May 152011

Recently, I was on my Facebook page and I stumbled across an option that allows me to view the faces and names of people the Facebook program has determined I might like to be friends with, because we have many friends in common. I was amazed to see names and faces of a dozen people I know nothing about, but with whom I share 15 to 20 friends. That experience got me thinking about how interconnected we all really are. How we are all just a few connections away from lots of people we don’t know yet. Because our larger culture puts an overwhelming focus on individuality at this moment in time, we can easily be blind to this social web that binds us all together.

So much of what we see and hear in the media and in our political life drives against our sense of interconnectedness and glorifies the individual. In our culture individual freedom to do what we like with our resources of time and wealth is so much more highly valued than doing what is for the common good. I wonder how a heightened awareness of our deep interconnections might affect our decisions around our resources – if we knew that we shared 15-20 friends with someone who would blessed or hindered by our decisions, how might our decision making be transformed?

In our lesson from the book of the Acts of the Apostles this morning we heard that our earliest ancestors in faith had a communal focus at their center that infused their life together:

Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers… All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.

It is hard to imagine living this way when so much around us drives in the other direction. Maybe that is why we are given so many opportunities to practice this sort of counter cultural, communal cooperation and compassion in Christian community.

In this, our 300th year as a parish, our vestry has taken up several “300 challenges” to reach out to those locally and in our global partnership countries of El Salvador and Haiti to give aid that will help repair lives that have been shattered in the wake of economic downturn, grinding poverty and natural disaster. And each week here at our church we give direct aid through our Among Friends meals, our food voucher program, our Rector’s Discretionary Fund, the Pajama Girl Project, our Pettingill food pantry collection to those in our community who also struggle economically. And the call for that sort of aid is still on the rise.

This month we add to those communal works the call to engage in a final 300th anniversary phase of the campaign to restore St. Anna’s Chapel. This is a way we can work to deepen our resources for the worship, spiritual formation, and hospitality to our larger community. St. Anna’s has been an integral part of the worship and educational life of this parish since it was built in 1863. However with the exception of the addition of the furnace and electricity, and some repointing of stonework, it has never been restored. In the last 10 years it became clear that it must be attended to, or it would begin to fall apart.

I will never forget my first Maundy Thursday here when a chunk of granite fell from high up on the north wall of the chapel onto a walk way that I had been on just minutes before – that got my attention I can tell you, and convinced me that this restoration is one of the important tasks our generation of the parish is being called to undertake – both for the survival of the building and for the survival of those who move around it.

Three years ago on the Feast of Pentecost we began a campaign to raise $380,000 to do extensive restoration work to the roof, masonry, stained glass windows, organ and interior of the chapel. Many members of our parish responded generously to the members of the campaign committee who canvassed for pledges and gifts three years ago, and we have received over $207,000 from members. Thanks to the hard work of Bill Hobbie and Bronson de Stadler, co-chairs of the campaign, we have also received over $160,000 in grants, other gifts, and insurance monies in these three years. That leaves us just $10,000 short of our original goal of $380,000. Given that we began this campaign just 4 months before the biggest economic downturn in recent memory, we have done well with this campaign, and a good bit of the restoration work has been accomplished!

However, as is often the case with the restoration of historic buildings, once you begin the work, you find out just how much more work needs to be done. For instance, the water damage to the stone walls was not fully apparent to us until the mason began his work. Then we could see that inside some of the walls there was nothing left but sand where mortar used to be, as the lime had leached away with years of water incursion. And the carpenter restoring the wooden window frames told us he figured the only thing holding the beautiful altar windows in place was grace, because the frames were rotted so badly. The bottom line is that, even with generosity of those who pledged and gave and with the support of our larger community through grants, we are still facing $200,000 worth of work to finish this restoration.

In the next week or so you will be receiving from me in the mail an invitation to come to one of several receptions that will be held in June to hear more specifics about the restoration work that has been done, and how you can help with this final phase. Already in the last month we have received several leadership gifts totaling $20,000, about 10% of the goal of this final phase. I am asking and praying for each household of our parish to contribute to this effort. The size of the gift or pledge you can make to this effort is not what is important – please give what you can. It is an opportunity for us to practice the communal focus that our world so needs to see. It allows us as individuals to engage in sacrificial giving for the sake of the larger good, and to God’s glory.

And I like to think of it in terms of the spiritual connections between past and future. Just think, we are the friends in Christ that link the generations before us with the generations that will come after us – they are connected through us. What we do in this restoration is provide a space for worship, learning and community for generations to come. What will St. Anna’s be used for? The possibilities are endless, and its historic and sacred beauty will bless all of it!

In Christ’s name and for his sake! Amen+

 May 15, 2011 Easter 4A  Posted by on Sun, 15-May-11 News, Sermons Comments Off on May 15, 2011 Easter 4A
May 082011

Mother’s Day Proclamation

Arise, then, women of this day!   Arise, all women who have hearts Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!  Say firmly:   “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,  Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.

We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”   From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.    It says: “Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”

Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.   As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,  let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.         Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.   Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace,  each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, But of God.  In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects,  to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.


 Mothers’ Day Proclamation, 1870, by Julia Ward Howe  Posted by on Sun, 8-May-11 History Comments Off on Mothers’ Day Proclamation, 1870, by Julia Ward Howe
May 082011

An old Jewish proverb tells us that God couldn’t be everywhere – and that’s why god made mothers. So Happy Mothers Day to all who are mothers, to all who have mothers, to all who mother others– be you aunts, fathers, sisters, teachers, grandparents, neighbors, friends. We celebrate and give thanks for your life-giving gifts to us, both literal and figurative; both large and small, —we give thanks for your perseverance and patience in showing us the way forward, and for your abiding guidance and love.

We have a tall task before us this morning, one that is both Mother’s Day and the 2nd Sunday of Easter, with our gospel from the book of Luke about Jesus’ first resurrection appearance to two folks walking on the road to Emmaus —- how to align these two- a startling and poignant resurrection story on the one hand –with one of the busiest secular holidays of our culture, on the other.

Now I can tell you that I was warned against trying this – this idea of using Mother’s Day as a lens through which to understand Luke’s account that we heard this morning –

You see the skeptics around me feared a tortured result and counseled me that a sermon is best devoted to a single theme, and not fraught with too many mental gymnastics.

And yet, the more I considered that notion- the more a parallel seemed to emerge between the two. – And as my mother –who had a lot of experience with my typical reaction to warnings– would tell you, I warmed to the challenge they had set before me.

Let’s start with what we know about Mother’s Day – set aside as an official holiday in the US by Woodrow Wilson just 97 years ago.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised that it is the single busiest day in the entire year for restaurants; it is a day on which we will spend over $2.6 billion at American florists, $1.5 billion for gifts, and another $70 million on greeting cards. Not counting what we will pay for postage, long distance telephone calls or dinner out today —those 3 things alone add up to 4.8 billion dollars – or the equivalent of the cost of cleaning up the BP oil spill.

As much as we may decry the overwhelming commercialization of this holiday – few of us I suspect will not be pulled in one way or another to contributing a few dollars to that pot of billions.

Why it’s become downright un-American not to send your mum a card at least –if not flowers as well. And given how geographically scattered lots of families are these days, for some, this may be the only day in the year that they visit or call and actually speak with their mothers.

And aside from the outright commercialization of this day, it is a day that has over time become sentimentalized to the point that we nearly have lost sight of its original meaning to the women who envisioned not just a special day to honor mothers as a unique group among all humankind, but as a way to call upon them to become a force for peace in the world.

In 1870 Julia Ward Howe – a New England abolitionist, scholar and early feminist, who lived in these parts between Portsmouth, Boston, and Rhode Island – who was so moved by the carnage of wars here in America and Europe wrote the Mothers’ Day Proclamation in which she called mothers everywhere to stand up against the slaughter of warfare. She is also a great example of considerable transformation – that all so human alteration of a soul exposed to sorrows, loss, and long nights of the soul. Some 12 years earlier this very same woman had written what became one of the most popular songs of the Civil War – The Battle Hymn of the Republic -a song in which combat and the Union cause in particular is glorified as righteous and God is depicted marching alongside soldiers with “terrible swift sword” in hand is just another unrelenting warrior – “who shall never call retreat.”

It remains to this day Howe’s most enduring legacy – one of the most patriotic songs we hear– especially when we gather to remember the fallen.

But what of her Mother’s Day Proclamation? Well that redemptive piece is now all but lost in our modern commemorations of this day – which is a pity given its call for peace over the glorification of war – over the greedy claim that God marches with any of us, anytime, anywhere into war, ever.

Quite a turn around really – when you think of it–

For in this proclamation she declares that no mother’s sons should be taken from them “to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.”

“We the women of one country” she goes on “will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”  No one’s children are more important than anyone else’s she says.  No nation’s designs on power or new possessions can justify the scandalous violence of war.

In words that are nearly the direct opposite of the lines she had written a decade earlier – that ‘terrible swift sword’ is now called a weapon—when she proclaims “The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”  And invoking the notion that a mother’s love for her children is absolutely universal, she insists that the ‘great human family can live in peace.’

Howe’s Proclamation was a solemn call to action – begging mothers everywhere to use the power of their love for their children to reject the sacrifice of anyone’s children to bloodshed. And this was 50 years before women would get the vote in America – still – she was convinced that all women had a moral responsibility to act politically in shaping their societies. Indeed, Howe’s proclamation envisioned what has seemed impossible for humankind from the beginning of time – peace between nations, a kind of peace that answers God’s call to compassion and is built on an immutable foundation of maternal love. At it’s heart I think Howe’s is a declaration that God must not be made to project our limited needs and fears- as if God could love only what we love, hate all that we hate, or endorse our prejudices against strangers and other enemies.

What a distance we’ve come from these powerful words in the past century.  Who could have foreseen the rampant commercialization that marks our current form of Mother’s Day.  Who might have predicted that we would find a way to commemorate this day without doing the hard work of making peace? Who might have suspected we’d find all sorts of ways to honor mothers without standing up against and somehow finding an end to brutal and senseless and futile wars?  Revisiting this story of the Mother’s Day Proclamation makes me think that Jesus may have been able to guess- he might have been able to see it coming – that we’d look for ways out of the hard work of living out his resurrection, of making his peace our primary offering to the world, of practicing resurrection in our own lives everyday.

I wonder sometimes about how he could bear to leave us in the shape we were in on the road to Emmaus.

In this account- once again there are 2 followers – who supposedly know something about all that Jesus has been teaching for 3 years – who have the unmitigated gall to tell the risen Jesus– all about the crucified and risen Jesus –to his face- no less –

This may bring back memories of that time (or times) when you confidently told your mother something you had “discovered,” something you thought you’d learned all on your own, independently, an epiphany you’d had – maybe it was realizing who your real friends were, or learning that staying up all night really did made you stink at taking tests—whatever your “discovery” it was something she’d likely been trying to teach you for years.

Did Jesus ever feel like our mothers must have felt at least a hundred times –as we tried to survive adolescence?  Even though he thinks they are slow of heart – that there is so much they still don’t get- he patiently repeats his teaching as they walk along, evidently still believing in their/our capacity to be transformed.

And that’s just it ———that’s what this story on the road to Emmaus is all about. It’s about Jesus’ enduring belief in us – that we will be made new by his love, and that through that love we can and will make new the world.

I love this resurrection story for all that it teaches us about what Jesus’ resurrection means for us –these 2000 years later.  If we look closely at his actions in this account we can see 3 essential things.

First – because this resurrection is for all – then his table is open to all – always, and therefore, that our bread is to be broken and shared with all whom we meet on the road, not just strangers (also known as – those against whom we have formed no prejudices yet)– but even someone whom we think doesn’t deserve it – this table is open to all -the poor, the prideful, the rich, the lost, the greedy – in a word— Us.

It’s Open—no exceptions.

2nd this resurrection is ongoing, its healing reconciliation of the world continues to unfold everyday and we are each called to take part in the radical work of renewal and restoration of God’s creation.

3rd that living out this resurrection means being with one another, listening to one another, giving our full attention to one another– it means practicing resurrection as Wendell Berry puts it, in our own lives and that means doing things within our reach– like having hope, praying for others, extending forgiveness or using the power of our vote to seek peace.  It means not thinking we’re off the hook just because we can’t raise someone from the dead- although that really just comes down to how you define ‘resurrection’ and even ‘dead.’ There are resurrections after all every time a prisoner learns to read, or an addict enters recovery aren’t there?

Living out Christ’s resurrection means living on the road to Emmaus- the road forward – beyond the losses of the passion and crucifixion and into the new life promised.  It means experiencing God as an imperative to action –to justice lived out in the very lives we have in our hands. It means not giving up because we think we can’t, because we aren’t sure we have what it takes. It means accepting that Jesus knew what he was doing when he returned to his father and left us with these gifts at the table, together.

Just as there was a night when your mother let you cry yourself back to sleep; a morning when she let you pour the milk on your cereal; a day when she watched you walk into school by yourself; a time when she forgave some unspeakable thing you had said;  just like all of those times it is on the road to Emmaus that Jesus –our teacher –and our mother takes a guiding hand off the back of our first bicycle, stands back and lets us make our wobbly way onward.

When we leave this place,

let us heed the call of the Mother’s Day Proclamation to spend some of the love our mothers showered on us to advance the cause of peace

Let us act as though we’ve been saved

Let us go forward and break some bread

Let us practice resurrection over and over, until we can truly accept that we are his and we are redeemed.



 Sermon for Mothers’ Day 2011  Posted by on Sun, 8-May-11 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Mothers’ Day 2011
May 012011

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Those words from this Gospel have reverberated in me this week as I considered the person who was a central figure to the life of this parish between 1753 and 1803. That person, of course is Edward Bass.In a brief biography of Edward Bass, put together by Bronson de Stadler we are told this about Rev. Bass’s early life:

Edward Bass was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts on November 23, 1726 and died in Newburyport on Sept 10, 1803.Rev. Bass entered Harvard when he was 13 years old and graduated in 1744.He was granted a license to preach among the Congregationalists, where he taught the gospel for several years.He was appointed assistant at St. Paul’s Church in 1752 by the new rector, Matthias Plant.In 1752 he applied for holy orders to the Church of England.He traveled to England, and was ordained first deacon and then priest by Thomas Sherlock, the Bishop of London, at the Chapel of his residence, Fulham Palace.This was in May of 1752, and, after the return journey, he became Rector of St. Paul’s Church at the age of twenty-seven years, following the death of Rev. Matthias Plant.Two years later he married a young Newburyport woman Sarah Beck, to whom he was married for the next 35 years. He received a stipend as a missionary paid from London, about £50 a year, which was supplemented by a subscription from the pew owning parishioners to meet his new domestic needs.

As he began a new chapter of life as Rector and husband, one wonders if Rev. Bass could in any way intuit the monumental changes and chances that lay before him.As a Church of England clergyman, at his ordination he had given his word to obey his bishop, and to honor in all things his monarch who was the head of the English Church.And yet here he was, an ocean away, in a bustling colonial town, immersed in the life of a parish.He knew the hopes and dreams of his flock. He moved among them as a comfort in times of woe and grief, and as the first to give praise to God at the happy moments such as when the young were baptized or wed.One can imagine then the bind he found himself in as things came apart and revolution against his monarch began to murmur all around him.

He must have received great pressure from the Church of England to hold the party line, and then eventually to close the church, flee the colonies, and return to England as the vast majority of Church of England clergy did.And yet, week after week, as he got into the pulpit and looked out over his parishioners he could not imagine leaving them.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe!”

He could not forsee what the life of the parish would look like if revolution took full hold. And yet he must have believed that no matter what, the power of our Resurrected Lord would lead this parish into newness of life.

Rev. Bass kept this church open throughout the revolution, yet he always considered himself politically neutral.When the lay leaders of the parish insisted that the Declaration of Independence be read from the pulpit following a worship service Rev. Bass allowed it, though he would not read it himself.And then when they asked him to discontinue any prayers or reference to King George III or the Royal Family, we are told:

He reluctantly yielded to popular sentiment.He used his quill pen to cross any reference to the King and Royal Family from his prayer book so that during services he would not forget.

Just this past week the world has once again observed the deep devotion of the English people to their monarch and royal family, so we can perhaps imagine what a wrenching act this must have been for Rev. Bass, who had made that oath at ordination to honor them in all things.His struggles to reach those decisions must have come only after a number of sleepless nights and deep prayer for God’s guidance.And his decisions seem to bear out that he was a man deeply devoted his Lord, to the unity of the church entrusted to his care, and to the continuation of this parish church into the future, come what may.

The Rev. Edward Bass, served as Rector of this parish for 50 years, and also at the Bishop of Massachusetts for the last 25 of those 50 years.I like to think that if he were to stand here with us today looking back, our chosen 300th Anniversary verse would deeply resonate with him. From 1 Peter 2:

Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

I believe that would resonate with him because he was a leader who did not think first about how to save his own skin, or garner favor with those in power over him. Rather, he thought first of the people of faith in his care and their ongoing mission as people of God here in Newburyport, where God was (and still is) building them into the wondrous and sacred mystery we call church.He knew as we still know that there is something incredibly valuable in the way we Anglicans reach to God in our worship.He must have sensed, as we still do, that when people are gathered together in this way, their ability to weather the storms of this life is deeply enhanced, and they are set free to discover and make known the realm of God here and now.

His character and wisdom were remembered by those who laid him to rest in our cemetery.In the inscription on his tomb stone he is described as:

A man of distinguished VIRTUE, of uncommon HUMILITY, of equal MODESTY, of sincere PIETY, and who firmly adhered to the cause of RELIGION.

At the end of this service we will move together out into the church yard where we will lay a bouquet of lilies on his grave in gratitude for his legacy.As we do, let us keep in mind that he would not want us to linger very long there.He would not like us to risk worshipping him as a hero of this parish.Rather my guess is he would likely bid us simply to take deep courage from his example and then, ourselves, dare to believe in the power of the Risen Christ to move us forward as church though we cannot yet see what lies over the horizon.And that is what many unnamed faithful have done in this place for 300 years.May we give thanks to God this day for each of them, for Edward Bass, and indeed for every saint of God, in every place and time.Alleluia! Amen+

 May 1, 2011 Easter 2A 300th Anniversary Festival Service  Posted by on Sun, 1-May-11 News, Sermons Comments Off on May 1, 2011 Easter 2A 300th Anniversary Festival Service