Resources

Monday
Sep082014

The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for 9/7/2014

Proper 18 Year A 9-7-14

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Exodus 12:1-14; Ps. 149; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18: 15-20

 

Hallelujah! Let us sing to you a new song, O God; let us sing your praise in the congregation of the faithful. Let us praise your Name in the dance; let us sing praise to you with timbrel and harp! AMEN.

 

Happy Homecoming Sunday, everyone!  I hope you have all found opportunities for rest and refreshment during your summer, so you can return to the beginning of our fall season full of energy for the coming program year!  I know that in my own life, summer is a critical time to cultivate the Holy Currency of Wellness, one of the many “Holy Currencies” that flow together and reinforce each other to keep our ministry both sustainable and missional, outward-facing.  When it comes to the Currency of Wellness, I can’t imagine what I would do without summer’s chance to get outdoors and remind myself that I am part of a much larger community of being than the merely human; without the chance to remember how small (but important) my agency is as I get my hands deep into the mysterious fertility of earth and plant things and watch them grow and blossom; without the long walks with nothing on my mind but how wondrous God’s creation is, letting myself be enveloped by bird-and-insect-and-wind-and-leaf song, my imagination soaring with cloud formations, my spirit stilled in the stillness of pondwater or sparkling like light on ocean. What would I do if I resumed the pace of our program year without having set the wine bottle in the middle of the dining table and sat long into the evening with friends, talking about anything and everything over fresh corn-on-the-cob and salads of vegetables still singing from the garden as the sun slowly inches toward the horizon and the late light slants long across the field?  These opportunities to let the task list go, to sit on the porch, hands empty, and simply bask in rest and sunlight: these currencies of wellness, counter-cultural as they are in our frenzied culture of accomplishment, provide the springs of so much energetic work later on.

 

I don’t know how it was for you, but this summer, in particular, also held a rich Holy Currency of Relationship for me: reunions of many kinds with very old friends and with a whole variety of cousins, as we said a last “farewell” to my parents’ and my aunt’s ashes on an island in Penobscot Bay, Maine and as I journeyed west to revisit places I had traveled and people I knew when I was growing up on the Pacific Ocean. Such currency of Relationship flows directly into Wellness, too, as the Currencies are inseparable but supplement and complement each other, each building on the other.

 

One relationship renewed in a trip to New York City, in a weekend spent with an elderly first-cousin-once-removed, my father’s cousin, also opened some painful but Holy Currency of Truth long held back, as she revealed her parents’ severe alcoholism and her father’s physical and sexual abuse of her and her two sisters when they were girls – truth that I didn’t want to have to hear, but which explained much in my father’s family dynamics.  Painful as that history was, the Wellness that resulted from our sharing the story in common, no longer “keeping secrets,” but grounding ourselves in reality and not some mythic construction of family harmony, and upholding one another’s learning and growth beyond that pain, was profound.

 

My summer also held much other Holy Currency of Truth, not least in my continuing education workshop in Los Angeles on the Holy Currencies with the Rev. Dr. Eric Law, continuing work I’ve been engaged in since Edwin Johnson first joined us in 2010 and we attended our first-ever Holy Currencies workshop at the Trinity Conference Center as part of our mentoring work together. It is important for me be reminded regularly of the fruitfulness that results in a congregation when ALL the Currencies are attended to and sustained, each enhancing the other, and none neglected. That reminder to keep ALL the currencies on my horizon and flowing is part of my cultivation of the Holy Currency of Gracious Leadership here at St. James’s, my OWN!  In particular, it was good to be reminded of the importance of cultivating a Currency of Relationship that strategically and committedly welcomes all voices in a congregation or any community, so that it flows directly into the Currency of Truth that helps us learn things, important things, we will miss if some voices are privileged over others, and that helps us hold each other accountable as Jesus counsels accountability in the Gospel of Matthew for today.  If we learned nothing else from the rioting in Ferguson MO this summer in the wake of the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, we learned that Currency of Relationship and Truth are essential to build the bonds of trust that make our communities work.  In the Holy Currencies workshop, I was renewed in my commitment to our Anti-Oppression work, here at St. James’s: work that enhances both Currency of Relationship and Currency of Truth in a way that offers promise for a Currency of Wellness in VERY short supply in our society and our world as whole. So, too, do the ongoing work of the Prison Ministry and Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, as well as the Food Pantry, Women’s Meal and the Outdoor Church: all ways in which we cultivate relationship and hear voices and concerns that too often lie unattended to, beneath our social radar.

 

As I say, the Holy Currencies workshop was an important investment on my own Currency of Gracious Leadership, and summer is also a time to cultivate the Holy Currency of Gracious Leadership of many of YOU in our congregation, first and foremost by letting our Officers & Vestry take a month off in August from the press of work they attend to the rest of the year – Currency of Wellness flowing into Currency of Gracious Leadership, as they MUST flow together or leadership becomes impossibly burdensome! Also summer is the time that we set goals for staff for the coming year in our staff evaluation process – again, Currency of Gracious Leadership - so that we can stay focused on the welfare of the whole Body of the congregation the rest of the year.

 

And while that work continued in summer, so did the work of the Sound & Light Committee, an ad hoc group working to smooth out some of the most immediate problems we have with our lighting and our microphones here in the church – enhancing the Holy Currency of Place in a way that we hope will impact our worship weekly. And the work of the Redevelopment Committee and Property Committee rolled forward as ever, laying the groundwork for us to be ready for start building as soon as the courts dismiss the latest attempt by a few neighbors to hold up the construction process, creating a stoppage in the flow of our Currency of Place that impacts so much in our life together as a community, only proving again how important the Holy Currency of Place is - the currency of kitchen & garden, nursery & classroom, space for feasts and bible studies and ministry to the needs of the community -  for the flow of our other currencies.

 

The church school takes a break in the summer, as do most of the adult formation programs, but that didn’t prevent the teaching staff from devoting the Holy Currency of Time to polishing up their Currency of Gracious Leadership for the coming season of teaching and learning. At the Celebrations today, we’ll be commissioning all the teachers for their Gracious Leadership in the church school season ahead, and commissioning all our students who will be dedicating important Currency of Time to attending church school regularly (and whose parents will likewise be devoting Currency of Time to bringing them for church school regularly!) so that their spirits can be informed and strengthened and their Currency of Relationship with each other and with Jesus Christ solidly established. Other groups that devote a great deal of Currency of Time to enhancing our worship – and therefore our Currency of Wellness! – are the Choirs: the Adult Choir, the Greenleaf and Gospel Schola choirs, the Men’s Choir.  We’ll be commissioning THEM NEXT Sunday!

 

And the Sunday after that, we hope to commission our Nominating Committee to expand afresh their own Currency of Gracious Leadership, raising up candidates for leadership on our Vestry and as representatives at Deanery and Diocese, for the January Annual Meeting Election.

 

Now that the fall season is here and the pace of our life together as a congregation is picking up, the last of the Holy Currencies - the one that usually commands the most attention! – also moves to the front burner: the Currency of Money!  When we commission the Nominating Committee, it’s our intention also to commission a new Currency of Money Committee specifically convened to lead us in the fall pledge campaign, soliciting all of us to commit to support our missional ministry with sustainable funds.  This summer, our Currency of Money has been a bit of a sluggish stream, as we’ve all been off and away at one time or another.  In 2013, we stretched a long way to afford our wonderful Associate Rector for Church School & Family Ministry and we can’t let the Currency of Money become a brackish backwater if we want to keep the immense grace of Judith’s ministry flowing into an increase of ALL the Holy Currencies here at St. James’s, as it has over her wonderfully productive year with us!

 

We also plan on the last Sunday of September, September 28th, to celebrate with loud HUZZAH’S and ALLELUIA’s the completion of our “Growing Together, Building in Faith” building fund to furnish and fit-out the new Parish House when it is built.  Many of those who pledged in the campaign three years ago have now paid their complete pledge, and some have even paid BEYOND their pledge, while a number of you who weren’t here to pledge in the campaign have nevertheless given generously toward it even without a pledge.  That meant we could afford already to accomplish our wonderful – and desperately needed! – repairs to the historic slate roof on the church! Some of us still have money owing on our building fund pledges.  If that is you, we hope you may be able to progress toward completion in time for the Campaign Completion celebration that Sunday.

 

Because the Currency of Money really only flows richly in a congregation when all the OTHER Holy Currencies are flowing well, the Vestry plans to accompany the celebration of the completion of the Building Together Fund with a Holy Currencies Ministries Fair.  Gracious Leaders from all our many, many initiatives at St. James’s - in social justice ministry and Missions work, in Christian formation, in pastoral care, in vibrant worship – will be present and ready to tell you about their particular call to ministry, whether planning for our new Parish House, or leading bible study or visiting prisoners or marching in the People’s Climate March in New York, or putting worship together at St. James’s or participating in the advocacy work of GBIO or stocking the Helping Hand Food Pantry or taking communion to the ill and shut-in, all part of the flow of Holy Currencies that animates our congregation and streams out to help transform the world. 


The softer, gentler pace of summer is behind us and as the air turns crisp, the flow of Holy Currencies quickens.  As Paul tells the Romans, “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light! And let us, through ALL the Holy Currencies, open up the “grace margin” to love one another, which is the aim and fulfillment of all our activities as a congregation, of God’s law itself. AMEN.

Tuesday
Aug262014

Marriage Homily for Susan Tweed & Michael Proscia

August 23rd, 2014

©Holly Lyman Antolini

 

In this beautiful summer of bright days & cool nights – the perfect wedding summer, wouldn’t you say? – it is a delight to gather together and bless your marriage, Michael & Susan.  With the world blossoming and burgeoning all around us, it just seems natural to celebrate the blossoming and burgeoning of love.  It feels like cosmic coherence in this beautiful season to celebrate your dedication to love one another not just with sentiment but with will and moral force, to put each other’s interests on a par with your own, to promise to pour yourselves out for each other with more sustained vigor than flood or the fire, as the Song of Solomon says.

 

More than that, it actually feels HEALING to gather and express so much hope for the spiritual and emotional capacity of humankind in the context of a world that feels more than a little crazy at the moment, full of strife and intolerance, illness, desperation and war.  Not to weigh too much on you two, of course! By marrying each other, we can’t expect you to fix all the problems of a troubled world, any more than you can knit together Lorne’s Achilles tendon!  But thanks for giving us a chance to raise our spirits and see and know in the two of you that human beings can realize their promise for good!

 

It’s a powerful part of the mission of marriage, this raising of hope, your own hope, encouraged and supported by your intimate knowledge of each other’s character, strengths and, yes, weaknesses. But also OUR hope, your onlookers, your family and friends, your community, who have all just promised to do all in our power to uphold you in your marriage.  Because, whatever the romantic illusions of our contemporary culture, you really are NOT just marrying each other.  You have been together long enough now to know that you are also marrying each other’s family, each other’s HISTORY, knitting together a whole new community in your community with each other.  And marriage is INTENDED to be a witness to us, your community, as we will pray in the prayers shortly, a BAPTISMAL witness: a witness to the power of forgiveness and honesty and respect and the willingness to remain open and to go the extra mile, a witness that strengthens our own lives and confirms our own loyalties in your own strength and loyalty. In your striving for fidelity – real, deep faith-keeping with each other, not just physical continence – we will see “a sign of Christ's love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.”  As you will vow in the exchange of your rings in a minute, as you continually bring “all that you are and all that you have” into the honoring of each other in this relationship over time, we will truly see the power of resurrection in you, as you will continue to discover it in each other.

 

I said, today you are embarking on the mission of marriage.  Did you KNOW that marriage is a MISSION, a showing-forth of God’s love in the ordinary stuff of your own bodies, hearts, and spirits? So it is! And like all missions, it sometimes thrives, but at other times, it doesn’t seem so very productive, successful or satisfying. You’re in this mission for the long haul, though, and you’ve already practiced sustaining it by forbearing, hoping and enduring together in the thinner and less agreeable moments.  You might say, you’ve been “marrying each other” for awhile now, and have learned to keep minds and hearts open in the moments when you’re finding the mission difficult and each other’s point of view or actions opaque if not inexplicable.  Through joys and trials, you have discovered in each other the deep companionship and yes, friendship, that comes from that resiliency and intimacy.  You have also asked God’s grace into the process, into the mission, and you intend to continue, as the reading from Colossians says, to let “the word of God dwell in you richly” as you pursue your marriage mission. You have tested the tensile strength of your relationship and it has held. Today, we are blessing that strength to continue to hold and grow, by God’s grace, over the long mission of marriage ahead.

 

Then this will not merely be a passing summer of love and blossoming.  It will be, in your marriage to each other, a testimony to the enduring, ever-loving unity of the kingdom of God that is promised us, whatever tribulations our poor broken world is suffering at the moment.

Thursday
Aug212014

John Thomas Kittredge's Sermon on 8/17/2014

Proper 15, Year A                                                              

2014 August 17

Lection: Genesis 45:1-15, Psalm 133, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Matthew 15: 10-28

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

 

Good morning. It’s such a pleasure to speak to you all this morning on this occasion of welcoming Emery into the church. For us, a baptism is not primarily about celebrating the birth of a baby — as exciting as that is, and as wonderful as Emery is — but about initiating a new Christian into a life of discipleship.

 

So, what does it mean to be a Christian? As it happens, that’s our topic this morning, just as it is every Sunday morning.

 

When I read over today’s lessons, I first thought to connect the lessons by how God does not as act as we expect or even think appropriate. In the Genesis reading, we see that when Joseph’s brothers conspired him to sell him into slavery, God manages to turn their heinous crime into a crucial event in the salvation history of Israel. In the Gospel reading, we first see Jesus speaking of bodily functions—defecation to not put too fine a point on it—and then letting himself be schooled by a mortal, and a woman at that! Surely the Son of God should speak in loftier language and be above correction!

 

But, with your indulgence, I’d actually like to focus on another aspect of the Gospel lesson, which might seem uncontroversial, where Jesus states that following kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws, is not necessary for holiness. “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”

 

None of us is likely to have a problem with that. To our modern, Western sensibilities, the whole idea of foods that are forbidden purely for ritual reasons is likely to seem bizarre and primitive.

 

But, I’ve been reconsidering purity laws ever since I read a book called The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt, who studies moral psychology. He says that most ethical systems work on one of two axes, either minimizing harm or maximizing justice. Much of moral philosophy is concerned with reconciling these two imperatives when they conflict with one another.

But Haidt says that this is true only of cultures like ours. He borrows the acronym WEIRD, for Westernized, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic, to emphasize what an outlier we are in how we think about morality. The other cultures that he has studied also place a high value on minimizing harm and maximizing justice, but they have three or four additional axes that matter. For instance, showing loyalty to one’s own group; respecting authority; and honoring the sacred while avoiding the impure.

 

Haidt found differences even within the US, with conservatives showing more affinity with these additional axes. Liberals, on the other hand were WEIRDer, and the WEIRDest communities he studied were college towns, like, say, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

 

But his finding that really interested me was that conservatives are much better at understanding the liberal viewpoint, than vice versa. That is, a conservative was better at predicting what a liberal would think on a moral question, even if she disagreed with it. To a liberal, on the other hand, conservative moral values seem bizarre and incomprehensible, and are usually ascribed to self-interest or bigotry.

 

I think that Haidt’s insight has implications for how we WEIRD people understand others. And also for how we understand ourselves, because I have come to think that those other moral axes are latent in us and come out in ways we don’t recognize.

 

Years ago, my partner Charles and I were having lunch at a Thai restaurant with our friend Liz. We ordered three dishes to share, one with meat and two without, since Liz is a vegetarian. At one point, Liz picked up a spoon and said, “This has been in the meat dish, so please make sure it doesn’t go back in the vegetarian dishes.”

 

I was taken aback, because, while there are many health and moral reasons to be vegetarian, under none that I know of would it matter if a few particles of shrimp contaminated the tofu. It would be different, of course, if she were keeping kosher. But after reading Haidt, it makes perfect sense to me that if you’re devoted to vegetarianism as a moral principle, avoiding meat assumes a ritual purity aspect.

 

On a different tack entirely, in the debates over same-sex marriage, the proponents often observe that the opponents’ arguments seem utterly incoherent. They talk about children, disregarding that many mixed-sex marriages are childless, and many same-sex couples raise children together. Or they talk about social stability, prompting the question, “how would your marriage be harmed by other people getting married?”

 

But if you think that marriage is sacred, and you consider sacredness a moral value, then protecting its sanctity is its own justification. And turning it around, I had an epiphany that the other side felt the same way; it was because they also saw marriage as sacred that it was so important for them to gain it for their own relationships. In fact, the push for marriage equality did not start with the gay activists — who are mostly very liberal and secular — but as a grassroots movement among more traditionally-minded gay people.

 

And turning it back around to the other side, I am convinced that a big reason that opinion has changed so fast on same-sex marriage is because former opponents have come to see that the proponents do honor marriage. They want it not to gain better tax treatment, but because marriage is sacred to them.

 

Pardon the long digression, but I am trying to get you to sympathize with the Pharisees who felt threatened by Jesus’ blithe attitude to the laws of ritual purity, and maybe even imagine how you might feel similarly threatened if something you hold sacred were challenged.

 

For the truth is that God’s word continually challenges our ideas of justice. Another of the moral axes I mentioned is challenged in the very next section of the Gospel, the axis of loyalty to your own people.

 

Under many ancient moral codes, including the Torah, there is a duty of hospitality to the stranger. But it is not right to treat the stranger as one of your own, still less to give to the stranger at the expense of your own.

 

This is the principle that Jesus feels is threatened by the request of the desperate mother. I think here we have to remember how the Gospels paint scene after scene where Jesus is so beset by crowds clamoring for healing that he has no time to sleep or even to go off by himself to pray. One can guess how he might feel that there’s not enough of him to serve Israel, let alone the gentiles, too.

 

But the humble, yet challenging reply of the Canaanite woman teaches him that his duty is otherwise.

 

I know that many people are troubled by this passage; not only is Jesus at first hostile, but his language is so harsh, referring to her people as dogs. The rector at my old church in Chicago, once said in a sermon that he hated this passage. I think that the reason this never troubled me is that I don’t believe that being incarnation of God means that Jesus was superhuman — omniscient and free of every human limitation. On the contrary, I tend to the treasure those moments when Jesus is the most human and earthy, as when he speaks frankly of the digestive tract.

 

On the hand, taking the whole of his teaching and his life — especially his offering himself up on the cross and his resurrection — I find it quite plausible that he embodies the totality of God among us. I think back to that passage in John’s Gospel, where Jesus asks his disciples if they want to leave, and “Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

 

In his encounter with the Canaanite woman, Jesus himself learns a lesson that he has taught over and again in his parables, that the Kingdom of God is unfair. It’s unfair in the Parable of the Vineyard, that the workers who labored all day got no more than those who worked a single hour! It’s unfair that the prodigal son who wasted his father’s inheritance is welcomed back by a feast with the fatted calf. Can you not sympathize with the plaint of the good son: “all these years I worked like a slave, and you never even gave me a young goat to share with my friends!”

 

But, of course, it is this unfairness that makes the Gospel good news. For there is so much that God gives that we don’t deserve, including forgiveness for the wrongs we have done.

 

In the Kingdom of God, Haidt’s five moral axes count for nothing. Reading about them, I gained understanding that other moral codes have foundations that are no less inherently rational than my own. But to me, the point for Christian discipleship is not that we therefore have to accept things like honor killings, or the subjugation of women, or the vilification of homosexuals, as equally valid moral values.

 

The point to me, is what use do we make of our moral system? If we use it to make provisional judgments on living as best we can in this messy world, that’s one thing. If we use it to justify ourselves, that’s entirely different.

 

I think it’s important to acknowledge how desperately each of us wants to prove, to others and ourselves, that we are a moral, just, and worthwhile person. But there, the teachings of Jesus give us no succor. They make it clear that all of our moral axes count as nothing before God.

 

The only reason that we have any worth in the Kingdom of God is that God loves us. Deeply. Totally. Unconditionally. Utterly.

 

It is this life into which we initiate Emery today. She has already begun to get a taste of God’s love in her young life, in the love that her mothers give her.

 

We are about to renounce sin and evil on her behalf in the Baptismal Vows. That might seem ridiculous for an infant, but the truth is that evil is in the world around us, which you can see just be reading the daily news. If you can bear it, which I mostly can’t these days.

 

And, if Emery is like the rest of us, she will also know sin as she grows. She is likely to try her mothers’ patience and maybe even cause them heartache. But I have no doubt that she will always know that she is loved, whether she has earned it or not.

 

And this morning we pray that she will also grow in the Church and come to know that God’s love for her is even deeper than her mothers’, and will be learn to spread that good news to the world.

 

In the name of Christ. Amen.

Wednesday
Aug132014

Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for 8/10/2014

Proper 14 Year A 8-10-14

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Gen. 37:1-4,12-28; Ps. 105:1-6,16-22,45b; Rom. 10:5-15; Matt. 14:22-33

 

We search for you, O God, and your strength; we continually seek your face!  Amen.

 

Last weekend, I spent two nights in a tent on a small island in the middle of Penobscot Bay Maine, gathering with my siblings and cousins and their families (and assorted dogs) for the scattering of my parents’ and my aunt’s ashes on the “sunset rocks” above the island’s harbor.  Both nights, I rose in the middle of the night to find the whole Milky Way stretched overhead, the sky thick with stars over the shifting night waters of the Bay, the summer wind warm and soft, the stillness profound. Like “balm in Gilead,” it brought to mind and heart Samuel Barber’s song “Sure on this Shining Night,” set to the words of poet James Agee – I wish I could sing it for you instead of read it, but believe me, you would not appreciate my high G’s!

Sure on this shining night

Of star-made shadows round,

Kindness must watch for me,

This side the ground.

The late year lies down the north.

All is healed, all is health.

High summer holds the earth.

Hearts all whole.

Sure on this shining night

I weep for wonder,

Wand’ring far alone

Of shadows on the stars.

All is healed.  All is health.  It’s hardly how the world feels, these days, summer or no, eh? Hearts riven, not whole. Reading the news feels a bit the way I imagine Jesus felt with each crowd he faced: burdened, driven by the myriad troubles and their intractability; beset.  Shall I weep for those trapped in violence, whether in Kurdistan, Gaza, Syria, eastern Ukraine, or south Sudan? Or for those trying to work out a strategy to contain the ebola virus and those losing loved ones to its ravages and fearing for their own safety? Shall I weep for the children piled up on our borders, trying to flee the drug-and-poverty-fueled violence of their Central American hometowns?  Or those right here in Cambridge whose single mothers work minimum-wage jobs and cannot afford summer camp and oversight for them? And behind it all, the menace of global weather shifts, of cyber-hacking, of religious intolerance, of addiction?

 

No surprise that Jesus needed a “time out,” sending the disciples off across the lake while he dismissed the crowds he had just fed the bread and fish of the Eucharist.  No wonder he needed time on the mountain alone to pray, to allow the sloshing distress of so many to settle until his heart could, for a moment, be serene.

We ALL need “time out!”  To pretend otherwise is to pretend not to be human!  We all need a way to detach from the onslaught of strife and rivalry and tribal animosity, from the press of problems demanding solutions, from the “cry of the poor,” to allow our spirits to unwind and find rest.  Remembering that for Jesus, the “time out” wasn’t just the pursuit of solitude and peace; it was the pursuit of God, the forsaking of the immediate context of pain and division in order to return to the ultimate context of kinship and love. To be reminded that “Sure on this shining night, kindness must watch for us, this side the ground.” To step out of the artificial light and see the sweep of the Milky Way so vast above us, and to know ourselves held in that immensity, “hearts all whole.

 

Of course, the dominant image in our Gospel story from Matthew isn’t Jesus’ tranquility on the mountainside at all.  That is just the prelude, if you will, before the wind rises. (Or I prefer to think of it as “the preparation,” the re-centering necessary before Jesus could embark, unprotected, on foot, across the stormy waters to his embattled disciples in their wind-and-event-tossed boat.

 

And even Jesus’ wondrous water-walking is not the heart of the matter. Jesus’ walk is only setting the stage – setting the model! – for Peter’s wild plunge from the safety of the boat directly into the roiling water.

 

It’s a model for US to come down off the mountain – off the island, in my case! – and “take the plunge,” to make ourselves vulnerable to the whole wild maelstrom of world events, to set out upon them on mission without even a boats-worth of protection and insulation, to bring whatever we can to the problems around us. Like the Medecins Sans Frontiere nurses and doctors working the Ebola crisis, Jesus, fortified by prayer, sets the standard for unprotected participation in the struggle with “what ails us,” and the assurance that we need not be overcome, need not drown. That no matter what the storm, we reach out our hands, ultimately connected, kin to all who struggle, by God’s love, upholding one another.

 

One of the ways I was centering myself during my week off in Maine was by continuing to read the remarkable chronicle of the work of “Homeboy Industries,” Tattoos on the Heart, by Father Gregory Boyle. Just as Jesus’ prayer on the mountain provided context for his next steps in ministry, Fr. G’s stories provide the ultimate context of God’s kinship and love to buoy those who have been sucked down into the Davy Jones’ locker of gang violence by the undertow of poverty and addiction and family dysfunction, and we who feel helpless in the face of that storm.  Fr. G is himself a water-walker of the first order.  He lives, works, and serves God in the most embattled territory of our urban wasteland, the largely Latino housing projects of Pico Gardens and Aliso Village in East Los Angeles. If he once looks down to note the waves beneath his feet – and he often looks down – he surely takes on water and begins to sink, crying out just as Peter does in the Gospel story, “Lord, save me!” But Fr. G has lived on the water and in the storm long enough now to know he needs to keep tight hold of Jesus’ hand to stay afloat. And when he remembers to do so, then there, right there, not later in the boat or on land in Gennesaret, but right there in the midst of the storm-surge, when he grabs hold of faith and lets the fear and doubt go, he finds “high summer holds the earth.” He finds the face of God in the tattooed faces around him, the kinship of God in kinship with them.

 

Fr. G tells a story, “Fifteen years ago, Bandit came to see me.  He had been well named by his homies [ -- the young men in his gang -- ] being at home in all things illegal. He… had put in time running up to cars and selling crack in Aliso Village.  He spent a lot of time locked up and had always seemed impervious to help.  But then that day, fifteen years ago, his resistance broke.  He sat in my office and said he was ‘tired of being tired.’ I escorted him to one of our four job developers and, as luck would have it, they located an entry-level job in a warehouse.  Unskilled, low-paying, a first job.

 

Cut to fifteen years [and lots of support, counseling, reality-testing and spiritual cheerleading from Homeboy] later, Bandit calls me near closing time on Friday.  He now runs the warehouse, owns his own home, is married with three kids.  I hadn’t heard from him in some time.  No news is usually good news with homies.  He speaks in something like a breathless panic.  ‘G, ya gotta bless my daughter.’ ‘Is she OK?’ I ask. ‘I mean, is she sick, or in the hospital?’ ‘No, no,’ he says, ‘on Sunday, she’s goin’ to Humboldt College.  Imagine, my oldest, my Carolina, goin’ to college.  But …I’m scared for her.  So do ya think you could give her a little send-off ‘bendición,’ [blessing]?

 

I schedule them to come the next day to Dolores Mission …Bandit, his wife, and three kids, including the college-bound Carolina, arrive…[and] I situate them all in front of the altar, Carolina planted in the middle. We encircle her, and I guide them to place their hands on her head or shoulder, to touch her as we close our eyes and bow our heads.  Then, as the homies would say, I do a ‘long-ass prayer,’ and before we know it, we all become ‘chillones,’ [crybabies,]sniffling our way through this thing.”

 

Sure on this shining night, we weep for wonder…”

 

“I’m not entirely sure why we’re all crying,” continues Fr. G, “except, I suppose, for the fact that Bandit and his wife don’t know anybody who’s gone to college – except, I guess, me.  Certainly no one in either one of their families.  So we end the prayer, and we laugh at how mushy we all just got.  Wiping our tears, I turn to Carolina and ask, ‘So, what are ya gonna study at Humboldt?’ She says without missing a beat, ‘Forensic psychology.’ ‘Daaamn, forensic psychology?’ Bandit chimes in, ‘Yeah, she wants to study the criminal mind.’ 

 

Silence.  Carolina turns slowly to Bandit, holds up one hand, and points to her dad, her pointing finger blocked by her other hand, so he won’t notice.  We allnotice and howl and Bandit says, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna be her first subject!’ We laugh and walk to the car.  Everyone piles in, but Bandit hangs back. ‘Can I tell you something, dog?’ I ask [him], standing in the parking lot.  ‘I give you credit for the man you’ve chosen to become. I’m proud of you.’  ‘Sabes qué?’ he says, eyes watering, ‘I’m proud of myself.  All my life, people called me a lowlife, a bueno para nada [good for nothing]. I guess I showed ‘em.’”

 

Hearts all whole. Peter. Fr. G.  Bandit himself.  Walking on water, hand in hand with Jesus.  Now, you all: OUT OF THE BOAT!  Let’s DO THIS!  Amen!

Thursday
Jul312014

Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon 7/27/2014

Proper 12 Year A 7-27-14

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Genesis 29:15-28; Ps. 105:1-11; Romans 8:26-39; Matt. 13:31-33, 44-52

 

We will search for you, O LORD and your strength; we will continually seek your face. We will glory in your Name, and as we seek you, our hearts will rejoice!  Amen.

 

The kingdom of heaven.  It’s a favorite term of Matthew’s Jesus. He begins right up front in his “mission statement” in Matthew 4:17 – “Repent – turn around, turn toward God – for the kingdom of heaven has come near! And he keeps on preaching about it throughout the Gospel, referring to the kingdom of heaven 32 times by the end.

 

In today’s passage, Jesus sets the kingdom of heaven forth in image upon image, as if, like a kaleidoscope, we can only begin to grasp it as the colors shift and change and reconfigure, again and again. It’s like a tiny mustard seed… it’s like yeast mixed into flour… it’s like treasure hidden in a field… it’s like a pearl hidden among many pearls… it’s like a confusing myriad of fish we cannot hope to sort ourselves, but must leave the sorting to the angels at the end of time.  Don’t get hung up on whether mustard is really “the smallest of all the seeds” or whether it “becomes a tree.” These are parables, meant for their suggestiveness, not their literal empiricism.

 

And what do they suggest?  In every case, the kingdom of heaven is not readily discernible.  Its power is not obvious.  That tiny seed conveys no hint of its potential to furnish shelter for birds.  That yeast seems inert until it vanishes into dough, but then leavens a huge mass. The value of the kingdom of heaven is immeasurable, worth selling all you have. It burgeons, but only as a messy part of an undifferentiated variety we are not capable of judging.   It is full of old and new; one cannot privilege the one over the other.

 

“Have we understood all this?!?”  HARDLY!  We still want God’s kingdom – for that is what Matthew’s “kingdom of heaven” is: it’s “God’s kingdom,” phrased with Jewish diffidence about pronouncing the name of the Ineffable, the Almighty, the Mysterious One-Who-Is-Becoming, the Alpha & the Omega – we still want God’s kingdom to be clearly, unambiguously visible and mighty and designated as unequivocally holy and pure, so we will know fully and finally how to participate in it without spot or blemish. We DON’T want the kingdom of heaven to be all mixed in with death in Gaza and Russian incursions into Ukrainian territory and Ebola virus in West Africa and immigrant children tossed to and fro amid violence on both sides of our borders, and all manner of personal troubles and trials and agonies.

 

Jesus offers no such reassurance.  The kingdom of heaven is, throughout this passage, hidden in the most ordinary of things.  It is ever-present to us even as it is indiscernible. It interpenetrates our painfully conflict-ridden, tortuously inhumane everyday world as mysteriously as leaven in dough; it’s hidden, for the most part, in the vast messiness of Creation and the perplexing moral morass of our humanity, yet its latent power far exceeds any promise it gives off overtly. We can either discover it in the mess, or we can muddle along, ignorant of its beauty and power, immune to its all-embracing, all-healing, all-redeeming love. But if we DO discover the kingdom of heaven amid all the dross and the anguish and the ambiguity, it makes us soul-shakingly glad.

 

Since two of the five images Jesus evokes here for the kingdom of heaven deal with fields, they make me think of the field I used to cross every day, several times a day, as part of the extra-faith ministry I did with unchurched youth and young adults in “the small voice ministry at pin point farm” on our tidal-river farm in Cushing, Maine.  The field was itself a wild kaleidoscope of ever-changing colors and sounds, of insect life and bird life, of wild grasses and flowers, as I came and went from the prayer house in which I practiced the daily office of prayer, “training for the kingdom of heaven.” The call of the small voice ministry was to cultivate my own relationship with the land I had been given on the saltwater farm belonging to my then-husband’s family – to grow an organic kitchen garden, build a prayer house, and match the rhythm of my days to the rhythm of the garden and the rhythm of the Daily Office, Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline.  In and through all of this, the call was to deepen my intimacy with that particular farmland – the rocky clay soil of the garden, the meadows, the different woodlands, the cove with its heron rookery, the deepwater river frontage – much as one becomes intimate with the body, face and soul of one’s marriage partner, and in that intimacy, to learn about God’s love. To listen for God’s Mission, God’s intention, for the earth God so lovingly created and lovingly sustains despite all our depredations. And to invite those young adults and youth who resisted participating in “church” into a spiritual community with each other and the earth, out of which might come their own “training for the kingdom of heaven.”

 

Every morning I would begin with the quarter-mile walk down the meadow to the prayer house to do Morning Prayer, often accompanied by my golden retriever Bo and my gray feral cat Francis, a little shadow in the grass, both of whom loved the walk and enjoyed too the quiet of the prayer in the prayer house, where they would settle themselves quietly on the floor as if they knew that our purpose in being there was stillness and reflection. Then we would walk back up to the house, only to return again at noon and in late afternoon for the succeeding offices. And those repeated walks, more than anything else in the rhythm of my life in “the small voice ministry at pin point farm,” taught me deeply about the presence of God’s kingdom of heaven. Passing up and down through the successive seasons of grasses and wildflowers, the coming-and-going of insects and birds – one month a seething sea of undulating blue-green grasses full of fat black-flies, the next a foot-snagging tangle of purple vetch and black-eyed susans hopping with grasshoppers – made me aware of how very, very much I miss in the hurtle and rush of my task-filled life and how little I perceive the natural world around me, the minute changes of moisture in the air and direction of wind that herald the weather ahead, the revolving angle of light from season to season, the imperative to plant and to harvest that yields to no human-centered schedule of priorities. Only in making that focused commitment of my hours and my days to pray my life at pin point farm did I begin to perceive the immensity of the gift to me, to us.

 

So it is that the most basic things about God’s presence in our lives – God’s “kingdom of heaven” that, as Jesus proclaimed, has come near enough to touch and smell and taste, that flowers and buzzes and sings with an ever-unfolding variety of promise upon promise upon promise, all around us – nevertheless get missed.  We weren’t looking, so the vetch flowered unnoticed. The treasure in the field went undiscovered.  The pearl was overlooked.  The power of yeast was undervalued.  We threw away good fish in our haste to make the judgments between “good” and “bad,” “evil” and “righteous.”  We weren’t ready and willing to devote not just part but ALL that we HAVE and ALL that we ARE to obtain the fullness of God’s promise of love.

 

This sounds lovely and bucolic when we just stick with the imagery of fields and seeds and yeast in dough.  But anyone who has been dedicatedly “training for the kingdom of heaven” will tell you, as any dedicated farmer will tell you, it can be a tough row to hoe.  My niece, on the dairy-and-root-vegetable farm in Hudson NY that she shares with her partner, can testify that farming is an all-or-nothing enterprise, and sometimes it can be “nothing” at just the WRONG time, to wit, the microburst this month that dropped 17 inches of rain in 48 hours just on their fields of baby carrot crops alone in the Hudson River Valley, inundating and destroying five acres of carrots in their infancy. The “kingdom of heaven has come near,” but sometimes it sure as heck doesn’t LOOK like it!

 

Fr. Greg Boyle’s book “Tattoos on the Heart” describes his ministry with gang members in “fields” of a different kind: in the projects in East Los Angeles. It’s the hardest of settings in which to perceive anything glad and good.  Nevertheless his book is a long testimony to the nearness of the kingdom of heaven in what looks a lot more like “the kingdom of death.”  Amidst the struggle of the folk in his community to find a way to thrive amid gang warfare, poverty, addiction and abuse, he describes how they “train for the kingdom of heaven:” “We try to find a way,” he writes, “to hold our fingertips gently to the pulse of God.  We watch as our hearts begin to beat as one with the One who delights in our being.  Then what do we do? We exhale that same spirit of delight into the world…” Is that what Jesus means in Matthew’s Gospel? Is that even POSSIBLE?

 

Paul tells the Romans, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” But he DOESN’T say, “The kingdom of heaven will take away from us ‘hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness or peril of sword.’” The kingdom of heaven in Paul’s own life was full of all those dreadful things, as hard to discern as at any time. But like Fr. Greg Boyle, Paul learned to hold his fingertips gently to the pulse of God even in the midst of life-threatening upheaval. And so he could say with persuasive power that we need not wait until life sorts itself out and things get tidy to find ourselves in the kingdom of heaven. It is ALWAYS near us. “In all these things” – the evil with the righteous, the bad with the good – as Paul says, “we are more than conquerors through God who loves us…[“who delights in our being.]“For,” he concludes, "I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, now powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” AMEN.

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

Wednesday
Jul302014

A Homily for the Blessing of the Marriage of Kazue Murata & Guy Evans

©Holly Lyman Antolini 

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord.  AMEN. 

It’s so interesting to me that Kazue and Guy chose these particular readings to celebrate the blessing of their marriage.  The whole idea in the Ephesians reading of “wives subject to husbands” doesn’t get a lot of positive press in this day of women’s rights!  And in an era when we are beginning to realize that people identify in many complicated ways with or in spite of or just plain away from their gender, not many choose Jesus’ words on marriage in Mark – some of the few in which he mentions marriage at all – that focus on the male and the female.

 

But then, Guy and Kazue are just not like every other person!  They are most decidedly unique, each of them very gifted and courageous and open each in their own individual way, reaching across cultures and oceans to find and hold each other, reaching even across the chasm of death, as we remember Kazue’s beloved dad today! And no one knowing them would think that they are trying to subject Kazue to Guy in some old-fashioned way!  Good luck trying that!

 

In fact, baptized together into Jesus Christ as they were at St. James’s last year, and now seeking the church’s blessing on their covenant of marriage, I think they have a pretty good idea that their call to marriage – and it is a vocation, marriage, as fundamental as a vocation to be a Christian – is a baptismal calling, and that their covenant with each other is a baptismal covenant.  By that, I mean that in some really fundamental way, just as they poured the whole of themselves into Jesus Christ in their baptism, becoming PART of Christ, part of Christ’s Body, so they are pouring themselves into each other in the covenant of marriage.  As it says in the Book of Common Prayer in the promises they will make as they give each other their rings, “With all that I am, and all that I have, I honor you!” Nothing is held back from the marriage.  They are “all in!”

 

And that’s really what the Letter to the Ephesians is saying, if you take away the time-bound cultural “filter” of an era when women were men’s property, so that no one was shocked when the man was described as “the head” of his wife.  Get beyond that, and you discover that, at heart, what Ephesians is saying is as radical in our era of individualism and “equal rights” as it was that even in that era of men owing nothing to their wives and wives owing everything to their husbands, marriage not about that kind of lopsidedness.  That in the covenant of marriage, each member of this union is to bring as complete a mutual devotion to the other as Christ did in offering himself on the Cross, completing the work of divine love to the last jot and title, giving up his life.  Everyone in the society of the writer of the Letter to the Ephesians accepted that wives would devote themselves to their husbands.  So it was profoundly shocking to them that the writer then says, “Yeah, but it doesn’t stop there! In addition to that, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body.” It’s hard for us to appreciate what a radical thing that was to say in a time when men could put away their wives with just a piece of paper renouncing her, and could then leave her utterly destitute.

 

How could such lopsidedness “show forth God’s love” as the covenant of marriage is intended to do? No, the “great mystery” of marriage is that BOTH members of the couple become ONE FLESH, joined as deeply as the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity are joined in One Substance.

 

So it makes sense that Guy & Kazue would also have chosen the Mark reading to compliment the Ephesians reading, since Jesus is saying that whatever our differences, in the covenant of marriage, we are joined to each other, seeking (and truth to say, often failing, and having to apologize and forgive each other and try again!) to belong to each other with as unconditional a love and concern for each other’s well-being as God has for every one of us. 

 

And then, delightfully, Mark’s Gospel moves immediately to equate marriage with the childlike spirit necessary to receive the kingdom of God, as if at the heart of this immensely somber and demanding and serious baptismal covenant that demands our all – baptism being faithfulness unto death, after all, and only after that, discovering the power of resurrection rising in us, raising us to new life! – as if at its core, this death-dealing, death-defying covenant is as simple and playful and innocent and vulnerable as a little child, needing to be held and touched and cared-for! And that in that touching vulnerability lies the very kingdom of God itself: the shalom of God, God’s wholeness of peace and love.

 

So my prayer for both of you, Kazue and Guy, as you continue your journey into Jesus Christ begun in your baptisms and now deepened in the covenant of marriage, is that in the struggle and joy of your connectedness to each other, the utter demands it makes upon your mutual understanding, as you continue to grow individually - professionally, spiritually, emotionally – and in that stretching and reaching to stay connected in a world that sometimes seems bound and determined to drive us apart, pit us against each other, and belittle the simple loyalty and faithfulness of Christian married love, you will not only grow up into Christ with all the capacity for self-offering that that implies, but you will ALSO find joy and playfulness and gentle confirmation of your belovedness in each other, children beloved of God. And that all of us supporting you in your marriage will SEE in your relationship the resilient, forgiving, ABIDING love of God for ALL of us!  AMEN.

Tuesday
Jul292014

JULY VESTRY UPDATE

Your Vestry met on July 22nd and approved the 2012 and 2013 financial audits, the 2013 Parochial Report, and the Safe Church Guidelines and Policies.  We heard from the Sound and Light committee about cost effective ways to improve our sound and lighting situation in the sanctuary and approved a small budget for those items.  We discussed the Holy Currencies concept geared toward making the parish both sustainable and missional and voted to re-form the Holy Currencies and Currency of Money committees. We heard a report on possible Christmas Fair alternative ideas and voted to move forward with a Dec. 5th St. Nicholas’ Eve intergenerational celebration at the church. We heard reports concerning property issues (repair of Rose Window and portion of parish hall roof) and finances (statements will be going out soon).  We affirmed all those responsible for a successful and joyous St. James’s Day parish picnic.  As always, please don't hesitate to contact any of us with any questions.

Monday
Jul212014

Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon, Sunday 7/20/14

Proper 11 Year A 7-20-14

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Genesis 28:10-19a; Ps. 139; Romans 8: 12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

 

If I say, "Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night," darkness is not dark to you, O God; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike.”  AMEN.

 

It is wonderful to be with you on this my seventh St. James’s Day in this parish. That’s a good biblical number, isn’t it: seven?  Seven days of Creation in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. In the giving of God’s Law in the book of Leviticus, the “seven sevens” that make the Sabbath Jubilee year of debt-forgiveness and restoration.  Seven angels and seven plagues complete the work of God in the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation. Seven equals fullness, wholeness, completion, perfection.

 

Well, this St. James’s Day, forget about that!  Fullness and completion?  WE HAVE A PARISH HOUSE BUILDING TO BUILD!  We’ve got a needy world to serve! I’ve got miles to go before I sleep as Rector of St. James’s!  We’re just getting ROLLING!

 

That said, though, I’m relishing the readings we’re given in the lectionary on this my Seventh St. James’s Day as your Rector, because they offer me a word about fullness and completion that runs much deeper than list of accomplishments we’re trying to get through, much deeper than the frantic totting-up and segmenting-out of what the Greeks named “chronos,” meaning ordinary time, passing time, the minutes and hours of the Currency of Time that never seem to be “enough,” that seem to sift away from us faster than we can move. These readings speak to me a word not about that scarce commodity of chronos time but rather about the endless abundance of fullness and completion that undergirds the fleeting passage of chronos time, that lies instead in the realm not of kairos, God’s Time, Eternal Time, the Ever-Present Now of God’s love.

 

Maybe this makes more sense to me, returning as I am from two blessed weeks of vacation in Puget Sound Washington and Northern California, when kairos dictated my daily rhythm more than the relentless chronos. Or maybe the sense comes from my week’s workshop on the Holy Currencies with the Rev. Dr. Eric Law in Los Angeles, a week of reminder to live from a theology of abundance, not scarcity.  But I suspect my reading of these passages from Scripture – Jacob’s ladder in Genesis, God’s intimate knowledge of us in Psalm 139, Paul’s thrumming words of hope in the Letter to the Romans, and then the peculiar parable of the Weeds & the Wheat in Matthew – is most affected by my day in that workshop spent at Homeboy Industries, a business-and job-creation program that sprang from the work of Jesuit priest Fr. Greg Boyle – “Fr. G” as the gang members, the “homies,” in the program call him – in the Dolores Missioncomunidade de base, Christian base community, in gang-and-poverty-saturated Boyle Heights in LA. And from my reading of Fr. Boyle’s book about Homeboy and Homegirl’s work, Tattoos on the Heart: the Boundless Power of Compassion.

 

Maybe it comes from the privilege of hearing our Homeboy Industries guide, I’ll call her Maisie, tell us her story as we sat behind the headquarters in the burgeoning herb-and-vegetable garden of the Homegirl Café. Articulate in two languages, Spanish & English, funny, engaging, employed as a Homegirl Café cook, Maisie came to Homeboy initially just to have some tattoos removed in their free tattoo-removal clinic.  It’s a route in used by many who, like Maisie, have become enmeshed in the gang network, who have struggled with addiction – in her case, mainly methamphetamines – who have dealt drugs themselves, done jail time.  But back behind that sorry history lies much, much more that Maisie described for us: her deep poverty from infancy; physical abuse by mother and father; irrational and unpredictable parental behavior; failure in school; early marriage to an abusive partner and then desertion; six children; loss of the children because of neglect; homelessness; rape; yet another pregnancy, discovered in jail.  A stew of shame and self-denigration followed by self-defeating choices, bubbling up into yet more shame. Efforts to get purchase on job skills, on education, on parenting, only to have circumstances and her own reactive choices knock her off-stride again and back into the self-destructive cycle of addiction and shame. Add weapons and gang affiliations and you get deeply endemic cycles of violence as well. Psychiatrist James Gilligan writes, “the self cannot survive without love, and the self, starved of love, dies. The absence of self-love is shame, ‘just as cold as the absence of warmth.’ Disgrace obscuring the sun.” [Ibid. p. 46]

 

It’s a familiar inner-city narrative (with its own rural parallels, worsening as the meth-and-heroin crisis worsens outside as well as inside cities).  As this story repeats and repeats, it’s understandable that we might begin to get jaded and want to give up on the intractability of the problem.  We might begin to sound a bit like the slaves in Jesus’ gardening parable when the good seed comes up weeds: “Where did these weeds come from?  Shall we go pull them up? Shall we just incarcerate them and take care of it?Three strikes and you’re out for good?”  It’s tempting to start thinking not just “weeds vs. wheat” but also “enemies vs. friends,” and even “children of the kingdom” vs. “children of the evil one.”  But then the householder gives the slaves strange advice – strange to those of us who work so hard to give vegetables a chance in our gardens.  “No,” he says, “for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both the weeds and the wheat, the good seed and the bad grow together until the harvest.”

 

It might be Fr. G speaking.  Because despite all the violence, Fr. G bears witness, after thirty-some years working with members of the 1,100 gangs – 86,000 young men and women – in Los Angeles, that God takes a very different view of humanity than we do.  God, after all, was looking on when the very first plants were created, long before anyone figured out how to cultivate them into good productive domesticated seed at all.  From a God’s-eye view, Fr. G might say, we’re all weeds. Or we’re all wheat.  Because God loves every single one of us, utterly.   In fact, Fr. G says, “Not much in my life makes any sense outside of God.  Certainly, a place like Homeboy Industries is all folly and bad business unless the core of the endeavor seeks to imitate the kind of God one ought to believe in.  In the end, I am helpless to explain why anyone would accompany those on the margins were it not for some anchored belief that the Ground of all Being thought this was a good idea.” [Ibid. p. 21] And the Ground of All Being’s just waiting, hoping, praying, trying to create the conditions for us to discover how lovable and beloved we really are. Because as Fr. G says, “homies seem to live in the zip code of the eternally disappointing, and need a change of address.  To this end, one hopes (against all human inclination) to model not the ‘one false move’ God but the ‘no matter whatness’ of God.  You seek to imitate the kind of God you believe in, where disappointment is, well, Greek to Him.  You strive to live the black spiritual that says, ‘God looks beyond our fault and sees our need.’

 

Fr. G tells a story. (He tells many, many versions of this story in so many engaging ways, but they often come down to this.) Fr. G takes a young gang member, “a life force of braggadocio and posturing… a gang member, but a peripheral one at best,” a mid-twenty-something named Willy, a “charming, quintessential homie con man,” to an ATM at the Food 4 Less market, to get him some cash for dinner.  Fr. G writes, “I tell Willy to stay in the car [at the market], in case we run into one of Willy’s rivals inside. ‘Stay here, dog,’ I tell him, ‘I’ll be right back.’ [“A “dog” is the one upon whom you can rely – the role-dog, the person who has your back.”] I’m not ten feet away when I hear a muffled ‘Hey.’ It’s Willy, and he’s miming, ‘the keys,’ from the passenger seat of my car… ‘The radio,’ he mouths, as he holds a hand, cupping his ear.  I wag a finger, ‘No…’ It’s my turn to mime. I hold both my hands together and enunciate exaggeratedly, ‘Pray.’  Willy sighs and levitates his eyeballs.  But he’s putty.  He assumes the praying hands pose and looks heavenward… I proceed on my quest to the ATM but feel the need to check in on Willy only ten yards later.  I turn and find him still in the prayer position, seeming to be only half-aware that I’m looking in on him.  I return to the car, $20 in hand, and get in. Something has happened here.  Willy is quiet, reflective, and there is a palpable sense of peace in the vehicle.  I look at Willy and say, ‘You prayed, didn’t you?’ He doesn’t look at me.  He’s still and quiet. ‘Yeah, I did.’ I start the car.  ‘Well, what did God say to you?’ I ask him. ‘Well first, he said, ‘Shut up & listen.’’ ‘So what d’ya do?’ ‘Come on, G,’ he says, ‘What am I sposed ta do? I shut up and listened.’  I begin to drive him home to the barrio.  I’ve never seen Willy like this.  He’s quiet and humble – no need to convince me of anything or talk me out of something else. ‘So, son, tell me something,’ I ask. ‘How do you see God?’ ‘God?’ he says, ‘That’s my dog right there.’  ‘And God?’ I ask, ‘How does God see you?’ Willy doesn’t answer at first.  So I turn and watch as he rests his head on the recliner, staring at the ceiling of my car. A tear falls down his cheek. Heart full, eyes overflowing. ‘God…thinks…I’m…firme.’ To the homies, firme means ‘could not be one bit better.’” [Ibid. pp. 22-24]

 

Isn’t this the discovery Jacob made when he woke from his dream of the angel ladder with his head on a stone and knew God was in that dreary, desolate, uncertain place, and found his ears ringing with God’s promise, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you?" Isn’t this the promise in Psalm 139, that no darkness is too dark for God? That God will search us out and know us and prize us because God knit us together in the first place, most wondrously?  Isn’t this the hope in things unseen to which Paul gives voice in Romans Chapter 8, as we wait to realize that we are fully and finally and everlastingly God’s adopted and beloved children?  It’s the discovery our guide Maisie made when she came in for a tattoo removal and found instead, herself, her lovable, capable, resilient, reliable self, through all the free programs, the mental health counseling, legal services, parenting curriculum, education classes, work-readiness training, and, yes, employment services that Homeboy offers.  It’s what you feel in the air of Homeboy Industries, everywhere you go on the premises, surrounded by faces our media have taught us to fear, but that in fact shine with a kinship not based on anyone having to “qualify” to be there, but based instead on confidence in a love that will never let go. As Fr. G says, “Out of the wreck of our disfigured, misshapen selves, so darkened by shame and disgrace, indeed, [in the words of Franciscan Richard Rohr,] the Lord comes to us disguised as ourselves.  And we don’t grow into this – we just learn to pay better attention. The ‘no matter whatness’ of God dissolves the toxicity of shame and fills us with tender mercy.” And as thousands can testify who have come home to themselves at Homeboy, found their dignity, found their capacity, found a job and a life and a healthy community: whatever trouble we get into in the chronos of our lives, the kairos of God’s love is ALWAYS waiting to redeem us, right at the core of us.  We just need to learn to pay better attention.

 

And that’s what we’re here to do at St. James’s, no more and no less.  To learn to pay better attention to the presence of God, disguised as ourselves. To move from dis-grace to Grace ourselves so that we might have a clue how to extend that unreserved grace to ANY and EVERY person we meet, the ones who come over this threshold into our congregational community and the ones who never get anywhere near it. Anything and everything we do and say here, in prayer and out, in worship and in service and in fellowship and mutual enjoyment, is aimed at that discovery, the discovery every Homeboy homie is longing for, “led by the Spirit of God,” to know ourselves no longer prisoners of shame but “children of God.” For ‘When we cry, "Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,” hoping to “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. AMEN.

Wednesday
Jul022014

Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon Sunday 6/29/14

Proper 8, Year A 6-29-14

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Genesis 22:1-14; Ps. 13; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42

 

I put my trust in your mercy; my heart is joyful because of your saving help. I will sing to the LORD, for he has dealt with me richly; I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High.  Amen.

 

Such a lovely weekend: the prime of summer!  What we all long for, when these warm months come around: sunshine without too much humidity; enough moisture to revive the plants and bring out their blossoms and their beautiful scents; birds courting tunefully from every bough; weddings – we had TWO yesterday: Guy Evans & Kazue Murata, and Gwen Crevensten & Guibenson Hippolyte – to remind us that all this abundance flows from God’s loving and steadfast heart.  I’m heading out on vacation tomorrow for two weeks in the San Juan Islands in the Northwest, and with my friends in California, before I head to Eric Law’s Holy Currencies workshop in LA.  Time for a nice, relaxing sermon about sabbath rest, don’t you think?

 

So what does the lectionary give us?  The famous story among biblical stories: Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac.  And what a terrifying ring it has in our 21st century ears, we who read about child abuse in every paper, whose ears are buzzing with the terrible reality that the most vulnerable among us – our children – are subject to violence – sexual or not – at the hands of those charged to protect them.  A story meant to fill us with inspiration at the depth of Abraham’s trust in God instead implicates both father (human) and Father (God) in an intent to murder the very one they are most responsible for protecting. And though Isaac’s mother Sarah appears nowhere in this story, one is uncomfortably reminded of how often mothers in such situations fail to speak – whether from fear or from a determined denial, or worse, from being implicated in the crime.

 

And if we put a Christian gloss over this Jewish story and say, It’s a foreshadowing of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, as we are invited to do when we read this story as part of the Easter Vigil, as we have for well over a millennium, does that make it any better? That God should set out to sacrifice God’s only Son as the core story of our faith: is that the God in whom we put our trust?

 

And then, you might say, how dare I construe such a biblical story – the Word of God, Holy Scripture, written to acquaint us with God and to instruct us morally and spiritually – in such a terrible light?  Am I not to be obedient to scripture?!? What kind of desperate arrogance is that?

 

Yet I say to you, one of the primary challenges to our spirituality, every day in some way or other, is the evil we encounter, personally or proximally, in this world that God created, that God called “good.”  And nothing challenges our faith more deeply and troublingly than the evil done to the vulnerable: to the children we love, to the children we ARE!

 

Take, for example, a core member in one of the congregations I have served who was a faithful chalice-bearer, an 8 O’clocker, a property chair (and you know how devoted THAT ministry is!  Ask Sylvia Weston, who, as Sr. Warden, has been functioning as Property Chair here at St. James’s!). In the neighborhood where my congregation member’s own children were growing up, a family nearby adopted a child who proved to be “a handful,” as my mother would have said.  They adopted the child in a profound spirit of altruism, and even after the parents divorced, the single mom patiently and devotedly adapted and adjusted and strove to meet the needs of the boy as he grew.  My congregation member’s children were friends with the child and the two families spent many hours together. Nevertheless, the boy struggled with drug addiction, and then, tragically, as a very young man, succumbed to gun violence.

 

Even though the congregation member had long since moved away from that neighborhood, and his children had grown and moved out, still the death of that young man struck him like a physical blow.  After all the goodness inherent in the mom’s adoption of the child and all her efforts on the child’s behalf, HOW COULD GOD LET THAT CHILD GROW INTO THAT TROUBLED MAN AND DIE?  How could God “do” that to the child?  (Or at the very least, ALLOW it?) How could God “do” that to the mother?

 

Where was the ram in the bushes for that child?  Where was God, when God was needed?

 

For the congregation member, this was a death knell to his faith.  He could no longer “put his trust in God,” in a world in which such evil could occur. If this is the cry of my former congregation member, is it not also the cry of anyone who has suffered trauma as a child?  The trauma of accident?  Worse, trauma at the hands of one’s trusted loved ones, like the trauma suffered by Isaac – though the story from Genesis does not explore Isaac’s feelings at all, we note – when his father bound him and laid him on the firewood and raised the knife?  Trauma inflicted by the very people one most NEEDS to trust, on whom one relies for care and nurture, for affirmation and protection?  Where is God, when God is needed?

 

This week, we learned through the radio station WBUR that neuroscience is confirming what we might long have suspected, that child abuse actually changes the BRAINS of children so afflicted, seriously interfering with the very development of their brains, and hence interfering with their ability to trust and to respond to adversity with resiliency instead of with helpless rage or self-distrust and self-harm.  It doesn’t take any acrobatics of imagination to construe from this that children growing up in poor and violent communities suffer the same effects of constant, chronic trauma.  Nor does it take imaginative feats to realize that children even in economically comfortable circumstances who grow up afflicted by chronic racism or religious persecution or by bullying because of their sexual orientation or gender identification may also suffer such fundamental modifications of their responses to life’s challenges.  Where is God in such widespread and endemic social injustice against our most vulnerable citizens, when they themselves are innocent and their sense of themselves and their identity is just developing?

 

So summer vacation or no summer vacation, we cannot simply sidestep the discomfort of the Abraham-&-Isaac story.  The question it poses is an eternal question, one we’ve struggled with throughout the ages.  And it is OUR question, our 21st-century question. We must face right into it. 

 

And for that, we must reach even deeper into the story itself, into Isaac’s silence, even, may I say as a Christian, into JESUS’s silence in the face of Pilate’s conviction.  Evil DOES happen.  It IS happening. It is happening to the most vulnerable among us.  Such abuse and trauma – whether inflicted by a whole community in its racism, sexism, and every form of prejudice, or by a trusted individual, a parent, a relative, a clergyperson, a counselor, a coach – IS happening to children in our own communities, in our congregations and families. And children do not even know how to construe what is happening to them.  All too often, they try to take responsibility for their anguish by blaming THEMSELVES instead of the abuser, even though there’s no way they could possibly have the agency to change the dynamics of abuse.

 

It cannot be surprising that some founder in the depths of that silence, that victimhood, like the tragic young man in my congregation member’s old neighborhood.  There is no formula to paste over that dark truth.  But the wonder is, that others do NOT.  Others find, in the very depths of that darkness, the promise that sums up the Abraham-&-Isaac story: The Lord Will Provide!  Others, like Isaac who went on to father the nation of Israel, like Jesus whom the grave could not hold, mysteriously and counter-intuitively find, right in the very midst of that desolate darkness the seeds of faith, the springs of faith in the very midst of their desert, and choose, not to give up on God, but to turn all the more adamantly to God who is their ONLY trust in a world in which evil abounds. 

 

And if we look to the passage for today from Gospel of Matthew, we find another word to us alongside the dark word of the Abraham-&-Isaac story.  And it’s a more potent word when we look back over Matthew’s Chapter 10 and realize that the whole of Chapter 10 has been dealing with conflict and division, as the disciples are commissioned and sent out to do the work of God’s Kingdom “like sheep in the midst of wolves,” dragged into conflict and before governors and kings, flogged and forced to defend themselves, persecuted and fleeing, man against father, daughter against mother, one’s foes members of one’s own household, fearing that they have been forgotten by God like a handful of pathetic sparrows, “losing their life” in God’s service as Jesus lost his. Life – and ministry – are struggle, in Matthew Chapter 10. And here, at the end of the chapter, Jesus adds today’s word of welcome and hospitality: Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me …and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’ 

 

We are the ones through whom this welcome is to be extended.  We are commissioned in our baptism into the death of Christ so that we may live and shine with God’s love no matter what the darkness.  We are sent into the world to bear Christ’s affirming word of presence and love to the places where people most have reason to doubt its truth.  We are Christ’s hands and feet in this suffering and afflicted world, we by whose hands the cup of cold water can be given.  We are called to UNDO the darkness of racism, to UNDO the darkness of prejudice against people for their gender identification, their sexual orientation, their religious conviction, their mental health status, their economic status, to extend our welcome to ALL GOD’S CHILDREN.  We, most particularly, are called to the careful and honest and patient undoing of the legacy of trauma endured by those whose trust was violated when they were too young and to dependent to be able to know how utterly wrong the perpetrators were and to confront them, whose basic identities have been skewed by such harm, those who struggle even to know what love is.

 

So please stand and join me on page 5 of your bulletins in praying Psalm 13 again, from the springs of our spiritual longing in the face of the evil in the world, so that we may assume our baptismal calling to be light in the darkness, and love where love is lost.

 

1          How long, O LORD?
            will you forget me for ever? *
            how long will you hide your face from me?

2          How long shall I have perplexity in my mind,
            and grief in my heart, day after day?*
            how long shall my enemy triumph over me?

3          Look upon me and answer me, O LORD my God; *
            give light to my eyes, lest I sleep in death;

4          Lest my enemy say, "I have prevailed over him," *
            and my foes rejoice that I have fallen.

5          But I put my trust in your mercy; *
            my heart is joyful because of your saving help.

6          I will sing to the LORD, for he has dealt with me richly; *
            I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High.

 

AMEN.

Holly Antolini 6-29-14

Wednesday
Jun182014

Sermon, Trinity Sunday, 6/15/14

Trinity Sunday Year A 6-15-14

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a; Ps. 8; Matthew 28:16-20

 

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all, ever more.  AMEN. [2 Cor. 13:13]

 

I often find it helpful to turn to Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible, called The Message, when I need illumination on a passage of Scripture that has had its edges worn off.  Matthew 28 is one of those.  The line “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” has been used as THE “missionary statement” of so many Christian denominations over the centuries, often licensing Christians to approach unfamiliar peoples and cultures around the world with an extraordinary arrogance, as if the Holy Spirit had arrived along with these Christian missionaries, rather than being present from the beginning, inherent in the Creation as Genesis 1 says, inherent in the community they approach, among the strangers they do not yet know. To baptize these new acquaintances, in this interpretation, meant to bring Christ to “spiritual paupers” rather than to discover Christ already richly in them, seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves,” as our baptismal covenant exhorts.

 

So how lovely to open Eugene Peterson’s translation and read, “Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set [in the Resurrection appearances] for their reunion.  The moment they saw him, they worshipped him.  Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally.  Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge, “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name, Father, Son & Holy Spirit.  Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you.  I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”

 

Note: Jesus’ authority is for a purpose: to commission US, to imbue US in turn with that authority!  And for what do we use this new-found authority?  To PRACTICE what Jesus has commanded us, day after day after day!  And to train others in the PRACTICE.  And what commandment is that, that we are practicing?  We are practicing LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER.  SACRIFICIAL LOVE.  SELF-OFFERING LOVE.  We are practicing “risking ourselves totally,” which is our spiritual worship, as Peterson translates Matthew. We practice to risk participating in the Trinitarian Love – the Unity in Diversity – that is at the heart of God’s own Self, God who could not merely remain a Oneness but needed relational Love at God’s own Center in order to BE GOD.  God the Three in One that draws Jesus’ humanity fully into divinity, for Jesus does not split off from his human self in ascending into the Godhead, but remains fully human and fully divine. We are commissioned to practice risking ourselves totally to be part of THAT synergy of self-offering, reconciling love.

 

A very, very different vision of what it is to travel throughout the world as emissaries of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, isn’t it?  To arrive in each new place among new people and discover Christ there in every face, to learn new things about what it is to be in relationship, what it is to love, from every single person we encounter, even those we find alien and frightening and unfathomable? To risk ourselves utterly in that encounter?

 

Today, we are celebrating the Trinity in a unique way, and not just in promising Kacey Minnick that after a year of Micah Fellowship with us, even as we send her forth for whatever lies ahead for her in the power of the Spirit, we are also holding her firmly in our love as fellow members of Christ’s Body with her, wherever she may be, holding her in the bonds of Oneness in the Diversity of the Trinity.  We are also joining with the Reverend Judy and Dr. John Gay in the celebrating their 60 years of covenanted relationship in the bonds of holy matrimony, and witnessing to the renewing of that covenant. 

 

If what I say is true about Matthew’s Great Commission, then it is highly fitting that we should spend our Trinity Sunday renewing a couple’s marriage vows.  Marriage has always expressed a truly baptismal – a Trinitarian – covenant between two people: a self-offering one to another in which the welfare of the other ranks right alongside one’s own, a union meant to express God’s unending faithfulness to us, “day after day after day, right up to the end of the age,” as Peterson translates Matthew.  Marriage means, “not holding back, but risking ourselves totally” in giving ourselves to each other.  Maybe the British knew something we might forget, when in the words of their old marriage service at the giving of the rings, the couple said to each other, “With my body, I thee worship.” (Well, truth to say, it was only the man who said that, but we certainly have moved beyond THAT gender distinction!) Still, if marriage is indeed a missionary act, meant to show forth God’s love to the world, even as it all too often also shows forth our inadequacy as fallible human beings to live up to that charge, then as God has given God’s Self utterly to us on the Cross, so we risk “all that we are and all that we have” (our U.S. prayer over the rings) in marriage to each other. Marriage is a vocation to practice loving one another as Christ loved us, as his commandment demands, in which love, Christ was simply showing forth the nature of God’s own love, ever drawing us together even as we become clearer and clearer about our unique individual identities. Trinitarian indeed: same substance; different persons.

 

How fitting, then, to celebrate not just a marriage but the marriage of two missionarieson this Trinity Sunday in which we read the Great Commission of Matthew!  John reminded me this week that he and Judy were newly married and studying jointly at Union Theological Seminary when they discerned a call to serve as missionaries.  They had hoped to go to Alaska for their first posting, but the Episcopal Church had requested that they consider instead going to teach in Liberia. In the middle 1950’s, the African continent was in many places in the throes of a revolutionary fervor, throwing off the colonial yoke for the first time since the 17th & 18th centuries and seeking self-rule in nationalist independence movements.  It was a demanding, even a frightening thing to contemplate going there.  Judy and John were sitting in the Union Chapel for worship, and the preacher pointed to one of the stained glass windows, in which was depicted (under layers of New York grime) Matthew’s Great Commission to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”  John looked at Judy and Judy looked at John, and they decided that this was the Word they needed to decide to go to Liberia. For those of you here who know and love them, you know that from that unfolded not just a lifetime of service on the African continent, first in Liberia and then in Lesotho, South Africa (and ordination for Judy as the first woman priest ever in the Diocese of Lesotho), but also a lifelong practice of their own continuing conversion and reaffirmation of baptism, as Judy and John met stranger after stranger and found in them the face of Christ and the love of Christ, as they shed assumption after assumption about their own hegemonical knowledge and understanding and became humble students of those whose cultures and challenges they were only just beginning to comprehend.  Judy and John have spent a lifetime becoming smaller and humbler and more in awe of the gifts and challenges God has set before God’s beloved people, especially God’s beloved African people, even as they have grown larger and larger in the Spirit – and they continue on the same trajectory here in Cambridge, now including people from the Asian continent in their circle of unity and belovedness as well, as they welcome Chinese and other Asian scholars into their family of friends. And their marriage has kept pace with this spiritual learning, as they have become humbler and humbler before the awe of their union with each other, even as each has grown larger and larger in their own personal achievement and capacity.  Truly we can see in John and Judy’s marriage, after these 60 years of practice, God’s own total risk, God’s own self-offering love, and in that witness, we can find useful training for ourselves in that same practice.

 

Now, with John’s & Judy’s support, I want to extend that witness still further. It so happens, as some of you know, that I spent last week in Kansas City at an Anglicanindaba Consultation with the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music over their resources for the blessing of a same-sex covenant, “I Will Bless You & You Will Be a Blessing,” approved for provisional use (meaning under the instruction of the local bishop) at the 2012 General Convention. The word "indaba," meaning "spirited discussion," comes from South Africa, and is used for an ongoing process of relationship-building in the Eugene Peterson model of the Great Commission, a process of deep listening in the context of bible study and shared prayer across cultural and theological differences with indaba partners from all around the Anglican Communion. In addition to a broadly national distribution of Episcopalians, our indaba Consultation participants in Kansas City included representatives of the Disciples of Christ, the UCC, the ELCA, Presbyterians, the Moravians, and Anglicans from Uruguay, Brazil, New Zealand, Southern Africa, Wales, Scotland, and the Convocation of Churches in Europe, among others, all of them from regions in which civil marriage between same-sex partners has been made legal.

 

Being at the Consultation meant a full immersion in the theology of the blessing of covenants between couples committed to fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God,”* the distinguishing marks of John & Judy’s covenant of marriage, just as they are the marks we expect from couples of the same sex as well. Our indaba meant a deep and shared consideration of what the Church believes is happening when it pronounces God’s blessing upon such relationships, and a consideration of what the Church believes the blessing of these covenants will contribute to God’s Mission, God’s own work of redeeming and reconciling love in the world.

 

It was the revelation of the Consultation that indeed, marriage is a part of our response to Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew: a practice of risking ourselves totally in relationship with someone very “other” than ourselves, a practice of following Christ’s commandment of self-offering love day after day after day, and of training others in the same practice – our children, our families, our friends, all who observe us and support us in sustaining and deepening our marriage covenants. And further, the Consultation was a revelation that, as such, this practice of self-offering love is equally accessible to couples of the same sex as it is to couples of the opposite sex, like John & Judy.

 

In fact, rather than hearing a continuing distinction between the covenants of same-sex and of opposite-sex couples, what resonated painfully in our plenary discussion at the Consultation was the acute discomfort and sense of theological incoherence experienced by those of our parish clergy who, at the direction of their bishops, abide by the instruction to tell same-sex couples they may not be bound in holy matrimony because that status is reserved for opposite-sex couples only, and the pain and sense of "lesser status" experienced by the same-sex couples themselves. (I must point out that, with the permission of our bishop here in Massachusetts, we are among the few dioceses NOT bound to such a distinction and may use either the provisional blessing liturgy or the marriage service in the prayer book in marrying couples of whatever sex.) Though concern was expressed over whether, were that distinction to be specifically removed or the understanding of holy matrimony explicitly expanded throughout the Episcopal Church at the 2015 General Convention, some members of The Episcopal Church, as well as members of other Provinces of the Anglican Communion might view the action as "American unilateralism," this gathering moved into consensus that the time has come to remove what we saw as a false distinction, and to acknowledge that all covenantal relationships blessed by the church, whether with the rite in the current Book of Common Prayer or with the new proposed liturgical resources, are, in fact, holy matrimony. 

 

Our Anglican partner from Brazil, the Very Rev. Marinez Bassotto, Dean of the Trinity National Cathedral in Porto Alegre (and friend of our own Mary Caulfield, who has spent many months in Brazil, sharing the resources of Godly Play there), brought a chalice and patten to the Consultation identical to the one Mary brought to us here at St. James’s, made by indigenous women in honor of the 20th anniversary of women's ordination in the Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil, which we used at our closing Consultation Eucharist.  In presenting it, she spoke eloquently of her sense of obedience to the Holy Spirit in bringing about new opportunities to see the world afresh through God's eyes.  She and many of our Anglican and ecumenical partners spoke of looking keenly to the Episcopal Church USA for theological and liturgical leadership in this area, as they respond to the opening of legal civil union and/or civil marriage to same-sex couples in their jurisdictions.  Had she been reading Eugene Peterson’s Message translation of Matthew’s Great Commission, she could have said, “Train us in this way of life, in which God’s Mission of reconciliation is expressed equally among couples of the same and couples, of the opposite sex, like John & Judy Gay!  Help us practice all that Jesus has commanded us, in the work of self-offering love! Join us in the Eucharistic bonds of communion and community, leaving no one out!”

In the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and fellowship of the Holy Spirit, with us always, day after day after day.  AMEN.

 

*To Set Our Hope on Christ: A Response to the Invitation of Windsor Report (New York: The Office of Communication, The Episcopal Church Center, 2005), 63-121

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