Jun 222015
 

Not long ago I joined a Daughters of Abraham book group. This group, made up of women from the Jewish, Islamic and Christian faith traditions, meets every month or so to discuss books we are reading on our three faith traditions. I knew going in that this would be a good and growing experience for me, but I did not anticipate the many blessings that have come to me through this group.

There is a saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know” and I have found that to be very true. I have learned so much from the books we have read together. Before joining this group I did not know much of the history of Islam and though I had studied the history of the ancient Jewish people as part of my seminary education, I only had only disjointed knowledge of more recent Jewish history. In our group conversations around these books, my sisters have shared their lived experience of their faith traditions with me, in ways that have captivated and educated me. For instance it is one thing for me to understand what the month of Ramadan is, it is another to hear personal stories from my Muslim sister about the spiritual riches that accrue in her life and the life of her family as they observe this sacred month in their religious calendar.

In the past I was fond of saying, “There is so much more that unites us than divides us- so much more we hold in common than is different among us.” What I realize now is that while in an overarching way that statement is true, it is also true that our religious traditions are quite distinctive and unique in their themes and the practices they have developed to draw their members into the presence of God. To focus only on what we have in common is like focusing only on the words that various languages have in common – it is to lose the rich nuance and beauty of the distinctive whole. The daughters of Abraham from traditions other than my own have shown me that. There is amazing freedom in not having to think that there is only one right way to be a person of faith.

I am grateful for the opportunity this sisterhood offers me to be reflective about my own Christian heritage and tradition, in which I am firmly rooted, and whose beauties I am grateful to be able to share through my ministry. Thanks to the Daughters of Abraham I am also much more aware of ways my religious tradition has contributed to a complex history of mistrust and violence in the human family. I find myself now engaged in ardent prayer that goes like this:
Gracious and All Loving God, lead me and guide me as a person of faith in ways of thinking, listening, speaking and acting that honor your image in each person I meet. Help me to draw on the riches of my religious tradition to bless others in your name. Thank you for the understanding and love that is taking root in our small group of your daughters and in many places around our globe. May it be, that movements of love, respect and interwoven existence overtake and transform the strife and violence done in your name. Amen

I invite you to join me in this prayer this summer. Summer is a season of growth. May you be blessed with your own opportunities to grow and stretch as you dare to reach out across lines of difference. I believe God rejoices, and our world is a better place whenever we do!

The Rev. Martha Hubbard is Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Newburyport, MA

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 Weavings On The Way  Posted by on Mon, 22-Jun-15 Martha's Blog, News Comments Off on Weavings On The Way
Jun 222015
 

They had been with Jesus for a while now, following and watching as he taught and healed and banished demons.  They marveled at him – his focus, his clarity, his passion for what he called the kingdom of God.  They wondered at his seeming lack of fear of the authorities and what they might do to him if he kept going as he was going – banging up against religious and social rules and norms.  They had never met anyone else like him and though his ways sometimes scared and confused them, they were drawn to him.

Now it was late in the day and he had been teaching for hours, offering his stories to the crowd, trying to illustrate his vision of God’s purposes.  He had been doing this from a boat set just a short way out from shore, because so many people hadcome to listen, and they had all pressed in close to get near to him – perhaps hoping his spiritual power might touch and heal and bring light to them too.  Being in the boat, just a few feet off shore gave him and the disciples some breathing room, and his voice bouncing off the surface of the water was a natural amplification system, making it possible for more people to hear him.

As evening set in Jesus turned to his disciples and told them that he wanted to go across to the other side of the sea of Galilee.  So often they felt bewildered in his presence, but not in that moment.  At least four of them were accomplished fishermen- sand, sea and boats were in their blood.  They sprang into action at his request! Indeed Mark tells us “they took him with them in the boat, just as he was”.  I wonder what is Mark getting at with this statement that they took him “just as he was”?

I know the scripture does not say this – so this is my own little midrash on this passage – this is my reading between the lines – but I imagine those fishermen, turned disciples, passed knowing looks and smiles among themselves as they headed that boat out to sea – into the waves and the wind.  This was their element – their realm of confidence.  Perhaps it would be fun to give their good teacher a bit of a ride – see if they could shake him up a bit.  Always in command on land, perhaps he would not be so sure of himself on the open water.  But no such luck.  It seems that not long after they pushed off from shore, he laid down his head on a pillow in the back of the boat and fell fast asleep.

Then, the scripture tells us, things took a serious turn.  They had skill and they had experience, but the storm that rose up was bigger and stronger.  No matter how keen their ability in navigation their boat was not big enough to withstand it and they began to take on water.  How quickly their confidence morphed into alarm, then desperation!  And Jesus? Jesus slept on.

Living along this seacoast as we do, we are not unaccustomed to stories of boats caught up in the raging sea.  This has happened through the ages here.  Indeed many seafarers have been members of our church through the 3 centuries St. Paul’s has existed.  This week as I walked through our church  graveyard I found 5 tomb stones that mark the graves of ships captains – Captain William Faris, Captain Ambrose Davis, Captain George Jenkins, Captain Robert Robers, and Captian Joseph Atkins- and there may be others that I could not read.  But it was that last one – the tombstone of Josheph Atikins – one that speaks of tragedy.  The epitaph reads, “Here are interred the remains of Capt. Joseph Atkins who (with his whole ships company) perished by shipwreck on Cape Cod February 8, 1787, aged 31”.    And in our own day – in the eight years I have been here- I recall several tragedies as tide and wind and sea have suddenly turned from calm to treacherous and precious lives have been lost.  So we in this region, through the ages have not been strangers to the terror the disciples must have been feeling as the seas changed and began to threaten their boat on the Sea of Galilee that day. Sometimes in life things go terribly wrong like this.  Sometimes no matter how knowledgeable, talented, experienced or strong we are, forces beyond us can take over and sink us – literally or figuratively.

It is in moments like those that our soul screams out, “Why?”  If God is good and loves us, how can such things happen?  If God is good and loves us, how can young people full of promise drown, and ships go down to the depths? How children get cancer, how can relationships fall apart, how can livelihoods and home be lost from one day to the next, how can people starve to death – how can human beings suffer so? How and why?  Indeed these are the burning human questions that Job gives voice to in the chapters that precede the passage we heard read from that book this morning.

When I am in that space with those questions, my spiritual training pushes me to put my gaze back on God’s face revealed to me in Jesus – even if I feel mad as hell at God at the moment, and I have to force myself, I turn the eyes of my spirit to Christ.  And when I do – when I seriously contemplate his life here with us, in the human family – I realize that professing faith in him is not about professing that he has come to make all of our suffering better.  When I contemplate his life here among us in the human family, I recognize that faith in Christ is in essence acceptance of God’s presence, companionship and grace in the midst of suffering – God’s comradship in the storm.

Reflecting on this Gospel passage in an issue of the Christian Century Magazine, Kate Layzer, pastor of Union Congregational Church in Winthrop, MA, writes:

“What happens when the storm breaks in all its fury? When the disciples rouse [Jesus]and urge him to panic?  He sits up, this tired, vulnerable man, and turns and speaks directly to the wind and the waves.  ‘Peace,’ he says, ‘Be still.’…

Offered the choice between fight or flight, he goes with direct engagement.  He speaks to the storm and utters that word of power spoken over the waters from the beginning.  He speaks, and the eternal word is present- greater than the wind and the waves, greater than our fear of conflict, greater than our drive for power and dominion, greater than sin, greater than death.  His is the word that is able to bring peace where peace seems out of the question.”(Christian Century, June 16, 2009, p 18)

When we are found in Christ, the eternal word of peace is our companion in both calm and in storm – in grief and in joy – in clarity and in confusion.  Christ is not our way out. Christ is our way through into the fullness of life.  Christ is our way through, because when we are found in him, he is moves through us to further the work of reconciling and redeeming all of life.

I leave you with a something I once heard Madeline L’Engle tell at a retreat day.  She told of a dream she had in which she was a fish, swimming happily along in beautiful, warm, ocean waters, just off the shore of a tropical island.  She swam along for a while and then noticed that there was another fish swimming along side of her.  Wherever she swam the other fish shadowed her. Finally she asked the other fish its name and why it was swimming with her.  It responded “I am Christ, and I will never leave you.” Not long thereafter, a great big fish came along and swallowed her.  In the complete darkness of the belly of the great fish she cried out, “Christ, are you there?” the answer came, “Yes Madeline, I am here.” She cried out again, “Christ why did you let this happen?” The answer came back, “I did not say I would save you from suffering, just that I would never leave you alone. Follow me.”

In Christ’s name, and for his sake may we follow him. Amen+

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 Sermon for Sunday June 21, 2015 The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Mon, 22-Jun-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday June 21, 2015 The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Jun 162015
 

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 Sermon for Sunday June 14, 2015 The Third Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Tue, 16-Jun-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday June 14, 2015 The Third Sunday after Pentecost
Jun 082015
 

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 Sermon for Sunday June 7, 2015 the Second Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Mon, 8-Jun-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday June 7, 2015 the Second Sunday after Pentecost
Jun 022015
 

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This first Sunday following the feast of the Holy Spirit has always been known in the church as Trinity Sunday.  This Trinity Sunday I  want to share with you a meditation of sorts in which I imagine what it would be like to  have been like to be a person encountering God as Creator, Word, and Spirit amid the community of the early church – before the doctrine of the Trinity even existed.

Was it luck or a complex interweaving of events that some call fate that brought her there that day?   It was not her normal marketing day, but her schedule had been turned topsy- turvy by a number of unanticipated projects that week, so there she was with the throngs, being jostled and crowded.  She probably would not have even noticed the small group gathered in the shade of a side alley if it had not been for some rambunctious children who in the oblivion of playing tag among the crowd upended her basket.  Before any of her goods got trampled, there were 3 people there alongside her picking everything up. So as quickly as it happened it was righted again and the smiling strangers, seeing that she was harried and overheated, invited her to join them for a few moments of rest in the shade.  Usually she was a very cautious person, so she was surprised to hear herself accepting the invitation.  It was something in their manner of asking that spoke deep peace and gentleness to her, and after the jostling of the crowd, she knew she could use a bit of both.

Not much happened in that alley that day.  The small band of friends shared some water and some fruit as we talked about the weather and the many beautiful colors and scents of the market place.  She couldn’t put her finger on it, but somehow she sensed something more was happening in the group.  And when they rose to leave, she was not ready to go, and so she remained seated, not knowing what to do.

Several of her new acquaintances traded knowing looks, and finally one of the women squatted down beside her and told her that they would be meeting again the next day at the home of another friend, and that she would be welcome to join them if she liked.  She flushed with embarrassment – what on earth must they think of her – that I was a waif with no direction in life?  But astonishingly, she found herself accepting the invitation.  Something inside her burned with the conviction that she had to go and be with them again – that it would be her only chance to tap into the mysterious connection she sensed among them.  She took the street name and description of the house where the meeting would take place and said she would see them the next day.

By the time she turned in that night, she had talked sense into herself and decided she would not go.  She realized that it must have been the heat of the day that had caused her to think that there was something special about the group.  They were nothing more than kind strangers, but they were after-all still strangers, and so not to be so quickly trusted.  No, she would not go the next day, which was already choked full of duties that needed attending to.

When she arose the next morning she was still resolute.  But as she went about getting ready for the day, making her plans, she was overcome by a sense that she must go to be with them.  Her normal ability to get control of my thoughts failed her – it was as if someone else was thinking inside her head, and the thought was a simple one word refrain – “follow”.  At every turn she heard that refrain – “Follow! Follow!” and it was as if some unseen hand was moving her toward the door, nudging her gently, pushing each time she resisted.  Finally she decided she would just go out – fresh air might help clear her mind.  But once on the street, the voice inside grew stronger, and the refrain changed from “Follow!” to “Follow me!”

She waited for the panic to rise within her, the panic she had known so well at other times in her life, which would send her scurrying again to the safety of her home.  But it never came.  She thought to herself that she must be going of the deep end, but somehow she didn’t care.  “Perhaps,” she thought, “the deep end might not be so bad.” And so she began running to be with her new friends.

When she got to the house, the door to the house stood open.  She went in and it took a few moments for her eyes to adjust to the half light of the house.  She saw her acquaintances from the market sitting in a circle with several others.  One of them rose to greet her and invited her into the circle. After a few minutes of her heart pounding nervously, she began to sense the same connection among this group that she had felt the day before, only stronger now.  In fact the connection among them seemed to have a life of its own, like a live current swishing and dancing among us.

She noticed that words of prayer were being said and that something was then being slowly passed around the circle.  When it reached the hand of the man next to her, she saw that it was bread.  He took the bread, broke it and gave it to her.  “The body of Christ,” he said.

So these were Christians.  Her mind raced with the tales of human sacrifice and cannibalism that the gossip mongers pedaled about these people.  “The body of Christ,” he gently said again, and as she looked into his face, she saw nothing but love and knew the gossip was not true.  She clumsily took the bread and did the same for the person on the other side of her – “The body of Christ” she haltingly said.  Then she turned away and shyly ate her piece.

She was not prepared for the feeling that came as she ate that bread – it was as if the presence she had sensed moving in the room moved inside of her now, filling her with a sense of strength and fullness of joy that she had only ever felt before when gazing on the incredible goodness and beauty of God’s creation. “This cup was poured out for you.” He said, and she drank deeply.

Some days later came the washing, called baptism and gradually over time the teaching of what the others had learned in their walk on this way of faith.  Soon she came to understand that the God they worshiped – the One they named as Three- was the One she had encountered so clearly when they were in worship together.

Father, Creator- was the deep end- the One that enveloped and connected them to each other and to all creation.  The same one who had set the stars in the sky and created the leviathan just for the sport of it. The One who had made human beings in the divine image. The very same One who had trusted humanity with the responsibility of being the caretakers of creation.

Son, Redeemer, Word, and Jesus – was the presence in the bread- the same one who had come and lived a human life in order to lead humanity back to right relationship with God.  The One who lived a human life, died, rose again and then took human life back to the very heart of the Father.  Theon One who had promised that he would never leave those who followed him.

Spirit, Sanctifier, Comforter – the One whose presence burned within her.  The One that gave her the power to believe the seemingly unbelievable.  The same One who gave her the strength and purpose to participate in good works she would never have dreamed she was capable of.

Three in One – One in Three – Whenever she thought too hard about it all dissolved into mystery.  Had her meeting with this group been by chance?  More and more she was convinced it had not been – that the great lover of souls was behind it all.  She marveled that she was now part of this body – now one to whom the commission was given – to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  And she was always astounded by the simplicity of it- by how their simple willingness to invite other in was all that their triune God needed to increase their numbers.  She hoped and prayed that throughout all time to come all people would be blessed as she had been.  May it be so!  In the name of our triune God- ever One, ever Three – Creator, Word and Spirit.  Amen+

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 Sermon for Sunday May 31 2015 Trinity Sunday  Posted by on Tue, 2-Jun-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday May 31 2015 Trinity Sunday