Jul 292012
 


Some of us spent the week before last visiting El Salvador, as I’m sure you know. An Anglican organization called Fundación Cristosal organized our trip. They run a lot of visits; the YLA – youth leadership academy – is with them this week. Their big thing – their organizing principle – is asking us visitors to hear about and see the lives of the people we visit, and then to discern how God wishes their lives to be related to our lives. Only after we’ve heard and seen, and then discerned, should we act.  So, it’s 1. hear and see, 2.  discern, and then 3. act.

Word CloudWe’ve also been doing a lot of bible studies in our congregation lately based on those three steps: Step one: hearing and seeing: what word or phrase in the reading touched my heart? Step two: discerning: what phrase relates to our life together today.  Step three: acting: How is God calling me to change through the reading?

Our trip’s agenda was focused primarily on hearing and seeing peoples’ life stories, and getting to know them a little bit.  Olivia Amadon, our trip coordinator, lined up all kinds of people to talk to us: a human rights lawyer, a youth worker, a survivor of a massacre during the civil war just to name three.

And, I confess, for me all this seeing and hearing sometimes got tiresome.  More than once I caught myself thinking, “can’t we just skip all this and cut to the chase?”  Thank goodness I had enough self-control not to say what I was thinking. We needed to hear and see what those people had to tell us in all the texture and detail they had to offer us. Maybe all the details didn’t make sense to us listeners at the time.  That didn’t make them any less a part of their stories.

It’s possible that I and the other travelers will become tiresome to you. We saw and heard a lot and we all have a yearning to retell what we heard.  So, you have permission to tell us “enough” when you’ve heard enough.

That brings us to today’s Gospel reading.

Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”

Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.  (John 6:1-21 NRSV)

There’s a lot of detail and texture, isn’t there?  A geography lesson. A large anxious crowd. Signs and wonders. Going up the mountain with the disciples. The time of passover. Jesus testing Philip. The economics of feeding a crowd. A confrontation between Jesus’s focus on compassion and Philip’s practical focus.  And that’s just in seven verses. It’s in the first third of the reading before we get to the feeding of the crowd or walking on water. It’s an awful lot to take in.

It’s enough to make us impatient. Don’t we want to say, “can’t we skip all this and cut to the chase?”  Can’t St. John just tell the story like St. Mark did? Can’t St. John let the events of Jesus’s ministry speak for themselves? Does he have to fill in every little bit of backstory just in case we miss some little detail?

After all, you and I know the story, or at least we think we do. All the extra stuff is just confusing. Who cares what the lake is called? What does the Passover have to do with anything? Can’t we just hear the wonderful account of the miracle of feeding five thousand people?  It’s human to be a little bit impatient with all these details, and human is what we are.

In our first reading …

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”

So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?” Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.

In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” (2 Samuel 11:1-15, NRSV)

In our first reading, David showed some, umm, humanity, didn’t he? While his general Joab and his army were out fighting in the desert, David had a nice afternoon nap, then took a stroll on his palace roof, and, how do I put this? He did what powerful men sometimes do. He used his power to get what he wanted from a young woman. He exercised his arrogance, lust, and pride. He didn’t even bother to keep his shenanigans quiet – he sent his servants to fetch her. He took advantage of her and made her pregnant, while her husband was away fighting his battle.

How much of a conversation do you think he had with her? Did he ask her about herself? Do you suppose he cared about any kind of relationship with her? It doesn’t seem so. She just went home after their encounter.

He most likely didn’t care about the details of her life. He didn’t have to care (or so he thought). He got what he wanted without bothering with companionship or with developing a relationship. A lot of getting, not much giving. And of course, when he tried to cover up his abuse of power, things just got worse and worse: he basically had the woman’s husband killed.

The realm of God is made from the details of peoples’ lives. When we love one another the way God loves us, it’s all about caring about the details and texture of their lives. But the realm of God doesn’t come easily to us. It’s hard work to care about the details of somebody’s story, especially when we want something from them. David mistreated Bathsheba and had Uriah killed. Do you think he would have done that if he really knew them?

In the case of our Gospel reading, we want something from Jesus: we’re hungry for the wonderful story about how he fed the crowd. At least in my case, I’m like David, and I think we all are at least a little bit.

It’s not easy to care about the deep texture of the story – Passover approaching, disciples feeling pressure, and so forth.  We know what we want! Just hand over the good stuff already, the bread and the fish, and the beautiful and not-very-challenging miracle story. Gimme!

This is the David attitude.  Doesn’t this attitude have a big effect on our lives?

We weren’t the only group of norteamericano church missionaries in El Salvador, not even close. There was a large group all wearing bright green T shirts saying, if I remember right, “Calvary Church El Salvador Trip 2012.”  One of us had a conversation with one of them. It seems that their trip plan was to ride on their bus, visit four village primary schools each day and put on some kind of evangelical skit for the kids.  That seems like a very ambitious agenda. I wonder if they got to know anybody? I wonder if they learned anything about the schools or villages they visited? Visiting four a day it seems unlikely. It seems very possible that they have a David attitude. They’re doing things to meet their own needs.

The truth is this: The David attitude – the human attitude, maybe we should call it – is a part of all kinds of mission and outreach work. Why did we go to El Salvador? Why do we feed people in our Among Friends ministry? Whose needs are we meeting?  Of course, we’re meeting our own needs. It’s not wrong to meet our own needs. But it’s not enough.

The realm of God comes near when we hear and see peoples’ life stories, and when we begin to get to know them and develop real friendships.

I hope you’ll listen to strangers and see them in these days to come (not necessarily us El Salvador travelers: you don’t have to listen to all our stories!)  I hope you’ll pay attention to the feeling that says “this is getting tiresome” because that’s a sign you’re getting beyond your David attitude and starting to actually listen.  Because we need to know each other better, for the sake of God’s realm and the life of the world.

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Jul 232012
 

 Proper 11, Year B                                                                            

Sermon for July 22, 2012, the Rev. Martha Hubbard


On weekends when I was growing up I could usually find my dad working on projects in and around our house and yard – repairing shutters, paneling our family room, paining the porch, gardening, mowing, raking – these are just a few of the things I remember him doing.  And sometimes I tagged along and helped where I could, hungry for the unfolding excitement of each task.

I remember being awed by how Dad seemed to instinctively know what job needed to be done and when.  Now it wasn’t that all of these jobs when totally smoothly. Sometimes the unexpected happened and what had first looked like a simple half hour job became an all day event – complete with frazzled nerves and grumbling on Dad’s part.  Nonetheless, each project was completed and then it was on to the next.

Often times a trip to the hardware store was required.  So Dad would yell upstairs to Mom that we’d only be gone a minute and off we would go in the car to H. G. Page Hardware, where you could get just about anything under the sun.  As we walked through the well stocked aisles, I would sniff the pleasant smell of cut lumber that permeated the whole store and wonder at how Dad knew just what to select from each shelf.  How did he do that?  Looking back now I realize that he had a plan in mind.  But back then I was just amazed- it seemed like magic the way he assembled all the needed materials to get the job done.

I think God is like that.  God has an uncanny way of bringing all the right stuff together to keep his realm growing in this world.  I think that is what the writer of Ephesians had caught sight of and was expressing in these words we heard read this morning:

          “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also member of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.  In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a whole temple in the Lord in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)

We are no longer nuts and bolts, boards and nails, brick and mortar neatly stacked on shelves. We are all joined together in Christ and built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles who have gone before us.  God, in Christ has called us each with our own set of gifts and limitations to join together to become part of a larger structure. God – like my Dad in the hardware store – has a plan in mind and has carefully selected each of us to fulfill part of that plan.

But sometimes we may wonder why God has chosen us. And if we are honest, we may look around us and wonder why God had chosen some of these other people also.  Couldn’t God find better materials than us to keep his house in order?  But then we have to remember that we don’t have God’s plan in front of us.  And, my guess is that God’s plan is quite different than that of most human builders.  Most builders see the finest materials they can afford to us in their work.  So quality is their criterion in selection of materials.  I wonder if God doesn’t select the building blocks of God’s realm in a different way – I wonder if God’s main criterion has to do with love.

God has loved us from the beginning.  And if we look even the least bit interested in being involved in God’s great building project, God in God’s desire to draw all things to God’s self, will take us down off our shelf and lovingly find a use for us.  We may be impractical, but God doesn’t mind. Those things that seem most impractical to the human mind may become miraculously practical under God’s touch.  And we who have witnessed these miracles are like I was, as a child, all those years ago in the aisles of H.G. Page – awed by God’s ability to know just what and who to select.

And so we are the household of God.  Each and every one of us has  been drawn to this place at this time to be used by God for God’s best purposes. And we can trust that those purposes have to do with love.  If we have been so lovingly drawn in – us with our flaws and imperfections – then it is likely that God intends us to be part of the structure that draws in other imperfect souls too.

Yet unlike a physical house, which is stationary in its final form, we are a living house.  And God is not finished with us yet.  And so it is necessary for us to always listen carefully for the voice of the master carpenter who is always renovating, stretching and expanding us.  We must listen carefully so that we can be in line with his intentions for us. We must listen so that as time goes on we can move with his changing plan and design.  And yet we can be certain that his plan, though it seems to shift and move, is heading toward one thing.  According to the author of the Letter to the Ephesians, that one thing is reconciliation – reconciliation of all people to each other and to God through Christ Jesus, our Cornerstone.  Amen+

 

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 Sermon for July 22  Posted by on Mon, 23-Jul-12 Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for July 22
Jul 172012
 

This week 6 of our members are in San Salvador, El Salvador for our second Global Partnership trip there.  Here is some of what they are up to:

  • Worship services at the church of St. Francisco in the San Salvador community of El Pital.
  • Work in the community of El Pital to establish a cyber-café with the 8 laptops that were donated Stateside.
  • Computer training with the young women of JUL (Youth United in Leadership)
  • Visits to sites of National significance: Archbishop Oscar Romero’s home, tomb and the chapel he where he was martyred; The National Cathedral; The Monument of Memory and Truth dedicated to the civilians victims of the Salvadoran civil war; The Museum of Word and Image; Jesuit University and museum dedicated to the 5 Jesuits who were martyred there in the civil war.
  • Meetings with people who specialize in civil rights, youth violence prevention, militarization and the current situation in El Salvador; the team that oversees the community of El Pital with its clinic, school and church; the Elders of Nonhualco which is an indigenous community.
  • They will also enjoy a pupusa dinner, a concert of popular music, and a boat ride on Lake Suchitlan.

They arrive back to Boston on Saturday evening, and all goes well will be back with us in worship this coming Sunday, July 22 to tell us about their trip. Please keep them in your prayers this week.

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 Mission Trip to El Salvador  Posted by on Tue, 17-Jul-12 News Comments Off on Mission Trip to El Salvador
Jul 162012
 

MARK 6: 14-29

The Beheading of John the Baptist

Martyrdom of John the Baptist

 Opening:

+ May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be ever pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.  (please be seated)

Introduction


  • Weathervane:

Have you read your July copy of the Weathervane?

Struck by a couple of things:

  • Among Friends- 156 meals each week
  • Group of eight travelling to El Salvador with laptops to train people in basic computer skills. (wish they’d go to my parent’s house to help them with some basic computer skills)
  • Jesus Healing ministry; Bible study; Yankee Homecoming activities. Bed races. A priest doing movie reviews.
  • So many things- I’m glad to be a member of this community.
  • The one that stuck out for me was the highlights of the Vestry Report-  2nd paragraph: Martha described the history of the committee that St. Paul’s developed to discern with Brian Raiche his sense of calling to the ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church. First thought- Oh My God- I’ve been publically outed. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Brian. And as you might have read in the Weathervane, I’m in the process of discerning  whether or not to have my ordination from another denomination recognized by the Episcopal Church. A parish discernment committee has been meeting with me for several months. The vestry has given their consent to their report, and now I’m in the process of applying to become a postulant. Part of the application process required forwarding my seminary transcripts.  First question on the phone- What year were you ordained? 1995  – That was 17 years ago.  Ouch! So, my degree is a little dusty and I haven’t been in a pulpit for almost eight years. But being part of this welcoming community has reawakened within me a calling to priestly ministry.  I welcome this opportunity to share a few thoughts about today’s Gospel.

The Beheading of John the Baptist

Or more officially- The Martyrdom of John the Baptist.

Affinity with John the Baptist. I was ordained on the Feast of his Birth- June 24th. And as Martha reminded me before service, it’s 90 degrees and if I preach longer than 12 minutes, she’ll ask for my head on a platter.

 I’d like to break open the story of the Martyrdom of John in two steps:

1) Look at the characters in this story with some behinds the scenes commentary and history.

2) Show how “John’s head on a platter’ can inspire us today to live a more committed Christian life.

The Story :

The story of John the Baptist is found in both the New Testament and the secular history of that time. In fact, the New Testament story of John the Baptist is the only New Testament story that can be examined through secular history in order to gain further information and insights.

At the time of this story, there was a Jewish historian by the name of Josephus. He was a historian and advisor to three Roman emperors and his books were widely read for centuries. He was sympathetic to John the Baptist and wrote extensively about his life. His writings give us some additional information about this story.

Lets  look at the characters of this  story through Scripture and also the historical writings of Josephus:

 The Characters :

John the Baptist

John the Baptist is a fascinating character.

  • Scripture introduces him before he is even born.
  • His father, Zechariah and his mother Elizabeth had prayed for years for a child. Now suddenly, after almost all hope was gone,  their biological clock about to strike twelve, the angel Gabriel announces:

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.”

John might have great in the sight of the Lord- but he was still a bit unusual.

  • Lived in the wilderness, dressed in homespun – camels’ hair with a wide leather belt around his waist. A diet of locusts and wild honey. Hair and beard uncut, somewhat unkempt.
  • His message was a call to repentance and righteous living before God. His was the voice that cried out “Prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

It would be nice to say that the world responded unanimously to John’s call, but we know better.

  • John the Baptist speaks out once too often. His preaching was bold enough to breach the palace walls, falling on the ears of a government that did not want to hear, challenging a sinful king who refused to be confronted.
  • So Herod had him arrested.

Herod:

A word here about this king.

  • The New Testament speaks of several Herods. This Herod was NOT Herod the Great, the one who was king when Jesus was born, the one responsible for the massacre of the innocents in Bethlehem following the visit of the Magi.
  • THIS Herod was Herod Antipas (an-ti-pas),

One of Herod the Great’s sons, one of the lucky ones as it turns out, because Herod the father was totally paranoid, insanely suspicious and, near the end of his life became well-known for murdering, not only the infants in Bethlehem, but his own offspring as well.

(Even Caesar in Rome is reported to have said it was safer to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son.)

  • So, we have Herod Antipas (King Herod of our story). (1)
  • Another who survived was Herod Philip, Antipas’ half-brother. (2)
  • There was also another half-brother- Aristobulus. (Ar-is-tob-u-lus) (Not in the Bible) (3)
  • Aristobulus had a daughter named Herodias. She married Herod Philip. They, in turn, had a daughter whose name was also Herodias (Bible) but we also know her as Salome (from the historian Josephus).  Make sense?

Now things get even more complicated in this ancient version of 50 Shades of Grey.

  • The historian Josephus tells us that on a visit to Rome, Herod Antipas (the Herod in our story) met his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias. And the two fell in love.  Remember, Herodias is Aristobulus’ daughter which meant that Philip had married his own niece.
  • Herodias was a deceitful and ambitious woman and saw in Antipas a ticket to power and influence. The two of them deserted Philip, marry each other, and then head back to Galilee. This was OK as far as Roman law was concerned, but not Jewish law and Galilee was a Jewish land.

Is it any wonder that John the Baptist  thundered against this relationship: “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

Herodias was in-censed,

  • Angry enough to want this locust eating prophet dead.
  • But, as much as Herod wanted to please his new wife, he stayed clear of this mess.
  • We heard in the Gospel, “For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.”  Sounds like a struggle with his conscience.

Suddenly, Herodias had her chance.

  • Herod throws a banquet on his Birthday- His step-daughter dances. Again, the ancient historian Josephus tells us she was nicknamed Salome.
  • And Salome dances- Dance of the 7 veils.  That is neither biblical nor historical- We get that from Richard Strauss’ Opera which is an adaptation of the Oscar Wilde play.

Probably half in a bag, Herod says to her, “Ask me for whatever you wish and I will give it to you.”

Salome runs out of the room to find her mother.

  • Her mother Herodias wasn’t present because this would have been more of a stag party than a birthday party. With the exception of the dancers, women were not present. (No wonder things got so out of hand).

“What should I ask for?”  Here was Herodias’ chance:  “The head of John the Baptizer.”

So Salome goes back to Herod. “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

Ever make a promise that you regret? As the text says, “The king was deeply grieved.” But a promise is a promise, and in front of all his friends what was he to do?

Herod sends a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. The soldier went and beheaded John in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to Salome. Salome then gives it to her mother.

Isn’t this a wild story? What’s even more wild is that this is a historically verifyable story.

Lets try to make some sense of all of this.

How does John’s Martyrdom inspire us today to live a more committed Christian life?

  • First, Martyrs get killed, not for their convictions, but for expressing their convictions.
  • Martyrs don’t keep their faith private. Martyrs speak out, and therefore they get into trouble.
  • Growing up my mother use to tell me, your mouth is going to get you in trouble.

It has. But that’s not always a bad thing-  Sometimes we need to speak up- express our convictions.

  • There are all kinds of people who have beliefs in Christ and beliefs in Christian values and they never get hurt at all. Keep your mouth shut and nobody will bother you.
  • One of the reasons I joined the Episcopal Church- not afraid to express its convictions. Not afraid of controversy.  General Convention this week:

Church voted to approve a nondiscrimination policy that will allow transgendered people to be ordained to the priesthood- pretty radical.

  1. A second characteristic of a martyr is not only what  they say but when and where they say it.

If you talk about Christ and social justice here at St Paul’s, nobody gets too upset about it. Speak about it in public, at work or school and that’s another story. Not just what you say, but when and where you say it.

A martyr has the guts to go against culture. That person has the guts to go against public opinion. They have the guts to go against the king or governing authority.

John the Baptist expressed his convictions to both Herod and Herodias and got killed for it. It would have been safe for the Baptist to express his convictions privately to his disciples and friends.

So this story of the beheading of John the Baptist inspires us to a more faithful life in Christ. How?

1)     Express your convictions

2)     Don’t hide behind the safety of silence

3)     Speak God’s Word when and where it is not comfortable to speak the truth

4)     Speak out once too often

We may end up with our heads on a platter from time to time, but we too can be voices  that cry out “Prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Sermon for July 15, 2012 – Brian Raiche  Posted by on Mon, 16-Jul-12 Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for July 15, 2012 – Brian Raiche
Jul 132012
 

Here’s how to record a service.

  1. Make sure the PA system is plugged into the Line In jack on the little  black Zoom recording device.
  2. Turn on the device, by sliding the power switch toward 1/0 and holding it for a second.
  3. Check that the device is on, by looking for some numbers on the front.
  4. Push the red button to start recording.
  5. Check that the device is recording. The numbers should be counting up: the duration of the recording in hours, minutes and seconds.

When you’re done recording.

  1. Push the red button again.  The numbers should stop counting up, and switch to a display like in step 3 above.
  2. Turn off the device exactly the same way you turned it on, by sliding the power switch toward 1/0 and holding it for a second.
  3. Make  sure the device is off by checking that there aren’t any numbers on the display.

Watch this video:

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 How to record a service  Posted by on Fri, 13-Jul-12 Contributing Comments Off on How to record a service
Jul 082012
 


In just few weeks, I will begin my 6th year as your Rector.  How time has gone by!  As I look back I am amazed by the ground we have covered together.  I remember reading about the this parish for the first time while sitting in my dining room is Germany – as I read your parish profile something burned inside me, and I felt in my heart of hearts that this was a place where I could really serve.  What a welcome my family and I got when we arrived and from my perspective, what a wonderful partnership of ministry has unfolded among us since then.

Over my 19 years of ordained ministry, I have noticed something about group dynamics in parish life.  I have noticed that often there is a honeymoon period between a priest and a parish.  I would say that ours was long and – a least for me – very sweet.  Another thing I have noticed over the years is that the honeymoon period usually comes to an end with a crisis that either has the potential to move the partnership between priest and parish forward into new depths, or to send it down a path of conflict or stagnation.  From, my perspective, the crisis for us came in December of 2009, and played itself out through January of 2010.

The crisis centered on some proposed cuts to our budget that the vestry and I were considering due to the response to the stewardship drive, which was understandably lower that year, due to the economic crisis our country was in the grip of.  Looking back now, with 20/20 hindsight I see how I could have done some things differently.  I certainly don’t want to revisit the details here in this sermon, but suffice it to say that I can see how my actions led to a string of reactions in our parish family that put us in a place of crisis. From my perspective, that crisis has led us to a deeper partnership as it was the impetus for launching the Holy Conversations process that led to our strategic plan, which I think sets us on a very faithful and focused course for the next 3-5 years.

There is one aspect of that crisis that this day and this Gospel urge me to revisit.  In January of 2010, in the midst of our mutual crisis, 9 of us went to El Salvador for 10 days to establish our global partnership with the Episcopal Church there.  It was difficult to be away during that time, but I felt absolutely called to go on that trip which had been in the planning for 9 months.  It was an amazing time for all 9 of us who went.  We felt that God was leading us each day to take in life in El Salvador so that we could come back and share what we had experienced – so that others here at home could help us discern what God might be inviting our parish to do and be through that global partnership.

The difficult thing was that when we returned, the exuberance we felt did not match the emotional context of the crisis that was still being worked out here at St. Paul’s.  From my perspective, this was no one’s fault; it just was what it was.  I want to say that again: From my perspective, this was no one’s fault; it just was what it was. Sometimes in life timing is just off.

I think that might be what it was like for Jesus to visit his hometown in this morning’s passage from Mark.   The timing was just off.  The people of his hometown were where they were, and he and his disciples were where they were – and the two did not mesh. The Gospel writer tells us that as a result Jesus could do no deed of power among them, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.

It is that last part that really catches my attention: he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.  Even in contexts of crisis, or change, or conflict, where no meshing is taking place, where disconnection is the emotional field – even there, Jesus lays hands on and healing happens.

And I think that is what happened among us at St. Paul’s.  In January 2010 when we Salvadoran travelers returned into the context of our parish crisis, I experienced it as a season in which some of us where out of grove with others of us.  But even in that context, Jesus laid hands on us and began a healing process.  And I believe that was possible because our most gracious God never wastes anything, and redeems everything.  Our God is in the business of transforming all things for good, and uses us to do so.  Paul hints at this in our second lesson this morning when he says,  “whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” And I happen to believe also that this parish is one of the most loving and forgiving communities of faith I have ever been privileged to be part of, and so naturally moves with God’s transforming energy.

This morning we are given the opportunity to join together as one to further this process of healing that I am convinced will be fuel in the tank of the good things God is leading us to as a parish. In just a few minutes we will have the opportunity to commission the second group of our parish to go on Global Partnership Mission to our brothers and sisters in El Salvador.  We will be asked to show forth our unity by laying hands on them as a congregation and praying for their journey there, their journey back, and for a deepening of our community in receiving them with open arms when they return. In this moment of unity and prayer this morning, may God knit us together and may our hands and hearts be guided by the open, healing hands and heart of Jesus, our friend and Redeemer.

In his name and for his sake.  Amen+

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 Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Sun, 8-Jul-12 Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Jul 052012
 

The renovation of St. Anna’s Chapel is coming along  nicely.  Yesterday the stonemasons completed the granite top on the Summer Street wall.

Photo of the Summer Street wall

Summer Street Wall

The stonemasons have also removed the old uneven stone steps leading in to St. Anna’s Chapel.

Stone Step Removed

Stone Step Removed

The workers have prepared a place for the new entrance steps.

Ready for new stone steps

Ready for new stone steps

 

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 Construction Progress  Posted by on Thu, 5-Jul-12 News Comments Off on Construction Progress
Jul 012012
 

Grace to you and peace from God the Creator of mercies and all consolation, and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Mark tells us, “[Jesus was] immediately aware that power had gone forth from him.”  That’s a puzzling way to describe what happened, isn’t it? It’s an interior experience. I wonder how the people around him knew that had happened? Mark, our gospel writer, was somehow able to pass that very personal experience of Jesus on to us.

I wonder what that was like for him? Many of us know what it’s like to have power go forth from us.  Maybe you’ve worked hard on something only to have somebody make fun of your work. Maybe you’ve lost a job. Maybe you’ve been punished in an unfair way. Maybe you’ve had dealings with a cranky person who saps your energy. Maybe you’ve BEEN that difficult person. I know I’ve been that person, plenty of times.

Maybe you’ve found out somebody you love is sick. Things go wrong. Those things puncture your spirit and empty your cup.  Those things make us anxious: they drain the power out of us.  They make us want to DO SOMETHING to get our power and control back. Anyway, we think it’s our power and control. When things are going well it’s easy for us to remember that it’s God’s power. But when things aren’t going well, that’s when we think it’s our control and our own power that will save us.

I’m thinking of my great aunt Desiree of blessed memory. She died of cancer in 1976. She submitted to the usual hospital treatments (they were quite crude at that time). When those things didn’t work, she and her husband Ed began trying other things. They changed their diets; they went to Mexico for a treatment of some kind of peach-pit extract. They jumped from one thing to another in a panic hoping for a magic cure. They were scientists – biologists – and you might think they’d take a skeptical view of such loopy things, but they were desperate. I remember my parents saying they hoped they could find some peace. I suppose if Desiree had been a Galilean she would have been in that big anxious crowd following Jesus hoping for just a twinkle of his eye, a scrap of his power.

Jesus and his disciples had lots of people chasing them hoping for that. You and I may be thinking about an upcoming holiday week, but that’s not what’s going on for Jesus in these early days of his ministry. He and his friends are having a hectic time.

In our Gospel readings since Pentecost we’ve been working our way through Mark.  Three weeks ago we had Jesus’s family saying he was losing his marbles when he was attacked by scribes and Pharisees and chased by eager crowds. Everybody thought, it seems, that he was a magician, a miracle healer.

Two weeks ago he was forced into a boat to get into a position to talk to those same crowds.

Last week we heard about how he was trying to take a nap in a boat. They were crossing the Sea of Galilee to get some moments of peace away from the crowds.  No nap for Jesus: his disciples woke him up because they were afraid of a storm. They made it, but only because Jesus quieted the storm and their fears.

What happened when he landed? No moment of peace: that’s for sure.  Mark tells us Jesus immediately ran into a man possessed by a legion of demons.  Their bid for a brief respite didn’t work out.

And now, in today’s reading, Jesus and his disciples are back in Galilee…greeted again by the anxious crowd.  They still don’t understand his kingdom-of-God message; everybody wants their piece of Jesus: they want healing and they want it now, if not sooner.

Somebody once said that there are really only two prayers:  Thank you, thank you! And Help me, help me! In this crowd there’s only one of those prayers.

Here is the Gospel reading. (Mark 5:21-43 NRSV)

The leader of the local Jewish community behaved like my uncle Ed. Jairus was anxious enough about this daughter to break with social convention. He risked his reputation with the scribes and Pharisees when he asked Jesus for help. He had a lot to lose – his daughter or his social position, or maybe both.

On the other hand, like aunt Desiree, the woman in the crowd – let’s call her by the name Tikvah  — Hebrew for “hope” – didn’t have anything to lose. She had been ostracized for her ailment; she’d tried everything … except getting Jesus to help her. And he did help her. By his divine power he helped both Tikvah and Jairus.

And in so doing he overturned a lot of rituals. He seized the ancient Hebrew code that ascribed impurity to women in situations like Tikvah’s, and treated them with disgust. He seized the power of that disgust and turned it into mercy. Later, he seized the ritual of public mourning. He challenged the crowd of mourners around Jairus’s house. He told them to get lost, and then took the child by the hand

But that wasn’t all. He moved past everybody’s astonishment. He challenged both Tikvah and the household of Jairus to go on living.  “Go in peace and be healed of your disease” and “give her something to eat” are the instructions he gave. He made new creations of those people, and suggested they start living as new creations. The people in this Gospel reading were cured, sure. But the important thing is that they were healed. They were set free to live in the kingdom of God.

My aunt Desiree was not cured of her disease; she died of it almost forty years ago now. Uncle Ed never remarried. Instead he spent time with their children, and eventually their grandchildren, while he continued his work as a scientist. He rejoined her two years ago after a long and happy life. It’s important to understand that healing and curing are different things. Jesus’s power promises us healing, but not necessarily curing. Ed and Desiree were healed. They were set free from their fear and went on living in the kingdom of God

So, what was it like for Jesus when he felt that power had gone forth from him? Well, we know he’s a human being. So having that power go forth must have involved emptying his cup in some way, just like it does for you and me. But there is something else to it. He uses the power that goes forth from him to transform people, and transform the world. He uses it to overcome the tyranny of crowds. He uses it to punch through set-piece rituals and oppressive stereotypes, to heal people, families, and nations.

Our people need healing. Our families need healing. Our nation, God knows, needs healing. You are Jesus’s hands and voice for that healing.  When you find yourself in a tough situation, notice the power going forth from you. Be like Jesus. Notice the feeling of power going forth. Be generous with that power – it’s God’s power after all. Frustration and exhaustion are real, but the power of God transforms them. This Gospel reading shows how God transforms them for the life of the world.

Amen

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 The power goes forth — Sermon for July 1, 2012  Posted by on Sun, 1-Jul-12 Sermons Comments Off on The power goes forth — Sermon for July 1, 2012