Isaac Martinez's Sermon for Rogation Day 5-1-16

Audio recording of Isaac Martinez's Sermon for Rogation Day 


Rogation Day (6 Easter Year C) 5-1-2016

Lections: Deut. 11:10-15; Ps. 67; Rom. 8:18-25; Mark 4:26-32


So this is kind of an unusual day, right? It’s not every Sunday that we get to march around our garden. We’re even deviating from the usual Eastertide lectionary this week, which, I have to admit, made me a little nervous to preach today. We’ve had such a fun time in the books of Acts and John, with the risen Jesus and the early church, and suddenly we now find ourselves reading Deuteronomy and Mark. What’s up with that?!

As you (hopefully) have picked up by now, today we are celebrating a Rogation Day, which, our Latin nerd friends can tell you, comes from rogatio, or “asking”. The story behind it is that around 470 A.D., a French bishop, St. Mamertus, saw his diocese threatened with fire, famine, earthquakes, and even wolves all within a single year, and so, he instituted a period of communal fasting and prayer, asking God to spare them from these natural disasters. Apparently, it worked well enough that it caught on and became a spring-time tradition held the three days before Ascension Day, which is this Thursday. Thanks Mamertus!

But enough with the history lesson. What does all that have to do with us in Cambridge in 2016?

To start answering that, let’s look again at the passage from Deuteronomy. Here we have the Israelites still stuck in Moab about to cross the Jordan River and finally enter the Promised Land of Canaan. Moses, about to die and pass on leadership to Joshua, is giving the people of Israel 34 chapters of final instructions and a blessing. In the portion we read, Moses tells the Israelites that Canaan is not like the Egypt they left 40 years before. In Canaan, there is no Nile floodplain that allowed a farmer to irrigate from the river simply by digging channels with his foot. Instead, the people will have to rely on the seasonal rains for their crops. And Moses promises that God will send those needed rains but only if Israel will heed God’s every commandment, loving God and serving God with all their heart and soul.

If. What a powerful word. We humans like our conditions and stipulations. We like to know what the options are and what’s required of us and we really like putting conditions on others. We are addicted to seeing ourselves as always the actors and architects of our own blessing and cursing. And if there’s anything we excel at, it’s trying to make God in our own image.

A few centuries after Moses, Mamertus, that French bishop, also managed to convince his flock that if they fast and pray, then God would deliver them from the natural world that was distressing them. In the Pentecostal church I grew up in, it was a known fact that the reason America was so powerful and so prosperous was because we were a Christian nation that had obeyed God. But we were in imminent danger of losing God’s blessing if we stopped being a Christian nation. Even in my own life, I can’t help but think that if an unusually good thing happens, like me getting into divinity school, it’s solely because I did something good and right.

And on the flipside, I am often tempted to think that bad things happen to me or those I love because I didn’t pray enough or in the right way or with the right words. If I had loved God more, if I had truly served God with all my heart and soul, then would my friend Jesse have died in that terrible car accident 2 years ago? If I truly heeded God commandments, then would I feel so alienated from my family? Yes, if is a powerful word, my friends.

Jesus understood the power of this word, the power of the conditional mindset. In the first chapters of Mark’s gospel, we see Jesus healing the sick and casting out demons over and over again. And if there was anything that proved to first century Jews that God’s blessing was conditional on people’s behavior, it was being struck with a disease or being possessed by unclean spirits. But Jesus comes to liberate those afflicted, to heal extravagantly, to restore people to right relationship with God and each other. He came to meet people in their brokenness and show them God loved them and that transformed them. And he didn’t put conditions on any of it, especially not ones based on people’s behavior.

In fact, in the two “agricultural” parables from today’s reading, we see Jesus confront the destructive mindset that our actions can have such a direct relationship with God’s love for us. In the first parable, Jesus compares the kingdom of God, this new reality of liberation and reconciliation, to a seed that is sown but grows without the sower really knowing how. When Jesus says, the “earth produces of itself,” the Greek verb there is related to our word automatic; it doesn’t require the sower to do any work at all to produce the grain, the fruit of the kingdom. We are only needed at the beginning, to sow, and at the end, to bring in the harvest. God does the rest.

I like to see this parable as Jesus speaking directly to our 21st century diseases of over-commitment, over-achievement, and individualism, the tendency we have, myself very much included, to think that the good fruits of our lives are all dependent on our every action. But we don’t know why or how God blesses us, how God allows our freedom from sin and shame, from brokenness and fear to multiply in our lives and in those around us. We can only chalk it up to God’s abundant love for us.

In fact, back in Deuteronomy, before, Moses lays out the if-then scenario, he first says to the Israelites that Canaan is a land that God looks after, that the eyes of the Lord God are always on it. So God is always preceding us, blessing our lives before we ever deserve it, because God knows we can never deserve it. With his ministry, Jesus is thus simply reminding the Israelites, and us, of that ancient truth that God doesn’t formulaically meet sin with punishment nor righteousness with blessing, because we can never be sinful enough that God doesn’t love us nor can we be righteous enough that we don’t need God to love us.

It’s only when we acknowledge how extravagantly God loves us that we are transformed, and only after that can we can embark on the long, hard road of heeding the commandment to love God and our neighbors, to serve God with all our heart and soul. We realize God’s conditional blessing is just a restatement of God’s unconditional love. Then, yes, ultimately, patiently we wait for God to give the rain in its season and we gather in our grain, wine and oil and eat our fill.

If we can do the work God has given us to do, without thinking there are limits to God’s love, without thinking it all depends on us, without putting conditions on others, then we will be part of building this mustard seed kingdom, where the small seed grows beyond imagining into a place where everyone can find their own liberation. On this rogation day, let us ask God for that kind of blessing. Amen.


Linda Luikel's Living Epistle on Serving on the Anti-Oppression Team 5-1-16


Approved March Vestry Minutes 3-15-16

Vestry Minutes: March15, 2016

Adopted April 19, 2016


Presiding: Rev Holly Lyman Antolini

Members Present: Sylvia Weston,  Nancy McArdle, Lucas Sanders, Mardi Moran, Sarah Forrester, Jules Bertaut, Tom Beecher, Andrew Rohm, Thomas Wohlers, Matthew Abbate, Tom Tuft, Marian King

Members Absent: Olivia Hamilton

Guests: Rev Eric Litman, Jeff Zinsmeyer



●        Dinner was provided by Tom T., Matthew, and Sylvia 

●        Tom B. led us in a liturgy  featuring readings on Gracious Leadership and Vocational Discernment

●        Nancy reviewed the norms that we devised at the retreat. Lucas suggested distributing the “guidelines across difference” to the Vestry.   Holly says that Kathryn can do that. Sarah is going to help create an embroidered version of the “guidelines across difference.” Holly mentioned that, although not it adding to the official list, she would like to have the norm of ending by 9:30pm.


Redevelopment Update

●        Thomas W. moved that we enter Executive Session for a redevelopment update by Jeff Zinsmeyer.  Jules seconded. Approved unanimously.

●        Jules moved to exit Executive Session. Marian seconded. Approved unanimously.


Shared Ministry

●        Tom B. led a discussion of the new shared ministry system. He reviewed the intent and expectations of the plan as well as the roles of ministry team liaisons and shared ministry leaders. Tom led us through a process for selecting the roles that we as vestry members would like to fulfill. This successful process led to the following assignments.

●         Outreach – Tom T., Mardi

●         Formation – Nancy, Andrew, Thomas W.

●         Worship – Marian, Matthew

●         Administration – Sarah, Sylvia

●         Shared ministry leaders – Tom B., Olivia, Jules

Black Lives Matter Banner

●        Following the discussion in church on Sunday by Alexis Toliver of Black Lives Matter, the Anti-Oppression Team  (AOT) met and unanimously recommended to the Vestry that we should hang a Black Lives Matter banner from the church . However there were differing opinions in terms of whether we should join the Black Lives Matter movement.

●        Mardi moved that we put up a Black Lives Matter banner. Sylvia seconded. Approved unanimously.

●        There was discussion and ultimate support for having a smaller additional sign with explanatory text at a lower level to the banner.

●        Marian raised the possibility of an LGBT banner.  Holly suggested that this should be explored in a separate process.

●        We discussed the possibility of a public ceremony or some other event at the time of the raising of the banner. We will ask the AOT to oversee production of the banner and draft wording for the smaller explanatory sign. We will also ask them to suggest a process for considering an LGBT banner.

●        We will ask the AOT if there are events or actions we could commit to in order to express commitment to Black Lives Matter. We will listen to discern whether people might be interested in issues of affordable housing in general and as it pertains to the Cambridge participatory budgeting process.


Minutes of February and special March Meetings

  •          Jules moved that we approve the February and special confidential March meeting minutes. Thomas W. seconded. Approved unanimously.
  •          Lucas reported that 2015 was a good year financially. So far in 2016, things are in line except pledge income is running behind what we might expect for this time of year. Nevertheless, Lucas expects you will get around 240,000 this year in terms of pledge income. Lucas will look into the zero dollar amount listed as being spent for Sunday School in statement for last year.
  •          Thomas W moved to accept the financial documents. Marian seconded. Approved unanimously.
  •          Lucas presented and explained proposed revisions to the 2016 budget.
  •          Sylvia moved to approve the 2016 revised budget. Thomas W. seconded. Approved unanimously.
  •          There was a round of applause for the good work of Lucas and the finance committee.
  •          Lucas intends to schedule an investment committee meeting in April.

Financial Report


Calendar Discussion

  •          We reviewed the calendar items. There was some question about the scheduling of a Trans 101 program.

Rector’s Report

Parish Activities February-March

  •           Terrific Vestry Retreat – thank you, Officers and Natalie Finstad!
  •          Olivia forming Discernment Committee. Still short one committee member. The Committee will meet Sunday evenings over dinner for 8 weeks this spring. She has just learned that her “8th Sin of Racism” presentation at the Cathedral on March 3rd will included in a Forward Movement book on the series.
  •          Holy Week planning takes considerable Lenten time and energy (and gives considerable joy). The week ahead looks rich, multi-participatory & wonderful. Don’t miss the Holy Triduum: Maundy Thursday w Olivia preaching; Good Friday with a wonderful roster of “Seven Last Words” preachers; the Theodicy Jazz Collective providing a unique jazz take on the Easter Vigil, and Jenny Grassl being baptized; the three small Mazzottas being baptized on Easter Sunday.
  •          An assortment of pastoral responsibilities, as usual, but including two different elder support matters and several Lenten “rites of reconciliation.”
  •          Members of St. James’s Discovering God’s Economy group will dine in April w Jean Horstman of Interise, which counsels entrepreneurs of color and helps access funds for business expansion, and connect us with the local folks at Accion Loans and others who will help us discern a good connection for our experiment in “growing the local economy” by investing in small business in economically challenged communities.
  •          The Worship Commission Holy Week & Easter sub-team of JT Kittredge and Lauren Zook has enthusiastically endorsed Pat’s offering the Caribbean Mass during Easter season from the Third through the Seventh Sunday of Easter.
  •          My Inquirers/Confirmation Class finished last Sunday with 3 participants. I will offer five weeks of Inquirer’s Class in late Pentecost – Sept. 11 through Oct. 9th - on “mystagogy:” the sacramental shape of life, time and space in the practice of the Episcopal Way. Confirmation with Alan Gates at Our Redeemer Lexington will be on October 15th.
  •          It seems that the 12-step-for-Lent class has gone well. I don’t have participation nos.
  •          Various people have stepped forward to publicize “Dollar A Day for Lent,” but it has received nowhere near the attention of previous years. Next year, we will need a new team to oversee this and select the recipient. In the absence of such a team, I simply chose one of our Missions Grant recipients, Tatua Kenya, since Mary Beth Mills-Curran is on the board there.
  •          The Monthly Healing Liturgy would end up on Easter Sunday, so I have canceled it for March. I am unsure, given Eric’s solid overcommitment of his one-third time with us and Reed’s having effectively moved to Nuevo Amanacer with Britta, whether this can continue or even SHOULD continue, given the small numbers of participants. I will appreciate some help with this discernment. It was an experiment to begin with. I’m inclined to let it go, and simply plan a healing Eucharist when we feel the need for one.
  •          Anti-Oppression Team met Sunday Feb 21st, and will meet again Sunday Mar. 20th. We continue to discuss plans for our training with VISIONS. VISIONS is providing us with a prospectus for the training before this coming Sunday’s meeting. They recommend that we include our part-time staff in the initial four-day “basic training” (for which we will compensate our staff for their time), but that we focus the advanced “training of trainers” on program staff and program leaders among the laity. A-O Team member Lauren Zook has already stated her willingness to be trained. You have heard our report to the Vestry about becoming a formal part of BLM Cambridge, discerned last Sunday after Alexis Toliver’s presentation. The planning team of St. James’s A-O Team members, St. Stephen’s Lynn’s Beloved Community team members and the Mission Institute facilitators will meet over dinner at my house April 10th to plan for St. Stephens’ visit  to St. James’s for conversation and a “dinner Eucharist” – inviting the whole congregation of St. James’s to participate, and facilitated by Diane D’Souza and Zena Link of the Mission Institute – on Pentecost Sunday May 15th.
  •          We need to flag the formation of a Food Ministry Discernment Team.
  •          GBIO held an action at which we had at least a half-dozen St. James’s members present,  last week.
  •          Tom Tufts and a planning team continue to work on sponsoring a performance of "And Still We Rise," a participatory dramatic presentation by people who are post-incarceration or who have family members incarcerated, on April 24th.
  •          Eric will report on good progress toward the Parish Retreat, as well as strong growth of our new Church School class of little ones, solid service from our Church School teaching staff, and about our new Nursery Coordinator, Julia Reed-Betts.

Diocesan Activity

  •          I’m preaching and presiding for the Sisters of St. Anne’s Wednesday morning Eucharist, Holy Wednesday, Mar. 23rd.
  •          Attending Clericus and Deanery Assembly.
  •          Serving on Annual Clergy Conference Planning Committee


  •          The staff has Easter Monday off, but I will work Easter Monday – Easter Wednesday, then take Thursday-Sunday away on family business in Vermont. Eric will preach and preside on Sunday April 3rd.

Continuing Ed in 2016:

  •          1) Eric and I will be at annual diocesan Clergy Conference, May 2-4 (with the Rev. Dr. Andrew McGowan, friend of St. James’s, as presenter!),
  •          2) We will also be at MED-DioMass new-clergy mentoring program conference May 31st to June 2nd at Adelynrood (or Bethany House).
  •          3) I will be attending the CREDO II "Clergy Wellness Conference" from October 24th through October 31st, 2016 as "continuing education," which will include being away Sunday October 30th. I’ll be back in plenty of time for All Saints Sunday.
  •          Drawing class on Monday afternoons beginning March 28th.  3-times-a-week swimming continues.


Wardens’ Report

  •          There was a good GBIO meeting on March 8. We are pledged to bring 35 parishioners to the May 24 meeting.
  •           A team of cleaners came in to clean the church for Easter.
  •           Still going back-and-forth on estimates for the needed interior work.


Assistant Rector’s Report

  •          Eric is happy to report the hiring of a new nursery coordinator – Julia Reed-Betts.
  •          For Maundy Thursday the families will be providing soup.
  •          The Scouts are doing great – Michelle Holmes is the new liaison.
  •          One scout may do an audit of our digital needs as a service project.
  •          Eric is still working on getting kids interested in summer camp which he feels he can get for almost free.


 Evaluation, Norm check in

  •           People believed that, for the most part, we followed our norms.
  •           Want to start check-ins promptly at 6:30
  •           Holly mentioned that she appreciated the quality of listening that took place



●        We finished with commissioning Tom B. in his role as Warden.  All other Vestry members were commissioned on Feb. 21, 2016.


Submitted by Nancy McArdle



Kenneth Chomba's Sermon for 5 Easter 4-24-16

Audio recording of Kenneth Chomba's Sermon for 5 Easter


St. James's helps support Tatua Kenya with one of our Missions Grants. This week, we are delighted to host Tatua's Executive Director Kenneth Chomba as our preacher. Kenneth Chomba Njue, 21 years of age, is a co-founder of the organization and has worked for the organization since inception. He left a career in finance and accounting to follow a deeper call in pursuit of fulfillment and accomplish a purpose discovered to serve humanity and the people at large. He is continually moved by the fact that every human being has a God given capacity and power to change the world. He believes that his work is to arouse the power in the people into action and encourage communities create common pools of resources towards solving common community challenges. This he will do until the dignity of every human being is assured. 


Sylvia Weston's Living Epistle on Serving on the Anti-Oppression Team 4-24-16

Audio recording of Sylvia Weston's Living Epistle 



Sunday April 24, 2016

St. James’s Episcopal Church

By Sylvia Weston


The author of the Epistles, which we still read today, was once an oppressor. His name was Saul. The story is well known, referred to as the Damascus experience. He was en route to do one of his awful evil deeds, when he was met by the Great Liberator: Jesus! “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting ME?” What? YOU? Am persecuting whom?

Saul certainly met his match on that day and while on a trip that was meant to do harm to others, instead it transformed the notorious Saul.

After his encounter with the Source and Teacher of Love & Goodness - Saul got a new name - Paul, from the one who makes all things new. The one known as THE WAY who goes ahead and makes crooked ways straight - the one who, beginning with the prophets and Apostles, teaches us how we ought to treat one another:

Some examples are: Prophet Micah: “What does the Lord require of you: “To do Justice, love Mercy, and to Walk humbly with God…(Micah 6:8). We are the FAMILY of God, comprised of all nations, races, creed and language. When we walk with God, our hearts are transformed towards LOVE, PEACE, MERCY, GOODNESS, FREEDOM and JUSTICE for one another.

And Isaiah (61:1): “The Spirit of the Lord anoints me to tell the Good News, free captives, comfort the broken hearted and to liberate those who are bound.” AND Jeremiah (20:9) says: “Something within me like burning fire….”

That fire is The Spirit of God which stirs the gift of the LOVE of God for all of humanity in each one who is willing to accept this gift – black, white, brown, red, yellow. Everyone is PRECIOUS and LOVED in God’s eyes. God gave us the gift of JESUS - a model for us of how to live and walk in this world. Jesus not only transforms and renews even the ugliest/vilest of situations, He teaches us how…to follow and to Do as he Does.

Why am I a member of the Anti-Oppression Team?

Because of the greatest example - His name is Jesus, His name is LOVE. His name is GRACE! Because when I walk in his way, I am instructed by the teachings and inspired by His SPIRIT to listen and obey and follow his directions… Sometimes fear and doubt try to intersect, and then the transformed Paul tells me: “The Spirit himself intercedes through wordless groans,” and then that Spirit also stirs the fire within me , (as Jeremiah testifies) to approach, to listen, to speak and to act on behalf of the oppressed and the marginalized.

In times of despair when one grows weary of the long, drawn-out process, and the repetition of oppressive behavior, Paul reminds us: “God’s Grace is sufficient, for His strength is perfected in my/our weakness.”

How often has my heart ached when I listen to stories, or know of someone who is denied an opportunity, denied Good - or the right to life - or is degraded and considered “less-than” by unkind words and stares. Who will speak up on their behalf? Who will advocate for them? EACH one is God’s DELIGHT, made in his Image. Each one is PRECIOUS. God knows each and every Person … “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” “I have called you by NAME.” This divide and ill-will never seems to end. Then I look at the younger generations and think who will speak for them? What will life be for them at the crossroads? Who will pave the way for them? Someone has to and the work has to be done now. We are agents of Jesus’ love. Scripture tells us that: “Jesus made peace by reconciling all things to Himself by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:20) That is LOVE. With Christ in us, we have the “Hope of Glory”. We have Freedom to engage in dialogue on behalf of others, for a better Hope! So I continue on this journey: to listen, dialogue and advocate, as I engage in the work of the Anti-Oppression Team.

Paul, changed by the One who is called LOVE, tells us: “See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.” He instructs Titus, whom he calls a “true son in Christ Jesus,” in his Epistle, to care for others as God cares for you. And he Blesses us: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another, and to all, just as we do to you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:15 & 3:12)

We as agents of God can help to bring about a change. How? Jesus modeled for us in the way he lived in the world. Listen to his words: “LOVE ONE ANOTHER, AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.” (John 13:34) “DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD THAT THEY SHOULD DO TO YOU.” He asks Peter: “Do you love me?” Peter says: “Yes Lord, you know I love you.” Well then, “FEED MY SHEEP.” Simply put: TAKE CARE OF ONE ANOTHER.


Holly Lyman Antolini's Homily for the Burial of Tony Marsh 

Audio recording of Holly Lyman Antolini's Homily


Nearer my God to Thee, nearer to Thee! E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me; still all my song would be nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer, my God to Thee, nearer to Thee.” AMEN.

Three words stand out to me when I think of Tony Marsh. One is “elegance.” One is “graciousness.” And one is “dignity.” From my very first impression of Tony, sitting with Cleanthe in the pews on the center aisle toward the back of St. James’s on the Massachusetts Ave. side, I never saw him that he wasn’t what my grandmother, raised by her Belgian grandmother to speak French natively, would have called “point device!’ Not one hair out of place. Always discreetly dressed with taste and style, with a punctilious attention to detail. The only man I’ve ever known who would have made sure to brush his teeth before going to the hospital with a stroke! So I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn from Cleanthe and Tony’s daughter Tonie this week that Tony loved to do the family ironing! Yet I was surprised. Surely this was not something every Haitian man of style and authority would have deigned to do. But iron he did. Superbly.

Which points to a whole other dimension of who Tony Marsh was. If elegance were all there were to Tony, we would not love him as we do. Under that tasteful exterior beat a generous and loving heart, a gentle and steadfast heart. The kind of heart that would impel a man to take care of four girls alone in Haiti while his wife made her way to the United States, clearing a path forward in a new land. Then he joined Cleanthe in Somerville, bringing the four girls with him, escaping the random violence and chaos of the reign of Papa Doc Duvalier as President of Haiti, to begin again in a new land, trusting that indeed in God’s house there are many dwelling places and a place prepared for all in them. Tony had the kind of giving heart to support his grandson Emmanuel throughout his growing up, backing up Emmanuel’s single working mother so that Emmanuel grew into the sort of young man who would graduate from Suffolk University and go on to get himself elected last year as the first Haitian-American on the Malden School Committee. Tony’s daughters will tell you that there has been no kindlier or more dedicated father or grandfather than Tony.

And that brings me to that third word that stands out to me when I think of Tony Marsh: dignity. Tony Marsh was a man who knew his own worth. In a society that is woefully marked by prejudice against men of color and particularly those from other countries, Tony occupied his own space with grace and assurance. In fact, he knew his own worth well enough and was confident enough to set his dignity aside when circumstances called for it, and get busy at the ironing board or with the after-dinner dishes in the sink. He was a man who had navigated from a good job in management with the Coca Cola Company in Haiti to a position at the hospital where Cleanthe worked in the Boston area without losing one whit of his self-esteem or his sophisticated concern for the affairs of the world. Quintessential Americans that the Marshes are, people who have brought industry, a high value for education – their own, and that of their children and grandchildren – astutely perceptive judgment and participation as citizens of this democracy, generosity to their church and their community, Tony and Cleanthe have both been a shining rebuke to anyone who thinks this country doesn’t need to welcome people from other countries, often countries beset by violence and social unrest.

But there’s a fourth word that applies to Tony Marsh, and it undergirds all the rest. And that word is faith. Tony was a man of deep and abiding faith. And thank God for that faith, because after 94 years of health and 68 years of devoted marriage to Cleanthe, Tony’s 95th year, with the devastating stroke last spring and all the challenges of physical therapy and infection and times in and times out of the hospital, put that faith to the test. In the last year, both Cleanthe and Tony had to call upon their faith at a depth that even the times of troubles under Papa Doc, when a knock on the door could mean arrest and execution without warning and without trial, hadn’t demanded. When elegance and dignity were almost impossible to maintain, Tony Marsh never lost his faith, and fueled by the grace that faith supplied him, never lost his kindliness, either. No matter what the challenge, Tony always “chose life,” putting all his considerable will and effort into it.

I will never forget bringing Tony communion last winter in the hospital, when we were terribly afraid that we were going to lose him to an infection, and the joy and fervor he brought to our prayers together, even at such an extremity of ill health. “Oak of righteousness” that Tony was, he was able even in such extremity to wear “the mantle of praise instead of a faint spiritthe oil of gladness instead of mourning.” Because he was confident in the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, confident that God was always “making all things new.” And that even when he was finally called, as he was called last Monday, to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, “life would only be changed, not ended.” That his kindly heart, joined to the loving heart of God, would truly encompass not just his beloved Cleanthe and his girls, and Emmanuel and all his beloved family and friends, but the whole wide world.

So no wonder that Tony’s family wanted to sing “Nearer my God to Thee” to remember him today. It was one of Tony’s very favorite hymns, and he couldn’t sing it without tears. “Though like the wanderer, the sun goes down, darkness be over me, my rest a stone, yet in my dreams I’d be nearer, my God, to Thee, Nearer to Thee!”

And echoing in his heart, throughout his life, come what may, the words of Psalm 91, the Psalm Cleanthe made all her girls memorize and repeat when they were growing up, words that we’ll sing at communion today, “You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord, who abide in his shadow for life, say to the Lord, ‘My refuge, my rock in whom I trust! And I will raise you up on eagles’ wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of my hand.” AMEN.


Nicholas Hayes's Sermon for 4 Easter 4-17-16


Lauren Zook's Living Epistle on Serving on the Anti-Oppression Team 4-17-16

Audio recording of Lauren Zook's Living Epistle 


Jesus is simple.

Asked about the greatest commandments, Jesus told us, Love God; Love thy neighbor. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. The ten rules Yahweh gave Moses on Mount Sinai, the 613 mitzvot of the Jewish Law, the two thousand years of tradition before Jesus and the two thousand after – it all boils down to: Love God; Love thy neighbor. That's it. That's everything.

Simple does not mean easy, or clear, or obvious. It certainly doesn't mean everyone agrees on the details. It does mean everything we do can be measured against a moral benchmark of very few words. Am I loving God? Am I loving my neighbor? If not, it's time to pray, and time to try again.

One of the main reasons I feel called to anti-oppression work is that I don't like to hurt people. I don't usually cause deliberate hurt, but I am all too likely to make mistakes through ignorance or inattention, mistakes that cause harm to my fellow humans, my God-given family. To stand idly by while people of color suffer daily discrimination both personal and systemic is not an act of love. To forget about the needs of people with disabilities because I'm caught up in other concerns is not an act of love. To refer to a friend by the wrong pronoun or carelessly elide their existence in my speech, slip of the tongue though it may be, is just not an act of love.

It is my instinct, when I cause harm, to turn on myself in a spiral of blame and self-hatred, and that isn't love either. That's where the work dies, when I can't look past my present guilt to focus on the continued needs of the other members of my family. I am gradually learning to fight that instinct by calling on other simple truths. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, is one. God forgives, is another. I try to tell myself, Take a breath. Pray about it. Try again.

So that's where I am right now: I'm trying. What about our work as a congregation, then? – if this is my epistle to St. James's, what is it exactly that I'm asking of all of you? Actually, nothing you haven't already agreed to. One of the things I love about the Episcopal Church is that we've collected a whole lot of simple truths that we like to keep repeating. I know that every Episcopalian in this room has already made certain promises in the baptismal covenant. You said that, with God's help, you would seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself. You said that, with God's help, you would respect the dignity of every human being. And that's all I'm inviting you to do. We'll have a hard time agreeing on how to do it. But we did promise God we'd try.

It takes a lot of conversation. It takes a lot of heartache and questions and discomfort and mistakes – so many mistakes. And at least, when we don't know the right answers, we will know the right questions. We already know what the church is here to do. Jesus told us, and Jesus is simple.

Love God. Love your neighbor. That's it. That's all there is.


Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for 3 Easter 4-10-16

Audio recording of Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for 3 Easter


3 Easter Year C 4-10-16

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Acts 9:1-20; Ps. 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21: 1-19


Make these words more than words, O God, and give us the Spirit of Jesus.  Amen.

Here we are on the Third Sabbath of the Seven Sabbaths of Easter – the Sabbath of Sabbaths! I come to you fresh from having had the privilege of hearing novelist, essayist and theologian Marilynne Robinson speak in Harvard’s Memorial Church on the topic of “The Divine.” Marilynne Robinson is a writer of award-winning novels, not a public speaker, and it took immense concentration even for me as one of her die-hard devotees to stay with the density of her prose and her somewhat reticent delivery, but this is my take-away from what she said: Beginning with the rise of the empirical sciences in the 19th century, we liberal Christian religious folks have gotten more and more diffident in speaking about, let alone affirming The Divine, the immensity, the comprehensive Alpha & Omega REALITY and PRESENCE of the transcendent GOD.

No longer are we comfortable joining “the myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands singing with full voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’ ‘To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’"

She observed that we have taken to qualifying everything we say about God – when we speak about God at all – by all kinds of admission of our subjectivity in speaking of God and all kinds of equivocation about the unverifiable nature of God’s existence. Robinson’s words were a clarion call to be unvarnished, unqualified and unapologetic in our affirmation of The Divine, to allow God God’s full universal scope, the full “mysterium Tremendum.” At the same time, she was calling us do so without domesticating God to our denominational viewpoint or setting God off against the work of science. To affirm God with conviction without pretending we CAN or DO know more of God than it is possible for us limited humans to know and without claiming a more imperial hegemony for our point of view on the Divine than its slim infrastructure can bear.

And all the time that Marilynne Robinson was speaking and I was fiercely concentrating on the multiple clauses of her long complex sentences – gosh! Someone who can even outdo ME at that! – I was remembering with gratitude – I was FEELING in my bones – the joyousness, the bold exuberance of our celebration of God’s presence, Sunday by Sunday, here at St. James’s. (And not JUST when we’re singing the Caribbean Mass!) I was feeling in my bones the peculiar paradox of our willingness in this congregational community to admit our agnosticism – “a-gnosis, literally “not knowing;” the impossibility of truly KNOWING and NAMING the fullness of God – without compromising our strong faith in God – the “practice, practice, PRACTICE” – of trusting God enough for resurrection to have scope and force in our lives, for life, in fact, to rise out of death in our lives in a myriad of surprising ways.

How is it that this unabashed declaration of the Divine Presence is possible here at the corner of Beech St. and Mass Ave when so many – perhaps especially in THIS very secular Yankee Cantabrigian context – are finding it so hard? I wonder…

I wonder if it doesn’t begin with this magisterial space itself? The great upsweep of this sanctuary into the light of the gigantic square tower, commandeering not just the eye but the spirit, demanding a sense of reverence and awe, a sense of our own small contingency within its gracious might?

But then there’s John’s post-resurrection story in the Gospel for this week, a story about which there is considerable controversy among the biblical scholars, since John is the only Gospel of the four in which you find this particular post-resurrection story with its slightly scrambled geographical, sequential and even theological logic. Why, for example, are all the disciples back at their fishing – rather hopelessly and desultorily, it would seem – and why are they so confounded by Jesus’ appearance on the shore when John says they’ve encountered the Resurrected Christ twice already? But never mind all that! (Except to remember, as Marilynne Robinson reminded us, that when you’re reading Scripture, it tells us its truth in a mode entirely different from the parsing of scientific inquiry, so don’t try to impose an impression of “scientific accuracy” upon Scripture as you read; such literalism will only blind you to its literary and narrative power, and lead you not into truth but falsehood). What’s important in this powerful little story is its concreteness and its communion. What we remember after reading this resurrection story of John’s is that it’s about feeding.  We remember that Jesus has breakfast ready for the disciples on the beach, when they splash ashore with their flopping net-full: fish grilled on the charcoal fire, and bread. Yum! Don’t you wish you had some??? And we remember that Jesus, recapitulating Peter’s acts of betrayal in those terrible hours of the trial, before the Crucifixion, when Peter protected himself by denying his relationship with the doomed man three times, now asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Can you affirm me? Can you name and claim your relationship with me now? And three times, when Peter says, “Yes, Lord, you KNOW that I love you!” Jesus responds, “Feed my sheep.” He doesn’t say, “Write great theological tracts!” or “Get busy with televangelism!” He doesn’t say, “Find the perfect media platform,” or “Follow the ten best practices to grow your congregation.” He says, “Feed my sheep.”

As mighty as the Divine might be – as mighty as our tower is over our heads – the business of faith in God’s presence is actually right down here in our bodies in the pews: very grounded, very practical, very embodied. Very “incarnate,” we theologians would say, believing as we do that Jesus, in accepting his Incarnation long before his Crucifixion or Resurrection, embodied divinity for us inextricably with his humanity, precisely to empower us to express divinity in OUR own humanity, partial, faulty and imperfect as that expression necessarily is. Love – real love enacted in the concreteness of our lives, fish in the net and on the grill,  – is often NOT transcendently pretty, but messy, convoluted, terribly risky, a strange mixture of self-serving and self-transcendence in empathy and solidarity with others, calling us constantly into the necessity of forgiving each other our shortcomings even as we affirm the immeasurable and unique gift of each of us to the others of us, whatever our faults, and as we reaffirm our commitment to each other.

So I wonder if our peculiar blend of unabashed reverence and modesty in truth claims at St. James's might have something to do with the long history of this congregation’s global diversity? I wonder if it’s the fruit of our long practice of keeping our eye out for the love of God every week in our peculiar “body of Christ” here at St. James’s, sharing communion in this place with the assortment of humanity – EVERY assortment, nearly! – that shows up here. We feed ALL sheep. You don’t have to “qualify into” St. James’s. Unless the qualification is to stay in relationship with everyone, whether or not we think they (or we) “qualify!” Isn’t that, at bottom, what we’re trying to do in the work of the Anti-Oppression Team: to make our cultivation of relationship across our differences something we can risk naming and exploring within the bonds of our communion with each other? Defying the deafening silence or divisive accusation that stymies such communication in the wider society? Might it be that we do just what we prayed in our Collect this morning: practice expecting God to be known to us in each other, Sunday by Sunday, in the breaking of the bread of the Word and the bread of the Eucharist, welcoming any and all to God’s Table, literally and figuratively “participating in Christ” with each other, mouthful by mouthful and hug and handshake by handshake and hug, until the eyes of our faith can spring open and we can behold God in all God’s redeeming work? And that the more we practice this searching for and expecting God to be among us – even in people we don’t “get” at all - people as scary as Ananias must have found the persecutor Paul, despite his blindness -- even in people we find strange or annoying or even infuriating -- in our generally motley crew of “sondrye folk” indeed – the more likely we are actually to catch a glimpse of the Divine at work in our lives and our fellow human beings?

As immense as the full scope of Divinity is – and we NEED it to be just that immense, just that comprehensive, holding our feeble efforts in its mighty promise of restoration and wholeness so that we CAN stick with each other in the concreteness of our relationship, forgive each other and ourselves when we realize we’ve been headed in the wrong direction, when our encounter with each other opens our eyes not just to God’s redeeming work but to our own sin, our own wrong-headedness, our blindness to the need and suffering of others, our obtuseness about our privilege and inherited prejudice or our internalized mistrust – as encompassing as The Divine is, it isn’t much good to us if it isn’t also embodied as Jesus embodied it, in washing one another’s feet; feeding one another; not discarding each other but remaining steadfastly present to each other when we are weak and unlovely and when we are suffering; bearing with one another but also holding each other accountable when one of us has behaved selfishly or betrayed another, or when we’ve failed to see how our personal actions, which seem so innocent, actually contribute to huge systemic forces of exclusion and injustice; refusing to engage in the one-ups-person-ship and verbal or even physical violence that is a constant temptation when we feel threatened. And setting boundaries with one another so that we accord each other the RESPECT of EXPECTING that each of us will strive to realize our impact on others when making our personal decisions. Holding each other accountable when one of us forgets that Jesus says, not “Feed yourself,” but “Feed my sheep,” and gives in to the lure of serving self only and not the greatest possible good.

Feed my sheep.” When we’re actually DOING this – when we’re practicing the discipline of concrete community and communion with each other – it rarely feels magisterially noble. Ask the folks who bring dinner to our elder Shirley on the weekends, when Meals-on-Wheels isn’t serving. There’s nothing spiritually fancy about it. Shirley’ll be hanging out in the lobby of her residence over on Alewife Brook Parkway. She pretty much likes only macaroni and cheese or chicken with rice. She has largely lost her memory, though she still knows that these people who arrive with food are her old choir friends. But she still possesses the full scope of her imagination. So when one dinner-provider asked her the other day how she came by the terrible bruises on her head that in fact were the result of a nasty fainting spell that hospitalized her for several days, Shirley explained jovially, looking out the lobby windows at the embankment above the parking lot, that she had been rolling down the embankment like a child on a park hillside! This is a person whom our culture would consign to the scrap heap of neglect and loneliness in a nursing home or worse yet, the street. But breaking bread together with each other at St. James’s, the eyes of our faith are opened to behold God’s redeeming, lively, engaging work even in the “least of these” among God’s family. We are a community belonging to God’s divine immensity, but we have been learning that we really only glimpse the life-giving power of that immensity when we are able to serve each other simply and consistently in our grounded practicality, faults and failures and unattractive flaws and all.  Macaroni and cheese. Fish on the grill. AMEN.


Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for Easter Sunday 3-27-16

Audio recording of Holly Lyman Antolini's sermon for Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday Year C 3-26-16
©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Isaiah 65: 17-25; Ps. 118:1-2, 14-24; Acts 10:34-43; Luke 24:1-12

On this day the Lord has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it. AMEN.


I was recently blessed to attend actor Mark Rylance’s play, Nice Fish – remember Mark Rylance of “Wolf Hall” fame? – and, because almost all the words in Nice Fish were actually written by Minnesotan poet Louis Jenkins, I was blessed to be introduced to Jenkins’ poetry. Jenkins’ wry, self-deprecating work is solidly rooted, as Jenkins is himself, in the soil and lake water of northern Minnesota and he manages to make his transcendent understanding shine out of the humblest, most grounded ordinary human experience, the stuff of fishing lures and gas-powered chain saws, of imitation-wood-paneled den walls, toilet lawn ornaments filled with flowers, and malfunctioning machine parts and love lives. But in his latest collection, Before You Know It– and yes, DO take note of the book’s title because as with every word of Jenkins’ prose poems, it is VERY intentional: BEFORE YOU KNOW IT! –  in Jenkins’ first poem, he departs from his usual practical sensibility by just one incremental rotation of the dial. And that one fraction of a departure makes all the difference. The poem is called, “Walking Through A Wall.”

Walking Through A Wall

Unlike flying or astral projection, walking through walls is a totally earth-related craft, but a lot more interesting than pot-making or driftwood lamps. I got started at a picnic up in Bowstring in the northern part of the state. A fellow walked through a brick wall right there in the park. I said, “Say, I want to try that.” Stone walls are best, then brick and wood. Wooden walls with fiberglass insulation and steel doors aren’t so good. They won’t hurt you. If your wall walking is done properly, both you and the wall are left intact. It is just that they aren’t pleasant somehow. The worst things are wire fences. Maybe it’s the molecular structure of the alloy or just the amount of give in a fence, I don’t know, but I’ve torn my jacket and lost my hat in a lot of fences. The best approach to a wall is, first, two hands placed flat against the surface; it’s a matter of concentration and just the right pressure. You will feel the dry, cool inner wall with your fingers. Then there is a moment of total darkness before you step through on the other side.  [Louis Jenkins: Before You Know It, Will O’ the Wisp Books, Duluth, Minnesota]

Welcome, my friends, to the most preposterous festival in the Christian calendar: the Feast of the Resurrection! Wall Walking! Welcome to our celebration of the rising from the dead of a human being who had been executed excruciatingly, days before, in public humiliation by the forces of overweening Empire and its collaborators, to be an example to his rebellious people! Welcome to our celebration of the victory of that human being over death, that human being whom we also say is God - absolutely human and absolutely divine! Welcome to the sacrament of baptism in which we intend, with small scoops of water in a silver shell, to drown three small people into a new life, each one becoming at once absolutely themselves in their uniqueness and at the same time, one with God and one with all the rest of God’s Creation, including YOU! Welcome to the Eucharist in which, participating in Christ, we knit ourselves back together in communion with one another in that selfsame unity with God!

Come now, you say (along with Jenkins’ readers, and along with the disciples themselves when the women came running to tell them of the empty tomb): all that is simply IMPOSSIBLE. You’re with Alice in Through the Looking Glass, "One can't believe impossible things." To which the Queen says, "I daresay you haven’t had much practice…When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."


Early in March, I went to visit my very pragmatic and lawyerly sister in Washington D.C. My plan was to view the ancient Alexandrine Greek bronzes at the National Gallery – a wonderful and wondrous exhibit in itself, these rare survivors of a nearly lost art, rescued from the sea and from volcanic ash to remind us of the singular craftsmanship and nuanced portraiture of their Greek creators in the second and third centuries before Christ.

But then my sister surprised me with a second exhibit to which she insisted we go, an exhibit across the street from the White House, at the small, newly renovated Renwick Gallery, free to all comers, photography encouraged, an exhibit called “Wonder.” “All comers” were there, too: the place was full to bursting with children and families and people of every age and description, in some rooms queuing to reach other rooms; in other rooms, lying on their backs on the floor, the better to see what was unfolding above them. [] One room was taken over by a rainbow of slender threads, radiating in a progression of color; another long hallway of a room was occupied by the entire trunk of a large tree, laid on its side, which had been disassembled, cut into tiny blocks, and completely reassembled as itself, but now hollow at the center and perforated from top to bottom with a waffle of holes so that the light shone through! Still another was bristling and swirling with willow sticks woven into gigantic nest-like dwelling places as if we would all take up an owlish residence. And still another had a ceiling filled with a cloud of multi-colored nets that shifted color in a play of light and shadow like northern lights. And housing all these wonders, the extraordinary neo-Classical building of the Renwick itself, as much a marvel of creativity as anything its rooms could hold.

On one wall in the “Wonder” exhibit, a plaque announces Aristotle’s words, that muser among the earliest of scientific musers, from the 4th century B.C.E.: “It is through wonder that [humans] now begin and originally began to philosophize; wondering in the first place at obvious perplexities, and then by gradual progression raising questions about the great matters too, for example, about the changes of the moon and of the sun, about the stars and about the origin of the universe.

In another room, the 13th century theologian and saint, Albertus Magnus continues the thread, “Wonder is defined as a constriction and suspension of the heart caused by amazement at the sensible appearance of something so portentous, great, and unusual, that the heart suffers a systole.” You KNOW what “a systole” is without needing a definition, if you’ve ever experienced wonder!

And still further in, it is Albert Einstein who says, in a quote from 1931, “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it, [who] can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and [their] eyes have dimmed.”

When we baptize small Emery, smaller Colin and smallest Xavier into the family of Christ here at St. James’s in a few minutes, we will anoint them with the oil of their calling as our newest and smallest ministers of Christ’s love in the world, and we will give thanks that they have been “raised to the new life of grace.” Then we will pray these words, these profound wishes for them in their new life in Christ: “Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.

Remember the women in Luke 24 who go, grieving, to the tomb at first light, bearing the spices for burial, only to find the immense gravestone rolled away and the tomb empty, but suddenly filled with the dazzling presence of two inexplicable men. Terrified and groveling, stunned at the unexpected, they receive the word, “"Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again." Then remember they did, those women, and ran to tell their companions. And their companions, Luke tells us, found their words “an idle tale… and they did not believe them.

It is not a new condition, this condition of disbelief, this unwillingness to countenance the inexplicable and the mysterious. But in a world racked by injustice and by fear, in a world that seems bound to what it can explain and what it can explain seems dire indeed, in a world in which literal prose trumps the suggestiveness of poetry and people’s vision seems limited to a terror of “the other” and “the unknown,” do we not NEEDWONDER? Is not a heart for inquiry and discernment ESSENTIAL TO SURVIVAL in these contentious days, alongside the courage to will and to persevere when inquiry and discernment take time and are impeded by others’ lack of imagination and insistence upon a self-serving shortsightedness? Are we not fed a most essential nourishment for the soul when we rejoice and wonder – when we let our hearts “suffer a systole” at the infinite complexity and unexpectedness and sheer irreducible beauty of our world? Must we not BEGIN with such humility, by acknowledging that we do not know all, that as fast as we learn things, the number of things we haven’t learned yet seems to outpace us?

And at the core of all our wonder, should we not wonder most at the sheer fact of love? That we CAN love each other, despite all our shortcomings? That we can desperately love our benighted world, so intent upon tearing itself apart with hatred? That our hearts constrict and suspend operations in joy simply to regard a wall of rock in the desert or a slab of granite mountain or the play of light on a moving sea? That we are overcome with the irresistible desire to honor that heart’s constriction by painting or composing or dancing in response to that joy? That ONLY when we are capable of irrational love and connectedness that overcomes our separateness, ONLY when we can hold together at the same time paradoxical convictions that life CAN rise out of death and the divine spark of creativity CAN flare within our very frail and often dark humanity, and ONLY when we can live AS IF new things were becoming possible when we had thought we were utterly entrapped within the old, can we BE TRULY ALIVE?  And that we cannot live, as Einstein says, without the very breath of the Spirit – the pneuma, which means “breath” – that breath of wonder breathing within us which opens us to the marvelous and the mysterious?

There. You’re through the wall. You HAVE believed – or at least entertained the possibility – of AT LEAST six impossible things! CHRIST IS RISEN! ALLELUIA! AMEN.

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