Resources

Monday
Oct072013

Rev. Holly Antolini's Sermon for Sunday Oct. 6th, 2013

Proper 22, Year C/St. Francis Day 10-6-13

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Lamentations 1:1-6; Ps. 137; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10

Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  AMEN.

You gotta LOVE the lectionary!  Here I come back from four joyful, light-fraught months of rest and rejuvenation on sabbatical – truly a “sabbath rest” in England, Scotland, Maine, Vermont, California and Italy – and my first Sunday back, my first post-sabbatical sermon to y’all, what do I get for readings? In the first lesson, Lamentations, in the era when all of Jerusalem’s ruling class had been taken into captivity by the Babylonians, and the city and the first Temple laid waste! The author of Psalm 137, responding to the same devastation: How shall we sing the Lord’s song upon an alien soil?”  And then there’s Luke! ”We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!” How am I supposed to preach my joy out of THOSE TEXTS, I ask you?!?

I opened this sermon with the Collect for St. Francis’ Feast Day, since we’re celebrating St. Francis Day by blessing animals in his name after the service, on the West steps.  It begs God that “we may for love of God delight in God’s whole creation with perfectness of joy.”  Now THAT’S more like it! But where’s “the perfectness of joy” in the desolate visions of Lamentations & Psalm 137? Or the words to Timothy in our second lesson, words about being “a prisoner of the Lord” and ” suffering for the gospel?”  What’s joyful about being a suffering prisoner? Where’s the delight in the severity of Luke, requiring from us the obedience of a SLAVE?!?  A “worthless” one, to boot? In our liberated, positive-reinforcement-oriented 21st century Cantabrigian culture, is worthless slavery an appropriate – even a viable – vision of the Christian life?

But then I go back and notice more about Francis’ Collect.  Before we can delight in Creation with perfectness of joy, the prayer implies, we need grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world,grace to renounce whatever insulates us from awareness of God’s cherishing, merciful presence.  And our delight in Creation, our joy, springs only from our awareness and responsive love of that all-loving God. Somewhere in that hinge between vanity and joy lies the key to this contrast of lament and delight.

Fresh in my mind is my visit to Francis’ own hometown, Assisi, in Umbria, in Italy, just a couple of weeks ago.  (I guess I just missed overlapping with the new Roman Catholic Pope Francis, who was there yesterday, I find!) I wandered Assisi’s little narrow streets to the huge basilica built in Francis’ honor right after his death at age 44.  It dominates the brow of the town’s steep hill, and is decorated over every inch of its Lower and Upper Churches with magnificent frescoes, including one of my favorites: the entire Life of Francis by the painter Giotto, an absolute profusion of medieval glory.  I meandered down the hill through the ancient olive orchards to find the tiny chapel of San Damiano where, in the beginning of the 13th century, as a popular young gallant full of medieval romance and ambitious to be a soldier, but now smitten and prevented by illness, Francis first heard Christ speak from the church’s crucifix, saying “Francis! Seest thou not that my house is in ruins? Go and restore it for me!” [G.K. Chesterton,  St. Francis of Assisi] Those words caused Francis to abandon all his dreams of military glory, all the wealth and power of his merchant family and adopt a life of absolute poverty, joining in solidarity with the poorest of the poor in his society, and living simply, often out of doors.  Finally, after San Damiano, I visited Porzi`uncola, at the bottom of the hill below Assisi: the first tiny structure built by Francis and his companions in which to pray and celebrate the Eucharist. The tiny church, with its stone walls and precious fresco of Francis’ vision of Christ and Mary his mother reigning in glory, is now completely enclosed in an immense Counter-Reformation structure of Santa Maria degli Angeli like the tiny seed at the center of an immense and elaborate fruit.

The morning that I visited this astonishing church-within-a-church, the tiny chapel was completely filled with Missionaries of Charity, nuns from Mother Teresa’s Calcutta order, who like Francis have vowed “wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor.” They were kneeling on the floor of the chapel for the celebration of the Eucharist, heads bent in their distinctive white-&-blue cotton head-coverings.  Though their presence meant that we couldn’t enter the chapel to see the frescoes inside, the Missionaries of Charity reframed my entire visit to Assisi. The sight of all those bowed, white-clad heads in their simplicity bore in upon me the irony of all I was seeing.  The irony of Porzi`uncola’s encasement in the ponderous majesty of its towering tribute shrine.  The irony of the mighty Basilica on the hill above, controversial even in its original construction because its pomp and glory was felt by some of Francis’ followers to be contradictory of Francis’ own simplicity.  The ironyof the whole of Assisi itself, its streets crammed with little shops offering every imaginable variety of tourist tchotchkes, a town where crowds of pilgrims throng, dining sumptuously and purchasing religious and other paraphernalia profligately.  The irony that the only quiet to be found in the whole bustling town was the quiet far down at San Damiano, too steep a climb for many visitors, too far away in the orchards for tour busses to reach it, a place where the listener might just hear Christ address them from the crucifix even now, might hear him say as pointedly now as then, “Can’t you see how my house is in ruins?  Please, please: restore my church!”

The Missionaries of Charity may even have reframed my entire experience of sabbatical, an experience that was shot through continuously with “delight in God’s Creation with perfectness of joy,” as I journeyed about, walking, singing Handel, praying, visiting with friends, [yes, eating!] and drawing – attempting to draw, at any rate – the wonders I saw around me. Those bowed heads reminded me – as I was often reminded, on the island of Iona, in and out of Anglican churches in England, here in New England’s small-town churches, in the historic basilicas of Florence and Venice – of the dilemma we and our Church are in, in bondage to our own comfort, our own insulation from the pain and anguish of God’s “least, last, lost & littlest ones,” our own anxiety about securing a “truth” to purvey to young people, an anxiety only increasing as congregations visibly age and young people find that “truth” unpersuasive.

O Lord, increase our faith!” cry the disciples to Jesus in the Gospel of Luke today. Isn’t that OUR cry in this post-Christendom, 21st century time, a time when little about the values and standards of our society seems to invite faith and much seems to invite the abandonment thereof? Jesus gives the lie to such measurements of faith: only a mustard seed of faith is really needed, the tiniest bias of “yes” over “no” to God.  But still we get tangled up in confusion, just as the pious people of Assisi, from the 13th century until now, get tangled up in the commercial and institutional opportunities of Francis’ popularity, in the exaltation and adulation of Francis who might well have owned that he, himself, had only the merest mustard seed of faith.  Even before Francis had died, his order had begun to move away from his life of “holy poverty,” acquiring lands, wealth, influence, moving “indoors” if you will, away from the birds and the wolves and homeless poor with whom Francis broke bread and shared their predicament. In so doing, they moved away from his decision to rely solely upon God, solely upon the trust that God was in charge of the messy world of inequality and war and violence and destruction then as now, his dependence upon God’s really loving the world and continuing to work in the world, all the world, all Creation, not just the “nice” parts of it, that being a “worthless slave” of all that beauteous work of God is not a diminishment of us as God’s beloved creatures, but a simple acknowledgment that only God is God, the one acknowledgment that can lead us into whole-hearted sharing in that all-encompassing love.   

But though Jesus uses the laborious image of the slave in her apron, setting dinner on the table, to reinforce our obedience to God in our creaturely weakness, I can tell you from my time on sabbatical that even a mustard seed like mine of faith that God is truly in charge can permit rest as well as labor, enjoyment as well as action.  Perhaps you could say, I stripped off the insulation of my work – whatever ego support, whatever “vanity of the world” cushions me in my official role as your rector – and discovered, in the simplicity of rest, God present and loving.

The Missionaries of Charity in the Porzi`uncola reminded me that we cannot restore our church from inside the safe and sumptuous walls of our basilicas. We cannot restore it burdened with ourtchotchkes, religious or otherwise. As Francis was flung out from the security of his family and society – literally flung out of his own clothing, if the legend is right that he publicly stripped off the fancy clothes his father had provided, in order to begin his Godly life with no possessions whatsoever – flung out defenseless into the harsh world to pursue a faithfulness to Christ that did not depend upon his comfort, so I wonder what insulating “vanities of this world” we are meant to strip off so that we can “restore our church” by allowing ourselves to experience the all-encompassing, all-powerful, all-demanding love of God, and then discover we can share with Francis – with Jesus! – in offering it to all God’s beloved creatures?

To Francis, there was no “alien soil” such as the Psalmist laments, because all soil was God’s soil, and Francis was at home there. There was no captivity, for God’s freedom meant all were free, so Francis could brook captivity in love’s pursuit without fear.  “Suffering and hard servitude” were only Francis’ opportunities to share in the suffering and servitude of the humbler members of his society. The counsel to Timothy might have been Francis’ own missionary vow: “Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace.” Francis invites us to restore our church by venturing onto alien soil, daring captivity, embracing suffering, relying upon the power of God,because that is what brings us closer to sharing in Eucharist, in God’s self-offering love.

Francis, from all we know of him, truly delighted in that love.  He loved his life, loved the world around him, loved all beings from the birds and beasts of the Italian countryside to the Sultan of Egypt, with whom he attempted to negotiate a peace to end the Crusades.  He loved them with joy because he believed God loved them with joy, every one of them.  And joy was Francis’ default setting. Even in the intense poverty and often discomfort of his daily circumstances, nothing distanced him from the most intimate fellowship – the deepest Eucharist – with all his fellow creatures. So let us end with his words of joy, his mustard seed from which all faith springs.

Let us pray:

Most High, omnipotent, good Lord, to thee be ceaseless praise outpoured, and blessing without measure. Let creatures all give thanks to thee and serve in great humility.  AMEN.

Tuesday
Oct012013

Living Epistle: Kacey Minnick, Sunday, Sep 29, 2013

Hey y’all, I’m Kacey, in case you didn’t know. I’m the Micah Fellow and I’m here today to share my story.

I was born and raised in Nashville, TN, home to that twangy country music. I’m one of six kids – I’m number four on the pecking order, with an identical twin sister and a younger brother. I learned from an early age how to share.

I was raised in the United Methodist Church, where communion was grape juice, and I spent sermons coloring activity sheets and arguing with my siblings over colored pencils. Sundays were always for church services, and Wednesdays being dragged to choir. Life was relatively uneventful. Summers slid by with trips the lake, playing in the mud in the backyard, and winters were peaceful, filled with caroling parties and homemade gift-giving.

Everything changed when I was 13.

That year, my dad lost his job, and my family lost God. Food stamps were a reality; church was not. Christmas that year held very little joy for me; the Jesus figurine in our giant nativity scene was no longer a symbol of hope, but just sculpted chalk and dust.

In order to support the family, my dad took a job traveling around the world training personnel at different military bases. While I thoroughly enjoyed the fine photos of Maine harbors and the Eiffel Tower (and certainly delighted in the genuine German chocolate), there’s nothing like having your dad around to talk to about NASCAR and football. (Remember, I’m from the South!)

Life, as it wont to do, changed shortly after. After some more life events – my grandmother passing away, a car accident, my mother having surgery – we learned of another upheaval. We were moving to Fayetteville, North Carolina.

New friends, new classes, and suddenly an awareness of the military presence at Fort Bragg. Everything seemed foreign. Despite my mother’s new job at an Episcopal Church, God was shut away, only dusted off for holidays, special occasions, and the family crisis.

As a result, my college search was largely focused on finding a spiritual community. Guilford College, a small, woodsy liberal arts school founded by Quakers, seemed idyllic and perfect. As it turns out, the school prided itself on Quaker values, but faith – or really any sort of religious life at all – was strictly optional, usually not taken.

I was severely challenged on this campus. My initial community was a Christian evangelical group that seemed to focus on lightly treading Scripture rather than digging deep into it. At a beach retreat, I was pressured into being saved. At the time, I didn’t feel any different, just confused as to why everyone was crying and sobbing and hugging me. My best friend then, she reassured me that I did the right thing. I wasn’t so sure.

Thus it happened my first year at college was spent trying to understand the Bible. I fought with my friends about the validity of Scripture, I wrung my hands over the lack of God in my then-boyfriend’s life.

The final straw came when the pastor of the church we all attended told me that my boyfriend was going to hell, that I was unequally yoked, and that I’d never be happy if I kept going this way. In one of my less-than-shining moments, I fought with him, in the middle of the church. I had two more fights with two friends, screaming in the bathroom. I left the church that day, crying and stomping out with tears streaming down my face. 

I was in a dark and depressed place. I was so confused and didn’t understand what was going on. I was aimless for a bit after that, attending a few Quaker meetings here and there. While I appreciated the inner light as God as a photographer, more often in meetings I fell asleep than meditated. Instead of finding and holding close the Inner Light, I snored.

It was during this time I discovered the Episcopal Campus Ministry. The priest, Kevin Matthews (and now a good friend of mine), convinced me on having the “real stuff.” When I had communion for the first time there, I said some inappropriate words – holy ….well you get the idea. It was in this small community – 1 or 2 of my peers, plus the parish assistant and the priest – that I discovered I could really explore my faith.

It was, as I felt the alcohol burn my throat every week, the “real deal.”

We didn’t have sermons, just Bible studies where questions were eagerly presented. Why is sex such a thing in the Bible? Why did David commit adultery? What’s with that bearded guy in the desert anyway?

While I’m still pursuing the answers to these questions – and many more – I was finally in a place that welcomed me for who I was. Yet, aside from those gatherings  (and occasional samplings of Kevin’s home brews), I felt like something was missing.

I didn’t know what that was until I came to Boston, my intentional community, to St. James. In all of my one on one meetings and endless cups of coffee and tea, there is one thing that’s been repeated to me over and over again. St. James has a real community, a sense of stability surrounded by genuine goodness and kindness. By no means is it perfect, in the having-no-flaws sense of the word. But it is perfectly and wholly resting in God’s love and spirit.  So, thank you for supporting me on my faith journey.  Remember that, and support one another in God’s love and grace. Not just me and my spiritual journey here, but yours and others’ as well.

Because, for the first time since I was 13,  I have a church home, (not just because this is my job) but because I have discovered a place to call mine. Thank you.

Tuesday
Oct012013

Isaac Martinez's Sermon for September 22nd, 2013

Almighty and everliving God, remember not our past sins, but instead let your compassion come speedily to meet us. And may I preach to you this morning in the name of God, our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen. Please be seated.
When Judith asked me what I thought about preaching sometime during Holly’s sabbatical, my mind immediately went to one of the first times I was asked to preach. I was the ripe age of 9, and my dad, a Pentecostal pastor, was convinced that I was going to follow him into ministry and thought preaching would be good practice. Boy, was he surprised when I turned the tables on him and ended up ranting for a good five minutes on Jesus condemning divorce. I guess it wasn’t exactly the sermon he was expecting from me.
And when I first read today’s Gospel, let me tell you, I half-wanted to give Judith a rant of her own. I was hoping for something a little bit less complicated for my first sermon here at St. James.
It turns out I should have been more charitable towards Judith. The lectionary for today, with its focus on economic justice, actually coincides perfectly with the 5th anniversary of the 2008 financial crisis. Five years ago this week, Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, its collapse led to a full-fledged banking panic, and ultimately we experienced a catastrophic recession. Although the recession is officially over the job, income, and wealth prospects of the working and middle classes of this country have yet to recover. The rich, on the other hand, have had quite the recovery. The wealthiest 1% of Americans have seen their incomes grow by 31% since 2009. The rest of us have only seen our incomes grow by a measly 0.4%, driven by a stubbornly high 7.3% unemployment rate. For people my age, this economic picture is even bleaker, with good jobs nowhere in sight and a student loan debt that grows and grows. In these statistics, I hear echoes of Jeremiah, “the harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”
If any aspect of modern life needed some Gospel light, it would be our economy. So it’s easy to shout “Amen” when Jesus proclaims “the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation.” How shrewd indeed to emerge from the Great Recession wealthier than ever.
Now, traditional understandings of this parable assume that the rich man and his dishonest manager are cut from the same cloth as today's 1% and Jesus actually condemns them all. He then teaches us to act in the opposite way, to take whatever money we do have and use it for His lifesaving work in this world. Serve God, not wealth. Case closed.
We can’t, however, just pat ourselves on the back for being the good liberal Protestants that we are and call it a day. You see, Jesus is not just giving a practical lesson on how Christians should make use of their wealth. Instead he is giving a crash course in the Economics of Grace. Because we aren't innocent bystanders of our economic system, nor are we called to play a merely passive role in bringing about a more just replacement.
To understand the lesson Jesus is trying to teach, let us switch up the metaphor in the parable. Instead of the rich man and his manager being servants of wealth, let’s imagine that the rich man is a stand-in for God. After all, that would fit the narrative structure of this part of Luke.
In fact, Luke 16 has the same setting as Luke 15, where Jesus is sitting with tax collectors and sinners and using parables to teach us about how God saves. Last week, we heard that God is like a shepherd who risks life and limb to find 1 lost sheep when he has 99 safe at home. God is like a widow who turns her house upside down to find 1 coin when she had 9 others. God is also like a father, who not only forgives his prodigal son, but welcomes him back with a feast and asks us to rejoice with him as well. In using these human similes of God, Jesus is inviting us to ask ourselves this question, how much more? If a human shepherd will risk everything, if a human widow will shake up everything, if a human father will forgive everything, to restore what they had lost, how much more will a divine God do to restore us? How much more?
So what does it mean if God is like the rich man in today’s parable, who commends, who praises his lying, cheating, no good employee? The answer lies in who the manager stands for. And I hope you’re ready for this St. James’s, because it turns out the dishonest manager is us, he’s you, and he’s me. Like the manager, we have been given so much by God, given a divine mission to be his agents, to act for him. St. Theresa of Avila beautifully wrote that God has no hands and no feet here on earth but ours.
And yet, we are only human. Dishonestly human. And when the messes we make in our lives catch up with us, we often act like the dishonest manager and double down on what got us in the mess in the first place, thinking that’s how we’ll get out of it. Now, compulsive cheating might be the manager’s individual sin, but we can easily substitute our own. It could be anger, addiction, depression, workaholism. I know for me, it’s a constant search for value by comparing myself to others.
And yet, for all his dishonesty, for all his sinful way of moving through the world, the manager still managed to do some good. The tenants’ debts were forgiven. Their lives did get better. They experienced a moment of mercy in a cruel and unjust world. So even though he was only looking out for number one, the manager actually, if unintentionally ended up being an agent of the rich man’s mercy.
So once again, Jesus implies the question, how much more? If a human landowner commends his dishonest manager for being an unintentional agent of mercy, how much more will God reward us, improve our lives, if we became intentional agents of His grace?
But how do we do that? How do we become beacons of God’s merciful love in a world that serves wealth?
Such subservience was on display last week the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill slashing the food stamps program, and then passed another bill that keeps the federal government running only if the president’s healthcare reform is fully defunded. At times like these, we have to follow Paul’s instructions to pray and intercede for our political leaders. But we if are to be true Grace Agents, we can do more than pray. We can educate ourselves about how our unjust economic system functions. And we can work to change it.
In her book, Owning our Future, Marjorie Kelly explains how the 2008 crisis wasn’t a fluke. It was the expected result of adhering to a system of Extractive Ownership. Kelly defines Extractive Ownership with 5 characteristics: it has a Financial Purpose of maximizing financial gain and minimizing financial risk; it has Absentee Membership, where owners are disconnected from what they own; it turns over Governance to capital Markets run on autopilot; it is Financed as if it were a Casino, where profits come from making the right bets and capital becomes the master of labor; and finally, extractive ownership operates through Commodity Networks, where everything relates to each other only by price.
Kelly also shows us the beginnings of a new system, what she calls Generative Ownership, ownership that results in more abundant life. Though not a professing Christian, Kelly’s examples and language are rife with Gospel spirit. Instead of a financial purpose, our economy could have a Living Purpose, where profits are simply made, not maximized at all costs. A generative economy has a Rooted Membership, where real people exercise control over real sources of wealth. Governance is Mission-Controlled and organizations of all kinds make decisions based on what helps them achieve their social mission. Stakeholder Finance means investments and gains are returned to their rightful place, as friend and partner to labor. Finally, economic relationships start, grow, and are nourished through Ethical Networks. Now that is an economic vision of the kingdom I think we can all get behind!
As Marjorie Kelly also says, an ownership revolution requires a fundamental, cultural shift that can only start from the bottom and middle of the economic pyramid. As Jesus says, the servants of wealth are shrewd at maintaining the status quo. As Christians, we have a prophetic role and righteous duty to oppose an extractive and exploitative system, not just with words, but with our actions. We must be faithful with the tools at our disposal to advance His work of salvation.
Fortunately, Kelly also identifies concrete actions we can take as individuals to bring about the generative economy more quickly and be intentional grace agents. We can move our money from the big banks to local, community banks. We can join and support customer- and employee-owned cooperatives. We can ensure our retirement savings are invested as socially responsible as possible.
St. James, we can use the wealth of this world to make friends for the kingdom, to Take up the weak out of the dust and lift up the poor from the ashes.
Now, as the parable tells us, God’s mercy is still shown even if we don’t become intentional agents of grace. But if this opportunity passes us by, could we truly say that we were faithful in the little things? Shouldn’t we try to walk as children of the light? I pray that is the path we all choose to take, because then our lives, our church, and our world will be full of God’s true riches. Amen.

 

Monday
Sep232013

Vestry Minutes July 16, 2013

Present:  Carol Hilliard, Sylvia Weston, Isaac Martinez, John Irvine, Lucas Sanders, Saskia Grunberger, Iselma Carrington, Susan Rice, Joanna Kline

Absent: Holly Antolini, Judith Atkinson, JT Kittredge, Steve Clark, Warren Huber, Marian King

Sylvia leads us in spiritual practice.

July Vestry Minutes

Tuesday
Aug202013

Jodi Mikalachki's Sermon for August 18, 2013

St. James's Episcopal Church, Porter Square, Cambridge

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Sermon: The Journey of Faith (Genesis 12 & 13)

I belong to a Bible study in group in Burundi, and in the weeks before I left to visit Canada and the US, we had begun to study the story of Abram in Genesis 12 and 13. This is Abram before he became Abraham, before the covenant, before the birth of Isaac. I realized I'd previously rushed through this period of his life: his going out from Haran to the land that Yahweh promised to show him; his going down into Egypt and asking Sarai to pretend to be his sister so Pharoah wouldn't kill him; his coming back to the land that Yahweh had shown him to hear the promises again and more clearly. What I had previously retained from this period of Abram's life was a vague sense that he had built some altars, and a rather stronger resentment of his treatment of Sarai in Egypt. As we studied these two chapters in my Bible study group, however, I began to see how much Abram was working out during this long period of his life (he was 75 when he left Haran), and how crucial it was to the development of something that would make him worthy of the epithet "our father in faith."

As you may remember, Abram had already migrated once in his life, when his father Terah took his three sons and their wives and children out of Ur of the Chaldeans and into the land of Canaan, where they settled in Haran. So when Yahweh spoke to Abram to tell him to go from Haran to another place, Yahweh wasn't asking him to do something outside his experience or that of his family. Let's look at this moment in Genesis, Chapter 12, verses 1-9:

Now YAHWEH said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

So Abram went, as YAHWEH had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was 75 years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother's son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then YAHWEH appeared to Abram, and said, "to your offspring I will give this land." So he built there an altar to YAHWEH, who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to YAHWEH and invoked the name of YAHWEH. And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.

Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to reside there as an alien, for the famine was severe in the land.

One of the first questions we had as a group studying this passage was whether Abram had disobeyed Yahweh's command to "go from your country and your kindred and your father's house" by taking his nephew Lot with him. Why did he take Lot? Because Lot wanted to come? Because Abram's father Terah had taken his family when he left Ur of the Chaldeans, and that was the model Abram had for migration? Because a 75-year-old man needs a younger kinsman to protect him and help him manage his many possessions, including the persons he had acquired in Haran? Because an aging and childless man wants to know that he'll have someone to succeed him and carry forward the family line in a new place? Was it disobedience when Abram took Lot with him? Disobedience proceeding perhaps from fear or weakness in the face of the command to go forth without the support of kindred? Or was it a failure to understand that Yahweh was asking Abram to do something new, to undertake a journey that would be different from his father's? How long does it take us to understand where our journey separates from that of our parents, our forebears, our people? -- Or perhaps that in undertaking our particular journey, we can be the making of our people, the instruments of a new and redeeming story that God longs to tell?

The other question we asked ourselves was whether Abram had disobeyed when he left the land that Yahweh had shown him to go down into Egypt. "Now there was a famine in the land," we're told, indeed, a "severe famine." Abram was responsible for his family, slaves, and livestock. He needed to take them somewhere they could find food, and that was Egypt. Who could blame him for this decision? Yet even before entering Egypt, Abram was preparing for trouble, cooking up his plan to pass Sarai off as his sister so Pharoah wouldn't kill him in order to have her. His concern on this head proved to be well-founded, as Sarai was indeed taken into Pharoah's house under the guise of Abram's sister. Abram fared well in this exchange, receiving sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female slaves, female donkeys, and camels (Gen 12:16). How Sarai fared is not recorded. Pharoah and his house, however, were afflicted with great plagues because of Sarai, so that he eventually gave her back to Abram, telling him to take her and be gone (Gen 12:17-20). 

As our Bible study group looked at Abram's maneuvers in Genesis 12, it seemed to us that despite Yahweh's promises to make of him a great nation and a blessing for all the families of the earth, Abram's first instinct was consistently for self-preservation: self-preservation in taking his nephew with him instead of leaving his kindred; self-preservation in going down to Egypt to reside as an alien instead of staying in the land that Yahweh had given to his offspring; self-preservation in passing Sarai off as his sister instead of protecting her as his wife. I would say that we were not particularly judgmental in noting this pattern, since we acknowledged that Abram faced several critical life decisions where any one of us might have done as he did. The more we looked at this period of Abram's life, the more our attention was drawn instead to the graciousness of God, in Abram's life and our own. Recognizing our own patterns in Abram’s story, we were encouraged to note how he began to reflect this graciousness over time.

After his Egyptian sojourn, Abram returned to the Negeb, gathering wealth to the point where he became "very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold" (Gen 13:2). So did Lot, who continued to travel with his uncle as they made their way back to the place between Bethel and Ai where Abram had built one of his altars. By the time they got there, they had so many flocks, herds and tents "that the land could not support both of them living together; for their possessions were so great that they could not live together"(Gen 13:6). This is when Abram finally parted company with Lot, which is to say, he completed the process of leaving his kindred. And the way he did it tells us a lot about what he had learned from Yahweh's faithfulness to him. Rather than staking his claim first, as the father figure and the one to whose offspring Yahweh had given the land, Abram invited Lot to choose first where he would settle. To do so was in some way to relinquish his superior status as the patriarch. It was generous and trusting – trusting of Lot and trusting of Yahweh, since Lot's choice might potentially fall on land that Yahweh had promised to Abram's offspring. No-one could interpret Abram's behavior here as an act of self-preservation. Lot chose the plain of the Jordan, which was well watered everywhere like the garden of Yahweh and the land of Egypt (Gen 13:10). Lot chose based on his past experience, as perhaps Abram had chosen earlier in his journey. Lot settled among the cities of the Plain and moved his tent as far as Sodom, where the people were already known as wicked, great sinners against Yahweh (Gen 13:12-13).

That left Abram free to settle in the land of Canaan. And there, after Lot had separated from him, Yahweh repeated and elaborated his promises to Abram, promises about the future:

"Raise your eyes now, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Rise up, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I will give it to you." So Abram moved his tent, and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron; and there he built an altar to YAHWEH.   --Genesis 13: 14-18

These are not the only oaks or the only altar we hear about in Abram's wanderings. The first is the oak of Moreh at Shechem, where Yahweh appeared to Abram for the second time and said "To your offspring I will give this land." Abram responded by building an altar to Yahweh who had appeared to him there (Gen 12:6). Throughout his journeys in and out of Canaan, he returned to oak trees in sacred places to build altars to Yahweh. Was he building or re-building the same altar by the same trees each time? Each time we read of it, are the scriptures telling or re-telling a founding moment in Abram's relationship with Yahweh -- perhaps a founding moment in human relations with Yahweh? For I think there is something paradigmatic -- something typical of all human journeys of faith -- in these constant returns to a sacred place and a sacred grove. We all have places we come back to again and again -- places of the earth and places of the heart where we meet the living God. Each time we do, we re-build our altar, re-centering our lives on God and God's promises, and re-committing ourselves to that central relationship in our lives. Yahweh, who was and is and ever will be, asks the same thing of us each time, and makes the same promises. It is we who change over time. With the best will in the world, most of us will not understand the full import of what God is calling us to do with our lives the first time we hear it. It takes us a long time to sever our ties to what no longer requires our allegiance, to leave our places of comfort, to overcome our instinct for self-preservation and our characteristic ways of protecting ourselves physically and emotionally. We need to pass through that oak grove again and again, rebuilding the altar of our faith on the increasingly sacred ground of Hebron. Pitching the frail tent of our humanity in the shade those mighty oaks.

As we journey into our faith, our trust in the living God grows. We understand that Yahweh is patient and gracious, that the hand of Yahweh has stood between us and danger many times. We hear Yahweh's promises more clearly and elaborately, and begin to see how they unfold in the time and space of our lives. Increasingly, we dare to believe that Yahweh is faithful and will continue to speak to us, revealing greater and greater depths of love. In the face of such loving faithfulness, it stops mattering whether Abram was disobedient or weak or just plain slow to understand his call. He is our father in faith precisely because of how he worked his way to an understanding of his mission over time and space, spiraling back through the oaks of Hebron to re-center and re-commit himself at the ever-growing altar of his faith.

Where is that place for you? Where do you rebuild your altar and call upon the name of the living God? Where does Yahweh speak to you to in your own language, affirming promises you understand better over time? Is it a place on this earth, or a place in your heart? If it's a physical place, likely you carry it in your heart, too. Don't forget to visit it, all the same. That's what makes a place sacred, and allows you to carry its holiness in your heart. The work you do there -- the relationship you build and memorialize -- is for all humanity, all earth's life communities, in fact. Each time you go there, remember to rise up and walk through the length and breadth of the land, for Yahweh has given it to you. Not as a possession or a tract to be exploited or walled off, but rather as a place to pitch your tent and build your altar again and again.

When I think of my own life, and my own journey in faith, I'm increasingly aware of how in my middle age the living God is asking and teaching me to trust more and to cling less to the ways of protecting and providing for myself I learned in my childhood and early adulthood. You could have drawn a straighter line between teaching English at Wellesley College, which is what I did for the fifteen years I was an active member of this parish, and teaching English at the University of Burundi, which is how I support myself now. But that’s not the path I took. I left academic life, tried my vocation in two Anglican religious orders, taught again for a year, and then went to Burundi as a missionary with the Mennonite Central Committee. I’ve needed every step of that journey. In May of this year, I first began to feel internal pressure from the nodule that had taken over the left lobe of my thyroid years before. I had another ultrasound, and learned that I would need to have it removed some time in the next year, the sooner the better. My first thought was that I would need to return to the US, find a job, and get health insurance. I contacted some former colleagues at Wellesley, applied for a student services job there, and began studying openings at independent schools in the area. I also fell to my knees, rebuilt my altar, and called upon the name of the living God. I reflected that I had twice been invited to have this surgery in the Boston area – in 2008 and 2011 – when I had health insurance. So I said to my God, “I’m asking you for a third chance.” Shortly after, I learned that a distinguished American ENT surgeon would be visiting a mission hospital in rural Burundi, not far from where I’d served for four years. I contacted him and went for a consultation, and he agreed to perform the surgery for free. I stayed with his wonderful family before and after the surgery, and received excellent, loving care from them and Burundians on the hospital staff. Two days after the surgery, I wrote in my journal that my overwhelming sense of wonder and gratitude was beginning to fade. But for 48 hours I was awash in it. The first words I spoke on beginning to come to from the anesthetic were “God is so good.”

So my journey of faith, like Abram’s, is physical as well as spiritual, lived out in time and space, in the temple of my model and this beautiful planet that is our home. Standing here today in our parish sanctuary,  I'm aware of what a sacred place St. James's is for me -- the building, the congregation, and the sign we are of God's grace in Porter Square. This is my oak grove. This is my altar. This is my Hebron, the place to which I return to re-center myself in the living God and to re-commit myself to what God is asking of me. I think of how some of you here are pouring yourselves out to maintain and transform this building, to re-build the altar of our commitment to all God's people in this place. Thank you for watering these oak trees. Thank you for tending this altar. God sees you and honors you, and so do I. 

Jodi Sermon 8-13-13

Monday
Jun242013

Tiffany Curtis's final Sermon as Micah Fellow, June 23, 2013

Tiffany M. Curtis

 A Farewell Sermon for June 23, 2013

Preached at St. James’s Episcopal Church, Cambridge


Come, come whoever you are:

Wanderer, Worshiper, lover of leaving;

Come though you have broken your vow a thousand times before;

Ours is no caravan of despair

Come, yet again, come.


Since today is my last Sunday, I got to pick all the hymns, and our offertory hymn this morning is one of my favorites, adapted from a poem by Rumi, the famous 13th-century Persian poet and mystic. I love his poetry, which feels so grounded in reality and so transcendent at the same time, which has this timelessness to it and this universality that is so rare. I appreciate being able to sing a hymn with his words, to embody the message he received from God to share with the world. The one thing that troubles me about this hymn, however, is that it leaves out what I think is the most important line in his whole poem, a line that I just read: “Come though you have broken your vow a thousand times before.”

What an invitation! Come although you have failed over and over again. Come although you are not true to your word. Come although your intentions are better than your actions. Come although you are imperfect and unreliable. Come yet come again come.

Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.  In today’s reading from 1 Kings, the prophet Elijah is afraid. He is wandering, fleeing in the desert. He thinks his life is at risk and so he leaves. He thinks that he has failed as a prophet and that the people have fallen into wickedness. He wants to end his own life. He resigns himself to death, lying down beneath a broom tree far far out in the in the wilderness, with no food or water. But then rescue comes during his sleep of death. Rescue comes in the form of nourishment--in the form of a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. This food gives him strength for the journey. He travels another 40 days and 40 nights in the harsh desert. He goes in search of God at the holy mountain of Horeb. Wanderer worshiper lover of leaving.

Ours is no caravan of despair. In Luke, we hear this amazing, colorful story. Jesus finds a man who has been tormented by spirits, who has been shackled by his own community and then nominally released but banished to live among the tombs--inhabiting a social status of complete outcast and living dead and demon, with only the gravestones for company. Jesus casts those demons out of him, transforming this man, re-ordering his life, re-orienting his spirit. The man even sits calmly at the feet of Jesus. He has been healed! Ours is no caravan of despair.

What is really poignant in this gospel reading is what happens after Jesus heals the man.

Luke says,

“Then all the people of the surrounding country...[asked] Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.”

Ours is no caravan of despair.

Jesus heals someone who is suffering, tormented. The Greek word here means both saved and healed, which seems so appropriate. Jesus seeks to re-weave the social fabric that has been torn by this man’s disease and banishment from community. Jesus seems to recognize that we are saved and healed by our ability to be in community with one another and to be invited into that again and again by God and one another. But when Jesus heals this man the people in this community are seized with great fear, and the man who has been healed wants to go with Jesus. How could you blame him? Can you imagine what his life might be like, going back into that community? Will he be welcomed with open arms, or continue to be feared, mistrusted? But the man ascents to Jesus’ request, going back to that community. Come come again come.

What Luke doesn’t say is how hard it is going to be for the man to go back after all that...it is challenging to try to go into a community again when transformation has taken place, when transformation is taking place. It is difficult to hold the needs of the community and our own needs and be in the process of healing amidst others. How do we support people in that tension? What do we do to welcome others and to welcome ourselves as whole beings while helping to facilitate movement and growth for the community at large? That is an ongoing challenge for us as people of faith, that is an ongoing challenge here at St. James’...because we have all broken our vows a thousand times, we have all failed, we are all flawed and yet we are all welcome. Come come whoever you are.

What does it look like to offer such a radical welcome to all--to really say come come whoever you are? To really say, although you have broken your vows, a thousand times, come again anyway? What does it mean for us to welcome the demon-possessed into our community? What does it mean for us to welcome our own demons?

This gospel reading leaves that part of the story out, but we do see a clue. Jesus initiates the healing process and then invites the man to return to his community rather than to follow Jesus. This implies to me that once a person has come to a place of wellness and stability where they are not seeking to disrupt the community, but rather to participate, then that real work of healing begins. As the community learns to incorporate the man into the communal life again, and as he brings his own prophetic witness to them and learns how to integrate himself into community again, with all his gifts and all his particular challenges, that is when everyone is saved and healed. Come come again come.

We do know, however, from Luke, that the community is afraid. They want this Jesus gone. They are afraid because what they think is right has been disrupted. This spirit-possessed man, this raving lunatic whom they had banished to the charnel grounds, sits peacefully at the feet of Jesus--this foreign Jewish prophet in their midst. He follows Jesus out of town, and then comes back to them, proclaiming that Jesus has done great things for him. This is not the narrative they expected. This man was doomed, dead to their community. Their story has been shaken up.

Elijah also thought he was doing as God asked him, he thought he knew the story. He struck down all the competing prophets, he performed miracles and signs, he preached the word.  And yet when Jezebel says she will destroy him, he also is seized with fear. What power does this woman have? That this prophet who we are told has killed so many others now flees in terror? He goes far far out into the wilderness, hoping to die. But an angel brings him food and urges him on his way. He goes to the Holy Mountain of Horeb and there he seeks God. The word of God comes to him and she asks him why he is there. He says he been zealous, done everything right, but the people have fallen into wickedness. The Word says, God is about to pass by, go out to meet God. And so Elijah goes. I wonder what he thought he would see?

Listen again to what the author of Kings describes so powerfully:

“Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before God, but God was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but God was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”

When Elijah answers, in the same exact way that he has answered already three times in this story, with his self-justification of his faith and his expression of failure and fear, God responds clearly: go back to where you came from. Come come again come. Wanderer Worshiper Lover of Leaving. Come again.

These stories together offer an invitation that is terrifying for me. An invitation to come again and again. To show up. To return when we have fled. When we have wandered. When we have broken our vows. When we have broken our hearts. This invitation isn’t some fuzzy invitation to God’s warm embrace.  It’s a challenging invitation, to show up when it’s hard, when it hurts. Jesus heals the man with demons and send him back into a community that doesn’t necessarily want him. Elijah faces death, wanders in the wilderness, and finally seeks God. And when he finds God it is in the sound of utter silence and he receives a message to return to the wilderness of Damascus, and to face his fears. That is a terrifying message.

Elijah was a powerful prophet. He undoubtedly had grand visions of God, maybe as a warrior, a king, or fire, an earthquake...but God is revealed to Elijah in absolute silence, stillness, nothingness. God shatters the narrative that Elijah had about who God is and tells him to go back again into community--to keep trying. Come come again come.

True community is not a caravan of despair. It is a joyful journey with fellow travelers, fellow soul-friends who have lost their ways, just like us, a thousand times and then a thousand more. And in that joyous gathering of travel companions we are met with the freedom of experiencing what is, we are met with the opportunity to experience real joy and real sorrow and real loss. Not the facsimilies of those things that we so often cling to. Not the idols of our own making.

But to find these gifts we have to keep coming. Wanderers that we are. Lovers of leaving that we are. We are invited to show up to life again and again. Come yet again come. We keep living with our feet planted on the ground and our eyes open and we just might see God, in the place we least expect, in the form we least expect.

This community of St. James’ has taught me what this means in a new way this year. The truth is, when I came here I didn’t want to, really. I didn’t want to work in a church. I had been to so many churches. I grew up in church. My dad is a minister. I have worked in churches. I thought I knew what church was like. And I appreciated church. Church communities have shaped me and helped me grow and fed my faith.

But ultimately I know that most churches are mostly deeply dis-satisfying to me. They seem static, a bit forced, a bit shallow when it comes to the real stuff of being alive. The Christian message of love is beautiful, to be sure, but I often found myself asking what do you mean when you say God is Love? When you say all are welcome? Why don’t I feel anything but a pleasant buzz of platitudes inside these church walls?

St. James’s is certainly not perfect, and I don’t think any of us would want it to be, actually. However, this church is a very special place. The spirit of this community is unusual and beautiful, and has actually made me appreciate church more.

I think what I love the most about it is that it feels alive. It’s messy. It’s chaotic. It’s confusing. And it’s real. People bring themselves into the space with their bodies and their hearts and that is actually welcomed. I have two favorite parts of the service here: the music and the Celebrations and Announcements. In those moments I have been transformed by this church. I have been convicted by my desire to wander away from the church, in my lifelong love of leaving. Because I have seen that it is actually possible for a Liberal Mainline Protestant church in the United States to be alive, to be animated by the embodied theology of the people who make up the body of Christ. I have experienced that the full range of human emotions can be shared in a space like this, through song, word, silence, movement. And to move through sorrow, celebration, action, and reflection together really does make for a joyful journey--Ours really is no caravan of despair here at St. James's!

You all have taught me so much about what it looks like to really say come come again come. Wanderer worshiper lover of leaving...come whoever you are. What an invitation! You all have invited me with open arms, open hearts, open minds. You have invited me, in my weakness and fear, with my wandering heart, and my imperfect human body, with my sadness and anger and impatience, with my desire to feel love. You have invited me although I have broken my vow a thousand times. You have invited me fully into this space, in my own ways, at my own pace. I have been able to glimpse what it means to come and come again over and over again.

And now I must go again. I am leaving this sacred time, this year as your Micah Fellow, working in your midst. I will be living in Cambridge next year, and I even hope to attend St. James’ when I can, so it’s not a goodbye in the strictest sense of the word, but it’s certainly a threshold moment, a leave-taking from a certain cycle, and a wonderful opportunity to express my deep gratitude for the ways in which you have helped me to feel more fully alive, more fully welcomed, more able to come and come again back into Christian community with more than bored resignation or simmering disappointment. Know that as I leave this year of service and justice and community, and go into the next season of my life and ministry, you are all imprinted on my heart, and that I go with gratitude, and with this refrain ringing in my ears: Come come again come.


Tiffany Curtis 6-23-13

Tuesday
Jun042013

Rev. Edwin Johnson's Sermon for June 2, 2013

Monday
Jun032013

An Impromptu Living Epistle

8 years ago, I cross the threshold of this church for the first time. It was cold day in January, and I was filled with the cold, harsh reality of man lost in a wilderness. My wilderness was Massachusetts. A place which brought me undreamed of professional opportunity to build communities, but ironically left me void of any real community. And then I crossed this threshold.

As Christians we are taught to give of ourselves – not just to our fellow man, woman and child but give ourselves to God. To have faith. Like most of us, this is something I do not do easily. But then I crossed this threshold.

For you see this place – this sacred place filled with you, the sacred children of the almighty – is truly one of the most amazing places on God’s green earth. I know it is. I know it is. How?

-          I found Christ here.

-          I became a confirmed Episcopalian here.

-          I found my soulmate here.

-          I entered into the bonds of Holy Matrimony here.

-          I sang to the heavens here.

-          I lead this flock here.

-          I have watched this family grow and come and leave over and over again from right here.

-          And I have seen this church do what it has done since the first lantern light service 149 years ago time and again – that is to be a light to the world to serve. Thru service is hope. Thru hope is promise. Thru promise is trust. And when people trust each other, humanity, civility and grace happen.

St. James’s we show the world that it does not matter your class, your race, your education, your sex, your sexual orientation, your physical or mental disability, your language or even your religion – to make a difference. We do it every day. Right now, St. James’s-ians are doing it in every corner of the globe.

All you have to do is what Rev. Michael  Povey told me at lunch a week after I first crossed that threshold. “All we want you to be is here.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, Laine and I are leaving St. James’s. It is our time to leave and go on our mission away from home. We do not know where our life will take us after Tennessee, but simply that it is our next step on our wonderful journey together. But we know we will do there what we have done here – we will work and we will serve to build hope, promise, trust and grace here on earth. “Not to be served, but to serve.”

From the bottom of my heart, thank you all for teaching this simple man from Kansas what each of those words really mean. And with that, we give to you a small token of our gratitude for this place – which will always be our spiritual home. 

-Michael Walters Young

Tuesday
May282013

Rev. Holly Antolini's Sermon for May 26, 2013

Trinity Sunday Year C 5-26-13

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Ps. 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?  AMEN.

I have a theological question for you on this Trinity Sunday, the only major Feast of the Church Year that that is based on THEOLOGICAL IDEAS, not EVENTS:  What does it mean to participate in the love of a Trinitarian God, the One in Three?

The trouble is, when we’re asked to be theological, we tend to go right up into our heads.  Just look at our Collect for today.  It’s so intellectual it’s very nearly OPAQUE!  Just how often in your day does your heart lift when you think to yourself, “Hmmmm, that sure makes me acknowledge the glory of the Trinity while I’m worshiping the Unity, doesn’t it?!”  I know I risk offending some of our resident theologians whose calling from God is to think about God and articulate what they think as precisely as possible – pace, theologians! – but such rarified and abstract articulation is really only the ICING on the spiritual cake, not the cake itself (let alone the meat and potatoes, or the tofu and rice, if you will)!  If we tried to subsist on it as our spiritual diet, we would waste away.

I have good TRINITARIAN reasons for saying so.  After all, when God, already more than a simple One, is cavorting through the Creation with fellowmaster worker Wisdom beside him, “daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race” as she participates with God in the establishing of the heavens, in making firm the skiesassigning the sea its limit, and marking the foundations of the earth, as the Book of Proverbs says, GOD already knew from this very beginning that GOD the One Alone remains too much of an abstraction for us to deal with, we embodied humans with our five senses and our fluid and partial and ever-revising sense of time and truth, always responding to newly emergent information, always re-framing and re-forming itself.

As for the fluidity of time itself!  Tell me about it!  The last two weeks of preparation for Edwin’s departure to St. Mary’s Dorchester on June 6th and my departure on sabbatical on June 1st, and for Judith’s commencement as Sabbatical Interim and Associate Rector for Church School & Family Ministry, have lasted about TWO YEARS in my perception!  And next week – I wind up my work Thursday evening – will be another year, at least! 

Yet time is a strange thing from my limited human vantage point. At precisely the same time that they’ve taken forever, these weeks have whisked by in a New York minute, breathless and packed with to-do’s and to-say’s.  Ask poor Judith when she gets back from her first-ever visit with the Church School this morning!  I think she may be feeling she’s been trying to drink from a fire hose as I attempt to tell her everything I know and plan for every contingency! 

Did the risen Jesus feel this way, teaching the disciples before his Ascension?!?  NO!  He had MUCH better divine perspective and sense of proportion than I do!  He KNEW the Holy Spirit and trusted it to guide his folk into all truth, as needed!  Me, I’m trying to do the whole job between now and the end of May! It’s not going too well, either! Which makes God smile, a bit wryly, I think! Because God fully and minutely appreciates how ill-equipped we are – even the most theologically brilliant among us – to understand the Divine, let alone LOVE and RELY upon it.  So God isn’t JUST the Creator, aloof and abstract in the heavens, alone in God’s Oneness in the Divine kairos, manipulating and coercing we creatures, from on high. God has taken a far, FAR greater risk than that with God’s own Being!  God has FORFEITED that lofty vantage point and come among us, entering the finite fabric of our being, at one point in the human chronos – a single point in time – a limited human being among limited humans, demonstrating in the language of human tongues and more importantly, in the language of human BODIES how to love with divine power, in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.  A graspable, palpable showing-forth of the divine love in our own terms.

And then, even MORE risky, having shown us that divine love in human terms in Jesus, God has gone on actually to invest our limited human scope and perspective, our limited human capacity, with DIVINE CREATIVITY, sealing us – IMBUING us – with God’s own Spirit, the Spirit that enables us to participate in the divine intentions, to enact the divine love, to heal and reconcile and restore unity in a world rife with hostility and enmity and alienation.  Because, as Jesus says in John’s Gospel, we can only bear but so much truth at a time, the Spirit works in us to disclose more and more, an aperture opening ever-wider to admit more and more light.  It’s been at work this very week, disclosing to the Boy Scouts of America that they can fully include their lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer teens.  Evidently they can’t quite bear the truth yet that they can’t accept LGBTQ teens without accepting LGBTQ adults. But even now those teens are growing into adults and the Scouts will have to stretch into the new truth that those adults are just as trustworthy as the straight adults, thanks in part to the Scouts’ own support of their growth and maturation as leaders and stewards of the natural world.  As the hymn says, “The Lord has yet more Light and Truth to break forth from his Word!” [George Rawson, in the Leeds Hymn Book, 1835]

In the love of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, the Trinity One God is AT WORK IN US, in OUR HUMANITY.  God’s loftiness is brought into our very own history, our very own bodies, in this united three-fold-ness we have so long called “Father, Son & Holy Ghost.”

So now we come to my sabbatical. My sabbatical plan is to inhabit the Trinity, consciously, prayerfully.  No, I didn’t think of it that way when I got started planning.  I thought of it much more simply, and much less theologically.  I read the first question in the Lilly Sabbatical Grant application – for which, I realized in reading it, I’d missed all the deadlines! But the question was useful! It asked something like, “If you could do anything you wanted for your spiritual and physical refreshment, what would it be?” I thought, “I’d like to have a space of time simply to gaze at the world, to take it in, and to respond to what I see, in color.” Then I thought, “I haven’t any idea how to do that!” So I actually began my sabbatical preparation last September, when I signed up for my very first art class since high school and my very first drawing class EVER. (I’ve always avoided drawing, because I’ve been utterly convinced I’m incapable of it. And by the way, after nine months of classes, the vote is NOT IN whether I was right or wrong about that!)  It was only later, after months of the exhausting and exhilarating process of trying to draw what I see – of trying to get as many of my assumptions out of the way as possible and see what is really there instead of what I THOUGHT was there! – that it began to occur to me that to draw or paint what one sees is to engage in a very elementary prayer of adoration.  That to draw, even to draw ugly or painful things as well as beautiful things, is to open oneself “to joy and wonder in all God’s works,” as the prayer after baptism says. That the very act of drawing – whatever the result! – is to “praise God’s majesty above the heavens,” as Psalm 8 says, “to consider the heavens, the work of God’s fingers, the moon and stars God set in their courses…” and every living thing.  And to draw – as to write or to compose music or to dance, I suppose – is to retrieve one’s sense of proportion, knowing at once how very small and inadequate and incomplete one is – “what is a human, that you, O God, should be mindful of her?” – while at the same time grasping, however dimly, that one has within oneself the seeds of mastery, of vision, of imagination that partake of the divine imagination, vision and mastery that set the world on its foundation in the first place.  That one has within oneself sufficient care and love – if love means to CONNECT with what’s around one – to participate in the act of creation.

So that’s my intention.  With all my inadequacies as an artist, my intention for my sabbatical, first in England for six weeks – replacing my grandmother’s (my dad’s mom’s) headstone in southern England, visiting with old friends in Durham and Yorkshire, singing Handel in Edinburgh, praying with the Iona Community off the coast of Scotland – then after that, in Maine and Vermont, and finally with a friend who leads an artists’ workshop in Tuscany, Italy in September, is to participate in the Divine Circle of Love by gazing at and drawing what I see, everywhere I go.  And if my art classes provide any clues, this will be a strenuous and a blessed process.  You’ll be able to judge for yourselves, if you log onto my blog atcowbird.com – small voice @ pin point.  There, I will post some of what I’m seeing, as best I can express it in drawings and just a few words.

It will be very strange for this period of time not to be working on my usual St. James’s to-do list and responding to your ever-cascading ideas, inspirations, questions, conundrums, and struggles. I expect to wonder occasionally – perhaps persistently! – who the heck I am, after all, when all our relationships are not defining me!  I will have to turn to God the Three-in-One to define me, and in seeking God, I expect to find God manifested in all that’s around me.  For so did God create this amazing world, as a sacrament of God’s own love, the creative love that IS GOD, the Three-lovingly-inextricably-entwined-as-One.

And you, all of you, here at St. James’s, as Edwin departs on his new ministry and I depart on sabbatical?  What is this sabbatical for YOU?  Is it simply to mark time until I return?  How can you think so, with the Garden opening up again this week, as our developer partner Oaktree removes the rubble from our boiler installation and restores the lawn to usefulness until construction starts!  How can you think so, when, as Steve Clark remarked during our Vestry spiritual reflection last week, these periods with only supply clergy are periods when the laity of St. James’s discover afresh how powerfully God is at work in you, each and every one of you, to discern, to choose, to create, to lead?  How can you think so when you have such a roster of capable people stepping up to cover all kinds of pastoral bases: Sylvia Weston carrying the church emergency cell phone. Liz McNerney and Katie Rimer and their team leading some 70 people off to experience God in nature and each other on the Parish Retreat!  Peter Merrell responding to emerging property demands.  Judith Atkinson and the church school staff forging their leadership team for next year. Carol Hilliard and Nicholas Hayes increasing the Currency of Gracious Leadership in a forum with the Vestry and Nominating Committee. The Food Pantry participating in the Gleaners’ summer profusion of produce.  Marian King and Clayton McClintock taking a delegation from St. James’s to march with the Diocese in the Pride Parade. Iselma Carrington heading up the planning for the St. James’s Day picnic.  John Irvine and Jeff Zinsmeyer getting the pledge statements out to everyone.  The Prison Ministry continuing to visit and support Keora in her college studies at Framingham State correctional facility.  The Welcoming Team preparing with the Ushers for a busy and fruitful autumn building the Currency of Relationship with newcomers to St. James’s.  All of you opening your hearts and your lemonade pitchers and cracker boxes to welcome visitors at our congregation-led Summer Coffee Hours.  All of this and more – your vacations; your rest; your digging in the garden and swinging in a hammock in the shade – is what it is to participate in the love of the Trinitarian God.

Sabbatical is the time you will experience most directly what is ALWAYS TRUE AT ST. JAMES’S: that AT ALL TIMES our passion for God’s Mission here is a WORK OF ALL THE PEOPLE, not a work of the clergy.  Because, as Paul says to the Romans, “we [ALL] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom [every one of us has] obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and [every one of us can]boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  And not only that, but we boast also in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into[every one of] our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.  That sharing of God’s glory is an inherently ongoing part of our participation in the love of the Three in One.  May your sabbatical and mine – and Edwin’s ministry at St. Mary’s – shine with that glory.  AMEN.

Rev Antolini 5-26-13

Monday
May202013

Rev. Holly Antolini's Sermon For Pentecost May 19th, 2013

Pentecost Year C 5-19-13

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Acts 2: 1-21; Ps. 104: 25-35, 37; Romans 8:14-17; John 14: 8-27

All we who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For in our baptism, we did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but we have received a spirit of adoption. We cry to you, "Abba! Father!" and it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of you, and joint heirs with Christ-- if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.  AMEN.

On this mighty Feast of Pentecost, the Feast of the giving of the Holy Spirit, you have already sung and danced in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit made manifest in our processional hymn (and you will sing and dance in it again at the recessional hymn too!). Many of you witnessed the Spirit dancing in the Food Festival contradances yesterday, full of young residents of the Fresh Pond Apartments making our acquaintance for the first time!  You have heard our new Associate Rector Judith Atkinson’s testimony in her Living Epistle of the work of God and the call of God in her life, which is always a work of the Spirit, the part of God that lives and breathes and imagines and creates and loves and responds and perseveres in us, INSIDE us, in the very fabric of our mortal human being.  You are about to meet five new soon-to-be members of the Body of Christ here at St. James’s, three infants, Jonathan, Christopher, and Meg, and two young adults, Guy and Kazue, who are about to be “sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever” this morning.

Moreover, to use the disconcerting – if not just plain disturbing – image from the Thanksgiving over the Water in our baptism service (disconcerting and disturbing, but, I might add, taken straight from Paul’s Letter to the Romans), these young people are “burying themselves with Christ in his death,” so that they may “share in his resurrection,” “be reborn by the Holy Spirit,” and moreover, “share with us in Christ’s eternal priesthood.” 

In baptism, by the Spirit, we are God’s very children, offspring of God, and sharing in Christ’s own priesthood.  Though in our mortal, fallible, often confused and messed-up bodies, we suffer, though we struggle and let God down as all children let their parents down from time to time, though we even die, YET SHALL WE LIVE AND DO THE WORKS OF LOVE IN CHRIST.  And moreover, even amidst all our shortcomings and failures of imagination – and sometimes our imagination can be mis-directed, after all, to wit, our delightful company of young contradancers at the Food Festival yesterday who so quickly devised a means by which to corner the Pie Social masks so that they could control the pie-winning – a “Pie Mafia,” forming so quickly the rest of our imaginations had to hustle to catch up! -- and our inability to “see the nose on our face,” as my mother says, as God’s children, we are still empowered to do incredible things, mind-blowing awesome things.

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these,” says Jesus to the disciples in today’s Gospel passage from John.  He’s not talking about “belief,” like what you do with the frontal lobe of your brain.  He’s not talking about intellectual assent.  He’s talking about belief that saturates your whole being, belief that disposes your whole being – body, mind, and spirit – toward loving kindness, toward creative imagination, toward seeking and serving the wellbeing of others as you do your own wellbeing. In baptism, your entire being, in the power of the Holy Spirit, is disposed toward Godliness, and by Godliness I don’t mean some kind of attenuated sanctimony, that kind of snooty piety that flattens life out into simple moral formulas and judges others meanly and meagerly by them.  I don’t mean the kind of piety that forgets to laugh and find “joy and wonder in ALL God’s works,” not just the cleaned-up and spit-polished ones.   By Godliness, I mean, the depth of compassionate, forgiving, hopeful love that Jesus Christ has for us, that sees possibility even in the depths and dregs of impossibility, and that goes for it.  The kind of Godly love that looks at every single human being around you and sees possibility in that person, and nurtures it.  The kind of Godly love that flings itself over the barriers and TOWARDS the Marathon bombing victims, not away from them, no matter the danger. That’s the kind of “belief” Jesus is talking about, the “belief” that inspires Christly works in us, the “belief” in which the Spirit of truth, the Advocate, has opportunity to teach us in everything and remind us of, over and over, as the words of the Eucharistic prayer remind us week after week, how much Christ loves us and gives himself for us, his Body broken – again! – his Blood poured out – again! -- ever merciful, ever hopeful, holding nothing back.

We have to keep renewing our baptisms in the Eucharist every Sunday because if we’re not reminded regularly that we are God’s children and capable of wonders, we keep forgetting and losing track of our own capacity and selling ourselves short (or “selling ourselves and each other down the river,” as the old slaving term called it, referring to the horrific way in which slave communities were broken up and sold away, destroying families and turning people into commodities).  Forgetting our baptisms, we easily take on “the spirit of slaveryfalling back into fear” as Paul says in the Letter to the Romans in my opening prayer for today.

It’s that spirit of slavery that whispers to us, “You can’t possibly change the impetus of global warming.”  It’s the spirit of slavery that says, “You can’t stop gun violence in this country!”  It’s the spirit of slavery that says, “There’s no remedy for sexual assault in the military!” 

It’s the spirit of slavery that, at its most horrific and insidious, slips into our inner spirit and tells us our own bodies are the enemy when we’ve suffered sexual assault, putting us dreadfully at odds with our very own precious selves.  That slips into our inner spirit and counsels us that one more drink, one more hit will make us feel better.  That trips us up in our commitment to exercise or healthy eating and drags us down when we’re trying to get out of debt. It’s the spirit of slavery that lures us into addictions to shopping and pornography and overwork.

Poet Emily Dickinson knew this, knew our own liabilities to think too meanly of ourselves and thereby diminish our own capacity, when she wrote,

We never know how high we are 

  Till we are called to rise; 

And then, if we are true to plan, 

  Our statures touch the skies--

The Heroism we recite 

  Would be a daily thing, 

Did not ourselves the Cubits warp 

  For fear to be a King—

[http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19370]

But remembering our baptisms – re-membering them, re-populating the world with the dynamics of baptism, with our royal priesthood of all believers, with that in-Christness that disposes us toward loving creativity, we can accomplish nearly anything.

In case you think this is just the standard “self-esteem” talk that drives so much educational theory these days, I’m not just trying to pep you up to think well of yourselves.  Let’s remember there’s suffering and death, there’s our own human vulnerability and fallibility at the heart of this baptismal equation.  Paul tells the Romans they are children of God “if they suffer with Christ that they may also be glorified with him.”  Our baptism service “buries us” first, THEN raises us up to new life in Christ!  The world is far too complicated a place – and we are far too complicated a set of beings – for simple self-affirmation to bring God’s commonwealth into being.  That way lies self-aggrandizement and maudlin sentimentality, not reliance on the power of God to overcome our deficits and liabilities.

It is the women and men who have already suffered assault who are the most effective advocates and counselors of those newly afflicted.  It is those in recovery from addiction who are most trustworthy in their wise and judicial support of those struggling to recover.  It is the women who have freed themselves from prostitution rackets who mount the most effective campaigns against sex slavery, and those who have been raped themselves who testify most powerfully and helpfully to those recovering from rape and who hold the rapists accountable.  Even if we have not experienced such atrocities ourselves, we have all suffered, and from that well of fellow-feeling, the Spirit draws forth the compassion from which healing can spring, and the reliance upon God as the ever-present, ever-reliable source of all power for good.  As Nicholas Hayes – off on retreat at the moment, now that he has completed his seminarian internship with us – observed after an intensive community-organizing training with the Industrial Areas Foundation last month, it is when we touch into the rage of our own experience of helplessness and remember the presence of the Spirit in us that we are fueled to commit to the hard work of community organizing, that we are stoked to inspire others to find the same rage and commitment and reliance upon the Spirit, so that together we can set ourselves to dismantle the entrenched dynamics of social injustice with sufficient will and perseverance to make change. “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” [Romans 6:8]

You might think that these young people who will be baptized today can know nothing of such things, but you would be wrong.  Suffering knows no age limit, no age onset.  Even the smallest children can be direly afflicted, and from their affliction can be tempted to “receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear.”  We are baptizing them THROUGH the suffering into the STRENGTH & COMFORT, the FREEDOM of Christ, to know they are truly children of God and full of the promise of God.  And we are committing ourselves as the members who share their new Body of Christ to “do all in our power to support them in their life in Christ,” to seek and touch and know how God has entered the places of suffering in us so that we will be able to witness to them about the power of God and the wisdom of God to realize great things in them as God has lovingly – forgivingly, healingly – realized great things in us.  For we too have been “buried with Christ in baptism” and “raised with him through faith in the power of God. [Colossians 2:12] Who KNOWS what they and we may accomplish together, in the power of the Holy Spirit?!?  AMEN.

 

Rev Antolini 5-19-13