Resources

Sunday
Jan112015

1 Epiphany Year B 1-11-15

 

Audio recording of Sermon for 1 Epiphany 

 

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Genesis 1:1-5; Ps. 29:1-11; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

 

Ascribe to the LORD, you small humans, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his Name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. AMEN.

 

This is a week in which it is easy to feel quite overwhelmed by the painful course of human events and our smallness in relation to them. As a believer in democracy, it has been easy this week for me to tremble at its fragility, as gunmen kill cartoonists in broad daylight amid the urbanity of Paris and desperate Syrians are turned away from Lebanese borders because, Syrian refugees making up fully a quarter of the entire population of Lebanon, there is simply not enough social and economic fabric to cover the influx with even flimzy shelter amid the winter blizzards. It has been a week in which I feel, and I imagine many of us feel, quite powerless in relation to the terrible reaper’s blade of events.

 

In the same week, the opening of the movie Selma invites us to remember a great if also terrifying and destabilizing moment in our own history of democracy, the moment at which the tides of racial politics in our country took an important turn toward justice, a moment in which there could easily have been other, very different outcomes were it not for the toweringly visionary and compelling leadership of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a host of other women & men of color who led (often sacrificially) along with him, and I must add, were it not for the wily-coyote-like political leadership and commitment of Lyndon Baines Johnson, who fares badly in the dramatic narrative of the film but in historical fact contributed crucially to the success of the movement for the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. Small we may be, but at certain moments, any one of us can be given a power for good that affects the ages. The vision that propelled Martin Luther King came straight from his own baptism in Jesus Christ.  He called his vision “the beloved community.” Love was at its center.   Martin Luther King was passionately convinced of the worthiness of every human being to be loved, convinced of the dignity of every human being, convinced of God’s desire for our dignity to flourish, every one of us, brothers & sisters of Jesus Christ, children of God. In the strength of that vision, he said “YES!” to his extraordinary moment, not once, but over and over, as it led him deeper and deeper into the hard, frightening and sacrificial work of transforming our whole political landscape in the United States.

 

So this morning, on the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, the First Sunday after the Epiphany, we face into the strange counterpoint of truth about ourselves: our smallness and inadequacy in the face of events… and our importance, our dignity, our worthiness to be loved, our capacity to express that love transformationally in the world.  Isn’t that what baptism is all about?  Christ’s baptism is a “new beginning of Creation,” the lectionary wants us to know, as it pairs the Genesis One story of Creation with Mark’s story of Jesus’ own baptism and also pairs it with the baptizing of Gentiles into Jesus by Paul in the Book of Acts, expanding the promises of God to ALL people, not merely to the Jews – God’s “chosen people” – among whom Jesus – and Paul – were born. And Christ’s baptism is the baptism that imbued them and imbues us with the Holy Spirit, the creative Breath of God that can transform our smallness, so prone to a terrible frailty, prone to ill-informed choices and destructive deployment of what little power we have in our humanity, into God’s transformational power to imagine, to affirm, and to love.  We literally need to lose our little separate lives in order to participate together in the mighty transformative life of God.

 

I’m thinking of those two misguided young men in Paris, trying to use their little power transformatively, and completely forgetting that the outcome is dignity for all.

 

Jesus set the model, willingly offering his own little life in “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, “ says Mark, in order to become part of God’s mighty work of mercy and justice in the world. At the same time that it names our smallness and inadequacy, baptism affirms that in its power we can turn and turn again toward God – repentance, metanoia in Greek – that in its power we can release – forgive, áphesin, in Greek – whatever has marred our dignity in the past and claim our full dignity in the future, immersing ourselves ever more deeply in God’s love, love for us and through us, for all others.

 

I want to offer a parable of baptism, a story of smallness to the point of invisibility, and of dignity and capacity beyond all imagining. It’s a story I heard on “All Things Considered” Friday night, the story of Martin Pistorius.  Martin grew up in South Africa in a normal childhood, until at age 12 he had a headache that turned out to be both a rare form of meningitis and “tuberculosis of the brain.” It worsened progressively until he lost all capacity to move, even his eyeballs, and to speak.  He entered what doctors call “a vegetative state,” and he was sent home with his parents to die.  But he didn’t die. Instead, he persisted in this complete paralysis, year after grueling year. Everyone assumed he had no consciousness to speak of, since he gave no sign of any.  But inside his inert body, his brain eventually “woke up” and he became “aware of everything just like a normal person. But he couldn’t move his body.

 

Everyone was so used to him not being there that they didn't notice when he began to be present again. Though he could see and understand everything, he couldn't find a way to let anybody know. The stark reality hit him that he was going to spend the rest of his life like that - totally alone. He was trapped with only his thoughts for company. And they weren't particularly nice thoughts. ‘I will never be rescued,’ he thought. ‘No one will ever show me tenderness.’ The thoughts battered him, berated him. ‘No one will ever love me,’ he thought. ‘You are doomed.’ And, of course, there was no way to escape, take a walk or talk to a friend. ‘You will never get out,’ he thought, ‘You are powerless. You will be alone forever.’ So he figured his only option was to leave his thoughts behind, simply let them all just float by. That was his first strategy, disengaging his thoughts, and …he got really good at it. ‘You don’t really think about anything. You simply exist.’”

 

And worst: because he was in a vegetative state, his carers would leave him in front of the TV and play “Barney” re-runs by the hour, day after day.  He HATED Barney. One day, he decided he had had enough. He needed to know what time it was because if he could know what time it was, he could know when [the torture by Barney] would end! But he was rarely seated near a clock, so he would watch how the sun moved across the room or how a shadow moved throughout the day. He began to match what he saw with little bits of information he was able to collect - what he heard on the television, a nurse mentioning the time. And within a few months he could read the shadows like a clock. It was his first semblance of control. Simply knowing where he was in the day gave him the sense of being able to climb through it.

He started to take his thoughts on again. Only now, “when a dark thought came up, instead of letting it just float by he would try to find some new relationship to it. Like, one time, shortly after having the drool wiped from his chin by a nurse, he started to think, “You are pathetic.” But just then, “He happened to notice that a song was playing on the radio - Whitney Houston's ‘The Greatest Love Of All.’” In the midst of that terrible isolation – after year after year of it – the truly “baptismal” moment arrived. In the song Houston sings, “No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity because the greatest love of all is happening to me… I found the greatest love of all inside of me.”

Little by little, “Martin found a way to reframe, reinterpret even the ugliest thoughts that haunted him. Like the time his mother, in desperate frustration and thinking Martin couldn’t understand, said baldly to him, “I hope you die.” “But [unbeknownst to her,] he was conscious when his mom told him that. The rest of the world felt so far away when she said those words. But he began to wrestle with it. Why would a mother say that? As time passed, he gradually learned to understand his mother's desperation, [that] every time she looked at him, she could see only a cruel parody of the once-healthy child she had loved so much.” What an amazing capacity for compassion he forged, to be able to see his mother this way.

“And over time [as] Martin began reengaging with his thoughts, and slowly, as his mind felt better, something else happened. His body began to get better. It’s a “long story, involving inexplicable neurological developments,” but the short version is that “at age 26, Martin passed a test where he identified different objects by pointing at them with his eyes.” That was when he finally got the electronic “tools to communicate” via a computer-generated voice similar to Dr. Stephen Hawking’s. “He forges ahead,” becomes wheel-chair mobile, “gets a job at a local government office….Eventually, he scraps that job – too elementary! – and goes to college. In computer science. Starts a web company. He writes a book. He's learning to drive…He’s met a woman – a friend of his sister’s, and they’ve fallen in love and gotten married.  She says “the thing that drew her to Martin was his humor about the human condition, his frankness.” She goes on, “If I ask him anything, he'll give me an honest answer. There was no pretend. Oh, OK, well, he's in a wheelchair and he doesn't speak, but I love this guy. He's amazing. Then it just so quickly turned into love,’” she laughs. And Martin, at long last, had no trouble expressing what he felt inside.” He says, “My face would hurt from smiling so much.”

Martin Pistorius in his illness became so small and so desperately isolated that he was literally invisible even to those who loved and cared for him daily and sacrificed for him unthinkably. Yet his capacity now seems mind-blowing. He “thinks it may have been his decision to lean into those dark thoughts – to claim his dignity, as Whitney Houston told him to – that helped him to get the very best thing in his life,” his wife, his love, and his connection to and power in the world.

 

The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.” And the heavens were torn apart and “a voice came from heaven,You are my… Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’"

 

Dare we take Martin Pistorius’s story as a Word to us, a word of hope in the teeth of all that threatens our dignity; a word of power in the teeth of our weakness; and above all, a word of love in the teeth of all that is hate-filled and destructive? We may not be called to a work on the scope of Martin Luther King.  But we ARE called to our OWN scale of work to claim our own dignity and to connect to and support the dignity of others, in the power – the sometimes miraculous power – of our baptism into Christ, our brother, and our God.   AMEN.

 

Lulu Miller: “Trapped in his body for 12 years, a man breaks free” All Things Considered, 1-9-15 http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=376084137

 

Whitney Houston, “The Greatest Love of All” http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/whitneyhouston/greatestloveofall.html

 

Monday
Dec292014

Christmas Day Year B 2014

 

Audio recording of Sermon for Christmas Day

 

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Collect for 2nd Sunday of Christmas; Isaiah 52:7-10; Ps. 98; Hebrews 1:1-4; John 1:1-14 

 

Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.  AMEN.

 

Here we are, gathered in the quiet morning light after all the drama of Christmas Eve, feeling (at least in my case) slightly stunned as if we were like the shepherds, who had trailed home in wonderment after their normal life had been disrupted the night before, when the night sky over their heads erupted with angel wings and “Alleluias” propelled them out of fields and down the hills to the stable where they found the tiny infant promised to be Emmanuel, God Incarnate in human flesh, God with us, God IN us, and then woke up the next morning and wondered, “What was all THAT about???” And on Christmas morning, along comes John the Evangelist and says, “I’ll tell you!”

 

And what does John tell us of the power of the Incarnation THIS year, this year of terrible travesty, of Ebola ravaging West Africa, and Russians invading Crimea and North Koreans sabotaging Sony and the grim ISIS in Syria & Iraq, demonstrating the very worst in human behavior as if we needed reminding what the worst looks like?  How does the Lord comfort us, as Isaiah promises, this Christmas, here on the ground in the U.S., where we have had thrust into our collective consciousness the dismaying phenomenon of injustice to people of color due to a racism so endemic and systemic in our culture that too much of the time it doesn’t even rise to the level of conscious thought, but brews fear and persecution in the subconscious with a demoralizing and devastating persistence? “Ruins of Jerusalem,” indeed! How will we “break forth into singing?”

 

Let me share a story with you, a story that comes from the blog of Al Letson, playwright and – full disclosure – my daughter Tina’s boss, executive producer of the NPR program, The State of the Re:Union, which seeks to document how people transcend challenging circumstances to create community in cities and communities all around the country. “The common theme in Al’s work is his effort to bring people together. By examining difficult topics and influential historical themes, he strives to focus on our common humanity… [http://stateofthereunion.com/about/staff/]  Al, African-American, and my daughter Tina, indubitably white, are in themselves a work of reconciliation and mutual understanding as they have forged their teamwork to create radio programs that bring a message of hope and power grounded in the most concrete of human experience to their listeners. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news…” says Isaiah.

 

That said, Al also tells it “like it is,” which is part of why I trust him to tell the truth when he’s delivering hope as well as when he’s setting the record straight. In the wake of the grand jury decisions about the deaths of Michael Brown & Eric Garner, Al wrote the following:

 

At 14 or 15 years old, I was with my father when he got pulled over by a police officer. The cop, much younger than him, spoke to my dad like he was trash — I swear the cop called him boy — but my father was cool. He said "Yes sir," and "No sir" and dealt with this young cop's horrible attitude.

 

After he finished emasculating my dad, the officer let us go, but I remember how silent the car ride was the rest of the way. I could feel the anger emanating from my father. I know now how much that encounter must have hurt, but for the sake of his family, he took it. Later, my father told me how to behave when you encounter a police officer, because he wanted to keep me safe. This is America, as it is.

 

In 2001, I won custody of my oldest son; it had been a long, weird, journey. I didn't know I had a son until he was 6 years old and I was 23. Getting custody was necessary but a difficult transition for both of us. They don't have a handbook about parenting an 11-year-old child, especially when you haven't learned any skills leading to that point. [Normally,] you grow with your child and unfortunately for both him and I, we hadn't been afforded that luxury.

 

Not long after he came to live with me, he and I were driving in Jacksonville [Florida, where we live]. I stopped at a convenience store to get us a snack. An older black man, who looked homeless, stumbled into the store and slipped on the floor while talking incoherently. He must have been running from the cops because they came in behind him and started to beat the man bloody. My first inclination was to step in and stop them from hurting him so badly. But they were cops. What could I do?

 

I looked out of the window and saw my kid trying to look into the store from the car. I didn't know much about parenting at that point, but I knew he shouldn't see this. I left the soda and chips on the counter, threw my hands up and slid out of the store. We drove away and my son asked me what happened. I didn't respond, I just tried to hide the tears from him and continued to drive as the truth hit me hard: I cannot protect him.

 

I never got the handbook on how to raise a black boy in America, but I remember[ed] the words my father said to me. I took a deep breath, steadied my voice, and started telling my son what to do when confronted by the police. As I spoke, that uncomfortable feeling in my chest blossomed, squeezing my internal organs, making it hard to breathe. This is America, as it is.

 

In 2014, my now 23-year-old son called me. He had been filming (he shoots and edits videos) in downtown Jacksonville, when a police officer came up to him and started talking to him in a very disrespectful manner, clearly egging him into a confrontation. The officer was becoming more aggressive and my son was furious. I don't know if he called me for advice, or to talk him out of doing something stupid or just to vent, but my immediate reaction was anger.

 

I told him loudly, forcibly: "SHUT UP! Pack your stuff and get in your car and go home now!" I ran to my car and drove downtown, and when I got there he was gone. There were no police officers in sight, just people hanging out in Hemming Plaza. When I finally got my son on the phone, he was home, safe. I sat on a bench and could hardly breathe as that familiar pressure spread across my chest. This is America as it is.

 

Months later, Michael BrownEric Garner[Tamir Rice,] Darrien Hunt and John Crawford were all killed by police. None of them had any weapons (unless you include toy swords and fake guns). At this point, justice has not been served in any of these cases. Each time a new tragedy happens, I feel that pressure in my chest, a pain that is equal parts anger, fear and helplessness.

 

Every time I see the images on the news it reminds me of my father's story, of my story, of my children's story. It reminds me that every day in America a small part of this country dies, whenever a parent must tell a child how to "behave" to survive an encounter with police officers.

 

This is not an indictment of police officers. One of the most influential people in my life was a police officer, but we as a country have work to do. This is an indictment of a system that is clearly not working. I believe in the power of story. I have to, because on days like this, it's all I have. So I am telling my story so you might know my world. This is America, as it is, but if we look at its true reflection, we can fix it and become America, as it should be.” [Al Letson, blogging at the NPR site, Code SwitchFrontiers of Race, Culture & Ethnicity,  http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2014/12/07/369013140/this-is-america-as-it-is]

 

At Christmas, we affirm that we have seen how God is, in human flesh.  We have seen how God loves in human flesh, in the person – the vulnerable, persecuted, grace-filled, loving flesh of Jesus Christ. We have ourselves been imbued with that power to love, albeit imperfectly, nevertheless with power, because God forsook God’s own Godhead to become human and dwell among us, demonstrating our own capacity for grace & truth, if we will only claim it.  As John the Evangelist puts it, “To all who receive him… the Word gives power to become children of God.” John is not sentimental about this.  He is very straightforward: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” Like those policemen in Al’s story, we all too often do not recognize the true light in our brothers & sisters of color, any more than we recognized it in the person of Jesus. Bound up in our presuppositions, white people miss it.  Even more horrifying, experiment after experiment shows that even people of color miss the true light in EACH OTHER. That’s how deeply skewed our perspective is.

 

But John gives us the promise of the Incarnation: “What has come into being in the Word is life,” says John the Evangelist, “and the life is the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it…” The promise of the Incarnation is that IF WE WILL ONLY LOOK, WE WILL FIND GOD’S GRACE & TRUTH IN EVERYONE, EVERYONE A CHILD OF GOD. Christ, our Life, the Light in the darkness, CALLS US TO LOOK FOR THE LIGHT IN EACH & EVERY “OTHER,” and testify to it when we find it. As we WILL find it! Because our human being – EVERY human being – has been dignified by the presence of divinity in our humanity, children of God. And when we DO take the time and bend our attention to look for that divine light in our fellow humans, it will brighten and shine in them.  Despite that tight recurring anger in his chest, Al Letson has been looking for and finding it in people and communities all over this country. It’s our job to join him in the search, in the expectation of finding Jesus, not in the stable, but everywhere we look. So let us pray again the words of our Collect of the Incarnation:  “O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. [Book of Common Prayer, page 251]

 

 

Monday
Dec292014

Christmas Eve Year B 12-24-14

 

Audio recording of Sermon for Christmas Eve 

 

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Isaiah 9:2-7; Ps. 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20

 

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sins and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell.  Oh, come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel! AMEN.

[Phillips Brooks, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” written 4 years after the founding of St. James’s]

 

This is a moment of solemn joy in the life of this congregation, and not just because we are celebrating the birth of our savior Jesus Christ, God become human flesh, God stepping out of God’s Godness into our limited, short-lived, all-too-short-sighted human being – and stepping into humanity at the “wrong end” of the economic and political spectrum, too: the end of the powerless, the disenfranchised, the refugee, the undocumented immigrant, the voiceless, the invisible - to prove that God’s love can still shine in the dross and confusion and terrible vulnerability and uncertainty of this mortal life.  This, this very hour, also marks the 150th anniversary of another birth, a lesser light but one, God willing, that reflects the divine Light of Christ: the life of the Body of Christ that is St. James’s Episcopal Church.

 

As our putative Parish Historians John Hixson & Eric Maynard like to point out, we began life in the last winter of the Civil War, on December 24th, 1864, four days after General Grant’s army had taken the city of Savannah, Georgia, on a snowy night, in a congregation gathered in the room over Atwill’s Store – lit only by kerosene lamps, as the gas had gone out, the first of many “energy crises” in the life of St. James’s! – in what our 1904 History of St. James’s Cambridge calls “the moral wilds” of North Cambridge, the neighborhood that served as the stockyards to the City of Boston.  Cattle driven in on what later became the commuter rail-line were penned right here and slaughtered and tanned and cut up into what are famous as “porter house steaks,” named after the Porter House hotel on the square. It was a rough hard-working neighborhood, a neighborhood, so thought the evangelical “Church Union” members of Christ Church in the more gentrified Harvard Square and of Emmanuel Church Newbury St., who came to found this congregation, that needed praying for, and praying with. We North Cantabrigians were apparently much in need of hearing the Good News, prone as we may have been to offsetting the numbing cold and tough, odoriferous, ungrateful work of maneuvering cattle with obscenities and a nip too much of liquid courage.  Moreover, some of us were probably “out-of-towners,” cattle-drovers, “furriners” with leather-working skills; who knows IF or WHAT we believed? The work was low-skill and low-pay, life was hard & Sunday was not a “day of rest,” but the day of preparation before Monday Cattle-Trading Day. Undoubtedly, redemption was called for!

 

In the wider scope of things American in 1864, redemption was called for too, and hope may have been hard-come-by, at least in the previous summer when the Church Union was laying plans to evangelize Porter Square, and when the Northern Union soldiers looked to be losing the Civil War to the Southern Confederacy, or at any rate, trapping the country in the seemingly endless degradation of a dragged-out and devastatingly bloody & costly war of attrition. But then General Sherman turned the tide by sacking Atlanta in the fall, and despite everyone’s prognostications, Abraham Lincoln was re-elected in November, and the abolitionist agenda of emancipation was given the go-ahead once again.  That Christmas Eve congregation over Atwill’s Store almost surely reflected New England’s long leadership on the issue of the abolition of slavery, even as it almost surely was an entirely white congregation. There would have been prayers of rejoicing indeed that the Union was like to be saved, and that the slaves were like to be freed for good and all. But there would also have been little idea of how very resistant the country’s white majority – Yankee or Confederate – would prove to be to the ACTUAL acceptance of people of color as full human citizens, deserving of the right to vote and the right to equal education and equal economic opportunity alongside whites.

 

Twenty years later, the time came to build a church big enough to hold the burgeoning congregation and the “corner lot” was purchased – that “corner lot” that had housed the tavern where British soldiers, so the legend goes, had quaffed their last before heading to Lexington and their encounter with the Minutemen; Miss Meacham’s “corner lot” behind which the entrepreneurial congregation had erected their parish house and first-ever church gymnasium next to their first little wooden Carpenter Gothic church on Beech St., only to find they’d unintentionally coopted 18 inches of that “corner lot,” and when they tried to treat to purchase just those 18 inches to make things right, Miss Meacham refused, and challenged them instead to buy the whole corner, though they had no idea where the money would come from for the land alone, let alone the huge magisterial church it called for. And lo and behold, forward came “the widow of a wealthy merchant,” the redoubtable and generous Mary Longfellow Greenleaf, friend of then-rector the Rev. Edward Abbot, offering the parish $25,000 to build their church.  And build it they did, never asking themselves where that widow’s money came from. It wasn’t until nearly 130 years later, in 2008, when you and I embarked ourselves upon the current equally venturesome, hopeful and ground-breaking campaign to build a new parish house as part of a condominium complex on the neighboring car wash and across the back of that very lot where that ground-breaking first parish house had been built, a new parish house surrounding and embracing into the center of our life the Knights Garden we had planted in 1915 in place of the decrepit old stables that shouldered our new stone church, with the help of the Masons’ Knights Templar, that Charlie Wibiralske, our advisor from Episcopal City Mission, researched Mary Greenleaf’s money and found that her deceased husband James had accumulated it in the cotton trade in New Orleans in the 1850’s – the days leading up to the Civil War, when Southern slave labor made many Northerners like James – abolitionists though they may have been – wealthy off of King Cotton.

 

And those Knights Templar of the Masons? What were they doing helping a Christian congregation build a garden?  Turns out most of our St. James’s men were Masons back in that day, up until the Rev. Sam Abbott – no relation of Edward, but our Rector in the 1980’s – told the men they couldn’t be both Episcopalians and Masons! Yet it was the Masons who were the early adopters of men of color into their ranks when most fraternal organizations were keeping a strict color line, and who helped St. James’s wake up to our own “color line” in the 1960’s.  In fact it was white Newfoundlander Vera June Fifield and African-Jamaican-American Ena Gladden who teamed up in the middle ‘60’s to go door-to-door in the neighborhood and breach our own racial bias as a congregation, reaching out to the Maynard family from Barbados, lifelong Anglicans but literally turned away from our doors when they first visited by ushers who suggested that “their” church must be the Cornerstone Baptist one, since that congregation was African-American.  And so out of that anguished disenfranchisement, healed by the hand of interracial friendship between June and Ena, was birthed the great blessing of our Caribbean-American membership in St. James’s congregation. Not only did acolyte Eric Maynard’s father eventually get elected to the Vestry, but Eric’s grandmother is literally built into our building, shown talking with Jesus in the clerestory stained-glass windows on the Mass Ave side of the nave!

 

Why am I telling you all these stories on this wondrous Christmas Eve, the 150th year of St. James’s life in Christ here at the corner of Beech St. and Mass Ave? First, because if the Gospel, the Good News of Christmas in Luke tells us anything, it is that God acts not in some rarified realm of purity but IN HISTORY, in the mess and turmoil of things going wrong and things going right, preparing the way of the Lord using the clueless and the prejudiced as well as the enlightened and the wise, working the work of God’s Kingdom, God’s Commonwealth in the very earthy and unsanctified stuff of our ordinary human lives, redeeming our mistakes in ways we could never have imagined, rending and smashing us up in our cruelties to break open our hardened souls so that they can bring forth the tender shoots of redemption, including the weak and the strong together in the work.  It’s all very well for Titus to say in our second reading, harking ahead on this Feast of the Nativity to the story of the Crucifixion, that Jesus “gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.” But the good news is, Jesus isn’t waiting for us to be purified.  Emmanuel, God is WITH US in our short-sightedness.  Emmanuel, God is WITH US in our bull-headedness.  Emmanuel, God is WITH US in our self-servingness.  Emmanuel, God has been WITH US THROUGHOUT OUR COMPLEX HISTORY as St. James’s Church, as we did good and failed to do good, saw the possibilities and failed to see the possibilities, and sometimes acted in blindness but in ways that opened up new sight, new hope, new opportunity for justice to be done in more ways than we could ask or imagine.

 

In and through all this history, this parish, born in abolitionist New England and yet housed in the Neo-Romanesque beauty of this sanctuary made possible by the fraught and repellent economics of slave labor, has been given an immense and deeply challenging gift – a charism, as it is in Greek – despite our many sins of omission and commission – a charism of hospitality to the whole varied wideness of God’s beloved human children. In the midst of our Pie Socials and Gilbert-and-Sullivan musicals, we funded an Outreach Ministry as early as 1890, staffed first by “Parish Visitor” Sister Dorothy and then by the redoubtable Mrs. Luke H. (Mary) Whitney, and we supported Ugandan priest the Rev. William Bamutungire during his studies at Episcopal Theological School in the 1960’s, the first of many, many precious friends and fellow pilgrims over the years from the continents of Africa, Asia & South America who have shared their prayers and gifts with ours. This charism – this gift and calling of ours – is a gift of the Incarnation, a call to open our eyes to God’s handiwork, God’s creative power, God’s IMAGE in ALL PEOPLE. It’s a call we carry forward in the work of our Anti-Oppression Team, our Prison Ministry and Food Ministries, our Welcoming Ministry & Church School, our Missions Committee.  God willing, it is the call we’ll carry forward in our new Parish House, where we can dedicate ourselves to make its use as socially impactful as possible. 

 

Rejoicing in the power of the Incarnation in the ministry of this congregation, let us close this 150th Christmas Eve sermon with the 100th Anniversary Prayer, written by our then-Rector Russell Way:  

 

O Almighty God, Our Heavenly Father, who would have us give thanks for all things, dread nothing but separation from thee and would have us cast all our cares on thee, who carest for us, preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties. Give us a positive vision of thy love and goodness.  Grant that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of thy love which is manifested unto us in thy Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord. Direct us in all our deliberations that we may be used as vessels of thy work here.  May our lives set forth and accomplish thy purpose for the children of [all humanity] in this community [and around the world]. Open our minds, our hearts, and our wills that they may be used for this purpose.  Bless the members of this congregation that they may be so enlightened in this Anniversary Year that thy will and purpose may be their will and purpose.  Send down upon us thy Holy Spirit to direct us in all things, through Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen.

[The Rev. Russell Way, from 1864-1964 Centennial Year St. James’s Parish]

 

Monday
Dec222014

1 Advent Year B 11-30-14

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Isaiah 64:1-9; Ps. 80:1-7; 16-18; 1 Cor. 1:3-9; Mark 13: 24-37

 

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind-- just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you-- so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  [1 Cor. 1:4-5]

 

We have arrived again at the beginning, at the season of Advent with which we open the church year. It's a dramatic irony that we begin the church year at the end of the chronological year, promising light and fruition just when, at least in this northern part of the world, the light is palpably diminishing day by day, dwindling to its minimum just three weeks from now.

 

As Anglican priest & poet T.S. Eliot reminds us in his fourth of The Four Quartets, Little Gidding,

What we call the beginning is often the end

And to make an end is to make a beginning.

The end is where we start from.

 

Today we are making a beginning not just of the church year but also of the Christian life of small Daniella Dierdorff, whom we will baptize today. Baptism, like Advent, is full of irony: we drown the baptized into life, just as we begin our year at the end. And the ironies continue. We want to name and distinguish this small person; yet at the same time we want to subsume her as only one member among many, all of them equally important in the Body of Christ.  We long for her to become wise.  Yet in Christ, says Paul in the First Letter to the Corinthians, foolishness is the only wisdom, and powerlessness the only power, when and if it opens to the loving and transformational power of God.  We want Daniella to be safe, so we kill her into Christ!  We want to protect her to SEAL her in Christs protection. So we invite her into the absolute vulnerability of the Cross.

 

Such is the baptismal life.  Such is the Advent life!  It is a life lived between the already of Jesus loving and saving work among us and the not-yet of Christs reconciling, peaceful Reign, still only just flowering tentatively amid the forces of destruction all around us.  Baptism is a once-only moment in Daniellas life, complete in itself, never needing to be repeated. And yet, it will take her whole lifes practice of the Christian life to explore widely enough and deeply enough to begin to glimpse the fullness of what she has become in her baptism: Jesus own sister, imbued with the capacity to love which makes others around her flourish.

 

When my children were small, my friend the painter and printmaker Alan Magee gave us a print he'd made of a very small and vulnerable-looking boy in a sailor suit, dwarfed under an immense and immensely beautiful night sky.  We were a bit in awe at possessing such a work by such a well-known artist and asked Alan how we should frame it.  No! he told us, DONT frame it!  Put it up on the refrigerator with the girls school art! So we did.  For years, it stayed there on the refrigerator door, fraying and curling at the edges just like Tessas neighboring finger painting, and faintly spattered with grease, and every time I walked by my refrigerator, It was an Advent reminder to me just how very small and vulnerable and faintly spattered with grease I really am, no matter how taken up with my own importance at any given moment, and how immense is the wonder of Gods universe and God's eternity around me.

 

This is the smallness and the immensity into which we invite Daniella in her baptism today, this First Sunday in Advent.  This is the life of irony and paradox, the beginning that is the fruit of ending, the life that springs from death, the protection of absolute vulnerability.  But instead of breeding cynicism, the irony & paradox of Advent breed hope.  We do not know what lies ahead.  We CANNOT know it. And the uncertainty often seems dire, especially in a world of ISIS and ebola and nuclear weaponry and melting ice caps. Yet at the same time, because this is Gods beloved universe, encompassed by Gods care and concern for every minute living creature, we can EXPECT justice.  We can EXPECT shalom, the peace of wholeness.  We can EXPECT healing and reconciliation and love. Amidst all the strangeness, we can EXPECT to find ourselves at home.

 

Beware, keep alert! counsels Marks Jesus (or whomever may have been redacting Marks Gospel for later concerns this gospel passage in Mark seems to be made up of bits and pieces from many possible origins, assembled together to form an apocalyptic warning that may or may not have come directly from Jesus). Time is sifting away from us at the seemingly accelerating pace of glacial melt. But God is present to us, Emmanuel, "God with us," as we will shortly affirm at the Feast of Christmas.  And if we tune our spirits to Gods own celestial music, we will hear the echo of that Advent promise, anywhere, at any time. If we bend our spirits, we can lean into Gods love instead of the destructive and divisive dynamics that surround us, and collaborate with Gods intention of shalom.

 

Like the young American Peter Kassig, who traveled to Syria to serve the well-being of a people being devastated by their own government, and who served those strangers in the most elemental way, bringing food to those who hunger and binding up the wounds of the broken-bodied and the broken-hearted, we can lend ourselves our whole selves to be part of Gods goodness even in the midst of the worst destruction imaginable. Such is the promise of Advent, and the promise of baptism. Yes, Peter Kassig was horrifically beheaded for his effort.  But out of the terrible ashes of that destruction rose the beautiful and hopeful prayer of exiled Sunni imam, Sheikh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi, speaking at Kassigs funeral, speaking up in a voice of Islam too often overlooked and suppressed by a media too preoccupied with the most flamboyant of religiously-sanctioned violence instead of attending to the religious voices for healing and tolerance. Perhaps you missed al-Yaqoubi's prayer amid all the "chatter" and "noise" of our 24-hour news cycle. I was blessed to catch it, firmly expressing thanksgiving for an American willing to give himself for the well-being of Syrian Muslims, and firmly expressing a Muslim hope for an Advent vision of reconciliation between Sunni and Shia, Sufi and Yasidi, let alone Muslims and Christians, when at last the Syrian War will end.

 

Muslim though he is, Sheikh al-Yaqoubi was naming the kairos of Advent, the kairos of baptism kairos, the Greek word meaning opportunity time, in contrast to clock and calendar time or linear time, eternal time, the time in which Peter Kassig lived and served and into which we are inviting Daniella today, the eternity in which everything is NOW, the NOW of Gods love, the already and the not-yet folded into one,

A condition of complete simplicity

 (Costing not less than everything), says T.S. Eliot in Little Gidding, in which

... all shall be well and

And all manner of thing shall be well…”

 

In her baptism, we will pray for Daniella to have a spirit to know and love God," paired with the gift of joy and wonder in all Gods works. [Holy Baptism, Book of Common Prayer, p. 308] These two gifts, hand in hand with one another, freighted upon her inquiring & discerning heart and her courage to will & to persevere, will see Daniella into many moments of kairos, moments of opportunity to be the priest of Christs goodness and affiliation in a divided and broken world. Our prayer for her is that she will allow herself to be sustained by the Holy Spirit in which we are sealing her in her baptism today, sustained in her capacity to grow into Christ's loving offering of himself.

 

Well give the last Advent word in this first Advent sermon to another Anglican priest-poet, the Welsh poet R.S. Thomas, in his poem "The Bright Field:"

 

I have seen the sun break through

to illuminate a small field

for a while, and gone my way

and forgotten it.  But that was the pearl

of great price, the one field that had

the treasure hid in it. I realize now

that I must give all that I have

to possess it.  Life is not hurrying

 

on to a receding future, nor hankering after

an imagined past.  It is the turning

aside like Moses to the miracle

of the lit bush, to a brightness

that seemed transitory as your youth

once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

 

            [http://emilyspoetryblog.com/2013/10/23/the-bright-field-by-r-s-thomas/]

 

A blessed Advent full of the eternal NOW of God's love, to Daniella and to us all! Amen.

 

As you know, you who have been walking the long journey of my parents dying with me over the last three years, last Friday was the first anniversary of my mothers death, after two-and-a-half years of her waiting for death, confined to her bed.  Yet in some ways, those two-and-a-half very quiet years were some of the most vibrant of her life, quite apart from her diet of avocados and lemon vinaigrette! 

Tuesday
Dec162014

He Came To Testify To The Light

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

on the Third Sunday of Advent (Year B), Dec 14, 2014 

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 | Psalm 126 | 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 | John 1:6-8,19-28

By Reed Carlson

reed_carlson@mail.harvard.edu

 

 

1.
When I started seminary I got this part-time job at one of those trendy coffee shops.
Maybe you know the kind of place I’m talking about.
These are the kind of people for whom Starbucks is lowbrow.
They treated coffee like a fine wine.
No syrups, no decaf.
There was milk but only whole milk,
Because skim was … too mainstream or something
And they would make designs in the top of your cappuccino—like a leaf, or a clover, or a heart.
I wanted to work at this place for two reasons.
First, I genuinely enjoyed good coffee and still do. It’s kind of a hobby of mine.
And second, I wanted to learn how to pour hearts into lattes and impress girls.
Because even then I knew that when you tell people you want to be a priest—it’s not really the best pickup line.
So anyway I got the job and they put me on the evening shift
And the evening shift at a coffee shop that doesn’t sell decaf is like a graveyard, right? It’s empty most of the time.
But there was one regular who would always come in on my shifts. His name was Jan.
And Jan was a unique guy because he was also preparing for ordination.
He was studying to become a Zen Buddhist Priest.
And he would come in at night when it was slow and we would talk about our programs and what we were doing, what books we were reading—stuff like that.
One night he came in and he was reading this newspaper article about a some recent studies that had been done on the American religious environment.
One of the questions was about the attitudes of American Christians towards other religions.
And something like 50+ percent of Christians had said that they believed that it didn’t matter what religion you were—Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist—when you died, you would go to heaven.
And Jan really got a kick out of this because he didn’t believe in heaven.
In fact for him (and it sounds like for certain kinds of Buddhists), the idea of post-mortem bliss is actually the exact opposite of what he believed.
Jan didn’t really want to go to heaven.
And the point that he was making to me—and what we ended up talking about that night—was that he understood that these folks were trying to be nice.
They were trying to be accommodating of other religions.
But in their nicety, in their unwillingness to kind of overstep their place, they actually ended up erasing a crucial distinction in another religion.
It kind of backfired.
2.
Now, this morning I don’t really want to talk about what happens to Buddhists after they die, mostly because, I don’t know.
I don’t even really want to talk about what a Christian should or should not believe about that question.
(Though it’s a very important question and I don’t think we should ignore it.)
But I actually just want to start with something much more simple.
I want to talk about that motivation, that unwillingness to put our beliefs too far out there...
to risk imposing our own faith on someone else, even to the point where we kind of confuse what our own faith is and what someone else’s is.
Now, this hesitancy it makes perfect sense.
We live in a complicated world, with lots of different belief systems.
More than ever before in human history, we’ve become aware of how disagreements between different groups can result in conflict and violence and suffering.
Further, we’ve all been preached at about something. If it’s not religion, it’s gluten free, or a fad workout program, or a TV series.
And nobody wants to be that guy, right?
And so, I think, because we’re so aware of all of this we just want to be as unassuming in our faith as possible, right?
Just live and let live.
I think most of us would probably prefer that.
I know I would.
3.
The problem, as I see it, is our reading this morning.
Right there in the Bible, we’ve got people like John the Baptist.
That guy was marching around Judea telling people—Jews, Romans, whoever would listen—to repent of their sins.
And it wasn’t just him, when we read the book of Acts, we see how Christianity was and is a missionary religion.
So it seems like evangelism is an inescapable component of being a Christian.
4.
So the question I want to know is:
Is it possible to stay rooted in a faith that is unashamed to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus while at the same time acknowledging that we now live in a very complicated, pluralistic world.
Can we acknowledge that other people have genuine encounters with the divine—encounters that we don’t always understand—while at the same time, can we speak honestly about the ways that God is and has been real in our lives?
Is it possible to walk that line?
Obviously I’m not going to be able to completely answer this question in my remaining time this morning.
But I do believe that our reading from the Gospel of John this morning can give us a start in how we think about this very difficult question.
So let’s take a look.
 
5.
As Judith pointed out last week during her sermon, John the Baptist shows up in each of the four gospels.
Jesus and John the Baptist were somehow related.
(Its possible that their mothers were cousins but this is not clear.)
So it should come as no surprise that they had similar messages about repentance and about the kingdom of God.
Now something that might be lost on us today but that would not have been lost on ancient hearers of this text was that during this time among many Jews there was an enormous amount of expectation for a coming Messiah.
This messiah was believed to be not just a religious figure but also a political figure who would liberate the Jews from domination by the Roman Empire.
It’s quite a fascinating study, because if you study ancient Jewish texts like I do, you discover within this period of a few hundred years, a bunch of figures—both before and after Jesus—who claimed to be the messiah.
And in the popular imagination of the time, the portrait of this messiah was painted from various Old Testament scriptures—many of them are the ones that we read during this season of Advent.
So when the religious authorities ask John, “Are you the Messiah?” there is a “here we go again” quality to the question, that isn’t necessarily obvious just from hearing it read in church.
The same thing goes for the Elijah question. According to the book of 2 Kings in the Old Testament, Elijah never died.
He was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire.
Some of you maybe know this story.
This is somewhat unusual, even for the Bible, and so some Jews at that time thought that Elijah would return some day and lead them to freedom.
Finally, when they ask John, “Are you the prophet?” They don’t mean just any old prophet.
They are referring to a specific passage in Deuteronomy, way back when the Israelites were in the wilderness.
In this passage Moses says to the people of Israel, someday God will raise up a prophet like me.
So during this time, there were some Jews that expected this messiah to be a prophet like Moses, and lead the Jews to a new promised land.
6. 
Now this is all very interesting to people like me who study this sort of stuff, but the point I want you to pick up on is that to each question, John says “no.”
“No, I am not the messiah. No, I am not Elijah. No, I am not the prophet like Moses.”
Instead, I am here to point to the one you’re looking for.
I’m here to get you ready.
This, I think, is an essential part of what God calls us to as Christians.
This is evangelism.
Now we often think of the evangelist as someone who makes others convert to their religion.
In the tradition that I grew up in, Pentecostalism, I often heard people talking about how many conversions they had had at their church, or at a revival over the weekend, or how many they had saved on a recent trip to the grocery store.
And without doubting their genuinely good intentions or the possibility that they probably had real and positive effects in some people’s lives,
Even then I found myself wondering when I heard this kind of talk, who is it that’s doing the saving here, is it God or is it you?
You see, There is no ambiguity when we read about John the Baptist. He says, “I’m baptizing with water but the one who comes after me, he’s actually the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”
7.
This “getting people ready” idea that John embodies, I think it can be helpful for us as we reflect on that question of how to live an evangelistic faith in a time of pluralism.
Our job as Christians it’s not really to convert people, it’s not to make others come around to our way of seeing the world.
We can’t baptize in the Holy Spirit. Only God can do that.
Instead, I believe that we are called to live our lives in such a way that we help others around us be prepared for God to work in them however God will.
As is almost always the case, when God is at work in our lives or the lives of those around us, it happens in ways that we can’t expect and certainly shouldn’t try to control.
8.
So what does that look like, how does that work?
In these last few minutes I want to share with you two ways, that I think we can prepare the way for Jesus in our world.
First, over the past year or so that I have been attending St. James’s Episcopal Church, many of you have told me incredible stories about the things that God has done, and is doing in your lives.
There are some powerful stories of God’s provision, of God’s healing, of God’s love, and kindness in this room right now.
And the thing is, you don’t even know how these stories have encouraged me, and blessed me.
By telling me these stories, you have helped prepare me for ways that God could work in my life.
The problem is that I’m a minister, and so to some degree, I’m the kind of person you’re “supposed” to tell this stuff to.
But I so wish, that we as a community could start telling these stories to each other and to those around us more often.
This is called “testimony.”
It doesn’t have to confrontative, it doesn’t have to come with any threats or arguments.
It’s simply telling the story of what God has done in our lives.
For some of us, that makes us nervous, either because we are embarrassed to admit that we are spiritual beings, or we are afraid of seeming unintellectual or superstitious, or maybe because we are afraid of imposing our beliefs on others.
If you feel that way this morning, that’s fine. I understand. I’ve felt that way too.
But believe me when I say that you and I are surrounded by people who could really use a powerful story about God right about now.
And sometimes I think God is calling you to tell it.
You don’t even have to go out of your way to find opportunities to tell these stories, if you just go through life with an open heart, the opportunities come, they just come.
So let me encourage you this morning, to share your testimony. Maybe say a prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to keep you aware and ready for situations when it would be appropriate to share your story of what God has done in your life.
You’re not converting anyone. You’re preparing the way for God to do whatever God is going to do.
8.
Here’s the second way, and then I’m done.
Another way that we help prepare those around us for God to work is by confronting barriers to God’s kingdom.
And right now is one of those rare moments in the public consciousness of a society when we have a communal reality check about significant barriers in our common life together.
As a nation, we are beginning to acknowledge an uncomfortable truth about ourselves: that pervasive, systemic racism continues to plague our nation, 150 years after the abolition of slavery and 50 years after the civil rights movement.
And we as Christians, flawed though we are, without denying our complicity in the problem, nevertheless have an opportunity to live our lives in such a way that we can point to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the solution.
We know that we can’t fix it on our own.
We see the consequences of sin in our justice system, in our economics, in the way our differences are portrayed in the media but nevertheless we have the opportunity to claim to prepare the way of the Lord in our society by confronting these barriers of prejudice, of hate, of distrust, and of sin in our communities.
Because that is what we are called to do.
That’s the other way of sharing your testimony.
We can point to Christ not just by telling our story, but by the way we live our lives.
You’re going to find out more about some concrete ways to do just that as our service continues this morning.
Let us pray,
Holy God, this morning we remember that we ourselves are not the light. But like John the Baptist may we testify to the light through our words and through our lives. 
Amen.

 

Monday
Oct272014

IF YOUR PRESENCE WILL NOT GO, DO NOT CARRY US UP FROM HERE- Sept 19, 2014 sermon 

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

on the Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost (Year A), Sept 19, 2014 

Exodus 33:12-23 | Psalm 99 | 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 | Matthew 22:15-22

By Reed Carlson

reed_carlson@mail.harvard.edu

 

1.

Not too long ago my very first girlfriend ever sent me a friend request on Facebook.

I’ll call her Sarah though that is not her real name.

I hadn’t seen or heard from Sarah since high school, so of course I was curious.

It turns out she went to college in Iowa. She got married.

Nothing terribly interesting or scandalous to report.

Nevertheless, I cringed a little when I realized who she was.

You see after all these years, I’m still a little embarrassed of how our whole relationship went down.

I haven’t told this story to too many people, so naturally when I thought of appropriate places to work through mortifying moments from adolescence, Sunday morning at St. James’s seemed like the obvious place.

We were in 7th grade and we were in a play together at Dakota Hills Middle School.

I don’t remember what the show was or what part I had but what I do remember is that everyone in the show was pairing off.

It seemed like every week there was some new couple.

It was like a disease spreading through the junior high cast.

And I remember being fascinated by this.

By today’s standards, I think I was a pretty naïve seventh grader.

But I had no idea what one was supposed to do with a girlfriend.

I’m the oldest child in my family, so my notion of dating was largely a hybrid of stuff I’d seen on the Disney channel and Old Testament Bible stories.

To be honest if you asked my wife, I don’t think she would say I’ve progressed much further beyond that.

But what I did know was that having a boyfriend or girlfriend somehow changed people. Fundamentally. It was like a superpower.

So after a few months of this, my last chance came at the cast party after our last show.

I finally worked up the courage to ask a girl out.

I picked Sarah mostly because another girl who I actually had a crush on, said that we would be cute together.

I remember it quite vividly. She was eating popcorn. I was holding a can of Mountain Dew.

I said, “So do you want to be my girlfriend or something?” And she said, “Sure.”

We hung out a bit at the party. I think we even held hands.

And that night I went home knowing that I had a girlfriend.

I had been ontologically changed.

I then proceeded to completely ignore her for an entire summer.

She would call my house. I wouldn’t answer the phone.

One time she left a message with my mom asking if I wanted to ride bikes.

When my mom asked me who Sarah was, I claimed to have no idea.

When I saw her at school the following year, I explained to her that, you know, things probably weren’t going to work out.

We had different life goals and we had to think about the long term.

 

2.

This is perhaps one of the cruelest things I think I’ve ever done.

And when I look back on it, I just cringe.

I have no idea why I did anything of these things.

But I think that is often the case with adolescents—they are difficult to understand (I see some parents nodding).

But one thing that I think was true about me then was that I assumed that having a girlfriend would somehow fundamentally change who I was.

And I wanted to experience that.

I wanted that reputation, I wanted that identity.

I wanted to know what it felt like.

But I didn’t really want to be too invested in it.

Specifically, I didn’t want the relationship part. I just wanted the status.

And because of these kind of mixed desires, I ended up hurting someone.

 

3.

Our story this morning from Exodus is another story about a relationship—far more intimate than the one I had with my first girlfriend

—but like it, this relationship in Exodus was also damaged by a reluctance to invest.

It’s the relationship between God and God’s people—the Israelites.

This is also one of those stories from the Old Testament where you really need the whole context in order to make sense of it.

If you’ve been coming to church the last few weeks you know that we’ve been tracing the story of the Israelites through the wilderness.

Two weeks ago they received the law at Mount Sinai.

This is a section of the Bible that begins with the ten commandments.

Then last week, we heard the story of the golden calf.

It seems that as Moses was up on the mountain receiving the law from God, the people became impatient and made two calves out of gold.

They proclaimed that these were the gods who had brought them out of slavery in Egypt, and then they declared a festival.

This was all the more scandalous because the ten commandments begin with God saying you shall have no other gods before me and you shall not make any graven images.

So now, this week, we encounter the aftermath of this, really, betrayal by the Israelites.

And in the first part of this chapter that we didn’t read, God says to Moses:

“I cannot go with you the rest of the way to the promised land.

This people is too stubborn, I am too angry, I cannot go any further.

However, I know that I promised your ancestors that I would keep you safe, that I would deliver you, that you would inherit this land.

So, I’m going to send an angel with you instead to do everything I promised that I would do.

But I. I cannot go with you.”

 

4.

It is a fascinatingly sparse conversation in the Bible.

We don’t know a lot about what God is thinking, but I think scripture invites us to wonder.

Other parts of the Old Testament, particularly the prophets, uses the metaphor of a parent and a child to describe the relationship between God and Israel.

When Israel is unfaithful, we read in the prophet Hosea that God says, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. / It was I who taught Ephraim to walk [this is another word for Israel in Hosea]

It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. / I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. / I was like those who lift infants to their cheeks, I bent down to them and I fed them.

Interestingly, in these verses it sounds like God’s feelings have been hurt.

The Old Testament God often has this reputation for being angry, and admittedly we have numerous stories about God’s anger in both the Old and the New Testaments.

But Hosea describes that anger is that off a mother bear protecting her cubs.

So when we come back to this question of why God cannot go any further with Israel in the wilderness,

I believe it is because God is heartbroken.

 

5.

The idea of a heartbroken God is not always an easy concept for us to accept.

I remember when I was a teenager, I got into an argument with my mother.

And we were both very angry. We were shouting.

And I said something very hurtful.

And she started crying and she abruptly left the room.

And in that moment I was so surprised, and I felt very confused and very powerful in a way that I did not want to feel powerful.

I realized that my mom could be hurt. That, in fact, I could hurt her.

She was not immune anymore.

And that was terrifying.

 

6.

After God makes this proposition to Moses.

The way that the author has kind of arranged these stories, we have something that could be interpreted as a kind of flashback to a time before the golden calf.

Perhaps even before Sinai, when the Israelites had just started in the wilderness.

It’s a story about the way things used to be.

It seems that Moses used to actually meet God in a tent outside of the camp.

These stories tell us that the Mount Sinai was surrounded by this billowing cloud that was cloaking God’s presence.

Well this cloud used to descend on this tent.

And Moses would go into this thing and the Bible says that he would see God “face to face.”

This is remarkable because just a handful of verses later on, in our reading this morning, God says to Moses “you cannot see my face.”

No one can see my face and live.

That intimacy of the tent and the cloud it’s been broken.

 

7.

This is a pattern that we see throughout the Bible.

One of the consequences of human sin is broken intimacy with God.

In the Adam and Eve story, the first sin results in the loss of the intimacy of the garden, where God used to walk—physically walk—with the first humans in the cool breeze of the evening.

Right before the flood story, we read that God is sorry—God experiences regret—for having ever created humanity, because sin has become so destructive.

And so what is amazing for me when I read this story is that God gives Moses and Israel the option of carrying on without that intimacy.

They still get the land. They still get the security in the wilderness. They still get what they bargained for.

It’s like my relationship with my first girlfriend. They still get the status and the special feelings

But they don’t have to deal with any of the messy, complicated, energy-sucking relationship stuff.

 

7.

Many of you know that in our lives, it’s often possible to be in relationships like this, where you get the status and the identify but you don’t really have to be invested.

In fact this is something very easy to do in our relationship with God.

We can go church, we can consider ourselves to be Christian. And what’s great is we get that status, that identity, just automatically through God’s grace.

But some of us never invest in that relationship afterwards.

This can be a relationship with God, but it can also be a relationship with your community.

You can go years, an entire lifetime, knowing and trusting that you’ll get to the promised land some day, but never experiencing true intimacy with God.

 

8.

In our reading this morning, Moses kind of draws a line in the sand and says to God, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here.”

You see for him, it’s not worth it. It’s not worth it to get to the promised land, if the relationship isn’t there to make the journey worth it.

“If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here.”

I wonder how many of us are willing to make that kind of demand of God or of our faith community.

For Moses it is especially bold, because Israel has just finished destroying that intimacy, betraying God, and yet he asks for it again.

For some of us here, we used to have that intimacy with God. But it’s been lost.

Maybe we grew up and we think we’ve grown out of it.

Maybe we made a decision that we regret, and we don’t believe that a relationship with God could be repaired.

Maybe we did nothing wrong, but something happened to us, some tragedy.

Maybe someone in the church failed you—maybe someone in this church failed you.

And you don’t know if its worth it to invest all that time and energy again.

If that’s you this morning, let me challenge you just to think about whether or not it’s worth it for you to go through this life with God’s intimate presence.

Now what that actually means might be something different to each one of us here.

For some, it might mean praying more. Not just when we need something from God, but actually inviting the Holy Spirit to be a part of our daily decision making—to actually change the way we live.

For others, it might mean reprioritizing our energy around the relationships that are most important—our families and our friends—and less around relationships with people who we think might be useful to us.

And actually, I think for others of us here, inviting God’s intimate presence in part means making a commitment to investing—giving of your time and energy and money to a community that is going to bring you and God closer together.

You see, God gives each one of us the option of going through the motions of church, of faith, of our entire lives without ever truly knowing God’s presence.

But let me challenge you—this morning and every morning—pray with Moses: “Holy God, if your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here.”

Because it is when we pray with that boldness, when we risk investing in something much bigger than ourselves, that is when we hear God say:

“I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Amen.

Thursday
Oct232014

“Preserve the Works” - Living Epistle by Kate Hornstein - Oct. 19, 2014

Seven years ago, I took my family to England for a brief vacation. I’m half-English, and, like my mother, have always been a huge Anglophile. The trip was a disaster. My family was grumpy (my daughters were ages 8 and 12 at the time), the weather was terrible (it poured buckets almost every day without stopping) and my younger daughter ended up with a severe case of head lice which she then shared with several of us.

Where was the England of my childhood? Of my college days? Of my early adulthood?

Seeking the “peace that passes all understanding,” which if you have young children you know is often hard to find, I decided to visit an Anglican church in back of my hotel on a Sunday morning. I remembered visiting an urban church like this one in the early 80’s with my college friends--it had been packed, and lively. But when I went back in 2007, I was among 3 or 4 people who gathered there to celebrate communion.

I asked the priest how many people usually attended--was it something about its being August? He smiled and looked at his assistant priest and said, “Well, what lies can we tell her??” They explained that many of these urban churches in London had been largely abandoned. Secularism, competition for family time, and longer work hours, were all competing for parishioners.

Today in the collect we read, “Preserve the works of your mercy.”

There is that old chestnut about the church’s being a “hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. I think too often in this modern day, people do think of the church as being a museum, or a place where only the deeply pious go. And in many places throughout England and Europe, that’s what churches have become.

Holly suggested that I talk today about the things I’ve done here at St. James’s and in other religious communities, and what I’ve gained from them, as the reason why I’m a parishioner here.

 But that’s not the reason I come to St. James’s. I come here because I’m a sinner like everyone else on Planet Earth. I am a patient in need of a hospital, not a museum visitor.

I’m a “nice person” like many of you. How can we be “sinners,” such an old-fashioned term that suggests criminality or just plain being awful? Well I have a long list for you…I am often not grateful for what I have, am prone to be negative, people bug me and I can be cheap. I spend far too much time looking at real estate online. I use way too many of our earth’s resources. I am often impatient, vain and prideful.

I am not looking for a museum for saints. I’m looking for a place where I can seek forgiveness, aspire to an ideal, and experience that sense of peace which can only come from God. I’m looking for a Sunday experience I can carry with me throughout the week.

In thinking about the pledge drive, let’s think not only about what we want St. James’s to be in the next year--what do we want St. James’s to be 30 years from now? Do we want our church to be a museum of the past? Or do we want it to be a dynamic part of our lives, our children’s lives, and the lives of this neighborhood, and city. Do we want it to continue to be a hospital for all of us sinners?

If so, we need to support our church so that it’s there for us and for others when we are in need of mercy, and in need of peace.

So here is my “call;” I want everyone here to do one thing this next week. If you have never pledged before, make a pledge. If you have pledged before, consider raising your pledge by at least $1 a week--maybe you can think of one thing to do to make that dollar: turn off a light, get a smaller cup of coffee. If you can do more, that’s even better! And if you are in a place where you can’t do any of this, think about one person you might reach out to and invite to St. James’s--maybe that person can give $1 a week or more.

Together, we can ensure that our hospital is here and ready for its patients for another year. Together, we can preserve the works of St. James’s.

Tuesday
Oct142014

Lauren Zook Sermon - Sunday, Oct. 12, 2014

When I agreed to preach on this Sunday, Holly very helpfully provided me with a selection of commentaries on the readings; and in one of those commentaries on today's gospel, I discovered that none other than Martin Luther called this parable “the terrible gospel which he did not like to preach.” Which was not a terribly auspicious moment in my sermon preparation. And when I was discussing these readings on the phone with my mother, she proved equally unhelpful: “Oh, yeah,” she said, “that's the one where the guy gets in trouble for being dressed wrong.”

Well, if God is going to go around punishing people for being dressed wrong, I, for one, am in for a lifetime of anxiety. The intricacies of fashion and the subtle messages of clothes are a mystery to me; my wardrobe has largely been assembled by my mother and sister while I trail after them through clothing departments and say yes or no to whatever they pick out. Whenever I have to go to some event where it's unclear what sort of attire is expected, I can drive myself crazy trying to decide what I'm supposed to wear, envisioning scenarios where I'm hideously underdressed, or hideously overdressed, and absolutely everyone around me stares at me in disapproval; and then, after I've settled on an outfit and gone out, I completely forget to pay attention to what anyone else is wearing, so the next time I'm invited to a similar event, I'm just as clueless as before.

But as I've gotten older, I've found some of this anxiety ebbing—after all, I have to wear clothes every day, so it was exhausting to maintain. I make a conscious effort these days to dress for myself, in ways that make me happy; whenever I'm debating whether a particular outfit will look silly or old-fashioned or out-of-place, I try to stop and ask myself, “But do I like it?” And I'm gradually getting comfortable with the idea that, while clothes are important social signifiers, by and large I'm not going to suffer any really dire consequences if I leave the house looking slightly unusual. I've come not to care—or, as Paul says in today's epistle, not to worry.

So one of the things I've discovered, in my trend towards pleasing myself, is that I like to dress up. I never used to be particularly interested in matching clothes and shoes and accessories, but now it turns out to be something I enjoy from time to time, even if I don't really know what I'm doing. There are random Sundays when I go all out for church: one of my nicer dresses, a necklace, earrings, maybe even eyeliner if I'm feeling adventurous. And when I put care into my outfit, putting together something that specifically pleases me, it leads to an experience that still feels very strange. There are times now when I look in the mirror and think: I look good. I look pretty. Maybe, just maybe, I'm even beautiful.

In today's reading from Exodus, we learn that the Israelites, even in the desert, wore gold jewelry; in fact, three chapters later, it is their jewelry that the Israelites will take off and give to Moses for the building of the tabernacle. But not in today's lesson. No, today we see the Israelites strip off their adornments to make a golden calf. Moses has gone up the mountain and hasn't come down; the Israelites are wandering in a trackless wilderness with no end in sight; God brought them up out of Egypt, but now they do not know where God is. They are afraid. They are afraid to be abandoned, and in that fear, they find comfort in something that can be clearly seen. Looking at the image Aaron has set up, the people say, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt,” and they are relieved. Before the calf, God was invisible, and the Israelites didn't trust that God was still there—small wonder that they wished for something more concrete. But not only have the Israelites lost their trust in God, they have lost their trust in themselves. They look at the wilderness and think, “I can't. I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing.” They are, understandably, worried. And they no longer trust that Moses, their leader and kinsman and guide, will come back to them and lead them through the desert.

But Moses, faced with the “stiff necks” of his people and God's wrath burning hot against them, does something miraculous. He lets his requests be made known to God. He begs the Lord to relent, stating his case with intelligence and vigor, reminding God of God's promise to the ancestors and of how the Egyptians will react, directly saying to his God, “Change your mind.” And God does! Now there is much for theologians to say about God's actions in this passage, but what I find myself struck by is how brave Moses is in this moment. His courage and his love for his people are enough to compel him to argue with the Being who is more powerful than anything else in the universe, who is beyond mortal comprehension; Moses is only a man, but he has the audacity to express his desires to a God.

Not so the underdressed wedding guest of Jesus' parable. “Friend,” the king asks him, “how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” We might well ask the same question, and ask also why the guest has failed to put on the proper garment in the first place. But we will get no answers, because the man is speechless; in fact, another translation of the Greek efimothe could be “he was muzzled.” Now I don't know why this man is dressed as he is, but I will hazard a guess as to why he says nothing: I suspect he is afraid. Here is his host, a mighty king, looming over him and demanding to know the reason for his gross social faux pas, and the man is paralyzed by the knowledge of his own mistake. How could he not be afraid? He's been scooped off the street by this rich host who has, bizarrely, invited a random crowd of guests, the worthless and the good alike. This guest knows he is not worthy to be there; he knows he's not at all the right kind of person. But who is? None of us is really worthy, on our own merits, to be invited to God's wedding banquet; all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And so, when we are confronted with our mistakes, our sins, we have a choice. We can behave like the wedding guest and remain silent, fearing God as a merciless and wrathful master, knowing that we are so worthless as for nothing to be said in our defense. Among other things, this is a pretty unflattering view of God to take: it supposes that God cares so little about us as to not even listen to what we have to say. This, I suggest, is the reason for the guest's punishment. We need not be afraid to be dressed wrong because the man is punished: the man is punished because he is afraid to be dressed wrong, because his fear outweighs his belief in God's love.

And so instead of following the speechless guest, let us choose to emulate Moses. What do we possibly have to lose by letting God know about our desires, our feelings, our requests? What a different story it might have been had the wedding guest spoken up for himself. Perhaps the king might have agreed and changed his mind; or perhaps he might have explained to the guest why he acted wrongly, and the man might have learned to amend his thinking. I don't need a God who grants my every wish, but I cannot live with a God who is deaf or unfeeling, and fortunately, that is not the God we have. God listens to Moses; is there really anything we could say that God would be unwilling to hear? And if we are creatures who can communicate with the Lord God Almighty, people who can talk to our Creator as to a parent or teacher or friend who wants us to succeed—well! Wretched sinners that we are, we are loved by God! We might as well love ourselves then: be kind to ourselves, wear the clothes that make us feel good, speak up in defence of our lives and choices, look at ourselves in the mirror and think that we are beautiful. And if we can start with trust in God's love and belief that we ourselves have been invited to the feast, then that love can radiate outwards, so that we can truly love our neighbors as ourselves.

Confidence in the radical openness of God's invitation is breathtaking; it is, as Paul says, peace which surpasses all understanding. It will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus, a shield against depression and hate and fear. And Paul roots our prayers and our faith in joy: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!” There is much in this world to fear, so much to beg God to put right. But Paul reminds us never to forget how much we have to rejoice in, even while we are pleading before God: “Do not worry about anything,” he says, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” In the midst of the dark periods of our lives, let us start by making the effort to rejoice; then let us seek comfort in speaking to our God, and the rest will come. And there will always be at least one thing you have to rejoice about, something that you carry with you everywhere: yourself. Even if you seem to have nothing else, you can thank God for your life, your body. This is easier for some of us than for others, and I admit it isn't easy for me. But even if you hate the way your hair looks, or you wish you were stronger or taller or had clearer skin, or you're self-conscious about the scars you carry, or you were born with the wrong genitalia, or your body is sick or aging or weak—whatever it is you've hated or railed against or wanted to change, it's your body. God gave it to you. God gave it to you to live in and change in the ways you need to and dress in fine clothes: in wedding garments, gold jewelry, pretty dresses, nice suits, well-worn sweatshirts, ratty jeans, joke T-shirts, saris, Easter bonnets, cheap clothes, expensive clothes, clothes that match perfectly and clothes that don't match at all, clothes that help you fit in and clothes that help you stand out: in short, anything, anything, in which you can serve the Lord your God and love yourself while doing it.

There's a poem I've been thinking about a lot these last couple of weeks. It's called “What the Living Do” by Marie Howe, the second-to-last poem in a collection of the same name. Many of the poems in the book deal with the author's relationship to her brother as he's dying of AIDS; the title poem is set after his death, and in it she walks around the streets of our very own Cambridge, going about her ordinary daily errands, and reflecting that this is what the living do. I'd just like to read you the last few lines of the poem, which have stayed with me since I first read them in my sophomore year of college. She writes: “But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass, / say, the window of the corner video store, and I'm gripped by a cherishing so deep // for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I'm speechless: / I am living. I remember you.”

This is the speechlessness I long for: not to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of my own errors, but to catch sight of myself in the window glass and be struck dumb by the full knowledge that my life is precious, that humankind is a miracle, and that God's expansive, abundant love truly has no limits and no end.

Monday
Oct062014

Homily for A Blessing of John Thomas Kittredge's & Charles Morehead's Relationship - October 4, 2014

©Holly Lyman Antolini

I apologize in advance for this, but it's irresistible to point out that these two men, whom we love so dearly, are inviting a blessing upon their relationship on the feast day of the saint in whose name we regularly bless our animals! Mind you, this was not their original plan.  Charles and JT had originally chosen September 13th for their ceremony, but then the Diocese of Massachusetts went and most inconveniently consecrated a bishop on that date!  So the Holy Spirit organized things instead so that JT and Charles and St. Francis will become inextricably linked in our minds henceforward. And, I believe, the Holy Spirit did so, so that we would see clearly that blessing all our beloved companions, human and otherwise, is a fundamental part of our human role in God's Mission of love and reconciliation on this beautiful, precious, and fragile earth, our island home. At the same time, I think the Holy Spirit is inviting us to see what is unique and special about blessing a relationship between two human beings in the name of Jesus Christ, our Crucified & Risen Lord, because in so blessing it, we invite the Spirit to continue the work of conversion which is at the core of a truly covenantal relationship between two human beings who strive to love one another unconditionally.

 

To bless something begins, as Episcopal preacher and writer Barbara Brown Taylor says, with “seeing it as it is.” [An Altar in the World] (Thank you, Mary Beth Mills Curran, for pointing this passage out to me!) Blessing begins with “seeing something – or someone- as they are,” not as we would WANT them to be, but as God made them, flawed and beautiful, annoying and endearing. This makes special sense in the case of this blessing of Charles & JT, because “what is” in their case is 21 years of weaving themselves together as a couple, and doing so in the context of worship & prayer.  Today, we, their community in Christ, are tuning ourselves to SEE THAT, FULLY.  That’s the first move in our act of blessing today.  We are seeing two people who have moved ‘way beyond the starry-eyed beginnings of an intimate relationship, when neither person can do “any wrong,” and when each will go out of their way to make gestures of generosity toward the other. (As in the case of my husband & me in the early days of our relationship, when we would carefully peel CARROTS for each other, even though – when the blinders of romance finally fell – it turned out NEITHER of us would ever peel a carrot for OURSELF!) JT & Charles have long learned that as good as “fellow feeling” is in a relationship, sometimes thegreatest tensile strength of a relationship is not the romantic fervor of the moment, but rather the willingness to know oneself and one’s perspective to be limited and incomplete, and to know oneself capable of “repentance,” of turning from the way one has viewed things to see them in a new way because the other person sees them differently.  Charles & JT have stretched and grown toward each other over years, and have stretched and grown, each of them, into their own larger, more mature SELF in the context of the other.  They have blessed each other by seeing each other – and themselves – more and more clearly, with a bias in each other’s favor, as God sees them both.

 

The second move of blessing something, according to Brown Taylor, is to NOTICE & NAME it for what it is.  So let us notice and name that this stretching and growing JT & Charles have been about, we believe as Christians, is a COVENANTAL compact, a BAPTISMAL movement of the spirit, a giving up of one’s own priority and prerogative, a pouring out of one’s self on behalf of the other, that mirrors Christ’s pouring out of himself on the Cross, giving up his life so that we can have ours.  I know this is not the popular view of the covenant we call “marriage,” with its poofy white meringue $1000’s-of-dollars dresses and crates of champagne.  The popular view of such a covenant is all on the fulfillment side of the ledger.  Which could be one of its problems as a social institution! Because while there is joy and fulfillment in the companionship of long and steadfast commitment, it is a joy that comes through self-offering and frequently, self-abnegation, in acts often small but, sometimes, large indeed. St. Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Romans, Chapter 6: “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. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” In the Book of Common Prayer, we put it like this, that there is something in the partnership of two people that mirrors the relationship of Christ and his Church.  And in fact, we can discover Christ in the willingness to sacrifice one’s life in multiple ways for the other’s well-being, from putting the orange juice back in the right spot in the fridge to accepting a profound inconvenience and challenge to our own career when our spouse has real opportunity in theirs. 

 

The testimony to how well Charles & JT know this about their relationship shines in their choice of the passage from the Letter to the Colossians, letting the word of God dwell in them richly and, in all their little ways of bearing with one another, discovering the deeppeace of Christ.  This willingness to forego judgment and condemnation of each other, to forgive and be forgiven, is, as the Gospel of Luke says, a much deeper source of wellness than all the wealth of the world could possibly bring, “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, poured into your lap.

 

And now that we have noticed and named the depth of covenant into which JT & Charles have come to be joined, the last movement of blessing is to pray that that good measure they have enjoyed already, by which we the onlookers, the blessers, are LIKEWISE blessed and encouraged to seek a similar depth of care and compassion, steadfastness and self-offering, will be sustained on into the future, for the whole length of their lives. That in their chesed, their steadfast loving kindness for each other, they will continue to bless each other and bless all of us around them, their family & friends, by the light of Christ that shines in them. Because this is the third and ultimate movement of blessing, a multiplier that makes the blessing not just the property of those blessed but the property of all around them.  God’s blessings don’t stay put, after all. They are profoundly generative.  Blessing begets blessing.  So it has been in your relationship, Charles & JT, and so may it continue, we pray in our blessing of you, from this day forward, forevermore.  AMEN.

Tuesday
Sep302014

Homily for the Marriage of Carolyn Doyle & Jason Sparapani - September 25, 2014

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

 

Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it! Good to be reminded of that when you’re getting married on a rainy day!

 

Good to be celebrating a marriage between two people who won’t freak out at a little rain on an important day, two people who have learned a thing or two about life and about their own limitations as human beings, who have entered into this commitment to each other “reverently, deliberately,” and with God’s grace and love in mind.

 

Many young couples go into marriage quite starry-eyed about their capacity for "the perfect relationship," still firmly ensconced in the delicious preliminary experience of "cathecting" completely with one another, agreeing about everything, delighting in everything about the other person, believing firmly that that state of harmony will persist forever, because "true love" has finally been found. 

 

Not Jason & Carolyn.  “True love” has acquired for them a much more nuanced, though no less deep and compelling definition.  Each of them in their own unique way has had their spirit smelted in the crucible of life. Jason has traveled to far corners of the world, Nepal, Korea, challenging his sense of self in contexts utterly unlike the New Haven he grew up in.  Carolyn has traveled into and out of a previous marriage, learning the hard way, as Paul says to the Corinthians, that “When we are children, we speak like children, we think like children, we reason like children; but when we become adults, we put an end to childish ways,” and some of the decisions we make when young no longer fit us when we are older. Carolyn and Jason, each in their own way learned through these “foreign travels” not just a sober realization of their own limits, but also a firmer realization of their own value, their own unique preciousness, their own strength. When they chose a Gospel that affirms they are “a light to the world,” that is not naïvely said. It is claimed by Carolyn and Jason as a reality they both accept now and at the same time, paradoxically, intend to live into: an “already” and a “not-yet” just as God’s Kingdom is both present among us and made manifest in their love for each other, and yet is still to come in its fullness, brought evermore fully into being by our willing collaboration with God’s intention for us all.

 

When the time came that the Holy Spirit saw fit to bring them together – and you’ve got to give the Spirit credit for imagination, bringing Jason all the way back from the Far East and Carolyn from the Far North to meet up in Boston! – they were both ready to begin the REAL discipline and gift of marriage as God intends marriage to be: nothing less than a sacrament of God’s own unconditional love; an outward and visible sign – not perfect, but resilient and full of the dynamics of constant reconciliation – of the inward and spiritual grace of God’s love, a merciful and forgiving, consoling and renewing love, slow to anger and full of steadfast loving kindness, in which the beloved has scope to grow, constantly affirmed in their lovability, whatever buffets life may throw at them. Jason and Carolyn have learned to create for each other a holy space in which each can experiment and risk and fail and succeed in becoming the person God made them to be, supported by each other.  What must they do to safeguard that space for growth? Paul tells us how that space is created and safeguarded in his famous words from the Thirteenth Chapter of the First Letter: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” That’s a life-time assignment, for sure! And full of grace.

 

And light of the world that Jason & Carolyn know themselves to be, they are setting themselves on the lampstand of marriage.  All of us - who behold them as they work out their salvation with each other, discovering the height and depth and breadth of God’s love - can not only support them in their love for each other, as we have just vowed to do, but also can ourselves access the grace that keeps them going, so that we also are blessed, strengthened in our own lives and confirmed our own loyalties, as we’ll pray in a moment. Because contrary to our culture’s romantic view of marriage, marriage ISN’T just about two people “falling in love” with each other!  We, their community, are PARTICIPANTS in their marriage!  You, Jason’s and Carolyn’s family and friends, already know this, because they have been knitting you together into a new community for some time now.  And we at St. James’s have been becoming part of that extended “family,” too, as we have welcomed them into our Eucharistic circle here and they have taken up roles in our life, Jason even becoming a church schoolteacher.  In marrying each other, in taking the risk to proclaim that they will, with all that they are and all that they have, continue to honor and support one another come thick and thin, Carolyn & Jason are helping all of us as well as themselves to meet our very deepest need as human beings, the need to know that we are abidingly loved.  They are helping us all to learn again more deeply that love, which is God, is at the very center of all that is, the gravitational pull that holds all our molecules together, the dark energy of the universe, not dark because it’s malevolent but dark because it’s mysterious, the mysterium tremendum, holding Jason and Carolyn together and all of us to each other, making us part of the great Oneness of everything.

 

Thank you, Carolyn & Jason, for letting our blessing of your marriage bless us in turn!  And thanks be to God!  AMEN.

 

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