Sermon for Christmas Day 12-25-17, The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini


Click here to listen to the sermon. 
Christmas Day 12-25-17
©Holly Lyman Antolini
Lections: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7; John 1:1-18

Let us pray in the 5th century words of Caelius Sedulius, from the hymn we just sang, “Behold, You, World Creator, wear the form & fashion of a slave; our very flesh, You, Maker share, [your] fallen creatures all to save.” AMEN.

This little gathering on Christmas morning always feels to me like our moment to step back from the harrowingly beautiful story of the Christ child’s birth in Bethlehem of 1st-century Judaea, and “ponder these things in our hearts” like the newly-delivered Mary, nursing that baby in the animal stall and wondering, as all new mothers do, even when NOT almost alone in a strange town, what had happened and what was next. Moreover, we get to do our pondering with the help of one of the great theological meditations on the Incarnation of God in human flesh – the first chapter of John. There we read that this tiny baby, improbable portal though he was, was The Word through whom all things came to be. Joining the great stream of the Wisdom tradition in the Hebrew Scripture, John’s “Word” is the Wisdom of God, there from the very beginning of the beginning. But never before has Wisdom been INCARNATE in human flesh. “John turns the metaphor into metaphysics. Wisdom not only visits humankind, Wisdom becomes humankind. The plan that was with God from the beginning, by which God created the universe, now joins the universe that God has created. Word become flesh.” [underlining mine; David L. Bartlett, New Proclamation Year B 1999-2000]

What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people,” says John. We read that though he came into the world he had made, though he was the source of light and life for that world, that world knew him not. “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” Nevertheless, promises John, using the present tense because this is not history; this is present reality, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Well, the word – “overcome” or “overwhelm,” as in, “the darkness did not overwhelm it” – is ACTUALLY A PUN! It ALSO means “comprehended.” “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not COMPREHEND it.

Do we REALLY comprehend it any better now, in our present darkness? Do we actually REALLY let the fullness of the Light into the aperture of our perception? Even when it gets EMBODIED for us in people all around us working on behalf of God’s love and justice? I think the struggle John is describing – the struggle actually to KNOW Christ when we SEE Christ in our midst – continues in the 21st century as it did in the 1st. And in the 21st century, it is a political as well as a social and individual discernment. If you don’t buy that – if you’re one of those who is uncomfortable with politics in church – you should be mightily uncomfortable with the whole story of Christ’s birth, embedded deeply in very particular politics, both in Matthew’s Gospel and in Luke’s – the only Gospels that really tell the STORY of Jesus’ birth; Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism and John, as you have just heard, is in the land of poetic metaphor, not narrative. In Luke and Matthew, Jesus is born under specific rulers in a specific land with specific political tensions – massive ones. The minute he goes off our liturgical radar after Christmas Day, he goes into exile in Egypt, a refugee fleeing from a king trying to secure his royal power by murdering every male baby under the age of 2 in his kingdom just IN CASE one of them turns out to be God’s choice of royalty to succeed him. (A bit like deporting EVERY undocumented immigrant in case ONE OF THEM turns out to be an Islamist militant or a member of a drug cartel instead of a contributor to our economy & parent of our children!)

The minute the Word becomes flesh, he enters political reality and, like us, his actions – even the action of being born! – have immediate political ramifications. And thereby things become complicated, and our worldly eyes and ears, our worldly perceptions get cloudy. We have a hard time perceiving “grace and truth” even when it takes on flesh right before our eyes.

William Stringfellow was a lawyer and an Episcopalian lay theologian active particularly in the 1960’s and 70’s, a peace activist who was mobilized by the Civil Rights Movement, organized his first sit-in as a Bates College junior in 1960 at a local Lewiston, ME restaurant that refused to serve people of color, and famously harbored Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan during the height of the Viet Nam War protests. He died young of cancer, but into his short lifetime, he packed an intense study of the Bible, practicing his political discernment, as his mentor and admirer Karl Barth wrote, “with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” “’My concern is to understand America biblically,’ [Stringfellow] wrote at the start of [his book] An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land. ‘The effort is to comprehend the nation, to grasp what is happening right now to the nation and to consider the destiny of the nation within the scope and style of the ethics of the ethical metaphors distinctive to the biblical witness in history. The task is to treat the nation within the tradition of biblical politics, to understand America biblically -- not the other way around, not (to put it in an appropriately awkward way) to construe the Bible Americanly.’”

Understanding America biblically, for Stringfellow, imposed a stringent call upon him as a citizen and a follower of Jesus Christ. Methodist pastor Bill Wylie-Kellerman wrote in the introduction to his collection of Stringfellow’s writings, “A Keeper of the Word,” "Death, with a capital D, is itself, for Stringfellow, a living moral reality…He draws intuitively on St. Paul, for whom death (along with law and sin) is in a matrix of enslaved existence. Stringfellow sees it as the power behind the powers. Death is a kind of synonym for the spirituality of idolatry, domination, and empire ...  He regarded death as a moral power within the nation... He named the nation-state as the 'pre-eminent principality…’Death reigns and [in the Incarnation, Crucifixion & Resurrection,] we are freed from its bondage.’ That's Stringfellow's message.” [Catholic priest & former Jesuit, John Dear, activist, pastor, former director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and after 9/11, a coordinator of chaplains for the Red Cross at the New York Family Assistance Center, writing in the National Catholic Reporter, Nov. 12, 2013. Source.]

Stringfellow would have resonated with the vision of the Incarnation that 5th century Christian poet Caelius Sedulius sets out in the hymn we just sang, that the “World Creator wears the form & fashion of a slave.” For God to become human meant to enter what Stringfellow called “the matrix of enslaved existence.” But alongside that grim view is one full of hope. For Stringfellow, Emmanuel, the Word in flesh, God WITH us in our “matrix of enslaved existence,” illuminated for us that our humanity was ALSO the humble, fallible vehicle of the wondrous grace of God. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overwhelm it.” We inhabit a Kingdom of Death but by the grace of the Incarnation, we are NOT ENSLAVED to death. We are always free to seize God’s opportunity for Light & Life.

Stringfellow wrote, “I am called in the Word of God -- as is everyone else -- to the vocation of being human, nothing more and nothing less ... To be a Christian means to be called to be an exemplary human being… In the face of death, live humanly. In the middle of chaos, celebrate the Word. Amidst Babel, speak the truth. Confront the noise and verbiage and falsehood of death with the truth and potency and efficacy of the Word of God. Know the Word, teach the Word, nurture the Word, preach the Word, define the Word, incarnate the Word, do the Word, live the Word. And more than that, in the Word of God, expose death and all death's works and wiles, rebuke lies, cast out demons, exorcise, cleanse the possessed, raise those who are dead in mind and conscience.”

This Christmas Day, a day in which darkness and the Powers & Principalities of Death seem conspicuously to be bearing down upon us, it strikes me that we have before us a most vivid icon of God’s grace and truth in the eye-catching but highly human person of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who in 2016 quietly started to take a knee during the playing of the National Anthem to call attention to police brutality, racial injustice and mass incarceration. As sports columnist Sean Gregory wrote in TIME’s Person of the Year edition, Kaepernick’s gesture “grew into a social movement that highlighted the nation’s cultural divide, roiled powerful institutions from the NFL to the White House, and forced us all to grapple with difficult questions about protest, patriotism and free speech—issues many would rather ignore, let alone face as part of their weekend entertainment. As the controversy mushroomed this year, Kaepernick declined to speak about his role, but paid a heavy price for taking on the most popular sport in the U.S. Despite boasting talent and credentials that surpass those of many of the journeymen quarterbacks signed this year, Kaepernick found himself out of work; front offices around the league decided they were better off without the distraction. In October, he filed a collusion grievance against the NFL, arguing that he had been blackballed by its owners. He’s set to become the first star athlete since the Vietnam era to lose his career because of his beliefs.”

Sean Gregory goes on, “At the same time, Kaepernick tested our own convictions. The resistance movement he sparked raised issues that split players and fans alike. What’s the truer measure of patriotism: standing at attention before a football game, or asking whether the country is living up to the lyrics of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which salute the “land of the free and the home of the brave”? When critics lampoon the activism of multi­millionaire athletes, labeling them entitled and ungrateful, are they saying the money players earned through the sacrifice of time and body disqualifies them from free expression? And what does a clash between millions of white NFL fans and many of the African-American players who entertain them say about the state of race relations? How far have we really come?”

While he’s provoking thought and controversy, Kaepernick quietly continues his work with his “Know Your Rights” camp for kids—created to teach at-risk youth lessons on education, self-empowerment and engaging with police officers. Fellow athlete and political activist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar writes in Sports Illustrated, “Kaepernick ‘has never wavered in his commitment … On November 30, it was reported that 40 NFL players and league officials had reached an agreement for the league to provide approximately $90m between now and 2023 for activism endeavors important to African American communities. Clearly, this is the result of Colin’s one-knee revolution and of the many players and coaches he inspired to join him. That is some serious impact … Were my old friend [Muhammad Ali] still alive, I know he would be proud that Colin is continuing this tradition of being a selfless warrior for social justice.”

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” Yet the Incarnate Christ is our source of light and life. “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” Even if we do not always take the risk – as Colin Kaepernick has been risking – to LIVE it. And even if the darkness does not comprehend it.

It’s an old story, that those who embody the love of God are then subject to the Powers of Death. But this Christmas Day, we affirm that Death has no power over them. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not – DOES NOT – overwhelm it.” AMEN.


Sermon for Christmas Eve 12-24-17, The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini


Click here to listen to the sermon

Christmas Eve 2017
©Holly Lyman Antolini
Lections: Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:1-20

It seems fitting at this particular Christmas to begin with the Prayer for the Feast of Christmas 2017 from the Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani, who has patiently nurtured the tiny remnant of Anglican Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land through many years of intifada and conflict, and who continues to do so, now that our own chief executive has chosen to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel, thereby precipitating yet-more violence and contention.

Let us pray:

Gracious and loving God,
As violence and tensions spill out in our communities, we ask that you come to us again:
Come again in the form of a precious and tender child, the Prince of Peace.
Come again as healer and restorer, comforter and savior.
Come and fill our hearts afresh with your peace and love.
Come so that nations, communities and neighbors may taste and relish in your freedom.
Come and bestow your wisdom into the minds and souls of all leaders and governments.
Come to enable them to act with compassion, justice, equity and mercy in all that is before them. 
May the Prince of Peace be with you and your families afresh this Christmas and fill your lives with joy. AMEN.  [adapted]

Dear ones, Christmas Eve is always such a tender time, gathering in the dark of night by candlelight and remembering the little Holy Family, who hold together despite all kinds of pressures that could sink them; who endure an impromptu first delivery without benefit of midwife and make a manger and an animal stall work. Who have as their sole attendants donkeys, oxen, and sheep, and their shepherds, rough-hewn people who aren’t benefited by tax reform and who don’t show up on anyone’s political radar screen except in some statistical aggregate, exploitable but not worthy of real care and concern. And, of course, angels. Jubilant angels. Choirs of them, lighting up the sky! But you only perceive angels if you have “the eyes of your heart enlightened.” (Or if you yourself are singing. Angels show up when you’re singing.) Mostly, however, angels get missed, too.

As we sing our favorite carols – or grumble because Pat and I didn’t include them! – and enjoy our long traditions – yes, we have them at St. James’s as we do anywhere Christmas is celebrated; ours just happen to be slightly different than others! – and relish the frisson of excitement and anticipation that stays with us from childhood, we can forget that the Feast of the Nativity is not so much a sentimental moment as it is a BAPTISMAL MOMENT. From the moment of his birth, Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, is diving from eternity into DEATH before life triumphs in him. This tiny, disenfranchised baby is entering the world at the mercy of huge and malevolent forces he does not control, a tiny, swaddled cog in the immense machinery of global politics, about to be cast out of his own country, a refugee fleeing persecution like the more than 65 million displaced persons across the planet today. Jesus’ great, world-shifting YES to his humanity, his YES to entering our predicament at one specific time and place in order to make the specifics of all times and all places holy and amenable to God’s present love, is a YES to being utterly subject to both the best and worst impulses of those around him. Jesus’ birth tonight is a YES to THE MESS OF LIFE, AS WE KNOW IT. It is a YES to plunging straight into THINGS AS THEY ARE, not as we – or he – would like them to be. And to taking that plunge committed to act on the side of love. Always. No matter WHAT.

Last week it was time for an oil change for my Prius. No matter when it’s time for an oil change, it’s always inconvenient. Have you noticed that? But for me, there’s always a bit of a redemptive edge to the annoyance of having to scramble through morning rush hour all the way from Arlington Heights to Inman Square to CLM Auto on Webster, off Cambridge St. That’s because the thriving business is owned and run by two Portuguese identical twins, Rob & Mario. I found them years ago when my daughter Tina’s Toyota Yaris quit on a rainy night and a waiter in a Central Square restaurant recommended she tow it around the corner to CLM, sight unseen. She spent the night at my house and next morning, we showed up at CLM and they couldn’t have been nicer or more efficient on her behalf. I was sold.

Rob & Mario grew up, as their website says, blocks from their current site. They are characteristic of a certain Cantabrigian way of being. They come across as tough, no-nonsense, no-guff folks and they tell it straight. If they think you’re about to invest good money after bad on your old clunker (or your ridiculously elaborate new electronic wonder), they’ll set you straight, no if’s, and’s or but’s. They are constitutionally UNABLE to spend your money pointlessly. And they’ll give you GRIEF about it! They also happen to be faithful Catholics, so since I’m usually en route to work and showing up in my clergy collar, they always call me “the Reverend.” What’s not to like?!? And here’s the thing about Rob and Mario: for all that gruffness and even grumpiness, Rob & Mario are, as we say in Maine, “finest kind.” They are fiercely honest. They are, in my experience over the years (and borne out by Yelp) absolutely rock-solid trustworthy. And they are deeply, humorously, forgivingly GENEROUS. They are successful but they also support all kinds of causes with that hard-won money. They have gone so many extra miles for people of every description – I’ve seen them doing it, quietly and without fanfare – that it’s a wonder they aren’t based in Omaha by now.

So last week, as I was sitting in their very small waiting room with a half-dozen of the most linguistically, ethnically and economically diverse crowd of people you’d ever hope to meet, I had a vision of the kingdom of heaven. Well, of the Christmas Miracle, more like. The Holy Family, 21st-century Cambridge-style. I imagined the heavily pregnant Mary showing up in her hijab on Webster St. in the snow at closing time, no money and no place to stay and terror of ICE deportation written all over her. I imagined Mario (with a lot of serious joking at Joseph – whose native language being, say, Quechua, only gets about half of what Mario is saying but understands the kindness behind it – about his beat-up old Chevy truck and their predicament) reluctantly letting Mary hole up at the back of the shop, behind the hydraulic lifts, with the hulks of Toyotas and Lexi and Ford Escorts all around them. (The “friendly beasts,” urban version.) When Mary goes audibly into labor, my fellow waiting room denizens – an elderly man of Middle Eastern accent and extraction; a young Haitian woman, very friendly; a very tall young African-American dude with fabulous red high-tops, who won’t sit down; and a harried middle-aged professional guy – plus Rob & Mario’s cousin Bobby and me all crowd into the garage to help in whatever way we can, fetching warm water from the deep sinks in the rear; making coffee out in Mario’s office; pulling picnic rugs out of the trunk of the Lexus nearby for Mary to lie on, up out of the oil slicks on the cold cement floor; pulling electrical cables out of an old milk crate and lining it with my swim towels for the baby’s bed. Dialing 911 on someone’s cell phone but finding the dispatcher distracted by some gun violence over in Area Four.

Poet Elizabeth Bishop had the Christmas message exactly right, in her poem “Filling Station:”

Oh, but it is dirty!
—this little filling station,
oil-soaked, oil-permeated
to a disturbing, over-all
black translucency.
Be careful with that match!

Father wears a dirty,
oil-soaked monkey suit
that cuts him under the arms,
and several quick and saucy
and greasy sons assist him
(it’s a family filling station),
all quite thoroughly dirty.

Do they live in the station?
It has a cement porch
behind the pumps, and on it
a set of crushed and grease-
impregnated wickerwork;
on the wicker sofa
a dirty dog, quite comfy.

Some comic books provide
the only note of color—
of certain color. They lie
upon a big dim doily
draping a taboret
(part of the set), beside
a big hirsute begonia.

Why the extraneous plant?
Why the taboret?
Why, oh why, the doily?
(Embroidered in daisy stitch
with marguerites, I think,
and heavy with gray crochet.)

Somebody embroidered the doily.
Somebody waters the plant,
or oils it, maybe. Somebody
arranges the rows of cans
so that they softly say:
to high-strung automobiles.
Somebody loves us all.

[“Filling Station” from The Complete Poems, 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop. © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved. Source: The Complete Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1983)]

You get the picture. You SEE where the Holy Family would be, positioned in relation to The Powers That Be. Baptism into Christ – into Emmanuel, God WITH us – isn’t baptism into power. It isn’t baptism into dominance. It isn’t baptism into political influence. It IS baptism into our utterly defenseless HUMANITY, doilies and all. It IS baptism into caring & kindness & community & reconciliation wherever you least expect it. It IS baptism into a determined self-offering into the circumstances in which we find ourselves, desirable or undesirable, successful or “unsuccessful,” no matter what we struggle with, no matter how wrong-headed things are, no matter how dire the possibilities: a self-offering ON THE SIDE OF LOVE. ALWAYS, no matter what the consequences to ourselves, ON THE SIDE OF LOVE.

As John Bell, songwriter for the Iona Community in Scotland, wrote, “TAKE O TAKE ME AS I AM. SUMMON OUT WHAT I SHALL BE. SET YOUR SEAL UPON MY HEART & LIVE IN ME.” AMEN.


A Burial Homily for Al Morrow 12-23-17, The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini

A Burial Homily for Al Morrow 12-23-17
©Holly Lyman Antolini
Readings: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Ps. 23; Lamentations 3:22-26; 31-33; John 15:4-5, 7-11

It’s only the day before the day before Christmas. It’s impossible to forget that, even as we gather to celebrate the life of Albert Joseph Morrow and to bid him farewell on his journey into the Land of Light & Joy, into the company of the “saints in light,” including his beloved wife Bertha and his parents and family members whom he was remembering with such fondness in his last days, when much of what he said wasn’t really comprehensible, but his appreciation for his family read loud and clear. We are on the very edge of a snowy Christmas, remembering the birth of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, who was called “Emmanuel,” God with us, God’s steadfast loving kindness in our midst.

So even though we are grappling with Al’s death – a death he worked as hard as anybody could to postpone, over a year of valiant effort to recoup his losses and return to his beloved community and life in the house on Cameron Ave. – even though his death is a painfully present reality for us, still we are also on the verge of celebrating a birth, the Birth of Hope, the Birth of God’s love present in our midst, even within ourselves. “There’s a time to be born and time to die.”

When I think about Al Morrow’s life, this refusal to let Hope and Life and Love to give way to Death makes sense. Not that Al thought of himself in any way as a spiritual hero. In fact, Al went about his life so quietly and self-effacingly that it literally took years of him worshiping in our early-morning service at St. James’s before he and I even had a conversation! He just showed up every Sunday, read the paper in his car until it was time for church, then worshiped with us and went on his way.

When we did finally talk, I began to know a man who, in many ways, was an icon of God’s steadfast loving kindness, even though he went about it without any fanfare at all. He was passionate about his three daughters, Sheila, Maureen & Kathy. He worked two and three jobs to support them, growing up. He adored his grandkids. He stood by his wife Bertha when she had a stroke in her fifties, caring for her as long as he could in the home her dad had built back in the 20’s on Cameron Ave, and then attending upon her at the Sancta Maria nursing home when he couldn’t manage her care at home. He never forgot to honor her birthday and their anniversary with flowers on our altar, and in fact, Sheila found an envelope of cash for St. James’s in Al’s pocket when he was stricken this last time, ready to pay for the latest bouquet! And after Bertha died, Al went on volunteering at Sancta Maria so steadfastly that everyone on staff knew him so that he had the warmest possible welcome when he, himself, at long last, needed care. People stopped me in the elevator to say they wished Al the best and were praying for him!

When Al was in his last days, and the whole family was gathering around him, Sheila showed me a picture of him between two headstones in the Catholic Cemetery – right where he will be buried – with all the flowers around the graves beautifully tended. “He was always the keeper of the graves,” she said. “There is a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted.”

In his neighborhood, too, Al was a tender of everyone’s needs. That first conversation he and I had? It was about bringing the bulletin to Mrs. Jones, his neighbor and senior elder on Cameron Ave., something he’d been doing for years! They shared gardening in common; those flowers on the graves weren’t the only flowers Al tended. And he shoveled her driveway in return for her carrot cake! That was the way Al was. If a guy was working on the house across the street in the heat, Al would go over and offer him a drink of water. And they would become friends. Al was just plain generous – part of the glue that held his neighborhood together.

It’s hard to imagine the young 18-year-old Al was when he and his brother Herbie and his sister Ruby got on the boat to leave all they knew in rural Ireland and come to America to support their grieving grandmother. Growing up in the small town of Derry, he couldn’t have had any idea what America would be like. And then apparently when the three young people reached Ellis Island, Herbie and Ruby got right through but Al was held up because his x-rays were black, and they couldn’t read them! So there he was, held on Ellis Island, no idea if he’d ever see his siblings again, let alone any idea what the future might hold. Who knew he’d make such a life for himself and his family here in Somerville and North Cambridge? Who knew he’d fight in the Korean War?

Who knew he’d turn out to be the real follower of Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd, that he’d be that person who kept getting the flock together, and kept worrying about any sheep that had gone astray and gotten lost? That he always had a place in his heart for anyone and everyone to come home to? That, just as Lamentations says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning,” so Al’s mercies were new every morning, and every morning he hoped his little flock would be gathered beside the still waters, and any divisions restored to wholeness.

Jesus says, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” It was that quality of steadfast loving kindness that distinguished Al Morrow’s life. He never drew attention to himself. He just abided in love. And it bore much fruit in him, fruit that will last. YOU, his family and friends, are his fruit! Now it’s YOUR job to shepherd his flock and make sure you stay together. It’s YOUR job to look out for your neighbors! It’s YOUR job to tend the graves!

There’s a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” Al knew that too. He will be glad to know you care enough to weep a little, now that it’s time to let him go “from strength to strength in the life of perfect service” with God. But he’ll also want you, in the good Irish tradition, to sing a little and dance a little, and celebrate a life truly well-lived. He abided in God’s love, and it’s time to make his joy complete. AMEN.


November Vestry Minutes, 11-21-17

Members Present: Sylvia Weston, Andrew Rohm, Marian King, Tom Tufts, Betsy Zeldin, Sarah Borgatti, Sarah Forrester, Leah Giles, Holly Antolini

Members Absent: Lucas Sanders, Jules Bertaut, Matthew Abbate

Guests:   John Irvine, Nancy McArdle, Peter Merrell


Following a check-in, Andrew led us in sharing what we’re thankful for, as part of the St. James’s community.

Financial Report

● John reported that pledging is above what we expected.

● One boiler is out, and we need to look at replacing both boilers.

○ Sylvia moved that we spend up to $24,500 to replace both boilers, while also looking into cost-saving options. John seconded. Approved unanimously.

○ The Finance Committee recommends that the money to replace the boilers be taken out of the General Fund.

● Budget planning for next year is underway. Key assumptions in creating next year’s budget are that we will meet our Currency of Money goal; construction will start, which will bring our $10,000 monthly payments to an end; we will call an Assistant Rector in May 2018; and Holly will be on Sabbatical September-November 2018.

● Sam reported on Sanctuary team grant applications.  Our portion of sharing the CISC total budget of $23,000 works out to roughly $2,400 a year, and we need to consider how we would like to fund our portion.

● Marian moved that we accept the finance report as presented.  Leah seconded.  Approved unanimously.

Currency of Money

● John provided a summary of comments that have been submitted by parishioners regarding what they love, hope for, and would like to see improved at St. James’s.

● Holly will provide an update for the congregation at our Annual Meeting

● Lucas is going through the pledges we’ve received, to see who we’re missing pledges from.


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

● Peter presented on a redevelopment matter.

● Marian moved that we exit executive session. Sylvia seconded. Approved unanimously.

Nominating Committee

● Sylvia reported that the nominating committee is currently working on nominations for officers, and are getting ready to approach people for filling 4 member-at-large positions.

Office Manager

● Holly reported that we have hired Clelia Sweeney as our new Office Manager, and that she has already started her training.

St. James’s App

● Andrew reported that he and Jules will work on having an initial report at the December meeting.

Church Safety/Gun Violence Policy

● Holly reported that several parishioners have brought up the issue of church safety.

● Betsy will look into what our options are, what other churches have done, and will contact the Diocese. Holly will put an item in the Sunday News with Betsy’s email address, and Betsy will have an update on her findings at the January meeting.


Approval of October Minutes

● Leah moved that we accept both the regular and executive minutes as presented.  Marian seconded.  Approved unanimously.

Rector’s Report

● During the winter, we will have a “sandwich lab” at coffee hour to make sandwiches for the Outdoor Church.

● Holly will give an update at the December meeting on Meredith Wade’s work as our Life Together Fellow.

● Holly has been dealing with providing pastoral care to an increasing number of frail elders.

● The Hospitality Committee is recruiting members.

Warden’s Report

● Sylvia reported that she has been busy with regular Senior Warden activities.

● Sarah F. reported that she has been working on getting the boilers serviced, and that we have replaced the water heater.

New Business

● Nancy gave an update on preparations for the St. Nicholas Festival.  We thanked Nancy for all her hard work in organizing the Festival.


October Vestry Minutes, 10-17-17

Vestry Minutes: October 17, 2017

Members Present: Sylvia Weston, Jules Bertaut, Matthew Abbate, Andrew Rohm, Marian King, Tom Tufts, Betsy Zeldin, Sarah Borgatti, Sarah Forrester, Holly Antolini

Members Absent: Olivia Hamilton, Leah Giles, Lucas Sanders, Sam Perlo-Freeman

Guest: Jeff Zinsmeyer


Following a check-in time, Matthew led us on a reflection on W. H. Auden’s poem “If I could tell you.”

Nominating Committee

Marian moved we appoint Laura Duerksen to the nominating committee. Tom seconded. Approved unanimously.

Our nominating committee is fully staffed!

Financial Report

Jeff reported that we’re doing well. Our pledge income is ahead of budget. We have healthy cash on hand.

The finance committee is planning for Holly’s sabbatical in the fall, planning to fund a half-time interim priest.

We previously allocated $2,000 to protect the old parish house, which resulted in some roof repairs.

As per Charlie Allen’s recommendation, we should get a mason to reset the top of one of the buttresses, wash lime from another buttress, and mount the flag pole.

Tom moved that we authorize spending $850 from the Fidelity Improvement Fund for assortet masonry repairs. Matthew seconded. Approved unanimously.

Sylvia moved that we accept the financial report. Marian seconded. Approved unanimously.


Jules moved that we enter executive session. Andrew seconded. Approved unanimously.

Jeff Zinsmeyer presented on a redevelopment matter.

Marian moved that we exit executive session. Sarah F. seconded. Approved unanimously.

Currency of Money

Jeff reported the pledge campaign is underway. People seem engaged. We’ve raised $58,000 so far from 10 people, with an average 13% increase over last year.

Our theme is what people love, hope, and want to improve, and was demonstrated at the kickoff by the children

The goals are to engage people and to reflect what was learned back to the vestry and the parish.

Collecting and analyzing this data will be a Project.

We were given lists of people to call about their pledge, with calls to start on Sunday, after the mailing has gone out.

We will send thank-you notes in December.

Mutual Ministry Review

Cynthia Hubbard will be the facilitator.

The process will be appreciative inquiry, which starts from the supposition that we have accomplished stuff.


Minutes of July Meeting

Marian moved we enter executive session. Sarah F. seconded. Approved unanimously.

An amendment was made to the September executive session minutes.

Andrew moved we exit executive session. Tom seconded. Approved unanimously.

Amend the regular October minutes to spell Mary Beth Mills-Curran’s name correctly.

Sylvia moved that we approve both sets of October minutes as amended, and the emergency July minutes as presented. Betsy seconded. Approved unanimously.

Warden’s Report

Sylvia reported that we’re working on the maintenance of the boiler, and that Sarah F. called the maintenance people again about it.

Rector’s Report

Betsy and Andrew will start a team to investigate a St. James app.

The vestry retreat is Feb. 15 and 16.

Jules moved we enter executive session. Matthew seconded. Approved unanimously.

We discussed a staff matter.

Jules moved we exit executive session. Tom seconded. Approved unanimously.



A variety of clergy associates and lay people have signed on to preach during the course of the year – a richness!


Last year chairing the Diocesan Convention Resolutions Committee. Will retire from that role and the Committee after 9 years’ service, at Convention, Nov. 4th.

Continue to be active with Life Together as the supervisor & mentor of Meredith, our Life Together Fellow this year.

Continue on Mission Advisory Committee, and now serve on the Province One Task Force on Multicultural Awareness and Cultural Competency.

Attendance at Deanery Assemblies regularly.


I am registered for my annual silent prayer retreat at SSJE Monastery Jan. 30 – Feb. 3., following Annual Meeting.

I am now officially registered with Medicare Parts A & B. We are looking at a Church Pension Fund small-church possibility for saving some money on my health insurance, consequently.

Continuing disc and arthritis issues – ever a management challenge, hence all the swimming!

I continue my practice of monthly meetings with my Women Clergy Colleague Group, monthly spiritual direction, and monthly Deanery Clericus. Keeps me grounded!

An old friend invited me on a two-week Yale University cruise of the Amazon River and Machu Picchu! It’s March 3-16, 2018, so I will be gone for the third and fourth weeks of Lent. We will plan well ahead for Holy Week, so that bulletins and staffing for those special services are well along in preparation during my absence.

Working on a plan for my three-month sabbatical in 2018 – as I embark on my eleventh year with St. James’s - together with my one month of vacation, probably mid-August to after-Thanksgiving, November, 2018. Intend to continue with my painting study & practice.  We need to begin thinking about discerning a sabbatical interim priest-in-charge - probably half-time. The building will be under construction and the congregation will have plenty to manage, preparing to move into it with a business plan for rentals, the culmination of furnishing-and-fit-out, completing a possible limited capital campaign to tap the enthusiasm about our new chapter to make up the last $50,000 needed to furnish the parish hall as we hope. It won’t be “down-time” for the congregation!

Submitted by Jules Bertaut


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

Click here to listen to the sermon. 

3 Advent Year B 12-17-17
©Holly Lyman Antolini
Lections: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Ps. 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

 Provide for us who mourn in Zion—give us a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. Fill us with your Spirit so that we will be oaks of righteousness, your planting, O Lord, to display your glory. AMEN.

Anyone, besides me, struggling with “a faint spirit,” these latter days of fall, as the night extends and the winter solstice approaches? Especially in this oddly SHORT Advent, with Christmas pressing in upon next Sunday, so that Mary barely has time to ponder God’s invitation, let alone gestate the Baby, before we’re into the Christmas Pageant, next Sunday afternoon!? Anyone feeling more breathless and discombobulated than garlanded and oiled with gladness?

In the middle of last week, I was meeting someone at Porter Square Books somewhere around midday and honestly, it took me 12 minutes of waiting in lines of other cars waiting to find a parking place. When I finally streamed into the bookstore, trailing NOT “a mantle of praise,” but rather a tangle of frustration, I asked my waiting companion, “WHAT are we DOING HERE? What is this MADNESS in latter-day North America, two weeks before Christmas?!? WHY, when we all hate it, do we KEEP DOING IT?!? Let alone HOW does this connect in any way to Jesus the Light of the World!?”

Or to John the Baptist, for that matter, sent as a witness to testify to the light of Christ that was coming into the world? “He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light,” as John’s Gospel says. How is MY life “testifying to the light,” these days, fuming in the parking lot? Or at the television set?!? How is YOURS?

Admittedly, we have VERY high expectations, this time of year, even those among us who are burdened with long-repeated disappointments and what I call, “Christmas trauma:” family fiascos and losses associated with the holidays. Lurking under the persistent sadness is the same pressure to BE JOYFUL! Reminds me of my ex-husband Tony’s wonderful (terrible!) story of being on the ferry to Coney Island as a child, wriggling in anticipation of the boardwalk and the Wonder Wheel. Next to Tony & his mom at the ferry rail were another mom and small boy. The other small boy was indulging in a fit of the whines. The other mom turned on her son and admonished him, “You better have FUN or I’ll SMACK YOU!”

So I invite you, halfway into the season, to keep trying to wedge open a quiet and reflective Advent space. Set aside the “fun” and allow yourself to sit with the radical disjuncture between all this aggressive “holiday cheer” and frantic preparation, and the passages from Scripture that define the season.

Quite apart from the fact that our rampant materialism, so profligately on display as we jam our cars into the mall lot in the run-up to Christmas, is on a scale that would be utterly incomprehensible to the people of Isaiah’s time or John the Baptist’s, even at the Babylonian imperial court of the 7th century B.C.E. or in the palaces of Herod’s small-time monarchy, puppet of the Romans in the 1st century A.D. What would NOT be incomprehensible is the dismal prospect we have these days – as Isaiah had in his and John the Baptist in his – of people utilizing power destructively, self-servingly and without regard to the “least, the last, the lost, and the littlest” among us or for that matter, not much regard even for those of us who for the moment seem relatively safe and comfortable, unconcerned about deportation and perhaps undisturbed by any fear of trouble lying in wait when “driving while black” – those of us whose primary difficulties consist in desperately stringing up Christmas lights, making sure we have enough powdered sugar, eggnog, or wrapping paper, and keeping the credit card debt within limits.

If we take a moment of Advent quiet, we will begin to hear the aching distance in these passages between the promises of God and the reality we contend with. Isaiah, speaking words of hope, is speaking to a people disheartened by the slow work of restoring their devastated city and temple after the Babylonian exile, a people entirely too familiar with oppression and brokenheartedness, captivity and imprisonment. The Psalm looks back to period of restoration, reminding itself of times of laughter and shouts of joy, but it’s clear from the plea, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses of the Negev” desert, that all is not well at the moment for the Psalmist and Psalmist’s people: they have been weeping as they planted, even as they anticipate eventually reaping with joy.

Even Paul’s encouraging words to the Thessalonians – “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you; do not quench the Spirit” – cannot be taken as a kind of mandate to paste a smiley face emoticon on. Paul was not naïve. “He suffered for this gospel message” in ways we can hardly imagine; he confronted contention and misunderstanding everywhere he turned, “and he spoke sternly [and forthrightly] to churches about their disagreements. Later in the passage he will tell the people to ‘test everything; hold fast to what is good;’ abstain from every form of evil.” The rejoicing he exhorts is rooted not in things going our way, but in such deep prayer and faith in God’s love that we can withstand the trials that surge around us and remain steadfast in our commitments.

Thinking of that mall parking lot, I was attracted to what novelist Ann Patchett writes in this week’s New York Times Sunday Review of a decision she made to take a year without shopping. An Advent space indeed! She writes, “At the end of 2016, our country had swung in the direction of gold leaf, an ecstatic celebration of unfeeling billionaire-dom that kept me up at night. I couldn’t settle down to read or write, and in my anxiety I found myself mindlessly scrolling through two particular shopping websites, numbing my fears with pictures of shoes, clothes, purses and jewelry. I was trying to distract myself, but the distraction left me feeling worse, the way a late night in a bar smoking Winstons and drinking gin leaves you feeling worse. The unspoken question of shopping is, ‘What do I need?’ What I needed,” Patchett writes, “was less.”

So she gave it up. Oh, of course she bought food. She bought shampoo and printer cartridges and batteries but only after she’d run out of what she had. (And she discovered she HAD a lot she’d forgotten, excesses of lotion and hair product and lip balm and what-have-you, tossed under the sink or in the back of the closet. So she used those.) But she threw out catalogues unopened and didn’t go on websites or into stores. She discovered many things, among them, the gift of time, now that she wasn’t “spending” time shopping.

She writes, “It doesn’t take so long for a craving to subside, be it for Winstons or gin or cupcakes. Once I got the hang of giving up shopping, it wasn’t much of a trick. The trickier part was living with the startling abundance that had become glaringly obvious when I stopped trying to get more. Once I could see what I already had, and what actually mattered, I was left with a feeling that was somewhere between sickened and humbled. When did I amass so many things, and did someone else need them? If you stop thinking about what you might want,” Patchett writes, “it’s a whole lot easier to see what other people don’t have. There’s a reason that just about every religion regards material belongings as an impediment to peace” There’s a reason why John the Baptist retreated to the wilderness to get his perspective.  

“The things we buy and buy and buy,” she writes, ”are like a thick coat of Vaseline smeared on glass: We can see some shapes out there, light & dark, but in our constant craving for what we may still want, we miss life’s details. It’s not as if I kept a ledger and took the money I didn’t spend on perfume and gave that money to the poor, but I came to a better understanding of money as something we earn and spend and save for the things we want and need. Once I was able to get past the want and be honest about the need, it was easier to give more of my money to people who could really use it.” []

Advent is a time meant for cleaning the thick coat of Vaseline off the lenses of our souls. It’s a scary business, because while it lets in light, it lets in a lot of darkness too. If we’re no longer elbowing our way from one parking lot to the next, from one holiday “to-do” to another, we’ll know just how far out into the dry wastes of the Negev we’ve wandered. The stories seem to unfold around us with demoralizing comprehensiveness, from Yemeni cholera sufferers & Congolese rape victims to empty Venezuelan food shelves to worldwide peddlers of fake pharmaceuticals to our own homegrown American unwillingness, on this 5th anniversary week of the shootings at Sandyhook Elementary School, to come to grips with our raging epidemic of gun violence. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose! The more things change, the more they remain the same! No one could resonate more with John the Baptist’s plaintive “cry in the wilderness” than those crying today for universal background checks and the end to concealed-carry and the sale of bumpstocks and large-capacity ammunition magazines.  If we allow ourselves the quiet openness of Advent, we will not be able to drown out that keening cry that emanates from the dark wilderness of our very own hearts as we look desperately for the promised divine light and long to be its witnesses.

And then we need the assurance of someone like Paul, who journeyed straight into the pain of the world without sidestepping a bit of it, and nevertheless found joy there, by the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord. As he prayed, so let us pray: “May the God of peace himself sanctify us entirely; and may our spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls us is faithful, and he will do this.” AMEN.


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

Click here to listen to the sermon. 

2 Advent Year B 12-10-17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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