May 272015
 

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Here is the story of an elderly man named Frank.  He lived in a nursing home and no one knew much about him.  No family or friends visited him and his advancing Alzheimer’s disease made it difficult to learn much about the life he had led before coming to the nursing home.  Most of the time he sat quietly in one of the common areas, seeming to be off in another world.  But here was something special about Frank.  He had a quirky sort of gift: whenever any of the other residents got upset and could not be consoled by the staff, Frank would show up, sit down by his distraught neighbor, and gently soothingly say, ”Don’t fret I’m coming with the quilt.”

          This phrase of his, delivered with such obvious compassion more often than not did the trick, acting as a sort of tonic for those in distress.  And the staff were al thankful for it, though they didn’t understand it.  What did he mean, “Don’t fret I’m coming with the quilt.”?  Frank was no help in interpreting it, as he drifted off again to another world as soon as his words had their calming effect on his troubled friend.  So it was a great mystery for a while.

Then a new nurse came on board.  The first time she witnessed the mystery in action she too was perplexed.  But the next day she came to work and could hardly wait to share what she had discovered with her coworkers. She reported that as she had been praying that morning, Frank, had come into her mind’s eye, repeating his phrase over and over -”Don’t fret I’m coming with the quilt.” Don’t fret I’m coming with the quilt.” Then suddenly his face had been transformed into the face of Jesus and the mysterious words were transformed as well and Jesus was saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, for I am sending you the Holy Comforter to be with you always.” Her co-workers starred at her blankly as she spoke of this prayerful experience, so she exclaimed, “Don’t you see? Frank senses when someone else needs to hear Jesus promise that he won’t leave us alone, always being with us through the Holy Spirit. When Frank was growing up, the Holy Spirit was often referred to as the Holy Comforter.  And these days the words comforter and quilt have become almost interchangeable.  The quilt Frank speaks of is the Holy Comforter, or the Holy Spirit – mystery solved!”

So it turns out that Frank in his strange and comforting ways was a man of faith, living out words that had brought him comfort in an earlier phase of life.  Who knows what other gifts of the Spirit Frank had lived out before the onset of his Alzheimer’s?  But the disease that was ravaging his cognitive abilities could not completely squelch his gift of sharing the love of his Lord.  Even through his cryptic message, “Don’t fret I’m coming with the quilt”, that love shown and calmed troubled hearts.

It makes me wonder who this man was and what his journey of faith had been like.  Who nurtured him in his faith when he was young? Was it his parents and godparents? I imagine them looking at him as a small child and wondering what he would do with his life.  I imagine that they understood their job to be striving to create the environment in which the good gifts that were already in Frank could develop and grow.  I imagine that they brought Frank, their beloved child to the font for baptism because they knew that depending on their own powers alone they would not be sufficient to his this awesome task.  And maybe they knew that though their son had been given into their care, before he was their child, he was God’s child.

And I imagine that on the day of Frank’s baptism, his parents caught a glimpse of the mystery that in baptism Frank came to share is Christ’s death to sin and in the life of the Resurrection; and that through the waters he was being immersed in the Holy Spirit just as the apostles were on that first Pentecost; and that the same Holy Spirit would surround and fill him and be there to help them raise him up; and indeed would never leave him, even when he had grown to be an old man.

And I imagine that they knew that on the day that Frank was baptized, God smiled.  God always smiles when through baptism a person is grafted into the body of Christ. God smiles because in that moment the Spirit is invited to work in the life of the baptized – to work with their unique gifts and potentials.  Then given faithful tending by parents and godparents and later by the person themselves, eventually the Spirit brings those gifts and potentials to full bloom for God’s glory and God’s most gracious purposes.

And this morning as we prepare to welcome Evan, Lachy and Hudson into the Body of Christ (at the 10:15 service) I look at them and I try to imagine who they will become?  What gifts will be Spirit make manifest in them?  How will God weave them into the great tapestry of salvation?

And I wonder about all the rest of us and where we are on our journeys in God’s Spirit.  And I ask myself, how are we using the gifts of the Spirit for God’s glory? And I think perhaps a better way to ask that question is, how are we allowing the gifts of the Spirit to use us?

And then I think of Frank again, offering his quirky yet profound gift to comfort and encourage his neighbors in the nursing home and I realize that God can do amazing and powerful things through us even at the times and in the circumstances of our lives where we might least expect it – even when the wisdom of this world would count us at our most powerless.

And isn’t that what happened with the disciples that first Pentecost?  They had no plan. They were just waiting on their Lord’s promise that they would receive power from on high. And through prayer and fellowship with one another they were able to be open enough to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit when it came and from then on to give the best of themselves into its service.

And so, my prayer this morning is for all of us – but especially for Evan, Lachy and Hudson who will be baptized – that each of us in our own situations may be open to the Spirit working in and through us. That each of us prompted by the Spirit – like the disciples long ago, and like Frank in the halls of his nursing home – will make Christ known for the good of all to whom the Spirit sends us.  And that trusting in the promises of our baptism, we can comfort and bless our fretting world with the news that Christ is with us, through the Holy Spirit, the Holy Comforter, the Cosmic Quilt!  Amen+

 

 

 

 

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 Sermon for Pentecost – May 24, 2015  Posted by on Wed, 27-May-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Pentecost – May 24, 2015
May 192015
 

Audio Sermon


This was a very full week of work and family life.  I took 2 days to travel to Poughkeepsie, NY – my hometown – to participate in memorial service of my second cousin, Ramona Gillon.  She was only 35 and had lived with Cerebral Palsy all her life, which confined her to a wheel chair.  She had surgery last fall and complications caused a stroke and then ongoing seizures that left her brain extremely compromised. The Dr.’s gave my cousin Elisabeth – Ramona’s mother- the news last month that they did not expect her ever to recover any consciousness, and so Elisabeth made the difficult decision to remove her from life support and she died just hours later.  Thank you to those of you who were praying for Ramona and Elisabeth along with the others on our prayer list, and please keep the prayers coming for Elisabeth now.

So this week, there was not much energy left in me to craft a sermon.  So what I am going to preach is an “encore presentation” – as Garrison Keilor would put it – from 3 years ago when this set of lessons was last read among us.  May God use it as a blessing once again.

          Did you notice the person that connected our first reading to our Gospel reading this morning? In the reading from Acts, Peter names him, whereas in the Gospel Jesus only alludes to him.  That person is Judas Iscariot.  Having Judas pop up this way in two of our readings give me the chance to think with you more about him.  Let me ask you this – do you know anyone named Judas?  Probably not in Christian circles – not many people would name a son after someone who is commonly remembered as the ultimate of betrayers – Judas, the one who betrayed a close friend, who turned out to be the Son of God.

In some of the reading I did about Judas in preparation for this sermon, I discovered that the association of bad luck with the number 13 likely traces back to him. Judas is counted as the 13th person at the table, counting Jesus, during the last supper.  So to the superstitious, the number 13 is considered very bad luck indeed – or at least that is what I read on the internet.

          But then I began to consider what the New Testament reveals about Judas, and the pariah status that surrounds him was called into question for me.  For instance I read a sermon titled Washing the Feet of Judas, by Jon M. Walton, in which the preacher makes the point that in John’s Gospel, before he goes out into the night, to betray Jesus, Judas receives the same grace of feeding and washing from Jesus that the other 11 disciples do. And the preacher makes the point that this graceful treatment of Judas by Jesus is not because Jesus was unaware of what Judas was about to do.  Rather John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus was quite aware that Judas was about to betray him, and even says so to all those gathered around the table with him.  But rather than rebuke Judas, Jesus included him in all his actions of self-spending love that night.  If this is not evidence that God’s love doesn’t ever give up on anyone, I don’t know what is.

But Judas after eating the bread of angles, turns on his well washed heels and goes out to betray Jesus just as Jesus notes the sacred scriptures predict.  In John’s Gospel, what then follows are 3 chapters of Jesus words to the 11 disciples who remain with him, and then one chapter of Jesus’ words to God in prayer.  It is from this final prayer chapter that our Gospel this morning is taken.  And in it Judas is eluded to as the one who was lost to Jesus because he was so destined, that what the scriptures had said about Jesus might be fulfilled.

Whatever we think about why Jesus died – however we understand that theologically – we must, I think,  recognize that what is going on here is forgiveness of great magnitude.  As death is staring him in the face and he is feeling the burden of parting from those in the world who mean the most to him, Jesus prays out loud to God for them, and includes Judas, who he infers is lost to him in this world, but is not lost to God.  The bottom line here for me is that Jesus does not blame Judas, and by so doing he does not allow much of a foothold for blame of Judas to take root in the 11, and the communities of faith that will arise from their witness, either.

Two more things I want to share with you that I ran across in my reading on Judas.  The first is a story that I was unable to find the original source for. The story goes like this:

It is said that when Leonardo da Vinci
was painting his masterpiece The Last Supper,
he needed a sitter for the figure of Christ.
In the end he found a chorister in one of the Churches in Rome,
a man called Pietro Bandinelli,
a man of fine character and fine features.

He then looked for models for the disciples.
Years went by, gradually the picture progressed,
more faces added, until only one remained – Judas Iscariot.
Leonardo went into the backstreets of Rome,
where finally he found a beggar on the streets
with a face so villainous he shuddered everytime he looked at it.
But he paid the man who sat for the likeness.
When he was finished, Leonardo asked his name –
Pietro Bandinelli, he replied –
many years ago I sat for your picture of Christ.

(taken from a sermon preached at the Mint Methodist Church, Exeter, UK, by the Minister, Rev Andrew Sails 26th March 2006 – www.themint.org.uk – but it appears in many places on the internet and the original source is unclear.)

The second piece comes from James Sanders’ book  God Has A Story Too.  Sanders writes:

“Judas’ worst fault was completely understandable.  All he did was to take the advice of the church leaders of his day, and for services rendered

received an honorarium. The church leaders’ worst fault was an effort to save the church and state of their day from political… disaster at the hands of the Roman legions. Peter’s worst fault in his denying his Lord was that he followed him to his trial, whereas the others had not. Pilate’s worst fault was in abstaining from making a decision he rightly felt incompetent to make. The Roman soldiers’ worst fault was in their obedience to the orders to which they were assigned.  And in them all we see ourselves…” (p. 99)

Judas, it seems is not included in the Gospels to give us a villain to despise. Rather he is there to hold a mirror to our own humanity, which holds both the image of God and the capacity to sin in very human and tragic ways.  And our Lord’s treatment of Judas is there in the Gospels to assure us that if in Judas we can we can see our reflection, we should not lose hope.

May the face of Christ strengthen and grow in us as we accept God’s grace of forgiveness for the ways in which we resemble or brother Judas.

In the name of Christ and for his sake.  Amen+

 

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 Sermon for Sunday May 17 2015 The Seventh Sunday of Easter  Posted by on Tue, 19-May-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday May 17 2015 The Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 042015
 

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 Sermon for Sunday May 3, 2015 the Fifth Sunday of Easter  Posted by on Mon, 4-May-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday May 3, 2015 the Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 012015
 

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We hear and read about it every day. Needless and senseless violence in our schools, on our streets, in our neighborhoods. Please join us as Boston, and ALL of Massachusetts, comes together to make a statement: “It’s time to unite, and together, stop the violence that impacts all of us!” This Mothers’ Day, Sunday, May 10th, 2015, thousands of caring and concerned citizens will rally and walk in support of creating a more peaceful and violence free community.

The Mother’s Day Walk for Peace began in 1996 for families who had lost their children to violence. On a day that we celebrate mothers and children, the Walk became a place for families and friends to feel support and love with thousands of others who pledge their commitment to peace. The Walk is the primary fundraiser to support the work of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute.

To join the team that is walking from St. Paul’s call Mother Martha at 978 465-5351, or sign up at church. To support the team’s fundraising goal you can make an online donation at:

https://www.z2systems.com/np/clients/lbdpeace/campaign.jsp?campaign=22&fundraiser=5782&#

or send or bring a check to the church Made out to St. Paul’s Church with “MD Walk for Peace” in memo line.

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 Support St. Paul’s Team in the Mother’s Day Walk for Peace  Posted by on Fri, 1-May-15 News Comments Off on Support St. Paul’s Team in the Mother’s Day Walk for Peace