Vestry Minutes, November 19th 2013

Present:  Rev. Holly Antolini, Carol Hilliard, Sylvia Weston, John Irvine, Isaac Martinez, Lucas Sanders, Iselma Carrington, Joanna Kline, JT Kittredge, Steve Clark, Marian King, Susan Rice

Guests: Jeff Zinsmeyer (Redevelopment Committee)

Absent: Rev. Judith Atkinson, Saskia Grunberger, Warren Huber

Holly leads us in spiritual practice.

Nov Vestry Minutes


The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini's Homily for Ed Humphrey - Tuesday, January 7th 2014

For many of us at St. James’s Episcopal Church, even some of the long-timers among us, the first face we encountered coming through the door, the first hand we shook, extended along with our first worship bulletin, the first distinctive high-pitched voice we heard was that of Ed Humphrey.   Quite aside from the time he spent on the Vestry and in other kinds of leadership over the decades at St. James’s, Ed’s real core ministry – his calling from God, if you will – was the ministry of hospitality. He was our Head Usher, our Chief Greeter, our Welcomer.  He extended the hand of friendship to all who crossed our threshold, no matter their age, their race, their gender, their ethnic background.  All of humankind was Ed’s prospective friend.

I missed out on this when I first arrived at St. James’s because I arrived in April 2008, when Ed was in a little interlude during which he had no car with which to cover the long distance from his son Doug’s house out in Littleton, down Route 2 to St. James’s.  I think it was his grandson Andy, Linda’s son, who eventually liberated Ed by buying him a new car, but it was months before I laid eyes on this mythic character about whom EVERYONE talked.  The ushering ministry stuttered along without him, but it wasn’t what he made it when he was there. 

When Ed did finally show up unexpectedly one Sunday morning, driving his handsome new car – as usual, he was there hours before I arrived for the 8 AM service, had the doors open, the lights on, the furniture arranged for the early service – I knew before he even had to tell me who he was.  Who else COULD this be but the legendary Ed Humphrey?

Ed and his wife Peggy married at St. James’s, they raised their kids there; Linda even taught Church School at St. James’s.  (Linda, want to come back and do it again?!?  We’ll introduce you to our new Associate Rector, Judith Atkinson!) Like the Harris family, the Hetu family, the Butler family, the Maynard family, the Morrow family, Ed and Peg were so much a part of St. James’s, they were like the stones in these walls.  The Living Stones of St. James’s, let’s call them.  You can’t really imagine the place without them.  Solid working people, all of them – Ed served his country in World War II, like my dad -- in Japan, it turns out, which must have been harrowing, though he never told the stories about THAT -- and he’ll be buried with full military honors today at Cambridge Cemetery.  Then he served as a sausage maker at the Columbia Packing Company in South Boston until he retired.

His work didn’t end there. When Peg became ill, Ed looked after her.  After Peg died, Doug contracted early-onset Parkinson’s and Ed, without missing a beat, headed out to Littleton to help Vicky with his care.  He and Vicky spent many years patiently and tenderly supporting Doug to have as much life as he could.  Mind you, he had his various fan clubs: not just us here at St. James’s but the American Legion Hall in Arlington where his luncheon will be held after his burial today, Andy’s Diner – I thought I might see the whole Andy’s staff here today! – the Dunkin’ Donuts where all the girls working there knew what he would order before he got there, even his blood lab.  And he would periodically give himself a break and head down to Andy’s in Key West or Josh’s in San Diego – talk about strategic grandchildren!  Key West and San Diego!

But the truth is, Ed gave and gave, with kindness and zest.  Life threw him curve balls and he hit them out of the park. Just the way he kept on trucking even when his health issues were piling up like pick-up sticks just waiting for the central one to give and the whole thing collapse, he never let his troubles overwhelm him.  True, Eddie was no "capital S" saint. I think he loved the gossip at church as much as the prayer.  But talk about Currency of Relationship: Ed was the gold standard for remembering everyone’s grandkids and their health problems and making sure he was checking in with them. His ministry of hospitality wasn’t sanctimonious stuff; it was pure Incarnation: one human being caring for another.

So when Linda and Vicky chose the Lamentations reading for Ed’s service today, I laughed out loud: it is SO perfect for him! A word of description for Ed and a word of encouragement for him as he faced down difficulties without ever losing his cheery good will.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. For the Lord will not reject for ever.  Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone. 

And it’s a word of encouragement to US, who must now assume the mantle of Ed’s hospitality and continue his tradition of coping with grace and never ceasing to care about those around us, stranger and long-time friend alike. Ed has passed from death to life, says John’s Gospel.  Well, Ed had been practicing that for a long time before this, passing from death to life, living into the resurrection.  He’ll be waiting for you at the pearly gates, bulletin in hand, full of stories, glad to see you!


Homily for Ed Humphrey


The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for Epiphany - Sunday, January 5th 2014

Epiphany Year A 1-5-14

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Eph. 3:1-12; Ps. 72:1-7,10-14; Matt. 2:1-12

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and your glory, O LORD, has risen upon us. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but you, O LORD will arise upon us, and your glory will appear over us. Nations shall come to our light, and kings to the brightness of our dawn. We lift up our eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to us… sons from far away, and …daughters… carried on their nurses' arms.  AMEN.  [Adapted from Isaiah 60:1-4]

Epiphany… there’s another good Episcopal word for you, sounding impressively arcane, like “narthex” or “sacristy,” something you need to be initiated to understand.  Good if it entices you to in to learn: “Hmmmm, what DOES that lyrical-sounding word mean?!?”  Not so good if it annoys or intimidates you and puts you off!

And especially problematic given that the word (from the Greek epipháneia), means “appearing,” or “manifestation!”  A word that CONCEALS as it REVEALS?!? Aaaaaaah.  Now THAT is spiritually promising, in this bridge Feast – a little one that often goes missing, falling on a weekday between the Season of the Incarnation and the Season after Epiphany.  This year, we pulled it back a day onto Sunday so we could baptize Lucie Lakin-Schultz on this wondrous Feast.

New Testament scholar L. William Countryman speaks of our life in Christ as a life lived “on the border of the HOLY.”  Here’s how he describes it,

It can be helpful to imagine our human encounter with the HOLY as life in a border country.  It is a country in which, at privileged moments of access, we find ourselves looking over from the everyday world into another, into a world that undergirds the everyday world, limits it, defines it, gives it coherence and meaning, drives it.  Yet this hidden world is not another world, but the familiar world discovered afresh.  It is the everyday world seen at new depth, with new comprehension.

The image that comes to mind here are those old mountains in New Hampshire, their granite undergirding and shaping the whole New England coast, and only gradually now more and more visible as the outer covering of soil wears away and the bones of the granite show through.  Countryman continues:

It is like discovering that the small part of the iceberg we are familiar with is buoyed up by a much larger mass of ice beneath the surface.  In the border country one discovers connections, roots, limits, meaning.  To live there for a while is like having veils pulled away.  In the long run we find that the border country is in fact the place we have always lived, but it is seen in a new and clearer light…the border between the everyday and hidden worlds is found everywhere, even in the most ordinarily moments of life.”

Ah HAH!  So: the HOLY is revealed in precisely the “stuff of ordinary life” that conceals it!  The baby Jesus, born inconspicuously on the margins of Empire, I picture him being born in the back stock room of a 7/11 in Leominster with only the highway construction flag-bearers and the convenience store cashier open to hearing the angel voices that direct them to the birth that, invisible to the rest of the hurrying, preoccupied world, is actually Emmanuel, God WITH us, God incarnate!  Because we just used our credit card at the pump and rushed off again, we didn’t stop to notice.

In fact, Bill Countryman notices, it is often the marginalized who DO tend to pick up on the presence of the HOLY, whose veils are pulled – perhaps yanked – away to find the hidden HOLY in their midst.  “A person who is thoroughly at home in the everyday world probably finds less occasion to look beneath the surface,” writes Countryman. “It is easier to take the world for granted when it flows smoothly and when you feel a clear sense of belonging.  The person whirled in the eddies at the edge of the stream and battered, perhaps, against the rocks may be more ready to look at what is beneath the surface.

Paul, imprisoned many times in the course of his ministry for spreading the Good News of Christ to Gentiles across the deep social, cultural, and religious chasm that separated them from him and his fellow Jews in the first century, is evoked by the writer of Ephesians as writing from his prison cell, a marginalized vantage point that would seem to disqualify him from sacred knowledge but which in fact gives him singular perspective on “the borderlands of the HOLY,” helping him to “understand the mystery of Christ… now revealed by the Spirit,” the mystery that in fact Christ reveals God to ALL, not to some small select group. God in Christ revealed TO ALL and IN ALL, in our very unqualified weakness, our human equality with one another, our human fallibility. In fact: this is Paul’s “good news,” “the gift of God's grace that was given [him] by the working of God’s power,” to be shared irrepressibly wherever he goes, no matter whether it leads to celebration or imprisonment.Although I am the very least of all the saints,” he says, “this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.” Paul, even from his imprisonment, can now disclose the presence of God in Christ for and in everyone, everywhere.

Matthew’s Gospel story for today goes the imprisoned Paul one better: it is the very Gentile foreigners themselves, not Jesus’ countrymen nor the local despot King Herod, but the Magi, the Wise Ones, students of prophecy from far away, who also make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, traveling by the light of a star and laying their gifts before the human child in whom is “hid all heaven in a little room, as Carol Drake’s Advent hymn puts it. [#69, Hymnal 1982The foreign and marginalized Gentile Magi are the ones who recognize that they are in the borderlands of the HOLY when all around the child are blind.  The story is marvelously suggestive, says Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner, as the Magi bring “before the face of the invisible God now made visible the gold of their love, the incense of their reverence, the myrrh – the ointment used for burial – of their suffering.” [The Great Church Year] Where Herod clings to the gold of his own greed, the myrrh of his own violence, the incense of his lust for adoration, and slaughters many children in a vain effort to protect his prerogatives, these Magi willingly cede their power to this child. [Herman C. Waetjen, New Proclamation Year A 2007-2008]

Today, we are inducting into the Body of Christ a new member, the small but redoubtable Lucie Lakin-Schultz.  In the many symbols of baptism, we are evoking a profound moment for Lucie, a movement from the surface of her life down deep into the HOLY that lies beneath it, undergirding her life and giving it coherence, meaning and power.  We are – figuratively, anyway – DROWNING her into the HOLY, DROWNING her into her own most essential self, her SELF that is IN CHRIST, that is A CHILD OF GOD, her self that is bursting with divine potential, gifted with an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, the gift of joy and wonder in all Creation, and in and through it all, the spirit to know and love God. [“Service of Holy Baptism,” The Book of Common Prayer]

We are connecting her, moreover, to all the other members of Christ’s Body, every one of us, Light to reveal to her, her own Light; Love to reveal to her, her own Love: every one of us an epiphany of Christ’s incarnation for her. We are calling her fully into her own humanity, which, despite our fallenness and propensity for destructive selfishness, individually and collectively, nevertheless in the Incarnation is shown to be capable of transformation and the recovery of God’s image and likeness, in which she and we were made. [Waetjen, ibid]

And we are anointing her with the oil of chrism, sealing her by the Holy Spirit and marking her as Christ’s own, forever, no matter how far she tests that Spirit and pulls away from Christ’s invitation to her to grow more fully into God’s image. We are anointing her to join us in Christ’s “royal priesthood,” so that not only will her life be lived on the border of the HOLY, but also she herself will reveal the HOLY to others in ways that we cannot yet quite conceive.  We are anointing her with the oil of chrism for that ministry, a ministry, I might add, that she already quite unconsciously initiated in the Christmas Pageant as a determined if somewhat wayward Angel, full of Spirit blowing where it willed!

Love came down at Christmas,” as Christina Rossetti’s carol says, “love all lovely, love divine, love was born at Christmas, star and angels gave the sign.”  But then, in the second verse, Rossetti asks, “Worship we the Godhead, love incarnate, love divine; worship we our Jesus, but wherewith for sacred sign?”

Wherewith for sacred sign that the baby in his humble wrappings and manger is indeed the APPEARING of God incarnate before whom the Magi resigned their secular power?  We have a sign before us today: small Lucie, a sign of the power of God’s love in human frame.  Just as every one of you in this room is such a sign, in your patience with, your openness to, your love for one another, revealing the HOLY right here, present among us.  As Rossetti herself answers in the third verse, “Love shall be our token; love be yours and love be mine, love to God and neighbor, love for plea and gift and sign.”  AMEN.

Holly Antolini Epiphany


Living Epistle: Patrick Michaels, Sunday, December 15th, 2013

Good morning!
I am Pat Michaels, and Iʼve been your Minister of Music for 30 years. I would like to spend a few minutes with you, reflecting on liberation and oppression---first, with a little of my own history and then as a member of St. Jamesʼs. I wonʼt be speaking about music, although I do believe that music is an amazing gift from God for our liberation. And I want to preface my thoughts by acknowledging that I am male, white, straight, middle class, late middle-aged, and Christian; Iʼm also the oldest boy in my family. I hope these characteristics wonʼt cause you to immediately cover your ears and tune out to what I have to say. 
So first, let me see what you think: I bet that you arenʼt too old to remember being young. Raise your hand if you remember being young and regularly interrupted in conversations; how about being young and having older people ignore your ideas; or, so young that you didnʼt get to make choices that you felt you could easily manage? young enough to have older people always telling you what to do... and how to feel?I do remember these things, and I try not to forget them. As an older person now, I find myself automatically in .... an oppressor role towards young people. And hereʼs what I mean by that word:
After a lot of thinking on this, I have come to believe that an oppressor is someone who benefits from an oppressive system; itʼs not the one who created the system or built it up, or even someone who believes in it--- just somebody who benefits from it. Under this definition, I canʼt help being an oppressor in the system that we now live in because I benefit by being older--I no longer have people telling me what to think and feel--at least not all the time. I call these benefits that I receive my “oppressor privilege”. 
I have two short but significant memories on this subject: When I was a younger middle-aged adult I remember having a regular conversation with my sister and I was surprised to hear her say, “Well, I think Mom and Dad treated you differently than us girls”? When heard that--as some people say in rural Minnesota-- it got my attention. 
A second memory: When I read and studied feminist theology, I learned that men were the oppressors. And patriarchal theology, patriarchal tradition, patriarchal society were the weapons that men used to dominate women. My wife says that she remembers that when I was reading Mary Dalyʼs books on this subject, I started referring to “men” as “them”, as if I werenʼt one myself. It was a good way to distance myself from the pain and anger that women felt toward an unfair system. I could simply imagine that I wasnʼt a man, or to pretend I wasnʼt part of the system, that I was outside of it all. 
These two experiences and many others led me to a new insight. I confirmed from my own experience that the thing about being in oppressor group, whether itʼs men, or white people or straight people, or some other group--the dynamic of belonging in such a group means that you donʼt have to think about it. The basic privileges of belonging to such a group are .....1. the privilege of denying that there is a problem; or, 2. if I choose to admit that there is a problem, I still have the privilege of deciding that I donʼt have to invest my own personal time and energy into a solution. This insight was worth thinking about. 
Slowly, Iʼve come to believe that if I donʼt cultivate a good, strong memory of how and when I was oppressed (for me, thatʼs remembering what it was to be young and oppressed by older people) Iʼll probably never be a really good Christian. And, likewise, if I donʼt have a growing sense of how I have been and remain an oppressor to others---and remember, I belong to many such groups male, white, straight, middle-class, older--- Iʼm not really on the Way, Iʼm not really walking the walk. As members of this community, we are all disciples of Jesus and, like his other disciples, we would like to live in .... an intentional community-- I want to live in a Christian community that is conscious of what it is, conscious of who it is, and perhaps even conscious of where itʼs going. 
Quite a few people at St. Jamesʼs have been intentional--- coming together with the name “Anti Oppression Team”-- they have committed themselves to a particular vision.... of a community in need of new consciousness, in need of new insight and in need of new connections. That community in need is our church. 
My experience of this group over the past 18 months has been deeply rewarding. I often find that the conversations I am often most reluctant to initiate, the ones I think will be the hardest, are the most rewarding and life-giving ones.
The Anti-Oppression Team has been intentional about finding the best leadership that it can to challenge us and help us find our deepest connections and to wrestle with issues of oppression. In this group, our communal understanding of oppression and our personal stories of learning start to be connected: Being conscious of these connections in me and in others gives me the freedom to understand my place in the world. This IS liberation, this IS living abundantly, and the freedom and the release of positive energy can be astonishing--itʼs like Easter! 
Whether or not you are called join a group like the Anti-Oppression Team (or whatever we decide to call it) you are part of this community. And I have a suggestion for all our members : A good beginning step towards community consciousness around issues of liberation and oppression is to learn peopleʼs names. Of course, there are stories behind every name, and eventually, if we are to be a “community of consciousness” we will learn those stories. 
You probably already know some peopleʼs names. But I suggest that learning names across racial or other barriers is a fabulous discipline which will yield a harvest we canʼt even imagine. So letʼs make an effort to set aside our fear, or our shyness, or our New England reticence and just decide now to learn and remember other peopleʼs names. It will be a good first step on this journey that is, after all, our home.
Finally, even though we wonʼt control the outcome on this journey , and we wonʼt see clearly all the time, and even though it will get messy and weʼll get lost and confused at times, still I take heart from the words of two inspired musicians, people who have inspired hundreds of others. Ponder their words: 
As the great voice teacher Roy Schuessler used to say “The best way to learn to sing is to sing.” 
And as Ysaye Barnwell, the great singer and song leader has taught us in a song which she takes to heart and sings:
“We are going; 
heaven knows where we are going, 
but we know within. 
And weʼll get there, 
heaven knows how we will get there, 
but we know we will. 
It will be hard we know, 
and the road will be muddy and rough, 
But weʼll get there,
heaven knows how we will get there,
but we know we will.”

Pat Michaels 12-15-13


Rev. Dr. Robert K. Massies' Sermon for December 22nd, 2013

The Patron Saint of Regular Guys

A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Robert Kinloch Massie

at St. James’s Episcopal Church

Cambridge, Massachusetts

December 22, 2013

Being of a certain age, for me Christmas seems to reappear about every three months.    We put the tree up and we take the tree down and we put the ornaments and away and then almost immediately Anne goes down to the basement and brings them back up.      It is alarming but it is also lovely.  The rhythm is part of regular life, one of the Sabbath moments in the year, which seems comfortable, familiar, and safe.   Despite the avalanche of commercialism that starts before Halloween, I still love the appearance of the lights and the sights and the smells of the season.  And who can deny the joy of seeing our children – and some of our adults – dressed as various first century characters – or animals – or dancing as angels in our midst.  

I often think of story about a young boy who was asked to play an angel in the Christmas pageant in his church. He had one line – “behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy.”  

And he went to the rehearsal, and afterwards he asked his mother.

“What are tidings?” he asked his mother.  

“It means news,” she replied. 

When the day came for the pageant, the little boy stood up in his costume and as he looked out over the congregation, he became so scared and flustered that he forgot what he was supposed to say.    For a few seconds there was a terrible silence.   And then, the words of his mother cam back to me, “Boy, have I got news for you!”

And you know, he had it about it right.    Because the original Christmas was about many things, but for those who lived though it was not about regular life.   It was not a moment in which people felt comfortable, familiar, and safe.

It was about the intervention of God in history to do something new and unexpected.     It was about revelation in the midst of regular life.

Today I would like us to consider Christmas from the standpoint of Joseph, the husband of Mary.   He never gets the spotlight.   In the crèche he is always standing to the side, the best supporting actor.  

Joseph, in many ways, should be considered the patron saint of regular guys.    We really don’t that much about him, but we can certainly imagine a few aspects of his life.    He was, according to Matthew, of the line of David, the son of a man named Jacob.   Growing Joseph had certainly heard the story of the great things that God had done in the past and of the promises of the great things that God would do in the future, but he almost certainly felt that he would never be a part of any of that.

Since Jesus is identified in the gospel as the “carpenter’s son,” so we know that Joseph was a craftsman, a blue-collar guy.   There are no recorded words of Joseph in the Bible.  Perhaps he was known for being quiet, a man who liked to work for long hours building useful and beautiful things with his hands and tools. 

He had grown up and learned a trade and reached adulthood and now found a young woman named Mary, who may have been as young as fifteen or sixteen.    They had been officially betrothed, that is, promised in marriage, but they had not actually been through ceremony.   It was a moment of anticipation and joy for both of them.   Joseph may have been quite a young man himself, just starting out in the world, perfecting his skills as, perhaps thinking of building himself and his new wife a home at the edge of the village with a small carpenter’s attached to it.  

In 1964 the poet and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini released a mesmerizingly beautiful film called The Gospel According to St Matthew.   Two years before Pasolini had gone to Assisi at the invitation of Pope John XXIII to be part of a dialogue between the church and artists, but he was stuck in a hotel room because of the traffic.   So he started reading the Bible in his hotel room and decided in that moment to turn Matthew into a movie, filmed in black and white in the rocky terrain of southern Italy using mostly local people as the actors.   The dialogue come entirely from the gospel text.

The film opens with a shot of a Mary standing beside a crude structure.   We focus for a long time on her troubled, awkward, even slightly defiant expression.   The camera then switches to Joseph, a young man with a dark beard.   His face is full of hurt and anger and incomprehension.   And even without a single word we realize Mary has just told her fiancé that she is pregnant.   Joseph reacts with shock and disbelief, disappointment and turmoil.   He then turns silently away and runs away in anguish down the stony road.

Joseph, the regular guy, who wants to marry a regular wife and live a regular life, has been thrown the first of many challenges.    He has a fiancé pregnant by someone else.    He was probably as skeptical as anyone when she told him about the appearance of the angel Gabriel.   The new situation strikes at his identity, his reputation, his manhood, his dreams for the future, and most especially his love for her.   

The gospel of Matthew should win a prize for understatement. 

When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  

For centuries poets and songwriters have explored this moment of discovery.    When I was little boy I used to listen to vinyl records, and I was particularly fond of six hundred year old song sung by Joan Baez called the “Cherry Tree Carol.”  It starts with Joseph and Mary walking through an orchard.

Mary said to Joseph

So meek and so mild

Joseph, gather me some cherries

For I am with child,

Joseph gather me some cherries

For I am with child

Joseph flew in anger,

in anger flew he

“Let the father of the baby

gather cherries for thee.

Let the father of the baby

gather cherries for thee.”

The song ends not with Joseph changing his mind but with Jesus from inside the womb asking the trees to bend down to deliver cherries to his mother.

Why was Joseph angry?   Because anger is the emotion we feel when something that we expect to happen, that we believe is going to happen, that we believe should happen, does not happen.

Joseph had very different ideas about how his life was supposed to turn out.   In our family we refer to this as “pictures in the head.”   This is when a person makes plans about the future, and starts to imagine what it is going to be like, in some detail, and then becomes rigidly attached to that image.   And if it turns out to be different, or if it doesn’t happen at all, we can’t accept that the picture in the head has not come true.  It can cause disappointment and anguish and rage, especially if some one else prevented it.

So he decides to end the relationship.   But he is not vengeful.   In theory adultery and pregnancy out of wedlock could be cause for death by stoning.    But Joseph does not want to bring danger or shame on her, or on himself, so he decides to this as quietly as possible.

As it says in Matthew:

Being a man of principles, and at the same time wanting to save her from exposure, Joseph desired to have the marriage contract set aside quietly.  [1:19]

But God intervenes again.   Joseph may not have believed Mary’s story about her dream, but when an angel appears to him, he is forced to change his mind.   The angel says: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home with you are your wife.   It is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived.   She will bear a son and you call him the name Jesus, Savior, for he will save people from their sins.”

As Matthew writes, “this was to fulfill what the Lord declared through the prophet, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and he shall be called, Emmanuel,” which means God-with-us.

Joseph offers us a powerful example of what happens when the mind-bending process of revelation has to be integrated into regular human life.    It’s not what he planned, and not what he initially desired, but Joseph now becomes Mary’s companion and partner and guardian against danger.   He leads the donkey carrying her to Bethlehem.  He negotiates for a place for her to stay behind the inn.  And he stands by her side during the agony of childbirth.

The gospels suggest that King Herod feared the birth of a rival and therefore sent out his soldiers to slaughter all the boys below the age of two to make sure that he had eliminated the right person.   Joseph again protected his wife and his newborn son, perhaps even traveling as far as Egypt to get out of Herod’s way.   And then, after more dreams and adventures, Joseph returns to Nazareth, and he goes back to work.   Like many of us, he experiences transformation …. and then he goes back to work.

His life had been turned upside down but he gradually lets things simmer down and goes back to his job.    He builds furniture and raises a family and does his best.    His story recedes.   Like so many wonderful, faithful people, he is increasingly invisible, overlooked, a man balancing revelation with a regular life.  

We do have a few hints that Jesus was not the easiest child to raise.    If we look at the second chapter of the gospel of Luke, we hear that when Jesus was about twelve the family goes to Jerusalem and then, after some time, Joseph and Mary head back.

Thinking that Jesus was with the party they journeyed on for a whole day and only then did they begin looking for him among their family and relations.   As they could not find him, they returned to Jerusalem; and after three days they found him sitting in the temple surrounded by the teachers, listening to them and putting question; and all who heard him were amazed at his intelligence and the answers he gave.   His parents were astonished to see him there, and his mother said to him, “My son why have you treat us like this?  Your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”   “What made you search?” he said, “Did you not know that I was bound to be in my father’s house?”  [Luke 2: 44-51]

Jesus has been missing for four days.   His parents have put out the equivalent of a first century Amber alert.  They are wild with worry.   And Jesus gives what sounds to me like a pretty snotty pre-teen response, saying “What’s the big deal?  I can do what I want.”   And he even adds a somewhat jab that must have felt particularly disturbing to Joseph.   “You are not my real parents.”

But they did not understand what he meant.  Then he went back with them to Nazareth and continued to be under their authority.

Yes, I think we know what that means.   Jesus probably had to do triple chores for about a month after that adventure.  

But as Pat Michaels puts in his beautiful hymn, we have a sense that Jesus found deep love in that family, not just with his mother but also with Joseph.   Once Jesus started his ministry or became controversial or started the painful road to Jerusalem, there is no reference to Joseph.   But we do know that Jesus specifically and frequently talked of our relationship to God in human terms, using the most intimate terms for a father.

Joseph, your loving presence and protection

Prompted your son to share with his disciples

His name for love most freeing, deep and faithful

“Abba, dear father”

So on this fourth Sunday of Advent, I believe that we should give honor this overlooked man, and the all the magnificent people who do not in this life get the attention that they deserve.   In all the hoopla of Christmas, we should give special attention to this man who, as far as we know, had no ambitions other than to live a normal life, to be a regular guy, and to be faithful to his responsibilities, his family, his faith, and his God.   And yet the grace and power of the universe came crashing into his world like meteor.

Life goes on, and we wait for something to happen.    And thanks to be to God, things do happen.   Our period of waiting ends.   Advent leads to Christmas.   And then Christmas leads back to what we call ordinary time, where we all face the challenge of merging revelation with regular life.

A life of faith is this balance between the endless opportunity of the imminent new with the endless beauty of every simple, lived, regular moment.    As we are called into a deeper and deeper relationship with God, we come to see with greater intensity how every regular moment in the midst of regular life is blessed.  Jesus reminds us of this in the Lord’s prayer.   Jesus focuses us both on the capacity for transformation – on earth as it is in heaven – and the miraculous opportunity of life in small pieces – our daily bread, our routine trespasses, our continuous invitation to forgiveness of others.    

I want to finish with the story of another Christmas pageant, one that took place right here when Michael Povey was rector.   Some of you may even remember it.   For reasons that I don’t recall, we didn’t use people in that pageant; we had life-sized cardboards cut-outs.    There was a stable and a manger set up near the altar, and Michael himself brought out a painted two-dimensional sheep and a donkey and stood them up.   Then he studied the scene and acted as though he had forgotten something.     So he disappeared and returned with a few painted two-dimensional shepherds.  

“Am I done?” he said theatrically.  “No, I think I have forgotten something.”  And he exited again, returning with the three wise-men.  

My daughter Katie was three years old and was sitting in the third pew in a green Christmas dress and a little hat watching all of this with great interest.    Every time he asked his rhetorical questions, she looked on with tremendous eagerness, but with growing frustration.  

“Now, I think I am finished,” he said, surveying the scene.

“No,” said Katie under her breath.

“Oh wait a minute!” said Michael.  And he left again and returned with our best supporting actor, Joseph, standing him in the corner.

“NO!” said Katie, a little more loudly.

“Have I have forgotten anything?” Michael said to himself.  Then he made a great show of departing and returning with a single cardboard cut-out of Mary.

“Now I am finished!” he said contentedly.

At this point Katie stood up in the pew, leaned forward, and shouted: “I WANT TO SEE JESUS!”

At which point the whole congregation burst into laughter and that story entered the list of family favorites.

She was right.   In Advent, our regular life, we are waiting for the revelation of Jesus.   All of us, called from all parts of the planet, at all points in life, regular guys and regular gals, old and young, with all measures of joy and brokenness, we are all leaning forward, ready for that moment of justice and wholeness and healing and life so that we can bring it into our daily lives so that it can transform and reveal every blessed moment.    

We want to see Jesus at Christmas because, boy, does he have news for us!






Bob Massie Dec 13


Rev. Holly Antolini's Sermon for Christmas Day, 2013

Christmas Day 2013

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Isaiah 52:7-10; Ps. 98; Hebrews 1:1-4; John 1:1-14

Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands; lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing… Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it, the lands and those who dwell therein. Let the rivers clap their hands, and let the hills ring out with joy before the LORD.  AMEN.

I love this Psalm, which is my prayer this morning. I love the image of all Creation bursting into rejoicing song, a bit the way the whole country of South Africa seemed to be singing in gratitude for the life of Nelson Mandela, only with the mountains and hills, even the rivers joining in.  As the prophet Isaiah proclaims in our first reading, even the RUINS of Jerusalem are singing, those terrible reminders of the Israelites’ loss of hope when their country and their holy city and even their Temple, God’s own house, were laid waste by the conquering Babylonians.  Not just the beleaguered citizens of that ruined city, renewed in their hope, but all those broken stones themselves; all that stripped finery; all that desolation, singingwith joy.  “YOUR GOD REIGNS!”

You are here on Christmas morning, abandoning your coffee and eggnog, your Christmas stollen, your Christmas trees and warm firesides, to join us for this Holy Eucharist.  I suspect that’s because you have some inkling of this hope, this rejoicing, this affirmation of the presence of God in the messy stuff of God’s Creation, Emmanuel, God with us.

Not that you or I or anyone REALLY UNDERSTANDS what we mean by this hope.  Not that any of us have really parsed it out and made sense out of it. This hope – this confidence – somehow doesn’t lie exactly in the realm of “sense,” even though it’s ALL ABOUT “the senses,” the apprehension of the real in our bodily being.  We call it “incarnation,” embodiedness, God entering the stuff of mortal life, bringing the full force of God’s love into our very own molecules and taking up residence there, “tenting” there as John’s Gospel literally says in the phrase we translate “lived among us,” Word become flesh, making its home with us and in us, “full of grace and truth.” It’s what John was trying to name in these beautiful opening verses of his Gospel, and you’ll notice that he has a hard time getting very concrete and narrative about it, and winds up resorting to poetry instead, since poetry’s metaphorical punch and allusive power work better for suggesting what is so visceral as to be unnamable.

If it was tough for the Israelite people to hang onto that hope of God’s abiding presence when their City of God was laid waste, it’s pretty darned tough for US to hang onto it when the ice caps are melting and whole species of critters and fish and birds are dying out and man’s and woman’s inhumanity to humankind – especially to the more vulnerable humans among us – is so evidently in full flood.  But if we stick close to the ground:

-       the literal ground, even frozen as it is right now but still so incomprehensibly beautiful and mysterious and wondrous, renewing us in our capacity to love

-       and if we stick close to the ground of our experience of each other and our experience of unexpected tenderness and forgiveness and creativity coming out of us just when we thought we’d pitched over the edge of such an extreme cynicism that we were going to give up ever again discovering such positives in the stuff of our lives;

-       and if we stick close to the ground of our experience of finding connection with others just when we thought our alienation and isolation were inalienable;

-       and if we refuse to fly off into the analytical and the abstract and we just stay really close to the everyday facts of our bodily existence,

that’s where we’ll see this peculiar power – the power of the Incarnation – showing up. 


It’s when our idea of the Holy gets too far removed from that bodily experience that our religion can turn destructive, ideologically cruel and violent.  If we keep close to the everyday, we will find that we cannot be cruel and dismissive in the same way.  We will find ourselves invited into our own weakness, for one thing.  And at the same time, paradoxically, we’ll find ourselves invited into wonder and kindness, breaking our own “rules” to make allowances, to forgive transgressions, to open up to new possibility where there seemed to be none whatsoever.  Mercy – God’s, Emmanuel’s tender mercy, flowing to and through us – has its source in the hodge-podge of our bodily lives, where not a single one of us here nor anyone else in all Creation is “pure” enough to get away with notneeding mercy from someone or something.  And where against all probabilities, we find ourselves loving each other in spite of all our disappointments, our confusions, our weaknesses, our failures.  Maybe even BECAUSE of them, because without our cracks and flaws, we would be unapproachable.  We wouldn’t NEED love.

We find this power of the Incarnation all the time in our little PRAXIS group that meets at the AFSC offices early on Tuesday mornings.  We begin by praying a little morning devotion, using the Psalm and a reading for the coming Sunday, and we share with each other what in our lives makes us grateful and what causes us to struggle with pain and anger and ingratitude.  And then we read the upcoming Gospel passage and we reflect on the ways in which it is touching on the circumstances of our lives right now.  It’s always a temptation to get all theological and start theorizing about what the Gospel is trying to say, but things go best when we just get down to business and tell stories about what’s going on in our lives, stories that come to mind because of some word or phrase or image in the Gospel passage.  And here’s the wonder of it: when we stay right close to our own personal stories, the words of the Gospel – remember, “gospel” means “good news,” so the words of the Good News suddenly take on a reverberating life for us, a life that not only makes sense out of our experience but that fills us with encouragement – en–coeur-age-ment, literally, fills us with HEART – and often brings us an increased clarity about our next steps. It’s what John says in a verse just after today’s Gospel passage, John 1:16: by staying close to our actual human experience in PRAXIS, I think the group would affirm that “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” 

All this makes me think of a Christmas poem of the poet-farmer Wendell Berry’s, called “The Birth (near Port William).” The shepherds – in Berry’s poem they’re ordinary, rough, rural folk on the Kentucky River – are just back in their own barn after hearing angels on the wind and being impelled to find the Holy Family in another barn “along the wood’s edge,” and they’re wrestling with the mystery of the angels and the vision they’ve just had.

You heard a good deal more than you’ll understand,” Raymond said,

“or him or me either.”

They looked at him.

He had, they knew, a talent for unreasonable
belief. He could believe in tomorrow
before it became today — a human enough
failing, and they were tolerant.

He said:

“It’s the old ground trying it again.
Solstice, seeding, and birth — it never
gets enough. It wants the birth of a man
to bring together sky and earth, like a stalk
of corn. It’s not death that makes the dead
rise out of the ground, but something alive
straining up, rooted in darkness, like a vine.
That’s what you heard. If you’re in your right mind
when it happens, it can come on you strong,
and you might hear music passing on the wind,
or see a light where there wasn’t one before.”

“Well, how do you know it amounts to anything?”

[one of the other shepherds asks.]

“You don’t. It usually don’t. It would take a long long time to ever know.”

And the poet adds,

“But that night

 and other nights afterwards, up late,

there was a feeling in them — familiar
to them, but always startling in its strength –
like the thought, on a winter night,
of the lambing ewes dry-bedded and fed,
and the thought of the wild creatures warm
asleep in their nests, deep underground.

(Wendell BerryThe Birth (Near Port William),” from Collected Poems: 1957-1982)



Rev. Holly Antolini's Sermon for Christmas Eve, 2013

Christmas Eve 2013

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Isaiah 62:6-12; Ps. 97; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:1-20

Please turn to your Hymnal 1982, #112, and join me on the last verse:

What can I give you, poor as I am?  If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb.  If I were a wise one, I would do my part.  Yet what I can I give you, give my heart.  AMEN.

Here we are again on this strange and wondrous and a little bit ridiculous and deeply touching Feast of the Nativity.  Something about this celebration keeps us coming back, some of us coming ONLY for this festivity every year, coming out after a heavy meal and more than one glass of wine into the cold of a winter night to sing parts on the familiar carols and stumble over the unfamiliar ones, to listen again to a preposterous story we know almost by heart, a story of a “pure” virgin nevertheless heavy with child, giving birth in a strange stable amid the breath of animals because there is no room in any of the inns crowded with hapless participants in an imperial census, coming out to add the light of our small candle to the wider light of everyone else’s as we sing “Silent Night.”

It’s a little bit ridiculous because WHY do we hang around to hear about a virgin giving birth?  WHY do we need to hear again a tale of a tiny baby born ignominiously in a podunk kingdom in the outback of the Roman Empire and becoming a King of the Universe? And that’s before we even touch those angels bursting out of the sky upon a bunch of unsuspecting shepherds – the lowest of the low in their society – with tales of the miraculous birth, making the shepherds the first at the manger? Then there’s the part of the story that never gets told because it’s a little feast stuck in the middle of school Christmas vacation week and because it’s too uncomfortable, the part about this tiny swaddled King of the Universe having to be hauled by his parents into exile in another country because the terrified local king starts slaughtering all the newborns in town in an effort to stamp out that infant before he’s begun to assume his throne? Come to think of it, THAT part of the story is all TOO realistic!

WHY do we inconvenience ourselves to this extent for what my mother would have called “a faradiddle?!”  The more sophisticated among us even know that this bible story as Luke tells it was a later addition to the narrative of Jesus’ life, and despite all the trappings of history that Luke gives it to make it “real,” it’s too uncomfortably connected to other “emperor birth myths” of the time.  A fiction, not a history.  So what draws us to this “fiction” about the birth of Jesus? What about it touches our sense of wonder strongly enough to propel us here? Something is being named here that is important to us, some “ground of our being.”

I’m struck again this year as I often am with the details left out of this story.  Much about it is left to our imagination and as familiar as it is, its edges worn smooth with long hearing, our imaginations are not always fully deployed as we consider it.  So let me enlist yours.

That town full of people, in which the Holy Family – Mary’s labor pains beginning to draw closer together, no longer just “Braxton Hicks,” but real labor – struggle to find shelter.  I picture it like the streets of Venice this September on my sabbatical, literally wall-to-wall people, bumping up against each other between narrow walls, not quite knowing which direction they’re supposed to be going, thieves and pick-pockets making full use of the opportunity to defraud the confused stranger as the fellow did who tried to grab my iPhone outside Pope John the XXIII’s church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.  By the time Joseph finds the stable, Mary is 10 centimeters dilated and ready to deliver, and there’s no time to clean things up or even fetch the hot water.  Jesus – whose name, Yeshúa, means “God Saves”  – arrives willy-nilly into the straw and manure of the stall, and anyone who’s ever delivered a baby knows, it’s a messy business, even without donkeys and cattle on hand.

And then those shepherds.  Well, they weren’t the Unemployed; they had jobs.  But those jobs were the minimum-wage-scale bottom of the heap, the job you got when you HAD been unemployed for six months or longer.  Out in the cold nights long hours.  Dealing with muddy, ornery, notoriously recalcitrant sheep.  Sheep, as anyone who’s really worked with them will tell you, are NOT CUTE.  Lambs are, maybe, but this is not lambing season.  Sheep are useful, for sure. But they’re also filthy – walking lint-traps, picking up flotsam and jetsam everywhere they go – and stone-stupid.  Easy pickin’s for the nimble and communally savvy wolves in the area.  You have to keep your eye on ‘em all the time. You’re dressed in as many layers of Salvation Army hand-me-downs as you can load onto yourself, and half of ‘em are worn-through in places you hope the other half are covering.  You haven’t washed in heaven only knows how long.  Likely, some of you have been inducing warmth with the help of whatever alcohol you could lay your hands on.

The other day I was waiting for the Braintree train in the Porter Square T stop and I took a position on the platform and then gradually became aware of a pervasive odor wafting my way.  I looked to my left, and a gentleman was there, leaning over the railing above the Alewife train platform below, his back to our arriving train.  Next to him was a luggage cart with three or four sagging bags attached to it, full of nameless articles.  He himself was wearing a tattered dark-gray jacket and baggy pants with cracked boots, his immense belly sagging and folded upon itself, bare beneath the jacket as he leaned his raised arms on the railing, head down, moaning something to himself periodically. Around him was a miasma of human odor, so intense it was hard to stay put within his aura. I thought to myself, “theshepherds, out there in the fields, watching their flocks by night! This was their condition of life. Maybe not mentally ill, as this gentleman manifestly was.  But miasmic, nonetheless.”

These are the human materials, the conditions, says our familiar story, into which God chooses to enter and go to work, in the small and hapless person of the itinerant baby Jesus.  These are they upon whom the hosts of angels bestow their bravura choruses.  This darkness is where the Light shows up.

This week’s profile of the TIME Person of the Year, Pope Francis, opens this way: “On the edge of Buenos Aires is a nothing little street called Pasaje Ca shot of dried mud leading into a slum from what passes for a main road, the garbage-strewn Mariano Acosta.  There is a church, the Immaculate Virgin – [don’t you LOVE it?!?] – toward the end of the pasaje – Spanish for passage – where, on one occasion, the local priest and a number of frightened residents took refuge deep in the sanctuary when rival drug gangs opened fire. Beyond the church, Pasaje C branches into the rest of the parish: more rutted mud and cracked concrete form Pasajes A to K.  Brick chips from the hasty construction of squatter housing coagulate along what ought to be sidewalks.  The word “asesino” – murderer – is scrawled in spray-paint on the sooty wall of a burned-out house, which was torched just days before in retaliation for yet another shooting.  Packs of dogs sprawl beneath wrecked cars.  Children wander heedless of traffic, because nothing can gather speed on these jagged roads…

…Cardinal and Archbishop of Buenos Aires, a metropolis of some 13.5 million souls, Jorge Mario Bergoglio made room in his schedule every year for a pastoral visit to this place of squalor and sorrow.  He would walk to the subway station nearest the Metropolitan Cathedral, whose pillars and dome fit [comfortably] into the center of Argentine power.  Traveling alone, he would transfer onto a graffiti-blasted tram to Mariano Acosta, reaching where the subways do not go.  He finished the journey on foot, moving heavily in his bulky orthopedic shoes along Pasaje C.  On other days, there were other journeys to barrios throughout the city – so many in need of so much, but none too poor or too filthy for a visit from this itinerant prince of the church.  “Rezá por mí,” he asked almost everyone he met.  Pray for me.

In our own city of Boston, we hear from Tina Chery, founder of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, named for her son who was gunned down senselessly in Dorchester at age 15 on his way to a Christmas party with the group he’d just joined, “Teens Against Gun Violence,” 20 years ago this week, on the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year.  She writes, “This tragedy broke me into a million pieces, tested my faith in God and shaped me personally, professionally and spiritually… before Louis was killed I was a stay-at-home mom and really did not believe that the violence around me had any impact on me and my family. Today… as I work through my grief and inner healing of the murder of my son, the blinders have come off and I would now see the world through God’s eyes and not through the eyes of men.

Why do we come out on Christmas Eve?  I suspect it’s because we’re hoping to get a glimpse of that “God’s eye view” Tina Chery is talking about.  I suspect that inside every one of us is a person in ragged clothes, leaning on the rails and moaning, knowing that we have not realized or might not realize the promise and possibility in us.  Every one of us knows at some level that we, like Tina Chery, could lose everything most precious to us in an instant.  Every one of us, though we expend huge amounts of effort ignoring this fact, knows that, were the circumstances right, we ourselves could be homeless, or lodged in a street like Pasaje C. 

And every one of us, in some corner of our being, is hoping against hope that God’s love, God’s might, can show up even there in that dreadful place, in that dark possibility or actuality, show up no matter what cloud of stink surrounds us, and love us into greater being.  We are hoping that Titus is right when he says that “when the goodness and loving kindness of God [in Jesus,] appeared… he saved us not because of [our works] but according to his mercy, through the ever-deepening process of rebirth, renewal, and growth that our baptism in the Holy Spirit works in us. That God is not in glory only or even FIRST, but instead God is everywhere in the stuff of all Creation no matter how humble or wounded or struggling or just plain awful: Emmanuel, God with us, GOD IN US.  And that in us, at the very fundament of our being, that quaking, trembling center of our mortal and fallible selves, is the power likewise TO LOVE, to love as Francis, as Tina Chery, as Jesus loves, and that our power to love cannot be vanquished by anything, anything at all.  For that to be true, we would give anything. 

Join me in prayer:

What can I give you, poor as I am?  If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb.  If I were a wise one, I would do my part.  Yet what I can I give you, give my heart. 


Holly Antolini Xmas Eve


Vestry Minutes, October 15th 2013

Present: Rev. Holly Antolini; Carol Hilliard, Sylvia Weston, Rev. Judith Atkinson, Isaac Martinez, JT Kittredge, Lucas Sanders, Iselma Carrington, Marian King, Susan Rice, Joanna Kline

Absent: John Irvine, Warren Huber, Saskia Grunberger, Steve Clark

Holly leads us in spiritual practice.

October Vestry Minutes


Rev. Holly Antolini's Sermon for Sunday Nov. 3rd, 2013

All Saints Sunday

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Psalm 149, Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. Amen.

This prayer from the opening of the Letter to the Ephesians has so much resonance, I’m adopting it as my All Saints Day prayer for all of us. It seems to me that it holds within it all the elements of this mighty feast day, this shining defiance of the increase of darkness that becomes so palpable at this time of year when we go off Daylight Savings and the dark settles in early and we take note of the bare tree limbs and the increasing cold and draw into our warm & lighted indoor spaces, if we have them (and struggle if we don’t).

The Ephesians writer – he (or she) may be Paul, or might just be a follower of Paul, as there are important language differences from Paul’s other letters – the Ephesians writer begins with God, the source of all, and asks God for “a spirit of wisdom and revelation” as we draw closer to God.  This spirit of wisdom and revelation, the writer says, is to “enlighten the eyes of our heart.”  Our heart, mind you, is not just the seat of emotion we 21st century celebrators of Valentine’s Day regard it. The heart for early Christians like this writer is the seat of reason as well as feeling, whereas the brain is the seat only of factual knowledge.  The heart for them is theintegrator of reason and feeling to create moral sensibility and wisdom, the kind of understanding that goes beyond mere information. 

It is when our hearts – when our whole equipment for the apprehension of what is true and real and of value – are enlightened, says our Ephesians prayer, that we may “know what is the hope to which God has called us.”  And may know how that “hope to which God has called us” has taken root and found expression over and over in the long stretch of history, “the riches of God’s glorious inheritance among the saints:” the long expense of human effort and care, the long turning to God for discernment of good from evil, the long, long history of human decision-making in the light of that God-guided discernment. And, says the prayer, with our enlightened hearts, we will know how out of that wise and time-tested hope, that “hope to which God has called us,” springs also the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for us who believe, according to the working of God’s great power.” THAT is the hope that moves us to action: that we will always be fueled by God’s mighty resurrection power as we carry that history of discernment and decision-making forward into the future. Such is the dynamic hope that we celebrate on All Saints Day.

I’ve been thinking a lot about hope lately, that wise hope of the enlightened heart that Ephesians prays for, that opening through which God’s grace springs up in us as resurrection power, refusing to give in, refusing to give up.  I was thinking of it when I was lured by curiosity into reading an opinion piece in last Sunday’s NY Times Sunday Review that tried to explain why our movies and TV have become fascinated with cannibalism. (No, I have NO curiosity to WATCH movies on cannibalism!  Those things give me post-traumatic stress!) The article quotes Gunnar Hansen, the famously weapon-wielding star of the horror classic “The Texas Chain-saw Massacre” in 1974.  Hansen speculates, “You can look at the economy, and say, the past is about to bite us literally and figuratively… We are at the point where a new generation has nothing to look forward to.” “A generation with nothing to look forward to?” Now THAT is an apocalyptic vision of nightmare proportions, even without chain-saws! [New York Times Sunday Review, Oct. 27th, “They Want to Eat You,” Erik Piepenberg]

But here today we’re not entertaining nightmares; we are celebrating the baptism into Christ of two small proponents of that generation, two very small people, Lincoln & Lucy, in whom we place MUCH hope, whom we are bringing into Christ precisely to HAVE HOPE, to have MUCH to LOOK FORWARD TO, to be filled with “the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for us who believe, according to the working of God’s great power.”

So I feel moved to “account for the hope that is in me,” as another epistle puts it, on this All Saints Day, to lay claim to the hope in Jesus Christ to which God calls meand you, my confidence that even as we mourn and hunger, even as we fall short of the glory of God in uncountable ways, individually, congregationally, nationally, you name it, yet we can be participants in the “communion of saints,” manifesting God’s grand reconciling redeeming vision, joining those who have lived, who DO live, who WILL LIVE INTO the kingdom of God – God’s commonwealth – those who refused and continue to refuse to give up hope, who stepped forward and continue to step forward when others need us to reach out in love.

Kevin Cullen wrote so movingly on the front page of Friday’s Boston Globe about the psychic link between the Red Sox’ World Series victory and our need in Boston to have our hearts enlightened so that we may know hope, those hearts so burdened by the events of the Marathon bombings last spring.  “We flirt with cliché when linking this baseball victory to the Marathon bombings,” Cullen wrote.  But we do so because we are looking for deeper meaning.  We are seeking confirmation that what we just witnessed was not merely Shane Victorino coming through again with the bases loaded, but a sign of something loaded with redemptive symbolism, an elixir that can cure every family that mourned, every person whose body or psyche was wounded, every cop and firefighter who tried to comfort a child whose leg was missing.” And Cullen went on, “For those of us not afflicted with the disease of cynicism, [such deeper meaning] was staring us in the face…Several Red Sox players said they took deep pride in being able to deliver a World Series championship to a community still wincing at physical and psychological scars.  Red Sox manager John Farrell described it almost as a civic compact, that this was in fact more than just about proving that a team could go from last to first but that a wounded town and a disparaged baseball team could make each other better.” [Boston Globe front section, Friday, November 1st, 2013]

Of course I’m not just hopeful because of the Sox victory.  The apocalyptic nightmares that fuel cannibal movies are too solidly grounded in real reasons to fear for that to be enough.  I’m hopeful because I see such examples of “the greatness of God’s immeasurable power” overcoming loss and challenge and pain and injustice not just at Fenway, but all around me, right alongside with the failures and dangers and agonies of our environmental, political and economic troubles. All around me I see people choosing to participate in the energy of blessing, as Luke’s Beatitudes put it, not the energy of woe.  All around me I see people stretching to re-weave the torn and tattered fabric of our human and natural community back together.

I’m hopeful because Charlie Allen, restorer of our historic slate roof and father of our Greenleaf Choir member Gwei-Gwei Strong-Allen, in the wake of his beloved wife Anne Strong’s death from lung cancer this spring, didn’t just curl up in his grief but instead signed right up to walk yesterday as “Annie’s Avenger” in the LUNGevity Foundation's Breathe Deep Boston 5K Walk. And yes, you can STILL support him and make a contribution to the campaign, if you see him after church! Charlie’s walk makes sense of the battle imagery in Psalm 149 today, praise of God in his throat and a two-edged sword in his hand, doing battle with the disease that claimed Annie.

I’m hopeful because even as I see the plaster visibly sifting out of our beloved walls at this very minute, I know that when neighboring nay-sayers did vituperative battle against our new parish house project, ignoring its “smart-growth” contribution to green housing in Cambridge and our need to secure the long-term sustainability of our historic St. James’s Church, they DID NOT WIN their appeals, but instead our steady faithfulness to the vision – our abiding HOPE over the whole three years we’ve been waiting since the permits came through – is PAYING OFF as we move toward construction!

I’m hopeful because our own priest associate Bob Massie, with our own Nicholas Hayes as his intern, is heading the New Economics Institute and demanding that weview our environmental woes and depredations as ECONOMIC phenomena, undermining our global economic well-being.  I’m hopeful because our Greater Boston Interfaith Organization is forming advocacy coalitions to fight gun violence and our Episcopal City Mission is working hard to raise the minimum wage.  I’m hopeful because with our up-close and personal connection with the hungry in our Food Pantry, we are positioned to go into combat against the 5 billion dollars of cuts the food stamp benefits that went into effect Friday, sending the poor into the holidays with just $1.40 to spend per meal, with further, far-deeper cuts envisioned in the sequester’s future.

I’m hopeful because when Bishop Gayle preached at Diocesan Convention yesterday from the depths of her experience of the persistence of racism, calling us to address our own racism and that of our society, I knew that as hard as it is to talk about the many issues that divide us as a society into silos of race & culture & class & age & orientation, we in the St. James’s congregation not only worship, serve, and reach out to know and love each other as a church family across all those differences, but we do so intentionally in our commitment to anti-oppression work, seeing each other with the eyes of our enlightened hearts; acting on “the hope to which God has called us.”

I’m hopeful because this morning, we’re off-setting whatever burden of grief or fear each of us may have brought into this church by coming together to light a great communion of candles in a moment to signify our abiding love and connection to all whom we have lost this year, and by inducting two new saints, Lucy & Lincoln, into our ministry of reconciliation in baptism into the Body of Christ here at St. James’s, making them one as we are all one in the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for us.

In a sense, Luke’s Jesus, in preaching the Beatitudes in our Gospel today, is trying to detach us from measuring our cause for hope by our material well-being alone, whether fraught by poverty or grief or enjoying our comforts.  Jesus is trying to remind us that when we are laughing and full, we still share the human vulnerability of the poor and mournful.  When he then flies off the handle and asks us to “Love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us,” even to “pray for those who abuse us,” he’s trying to weave us back together into a whole social fabric, not rent by economic or environmental or racial inequality but united into ONE BODY, a LOVING BODY in which EVERY MEMBER has a unique and critically important PART TO PLAY, Lincoln and Lucy and all of us.  Jesus is trying to call us back into the MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION in which we can see everything with our hearts’ enlightened eyes, from a God’s-eye-view, a BLESSING view. He’s trying to help us to see that our own concerns – important as they are – are shared by all others, and that all of us prosper as we share each other’s concerns. Jesus in his Beatitudes is trying to lift us out of our ideological foxholes – national and international – so that we can see our common needs and share in addressing them coherently.

That’s where we stand out, we who, whatever our many failings, belong to God’s great communion of saints past, present & future. We stand out by refusing to be atomized into our little individual concerns and stop caring about the blessings & woes of others. We stand out by refusing cynicism and despair. It’s not that we don’t mourn & weep, with good reason; it’s not that we don’t struggle with poverty of all kinds, literal and spiritual; it’s not that we don’t hunger, whether for food or for justice (or both). We suffer all these things. But we DO NOT BUY INTO OUR OWN ANXIETY.  We “hang it on the Cross,” as my dear friend Ginny, stuck in a wheelchair with Parkinsons, used to say.  We turn it over.  We give our fears and our despair to God.  Sometimes that’s ALL we have to give!  And in the great paradox of faith, that giving-over of fear enlightens our hearts so that we know the hope to which we are called, weaves us together with others who suffer, enables us to act for justice. Such hope, such faith, such handing-over of fear and despair to the only One who can carry such weight – to God – and stepping forward in the light and energy and invitation that flow in where the shadows used to be – is the life into which we are baptizing Lincoln and Lucy today, the baptismal life.  It’s not a life without darkness, without fear, without death.  It IS a life in which those things are turned over to the immeasurable greatness of God’s power, a life of hope, the hope to which we are called: the abiding confidence that the working of God’s great power can energize and re-energize our souls and bodies into love.


Holly Antolini 11-3-13


Rev. Holly Antolini's Sermon for Sunday Dec. 1st, 2013

1 Advent Year A 12-1-13

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Isaiah 2:1-5; Ps. 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matt. 24:36-44

We know what time it is, O God, how it is now the moment for us to wake from sleep. AMEN.

Welcome to the first Sunday of the season of Advent, to the New Year’s Day of our liturgical season.  It’s so intriguing that we begin our liturgical year at the very end of the calendar year, just at the time of year – at least here in the Northern Hemisphere – when the darkness reaches its annual height and the cold of winter bites down hard.  It is as if from that Advent beginning we are re-awakened to the paradox of our Christian life, life lived in defiance of the power of death. We awake at year’s end to claim light in the teeth of darkness, hope in the teeth of despair, love in the teeth of hate, unity in the teeth of division, truth in the teeth of deception. Beginning in ending: Advent, the season of paradox.

And the paradox continues.  From our Advent beginning, we awake again to the comprehensive power of God, the Godness of God, only to abandon that grand scale of divinity to immerse ourselves in the story of human child Jesus. But before we abandon that enticing vision of God in imperial control of all that is, ever was, and ever will be, unto ages of ages, amen, Advent invites us to re-awake to how ultimately trustworthy is God, in fact, how God is the ONLY trustworthy thing because all else is contingent upon God.  But even as we do so, we also awake to how original God ever is, in all senses of the word: God is our origin, and God also is always unexpected and fresh and new. Only God knows God’s plans, as Jesus affirms in the devastating imagery of his parables of Matthew’s Gospel.  We humans, savvy as we think we are, get caught as flat-footed as the householder, robbed by the thief; as the citizens living their lives on the eve of Noah’s flood, ignorant of the onrushing waters. We must trust in God despite our perpetual uncertainty in the face of God’s originality.

How we long just to rest in that comprehensiveness and trustworthiness of God, to have it be, not original, but unchanging, predictable, manageable.  But the disquieting imagery of Jesus’ parables reminds us to “keep awake,” as Matthew’s Gospel says, because in Christ, the Advent paradox deepens.  Advent is not about being lulled by the might of God, but about preparing to abandon that imperial vision, that tyrannical and dominating vision of God manipulating all things.  Advent is about preparing to dive straight into the terrifying darkness of a vulnerable God, a God who is as human as we are, a God who, no matter how encompassing God the Alpha & Omega may be, nevertheless allows evil and hurt and injustice and oppression and grief and loss to occur, a God who willingly lives among us as one of us, living lovingly despite being at the mercy of forces beyond his control just as we are, and willingly dies, and dies at the hands of imperial persecution, a hideous and ignominious death, a frightening acknowledgment of how we humans tend to treat the icon of love and reconciliation whenever and however it appears among us.

Advent is about awakening – with tears, with terror – to the paradox of our own freedom amidst God’s comprehensive might, as God has made us in God’s image, God’s own children, able to act on the side of good but also equally free to choose to act on the side of evil, sometimes (often?) to act without enough knowledge of good and evil to be sure WHICH side we’re on! To act AGAINST LOVE even as we THINK we’re acting FOR GOD.

In the disquieting paradox of Advent, we are invited to turn our backs on all that reassuring immensity of God and focus down upon the tiny simplicity of love manifested right in front of us in the stuff of our erring and fragile lives, amidst the very contingency and evolving, emerging originality we are so persistently prone to mistake for the antithesis of God: in the loving relationship expressed between two women or two men, perhaps; in the hard-work and resourcefulness of the immigrant who “has no right to be here;” in the kindly knitting of afghans for the poor by a homeless and mentally ill person in the warmth of the Porter Square T stop.  Advent is about awakening to the manifesting of such love in the midst of all the ambiguity of our freedom and God’s originality and the messy unpredictability that results, learning to adjust our vision to the human horizon on which real, divine love is practiced, not outside of the darkness, the cold, the despair and hate, the division and deception, but in the MIDST of all that. Advent is a season inviting us to awake to a way of living that acknowledges all this – the immense trustworthiness of God; our freedom; our failures to see love, to act in love; God’s faithfulness and mercy anyway; the mystery of God’s love being found not in power but in weakness, not in control but in responsiveness and relationship, not in tidiness but in messiness and often, confusion. 


We have just four weeks to do this before the Feast of the Nativity of the Christ Child, the Feast of the Incarnation – four crazy weeks of Christmas shopping, Christmas wrapping, Christmas decorating and cooking, Christmas over-saturation and over-stimulation and over-budget spending.  So we’re spending our Sunday mornings in Advent wedging open all that frenzy to find, one candle at a time on the Advent wreath, a little quiet time… a little waiting time… little reflection time… a little open space in our hearts.  Here at St. James’s on the four Advent Sundays, we’re setting aside our lists, our text messages, our to-do’s and letting ourselves try on Advent, at least for this brief Sunday-morning interlude, before we pick them all up again. And out of this interlude, we hope we can keep that Advent space – that Advent eye awake, open, and noticing inside us through the frenzy.

I invite us, as a part of our Advent awakening, to take a moment of quiet right now honestly to acknowledge the ways in which God’s great vision of shalom, of wholeness and soundness, individually and collectively, inwardly and outwardly, is a long and painful way from being realized; the ways in which, in our freedom, much of what we think, feel, and do seems almost calculated to dismantle wholeness rather than further it, to alienate and divide and fragment us from each other and even from ourselves, rather than realize our hope of reconciliation and creative fruitfulness.

… moment of quiet…

As fallible as we are, as far from what God intends for us to be, I invite us as an equally important part of our Advent awakening to take a moment of quiet right now to remember boldly that we are also people of promise, striving to claim “the better angels of our nature,” and to live out of that claim. Even as we admit the seriousness of our general condition and the great cause for fear, let us take a moment to turn that fear over to God, to cling not to fear but to our hope, to choose to act out of that hope, to act courageously for the wider welfare, and not out of the impulses of self-protection and despair.

… moment of quiet…

Let us begin to prepare our Advent way this morning by tuning our minds and hearts to the tiny simplicity of love we see manifested right in front of us in the stuff of our erring and fragile lives, right now. Immediately after the passing of the peace this morning, we will open the microphone in the center aisle to you to share briefly, in a sentence or two or three, “a moment of tender compassion,” a moment in which you have seen the divine love and mercy manifested in your life in this Thanksgiving week, a moment of encouragement that, as the Song of Zechariah sings, “the dawn from on high shall break upon us, who dwell in darkness, and guide our feet into the way of shalom, the way of peace and wholeness.”

… moment of quiet…

This Advent at St. James’s and in our wider lives, let us prepare ourselves and each other to awake to the light in darkness, not minimizing the darkness, but also not giving up on the power of light, even a small amount of light, a flickering Advent candle’s worth of light, to shine on our path and guide us.  Let us prepare ourselves to live as children of a mighty and all-encompassing God, a God of the immensity of the night sky, so infinite that what we can see is only a tiny fraction of what looms around us, so inexhaustible that it precedes time and succeeds the end of time, yet a God of Advent paradox, who became as small, as finite, as contingent, as vulnerable as we are in “the soft animals of our bodies,” as poet Mary Oliver says, so that we would recognize how even in our finitude and vulnerability, we can live out of God’s love instead of out of our fear, because God’s love has been INCARNATE for us in Jesus Christ.  AMEN.

Holly Antolini 12-1-13

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