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Tuesday
Apr262016

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

Audio recording of Holly Lyman Antolini's Homily

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday
Apr252016

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

Tuesday
Apr192016

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

Audio recording of Lauren Zook's Living Epistle 

 

Jesus is simple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday
Apr112016

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

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

 

3 Easter Year C 4-10-16

©Holly Lyman Antolini

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday
Mar302016

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

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

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


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

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

 

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

Walking Through A Wall

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

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

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

[https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Through_the_Looking-Glass]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday
Mar282016

Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for the Great Vigil of Easter 3-26-16

Easter Vigil Year C 3-26-16

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Genesis 1:1-2:2, Ps. 36; Exodus 14:10-15:1; Isaiah 55:1-11; Ezekiel 37:1-14;Romans 6:3-11; John 20:1-18

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. AMEN.


Welcome into the dark of Easter Eve, a dark that since the death of Jesus and the loss of all our hopes on Good Friday has been a desolate dark, a menacing dark, and then in the empty tomb on Holy Saturday has become a dark full of puzzled uncertainty and disorientation. 

Such a puzzling and disorienting darkness, such an emptiness as we experience in that tomb on Holy Saturday, seems our existential condition at this particular moment of world politics. If we’re awake at all and not simply tumbling blindly into temptation, we’re suffering a breathtaking fear of our own worst impulses as human beings. And this fear has only been burnished by our reading of the Gospel on Good Friday, together with our daily fresh reminders of the way in which we abandon our principles when “push” comes to political “shove.” As John’s Good Friday Gospel has it, at the very moment that Jesus was three times affirming his identity as the Messiah in the perilous courts of Caiaphas and Pilate with the words, “I AM,” echoing all the way back to God’s testimony to Moses out of the burning bush, “I AM WHO I AM BECOMING,” precisely at those same three moments of Jesus’ affirmation, Peter was denying Christ three times with the words, “I AM NOT.” We DO know – this Holy Week more than most Holy Weeks – that we have a lot on the line as disciples of Jesus Christ. What we DON’T know, in the profound and echoing dark of the empty tomb, is, will we AFFIRM CHRIST or DENY HIM?

But now, at last, this Easter Eve, we have lit the new fire and rekindled the Light of Christ, the Paschal Candle, against all fading hope, against all despair. Now we have sung the ancient hymn of the Exsultet, that affirms the holiness of this night “when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away …when earth and heaven are joined and human beings are reconciled to God.” Now we have gathered as the People of God, rehearsing to ourselves again the whole arc of our Salvation History, God’s creative energy of goodness woven into all things, God’s restorative energy of healing, of liberation, of unity accompanying us throughout history. We have reminded ourselves of the great journey of humanity with God, beginning “with God’s creation of a world ordered, blessed and empowered to be ‘very good.’ …[We have reminded ourselves that] by God’s design the world is vulnerable to sin and grace, to inscrutable divine commands and equally inscrutable divine promises, to oppressive tyranny and redemptive freedom. Human sin has the capacity to undo God’s hopes and expectations for the world, and God’s grace has a greater capacity to reclaim and recreate the world in accordance with covenantal commitments that will not be subverted. God’s inscrutable expectations require extraordinary faith and obedience, and God’s inscrutable promises declare that God will provide what is required, if the faithful will but trust the One who has called them. Human tyranny may enslave and oppress God’s people, but the God who created the world will [overcome] oppression, free the captives, and bring them to a place of new beginnings and new possibilities. On the other side of oppression, the cry for help will become a song of praise, ‘Sing to the Lord, for God has triumphed gloriously!’” [Samuel E. Balentine, New Proclamation, Year C, 2000-2001]

Now, in keeping with the tradition that goes back to the very earliest days of the Christian Way, the tradition that the Easter Vigil was THE baptismal feast of the year, the culmination of years of catechumenal preparation, we gather tonight in this darkness to baptize Jenny Grassl into the Body of Christ.  And as we gather by the light of the Paschal Candle and the light of our own small flares of the Holy Spirit kindled from that great light, this dark has transformed from a menacing dark and a puzzling dark into a sheltering dark.This dark, in which Jenny consents to “be buried with Christ by baptism into death so that she too may walk in newness of life” as Paul tells the Romans in the Letter that is the great culminating wisdom of his own long-embattled life of faith, in the passage of that Letter which will be our Epistle later tonight; this dark in which Paul “reminds us that we are baptized into Christ’s death so that we might be alive to the God we have seen in Christ Jesus;” [ibid.] this dark in which Jenny commits to put her trust in the power of love over the power of death; this dark has become, as the great mystical theologian St. Gregory of Nyssa called it, a DAZZLING DARK. [Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses]

Great mystic that he was, Gregory called the dark “dazzling” because though we find it terribly anxiety-provoking, darkness is in fact God’s gift to us human beings. In our anxiety to be People of the Light, to see clearly so that we can choose clearly and safely, we undervalue this gift of darkness. But darkness is here to remind us precisely how impossible it is for us to see clearly, without God. Darkness is here to remind us precisely how fumbling and short-sighted we are, floundering about, trying to discern our way forward. And darkness can be, in spite of all our instincts to shrink from it, a place eloquent of God, REDOLENT of God, the very place where we FIND God. For as Psalm 139 says, “Darkness is not dark to you, [O God]; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike.” [Ps. 139:11]

Or, as our St. James’s member Margot Chamberlain said in her poem in our Lenten Reflections booklet this season:

They say a candle’s flame prevails

And holds at bay the night,

And keeps us from our dark, primeval fears…

Yet I hold dear, that by this gentle

Light a lustrous dark

Is beckoned in, whose richness silently appears…

This very darkness enveloping us right now is, as Margot says, a “lustrous dark,” a dark inviting us beyond our best moral instincts, beyond all our human capacities, indeed, even beyond our knowing, inviting us deep into UNION WITH GOD, deep into the heart of God’s ever-present, ever-steadfast chesed, God’s abiding mercy and loving kindness to us and to all that God has made.

This is mysticism, the long tradition of “apophatic” spirituality that extends back to the early centuries of Christianity. For St. Gregory of Nyssa, living in the chaos and controversy of the twilight years of the Roman Empire in the 4th century of the Christian Era, this “dazzling darkness” was indeed not something to be overcome but something to be DESIRED in the spiritual life, a GOAL of prayer and growth in love for God. What set him apart from others trying to understand the nature of God in the early days of Christian experience was his “vision of God expressed in terms of darkness rather than the prevailing light imagery. …Instead of presenting the Christian life as a transformative journey towards increasing luminosity, St Gregory put forward a vision of a person’s ascent towards God in terms of increasing impenetrable opacity.” [See next citation.] For Gregory, we are to be rooted in humility about the limits of our understanding of God. We PROGRESS as we become ever-more sober about our own capacity for self-transcendence, ever-more clear about our shortcomings, ever-more humble in the presence of those around us whose shortcomings are manifest to us because we know we cannot give ourselves more credit than we give them. And through it all, we cling as closely to God and our assurance of God’s love as ever we can, knowing that God can pour the grace of the Holy Spirit into our fallible companions and into our fallible selves beyond all our expectations, making miracles possible. A dazzling dark indeed.

In his Life of Moses, Gregory wrote, “As the mind progresses and, through an ever greater and more perfect diligence, comes to apprehend reality, as it approaches more nearly to contemplation, it sees more clearly that God cannot be contemplated. For leaving behind everything that is observed, not only what sense comprehends but also what the intelligence thinks it sees, it keeps on penetrating deeper until by the intelligence’s yearning for understanding it gains access to the invisible and the incomprehensible and there it sees God. This is the true knowledge of what is sought; this is the seeing that consists in not seeing, because that which is sought transcends all knowledge, being separated on all sides by incomprehensibility as by a kind of [luminous] darkness.” [http://www.sagotc.edu.au/sites/default/files/files/kariatlis/PHRONEMA_20122_Kariatlis.pdf]

In this luminous darkness of Gregory’s, doubt is no longer an antithesis to faith. Doubt is a logical accompaniment, even a goad to faith, driving us deeper into God’s mystery. “…In the words of [poet] T. S. Eliot, ‘Let the dark come upon you, which shall be the darkness of God.’  …What are you really after?  Do you want spirituality? Mystical experience?  Nice warm feelings in your prayer?  Or do you want God?  If you want God you must let go of all substitute satisfactions.” [Br. Geoffrey Tristram,http://ssje.org/ssje/2015/11/24/john-of-the-cross-br-geoffrey-tristram/] If there is an antithesis to the dazzling darkness of faith, it is not doubt but fear and the overconfident judgment and hatred engendered by fear. For the dazzling darkness of faith, ever incomprehensible as it is, is ever also an invitation to discover what it means to love, to love mercifully, to love self-sacrificially and courageously, to love beyond all “substitute satisfactions.”

So, Jenny, tonight, in your baptism, you enter, with your eyes wide open, this luminous, this lustrous, this dazzling dark, this “cloud of unknowing” which is the utterly enfolding embrace of God’s loving kindness, made humanly palpable in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, who died in love and rose in love and abides with us, among us, and IN US, in love. I think you know more about this than you even KNOW you know! You know that your deepest “YES!” still has many challenges and many more “YESSES” to come, trial by trial, Eucharist by Eucharist, as, hand in hand with all the rest of us who welcome you tonight, you deepen your embrace of the mystery of what this night means for you and for those who will be blessed by your increasing love for this precious, broken, terrifying and beautiful world that God has made. For in the deepening of baptism, knowing – with tenderness – what fools we are, we learn to walk straight into the dark with the courage that overcomes fear, ever more firmly trusting that darkness is not dark to God, for God never loses sight of even one of us, even the most lost of us. That the light of God’s absolutely trustworthy love shines in the darkness and the darkness will never overcome it. AMEN.

Monday
Mar282016

Seven Last Words of Christ 3-25-16

Audio recording of Katie Massie's sermon

“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Katie Massie

This phrase, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do,” is a summary of the Bible and of Christianity because in this sentence, Jesus reveals both his divinity and his utter humanity.

What is happening in this phrase is Jesus is looking at those calling for his death, and he can see in them their fear, their doubt, and their confusion. And so he calls on God, and pleads to God, for their sake and the sake of humanity, being the bridge between humans and God.

Jesus’s divinity is exhibited by his comfortable address of God, by his ability to forgive those who are doing wrong against him, and by his knowledge that he will be all right even as he faces his death because he knows an eternal life lies before him.

Jesus’s humanity is evident in his empathy for other humans.  Because in order to say, “they know not what they do,” in order to recognize that someone does not know what they are doing, you, at one point, must have not known what you were doing. Jesus is showing here, that he has been in the same position as us and not known, as all humans have at some time not known. Jesus too knows what it is to be confused, to be unsure, to be wavering about what is the right path. Jesus has felt as we have felt and as we feel, and it is this moment of knowledge of what it is to be in our shoes that defines our religion and sets it apart from others; it is this moment and many like it that is why we put Christ at the forefront of our religion. Because we have someone who has felt as we feel to say, “forgive them.”

 

Audio recording of Tom Marsan's sermon

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

Tom Marsan

Paradise? How Jesus, could assure paradise to the believing criminal next to him, simultaneously suffering capital punishment, is beyond me. Paradise in a world 2000 years later seems no more feasible. How can there be paradise, when the most Christian nation on earth has put to death over 1400 people in the last 40 years, and would have killed another 150 more, had they not found that like Jesus, they did not commit the crimes they were accused of. Heaven help those for whom the knowledge of their innocence came too late. 

Thank God I’ve never known the fear of having my life drained from me in such a way. But the fear today is real. We live in a world where fear leads to warfare, terrorism, bigotry, racism, and hatred in all its forms. And yet we know in faith, that Jesus comforts the afflicted. Even as Jesus hung upon the cross, he comforted those sharing his fate, “today you will be with me in paradise”. 

 

Audio recording of Lauren Rigsby's sermon

“Woman, here is your son. Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” (John 19:26-27)

Lauren Rigsby  

 

Audio recording of Sarah Porter's sermon

“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani? Which means, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)

Sarah Porter 

 

Audio recording of Jocelyn Streid's sermon

“I am thirsty.” (John 19:28)

Jocelyn Streid

This is the shortest of the seven last words of Christ, and, perhaps, the most straightforward. “I thirst.” 

Why thirst? Jesus is gasping for breath, nails piercing his hands, flesh hanging on a cross, dying for sins that are not his own. There is plenty for him to cry out about. And yet he tells us he is thirsty. Scholars remind us that these words fulfills psalm 69, in which a suffering psalmist cries of unquenched thirst. Yet I can’t help but think of this as a tragic joke, some cosmic irony. Jesus, the source of living water, is crying out for water he will not get and cannot have. And though his words may have fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, I doubt they made the pain of thirst hurt any less. 

So why, amongst all other physical assaults, is this the one Jesus shares with us? I’d like to think that it’s because he knew we could relate. We do not know what it is like to hang on a cross. But we do know what it’s like to thirst. When we need water - when we are parched and dry, when our mouth is like gravel and our tongue is like dust - it is hard to think of anything else. Yet rarely do we encounter thirst that we are powerless to quench. Those without shelter do not have guaranteed water. Infants thirst for milk and need someone to hear their cries. Patients in the ICU often experience intense feelings of thirst that seem unrelated to their physiological fluid levels. And physicians often struggle with how to address a person’s feelings of thirst as they are in the process of dying. When do we encounter unquenchable thirst? It is when we are most exposed. It is when we are most dependent upon others. It is when we are closest to the thresholds of this earth. 

Thirst is not a choice. It is a visceral response to the absence of something necessary to life. It is a longing for what we need and do not have – a longing so strong it hurts. What is it that you have longed for? What essential thirst cannot be quenched? Perhaps you have longed for joy in the midst of depression, health in the midst of disease. Perhaps you have longed for a child you cannot have, or the kind of family that was never yours. Perhaps you have longed at a hospital bed for someone who has left this earth. Perhaps you have longed for a community that will not judge you based on your race or your religion or your resources. Thirst is painful not just because it hurts, but because it is unjust – why must something so simple be denied? Why is something so essential beyond our grasp? And in the end, how different is Christ’s “I am thirsty” from the testament of children in Flint, Michigan? In the end, how different is Christ’s “I am thirsty” from Eric Garner’s “I can’t breathe”? 

Why can’t the vulnerable have what they need? Why can’t all thirsts be quenched? I don’t have any answers. But I am reminded of a psalm. Psalm 43:7 reads: “Deep calls to deep / in the roar of your waterfalls / all your waves and breakers / have swept over me.” Deep calls to deep, even in God’s living water. Our thirst calls out to Jesus’ thirst. Our pain cries out to Jesus’ pain. 

I do not know why there is thirst. But I do know that Jesus thirsted, too, and he took this thirst to the cross. And I also know this: in the Gospel of John, after Jesus dies, a soldier pierces his side with a spear - and out flows not only blood, but also water. “Deep calls to deep / in the roar of your waterfalls.” 

Amen. 

 

“It is finished!” (John 19:30)

James Sheils  

With these simple words Jesus closed the chapter of his human experience and began the transition on which our faith is based. He had walked the full compliment of his journey among us. He had known, as we do, moments of joy, compassion, fear, humiliation, courage and even death. But out of this story of ultimate sacrifice he gave up his life to offer us eternal hope. What was finished was only the path we take together toward redemption. What was finished was a mortal passage. What began was an eternal promise. We must finish our course. As Jesus had to drink of the cup passed to him in order to taste the elixir of life. With great joy we must complete our duty on earth as Jesus did his. We must finish in order to begin again. We must finish to live forever. 

We might summarize our lives and our belief thus:

There is no end

When God awaits

Nothing final

If hope reigns eternal

It is finished

When we live again

Out of darkness

Rises light so clear

As to make sense of everything

The chapter and verse of our earthly path

Is our covenant with Jesus

Carrying our cross

Is our redemption

Each step

Closer to God

 

Audio recording of Molly McHenry's sermon

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!” (Luke 23:46)

Molly McHenry

Father into Your hands I commend my spirit when the path that I’m on that once seemed so clear starts to vanish beneath my feet.

Father into Your hands I commend my spirit when friendships that have sustained me through the years become fractured and hollow.

Father into your hands I commend my spirit when the comfort of family becomes brittle and sharp from years of resentment and pain.

Father into your hands I commend my spirit when I choose feeling safe over being honest.

 

Father when I lay awake at night with anxiety making every breath shallow

help me

to remember that you are there too

always with me

                   ready to shoulder my burden

 

Father

          help me

to rest in your love

                             and dissolve in your mercy

 

Help me to remember that when the first robin of spring wakes me from a deep sleep that its song is a gift from you

Help me to see that as the snow melts and drips from the awning that this too is a miracle

Help me to trust that when Lenten Days seem drained of color and the journey bleak

          that in the darkness there is newness unseen

          like the bare branch of a willow waiting through the chill of winter

          to display its fresh green brilliance at just the moment

When all seems lost. 

Monday
Mar282016

Eric Litman's Sermon for Good Friday 3-25-16

Good Friday 2016
St. James’s Episcopal Church
Cambridge, MA

Eric Litman

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  Please be seated. 

Last night we began a three day long liturgy. On Maundy Thursday we remember the events that led up to Jesus’ arrest and trial.  Jesus exhorted his disciples to love one another as he loved them.   He demonstrated this love by the humble act of washing their feet, a powerful and symbolic act an act that expressed humility, service and love.  Jesus’ also gathered his friends for a meal, their last meal together.  On Maundy Thursday, we remember Jesus last night as a free man and we reflect on Jesus love for his friends and for the world.   The unfolding drama of this three day long liturgy a story that brings us, this afternoon, from Jerusalem to Golgotha, from the last supper to the foot of the cross. 

I didn’t grow up in a particularly religious family but I did grow up with Good Friday, the story, the violence, the tragedy.  I didn’t appreciate the liturgical significance but I appreciated the drama, I knew it was a serious day.  I didn’t learn about this drama in Church, I learned about it from my Jewish father.  My father grew up in Brooklyn in the 1950’s in the Bensonhurst neighborhood.  At the time Bensonhurst was like many urban neighborhoods, it was gritty and it was poor, it was full of European immigrants, many of whom had had fled their homelands to come to the United States after the second World War for safety and a better life.  These immigrant communities co-existed for the most part.  They attended the same schools and played on the same sports teams.  But there was tension, tension over jobs, inter-marriage, language barriers and religion.  Good Friday was a day when some of these tensions, some of these social demons would become manifest.  To my father and his brothers, Good Friday didn’t mean the beginning of the Tridium or a day to abstain from meat or sugar or even the last Friday before Easter.  Good Friday meant violence.  It was a day when groups of kids from other neighborhoods would come to Bensonhurst, and to other Jewish neighborhoods, to beat up Jews.  I remember hearing my father tell a story about one particular Good Friday when he was caught in a ball field without his brothers where he met the wrath of a group of young men wielding athletic socks filled with rocks.  The young men came to exact justice on my father for his role or maybe our ancestors’ role in the death of Jesus or so they said.  This tale was part of that other Good Friday story, the Good Friday story that looks for sin in the other, that looks to blame and accuse – the blameless, this is the Good Friday story of anti-Semitism, and unfortunately for many outside the church – this is what the Crucifixion symbolizes.  Blame, anger, displaced acts of aggression, this is a Good Friday story that captures the Church at its worst.      

When I was a kid my Father’s stories seemed mythical, like clichés from a bygone era, full of old world bigotry, carried out by street barbarians who were filled with ignorance and hate.  But this was the Good Friday narrative I grew up with, and this is the main reason why Good Friday always made me anxious.  It made me anxious because it evoked painful memories that haunted my father and for some not entirely rational reason it made me feel unsafe.  Thinking back on those stories now, with a bit more Christian context for Good Friday, I feel even more puzzled.  How was it that for so long Christians felt justified in this type of misdirected vitriol, this type of religious vigilantism?  Is this what Holy Week teaches us?  We left Maundy Thursday last night, having washed one another’s feet, how could a message like this, a message of humility and service be perverted into a message of hate and violence? 

Unfortunately, my Father’s Good Friday story is still unfolding.  Just this past week, there was an incident during a basketball game at Newton North High School, where a group of students from a Catholic High School, during the typical high school athletic cheering and jeering, broke into a chant of “you killed Jesus,” directed toward the Newton North  students who have a large Jewish population.  This sentiment, even if it was intended to be received with sarcasm and irony, still exists and it is repulsive.  This is clearly anathema to Jesus example of love and service; it makes my head spin to imagine how channeling this type of religious language ever occurs to the Christian mind.   In the wake of the Newton North incident, Suzanna Heschel, daughter of Abraham Joshua Heschel, commented that this type of language was unfortunate; it was in bad taste, it was anti-Semitic, but most troubling it was un-Christian.  Heschel, an Orthodox Jew, a professor at Dartmouth of Judaic Studies, recognizes the core issue here, that this type of narrow, cutting attitude, manifest in an overt act of antisemitism, is not Christian, and it’s not of God.   The drama of Good Friday connects us to Jesus last hours, 2000 years ago and it connects us to the legacy of our own moral and ethical failures, as we have failed to love one another as Christ loved us.      

The Anglican priest and poet George Herbert Wrote this about Good Friday in his poem the Agonie:

Philosophers have measur’d mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
Walk’d with a staff to heav’n, and traced fountains:
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sinne and Love.

These last three words offer us a breviary on Good Friday, “Sin and Love.”  On Good Friday we are confronted with the cross the manifestation of the cost of human greed, bigotry and sin.   In the cross we are confronted with our own transgressions and those of our community.  But Good Friday, also brings us love, a love that is both divine and human, a love that challenges human self-interest and dares us to love our neighbor and welcome the stranger.  Jesus suffered the most carnal of human deaths, a gruesome and violent death, at the hands of his own people, even one of his own disciples.    In the cross, God has absorbed all of our errors, all of our mis-deeds all of our betrayals.  These transgressions were put to death with Jesus on the cross, the cross is a constant reminder that sin leads to death, the death of our earthly lives, the death of our dreams, the death of prosperity and justice for our neighbors and the stranger.  God through Jesus has taken all of our sins and given us the grace and freedom to live our lives for others, to love as Jesus loved.           

Good Friday still makes me anxious, the fraught Gospel reading from John, the history of Judeo-Christian tension over the circumstances of Jesus death, my father’s stories and many others like them and the reality that without the gifts of love and grace in my life I too am prone to turn my back on Jesus, choosing to blame and accuse instead of choosing to serve, welcome and love.   Good Friday is a day of introspection, a day for self-examination, a day to think about our sins, personal and communal.  Fortunately, Good Friday is also about the love of God, a love and peace that surpasses all of our understanding.  A love that offers us new life…but we aren’t quite ready for the resurrection yet, we are still mourning and reflecting, thinking about the cross and that day at Golgotha when Jesus was hung on a tree.   But we don’t mourn without hope, because as severe an image as the cross is, the cross is also an enduring image of God’s love.  Amen.         

Wednesday
Mar232016

Sermon by Alexis Toliver of Black Lives Matter Cambridge

Audio recording of Alexis Toliver's sermon

 

On the Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 13th, our preacher at both the 8 AM and 10:30 services was Black Lives Matter Cambridge leader Alexis Toliver, sponsored by the St. James’s Anti-Oppression Team. Following the 10:30 service, Ms. Tolliver also offered a presentation about the Black Lives Matter movement for us as part of the Anti-Oppression Team and Vestry’s discernment about formally joining the Black Lives Matter movement and placing a Black Lives Matter sign in front of our church. Check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/blacklivesmattercambridge/

Monday
Mar212016

Approved February Vestry Minutes 2-16-16

Vestry Minutes: February 16, 2016

Adopted March 15, 2016

 

Presiding: Rev Holly Lyman Antolini

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

Members Absent: Marian King

Guests: Rev Eric Litman

 

Gathering

โ—        Dinner was provided by Tom B., Holly A., and Nancy M. 

โ—        Lucas led us in a discussion based on James Weiss’ Lenten reflection and asking the question:  What would it mean for St. James’s to love better?

Regular Agenda

Vestry meeting sign-ups

  • Tom B. introduced our past practice of sharing food and spiritual reflection at the beginning of Vestry meetings.  He passed around a sheet and asked people to sign up for 2 food slots and 1 reflection slot over the next year.  Nancy will remind people the week before they are signed up to contribute.
  • Sylvia reviewed the history of the ice damage from last year and of our receipt of a $66,000 insurance payment
  • 3 companies have agreed to provide estimates for doing repairs (still waiting on 2 of them)
  • A team of Alan Aukeman, Peter Merrell, and Charlie Allen have agreed to review the estimates and make a recommendation to the Vestry
  • Tom B. outlined the rough agenda for our Feb 26-27 Vestry retreat at Bethany House
  • Nancy will send around a sign-up sheet for bringing food for Friday dinner and Sat. breakfast and also find out who needs rides.
  • Holly reviewed the Food Pantry history and status.  The Pantry will be the subject of a case study at the Vestry retreat.
  • Tom B. mentioned that the importance of succession planning for many ministries came up as a topic at the Shared Leadership gatherings
  • Olivia brought up the idea of potential collaboration with Reservoir Church, given their focus on the Rindge Towers

Update on Interior Renovations

Upcoming Vestry Retreat

Food Pantry Status and History

Reports

Minutes of January Meeting

  • Sylvia moved that the January minutes be approved.  Thomas W. seconded.  Approved unanimously (vote taken of those on the Vestry as of the January meeting)
  • Lucas presented the Financial Report and statements, noting that the P&L was still a mid-month draft and needed some revisions
  • Lucas reports that we are in a healthy position financially
  • We are still about $20,000 and 17 pledges shy of our goal.  Lucas is still pursuing some outstanding potential pledges.  Noted that last year’s giving ended up  being well above pledging levels, so he is not unduly concerned at this point
  • He will provide a budget narrative at the next meeting
  • Has recruited an Investment Committee that will get going in about a month; still open to another member
  • End of Year statement will go out this month
  • Lucas moved that the Vestry accepts a $1000 gift by a parishioner for anti-Oppression training.  Sylvia seconded.  Passed unanimously.
  • Decided to put on future agenda a discussion of priorities for uses of occasional gifts
  • Mardi moved to accept the Financial Report.  Jules seconded. Passed unanimously.

Financial Report

Calendar Discussion

  • Add Feb. 28 Healing Ministry service
  • Sat April 30th, 9am-noon –possible date for Trans 101 meeting, organized by the 20s and 30s
  • Andrew mentioned that a theologian may come to speak on an upcoming Monday night

 

Rector’s Report

Parish Activities January-February

- Annual Meeting a success, thanks to Nominating Committee, Isaac Martinez, Lucas Sanders (and the Currency of Money Committee) and The Holy Spirit! New-Vestry Orientation lively and engaging that evening – thank you Officers!

- Kathryn has been teaming with me with amazing competence on the Annual Meeting/New Vestry Orientation materials, refining the Newcomer list in the data base, preparing a fresh Directory for Annual Meeting. She's a phenomenon!

- Mary Matthews has taken a call to begin discernment of ordination with Emmanuel Newbury St. and left the Nursery Coordinator position at the end of January. Eric working hard on recruiting her successor, and we have good prospect in our sights, with whom we have met.

- International Sunday a bit low on attendance, but LOVELY quality of community, presidency by Mary Tusuubira, preaching by Dr. Norm Faramelli, feast by all. Lots of new visitors at the coffee hour.

-Ash Wednesday decent attendance and many newcomers. A concern for three homeless women who joined us precipitated Tom Tufts making the Ushers a list of homeless resources.

- Members of St. James’s Discovering God’s Economy group met w Jean Horstman of Interise, which counsels entrepreneurs of color and helps access funds for business expansion. Jean plans to host a dinner to connect us with the local folks at Accion Loans –http://us.accion.org/?keyword=accion&matchtype=e&device=c&network=g&adgroupid=13616217320&campaignid=197185280&url=http://us.accion.org/&medium=cpc&gclid=COmQuoKt_MoCFUFehgodLWwCZw&v=alt1

- and others who will help us discern a good connection for our experiment in “growing the local economy” by investing in small business in economically challenged communities.

- The Worship Commission Holy Week & Easter sub-team of JT Kittredge and Lauren Zook met w Pat and me last week to plan Holy Week & Easter. Our new sub-group design plan is working well so far.

- Vestry retreat planning an important part of my time allocation.

- We have one adult baptizand in preparation for Easter Vigil baptism and I'm working to prepare a family for an infant baptism that combines a parent of practicing faith with a parent who doesn't claim a faith - a common occurrence these days.

-My Inquirers/Confirmation Class began last Sunday with 4 participants of astonishing variety over dinner at my house. Confirmation itself doesn't happen until mid-October. We’re trying a two-module format with five weeks in Lent on Episcopal identity and five weeks in late Pentecost on “mystagogy:” the sacraments shaping life, time and space in the practice of the Episcopal Way.

-re Lent, I’m delighted that Isaac Martinez, Tom Marsan & Mary Beth Mills-Curran are leading the Lenten class on 12-step spirituality using Richard Rohr’s “Breathing Underwater.”

-With the “retirement” of John Gay and Elisabeth Keller as lead folks on “Dollar A Day for Lent,” it has defaulted to me. We need a new team to oversee this, as it is not good for this to be “the rector’s ministry.” It never has been! And an oversight team will do better selected the recipient, now that the Jubilee Ministry is a thing of the past and doubts have been raised about the appropriate uses of funds at the Bishop Masereka Center. In the absence of such a team, I simply chose one of our Missions Grant recipients, Tatua Kenya, since Mary Beth Mills-Curran is on the board there.

- Olivia Hamilton, her partner Molly McHenry, her discernment committee Vestry Liaison Sylvia Weston and I attended Diocesan Ministry Discernment Day on Feb. 6th. She is discerning at least another four or five members, with one from Good Shepherd Watertown, where she interned last year.

- Monthly Healing Liturgies continue February 28th with Carol Hilliard presenting on living with family members w profound disabilities, and hopefully the Anti-Oppression Team presenting at one in March or April. I’ve asked Reed to continue to preside in February as the time of the liturgy coincides with my Inquirer’s Class.

-Reed continues keep his (unpaid) association w St. James's for the time being, as long as Britta's "Nueva Amanacer" (New Dawn) ministry is not yet formally a "Lutheran-Episcopal ministry” (though it’s moving steadily in that direction).

- Anti-Oppression Team meets next Sunday the 21st, and will continue to discuss plans for our training with VISIONS, including the vexing question of whether to prioritize training of lay leaders or use some of the money to train our part-time staff. Continuing our intention to broaden our efforts into the whole congregation, we’ve invited Alexis Tolliver of the Cambridge chapter of Black Lives Matter to preach and speak on the Fifth Sunday of Lent – March 13th – at St. James's as part of our discernment about this alliance. We hope to be able to make a report to the Vestry about becoming a formal part of BLM Cambridge after her presentation. The planning team for St. Stephen’s Lynn’s Beloved Community team to visit St. James’s for conversation and a “dinner Eucharist” – inviting the whole congregation of St. James’s to participate, and facilitated by Diane D’Souza and Zena Link of the Mission Institute – is homing in on Pentecost Sunday May 15th (w May 1st as fall-back plan). Members of the A-O Team attended two Open Listening Session for the Diocesan Mission Strategy in January in support of new initiatives in anti-oppression work in the diocese. We await word from Jules Bertaut and Benazeer Noorani about a film series they want to sponsor showcasing films by people of oppressed groups to help the parish "see" things from their point of view.

-Absalom Jones Day was lovely, honoring Cynthia Joseph for her ministry with us as Usher and on Nominating and various discernment committees.

- Coherent w our anti-oppression team plans, and forming a framework for Lent-Easter, w Alexis Tolliver Mar. 13 and (we hope) St. Stephen’s Lynn’s visit on Pentecost May 15, Tom Tufts and a planning team are sponsoring a performance of "And Still We Rise," a participatory dramatic presentation by people who are post-incarceration or who have family members incarcerated, on April 24th. A whole spring of lively invitation to the congregation to become connected with our call to the work of anti-oppression.

Diocesan Activity

-Just attending Clericus and Deanery Assembly.

-Serving on Annual Clergy Conference Planning Committee

Personal

-Sadly, Eric’s and my plan for continuing ed w Eric Law on Holy Currencies foiled because Province One scheduled the event on top of our annual DioMass Clergy Conference. We have no choice about the priority of the Clergy Conference. We’ll be at a shorter conference in June at Adelynrood w MED-DioMass new-clergy mentoring program we’re participating in.

- Will be attending CREDO II "Clergy Wellness Conference" in late October 2016 as "continuing education."

- Striving to keep the swimming going against the tide of parish demands. Drawing continues to be a joy.

Wardens’ Report

  • In addition to her busy property work, Sylvia mentioned that she is also part of the support team providing food for Shirley Bayley
  • The boiler and the line to the Port-o-Potty have been fixed
  • The leak over the Sacristy will be fixed when the weather is better
  • Having some problems with the security (fire) system that will be looked into.

 

Assistant Rector’s Report

  • Still searching for new nursery coordinator, but meeting with a couple people this month
  • New pre-school age church school class has started
  • Anne Read is teaching a high school age class
  • Started a youth confirmation class with kids from various churches
  • Parish retreat planning has started
  • Scouts are doing well
  • Trying to get kids interested in Diocesan summer camp.  Diocese will pay for at least one any maybe all interested.

 

New Business

  • Tom Tufts passed out info about the “And Still We Rise” theater production scheduled for April

Closing

โ—        We closed with the Lord’s Prayer.

 


Submitted by Nancy McArdle