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Monday
Jan252016

Approved December Vestry Minutes 12-15-15

Vestry Minutes: 2015-12-15

 

Presiding: Rev Holly Lyman Antolini

Members Present: Sylvia Weston, Isaac Martinez, Lucas Sanders, Nancy McArdle, John Thomas Kittredge, Marian King, Tom Beecher, Thomas Wohlers, Mary Beth Mills-Curran, Nicholas Hayes, Matthew Abbate

Members Absent: Dana Evelyn, Jean Clark

 

Gathering

●        L Sanders, T Beecher, and N McArdle provided a hearty supper of stew, bread, cheese & cookies. 

●        There was a showing of the video portrait of St James made by Miles Thomas-Moore for our 150th anniversary. 

Regular Agenda

Follow-up discussion of the Thomas-Moore video

●        The vestry discussed our reactions to the video.

○     There was a consensus that the congregation would greatly enjoy it as a portrait of our community.

○     There was some sentiment that a much shorter version might be effective as an introduction to the parish to put on the web site.

 

Report and “Next Steps” for Program Liaison shared-leadership planning

●        I Martinez, supported by MB Mills-Curran and T Beecher, led a discussion of the VLPRT (Vestry Liaison Program Restructuring Team) concept paper on how vestry-ministries shared leadership could work in the future.

○     Proposal is grounded on our values and the needs and desires at the ministry meetings this past fall.

○     Proposal is that ministries be grouped into four areas, each with two vestry members as liaisons:

■     Outreach

■     Formation & Fellowship

■     Spirituality & Worship

■     Administration

○     That all ministry leaders meet together as a group twice a year, and that the leaders within each ministry area also meet together twice a year with their liaisons.

○     That three other vestry members form a shared leadership team to make sure that the ministry groups are meeting and that liaison relationship is working.

○     That the remaining two vestry members, the wardens, have role of being the partners with the Rector for overseeing the canonical Vestry responsibilities.

○     That the Rector is freed to act as more of a coach to vestry, instead just as executive director.

●        I Martinez moved

○     “That the Vestry accept the shared leadership initiative as laid out in the presented concept paper.”

○     N Hayes seconded.

○     The motion passed unanimously.

Currency of Money Committee Update

●        T Beecher reported that

○     We are at about 74% of both goal for number of pledges and for money pledged.

○     If we meet number of pledgers goal, we will surpass money goal.

○     He is asking for the vestry members to call individual past-pledgers who have not yet pledged.

○     He is also asking for others to give report and make ask at announcements on Sunday morning.

Nominating Committee Update

●        The Rector reported that

○     The committee has good prospects for a full slate for all open positions, though not all fully confirmed.

Policy on Executive Session and confidential minutes

●        N McArdle presented the previously circulated proposed policy on executive session and confidential minutes.

○     There was a discussion of the policy, which the Clerk will incorporate into a revised proposal for the January meeting.

 

Reports

Minutes of November Meeting

●        I Martinez moved that the minutes of the November meeting be accepted as amended.

○     L Sanders seconded.

○     The motion passed unanimously.

Report on Redevelopment

●        I Martinez moved that the vestry enter executive session.

○     L Sanders seconded.

○     Motion passed unanimously.

●        The Rector gave an update on the redevelopment project.

●        N McArdle moved that the vestry exit executive session.

○     T Wohlers seconded.

○     The motion passed unanimously.

Financial Report

●        L Sanders reported:

○     The 2016 Draft Budget has been prepared.

■     It’s about $11k in deficit, which the Finance Committee is committed to closing.

■     The biggest unknown is the Food Pantry, both expenses and outside support.

○     He moved

■     “That the Vestry designates $35,000 of the Rector’s compensation for 2016 as a housing allowance as permitted by the IRS.”

■     I Martinez seconded.

■     The motion passed unanimously.

○     He moved

■     “That the Vestry designates $21,184 of the Assistant Rector’s compensation for 2016 as a housing allowance as permitted by the IRS.”

■     I Martinez seconded.

■     The motion passed unanimously.

○     JT Kittredge moved that

■     “a) The annual pledge campaign is for the general operating budget of the parish.

■     b) Restricted gifts above the $500 limit of the Rector’s discretion, are accepted subject to the vestry’s approval.”

■     T Wohlers seconded.

■     The motion passed unanimously.

○     L Sanders moved that

■     “That the vestry accept the restricted gift for the VISIONS training for the parish.”

■     N Hayes seconded.

■     The motion passed unanimously.

○     N Hayes moved that

■     “That the vestry accept the restricted gift for the Food Pantry.”

■     MB Mills-Curran seconded.

■     The motion passed unanimously.

○     L Sanders moved

■     “That the financial report be accepted as presented.”

■     T Beecher seconded.

■     The motion passed unanimously.

 

Calendar Discussion

●        Skipped due to the late hour.

Rector’s Report

Parish Activities late November-December

- Currency of Money and Nominating Committee continue strongly. Close to a full slate. Totals we’re hoping for on pledges and pledgers are in sight.

- Enjoyed participating in St. Nicholas Festival and St. Nicholas Day activities. Deeply appreciative of Eric’s leadership in the Festival and with the Scouts (as well as the upcoming Pageant). Missed the Redevelopment Caroling because I’d agreed to bless the Massies’ house at that hour, but hear it was a lot of fun and will happen again next year!

- 20’s & 30’s Dinner One at Holly’s (of two; the second on January 10th) well-attended; Tom Marsan led the conversation on the emerging of vocation; good vibe altogether

- Advent Contemplative Prayer and Discussion of Pope’s Encyclical on Climate Change a lovely quiet experience, though very small: three people plus me each time. Silent Eucharist was surprisingly touching. I had simply put the word out to share the experience of reading the book and motivate myself to do so. Next time, I would do more one-to-one’s… but in truth, we have only had “crowds” for contemplative activities in Advent when a seminarian has been in charge – to wit, Herb Sprouse and Nicholas.

- The Worship Commission Epiphany/Lent team has prepared these two seasons with exuberance. Excited to handle the short Epiphany with a theme of “baptism” and Lent with a theme of “return to God.” Will resume our open-mike sermon-response preaching format in Lent. Pat, Eric & I will resource the teams over the year and implement the overall vision at our weekly Tuesday AM liturgy planning sessions.

- Preparation of one adult baptizand for Easter Vigil baptism continues richly, as does preparation for a family who will be baptizing three children including a newborn, a toddler, and a small girl. My Inquirers/Confirmation Class, first module, will begin the First Sunday of Lent and be a five-week comprehensive overview of the Episcopal practice of the Christian faith. Confirmation itself doesn't happen until mid-October. We’ll try a second five-week “module” on “mystagogy:” exploring the meaning of “sacrament,” especially with regard to Eucharist, in Sept/Oct. Anyone seeking confirmation may attend either or both modules.

- A variety of pastoral care and elder visiting as always.

- A two-person team from Anti-Oppression working on a little anti-oppression film series, possibly in Lent. Beyond that, still searching for the right theme and leaders for a Lenten class this year. Ideas, anyone?

- Olivia Hamilton is planning to attend the Diocesan Ministry Discernment Day on Feb. 6th with me and is hoping to recruit a Vestry member willing to serve on her discernment committee in the spring (a la Isaac, Mary Beth & Nicholas’ committees) who can attend the Discernment Day with us. 

- Monthly Healing Liturgies continue, as Reed presides at his last on January 31st with Reed presenting.  I will assume responsibility for these beginning on February 28th with Carol Hilliard presenting on living with family members with  profound disabilities.

- Reed Carlson will continue with his once-a-month presiding and Bible Study leadership on Sunday mornings, his next occasion being Jan. 31st. He conferred with his bishop in Minnesota and his bishop agreed with me that Reed should keep St. James’s as “his altar” until such time as Britta’s “New Dawn” (Nueva Amanacer) ministry becomes formally part of the Lutheran Church in East Boston, in order to keep a strong liturgical underpinning for his licensure in Massachusetts. The other three (or four) Sundays, Reed will work with Britta in New Dawn.

- Anti-Oppression Team – still awaiting word on grant funding from the Diocese for further “training of congregational trainers.” We’ll meet again on January 17th for our monthly meeting, and lay plans to invite St. Stephen’s in Lynn for a feast, Eucharist, and facilitated conversation.

- Pat and I are working ahead toward leading an ecumenical choir at the Cambridge Peace Commission Martin Luther King Day service in January at St. Peter's, singing Margot Chamberlain's gospel composition on Psalm 89. Christian Brocato already on board; waiting to hear from Brian Corr.

- Preparing with Eric and Bishop Gayle for Eric’s ordination on January 9th.  A joy!

- St. James’s God’s Economy: ran into former St. James’s member Jean Horstman, who works w a non-profit supporting small business to strengthen enterprise in economically challenged communities. Nicholas, Lisa Hayes and I will confer with her about possible investment recipients.

Diocesan Activity

Attended Deanery Assembly and Deanery clericus. Pleasant to be “just” a member!

Attended Mission Institute Advisory Committee quarterly meeting last week.

Personal

- I will be away with family the week between Christmas and New Year's, as per usual (and my Letter of Agreement). The Rev. Dr. James Weiss will preside and Eric preach on Dec. 27 at a 10:30-only service.

- My annual silent prayer retreat will be the last week of Epiphany, Feb. 1st through 6th at SSJE. Will be attending CREDO II "Clergy Wellness Conference" in late October 2016 as "continuing education."

 

Wardens Report

●        S Weston’s reported that:

○     The Sexton is reporting that there is a leak from the tower and a leaky valve in the boiler.

●        I Martinez reported that:

○     The officers had hoped to conduct LDI (Leadership Development Initiative) training with the Food Pantry support team.

○     The support team is considering how to go forward with reënergizing and reimagining the Food Pantry’s future.

○     He is still seeking feedback from us on the Mutual Ministry Review that we did in October.

 

Assistant Rector’s Report (submitted by email)

  • Scouts are doing great and energetically performing all sorts of great service to the parish; St. Nicholas fair games, hanging door knockers for caroling, making sandwiches for the outdoor church and now joining the regular schedule of the food pantry.  Go Scouts:)
  • After the St. Nick fest a group of the 20's and 30's came over to our place for post Fest get together.  It was fun to get to spend some time with these folks.  We hope to do similar types of events this spring.   
  • The caroling event this past Sunday was a blast, I can see that becoming a fun yearly tradition. 
  • There is Christmas Pageant Rehearsal this Sunday after church.  We will start with decorating the parish Christmas tree, have lunch together and walk through a rehearsal.  
  • I have had several opportunities to preach recently, Thanksgiving Day, this Past Sunday 12/13, Christmas Day, Sunday 12/27 and 1/10.  
  • Christmas Eve Pageant 12/24! 
  • My ordination to the priesthood is upcoming on Saturday 1/9 at 11:00 am, yikes.   
  • We've made a proposal to invest in the continued development of our Godly Play curriculum by potentially planning to purchase new lessons from the Godly Play foundation.  There is a Godly Play training this March that I am hoping to attend with several of our church school teachers.   
  • We are going to have an in-gathering with the families of 3-5 year olds to dialogue about this young, vibrant cohort in our parish and to talk about how we can honor their spiritual needs and integrate them into our church school program. 
  • Trying to get dates with Jason Cruz and Rev. Lisa Fortuna for possible church school/Anti-Oppression team meetings after the new year.   

 New Business

●        JT Kittredge moved

○     “That the Vestry and People of St James’s Porter Square give our hearty thanks to Ms. Emily Litman for her generous, gifted, and loving service to our children as voluntary nursery coördinator.”

●        N Hayes reports that the St James’s has met its goal for individual contributions to the GBIO campaign.

●        MB Mills-Curran moved that we hang a Black Lives Matter banner outside the church.  I Martinez seconded.  After discussion we decided to refer the matter to the Anti-Oppression Team for discussions and MB rescinded her motion.

 Closing

●        S Weston moved to adjourn.

●        T Wohlers seconded.  Approved unanimously.

 

Prepared by JT Kittredge
Submitted (with thanks to JT) by Nancy McArdle

Tuesday
Jan192016

Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for 2 Epiphany 1-17-16

Audio recording of Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for 2 Epiphany

 

2 Epiphany Year C 1-17-16 

©Holly Lyman Antolini 

Lections: Isaiah 62: 1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Cor. 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

 

With you is the well of life, O God, and in your light we see light. Continue your loving kindness to those who know you and your favor to those who are true of heart. AMEN.

What a rhapsody of Scripture we have this morning! It begins with the petition in the Collect for the Day: “Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory!” We’re to shine with the radiance of Christ’s glorious Light!

Then there’s the prophet Isaiah, singing to a people who have suffered two centuries of disinheritance after the conquering ravages of the Babylonian Empire laid waste to their Temple and their Holy City, Zion, Jerusalem, and took their entire elite into exile. Now under Emperor Darius of Persia, the Jews have been allowed back to rebuild their city and temple, and Isaiah is exulting over their restoration.

You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;

but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;

for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.

For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you,

and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.

And there’s the delirious confidence of the Psalm, which cannot seem to cram enough joyous imagery of fullness into its lines:

Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, *
and your faithfulness to the clouds.

Your righteousness is like the strong mountains,
your justice like the great deep; *
you save both man and beast, O Lord.

How priceless is your love, O God! *
your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.

They feast upon the abundance of your house; *
you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the well of life, *
and in your light we see light.

And finally in the Gospel of John, there are those huge vats of water for the rites of purification and cleansing that every Jewish person faithfully followed in their daily observances, turned into the very finest of wedding wine, bathtubs-full of it, so much that if the wedding party had drunk the whole of it, they’d have been incapacitated for weeks! Fortunately, as the great Father of the Church Saint Jerome responded in the 5th century of the Christian era, when the curious bible student asked him if the guests at Cana had consumed the whole batch, “No, we’re drinking it still!”

We are drinking from God’s well of life, still, even now, my friends. We feast on the abundance of God’s house, and drink from the river of God’s delights. Even in this dark season, with the cold of winter well and truly setting in at last, Jesus is inviting us to see Light, to SHINE with it.

Of course, it often doesn’t FEEL like that at all. At best it can feel hum-drum. At worst, it often feels dark, abandoned, “forsaken and desolate,” as Isaiah puts it. Life can feel less like a wedding and very much more like the terrible deprivations that have riveted our attention in the images coming out of the besieged city of Madaya in Syria, like those little children’s faces, pinched and starved and desperately alone.  So it is for so many trapped in the vice grip of poverty or crushed between the tectonic plates of persecution, unseen for who we really are, unable to change our circumstances. So we can feel when we have suffered abuse at the hands of those who should love or educate or pastorally support us. So we can feel when those we had counted on have walked away from us. Or when we are afflicted with illness or undermined by loss.

But that’s precisely when the REAL soul work begins! That IS the “sacrament of winter,” I’m going to call it: in deprivation is when we learn to dig down deep into ourselves and reach with strenuous yearning for the consolation and reassurance of God’s presence to strengthen and encourage us, to help us seek reserves of forgiveness and kindness though others seem not to be replenishing our own well, to discover light in places we couldn’t imagine it existed.

When all the liquid in our lives seems mere water, THAT is when, as Mary did to Jesus at the wedding in Cana, we must turn to God to perceive the wine. Franciscan Richard Rohr, practitioner of contemplative prayer and dedicated actor for social justice, who refuses to see contemplation and action as antitheses, but rather as complimentary “practices of the presence of God,” says, We cannot attain the presence of God because we're already in the presence of God. What's absent is awareness.Little do we realize that God's love is maintaining us in existence with every breath we take. As we take another, it means that God is choosing us now and now and now. We have nothing to attain or even learn.” [https://groups.google.com/forum/?hl=en#!topic/discussion-st-pauls/ZeHs2ES7WFw, extra underlining mine]

 “We do, however, need to unlearn some things,” he says. “…All great religious teachers have recognized that we human beings do not naturally see; we have to be taught how to see. Jesus says further, ‘If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light.’” [Luke 11:34]. 

So we have to PRACTICE SEEING. We can’t take for granted that we will perceive the light God is proffering us without effort on our part, without stretching out in hope and expectation to reach for abundance.

You never know where you are going to find the spiritual wisdom you need. Richard Rohr would be an obvious source, but New York Times columnist David Brooks? This week, he decided to write about beauty. “Beauty is a big, transformational thing,” writes Brooks, “the proper goal of art and maybe civilization itself. … Beauty conquers the deadening aspects of routine; it educates the emotions and connects us to the eternal. By arousing the senses, beauty arouses thought and spirit. A person who has appreciated physical grace may have a finer sense of how to move with graciousness through the tribulations of life. A person who has appreciated the Pietà has a greater capacity for empathy, a more refined sense of the different forms of sadness and a wider awareness of the repertoire of emotions.” Then he quotes Irish writer and mystic John O’Donohue, We feel most alive in the presence of the beautiful for it meets the needs of our soul. … Without beauty the search for truth, the desire for goodness and the love of order and unity would be sterile exploits. Beauty brings warmth, elegance and grandeur.” [http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/15/opinion/when-beauty-strikes.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0]

If we are to perceive the wine that fills the jars of our lives, if we are to know ourselves rejoiced over by God as a young couple rejoice in their marital union with each other, discovering their names to be “My Delight Is In Her,” we have to PRACTICE. We have to PRACTICE SEEING BEAUTY (and making it, by the way, even if only by being kind to someone whose behavior isn’t inviting kindness, even if only by dancing in your kitchen to Pandora while you stir the arroz con pollo). And you have to tune your spirit to pick up God’s signal. We call this “prayer.” Rohr says, “Prayer is not primarily saying words or thinking thoughts. It is, rather, a stance. It's a way of living in the Presence, living in awareness of the Presence, and even of enjoying the Presence… not just aware of God's Loving Presence, but trusting, allowing, and delighting in it.” [Op. cit.] Those among us who practice seeing beauty, practice knowing themselves to be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord have a capacity for generosity, for fortitude, for delight that is palpable and enduring. You know it when you see it.

As falconist and naturalist Helen Macdonald saw it and described it in her memoir H is for Hawk, talking about her father’s practice of photography. “As I sat there waiting for [my new wild] hawk to eat from my hand, I thought of [a moment my father captured on film]. It was a black-and-white photograph my father had taken many years ago of an elderly street-cleaner with a white goatee beard, wrinkled socks and down-at-heel shoes. Crumpled work trousers, work gloves, a woolen beret. The camera is low, on the pavement: Dad must have crouched in the road to take it. The man is bending down, his besom of birch twigs propped against his side.  He has taken off one of his gloves, and between the thumb and first finger of his bare right hand he is offering a crumb of bread to a sparrow on the kerbstone. The sparrow is caught mid-hop at exactly the moment it takes the crumb from his fingers. And the expression on the man’s face is suffused with joy. He is wearing the face of an angel.”

 “With you is the well of life, and in your light we see light.”

So the invitation is before you this cold early-Epiphany morning: your God loves you and pours out blessings upon you. Like Macdonald’s father, indeed, like the street-sweeper and the sparrow, you just have to open your eyes! But that takes practice. In the Episcopal Church, we are blessed to have been practicing opening our eyes to see the grace of Jesus Christ in our fellow LGBTI siblings for some 40 years now (though we were long blind to it), so that we can confidently say that God’s gracious manifestation of love in the blessing of marriage belongs as much to them as to anyone. Time for our fellow Anglican – especially their primates – to practice opening THEIR eyes to see the blessings they’re missing! They, like we in our fumbling attempts to overcome the terrible dynamics of racism in our country, have got a LOT of practice still to go. And many innocent people are paying a truly terrible price for their slowness, and ours.

So let us claim the triumphant words of Isaiah as hope and encouragement to keep practicing the presence of God ourselves and to urge others to do the same. “For Zion's sake we will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake we will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see our vindication, and all the kings our glory; and we shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. We shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of our God.” AMEN.

 

OPEN SERVICE BY SAYING:

This is a house of prayer for all people, as our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry – who is our primate of the Episcopal Church – reminds us. Nothing that happened in the Anglican Communion this week changes that one bit.

The primates of our worldwide Anglican Communion do not have jurisdiction over this church and never have had it. Only our elected bishops & the General Convention – which is made up of two “Houses:” our bishops in one House & our elected lay & clergy deputies in the other House – have jurisdiction. Even our own Presiding Bishop only has jurisdiction in chairing the House of Bishops, not jurisdiction of any kind in our diocese.

So whatever statements the primates make have no influence on our ministry of hospitality here at St. James’s, which was affirmed in the actions of our General Convention last summer and which springs from our conviction that we can see Jesus in every human being. That freedom to discern the truth in conversation with one another is a fundamental part of what it means to be Anglican.

GOD LOVES YOU. NO EXCEPTIONS!

ALL ARE WELCOME AT GOD’S TABLE WITH US AT ST. JAMES’S.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A prayer from his Letters & Papers from Prison, written in a Nazi prison in 1945, after years of incarceration, shortly before his execution.

In me there is darkness,
But with You there is light;
I am lonely, but You do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with You there is help;
I am restless, but with You there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with You there is patience;
I do not understand Your ways,
But You know the way for me.”

“Lord Jesus Christ,
You were poor
And in distress, a captive and forsaken as I am.
You know all 
[our] troubles;
You abide with me
When all 
[people] fail me;
You remember and seek me;
It is Your will that I should know You
And turn to You.
Lord, I hear Your call and follow;
Help me
.”

― Dietrich BonhoefferLetters and Papers from Prison

Monday
Jan112016

Eric Litman's Sermon for 1 Epiphany 1-10-16

Monday
Jan112016

Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for Eric Litman's Ordination 1-10-15

Audio recording of Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for Eric Litman's Ordination 

 

Eric Litman’s Ordination to the Priesthood

St. James’s Episcopal Church, Cambridge, January 9, 2015

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Numbers 11:16-17; 24-25; Ps. 43: 3-6; Philippians 4:4-9; John 10:11-18

 

Send out your light and your truth, O God, our joy and gladness, that they may lead us and bring us to your holy hill and to your dwelling… where we will give thanks to you, O God our God. Amen.

Thanksgiving indeed! What a glorious sight it is to look out upon this congregation and see assembled the long procession of all those who have discerned, critiqued, supported, agonized, argued with and delighted in my friend and colleague Eric Litman as you have accompanied him to this point of ordination to the Episcopal priesthood!

We have come over a way that with tears has been watered…

No, wait a minute! That’s the wrong part of the song!

Pat gives us a lead-in introduction while people are getting their hymnals out.

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,

Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,

Let us march on till victory is won!

James Weldon Johnson was, of course, writing that mighty anthem, “Lift Every Voice & Sing,” out of the African-American experience, and only a generation away from slavery and the paroxysm of the Civil War. But he was crafting a song I think Eric, too, is ordained to sing, a song both somberly truthful about our history of injustice and also vibrant with endurance, faith and hope in the irrepressible power of life and love, a song bent toward justice andshalom for all people, indeed, bent toward shalom for all the earth.

Because only the whole earth is a context broad enough to hold our celebration of Eric’s priesthood. An environmental biologist first – an oil-spill clean-up specialist – before the Episcopal Church claimed him and seminary called him, Eric was already “living on the border of the holy” [L. William Countryman,Living on the Border of the Holy: Renewing the Priesthood of All] that is all of God’s Creation long before he could name the stirring he felt both for the sacredness – the wonder and the infinite value – of all being and for the perishing need for reconciliation for which all being is crying out and most poignantly now in this strange winter of palpable global warming, when yellow-throated warblers are still abiding in midcoast Maine, forgetting to migrate south to Mexico, and our magnolia trees by the ramp door here at St. James’s are already swelling their buds tentatively, reaching for spring sunshine still months away.

Something in Eric, like those magnolia buds, was reaching out for a promise that death, like the death of habitats he was minutely tracking, such as the habitat of the Mississippi Gulf Coast that he was traversing aboard the fishing trawler of African-American Gulf shrimpers only days after the BP oil platform exploded and oil began erupting from the open fissure in the sea bottom, he and the shrimpers standing together on those desperate decks, witnessing death, the death of species of fish and sea mammals, the death of marine plant life, the death of the shrimpers’ own livelihood, something in Eric yearned for the promise that death was not going to have the final word but rather that RESURRECTION and NEW LIFE were a larger, deeper and mightier word beyond even death on such a scale. This was a promise Eric sought and found fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And still, as he explored deeper into faith, he found that oil-spill clean-up alone could not satisfy his longing to offer himself in service to the risen power of Jesus Christ, in witness with unsparing honesty to both death and the larger life within and beyond death, his longing to name the Eucharistic sacredness of all being and champion the ministry of reconciliation and the “restoration of all to unity with God and with each other,” shrimp and shrimpers, porpoises and eelgrass, duckweed and bladderwort, wetlands and sand bars and all. [Book of Common Prayer, “The Catechism,” p. 855] His yearning and our discernment here in the Diocese of Massachusetts have led Eric not to give up the ministry of reconciliation in the oil-spill clean-up calling, but rather to add to that a pastoral ministry with children and families here at St. James’s, and to his priesting in our midst today.

Eric, in the Examination in a few moments, you will affirm that you are called in all that you do… to nourish Christ's people from the riches of his grace, and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come…” and that you will “labor together with them and your fellow ministers to build up the family of God.” That once might have looked like a socially secure and reassuringly agreed-upon role back in the days when “church” was the primary non-profit vehicle for good works and the most reliable social club going, and everyone had their kids in church school every Sunday (much of the time teaching it themselves, when they weren’t running the church treasury or raising funds for charity through the Episcopal Church Women!). Needless to say, after six months’ effort overseeing the St. James’s Church School, and several years at St. Chrysostom’s in Quincy before that and at the Advent in Boston before THAT, your eyes are wide open to see that it doesn’t look like the sure bet any more! Sometimes I think parish ministry – especially in famously secular Cambridge – is more rodeo ride on a bucking bronco than it is a sedate Sunday promenade in the park!

Wise of you, then, to fortify yourself by choosing for your ordination both the reading from Numbers, with its sober look at the need for shared ministry, and the lyrical passage from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians exhorting you to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoicethe Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. ” Might want to tattoo that on your palm just to keep it in mind as life in the priesthood comes at you!

In Numbers, ministry even gets the better of Moses himself, and God advises the great man to line up at least 70 elders to bear “the burden of the people” along with him. That’s our Vestry times five and then some! (Hear that, St. James’s Nominating Committee???) And that’s not counting the part of the story our ordination service leaves out, the part where Eldad and Medad, not among the elders convened but straying back in the camp, receive the spirit unexpectedly too, and start prophesying “out of bounds,” and when Moses’ right-hand man Joshua wants to shut them down, Moses replies, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!” [Numbers 11:26-29, underlining mine]

New Testament theologian Bill Countryman is with Moses on this. In his beautiful book on the renewal not just of the ordained priesthood but of “the ROYAL priesthood of ALL believers,” [1 Peter 2:5, 9] Countryman reminds us that it is in our baptism into Christ that we become stewards of Christ’s Good News – just as we say you are, Eric, as a priest – assisting each other to know ourselves to be in the presence of The Holy at all times and in all places. Almost all of the things you vow and promise to uphold and enact in your priesthood in this ordination service are things we all, as followers of Jesus, are called to do, as our baptismal vows attest: to be diligent in reading & study; to persevere in worship & prayer; to care for all, young and old, rich and poor alike; to make God’s love known in all we do, patterning our lives in accordance with the teachings of Christ; to be a wholesome example to others; and in all this, relying on the grace of God to make up our deficits.

That’s because, just as you were ordained a deacon to call all of us into our own “ministries of servanthood,” Eric, so in your priestly ordination, as you bless and forgive, you are called not to be THE priest among us, placed on some higher plane of humanity, but rather to be the ICON OF ALL OUR PRIESTHOOD, calling us into our own sacramental ministries, encouraging and empowering us to make “the inward and spiritual grace” of God’s loving presence “outwardly visible and manifest” in our lives and actions. [Book of Common Prayer, “The Catechism,” p. 857] Would that “all who are baptized into Christ’s Name,” as we will pray in the Collect for the Feast of the Baptism of Christ tomorrow, “may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior.” Would that ALL the LORD’s people would have the Spirit poured out upon them, indeed!

Fortunately, Eric, you are hardly one to “think better of yourself than you ought.” [Romans 12:3] Your gentleness IS known to everyone! Still, you are as liable as any of us with a collar on to start straining to be as holy as some are inclined to think you are, and in the process, to lose track of your infinite belovedness in the forgiving and merciful eyes of God. It bears repeating that if you are to meet the challenge of balancing your commitment – your primary vows in fact – to your family, to Emily and Myles and Fiona, and your commitment to your environmental ministry of reconciliation with your commitment to parish ministry, so that parish ministry must find its place alongside these equally holy and important responsibilities, you MUST have strong baptismal partners “laboring together with you” in the parish work if it’s going to be viable within the 24 hours of the day, 7 days in the week, not counting sleep, that you and we all are allotted by God’s grace!

For your priesthood truly to “nourish us from the riches of God’s grace,” you will need to practice trusting that grace yourself, to hold fast to your human limits, to trust your body, to read and trust its signals, to abide within the extraordinary grace of your wonderful family, to attend to their needs and let them attend to yours, to rest in their intimate presence, to “let the soft animal of your body love what it loves” as a human being among all of us creatures of a loving Creator. [Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese,” http://www.rjgeib.com/thoughts/geese/geese.html] Ordained priest or not, you, like all of us, are made in the image of God in the first place and restored to holiness by the Incarnate Word, who humbled himself to share our humanity that we might be reminded of our own divinity. That means, DON’T FORGET TO PARTY! Jesus didn’t. And that’s what sustained his kindly and courageous shepherding. You can’t lay down a life you don’t have!

And as for all the rest of you: I exhort you not only to claim your own priesthood, but also to uphold Eric in support AND accountability, cherishing him as a human among all you humans, and witnessing to him when you see the spark of divinity shine brightly in him, and also when you fear he might be forgetting who the REAL Savior is in striving to manifest that Savior’s love in ways that are too much for him.

Now comes the time when all of us ordained folks come forward to lay the heavy but loving weight of our hands on you, Eric, and bid the Holy Spirit pour out her grace upon you so that you can move into this calling of yours, as human among humans, as priest among the royal priesthood of all, as a creature among the fabulous array of creatures God made and loves; as you move into this calling to name The Holy in our midst and to summon us to the ministry of reconciliation alongside you. 

May the Lord who has given you the will to do these things give you the grace and power to perform them.” Amen.

Wednesday
Jan062016

Eric Litman's Sermon for 1 Christmas 12-27-15

St. James’s Episcopal Church
Christmas Day, 2015
John 1:1-18

In the name of our one God, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.
         
Merry Christmas first Sunday of Christmas!  This morning we continue to reflect on the birth of Jesus.  We gather again to remember the circumstances of Mary and Joseph and the birth story of their son.  In our Gospel reading this morning we don’t get that old nativity story.  Instead we heard the cosmic story of the incarnation from the beginning of the Gospel of John.  Serious theological language, it’s gripping if not at least a bit confusing.   It’s the type of bible text that makes one clamor for a narrative, a story with a plot, rising and falling action and life circumstances that we can relate too and empathize with.  These two incarnation texts at first reading may seem to be at odds or at least discordant.  We have the historical nativity narrative that locates the birth of Jesus in a specific place, at a given time in history fraught with fully orbed human characters struggling for survival.  Then we have the mystical account, whose literary arc travels back an eon of religious time, transcending geologic periods and anthropological ages, beginning prior to the creation of the natural world.  This cosmic account, does not have a crèche or swaddling clothes, but instead suggests that Jesus, the Word, was present with God from the very beginning.  Two very different tellings, two very different perspectives…but in contrast to being discordant these two perspectives, together, offer a sacramental synergy that draw us into the drama of the nativity and then compels us to imagine future incarnations of God’s grace and truth.  These perspectives provide us with the culture, the geography and the religion of our spiritual forebears and also…with our sacramental calling to bring God’s light into the darkness, to put flesh onto God’s loving words and to be agents of God’s grace and truth.  These two perspectives provide us with our history and with our sacred vocation.  The synergy of these two accounts connects our souls to that lowly stable in Bethlehem and then challenges us to consider yet another incarnation, the incarnation of God’s love in the world today, the incarnation of God’s love in our lives, and the lives of our neighbors and the stranger.       

One of the powerful elements of the nativity story is that it is contextual, we can relate, in part, to the circumstances.  The story of the birth of a child deeply penetrates the human experience it touches on the story of all humanity.  Our own autobiographies all start with the folklore of a birth narrative.  According to my mother, I was born in the blizzard of 1978, it was a treacherous trip to the hospital, driving through hurricane force winds and quickly accumulating snow, we barely made it.  Well I came to find out as an adult that the blizzard of 1978 occurred in early February 1978, I was born in early January.  I’m fairly certain I was born in a snow storm, but it was certainly not during that famous blizzard.  I do appreciate the drama of the blizzard narrative, even if it may have some factual soft spots; it gave such suspense and anxiety to the story – it gave a bit of texture to what thankfully was a standard birth event.  Birth stories are powerful vessels of memories and emotions.  We may have re-experienced this with the birth of siblings, or children, or with nieces, nephews or friends.  The incarnation of our lives, of the lives of all humanity are sacramentally linked to that manifestation of God’s love in Bethlehem so many years ago.  This is the perspective that the Gospel of John re-enforces, this was not a story with only local or cultural significance.  This was a story about humility and love, not just for one family, or one town, or one people but for the whole world, and from the beginning of time until for evermore.  God was so intimately one with creation, that God came to dwell among us as one of us.  This sacramental reality, the incarnation of God as a human, gives our own birth stories, our own incarnation on earth important value and purpose.  God did not send Jesus to earth to merely add divine context to the human experience, to provide a tangible touch point between God and humans but to send us a manifestation of God’s loving, peaceful existence.  Jesus was the human incarnation of God’s being, John’s Gospel records that ”the Word became flesh and lived among us, we have seen his glory, the glory of God’s only son, full of grace and truth.”  Jesus came to be the incarnation of grace and truth.       

We cannot have the nativity story without John’s Gospel; we can’t just have the human story of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, the story of desperate parents and a vulnerable baby, the story of dispersion, poverty and dislocation, all critical themes to keep present in our hearts and souls.  But, we also need that other incarnation story, the mystical story from the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Without the Gospel of John the story of the nativity remains a compelling historical story, about specific people, in a specific place, trying to do the best they could to provide for their young family in horrible circumstances.  But, without the perspective of John’s Gospel, the nativity can quickly become only about the crèche figures in the family nativity set, or the players in our parish nativity pageant.  The story of the nativity can be taken captive, and it can be used to give shape and meaning only to our own circumstance, to our communities or at worst to our own private, personal, clandestine experiences of the incarnation.  This is certainly not all bad, family traditions are critical parts of self-understanding, finding meaning in our local community is extremely important and nurturing our own inner spirituality is vital to our emotional health.  But, John’s gospel asks us to read the nativity story with a very different perspective.  With a cosmic perspective, a timeless perspective, a global perspective that asks us to take the story of this vulnerable baby, and allow it to inform how we respond to the needs of people throughout the world…to allow this story to change our hearts, and our actions.       

When we experience the drama of the nativity we should listen close for the call to read the nativity story mindful of word and flesh, of light shining in the darkness, and of grace and truth.  When words become flesh, we can literally observe what they mean; we can see how these words become incarnate and exist in the world.  We can see what grace and truth look like in action.  How grace becomes food for the hungry, or how truth becomes fighting for justice and equality. 

When we imagine a future that is filled with the love of God, a future that is infused with grace and truth, we must consider the incarnation of our own faith in the world.  Through Jesus we are the bearers of God’s incarnational love in the world.   In our reading this morning from the Epistle to the Galatians St. Paul wrote: “You are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir through God.”  If we are God’s heirs, if we have been the recipients of God’s love then we too have an inheritance to leave in this world, an inheritance of grace and truth.   We are the incarnation of God’s love in the world.   Let us imagine a great future drama, where the light over comes the darkness, where words become loving flesh, and where grace and truth flow through our lives from Cambridge to Bethlehem to the ends of the earth.  Amen.  

Wednesday
Jan062016

Eric Litman's Sermon for the Feast of the Incarnation 12-25-15

Audio recording of Eric Litman's Sermon for the Feast of the Incarnation 

 

St. James’s Episcopal Church
Christmas Day, 2015
John 1:1-14

In the name of our one God, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Good morning and Merry Christmas.  Thank you for joining us on this strangely warm Christmas morning.  Today we reflect back on the birth of Jesus, we gather to remember the circumstances of Mary and Joseph and the birth story of their son Jesus.  In our Gospel reading this morning we don’t get that old story, straight from Bethlehem, to our living rooms.  Instead we get the cosmic story of the incarnation from the beginning of the Gospel of John, with talk of Word and flesh, darkness and light, and grace and truth.  Serious theological language, it’s gripping if not at least a bit confusing.   It’s the type of bible text that makes one clamor for a narrative, a story with a plot, rising and falling action and characters that we can relate too.  The nativity story has long been an important part of the Advent and Christmas season, Church traditions the world over have been recognizing this sacred dramatic ritual in sacramental observance of and participation in, the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  Now, this wasn’t always the case.   The centrality of nativity pageants and nativity figures and nativity scenes has ebbed and flowed over the course of church history.  The first recorded instance of a dramatic re-enactment of the nativity story was in Greccio, Italy in 1223, under the direction and desire of St. Francis of Assisi.  In his biography of St. Francis and retelling of this nativity event, St. Bonaventure quoted Francis as having said:   “I want to enact the memory of the Infant who was born in Bethlehem, and how he was deprived of all the comforts babies enjoy; how he was bedded in the manger on hay, between a donkey and an ox. For once I want to see all this with my own eyes.” St. Francis wanted to experience the drama, he wanted to see the story manifest with his own eyes.  It is a remarkable way to participate in this story.  In general, common folk of that time were not literate, and almost certainly did not understand Latin, the authorized language used in church.  This was likely the first time the people present had been presented with this story in an understandable form.  The first time they may have felt that connection, or empathy with Mary, as she desperately sought a safe place to have her child.  Sadly, during the reformation northern and central European Protestants abandoned the nativity imagery carte blanche.  It was thought that depictions of the infant Jesus were considered to be graven and a violation of the 2nd commandment.  Protestants dropped the nativity and picked up the Germanic Christmas symbol of the Christmas tree.  The Christmas tree is a fine symbol, but it’s more of a theological sign than a narrative device.  The tree is a sign of creation, and a sign of the cross.  The Christmas tree does not engage imaginations in the same way that the nativity story can draw listeners in both young and old.  It wasn’t until the 19th century that the nativity imagery and the dramatic use of nativity scenes became a more ubiquitous symbol of Christmastime in the United States.  One of the powerful elements of the nativity story is that it is eminently contextual.  The story of the birth of a child deeply penetrates the human experience it touches, in part, on the story of all people.  Whether it’s part of our own self-understanding, our own autobiographies all start with a birth narrative.  Our first existential struggle was to survive as babies.  We may have re-experienced this with the birth of siblings, children, nieces, nephews or friends.  This is the perspective that the Gospel of John re-enforces, this was not a story with only local or cultural significance.  This was a story about humility and love, not just for one family, or one town, or one people group but for the whole world, and from the beginning of time until for evermore.  God was so intimately one with creation, that God came to dwell among us as one of us.  This sacramental reality, the incarnation of God as a human, gives our own birth stories, our own incarnation on earth an important meaning.  God did not send Jesus to earth to merely contextualize the human experience, to provide a touch point between the divine and the profane but to send us a manifestation of God’s loving, peaceful existence.  Jesus was the human incarnation of God’s being, John’s Gospel records that ”the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of God’s only son, full of grace and truth.”  Jesus came to be the incarnation of grace and truth.       

We cannot have the nativity story without John’s Gospel; we can’t just have the human story of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, the story of desperate parents and a vulnerable baby, the story of dispersion, poverty and dislocation, all critical themes to keep present in our hearts and souls.  But, we also need that other incarnation story, the mystical story from the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Without the Gospel of John the story of the nativity remains a compelling historical story, about specific people, in a specific context, trying to do the best they can, in horrible circumstances, to provide for their young family.  But, without John, the nativity can quickly become only about the crèche figures on the mantles of our homes, or the players in our parish pageants.  The story of the nativity can be taken captive, and used to give shape and meaning to our own small eco systems, at worst our very small eco systems.  This is certainly not all bad, family tradition is crucial, and finding meaning in our local community is extremely important.  But, John’s gospel asks us to read the nativity story with a very different perspective.  With a cosmic perspective, a timeless perspective, a global perspective that asks us to take the story of this vulnerable baby, and allow it to inform how we respond to the needs of people throughout the world.  Allow this story to change our hearts, and our actions.       

I’ve been thinking about how we might perform a theatrical interpretation of the prologue to John’s Gospel.  How we might turn word becoming flesh into a pageant.  I’m not sure that I have the necessary dramatic imagination to tackle something that esoteric but we can certainly read the nativity story mindful of word and flesh, of light shining in the darkness, and of grace and truth.   When words become flesh, we can literally observe what they mean; we can see how these words become incarnate and exist in the world.  What grace and truth look like in action?  How grace becomes food for the hungry, or how truth becomes fighting to give someone else a fair chance to succeed in life. 

Today, let’s remember that Jesus, the son of God came into this world as a vulnerable child, a child that brought the light of heaven to earth, a child that brought flesh to the word and a child that brought God’s presence, God’s grace and truth to dwell among us.  Amen.   

Monday
Jan042016

Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for the Feast of the Nativity 12-24-15

Audio recording of Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for the Feast of the Nativity

 

Christmas Eve 12-24-2015

©Holly Lyman Antolini

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

 

"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" AMEN.

Every year when the winter solstice rolls around, and the night is at its longest and the day – even without our persistent cloud cover of the last several days here in Cambridge – seems hardly able to achieve its full brightness with the sun slanted so close to the southern horizon as it is at this time of year, we need to gather and be reminded, as Isaiah reminded his people Israel in a very dark time in their history, that no matter the darkness, a great light is possible, that “Light has shined” even on those living in deep darkness, that joy can increase, that despite the “boots of the tramping warriors” and “the garments rolled in blood,” the yoke of our burden of fear, injustice and antagonism can be broken and peace & justice CAN prevail.

No wonder we keep returning every solstice week to this cavernous space to beat back the dark with our candles and beat back despair with our songs of hope and listen again to the mysterious little story of a refugee baby born in a stable because there was “no place for him to lay his head,” [Luke 9:58] a baby who, before he’s weeks old, is traveling across borders amid the crowds, fleeing with his family the persecution of a ruler bent on securing his hegemony by any bloody means whatsoever. Every year we long to hear again that this baby, despite all this “lastness, leastness, lostness and littleness,” has THE power to save a manifestly dark and broken world. And we come together to be reminded of this hope, even at the cost of ALSO being reminded, by the light of our little candles in the dark, of the scandalous truth that will become ever clearer as we watch this baby grow up over the coming year, that he is “a Messiah  - a Savior - who will do his work not at the top of the heap, [as everyone from Donald Trump on out expects], but in the very depths of the human condition,” that only through the extremity of being despised and rejected “can anything saving be done about the world.” [Robert Farrar Capon, The Parables of Grace, p. 166, underlining mine]

What kind of HOPE is THAT, I ask you? In a world filled with heartbreak, how can a BROKEN HEART be a HEALING ONE? Parker Palmer, who knows heartbreak from the inside, writes this in a blog on Krista Tippett’s On Being website:

Left untended, our hearts can become so brittle that under stress they break apart into a million shards, and are sometimes thrown like fragment grenades at the ostensible source of their pain. Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering. But attentive students of life learn to exercise the heart day in and day out, allowing life’s ‘little deaths’ to stretch us in ways that make our hearts suppler. Then, when larger forms of suffering strike, our hearts can break open rather than apart – giving them a greater capacity to hold life’s pain as well as its possibilities and joys. I know many people,” writes Palmer, “whose wounds – held in a broken-open heart – have made them ‘wounded healers.’ Instead of growing bitter and brittle and passing their pain on to others, they’ve [declared,] ‘This is where the pain stops and the love begins.’ Not in spite of their suffering but because of it they’re better able to offer active forms of compassion to others who suffer.” [http://www.onbeing.org/blog/parker-palmer-heartbreak-and-hope-three-questions-about-suffering/8127]

Poet Naomi Shihab Nye, herself Arab-American, born in St. Louis MO just four years after her Palestinian father’s family lost their ancestral home in Jerusalem, knows this “practice of suffering,” as do so many of our Jewish and Muslim next-door neighbors. It’s run deep into her bones. It’s she who connects it up to healing in her poem called, “Kindness.”

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend
.

Take 90-year-old gardener Hector Black of Tennessee, featured on Radiolab and StoryCorps recently, talking about corresponding with and then forgiving the murderer of one of his daughters. Turns out there’s an even deeper heartbreak in Mr. Black that undergirds that extraordinary magnanimity: now, at the very end of a very long life, it comes out that Mr. Black, married for 60 years to his beloved wife Susie and father of a number of children, is gay. When he began to realize it in his teenage in the South of the 1920’s, he didn’t even have a word for it. It took 70 years and his own child’s coming-out to acknowledge it. He’s still making his peace with it. His NPR interviewer Ari Shapiro observes to him, I hear you say is that you might have some regrets about some choices that you've made. But you do not regret the life that you lived, even though you only really came out at age 70.” To which Hector Black replies, “I don't really … it's a weird thing to say, but I really think that suffering can be … it certainly isn't always by any means … but it certainly can be a way of understanding other people, opening. You know, Mother Teresa said, Lord, break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in. I can't say that…You know … but I really am grateful that my heart has been broken a good many times because it does help me to love.” [http://www.npr.org/2015/12/23/460851160/90-year-old-gay-man-recalls-long-struggle-with-his-sexuality]

Welcome back to the Feast of the Nativity, my friends, the Feast in which we remember how Kindness is born into the world, vulnerable and at-risk, disguised as our very own selves, who do suffer and will suffer, whose hearts have been broken and will be broken.  Welcome back to the Feast in which we reclaim our hope and our faith and our courage to claim that suffering and heartbreak as a gift and a POWER to heal the suffering and heartbreak of others, not letting our hearts become brittle and sharp-edged, exploding into violence, dismissing others and writing them off as hopeless or worthless, but rather stretching our hearts to encompass them, to welcome them in.

As Parker Palmer counsels, this heart-stretching is a practice, not a one-time winner-takes-all. “Attentive students of life exercise the heart,” he reminds us. As delicious as it is to gather as we do this night and enjoy the scent of evergreens, the candlelight, and each other’s company, we need a more consistent investment than just this if our hearts are to be ready for the suffering to come, especially the suffering of others besides ourselves. As the Letter of Paul to Titus says, we are in training by God’s grace. We have to go to the spiritual gym! We need the support of a community of kindness ourselves if we are to learn to bear our own pain in a way that softens, not hardens our hearts. We have daily to open ourselves to what is amiss in the world, if we are to be ready to help, ready to reach out, ready to make room in our own hearts for others.

Only in the strenuous practice of kindness ourselves will we reliably notice, as poet Nye says, when

kindness… raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with 
[us] everywhere
like a shadow or a friend
.

So promises the Feast of Christmas. With the practice of kindness, suffering will not be the end of the story. As Edmund Sears wrote in the original “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” in a verse our Hymnal 1982 decided to leave out, O “ ye beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow, Look now! For glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing. O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing!” AMEN. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It_Came_Upon_the_Midnight_Clear#Lyrics]

Tuesday
Dec222015

Approved November Vestry Minutes 11-24-15

Vestry Minutes: 2015-11-24

Adopted December 15, 2015

 

Presiding: Rev Holly Lyman Antolini

Members Present: Sylvia Weston, Isaac Martinez, Lucas Sanders, John Thomas Kittredge, Marian King, Tom Beecher, Thomas Wohlers, Mary Beth Mills-Curran, Jean Clark,

Members Absent: Nancy McArdle, Dana Evelyn, Matthew Abbate, Nicholas Hayes

Guests: Rev Eric Litman, Jules Bertaut, Jeff Zinsmeyer

Gathering

●        JT Kittredge, J Clark & I Martinez provided a supper of cashew curry and salad.

●        J Bertaut led the Vestry in a revised version of the lesson for Advent 1 from the new Middle/Upper  school “Shine” curriculum. 

Regular Agenda

New Upper & Middle Church School Curriculum

●        E Litman & J Bertaut discussed the new curriculum, Shine, which comes from a Mennonite group.

○     It is more open to interpretation and flexible in structure than the previous one.

○     It includes an emphasis on spiritual practice and living out one’s faith.

 Program Liaison shared-leadership Planning

●        I Martinez & MB Mills-Curran reported:

○     The VLPRT committee hopes to have a report and implementation plan for the January Vestry meeting.

Nominating Committee Updates

●        There are a Junior Warden and five member-at-large positions to fill.

●        No candidates have agreed to serve as Junior Warden as of yet.

●        There are two people who have agreed to serve as members-at-large and two more are considering serving.

●        At the behest at the Rector, JT Kittredge moved:

○     “That Rachel Evans be appointed to the vacant position on the Nominating Committee.”

○     T Wohlers seconded.

○     The resolution passed unanimously.

Currency of Money Committee Updates

●        As of now, the 2016 Currency of Money campaign has gotten 58% (69) the pledges goal and 64% ($159,588) of money goal.

●        Before Ingathering Sunday, the campaign was slightly ahead of last year, but Ingathering Sunday was well below what was expected.

●        However, it’s not out of line with previous years before last.

Memorandum of Appreciation for Emily Litman

●        I Martinez moved:

○     “That the Vestry and Clergy present to Emily Litman a memorandum of appreciation for her work in the nursery before we hired a coordinator.”

○     JT Kittredge seconded.

○     The motion passed unanimously.

●        JT Kittredge agreed to draft the memorandum for presentation to the Vestry at its December meeting.

Redevelopment Update

●        J Clark moved:

○     “That the Vestry enter executive session.”

○     I Martinez seconded.

●        The motion passed unanimously.


J Clark moved:

○     “That the Vestry exit executive session.”

○     T Wohlers seconded.

○     The motion passed unanimously.

 

Reports

 

Minutes of October Meeting

●        T Wohlers moved that

○     “That the portion of the minutes that refer to proceedings while the Vestry was in executive session be sequestered and kept confidential to the Vestry, ordained leadership and the office manager, until the Vestry deems them no longer confidential.”

○     I Martinez seconded.

○     The motion passed unanimously.

●        S Weston moved that the minutes of the October meeting be accepted as amended.

○     T Wohlers seconded.

○     The motion passed unanimously.

Financial Report

●        L Sanders reported:

○     On the October financial report

■     The current financial situation of the parish is very healthy.

■     October pledging rebounded somewhat after the statements were mailed out.

○     Budget development

■     2016 budget writing has been very conservative, perhaps overly so, so far. 

■     But meeting our pledge goal is essential to being able to keep our programs.

■     Some pledges have been received for restricted purposes. The standing policy of the Vestry has been that any restricted pledges have to be approved by the Vestry before being accepted.

○     L Sanders moved that

■     “The Vestry accept the $200 directed gift for the Synthesis curriculum for the Bible Study program.”

■     JT Kittredge offered an amendment in the form of a substitute motion:

●        “That the Rector be authorized to accept gifts for specific purposes up to an amount of $500.”

●        T Wohlers seconded.

●        The motion as amended passed unanimously.

○     The Vestry tabled further discussion of policy around restricted gifts until the December meeting.

○     L Sanders moved:

■     “That the Vestry retain Natalie Finstad as facilitator for the Vestry retreat at an amount commensurate with last year’s retreat.”

■     T Beecher seconded.

■     The motion passed unanimously.

○     L Sanders moved that the financial report be accepted.

■     I Martinez seconded.

■     The motion passed unanimously.

Calendar Discussion

●        The calendar was discussed.

Rector’s Report

My continuing question for the rest of the academic year:

“Who’s the WE that is working on this?”

 

Parish Activities October-November

- Currency of Money continues strongly. Awaiting report on “Ingathering” so we can determine how much follow-up we’ll need to assist with as a Vestry.

- Nominating Committee continues valiantly. Full recruitment for Jr. Warden and five members-at-large still elusive.

- Mary Matthews joins us as Nursery Coordinator at least through the summer. Highly qualified for this small job! Brings good energy to it.

- All Saints Day liturgy beautiful; good turn-out for Dr. Forrow’s end-of-life planning workshop. An inspiring presentation on the challenges of supporting the dying in a world of aggressive and ever-emerging modern medical care. Learned a lot about “palliative care” and the need for everyone – family members and friend young & old – to learn to think and plan ahead.

- Miles Thomas-Moore completed his St. James's video. Lucas has converted it for easy linkage and we’ll watch it together in December.

- St. James’s God’s Economy group still exploring options in Dorchester-Roxbury-Mattapan. Not ready to allocate funds yet. Nicholas distracted by many competing work obligations and hasn’t completed hand-off to other leadership. I cannot add this mandate to my roster, so I await his capacity and that of others.

- The Worship Commission Advent sub-team has planned Advent/Christmas. Sylvia Weston and Marian King are meeting w Pat and me this month to plan Epiphany & Lent. The all-parish Lenten formation/worship curriculum from Canada was too complex for us to chew into this year without guidance and none of the Epiphany/Lent team could make the introductory meeting. Eric and I are working on his ordination service for January 9th. Pat, Eric & I will resource the teams over the year and implement the overall vision at our weekly Tuesday AM liturgy planning sessions.

- Vestry retreat planned for Bethany House; Natalie available. New-Vestry orientation will be over dinner at my house on the Annual Meeting Sunday, Jan. 24th.

- We have one adult baptizand in preparation for Easter Vigil baptism and I'm working to prepare a family for an infant baptism that combines a parent of practicing faith with a parent who doesn't claim a faith - a common occurrence these days. My Inquirers/Confirmation Class will begin the First Sunday of Lent. Confirmation itself doesn't happen until mid-October. We’ll try a two-module format with five weeks in Lent and five weeks in late Pentecost, because of this.

- Re potential Haitian internship: following conversation with Edie, this is still very much in preliminary discernment. Will continue in discernment with Canon for Ordinations Edie Dolnikowski and with other mentors of this young person.

- Olivia Hamilton continues in regular conversation with me about postulancy; leading Bible Study and joining the liturgical ministers and proposing to be a candidate for Vestry to help fill out her experience in Episcopal ministry. She and I will attend the Diocesan Ministry Discernment Day on Feb. 13th. The next step would be assembling a discernment committee a la Isaac, Mary Beth & Nicholas...

- Monthly Healing Liturgies continue, as Reed presides at his last two, one this coming Sunday w Eric Litman presenting on healing the Earth and one on January 31st with Reed presenting.  I will assume responsibility for these beginning on February 28th with Carol Hilliard presenting on living with family members w profound disabilities.

- Reed Carlson will preach his last Sunday with us on the morning of January 31st, and we'll celebrate his ministry with us, bidding him Godspeed as he joins Britta in ministry in East Boston.

- Anti-Oppression Team – still awaiting word on grant funding from the Diocese. At our November meeting - resourced by Mission Institute Director Diane D'Souza - we articulated the following action goals: to offer the Anti-Oppression Epiphany Lessons & Carols again on January 3rd; to invite St. Stephen’s in Lynn’s Beloved Community team to St. James’s to preach, share a meal with us, strategize together. Also to have the Anti-Oppression Team present at a Healing Liturgy focused on Black Lives Matter and racial reconciliation. The group also intends to testify at the one of the Open Listening Sessions for the Diocesan Mission Strategy in January in support of new initiatives in anti-oppression work in the diocese.

- Pat and I are working ahead toward leading an ecumenical choir at the Cambridge Peace Commission Martin Luther King Day service in January at St. Peter's, singing Margot Chamberlain's gospel composition. Christian Brocato already on board; waiting to hear from Brian Corr.

 

Diocesan Activity

- Chaired Resolutions Committee at Diocesan Convention, Nov. 13th-14th

- Retired from Alewife Deanship formally at the Diocesan Convention.

- Meeting next week of the Mission Institute Advisory Committee - quarterly

 

Personal

- Have been engaged in physical therapy for ongoing joint and lower-back arthritis. A constant management challenge!

- I will be away with family the week between Christmas and New Year's, as per usual (and my Letter of Agreement). The Rev. Dr. James Weiss will preside and Eric preach on Dec. 27 at a 10:30-only service.

- My annual silent prayer retreat will be the last week of Epiphany, Feb. 1st through 6th at SSJE. Will be attending CREDO II "Clergy Wellness Conference" in late October 2016 as "continuing education."

 

Senior Warden’s Report

●        S Weston reported:

○     She and J Clark met with a contractor from the insurance company on interior damage due to melting from ice dams.

●        J Clark raised possible danger of falling masonry due to deterioration of bricks in porch arches.

 

Assistant Rector’s Report

●        E Litman reported:

○     Church school has a new curriculum.

○     Last Sunday was the youth-led service.

○     Troop 56 has taken over making sandwiches for Open Church.

○     St Nick’s fair is coming up; the Troop 56 will be leading the game for the kids.

○     Eric is working with Anti-Oppression team about doing work with the kids.

○     Eric has been talking to the Rev. Dr. Lisa Fortuna who works with at risk youth.

○     He is hoping to get some St James people to trained in Godly Play in the spring.

○     The pageant will take place as usual on Christmas Eve.

New Business

●        S Weston asked that we work harder at sticking to the agenda schedule.

●        JT Kittredge asked that we review how the Mutual Ministry Review went, and whether we want to repeat it in the future.

○     I Martinez solicited feedback on the MMR to be discussed at the next Officers’ Meeting.

Closing

●        The Rector led us in the Lord’s Prayer to close the meeting.

 

Prepared by JT Kittredge
Submitted (with thanks to JT) by Nancy McArdle

Monday
Dec212015

Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for 4 Advent 12-20-15

Audio recording of Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for 4 Advent

 

4 Advent Year C 12-20-15

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Micah 5: 2-5a; Canticle 16 (Magnificat), Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45

 

Our souls proclaim your greatness, O God, and our spirits rejoice in you, for you have looked with favor on the lowly and raise them up in mercy and grace.AMEN.

So this is Mary’s day, this Fourth Sunday in Advent, in the third of our three-year scripture reading cycle, Lectionary Calendar Year C. And this is THE “pregnancy” day of all scriptural days, the only day in the whole of the three-year lectionary that we celebrate TWO pregnancies in one day. You can’t step politely around those two big bellies – the belly of Mary the incipient Mother of Jesus, the Theotokos, Mary the Godbearer, as the Orthodox say, and the belly of her aged cousin Elizabeth, bearing John the Baptist. Today those bellies are firmly at the center of our gaze.

Generally throughout our two-thousand-year history as a faith, we Christians have focused on Mary’s belly as a symbol of her meekness, her submission to the will of God. Countless sermons have counseled us to follow suit in “womanly” fashion, to submit meekly to God. Now mind you, as one of the most stiff-necked among us, woman though I am, I am all for submission to the will of God. For “bending and not breaking.” Etc.

But today I’m just not going there. Today, Mary’s belly is signifying something entirely else. ANTITHETICALLY else, actually. Today we do NOT have “Mary meek & mild,” as so many Christmas carols put it. Today we have Mary the Adventuresome. Mary the Risk Taker. Mary the Upsetter of the Social Apple Cart. Mary the Imaginer of Alternatives. As theologian Nancy Rockwell writes, Mary is “determined, not domestic; free, not foolish; holy, not helpless; strong, not submissive. She beckons women everywhere to speak out for God’s justice, which is waiting to be born into this world.” [http://www.patheos.com/blogs/biteintheapple/no-more-lying-about-mary/]

Today we have Mary setting out straight from her terrifying encounter with the Angel of God, straight from her “Yes,” still echoing in her head: “Yes” to a terrifying out-of-wedlock pregnancy with no assurance that her fiancé Joseph is going to go along with it. We have her setting out alone – against all social convention of her time, to travel while pregnant at all, let alone to travel alone - to journey to the house of her cousin Elizabeth who, in solidarity with her, is also carrying an impossible child, a child she conceived against all probabilities in her old age.

This is one of the most woman-centered passages in the whole New Testament, Luke’s story of Mary’s journey to see Elizabeth: a marvelous image of women’s solidarity in times of trouble and joy, no men (out of utero anyway) in sight. That’s nothing against men, mind you. But it’s significant that we are being invited into God’s upending work via women, given the gender balance of most of history and our continuing issues with institutional glass ceilings, pay differentials and single-mother poverty and homelessness – and that’s just WOMEN’S struggle; don’t get me started on the struggle that faces people who do not choose a gender or who transition from one gender to another! Truly, God has gone to the margins to find the gracious future God intends.

And when the women and their gestating babies acknowledge each other, it provokes in Mary a rip-roaringly revolutionary testimonial to the power of God she feels surging within her. Hearing Mary’s manifesto the Magnificat, anyone with any power – political, economic, socio-cultural - should suffer more than a moment’s qualm. Mary’s song allows those in power no quarter. As we sang with Mary earlier in our Canticle, when God’s arm is engaged in strength, the mighty are cast down. The rich are sent away empty. The proud are scattered in their conceit (or, in the marvelous Rite One image, “in the imagination of their hearts”). Everything is turned upside down.

That baby that Mary said “Yes” to is inspiring her, belly-first, in the power of God, to head right into the teeth of the Powers That Be in the world, the Powers that hold the vulnerable in thrall, that suppress the futures and the capacities of the poor, that rend the social fabric in an ever-wider chasm between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” the Powers that consume the resources of developing countries and return only political corruption and the frantic upsurge of terrorism, that put the bodies of people of color at risk of death, as Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in Between the World and Me, and make life perpetually fearful and uncertain for them. Because we have heard the whole story of Jesus’ life again and again, we already know what the pregnant Mary doesn’t yet know at this point in the story: that she is going to pay for her courage in the most painful way possible for a mother; she will lose her son in the prime of his life, executed by the police forces who cannot see him for what he is, God’s own Self bringing love into the world.

Speaking of women whose precious sons are perpetually at risk, who sally forth into their lives, belly-forward, in the fullness of their dignity, to put the world right in whatever way they possibly can as long as it is a way of love, let me turn to some women I met by way of my daughter Tina’s “Gravy” podcast last week, the Delta Jewels. [https://www.southernfoodways.org/gravy/delta-jewels-gravy-ep-27/] The Delta Jewels are an amazing assembly of “Church mothers,” women ranging from 66 to 103 who are leaders in their rural Mississippi communities, educators and pastoral assistants in their churches, running things behind the scenes. They are women that African-American journalist Alysia Steele sought and found when she moved to Mississippi to teach at Ol’ Miss and found herself traveling the Mississippi Gulf Coast and missing her own “church mother” grandmother from Spartanburg South Carolina and wondering what enabled those women like her grandmother – granddaughters of slaves themselves and caught in the vice grip of Jim Crow apartheid for much of their lives – to endure “both hardship and change.”

Take Miss Joyce Myers, of Ruleville Mississippi. “She talks [to Alysia Steele] about how she had a strange relationship with her [own] mother. Her mother always seemed very hard to her. Her father was the lovable one; her mother was the disciplinarian.” “When my mom would cook,” Miss Myers relates, “she would always cook in [big ol’] rolls pans. She cooked a lot of food. And all the kids could come and eat. And she would tell us, she says, ‘Ok, I got this for meals right now. I want you to take it down there.’ And we would walk – I don’t care we were muddy or whatever – we had to take that food down there. You know, she was a Good Samaritan. And then when we lived up in the compress quarters [where the cotton gin was located], the train ran through. And hobos used to be on the train. [“Hobos” was the term that covered all the men – black & white – who were unemployed in the Great Depression and who would ride the freight trains around the country desperately looking for any work at all.] They would come to the back door, and [my mother] would have their food in one of those brown bags. And she would hand it out to them. She was a real, real woman because a lot of people wouldn’t have fed those hobos. They would have been afraid of them but she was just handing them a bag out the back door. They would get off the train. They knew where they could get some food. And after them the other guys… they told the other guys that were hobos because every time the train came through, she had those bags sitting on the table and she would hand them out to them. So she was a jewel of a woman to me.”

You can get Alysia Steele’s collection of the women’s stories & recipes, Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom. And you can listen to the podcast for other stories by the women among the “Delta Jewels,” women like Leola Overton, telling how, in a terrible period of unemployment, “God had to take her all the way down” to the point that she hadn’t a speck of food in her house for her six children before she would bend and go out the back door and over to the next street to her godmother Mrs. Mary Hallow’s house and acknowledge that her children were hungry. Whereupon her godmother emptied her fridge and her pocketbook to feed Leola’s children. Or Mrs. Myrlie Evers, “widow of slain Civil Rights Leader Medgar Evers,” whose mother worked for a wealthy white family in Vicksburg and brought strawberry tarts and fancy hand-me-downs back from work for Myrlie in her girlhood, her mom and grandmother and aunt taking those finely-made dresses apart and reassembling them to fit her, until Myrlie put her foot down and refused to wear those fancy dresses anymore, and would only wear the “croaker sack” skirts – skirts made from flour sacks - that African-American folks wore. “I prefer that over the clothes that were given to me from the white [people’s] house,” she proclaimed.

These women are in the same sisterhood as young African-American writer Kiese Laymon’s grandmother Catherine, the buttonhole slicer at a chicken plant in central Mississippi, whose job it was to slice the belly and pull out the guts of thousands of chickens a day. “Grandmama,” Laymon writes in the literary journal the Oxford American, “got up every morning around 4:30 AM. She took her bath, then prepared grits, smoked sausage, and pear preserves for us. After breakfast, Grandmama made me take a teaspoon of cod liver oil ‘for my vitamins,’ then she coated the area between her breasts in powder before putting on the clothes she had ironed the night before… and I remember marveling at her preparations and wondering why she got so fresh, so clean, just to leave the house and get dirty. ‘There’s layers to this,’ Grandmama often said, when describing her job to folks. She went into that plant every day, knowing it was a laboratory of racial and gendered terror. Still, she wanted to be the best at what she did – and not just the best buttonhole slicer in the plant, but the best, most stylized, most efficient worker in Mississippi. She understood that the audience for her work was not just her coworkers or her white male shift managers, but all the Southern black women workers who preceded her and, most importantly, all the Southern black women workers coming next…

At the end of his piece, Laymon writes, “This weekend, I’m going to drive down to Grandmama’s house in central Mississippi…” and “I’m going to tell Grandmama that because of her, I know what it’s like to be loved responsibly. I’m going to tell her that her love helped me listen, remember, and imagine when I never wanted to listen, remember, or imagine again… I’m going to tell her that when no one in the world believed I was a beautiful Southern black boy, she believed. I’m going to tell Grandmama that her belief is the only reason I’m still alive…” [http://www.oxfordamerican.org/magazine/item/702-da-art-of-storytellin]

From this day all generations will call me blessed, sings Mary: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.  

He has come to the help of his servant Israel, for he has remembered his promise of mercy,

The promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever. 

In the 13th century, mystic and theologian Meister Eckart told the nuns he served, “We are all called to be mothers of God – for God is always waiting to be born.” [patheos.com “No More Lying about Mary” by Nancy Rockwell] He wasn’t just speaking to the women in the room, any more than I am. We are ALL called to say YES to the baby. Every one of us, no matter our gender, has Mary’s womb in us, a womb in which to nurture the world-transforming, terrifying love of God and to bring it forth, naked and vulnerable and powerful, into the world.

So let us pray:

Lord, you blessed us with Mary, not Mary meek and mild, but Mary strong and wild, willing to go far out over the boundaries to serve your empowering purpose, Mary willing to put her whole life at risk on many levels, Mary who did not acquiesce to “her place” but burst out of it, pregnant with possibility no one else was imagining. Let us not consent to our diminishment or that of anyone else. In Mary’s name, let us all, whatever our gender, be the mothers you have made us to be. Let us “love responsibly!” Let us act as IF every one of your children, no matter their circumstances, was our own child, with a dignity and a destiny that commands our love and our awe. AMEN.

Tuesday
Dec152015

Eric Litman's Sermon for 3 Advent 12-13-15 

Audio recording of Eric Litman's Sermon for 3 Advent

 

St. James’s Episcopal Church
Third Sunday of Advent
December 13th, 2015
Luke 3:7:18

In the name of our one God, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.  Please be seated.

In the liturgical calendar the third Sunday of Advent is referred to as “Gaudete,” meaning “to rejoice” or “to be joyful.”  Today is the “Sunday of Joy.”   Now, that might not excite some of you.  For many of us prescribed religious emotions are not very useful, it is difficult to consider trying to turn on a particular emotion, let alone an emotion as upbeat and chirpy as joy.  Personally, I find joy to be a bit elusive.  But regardless of how we are feeling this morning we find ourselves gathered here to consider Advent joy, our individual joy and our communal joy.  Now, even if we are able to find the emotional energy to join together and be joyful this morning, considering everything going on in the world, would it be appropriate?  Corporate mourning feels more appropriate.  In the past several weeks, our nation and many parts of the world have been confronted with tragic incidence of violence, bigotry, fear and uncertainty.  How can we possibly bring joy into a conversation that involves another mass shooting and the violent deaths of innocent people?  How can we bring joy into a conversation that involves reckless and vicious rhetoric that argues for the exclusion of an entire people group based on their religion and culture of origin?  How can we bring joy into a conversation that involves the continued revelation of violent police misconduct directed against people of color?  And how can we bring joy into a conversation that involves our own fears and anxiety about the safety of our communities and the stability of our fragile earth?  This Advent season is calling us into another period of introspection and discernment, a season of waiting, hope and joy.  How does our faith, how does the birth of Jesus speak to the fresh wounds inflicted on our world.                

Our Gospel reading this morning might seem like an odd starting place to contemplate joy, considering the divisive tone that John the Baptist takes with the gathered crowd, “you brood of vipers,” but the struggle to find joy in the midst of the tragedies and difficulties of life is significant to this story.    John had been traveling throughout Judea, teaching from the book of Isaiah and baptizing people in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.  He stopped along the River Jordan and a crowd gathered.  Now, the Jordan was no insignificant place in the history of Israel; after escaping Egypt and crossing the Red Sea, and spending decades in the wilderness, the river Jordan was the last obstacle that separated the Israelites from the Promised Land, one last test, one more border to cross, before life would be prosperous and fruitful and safe, where life would be joyful.  Nearly 1,500 years later, God’s people find themselves back on the banks of the Jordan, back at this threshold, back at this liminal space separating exile and promise.  The crowd was living under Roman occupation, there had been civil unrest, and war.  The people must have been fearful, and anxious.  Feelings of joy were likely scarce.  This was not the life of peace and prosperity that God’s people had hoped for. 

John directly addresses the crowd and exhorts them to be introspective and to be mindful of how they are living their lives.   He challenges “Do not begin to say to yourselves 'We have Abraham as our ancestor,” God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”  John is expressing to the crowd, that our faith is not merely a genealogical enterprise, that there is no inherited merit in the loving, moral actions of our ancestors or other saints who came before us, they are certainly our great exemplars but not our eternal surrogates.  We too are called to live our lives as manifestations of God’s love in the present.  The crowd then asks John, “What then should we do?”  “In reply John says to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages." 

This is powerful, offer your coat to one who has no coat, feed the hungry, act morally in your business dealings and in your politics.  This sounds like a foretelling of the Sermon on the Mount…. And John tells it well.  John is suggesting that God calls us to uphold justice and mercy even when our own life circumstances are unsettled, undesired or possibly unsafe.   I find this to be a very challenging exhortation, an exhortation that questions the very ways in which we satisfy our own moral responsibilities in the world.  Do we take solace in the historical actions of others; do we find comfort in merely having the right ideological positions or in being on the “right side of history?”  Moral and ethical ideas are extremely important but they alone are not a substitute for our own tangible, manifestations of God’s love in the world.  God did not come into the world just as word, just as prophecy, God also came into this world as flesh as a human being like you and I, the joining of word and flesh, the spiritual and material, the divine and the human.  This dialectical convergence intimately links together faith and faithful action, belief and a way of life.  The mandate of our faith is not only to speak prophetic words and to promote prophetic ideas but we are called to be physical manifestations of God’s love in the world, to be loving flesh, engaged in the material suffering of others.  Friends, this is what we are preparing for in Advent, the coming of the Messiah, the incarnation of Jesus, the manifestation of God’s love in the world.  God’s love did not come in the form of a great political power that changed the world through might, or through a great philosophical tradition that swept the world changing hardened minds but through local acts of mercy, service and love.  John is reminding us that our lives are the sacrament of the incarnation, that we are the manifestation of God’s love on earth.   Could this be a cause for joy?       

At first thought joy can seem to be primarily an emotion felt internally, something that is possessed or not.  Joy can certainly be a felt emotion, but what if joy was also something that we could give to others.  I’m not talking about some type of emotive, joyous contagion passed on through excessive amounts of  holiday cheer but the joy that can be given through humanizing a neighbor in need.  A neighbor who may be cold and might need a warm coat for the winter, or a neighbor that may need help with groceries around the holidays.  Or maybe the act of publically speaking up and standing in solidarity with neighbors who are being treated unfairly and brutally by the police, or offering affirmations of value and dignity to our Muslim neighbors who are living in fear due to bigotry and fear mongering and to those who are being unjustly denied refugee status here in our country because of their religion and culture.  We may or may not feel joyful but we can live sacramental lives in this world that offer joy to others through faithfully sharing our resources, through offering others respect and dignity and by fighting for justice and mercy in the world.    Joy may seem elusive but when we give of ourselves, when we offer ourselves to others, and when we are able to participate in the joy of others, I pray that we can also experience that joy, that we will live in the realization that we too are valuable and beloved.  I pray this Advent season as we wait for birth of Jesus, that our lives would be full of joy and that we would give joy freely to others.      

Amen. 

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