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


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.


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.



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. 


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.”


Carol Hilliard 1-26-14


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


Living Epistle: Anne Read, Sunday January 12th, 2014

I first visited St. James’s a little over 25 years ago. I heard Sylvia Weston sing that Sunday morning and have been back nearly every week since then. With a toddler and 5-year-old I was immediately engaged in the children’s program, and there I have remained for a quarter of a century.
And what have I learned? I have learned that church is for children. And by that I don’t mean little Emory, or Connor, or Natalia, though of course church IS for them. 
I mean church is for the brave and honest and spiritual child that we are all born to, but who we bury somewhere along the way. Church is for the child Sylvia Weston, for the child Lucas Sanders, and the child Anne Shumway. The child within us is divine and eternal and Jesus himself instructs us to reach back and grab hold of that treasure, nurture it, live it.
That’s not easy to do, but one way is to be connected to those who come by it naturally. By this I mean real children.
Children challenge our perceptions. They remind us of our own vulnerability. Their presence threatens to open us up after we’ve spent a lifetime getting safe...and getting dull. All children, and that includes the child within us all, consciously or unconsciously hunger for God.
So it follows that any worship service that is open and welcoming to God will be open and welcoming to real children. Real children like Emory, Connor, and Natalia and the dozens of other wonderful, playful, curious and loud denizens of our nursery and church school.
A year ago the vestry presented to our congregation a buget plan to hire an associate whose job would be to explore all the ways St. James’s can be more inviting and welcoming to children and their families. 
You responded by funding, through generous increases in pledges, a one-third time position, which was filled in the Spring. Judith Atkinson, through what I can only believe is divine intervention, accepted the position of associate priest.
In the short time Judith has been at St. James’s she has worked tirelessly, imaginatively, and collegially to help St. James’s fulfill that stated goal. 
Since she’s been working in family ministry for many years, Judith brings a wealth of experience, tried and true ideas, and—this is an important quality for anyone working with children—a fearlessness in the face of possible failure.
For example: One of her earliest projects was an after-church bowling and pizza party. Judith called me the morning of the event and said only three children had signed up and one was her own. Undaunted, she went ahead and ordered the pizzas and reserved the bowling alleys. Well I think we had 25 children and lots of adults, all enjoying the fellowship. A complete success!
Judth also provides support and pastoral care for the church school teachers, listening to our concerns and providing much-needed encouragement. Her support has given me more energy for my own ministry and excitement for the years ahead. 
Judith has also taken on essential administrative tasks, oversees the nursery, and contributes a singer to the Greenleaf Choir. She has plans for recruiting, training, and supporting more teachers. She has great ideas for confirmation. Projects for the summer. Vision and passion. And she’s just getting started.
As you can see, Judith’s ministry is to the whole church; and without this kind of support St. James’s—and especially our church school—would be in grave danger as our teachers age out or give out or give up.
Judith’s contribution is so important to me personally that I am willing to talk about the one thing that makes me uncomfortable: money.
Earlier I talked about your generous response to the need for increased pledges to support this new staff position. A year later we find that without further financial support we are in danger of losing this invaluable asset. 
I hope you will take a moment to consider increasing your pledge for 2014. Look to your inner child and dream big! Even an increase of just $5 a week would help greatly. 
In closing let me give you the bullet points of my message:
Jesus entreats us to nurture the child, both young and old.
We can do this best with the help of a dedicated professional.
It can’t be done without your help.
Thank you.


Anne Read LE 1-12-14


Vestry Minutes, November 19th 2013

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

Guests: Jeff Zinsmeyer (Redevelopment Committee)

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

Holly leads us in spiritual practice.

Nov Vestry Minutes


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Homily for Ed Humphrey


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

Epiphany Year A 1-5-14

©Holly Lyman Antolini

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holly Antolini Epiphany