Sermon for Easter Sunday, 4-5-15


Audio recording of Sermon for Easter Sunday


Easter Sunday

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Isaiah 25:6-9; Ps. 118: 1,2; 14-24;  Acts 10:34-43; Mark 16:1-8


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


On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples, a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.


Holy Monday, I got a call from a nurse friend, out of the blue, asking whether I might come bring communion to someone in the hematology/oncology unit at Boston Medical Center, out at the other end of Massachusetts Ave. The patient was awaiting a test that would determine if, as all the staff attending him thought, he was nearing the end of his life. He was Roman Catholic and had had last rites from a priest, but he was asking for communion and no one was available from the Roman Catholic Church to bring it.


My nurse friend knew I was Episcopalian but he had an instinct that I might be acceptable to this very faithful lifelong Roman Catholic, so he offered my services, diffidently, checking to make sure that a woman Episcopal priest might be an acceptable substitute for a Roman Catholic. The patient was happy to have communion from anyone who would bring it.


So I arrived, communion kit in hand, to meet this complete stranger, thin to the point of translucency, and translucent too to the light of grace, shining in his kindly face, nearing – if not AT the end of his life – awaiting me in an examination room with his partner of 30 years, both of them so eager to be held in the bonds of the Eucharist. Hospital staff, who had been attending this man for more than fifteen years as he combated the blood cancer that was finally getting the upper hand, clustered into the tiny room to share in the communion.


What we did together in that sunlit room was very simple indeed. We prayed the Collect for Holy Monday, reminding ourselves that God’s dear Child went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified, and asking God mercifully to grant that we, too, walking in the way
of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace.  Though I had not yet focused on the fact that it is our Easter Sunday First Lesson, we read this very Isaiah passage we read today – the story of God’s ultimate Feast, the Feast to End All Feasts, full of rich food and fine wine – chocolate & strawberries for all – all gathered, not ONE left out of Eternal Life. We reminded ourselves that if eternity really is eternity, it is NOW & ALWAYS, not some time in the future. We reminded ourselves that even as life is slipping away, we held in that eternity if we act toward each other in love. That even though the patient and his partner – faithful Catholics that they are – had chosen, as people of the same gender, NOT to marry each other, they were held together in the bonds of love and would ever be so. Then, seeking a palpable way to remember that Jesus’ kingdom of the resurrection does not exist in some abstracted, purified realm but is OUR LIFE HERE & NOW, IN OUR MIDST, imperfect and broken and painful and wounded and left out and overlooked as we often are, and that we are ALL included in that kingdom, that commonwealth of love, that we don’t have to “qualify” into it but are invited in AS WE ARE, forgiven, loved & free, we broke the bread and shared it and the wine, partaking of – PARTICIPATING IN – Christ’s resurrection together.


It was as simple as is our little tribe of seven parishioners who are bringing eye drops to our frail elderly congregation member this week following her cataract surgery, because she cannot be trusted to remember that she needs them. For decades here at St. James’s, she devoted every Wednesday night to rehearsal and every Sunday morning to choir, never missing a one, until she stopped remembered what day it was, or even that it was day and not night. So every evening for a week, a different congregation member is traveling to her house in the dark of night to put the drops she needs in her eyes. A little testimony of its own to the power of love, to the power of resurrection.


Let’s reflect for a moment on Mark’s own strange little resurrection story, which ends with the women at the tomb amazed, stunned, afraid. “Gob-stoppered,” as my mother used to say, referring in a terrible image to the huge balls of sugar candy sold to children in the England of my childhood, so-called “gob-stoppers” because if you inhaled at the wrong moment, they could “stop your gob!” In our lectio divina prayer group last Tuesday morning, one of us pointed out that the women, who had been on their way simply to tend the body of their beloved Jesus, had absolutely no idea whatsoever that he would be alive again. It was as radically far outside the realm of possibility for them as it is for us now! They wended their way to the stone-blocked tomb with no hope whatsoever that they would find anything but a corpse there, if they could even get in past the huge blockage across the tomb’s mouth at all, which they doubted.


But here’s what moved me this time that I read this story. Before they had any idea of finding anything but obstacles and death, the women went to the tomb anyway. Even without hope. They packed up their ointments and headed for the tomb purely out of love. Hopeless love, perhaps. Jesus, after all, was dead, and with him all their hopes for the Messiah to save them or their benighted, oppressed country. It would be hard to express how deeply hopeless they would have felt, they, whose hope had risen so fiercely in support of Jesus’ campaign through the Galilean and then the Judean countryside, all the way to the Temple seeking triumphal victory in Jerusalem, the seat of power. Instead, Jesus had been deeply dishonored and humiliated, and then killed. A crushing outcome to all they had expected. But still they came to the tomb. They ACTED HOPE even if they didn’t FEEL HOPE. They ACTED IN LOVE. And they LOVED Jesus despite his dishonor and his disastrous death. And lo: when they arrived, the stone was rolled away, and the tomb empty. Jesus had gone before them. Jesus – the resurrected Jesus – is going before us, inviting us to follow.


I don’t always turn to the Boston Globe for my theology. But this week, thanks to a tip from our usher and Vestry member Nancy McArdle, I read the opinion piece Brandon Ambrosino wrote on “Jesus’ Radical Politics.” Ambrosino had much of value to say, but his final words are these:


Open your eyes. This kingdom you’re talking about — where the last are first, where the outsiders are preferred — is not here. There is war. There is evil. There is death and rape and racism and unemployment and sex trafficking. There is a brutally agonizing world here and now, and to pretend otherwise is either naive or morally bankrupt.


But Easter doesn’t deny these things. After all, even the resurrected body of Jesus contains crucifixion scars, which are Jesus’ eternal reminder that he was murdered by the very people he came to save. What Easter teaches is this: Even in the midst of the kingdom you’re living in, it’s possible to actually pledge loyalty to a different one. By feeding the hungry, forgiving your enemies, and providing shelter for the homeless, [by bringing eye drops to our frail elders and communion to those left out of the circle of communion and to those who are dying, by companioning those who have no companions at all], you can actually choose to live in the kingdom Jesus established.


Hope, then, is not a spiritual thing, or a reflective exercise; it’s decidedly physical. If you believe Jesus was raised from the dead, the obligation that Jesus puts upon you is to meet people’s physical needs. ‘Do not abandon yourselves to despair,’ said Pope John Paul II. ‘We are the Easter people, and alleluia is our song.’”



Pack up your ointments, dear Easter people, even when your anointing seems utterly useless and pointless. Assemble your communion kit. Jesus is risen and you are inhabiting his kingdom of love. ACT LIKE IT, EVEN IF YOU DON’T FEEL LIKE IT! You have NO IDEA HOW THE STONE WILL BE ROLLED AWAY, let alone how NEW LIFE CAN POSSIBLY COME. How healing can come. How meaning and joy can come. It’s in God’s hands. And those hands – Jesus’ hands – are full of love and promise for you and for us all. AMEN. ALLELUIA!!!


Sermon for the Great Vigil of Easter (Year B), 4-4-15


Audio recording of Sermon for the Great Vigil of Easter



Gen 1:1-2:4a | Gen 22:1-18 | Exod 14:10-31; 15:20-21 | Ezek 36:24-28 |

Rom 6:3-11 | Mk 16:1-8

By Reed Carlson



A friend of mine named Andrew is a coffee roaster and coffee shop owner back home in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

A few summers ago he and I were having lunch at his café and he was telling me what’d he’d discovered about the difference between iPads and coffee.

He said, “iPads are very insecure products.

Each time they come out with one, they have to try to convince us that it’s better than the last one.

It’s faster; it’s thinner; it has a new button.

It’s only secure with itself as long as it’s the best.

When they release the next one, it’s not good enough anymore.

But coffee is not like that.” (And at this point, I should probably tell you that Andrew thinks of coffee the way that other people think of fine wines.)

He said, “Coffee just is.

A crop from a singly farm can vary from year to year.

Sometimes it’s more tart, sometimes it has a lot of body.

It could be more or less earthy, floral, sweet, clean.”—any of those fancy words that people use to describe subtle tastes.

The point is, there’s really no such thing as “new and improved” when it comes to coffee.

The product is too dependent on weather conditions, when the crop was harvested, the skill of the roaster.

And in any case, a lot of this comes down to the preferences of the taster.

You and I might disagree about which particular combination of flavor and texture we like the best.

An iPad? It’s always obsessing over what’s next, how it’s better, how much it has improved, what it thinks its customers want next.

But coffee just is what it is.



Tonight at St. James’s and in communities around the world, we are celebrating the Great Vigil of Easter.

And we do that with this thing called “The Rehearsal of Salvation History.”

This is the church term for going back through our story as God’s people and retelling how God has acted in our past and brought us to this point—the evening before the resurrection of Jesus.

That’s why we’ve read all of these texts from the Old Testament—we’re tracing God’s story through these key events in our heritage.

So if you haven’t been to church much lately, it’s kind of like review before the final exam.

It’s an opportunity to remember how God was working on behalf of people before Jesus and to trust that God continues to work in our lives after.

But anytime we dive into biblical texts—particularly Old Testament texts—we will inevitably encounter stories that seem strange or unsettling to us.

There are thousands of years of language and culture that separate us from the world in which these texts were written.

Because of this barrier, and because of the world that you and I live in, I think many of us can have kind of an iPad approach to these texts and to our faith.

Each new thing should be better. The old stories have been replaced.

Classically, sometimes Christians will look at the New Testament in this way.

It’s the latest model that improves on all the stuff we didn’t like about the Old.



But this evening I want to challenge you to try on a new paradigm.

Salvation history is not like the iPad.

It’s like the coffee.

Wherever and whenever we see God at work in history (as well as in our lives and in the lives of others) those are unique and sacred moments, that should be recognized for themselves, before they’re compared to others.

In our first reading from Genesis 1, God creates the heavens and the earth.

We learn that when God began to create, the earth was a “formless void.”

That’s our attempt to translate a curious phrase in Hebrew, which really just means “chaos.”

So in Genesis 1, creation is seen as bringing order to chaos.

It’s not long before God seems to hand over the reigns of creation to the created beings themselves.

God says, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

In other words, “I’ve been creating for a while, now it’s your turn.”

It’s interesting to me that at each step of the way God says, it’s good.

At the end, God says creation is “very good.”

God doesn’t say it’s perfect, it’s not finished.

God says it’s very good.

You and I continue the act of creation every day—it’s part of what it means to be alive.

Sometimes we create order sometimes we create chaos.

One is not necessarily better than the other—God works with both.



Later on, after sin had entered the world and started rupturing the relationships between God and humanity and creation, we hear this story of our father Abraham and his son Isaac.

God tells Abraham to take his son whom he loves and sacrifice him on a faraway mountain.

In Jewish tradition, this story is often called the Aqedah, which is the Hebrew word for the “binding” of Isaac on the altar.

In Christian tradition we sometimes call this story the “sacrifice of Isaac” though in reality, Isaac is never actually sacrificed.

These names hint at the way these stories have been received in our traditions.

From antiquity, Christians have seen this story as a prefigurement of Jesus’ death.

The rabbis saw in this story an illustration of what it means to be Jewish and to suffer.

In fact, in early rabbinic tradition, there was this stream of interpretation that saw Isaac as a middle-aged man in this story, and Abraham as elderly.

You’ll notice, the story never tells us their ages.

In this tradition, Abraham places the instruments of sacrifice on Isaac’s back because he is too weak to carry them himself.

Isaac has to help his father tie him up, because the patriarch is too feeble.

This interpretation transforms the story.

Isaac is no longer a naïve child, but a martyr who knows exactly what is happening to him.

The story of the Aqedah is also received in the Quran, though in that version, the name of the boy who is nearly sacrificed is never named.

You may remember that Abraham had another son named Ishmael, who Muslims similarly claim as their ancestor.

My colleagues who study Islam tell me that for the first few centuries of quranic interpretation, there was a debate over which son this was.

It seems that some of these ancient interpreters couldn’t decide, is this something we want our forefather to have undergone or not?



What we’re encountering here is an issue we will always meet whenever we go through this rehearsal of salvation history: the problem of particularism.

Throughout the whole Bible, God seems to be choosing some people but not others—often for no apparent reason.

Think of Abel instead of Cain, Isaac instead of Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Rachel over Leah, Israel instead of every other nation in the entire world.

There are some that mistakenly think that Christianity solves this problem.

Christianity is the universal religion—all are welcome—as we like to believe.

But really, this issue is only pushed further out.

Christian faith is open to all, of course, but we still serve the Christian God and do Christian practices, and say Christian things.

Our universalism only goes so far. It must remain in house.

And what about all those Jews—the older brother.

Has God chosen us, Christians, the younger son instead them?

It would seem that particularism is inherent and inescapable in our tradition.

But we are not the only ones who claim to have a special relationship to God.

Many world religions espouse a particular and unparalleled connection to the divine.

It would seem that particularism is integral to our humanity,

like the friendships, and families, and romantic partners we choose and sometimes don’t choose to have particular relationships with.

So the question is not should we be particular or not, but what kind of particularism will we have?

Throughout history, we can find countless examples of how our particularist Judeo-Christian heritage has been disastrously received.

Christian anti-semitism, western colonialism, the divine right of kings, the wealthy who deserve to keep their wealth—all of these and more have been justified through a claim of God’s special favoritism.



But this story, the Aqedah, reminds of a more prevalent but conspicuously less emphasized aspect of what it means to be chosen by God according to scripture.

Isaac, the chosen one, the beloved one, suffers.

The story of the Bible in many ways is the story of the people of Israel who endured hatred, and ridicule, and servitude, because they were chosen.

Jesus, the beloved one of God, also suffered.

To be chosen is to endure hardship for the sake of others

In our third reading, God rescues the Hebrews from bondage in Egypt through a miracle at the sea.

An aspect of the story that Christians tend to forget but Jews rarely miss is that God rescues the Hebrews for no merit of their own.

The Hebrews had done nothing to deserve their salvation.

It was freely given by God because God had chosen them.

And it was only after this undeserved salvation that God led the people of Israel to Mount Sinai where they receive the law and bear the burden of demonstrating how best to live in this world that God has created.

This is also a good year.



By the time we get to Ezekiel, our fourth reading this evening.

Israel has discovered again and again how demanding that responsibility is to be God’s chosen people.

By this time, the people of Israel have been scattered among the nations, their kingdoms have been conquered.

And the prophet Ezekiel, now hundreds of years after the liberation from Egypt, begins to look to the future.

Time and time again, his people have shown how they are not worthy of being God’s chosen people, in fact, no one is.

And yet that calling persists.

Ezekiel begins to envision a time when God will give us new hearts.

Our hearts of stone will be replaced with hearts of flesh, and we will finally be able to live in peace in the world that God has created.

It’s the same dream of the future that the prophet Jeremiah calls the “new covenant” which can also be translated into English as the New Testament.

The early Christians, having received this story, saw this new heart as coming to us through Jesus—specifically through Jesus’s death and resurrection.

But it comes at a cost. Being chosen by God always has a cost.

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul says:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

That’s why at Easter, we don’t just remember Jesus’ death and resurrection.

We also look forward to our own death and resurrection as the people of God.



You see each time we touch down in this story, we recognize not just what God has done in history but what God is doing in us—

in chaos and in order, in suffering and in liberation, in triumph and in defeat.

It’s not about getting the new and improved, it’s about accepting where we are and what God is doing, in this story.

You see, this is really where my metaphor of iPads and coffee breaks down.

It’s not really that Jesus’s death and resurrection is the newest, or the best, or the most advanced act of God in history.

It is the act of God in history. It’s what all of creation was made for.

And it’s what we participate in as God’s chosen people.

There are many good stories about what God has done in the Bible—and in this room.

And each one of those stories finds its meaning in the newness of life that is the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Tonight, I believe that God is calling each one of us to walk in newness of life.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve gone to church every Sunday since you were a baby, if you’ve never prayed a day in your life, or if you used to believe but for whatever reason you had to let it go.

Whoever you are, God is calling you tonight, to walk in newness of life.

God invites us to roll away the stone, walk out of the tomb and proclaim with the angel, “he or she is not here, because we have risen with Christ.”

It’s not about looking for the new and improved.

It’s not about holding out for the best thing.

It’s about accepting the God who is already here and has always been here.

And who waits for you on the other side of death.



Seven Last Words of Christ, 4-3-15

Audio recording of preaching on the Seven Last Words of Christ 


The preachers for the Seven Last Words of Christ at our Good Friday service are our two youth Confirmands and five members of the 20's & 30's group at St. James's.


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

Elizabeth Marshall 

When I was in high school, I suffered regularly from stress induced migraines.  During those years of my life, sleep felt like my only escape.  I would fall into a deep, drug-induced dream that would take me far away from the yellow flannel sheets where I was laying.  To a jungle where I could run through the maze of trees.  To an empty freeway where I could ride a motorcycle, wind blowing through my hair, moving faster and faster. Or to the ocean where I could swim out for miles, pushing seaweed out of the way, moving farther from the sight of anything.  Nothing around me.  No pressure.  Everything felt so easy and right.  No worry anywhere to be found.  That was my paradise.

During that time, I had a hard time remembering God in my day-to-day life.  I was trying, yet so much was getting in the way.  I missed so much school and was constantly worried about catching up on work, graduating on time, maintaining friendships, and most of all -getting better.  So often when we’re in dark and difficult times, we become distracted by all the little things and sometimes neglect to put our trust in Jesus.  

In this moment when the criminal who is also suffering cries, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom,” he is putting his trust Jesus, which is more than enough to put him besides Jesus in paradise.

Sometimes we might feel like it’s too late to get our lives on the right track, it’s too late to stop a habit we don’t like or change a relationship that has gone wrong. But even this criminal knew he could trust Jesus—even at the very end of his life. I ask you: Is there is anything in your life that you feel like it’s too late to turn around?  I challenge you to trust in your faith that that very thing could change.


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

Gwei Strong-Allen - Youth Confirmand 

Jesus is dying and he wants his mother to have support, so he asks the disciple to take care of his mother. 

Jesus did not want his mother to be lonely.

Jesus trusted the disciple to take care of his mother.

The disciple is not Mary’s biological son, but Jesus asks him to treat her as he would his own mother.  He asks Mary to accept the disciple as her own son.  Jesus wants us to take care of our family even when everyone’s DNA isn’t the same.

It matters how you treat someone, more than what their inside traits are.  A person’s outside qualities are most important.

I am an example of this.  I was adopted from China. And though I was adopted I am still treated as family and loved like Jesus would have wanted.  I was taken in like the disciple.

My situation is a little different than the reading.  My mom died 2 years ago tomorrow and that left just my dad.  Before my mom died she asked Anne Read to be a special Godmother for me.  And the whole church, all of you, are part of my family. 

It is up to all of us to live Jesus’ lesson of taking care of family.


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

Jules Bertaut

"Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani" which means "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

There are a lot of times I have felt forsaken by God.  Like, when I was in tenth grade, my French teacher spent an entire class period explaining how the homosexuals were the cause of everything wrong with every society.  And nobody in the class protested, or complained to the administration, in fact, I think most of them agreed with her. And I remember I felt so alone, so isolated.  And even now, more than ten years later, I think, God, where were you?  How could you abandon me to that?

I think our society tells us it's wrong to express those feelings, that they're showing a lack of faith in God.  But I disagree.  I think they're important feelings, and we need to deal with them honestly.  So I find it comforting that Jesus says this, because it allows me to acknowledge my own feelings, and to feel less alone in them.  


"I am thirsty." (John 19:28)

John Bell 

To thirst is not to crave or to desire; it is to need. Water is fundamental to our survival. We need to drink to live. When he thirsts, Jesus reminds of his most basic humanity. Christ calls his disciples to recognize the simplest needs of others, even when those others are our enemies. He admonishes us to give food to the hungry, shelter to the homeless, and drink to the thirsty. Sacred acts of service imitate the ways of the world to come, where people will enjoy relief from the indignities and injustices of this world and find fulfillment beyond earthly measure. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” Jesus tells us, “for they shall be filled.” Christ promises the ultimate satisfaction through himself. “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst;” he says, “the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” In Revelation, he stands as the Alpha and the Omega, promising to quench the thirst of humankind once and for all with “the water of life without price.” That incalculable price, that princely sum, was paid for us by Christ on Good Friday when he suffered his fully human death on the cross.

Among the many humiliations he suffered in his passion was to be offered sour wine for his thirst. This, we are told, fulfilled the words of Psalm 69: “… in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” In that passage, the Psalmist looks for pity in a world full of anguish. Finding nothing but insult, he wishes God’s wrath on his enemies. Yet Christ, in his mercy, wished God’s forgiveness on his tormenters at Calvary. Under this new covenant, bought with his blood, vengeance has no place. As Christians we are called to thirst for righteousness without yearning for reprisal. After all, what good is meanness? What does malice achieve? Today of all days, we remember that it was cruelty that killed Christ, and that it is his love that saves us.  


"It is finished!" (John 19:30)

Micah Lott 

What is the ‘it’ to which Jesus refers? The English phrase, “It is finished”, translates a single Greek word – tetelestai. Like the English, this does not make explicit what has been finished or completed. So, to what is Jesus referring?

Related to this is a second question: In what sense has something been finished? The Greek verb teleo, like the English verb “finish”, can pick out two different ideas – 1) that of simply stopping and coming to an end, or 2) that of accomplishing, completing, perfecting. To hear the difference, think of a sentence like: “By the time he finished sweeping, he still had not finished the job.” An activity can simply stop, without being completed or perfected.

If we interpret Jesus in the first way, then we are likely to think of the “it” as Jesus’ suffering. Or perhaps his very physical life. Both of these things come to an end at this moment, when Jesus dies.

If we interpret Jesus in the second way, then the “it” is the Divine plan at work in Jesus – God’s will to glorify the Son, who is the Good Shepherd and the Light of the World, that everyone might believe in Him and the whole creation might be redeemed.

I think that both of these ideas are present here. Given the larger context of the Gospel, the second idea – the accomplishing of God’s will – is the primary one. (Indeed, the exact same word, tetelestai, appears just two verses earlier, where it is usually translated “accomplished”.)

Still, the ambiguity between the two senses of “finish” is not, I think, accidental.

Rather it points us to the heart of the Paschal Mystery: that death – the ultimate stopping point for each of us, the ending of all endings – has become the very means through which God’s plan for abundant life is accomplished.

Through one sort of “end”, another sort of end – a purpose – is accomplished. Not in spite of death, but through death, Death itself is defeated, by Him who declares: “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25) 


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

Leah Giles

Why does the Bible give us different versions of Jesus’ last words? For one, they all shed light on different aspects of Jesus’ character and force/implore us to think more deeply about his death and resurrection. I have to admit I prefer Luke’s account. In John, at first glance, Jesus’ words seem to imply resignation, defeat, or an ending. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus is so burdened by our sins that for a moment it seems as if God has abandoned him. But the Jesus in Luke has agency and strength, calling out “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!" Here Christ is confident and hopeful, fully trusting in God his Father to receive and care for him. And he does not go gently into that good night—Luke tells us Jesus cries out with a loud voice as he breathes his final words. To commend is “to entrust, to give in charge, to deliver with confidence." Jesus knows that he will die, but he is sure about entrusting his spirit to God. Through God’s grace and mercy, he will be resurrected in an eternal body. This turning over to God, letting go, trusting in Him always but especially in the face of death—this is the essence of what Jesus teaches us. Have faith, and you will be rewarded in heaven, God’s eternal kingdom.

There is something comforting about not trying to be in control but placing all our trust in God, who alone has the power to save us. And it’s certainly not a cop out—it takes strength to let go and believe that we can be saved. In taking our sin and commending his spirit to God on Good Friday, Jesus saved us. If we can all be so bold as Christ as to turn ourselves over completely to God, with confidence, with strength, and with faith.  



Sermon for 5 Lent Year B 3-22-15


Audio recording of Sermon for 5 Lent


5 Lent Year B 3-22-15

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ps. 119:9-16; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33


Write your gracious will upon our unruly hearts and wills, O God, and amid the swift and varied changes of the world, fix them on Christ, that we may discover true joy in the very midst of it all. AMEN.


Anybody besides me having a little problem with this persistent “winter” thing??? When it’s Officially Spring?!?


Things are NOT the way they’re SUPPOSED to be! It makes me think of my favorite Calvin & Hobbes cartoon. In the first frame, the boy Calvin is shown – as he so often is – with a fuming black cloud over his grumpy screwed-up face. Poor Calvin, my brother! In the second frame, Hobbes the kindly tiger is leaning in, concerned. He asks, “What’s the matter, Calvin?” In the third frame, Calvin finally speaks, “REALITY IS RUINING MY LIFE!”


When reality is ruining your life, it’s tempting to screw your face – indeed your whole BODY, MIND & SPIRIT – into the frown that blots Calvin’s face. And let’s be frank: we frown for GOOD REASON. It’s not that we’re making this up. Life is hard, and not just because spring is slow in coming. Life is hard on the macro-global level. Life is hard on the micro-personal level. It’s hard to claim the light of the Good News when you’re feeling stuck in the dark.


This is why every year, just as the light of spring really is returning even if it doesn’t FEEL like it, we Episcopalian Christians march straight into the darkness of Jesus’ Passion – his passio, Latin for his “suffering,” his pathos, from which we get our words for “empathy,” “sympathy,” and “compassion:” “feeling WITH; suffering WITH.” Nothing we can suffer is foreign to Jesus; he has suffered unto death; he has suffered at the hands of those who do not understand him, who willfully misunderstand him and move lethally against him. We do not shy away from this darkness. We, for whom Reality is Ruining our Life, we who have suffered the grief of loss, the imprisonment of fear, the devastation of being underestimated or assaulted, the horror of disease and war, and worst of all, have suffered our own tendencies to do things selfishly, unjustly, addictively, destructively, even when we KNOW it’s wrong to do them, we don’t give just a passing swipe at the crucifixion on Palm Sunday and then launch straight into the joy and celebration of the Resurrection on Easter. We dwell awhile in this suffering time, letting ourselves feel the full weight of it. We move with deliberation through the commemoration of the Last Supper & Passover w foot washing on Maundy Thursday, then strip the altars in grave silence and chanting for the solemnity of Good Friday, the chancel lamp extinguished, nothing on display but our bare failures to live up to our potential, our malign grasping after our own advantage to the detriment of others, our willingness to sacrifice love. Then, in the deep dark of Holy Saturday evening, we kindle the new fire and light the Paschal Candle from which our own little candles take their light, and we gather in the dark of the church to remember the long arc of God's liberating work, until at last the lights flare up and we celebrate the first Eucharist of the Resurrection.


In letting God’s beloved child thus journey into humiliating torture & death, God evidently felt that such darkness, such weight, were the essential predicate to the light of resurrection. Is that because, as we Christians have so often asserted over centuries, God needed to punish Jesus into order to free us from our bondage to wrong-headedness and wrong-heartedness? That Jesus needed to “die for our sins?” “As if God could need payment, and even a very violent transaction [against God’s own beloved child], to be able to love and accept [God’s] own children--a message that those [of us] with an angry, distant, absent, or abusive [parent are] already far too programmed to believe [?]” [Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation: “Love, Not Atonement,” Friday, March 20, 2015, from Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, pp. 183-188]


Or is Franciscan Richard Rohr right that “…The incarnation of God and the redemption of the world could never be a mere mop-up exercise in response to human sinfulness, but [is a] the proactive work of God from the very beginning. We were "chosen in Christ before the world was made," as the hymn in Ephesians puts it (1:4). Our sin could not possibly be the motive for the divine incarnation, but only perfect love and divine self-revelation! … God never merely reacts, but always supremely and freely acts, and always acts totally out of love.


“Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity (it did not need changing)! Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God. God in Jesus moved people beyond the counting, weighing, and punishing model, that the ego prefers, to the utterly new world that Jesus offered, where God's abundance has made any economy of merit, sacrifice, reparation, or atonement both unhelpful and unnecessary. Jesus undid "once and for all" (Hebrews7:27; 9:12; 10:10) all notions of human and animal sacrifice and replaced them with his new economy of grace, which is the very heart of the gospel revolution. Jesus was meant to be a game changer for the human psyche and for religion itself. When we begin negatively, or focus on the problem, we never get out of the hamster wheel. To this day we begin with and continue to focus on sin, when the crucified one was pointing us [not toward sin but toward love,]toward a primal solidarity with the very suffering of God and all of creation. This changes everything. Change the starting point, change the trajectory!”[Ibid.]


Death in Jesus’s crucifixion takes a whole new place in our lives of grace: the irreducible minimum beyond which we must finally give up our illusions of being able to “fix” ourselves, and must instead reach out with yearning for God’s mighty power of grace and newness which is the source of our capacity to connect and to create. Jesus, struggling to articulate this to those hungry Greeks seeking to understand him in today’s Gospel from John, puts it this way:“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” [Ibid.]


So is Reality Ruining Your Life? Are you finding yourself dug into your own negativity? Poet Mary Oliver knows how you feel. Here, in closing, is her poem, “The Fist,” from her book Thirst.


The Fist

by Mary Oliver


There are days

when the sun goes down

like a fist,

though of course


if you see anything

in the heavens

in this way

you had better get


your eyes checked

or, better still,

your diminished spirit.

The heavens


have no fist,

or wouldn't they have been

shaking it

for a thousand years now,


and even

longer than that,

at the dull, brutish

ways of mankind -


heaven's own


Instead: such patience!

Such willingness


to let us continue!

To hear,

little by little,

the voices -


only, so far, in

pockets of the world -


the possibilities


of peace?

Keep looking.

Behold, how the fist opens

with invitation.


[ ]


What negativity are you being invited out of, in this season of dying into life? What starting point, what trajectory  is God inviting you to change?  AMEN.


Sermon for 4 Lent Year B 3-15-15


Audio recording of Sermon for 4 Lent


4 Lent Year B 3-15-15

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Numbers 21:4-9; Ps. 107:1-3, 17-22; Eph. 2:1-10; John 3:14-21


God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive in Christ… and raised us up with him and seated us in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.AMEN.

[Eph. 2:4-7]


The people of Israel in today’s first reading from Numbers are trudging through the wilderness, having been prevented from entering The Promised Land via the direct route across the land of Edom because the Edomites have refused to allow them passage on their land.  (Hmmmm… Sound familiar, all you who await a new parish house?) The Israelites are getting fed up with the endless diet of mysterious manna. They’re looking back to the old days in Egypt with a much kinder eye than they did when they were actually LIVING in slavery. At least back there, there were cucumbers and melons, leeks & garlic. Not this bread-thingummy, day after day. 


My mother always used to say, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” For the longest time I didn’t understand what that meant. Who wants to look ANY horse in the mouth? But it turns out the TEETH and gums tell you a lot about the horse’s age & condition. If you’re buying a horse, that’s one thing. A good close look at the teeth is warranted. But a GIFT horse is a GIFT, no matter what its condition, young or old, good teeth or bad teeth. Your life, my life, our comforts, our achievements: they are God’s GIFT to us. It’s true we need to collaborate on the gift, to utilize it for good. But even our collaboration, too, is a work of the Holy Spirit in us. Manna for us in the wilderness of life.


But we’re all too inclined to look our gifts in the mouth. The people of Israel looked their gift bread in the mouth and found it wanting. And God got mad and sent poison snakes. And only when the people had suffered awhile from snakebite did they get around to saying “Sorry!” Sorry for taking the gift of our survival – and our amazing flourishing despite all the odds out here in the wilderness – for granted! Sorry for succumbing to the darkness of whining and infecting each other with discouragement – dis – COURAGE – ment, deprivation of courage. Sorry for forgetting what a gift life is, from the start right up to the end. And when they said, “Sorry!” God relented and gave them the peculiar symbol of God’s mercy and steadfast loving kindness: the bronze Snake-on-a-staff, a symbol of the very evil itself transformed into the power of healing by being raised up over them.


Let’s not get too literal here. The imagery of God sending poisonous snakes to bite us when we’re ungrateful is hardly a reassuring one. But John’s Jesus seizes on it when he’s inviting his night visitor Nicodemus to see the Light of Christ in the darkness in John’s Gospel.  Because the truth is when we’ve taken to looking our gift life in the mouth and lost sight of its giftedness, when we’re stuck in darkness, we need potent reminders of God’s loving power of light to keep us going. As John says, for we who follow Jesus, the image of the bronze serpent raised up on the staff as the symbol of power has been preempted. In its place is the image of the crucified Jesus, raised up on the cross, seemingly the last word in darkness, the death of God’s only Son in loving self-offering for the sake of the ultimate triumph of light, the Christ Light that triumphs over evil.


For as John’s Jesus says, God did not condemn the world, but in Christ, God gave God’s Self up utterly to SAVE the world. God wouldn’t BUY INTO darkness. God would not counter darkness with darkness. God let the forces of darkness – the forces of condemnation – do their worst, knowing that light and love will trump darkness in the end. As we say in our Evening Prayer service when the darkness of night is closing in, “If I say, ‘Surely darkness will cover me and the light around me turn to night,’ 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. 139:10-11] As The Message Bible translates John 3:16-17: “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.”


I know John’s Gospel says you have to BELIEVE in order to be released from darkness into that Christ Light. But don’t get stuck on the word “belief” as if faith were a philosophical proposition successfully argued in the life and death of Jesus and just waiting for you to adopt it. Life is a mystery, full of darkness and light; faith is a mystery; and “belief” is the capacity to claim the gift of it – to love your life and live it to the fullest, come what may, darkness and light alike, whether you understand it intellectually or not. To believe is to refuse the temptation to embrace the energy of condemnation – to refuse to “run for the darkness when the God-Light streamed into the world,” as The Message puts it, and rather to embrace the energy of gratitude and mercy. Belief is to love light, not darkness. Belief is to love light in the MIDST of darkness, to COMMIT to it. Not to acquiesce to darkness but to be LIGHT-MAKERS… no, to be LIGHT-PARTICIPATORS, since God is the Light-Maker and we are simply the ones who find it, who see it, precisely where there seems to be none. And once having tasted what it is to be a LIGHT-PARTICIPATOR, we become LIGHT-DO-ERS.


Julia’s friend Mike, visiting the hospice in San Salvador, FOUND light in the desperately elderly poor. Mike was a LIGHT-DO-ER, and Julia was able to SEE the Christ-Light through him and begin to PARTICIPATE in the Light herself. Ferguson demonstrators FOUND light even in the darkness of Michael Brown’s death, a death which was, it turns out (no surprise to us who have been watching the dynamics of race closely in our society), simply a focusing and intensifying of the darkness of racism that has shadowed the whole police department in that town, that shadows many of our police departments, prisons, schools, employment agencies, and housing agencies. Not all the demonstrators found that light, of course. Some seized hold of the darkness of condemnation and bore down with looting and rioting upon the very community they sought to save. But those demonstrators who kept coming in non-violence, who KEEP showing up and naming the problem, naming the truth, were and continue to be LIGHT-DO-ERS, LOVING, not hating the world, SAVING, not condemning the world.


We are called to be the same, to claim the gift of our lives full of both light and darkness and to continue to be LIGHT-DO-ERS, not fearing darkness, not eschewing darkness, but going forth INTO darkness full of the conviction of light, powered by love, not condemnation. And because for the evangelist John, Light is always closely connected with TRUTH, we must also be TRUTH-DO-ERS, en-LIGHTened by the “Light from Light” that is Christ.


It’s a risky wilderness path, a path that leads into a lot of darkness, and the diet is more likely to be manna than cucumbers and melons. Christ was lifted on the Cross, Christ endured a terrible suffering of belittlement and mockery culminating in a humiliating execution – not unlike Michael Brown’s or Eric Garner’s in its own day – in order to encourage us not to fear the dark, even when it seems imprisoning. Even when it seems death-dealing. The power of darkness transformed on that high-lifted Cross into the healing power of Resurrection. “Darkness is not dark to you, O Lord.


Reflecting on what I’ve said, please share briefly a STORY from your OWN EXPERIENCE. How are YOU holding onto LIGHT in your darkness? Who do you know who is a Light-Do-er?


A Homily for the Burial of Julienne C. Luc


Audio recording of Homily for the Burial of Julienne C. Luc 


©Holly Lyman Antolini


Let us pray.

Yea, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, O God, we will fear no evil, for Thou art with us.  AMEN.


Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. This frozen beginning of Lent here at St. James’s has been really, REALLY hard.  The ashes of AshWednesday are all too evocative of the loss of vibrant, vivid Julie Luc. Nothing is more terrible – nothing! – than the loss Jeanne Luc and her family have endured, the loss of a child in the prime of life, full of vitality and with everything to hope for. The loss of a daughter.  A sister. A niece. A cousin. A friend. A companion “in our waking and in our sleeping.” (Though sleeping was something Julie didn’t seem to do a lot of, by the way; she was often up all night, full of ideas and preoccupations!). Bone of one’s bone and flesh of one’s flesh. A person full of imagination and humor, passionate about many things.


And the terrible shock of it all. Such a death is not SUPPOSED to happen, in the natural order of things!  A vigorous, active person should not suddenly die of an embolism! This shock is not eased by the fact that everyone who knew and loved Julie knew that she had a quite benign condition that should have been treated years ago but that she had resisted that treatment, partly because she didn’t trust doctors and partly because she was a passionate herbalist, with a conviction that self-treatment could be successful.  That her insistence should lead to this outcome seems both inconceivable and at the same time all-too-conceivable, leaving everyone around her dizzy with a sense of helplessness and yet a terrible sense of responsibility, as if her choice – a choice she made over and over in the months and years before this crisis – had been our failure.


But the truth is that in their love for Julie, her family and friends HAD tried to persuade her to accept treatment.  And at the very same time, it had been of prime importance to them ALSO to accord Julie the dignity of her own decisions.


For Julie was a woman of immense personal dignity and independent spirit. To say she was complicated is an understatement. Vivacious, bright, intellectually inquisitive and capable, funny and good company, yes. You can see all that in her beautiful face on the front of your bulletin.  But to speak the truth, she was also often alienated and angry, secretive, disappearing off her family’s radar screen literally for weeks and months at a time, possessed of strong prejudices about certain things, deeply committed to her own perspective, whether on politics, or medicine or what-have-you.


And yet, in the midst of that anger and mistrust, Julie possessed a wonderful capacity for empathy and a generosity of spirit that saw beauty in everyone.  That’s why we chose the reading from 1 John to honor her: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” This Julie understood and practiced.  Julie KNEW GOD in others.  She was giving and loving, reaching out to people others might find unlovely; seeing beyond the surface; caring where others failed to care. It made her a natural health care provider. It makes her mother and sister and all her relatives and friends mourn and miss her keenly.


Julie did not have an easy life. Elizabeth shared an indelible image of their childhood, watching their father Cirian’s back disappear, over and over, through the airport departure gate on his way back to Haiti, wondering with a child’s heart and a child’s sense of time, if and when he would come back again. Consequently, Julie clung to her mother Jeanne, and didn’t like to be separated from her. As she grew to adulthood, she struggled with mental health issues that made her own path into self-reliance fraught and difficult. These are things that tried and even tormented her heart and the hearts of all around her.


So I am glad, knowing how Julie reached out to God shortly before she lost consciousness, asking us for prayer, sharing with us Psalm 23 and the Lord’s Prayer and receiving the laying-on of hands as all of us gathered around her bedside, I am glad to read the comforting words of the Wisdom of Solomon, “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; butthey are at peace… Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself…”


It will be a long time before Jeanne & Elizabeth can begin to feel whole again. Their wonderful community will rally around them and support them, but losing Julie at a time like this and in such a way is like losing a limb of your own body. Your brain and your spirit claim that limb as a fundamental part of you, and it continues to ache long after the limb is gone. But as painful as it is to suffer her loss and let her go when we know so much might have been possible for her, we also know that Julie, at long last, can now be at peace. No torment will ever touch her again. And we can let her go in Jesus’ assurance in the Gospel of John, that “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, thatall who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.’” Julie, at long last, is reunited with her father, who has gone before her. And nothing can separate her from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.


In few minutes, we will all sing Frances Crosby’s beautiful hymn, “Blessed Assurance.” But let me close now with its last verse, and let’s make it our prayer for the repose of Julie’s soul, at one and at rest at last.


Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love

            [Frances J. Crosby]


Ash Wednesday 2-18-15


Audio recording of Sermon for Ash Wednesday


©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Isaiah 58:1-12; Ps. 103; 2 Cor. 5:20b-6:10; Matt. 6:1-6,16-21


Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy Name. Redeem my life from the grave; crown me with your mercy and loving-kindness.  AMEN.


We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!” So begins our reading from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians for Ash Wednesday. It might be the clarion call to a holy Lent. “Be reconciled to God.”


Lent is the season – of all our seasons of the liturgical year – that invites us to take a good look at our sin, the things that separate us from God, our tendency to seek our own will instead of the will of God. Here’s how the Catechism of our Book of Common Prayer puts it: Sin is “seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.” [p. 848, Book of Common Prayer]


Despite the legacy of middle-class Victorian mores, sin isn’t sexual peccadilloes or the simple enjoyment of our bodies, though our bodies are certainly implicated in the ways we get separated from God. Our bodies are as much a means of being intimate with God as they are a liability in that intimacy.  So are our minds, and indeed our hearts. No: sin is much, much more than what we do with our bodies. The 12-step programs have the most vivid description of it. They call it, “self-will run riot.” When I ramp up into a rant at someone I love over a trivial incident or castigate them because they put the juice back in the wrong place in the fridge or left the milk out on the counter, my self-will has taken over. When I run up my credit card bill beyond what I can pay each month, buying things I don’t need, my self-will has taken over.  When I work too much or drink too much or eat too much (or, on the contrary, starve my body when it needs nutrients), my self-will has taken over. When I refuse to forgive someone who has injured me and instead dig into my own bitterness and resentment, my self-will has taken over. When I persistently ignore the ways in which my material comfort may be secured at the cost of someone else’s imprisonment in ignorance, poverty or violent conditions, or at the cost of our long-term supply of natural resources, clean air, clean water and species survival, my self-will has taken over. I have forgotten what God intended in creating me. I have lost touch with the love of God for me and have sought a false “love” in things that hurt me and/or others. I have placed my confidence in things that endow me with false sense of power and a false sense of self-respect. I have certainly lost touch with the capacity to regard others with the respectful and loving eyes of God, sacrificing THEIR dignity and in the process, my own. I have lost my sense of my own proportion. I have gotten alienated from my best self and the world around me.


So Lent is the season in which we seek to understand our sin, our “distortion of relationship” with God, other people, and indeed, all of Creation. It is the season in which we try to retrieve our appropriate sense of our proportion. It is the season in which we practice returning to “right relationship” with God. We do this in Lent as a preparation to experience with Christ his arrest and trial, his Passion and Crucifixion in the liturgies of Holy Week, and to be ready for the intense joy of his Resurrection in the Feasts of Easter Vigil and Easter morning.


In anticipation of that greatest of all sacraments, the Feast of the Resurrection, the season of Lent invites us into the death of Christ in order that we may find the “new life” that is promised in Christ’s resurrection. Lent invites us to see our separation from God and each other so that we can be reconciled, reconnected to God and to each other and to this fraught and beautiful world we live in. It is only by this frightening path, this giving up of “self-will run riot,” that we can “be reconciled to God.” The Second Letter to the Corinthians describes this movement from death to life as such as central part of “being reconciled to God” that I’m puzzled as to why the Lectionary begins at Verse 5:20, instead of back at Verse 14. Here’s what’s missing: “14For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15And Christ died for all, so that [we] who live might live no longer for [ourselves], but for him who died and was raised for [us]. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting [our] trespasses against [us], and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. [2 Cor. 5:16-20, pronouns changed & underlining mine]


How different if we see that the priority is that Christ has ALREADY reconciled us to God, “not counting our trespasses against us!” And that we are simply submitting ourselves to “death in Christ” – “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus,” as Paul writes in the Letter to the Romans; dead to our self-will and alive in God’s much more generous and forgiving will – to avail ourselves of that reconciliation, that “new creation.” [6:11] “Death,” you say? Isn’t that imagery a little extreme when it comes to the giving up of self-will?  Well, ask any of us who are vulnerable to “self-will run riot,” how hard it is to give it up, and to ask forgiveness for it! A million tiny deaths and sometimes some very large ones indeed.


And how different when we see that, being reconciled to God, we are thereby entrusted with the MESSAGE OF RECONCILIATION, indeed the MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION, ourselves. All those trials and tribulations Paul enumerates in our Second Corinthians passage today, from afflictions to imprisonments to hunger; all those swings between ill repute and good repute, between sorrow & rejoicing, even between dying and yet, being alive: these are all simply part of that “dying into Christ” – the giving up of the self-will that seeks to dominate and control – that Paul sees as THE route into intimacy with God, mere way-stations on the pilgrimage to being reconciled to God, empowerments to become ambassadors of reconciliation in the foreign territory of sin.


So here we are on Ash Wednesday, being invited to “a holy Lent,” to being “reconciled with God,” and so doing to engage our ministry of reconciliation. 

And the first step of that return to right relationship, that retrieval of our sense of proportion, begins with acknowledging that “we are dust, and unto dust we shall return.” Not just acknowledging it intellectually, but kneeling in a posture of submission and receiving upon our foreheads a cross of ashes made from the palms of last Palm Sunday’s commemoration of Jesus’ Crucifixion, right in the same place where the anointing oil of our baptism confirmed that we have been “marked as Christ’s own, forever,” as a reminder of our fragility and mortality and also at the very same time a reminder of Christ’s enduring, overcoming love for us [p. 308, Book of Common Prayer] Then, after the Imposition of Ashes, we are invited to the rail again in the sacrifice of the Eucharist, which intensifies this reminder of Christ’s self-offering love for us – essential to all amendment of life, essential to our capacity to bear the knowledge of our sin and our mortality.  We are always invited back into the circle of God’s love, back into the Body of Christ from which we may have separated ourselves, back from the alienation of “self-will run riot,” back into right relationship with God.


It is these twin dimensions of self-awareness that lie at the root of our Lenten practice. There’s the awareness of our mortality and vulnerability to sin and separation from God, the limits of our capacity to control our lives and the tendency to want to claim more control than we truly can manage, grinding ourselves and others up in the machinery of our self-will. That’s the dust part. But equally important along with it is the anointed part, the belonging-to-Christ-forever part.  The part where grace of Jesus Christ the Risen One can redeem us – save us, SALVAGE us – from the limits of our mortality and make healing and wholeness possible even in the most seemingly irredeemable situations.


These two essential aspects of “right relationship” with God – our limits and God’s never-failing longing to offer us the power of grace – are what power a ministry of reconciliation. Without a real sense of our own limits, our culpability, and our frailty, our attempts at the work of reconciliation risk being powered by self-will, a false assumption of our capacity. Without real humility and fellow-feeling, our attempts may work alienation, not reconciliation. At the same time, without a powerful sense of God’s grace to help in time of need, we can languish under a conviction of guilt or founder in our own sense of shame or vulnerability, or simply freeze in fear. [Hebrews: 4:6]


One more thing. Much of what we do in Lent, including the General Confession we say in worship every Sunday, gives us opportunities to practice reconciliation. If you want ideas, see the handout in your bulletin, “Renewal in the Season of Lent @ St. James’s.” Among other opportunities for study or alms-giving, you will find a small article about the “Rite of Reconciliation” in our Book of Common Prayer. Sometimes we find ourselves burdened with a sense of sin and separation from God that can seem unrelenting and even paralyzing. Perhaps “we have memories that sear our conscience, by they of a particular incident or of a chain of events that set off a kind of tsunami of sin in some aspect of our life.” Perhaps we are locked into “a recurring and damaging pattern of behavior.” Perhaps we suffer “a residual experience of self-loathing or shame.” If any of this is true for you, if you can’t seem to relinquish a grievous choice you made in the past, or are shaken by one you are in the midst of now, or if you are“burdened by a tedious repetitive sin,” consider making a time to meet with me and discuss the possibility of engaging in the sacrament of reconciliation. “You may need this very explicit assurance of your forgiveness, of your being liberated from an internal prison of condemnation.” [Adapted from Br. Curtis Almquist, Reconciliation: Preparing for the Sacrament,]


I invite you, this Lent, not to further burden your self-will by simply piling Lenten observances upon yourself, but to seek some thing or things you can do to let GO of your self-will, to ease back from the need to control everything, to let yourself feel both your own mortality and God’s great embracing desire for your flourishing, to help yourself “be reconciled to God,” so that God’s loving desire for reconciliation can shine through you to others. If you don’t find what you’re looking for on the “Renewal in the Season of Lent” sheet in your bulletin, speak to me. Let’s see if we can discern or devise a renewing Lenten practice for you!


5 Epiphany Year B 2-8-15


Audio recording of Sermon for 5 Epiphany 


©Holly Lyman Antolini


Lections: Isaiah 40:21-31; Ps. 147:1-12;21c; 1 Cor. 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39


 Great are you, O God, mighty in power; there is no limit to your wisdom… You heal the brokenhearted and bind up our wounds… You are not impressed by the might of a horse; you have no pleasure in the strength of a man; but you have pleasure in those who fear you, in those who await your gracious favor. Hallelujah! AMEN.


Have you not known? Have you not heard?” asks the prophet Isaiah. With a God who sits above the circle of the earth, who stretches the heavens over us grasshopper-inhabitants like a tent to live in, empowered to make princes as naught and rulers of the earth as nothing, to blow a withering wind over them and carry them off in a tempest like stubble, surely things should be working better! Instead, the world’s manifestly a mess and seems to be developing new angles of atrocity by the day. Burning people alive on video now. Oy veh. In the midst of all that’s rupturing around us – let alone in the midst of SNOW! – how are we going to feel God’s presence let alone trust God with our lives?


As you know if you’ve been reading your Sunday News – and if you’re not getting the Sunday News, please email the office - the email is in the back of your bulletin! – and let us know so Dorothy can sign you up – I’ve been on my annual week of silent prayer retreat at the monastery of Society of St. John Evangelist, on Memorial Drive, a retreat I consider so important to my functioning as your clergy that I wrote it into my Letter of Agreement with you when I came in 2008 as part of my “continuing education,” a time to reconnect with God, a time in which the sole purpose of the unspooling hours is to reach out to God and to beseech God and rest in God. To make God the center of every waking (and sleeping) minute.


It’s a rare luxury in this madhouse world of interconnectivity to have four days in a row of quiet, with regular prayer, chanting of psalms and singing, imbued in scripture, no need to shop, to answer the phone, to keep up with the email avalanche; little or no need to address needs, solve problems, mastermind events, check in on details. No need even to talk to other friendly humans in your immediate environs – though it’s amazing and lovely how much communication happens anyway in a silent community: shared laughter; kindly assistance; enthusiastic greetings, all conveyed w eyes and body language. The whole purpose is to still the soul and make it quiet so that perhaps – PERHAPS! – it can pick up a signal from God’s own “still small voice,” a voice that would otherwise be drowned out in all the fuss and bother of well-intentioned activity in daily life.  Here’s a poem of Edward Rowland Sill’s about stillness, from his 1868 volume of poetry, The Hermitage & Other Poems.  It’s called “Serenity.”



Be still,—be still!

Midnight’s arch is broken

In thy ceaseless ripples.

Dark and cold below them

Runs the troubled water,—

Only on its bosom,

Shimmering and trembling,

Doth the glinted star-shine

Sparkle and cease.



Be still,—be still!

Boundless truth is shattered

On thy hurrying current.

Rest, with face uplifted,

Calm, serenely quiet;

Drink the deathless beauty—

Thrills of love and wonder

Sinking, shining, star-like;

Till the mirrored heaven

Hollow down within thee

Holy deeps unfathomed,

Where far thoughts go floating,

And low voices wander

Whispering peace.

Jesus knew the shattering craziness of the “hurrying current” of life and the balancing need for this pursuit of stillness, the pursuit, under the “shimmering and trembling bosom” of life’s current, in “holy deeps unfathomed,” “low voices whispering ‘Peace!’” Amid all the crowds and drama of his early ministry – remember, in our gospel passage from Mark today, we haven’t even gotten out of Chapter One yet – Jesus is already moving rapidly through Galilee ahead of crowds that gather, surge, and press in upon him, bringing all their sick or demon-possessed, driven to pursue him by their longing for the healing he offers. He’s SURROUNDED by pain and suffering! No sooner does he heal Simon Peter’s mother-in-law than at sundown he finds himself surrounded by hordes of the needy, clamoring for deliverance. No wonder by morning Jesus is already withdrawing to a deserted place in search of that quiet opportunity for prayer, that opportunity to reconnect with the God who is the source of all action, all wisdom, that overarching God of Isaiah’s prophecy in our first reading today. “Everyone is searching for you!” cry the disciples. And Jesus responds soon enough, but first he knows he needs to withdraw from it all, to seek the stillness that allows him to go deeper, to stay connected to the Source of all his healing power. The withdrawal is a part of the moving forward; the stillness is a part of the action. Giving in to his own smallness and weariness and weakness – his humanity – and still knowing God loves him and wants to spring up within him as creative and reconciling power is what ALLOWS the power of God to work in him.


It would be easy in the charged and urgent atmosphere in which we live today, when every text message has to be answered immediately and not a moment wasted waiting for a friend or a train when it could be spent responding to an email or following a link to an article, an atmosphere in which it is important to be SEEN living your life not just by your friends and family but by innumerable anonymous “followers” on Twitter & Instagram, to take the immediacy and urgency and hurry of Mark’s Jesus, and the punch of his healing miracles – of all the Gospels, Mark’s is the one with the greatest density of miracles in proportion to its length – to take the all-out “action super-hero” mode of Jesus’ and his world-compelling miracle-doing as the heart of the Gospel matter. Even the Greek word Mark uses for “miracle” itself – dynameis - suggests dynamism, accomplishment, mobilization. “Commonly translated ‘miracles,’ the Greek word dynameis has the same root as our word ‘dynamite.’ [New Testament authority] Paul Achtemeier writes that dynameis is best translated as ‘acts of power.’” [Nancy Koester, New Proclamation Year B, 1999-2000] The crowds & the disciples bought it: they thought Jesus was ALL ABOUT acts of power!


But the Jesus who demonstrates “acts of power” is also the Jesus who withdraws to a deserted place to pray. And here’s the thing: that solitude and stillness is as important as ALL the dynamism of his healing miracles. After all, if healing folks in nature-defying acts of power were the whole point, why would Jesus have upped anchor and headed on to the next town and left all the remaining crowds in Capernaum unhealed? Or, for that matter, why would we still, two thousand years later, still be struggling with illness and mental illness and domestic violence and sexual assault and war and what-have-you?  Wouldn’t that overarching “big-tent-ness” of Isaiah’s God have taken care of it? Why would we still be begging for healing and not getting it, at least, not the kind we asked for?


But Jesus does not heed the disciples and linger to heal more of the crowds in Capernaum. Leaving many untouched, he moves ahead, driven by an urgency that propels him headlong through the whole of Mark’s Gospel. "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do," he says.  It is not the simple fact of miraculous healing, but Jesus’ MESSAGE – remember it, 14 verses ago? “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news?” – the MESSAGE OF REPENTANCE and the PRESENCE OF THE KINGDOM, that is Jesus’ primary concern. Healing, when it happens, is only a means to an end, a medium for the message, pointing toward truth beyond its limited moment, to the “holy deeps unfathomed” of God’s love that undergird the whole of life, time & space, the love of the “Creator of the ends of the earth,” as Isaiah says. And grasping THAT enormity of truth is a much tougher proposition than mere miracles. It’s going to involve Jesus’ death, and it involves ours too, or at least what often feels like death, to get to the resurrection and the REAL healing at the core of things.


As the Gospel of Mark unfolds over this Year B of the Lectionary, we will see more and more of Jesus’ impatience when people wish to make miracles of healing the point of his power. We will see Jesus try – in vain! – to make those he has healed remain silent about the healing, for fear that the magical message of the dynameis will roar louder than the message of God’s self-sacrificing, self-offering, all-inclusive love.  His baptism – our baptisms – invite us into a far more mysterious and unfathomable depth, a depth that led him in the end to the ultimate weakness: death by execution upon a cross. It took that extremity to make his point, THE point: that God loves us NOW, in our UNHEALED STATE.  UTTERLY. And that in that desert of unhealedness springs up an unimaginabledynameis that can turn our lives upside-down and the make impossible possible in us. If we will just claim that love NOW.  That’s what the desert stillness reminded Jesus. It reminded him that God’s love wasn’t about his acts of power. It preceded them, succeeded them, stood apart from them, surrounded them, excelled them beyond measure.


This is crucially important for us in our consideration of healing, as we move forward with our plans to make a monthly healing liturgy a part of our regular community of practice here at St. James’s. Our spiritual calling in the ministry of healing is not to the magic of short-term miracles, tempting as it is to seek a sign of that kind of tangible power. We may long and cry out for physical or mental healing, as no doubt those crowds left behind in Capernaum cried out. But even if we receive no immediate dynameis, no miracle of power, the holy deeps of God’s merciful & forgiving love hold and fill us still. If we can get still enough inside to feel them and let them. Jesus’ message is to “repent,” to turn, to turn toward God, to turn into the current of those deeps, neither predicting outcomes nor giving up faith when the results aren’t what we hoped for. Our spiritual calling – in a healing liturgy or out – is to trust that the kingdom of God, God’s great Commonwealth of justice and love is near, as near to us as our breath, the Breath of the Holy Spirit. Our spiritual calling is to participate as deeply as possible – ever more deeply, if possible – in this ever-present dynamic of God’s merciful and forgiving love, even in the midst of pain and strife and even when it necessitates putting ourselves in harm’s way.

Sometimes that does make us party to some astonishing “acts of power,” and when it happens, that is a wondrous thing. More often it involves quite the opposite: it means accepting and acknowledging our own lostness, littleness and failure so that we can accompany others in their vulnerabilities and lostness and imperfections. It involves stepping outside the bounds of our competencies and our accomplishments to acknowledge and rejoice in the competencies of others, and to join our own weaknesses in solidarity with the weaknesses of others. It means letting go of any capacity for “acts of power” and pulling away to a place of stillness and smallness and letting ourselves feel how powerLESS we actually are, so that GOD can be the one with the power. That’s what Jesus was up to, withdrawing to a deserted place alone to pray. That’s what I was in search of, pulling away into the quiet of the monastery.

One more week in Epiphany, one more glorious Sunday, our annual International Sunday, in which we celebrate our broad diversity as a congregation in music and ministers and food, with Chanta Bhan our preacher and the Rev. Mary Tusuubira our presider for the Eucharist, and then we come to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent, the season of preparation for the profound feasts of Holy Week and Easter, the commemoration of Christ’s sacrifice upon the Cross and his resurrection from the dead. It will be a season in which to explore in more depth the dynamic – dynameis? – of our baptism into Christ’s love, leading us from death to life, of which any miracle of healing is merely a signpost, a way-station. But here’s my take-away from a week spent in quiet retirement in the monastery of the Society of St. John Evangelist: it is good, from time to time, simply to step out of our agency for awhile, as Jesus stepped out to the deserted place, to step aside from our “screens,” step out of the press of time and contingency and accomplishment and VISIBILITY and let ourselves be still, be small, be voiceless and silent (except for singing!), and to recover the sense so easily “shattered on the hurrying current,” that the heart of all healing – of all life – is the ever-present, ever-loving, ever-sustaining GOD.  AMEN. 

Holly AntoliniSt. James's Cambridge MA
Gamble everything for love, if you're a true human being... Half-heartedness doesn't reach into majesty.  You set out to find God, but then you keep stopping for long periods at mean-spirited roadhouses.  -- Rumi


4 Epiphany, Year B 2-1-15


Audio recording of Sermon for 4 Epiphany


©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Ps. 111; 1 Cor. 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28


Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.  Amen.


Curious that here on this Fourth Sunday of Epiphany we have for our Gospel passage this story of Jesus' authority revealed in his teaching and confirmed as he ejects the rebellious, angry spirit from the man in the synagogue, healing him and provoking amazement and bewilderment at his power among the crowd of worshiping onlookers. Curious because it arrives on the fourth of our four Sundays of Epiphany "healing liturgies," convened and led by our transitional deacon Reed Carlson.  These healing liturgies have been a pilot project of sorts that began with the premise that healing - and praying for healing - is a fundamental part of our life together as a congregation. 


Healing has been a fundamental part of Reed’s practice of faith, growing up in a Pentecostal church in Minnesota. Healing has been a fundamental part of the particular history of St. James's, which had regular healing services for a time in the living memory of our long-timers, and laying-on of hands for healing after the Eucharist long after that.  Healing has always had a fundamental role in the history of our faith, centrally important in the narratives of Jesus' own life and ministry and extending all the way back to the Jewish practice of anointing for healing long before the time of Jesus. Where this ends, we don't yet know, but given how many of you have participated in the Epiphany healing liturgies so far, Reed and I expect we will continue the healing liturgies, not every week, but perhaps once a month, into the future, with a different kind of healing as the focus each time. We have already made intercessory prayer our focus, with JT Kittredge, a member of our Intercessory Prayer team, at the first of these healing services; then prison ministry with St. James's companion & former prisoner Keora; and then end-of-life chaplaincy with Katie Rimer.  This afternoon, we will have the work of economic justice as “healing,” with Nicholas Hayes.  Perhaps after this afternoon’s, the next healing liturgy - sometime in March, to be determined - will focus on healing from trauma – personal trauma, or trauma in communities - or perhaps healing from addiction.  Stay tuned!


But in the meantime, let's take the conjunction of this Gospel story of healing and the last of our healing liturgies as an invitation to explore what healing might be, in the baptismal - the resurrectional - power of Jesus Christ in this, the season of Epiphany, the season of the epiphaneia, the “manifestation” of the nature of Jesus Christ, the Anointed One, God’s Messiah (which is the Hebrew word for “anointed one”), in whose name we anoint each person for whom we pray in the laying-on of hands for healing. If, as we proclaim in the Christian faith, Jesus embodies the transformational conjunction of the human & the divine, how can that conjunction be a healing and a transforming one in and through us?


Pondering this, I was blessed to come across an enlightening passage in a book called Our World, a book that memorializes the work of photographer Molly Malone Cook, pairing Cook’s photographs with text from Cook’s longtime partner, the poet Mary Oliver.  Oliver reflects on the heart of their fruitful love for each other over many decades:

"It has frequently been remarked about my own writings,” she writes, “that I emphasize the notion of attention. This began simply enough: to see that the way that the flicker flies is greatly different from the way the swallow plays in the golden air of summer. It was my pleasure to notice such things, it was a good first step. But later, watching Molly when she was taking photographs and watching her in the darkroom, and no less, watching the intensity and openness with which she dealt with friends and strangers too, taught me what real attention is about.  Attention without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report. An openness -- an empathy -- was necessary if the attention was to matter. Such openness and empathy M. had in abundance and gave away freely. I was in my late twenties & early thirties, and well filled with a sense of my own thoughts, my own presence. I was eager to address the world of words -- the world with words. Then Molly instilled in me this deeper level of looking and working, of seeing through the heavenly visibles to the heavenly invisibles."

[, underlining mine]

Might this be a word to us about the heart of the matter when it comes to healing?  Might we be called, not just in this season of Epiphany - the season of revelation, the season of divine manifestation - but always in our lives of seeking and serving Christ in every human being; seeking & serving Christ in ALL being, at all times, in all places – might we be called to this transformational attention, a “seeing through the heavenly visibles to the heavenly invisibles?” An attention that combines openness AND empathy for someone, no matter what their predicament, no matter how beset, how ill, how impeded, even how DYING they might be? Seeing BEYOND our own prejudices? Seeing beyond the immediately obvious to the imminently possible, the potentiality within each person?  Might we be called fundamentally in Christ to this empathic attention that reveals the particular, unique divine spark in the one attended to, their own unique capacity to respond to God's ever-proffered grace with their own creative inspiration? And mightn’t that attention itself be filled with God’s grace of healing, God’s grace of resurrection?


For if the energy of God in the world is fundamentally the energy of love, and if we participate in that divine energy when WE love, it does seem to me that our love for each other is most essentially, most particularly a matter of attention, of paying attention (praying attention?), but only if it's done in empathy, an attention based in a "for-you-ness" rather than the ever-self-regarding attention of the "selfie," the "for-me-ness" of our contemporary self-inserting, self-involved view of the world. An attention deeply curious about the other and deeply, insistently determined to SEE in the other something worth seeing, worth understanding better. What more healing thing could we do?


Of course, in this era of social media and the avalanche of interconnection that deluges our limbic system and hijacks our dopamine production, there is ever-increasingly the danger that the function of our brains will be so impeded by our constant hyper-stimulus and multitasking that we are no longer even capable of this kind of sustained and empathic attention. If so, we will miss the very divine essence of things which God so particularly wishes to reveal to us, that "incarnation" which is Jesus' fundamental gift of being. And we will miss our opportunity to offer each other healing, to offer each other the wholeness that springs from being SEEN and LOVED by another, each of us the incarnate vehicle for the Divine Other to express the all-encompassing love of God. And healing, after all, is a two-way street: if we miss attending with empathy to others, we will miss the wholeness, the healing, that redounds to us when we pay that loving attention! []


Those of us privileged to attend the healing liturgies have had this experience of slowing down and allowing ourselves to pay attention, with empathy, to one another, for just a little space, blessedly if briefly without the pings and clicks and vibrations of distracting media.  For me, an indelible memory from this quiet time together in pursuit of healing is the memory of our conversation with Keora, the woman our folks in the St. James’s Prison Ministry accompanied in her college education behind bars through the Partakers program, until she was paroled last year.  Then Prison Ministry members began a new relationship with Keora in her new life “on the outside,” as she sought work against the odds raised by the assumptions made about her by potential employers on the basis of her record of incarceration.  Talk about the destructiveness of people who refuse to pay attention with empathy to others!  Yet despite being turned down for job after job and finally having to resort to a position at McDonald’s, Keora continues her journey into wholeness, a journey whose beginning she pegs to the moment when Prison Ministry member Yvette hesitantly proposed to pray with her on a prison visit some years ago. In our Healing Liturgy, Keora spoke of how, even as she discovered, painfully, how reluctant the structures of both the prison environment and our society, post-incarceration, were to accord her any worth, to pay attention to her with any empathy whatsoever, the members of the St. James’s Prison Ministry met her with openness and empathy so that, despite being subject to the persistent indignities of prison routine and prison power relationships, Keora began to discover and trust that she herself had worth. And all the while that Keora was speaking in our Healing Liturgy that afternoon with such power and straightforwardness about her own journey toward healing, I could see our Prison Ministry founder and Partakers board member Tom Tufts welling up with tears of joy, himself clearly affirmed and in his own way healed to have been and continue to be a participant in her healing.


How wondrous and amazing to be given this healing ministry of attention! How wondrous simply to be invited into each other’s presence with openness and empathy, and to have that spring up as new life! Not that it is easy. Anyone who is attempting to practice this kind of open attention in our sped-up, frazzled-out, fragmented, opinionated and distracted time knows it is a discipleship indeed. So let us return to Mary Oliver again for the last word, a word in her poem, “Mindful” [Why I Wake Early, Beacon Press, Boston, 2004]



Every day

   I see or I hear


         that more or less


kills me

   with delight,

      that leaves me

         like a needle


in the haystack

   of light.

      It is what I was born for ---

         To look, to listen,


to lose myself

   inside this soft world ---

      to instruct myself

         over and over


in joy,

   and acclamation.

      Nor am I talking

         About the exceptional,


the fearful, the dreadful,

   the very extravagant ---

      but of the ordinary,

         the common, the very drab,


the daily presentations.

   Oh, good scholar,

      I say to myself,

         How can you help


but grow wise

   with such teachings

      as these ---

         the untrimmable light


of the world,

   the ocean’s shine,

      the prayers that are made

         out of grass? 


2 Epiphany Yr B 1-18-15


Audio recording of Sermon for 2 Epiphany 


A Sermon Preached at St. James’s Episcopal Church, Cambridge, MA

on the Second after the Epiphany (Year B), Jan 18, 2015 

1 Sam 3:1-10(11-20) | Ps 139:1-5, 12-17 | 1 Cor 6:12-20 | Jn 1:43-51

By Reed Carlson


The church where I grew up was planted in 1991.

We met in an elementary school gymnasium for the first 20 years

And at the beginning there were two pastors on staff: the senior pastor and the family pastor, a young woman named Chris.

As you might expect, growing up in this kind of church gave me a very different picture of what a church was.

We didn’t have an organ. We didn’t have pews or hymnals.

Almost everything that the church used for worship was located in the back of a trailer and there were teams of people who would rotate each Sunday morning setting up and tearing down for the Sunday morning service

They also had to set up for the church school or as I used to call it, “Kid’s Church.”

When I look back on my childhood in this community, there are a number of ways that I recognize how it has shaped me.

But what I want to tell you about this morning is my time in Kid’s Church.

The family pastor, Chris, didn’t have a lot to work with so of course she had to be creative.

And what she and her husband, Tony, came up with were puppets.

This was the early 90s. Computer animation hadn’t taken over movies and tv yet.

Sesame Street and the Muppets were still popular with kids.

So Chris and Tony (who were both very gifted craftspeople) invested a lot of their own money and time buying, building, and inventing very elaborate and professional, puppets.

They made up characters, props, sets, stages.

And since this was a new and small church, there weren’t a lot of adult volunteers available yet, so they actually trained a number of us older kids to be their team.

We would use these puppets to tell Bible stories, put on skits.

We used some published resources, but sometimes we wrote our own stuff.

A few times we put on shows for the community.

We would also travel around to other churches.

A few times we actually went to a puppet festival that was in the twin cities.

And when I look back on it now, it’s quite remarkable what Chris and Tony accomplished with a group of about 8-10 fourth and fifth graders.

I have no way of knowing this, of course, because I was a kid, but in my mind our productions were fantastic.

But as I get older, I realize that the truly remarkable thing that Pastor Chris did, wasn’t just the elaborate puppet shows.

It was the time and investment in me and the other children during this crucial stage of our lives.

From this early age, I had this sense of being involved in something much bigger than myself.

When we got together to practice we would also talk about what we were doing and why we were doing it.

And I think what impresses me most was how seriously Chris took our own opinions and experiences and emotions in this project.

When we prayed together as a group, when we read Bible stories, I always remember feeling like my experience of God was very real, and very important, and worth sharing.



Now, why am I telling you all of this?

Well actually, the rest of my sermon today I am going to perform for you with a puppet. I’ve brought one with me today and I’m just going to duck behind the lectern here and…

No, just kidding.

Actually, I’m telling you this because I think our reading this morning from the book of 1 Samuel invites us to consider the spirituality of children.

This is something that some of you folks here who work with children probably consider regularly—particularly if you volunteer with the St. James’s church school—but for the rest of us, maybe it doesn’t come up too often.

Maybe you have children, maybe you have grandchildren, maybe you’re an uncle or an aunt, or maybe you simply want to have children some day.

If so, I think it’s important for you to consider the ways in which God speaks to children, and to ask yourself how you can encourage that.

But, maybe you’re sitting here this morning and you hate kids.

Kids smell. And they’re loud.

And, I don’t know, they like Spider Man too much. I don’t know.

If so, that’s fine. Believe or not, I still think it’s important for you to consider the spiritual lives of children too. I’ll give you two reasons.

First, children are some of the most marginal people in our society.

They have very little power.

They don’t really have a voice to articulate their needs.

Social scientists tell us that they are the most likely members of society to experience abuse, neglect, and emotional damage from family dysfunction.

They suffer disproportionately in war, and in economic hard times.

They need advocates in all of us, whether we want to have kids of our own or not.

Second, you were a child once.

And it’s highly possible that you had a spiritual life then.

And maybe it wasn’t taken seriously when you were a kid.

And now that you are an adult, you continue that trend, and you deny that child in you the recognition of God’s agency in your life.

I’m going to talk a little bit more about that shortly.

But first, let’s look at the text.



Whenever I read or hear the Bible I always like to situate myself in the biblical story.

And an easy way to do that is to divide that story into five parts: Origins, Israel, Jesus, Church, and New Creation.

I’ll say it again, Origins, Israel, Jesus, Church, and New Creation.

Every text from the Christian Bible can be kind of pegged to at least one of these points in the continuum, and often more than one.

So on that timeline, our story this morning falls in the Israel category.

This is after the time of Moses and the Exodus but its before Jesus, its before even King David, though not much before.

The Israelites have come into the Promised Land, and they are in the process of forming a new nation. There is no king yet.

And in the early days of this new nation the holy shrine of God was not located in Jerusalem, it was actually located in the north at a place called Shiloh.

And the high priest, the kind of pope guy, was a man named Eli.

The story we read this morning is often titled, the Calling of Samuel.

Because Samuel would eventually become one of the most famous prophets in Israel’s history.

But in our story, Samuel is just a boy. And he works in the temple as an assistant to Eli and to the other priests.

So right at the beginning of the story we learn that the word of the LORD, and specifically visions, was very rare in those days.

This is something that we are not supposed to miss.

God chooses to break the silence by speaking to a boy.

Not to the high priest of all of Israel, but to a boy.



As the story unfolds, God speaks to Samuel three times. But Samuel doesn’t recognize it.

Developmental Psychologists tell us that children very rarely have all the cognitive tools they need to make sense of their world.

They observe things—often better than adults do—but they lack the experience and sometimes even the matured brain development to put their experiences into perspective.

So when children experience a dramatic loss, a drastic change, or any kind of trauma, they often need adults to help them do the processing.

In this particular story, Samuel hears God’s voice loud and clear but he doesn’t know the right response.

The boy goes to the high priest Eli who dismisses him initially but eventually, after the third time, he realizes that something else is going on.

To me, this makes Eli’s patience all the more impressive.

Even after being woken up by this annoying kid three times, he still has the presence of mind and the sensitivity to realize that it is God who is speaking.

He doesn’t lose his patience, instead he instructs Samuel to respond to the voice and to see what happens.



I think this is actually a very difficult thing for adults to do.

Not just because we would be annoyed about being woken up, but because Eli recognizes that Samuel is having an encounter with God that doesn’t go through him.

I think this is a tough idea for many people—particularly parents.

After all, everything that your kid encounters in their entire life has been more or less through you.

Whether it’s food, play, clothing, entertainment, education we like to think that we can kind of control that input.

But an independent experience with God?

This is something a little harder to grasp.

When we keep reading, we discover that while the experience of God is not filtered through Eli, the prophecy that Samuel receives has a lot to do with him and with his family.

In those days in Israel, the office of priest was (like most jobs) a hereditary position.

But as we discover in the chapter just before, while Eli himself seems to be a very good priest, his sons are very bad.

In fact they use their positions of power to manipulate the system of sacrifice for dishonest gain, and Eli does nothing to stop them.

I don’t think it’s an accident that we have in this text another account of children and their encounters with God.

While Eli’s two sons were undoubtedly older than Samuel, we are left wondering what kind of childhoods they had that had brought them to this point where there could be such a harsh judgment against them.

I don’t think I’m importing too much into the story if I draw parallels between Eli’s important position and the difficulties that children today face when parents are absent or disconnected from their lives—particularly their spiritual lives.

If you’ve spent very much of your life in protestant churches, you may be familiar with this kind of trope of the rebellious children of church leaders.

It’s kind of a joke but it’s also kind of true.

PKs (as they’re often called—Priests’ Kids or Pastor’s Kids) live sometimes very complicated, double lives.

Now like everyone, children are ultimately independent people who make their own decisions, and I don’t think it’s always fair to blame good parents for the bad decisions of their children.

But when I read this story I have to wonder: perhaps Eli, having watched his sons go astray, is aware of the risk of not tending to the spiritual lives of young people and this is why he is so careful in how he deals with Samuel.

It is a testament to his patience and his faith that instead of trying to correct Samuel or discipline him when he hears the bad news of the vision, he simply says, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”



Like so many of these Bible stories that some of us probably heard as kids, this story is a way of providing us with language to describe and interpret our own stories.

This narrative about Samuel is often taught in connection with the idea of calling or vocation—and I think that’s quite appropriate.

Today we often teach our children to develop valuable skills, to make goals about college or a career, to find meaningful work.

These encouragements are important and necessary, but I wonder how often we consider God’s role in shaping the vocations of our children.

How often are we willing to say, “It is the Lord, let him do what seems good to him” in regards to our children.

Perhaps we’re not even really open to the idea that our children can have genuine experiences of God at such a young age.



Speaking for myself, I can honestly say that some of the most important spiritual experiences I have had in my life happened before I turned sixteen.

One when I was four years old.

Fortunately, for me, I had people like Pastor Chris, who were willing to take these experiences seriously, and help me think about what they meant.

This morning in the gospel reading, we heard about the calling of two of Jesus’ disciples, Philip and Nathaniel.

Now, we tend to think of Jesus’ disciples as kind of mid-30s men with families, but probably most if not all of these disciples were teenagers, perhaps as young as fifteen.

How does that affect your conception of when and how God speaks and works through young people?



Thankfully, we go to a church that takes the spiritual lives of children very seriously.

I know from my conversations with the leadership of our church school and our confirmation program, and our young adult groups that these issues are very much at the forefront of their minds when they’re planning, when they’re teaching, and when they’re interacting with our young people.

But spirituality is not a one-day a week kind of thing—especially if you’re a kid.

For young people, the world can be a 24-hour a day experience of wonderment, and curiosity, and sometimes confusion.

And often it is only the families and friends that surround children who are in the position to help kids make sense of their very real, very influential, very spiritual experiences of the world.

The ministries for young people in this church can only be effective if we as a community could make the commitment and say:

yes, the spiritual lives of children matter, yes, when the children of my community are experiencing God, somehow, in some mystical, unexplainable way, my own experience of God is that much more enriched.



I have one final thought.

Some of you here this morning had a profound experience of God when you were young.

Perhaps as a teenager or adolescent, but maybe a few of you as a small child.

It could have been a time when you were wandering out in nature, or maybe an interaction with someone when there was a true spiritual connection.

Maybe when you were reading something or observing the world around you and you learned something very true about God or about God’s creation.

Maybe it was something truly mystical and unexplainable like the sort of experience that Samuel had.

But for whatever reason—perhaps it was the adults in your life at that time, perhaps it was your own maturing process—you have been taught to doubt the authenticity of that spiritual experience simply because you were young.

For whatever reason, you have come to believe that young people cannot experience God in that way, because they are naïve or uneducated or whatever.

Please listen carefully when I say this: You are wrong.

Jesus Christ was sent to reveal the true nature of God and the true nature of humanity to all people.

The spiritual experiences of an adult are no more nor less authentically spiritual or human than those of a child.

So if that’s you this morning, I think God is inviting you to revisit that experience—to reevaluate it.

We don’t necessarily have to privilege youthful experience over older perspective, but nor do I think we should ignore it.

As Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”


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