4/9/17 Palm Sunday - Chaplain Lauren Risby's Living Epistle on Trauma

Living Epistle 

Lauren Rigsby

Living Epistle on Trauma

Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017


Grace and peace to you in the midst of a world that is beautiful and loving at the same time it is full of real limitations, suffering, losses, and trauma. In case we have not met, I am Lauren Rigsby, I’m a hospital chaplain at Lowell General Hospital, and I’m going to talk for just a few minutes about trauma and trauma recovery, and where it might fit in our theologies and healing work as a church. Please be warned that I will name general types of trauma in the next couple of minutes without going into any detail, and then after that I’ll give a brief example about seeing a gun fire....


We live with both sublime goodness and deep tragedy. All of creation - including myself and each of you - all of creation was made well. We contain sparks of holiness and the breath of the divine. We are called beloved by our God. Into the midst of this goodness I name the reality of suffering, of trauma. 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men are raped in their lifetime. 78% of transgender kids report harassment in K-12 education. 21% of young adults in foster care are diagnosed with PTSD. More than 60% of kids under the age of 17 experienced a traumatic event in the last year alone. On average, 78 natural disasters occurred every year in the US in the 1970’s; this number grew to 351 natural disasters per year during the first decade of the 2000’s. 26% of combat veterans treated at the VA between 2004-2009 were diagnosed with PTSD. I’m sharing a litany of statistics because many of us live with intimate exposure to sexual trauma, war and violence, assault, abuse, bullying, neglect, disaster both natural and human made, complicated grief and separation, historical and social traumas like slavery, forced displacement, system-induced trauma, medical crises, and spiritual traumas. Many caregivers or people in helping professions also experience a cumulative process in which their fundamental beliefs about the world are altered and maybe damaged by being repeatedly exposed to traumatic material.


Judith Herman names that: "The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness... Atrocities, however, refuse to be buried." Trauma shows up in our bodies - it disrupts and creates physical stress. Often when exposed to a traumatic event, we physically experience a hormone wash that kicks fight or flight or freeze into gear. Heart rate spikes to send blood to muscles and away from places like our hands, feet, and stomach. Mouth dries out, time slows down, and we become hyper aware. Talking to people who have lived through a shooting often say that they remember seeing the moment the bullet left the gun in slow motion.


One of the ways our bodies’ self-preservation system breaks down happens when our action is to no avail, and we are powerless to change the situation for the better. (You can imagine how someone who works in the emergency room might feel when they’ve been trying to resuscitate a person for 45 minutes and they are powerless to bring them back.) It is of course, normal to be especially shaken by a traumatic experience for a couple weeks after, for your thoughts to just drift back during a quiet moment. We usually jump between feeling numb, maybe not even remembering what happened, and being overwhelmed by memories or expecting we’ll be in danger again. Nightmares, stomach aches, headaches, irritability, being exhausted yet not being able to sleep or sleeping the days and nights away, avoiding making decisions, self-medicating with alcohol, drugs, and food, flashbacks: all of these are common for the first few weeks and then ideally taper down. Some amount of stress can be generative and motivating. Some creates distress that keeps us numb or reliving the traumatic event. Some stress creates dysfunction that jams our ability to keep up with everyday living and responsibilities. (And if you’ve been feeling jammed up in this way for a few weeks, I encourage you to reach out because there are ways to get out of this cycle - to take the sting out of what happened and get a handle on all the anxiety it creates.)


‘Remembering and telling the truth about terrible events are prerequisites for the restoration of relationships, the reconciliation of our communities, and for our own internal healing.’ There are several traditional psychodynamic treatments that work in various ways, and I am not a specialist in them. I am mostly trained to recognize, debrief the story, do stress management, and make referrals. But broadly speaking, we need three major things to recover from a trauma. First we need to establish safety - we need to be removed from danger and then breathe and physically release some of the stress hormones from our bodies. The second and third go together. We need to reconstruct the story and reconnect community. Trauma is isolating and our brains often have a disorganized, panicky sense of what happened. It is necessary to tell the vulnerable and awful truth to put together the narrative arc of what actually happened out of the flashes and snippets that stand out. By telling our stories to our loved ones we are reconnecting and allowing them the opportunity to know us and to work with us for change. Lastly, we can be good stewards of our own traumas through daily self care and awareness of what I’m like when my stress levels are in the green, what I do when I’m in the yellow, and what warns me and my loved ones that I’m in the red… (we can talk more about these strategies after the service, if you’d like to stay and talk.)


I appreciate the opportunity to talk about trauma at church because it is into the human reality of traumas and tragedies that God became incarnate, and it is through the ups and downs of this messy life that we believe Christ lived. Through the patterns of our liturgical calendar and moving through Holy Week every year: we can take comfort and solace in the compassion of a God who lives and breathes, experiences suffering, died, rose as one of us. A God who stands beside us and accompanies us through not only the best that this life has to offer, but also the worst experiences. The beauty of a church that honors the bleak tragedy of Christ’s worst days and painful death is that we don’t shy away from naming the tragedies of today - at our best we are a safe place to tell the difficult truth, we work with the winds of the Holy Spirit for reconciliation, for comfort, for healing, and to create the change that nourishes the flourishing of creation, and we always live in hope for resurrection.



The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini's sermon for 4 Lent, 3/26/17


February Vestry Minutes

Vestry Minutes:  February 21, 2017

Members Present: Sylvia Weston, Jules Bertaut, Lucas Sanders, Matthew Abbate, Andrew Rohm, Leah Giles, Marian King, Olivia Hamilton, Tom Tufts, Sarah Borgatti, Betsy Zeldin, Holly Antolini

Absent:  Sarah Forrester, Sam Perlo-Freeman

Guests:   Yvette Verdieu, Jane Hirschi, J.T. Kittredge


●     Following brief check-in time, Lucas led a text study of the Magnificat as our Spiritual Practice

Food Pantry Update

●     J.T. reviewed the new plan or a once-a-month opening.  The various agencies we work with, such as the Boston Food Bank and Food for Free are okay with this plan.  The food pantry associated with St. Paul’s in Harvard Square will take any food we cannot distribute.

●     The measures of success the food pantry team are considering for the new schedule are that it serves enough people to be worth the effort—they are hoping for 50 to 60 households; and that it is sustainable—that volunteers have the energy to keep going.

●     The food pantry team plans to continue for at least 3 months, to give the community time to adapt to the new schedule.

Life Together Fellow Application

●     Holly presented the application she filed for our church to host a Life Together fellow to help us discern the future of our food ministry.

Sanctuary Church Proposal

●     Jane and Yvette presented the Sanctuary Church proposal put forward by the Anti-Oppression Team.  This proposal comes out of a conversation with Britta and then sanctuary church training held at the cathedral.  We plan to support congregations that are housing undocumented immigrants, but not house them ourselves because we have inadequate facilities.

●     The Anti-Oppression Team will take the lead on organizing the congregation in following through with our commitments. 

●     The Anti-Oppression Team is discerning which “level 1” congregations we will be working with, based on our capabilities and on which other groups are already supporting the various level 1 congregations.

●     Olivia moved that the vestry accept the proposal put forth by the Anti-Oppression Team which commits our church to the Sanctuary Network as a Sanctuary Support Congregation, with the  Anti-Oppression Team taking the lead in fulfilling our commitments and providing updates to the vestry at least once per quarter.  Lucas seconded.  Approved unanimously.

Vestry Retreat

●     Holly presented the draft agenda for the vestry retreat, to be held at Church of Our Saviour in Arlington on the 24th and 25th of February.

●     Various members of the vestry volunteered to provide food for the retreat.

●     Jules agreed to lead Compline Friday night, Sarah B. to lead Morning Prayer Saturday, and Leah to do a mid-day reading on Saturday.



●     Matthew moved that we enter executive session.  Lucas seconded.  Approved unanimously.

●     Holly presented a redevelopment update.

●     Andrew moved that we exit executive session.  Marian seconded.  Approved unanimously.


Our Whole Lives

●     Jules presented about the sexuality discussion group the 20s and 30s group is holding, using the Our Whole Lives curriculum put out by the UUs and the UCCs. 

●     The church school has plans to use the middle school version of the curriculum with our youth (middle school and up) next year, hopefully in partnership with Christ Church, Harvard Square.



Minutes of January Meeting

●     Lucas moved that we approve the regular and executive session January minutes.  Marian seconded. Approved unanimously.

●     Lucas moved that we make the personnel issue in the January minutes a matter of public record.  Olivia seconded.  Approved unanimously.

Financial Report

●     Lucas presented the financial report.  Because the new budget is not in QuickBooks yet, there is not much to say.

●     January was a strong month for pledge income because people were catching up on their 2016 pledges.

●     We received a card from Mary Beth Mills-Curran thanking us for our scholarship.

●     The investment committee had its first meeting.  It’s composed of Jeff Zinsmeyer, Lisa Hayles, and Lucas, and is considering how to invest our funds, including the interest from Oaktree.  They should have proposals in March or April.

●     Still looking for another counter

Warden’s Report

●     Sylvia reported that everything is going well and there’s not too much to say.

●     Snow removal and stairway cleaning are going well.

●     The carpet in the sacristy was removed because people tripped over it, but a new one was put in.

Rector’s Report

●     Lucas moved that we enter executive session.  Olivia seconded.  Approved unanimously.

●     We discussed a staff matter.

●     Marian moved that we exit executive session.  Lucas seconded.  Approved unanimously.











Assistant Rector’s Report

•    The Church school classes continue to run nicely and teachers continue to do a wonderful job.  I am very grateful.   

●     The parish retreat team is gathering for our first information/strategy meeting on March 12th.  We will be joined by folks from St. Mary’s Dorchester who we will be joining us for the retreat.       

●     The International Sunday/Epiphany youth Liturgy is scheduled for this Sunday 2/26!  Should be a full service of readings in the native language of our St. James’s family, a participatory homily and kids helping out with many activities.   

●     Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner with burning of palms and imposition of ashes on Tuesday 2/28 at our home in Cambridge.   

●     The Pine Village pre-school had to cancel their multi-cultural pot luck in February due to weather but we working on a new date for the spring.

●     We are working on training some new teachers for the pre-school Godly Play class.  We had a teacher training for Godly Play parents the first Sunday of February it was pretty well attended and helpful in getting a few more parents on board.  .   

●     There is a growing team coalescing around the outdoor church sandwich ministry.  I think we have a pretty good team that is committed to this work.  I am looking to pass this organizational piece along to someone. I hope to have this worked out shortly.  

●     The Scouts are doing well.  Scout service to the parish has gone very well this year under the guidance of Michelle Holmes. 

●     The youth are planning the Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner, we have a Kids-4-Peace event scheduled at St. James’s on 3/12, we are working on a Lenten retreat with Christ Church Cambridge for early April, and there is a fellowship event in the works for some time in early April.       

●     Emilee Butler and Gweii Strong-Allen attended the High School retreat up at the BHC camp and reported that they had a nice time.  Very happy they were able to attend this.  

●     Kids-4-Peace convention on April 2nd.

●     We are trying to get our 8th graders and 9th graders interested in the pre-confirmation retreat up at the BHC put on the by the diocese youth leadership academy.

●     St. J families are helping an organize one of the stations of the cross for good Friday and are leading the Maundy Thursday pot-luck dinner effort.      

●     Jules and I are exploring  a partnership with Christ Church Harvard Square to offer a class based on the Our Whole Lives curriculum for youth.    


Submitted by Jules Bertaut


The Rev. Karen Montagno's Sermon for 3 Lent - 3/19/17


John Hixson's Living Epistle for 3 Lent - 3/19/17

Audio of Living Epistle

STEWARDSHIP  is everyone's responsibility.  We have only this one small earth.  As the saying goes, there is no Planet B.  The native Americans say that you need to think at least six generations out.

Human civilization is increasingly concentrated along coasts and rivers susceptible to flooding from ocean rise.  Miami already has streets that flood at nearly every full moon, and the City has budgeted $450 M to raise the level of some streets.  Entire island countries in the Pacific are making plans to relocate as their lands are going under.

CO2 levels over the last 800K years had been between 200 and 300 PPM until industrialization started around 1850.  We just passed 400 PPM, and while this level has occurred before, it is connected in ancient history with much higher temperatures and sea levels.  The three hottest years in recorded history are 2014, 2015 and #1, 2016. 

The U.N. Appointed Leonardo DiCaprio as an envoy to study climate change, and the result is your homework – viewing at least the trailer for the film “Before the Flood” that you can find on Youtube.  This film brought me before you today for the first time in my nearly 40 years at St. James's, so you see how critical I believe it to be.  You really must see at least some of it.

So what can we do as climate citizens?  Not everyone, including me, is cut out to be an organizer or activist, but I will give you a list of changes that you can make to help us try to save our world.  Thank you for listening, but even more for taking action in the coming days.  We know our federal government has turned its back on this, but WE THE PEOPLE can still do our part to make a difference and be God's stewards here and now.


1.Replace all incandescent bulbs with LED's or CFL's.

2.Use EnergyStar-rated appliances to replace old ones.

3.Turn your thermostat down in winter and up in summer, especially overnight and when you are away.

4.Use cold water to wash clothes, and line dry as you can.

5.Recycle as much as you can wherever you are.

6.Tighten up your house and shade windows in summer.

7.Get the most fuel-efficient car you can and use it as little as possible.  [Janet and I have been car-less since October.]

8.Eat less beef and avoid palm oil whenever possible.  These food products are among the worst contributors to warming

9.Avoid bottled water and other over-packaged single-serve items.

10.Share resources whenever possible.  [Our street has a community snowblower and people share cars with others]

11.If possible, invest in alternative energy sources [Janet and I get 1/3 of our heat from solar-heated air since 1984]

12.Turn lights and all energy-using things off as soon as possible.  Disconnect TV's, etc. and turn down thermostats and hot water heaters when you will be away.


Olivia Hamilton's Sermon for 1 Lent - 3/5/17

My best friend is a Hebrew School teacher in Brooklyn – one of the main responsibilities she has in this role is to prepare middle-schoolers for their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. As a performer and a poet, she undertakes this endeavor with endless creativity, always coming up with new ways to engage young people in the richness of the Jewish tradition, and to help them locate their own unique place within it. The young people embroider prayer shawls, they create raps and rhymes in order to learn Hebrew letters and words, and they engage their Torah portions with awe and wonder, as if the text were alive, always being encouraged to make connections between the world we live in, and the world they encounter in these ancient stories.


There is one activity that she does with her students that I have become really fond of –the prompt is simple and goes as follows: the young people are instructed to identify ways that God is depicted and imagined in the Hebrew Bible. For example, some familiar images include God as a teacher, a father, a king or a ruler. In Exodus, God is called a “man of war” and Moses calls God an unchanging rock. The student’s attention is also drawn to more ambiguous terms that are used in the Hebrew Bible to talk about God, such as the word makom, which literally means “the place.” Rather than signifying a precise location, makom is a way of gesturing toward God’s revelation in time and space, and how God manifests in particular communities and is revealed in particular places. For instance, when Abraham is preparing to sacrifice Isaac at Mount Moriah, makom is used to signify both the place where God has instructed Abraham to go, but also God’s closeness to Abraham there. As Jewish scholar Barbara Mann writes, makom, in this instance “indicates the biblical topography – in this case the heights – as well as the presence… of divinity.” Makom is any place where we meet God intimately in our lives, and in the Bible is variously depicted as a desert, a mountaintop, a wilderness, a winding road – not places on a map, per se, but times in our lives when we are disoriented and must pay close attention to where God is leading us.


Next, the students are asked to think about how each of these images of God help to shape our understanding of ourselves – and by that I mean: if God is _____ than we are ­­­­­­­­______. So, using some of the examples that I just named:


·                    if God is a judge, than we are people who have erred and are in need of mercy.

·                    If God is a teacher, than we ought to listen, learn and observe.


Those analogies come pretty easily – but what about if God is makom, the place? I encourage you to think about this for a moment. (Silence).

As I think about it, if God is the place, than perhaps we are pilgrims or travelers, seeking rootedness, disoriented, but always wandering on the terrain of God’s loving-kindness, whether we know it or not.




On Wednesday when I had ashes imposed on my forehead, I was thinking of this image as I heard the words “remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” If we are dust, than it seems God is the place from which we came to which we are always coming back to. I think of it as a blessing that our scriptures give us so many images for who and what God is, and how what it means to be in relationship to God. I am especially grateful that starting with the ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday, Lent is a season when we are reminded that although our lives are fragile, God’s love for us is unfathomably strong, and whether we are wandering through the temptations of the wilderness or walking on the road to Jerusalem, following Jesus to the Cross, God is the solid ground under our feet – the context in which our whole lives take place.


Today we hear the story of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness – the wilderness, I think, is makom:  it is a place that represents Jesus’ trusting relationship with God, and it is a potent reminder of human vulnerability, on one hand, and divine strength on the other. In the wilderness, Jesus is tempted by Satan, who desires to outsmart him and cause him to disobey God. Jesus’ time in the wilderness is a test of sorts: how bad are his hunger pangs that he would be tempted to turn a stone into a loaf of bread in order to eat? How compelling is his desire for power that he would follow Satan in order to have all of the kingdoms of the world handed over to him?


There Jesus is, famished and weak, vulnerable to temptation – a very human moment in the narrative of his life. But he also trusts in the strength of God’s promise to him, and knows that he will not be abandoned there. This temptation seems to foreshadow what we know will happen on the Cross: the jeers and taunting and humiliation that Jesus will endure, his body hanging in a posture of ultimate weakness, nailed to a cross, tempted to believe that God has forsaken him, but trusting in God’s strength nonetheless.


Human weakness and the strength of God. These are the realities that we encounter and move between in these forty days: we encounter our own weakness as we reflect on the ways that we sometimes sin and miss the mark, so to speak, failing to treat our neighbors as ourselves. We hold grudges, we don’t ask for help when we need it, we judge others and the world through our limited perspectives, failing to see how each person encounters God in a unique place, in a unique way. We encounter our own vulnerability as we are reminded that life is fleeting, and that our bodies will not last forever.


The poet Christian Wiman grapples with this in his lyrical autobiography, My Bright Abyss, which was written shortly after he was diagnosed with a terminal cancer. He writes, about his own frailty, saying -- “Herein lies the great difference between divine weakness and human weakness, the wounds of Christ and the wounds of man. Two human weaknesses only intensify each other. But human weakness plus Christ's weakness equals… strength.”


What Wiman seems to be saying here is that in Christ, strength and weakness are altogether bound up in one another, and more, that our own weakness – our own tendency to give into temptations of power or ease or material stability – is reconciled through Christ’s total trust in the strength of God.


Thinking back to the concept of makom – the place or places where we encounter God – I want to leave you with a few questions to ponder today, and throughout these next forty days:


In the terrain of your life, where are you feeling closeness (or distance) from God?


Where is the place where the wounds of Christ are touching your wounds?


Where is the place where God’s strength is yearning to meet your human weakness?


I want to close in the words of our collect for the day, which I think is so powerful as to bear repeating: “Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.” Amen.


The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini's sermon for 2 Lent - 3/12/17

Audio of sermon

2 Lent Year A 3-12-17

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17


I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. AMEN.


How evocative it is, this story of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, opening Chapter 3 of John’s Gospel. This furtive story of the Jewish leader – he’s a member of the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish religious, legal and political authority under the Roman occupation – sneaking out to see Jesus under cover of darkness becomes even more evocative when you remember that at the end of Chapter 2, right before this, Jesus has rampaged into the Temple – God’s own house, sacrosanct to the Jewish people – and laid waste to the tables of the moneychangers and the sellers of sacrificial animals, literally whipping them and their animals out of the courtyard where they were conducting the temple commerce essential to carrying out the rites of sacrifice at the center of the Jewish peoples’ relationship with God. When the Jewish authorities remonstrated and demanded he explain himself, Jesus compounded his offense, saying “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” [John 2:19] Preposterous claim!


So now picture Nicodemus, screwing up his courage to speak to this radical, this disrupter, this dis-respecter of authority and order. No wonder he came in the dark of night. To approach Jesus in the light of day would be to court disaster to one’s own reputation, if not the national order!


But something is astir in Nicodemus. Something is disturbing his peace. Something is birthing questions in him. He doesn’t understand it himself. It violates all his institutional instincts. This guy Jesus is trouble. But as Nicodemus himself says in his opening words to the Rabbi, “no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” So he sneaks out surreptitiously and finds Jesus and opens with these words of affirmation.


The conversation is joined. But Jesus’ response seems like a complete disconnect. He bypasses all the politeness. “Very truly,” he begins, or perhaps more accurately, “Amen, amen,” words that always signal in John’s Gospel that Jesus is about to make a crucial and very serious proclamation of God’s truth, “Amen, amen, I tell you, no one can see the reign of God without being born from above.” Or, to give the other meaning of the Greek word anothen, without being “born again.”


This completely confuses poor Nicodemus. He takes it literally. Born again? Who can enter a second time into their mother’s womb and be born? To which Jesus answers with yet more confusion, using the Greek word, pneuma, which can mean wind or breath, and which later in John’s Gospel, Jesus will clearly use to mean, Spirit, as in, God’s Spirit: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born of water and wind, one cannot enter the reign of God. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of wind is wind. Don’t be surprised that I’ve told you, ‘You all have to be born again [or from above].’ The wind blows where it likes, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it’s coming from or where it’s going. That’s how it is with everyone that’s born of wind.” What IS Jesus discerning in Nicodemus? What IS he trying to call out in him, with all this talk of a new birth? [Translation from The Mystical Way of the Fourth Gospel: Crossing Over Into God by L. William Countryman, Fortress Press 1987]


You notice my translation is a little different from the one in your bulletin. That’s because it was done directly from the Greek by New Testament scholar Bill Countryman. I use Countryman’s translation because I love the way he reads the entire Gospel of John. John’s Gospel, he says, is not the collection of stories you see in so-called “synoptic” Gospels of Matthew, Mark & Luke, powerful as they are. Where those Gospels are more like an iterative Bach Suite, with one dance movement beginning and ending, followed by another, John’s Gospel is what in music we’d call “through-composed,” all the melodic ideas unfolding from each other in Wagnerian fashion, an “endless melody” in a long, sustained, completely interconnected composition aimed at one thing for its readers: our “progress toward mystical union in the person of Jesus Christ.” [Ibid.]


 “Mystical,” as in, “an experience of things or persons outside myself as direct and unmediated as my experience of myself.” Mystical enlightenment: “experiencing the order of the cosmos and my place in it.” And mystical union: “an experience of full knowledge of another specific being… a complete opening of two realities into each other.” [Ibid.] John’s goal for me, the reader of his Gospel, is a complete opening of my reality into the reality of God’s very specific and particular love for me and me for God, and my complete opening into the reality of being held in an utterly love-saturated world. For John, the “world,” or “the cosmos,” as Countryman translates it, is tragically estranged from God its Creator. And to be deprived of God is to be deprived of one’s own existence, deprived of life & light. Jesus – who is life and light himself, as John has already said in Chapter 1 – is here to join the world back to right relationship with God. Jesus is the “opening humanity has upon the absolute reality of God.” “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Eternal life – that phrase makes its very first appearance in this very story of Nicodemus here in Chapter 3 – means to be utterly enfolded in God’s reign of shalom, God’s reign of peace and reconciliation. So John’s hope for me, for you, for anyone reading his Gospel, is that by the end of its 20 chapters, we will have moved from our state of alienation and separation into an utter state of belonging to God, “one body with Christ,” I in Christ and Christ in me.

Our estrangement is real. And “it is not to be overcome by divine fiat. The sending of the son does not force salvation on anyone.” But it IS possible, this mystical union with Jesus to which we are called, if we, in the mysterious way that we do, choose to become “doers of the truth.” “Nicodemus has come to Jesus, who proffers light; but he has come 'at night.' The ambiguity of his situation is not unique to him, but describes the human situation as such.” We are drawn to the light, but we are still prone to remain in darkness and untruth.

Jesus, with his strange words to Nicodemus in John’s Gospel, is inviting him – inviting us all – on a mystical path, inviting him – and us – from the first dark urges toward conversion, on into baptism, into “being born again” into Jesus. And the invitation is only beginning. And as the Gospel unfolds, baptism is only an early stage. John’s Jesus will invite us ever deeper, into Eucharist, into enlightenment and new life, and deeper and deeper into union with Christ. This “mystical path… is the point of the Gospel’s presentation of Jesus.” [Ibid.]


An aside for all of us 21st century empiricists: “believing,” in John’s Gospel, does NOT mean “intellectual assent” or worse, “an intellectually satisfying theological superstructure with the force of a proven scientific equation!” How COULD it mean that when Jesus is so often responding to people’s reasonable questions with seemingly unreasonable, disjointed and confusing Zen koans like the one he poses poor struggling Nicodemus, ““Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born of water and wind, one cannot enter the reign of God… Don’t be surprised that I’ve told you, ‘You all have to be born again [or from above].’ The wind blows where it likes, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it’s coming from or where it’s going. That’s how it is with everyone that’s born of wind.” Of course poor Nicodemus is surprised, not to say utterly confounded! That’s because Jesus in John’s Gospel doesn’t mean to CONVINCE him! He means to BAPTIZE HIM. He means to help Nicodemus break out of his presuppositions, which are holding him apart from God and God’s love, imprisoning him in terrible isolation and antagonism. Jesus, like any good Zen master, aims to help Nicodemus – and all of us –  “to break with ordinary straight-line reasoning and struggle for a new world-view in which question and answer DO match. The achievement of such a breakthrough is an instance of enlightenment – not an increase of knowledge but a radical re-shifting and re-envisioning of what is already known.” It’s not an intellectual exercise. It’s a NEW BIRTH. [Ibid.]


We know what this re-shifting can look like. We experience it in miniature every time we read a good poem, which breaks open and re-orients our perspective on the most ordinary reality. We experienced it massively as a whole culture back in the 16th century, when Nicholas Copernicus and Johannes Kepler destabilized the universe, displacing the earth into a mere planet and moving the sun into its center. Hilary Mantel describes the impact of this new understanding of the moral order on her protagonist Thomas Cromwell in her novel, Wolf Hall, “After [the diners] get up from [Cromwell’s] table, his guests eat ginger comfits and candied fruits, and Kratzer makes some drawings. He draws the sun and the planets moving in their orbits according to the plan he has heard of from Father Copernicus. He shows how the world is turning on its axis, and nobody in the room denies it. Under your feet you can feel the tug and heft of it, the rocks groaning to tear away from their beds, the oceans tilting and slapping at their shores, the giddy lurch of Alpine passes, the forests of Germany ripping at their roots to be free. The world is not what it was when [Cromwell] and Vaughan were young, it is not what it was even in the cardinal Wolsey’s] day.” []


And now, in this 21st century, we too have been having our sense of reality re-shifted and re-oriented, and it’s about time! We elected – twice – as President of the United States, an African-American – no, actually, a multi-racial person whose experience in multiracial and multicultural Hawaii, in the continental US, in Indonesia and in Kenya only compounded his sense of belonging to a much wider sphere than “mere American” can indicate. As grievous as is the wound inflicted by our history of slavery and racism, our society has nevertheless been re-shifting and re-orienting toward a majority of people of color, just as it has always been shifting and re-orienting, incorporated “the other,” not without paroxysms and reactions, not without horrific exploitations – the Gospel of John documents how horrific those resistances can be, a Way of the Cross – but moving inexorably even if confusedly and reactively to embrace its many cultural origins into its resilient and creative mix. In the same way, our academic and indeed our business life has become inextricably and inventively intertwined with the academic and commercial lives of those all around our globe. We may be in the middle of yet another massive moment of “reaction” against this disorientation in electing our current government. But we cannot stop the increasing interconnection of our society or the world. We are being invited to be born again into that larger, more inclusive, more innovative and limber reality – the reality of the reign of God who loved the WHOLE world – not just our portion of it – enough to offer the ultimate sacrifice. We are invited to be born again and again. And again. And again.


Where, in your life, are you disoriented? Where are you finding yourself in the darkness of the birth canal, like Nicodemus, waiting to be born again? Or alternatively, what is coming to birth in you? How is it “of the Spirit,” of the free-blowing breath of God which created all things in the beginning and continues to create them now? What is the enlightenment it offers? What is the union?


January Vestry Minutes

Vestry Minutes:  January 17, 2017

Members Present:, Lucas Sanders, Jules Bertaut, Andrew Rohm, Tom Tufts, Marian King, Olivia Hamilton, Nancy McArdle, Matthew Abbate, Sylvia Weston, Sarah Forrester, Tom Beecher, Holly Antolini, Mardi Moran

Absent:  Thomas Wohlers

Guest:   Jeff Zinsmeyer


●     Following brief check-in time, Spiritual Practice was led by Mardi, focusing on claiming God’s gifts

Nominating Committee

●     Sylvia reported that the committee is still looking for 1 at-large nominee and 2 people for ECM reps

Redevelopment Update

●     Jules moved that we enter Executive Session.  Mardi seconded. Approved unanimously.

●     Jeff Zinsmeyer presented a redevelopment update.

●     Jules moved that we exit Executive Session.  Andrew seconded. Approved unanimously.

Food Pantry

●     Holly reviewed the Pantry situation.  Had a meeting with Schochet and there are not guarantees that we would have future problems with pipes/leaks. 

●     Current plan is to go to a once a month volunteer led pantry. The Food Bank and Food for Free are amenable to this.  JT Kittredge will be the Food Bank orderer and John Bell lead organizer, so we can keep some continuity in activity before and during the period we employ a Life Together fellow

●     Mardi suggests going to Porter Square Neighborhood Assoc. to see if any of them would like to be involved.  Mardi agrees to make some connections with future Life Together fellow to do some one-on-ones with PSNA folks.


●     Olivia will be ordering the banner this week

●     Jules has contacted MaeBright about facilitating a discussion of the rainbow flag issues.  They seem excited, though we don’t have a budget yet

●     Topics would be how to welcome gender non-conforming people and what the rainbow flag means. Possibly a sermon and discussion after church.


Annual Meeting

●     Possible topics for discussion:  Pantry, Visions Trainers next steps, Budget

●     What to say about shared leadership?  Tom B will put something in Jr. Warden’s report of Annual Report


Parish Retreat

●     Liz McNerney is going to make an announcement about retreat.  We will be having the retreat in partnership with St. Mary’s Dorchester


●     Lucas presented the proposed 2017 budget

●     Based on the assumption that we will start construction May 1, we will have a $60,000 deficit after planned drawdowns from reserves

●     We have 106 pledges for $230,000

●     At the budget meeting on Sunday, the general feeling was to try to maintain programs/mission and work on fundraising, with a possible deficit

●     Jules moved we enter Executive Session.   Lucas seconded.  Approved unanimously.

●     Holly reported that Eric Litman has accepted a position as interim rector at St. Chrysostom’s in Quincy starting May 7.  Easter Sunday will be his last day with us.  We will let the parish know at Annual Meeting.  Discussed timing of beginning search and its implications for the budget.

●     Lucas moved we exit Executive Session.   Olivia seconded.  Approved unanimously.

●     Nancy moved to pass the 2017 budget with the following changes:


1)  $13,000 credited to general fund uses from Oaktree interest payments (approx. 1/3 of annual payments)

2)  $12,000 reduction in Asst. Rector compensation, in anticipation of vacancy during search

3)  $15,000 increase in anticipated pledge income

4)  $10,000 credited to general fund uses from Food Pantry account, a portion of the funds that had been paid from general fund to pay Director’s salary and which should have previously been refunded

5)  $10,000 as deficit, with the anticipation that some of this can be made up by fundraising


Jules seconded.  Approved unanimously.

●     Noted—the Treasurer takes this as a commitment from the Vestry to help obtain the future pledge income



Minutes of December Meeting

●     Sylvia moved that we approve the regular and executive session December minutes.  Mardi seconded. Approved unanimously.

Financial Report

●     Lucas presented the financial report.  Expenses are tracking the budget but pledges are below what was pledged.  Despite parking income being 3 times expected, total revenue still a little short of budget

●     Still looking for another counter

●     Lucas presented revised parochial reports for 2013-2015. 

●     Mardi moves that we approve revised parochial reports for 2013-2015.  Tom B. seconded. Approved unanimously

Warden’s Report

●     Sylvia reported that people associated with the redevelopment will be handling snow removal again

●     We need an evaluation of the organ. Christian Brocato has given us a name of a consultant who can recommend someone.

Rector’s Report


  • Apart from the desperate sound-system failure at the Pageant, Christmas services were well-attended and delightful. Thank you, Lucas, for rescuing the sound system in time for the Late Service! Pageant continues to be the growth service; we had approximately 150 people. The Late Service is more like 60 and the Christmas Morning services, perhaps 35.
  • As reported earlier in the meeting, the Food Pantry will move to once Saturday a month, Feb. 11, Mar. 11, April 8, May 13, and June 10. JT Kittredge getting certified to do the ordering with Greater Boston Food Bank; John Bell recruiting volunteers and acting as Lead Organizer; we're still a work-in-progress, but the Food Ministries Volunteers have signed on to try this out for at least three and possibly five months before they reconsider its viability. Premised on Schochet Management's willingness to continue to allow us to use their two storage closets, the lockable fridge and lockable freezer.
  • Pending approval of the budget, we'll be applying for a 30-hour-a-week Life Together intern, August 2017 to June 2018, under Holly's supervision, undertaking a community organizing project developing an effective and efficient approach involving a congregation-&-community partnership to address food insecurity in North Cambridge.
  • Annual Meeting & Vestry retreat planning continues: the dates are January 29th for Annual Meeting and February 10th (6-9 PM) & 11th (9 AM – 4 PM) at Our Saviour Arlington. We are wondering about fresh facilitation for Vestry Retreat, but so far have not found someone skilled and available for this role. For Annual Meeting, items to address are piling up: a) allow Lucas more time to talk about the redesigned budget; b) invite the VISIONS trainees to talk about their hopes for the usefulness of VISIONS training; c) ask the Food Ministries Volunteers to talk about the Food Pantry; ask Eric to talk about Church School.
  • The Currency of Money Team & the Nominating Committee continue valiantly. Nom Comm is just shy of its goal of a full slate of Vestry, diocesan and deanery reps and ECM reps. Currency of Money Team needs "job descriptions" for next year's task.
  • Kathryn is putting Parochial Report info together, assembling the Annual Report, and preparing the data base both for the Newcomer Welcome Letter & a new 2017 Directory published for the Annual Meeting. No Newcomer Dinner is planned this January; we're looking for someone to host our 35+ newcomers in Easter season.
  • Anti-Oppression Team members and others attended the ECM-sponsored Sanctuary Immigrant Rights training workshop and met the next evening to consolidate intentions to ask the Vestry in February to approve a plan for St. James's to join other congregations in providing "Level Two" support for "Level One" congregations like St. Mary's Dorchester, who are preparing to be available to house undocumented immigrants preparing a defense against deportation. The A-O Team is already partnering with Our Saviour Arlington and intends to raise the issue with the rest of our Deanery and with the Cambridge clergy group that meets monthly in Mayor Denise Simmons' office.
  • Our parish leaders will complete VISIONS training-trainers training on Saturday Feb. 18th. We will need to do some reconsideration of the relationship between the A-O Team and this new coterie of trained leaders at our February 10/11 Vestry Retreat.
  • Second Sunday Elders continue; 20's & 30's are planning a Theology Off Tap at St. James's on Feb. 20th. Prospective Lenten formation projects: Holly's five-week Episcopalians 101 class; a class exploring the Stations of the Cross in prep for designing our own "live" Stations for Good Friday evening; Olivia Hamilton and Seth Woody are planning to offer a Contemplative Action Circle Lenten class. No one yet stepping forward to oversee "Dollar A Day for Lent." (Last year, we benefited Tatua Kenya. Holly will not oversee it a second year.)
  • 8 AM parishioner eagerly considering making kick-off gift for the new Organ Fund. We also have a kick-off gift of $430 from the sale of the Men’s Choir CD at the St. Nicholas Festival. Pat working on getting a formal estimate of the work needed, and also working with Holly on co-chairs for the Organ Fund.
  • Living Epistles ahead: Jan. 22, Allen Perez on the spirituality of being an immigrant; May 21, Anne Ibsen Goldman on spirituality and her call to environmental stewardship.
  • Worship Commission members Sylvia Weston and Betsy Zeldin meet with Holly, Eric and Pat to plan Lent on Feb. 7th; Lauren Zook, Olivia Hamilton and Arne Nystrom meet with Holly, Eric & Pat on Saturday Feb. 11th to plan Holy Week & Easter.



  • Active with the Mission Institute Advisory Committee, particularly on the issue of congregational racial reconciliation work.
  • St. James's will have a group participating with Holly in The Women’s March in Boston, January 21st.
  • Continuing as a ROC (Recently Ordained Clergy) Mentor through May.



  • I continue my practice of monthly meetings with my Women Clergy Colleague Group, monthly spiritual direction, and participating in the Recently Ordained Clergy Mentoring Group quarterly. Keeps me grounded!
  • Swimming and drawing continue. I am also renovating my kitchen and bath and (eventually) finishing the attic of my condo in Arlington.
  • Following first cortisone shot December 4th, I continue to experience back trouble. I have been managing back issues since age 24, but the stress inherent in my role contributes also, especially this time of year.




Assistant Rector’s Report

•    The Christmas pageant, minus a few liturgical and technical glitches went very well.  A shepherd, with an errant swing of their staff accidently broke the flagon of wine in the back of the Church before the service and then the sound system decided to shut down on us, so we did the service minus a pa system.  The children still did great as did the two teen narrators.   We had a pretty big turn-out, nearly 40 children participated including 14 angels!  The angel dance had a full ensemble. 

•    The Church school classes continue to run nicely.   Our teachers continue to do a wonderful job.   

•    Epiphany youth Liturgy is scheduled for 2/26!

•    The Pine Village pre-school has asked to use the Church building an afternoon in February to host their yearly multi-cultural pot-luck.  They are outgrowing their space for meetings.  I was glad this opportunity presented itself so that we would have an opportunity to show Pine Village some generosity in return for the many years they have let use their space on Sunday mornings, entirely rent free!!  Nearly unheard of.  

•    We are working on training some new teachers for the pre-school Godly Play class, we have had a good response to this and are planning to do a ‘story teller’ training the last Sunday of January.   

•    There is a growing team coalescing around the outdoor church sandwich ministry.  I think we have a pretty good team that is committed to this work. 

•    The Scouts are doing well.  Scout service to the parish has gone very well this year under the guidance of Michelle Holmes. 

•    I preached on Christmas Day which was fun and intimate service. 

•    The youth are planning the Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner, we have a Kids-4-Peace event scheduled at St. James’s on 3/12, we are working on a Lenten retreat with Christ Church Cambridge for early April, and there is a fellowship event in the works for some time in March.       

•    Kids-4-Peace convention on April 2nd.

•    We are trying to get our 8th graders and 9th graders interested in the pre-confirmation retreat up at the BHC put on the by the diocese youth leadership academy.

•    St. J families leading the Maundy Thursday pot-luck dinner.       


Submitted by Nancy McArdle


Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for Ash Wednesday - 12 noon

Audio recording for Ash Wednesday 

Ash Wednesday 3-1-2017

©Holly Lyman Antolini

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


As a parent cares for their children, so do you care for those who fear you, O God. For you yourself know whereof we are made; you remember that we are but dust. But you are full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness. Help us in our dustiness to be so, too. AMEN.


Welcome to the season of baptismal preparation, the season of Lent. From the early days of the church, these days before Holy Week were set aside to prepare for the great baptismal feast of Easter. They were the culmination of a very long catechumenate – a period of instruction & preparation for the life-changing sacrament of baptism. Maybe you’re already baptized? Lent is still your baptismal season: your season to remember what it means to belong to Jesus Christ, heart & soul & mind & strength. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” asks Paul in his Letter to the Romans. “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.


Baptized or not yet baptized, Lent is your season to dive more deeply into Christ’s death, into your own death, so that you may be more fully alive. Because it is by dying – and ONLY by dying – to our everlastingly striving selves that we become fully and completely open to the gift of grace. We have nothing left to prove. No pious ax to grind. No trumpet to sound. No prayer to cry from the street corner.


Now death is not a popular subject in our ever-striving, ever-improving “I’ve got this!” culture. Us Baby Boomers seem more determined than any generation before us to prove we’re definitely NOT DYING. Not even aging, in fact. Look at our dyed hair, our botoxed skin, our taut muscles! So this embrace of our baptismal death to self is deeply counter-cultural. We’re not losers, we insist; we’re WINNERS! We’re not last, we’re FIRST! We’re GREAT! We DESERVE this, whatever “this” is, the “this” that we want. And we are NOT DYING. No.


Unfortunately, that’s not the way God made our messy world. In our messy world, we die all the time, over and over, on a thousand different levels. We DON’T get what we want. We discover we’ve let each other down, that we’ve hurt each other, asserting our wants, our “deserts.” We DON’T “win” the argument. We fail to achieve what we set out to do. We lose our friends, our parents, our partners. Our joints don’t work, whatever color of hair we select.


Here’s the baptismal – the resurrectional – miracle: if, instead of FIGHTING these many deaths, we embrace them as an opportunity to “die into Christ,” as an opportunity to experience God’s healing grace instead of as the final, deafening, deadening dismissal of our being, their darkness can become the “crack for the light to get in,” as Leonard Cohen sang.

Theologian Robert Farrar Capon – a poet of death and grace if there ever was one – said, “Jesus came to raise the dead. He did not come to teach the teachable; he did not come to improve the improvable; he did not come to reform the reformable. None of these things works.” They don’t work because they fall short of acknowledging our powerlessness to “fix” ourselves or the world. All that rigorous discipline – without a holy death at the center of them – just holds our true powerlessness at bay. And all that effort also holds our truepreciousness at bay, as well. Because it keeps God’s love at arm’s length, while we go on busily proving that we can manage our salvation by ourselves.


So Lent is NOT about improving ourselves through a set of special disciplines – giving up chocolate; taking on exercise; reading the Bible in 40 days. Or maybe these things are only valuable when we fail at them – as we almost certainly will. Because THEN we’ll realize that our salvation is not in our own hands, but in God’s. And God has already “saved” us, in Jesus’ own loving life and death upon the Cross. Our baptismal preparation is to die into the truth of God’s great love for us and be done trying to earn it.


That’s why Lent opens with ashes. It’s why it opens with death. And it’s why we kneel and receive those ashes in a cross on our forehead, here, just here, where the cross of oil anoints us at our baptism, calling each and every one of us into our royal priesthood, the priesthood of all followers of Jesus Christ, sealing us by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marking us as Christ’s own, forever.  Those ashes on our baptismal cross never lose their evocative power: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”


But this is not a morbid exercise, this ashy-ness of ours. This is not some doleful practice of what my grandfather would call, “lugubrium!” No: a Lenten practice of death is JOYFUL! It is LIBERATING! Because it is the discovery and re-discovery that we are deeply, indelibly, mercifully, utterly and eternally LOVED BY GOD, ashes or no ashes.


In fact, we who raise a ruckus on Mardi Gras, on Carnival, donning costumes and dancing in the streets and brandishing instruments in the wild parade, only to sober up and don our dismal faces of fasting on Ash Wednesday have the WHOLE THING UPSIDE DOWN! It’s ASH WEDNESDAY that should be the party! Because it’s only when we get down to business and die to our own arrogance and greed and will-to-power that God’s loving grace can finally get to us. It’s on Ash Wednesday that I can commence to reclaim my true dustiness – my “humility,” my humus, “my earthiness,” my soil, my compost of rotting intentions and resolutions, out of which can come, with the help of God’s grace, goodness, mercy, kindness, steadfastness, and a willingness to suspend anger.


Congressman John Lewis, one of the vanguard of civil rights leaders, along with Martin Luther King Jr., who made the great tectonic shift of the 1960’s happen, had a conversation with Krista Tippett this January for her program “On Being,” as a part of her “Civil Conversations” project. The two of them were in the midst of “a congressional civil rights pilgrimage led by [Lewis] and attended by 30 members of the House and Senate from both parties.” Tippett says, they “stood on the holy ground of the [Civil Rights] movement in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma. It was a journey into history [she] thought [she] knew, but didn’t really — into the Civil Rights leaders’ spiritual confrontation within themselves — and into their intricate art and work of successful nonviolence.” [] When Tippett asked Lewis to speak in depth about the training in non-violence that he underwent – and helped create – in preparation for what lay ahead in their resistance to the vehemence of racism in that Jim Crow era, he gave a description of the most profound possible practice of baptismal dying.


REP. LEWIS:  “…Long before any sit-in, any march, long before the freedom rides, or the march from Selma to Montgomery, any organized campaign that took place, we did study. I remember as a student in Nashville, Tennessee, a small group of students every Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. would gather in a small Methodist church near Fisk University in downtown Nashville.


And we had a teacher... a young man who taught us the philosophy and the discipline of nonviolence. We studied. We studied what Gandhi attempted to do in South Africa, what he accomplished in India. We studied Thoreau and civil disobedience. We studied the great religions of the world. And before we even discussed a possibility of a sit-in, we had role-playing. … There would be black and white young people, students, an interracial group, playing the roles of African Americans, or an interracial group playing the roles of whites. And we went through the motion of someone harassing you, calling you out of your name, pulling you out of your seat, pulling your chair from under you, someone kicking you or pretending to spit on you. Sometimes we did pour cold water on someone — never hot — but we went through the motion… we wanted to feel like they were in the actual situation, that this could happen. … So when the time came, we were ready. We were prepared.


MS. TIPPETT: I also read somewhere that you were trained, even if someone was attacking you, to look them in the eye, that there was something disarming for human beings.


REP. LEWIS: We did go through the motion, the drama, of saying that if someone kicks you, spits on you, pulls you off the lunch counter stool, continue to make eye contact. Continue to give the impression, “Yes, you may beat me, but I’m human. …You have to grow. It’s just not something that is natural. You have to be taught the way of peace, the way of love, the way of nonviolence. And in the religious sense, in the moral sense, you can say in the bosom of every human being, there is a spark of the divine. So you don’t have a right as a human to abuse that spark of the divine in your fellow human being…[even one that is persecuting you.]


…We, from time to time, would discuss if you see someone attacking you, beating you, spitting on you, you have to think of that person — years ago, that person was an innocent child, innocent little baby. And so what happened? Something go wrong? Did the environment? Did someone teach that person to hate, to abuse others? So you try to appeal to the goodness of every human being. And you don’t give up. You never give up on anyone.”


“Be friendly, try to smile, and just stay nonviolent. And during the nonviolent campaign, in a city like Nashville and so many other parts of the American South, you never had one incident of someone striking back or hitting back. There were even people who would say, “I cannot go on the sit-ins. I cannot go on the freedom ride. I may not be disciplined enough.” But we were trained. When we left to go on the freedom ride, we were prepared to die for what we believed in. …The movement created what I like to call a nonviolent revolution. It was love at its best. It’s one of the highest forms of love. That you beat me, you arrest me, you take me to jail, you almost kill me, but in spite of that, I’m going to still love you. I know Dr. King used to joke sometimes and say things like, “Just love the hell outta everybody. Just love ‘em.””


And John Lewis went out and put his training into practice, being the first person struck by police attempting to stop the March to Selma, on the Edmund Pettis Bridge, struck and nearly killed. And he never gave up on anyone, even his most determined persecutors. And how did he “love” them, as Dr. King abjured? Lewis says, “Suffering can be nothing more than a sad and sorry thing without the presence on the part of the sufferer of a graceful heart, an accepting, an open heart, a heart that holds no malice toward the inflictors of his or her suffering.” A baptismal practice indeed.


So if you plan a “Lenten discipline,” let it be something that helps you practice relishing the fact that God already loves you so much, God has already thrown the accounting book out the window. God is no longer keeping score. Jesus already died for your sins. Now it’s your turn to die into Christ. Me, my humble baptismal practice this Lent is to stop adding six more things to my day so I can prove to myself and everyone around me that I’m more capable than God’s own self! My Lenten discipline is to go to bed at a reasonable hour and get up at a reasonable hour and sit silently with God first thing in the morning and get absolutely NOTHING DONE in all those hours of sleep and silence! It might make a hash of my ridiculously over-ambitious life, but God will get a good giggle out of that! Because God might finally be able to get a word of grace in edgewise through all my self-congratulatory busyness!


And as Robert Farrar Capon says, “Grace is the celebration of life, relentlessly hounding all the non-celebrants in the world. It is a floating, cosmic bash shouting its way through the streets of the universe, flinging the sweetness of its [harmonies] to every window, pounding at every door in a hilarity beyond all liking and happening, until the prodigals come out at last and dance, and the elder brothers finally take their fingers out of their ears…” and join the jive and jitterbug. [Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon & Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace] HAPPY Ash Wednesday! Amen!


Homily on the Feast Day of Eric Liddell for the Sisters of St. Anne

The Feast of Eric Liddell

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Isaiah 40:27–31, Psalm 18:21–25,29–34; 2 Peter 1:3–11; Mark 10:35–45


You, O Lord, are my lamp; my God, you make my darkness bright. With you I will break down an enclosure; with the help of my God I will scale any wall.  AMEN.


Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” So Jesus asks his brash young followers. And so he asks all of us, perhaps with more poignancy in this present moment.


It’s a good time to think a bit about baptism. We’re coming up on the season of Lent, so long the season of preparation for baptism at the Easter Vigil. For many in the earliest days of the Church, these 40 Lenten days were the culmination of years of training and teaching and formation. Then, in the flickering dark of the Vigil, baptizands were plunged head-to-foot into water three times, in the name of the Triune God, Creator, Redeemer & Sustainer, an intense evocation of their willingness to “die into Christ,” to join themselves to Christ by complete self-emptying, and thereby to be infused with a new life and a new identity as a minister of reconciliation, committed to following Jesus even if to follow Jesus meant to be separated from one’s loving but unbelieving family.  Even, if necessary, into the dens of lions.


Because in the early days of the church, these soon-to-be Christians were subject to persecution and even martyrdom, so preparation for baptism was a much more literal preparation for death than anyone in this room is likely to have experienced, even if you were baptized as I was, as an adult. My baptism preparation – at age 28 - amounted to a single conversation with my priest, in which, after four years of singing in the choir every week, I met with him on the picnic table outside the church and screwed up my courage to say, “I think I want to be baptized,” and he responded, “Well, I think you know what you’re doing,” and made a date for the baptism. It was so quick and so negligible that it made me feel a little dizzy and uncertain, feeling by no means as prepared as I felt I should be, but embarrassed to say so in the teeth of (I may say, unwarranted!) conviction. (Or maybe his own uncertainty HOW to prepare me!)


I call it “the last private baptism” even though I have no evidence for that, but because it was 1980 and our Church had already adopted the 1979 Book of Common Prayer with its central liturgy of baptism and its expressed desire to have baptisms only on major feast days in the presence of the whole congregation. My baptism was a hold-over from a bygone era, three little spritzes at the font in the back of the church, held on a Saturday afternoon with my bewildered, unchurched parents; my wonderful spiritual mentor, our cleaning lady Alvainie Dawson (who resides in my own personal roster of saints); my grandmother, brought up an Episcopalian from her birth in 1895, and flipping the pages of the unfamiliar prayerbook back and forth audibly and with irritation behind me throughout the little service, as if to say, “What IS this???” and my Episcopalian husband, who sang “I heard the voice of Jesus say” for my baptism despite having told me it was a song for funerals, to which of course I pointed out, “This IS a funeral: the funeral of my old self! Now I will be risen with Christ!”


How innocently I could say that. How little idea I truly had then, what it would mean to “drink the cup that Christ drinks, or be baptized with the baptism that Christ is baptized with!” And once-for-all as baptism is – and I depend upon that; I RELY upon the certainty of having been SEALED by the Holy Spirit and MARKED as Christ’s own, FOREVER; I’m with Martin Luther, who, as a reminder to himself not to give up in a time of desperate stress and persecution, hiding in someone else’s house as a captive for his own safety, famously took a knife and hacked the words into the wood of his desk, “I HAVE BEEN BAPTIZED!” – as crucial as this permanence of baptism is, it is also vivid to me that the reality of one’s baptism is also something one can only grasp “through a glass dimly,” in a long process of LIVING INTO one’s baptism, of deepening one’s baptism over years of practice, of renewing and re-affirming one’s baptism over and over, in every partaking of the Eucharist, every “participation in Christ,” as Richard Hooker says of the Bread & Wine, the Body & Blood of Christ.


Fortunately we have models for this deepening of baptism – models in Christ’s followers who have gone before us, and who have met the challenges of their lives with faithfulness and grace, empowered to do so by clinging to Christ who is their all-in-all, by “drinking the cup that Christ drinks, and being baptized with the baptism with which Christ is baptized.” Today’s model is the British Olympic runner Eric Liddell, famous for us from the movie “Chariots of Fire,” in which we see him give up his chance at winning the 100-meter sprint – his best event – because the qualifying heat would require him to run on the sabbath day. Son of missionaries in China and devout Scottish Presbyterian that he was, defiling the Sabbath was out of the question. Still, a young man with the opportunity to demonstrate a world-conquering skill, it would have been more predictable that he would have at least hedged on his principles. The dedication with which he met that spiritual challenge – and went on to win the 400-meter at those same 1924 Olympics by running it as IF it were a sprint! – was a mere harbinger of things to come.


After being trained at Edinburgh University as a doctor, he returned to his parents in the missionary field in Northern China in 1925, becoming a teacher. And there he stayed even as the Imperial Japanese began to envelope China in the lead-up to World War II. Sending his Canadian wife and their three daughters back to her family in Canada, Liddell remained in solidarity with his Chinese comrades, spelling his doctor brother in a mission to the poor. When the Japanese took over the mission station in 1943, Liddell was interned at the Weihsien Internment Camp (in the modern city of Weifang). There he lived in the harsh conditions of deprivation that characterized these camps under the Japanese, but with astonishing equanimity, encouraged his fellow prisoners, especially the children. “Langdon Gilkey, who also survived the camp and became a prominent theologian in his native America, said of Liddell: "Often in an evening I would see him bent over a chessboard or a model boat, or directing some sort of square dance – absorbed, weary and interested, pouring all of himself into this effort to capture the imagination of these penned-up youths. He was overflowing with good humour and love for life, and with enthusiasm and charm. It is rare indeed that a person has the good fortune to meet a saint, but he came as close to it as anyone I have ever known."[15] []


Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” Eric Liddell drank the cup to its dregs, and dove deeper and deeper into his baptism. It certainly wasn’t what he would have chosen, that terrible life in an internment camp. But he HAD chosen to follow the sacrificial path of love his Savior had shown him, and he “poured all of himself into it,” holding nothing back. And from Langdon Gilkey’s account, it was a blessing to him, hard as it was, just as it was a blessing to all around him.


In his last letter to his wife, written on the day he died [in the camp at Weihsien], Liddell wrote of suffering a nervous breakdown due to overwork. He actually had an inoperable brain tumour; overwork and malnourishment may have hastened his death. Liddell died on 21 February 1945, five months before liberation. Langdon Gilkey later wrote, "The entire camp, especially its youth, was stunned for days, so great was the vacuum that Eric's death had left." According to a fellow missionary, Liddell's last words were, "It's complete surrender", in reference to how he had given his life to God.[19]



"It's complete surrender." That’s the goal of our baptisms. And it can take a lifetime to reach it. Or sometimes, in the crucible of intense suffering, one may reach it far sooner. Suffering or no, living into our baptism is a way of joy.


I heard the voice of Jesus say,

‘I am this dark world’s Light.

Look unto me; thy morn shall rise

And all thy day be bright.’

I looked to Jesus, and I found

In him, my star, my sun;

And in that light of life I’ll walk

Till traveling days are done.”

                        [Horatius Bonar, 1846]


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