Jun 292012

We’re getting things ready for the El Salvador trip. Kevin Peck, son of Cecile and Doug Peck, has worked with his employer (the Timberlane School District) to donate eight laptop computers. They’re in good shape and we’re grateful.

Microsoft donated copies of the Spanish-language version of Office 2010 (shown here installing on one of the laptops).  St. Paul’s Church outreach committee has chipped in to upgrade the RAM and buy cases for the laptops.

The folks at Jóvenes Unidos en el Liderazgo (JUL) at the Church of San Francisco de Asis in El Pital are looking forward to setting up their cybercafe with this equipment.

One of the eight laptops

One of the eight laptops




 Getting things ready for the El Salvador trip  Posted by on Fri, 29-Jun-12 News Comments Off on Getting things ready for the El Salvador trip
Jun 212012

I want to begin by saying Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers, grandfathers, step and foster fathers and to all the moms and uncles who act as fathers too here this morning

My father – who has been gone now for 27 years next week was an incredibly faithful man in an old school sort of way, for whom being Roman Catholic was as central to his identity as was his Irish heritage, who revered the parish priest and the sisters who taught us in elementary school. He was someone who deeply valued the sacraments, especially communion and confession. There was no question but that we’d attend weekly mass, fast on Saturday night and of course go to CCD (catechism) classes once we were in public high school. He loved the rosary and novenas, and he wasn’t afraid to tell you he thought The Bells of St Mary’s and The Nun’s Story were 2 of the best movies ever made. Long after we’d grown and moved away – he’d call and ask us if we’d made it to mass, if we’d said our prayers. His deep and abiding faith had always been an enormous comfort to him and it made him the kind of father who worried and fretted his whole life about whether his 5 kids would continue to practice the faith he’d brought us up in.

As it turned out these many years later only 2 of the 5 remain active in the catholic church and among the rest there is a Buddhist, one who found a catholic church with a woman priest and me the Episcopalian. Still, I hope that he’d be happy that none of us gave up on god or seeking a spiritual life of our own.  And yet for all the religion we were steeped in –for all the ritual that shaped our family life together, being Roman Catholic -it wasn’t really scriptural and so there weren’t many deep conversations about the gospels we heard every week and so I never talked with my father about the parables Jesus used with his followers or asked his help in figuring out what was really going on

Which brings me to this morning’s readings

I was in the Market Basket the other day looking for pickles and who should happen to come around the corner but Roger Cramer.

So we are standing there catching up as other shoppers weave their carts past us and he asks how I’m doing and I confess that I am busy procrastinating writing this sermon because it is about the mustard seed which I don’t find particularly inspiring –

I mean – the proverbial tiny seed becoming the giant tree seems sort of trite and simplistic I am bold enough to say – not much to go on – not enough theological meat to it so to speak –

And in response he proceeds to tell me this wonderful story about the first time he visited the Episcopal church of St. George in Jerusalem and how the entranceway which is down a very tiny street is bordered by these incredibly massive, and sturdy and tall shrubs of mustard and he’s going on an on in that exuberant Roger way about how imposing and brightly yellow they were and you can tell from the way he describes this image how absolutely vivid it remains for him some 30 years later. So I’m thinking – gee, I wish I’d been to visit St. George’s and seen those mustard shrubs myself and then I’d have something more personal to say about this gospel reading we have from Mark this morning. So I briefly consider asking him if he’s busy Sunday morning – but I resist and he says– well you don’t have to preach about the mustard seed you know, and I tell him that now I think I’ll have to because it will feel like cheating if I don’t wrestle with it and see what I am supposed to be getting from it that I just haven’t seen yet and he says good luck and off he goes to the wilds of the vegetable isle leaving me to my jar of pickles.

So there- I’d done it – I’d committed myself to this reading and there was simply no getting out of it. Having just told our former rector of my intent, I’d have to find something interesting to say about this story we’ve all heard a million times

In our reading Jesus is talking to his disciples about the kingdom of Godand he’s using a very common technique of rabbinical teaching – which frames a particular problem by asking the question – “what shall we compare it to”

In our passage from Mark, Jesus uses two parables to describe what the kingdom of god will be like and each involves a sower (a farmer) and seed scattered on the ground and the resulting growth

These are spare passages –yet there are rich images here –

In the first parable Jesus points to a central mystery of God’s creation saying “the earth produces of itself” and telling us that the sower “knows not how” this transformation takes place

But transform it does – from tiny seed to sprout – without our knowledge or even attention – for day and night come and go and even while we sleep, the work of God’s creation of God’s transformation is unfolding in the dark in the quiet of the earth

In the second passage, we get the old stand by of the lowly mustard seed that grows to become the greatest of all shrubs putting forth large branches for the shelter and shade of the birds

Now, the fact that the mustard seed is not the smallest of all seeds – is not the point of course –remember this is a parable – a metaphor about what the kingdom will be like

And one of the things I like about it is that Jesus uses a common shrub – basically an ordinary hedge if you will and likens that to the kingdom of god –

while his Old Testament ancestors preferred the analogy of the Lebanon cedar – a majestic and noble tree that Ezekiel uses as an image for the Pharaoh of Egypt and later envisions even as the Messiah

For this teaching with his disciples, Jesus picks instead a common bush that grew all over Palestine–almost as ubiquitous as a weed – and plants that image in our mind’s eye – (pun intended)

These are spare passages – without much explanation that seem intentionally vague –  they are word pictures that are simple but powerful and they are meant to lead his disciples only so far-

meant it seems to leave them with questions, to leave them room for their own grappling

Indeed, it almost seems that Jesus is saying to them – you figure it out

But that’s how parables are – they are about thinking in pictures –poet Timothy Johnson says that the best parables have fingers you can almost hear turning the doorknobs of your imagination

But what if you were one of the group that Jesus is teaching – what would your reaction be?  Ok –wait – The kingdom of god is like this run of the mill bush over here that’s loaded with sparrows??

With his provocative examples – Jesus engages his hearers imaginations in startling ways  –his use of the most common, everyday objects to explain the mysteries of God is meant to be jarring, even unsettling

But I think that the contrast between a tiny seed growing into a sturdy shrub with large branches is only the beginning of the stark disparities that Jesus is drawing for us here

Because this is a passage that challenges his disciples and therefore us, to think about what our expectations of the kingdom of god really are

That seems to be the question these parable pose – what exactly were we waiting for – what kind of kingdom had we imagined?

For centuries the common interpretation of this parable held that the great shrub/tree was the Way- Christianity itself,  that had grown from a small bit of faith among the first few disciples and spread over two millennia to include legions of followers

Some embellished that vision with particularly earthly characteristics—in which the shrub represented a  sort of exclusive club for god’s chosen people – in the form of an institutional church with doctrines and hierarchy that would dictate the rules for living a holy life and how and to whom salvation would be rewarded – or not. In that version only some would receive the shelter of its branches 

And yet, with the imagery Jesus has chosen here, it seems to me that he is telling his followers not only that a little bit of faith goes a long way but that the kingdom of god is wholly and utterly different from the kingdom under which they are living at that time, or any indeed any earthly reign they have ever experienced

That’s what I think these parables are really about – not just that the kingdom of god will grow from a tiny band of wavering believers into an amazing movement with followers the world over for the next 200 years –

But, rather the kingdom of god that he is describing will not be about place or region or property to be defended with armed military, it will not be a dominion shaped in the way that human kings have ruled though history

No, It will be a kingdom that is about the power of god expressed through deeds; one realized through the action of god in the world

As early as the mid sixteenth century, the notion of human agency being the expression of the kingdom of god, the idea that god’s people will participate in the realization of the kingdom, that they will live out god’s action in the world was articulated by Teresa of Avila (1515–1582) who insisted in her poem ‘Christ Has No Body’ that we are the hands and feet of Christ –

 “Christ has no body but yours” she wrote

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

Compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.     …

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours   …

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

 What if she is right? What if we are god’s agents in the transformation of the world? How does that change our perception or expectation of god’s kingdom?

If we think our faith is too slim or too battered, her idea may seem to daunting – too much for us

But maybe that’s the point of the mustard seed

I think that what Jesus is suggesting to his disciples is that the kingdom of god will not be established by force or regulated with outside authority – rather, it will take root and flourish like a common shrub in the deep internal places of our hearts where the seeds of faith are planted and grow without our knowledge or even attention – for day and night come and go and even while we sleep, the work of God’s creation of God’s transformation is unfolding in the dark in the quiet of our souls and will be realized in the fruits of love and compassion and hope

 The kingdom of god is dependent on us, in the acts and deeds of our hands, our feet our eyes, in the hope and love he planted in us and expects us to share

 Paul tells us in his epistle this morning that the love of Christ urges us onthe love of Christ urges us on

Sounds like something my father used to tell us regularly

 Sermon June 17 – Terry Rooney  Posted by on Thu, 21-Jun-12 Sermons Comments Off on Sermon June 17 – Terry Rooney
Jun 122012

As of June 17th we’re switching to our summer schedule.  Worship with Holy Eucharist will be at 9am each Sunday. Child care will be available at each service, starting a few minutes before 9am.

All are welcome! It’s our delight to see both old friends and visitors to our area.

 Summer Schedule! Worship at 9am!  Posted by on Tue, 12-Jun-12 News Comments Off on Summer Schedule! Worship at 9am!
Jun 102012

Change is a big challenge to us human beings, isn’t it? When change happens, don’t we get all mixed up in hope, fear, excitement, dread? You know we do. And here we are right in the middle of a season of change.

Our school years are finishing up; Amelia is graduating from high school, and some of our young folks and even some of our teachers will be in new schools next year. (Raise your hands if you’ll be in a new school next year). It’s exciting, isn’t it?  Is it, maybe, even the kind of thing that gives you butterflies in your stomach? Fear and hope all mixed up, right?

Our young folks are moving into new grades. Things change whether or not we want them to. A few weeks ago Carolyn and I attended the graduation of Jon, our daughter Anna’s fiancé. Anna herself graduated from the same school last year. She said, “It’s lonely here; I hardly know anybody any more; my friends are gone.” As her dad, I resisted (barely) the temptation to say, “Well, whaddya know! People graduate and get on with their lives. So can you!” It’s easy to take that kind of tough attitude when a big change is happening to somebody else. It may even be helpful when parents take it towards their grown kids. But we all know how it feels to be the one whose life is changing. It hurts sometimes. Paul wrote to the people at Corinth, “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” He could have added, “whether we like it or not!” Change is an inevitable mixture of loss and gain.

Consider the Israelites in our first reading. [Saul became king about 1020BC.] Change was coming for them, whether they liked it or not. Their long-time prophet and judge Samuel was getting ready to retire. He had served the Lord and the people of Israel for a long time: so long that almost nobody remembered the time before he was there.

All the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the LORD, and the LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only– you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

So Samuel reported all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots.  1 Samuel 8:4-11 (NRSV)

They knew change was coming. They weren’t denying it. They weren’t telling each other wishful myths about how Samuel was going to serve them forever. They were clear-eyed about the change; they all knew their prophet’s feckless sons weren’t going to work out. But still, imagine their anxiety when they faced this change. How were they going to get along without Samuel?

How could they possibly continue to live their distinctive lives as the people of the Lord without the prophet who spoke the Lord’s words to them? What was coming next for their lives? It must have seemed impossibly dangerous to live under the rule of the Lord without the only prophet they’d ever known. The only thing they could imagine to replace Samuel was to imitate their neighbor nations and get themselves a king.

We’re facing some change here at St. Paul’s today, too. What are we here at St. Paul’s going to do without Charles and Joyce Ketcham?  Without Pat and John Wall? The choir, the gardens, the organ, the buildings, and the life of congregation will never be the same after they move away. It’s a little scary to think about what life will be like without them here.

What if something goes wrong? Is there something, anything, WE can do to MAKE SURE, without a doubt, that everything will be OK after this big change? It’s easy to imagine the worst. Will a big organ pipe get stuck? Will we spend the next generation listening to an ominous low note without John to fix it? It’s enough to make us want to search for and anoint some kind of monarch so we know we’ll be safe. We’re tempted to yearn for a quick fix.

One thing about the Israelites’ story is clear from scripture: The Lord and Samuel both knew that the peoples’ imagination failed them when they faced this big change. They yearned for stability and safety. They yearned to DO something– get themselves a king – that would now and forever keep them safe for sure.    The Lord told Samuel, in effect, this isn’t about you, it’s about them. They will make their own decisions, but you must warn them. And, against divine advice, they chose the thing they thought would ensure their safety: a king. (Samuel’s warning obviously applies to us when our fear of change drives us to put too much trust in politicians’ promises, but that’s a subject for another day.)

3000 years later, our congregation today and the wider church are also coming up to changes we can’t avoid. Here in Newburyport we have people going and more people coming. We’re holding our own here in Massachusetts. But we know the overall church is in turmoil, and it’s not just the Episcopal Church or the so-called mainline churches.  The Southern Baptist Convention has lost 2.7 million members in the last decade – in other words the Southern Baptists have lost the entire Episcopal Church.

No matter what you think of the Southern Baptists, this decline can make you anxious. It makes me anxious. A generation where church was the norm is retiring. The whole church is shrinking. The good news of Jesus Christ isn’t being proclaimed as widely as it needs to be. How can we live with the turmoil and anxiety that causes? Can we find a quick fix the situation?

In the face of this turmoil we need to remember that we are Jesus’s people. We’re people of the cross. We live each day together in the shadow of that cross. We walk each with each other and we find Jesus’s glory in unlikely places like tombs—empty tombs. We won’t stop being anxious about the big changes we face, but we can live with them, together, because Jesus is with us right through every change.

Listen carefully, if you will, to our Mark Chapter 3 Gospel reading for today.  By the third chapter of Mark things are hectic. Everybody who lived anywhere near the sea of Galilee has heard that Jesus heals people.  Crowds are chasing him from place to place hoping to get a piece of whatever he has.  The temple bigshots are taking every opportunity to harass and trash-talk him. They’re pressing in so hard he can’t even take a break to eat lunch.  And his mother and brothers come around to rescue him from himself; to take him home, to offer him the quick fix of refuge in his family.

The crowd came together again, so that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”…

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”  Mark 3 (NRSV)

But he decisively rejects that quick fix, choosing instead to stay with his friends through the turmoil.. “You are my sisters and brothers and mother!” he says. And so we too can avoid the quick fixes.

John, Pat, Charles and Joyce will always be our brothers and sisters; time and distance cannot change that. Everybody else around us are also our family of faith, not to mention the people we haven’t met yet. Look, not every change is going to make us happy: we know that. That organ pipe might indeed get stuck.

But with Jesus as our brother walking with us, we can meet all the changes coming to us with joy. As people of the cross we know we know that sometimes the obstacles we face will defeat us. We know we’ll be anxious plenty of times. But we know can keep going on through this time of change with confidence that our creating, redeeming, and sustaining God is always with us.  And we must keep on going for the sake of the Good News and the life of the world.


 Sermon for June 10, 2012: the last Sunday of the program year  Posted by on Sun, 10-Jun-12 Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for June 10, 2012: the last Sunday of the program year