluster” is about. Not only should we avoid adultery, theft, and all the rest, but we should beg for clean hearts, for hearts that DESIRE ONLY what is noble and worthy. Jesus picks up this strategy in the Sermon on the Mount when he says do not limit yourself to what the Law forbids, but pursue the higher good that the Law is aiming at. The coveting cluster reminds us, just like the whole First Table of the Law, that the purpose of ethics is to shape our desires according to God’s desires, to want what God wants, and not even THINK of desiring anything else. So God begins the Commandments by cleansing our mind of false images and ends them by cleansing our hearts of unworthy desires. One last word: again, in walking the path of God’s commandments, we are not earning something from God, not even heaven. Our goodness comes from God in the first place. Our spirituality and good behavior are a way of living out of gratitude to the God who cared for us in the first place. We live by grace, not our own achievements. As we learn to desire what God desires, we live out that image of God embedded in each of us and all of us. We become, in a simple word, holy -- just as God’s own self is holy

Thursday
Nov092017

A Burial Homily for Carla Henebry

St. James’s Episcopal Church, Cambridge; October 7, 2017

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Isaiah 61:1-3; Ps. 46; 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:9; Luke 6:37-38

 

Let us pray. Almighty God, who created us in your image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it as Carla Ann Wiebenson Henebry Branscombe did, in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name... Amen. [from the Collect for Social Justice, Book of Common Prayer 1979]

 

So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” So says Paul to the Corinthians in our second reading today. Did you notice how many of the readings Chuck and Lili and I chose for Carla’s memorial contain this message of courage and persistence and even exuberance in the face of tribulation? In Isaiah, we receive from God “a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.” In the Psalm, “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved, and though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea; though its waters rage & foam, and though the mountains tremble at its tumult. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.” Thus we honor the spirit of Carla Henebry!

 

In the short but radiant time I’ve been blessed to know Carla, at what turned out to be the very end of her life (though I have to admit I’m still reeling from that fact, so utterly alive and vigorous and engaged was she the whole time I’ve known her, in her late 80’s though she was), what comes to mind for me when I hear these passages is the image of Carla surging forth from the pew, dauntless, up these chancel stairs and then more little hidden stairs behind the eagle lectern, and then opening her mouth and astonishing us by singing the refrain for the Prayers of the People in her clear soprano. What comes to mind is the efficiency with which she located the Cambridge Bethlehem People to People Project nearby and the Alliance for Water Justice for Palestine over in Jamaica Plain so soon after settling into her condo beneath her son Chuck’s condo over on Andrew St., “Lyfting” her way around the metropolis – computer mistress that she was, the app for Lyft was no hindrance to THIS 87-year-old. (The Lyft drivers, by the way, were taking too long to show up, so she was pondering the possibility of a Zipcar membership when she died!) What comes to mind when I think of “our inner nature being renewed” is the alacrity with which Carla joined our St. James’s Sanctuary Team, part of the Cambridge Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition, and began supporting Ana from Ecuador and her two small children in sanctuary awaiting refugee status at University Lutheran Church, or her readiness to join the St. James’s Partakers College Behind Bars Prison Ministry supporting Nichole at MCI Framingham prison.  All of this – ministry enough for three or four of her – she did propelled on her cane with a swinging gait that betrayed the pain of her arthritis while it simultaneously defied it.

 

Now, of course, as the outpouring of reflections and appreciations and accompanying grief flooded in during the past week, we at St. James’s begin to know just exactly what an “oak of righteousness” Carla truly was, over many years in Colorado, and before that in Los Angeles, and DC and the Middle East – Libya and Iraq and Lebanon – back in the middle of the 20th century when the terrible dynamics of conflict in that ancient land were biting down hard and settling in for a very long, arduous, and costly grinding of peoples in the tectonic plates of competing identity and belonging in those fractured territories. Somehow all that experience with the “ways of the world” only grew Carla’s compassionate heart and energized her commitment to work as an ally of people whose needs and rights were being overlooked or ignored or trampled upon. Instead of becoming cynical and jaded, her unremitting political activism first in Colorado and then here in Cambridge only increased her passion and compassion, “so that what was mortal [in her] was swallowed up by life,” as Paul says to the Corinthians.

So rather than go with the assurances of the Gospel of John – the traditional choices for burial services – we chose instead this teaching of Jesus’ from the Sermon on the Plain in Luke – Luke’s version of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”


Every time I was blessed by Carla’s broad smile – and that was every time I saw her! – I felt that largesse flowing from her - a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over. A measure of goodwill – not sentimental, mind you; not a bit of it. Goodwill rooted in a very hard-headed, clear-eyed view of humanity, full of humor but without a shred of fantasy, goodwill based in something deeper than that, a sense of shared humanity, a sober knowledge of our human short-sightedness and shortcomings, our capacity for self-deception, our hard-heartedness, yet a goodwill that nevertheless refused adamantly to give up on hope – that measure of goodwill in Carla truly did simply overflow from her into action, encouragement and embrace, the embrace we all felt when she encompassed us in that smile. The measure you give will be the measure you get back. Oh yes! She did that. She gave and gave, and got back abundantly. Every one of you here today was a part of her harvest, a good measure, shaken down, pressed together, running over. I truly believe that Carla could die as she did, simply, at peace, without fuss or preamble, because she had learned to release all the pain and anguish and sinful abuse of each other that she saw in us and felt in herself. She had learned to see it, to acknowledge it, to act on it lovingly, and then to let it go.

In fact, whether she was hoisting a sign to hold the realtor Re/Max to account for selling properties in the West Bank settlements, or holding Colorado Senators to account for policies on Iran, or tending the sanctuary doors at University Lutheran here in Harvard Square, or marching to Cambridge’s South Plaza, Carla was inhabiting that “larger life” that we are promised. God’s realm of shalom was not a thing to be waited for. It was a thing to grasp now, to inhabit now, eternity present in every one of her loving actions, healing and reconciling whatever little bit of the broken world lay within her reach.


“So we are always confident,” says Paul, “Even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” God grant that each of us who knew and loved Carla Henebry – and were blessed to be known and loved by her – may find within ourselves a measure of that confidence, a good measure of the honest, unsparing, ever-hopeful grace with which she persisted in loving and acting, a good measure of her faith, pressed down, shaken together, running over.  AMEN.