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Thursday
Jun152017

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

Audio Recording

 

Trinity Sunday, 11 June 2017

Sermon: "All the Saints Greet You"

Jodi Mikalachki

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Wednesday
Jun142017

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

Audio recording of sermon

 

Trinity Sunday Year A 6-11-17

©Holly Lyman Antolini

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Bright Field 

 

I have seen the sun break through 

to illuminate a small field

for a while, and gone my way

and forgotten it. But that was the

pearl of great price, the one field that had

treasure in it. I realise now

that I must give all that I have

to possess it. Life is not hurrying

 

on to a receding future, nor hankering after

an imagined past. It is the turning

aside like Moses to the miracle

of the lit bush, to a brightness

that seemed as transitory as your youth

once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Tuesday
Jun062017

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

Wednesday
May312017

The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini's sermon for the Feast of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary, 5/31/17

 

Homily on the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Sisters of St. Anne May 31st, 2017

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: 1 Samuel 2:1-10, Psalm 113, Romans 12:9-16b, Luke 1:39-57

 

Give praise, you servants of the LORD; let us praise the Name of the LORD. Let the Name of the LORD be blessed, from this time forth for evermore. AMEN.

 

There’s something delightfully disconcerting about returning to a story so familiar from the Fourth Sunday of Advent, from the cold, stripped-down dark of the very darkest time of the year, and to read it now again, in the lushness of full spring, the air warming and full of scent and birdsong, the world green and bursting with possibility. Indeed, my peonies are swelling just as the bellies of these two pregnant ladies were swelling – the one an old woman past any hope of child-bearing, yet against all probabilities fecund with God’s promise; and the other, so very young, and no doubt desperately afraid not just because any pregnancy brings with it the prospect of the pain and threat of childbirth and the burden of parenting, but also because she is pregnant when such pregnancy is outside the bounds of acceptable, when such pregnancy could well spell the social or even the literal death of her, so forbidden is it.

 

Yet “Elizabeth & Mary believed God had given them cause for joy…” Joy made manifest in the leaping of the baby in Elizabeth’s womb. God had filled them both with promise. “They found divine meaning and personal fulfillment in their predicaments.” And in the tenderness of this lovely, homely story, they found companionship and mutual support in one another, as women have over millennia, reinforcing each other in knowing they were the inheritors of the earlier Hannah’s triumphant and revolutionary promise, which Mary herself claims and affirms as she sings her own Magnificat: a promise that the world will not remain as it is, rife with injustice and arrogance, greed and exclusion, for such was never God’s intention. So as time unfolded, the two women “reared their sons with that same singularity of purpose, reared them to see God at work in their lives, God at work in them every day. These women and their sons believed themselves to be of God, to be partners with God.

 

God is in the midst of our predicaments too. We need not – we MUST not – merely settle for the hand that is dealt; God invites us to examine the cards carefully, to weigh them strategically, and to play them skillfully… “ and in continual hope. God invites us to play the cards we are dealt in unremitting, life-offering compassion and solidarity with the poor, the hungry, the lowly, the humble ones, as Mary sings, and as her son did. “We may reflect upon our experience, see through walls that divide the sacred from the mundane and thus see ourselves, like Mary and Elizabeth, Jesus and John, as incarnate partners in God’s creative activity…” and redressers of the seemingly grinding and unremitting inequities of the world.

 

Out of that intentional, disciplined, and reflective presumption” that God remembers us with mercy, that the mighty God brings blessing to bear through us, using us as God’s own partners as God used Elizabeth & Mary, John & Jesus, to bring to fulfillment his promises for all, “we bring our joy to this, God’s table. Out of that presumption we offer back to God what God so freely offers us as presents and predicaments, finding joy in all.” AMEN.

 

[Sam Portaro, Brightest & Best: A Companion to the Lesser Feasts & Fasts]

Wednesday
May312017

5-28-17 Dr. John Boopalan Sermon

Listen here

It is a pleasure to be with you all. I want to thank Holly for the invitation to come and worship with you and participate in the ministry of the word. I bring you greetings from First Baptist Church in Newton Centre where I very recently took up the position of Minister of Community Life and Theologian in Residence. I also bring greetings from the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge where I currently do some research and teaching. I must mention that Ester Jamir, my wife, has been a friend of St. James in the past during her student days at the Episcopal Divinity School and has fond memories of her time here. St. James is thus a special place in more ways than one and I am delighted to be here.

 

One of the beautiful things about being in this time of the liturgical calendar is that Easter is not “over” with Easter Sunday. We are still in Easter time and today we celebrate the Seventh Sunday of Easter. This is a beautiful thing as we continue to ponder over the meaning and mystery of Easter. Each of these Sundays of Easter reveals an angle of vision, a theological perspective, and a view of the world that helps us to see ourselves, others, and the world in a new light: Easter’s light.

 

Three dramatis personae continue to enliven Christian imagination: God, the world, and human persons. Today, I invite you to think with me about the relationship between God and the world and what such a relationship calls us toward. And I am excited that today’s set of readings is promising for exercising our Christian imagination regarding these things.

 

When I looked at the epistle reading, it said, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you...Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him.” Given everything that is happening around us, I thought to myself, “God how did you know exactly what we are going through?”

 

And then I looked at the reading from Acts: “As they were watching, Jesus was lifted up, and they were gazing up toward heaven.” Just having looked at the epistle reading and then the passage from Acts chapter 1 about gazing up toward heaven, I almost started humming a Jim Reeves tune. I’m sure some of you know this tune: “This world is not my home and I’m just passing through. If heaven’s not my home, then Lord what will I do? Angels beckon me from heaven’s open door, and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”

 

In the midst of fiery ordeals and a devil prowling around looking for someone to devour, who does not want to gaze up toward heaven and sing “I can’t feel at home in this world anymore”? A part of me wanted to say, “sign me up. Let’s get the heck out of here.”

 

Perhaps, it was in knowing human tendency to flee from danger rather than draw close to those who are in danger that Jesus prayed his prayer in John 17, “protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

 

Slowly but surely came my “Aha!” moment. I started to wonder, “hey, wait a minute. From what we know to be true of God, in times of fiery ordeals, God draws closer to the world, not away from the world.”

 

The ascriptions and titles for God that today’s Psalm reading evokes represent a God who is near to the world and its troubles, a God who is always with us, a God who draws close. Mother of freedom. Father of orphans. Defender of widows. Bringer of comfort. Sender of rain. Provider for the poor. These are the very things that are so well represented in the motto you have here at St. James: Not to be served, but to serve.

 

I highlight these things because today is Ascension Sunday. If there is one thing that Jesus’ ascension tells us, it is that God always descends, draws near, stays close. Not to be served, but to serve. The question that the book of Acts asks the disciples is the same question we are asked, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

 

“Will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” The point of going up, at least, from God’s perspective, seems to be to come down. I believe there is a theological truth in this matter that can positively inform our relationship to the world.

 

If God’s relationship to the world is one in which God always draws near to the world—we could perhaps benefit by asking ourselves, what is our relationship to the world? I invite us to think about the question not merely as a rational exercise, but to truly to ask ourselves, “what do the things that we say and do everyday tell about our disposition, attitude, and relationship to the world?”

 

I believe there are at least three ways in which human persons are disposed towards the world.

 

A first approach says, “We are in the world and of the world.” This approach is happy to be hand in glove with all that is dominant and conventional. This attitude says, “Oh, if someone is behind, too bad. The world moves on and so will I.” This attitude chooses the love of power over the power of love. This approach takes comfort in what is easy and what works. It goes with the flow of society’s big waters, gets submerged in the big waves and does not have patience to seek and to find another way of being in the world.

 

A second approach to the world says, “We are in the world but not of the world.” This second approach, I believe, looks at the world and hates it. Have you met people who dislike the world, who even hate other people a little? Perhaps you only hang out with nice people. The thing that gets us, however, is that it could be any of us. It could be you. It could be me. When we see the world around us, and perceive a certain disorder and chaos, we may be inclined to dislike the world, wish for a certain order that we don’t find in it. In the end, this second approach draws away from the world.

 

And a third approach is one that I believe we would do well to embrace: We are in the world and for the world.

 

A Christian poet [Rubem Alves] gives words to describe this disposition:

Some expected that God in Jesus would “talk about divine things. But God talks only about human things. Little ones. About the delights of heaven . . . and the terrors of hell only a discreet murmur, if not silence. But God speaks of the tranquility of the birds, the beauty of the wild flowers, the sun that rises on the good and the evil, the rain, as well. And God tells us about children whose games are dancing and playing flutes; God goes to parties, introduces in the midst of the celebration God’s own wine; God speaks of purity of heart; points out that life is more important than laws; is saddened with our anguish, fear of the future, desire to run things and be seen, wish to be more important; God prefers the company of the marginal and the despised...God laughs at the powerful (even knowing its risks); rather the adulterer who sinned for love than those who, virtuous from age and from fear, stand with rocks in their hands; God eats and drinks with ordinary people, speaks in an enigmatic manner...; God tells frightful stories in which the villains of real life appear as heroes and the heroes of real life appear appear as villains. But these are things of this world, about human persons, children and old people, animals and trees. Right. God talks about our world. About life. About our bodies. God talks about smiles and tears.”

 

Again, this being the seventh Sunday of Easter, and we are still in Easter time, my mind goes back to some of Jesus’ Easter appearances. I am always intrigued by the conversation between Jesus and Peter after the resurrection. When Jesus appears to Peter, Jesus speaks not of heavenly things but of earthly things, of the importance of loving and feeding the world.

 

Three times Jesus asks Peter if he is really ready for the work of love, for the work of being for the world. Likewise in the ascension, when we, like the disciples, are gazing heavenward, hoping for a flight from the world and its troubles, we are reminded to keep our focus towards earth, as God did and would do over and over again. Amen. 

Wednesday
May312017

5-21-17 Ruth Padilla DeBorst Sermon 

Thursday
May252017

April Vestry Minutes - 4/20/17

Vestry Minutes:  April 20, 2017

Members Present: Sylvia Weston, Jules Bertaut, Lucas Sanders, Andrew Rohm, Leah Giles, Marian King, Tom Tufts, Sarah Borgatti, Betsy Zeldin, Sarah Forrester, Sam Perlo-Freeman, Holly Antolini

Members Absent: Matthew Abbate, Olivia Hamilton

Guest:   Jeff Zinsmeyer

Gathering

●     Following a check-in time, Leah introduced us to shape note singing as our Spiritual Practice

Shared Leadership

●     We should all be paying attention in the areas of ministry we’re active in.

●     The Church School has asked for a specific liaison.  Jules volunteered.

●     The parish retreat committee has asked for a liaison.  Sarah Forrester volunteered and will email Liz McNerney.

●     Jeff Zinsmeyer sent Betsy the legal agreements associated with redevelopment.

●     Sam is involved with sanctuary church efforts.  Betsy has also made some contacts in this area.

●     Tom is involved with GBIO.

●     We wondered if the congregation knows what the vestry does.

●     Sarah Forrester, Sarah Borgatti, and Betsy will form a vestry mission communication committee.

●     Jules, Leah, and Andrew will work on the survey.

 

Redevelopment

●        Lucas moved that we enter executive session.  Sam seconded.  Approved unanimously.

●        Jeff Zinsmeyer presented a redevelopment update.

●        Lucas moved that we exit executive session.  Leah seconded.  Approved unanimously.

 

Financial Report

●     Lucas presented the finance report, with Jeff Zinsmeyer.

●     Our financials are not in the new format yet, but Lucas has a meeting coming up with the bookkeeper to finish the conversion, and they should be in the new format next month.

●     The money is mostly as expected, but February and March had lower pledge income than expected (though we’re still ahead, because of the strong January).  It’s possible that Easter being in March last year and April this year is making the comparison wonky.

●     The investment committee (helped much by Lisa Hayles) has been sourcing investment policies, including one from St. John’s Episcopal outside New York City, which is coming from similar values.

●     The investment committee hopes to have a formal proposal next month.

●     We have a lot of cash sitting in our general fund, which we will need in the next year or two, which we might put into a money market account.

●     Lucas moved that the vestry authorize the Finance Committee at its discretion to invest our short term resources such as the general fund balance in a money market mutual fund or other investment vehicle of similar risk.  Andrew seconded.  Approved unanimously. 

Parking

●        Lucas and Jeff Zinsmeyer discussed our parking revenues.

●        The construction site, which was our biggest revenue source, has finished.

●        We don’t have a license to lease spots, but we also don’t advertise them either.

●        We have been contacted by SPOT to advertise through them.

●        Lucas moved that we authorize Jeff Zinsmeyer to set up an account for us with SPOT to lease our open parking spaces until commencement of construction.  Leah seconded.  Approved unanimously.

 

Stokes Loan

●     Lucas brought to the vestry’s attention that we might pay off the Stokes loan.

●     This is a low-interest loan from the diocese for capital improvements.  We took it out for repair to the rose window.  It’s secured by a mortgage, and it makes sense for our property to be unencumbered before construction.  We have the cash on the balance sheet to pay the loan back (it’s $13,300), and then we wouldn’t have to pay interest any more.

●     It’s a question whether we should simply pay it out of the building fund, or repay back into the building fund.

●     Sylvia moved that St. James pay off the current Stokes Loan of approximately $13,300 using proceeds from redevelopment, and that we will repay ourselves those funds to the repair fund out of the operating budget at the same rate as the current Stokes loan payments.  Sam seconded.

●     Sylvia moved that we enter executive session.  Lucas seconded.  Approved unanimously.

●     Holly presented a redevelopment matter.

●     Lucas moved that we exit executive session.  Leah seconded.  Approved unanimously.

●     Lucas moved that we table the matter of the Stokes loan repayment, pending recommendation from the finance committee.  Andrew seconded.  Approved unanimously.

 

Life Together Intern

●     We have been approved as a Life Together host site.  Holly presented next steps.

●     Sam, Sylvia, and possibly Sarah Forrester will help Holly review resumes, conduct interviews, and so forth.

 

Other Staff Matters

●     Our nursery coordinator, Julia Reed-Betts, is going away for the summer.  We have a possible summer replacement lined up.

●     Sam moved we enter executive session.  Betsy seconded.  Approved unanimously.

●     Holly presented a staff matter.

●     Leah moved we exit executive session.  Betsy seconded.  Approved unanimously.

 

Bishop’s Visit

●     The Bishop would like to have lunch with the vestry.

●     Sylvia will provide soup.  Everyone else will provide some sort of food.

●     Jules will remind people to bring food a few days in advance.

 

Reports

Minutes of March Meeting

●     Leah moved that we approve the regular and executive session March minutes.  Sarah Forrester seconded.  Approved unanimously.

Warden’s Report

●     Sylvia reported that the sanctuary was cleaned.

●     S & K Cleaners performed a thorough  cleaning of the building, including some areas of the roof, in preparation for the Easter season.  Because they do not have the equipment to reach the Tower, and other parts of then the interior, they recommend, for the next cleaning session, that we employ a specific company with ladders capable of reaching the Tower, and then S & K will do the remainder of the cleaning as they have done over the years.

Rector’s Report

PARISH ACTIVITIES:

 

  • Amazing Holy Week! Maundy Thursday; Good Friday's Stations experiment; the Theodicy Jazz Collective for the Easter Vigil; a jubilant Easter Sunday morning. Many thanks owing, especially to the choirs for showing up again and again!
  • Planning ahead for new staff- Summer Nursery coordinator, Life Together Fellow, etc - before I head off to surgery.
  • Life Togther application ACCEPTED! Next step in late May: reviewing resumes and selecting a candidate.
  • Good Church School hand off meeting with Eric on April 1st at Liz McNerney's. iCori, SafeChurch, and Church School curricular materials transferred to me. Strong teams in place to teach for spring.
  • A parent has written in concern about confirmation plans & programming for older children. Handling this desire and concern will be a challenge, and given my status as solo rector, will require paternal investment. The Officers and I will consult about a church-school teacher-parent-clergy-officers meeting in late spring to brainstorm.
  • The Food Pantry continues strongly for Month Three of our parish-led experiment. The experiment ends in June; June 20th vestry meeting will need to consider extending it, in consultation with JT Kittredge, John Bell, and the other lead volunteers. JT & John & I are working on our annual Sending/Serving deanery matching grant, due next Monday. 
  • We are close to a first estimate for the establishment of the Organ Fund; Pat is still tracking  down our regular maintenance crew for a second estimate. We HOPE to have a proposal in front of you by the May 16th vestry meeting.
  • Anti-Oppression team planning to bring a Sanctuary liason proposal forward to the May 16th Vestry meeting. Also active on Criminal Justice Reform.
  • VISIONS training-trainers planning to hold our first all-parish event introducing the Guidelines and "Cultural Sharing". Holly goofed and scheduled both the Rev. Liz Steinhauser from B-SAFE AND the Visions intro on April 30th, so the VISIONS team is considering moving to Mother's Day, May 14th, after the Mother's Day Walk for Peace in Dorchester. 
  • Lenten programming rich and well-attented.
  • My five-week Practicing the Episcopal Way class had strong participation. We'll offer another class on "Being the Eucharistic Community" in Sept./Oct.  in prep for confirmation mid-October. 
  • Worship planning for season after Pentecost will take place in May. Simple liturgies for single-service Sundays. 
  • Living Epistle ahead: Anne Ipsen Goldman on spirituality and her call to environmental stewardship. Guest preachers: MaeBright this Sunday April 23rd, the Rev. Liz Steinhauser of B-SAFE April 30th, the Bishop Gayle Harris May 7th, Ruth (and Jim) Padilla DeBorst on May 21st, John Boopalan (Baptist theologian and husband of former MSASA scholar Esther Jamir May 28th; Jodi Mikalachki, June 11th; Karen Montagno supplying at St. James's for Parish Retreat Weekend, June 18th. 
  • Parish retreat- June 14- 16 - coming together under a strong team, shared with St. Mary's Dorchester. Planning some VISIONS training on the Guidelines for Communication. 
  • Redevelopment, and Furnishings-and-Fit-out continues, of course!
  • Still awaiting the Finance Ministry's portion of the Pariochal Report. Am picking up the pastoral information now that Easter is past. 

DIOCESAN:

 

  • Away at the Annual Clergy Conference next week. I have one more year chairing the Resolutions Committe (fall). Then I'll step down in favor of the opportunity for some younger clergy.
  • Continuing as a ROC (Recently Ordained Clergy) Mentor through the ROC Mentor's retreat in May.
  • Will be active with Life Together as the supervisor and mentor of a Life Together Fellow in the coming year.

 

PERSONAL:

 

  • Appreciate Vestry's support for my health. "Supply" calendar for June 25th, July 2, July 9, July 16, July 30, August 6, August 13 & August 20 completely filled. Planning to preach and preside for St. James's Day, July 23rd. Continuing disc and arthritis issues - ever a management challenge, hence all the PT and swimming!
  • I continue my practice of monthly meetings with the Women's Clergy Colleague group, monthly spiritual direction. Keeps me grounded!
  • Beginning to work on a plan for my three-month sabbatical in 2018 - my tenth year with St. James's. The building will be nearing completion - God willing! - and the congregation will have plenty to manage, preparing to move into it with a business plan for rentals, the culmination of furnishing-and-fit-out, completing a possible limited capital campaign to tap the enthusiasm about our new chapter to make up the last $50,000 to furnish the hall as we hope. It won't be "down time" for the congregation!

 

Assistant Rector’s Report

●     The Church school had an all hands on deck staff meeting at the McNerney’s on the afternoon of April 9th.  We did some good transition planning that will take the Church school through the rest of the school year. 

●     The kindergarten Godly Play class will be led by Michelle Torres, Jeremy Wilmer and Laura Warren with help from Andrea Saltzman and Kris Robson.  The lesons and materials are planned out through the end of Church school on June 12th.

●     The elementary Godly Play class will continue to be led by Aletha Muser, Kate Sackton, and Mike Salib.  Alice Killian has joined this teaching group, Alice is a great addition.  This class will also be resourced with help from Liz McNerney and Sam Zimmerman.  

●     The upper church school class will continue to be led by Jules Bertaut, Benazeer Noorani and Jason Sparapani.  These teachers continue to do a really amazing job with our older kids.  I believe they are looking to recruit some additional teachers for the fall.  

●     The parish retreat team gathered for our second meeting on April 2nd.  Retreat registration is up and running.  Everyone should register!    We will be joined by folks from St. Mary’s Dorchester who we will be joining us for the retreat.  We are planning kicking off retreat registration on Easter Sunday.  The retreat team thought it might be helpful to have a vestry liaison to keep the vestry plugged into the planning process.        

●     Suzanne Hill has very graciously taken on the task of organizing sandwiches for the outdoor church.  She is now in contact with Tom Hathaway who coordinates this for the outdoor church.  The first Sunday Suzanne will be organizing this is on 4/30 I hope everyone continues to support this ministry. 

●     The Scouts are doing well and we now have three of our St. James’s youth very involved.   Liz Mcnerney, Michelle Holmes and Derek Jackson are all still very involved in leading troop/crew so we have good parish connections still in place. 

●     Kids-4-Peace convention on April 2nd.

●     The St. J families and church school teachers with help from many others organized the Maundy Thursday pot luck dinner.   It went very well and it was a great way to kick off the triduum. 

●     The young Church school classes contributed art work to the Church School station of the cross that depicted Peter denying Jesus.  The art work was created in response to a lesson that recalled the last days of Jesus life so they were very plugged into the drama and the narrative.  I think it turned out well. 

●     Julia Reed-Betts our faithful nursery coordinator has taken a summer internship in Florence and will be leaving us for the summer in mid-May.  I have found a good candidate – Rachel Miller-Selzer.  A recent Northeastern grad who grew up in the Episcopal church and formerly worked in a church nursery

 

 

Submitted by Jules Bertaut

 

Monday
May152017

5-14-17 The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini's sermon for 5 Easter

Sermon Audio

5 Easter Year A 5-14-17

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Acts 7:55-60; Ps. 31:1-5,15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

 

Be our strong rock, a castle to keep us safe, for you are our crag and our stronghold; for the sake of your Name, lead us and guide us. AMEN.

 

I’ve just returned from one of my little two-night sabbaths at my place in Maine. It’s definitely spring up there, as it is here: there are brand-new singers – the small, feathered kind – that I’ve never heard before, inhabiting the hawthorn-and-bittersweet hedges, the gift of global warming, pressing species northward. Spring in Maine even amid global warming, though, is an odd, prolonged business, much more equivocal in its claiming of new life than spring in Massachusetts. Here, we’re busting out blooming already. There, the grass has greened in and there is a fluff of pale yellow-green hazing the wooded understory, suggestive of leaves to come. But the branches of the oaks & maples remain bare and gray, as if the landscape had not yet completely made up its mind to lean towards resurrection.

 

Easter season is synonymous with spring for us in the Northern Hemisphere, unlike the Australians, whose seasonal iconography is upside-down, leaves falling from trees as the Feast of the Resurrection takes place. For us, Easter season is always wrestling with the juxtaposition of death and new life, as are we humans, I believe. We would like the “new life” thing to be nice and straightforwardly linear, firmly established. But death keeps intruding, reclaiming our attention, opening the wound of loss in our optimism. It’s fundamentally confusing to us that God DID in fact walk straight into death; we’d so much rather have a more muscular kind of divinity. We’d like God to just up and delete death completely. We’d like the season of resurrection – of spring – to be more like Memorial Day weekend in Maine, when spring finally and definitively arrives and the entire world suddenly swerves violently into bloom all at once, for three days of no death anywhere, just wall-to-wall blossoms and new green leaves unfurling from soil and branch, an explosion of new life, before Pentecost and summer sets in.

 

It was my observation, during the twelve years I served congregations in Maine, that I seemed to spend a lot of Easter season officiating burials in graveyards and not just because the ground had softened and people who had died in the winter could more easily be interred. Rather, it seemed that people often died on the edge of spring. Odd, isn’t it? As if the work of claiming another year of new life were just too much for them?

 

This ambiguity of resurrection is a mark of our readings from the Gospel of John in this Easter season as well. Take today’s passage, from John Chapter 14. If you’ve been hanging around the Episcopal Church for any length of time, you’ve most often heard this passage read at funerals, one of those most frequently chosen by families struggling with grief and loss. “In my father’s house, there are many dwelling places.” That sense of the one who has died not merely departing from us but also coming home is something people find consoling. “I go to prepare a place for you… and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also,” Jesus says. In the teeth of loss, we long to know that those we have lost have a place, and that we too have a place in that same house with them, a place to be, a place to belong, a place to be together again.

 

For generations, Christians have deployed this passage at funerals in the hope that, in fact, it DOES offer a literal “map” to eternal life. Never mind that when we read on, we find that the disciples in the passage are more perplexed than consoled, bewildered by the nature of this “place,” and how to get there. They know the inadequacy of their spiritual “google maps app!” Still we cling to the hope that this passage – and Jesus – will sort out the straightforwardly linear path to heaven, to that place of eternal belonging that the human spirit longs for when confronted with the finality of death.

 

But – and I’m sorry to take away that simple optimism – this is really NOT what John is about, writing this beautiful Gospel passage. We must resist what New Testament theologian Barbara Rossing calls “a strictly heavenist interpretation” of Jesus’ words in this passage. The Greek word John uses for “dwelling place” is “mone,” resting place or way station, from the Greek “menein,” “to remain.” Only a few verses further on, in Chapter 14 verse 23, Jesus uses the word again, saying “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” John’s Jesus is not talking about some distant geographical PLACE to which people will be brought in the by-and-by. John is – as he has been since Chapter One when he told us that The Word came to “dwell” with us, and as he will again and again, ever-more poignantly as Jesus nears his crucifixion in passages we will read next Sunday and the Sunday after, the last two Sundays of the Easter season, inviting us, as Jesus invited his disciples, to a mutual in-dwelling in God NOW, right here, in the middle of the world, global warming and constitutional crises and all. “Where I am, you will be also.” In fact, in a short three weeks, we’ll celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, in which we rejoice that, even as Jesus himself “departs” from bodily presence with us, the loving, guiding Spirit of Jesus continues to INDWELL IN US by the gift of God’s grace.

 

Remember as you listen to these familiarly funereal-sounding words, that Jesus is still at the Last Supper, and only verses before, was washing the dusty feet of the disciples and urging them to do likewise, capping off that lesson with the new commandment to love one another as he loved them. He’s struggling to imbue the disciples with the knowledge he has of God and God’s love before he gets nailed to the Cross, the shadow of which is deepening around him. As lovely as our eternal hope might be, burnished by this passage, in it, Jesus is actually commanding us to DO LOVE NOW, to BE LOVE NOW. “Far more important than going up to heaven is the in-ness and one-ness Jesus wants us to experience already with God – that same in-ness and one-ness that Jesus [himself] has with the Father. In the rich relationship of mutual in-dwelling, the eternal life is already ours. Never would John’s Gospel say that Jesus and God are now up in heaven, waiting until the end times to come back to earth and take us away to heaven…” in some Rapture or other. “God dwells with us now, on earth, in mystical communion through the Spirit…”  [Barbara Rossing, New Proclamation Year A 2005].

 

And what about that many-mansioned “house” of God? When John promised us in Chapter 1 verse 14 that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, he also warned right there at the beginning that “he came to his own, and his own people did not accept him.” We dwell already in God’s house – God’s “oikos,” God’s “oikonomia,” God’s economy. But we are all-too inclined not to recognize it. And because we don’t recognize it, we don’t follow the new commandment, and we don’t exhibit the kind of all-embracing, all-inclusive love that Jesus shone with and bid us take into ourselves, becoming one with him – one with God – in the power of that love.

 

Nevertheless, despite our difficulty SEEING this divine “household,” this divine economy surrounding and holding us NOW and at all times, in all places, the passage we read from 1 Peter should give us confidence: we are BEING BUILT TOGETHER – LIVING STONES IN CHRIST THE CHIEF CORNERSTONE – into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, God’s own people, “in order that we may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.” We are not awaiting some heavenly dwelling. We are EVEN NOW BEING BUILT INTO GOD’S oikos, God’s household. God in Christ DWELLS among us and WITHIN US, and WE ARE TO BE RESURRECTION, WE ARE TO BE GOD’S GLORY in a dark and dying world. Even if we have been “nobody,” God has made each and every one of us SOMEBODY in Christ, “hewing us, shaping us, building us together in a home into a community with others.” [ibid.]

 

In fact, I would submit to you that St. James’s itself has been having this experience of being built together into God’s dwelling place throughout the many years of waiting for construction to begin on our new parish house. Like the landscape in Maine, the trees have been barren a very long time, yet the experience of being spread over the landscape “in diaspora” for years together has been “hewing us, shaping us, building us together” in unexpected ways. Despite the endless frustration and yes, real grief and loss in not being able to provide collations for the funerals of our loved ones, not being able to cook meals for the hungry and the lonely in our neighborhood, not being able to house the growing-up and formation of our children in our own “house,” we have STILL been learning and learning ever more deeply, how God’s love can abide and thrive and expand in us even without that palpable “dwelling place” for our parish life. God knows I long for the resurrection of our life of formation and fellowship in that beautiful building-to-be. But I am not waiting for that to embrace God’s call to loving mission. And I know you also are not waiting passively.

 

Believe in me …but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.” If you doubt me, just come to Sylvia, Lauren’s and Lucas’ introduction to the Communications Guidelines we’re using in the Anti-Oppression Team to combat our own racism, after this service today. Or just sign up to join your fellow congregation members in attending next Thursday’s Greater Boston Interfaith Organization action at Temple Israel on Longwood Ave. in Boston, an action dedicated to providing affordable housing – dwelling places – in the greater Boston metropolis and to combating the impact of mass incarceration in undermining the economic well-being of our neighbors and family members of color. GBIO is, beyond anything, an experience of being “living stones,” built together into God’s new economy of resurrection, God’s economy of love.

 

I don’t know about you, but at this moment, in this particular Easter season, this issue of loss and grief is not reserved for the experience of a friend or loved one’s dying. In this Easter season, I am experiencing a profound sense of loss and grief at the demise of a certain confidence I had in the rational, civic power of democracy. The oak branches of democracy, in these last few weeks and months, have seemed to me stripped bare, grimly and worryingly denuded. Birdsong and green grass aside, it has been hard to believe in resurrection. The wound of loss has been gaping in my soul, threatening my optimism.

 

But far from undermining my faith, this experience of loss, of wounded confidence, has rather driven my faith deeper into my spirit, rather as I imagine the impending threat of crucifixion did Jesus’ own faith. At least I fondly claim this Jesus of the Last Supper as my Way, my Truth & my Life for just such a time as this. So I was delighted to read that my New Testament professor Dr. L. William Countryman – one of my chief mentors in the dynamics of resurrection and tutors in the abiding love of God – was speaker at the Diocese of Los Angeles Clergy Conference recently. There he reminded everyone, “Hope carries on creatively when optimism has been forced to yield.” [the Rev. Susan Russell’s Facebook page, 5-10-17]

 

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me,” says Jesus in John’s Gospel. “In my Father’s house there are many resting places.” Come, rest in God, the God in whom we live and move and have our being. And let that resting imbue you with hope, the hope carries on creatively, whatever the loss, however dire the conditions around you, trusting in the power of resurrection. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

Tuesday
May092017

5-7-17 the Rt. Rev. Gayle Harris' Sermon - 4 Easter

Monday
May082017

5-7-17 The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini's 8am Service - 4 Easter

4 Easter Year A 5-7-17

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Acts 2:42-47; Ps. 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

You are our shepherd; we shall not be in want. You make us lie down in green pastures and lead us beside still waters. Revive our souls! Guide us along right pathways for your Name's sake!  AMEN.

This week, NPR’s Code Switch program highlighted an anniversary, the 135th anniversary of the “Chinese Exclusion Act.” On the Code Switch website, the article by Kat Chow opens with a truly unforgettable image:

A Chinese man stands on a pedestal surrounded by a harbor as a cartoon imitation of the Statue of Liberty. His clothes are tattered, his hair is in a long, thin tail, his eyes squint. The words "diseases," "filth," "immorality," and "ruin to white labor" float around his head. This man is the center of an iconic image from 1881 called "A Statue for Our Harbor," made by the cartoonist George Frederick Keller. The image reflects the widespread anti-Chinese and anti-immigrant sentiment of the time, and was used to drum up support for the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which turns 135 on Saturday. The law limited Chinese immigration and barred them from becoming naturalized U.S. citizens.”

[http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/05/05/527091890/the-135-year-bridge-between-the-chinese-exclusion-act-and-a-proposed-travel-ban]

Why would Chinese people be the target of this novel effort to limit immigration, this “exclusion law,” as it was aptly named, “the very first time in American history that immigrants were barred because of their race and class [?] Some of it was about numbers: In 1882, when Congress passed the law, there were 39,600 men and women from China who arrived in the U.S. Just three years later, there were only 22, according to early records that [Erika Lee, a professor at the University of Minnesota,] came across in her research” for her book At America's Gates: Chinese Immigration During The Exclusion Era, 1882-1943. Chinese had been immigrating from extreme poverty in China as laborers on our railroads and in our timber and fishing industries on the West Coast.

But we were a big, brawling country with a wildly expanding industrial base. Why exclude any possible worker? Especially given that the owner class was developing a wealth unforeseen anywhere in the world, as the Gilded Age came to a glittering roar? The article’s author Chow points to “the parallels between the political climate of the exclusion era and today: a close and contentious presidential election that stirred anti-immigrant sentiment” and “the growing economic anxiety of white [especially working-class] Americans”which led to “policies that would drastically shape the country's immigration laws.”

Then she quotes scholar Erika Lee again, "Beginning in 1882, the United States stopped being a nation of immigrants that welcomed foreigners without restrictions, borders or gates. Instead, it became a ... gatekeeping nation… In the process, the very definition of what it meant to be an 'American' became even more exclusionary."

Chow goes on to write, “The 1876 presidential race between Rutherford Hayes and Samuel Tilden was a major turning point in the country's stance on immigration. Leading up to the election, the race was so close and electoral votes were so coveted, it brought California's ongoing fight to push out Chinese immigrants to the national stage, Lee said. Many Californians worried that Chinese laborers would take their jobs, and that they were sexually lecherous threats to society.

Lee said that anti-immigrant measures in the 1880s — and today — were driven by both working class people and elites, as well as those who had a "vested economic interest in border walls and detention centers." The Chinese Exclusion Act set the groundwork for immigrant detention centers and the country's first large-scale deportation of a single immigrant group. Specifically, the exclusion era brought an expansion of the federal government in terms of hiring more immigrant inspectors, whose responsibilities included working as interpreters and at the detention facilities.” [Ibid.]

In John’s Gospel today, Jesus is fresh from his encounter in Chapter 9 with “the man born blind.” Remember this from the Fourth Sunday in Lent? He’s the man who, convinced that Jesus had in fact performed the miracle of healing his eyes, stands up to the temple authorities in defense of his certainty. That earns him no credit. Instead, the authorities, feeling threatened by Jesus’ evident powers, have just ejected the man from the Temple for insolence, precisely as they had Jesus, shortly before him. John says, at the end of Chapter 9, “ Jesus heard that they had driven [the man] out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see,” your sin remains.

Can you feel how tense the atmosphere is at this point? This is very direct talk on Jesus’ part, even AFTER he has earned the ire of the authorities. And his status – as one ejected from the Temple – is very marginalized and very adversarial with respect to those authorities. It is at THIS point that our passage in Chapter 10 begins.

I tell you all this because it’s easy to let the language of Scripture lull us into thinking its primary goal is reassurance. Far from it. The goal of John’s Gospel is nothing less than to transform our souls to more nearly approximate – to literally become part of – the love of God, that love that moved Jesus to offer himself on the Cross – the instrument of his “glory” as John says, over and over. Transformation is hard work, and suffering and marginalization is threaded through the process, because we resist, we are frightened to love, we are frightened to let loose our grip on our separate identity. And the societal forces around us likewise find transformation immensely threatening to their identity.

When Jesus embarks on the language of shepherding in Chapter 10, he and the man born blind are outside the temple, knowing they cannot re-enter. When Jesus says of the “shepherd of the sheep,” “he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice,” “the verb for being thrown out of the synagogue in Chapter 9 is the same Greek verb translated in Chapter 10 verse 4 as ‘when he has brought out his own,’ and related to the verb in the phrase of 10:3, ‘and leads them out.’” [New Proclamation Year A 2011] You need to know what has just transpired in Chapter 9 to know from this verbal echo that Jesus is the good shepherd in this story, leading his sheep even out of the very Temple in Jerusalem, the den of those thieves and bandits that are sheep-stealing.

Next thing you know, in one of those dreamlike transitions so common in John, Jesus has gone from shepherd to gate. “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

John is writing at a very tense time in the evolution of both Judaism and Christianity. Like two siblings close in age, the two faiths are struggling for identity as the Romans persecute them both. Much of John’s Gospel seems forged in this struggle, as if to form Christian identity, the Jewish identity must be lessened, even belittled. When one reads these stories, one wonders, what was the threat that made the imagery of the gate so appealing to John’s hearers? What was going to intrude? What had to be “kept out?”

When our identity is threatened, we are always tempted to erect gates – and the walls that hold them. If only we could shelter behind those protections, we could hold our identity firm.

So it was when the American government erected the wall of the “Chinese Exclusion Act.” If we can just keep those strange people with their different language and their different appearance out, so the thinking went, all will be well with us. But the world was growing ever smaller then, steamships connecting continents and telegrams closing communications. And so it is today, with globalization drawing us closer and closer and closer together. There is no returning to the old days of “nationhood,” with identities kept separate by long histories of culture and experience. Our histories are being woven together. Our president Donald Trump himself is a billionaire precisely by using these global economic opportunities to their fullest. Yet we are surrounded by the language of “walls” to keep out “undesirables,” like those Chinese laborers of the late 19th century.

Today, we need no more “exclusion acts” of any kind. We need no more ejections from the temple. Instead, we need the shepherd Jesus, who leads us out from behind our self-protective walls. We need Jesus, the Gate of Love, whose protection is to CONNECT, not to separate and exclude. We need a shepherd whose loving nurture leads us right through the valley of death that is the most profound threat to our identity, so that we can be transformed from our old identities and find a NEW identity as loving “ministers of reconciliation,” open to all humankind, restoring the world to God and each other in the power of the resurrection. AMEN.