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Monday
Sep192016

Holly Lyman Antolini's Homily for the Marriage of Olivia Hamilton & Molly McHenry 9-17-16

Audio recording of Holly Lyman Antolini's Homily 

 

A Homily for the Marriage of Olivia Hamilton & Molly McHenry

September 17, 2016

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Isaiah 6:1-8; Ps. 139:1-17; Hebrews 13:1-3,5-8,14-16; Luke 10:38-42

 

Here is the first poem in Gregory Orr’s collection How Beautiful the Beloved. Now pay attention, y’all: this goes by fast. You’ll miss it if you blink! Here goes:

If to say it once

And once only, then still

To say: Yes.

 

And say it complete,

Say it as if the word

Filled the whole moment

With its absolute saying.

 

Later for “but,”

Later for “if.”

                        Now

Only the single syllable

That is the beloved,

That is the world.

What a crazily hopeful thing it is to get married! In a world that is whipping by us with change, to grab someone and hang on to them and say, “Forever.” In a world that is all about ME, to say “US.” In a world that has been trying to learn to love for umpteen millennia, to say, “I WILL! I DO! LOVE!”

To say once and once only, Yes. Complete. Filling the whole moment of your lives with its absolute saying, so that “You shall never know nor understand any other thing, ever,” as Julian of Norwich says.

Or as another poet, Mary Szybist said with a little less confidence than Julian and a little more room for the elusiveness of love even in the midst of its embrace, in her poem “The Troubadours, Etc.” from her collection Incarnadine,

…won’t you put me before you

until I’m far enough away you can

believe in me?

 

Then try, try to come closer –

my wonderful and less than.

Molly and Olivia, the truth is, you have been marrying each other for years. That is, you have been marrying each other if to marry is to learn with steadfast obedience, sometimes joyfully, sometimes painfully, sometimes with sure-footed certainty and sometimes in grave confusion and uncertainty, to bring all that you each are and all that you each have to honor the fullness of each other, to help bring that fullness ever more into being: the “wonderful and less than” fullness each is loving from the other. The fullness that surprises, disappoints, and delights. You’ve already gotten to the “buts” and the “ifs.” They are familiar territory to you.

So your “Yes” is all the more remarkable. And all the more remarkable because you have been saying YES to each other in a time in which the society has not said “Yes” back, has not even been able to see the deepest hope for belonging to each other that we ALL share, as it has been and is being and will be enacted in you.

The discipline of this Yes is so strongly affirmed in your choice of readings for this celebration and blessing. Mutual love is a calling – a dread calling, in some ways, full of the searing of live coals and the beating of gigantic wings and the knowledge that it’s all completely overwhelming, if Isaiah is to be believed. Yet a calling in which you can find your voice and say, “Send me!”

Mutual love is a mission. A very counter-cultural mission, if you ask me! But a mission on which our lives – certainly our children’s lives – depend. We can’t become full human beings without it. Mutual love is as essential as nutrients, as sleep, as play. Our new Episcopal marriage service – which we are largely using today – all but names the call to mutual love a “baptismal ministry.” The “yes” of it requires us to die and die and die to our old imperiously isolated selves in order to give each other the priority, the safety, the support, the space to try things out, to take risks, to grow. Which doesn’t work unless EACH of you does it for the other! Marriage is the place to practice this giving up of self for the sake of enlarging and strengthening both selves. To practice it and fail at it. And practice again.

The Letter to the Hebrews calls this practice of mutual love the practice of “hospitality.” Hospitality to strangers, to prisoners (of all kinds). Generous hospitality that gives and gives instead of taking. (You already know, both of you – in the free clinic, in the literal prison classroom, in the finitude of hospice – how that generosity gives back to you!) Hospitality rooted in compassion, com-passio, the capacity to feel the suffering of others, and to share their joy.

All this is just plain TOO strenuous for us limited human beings! It’s beyond us. So that’s where God comes in. That’s where, when you run out of resources within yourself to keep loving when the loving gets tough, it’s so helpful to be able to say from the roots of your being, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.” To say, “Darkness is not dark to you, O God. The night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light to you are both alike!

That’s why Mary, in Luke’s story of the two sisters, chooses “the better part.” It’s not that Mary should leave Martha shouldering all the dishwashing! Those dishes have to get washed, just as the laundry has to get folded. The “sausage” of marriage has to get made, pig’s ears and all! But thank God it’s not all up to our poor frantic, distracted, overcommitted selves! In a minute you’ll stand before each other, Molly & Olivia, hand-fasted, and I’ll ask you if you will live together in faithfulness and holiness as long as you both shall live. And you will each say, “I will.” And echoing all around you in the air of this place of prayer will be the words we say every time we renew our baptismal promises in the Episcopal Church, “I will… with God’s help!”

With God’s help, you can come closer and closer, and believe in each other, your “wonderful and less than.” With God’s help, you can, both in your failures and your successes, your forgiveness and your rejoicing, be an ever-clearer “sign of Christ’s love to this broken world,” as the marriage prayers say. With God’s help, you can, now and forever,

say: Yes.

 

And say it complete,

…as if the word

Filled the whole [of your lives]

With its absolute saying.

                       

…Only the single syllable

That is the beloved,

That is the world.

 

AMEN.

Wednesday
Sep142016

Holly Lyman Antolini's Homily for the Burial of Jose Cruz

Homily for the Burial of José (Jay) Cruz

©Holly Lyman Antolini

September 13, 2016

 

Let us pray.

In such a time of loss as this, O God, we put our faith in Jesus Christ our Lord; who rose victorious from the dead, and comforts us with the blessed hope of everlasting life. For to your faithful people, Lord, life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body lies in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens. AMEN.

[Book of Common Prayer: Preface for the Commemoration of the Dead, p. 382]

 

When someone has lived a long life, a gathering like this to celebrate that life is full of sadness of course. But it has a tinge of celebration as well: a life well-lived, lived to the fullest, is a life in which we rejoice as well as mourn.

It feels so different when we gather to honor someone like José (Jay) Cruz, dying at the age of 34, and leaving behind him five amazing children who would have wanted him there to father them further into their own adulthood. Children who would have wanted him to be around to pass on his kick-boxing skills. And – to the dread of their mothers I’m sure – to take them for rides in those fast cars.

In such a death as Jay’s, our sadness is raw and keen, like a wound. And it edges into anger: anger that someone so full of energy and charm and promise didn’t have the chance to live out that promise into old age. It’s hard – it’s impossible – not to shake our fist at fate and say, “Why this lovely young man?!? How DARE you take him in so untimely a fashion!?” We older people look at such a young person in the prime of their life and say, “Why HIM? Why not ME?”

Just looking at that winsome smile on the cover of your bulletin brings tears to my eyes, and I don’t believe I ever met Jay personally. So I can only imagine how it affects all of you who DID know him!

So our grief in a loss like this doesn’t just pour out of us, uncomplicated. It twists and grinds in our soul, and letting go – always hard – is so much harder.  We can’t just release Jay; we have to unclench our fists first.

But let go we must. There is no arguing with death, much as we would like to. And that’s where the resources of faith come in. At a time like this, it’s good to know that we are held in a much larger life, a much larger love than we can summon up. Because our own resources seem so small when overwhelmed by a pain so huge. So it’s good to remind ourselves and each other that God’s grace is ALWAYS on offer, to help in time of need.

God’s grace can remind us that even a too-short 34 years of life, fraught with all the struggles young men suffer, is nevertheless something to be celebrated, because this community of family and friends had Jay with them to know and to love as a companion on this weird, difficult, beautiful earthly pilgrimage of ours.

God’s grace can remind us to be glad for that unique energy and verve that was Jay’s, for his exuberance and congeniality, for his sartorial genius and his athletic prowess.

God’s grace can teach us that such sorrow as this need not drive us apart but can, if we let it, move us to reach out to each other and forgive each other NOW, before it’s too late, to tell each other we love each other NOW, before it’s too late, to weave our community closer together in support of each other in our loss. God’s grace can teach us to overlook slights and past pain and seize the moment for kindness, for fellow-feeling, for tolerance and compassion.

Do not let your hearts be troubled,” says John’s Gospel. “Believe in God. Believe also in Jesus,” who suffered all the pains of being human, even to the point of death, who knows exactly what it was like to be a young man trying to make his way in the world as Jay was, who knows all the temptations to which we are subject, we humans, and who, with all his mercy, generosity and loving kindness, has gone to prepare a place for Jay in God’s good company. (Probably already signed him up to teach kick-boxing to the heavenly host, you know.)

In the Episcopal Church, whenever we make a vow, we tend to say “I will, with God’s help.” That’s because we can’t count on keeping our promises without God’s grace to strengthen us. With God’s help, we can use our grief and anger at Jay’s death to fuel reconciliation amongst ourselves and a commitment to fight the forces that take young men’s lives. With God’s help, we will relish our memories of Jay even as we lay him to rest and with God’s help we can move on into our lives, lives whose adventure he would want us to embrace with goodwill and hope, not with mourning and despair. With God’s help, we will visualize him now dwelling in “the house of the Lord,” at peace and at rest, “going from strength to strength in the life of perfect service to God,” as the Prayers say.

With God’s help, we can hold on with confidence, even in the midst of our grief, to Paul’s words in the Letter to the Romans: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” AMEN.

Monday
Sep122016

Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for Homecoming Sunday 9-11-16

Audio recording of Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for Homecoming Sunday

 

Proper 19 Year C 1st option 9-11-16

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28; Ps. 14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15: 1-10

 

Please turn in your Lift Every Voice & Sing hymnal to #101 and sing with me again the verse that we sang for the Praise Song, verse one: Softly & tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me. See on the portals he’s waiting and watching. Watching for you and for me. Come home; come home; you who are weary come home…earnestly, tenderly Jesus is calling, calling ‘O sinner, come home!’”  AMEN. [Will Lamartine Thompson, Lift Every Voice & Sing, #101]

Dear People of St. James’s, this is always a lovely thing, to come to church on Homecoming Sunday and see beloved faces we have rarely seen during the summer. Especially in this academic community, summer is so often a time of internships and conferences, of vacation travel and family visits. For others of you, summer is a time when the wild out-of-doors calls irresistibly, drawing you to worship and fellowship of a different kind, more trees than people. And then as school begins again, our wider family returns home. I FEEL it, that gathering, that returning! Don’t you? And among you are new faces. Perhaps Cambridge is a place of sojourn, of a teaching fellowship or a research grant, a place to engage in graduate study. Or perhaps you have just arrived to take a new position, a new job, finding your way into the community, not yet sure what to make of all our one-way streets and squares that aren’t really squares, all our streets whose street signs have gone missing just when you most needed to orient yourselves! For you, this is a homecoming of a different kind – at least, we HOPE it will be a homecoming! We hope you will find yourselves at home in this congregation, at home in our worship, in the rhythm of our prayer and study and service. We hope that you will feel SEEN and HEARD, appreciated for what you uniquely bring to our congregation, just in being yourself with your own unique history and combination of gifts.

That’s why Pat and Eric and the Worship Commission Planning Team for Late Pentecost, Arne Nystom & Yvette Verdieu & Marian King & I decided to make Will Thompson’s sweet hymn, “Softly & Tenderly” our Praise Song for Late Pentecost. It speaks so beautifully of Jesus’ longing for us and somehow manages to convey our longing for Jesus, for a place to belong, not just provisionally, for the duration of a fellowship or a graduate degree, but to belong to the universe infinitely and eternally, to belong to God. Think of the choice of “Softly & Tenderly” as our aspiration for St. James’s to be a place where you can feel, can REMEMBER that belonging that was yours from the moment you were conceived, from the moment you were “knit together in your mother’s womb,” as last week’s Psalm 139 says. In this beautiful restored interior – the historic color of paint so fresh the scaffolding only came down Saturday, the stenciling sparkling, new bulbs to increase the light – we hope that no matter how strange you may still find this community of Cambridge, you will feel that at St. James’s, you have arrived at home.

Please join me on the second verse of “Softly & Tenderly,” # 101 in Lift Every Voice & Sing“Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading, pleading for you and for me? Why should we linger and heed not his mercies, mercies for you and for me?

Come home; come home; you who are weary come home…earnestly, tenderly Jesus is calling, calling ‘O sinner, come home!’”  

This particular Homecoming Sunday is a poignant one, as our September return to the church school and our two-service schedule often is, because of its proximity to that day of perfidy, 9-11. On this the 15th anniversary of that terrible day, when the two towers of the World Trade Center and the inner sanctum of our Pentagon were savaged by airplanes, we are inescapably reminded that we belong to a world at once more inextricably joined together than ever before in history and at the same time, more devastatingly riven by division and alienation and fearful antagonism than at any time since the terrible march of fascism and Stalinism in the 1930’s. Jeremiah’s sear vision of a world in which, as Psalm 14 says, “everyone has proved faithless” and “all alike have turned bad,” a world in which a hot wind of desolation is blowing out of the bare heights in the desert, like the breath of God’s judgment against a humanity in which all are foolish, “skilled in evil,” laying waste to the earth, is disquietingly, disturbingly eloquent and evocative. The temptation under these global conditions is to define “home” more tightly, more tribally, to identify more strongly than ever with what is familiar in order to cope with the fear of “the other” engendered by the proximity of immigrants and refugees or tyrannical governments threatening nuclear armament or terrorists pursuing a perversion of “jihad,” or even just the globalized world of social media. The temptation when “the world is too much with us, late and soon” [William Wordsworth] is to narrow the aperture of our compassion and fellow-feeling and pass judgment on those we don’t already know. “Those other people,” in this scenario, are the “sinners.” We who are at home are among the “ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance,” as Jesus says in Luke’s Gospel.

There’s only one problem, from a Gospel standpoint, with this judgmental and protective attitude about home. And the problem is that Jesus consistently, throughout all four Gospels, identifies not with those purported “righteous persons,” but with the sinners. Within Luke’s story today, Jesus’ allegiances are clear right up front: “All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’" Let’s just inquire for a moment whether Jesus actually believes there ever COULD be “ninety-nine persons who need no repentance.” If you read the rest of the gospels, you will know that he doesn’t. Far from it. According to the consistent testimony of the Gospels, Jesus actually believes that ALL are sinners in need of redemption; all are broken and in need of a physician. It’s part of who we are as human beings. It’s part of the messy freedom in which we were made by God in the first place: made in God’s image but free to make our own choices, good or bad. That’s why Jesus’ first act as he took up his ministry was to get baptized – he wanted to affiliate with the rest of us who need forgiveness! He wanted forgiveness and the right relationship based on honest ownership of our full humanity, of our clarities and our confusions, our shortcomings and our gifts, to be the basis of our whole relationship with God, for Jesus in the fullness of his own humanity as well as for us in ours. So when he tells the story of the found sheep and says “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance,” he’s joking, y’all! He’s getting up in the face of the grumbly scribes and what-not who THINK they’re in a position to judge! Because his own allegiances, over and over, are not to those who think they are righteous, but rather to what theologian Robert Farrar Capon calls, “the least, the last, the lost and the littlest,” that one sheep who’s out on the cliff edge; that one coin stuck in the crack between the dusty floor boards. And let’s remember: for Jesus’ listeners, shepherds are the lowest of the low in their society, the flagman on the highway construction site, broiling in the sun; the dump manager retrieving articles from the refuse. And WOMEN? We know about THEM! They don’t rank at all apart from their menfolk. Yet here is Jesus identifying with the lowly shepherd, plowing around the desert hillsides in the freezing cold searching out that one dratted sheep. Jesus – heaven forbid! – as a WOMAN, whose very livelihood may depend upon finding that missing coin, without which her family won’t eat.

Dear family of St. James’s, and dear visitors joining us for the first or second or third time: far be it from me to call you a lost sheep or a missing coin! But please hear this: in Jesus’ name, we are trying hard at St. James’s to keep the aperture of our compassion and welcome wide open, whatever the state of play in our crazy violent world. We REJOICE that you are here! One of the “charisms” of St. James’s, one of our “gifts of the Holy Spirit,” is that we are pretty aware of our own shortcomings. We aren’t very good at covering them up. (Our fresh plaster and paint notwithstanding. You have no idea what this place USED to look like! For the last generation! It’s disorientingly tidy in here!) We tend to show up on Sundays looking like ourselves and not some gussied-up version thereof! Our worship is exuberant rather than precise or polished. We are fascinated by all kinds of people from all over the world, and we tend to be curious rather than apprehensive about them. We’re not perfect at this hospitality. Call it aspirational! We even have an Anti-Oppression Team working hard on being aware of where our hospitality is falling short. But one of our most foundational beliefs in Jesus Christ is that we are human, and you are human, and wherever you come from, whatever you think your state of faith is (or isn’t), whatever you struggle with or feel ashamed of or confused about, God, who is a God of mercy and steadfast, rock-solid loving kindness, loves you in the midst of it all, just as we are learning God loves us.

So let’s close by singing together the fourth verse of “Softly & tenderly,” #101 in Lift Every Voice & Sing: “O for the wonderful love he has promised, promised for you and for me! Though we have sinned, he has mercy & pardon, pardon for you and for me.Come home; come home; you who are weary come home…earnestly, tenderly Jesus is calling, calling ‘O sinner, come home!’”

Tuesday
Sep062016

Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for 16 Pentecost 9-4-16

Audio recording of Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for 16 Pentecost

 

Proper 18 Year C 1st option 9-4-16

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Jeremiah 18:1-11; Ps. 139:1-5,13-17; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33

 

Just like the clay in the potter's hand, so are we in your hand, O God. If we are a spoiled vessel, rework us into another one, as seems good to you! Shape our choices so that all may know we are marvelously made, and know well that your works are wonderful. AMEN.

I hope if you take nothing else away from my years of service as rector at St. James’s, you will take away a sense of wonder at the generative serendipity of connection between our three-year cycle of bible readings called “the lectionary” and the emergence of events in our community and our world!

First off, this week, we have Jeremiah’s vivid image of God shaping us as a potter shapes clay on the potter’s wheel. When, as is so often the case, our clay is not “trued up” in the very center of God’s intentions for our gifts and our well-being, and the pot goes badly awry, leaning or twisting or tearing at the weak spots, God simply pounds us back down into a lump, re-centers us on God’s wheel, and shapes us again. Unnerving as the image is – who, after all, likes being pounded into a lump?!? – it is actually quite a hopeful one. If you know you’re “out of true,” you can hope to be reshaped for the better!

Then there’s Jesus in Luke’s Gospel, laying his followers out flat (again!) with the extremity of HIS imagery: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Hate your family? What about the Gospel of love? And “carry a cross?” Gruesome image in Jesus’ nation where hundreds if not thousands were strung up on crosses and left to die in agony in the desert heat as a sign from the governing Romans to their subject citizens to toe the imperial line. Jesus is asking his disciples to court such imperial disapprobation? Such imperial discipline? (Disciples? Discipline?)

And atop it all, Paul’s elegant letter to Philémon on behalf of Paul’s friend Onesimus, Onesimus who, it turns out, is Philemon’s run-away slave. A slave being sent back to his master, in the name of Jesus? Yet Paul’s plea for Onesimus, spoken as one prisoner on behalf of another likewise – though differently – imprisoned, is clear: “Though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love-- and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother-- especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” [underlinings mine]

 I say, isn’t it a wonder how the world’s events can be illuminated by the words of Scripture, cycling by us in a lectionary? This week as we read Jeremiah, Luke & the Letter to Philemon is a week when we in the United States, if we have been reading the news, have had slavery and its terrible legacy on our minds. It is a week when Georgetown University, a Jesuit-led institution overtly claiming discipleship of Christ, has owned up to its foundational history of ownership of slaves, including the fact that its financing model from its very beginning relied on slave labor and slave sales, and that it rescued itself from financial disaster in 1838 by selling 272 of those men, women & children “down the [proverbial] river” to New Orleans to pay its debts. Now the University pledges to give any descendants of its slaves preferential status in admissions akin to the preference given to alumni, to rename buildings for a slave, Isaac Hawkins, and a 19th century Catholic educator of African-Americans, Anne Marie Becraft, as well as create a new research center, The Institute for the Study of Slavery and its Legacies. “This community participated in the institution of slavery,” acknowledged Georgetown’s president Dr. John J. DeGioia. “This original evil that shaped the early years of the Republic was present here. We have been able to hide from this truth, bury this truth, ignore and deny this truth.” [“Georgetown University Plans Steps to Atone for Slave Past,” New York Times, Sept. 1, 2016]

Georgetown is hardly alone in this history of obtuse reliance on the proceeds of the evil of slavery. Other universities, including Brown University in Providence Rhode Island and our own neighbor, Harvard University, have also lately recognized publicly their ties to slavery and the slave trade, according to Craig Steven Wilder, American history professor at MIT. Wilder points out that “after the American Revolution, we established 17 colleges, one every year until 1800. Those colleges have close ties to slavery because they’re founded with the recovery of the slave economy after the [Revolutionary] war. And in the decades before the Civil War, it’s the rise of the cotton economy that drives the expansion of American higher education.” [PBS Newshour interview with Hari Sreenivasan, Sept. 1 2016]

This, of course, is where it gets personal for us at St. James’s. It was only when we began to prepare for the redevelopment of our parish house in 2008 that Charlie Wibiralske thought to research the source of the funds that Mary Longfellow Greenleaf’s husband James earned, which after his death she then donated to build this extraordinary sanctuary in the 1880’s. Turns out that like Harvard, we obtained our building funds from the highly profitable cotton trade in New Orleans in the 1850’s, the era just shy of the Civil War when “cotton was king,” and Northern merchant ingenuity and enterprise made the cotton industry viable for Southern planters. Long lauding the generous Mary Longfellow Greenleaf, we at St. James’s never inquired how our abolitionist parish might have benefited from slavery. We have our own confession to make.

This of course isn’t just the week that we realize that, like so many of the “economically advantaged” in our society, our church is not Onesimus in Paul’s scenario, in need of liberation, but rather the exploiter Philemon, and like him, we are in need of rethinking our assumptions about our relationship to slavery. It isn’t just the week in which Georgetown’s admission invites us to redouble our efforts in the long labor of refashioning our society, as we realize afresh that our society’s mighty pot was seriously off-center from its very beginning due to the centrality of slavery at our founding as a nation, and that its continuing influence, long after the Emancipation, helps keep the “haves,” haves and the “have-nots” left out. No, this is also the week in which National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick has made the news feed by refusing to stand for the national anthem at his pre-season NFL games, saying, “I’m not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” [Robert O’Connell, “Did Colin Kaepernick Really Insult the Troops?” The Atlantic, Aug. 30, 2016]

There has been much rhetoric and much ink poured out in response to Mr. Kaepernick’s protest, both in support and in opposition to him. At the very least, it must be acknowledged that while Mr. Kaepernick has not professed to “hate” his family (OR his country for that matter) nor claimed to “take up his cross” in making his moral position clear, he HAS put a great deal at risk, including his enormous income and even possibly his position in the NFL. And he has forced us all to think and think hard about the “spoiled vessel” of our nation when it comes to our racial constructs and our economic and carceral realities.

As I have listened and read and thought and prayed about all this with scripture fueling my reflection all week, I have been more and more grateful for the anti-oppression work our whole St. James’s staff and many of our congregational leaders are undertaking in the coming week, as we embark on our planned diversity training with “VISIONS, Inc.” this coming Friday evening and Saturday, before Homecoming Sunday next Sunday. We have been and will continue to be making our assumptions about and our treatment of each other across all our diversities at St. James’s a central concern for us as followers of Jesus Christ. It is not easy. It’s contentious stuff. Ask any person of color who has had to navigate our post-slavery society with all the deficits and impediments the legacy of slavery puts in their way. We dare not do this work, as Jesus advises, without estimating the cost! But we move forward in confidence because as Paul says to Philemon of Onesimus, our members who suffer belittlement and oppression because of their color or their sexual orientation or their gender identity or any other such vulnerability of status are not just our friends but “OUR OWN HEART.” In Christ, their dignity is our pride and striving to ensure it “in justice and in peace” is, in the words of our fifth baptismal vow, our primary concern.

So I want to close with some of the essay on Colin Kaepernick’s protest offered by African-American journalist Keith Woods, Vice President for Diversity in News & Operations at National Public Radio, as he reflected on the immense and courageous dignity of his own New Orleanian African-American dad: “Daddy,” [Woods writes,] “would not have liked Colin Kaepernick. Had the San Francisco quarterback refused to stand for the national anthem in my father’s presence, Daddy would have fixed him in a stare that could freeze the blood in your veins. Then, to no one in particular – but to everyone within earshot – he’d give the young man a two-sentence lesson in patriotic etiquette. “You stand during the national anthem. People died for that flag.”

Woods continues, “As a child coming of age in New Orleans in the 1960’s, I found my father’s love of country utterly bewildering. His was a generation of men born free but shackled by bigotry. Yet every time he took my brothers and me to see the Saints play football at old Tulane Stadium, we all stood for the national anthem. We took off our caps, face the flag and placed hands over hearts. And Daddy sang. He sang with a pride I could not comprehend, in a gorgeous tenor’s voice that he didn’t mind showing off. In a city that once denied him the simple dignity of being called “MISTER Verdun P. Woods Sr.” In a land that would have his black countrymen fight on the front lines but sit in the back of the bus. He sang so that other people would hear.”

“…Daddy was not one for self-reflection. Feelings didn’t flow from him; they escaped. So when he talked to me about his military years, the anger would burst from him like steam from a busted radiator. Any mention of the white commanding officer in Korea who treated him like trash and took credit for his work, and Daddy’s hands would start shaking and he’d bite down on his tongue like a Maori warrior dancing a Haka.

 “…I’m a father of five. A grandfather of four,” continues Woods. “I live unrestrained by the immoral laws that constrained my elders… and I’m fully aware that America teems still with the racial injustices against which my father railed and Colin Kaepernick now stands – or sits. I can’t condemn him. I won’t. Love of country can’t be accurately measured by whether someone sits of stands or slouches or sings. It’s not that simple. If I could ask my father, I believe he’d say that he sang because he earned that right. I believe he sang to affirm a citizenship denied him through housing discrimination, police brutality, economic inequities and educational apartheid. Does that make him more or less like Kaepernick? …[So the national anthem] means what it does to me because it meant what it did to [my dad]. …I have nothing to prove of my fealty to America, least of all by how I treat a song written by someone who believed black people are born inferior.”

But,” says Woods, “I hold no grudge against Francis Scott Key. I’d be a tired, miserable man if I litigated every act of slaveholders in a place called Washington D.C. …Who am I decide what [the song] should mean to Colin Kaepernick? And what could you truly make of me just a week ago, when that beautiful music started and I rose to my feet at a Washington Nationals baseball game. If what you saw was an unmitigated display of patriotism, you were wrong. My relationship to my flawed homeland is too complicated for that. All you would know for sure is that I stood. I faced the flag, hand over heart. And I sang.” [NPR, All Things Considered, Sept. 1, 2016]

So let us pray:

“Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy.” Forgive us the ways in which we have participated in the long legacy of slavery’s oppression. And work in us now, here at St. James’s and everywhere in our society, to refashion us into the mighty vessel of democracy you intended; “amend our ways and our doings,” so that truly all our citizens may be free. AMEN.

Monday
Aug292016

Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for 15 Pentecost 8-28-16

Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for 15 Pentecost

 

Proper 17 Year C 1st option 8-28-16

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Jeremiah 2:4-13; Ps. 81:1,10-16; Hebrews 13:1-8,15-16; Luke 14:1,7-14

 

Do not give us over to the stubbornness of our hearts, O God, to follow our own devices. Help us listen to you! Help us to walk in your ways!  AMEN.

It’s always a little hard to pull my energy back together for ministry after three weeks of blessed Sabbath rest. What a three weeks it has been! A rain storm or two here and there to keep things marginally moist, but mainly bright sunshine in the daytime and (in Maine where I was, anyway) in the nighttime, coolness. A full moon. Time and liberty to observe the tides cycling from low to high to low again; the mudflats appearing and disappearing, hosting the herons, patrolled by eagles; to observe the sun migrating slowly southward, rising a little later each morning, setting a little earlier each evening, tucking behind the “ancestor oaks” lining my rock walls. Mornings spent drinking coffee and reading on the porch; days spent walking up mountains, grazing on blueberries and then blackberries; time spent with friends, walking, cooking masala dosa for the first time, eating, laughing, probing the mystery of the world’s pain, letting the world’s pain go and letting the beauty of the fields, woods, shore and sparkling ocean hold us. Over and over, throughout, being reminded of – held in – the great generosity of God’s economy, God’s “oeconomia,” God’s household.

One of the pleasures of this particular quiet vacation was listening (again) to a favorite book on tape as I drove the back roads from here to there: The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, an epistolary novel about the Guernsey islanders coping with the Nazi occupation, a British island within sight of the French coast but completely isolated from England and all else for the duration of the war, riding through the horrors of their imprisonment on the strength of their little “literary society,” its companionship and its solace. One of the letters, the first from a fisherman named Eben Ramsey, begins, “I had no zest for [reading] in those days. It was only by fixing my mind on the [threat of Nazi jail] that I could make myself to lift up the cover of the book and begin. It was called “Selections from Shakespeare.” Later, I came to see that Mr. Dickens and Mr. Wordsworth were thinking of men like me when they wrote their words. But most of all, I believe that William Shakespeare was. …It seems to me the less he said, the more beauty he made. Do you know what sentence of his I admire the most? It is “The bright day is done, and we are for the dark.” I wish I’d known those words on the day I watched those German troops land, plane-load after plane-load of them – and come off ships down in the harbor! All I could think of was “damn them damn them,” over and over. If I could have thought the words, “the bright day is done and we are for the dark,” I would have been consoled somehow and ready to go out and contend with circumstance – instead of my heart sinking to my shoes.” [The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows, the Dial Press, 2008, underlining mine]

Poor Jeremiah. His woeful words in our first reading for today are hurled from the prophet’s mouth barely into the second of his 52 chapters of lamentation. A long sojourn under threat of Babylonian capture lies ahead, and a long frustration with his leaders’ seeming inability to cope with the challenges of their situation, to rise to the occasion of impending disaster and provide the courageous leadership required, instead of succumbing to their self-serving idolatries of short-sighted comfort. “Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.” Would that Jeremiah had had William Shakespeare’s Antony & Cleopatra to hand, to offer him fellow-feeling and to name his distress: “the bright day is done and we are for the dark.”

Despite being held in sunshine and graciousness throughout my three weeks in Maine, it has been impossible not to feel the great malignant wingspread of fascistic darkness spreading over the world, in Syria, Libya and Iraq; in North & South Korea; in South Sudan and Mali and Nigeria; in the intemperate rhetoric of our own political season; as the numbers of children fleeing violence in Central America again begin to rack up here and the outpouring of refugees to Europe continues; as we in the U.S. struggle with eruptions of outrage and distress stemming from the tension between police and people in impoverished communities whose color marks them for unwarranted violence. Let alone the incursions of natural disaster, earthquake and flood and fire. Impossible to read Jeremiah’s words without feeling a resonance across nearly three thousand years of human perfidy, and without wondering about the “plentiful land” we were brought into, to “eat its fruits and its good things,” and about whether we may have “defiled God’s land and made God’s heritage an abomination.” Whether perhaps too many of us “went after worthless things, and became worthless ourselves?” Impossible even amid the peace and plenty of my little spot on the Maine coast, not to have the image of little 5-year-old Syrian Omran Daqneesh seared into my brain and heart, pulled from the rubble of a barrel bomb dropped on his household by his own government, his little bloodied and dusty face, his thatch of hair, his inert little legs dangling from his chair, his hands limp in his lap, staring at nothing.

So when we read in the Letter to the Hebrews, “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured,” these words have a peculiarly potent and poignant compulsion for us. These are not abstracts. These words have faces attached in our news feed, lives attached, people daring the monstrous ocean in small boats seeking respite; people being bombed in their homes; doctors being targeted in their hospitals; people driven into inhospitable communities without prospect of livelihood, and into desolate camps with no promise of release.  This, too, is God’soeconomia, God’s economy, God’s household. These are our fellow residents, members of our household, strangers though they may be.

And then comes Jesus, accepting a Sabbath meal from a leader of the Pharisees and then, as usual, keeping his eyes open as the guests choose their honored places, hoping to secure their own comfort and respect. As he often tries to do, Jesus takes the guests to task for their pursuit of their own status over that of others, using the terms of “honor” and “disgrace,” terms more potent in his day than our relatively “shameless” one, but given the stress laid on riches and power in our presidential campaign, no less challenging when Jesus sums it up, “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." But today it is not so much this call to humility that I’m struck with as Jesus’ call to hospitality, no less squirm-inducing today as then: “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you…”

What hospitality are WE called to, if “the bright day is done and we are for the dark?” “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me turn to night, darkness is not dark to God; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to God are both alike,” says Psalm 139, in our service of Evening Prayer. Both are opportunities for hospitality, for kindness, for the extension of our own comforts to comfort those without such blessings. Jesus is unequivocal about it: God’s household – even the intimacy of table fellowship, reserved in Jesus’ day only for those closest to one – leaves no one out, no matter how despised, no matter how we castigate them as “dangerous.” We are to be utterly fearless in our welcome.

Columnist Nicholas Kristof – whose Christian faith usually remains unmentioned in his consistent message of hospitality in his columns – reminds us of the comprehensiveness of God’s household – and of our all-too-endemic resistance to this knowledge – in his column this Thursday, headed “Anne Frank Today Is a Syrian Girl.” From a letter dated April 1940, we learn that Anne Frank’s father Otto wrote desperately to an American friend, asking for asylum, “The U.S.A. is the only country we could go to…It is for the sake of the children mainly.” It was one of many letters “frantically seeking help to flee Nazi persecution…but getting nowhere because of global indifference to Jewish refugees. We all know that the Frank children were murdered by the Nazis, but what is less known is the way Anne’s fate was sealed by a callous fear of refugees, among the world’s most desperate people.” [Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times, August 25, 2016] Then Kristof writes, “The son of a World War II refugee myself, I’ve been researching the anti-refugee hysteria of the 1930’s and ‘40’s… the parallels to today are striking. For the Frank family, a new life in America seemed feasible. Anne had studied English shorthand, and her father spoke English, had lived on West 71st St. in Manhattan, and had been a longtime friend of Nathan Straus Jr., an official in the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. The obstacle was an American wariness toward refugees that outweighed sympathy. After the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom against Jews, a poll found that 94 percent of American disapproved of Nazi treatment of Jews, but 72 percent still objected to admitting large numbers of Jews. The reasons for the opposition then were the same as they are…today: We can’t afford it, we should look after Americans first, we can’t accept everybody, they’ll take American jobs, they’re dangerous and different,” feared as potential Communists or even Nazis, spies, saboteurs, “under the cover that they were Jewish refugees.” “In this climate, Otto Frank was unable to get visas for his family members, who were victims in part of American paranoia, demagogy & indifference.

As the fall season begins, many cross our threshold who are new to Cambridge and whose faces are unfamiliar to us. At the very least, Jesus is exhorting us to offer them a fulsome welcome, to be curious about them without strategies of self-protection. Kate Hornstein will tell you, we need new Sunday-morning Welcomers! The Hospitality Committee welcomes more volunteers for Coffee Hour! The 20’s & 30’s Group invites anyone under 40 to the weekly Sunday brunch! The Sunday-morning Bible Study is open to all! But might Jesus be inviting us to stretch ourselves further? Might he be urging us out our own doors to extend the blessings of God’s household by being a part of the Food Pantry volunteer cohort and our discernment of our future in food ministries? By joining the Prison Ministry? By becoming active in the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization’s initiative to support affordable housing or fight mass incarceration? To become part of our long-standing Missions Committee, connecting all around the world?

If the bright day is indeed done and we are for the dark, and our Syrian family members of God’s household – and our Somalian ones, our Libyan ones, our Eritrean and Ethiopian ones, our Rohingya and Pakistani and Bangladeshi ones, and so many more – have, like the Jewish Anne Frank in 1940, lost all hope of safety and economic opportunity where they were born, might St. James’s need to join with other faith communities in Cambridge and seek ways to foster refugees seeking asylum in the U.S.? Is this the call to “mutual love,” the call to “host angels?” It’s not just a dinner party. It’s a profound commitment, demanding a deep bench of volunteers and resources, people committed for a years-long haul. And we cannot do it alone. It’s too much to do as a solitary congregation. But in company with others, mosques, synagogues, churches? Might Jesus be asking THIS of us?

AMEN.

Tuesday
Aug232016

Laurie Rofinot's Sermon for 13 Pentecost 8-14-16

Monday
Aug012016

Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for 11 Pentecost 7-31-16

Audio recording of Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for 11 Pentecost 

 

Proper 13 Year C 1st option 7-31-16

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Hosea: 11: 1-11; Ps. 107:1-9; Col. 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

 

Let us give thanks to the LORD for his mercy and the wonders he does for his children, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. If we are wise, we will ponder these things, and consider well your mercies, O God. AMEN.

When I began work on this sermon, it was hard to step around Luke’s Gospel for today, the parable so often called “The Rich Fool.” It was entirely too pointedly personal and uncomfortable! “I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.” Lord have mercy! I’ve spent untold hours over the last year dealing with the sale of my parents’ Vermont house and the disposition of the entire proceeds of my parents’ lives (and five generations before them, in the same old house, attic to basement, God help us), from the chipped china belonging to my grandmother to the rusty high chair we all got our haircuts in, to fine photography and antique furniture. And BOOKS! Endless, endless, miles upon miles of BOOKS! Barns-full of them! The Montague Book Barn staff began to get faint at the sight of me! "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." Jesus was looking right AT me.

It’s not just my concern. We have a serious STUFF CHALLENGE, we aging North Americans. Barricaded as we are by our own acquisitions and all the belongings of the acquisitive consumer generation before us, WHAT ARE WE MISSING OUT ON, behind all that STUFF? “`You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'” What will be our mortal legacy? What are our lives FOR? Accumulation and the endless stewardship thereof?

Then over my transom came two treasures. First, a poem of W. S. Merwin’s, who has spent the latter third of his very great age growing a garden in Hawaii on the island of Kauai in which he and his wife are preserving an immense variety of species of plants and critters. This is his poem, written in his late 80’s:

“After the Dragonflies.”

Dragonflies were as common as sunlight

hovering in their own days

backward forward and sideways

as though they were memory

now there are grown-ups hurrying

who never saw one

and do not know what they

are not seeing

the veins in a dragonfly’s wings

were made of light

the veins in the leaves knew them

and the flowing rivers

the dragonflies came out of the color of water

knowing their own way

when we appeared in their eyes

we were strangers

they took their light with them when they went

there will be no one to remember us

                        [The New York Times Magazine, 7-24-16, p. 17]

What more profound invitation could poet Merwin give us to come out from behind our STUFF and encounter the miracle of the world, exactly as it is, no longer strangers in the eyes of dragonflies, but friends? When better to do that than summer, say I, embarking on three weeks of vacation sabbath and the opportunity to rest in the beauty of Creation? How better to feel the full moral weight of our call to address our greed and respond effectively to the manifestation of that greed, global warming? What barns will we build when we have burnt up the sweet barn of our precious planet?

I said there were two treasures. The second came from my “radio daughter,” Tina, reading ruminatively on her own vacation. It was a little article by N. R. Kleinfield, tucked into the New York Region section of Friday’s Times, where you could miss it: an obituary, essentially, for Bernhardt Wichmann III. “Bernhardt WHO?” Exactly. No one outside his little neighborhood around the J.G. Melon restaurant and bar on 74th St. and 3rd Ave. in Manhattan would know. Because Bernhardt Wichmann III was a man literally without a voice, a man who lived in a single-room-occupancy walk-up above the restaurant. There is a photo of him sitting in the tiny room on his daybed, his walls completely covered in photographs, barely space for his legs between bed and desk and the windows. Yet, with no voice, Bernhardt had a community of friends. Specifically, two doormen. The first, Jorge Grisales, was a night doorman at the Mayfair, an apartment just up the street. Jorge worked the night shift because he didn’t speak English well enough for a day job. Kleinfield writes, “His shift began at midnight, when the city slows down but keeps breathing. When you are a doorman, you notice things. You especially notice recurring people. Mr. Grisales became aware of a man who almost nightly ambled past the building. He had a glistening face with a trimmed beard and he sported a big smile. Six-foot-something. As he walked, he would bend down and dutifully scoop up litter, tidying up the neighborhood. One sweaty summer evening, the smiling man waved at the doorman and paused. Mr. Grisales said, “How are you?” The man clutched scraps of paper. He wrote something down and handed it over. It said, “Hi, my name is Bernhardt but call me Ben. I can’t talk, but I can hear.”

The two men became friends. And two years later, when Juan Arias joined the door staff, Mr. Grisales introduced him to Ben also. Gradually, the contours of Ben’s life emerged: that his parents came from Germany; that he was born in 1932 and served in the U.S. Army in the Korean War. That he’d been an architectural draftsman. That he loved opera. That he was gay. That his sister and parents were long dead. “And that in 1983 he had polyps removed from his larynx, and that he had not been able to speak since.” That he eked out his life on Social Security. “In a city where so many have so much, he had practically nothing. Yet it was enough, always enough. And inside him beat a heart bigger than a mountain.”

People up and down the block knew Ben. He petted their dogs. Admired their flowers. He always smiled. Never complained. Mr. Arias said, “He had plenty of reasons to be unhappy. But I never saw him unhappy.” Sometimes he even stopped into the bar at J.G. Melon’s and had a glass of wine, scribbling conversations with customers and staff. He brought the doormen coffee and a Spanish newspaper. He worked on Mr. Grisales’ English vocabulary and pronunciation, and Mr. Grisales advanced to an earlier, more populous shift.

And people gave Ben things – a shirt or shoes when he needed them. One woman gave him occasional tickets to the Metropolitan Opera, always “from her dog Clementine.” “Once, when the seat was exceptional, Ben wrote that Clementine must have some pull. ‘Ben was just magical in bringing out the best in people,’ Clementine’s owner said. “Every thanksgiving, Mr. Grisales had Ben come to his home in Queens for dinner. His wife and two children adored Ben. His family made him family.

The story goes on, about how Ben – as strangely as he had lost it – miraculously got his voice back last August during an MRI. And how all those friends could finally talk with him. And talk, talk, talk he did, years of life and thought pouring out. But last fall, only a few months after retrieving his voice, prostate cancer caught up with him, and he entered first the hospital, then a nursing home. The doormen visited him. A neighbor brought him a radio for his treasured music. “He was always upbeat.” Always intending to come back home to his tiny room on 74th St., he died in the nursing home on July 7th. The two doormen arranged his funeral at the Guida Funeral Home in Queens. The manager gave them a rock-bottom deal, and fliers in the neighborhood quickly raised the funds. Since Ben was a veteran, he was buried with full military honors: an honor guard detail. Taps. An American flag, folded and presented to Mr. Grisales. “Because this was one of the things that had been best in his life. Knowing Ben.” [N. R. Kleinfield, “Mute and Alone, He Was Never Short of Kind Words or Friends,” New York Times, July 29, 2016]

Maybe you have to be silent a long time in order to hear acutely enough. Maybe having no voice teaches you to listen more carefully. More lovingly. Maybe it keeps things simple and human, making the riches right in front of you more compelling.

"Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." You might be missing out on the community on your doorstep, in your neighborhood. You might miss your opportunity to transform someone’s life simply be paying attention to them. You might remain a stranger, not family. You might miss the dragonflies. And it will be the whole world’s loss. AMEN.

Wednesday
Jul272016

Holly Lyman Antolini's Homily for the Sisters of St. Anne 7-27-16

Homily for the Sisters of St. Anne July 27, 2016

©Holly Lyman Antolini

 

Let us pray:

Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Hallelujah for the heart of God,
And from the hand of the artist inimitable,
And from the echo of the heavenly harp
In sweetness magnifical and mighty.
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah
. [Christopher Smart, Rejoice in the Lamb]

Those words of my opening prayer are actually poet Christopher Smart’s words, from his magisterial poem, “Rejoice in the Lamb,” which he wrote while incarcerated in the horrors of Bedlam, the 18th century asylum for the mentally ill. Those were the days when they chained you to the wall or whipped you when you were having a psychotic break, to try to control you. Smart had a lot of psychotic breaks – between writing some of the most brilliant poetry ever – and he knew those chains and whips well. Yet he wrote these gloriously rejoicing words. Let me pray them again:

Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Hallelujah for the heart of God,
And from the hand of the artist inimitable,
And from the echo of the heavenly harp
In sweetness magnifical and mighty.
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah
.

In sweetness magnifical and mighty!” How amazing that a man tortured within and without as Christopher Smart was could articulate God’s glory so finely!

This morning I’m preaching to you from both the Eucharistic lectionary for today, Wednesday July 27th, and from the lectionary for William Reed Huntington, whose feast day is today. It risks being confusing, but I wasn’t entirely sure which you would be celebrating at Eucharist this morning, so I’m doing a “both/and!” Besides, it seemed entirely coherent to me, on this glorious summer morning, to hold before us both the treasure in the field AND God’s intention, prayed by Jesus in John 17, for the whole world to be one as Jesus and the Father are one, gloriously enfolded into each other and into the fullness of God so that at last all God’s love intended in our making would be manifest.

As I was pondering where the Spirit might be leading me in this homily with this complexity of Gospels, in this hot and sunny summer week, a friend “messaged” me on Facebook to tell me she couldn’t even take the preschoolers she’s responsible for outdoors because it was too hot for them to be safe. I told her I was trying to hold off “brain melt” until I wrote my homily for the Sisters of St. Anne. “What are you preaching on?” she asked. “The kingdom of heaven is like discovering in a field a secret delight of treasure so valuable that someone sold all he had to buy the field to get it,” I replied.

“Hmmm… “ she messaged back, “Forget treasure. I’ll take the field! I love fields!”

And I thought of my friend, who lives in a trailer in rural Maine with virtually no insulation, freezing in winter and broiling in summer, who has too much income for Medicaid and too little income to buy even Obamacare. That’s because besides tending preschoolers, she tends a positive tribe of motley animals in a non-profit organization called the Animal Rescue Unit. Field indeed! Fields full of ancient horses, some in fact rescued from abuse. Llamas – not all of them congenial! – and goats and pregnant donkeys. Dogs – some with all their legs and some without. Ponies and poultry. Pigs and cats and sheep and bunnies too. All of them potentially homeless, were the Animal Rescue Unit – and my friend – not giving them a home.

There’s nothing romantic about all this. It’s a lot of mud and festering sores and lack of money. In fact, my friend struggles with depression – has done so all her life, grandchild that she is of survivors of the Nazi concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen. And now struggles with poverty also.

But here’s the thing, the thing that Jesus would recognize. My friend has found the treasure in the field. And she has literally sold all she had to get it. The treasure is those beautiful bedraggled noble humble animals. Whom she loves more than love itself.

The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

And that love my friend has, that keeps her getting up on frosty mornings and sizzling ones to muck out stables, water creatures, feed creatures, take creatures to pasture; that love that enables her to bring small bouncing motherless goat kids into her house to nurse them to maturity and health; that love that keeps her asking and asking us all for the resources to medicate the horse with a cankered eye and the donkey about to foal; that love that tells us each animal’s story so that they are truly “incarnate” before us, stories that inspire love in us too so that we find ourselves adopting this horse or that, this goat or that: that love does not come to my friend easily. She grew up severely love-deprived, with a mentally-ill mother. So WHENCE COMETH such love? Such profoundly embodied, ENACTED compassion?

William Reed Huntington, whose feast day is today, didn’t just articulate the Lambeth Quadrilateral, the basis for Christian unity on which we have founded all our ecumenical efforts at reconciliation over the last century and a half. He also wrote one of my all-time favorite collects, the Collect for the Monday of Holy Week.

Almighty God, whose dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

In that prayer, Huntington wrote resurrection from the heart of the crucifixion. He affirmed that pain is never the final word of God, but only a way – a pilgrimage – INTO love, a way, a pilgrimage into life and peace. That love in fact depends upon an understanding of pain. That we cannot be ONE unless we know all too keenly and painfully what it is to be fragmented, alienated, separated from others. And that at the same time, no amount of pain will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Savior.  That is our treasure in whatever field we find ourselves.

Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Hallelujah for the heart of God,
And from the hand of the artist inimitable,
And from the echo of the heavenly harp
In sweetness magnifical and mighty.
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah
.

AMEN.

Monday
Jul252016

Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for St. James's Day 7-24-16

Audio recording of Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for St. James's Day

 

Proper 12 Year C 1st option for St. James’s Day 7-24-16

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Hosea 1:2-10, Psalm 85, Colossians 2:6-19, Luke 11:1-13

Show us your mercy, O Lord, and grant us your salvation… Will you not give us life again, that your people may rejoice in you? AMEN.

 

Lord, teach us to pray.” That is the “cri du coeur,” the heart’s cry of the disciples that opens our passage for today, halfway into Luke’s Gospel, when they are on the road to Jerusalem – on the road to crucifixion – and when the Jesus Movement is turning from wildly popular to scarily dangerous, and when Jesus was just returning from his own withdrawal for prayer.

Teach us to pray.” Eric and Pat and I decided, in planning today’s liturgy, not to use the readings assigned to St. James’s Day, with Matthew’s story of James and John the sons of Zebedee vying for the place of honor at Jesus’ right and left hands. Rather we decided to stay with the regular lectionary for Proper 12. It seemed to us that these readings from Hosea, Colossians and Luke gave us plenty of strong material for the celebration of St. James’s Day this year, our 151st as a parish, for the baptisms of Nathanael and Charlotte Kumahia, for our farewells to Mary Beth, Isaac and Nicholas as they embark on their formation as postulants for the priesthood, and for the blessing of our new “Black Lives Matter” banner, mounted in front of our church on Massachusetts Ave.

Teach us to pray.” At “crucial junctures” throughout Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has been retreating to pray, Luke is eager to let us know, “turning to prayer as a resource for guidance, strength, and perseverance.” No wonder the disciples, observing this propensity of Jesus’, are beginning to recognize their own need to “maintain an intimate communion with God for guidance and strength” themselves, as the Way of Jesus gets tough and controversy heats up around this loving, challenging Teacher. [Karl Allen Kuhn, New Proclamation Year C, 2010]

Having had the big celebration of our 150th last summer, we’re in a quieter moment this year. Yet it’s also a moment filled – as every moment is filled on the long journey into our “fullness in God,” as the Letter to the Colossians says – with challenge and with hope. There’s the trust in “daily bread” and there’s the plea to “save us from the time of trial,” and give us the power to forgive.

On the hope and “daily bread” side of the ledger, this is a St. James’s Day in which we can pray in all sincerity with the Psalmist, “The Lord will indeed grant prosperity, and our land will yield its increase.” After six long years of waiting through three legal suits against our permits, we’re actually truly embarked on the journey of construction of our new parish house and garden. OK, the shovels might not be in the ground till early next spring, but the preliminary processes – the securing of the construction loan and the building permits – is well underway. I know we’ve been saying this every year for six years now, but THIS St. James’s Day Picnic is likely to be the very last in our old garden. Even though some of the plants – like the dogwoods – will be transplanted to places in the new garden, most of what’s there will be changed. So make sure you take a moment amidst those trees and shrubs to pray in thanks to God for all the existing garden’s years of service to our congregation and community. And that said, when you see the condition of our poor grass after all these weeks of near-drought, you’ll be grateful at the very least to contemplate a garden with a built-in sprinkler system! And a garden that will be more open to the street and the passersby, to invite the whole neighborhood in to enjoy its gentle reminder of God’s generosity and blessing.

And meanwhile, in the immediate future, THIS VERY SUMMER, starting in about two weeks, the plasterers, painters and stencilers arrive to begin restoring the entire interior of our church. Thanks to the work of our Interior Restoration Committee headed by Peter Merrell, the color will be a clean, fresh, much-lighter, mellower color, a color recommended to us by Susan Maycock of the Cambridge Historical Commission as being in the palette the original builders of this amazing space would have had in mind. And all the decoration around the windows and arches and doors will be exactly the same, only new and fresh and completely restored! You can see the Vestry-approved color up on the wall at the back of the nave, on the north wall of the chapel, with its lighter complement in the deep window embrasures.

That’s the hope side of the ledger. On the challenge side of the ledger, we indeed desperately need to learn the prayer of endurance and forgiveness that Jesus teaches. We at St. James’s are a congregation so blessed with diversity of every kind that we cannot but feel acutely and personally the terrible dynamics of deeply rooted systemic prejudice of every kind that are boiling on the surface of our national life this summer, whether against people of color or against people who struggle with poverty or mental illness, or against people who are different by virtue of their gender identification or orientation, or against people who are different by virtue of their language or country of origin. People who suffer directly and personally from the effects of systemic racism and the other ‘isms aren’t general categories for us at St. James’s. They are US, our beloved congregation members, members of OUR Body of Christ, fellow strugglers together, all of us striving to “hold fast to the head, as the Letter to the Colossians says, the head [who is Jesus,] from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.” We are blessed and challenged by a baptismal calling to address the presence of systemic racism and other forms of prejudice in our community and society, because wherever racism and other prejudice crops up, IN US and AROUND US, OUR OWN beloved congregation members are injured. We cannot realize that baptismal calling without deep listening to each other, without learning and understanding our own participation in the dynamics of oppression. Because of this baptismal calling, we cannot indulge ourselves in the kind of tribal separations and identifications that threaten to fragment our democracy.

Frank Bruni, in the New York Times Sunday Review for July 10, writes beautifully about this. “We have choices about how we absorb what’s happened [in the killings of innocent black men, the killings of innocent police], about the rashness with which we point fingers. Making the right [choices] is crucial and leaves us with real hope for figuring this out. Making the wrong ones puts that possibility ever further from reach. So does a public debate that assigns us different tribes and warring interests when almost all of us want the same thing: for the killing to cease and for every American to feel respected and safe…’We have devolved into some separatism and we’ve taken our corners,’ Malik Aziz, the deputy chief of police in Dallas said in an interview with CNN [a week ago]Friday. ‘Days like [the Wednesday and Thursday before, when men of color Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge Louisiana and Philando Castile in St. Paul Minnesota and five police in Dallas Texas were shot without cause] – they shouldn’t happen. But when they do, let’s be human beings. Let’s be honorable men and women and sit down at a table and say, ‘How can we not let this happen again?’ and be sincere in our hearts… We’re failing at that on all sides,’ he concluded…

Then Bruni goes on, “Among the important choices we’re making is whom to listen to. There are voices out there – too many of them – that seek to inflame. There are others that don’t. Three from Dallas stood out. One was that of Mayor Mike Rawlings, who lamented how racial issues ‘continue to divide us. This is on my generation of leaders,’ said the mayor, who is white. ‘It is on our watch that we have allowed this to continue to fester, that we have led the next generation down a vicious path of rhetoric and actions that pit one against the other.’ Another voice was that of Erik Wilson, the deputy mayor pro tem of the city, who is black. ‘No conflict has ever been solved with violence,’ he told CNN. ‘It’s always been solved with conversation. And that is something that we need to focus on.’ And then there was Deputy Police Chief Aziz, who is also black. Referring to nationwide instances of excessive police force, he said, ‘We should be held accountable, and that is what we have a criminal justice system for.’ But of equal importance, he said, was ‘a real dialogue with the community that we can no longer be separate. We can’t divide ourselves.’”

A real dialogue with the community that we can no longer be separateWe can’t divide ourselves.” That’s a part of God’s Mission that belongs to US at St. James’s as much as or more than anyone, because we are ALREADY a community committed, in the bonds of the Eucharist, to “belong to each other,” whatever the forces that can drive us apart. We’re making our refusal to be separated into factions known with our “Black Lives Matter” sign outside the ramp door, which we will bless following the service today. The actual wording of the sign is as follows: “Black Lives Matter. We believe that all lives matter, that every person is valuable and every individual deserves to be treated with justice and love. We live in a society that suggests otherwise. Because of the continuing injustice and violence disproportionately endured by people of color, we affirm that Black Lives Matter.”

“Teach us to pray.” Another great spiritual teacher and prayer warrior, Mahatma Gandhi, taught, “Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one's weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”  — [Mahatma Gandhi, Synthesis Today: July 19, 2016] To live what we promise in the “Black Lives Matter” sign that we bless today, we need to honor the deep and wordless longing of our souls. “We need to create environments where difference can emerge and flourish… Dropping any assumptions of what difference will look like…We can’t rely on tired stereotypes to assume what impact this will have. We can only encourage humility, curiosity, and openness around how that difference will emerge and what it will look like.” [Anna Kegler, “Hillary Clinton, Melissa Harris-Perry and the Opposite of Imposter Syndrome,” The Blog, Huffington Post Mar. 27, 2016]

In order to “encourage humility, curiosity, and openness” like this, we’re embarking this fall on the training of a team of leaders – Holly, Pat & Eric on staff; Dr. Michelle Holmes and Derrick Jackson and Dr. Michael Payne of the Scouts, Liz McNerney from Church School, Lauren Zook and Yvette Verdieu from the choir, Sylvia Weston and Lucas Sanders from the Vestry, Jane Hirschi from the Anti-Oppression Team – that can keep our baptismal calling at the forefront of our consciousness as a congregation, not to accept division, but to communicate across our differences so that we truly can be faithful to God’s Mission of reconciliation in the world. Call what we’re doing “unconscious bias training:” bringing to consciousness the ways in which we dismiss people because of difference, or assume, when we enjoy privilege, that we earned and deserve our privilege and that others who lack it do so because they haven’t “tried hard enough.”

Our first steps in this baptismal calling today are joyful ones. We’re blessing and sending forth to seminary and graduate school and new parish placements and ultimately, to service in the power of Jesus Christ wherever the Spirit sends them three postulants, Nicholas, Mary Beth & Isaac. And we’re baptizing Nathanael and Charlotte Kumahia. I posted their mom Waetie Sanaa’s photo of them being butterflies on our St. James’s Facebook page yesterday, because it’s such an image of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in these two children, their “inquiring and discerning hearts, their courage to will and to persevere, their gift of joy and wonder in God and all God’s works,” as we will shortly pray for them.  Even as we express our profound hope in the power of the resurrection at work in these butterfly children, we also know with any sober calculation that they are children of color who face different treatment in our society than white children do. In Jesus’ own terrible image, our society hands out “snakes and scorpions” to children of color. Our society in so many ways tries to persuade children of color, as the terrible prophecy of Hosea puts it, that their name is “Lo-ruhamah,” which means, “no mercy, no pity,” or “Lo-ammi,” which means, “You are not my people and I am not your God.” Our commitment to these precious children in their baptism on this St. James’s Day is to live into OUR OWN BAPTISMAL PROMISES, to “seek and serve Christ in all people, loving our neighbor as ourself,” and to “strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being.”  Our commitment is to give Charlotte and Nathanael fish and eggs instead of snakes and scorpions, and to teach them that they are “children of the living God.” Our commitment is to “teach them to pray” in trust that God loves them and to believe in their own dignity.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. YOUR kingdom come. YOUR will be done, on earth as in heaven. This St. James’s Day, we have a rich call to prayer: a wordless prayer of longing; prayer of thanksgiving; desperate prayer to be delivered from evil, prayer for the power to forgive, to be facilitators of reconciliation in a deeply divided world. Teach us, O Lord, in all humility and weakness, to pray. AMEN.

Thursday
Jul212016

Judy Gay's Sermon for 9 Pentecost 7-17-16