Oct 292014



          In rabbinical circles of Jesus day, when one spoke of a rabbi’s yoke, one was speaking of a set of teachings that the rabbi saw as being required of each person under the law.  So when the young Pharisaical lawyer in today’s gospel asks Jesus, “What is the greatest commandment?”,  he is asking Jesus to disclose his rabbinical yoke.  Jesus tells him, “`You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” It is a clear, it is concise and it is a stunning statement.  It is not original to Jesus of course, but it is his yoke – expressive of his way of living and moving in the world.

Earlier in Matthew’s gospel, in chapter eleven, we hear Jesus say:

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ (Matthew 11:28-30)  So he is inviting those who would follow him to take his yoke of loving God and loving neighbor as their own.  He describes this yoke as easy and light.  And it was, in comparison to some of the other yokes offered by some other rabbis of that day whose yokes could be very detailed lists of regulations and restrictions - burdensome to understand and to adhere to.

But how do we hear these words of Jesus about his yoke in our present day world?  Is Jesus yoke easy and light?  In the complex world we live in we might look at this simple yoke – Love God, Love neighbor as self – and say “tell me more about how to do that!”  It seems to me that one of the reasons that faith communities based on Biblical literalism grow in our present age is that people are looking for clear codes and detailed lists of rules to follow about how to live in an increasingly complicated world.

For better or for worse – and I am of the opinion that it is for the better, we Episcopalians are not Biblical literalists, and we do not promote one detailed code or list of rules to live by.  If we were and we did, on this ingathering Sunday I would simply stand up here and say, “Everybody tithe, because that is what the Bible says to do”, and our budgetary problems would be solved.  But no!  We hold that God is guiding each one of us on a journey of discernment and deepening conversion when it comes to our lives as stewards of what God has given us, and each year this process of a pledge drive allows us the opportunity to grapple once again with the how much questions – how much can I give?  How much more can I trust to God?  How much deeper in to the life of God will this process draw me?  Now understand me, I am not saying “Don’t tithe”!  By all means tithe, or make the tithe your goal and take the next bold increase on the way!  But do so not just because I or anyone else says to do so.  Do it because it will draw you more deeply into God’s heart – because it is a real risk that you dare to take in loving God and God’s beloved community of the church more fully.

As you have heard in our stewardship moments from fellow parishioners over the last several weeks, this stewardship journey into deeper trusting love of God is one full of all sorts of letting go of old ideas, inspirations from on high, and realization that the life of this parish depends on what we can do together as fellow journeyers.  It is all about loving God, and loving neighbor as self – for us the yoke of Jesus is enough, when it comes to making these stewardship decisions, and when it comes to many other aspects of how we will live the lives God has given us.

Jesus question back to the Pharisees designed to break them out of their constricted, rule bound way of approaching God and others.

In our Gospel for today, when Jesus is finished giving his yoke to the young lawyer and to us, he asks a question of his own.  He asks ‘What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?’  Writing about this turn around question of Jesus in the Christian Century Magazine many years ago now Anthony B. Robinson wrote:

“…frankly the Pharisee’s question about the greatest commandment seems more useful and more interesting.  ‘Whose son is the Messiah?’  hardly seems a burning issue. 

          The Pharisees do not hesitate to answer.  The Messiah is ‘the son of David.’  Their response suggests that the Messiah is a known quantity, has a place in the line of succession, and fits into the scheme of things- or at least into their scheme of things.  But Jesus is not finished.  Quoting the 110th Psalm, Jesus finds David referring to the Messiah as ‘his Lord’ and asks, ‘If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?’

The question is a kind of riddle. I wonder if Jesus smiled as he asked it Riddles are great levelers.  So long as you puzzle for answers according to acquired, predictable and ‘right’ ways of thinking, you will be stumped as were the Pharisees. ‘No one was able to give Jesus and answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions… Maybe Jesus is saying that the important thing is not so much having the right answer as changing direction or orientation.  St. Gregory of Nyssa observed, ‘Concepts create Idols; only wonder comprehends anything.’  Jesus seems to be trying to usher the Pharisees toward wonder.” (Anthony B. Robinson, The Christian Century, Oct. 6, 1993)

If we let ourselves get stuck in a place of worry about how we are going to survive as a parish with the rising costs of the ways we currently undertake our ministry, we will have little time to step into the place of wonder that Robinson says Jesus is inviting us into.  Our human reason clearly tells us many of the ways we have lived in the past, as parishes, as a nation, as inhabitants of this planet, are not sustainable.  With regard to our parish budget, we will either have to give more in pledges, earn more through fund raising or the vestry will have to make some decisions on what to change in our expenditures.  Where wonder comes in is to say, our human reason is not the only thing we should be trusting here.  Here, of all places we should be leaning into God and asking to have our minds be opened to God’s plans for us.  If we have to loosen our grip on ways of doing things that have worked in days past but do not appear to be sustainable now, then we should tighten our grip on our conviction that God is already blazing the path for us to follow into the future.

Yesterday morning 6 of us from St. Paul’s spent 3 hours with 25 other people from our sisters churches in the Lower Merrimack Valley Collaborative, talking about the joys and challenges of the various facets of ministry we undertake in our 6 sister parishes – wardens spoke with fellow wardens, musicians with fellow musicians, Christian educators and youth leaders with fellow Christian educators and youth leaders, outreach leaders with fellow outreach leaders, worship leaders with fellow worship leaders.  What we all found I think is that we all face many of the same challenges – gone are the days when our sanctuaries were full and our budgets neatly balanced.  To be vital and vibrant, God seems to be indicating that we must think outside the lines – beyond our walls- to greater engagement in the world.  As we continue to reach out across old barriers and let the lines of parish boundaries fade, we begin to glimpse God connecting us in ways that may be the very means by which we will all be able to go forward into the changes of the future faithfully together.

At the close of the morning yesterday, the music group – in which our own Mark Meyer participated – led us in a simple and beautiful song, I can’t explain what a moving experience it was to be gathered with these other faithful people from these 6 parishes and to join in song and to feel us all drawing strength and power to take out with us again.  But here is the lyric to that simple and powerful song –

          If you believe and I believe and we together pray

          The Holy Spirit must come down and set God’s people free

          And set God’s people free

          And set God’s people free

          The Holy Spirit must come down and set God’s people free


May it be so- may we be set free to love God and love neighbor more fully and to wonder at the magnificent ways our God is calling the beloved community of the church into our place in the God’s future.  Amen+


 Sermon for Sunday October 26 2014 Ingathering Sunday The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Wed, 29-Oct-14 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday October 26 2014 Ingathering Sunday The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Oct 212014

Stewardship Minute

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 Sermon for Sunday October 19 2014 The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Tue, 21-Oct-14 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday October 19 2014 The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Oct 192014

It’s bigger than a yard sale, smaller than a department store and it’s been in business 20 years longer than Todd Farm’s seasonal flea market. And it all happens every November at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Fall Fair – this year, Saturday, Nov. 15, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

People from the North Shore of Boston have been flocking to this historic event since 1960 when St. Paul’s initiated the fair as a way to raise additional support for the church. Some people have made it a perennial pilgrimage ever since. The trip down memory lane is a long journey for some of St. Paul’s longest attending parishioners who remember the earliest days of the fair. “It started with Rector Leo Barrett, Jr. (1957 – 1969) in the back yard of the church during the summer, once the corn came. We had a barbeque of chicken and corn, done by Nason’s caterers of Boxford. They set up booths and sold their goods. In the late 60′s the fair moved indoors and was held in November. It started out small and grew to what it is today,” says Patsy Brown, St. Paul’s Church historian.

When the doors open at 9 a.m., the scene is reminiscent of Filene’s Basement Running of the Brides, except that wholesale dealers take on the faces of excited brides – making a dash to be first in line for jewelry and books. Others like to start the day more leisurely with breakfast served in the church hall from 7:30 – 9 a.m., then head to one of several areas of sales – clothing, linens, holiday items, trash-to-treasure and crafts. Take another break for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., then continue shopping. There are thousands of selections. It’s a virtual treasure trove of great finds at low prices!

“St. Paul’s is blessed to have the energy and efforts of dozens of volunteers every year – including community members as well as parishioners – who make our fair one of the most historic and successful church fairs in the North Shore year after year,” says Rector Martha Hubbard. “The fair helps support the many ministries of St. Paul’s, including our Among Friends meal program for anyone in need of a meal and fellowship, our numerous 12-step programs that meet weekly at St. Paul’s, as well as our global outreach programs such as our El Salvador partnership, among several other initiatives.”

 Fall Fair, Saturday Nov 15, 2014  Posted by on Sun, 19-Oct-14 Events, News Comments Off on Fall Fair, Saturday Nov 15, 2014
Oct 122014

Stewardship Minute – Eric Bucher

Stewardship Minute – Ann Staffeld

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“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.”  Amen

I wonder: who is Jesus in today’s very challenging Gospel parable? Where do you and I fit into it? And how does it point us to God’s realm of peace and hope? I hope you’ll wonder about those things with me.

What does today’s Gospel reading sound like when we listen to it without the ears of faith? That’s a tough question for me, personally, to answer. Can I possibly hear this through the ears of someone who hasn’t puzzled over Holy Scripture for years, wondering “what does it mean” and yearning to see the image of our God of redeeming love in those words?” But let’s give it a try.

Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, `Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them.

The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, `The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, `Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, `Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”  — Matthew 22:1-14 (NRSV)

If we listen without ears of faith, we hear a very troubling story, worthy of the Brothers Grimm, or the daily newspaper, or worse. We hear of an anxious and violent ruler who throws a party for his heir, his son. He fails to persuade his friends to come to the party. We hear that he tries to pump up the significance of his party and persuade folks to come by sending his slaves out to brag about how over-the-top opulent it will be.

His so-called friends want nothing to do with this party. Some of them mock the invitation and ignore it, while others mistreat and murder the slaves. The mistreatment and murder escalates into war; our violent ruler lays waste to a whole city.

Jesus said (in the Sermon on the Mount), “you have heard ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer, but turn the other cheek.” But the retaliatory violence — the escalating violence — of this ruler’s kingdom makes the Levitical “eye for eye and tooth for tooth” commandment seem pretty good. It seems like a just and merciful deal by comparison.

And it gets worse. The ruler makes his slaves indiscriminately rounds up the neighbors to fill his hall. He then sets on one of those rounded-up people, accuses him of not dressing up for the party, and makes a scapegoat of him.   The kingdom of heaven can be compared to this violent mess? How can that be? Even when confronted with the golden calf in Exodus, we heard that the LORD relented from bringing disaster on the people of God.

I suggest that today’s parable sounds a lot like reality to our sisters and brothers in El Salvador in Central America. That land is overrun by warfare between gangs. Gang-leader big shots are trying to draw other people into their orbit: “come to my party, the one where I put my son in charge. Eat my food, drink my wine, accept my hospitality.” Other gang leaders resist that sort of invitation: they don’t want to acknowledge that son and become indebted to that father. And so violence starts, and escalates. The gang leader compels neighborhood people to show up to fill his hall.

Finally, somebody who’s not wearing the right gang colors – the wedding robe – gets punished. He is tied up and thrown out of town where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth as an example to the others. What is his offense? Conspicuously resisting the gang game; wearing the wrong clothes, and staying silent when questioned.

Let’s put today’s reading into its context, a few days before Jesus’s betrayal and death. On Palm Sunday Jesus has his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the borrowed donkey. According to Matthew he rides that donkey up to Herod’s Temple, where he conspicuously resists the sacrificial temple system: he “drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.” He then cures the blind and lame in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes are not pleased: they want the people to buy pigeons for the Levitical rite of healing. Jesus resists their whole temple economy of sacrifice and shows a more generous and life-giving way.

Today’s reading takes place on the next day. Jesus is teaching. The crowds have packed into the temple courtyard yearning to be fed with spiritual food, to be healed, to be saved, to find the mercy and justice of the kingdom of heaven. Many of those people coming to the temple have brought money – plenty of money – to purchase their pigeons and other sacrificial animals: that’s how they were taught they could buy God’s favor. And Jesus teaches them that not their gifts, not their money, not their pigeons, but their faith in God’s mercy and God’s faith in them can make them whole.

Then, and now, the kingdom of heaven can indeed be compared to this scene: faithful people gather. They bring themselves and their gifts hoping to buy God’s healing and salvation. And in their midst is the one – Jesus – who’s not playing along, conspicuously refusing to wear the symbolic wedding robe of submission to the violent king: the temple’s sacrificial altar.

He welcomes the crowds and freely fulfills their yearning to be healed and saved. Nobody counts out the price of a sacrificial pigeon. His saving work is freely given. He reframes the whole system of healing: in the Hebrew language, he transforms all the sin offerings into offerings of thanksgiving.

Still, for his saving work the kingdom of this world exacts punishment: Jesus, who stands as a conspicuous witness to God’s free gift of salvation, is bound hand and foot, and delivered to a shameful death.

Who are you and I in this parable? We’re the ones who gather– some of us willingly, and some maybe out of a not-so-willing sense of duty –  in the wedding hall. We come hoping beyond hope that we’ve brought enough treasure and prayed hard enough to escape the violence of our world, and to be healed and saved. Who is this man wearing no robe? he is Jesus, who heals us and bears witness, in his body, that God’s healing power is far greater than our ability to purchase it, whether with prayers or sacrificial pigeons.

In the kingdom of this world we can’t possibly bring enough prayers or pigeons or treasure. But in the kingdom of God, what we bring to God, combined with what God gives us, is more than enough.  And so we come bringing what we have, and by the costly witness of Jesus we learn that we, and our gifts, and our prayers, are welcome at the heavenly feast, just as we are.

These things I say to you in + Jesus’s name.

 The Gangster Banquet compared to the Kingdom of Heaven — Sermon for October 12, 2014  Posted by on Sun, 12-Oct-14 News, Sermons Comments Off on The Gangster Banquet compared to the Kingdom of Heaven — Sermon for October 12, 2014
Oct 072014

Audio Sermon

Sue Blumenscheid gives a stewardship moment

Sue Blumenscheid gives a stewardship moment

 Sermon with Stewardship Minute for Sunday October 5 2014 The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Tue, 7-Oct-14 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon with Stewardship Minute for Sunday October 5 2014 The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost