Jan 262015

Audio Sermon

The Gospel of Mark is famous for its brevity – it is the shortest of the Four Gospels under the cover of the Bible. Many scholars believe Mart to be the oldest of the Gospel and see it as the skeleton on which the authors of Matthew and Luke fleshed out their longer, more detailed accounts. But Mark just gives the essentials, and so it this Gospel that is often recommended as a place to start reading for anyone who is new to the Gospel witness.

In classic Markan style, our Gospel reading for this morning is a brief sketch of an amazing event – Jesus’s calling of the first 4 disciples. Mark makes it all seem so simple. Jesus somehow recognizes that the time is right, takes a walk along the beach, sees 4 fishermen, asks them to drop what they are doing and follow him which they do, without question or discussion, and then it is on to Capernaum in the next verse. Almost before this author has time to get the hearer or reader’s attention, this story of how the first followers came to Christ is over. There is no getting inside the mind of the author or the specific circumstances that led to the scant details. Interestingly the author of Matthew’s Gospel does not embellish the story at all, while the writer of Luke makes a radical departure. The author of Luke tells us that the call of the four fishermen involved Jesus telling them where to drop their nets in the water, which results in a miraculously large catch from waters that had yielded no fish for the entire night before.

But here, in the Markan version we have no miraculous occurrences, just a call and response. As with Mark’s lack of detail of Jesus life before his baptism – which I spoke of 2 weeks ago- the brevity of this story gives us the gift of wonder. It makes us ask questions. For instance it makes me ask, how did Jesus know it was the right time to actively being his ministry? The passage starts off with the news that John the baptist had been put in jail. Did that have something to do with Jesus’ sense of timing? For most of us, the arrest of our cousin and co-worker might have been received as a signal to lay low, or work covertly, but no so for Jesus, and for many seekers after truth and justice who have followed since – people like Mahatma Gandhi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr, Sojourner Truth, Oscar Romero, and Mother Teresa – none of whom played it safe in the face of risk or threat. As one commentator has put it, “like a Zen slap on the cheek, John’s arrest signals for Jesus the decisive moment – the very opening of freedom.”(Bill Wylie-Kellerman in Living the Word, p.51) So Jesus was able to read the signs and move ahead. Seeing that leads me to wonder about my own sense of holy timing. How is it that I decipher God’s movement in my life? In the third chapter of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes the author wrote, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” But how do I know the time and the season? How do you? How did Jesus?

My hunch is that Jesus knew because he, like we, struggled to know. I believe he was God incarnate, and he was also fully human, so must have struggled as we do with the question of what was the acceptable and right time for all manner of things in his life. And I suspect it was that struggle that led Jesus to persevere in the life of prayer, waiting as we so often do for guidance from above – from the power higher than we humans are. And when the spiritual scales tipped from waiting to action, he made his move.

But why did that move take him along the shore of the Sea of Galilee?
Again this Gospel is ruthlessly silent. So we wonder. Was there something special about fishermen that he knew would suit them for the life of a disciple? In a conversation with some colleagues about this question I received two very different answers. One told me “There is no more hopeful and patient a group of people than fishermen. Think about it, they bank solely on the hope of a good catch to make a living. Fishing for a living is only for those who are hopeful all the way down to their boots. But a second colleague countered, “I lived and worked on a small fishing island for three summers during college, and I have to say that the majority of the fishermen I met there were desperate alcoholics. It’s not that they weren’t good, hardworking people, but they were also people in a lot of pain and need.” Clearly these two colleagues had very different but perhaps not mutually exclusive views of fisher folk. From what follows in the Gospels we can see that Simon, Andrew, James and John weren’t perfect people. Rather, like all of us they were mixtures of glory and grime – mixtures of great hope and of great need. So clearly Jesus was not out looking to call only the most accomplished and talented. So maybe it did not really matter where he started his search. Maybe the market place would have been as good a place as the sea shore to begin. Maybe the important thing was to begin somewhere, and to issue a call that would bring a response, that would lead to subsequent calls and responses, that would eco down through the ages.

But imagine yourself in the place of those fishermen. Would you be able to do as they did? What would it take for you to drop your livelihood to follow someone you had never met before? What did they see in Jesus? He must have been exuding some sort of energy that they found very attractive, because according to Mark, they asked no questions, they just followed. Can we do that? Do we do that? What gets you here on a Sunday morning? What keeps you grounded in your faith when the evidence of life seems to point elsewhere?

If you are like me, the answer to those questions has to do with this place and the people in it. It has to do with the way God’s presence seems to settle in among us when we are gathered in here together – how God’s presence is communicated through big and little actions – from bread and wine to hugs and handshakes. God knew that it was not enough to shout directions from above. God knew it took incarnation – love divine in human body- to reach us. And mystically, now we have become that body.

It is a grand paradox that at the same time that we are the ones being called, we are also the ones through whom the call is being extended. That is how we continue to live on as a community of faith. And we should never feel complacent about this. For the call to follow where God leads in Christ is re-issued to us as individuals and as a community time and again. And each time we are called to follow, we need to respond from a different place, from a different season in our personal lives and in the life of this parish which has been entrusted to us for a season.

Just this week the Vestry spent a good part of our meeting talking about our ministry and the budget that supports it as we prepared for our Annual Parish meeting which will be taking place next Sunday, following a single service at 9 am. We talked about the call that we heard from God through the strategic plan for the parish that came into being 3 years ago. We celebrated the many accomplishments that have been realized through the work we have done together since. We noted also that there a number of initiatives in the plan that remain to be engaged with and worked on. One in particular that I am very aware of is the work of building up the connections of fellowship among us. As I looked out on the 10:15 congregation last week during worship I was struck by how many of you I do not know very well. In fact let’s do a little experiment – raise your had if you are new to St. Paul’s since January 2014. What about since January 2013? We have had an influx of new comers in the last year and with me being away for 3 months of it, I feel like I am running to catch up with a sense of who is who among our newer members. I also have had some conversations with newer members recently that have made me realize that in the business of trying to keep on track with all the various facets of our parish ministry, we can forget that a warm welcome to the newcomer is very important, but not enough. An ongoing getting to know one another is what enables us to join into community together and be woven into the mystical body of Christ by our cosmic weaver.

So in closing, I want to call us to consider the nets that the first 4 disciples had to drop before they could be free to follow Jesus. They can symbolize to us the preoccupations that hold our attention. What are the nets that we need to drop in order to follow the inspiration in our strategic plan to be more open to the building of blessed connections with one another? For the old timers a simple start might dropping the doing of church “business” at coffee hour so that we can be open to striking up conversations with newcomers. For newcomers it might be daring to go to coffee hour after the service, and introducing yourself to some others who are there. I have some other ideas about how we can intentionally forge connections among us, and will be sharing more about that next week in my sermon and at annual meeting. Please pray with me this week for further inspiration and please come back next Sunday at 9:00 am to hear and share more. Following Christ I offer these words. Amen+

 Sermon for Sunday January 25 2015 The Third Sunday after the Epiphany by the Rev. Martha L. Hubbard  Posted by on Mon, 26-Jan-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday January 25 2015 The Third Sunday after the Epiphany by the Rev. Martha L. Hubbard
Jan 182015

Grace to you, and peace, from God our creator and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Coming up on March 24th  is the anniversary of the murder of Oscar Romero in 1980, 35 years ago. He was the bishop of El Salvador. A soldier walked into a worship service he was leading, lifted up a rifle, and shot him down as he stood at the communion table accepting the offering.

The military silenced him because he spoke up for the poor of El Salvador. He was murdered for drawing peoples’ attention to an uncomfortable truth about his culture – the poor and the peasants were hated, feared, exploited, and murdered by the people in charge. And, his life and death draw my attention, and yours, to uncomfortable truths about our culture: the military force that silenced him was financed and supported by the US government out of fear that communism would take hold in Central America.

You may have heard the words of this prayer of confession. “We repent of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf.”

What’s up with this repentance for the evil done on our behalf? The United States government supported the military and paramilitary force that murdered Saint Oscar. Personally, I find that fact to be uncomfortable. I wish I could say “they were afraid of communism so they killed him.” But his murder was evil done on my behalf, so I must say “We were afraid of communism so we killed him.”  Here’s the question: can anything good come from me and you, accepting our share of guilt in the silencing of Bishop Romero. Will it make a difference to the life of the world we repent of our part in 35-year-old murder?

It’s fair to ask “so what?” if we repent of those events a generation ago. How will that change their lives? I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that things can’t improve without awareness, acceptance and action. We know life is changing for them and us. Even if we, as a culture, resist this change, it’s still happening.

Our reading from the book of Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1-20) teaches us about a time when peoples’ lives were changing whether they liked it or not.

The prophetic mantle is passing from generation to generation. It’s a time without much holy inspiration, when “visions were not widespread.” The service of Eli’s family has come to a dead end, and Samuel’s service has hardly begun: he’s a boy. At the same time everything is changing in the land of Israel. The rule of the judges is ending, and the rule of kings – Saul, David, Solomon – is beginning. The old ways are sustainable no more, and the new ways are still a mystery.

We hear the wonderful story of the boy Samuel hearing a voice speaking in the night. It’s the LORD speaking to him but he doesn’t realize that. So he pesters his old and ailing master Eli, who groggily tells him, “go back to bed” a couple of times. Finally, it dawns on Eli what’s going on – that the Lord is trying to get young Samuel’s attention.

And he does the right thing. He encourages Samuel to open his ears and his heart to the word of the Lord. Then he encourages the boy to be a prophet – to open his mouth and speak the Lord’s truth – even though those words carried the Lord’s condemnation of his own family’s service. Those harsh words make our ears tingle. “The iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.” Ouch. Eli’s family has made a terrible mess of things and so they’re done. It’s time for new leadership.

The account of Samuel succeeding Eli is helpful to us because we, too, live at a time when everything is changing. Like the boy Samuel, we live at a time when some of the old ways of doing things have come to a dead end.

March 24th is the anniversary of Saint Oscar’s murder. Something else is happening that day. It’s the day that our city here begins to forbid one-use plastic shopping bags. Now I know, that may sound like a bunch of woo woo “save the whales” foolishness. It sounds absurdly trivial compared to the murder of a good bishop. But it isn’t. Seriously.

The systematic oppression of people in Central America that led to Saint Oscar’s death is about the evil done on our behalf. So is the wasteful use of plastic. The biological situation is clear: massive quantities of plastic are getting into the ocean and being swallowed by sea creatures. This junk is showing up in fisheries in the bellies of wounded fish. An area of the North Pacific Ocean the size of Texas is gathering plastic trash. It shatters in sunlight, so it blocks light from the ocean but can’t be scooped up with nets. Cleaning up the mess appears to be an impossibly vast task, even given an unlimited budget. It’s an iniquity that “shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.” And you and I are members of the culture – today’s house of Eli if you will – that is making this mess. Ouch. It’s an uncomfortable truth.

Feeling guilty about our part in it won’t help. But, our house of Eli, like the one a long time ago, seems to be coming to a dead end. We have come to a time of change, whether we like it or not.

What do we do now? We can say to ourselves “it’s silly to ban plastic bags” and go get our groceries in Amesbury or Rowley. We can say, “there’s nothing I can do about this by myself.” That’s actually true. There isn’t much you or I can do individually. Dealing with these vast problems is very much like trying to purchase God’s favor by doing good works. God’s favor is so much vaster than our ability to purchase it that the very idea is absurd. So what can we do?

In our Gospel reading (John 1:43-51) we hear a moment of hopeless cynicism from the Nathanael the disciple. He asks “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” That’s an understandable attitude given the Roman occupation of Galilee. He’s aware of his culture’s situation.

But then Philip says, “come and see.”  In spite of the situation, Nathanael accepts the invitation. He comes, and he sees. In that moment, Jesus also accepts him.

And finally Nathanael acts on Jesus’s acceptance of him. He embraces the grace and the hope Jesus offers.

And so it can be for us. Our house of Eli is finished. Like those wild people of Corinth we’ve been treating ourselves, each other, and the world, like there’s no tomorrow.

We can’t buy our way out of this mess. Not one of us can redeem the world by our own actions. Trying to change the world motivated by regret and guilt is a path to cynical hopelessness.

What can we do? We can listen to the prophets – the young Samuels – of our time. We can encourage them and support them like Eli did.  They’ll make us aware that the world is changing.

We can accept the situation. We can behave the way St. Paul suggests in our Epistle (1 Corinthians 6:12-20) by living like tomorrow will surely come. We can do what Nathanael does and accept the hope made flesh in Jesus.

And then, in response to that hope, we act. We can face the future with hearts of freedom, rather than guilt. We can gather at Jesus’s table to gain strength, not just solace. We can go forth into the uncertain future renewed, not just forgiven.  Awareness must precede acceptance. Acceptance gives us the hope to act. And act we must, for the life we hope for has already begun and will endure forever.

 A New Thing: Sermon for Jan 18th, 2015.  Posted by on Sun, 18-Jan-15 Sermons Comments Off on A New Thing: Sermon for Jan 18th, 2015.
Jan 132015

Audio Sermon

 Sermon for Sunday January 11 2015 The First Sunday after the Epiphany  Posted by on Tue, 13-Jan-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday January 11 2015 The First Sunday after the Epiphany
Jan 082015

“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see the lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by”

Those words from the beloved Christmas hymn written by Episcopal Bishop, Phillips Brooks, remind me of something a friend once told me about her mother. She said that when she was a teenager her mother worked long hard hours as a single mom to provide for her 4 children. It left her drained and often depressed, and my friend told me that most nights here mother would come home from work and go straight to bed. Once asleep it was almost impossible to wake her. My friend concluded that sleep seemed to be the only refuge her mom had from the difficulties and drudgery of her life. At the breakfast table each morning, my friend and her siblings would recount the dreams they had the night before, but their mom would always comment that she had dreamt no dreams. My friend’s comment to me was that “When a person has little hope of a better future, they dream no dreams.”

By the time I got to know this friend, when we were in our late 20’s, her mother was a bubbly, happy woman, whose life circumstances had clearly changed from the time when her children were young. But my friend never forgot those darker days and the hopelessness that had pervaded.

Studies done by anthropologists and brain chemists seem to suggest that prayer likely became part of human experience during the long dark nights of winter. There is evidence that human beings sleep differently during winter nights – that we tend to sleep longer on winter nights and that our sleep is punctuated by short periods of wakefulness, when the mind may hone in on whatever the significant issues are of our life. It is in those midnight moments that prayers come from the gut – when the plaintive cry to the power higher than us is not quelled by our many mental filters that might suppress them during the wakefulness of daytime. Perhaps that is the origin of the monastic tradition of monks and nuns hauling themselves out of bed in the middle of the night to pray the midnight offices together in the chapel – perhaps prayer in the night watches is of a different quality than prayer in broad daylight.

We in the church have just come through the season of Advent, which is our collective tradition’s version of the night watches. Though the culture around us has revved up and put on extra lighting, we have been called to a slower inward pace that matches what is happening around us in the natural world at this time of year. We have been called to dim the spiritual lights and to linger around the small flames of the Advent wreath where we might take stock of our lives and listen to our heart’s deepest concerns. We have been called to be a people walking in darkness, so that when the great light that the prophet Isaiah speaks of is born once again at Christmas, our spiritual eyes might catch the blaze with clarity and great joy. As anyone who has gone through a power outage can attest, when the human made lights go out, and eyes adjust, one can behold the stars.

Then Christmas comes and we gather in here, to this our holy of holies, and we hear this Christmas gospel again, and we realize that if our eyes were not used to the dark, we might miss the heart of it. For this Gospel, though it has so often been overlaid with golden hues, has nothing glittery or golden about it. In fact the hues are dark not light. There is the darkness of a pregnant couple’s failing search for shelter that results in a desperate birth in a cattle stable. There is the darkness of shepherds sleeping out in the cold vulnerability of open fields. Granted there is the light of the heavenly host breaking in on the shepherds, but it is sudden, unsettling and departs as quickly as it came, leaving the shepherds to grope in the darkness toward this mysterious event in Bethlehem.

So could it be that the inner experience of Christmas is strengthened when we embrace the dark parts of life and grope with them toward Bethlehem where we find the heart of the story – God with us, not in manicured finery but in the vulnerable nakedness of a newborn?

Luke proclaims that God chose to come in humble vulnerability, to be born into the reality of common people. God chose to become fully present in a particular human life – to experience what we experience. God chose to live a human life so God could touch human beings with human finger tips; so God could live life one frame at a time just as we do; So God could laugh and to love and to suffer and to bleed just as we do. Imagine it – God fully aware of our struggles, feeling them through the skin just as we do – now nothing is outside of God’s intimate understanding! Perhaps nothing we experience ever really was outside of God’s intimate understanding, but now we know for certain that God gets us, because God was one of us! And God lived and died as one of us in ways that didn’t leave any of us out. That is incredible good news. That same old and hallowed hymn goes on:

“Yet in thy dark street shineth the everlasting Light: the hopes and fears of all the years are met in the tonight.”

In Luke’s nativity story, the desperation of human life meets the hope that God stands in darkness with us. That is the glowing, humming power of this story- it bestows the light of that hope to people who have learned to look for, listen to and walk in their darkness! What darkness of your life do you long to receive divine companionship in? Bring that darkness here and ask the Christ Child to lend the light of his healing grace! It is the best gift of all! And then may that light of his grace pulse through us even more strongly in the year to come. For the incarnation that we celebrate tonight counts on us for its continuation. We – desperately hopeful people – are the body of Christ in the world. Imperfect and yet beloved by God, the light lives on through us. May we continue to live into the blessedness of that reality.

In Christ’s name. Merry Christmas. Amen+

 Sermon for Christmas Eve 9 pm  Posted by on Thu, 8-Jan-15 News Comments Off on Sermon for Christmas Eve 9 pm
Jan 082015

These are the general expectations of all Officers and Members of the Vestry:

• That you express spiritual leadership by attending church regularly and nurturing your own personal spiritual path.

• That you express stewardship leadership by supporting the parish with a financial pledge each year.

• That you attend the monthly Vestry meetings (currently scheduled for the 3rd Wednesday of each month)

• That you be Safe Church Trained ( trainings are offered online through the diocese)

• That you support special events at the church (i.e. educational offerings, Fall Fair, dinners, concerts, etc.) attending when you can and talking them up inside and outside parish.

• That you take on the role of Vestry Shepherd of one of the areas of our ministry. The Shepherd works with other leaders to make sure that their program area (part of the flock) is working well and when changes or needs arise to communicate that to the Vestry so we can make sure the proper support is offered. This helps the Vestry meet the goal of more detail work being accomplished outside the monthly Vestry meetings so that at meetings we act on what we need to and communicate between areas of ministry.

We honor that the gift of our time is precious. Our combined experience is that Vestry service gives something very special back to those who undertake it – perhaps you could say the benefits are “heavenly”.

If you want to know more, contact the Rector, The Rev. Martha L. Hubbard at martha@stpauls-nbpt.org

 Vestry Ministry at St. Paul’s Newburyport  Posted by on Thu, 8-Jan-15 News Comments Off on Vestry Ministry at St. Paul’s Newburyport