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.         


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


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



●        Dinner was provided by Tom B., Holly A., and Nancy M. 

●        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


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 –

- 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


-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


●        We closed with the Lord’s Prayer.


Submitted by Nancy McArdle



Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for 4 Lent 3-6-16

Audio recording of Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for 4 Lent


4 Lent Year C 3-6-16

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Joshua 5:9-12; Ps. 32; 2 Cor. 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32


Instruct us and teach us in the way that we should go; guide us with your eye, until we see through you our blessedness, our rest, our home in ourselves, in each other and in you. AMEN.

Laetare! Rejoice! No matter where you have been; no matter what you have done (or have left undone), you belong here, here in the center of God’s love! You are home! You are blessed!

This is the vision to which we are invited on this “Laetare Sunday,” this “Rejoicing Sunday,” this moment of respite and refreshment as we reach the center of our Lenten journey, this little “rise in the pilgrim’s road” halfway through the 40 days toward Easter, named “Laetare Sunday” because of the old Latin introit from Isaiah Chapter 66, “O be joyful, Jerusalem!” long used to open the worship for this Fourth Lenten Sunday. This is the vision to which we are invited when we lift our heads up from the quotidian rivalries, the endless internal inventory of our shortcomings and those around us, and allow ourselves to see ourselves and the human world afresh, to see ourselves and all around us through the eyes of Jesus, the eyes of forgiving love, the eyes of resurrected love. This is the transfigured vision of those who have been through Passover from death to life, who have crossed the River Jordan like the people of Israel in our reading from the Book of Joshua, who, at the end of their long pilgrimage in the wilderness, have entered the ever-proffered Promised Land of God’s loving gaze, God’s loving embrace.

This is the vision Paul is trying to evoke in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, when he says he no longer regards anyone “from a human point of view.” He no longer regards the people he encounters, filtered and diminished by a running tally of their shortcomings (or his own). Rather, he says, we’re invited to see forward instead of looking backward, to see in each new person we encounter the new creation coming into being. In this new vision, we are to see the new possibilities of belonging to each other, “not counting our trespasses against each other,” but becoming instead “ambassadors” for the hopeful love of Christ. Ambassadors for the resurrected Christ, the Christ who sees not our misbehavior but our potential, who understands what we’re up against trying to live up to that potential in the teeth of the history of our demonstrated capacity for mutual destruction. Christ who knows what the temptations are to succumb to guilt, to fear, to despair instead of expanding into a larger, more generous, more amply beneficial good. Christ who, in his humanity having “been made sin who knew no sin,” as Paul says, knows the temptation to castigate and separate, rather than to discern the good in each other and connect. Christ who knows how easily, like the envious and resentful elder brother in Luke’s parable of the Prodigal Son, we dismiss instead of blessing each other, racing down the road with our robes hitched up, bare legs churning, all dignity forgotten in our ecstasy to find the loved one we thought we’d lost. In fact, we really ought to call Luke’s parable “the Prodigal Everyone,” since as the younger son is prodigal with his inheritance, the elder son is prodigal with the love of his father lavished on him without let-up, and the father himself is utterly prodigal with his forgiveness and celebration, fatted calf and all.

Have you ever been prodigal with your blessing? Have you RECEIVED a blessing prodigal in its generosity? Do you NEED one, LONG for one?

Here’s poet Galway Kinnell trying to name such prodigality, such a ministry of blessing, such a capacity to reconcile the homely with itself, to welcome the totality of us – good and bad together, no matter our history – home. No wonder the poet puts this capacity for a reconciling blessing in the hands of St. Francis, the one person who, of all human beings, seems to have understood most intimately and been most intimately transfigured by the loving resurrection power of Jesus Christ. Kinnell’s poem is called “St. Francis & the Sow.” Sow, as in “pig,” you know. The same pig whose pod-food the Younger Son in Luke’s parable was reduced to eating before he finally came to himself and realized he had loving and generous forgiveness to run home to.

St. Francis & the Sow

The bud

stands for all things,

even for those things that don’t flower,

for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;   

though sometimes it is necessary

to reteach a thing its loveliness,

to put a hand on the brow 

of the flower

and retell it in words and in touch

it is lovely

until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;   

as Saint Francis

put his hand on the creased forehead

of the sow, and told her in words and in touch   

blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow   

began remembering all down her thick length,   

from the earthen snout all the way

through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,   

from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine   

down through the great broken heart

to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering   

from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:

the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

Have YOU ever been blessed “to reteach a thing its loveliness?” Have you ever had a transfiguring moment when you “began remembering all down your thick length” that you are utterly loved and lovely?

Alongside St. Francis, we have Fr. Gregory Boyle, the Jesuit brother who founded Homeboy Industries in LA, a remarkable organization that hires and trains people coming out of prisons, gang members and drug addicts and people with every corner of their bodies tattooed and every reason why you WOULDN’T want to hire them. I’ve been there, during my “Holy Currencies” workshop with the Rev. Dr. Eric Law, and I KNOW what transfigurations happen there when people are truly seen and truly blessed by the steady hand on their creased forehead, the hand of one who doesn’t pretend they hadn’t done terrible things but DOES see beyond those things to the person they can become. Here’s what Fr. Boyle says, “We operate as if there are people out there who don’t belong to us. Ask Jesus to identify somebody who doesn’t belong to us, you’re going to get a big fat zero. Jesus will not be able to come up with a name. 

I talk a lot about kinship,” Fr. Boyle says, “and I say, “No kinship, no peace; no kinship, no justice; no kinship, no equality.” We’ve become focused on peace, justice and equality, when the truth is, none of those things can happen unless there’s some undergirding sense that we belong to each other, that we’re connected, that we matter. But the good news is, if we focus on kinship, the byproduct of that effort is peace, justice and equality. It’s how it happens. Our mistake is that we focus on peace, justice and equality [first, instead seeing with the vision of the resurrected Christ, the vision that focuses on kinship and belonging first], and we herniate ourselves trying to get peace, justice and equality, and then we’re surprised that we burn out and that we never really get close to it.” 

[, underlining mine]

Sounds like blessing to me. Sounds like we need to take up St. Francis’ posture, and bless “the long perfect loveliness of sow.” Or ne’er-do-well son, or mean-spirited son. Or me. Or you. Each and every one of us, kin to every other of us. Every political candidate too, by the way. And all the homely kinfolk wearing their hats and “rah-rah-ing” for them. Tenderness is the connective tissue. You want a Lenten discipline? Try feeling tenderness for every person you encounter. Including yourself. No can do, without Jesus at the center of it. But if you can do it, even once, it will be a transfiguring thing. 

Laetare! You are prodigally blessed. Can you feel it?



Eric Litman's Sermon for 3 Lent 2-28-16


Karen Montagno's Sermon for 2 Lent 2-21-16

The Rev. Karen B. Montagno

St. James Episcopal Church

Cambridge, MA

February 21, 2016


A few weeks ago, our new Presiding Bishop invited us into the season of Lent with these words, “The season of Lent is upon us.  It is a season of making a renewed commitment to participate and be a part of the movement of Jesus in this world.”

He suggests that we could get one glimpse of what that means from the Sunday readings.  Jesus went into the wilderness and was tempted.  Over the years, I had considered Lent as a time of spiritual journey.  It has been a time to reflect on Jesus’ baptism, preparation in the wilderness and his proclamation,

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good new to the poor.  God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Did I consider deeply enough, how as a follower of Jesus, his work was my work?  Lent becomes the time to do that.

Perhaps the image that speaks to my soul at a given point is an invitation into the work of Lent for me.  Familiar Lenten images are of journey and wilderness.  After my time in the Sinai however, I have been able to understand that the wilderness is not just a place of desolation.

The desert can be a place of beauty.  Sun wind and rain (when it comes) carve a world out of the rocks and dry places!  At night you can reach up and it seems you can sweep your hand through the stars that seem to hang so low.  There is hidden life there waiting for observation.  I believe the desert was place of transformation for Jesus.

The sea is another Lenten image I have encountered.  (I am not much of a water person.  If you see me swimming, get help!)  Imagine being in a small boat on a vast sea seeking direction and harbor.  There is vulnerability in the sun and storm.  Will my supplies last until I make port?

How Good To Center Down from Meditations of the Heart--by Howard Thurman

How good it is to center down!
To sit quietly and see one's self pass by!
The streets of our minds seethe with endless traffic;
Our spirits resound with clashings, with noisy silences,
while something deep within hungers and thirsts for the still moment and the resting lull.
With full intensity we seek, ere the quiet passes, a fresh sense of order in our living;
A direction, a strong sure purpose that will structure our confusion and bring meaning in our chaos.
We look at ourselves in this waiting moment -- the kinds of people we are.
The questions persist: what are we doing with our lives? -- what are the motives that order our days?
What is the end of our doings? Where are we trying to go?
Where do we put the emphasis and where are our values focused?
For what end do we make sacrifices? Where is my treasure and what do I love most in life?
What do I hate most in life and to what am I true?
Over and over the questions beat in upon the waiting moment.
As we listen, floating up through all the jangling echoes of our turbulence, there is a sound of another kind -- a deeper note which only the stillness of the heart makes clear.
It moves directly to the core of our being. Our questions are answered,
With the peace of the Eternal in our step.

How good it is to center down!


This Lent, I haven’t given up anything or taken on anything.  But I am going to consider what it means to “center down.”

Today we see Jesus in the thick of it.  As any outspoken, out acting person, he is drawing welcome and unwelcome attention.  He is creating a “disturbance in the force” as they say.  That is probably a good thing.  Yet it comes at great risk.  Divine risk.

The gospel for today is another puzzling one.  What might we learn? In his essay, “Compassion and the Crazy Wisdom of Jesus or One Person’s Way to Transform the World.” Rob Voyle talks about transformation and transformational learning. 

What sticks with me is his notion of the three faces of compassion.  He talks about new ways of seeing lasting change.  Jesus’ interaction with others is an invitation to explore how compassion can bring change.

He talks about tenderness, fierceness and mischievousness. In today’s reading we can see each of these qualities as Jesus is confronted.  Mischievous—an example, is Jesus calling Herod “that fox!”  Fierce exemplifies Jesus’ determination when he said, “I must be about my father’s business!”  Tenderness—tenderly Jesus lamented over Jerusalem and wept at the death of his friend.

I will end with one new image.  It is the image that Jesus uses for his compassion for Jerusalem—a hen gathering her chicks under her wings.  As danger approaches, the hen and chicks begin to group together for protection.

She spreads her wings a bit.  The chicks hide under her wings and under her body.  As they gather behind, under and beneath her wings and body, she seems to increase in size!  The hen literally puts her body between the chicks and danger.  For many, this reflects the self-giving love of Jesus.

If the (Lenten) the image that speaks to my soul can be an invitation for the work of Lent, what is Lent’s invitation to you?


Living Epistle by Sarah Borgatti 2-21-16

Audio recording of Sarah Borgatti's Living Epistle 


Sarah Borgatti's Living Epistle - Prison Ministry Team

I was raised Catholic in a very conservative diocese in Virginia, and there was never much of a social justice component to parish life.  Similarly, at the Catholic high school I attended, I don’t recall many conversations about serving the marginalized and disenfranchised.  I stopped being a practicing Catholic in college, but after I moved here for graduate school, at some point I came to the realization that I longed to be part of a community where I could start to really explore my own faith.  When I started coming to Saint James’s, I not only found that, but I got to become part of a community that is incredibly attuned to what injustices we as Christians are called to stand up against.  I loved that I could just jump in and explore things that were meaningful to me, and that’s what led to my initial interest in joining the Prison Ministry team.

While I don’t remember the exact reason why I decided to join, I do know it had to do with my love of learning about and trying new things.  I have a wide range of interests, and this seemed like something I would really like to be a part of.  That’s exactly what happened, and now I’ve been part of the Prison Ministry team for the last year and a half.

I’ve been visiting Nichole for a little over a year now.  She is serving a life sentence, and the first time I met her, I was terrified of judging her for committing such a serious crime.  I was upset that I was going to visit this person as part of a Prison Ministry team, yet seemed fated to treat her differently before I even got the chance to meet her.  I was worried she would I know I was treating her this way, and I had no idea what to do or expect leading up to our first visit.  But I turned out to be incredibly wrong, because our first meeting couldn’t have been further from my expectations.  I remember smiles and hugs, and then sitting down to talk with this incredibly friendly, nice, and open person.  Being part of the Prison Ministry team has made me understand that you have to try your hardest to keep an open mind, because you never know when God is going to provide you with the opportunity to see something anew.

It’s interesting, because I’m not sure I have ever met someone who was more excited to attend school.  Nichole takes her studies very seriously—she recently quit her prison job to be able to focus more on her schoolwork—and I think a lot of teachers might regard her as the “perfect” student.  She always comes to class prepared, having freshly looked over her notes, and she does all her homework right away, which is much more than I can say for my own collegiate career.

School is Nichole’s way of finding something to work towards, something she can focus on when being incarcerated becomes too overwhelming.  I like talking to her about what she’s working on in her different classes—especially what books she’s reading—and I always leave our visits reminded of how much I myself value and enjoy learning.  I deeply wish these weren’t the circumstances that brought us together, but I am incredibly grateful for having gotten the chance to know her.

I realize that as a member of the Prison Ministry team, I’m there to hopefully support and encourage Nichole in her studies.  But if you were to take that away, visiting Nichole reminds me of one of the most important lessons my Granma taught me—how vital it is to take the time to talk to someone and listen to them, simply because you want to hear what they have to say.  More than hearing about how Nichole's classes are, or being a mentor, I think my calling to be part of the Prison Ministry team continues to come from remembering just how essential these connections with other people are.  Everyone, no matter what their circumstance, deserves to be heard.  They not only deserve to tell their story, but possibly even more importantly, they deserve to have someone listen to what they have to say.  This is my way of striving to listen. 


Approved January Vestry Minutes 1-19-16

Vestry Minutes: 2016-01-19

Adopted February 16, 2016


Presiding: Rev Holly Lyman Antolini

Members Present: Sylvia Weston, Isaac Martinez, Lucas Sanders, Nancy McArdle, John Thomas Kittredge, Marian King, Tom Beecher, Thomas Wohlers, Jean Clark, Nicholas Hayes, Matthew Abbate

Members Absent: Mary Beth Mills-Curran, Dana Evelyn

Guests: Rev Eric Litman



●        S Weston made a delicious split pea soup, and M Abbate, H Lyman Antolini, and T Beecher brought bread, cheese, etc. 

●        N McArdle led us in a reflection of gifts and callings.

Regular Agenda

Nominating Committee

●        The rector reported

○     T Beecher has agreed to serve as Junior Warden.

○     This means that there are seven positions that need to be filled; the Committee has firm commitments to serve from five people, and one who may agree to serve either a one or two year term.

Currency of Money Committee

●        T Beecher reported:

○     We have received 100 pledges.

■     13 of those are new pledges.

○     A total of $208k has been pledged.

The 2016 Budget

●        L Sanders presented the proposed budget.

○     It has a $15k deficit.

○     Food Pantry budget is balanced within itself.

■     It will require more focused fund raising.

○     Some income items were raised to only moderately, as opposed to severely, conservative.

○     $10k has been added for roof repairs.

○     We are short of the pledge goal this year, but if the congregation gives as much as last year, we will not be in deficit.

○     In 2015, we budgeted $240k pledge income, but received $261k after an appeal to close the deficit.

○     On the hand, while there are number of active parishioners who have not yet pledged, some of them historically generous pledgers, it is doubtful whether they will be enough to meet the pledge goal.

○     He feels that this is a responsible budget, despite it showing a $15k deficit.

●        The rector added

○     The parish cannot sustain itself, let alone grow, without maintaining current staff levels.

●        L Sanders moved

○     That the Vestry adopt the budget as presented.

○     S Weston seconded.

○     The motion passed unanimously.

Annual Meeting Agenda

●        The rector reported

○     If there is a heavy storm on the 24th, she and the officers would like to postpone then Annual Meeting to the 31st.

○     Agenda will begin with election of the Vestry.

■     Likely, we will need nominations for one (possibly two) remaining positions.

○     Budget and shared leadership presentations will follow.

○     After song and dismissal, we will show the Miles Thomas-Moore video.

Vestry Retreat

●        The rector reported

○     She has met with Natalie Finstad about the agenda.

○     The officers will meet with N Finstad to discuss the agenda further.

Policy on Executive Session and confidential minutes

●        N McArdle moved

○     That the policy on Executive Session be passed as proposed (see attached)

○     M King seconded.

○     The motion passed unanimously.



Minutes of December Meeting

●        JT Kittredge moved that the minutes of the December meeting be accepted as amended.

○     I Martinez seconded.

○     The motion passed unanimously with one abstention.

Financial Report

●        L Sanders moved

○     The Vestry accept the special gift the Treasurer has received of $5,250 for VISIONS training.

○     T Wohlers seconded.

○     The rector reported that we have received a grant from the diocese to cover “train the trainer” training of “program staff”; the special gift would allow us to cover part time staff and other parish leaders.

○     There was considerable discussion and no resolution on whether it was more effective for St. James’s to have lay leaders receive “train the trainer” training  rather than our part-time office manager & sexton, and whether we can even ask our part-time non-program staff to take on that time commitment

○     The motion passed unanimously with one abstention.

●        L Sanders moved

○     “That the Vestry designates $43,000 of the Rector’s compensation for 2016 as a housing allowance as permitted by the IRS.”

○     I Martinez seconded.

○     The motion passed unanimously.

●        L Sanders reported

○     An investment committee has begun to be formed with three members besides himself.

○     The financial report looks very healthy for the end of year.

○     We have received $66k insurance payment for interior damage from the ice-dam related leaks (in addition to the previous payment for the roof damage).

○     He hopes to put together an ad hoc committee for identifying and prioritizing the repairs to be done.

●        S Weston reported

○     She has gotten the names of three contractors from Charlie Allen for doing the interior repairs.

○     One has already visited and made an estimate.

○     She hopes to get an ad hoc committee of parishioners to consult on the priorities for repair.

●        L Sanders moved

○     That the Vestry accept his reports as presented.

○     T Beecher seconded.

○     The motion passed unanimously.


Calendar Discussion

●        The rector reported

○     We need to put together a parish retreat team soon.

Rector’s Report

Parish Activities late-December-January

- Currency of Money continues strongly. Bravo, Lucas, Katherine & Tom!

- Nominating Committee continues valiantly. Full recruitment for Jr. Warden and six members-at-large (since Tom B moves to Jr. Warden - thank you Tom! - still elusive. Need a one-year term-filler person and a two-year term filler person, still. Betty Daniels considering nomination, but will need help with transportation from Arlington Heights, as she doesn't drive.

- Kathryn has being 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 will be leaving the Nursery Coordinator position at the end of January. Pam Werntz is eager to discern this with her, and since St. James's already has a prospective fourth postulant, I'm happy to have Mary work with Pam instead of us! Not happy to lose her from the Nursery however, and it throws Eric back to the drawing board to find her replacement in less than a month.

- Eric's ordination just beautiful - simple, moving, and with the choir in support!

- Two truly lovely 20's&30's Dinners at my house - our fleet of young adults is a joy. As a group they have depth and openness and warmth and kindness that is very moving. A number of them are dedicatedly involved in various ministries from Bible Study to Prison Ministry and GBIO.

- I personally will miss having Isaac's and Mary Beth's energy, leadership and hospitality engaged in a whole slew of ministries at St. James's, as I am already missing Nicholas'. The sacrificial part of making people postulants!

- Miles Thomas-Moore hopes to join us for Annual Meeting (though the storm may mess that up) so he can hear people's feedback.

- St. James’s God’s Economy group still exploring options in Dorchester-Roxbury-Mattapan. Not ready to allocate funds yet. Nicholas distracted by many competing work obligations and hasn’t completed hand-off to other leadership. I cannot add this mandate to my roster, so I await his capacity and that of others.

- The Worship Commission Advent sub-team has planned Advent/Christmas. Sylvia Weston and Marian King met w Pat and me in December to plan Epiphany & Lent. This sub-group design plan is working well so far.

- Vestry retreat planned for Bethany House; Natalie has conferred w me and has plans to do so with the Officers. New-Vestry orientation will be over dinner at my house on the Annual Meeting Sunday, Jan. 24th. (Or 31st!)

- 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 will begin the First Sunday of Lent. Confirmation itself doesn't happen until mid-October. We’ll try a two-module format with five weeks in Lent and five weeks in late Pentecost, because of this.

- Re potential Haitian internship: no progress yet; no time in the holidays and "Vestry Season!"

- Olivia Hamilton continues in regular conversation with me about postulancy; leading Bible Study and joining the liturgical ministers and proposing to be a candidate for Vestry to help fill out her experience in Episcopal ministry. She and I will attend the Diocesan Ministry Discernment Day on Feb. 6th. Sylvia will attend with us, as her Vestry liaison for her discernment committee. Then she will discern at least another four or five members, with one from Good Shepherd Watertown, where she interned last year.

- Monthly Healing Liturgies continue, as Reed presides at the January 31st. I will assume responsibility for these beginning on February 28th with Carol Hilliard presenting on living with family members w profound disabilities, and hopefully the Anti-Oppression Team presenting at one - perhaps in conjunction with the St. Stephen's invitation - see below.

-Reed preaches January 31st but it will NOT be his last Sunday with us. In conversation with his Bishop, Brian Prior of Minnesota, we decided he should 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.

- Anti-Oppression Team got FULL FUNDING: $10,000 VISIONS "train-the-trainers" grant funding from the Diocese for ALL staff plus some lay leaders. Sponsored the January 3rd Anti-Oppression Epiphany Lessons & Carols. Have a planning team preparing to invite St. Stephen’s in Lynn’s Beloved Community team to St. James’s to preach, share a meal with us, strategize together at St. James's sometime in Lent or Easter, an all-parish event w Elaine Agard sponsoring the meal in the church. The group also intends to testify at tomorrow night's Open Listening Session for the Diocesan Mission Strategy in January in support of new initiatives in anti-oppression work in the diocese. We are exploring joining up with the Cambridge chapter of Black Lives Matter, and intend to invite one of their leaders come preach and speak on a Sunday morning at St. James's as part of our discernment about this alliance. Jules Bertaut and Benazeer Noorani are working on a film series showcasing films by people of oppressed groups to help the parish "see" things from their point of view.

- Pat and I led an ecumenical choir at the Cambridge Peace Commission Martin Luther King Day service in January at St. Peter's, singing Margot Chamberlain's gospel composition. First time Brian Corr allowed us to sing something explicitly religious. Waiting to hear the feedback, but the "vibe" was good.

- Tom Tufts is putting a planning team together to sponsor a performance of "And Still We Rise," a participatory dramatic presentation by people who are post-incarceration or who have family members incarcerated. No date yet.


Diocesan Activity

Just attending Clericus and Deanery Assembly, participating in the Diocesan Mission Strategy Discernment Listening Process in Natick Jan. 12th (and will again, w members of the Anti-Oppression Team, tomorrow night, January 20th).



- Family holiday the week after Christmas. Many thanks to Eric (and James Weiss) for taking the Dec. 27th service!

- Striving to keep the swimming going against the tide of parish demands. Continuing physical therapy for ongoing joint and lower-back arthritis. A constant management challenge! Drawing continues to be a joy.

- My annual silent prayer retreat will be the last week of Epiphany, Feb. 1st through 6th at SSJE. Will be attending CREDO II "Clergy Wellness Conference" in late October 2016 as "continuing education."


Wardens’ Report

●        S Weston reported

○     As mentioned above, she has been occupied with estimates for interior repairs.

○     One of the boilers has failed.

■     The plumber reported three options at various costs.

■     She is seeking other estimates.

●        She moved

○     That the Vestry authorizes the officers to undertake up to $8,700 in boiler repairs, including warranty.

○     L Sanders seconded.

○     The motion passed unanimously.


Assistant Rector’s Report

●        The assistant rector reported

○     Mary Matthews is leaving us to pursue ordination at another parish, so he is seeking a new nursery coördinator.

○     Anne Reed is leading a high school church class and four or five students are attending.

○     We had 15 in the lower school Godly Play class, so he is thinking of starting an additional class for 3 to 5 years old.

○     A couple of the teenagers have signed up for the diocesan retreat.

○     He and Rev Katie Rimer are planning a pre-confirmation for the spring.

○     The scouts are volunteering one Saturday month at the Food Pantry.

New Business

●        I Martinez reported

○     The 20s & 30s group is putting together a “Transgender 101” program for the parish.

○     He and Mary Beth Mills-Curran are planning to offer a program on Twelve Step Spirituality for Lent.

●        M King raised the issue of small table in bathroom, which gets in the way of a wheelchair user using the facility.

●        N Hayes reported

○     St James’s has met its commitment of individual contributions to GBIO, and GBIO has also met its own fund-raising goal.

○     GBIO has been heavily involved in the movement for gun control, especially “smart gun” measures.


●        N McArdle closed by reading from a poem by Mary Oliver on gifts.


Prepared by JT Kittredge
Submitted (with thanks to JT) by Nancy McArdle




Vestry Policy on Executive Session Minutes (adopted 1/19/16)

- Ask the vestry to vote as a whole board to go into executive session. This is a vote which is recorded in the open minutes of the vestry meeting.  The general subject of the executive session should also be included in the open minutes (e.g. “on a staff matter,” or “on a legal matter.”)

- Once in executive session, conduct discussion and take any votes that the vestry does not wish to immediately make public.  These votes are recorded in separate minutes of the executive session that are only open to members of the current vestry.  Note that minutes need only record the actions of a vestry, they need not record the content of discussions, which may be advisable on sensitive topics.

- Ask the vestry to vote as a whole board to come out of executive session. Record in the public minutes simply the fact that a vote was recorded in confidential minutes and the date of those confidential minutes.

- At some future meeting if and when the issue no longer requires confidentiality, ask the vestry to vote as a whole board make the minutes of the executive session from the above recorded date part of the open vestry minutes.  (This practice can be helpful, since parishioners can expect that eventually they will have access to the decisions made in executive session as they would any other decision...even if secrecy is required for a period of time. In some small number of cases, the minutes may need to remain confidential to protect individuals’ private information.)


Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for 1 Lent 2-14-16

Audio recording of Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for 1 Lent


1 Lent Year C 2-16-16

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Deuteronomy 26: 1-11; Ps. 91:1-2, 9-16; Rom. 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13


Because you are bound to us in love, O God, therefore will you deliver us; you will protect us, because we know your Name. We call upon you! Answer us! Be with us in trouble! Rescue us and bring us to honor.  Amen.

We begin every Lent with Jesus in the wilderness. One year, we’re led there by the writer of Mark’s Gospel, one year by Matthew and this year, by Luke. At the beginning of every Lent, we’re back at Jesus’ baptism, learning again that the first thing that happens after he comes up out of the water and hears the voice of God assuring him that he is his Beloved, is that he finds himself fasting in the wilderness. It’s the very first thing that happens to him just as his call to ministry is initiated.

In Mark he basically gets hurled there by the Spirit. Matthew, kinder and gentler, tells us the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness specifically to be tempted by Satan. Luke gives this Matthean narrative a slight twist. Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Spirit, yes, but that’s because he’s FULL of Spirit. No matter how hungry he gets in Luke, he still seems full of Spirit. And unlike Matthew, Luke doesn’t say Jesus was specifically taken to the wilderness to be tempted. He just says he IS tempted there. And when tempted, Jesus has "the word near him, on his lips and in his heart," as Paul tells the Romans.

Wilderness. That place that the people of Israel were released from into the Land of Milk & Honey, the Book of Deuteronomy reminds us, though not until they’d struggled there for 40 years. That place that the Desert Fathers & Mothers, the first monastics in the early Church, retired to, in order to make space for an encounter with God undistracted by “the things of this world.” A place where bodily life was at risk and comforts were few. A place, people in Jesus’ day believed, where demons lived. In fact, wilderness was a place where you could expect to be tried and tempted to faithlessness.

Not the “green and tranquil” place that “heals and soothes all afflictions,” as naturalist John Muir wrote nearly two thousand years later. “Earth hath no sorrows that earth cannot heal,” he wrote, this man who “discovered” Yosemite Valley, who was known to have climbed a Douglas Fir in the midst of a hurricane, so entranced was he by wildness, so desirous of getting close to its essence. [H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald, p. 218;]

No, this Lenten wilderness is wilderness in the desolated sense of utter deprivation and utter despair.  A place of demons indeed.

Have you known wilderness? This desert, desperate kind? Perhaps a situational wilderness in which you felt trapped in a job or a relationship that stripped you down, in which you couldn’t seem to shift the dynamic to be more life-giving? Perhaps you’ve been in an internal wilderness in which you were compelled by addiction to make self-destructive choices, or a wilderness in which you were sapped by depression or anxiety? Perhaps an actual wilderness – whether natural or urban – in which you had become lost and couldn’t find the way out? Perhaps a wilderness of frustration because the injustices of society seem intractable and no amount of your own energy seems to make a difference, or the things you do seem only to make things worse? Or a wilderness of over-commitment, in which you push yourself frantically from one activity or obligation to the next and never seem to have enough time truly to get on top of anything? Perhaps you have known the wilderness of loneliness, wondering if you will ever overcome your isolation, ever find company with others who truly see, touch, engage, and call out in you all that you truly are? In which you wonder whether you will ever take the risk truly to trust another with your innermost self?

This kind of wilderness is not a place most of us would seek out. Most of us would do almost anything to avoid such a state of being. Yet this is the place the Spirit leads Jesus from his baptism. This is the place of preparation for his ministry. Here he engages Satan, the Accuser, the Tempter. Never mind whether Satan is an actual being or not. The temptations themselves, besetting Jesus just when he is at his most vulnerable, are real enough. Temptation to think you have more power than you really do. Temptation to think you know best how things ought to be. Temptation to put the human cart before the divine horse.

Temptation to forget God, or deny God in your agony. To move God out of the center. To try to take over the driver’s seat.

Why wilderness, when it comes to temptation? Could it be because then and only then, when we’ve lost all our resources (or feel as if we have), when we’re reduced to powerlessness, then and only then is when we REALLY turn to God? As our last resort? Is it in wilderness that we finally let God be at the center?

Have you ever reached that point? Have you ever done that? “Turned your will and your life over to the care of God as you understand God?” as the Third Step of the 12 Steps of AA says?

“The wilderness” for perinatal bereavement nurse Cori Salchert began when her younger sister, Amie, was an infant, [and] contracted spinal meningitis. After the high fevers from the infection destroyed quite a bit of her brain function, leaving her mentally and physical handicapped, she went to live in a children's home for kids who were severely impaired like she was. When Amie was eleven, she wandered out of an unlocked door at this children's home and drowned in a pond on a nearby golf course. She was most likely alone and struggling to understand why she couldn't breathe and there was no one there to help her.”

Throughout her life, Salchert struggled with the question ‘Where was God when her sister needed God most?’” “In her adult years, she heard a song lyric: ‘It may be unfulfilled, it may be unrestored, but anything that's shattered that's laid before the Lord will not be unredeemed.’ It was this promise that changed her prayers. Instead of asking God over and over why things had been the way they were, she laid down the hurt and disillusion before God and said, ‘Here, you take this and redeem it.’ And [she found that God] did — in ways beyond fathoming.”

Then, after the birth of 8 biological children of her own and years as a registered nurse assisting families in the hospital’s neo-natal unit whose babies were stillborn or died soon after delivery, Salchert was in the wilderness again, her “own health [hitting] a crisis point. She was battling several autoimmune diseases, and required several surgeries to attempt to repair the damage done to her digestive organs. She was suffering, bedridden, unable to work, and again found herself crying out to God, asking, ‘Well, how in the world are you going to redeem this one?’" But in August of 2012, she and her husband received a call asking if they would be willing to take in a two-week-old baby girl who was nameless and had no one to care for herThe baby's prognosis was grim, as she was born without the right or left hemisphere of her brain, and doctors said there was no hope for her. Salchert was told that she was in a vegetative state — unable to see or hear, and only responding to painful stimuli.”

Salchert says, “Taking all of that information in stride, we left to bring [the baby we named] Emmalynn home… She could have died in the hospital, wrapped in a blanket and set to the side because she was being sustained with a feeding pump. But we brought this beautiful baby home to live, and live she did…” When Emmalynn died 50 days later, held in Salchert’s arms, that could have been the end of the story.  But “Emmalynn had left her tiny impression on the Salcherts’ lives and, while they were grieving her loss, they eventually began to heal and consider taking in another baby. By now, they have cared for many of these “hospice babies"—babies with life-limiting or terminal diagnoses.” “We invest deeply,” Salchert says, “and we ache terribly when these kids die, but our hearts are like stained-glass windows. Those windows are made of broken glass which has been forged back together, and those windows are even stronger and more beautiful for having been broken.” []

Why wilderness? As Lutheran pastor John Stendahl writes, “the wilderness does not consecrate. It gets consecrated. It proves [to be] the place not of lost wandering but of the Spirit’s leading. It is like that alien place [in the book of Genesis] where the fleeing – and dishonest – Jacob lay down [with his head on a stone] only to discover that this was Beth-El [the House of God,] after all: his Lord was at home there [and in him!] [New Proclamation Year C 2000-2001, John Stendahl, underlining and edits mine] Your wilderness – whatever it is, no matter how terrible and intractable it seems, no matter how full of demons – is full of Spirit. It is Beth-El: the House of God. Lay down your hurt and disillusion as nurse Salchert did and ask the Spirit to fill you as She filled Jesus in his own wilderness, so that as the song said, “all that’s shattered in you can be redeemed,” “forged back together, even stronger and more beautiful for having been broken.” 

Been in the wilderness, friends? How was it consecrated, for you?



Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for Ash Wednesday 2-10-16

Audio recording of Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for Ash Wednesday 


Ash Wednesday 2-10-16

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Joel 2:1-2,12-17; Ps. 103, 51; 2 Cor. 5:20b-6:10; Matt. 6:1-6,16-21


Create in us clean hearts, O God, and renew a right spirit within us. Cast us not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from us. Give us the joy of your saving help again and sustain us with your bountiful Spirit. AMEN.

Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”

Did you know that Ash Wednesday is one of the most highly-attended worship services of the year? Doesn’t it seem a bit odd that we fast-paced, attention-hungry, influence-seeking, individualistic, achievement-oriented Americans seem hungry to be reminded that we are dust? Hungry to pause and submit to having a cross imposed on our foreheads in ashes, even as we rush by to catch our subway train to work?  Some of us hungry enough to show up like this to have our ashes imposed in the context of the Eucharist, the shared meal in which we link ourselves to each other in Christ, who offered himself for that purpose, to heal us of our broken community and weave us back together into one fabric of love and unity?

Remember that you are dust.

Knowing how hungry people seem to be for this dusty reminder, I’ve been thinking a lot this time around about ashes. Of course ashes are a profound reminder of our mortality. Of the limits of our effectiveness and influence. Of our weaknesses and shortsightedness. They symbolize the last evidence of something that has been destroyed: the residue, dirty and unpleasant, reduced to uselessness. When the blood drains from our face, we say it is “ashen.” When all is lost, we are left in “dust and ashes.”

Useless, that is, if you’re not a gardener.

If you’re a gardener, ashes represent opportunity and purpose. Added to your compost, they balance the natural acidity of the other decomposing things in there, adding the needed nutrients of lime and potassium.

What was once wood has been once transformed by fire into ash. Now, in your compost, it will be transformed again, into soil.

But they have to give themselves up, first. No longer their original firm, solid, useful wood. No longer powdery ash. Soil. Good, rich, productive soil, full of nutrients needed for plants to grow.

Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.

Dust, along with dirt, is just one of many dismissive words for soil, especially in our world of anti-bacterial and anti-septic and hypo-allergenic everything. But without soil, nothing grows. And soil is a very complex thing, full of things dying and things transforming. Now, in these emerging days of the “microbiome,” we’re beginning to appreciate this all over again at a new level: we ARE dirt! Genesis is RIGHT! We’re made out of the dust of the earth, and it accompanies us usefully throughout our lives, leaving our “dusty” signature everywhere we go, and enabling our remarkable complex digestive and endocrinological system to process our food and help us grow and replace dying cells. Without dirt, life cannot happen.

Ash Wednesday invites us – no, demands that we revisit our dustiness and see in it both our failings and our possibilities. Both our dying and our rising to new life, as Paul puts it, describing our baptismal life in Christ. Ash Wednesday invites us to conversion, to turn not away from but INTO our dustiness.  But it doesn’t ask us to do that alone in our terrible separateness, but to do it WITH God. Ash Wednesday invites us to turn INTO our dustiness in confidence that even in the midst of our failings, Jesus Christ looks at us WITH love and respect and hope, always seeing in us and calling out in us the compost-rich possibilities.

Those of us who do show up for the imposition of ashes and stay to listen to all the readings and chant the psalms and sing the songs and partake of Christ in the communion meal hear invitation after invitation to return, to return to God, who is always ready to accept us back again.

Now is the acceptable time! We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God…

As a parent cares for their children, so does God care for us, for God knows whereof we are made and remembers that we are but dust.

Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…

Give me the joy of your saving help again! Open my lips and my mouth shall proclaim your praise!

It would seem that our dustiness is precisely the place to start, because “it is in our imperfections…” that “God most often attracts our attention.  Where we feel strong, well equipped, confident, we probably feel quite self-sufficient. Where we are incomplete or when we feel our life to be unmanageable, we are vulnerable. Our brokenness becomes God’s point of break-through in our lives. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, the eighteenth-century French spiritual director, writes, ‘Rejoice every time you discover a new imperfection.’ He counsels, if you find yourself getting impatient, try to bear your impatience patiently. If you lose your tranquility, endure that loss tranquilly. If you get angry, don’t get angry with yourself for getting angry. If you are not content, try to be content with your discontent. ‘Don’t fuss too much about yourself,’ de Caussade says. ‘Don’t fight the truth of yourself. The time will come when the sight of your imperfection and brokenness, which may horrify you now, will fill you with joy and keep you in a delightful peace… The fruit of grace must, for the moment, remain hidden, buried as it were in the abyss of your imperfection, underneath the most lively awareness of your weakness.’ So says Saint Paul, ‘In Christ, strength is made perfect in weakness.” [Conversion: Pruning, Time, and Help, by Curtis Almquist, in the series “Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Living,” SSJE, Cambridge MA]

Remember that you are dust. This is the one day you truly don’t have to pretend you’re not. Embrace your dustiness, and invite God into it, God who is the God of new life, new possibilities not yet imagined. God who took on our own dusty humanity and followed it right to the bitter end of death itself, to show us that mortal that we are, our mortality is shot through with grace and love, if we will let it be so. AMEN.

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