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Tuesday
Mar112014

Olivia Hamilton's Sermon for Ash Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy Name. Amen.

The language of physics is like poetry to me; I do not attempt to know or understand or make sense of it, I read it for its possibility and not for its certainty, I make meaning with it but I do not claim to know what it means. In other words, I stand before you with a very miniscule understanding of anything having to do with anything cosmic or even molecular, but with a profound love of the strange and wonderful images and questions that these concepts stir in me.

Take the notion that we are all made of stardust, that has been popularized over time by astrophysicists and pop-science gurus such as Neil deGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan: Tyson reminds us that our bodies are quite literally made of the chemically rich guts of stars that exploded eons ago, that we are fundamentally tied to one another and the cosmos at large through what he calls the “chemistry of life.” Carl Sagan imagines that our bodies, the star-stuff of which we are made, act as a way for the universe to know itself; in much the same way, my own imagination points me toward a loving Creator who breathes us and all cosmic matter into being, a Creator that comes to know itself as the source of all love by seeing us enact and embody that love.

With the knowledge that we are all made of star-stuff, Tyson feels compelled to shake people as they walk down the street, shouting “did you know this, have you heard that the very atoms that compose each of us erupted from stars, that the universe is not only around us but within us!?” In much the same way that Tyson’s light-bulb moment draws him closer to the stranger on the street, this knowledge of our cosmic interdependence sends me spiraling ever closer to God, the great mystery, God who is the endless potential that creates us and stirs within us and all matter, God who is the very impulse to reach out and communicate with the stranger walking down the street. God who is often the question and not the answer, God who, like poetry and physics, is possibility and not certainty. God whose limitless love surrounds us not only in times of expansion and new life but also as stars burn out, as we experience death in the cosmos and in our communities, not as a metaphor but as a daily reality.

A star burns out when, under immense pressure, it collapses under the weight of its own gravitation. Such stars are optically invisible; I think of a generation of mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, who have died of AIDS, who we know but cannot see, and young people of color who still contract the virus at alarming rates today. I think of transgender women who have been murdered on our streets, Lorena Escalera, Islan Nettles, Eryicka Morgan, in a world not yet ready to celebrate their brilliance. I think of young people full of questions, of expansive energy, of endless potential, and a justice system that attempts to dim and diminish, young people who die through acts of violence that are ignored if not sanctioned by the state. A world where a nineteen-year old boy like Jorge Fuentes can catch a stray bullet to the head while walking his dog in Dorchester, while some thousands of miles away, in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, a factory town on the border of Arizona, sixteen year old José Antonio Elena Rodríguez is hit seven times by bullets fired by the U.S. Border Patrol, allegedly because he threw a rock at their watchtower. These young men are now optically invisible, though the candles that burn at vigils in Boston and are placed in a makeshift memorial on the section of border wall where José Antonio was murdered remind us of their brilliance.

Ashes to ashes, stardust to stardust. As Episcopal theologian Sylvia Sweeney suggests, the rites that we participate in on Ash Wednesday “seek to speak to the potentiality and vulnerability of the human person and the human community as we stand on the knife edge of life and death, and seek to understand what, if anything, lies beyond.”[1] Christ pulls toward a world that is fundamentally different than the one we know, one wherein no one collapses under the immense pressure that injustice exerts, wherein no one must struggle to survive against the gravitation of their own dreams, their own expansive energy.

As we move into the Season of Lent, with its taking on and taking away, Jesus warns us not to practice our piety in order to gain attention or acknowledgement from others; is it not the case that so often, our cries for justice are inexplicably bound with our own sense of moral aptitude, that we wade in the waters of self-righteousness rather than prophecy? Jesus advises us, “do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” – it seems we get so lost in resisting the reality as it is that we forget to imagine the reality as it could be. Our very bodies are made of star-stuff, and through these bodies we can imagine and know the universe that is within us and around us, just as we can imagine and know a world that is safe for Jorge Fuentes, safe for Eryicka Morgan, safe for the victims of violence whose names we do not know and cannot speak today.

We are stardust, we are dust. We are as noble as that bright star that burned in the East, leading the three Wise Men through the dark night with nothing but hope that a new world was possible; we are as fragile and transient as dust, when the wind blows over us we are gone. It seems that just as Jesus invites us to create a world that is different than the one we know, he also points us toward our own incapacity to fix, to solve, to repair.  Reminded of our own limitations, it seems that sometimes the most radical political act is to be gentle to ourselves, to be kind to the mistakes we make as we try and fail and try to make a world that is safe for us all.

The imposition of the ashes invites us to both remember our finite nature, but also to honor and imagine the sacred reality within us, around us, and beyond us. We are dust, we are stardust. The very smallest particles within us, the quirks and quarks that make each of us the strange and wonderful divine creatures we are, are the same that stretch and unfold and expand and contract throughout the mysterious cosmos that God imagines and adores.

Please pray with me:

Loving Creator,

Remind us that you have made our bones with the stuff of stars, so that we may use them to restore the streets we live in, to make those streets safe for Jorge, safe for Islan, safe for those whose bodies bear the brokenness of our healthcare system, safe for young people, and all people,

Call to out to us with your poetic language, open our eyes to the mysteriousness of your creation, as death surrounds us, widen our hearts so that we may heal and be healed, but also that we may be gentle to our own limitations,

As we transition into the season of Lent, that knife edge season, inspire us to imagine other possible worlds, in which we all can live and thrive.

 Amen.


[1] Sylvia Sweeney,  An Ecofeminist Perspective on Ash Wednesday and Lent, p. 8.

Olivia Hamilton Sermon

Monday
Feb242014

Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

7 Epiphany Year A 2-23-14

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Ps. 119:33-40; 1 Cor. 3:10-11; 16-23; Matt. 5:38-48

Turn our eyes from watching what is worthless; give us life in your ways. Amen.

I’m going to begin today by sharing a gripe with you about these famous and much beloved passages of Scripture from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount!  Whether it’s the opening Beatitudes themselves – “Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” – or, further into the sermon, last week’s “If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out!” – or this week’s extremity of turning the other cheek, giving away both cloak and shirt, walking the extra mile, and on top of all that, loving your enemy.

My gripe is this: despite all we know about the ways Jesus tended to bring his teachings vividly to life by whopping us up the side of the head (or at any rate, on both cheeks, for sure!) with imagery so drastic we couldn’t ignore it, we still want to literalize it.  Even those of us dedicated to NOT literalizing scripture still try to adopt the line “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” in a way that drives us toward high principles of holiness that are sickeningly dizzying in their expectations, worse than imagining yourself at the top of the Sochi Grand Slalom course with no way out but down!

I don’t know about you, but here’s the temptation for me:  at the very same moment that I feel CONVICTED of falling desperately & perpetually short of Jesus’ expectations by the Sermon on the Mount, I yearn for the Sermon to lay out the principles of sanctity for me so I can ultimately prove myself worthy of God’s love and God’s forgiveness and healing. It’s a devil’s compact, unfortunately.  My unworthiness dogs me in the face of this imagery of giving to all who ask of me and forgiving my enemies.  And at precisely the same time, my aspirations vaunt all the more strenuously to master every twist and turn of the spiritual Grand Slalom, to win the Gold of salvation.  I’m afraid it’s precisely this toxic blend of self-denigration and over-scrupulous self-righteousness that leads dedicatedly religious people to act out in ways that hurt themselves and others around them, ways that I’m convinced make Jesus weep, partly in sympathy and partly in frustration! We might as well impose the rule of Law all over again and forget about grace.

Yet even the Law – the Jewish law embraced so passionately by our psalmist today – is not simply the set of legalistic principles we so often make it out to be in the spiritual life of Jewish believers.  I’ll never forget the Rev. Dr. Paul Van Buren, a member of my tiny Deer Isle Maine congregation of St. Brendan’s, instructing me out a quarter-century of his study and collegiality with Jewish theologians, his fellow scholars at Temple University. Far from being legalistic rule-binding, the Law, the Torah to which the writer of Psalm 119 refers in nearly every verse, was actually more akin in the Jewish life of prayer to the Christian theology of the breath of the Holy Spirit, the presence of God in and for us, animating all goodness in us and around us.  Listen again to the Psalmist’s longing with the Holy Spirit in mind in place of the words “statutes,” “law,” & “commandments,” and see if it feels different, as if the Law were not so much a statutory code as a life-blood, necessary for breathing:

Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes, and I shall keep it to the end.

Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law; I shall keep it with all my heart.

Make me go in the path of your commandments, for that is my desire.

Behold, I long for your commandments; in your righteousness preserve my life.

Imagine that Jesus, good Jew that he was, understood the Law in this way himself, so that when he speaks about fulfilling the Law, he’s not talking about imposing some new graduate level of spiritual principles upon us but instead trying to drive deep into us the full scope of God’s own passionately merciful and forgiving “for-us-ness,” a for-us-ness that forgives our worst evil-doing. A for-us-ness that sends down the rain upon us whether we’re just or unjust, and makes the sun rise on us, the evil and the good, together. A divine for-us-ness that turns the other cheek and offers cloak and shirt and does not refuse us.  A for-us-ness that willingly went to the Cross FOR US. The divine for-us-ness. Jesus is trying to say, already infuses everything in us and around us.  It is just waiting for us to claim it. And when we DO claim it, it transforms our whole moral universe and makes us act in generously magnanimous ways the world would say were crazy foolishness.

When I was a student at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, I had the honor of meeting the first black South-African ever consecrated a Lutheran bishop, Dean & Bishop Tshenuwani Simon Farisani.  Consecrated in the middle of the anti-apartheid struggle despite being a member of the African National Congress that was so despised and feared by the South African government at the time, Tshenuwani was arrested four times over the course of the anti-apartheid struggle, and physically tortured the first three.  As the tensions mounted, the violence against such a perceived ANC leader ratcheted up, so that each time he was tortured, the torture was more extreme.  He suffered two heart attacks during torture and his health became increasingly frail. Amnesty International was involved in his release each time. The fourth and final time of his arrest, not much more than a year before I met him, did not involve physical but rather psychological torture, which turned out to be even more destructive.  He was questioned from five to 10 hours a day, and threatened with death for himself and members of his family. Tshenuwani realized that he was very close to dying at the hands of his torturer.  In that moment, as he related it to me and the other students meeting with him, as he looked at his torturer, in a blinding flash of spiritual insight a word came to him for the man at whose hands he was suffering.  He said to him with immense compassion, “You know, you can kill me physically, but you cannot harm me spiritually because Jesus loves me and will raise me up.  So really, in hurting me, you are only hurting yourself.” The man was unable to continue the torture.  And Tshenuwani, ultimately, was again let go, at which point the Lutherans in South Africa sent him into exile for his own protection, overseas to America for treatment in the Center for Torture Victims in Minneapolis and then to the Graduate Theological Union to complete a PhD.

And here is what I want to say about my experience in the presence of Tshenuwani Farisani: this was a man who had suffered untold harm at the hands of his enemies, his literal enemies in the apartheid regime, as had so very many black South Africans.  He had every reason for bitterness and self-righteousness about those who had persecuted him.  It certainly drove him to a dedicated determination that they would not prevail in their racist policies.  But it had not embittered him.  In fact, I have never heard anyone speak about the dynamics of racism with more searing honesty but simultaneously with a more compelling and comprehensive compassion for all involved, black & white. Not one ounce of sentimentality, mind you.  His honesty about the destructiveness of apartheid and its counterpart in our own persistent racism and racial inequality in the US was not in the least softened.  But shining in the core of his critique was his forgiveness and love. 

That’s because Tschenuwani’s “foundation,” as Paul said to the Corinthians in our first lesson, was not principle, but Jesus Christ’s loving presence. It makes me think of a wonderful passage from an essay by Presbyterian minister and writer Frederick Buechner, in which he messes up the Grand Slalom interpretation of Jesus’ “love your enemies:”

Principles are what people have instead of God. To be a Christian means among other things to be willing if necessary to sacrifice even your highest principles for God’s or your neighbor’s sake the way a Christian pacifist must be willing to pick up a baseball bat if there is no other way to stop a man from savagely beating a child. Jesus didn’t forgive his executioners on principle but because in some unimaginable way he was able to love them.”  [Wishful Thinking (Harper & Row, 1973)]

Why is it so very, very hard to hear the core of Jesus’ message inside these extreme exhortations in the Sermon on the Mount?  It is so easy to miss that, despite all their impossible standards, at their heart, they’re the ANTITHESIS of the self-denigration and self-righteousness that comes from trying so strenuously to make them principles to live by. In them, Jesus is pleading for us to accept what is already IN us: God’s loving forgiveness.  It reminds me of Paul pleading with the Corinthians – themselves aiming to be medalists in the spiritual Olympics – to hear him. “Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? ...For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple… So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future-- all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” “It has been said… but I say to you,” Jesus says over and over in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, pleading with us not to get tied up with the letter of the Law but to let the breath of Spirit infuse the whole of us, the weak and frail parts and the gifted and capable parts of us, filling us with grace as God intended us to be filled.  If we really love God as much as God loves us, we will finally be able to feel the truth of Paul’s proclamation, that despite all our foolishness, despite our wayward adherence to “the wisdom of the world,” EVERYONE & EVERYTHING – ourselves, our world, our enemies – already belong to each other and to Christ, ONE as Christ and the Creator are ONE.  The sooner we grasp that, the sooner the shalom of God’s great Dream of Commonwealth will come into being.  In fact, WHEREVER and WHENEVER we grasp that, even a little, even for a moment, God’s Commonwealth IS COMING INTO BEING, transforming us from haters to lovers, completing us, completing God’s good creation.  “To be completed” is what the word “perfect” in Jesus’ Sermon really means.  “Be completed as your Creator is complete!” Tshenuwani’s moment of compassion for his torturer was a moment of COMPLETION: an in-breaking of God’s Kingdom in the midst of the worst of the worst travesty of human perfidy, the worst enmity. HALLELUJAH!

Because in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus isn’t inviting us into a spiritual Grand Slalom or any other Olympic contest.  He just wants us to know the full scope of God’s love for us. Because if and whenever we ever truly sense the scope of that merciful love, our own mercy will expand to include the whole world and everyone in it.  AMEN.

Antolini 2-23

Thursday
Feb202014

Vestry Minutes, January 22nd, 2014

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

Absent: Saskia Grunberger, Warren Huber, Iselma Carrington,

Holly leads us in spiritual practice.

Vestry Minutes 1-22-14

Thursday
Feb202014

Vestry Minutes, December 18th 2013

Present:  Rev. Holly Antolini, Rev. Judith Atkinson, Sylvia Weston, John Irvine, Isaac Martinez, Lucas Sanders, JT Kittredge, Steve Clark, Marian King, Susan Rice

Guests: Jeff Zinsmeyer (Redevelopment Committee)

Absent: Saskia Grunberger, Warren Huber, Carol Hilliard, Iselma Carrington, Joanna Kline,

Holly leads us in prayer.

 

Vestry Minutes 12-18-13

Tuesday
Feb182014

Isaac Martinez's Sermon for Sunday, February 16th, 2014

6 Epiphany Year A 2-16-14

Lections: Deut. 30:15-20; Ps. 119:1-8; 1 Cor. 3:1-9; Matt. 5:21-37

Almighty God, you give us commandments not so that we will use them to judge each other, but rather to call us ever deeper into your great and unending vision of love. Give us your grace, the grace we need to choose again and again the abundant life you dream for us. Amen.

Wow, those readings, amirite?!

Murder, anger, sex, broken marriages, lies—and those are just topics from the Gospel reading alone! In our epistle for the week, Paul basically calls the Corinthians “spiritual babies” for being jealous of each other and arguing with each other. Imagine what he would call us if he could see the state of our Anglican Communion today! And in the reading from Deuteronomy appointed for today, we find Moses declaring to the people of Israel, as they wait to enter their promised land: See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God…by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you.

Ordinances, now there’s a word you don’t hear in our worship very much. Love, grace, and mercy? Yes, give us more of that stuff. But commandments? Decrees? It’s hard to wrap our heads around the idea that God would make his blessing conditional on us adhering to such impossible standards. That doesn’t sound very loving of him. In fact, that sounds rather Old Testament of him! And, in today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus sounding kind of Old Testament-y himself, with his talk of judgment, hellfire, and cutting off body parts. Wasn’t he just talking about being salt of the earth and light of the world a week ago? What the heck happened to that Jesus?!

I’ll get to that in a second, but first, I think it’s important to explain that with any religion, whether it’s the Second Temple Judaism of Jesus’ time or the Christianity of this morning, there is a tendency to conflate spiritual truth with keeping commandments, to neatly map every interaction with the Holy onto outward observance of cultural norms and expectations. And from that mindset, with human nature being what it is, it’s inevitably easier to write up the “Shall Nots” rather than the “Shalls”. So whether it’s the Old Testament version or the 21st century version, it’s easy to focus our time, energy, and resources on staying within the letter of the law, “avoiding the big sins,” as theologian Amy Oden puts it. Look, we say, I have not murdered anyone. Am I not worthy to offer my gift at the altar? I have not committed adultery, aren’t I safe from hell? Or we say, see, I am not racist or homophobic. Look at how much I show I care about the poor and the environment. That must mean the evil one is not in me! Look, look at my righteousness! “Aha!” you might think, “a sentiment like that is a ripe target for some of the radical ethic we expect from Sermon-on-the-Mount Jesus.” And you’re right.

It may seem that Jesus is channeling some old fashion Leviticus, but we actually are seeing him reframe what it really takes to be righteous, saying that to focus only on avoiding “bad” behaviors, rather than to examine the cognitive or emotional processes that lead to those behaviors, runs its own risk of keeping us trapped in small, puny lives, not the abundant life God deeply wants for us.

Still, radical or not, this new kingdom Jesus is preaching about seems a lot more demanding than the old one. If now even things like anger and lust are sins, the chances for failure are exponentially higher and the accompanying guilt is exponentially greater. And at this point of the Gospel narrative, Jesus isn’t quite gotten around to spelling out how we make up for it. I mean, at least in the Old Testament, you knew what your punishment was and how you could atone for some sins.

But the thing is, I don’t think we need to wait for the Holy Week story to start choosing life and prosperity over death and adversity. Because we know, and Jesus knew, that life is messy and in need of salvation long before we ever get to Good Friday. And transformation doesn’t need a big, flashy resurrection moment to start happening in our lives.

You see, the good news is that Jesus is simply saying to us “pay attention to your relationships,” because it is through our daily relationships with individuals that our days become long and rich. And by paying attention to the thoughts and feelings that underlie those everyday relationships, we can figure out, as Mary Beth told me, how God wants us to preserve them by valuing what’s good or by fixing them when they’re broken.

So, when we pay attention to our anger, we are called to reconcile with whom we are angry. When we pay attention to our desire, we are called to see the person as a subject and not an object for our possession. When we pay attention to our chafing at commitments, we are called to remember that relationships don’t suddenly end with a mere certificate. And when we pay attention to our urge to make grand promises to prove our intentions, we are called to speak only from our simple truth, whether it is yes or no.

And it’s not only shortcomings in individual relationships that benefit from some Gospel light. Our communal relationships could also use some of that transformative power of paying attention. Last weekend, at our Vestry retreat, we recognized two rather big unmet needs of our parish. The first is a real desire for spiritual formation, both as a way to radically welcome the many newcomers to our parish year after year, and also as a way to begin building cross-generational and other difference-spanning relationships. Secondly, we recognized that as much as our mission and outreach activities are a major component of our identity as a congregation, those ministries and programs are no longer at the center of our community.

As those of you who have read the Sunday News know (and check your spam folder if you haven’t been getting it!) two of our Vestry goals for 2014 are to address these needs: by creating new infrastructure for adult formation and by discerning how to promote greater understanding of our mission and outreach activities. I think we have learned that simply saying, “let’s start another program,” has not been very sustainable for any of our Holy Currencies of gracious leadership, of time, and especially, of relationship.

So in 2014, we will be paying attention to how we create, deepen, and expand our relationships with each of you and with each other, knowing that we are called to spiritually nourish each other with dinner and conversations as much as by Eucharist and sermons. And we know that true mission, God acting in his world through his relationship with us, springs out of a spiritually nourished life.

And so just as the disciples did on that Galilean mountain, so we here at St. James’s today see Jesus giving us a new law of Love, “a new way of life, one that demands more, but also promises more,” if we pay attention. Let us keep these commandments, as the Psalmist says, knowing that a happy and abundant life comes when we seek God with all our hearts. Amen.

Isaac Martinez 2-16-14

Tuesday
Feb112014

Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for February 9th, 2014

5 Epiphany Year A 2-9-14

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Isaiah 58:1-9a; Ps. 112:1-9; 1 Cor. 2:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20

This is a day acceptable to you, O LORD. Go before us, our Vindicator, and let your glory be our rear guard, so that our light shall break forth like the dawn, and our healing shall spring up quickly.  AMEN. [from Isaiah 58:6-8]

Salt preserves.  Without it, meat and fish become dangerously rotten very quickly.  With it, they can last a long, long time to provide us with nourishment. Look around you at this congregation.  Who are the preservers of our life together?  Who has been feeding us a long, long time, literally, and spiritually?  Who are the ones who remember who is suffering, and reach out to them?  Who picks people up for surgery, and fetches them again afterward?  Who consistently calls our attention to the needs of the world, and organizes us to respond to those needs?  Who shows up to pray and read in our liturgy, or bear the cross?  Who simply consistently shows up for worship and fellowship and all the “currencies of blessing” that sustain our missional ministry?  You KNOW these people! 

Salt intensifies.  You know when you are tasting salt in a dish, even though salt has no taste of its own, because it makes all the other flavors stronger. Look around you.  Who intensifies the savor of our spiritual community?  Who has a gift for enabling us to FEEL the Spirit’s presence and power?  Maybe with words; maybe with kindness; maybe with humor or insight; maybe with a capacity for real and substantive empathy with others; maybe by bringing musical or visual beauty into our life together; maybe by the sheer power of prayer.  You KNOW these people!

Salt is necessary to life.  That’s why it’s the first thing given when someone has been dehydrated; they’ve lost not just their moisture, but their salt balance.  Never did I know this essential nature of salt in our bodies until my sister was diagnosed with the ear trouble called “Meniere’s disease,” a fluid build-up in the inner ear which not only interferes with hearing but can destabilize your entire balance system and cause horrendous vertigo and nausea.  No one knows how to cure it, but lowering your salt intake can lower the amount of fluid in your ears and make a significant difference.  Well my sister – being my sister! – is nothing if not determined!  So when she was told to lower her salt intake, she virtually cut salt out of her diet.  She read every label and consulted every restaurant’s recipes and refused salt everywhere she went.  Until one day she collapsed at the office and was rushed to the hospital on the verge of a stroke!  Thank God, she DIDN’T have a stroke, but they quickly determined that she was dangerously low on salt!  Her ears might have been benefiting, but the whole rest of her system was seriously out of whack!

Look around you at this congregation.  Who makes our congregational life WORK?  Who is mobilizing quietly in our congregational “blood stream,” keeping the systems running?  Making sure we have enough wafers for communion and that the flowers get sent out to the frail and the suffering? Keeping the wood polished and the paper products stocked?  Managing our insurance and applying for grants and loans for restoration?  Remembering to put the names of those in need of prayer on the Healing Pray-ers list, and then remembering to pray for them! Looking after our babies in the nursery and keeping them safe and happy there? Bearing communion to those who can’t physically join us?  Adding up the numbers, Sunday after Sunday, and pledge statement after pledge statement?  Often the folk who are salty in this way are nearly invisible in our common life, because they go about what they do in a very un-self-advertising way.  But if you think about it, you KNOW these people!

Your Vestry has just spent Friday night and Saturday on retreat, preparing for leadership at St. James’s in the coming year, a year full of opportunity and fraught with uncertainty, as the building project comes ever closer to beginning, and as we all wonder what will happen in the episcopal election on April 5th and whether I will remain your rector or become your bishop.  We will be commissioning them for this leadership this very morning, blessing and praying for them, and I hope you will keep them in your prayers as the year unfolds.  Having just spent two days with them, I can testify that this is a truly wonderful, strong, capable, differently-abled group; God has provided for us the currency of gracious leadership most generously.

And they are really clear that the preserving, intensifying, essential salt of their call to leadership in the congregation of St. James’s isn’t just for St. James’s alone.  To leap to Jesus’ other metaphor from the Gospel of Matthew today, the purpose of their salt is so that we as a whole congregation can SHINE IN THE WORLD BOLDLY, a lamp on the lamp stand, not hidden, but visible, a testament to God’s generosity of blessing, radiant with the glory of Christ’s self-giving love. Because although we are here at St. James’s clearly to refresh and renew our own faith, to pray for each other and comfort – con-fort, strengthen – each other in the power of the Holy Spirit, to “speak God’s wisdom to each other,” as Paul tells the Corinthians, “so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God,” that’s only the beginning.  All this is just to prepare us to be the Light of the World, to both ILLUMINATE and EXPOSE the ways in which the world is going about its business.  To expose how unaware of God’s presence and power most people are as we attend to the world’s daily operations, relying on “human wisdom,” a wisdom inadequate to the real needs of the world, and relying on our own human strength, a strength inadequate to the challenges we face. As Paul earlier warned the Corinthians, God has said “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’” [1 Cor. 1:19b] And later, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”  The light of such exposure is not accepted gratefully by a world determined to rely on its own resources.  Some of the time that we are called to “let our light shine before others,” it’s a searing light, a light that lays bare injustice and uncharity.  Sometimes the light is a light that calls the ungenerous and the self-preoccupied to account.

But equally likely, the Light we bring is a gentle and a healing light to those who have been injured or bruised by the world’s unconcern or underestimation, who have been in the shadows of the world’s inattention and neglect, or who have languished under the world’s crushing exploitation.  It is an ILLUMINATION of the value of those whom the world has overlooked or oppressed.

Our Vestry is prepared to lead us in doing all of the above at St. James’s, refusing to be hidden under the bushel basket of our frustrating lingering “in diaspora,” church school here and food pantry there and offices somewhere else, while our poor old parish house sits, huddled and pathetic, awaiting its transformation into an accessible, hospitable and welcoming community space embracing our church and garden, in the redevelopment.

Maybe our long sojourn, pressed together in our worship space, has heightened a charism – a gift – God gave us long ago, a gift that God has burnished brightly within us even in the long years when our parish house was falling down around our ears, linoleum crumbling, window frames porous, heat escaping through the open pores of our roof and sewage cascading into our basement classrooms.  Paul names this singular charism of St. James’s with poignant eloquence when writing to the elegant Corinthians. “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”

So it is at St. James’s.  For we, in our visible frailty, proclaim Christ crucified…Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  It is precisely our human shortcomings, so clearly on display at St. James’s, which make God’s own forgiving love manifest in us. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. The steadfast loving kindness of God in Jesus Christ wells up in us precisely through the cracks of our imperfection.  Hence Paul’s words challenge us, like him, not to rely on our strengths merely, but to illumine and expose our own weaknesses, as he says he did coming into the highly elite and capable community of the Corinthians – the ancient Greek equivalent of Cambridge, cosmopolitan, urbane, wealthy and powerful – so that the Light we shine with is Christ’s Light and not our own.

Pray for your Vestry & clergy, dear friends, as we embark on leadership this year.  Pray that we may know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.  And that in so knowing, we your leadership may invite us all to be salt and light of the world, come what may.  AMEN.

Tuesday
Feb112014

Sylvia Weston's Homily for Candlemas, February 2nd 2014

The PRESENTATION -Simeon & Anna’s Experience In the Temple:

Prayer: (  Forward Day By Day) Luke 2:  20-40  & Malachi 3:  1-14 -  Psalm 84   Hebrews: 2:14-18

“In worship and in work alike, may we know your presence, Till work itself be worship, and every thought be to your praise.”

What a Gospel  - one where sight and speech are heightened and Liturgy – the work of the people is at it’s peak,  which culminates in voices of Praise!   Reality -New insights and Proclamations emerge from the depths of the Soul through the working of the Spirit of God.  Simeon and Anna, at that special  place, the Temple, are transformed and given NEW SIGHT, new Directions.

A few weeks ago, members of our family gathered to celebrate 2 birthdays.   It was evening; gradually, as the candles were lit, the room illumined with the brightness of the LIGHT, and instantly  we heard a loud shout ‘THANK YOU GOD, HALLELUJAH!”  We were all amazed with the instant excitement -  hands lifted high, and the proclamation of  unrehearsed Praise that came from Justice.  Needless to say, even more Joy was added  to our hearts, and in the room by his act of Worship.

What is it that brings us here today -every week?  What is it that stirs us from sleep, that knudges us to Get Up, Get dressed and Get Going?  Where do we Go – and Why?  We come to present ourselves to God and to offer a Sacrifice of Praise.

It is the Spirit of God in each one who brings us here.  We come to St. James’ and Gather  as One, with expectation and to do the Work of Liturgy.  I think of Susan and Tom Harris and Ginny – faithful  ministers who,  come every week to prepare the Table /Altar for the Feast of the Eucharist..    This is work; this is Worship. We are in search of something ; we desire to Become One with someone Greater than ourselves.   And so we come, As We Are..  “How aimiable arethy courts, oh Lord of host.  My soul longs to be here in your temple; My soul searches for you.” cries the Psalmist as he Worships.

Simeon is stirred by The Spirit, the Messenger of God who prepares the Way, and Malachi’s prophesy comes true:  “The Lord whom you seek shall suddenly come to His Temple.” (Malachi 3:1)   Anna is also moved, and obedient to the call  they come  to the temple.  United in One cause, and faithful in their work, they are TRANSFORMED.  The Desire of their innermost wish to know God is realized, and they SEE beyond the ordinary.  God communicates with Simeon and Anna in that moment, and they see  the Incarnation of JESUS, the CHRIST.  The Baby who is here in the Temple with his mother and father  is the  very PRESENCE of GOD Himself in human form…   Joy is come to them, and PRAYER in PRAISE flow from the depths of their Souls as they engage fully in Worship, to give God his worth , his glory and adoration.  Simeon’s song , ”Mine Eyes have Seen Your Glory...” continues in our Worship today.  Now he can Rest and Abide in Christ.  Anna too joins in Worship, as she tells of SALVATION that has come to the world through this young child – JESUS, the Christ.  ANNA, is given a VOICE with her NEW assignment to be a WITNESS of this glorious Personal Encounter.  I can picture her walking and talking with seekers such as us:  SALVATION has Come to us!    She is empowered by the Spirit to carry on her work and to tell with confidence, I HAVE SEEN SALVATION.  Amazing Grace.

And Simeon, in Obedience to his mandate says to Mary “ This child is  destined  for  the rise and fall of many.  A sword shall pierce your soul also!”  Mary must have pondered:  “what does Simeon mean?”  One day in 2009 while I visited at Youville Rehab, I took some time and walked through the premises.  There across a wall I saw these words: “It will happen:  It’s all in the Cross.”    I wondered – what does that mean, and why is this here, and why have I come upon it at this moment?   I have pondered on that moment many times.   We are connected/linked to the characters in this story, and we also find ourselves in situations and places when we have to ponder and seek meaning of  “sword” and Cross that come in the pathway of our Journey.   Mary knew she was never alone.  JESUS The CHRIST is right beside her; Grace and Mercy flows from Him.  Ponder – yes?    Still she can carry on with the work – with Worship and trust in God’s mercy. .  A great TRANSFORMATION has just occurred , not only in JESUS, her son, but also in these 2  Witnesses who were always at the Temple in God’s presence.

We too are never alone and are always in the Presence of Jesus, the Christ.   As we gather  to Worship,  we  join our voices with Simeon and Anna, with Mary & Joseph and ALL who have gone before, as we continue the Journey of Seeking  and Finding Jesus, the Christ in each other!    Like Simeon  we can  Rest in God and like Anna , tell of the Gift of Salvation that we have found – of the New Sight received and of the new LIGHT that sparkles within us – JESUS, the CHRIST.  Carry on the work of Worship.  When , on this Journey , we encounter  the LIGHT of Christ, may the Child in us – like Justice, and the aged, like Simeon and Anna - shout out unabashedly “ Thank You God, Hallelujah!”    May we be blessed with new sight to see God’s glory – God’s Salvation.

 

Thursday
Feb062014

Isaac Martinez's "Thought to Share" for Candlemas - February 2nd, 2014

Isaac Martinez’s Homily for the Feast of Candlemas

As much as I love the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, sometimes the Book of Common Prayer does waaaay more poetic justice to scripture. For example, the good old BCP translates the Song of Simeon we heard in today’s Gospel as:

Lord, you now have set your servant free, to go in peace as you have promised;

for these eyes of mine have seen the savior;

whom you have prepared for all the world to see;

a Light to enlighten the nations;

and the glory of your people, Israel.

In our worship today for this feast of Candlemas, we have explored this theme of light coming back into the world. And in our worship every week, we prepare ourselves to see the Savior, as we break open the Word and Bread. We give God the glory due his name. Even on Sundays that aren’t Candlemas, we bring our light, maybe diminished from the cares and worries of the week, and it is rekindled here. All of these actions and outcomes of our time together are indeed RIGHT and GOOD. And at the end, when it is all done, the deacon dismisses us.

And yet, Simeon places his dismissal, his sending, at the beginning of his praise-song, not the end!

Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters name the mystery we just encountered “mass,” which comes from the Latin word for the dismissal, missa, which in turn is related to a word more familiar to us at St. James’s, mission, from missio, the act of sending.

In the limited time I have outside of church, i.e. my real job, I get paid to advise and train small businesses and nonprofits. Part of what my firm does is helping these organizations create strategic plans to guide major decisions. Inevitably, we will ask our clients, “What is your organization trying to achieve?” “What is your mission?” Now, you’ll see mission statements plastered all over the place, not just for nonprofits, but for businesses of every size and kind. And there are good reasons my firm does this work. It helps ground for-profit businesses in something besides making money. It gives their employees a deeper sense of meaning for the hours they spend on the job.

But this secular understanding of “mission” misses the true mark when it is based on this notion of achieving some goal or purpose. Because a true mission isn’t internally focused. A true mission doesn’t “accomplish” things in the way our achievement-obsessed culture would understand.

A true mission is ACTION, yes. But more importantly, it is GOD in action. You see, we can’t understand mission as something we do on behalf of God. God isn’t just the source of sending. God IS the sending. Malachi says that the Lord is sending his messenger to purify us. And yet who does the Lord send? It is himself, in the form of Jesus. This is a story that starts at creation, where God sends himself as the Spirit who moves over the water. It’s a story that continues today, where that same Spirit moves over the waters of our baptism and comes to dwell within us. And as we are sent from this place, in peace to love and serve our God and to bear his Light into the world, God is sending himself WITH AND WITHIN US!!

So in a way, I can’t help but think that the Catholics may actually have this one right. The missa, the dismissal, the sending, is not merely the natural end-point of our time together; it is the heart of WHY we worship!!

In a minute, we will make a procession with candles around the sanctuary. And as we take the lights around this building, let us ask ourselves how we might take the Light of Christ within us as he sends us into the world. Amen. 

Tuesday
Feb042014

Carol Hilliard's Sermon for Annual Meeting Sunday - January 26, 2014

 

“You speak in my heart and say ‘Seek my face.’

Your face, Lord, will I seek”

Please be seated

So, my little grandson and I love to play together. There are always bad guys to chase, and his stuffed animals have dreadful skiing accidents on the mountains of the couch cushions, and need rescuing and many intricate surgeries. Sometimes I have grandmotherly notions of sitting on the couch and reading a book together, and Alex is willing, for minutes at a time. One book, one time. Then he jumps up and says “come on, Grandma, let’s play!” Sweet invitation, sweetly given: of course I play some more.

But, today, here, I ask that you stay on the couch for a bit.

As a parish, we work hard. We have many ministries, many concerns, relating to the whole world, to the community around us, to individuals within our parish family, and to St. James’s itself. We strive to live out our faith by bringing into the world more awareness of the needs of others, more compassion.   There is a lot of working and striving, and that is why I am asking that just for a while, we stay seated on the couch, and take comfort  from God’s word.

Our readings from God’s word begin with Psalm 27.  “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear?” we sang, in a melodic phrase that conveys  trust and reliance on God. The music doesn’t play through the tree-tops, it comes up from the deepest roots, and it helps me understand the thoughts of the heart of the psalmist.

 For several verses, the psalmist is safe, and wants to “sing and make music.”

Then at verse 10,(I’m going a bit farther than the appointed verses for today) it is as though the noise of fears gets loud for the psalmist; fears making inchoate noise  around the psalmist, so that he cries out, as though above the din, “Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call, have mercy on me and answer me.”

He gets an answer, from God speaking “in my heart,” saying of all things that could be said  “seek my face.” Not “everything will be ok, as you want it”. No instructions for a burnt offering, nor does God tell the psalmist to go on a long journey. The God the psalmist worships – the God we worship – says “draw near to me, come closer, seek my face.” The psalmist hears the message,  and tries to act on it: “ Your face, Lord, will I seek.” In the psalm, he says this just once, but I can imagine him repeating this many times, as he tries to stop sobbing and regain control of his own breathing.

As the psalm goes on, the psalmist is still shaky, but at the end, he returns to the phrase “O God of my salvation,” and we are transported back to the beginning of the psalm: “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” The psalm suggests to me a circular form rather than a straight upward trajectory: the psalmist, and I, are for a time full of faith, and joy in our faith, but fears arise, and become loud and threatening. God answers our cries, we listen and are able to return to our reliance on our God of light and salvation. This cyclical form suggests that experiencing fears and real threats is not the end of faith, or joy. We do not travel up and up, only to fall off a cliff when difficulties confront us; we will be upheld when we listen to God speaking in our hearts.

I do not think I need to dwell on what this psalm might mean to us today at St. James’s, but I do indeed think it is relevant. We always have a lot going on in our parish, but…we have a lot going on right now! Listen again to the message God speaks to the psalmist’s heart: “Seek my face.” Sweet invitation! Our comfort will come from seeking to know and to draw closer to our God; and I believe that sometimes sitting, praying and pondering are good ways to do that.

When we read the epistle for today, it is clear that the church in Corinth was  engaging more in bickering than pondering, and St. Paul pleads with them to “be in agreement,” with “no divisions among you,” “that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” Honestly, I used to feel tired and  frustrated when I would read this. I am willing, with all my heart, to be loyal and dedicated to my church, but I expect to retain my own point of view and individuality.

Now, after more study, I don’t think Paul was calling for any submerging of personality for the church’s  sake, but is pointing the way to a different realm of existence.  This passage from Corinthians reads as though St Paul wrote it fast, getting down the words as they came, with deep feeling.  Even the page I printed out from the computer seems tear-stained from the passion St. Paul expresses in this reading. The gospel he brings is not about belonging to one or another human-led faction. He deplores the “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” And this is where the passion pours out: “Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you?” It almost makes me weep and cry out “NO! Christ cannot be divided. It was Christ, begotten of God, who was crucified for our salvation.” The good news is about Jesus Christ, who suffered on the Cross for all of humankind, and the realm to which St. Paul points the way, is the realm of God. He is teaching us, urgently, that beyond this world, these molecules, this DNA, with all the usual judgments of this world, there is the world, the realm, of God. “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,”  he says. In this world, for those tied to this world, the judgment of the message of the cross is “it’s foolish.” That is exactly the message I hear from the secular world. “But,” St. Paul goes on, “to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” This is where we are transported, pushed, catapulted – whatever St. Paul has to do – into God’s realm. We are in motion, being saved,  not by our own agency, but by the power of God.

Well, the time for sitting on the couch seems to come to an end, when we read the Gospel for today. Jesus says many things we can spend hours contemplating, but he himself never stays still for long, nor does he let his followers sit. He walks, he proclaims, he teaches, he heals, and he calls his disciples. Peter and Andrew, and then James and John were called individually – we know their names – and they responded by dropping their nets and walking after him.

 “Follow me,” he said to them, of all the things he could have said. He didn’t say “let’s overthrow the government,” or even “let’s perfect this world,” but rather “Follow me.” To me this suggests that, because Jesus is always walking ahead, I must keep my attention on him, to see where it is I’m supposed to be following.

I have focused on just parts of each reading, of course, so that I can establish the common theme of traveling by faith beyond this world of fears, competing loyalties and even important  concerns to the Kingdom of God,by following Jesus. We do not travel alone, so when we stumble or are distracted, we have each other for guidance and comfort. I believe that is what St. Paul has in mind when he enjoins us to be united in the same mind and the same purpose. The “mind” in which we are united  is the mind of Christ and our purpose is to uphold one another as we follow Jesus Christ.

At St. James’s we have a deep tradition of mutual and loving support, especially in our tradition of praying for each other. There have been times in my life when I felt held upright because people here prayed with me. The gratitude I feel for those prayers is a treasure I carry always in my heart, and I still derive comfort from those prayers. We were praying with each other when I joined St. James’s 22 years ago, and we are still praying. I just want to bring this ministry forward in our awareness, to give it the prominence it deserves and to encourage each of us to open our hearts and minds to one another, and to hold each other up in prayer.

So, after this time of contemplation, this is my call to action: pray, and listen to the voice of God in our hearts, as He says “Seek my face.”

Amen

Carol Hilliard 1-26-14

Tuesday
Feb042014

The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for Sunday, January 19th 2014

2 Epiphany Year A 1-19-14

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; Ps. 40:1-10; John 1:29-41

O LORD, [in our baptism, you said to each of us], "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified." Now, O LORD -- who formed us in the womb to be your servants, to bring Jacob back to you, and that Israel might be gathered to you, for we are honored in your sight, and you, O God, have become our strength-- you say, "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”  AMEN. [adapted from Isaiah 49:1-6]

As you all might imagine, in this week of public announcement of the nominations for Bishop of Massachusetts, I’ve been thinking a lot about vocation!  I’ve been thinking about the peculiar uniqueness, and the perplexing unpredictability, of our several callings to be who we are and do what we do, and influence whatever we influence in our many different spheres of activity.  Figuring out what we’re supposed to be doing with our lives is one of the great stressors in this 21st world of broad, nearly endless variety of choice for us privileged North Americans.  As we experienced, sharing our vocational journeys last night at the Newcomer Dinner, it’s also one of the great adventures! 

We who are followers of Jesus Christ perceive that this discernment of vocation that belongs to every one of us – “vocation,” from vocare, to call – takes place in a context: the context of God’s having made us in the first place, and blessed each and every one of us with distinctive gifts, distinctive capacities to make a contribution to the great unfolding creativity of God’s Creation. That’s why I opened with a prayer I took from the Servant Songs in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, a prayer that names this presence of God’s intention for us from our very formation in our mothers’ wombs.  But Isaiah’s Servant Song doesn’t stop there. It doesn’t just name our original giftedness, present in our making.  It also names the fact that God CALLS US into that giftedness.  As followers of Jesus, we believe that that calling gets confirmed in our baptism, in our sealing by the Holy Spirit with the oil of chrism, the oil of anointing for ministry, just as Jesus’ own ministry was begun in his baptism.

And God calls us into that giftedness for a PURPOSE, a DIVINE PURPOSE.  Isaiah puts it this way: "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”  In other words, we are, each in our own unique way, gifted to be light, to bring salvation to a world hungering and thirsting for it. EVERY ONE OF US is gifted to participate in this.  “Called into fellowship with Christ,” as Paul puts it to the Corinthians in our passage for today, in the resurrection power of our baptism, and “enriched in him with speech and knowledge of every kind,” ”not lacking in any spiritual gift,” we are always GROWING INTO our purpose, feeling our way deeper into our unique role in Christ’s mission – GOD’S mission – of deliverance into a life of purpose, of healing, reconciliation, loving fruition of all that God has made.

As we read through the whole of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, we see that these gifts are to be used for KOINONIA, for FELLOWSHIP, for a life of collaboration and mutual discernment essential to each other’s capacity to be what God has called and gifted us to be.  They are given to us in order to BUILD UP THE BODY OF CHRIST, to JOIN US TO EACH OTHER.  These gifts are given to RECONCILE US to GOD and EACH OTHER, to RESTORE US TO UNITY.

But in our day-to-day experience, this deployment of gifts, this growth into unity is not some clear, linear process.  The path ahead is never laid out like a google map, with the reassuring voice saying, “At the roundabout, second left!”  Much is hidden from us as we’re trying to perceive the way forward, so that we have to cast about, trying this and that.  Threads of our narrative that we had thought unimportant later assume profound importance and things we had thought essential drop away. Sometimes the way seems just plain blocked.  As we shared stories at the Newcomer Dinner last night about how we found ourselves here in Cambridge and at St. James’s, many of the stories had chapters in which people felt thwarted in their purpose, or headed in the wrong direction, only to find later that even their frustrations and confusions had guided them – sometimes downright bullied and coerced them – to surprising new possibilities. War intervened, or wrong choices, or terrible losses.  Growing deeper into our baptism can be a messy, death-and-resurrection experience.  We sometimes have to find ourselves at a “dead-end” before, as the Quakers put it, “way will open.”

My own progress toward my unfolding vocation began most unpromisingly in a family of no declared faith in God whatsoever, let alone in Jesus Christ. Had you said to me at any point through my growing-up that I would be a priest, let alone enter a process of discernment about a call to the ministry we call “episcopate,” from the Greek word “episkope,” meaning oversight, I would have laughed derisively. Yet now, looking back, I can see hallmarks of this calling even in my life long before my baptism at age 28 or my entry into seminary at age 31 (and emergence eight years later, after the birth of two children, a transitional deacon at 39!).  Here’s an example: I was never a bona fide member of the “in-group” in elementary school – the “cool” group that “went steady” and wore the right things and listened to the right music – but by sixth grade, I was nevertheless was a lead organizer of the “out group” for our play-yard games and recess activities. With eyes to see, you might have called it a “ministry,” built on persuasive power but also on profound compassion for those who struggled. Was that a pointer into my present calling? My sixth-grade teacher thought it pointed SOMEWHERE, anyway, and told me I had a responsibility to use it!  And my childhood love of classical music – which was part of why I wasn’t “cool” enough for the in-group – was, in the end, my route into the church, singing anthems in a church choir so that the words of faith poured over me until they began to sink in. Such things can seem trivial at the beginning, of no significance, and only later begin to glimmer and shine, revealed as some among many possible pointers toward vocation.  Whether or not these will lead me to a call to be a Bishop, only much more time and conversation, mutual exploration and prayer on the part of the whole diocese will tell.  I certainly did not remotely know what I was called to when I entered the process in a spirit of willingness last August, except to enter and trust.  But I knew these gifts had already led me into a ministry that is a already a part of our diocesan episkope, whether as a Dean or as a General Convention deputy or as a mentor of new clergy.  That much was clear.

The unfolding of our vocation is always mysterious, and always surprising.  As we learned last night at the Newcomer Dinner, sharing stories about what shaped us to be who we are, make the choices we have made, and do what we currently are doing, and how we were or were not aware of God at work in these stories, every one of us has such threads in our narrative as I have in mine, indicators of our calling long before we knew how to interpret them. And as one person pointed out at the end of the evening, it is important to share them with each other, to speak them out loud in mutual fellowship, to help each other interpret where they might be leading.  It isn’t just potential bishops that need that. All of us need that mutual discernment in order to know God’s purpose in our lives and allow it to unfold.

In John’s Gospel for today, could Jesus’ ministry have unfolded without John the Baptizer’s witness? (He’s even called John the Witness, not the Baptizer, in John’s Gospel.) Yet even John the Witness himself didn’t see it coming!  Even as he proclaims Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” he acknowledges, “I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel." The truth about John’s purpose as well as Jesus’ had to emerge out of their interaction, begun perhaps with neither of them clear what lay ahead.  “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him,” says John of Jesus, and again he says, “I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, `He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’”

And the disciples too, are confused, followers of John until he points them toward Jesus. When Jesus turns and sees them coming after him, he asks, poignantly, “What are you seeking?” And, far from being prepared with an answer, they answer with a question of their own, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” or more accurately, “Where do you REMAIN?” To which Jesus answers, in the present imperative, Keep on coming and you will see!”

And so I say to us, to myself and to you, as our discernment of God’s calling, God’s will and purpose in our lives, continues to unfold, as it will continue to unfold our whole lives long, “Keep on coming to Jesus and we will see!” Remain where Jesus remains – the word is meno, the same word John uses for the Spirit “remaining” with Jesus in baptism; the same word Jesus uses later in John’s Gospel when he says, “Abide (meno) 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.” [John 15:4] Remain with Jesus as you encounter him here in the Body of Christ at St. James’s.  Remain in this fellowship of Christ’s Body even when struggle and suffering seem to contraindicate any purpose at all for your life, maybe PARTICULARLY when that is true. After all, Jesus, says John, is “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  And sin in the Gospel of John is one thing and one thing only, one thing that underpins all the other pain and destruction in “the world,” the “cosmos,” as John the Evangelist calls our bodily, worldly – secular – existence.  That one thing is UNBELIEF. John does not enumerate “sins;” there is no anatomizing of greed, murder, theft, etc., no rules and regulations. Sin is, purely and simply, the “failure to trust God and enter into communion with God as revealed in Jesus.” [Robert H. Smith, New Proclamation Year A 1998-1999]  It is the failure to ABIDE IN GOD.  We sin because we fail to trust God, to “remain,” meno in God. 

Whatever the twists and turns of our vocation, within it and beneath it and through it all, we are called by God to BELONG, to be CONNECTED to God and each other, to encourage the BEST IN EACH OTHER, as Paul says our Body of Christ is gifted to do.  According to John’s Gospel, ONLY TRUST IN GOD such as Jesus experienced under trial after trial can overcome our alienation and fragmentation, our competitive isolation, and KNIT US BACK TOGETHER. Jesus, the Lamb of God, in his willing, loving sacrifice of himself throughout his life and ministry and in his death by crucifixion, removes the BARRIERS TO TRUST, our fear of suffering being a key barrier and driver of our UNBELIEF.

In our blundering, meandering, often confusing seeking, we are to “keep on coming to Jesus,” so that, like John the Baptizer, we can see our way forward.  We are to remain wherever Jesus remains, to ABIDE TOGETHER  IN UNITY with one another in the Body of Christ.  Only through such abiding can we fulfill God’s purpose for us in our baptisms, which is nothing less than to heal the world’s divisions and enable the flourishing of ALL.  Each and every one of us – whether we are in a discernment for Bishop or just trying to find a job with a high enough wage to pay our bills and cover our health insurance – every one of us is GIFTED BY GOD, CALLED BY GOD  for this immense work of healing and reconnecting, and none of us is more important than another.  NONE OF US can fulfill our own personal calling without the Body of Christ surrounding us, so we can rely upon the callings of others and contribute to the fulfillment of everyone else’s calling, because in Christ WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER.  We are GRACED BY GOD to BELONG TO ONE ANOTHER.  And not just we who happen to have crossed the threshold of this Church.  The world is full of those who are seeking. The unity we serve in God is a unity of ALL THE EARTH.  Each of us is gifted by God to play a part in that unity.  AMEN.

 

Rev. Antolini 1-19-14