Rev. Martha Hubbard

The Rev. Martha Hubbard is the Rector at St. Paul's Church.

Aug 152017
 

AUDIO SERMON

Sermon for Sunday, August 13, 2017 – The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

          Don’t you just love Peter’s confidence in our Gospel this morning – getting out of that boat and walking toward Jesus across the top of those waves?  It is the confidence of one who wants to follow Jesus, but many have over-estimated their own abilities. 

          I was a bit like that the summer after my second year in seminary.  I had the opportunity to work as an intern with a chaplain who was doing street ministry in Downtown Albany, NY on behalf of the ecumenical community of churches there.  I had lived in Albany and worked as a probation officer there for 4 years before going to seminary, so I was no stranger to the struggles of the urban poor there.  And I was grateful for a chance to approach life in that city not as a member of the law enforcement community, but rather as a pastor in training.

As I anticipated that internship during the last month of the academic year, I envisioned the sorts of ministry encounters I might have – connecting with people who needed hope and spiritual sustenance.  I could be the one to bring the good news! I was ready to do what it would take to really making a difference in their lives.  It all had a “Touched by an Angel” sort of sheen to it. 

          I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that is not what I experienced that summer.  What I experienced was something very different.  First of all, my “job” was not as well defined as I had expected.  Other than sitting in the ecumenical outreach office for a couple of hours a day in case someone came in seeking help- which rarely happened, I was sent out to the food pantries and soup kitchens, and to walk around the city streets to meet and get to know people in need.  This was really pretty much outside of my comfort zone. I felt clumsy in my interactions in the soup kitchen.  I felt like sobbing at the food pantry as I witnessed people of all ages coming in hungry and desperate.  I felt awkward speaking to homeless people on the street – what could I say to them? Anything I could think of to say about God or Jesus just came off sounding condescending when I rehearsed it in my head.  And I was left speechless when I was wolf-whistled at or became the object of a drunk man’s irrational ranting and raving.  I may have been confident in the safe boat of seminary, and even felt a bit of confidence as I started out across the waters of this new work, but these initial experiences made my heart sink like a rock.

          Two weeks into the 8 week internship the street ministry chaplain found me weeping in the office.  To my amazement he did not seem at all surprised by my tears.  He smiled and said to me, “OK, now we are getting somewhere.” That jolted me out of my sobbing!  Seeing the incredulous look on my face he told me to relax, that I was right where I needed to be – where he himself had been just a year before.  As he recounted his own initial high hopes and how he too had experienced that same sinking feeling after a week or so on the job, I felt at ease.

Then we reflected together about the largely unrealistic expectations we had brought to our street ministry and how those expectations had taken a real beating.  We wondered together about what our goals in this ministry should really be.  Toward the end of that conversation the chaplain said that after a year in the job he had become convinced that God had brought him there, not so much to have an amazing impact on others, but rather to be changed himself.   He said that like Peter walking on water and then sinking, he had to jettison his over-confidence in his abilities to bring massive change to needy people’s lives, and instead daily call on Christ to hold him up and make his way in this work he had been given.  He said that when he started each day that way his expectations about this work began to shift.  It was true that over the year he had been in this ministry he had been able to befriend some folk who had no other friends, and that he had been able to help in small ways with material needs.  But he said he had become convicted that the only way he could really help the people he was there to serve was to get to know their life from the inside and then use that knowledge to work for substantive change in society.  Substantive changes that would mean the people we were seeking to serve and their children would not be trapped in cycles of poverty and violence endlessly.  Those cycles of poverty and violence were winds that sometimes could make him sink in fear, but if he remembered to call out to Christ, Christ would draw him up out of the waters again, to find a way to take what he was observing and use it to witness for change in societal systems that perpetuated those cycles of suffering. 

This strikes me now as a wonderful image for baptism.  When the sacred waters of the font pour over us, we die to the idea that we can change ourselves or our world on our own power alone.  And when Christ raises us up again from those waters, he begins to empower us to move where he would have us go for his good ends and purposes.  And the life of faith is a challenging, sometimes perilous, and always wondrous journey with Christ when we stay close to him.

          That day all those years ago in Albany, as I felt immersed in waters of uncertainty, I asked my colleague for advice on how to join him in this work of being changed so that I too could work for positive change.  He said that the best advice he could give me was “don’t just do something, stand there.”  He counseled that a ministry of presence would go a lot farther than a ministry of words with the people we were trying to get to know.  He also counseled that if I made being present my goal, God would have a lot easier time getting through to me with what I needed to receive to change and grow in my vocation.  That God could be heard in the silence of presence, easier than in the noise of self-propelled activity, well intentioned as it might be. Years later that advice has not worn thin!  Listening for the still small voice of God to guide me is always better than my best self- manufactured ideas.

          I will never forget one person I met that summer who I do feel spoke the word of God to me.  After sharing several meals with me in the soup kitchen, a man who was a Vietnam vet and who was struggling with PTSD and lack of employment said to me, “Just remember, some of us wear our need on the outside and some of us wear our need on the inside.” In that moment the tables turned and I was hearing God speak through this man

          The more I listened that summer the more I heard God speaking to me about compassion and justice. The more I looked around, dared to look into faces across the table or on the street, the more I recognized Christ looking back at me, present in the very ones I had mistakenly thought I was supposed to bring him to.  They gave me a new facet of truth – the truth that we are all one and that there is not distinction between any of us in God’s eyes.  The truth that when any are in need we all are in more need than we want to admit or talk about.

          So often we who wear our wealth on the outside, avoid the truth of how large the gap between rich and poor has become. I suspect at least part of the reason for that avoidance is the shame we feel at that disparity, and the uncertainty about how to do anything lasting about it.  At least that is the lesson I began to learn all those summers ago, on the streets of Albany.  But I find there is an incredible freedom that comes when we affirm that this is not the way that the God we know in Jesus Christ would have it for his beloved children.  There is a freedom and a joy in affirming that.  A freedom and a joy that can spur us time and again to become more vocal witnesses of that truth in the places of status and power that we have access to.  Witnesses who emphatically trust that the Word that we need to speak is very near us – He is on our lips and in our hearts. He has drawn us up out of the waters that threatened to sink us, and has gotten into the boat of our lives with us, and that makes all the difference and gives us the power to be witnesses to his incredible love for all people. 

Amalie, this is the good news of the life of faith that you are entering into formally with us this morning through the waters of baptism. Remember that whenever you feel overwhelmed by life or have a sinking feeling in your heart, all you need do is call on Jesus, and he will come and raise you up. We are so glad you will be joining us in this body of Christ as we follow his lead in ushering in his reign on earth.  In Christ’s name and for his sake.  Amen+

 

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Jul 132017
 

AUDIO SERMON

Sermon for Sunday, July 9, 2017 – The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

 

On this Sunday 15 years ago, I was just returning to the pulpit after a maternity leave/Sabbatical.  Here is part of what I said to the congregation at St. Mark’s, Penn Yan that Sunday:

“You know, when I was pregnant, I got used to a lot of attention – people holding doors for me and asking time and again how I was feeling.  Now the focus has shifted.  It is amazing how attracted most people are to babies! So, I’m having to become used to the fact that when Marcella is on the scene, the one pushing the stroller is of little interest.  But that is how it should be.  And really, I couldn’t be happier.  When people dote on her, I feel affirmed in my own head-over-heels infatuation with her.”

Reading that really took me back!  And I had the same experience when Nicolas came along – most people are just so drawn to babies.  What is it, do you think that makes babies so attractive?  Part of it is of course that they are just so small – those tiny fingers and toes amaze us – how is it possible that they will eventually grow up to be a big as we are?  But it’s more than that.  I think we are also drawn to babies because of their utter, untarnished openness to the world.  Babies don’t have any defenses up.  The open their eyes in the morning and they just take it all in.  Ant there is no pretense with babies.  They haven’t learned to fake it in any way yet.  They are authentic in their interactions with us.  You can easily tell what they like and don’t like by their honest expressions.  And is there anything much better than the feeling you get when you strike on something they like?  The way their little faces light up can make you feel like a million bucks!  And there is no cynicism in a baby.  Think of a baby you know.  Aren’t their bright little eyes and their inquisitive and engaged nature part of what draws you to them?  I think that’s because in a way, we all long to get back to that place somehow.  Back to a time when the world was new to us and each moment was an adventure.  Back to a time when we were not in any way weighed down by the worries, griefs and injustices of this world.  Basking in the glow of a baby can take us back, even if just for a moment.  Spending time with a baby can get us back to basics and remind us about what is really important in life.

Maybe that is why Jesus refers to those who have truly received the good news of the gospel as infants – or in some Bible translations babes.  He is talking here about those who may lack in what the world counts as wisdom and understanding, but who possess the clear vision that does not filter out the goodness in the good news.  They are bright eyed believers who are bubbling over with enthusiasm.  God has shown them something earth shattering and life changing in him and they are excited about it.  These are the ones that Jesus gives thanks for in this morning’s Gospel lesson.

Now let’s be clear, Jesus is not suggesting that his followers need to remain in some sort of infantile state.  He is not recommending a halt to the natural maturation process in our minds and in our spiritual lives.  But he seems to be recommending an approach to the life of discipleship that moves away from pride and self-sufficiency, and instead bends toward dependence on the presence of God. 

St. Paul, who penned the letter to the Romans which we have been reading from over the last several weeks liked to use his own life as an example of how off track we can get when we think we have reached a place of spiritual maturity and acumen.  You will remember that before he took the name Paul, he had lived under the given name Saul.  Under that earlier identity, he did everything in his power to destroy the community of faith growing up around the disciples of Jesus.  On one such campaign of violence to Damascus, Saul was knocked off his horse, had a vision of Jesus calling to him and asking him why he was persecution him and his followers.  Then Saul went physically blind and had to be carried to DaMarcus by others, where he spent 3 days in darkness.  The darkness only broke when a follower of Jesus came, laid hands on him and prayed with him in the name of Jesus. It was this experience that led him to admit his own great lack of spiritual vision and to take a radical turn in his path of life, renaming himself as Paul, servant of Christ.  Even years later, after becoming a central leader in the early Christian movement, Paul admits that though he strives to put the Gospel law of love always at the center of his life, he struggles, and is not totally free from the tendency to think that he can live on his own power alone.  He describes this struggle in words we heard read earlier from his letter to the Romans.  He writes, “I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.  For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind…with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.”

If he were living today, perhaps Paul would say, “Sin is cunning, baffling and powerful.”  A simple definition of sin is, the self trying to occupy the center of life, thus sidelining God.

I love that Paul, the great and renowned apostle, makes this confession in this letter to the Romans.  He, to whom God has revealed so much about the salvation available in Christ Jesus, is just like the rest of us – he struggles with the cunning and baffling power of sin to recommend itself to us over the power of God.  There is no way around this.  If the great apostle himself cannot over-come it completely, what makes any of the rest of us think we can?

Instead, we must go through life, not trying to defeat sin ourselves, but rather with the one who has done so already for us – Christ Jesus.  In the closing words of the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus invites us into a life of mature spiritual connection to him.  He invites with these words:

“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.”

Writing about these words this week on the website “Working Preacher” Biblical Commentator Colin Yukman writes:

Jesus’ promise of rest should not be taken as guaranteed vacation time, but a kind of theological category. The language clearly recalls Moses’s own vocation (Exodus 33:12-17). To ease Moses’s anxiety about the uncertainty of the wilderness journey, God promises to accompany God’s people along the way: “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:14…Jesus incredibly offers the rest which only the God of all Creation could extend to a weary Israel longing for the Promised Land.

 As disciples, we do not simply attempt to duplicate the actions of an absent master; on the contrary, we rely on the ongoing presence of Jesus himself. This, too, is included in what Jesus means by “rest.” As Matthew reminds us early on, Jesus bears the name of the one promised in Isaiah: Immanuel, “God with us” (1:23). All who take the yoke of discipleship upon them can experience a kind of new creation sustained by the ongoing presence of the Creator in a life of discipleship.

          Babies know that they are totally dependent on their parents, those who brought them into this world and who go on caring for them.  Babies grow up and face a world of complexity that they were not aware of in their infancy.  Their strong connections to parents who care for them all along the way is what makes them able to both face the world as it is and trust that they have many gifts to offer for the good of the world. Those who are mature in their faith and spiritual path have reached the same conclusions based on a strong and daily renewed connection with God.  May this weekly worship we share in Jesus name be part of that strong connection for each of us alongside the daily practices of prayer and action that sustain us individually.  All for the good and gracious purposes of God for God world.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen+ 

 

 

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Jun 012017
 

AUDIO SERMON

Sermon for Sunday, May 28, 2017 – The Seventh Sunday of Easter

 

“As if by silent command they moved from the house and out beyond the village.  When they came to an open area and found others come from Jerusalem, they neither felt nor expressed surprise. They were conscious only of sharing and expectation.  The silence was total, as if this hillside had been isolated from the surrounding world and time.  In the silence he came among them and in touching one another they were aware of touching him and he them.  Suddenly they knew that this hour was both an ending and a beginning both meeting and farewell.  Overcome with emotion, some cried out as if questioning.  But their voices died away into silence.  Some stood holding up their arms looking into the darkening sky.  Then a few suggested that they return to the city and get some rest.  Others began to sing softly.” (from Portrait of a Woman, p. 89, by Herbert O’Driscoll)

          Anglican Priest, Herbert O’Driscoll, wrote those words as a description of what it might have been like on the day we heard about in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, when the disciples witnessed the resurrected Christ ascending from earth into heaven.  I like what he has done in this description, capturing the uncertainty and wonder of it – the joy and the grief mingled together as the disciples, still reeling from the surprising reality of resurrection, now have their once again living Lord taken from them by cloud and mystery.

          Yet he did not leave them without hope.  As he was being gathered up by divine power, he gave them a mission and promised to send them the power and guidance to fulfill that mission.  His statement of mission to them was “you will be my witnesses”, and his promise was, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”

          “You will be my witnesses”. That is the central mission of the Church Universal.  To be witnesses of our risen Lord Christ Jesus.  Each branch of the church, each denomination, at its best is led in creative and life giving ways to do that.  To embrace the world and share the good news that Christ has destroyed death and lives among us.  This mission should both direct us and correct us.

          When is the church most the church?  Not when it is adding new members and growing, though growth is very important to the carrying out of the mission.  And not when it is taking care of the needs of its members, though that is important too.  The church is most the church when it is witnessing to the amazing and life giving grace of our risen Lord.

          I once heard a bishop say that the church is more like a firehouse than a hospital.  A firehouse and its members exist to go out into the world to serve. Whereas a hospital exists to take people in and isolate them from the germs and diseases of the world in order to take care of their ailments.  Now it is true that the church is a source of comfort, healing and nourishment for us.  We come weekly to be fed, but the purpose of the church does not to end there.  We must not come here to St. Paul’s, just to be fed, but also willing to be led.  Willing to be clothed more and more in the power of the Spirit and go out as a squad of witnesses for Christ.

          A squad of witnesses for Christ!  Yikes!  That might sound just a bit too daring for many of us.  But when you really think about the language, it becomes a little less hair raising.  In his weekly lectionary commentary, The Rev. William Willimon reminds us, “The mission of the witness is simply to stand up there before the court and to truthfully tell what he or she knows – the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth… Nothing spectacular, nothing complicated…Just tell what you know.” (from Pulpit Resource).  What do you know about Jesus Christ?  Who is he to you?  Share that.

          St. Francis of Assisi is said to have instructed new converts to the faith to “preach the Gospel and use words when necessary.”  Maybe that is a useful admonition to us in our noisy, wordy world.  Maybe these days, a picture or an action is worth a thousand words.  It happened to me years ago now, but I will never forget, one day coming home in a tizzy about my overbooked calendar to find that our next door neighbor had taken it upon himself to mow the lawn for me.  That got me out of my tizzy of worry and into a place of feeling understood and supported.  Preach the Gospel and use words when necessary.

          Sometimes words are necessary, but if so, no detailed theological treatise is required.  All we are ever asked to do is share how God in Christ has touched our lives in ways that have mattered.  Just let others in on the genuine presence of Christ in our lives, and make the best accounting of the hope that is in you because of it.  We are given a wonderful example of this in the Gospel of John.  You may remember the passage about the man born blind who is healed by Jesus – we read it on one Sunday this past Lent.  In that passage Jesus’ critics come and try to convince the man that he is mistaken – that it wasn’t really Jesus who had restored his sight.  The man made no deep theological argument, no long speech.  His witness to the power of Christ in his life was simple: “One thing I know. That though I was blind, now I see.” (John 9:25)

          If we know God- and not just by hearsay- and we share our experience of God with someone else by what we do or by what we say, or both, God will be at work in that sharing.  We don’t need to be hung up on the outcomes.  “You will be my witnesses” Jesus says. It’s that simple.  The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help us God.  And indeed it is God who directs us in this, and it is God who will bring about the most gracious outcomes.

          When the disciples left that hillside of the ascension, they returned to Jerusalem, a bit disoriented and unsure of what would come next.  But they dared to have confidence in his promise to give them the power to witness in the world.  And so for 10 days, constant in prayer, they waited for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.  The coming of which we will celebrate next Sunday.  By the way, the color of the day is red, so it you have some in your wardrobe it would be great if you could wear it, so we can fill the place with as much red as possible. 

          “You will be my witnesses.”  The mission statement of the church universal.  Our own parish statement of call speaks to how we feel called as a parish to live this out here in our context.  It is printed on the back of your bulletin.  Let’s read it together:

St. Paul’s is a Christian community where people are met and accepted without judgment for who they are and are adopted into a loving a caring family.  Our faith provides a framework within which we explore, honor and celebrate the presence of God in daily experiences, especially in the crises, conflicts and transitions of life, and are thereby equipped to live fully in an increasingly complex and changing world.

We believe we are called to center our life in Jesus Christ through a regular discipline of Eucharistic worship, scripture study and prayer.

We believe our faith leads us to fulfill our mission, which is to share ourselves and our resources with each other, our community and the world.

We believe we are called to discover and affirm our spiritual gifts and be responsible and committed ministers of these gifts in the name of Jesus Christ.

In the coming week, I invite you to pray with me, that God will kindle and rekindle the power of the Spirit among us, that we may continue to live into that call as a community that faithfully witnesses to Christ our Lord.  Amen+

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May 242017
 

 

          This Gospel passage begins with Jesus showing such gentleness thoughtfulness and kindness to his beloved friends, which is a theme that fits so beautifully with our national observance today of Mother’s Day. The context here is their last night together before the crucifixion. At supper Jesus has washed their feet, and then mystically given them his very self in bread and wine.  He has predicted denial by Peter, chief among them, and Judas has already slipped away from them to betray their whereabouts to the authorities. So he knows their heads and hearts are reeling as they begin to take in what he has seen coming for a while.  And he reaches out to them with compassion and tender care – “Do not let your hearts be troubled”- or another translation of the Greek is, “Do not let your hearts be anguished.”

          But he does not cradle them with those words of comfort for long.  He is aware of the urgency of time and he moves on to give them the provisions they will need to understand and survive the events that are bearing down upon them.  He is going, but he will be back.  If they feel lost and off track they should remember he himself is their way, their truth, their, and their life, and he will guide them into the presence of God. 

“No one comes to the Father except through me” He tells them.  This is a statement that has troubled many of us.  But it is important to remember context here.  Jesus is talking to his closest friends about how they will reach the Father.  To use this as a proof text to claim that no other religion besides Christianity is valid is a gross misuse of this statement.  In his beautiful commentary on this passage, Jean Vanier, theologian and founder of the L’Arche communities writes:

“In all cultures, and at all times, people heard in some way the voice of God…Maybe some could not name God, but they sought the light of truth and the origin of all things.  The word of God was the light for many people.  When the word became flesh, Jesus brought to fulfillment all these different paths to God.  He does not destroy them: the Word is in each of these paths.”

(Jean Vanier, Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John, p.256)

Seen in this way, this statement by Jesus that he is the way, the truth and the life is an inclusive affirmation rather than an exclusive line in the sand.

And then Jesus moves on to remind his disciples that they already know the Father because they know Jesus.  He is telling them that there won’t be some new reality they will be experiencing in the Father’s full presence at the end of their earthly journey.  Rather it will just be more so there – more so of what they have experienced in relationship with Jesus, here in this world.  Way back in chapter 1 of John we were told that the word and the Father have always been one and the word came into the world to reveal the Father’s compassion and forgiveness.  Indeed that has been the underlying theme of this whole Gospel and now Jesus reasserts this theme again in his last moments with his friends. 

Building on this theme he takes the next step telling them that when they have faith in what he has revealed of God, they will continue the works that he has done and do even greater works.  Now this reference to “greater works” is not a reference to their works being more spectacular.  Rather it is a reference to the fact that freed from his earthly life, Jesus, alive again through his disciples, will be able to be present in many times and places.  Again I quote Jean Vanier who writes:

“His disciples will continue his mission and his works… to give life, eternal life and to reveal the face and heart of God to people. It is to be the presence of God in the world anywhere there is an absence of God.”

 This week I also read a meditation in the book Jesus Calling, which I think also has something to say about this idea of Jesus disciples “greater works.  The meditation writer hears the voice of Jesus saying:

“Learn to relate to others through My Love rather than yours.  Your human love is ever so limited, full of flaws and manipulation.  My loving Presence, which always enfolds you, is available to bless others as well as you.  Instead of trying harder to help people through your own paltry supplies, become aware of my unlimited supply which is accessible to you continually.  Let my Love envelop your outreach to other people

Many or My precious children have fallen prey to burnout.  A better description of their condition might be ‘drainout’ Countless interactions with needy people have drained them, without their conscious awareness.  You are among these weary ones, who are like wounded soldiers needing R&R.  Take time to rest in the Love-Light of My Presence.  I will gradually restore to you the energy you have lost. ”

(Sarah Young, Jesus Calling, p.139)

This resonates so beautifully with what Jesus is promising to his followers that last night, when he speaks about their greater works, which are only possible through the ongoing loving relationship with him in God known as prayer. And Jesus drives that point home then in the climax of this Gospel passage where he makes this commitment to his followers:

“I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

As a pastor, I have experienced how this statement from Jesus is one of the most difficult for us to comprehend.  At first hearing it can seem so over the top – like a divine blank check.  And, most of us have had the experience of praying to Jesus specifically and ardently for something and not having our prayers answered directly in the way we anticipated. So what are we to make of this?

          The phrase “in my name” which Jesus repeats twice in this statement, is of absolute importance when seeking to understand this commitment Jesus is making to his followers.  To ask something in Jesus’ name does not just mean directing it to him.  Rather asking something in his name is to ask something that is in accordance with the heart of his cause which, as he says in this statement, is to glorify the Father.   So let’s hear that statement of commitment from him again:

“I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”

So this is a qualified commitment.  We are not just to pray for anything we want, but rather our prayers must be in line with Jesus cause – to glorify the Father.  When we pray in that way he says, he will be working in concert with us.

The problem for me with this is that I am not always sure what is or is not in accordance with Jesus cause of glorifying the Father.  I can think of a good many times when I have prayed ardently for something to come to pass, believing that it is in line with Jesus cause, convinced that what I am asking is the right thing for the good of many,  and it has not been granted.  Then later, with hindsight, I recognize that what I had so longed for and prayed for would not have been the best thing.

So, this tells me I have to accept that often I don’t and probably can’t know what the right thing to pray for is.  So, that takes some pressure off – I don’t have to figure out what should happen, that is God’s job.  When I have surrendered to that, what I glimpse though this passage is the amazing truth that nothing that can further God’s most gracious purposes is too big for Christ to do for us.  That is why I spend more of my prayer time these days praying for the,”knowledge of God’s will for me, and the power to carry that out” as step eleven of the 12 steps so wisely puts it.  It is not that I don’t ever pray for specific things to come to pass – I do.  But I do so not confident in my perception, but rather confident that if what I am praying for is in line with God’s most loving purposes, they will come to pass in God’s good time and ways. 

And in those times when the things I pray for don’t come to pass in the ways I want or expect, I have the example of Jesus himself,  in the garden, praying that the cup of suffering might pass him by if it be the Father’s will.  There he prays for one kind of salvation, only to have something even more wondrous worked out through him. That example leads me more and more I trust that the energy of my prayers is never wasted.  The love and trust that is the life blood of prayer connects me more deeply to God every time I pray.  And that connection is what allows me to go on through whatever lies ahead, tethered securely to God, come what may. 

          And today our lesson from the book of Acts gives us a fast forward ability, to move from the anguished and frightened circle around the table with Jesus, to see a second generation disciple as a bold and living example of what Jesus is promising here.  It is not an easy story – it is the story of a man, filled with faith and the Holy Spirit who is killed for just those reasons – for giving voice to his Spirit-filled vision of God.  But as he dies he is not abandoned.  The Father and the Son are close at hand, and he is blessed with a vision of that larger reality and with the ability to extend the works and cause of Jesus with his dying breath.  Closely echoing Jesus’ words from the cross, “Father, do not hold this sin against them.”

          Stephen’s is an extreme example of the life of faith to which we are each called.  May the greater works of Christ our Lord continue to abound among and through us.  In Christ’s name.  Amen+

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Mar 272017
 

Audio Sermon for 8 AM

Sermon for Sunday, March 26, 2017 – The Fourth Sunday in Lent

Audio Sermon for 10:15 AM

Sermon for Sunday, March 26, 2017 – The Fourth Sunday in Lent

Text for Sermon at 8am 

          That Gospel reading alone is a sermon unto itself.  So, I decided to take a slightly different slant on this sermon.  This week I invited Vestry members and a few other parish leaders to join me in an exercise to engage with this morning’s scripture readings and to create short poems known as centos. I will say more about that in just a minute, but first there is one homiletic point about our Gospel reading that I feel compelled to make.  It is in regard to term “The Jews” as used in this reading and throughout the Gospel according to John.

It is important to know and remember that all of the characters in this story are Jews.  It seems obvious, but perhaps it cannot be said too many times – Jesus was a Jew.  One of the historical truths about John’s Gospel is that it was written at a time when Christians were being expelled from synagogues and the split between Judaism and Christianity was forming.  There is a hint of that historical reality in this story when we are told the man born blind was expelled from the synagogue for testifying that Jesus came from God.  The writer of John uses the term “The Jews” throughout to refer to hostile Jewish authorities with whom Jesus and his disciples clashed.   We will come upon this phrase “The Jews” again next week in our Gospel and on Palm Sunday in our passion Gospel.  So we need to be mindful of this historical context and not extrapolate that the Gospel condemns Jews – for that is a sad part of Christian history that has contributed to the suffering of legions of our Jewish neighbors. And indeed, Jesus does not condemn even those who sent him to the cross – hanging there he says “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” Those words are for all of humanity!

          That said I want to turn now to sharing more with you about the cento form of poetry as a way of engaging the lectionary readings that is both fun and quite profound.  I had never heard of this form of poetry until our diocesan Pre-Lenten Clergy Retreat in that Jay and I attended in February. The retreat was led by The Rev. Roger Ferlo who is the Dean of Bexley Hall Seabury Seminary in Ohio, and a friend of our Bishop Alan.  Roger presented us with a fascinating program that got us to use the creative centers of our brain. 

His last exercise with us was to invite us into the process of constructing poems in this form known as cento.  The website poetry.com says this about the cento form:

From the Latin word for “patchwork,” the cento (or collage poem) is a poetic form made up of lines from poems by other poets. Though poets often borrow lines from other writers and mix them in with their own, a true cento is composed entirely of lines from other sources… Modern centos are often witty, creating irony or humor from the juxtaposition of images and ideas.

Roger Ferlo’s slant on writing centos was specific to scripture.  He had each of us at the retreat read a set of lectionary texts for one of the Sundays in Lent, and then gave us the following directions:

Step 1. Read the four passages slowly, marking words and phrases that catch your eye or ear or in some way rivet your attention.

Step 2. Take a second look at the words or phrases you’ve marked.  Choose one from the Old Testament reading (at random is fine) to start your drafting process.  Keep the phrase short, no more than 8 to 10 syllables, give or take.  It’s OK to work with someone else if that’s easier and more fun (or less scary).

Step 3. Do the same for each successive passage (Psalm, New Testament, Gospel), juxtaposing a phrase from each passage that in some way speaks to (probes, explains, contradicts, supplements, seems to follow upon the thought of) the opening phrase.

  1. You now have the draft of a cento. Read it aloud as a stand-alone poem, just to yourself or to someone else if that helps. What makes sense to you?  What new or unexpected meanings emerge?  You may decide that a line you’ve chosen is inadequate to the task of emerging meaning.  Look for a substitute.  Don’t hesitate to ask for advice. And don’t worry if what emerges doesn’t seem pious.  Heterodoxy (difined as thought not conforming with accepted or orthodox standards or beliefs) sometimes goes with the territory.  Poets barge in where theologians fear to tread.

(Directions for writing a Cento from The Rev. Roger Ferlo)

          I love that last line, “poets barge in where theologians fear to tread” because it highlights that this is not a process that is meant to bring us to insights that make systematic sense.  Rather it is a spiritual tool that can help us be free to hear what the Spirit is trying to be speak to our heart as we engage with our holy texts.  And that can be fun, soulful, surprising, disconcerting, deeply comforting. 

          You will find these directions for writing scripture centos on an insert to your bulletin so that you can take them with you if you like.  I commend this to you as a tool to use in whatever ways might feed you.  I will end now by sharing 11 centos constructed this week by several 8 am service attendees for me to share with you as part of this sermon.  They are all based on the scripture texts we have shared here today.  I am just going to read them to you in the order I received them, with a slight pause in between each. What I notice is that all together they beautifully form into a larger cento with wonderful repeating of certain lines and many shades of meaning.

          So here they are, St. Paul’s Newburyport  8 am Centos:

1

The Lord looks on the heart.

He revives my soul and guides me

Live as children of light

God’s works might be revealed in me

2

Sanctify yourselves and come

Down in green pastures

Christ will shine on you

And now I see

3

Sanctify yourselves and come

Through the valley of the shadow

Rise from the dead

Who had formerly been blind

4

I will show you what you shall do.

Goodness and mercy shall follow me

Live as children of light.

Give glory to God!

5

Fill your horn with oil and set out

along right pathways

Try to find what is pleasing

Give glory to God.

6

Fill your horn with oil and set out’

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow

Try to find what is pleasing

Some of the Pharisees near him heard this

7

How long will you grieve?

The Lord is my shepherd

now in the Lord you are light

one thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see.

8

Anoint for me
Goodness and mercy
Exposed by the light
Received my sight

9

The Lord looks on the heart,

and leads me beside still waters.

In the Lord you are the light.

I went and washed and received my sight.

10

The Lord looks on the heart

My cup is running over.

Live as children of light

“Lord, I believe.”

11

Once you were in darkness, but now 

as I am the light of the world,

Sleepers awake!

Live as children of light.

In the name of Christ. Amen+

 

Text for Sermon at 10:15 am

          That Gospel reading alone is a sermon unto itself.  So, I decided to take a slightly different slant on this sermon.  This week I invited Vestry members and a few other parish leaders to join me in an exercise to engage with this morning’s scripture readings and to create short poems known as centos. I will say more about that in just a minute, but first there is one homiletic point about our Gospel reading that I feel compelled to make.  It is in regard to term “The Jews” as used in this reading and throughout the Gospel according to John.

It is important to know and remember that all of the characters in this story are Jews.  It seems obvious, but perhaps it cannot be said too many times – Jesus was a Jew.  One of the historical truths about John’s Gospel is that it was written at a time when Christians were being expelled from synagogues and the split between Judaism and Christianity was forming.  There is a hint of that historical reality in this story when we are told the man born blind was expelled from the synagogue for testifying that Jesus came from God.  The writer of John uses the term “The Jews” throughout to refer to hostile Jewish authorities with whom Jesus and his disciples clashed.   We will come upon this phrase “The Jews” again next week in our Gospel and on Palm Sunday in our passion Gospel.  So we need to be mindful of this historical context and not extrapolate that the Gospel condemns Jews – for that is a sad part of Christian history that has contributed to the suffering of legions of our Jewish neighbors. And indeed, Jesus does not condemn even those who sent him to the cross – hanging there he says “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” Those words are for all of humanity!

          That said I want to turn now to sharing more with you about the cento form of poetry as a way of engaging the lectionary readings that is both fun and quite profound.  I had never heard of this form of poetry until our diocesan Pre-Lenten Clergy Retreat in that Jay and I attended in February. The retreat was led by The Rev. Roger Ferlo who is the Dean of Bexley Hall Seabury Seminary in Ohio, and a friend of our Bishop Alan.  Roger presented us with a fascinating program that got us to use the creative centers of our brain. 

His last exercise with us was to invite us into the process of constructing poems in this form known as cento.  The website poetry.com says this about the cento form:

From the Latin word for “patchwork,” the cento (or collage poem) is a poetic form made up of lines from poems by other poets. Though poets often borrow lines from other writers and mix them in with their own, a true cento is composed entirely of lines from other sources… Modern centos are often witty, creating irony or humor from the juxtaposition of images and ideas.

Roger Ferlo’s slant on writing centos was specific to scripture.  He had each of us at the retreat read a set of lectionary texts for one of the Sundays in Lent, and then gave us the following directions:

Step 1. Read the four passages slowly, marking words and phrases that catch your eye or ear or in some way rivet your attention.

Step 2. Take a second look at the words or phrases you’ve marked.  Choose one from the Old Testament reading (at random is fine) to start your drafting process.  Keep the phrase short, no more than 8 to 10 syllables, give or take.  It’s OK to work with someone else if that’s easier and more fun (or less scary).

Step 3. Do the same for each successive passage (Psalm, New Testament, Gospel), juxtaposing a phrase from each passage that in some way speaks to (probes, explains, contradicts, supplements, seems to follow upon the thought of) the opening phrase.

  1. You now have the draft of a cento. Read it aloud as a stand-alone poem, just to yourself or to someone else if that helps. What makes sense to you?  What new or unexpected meanings emerge?  You may decide that a line you’ve chosen is inadequate to the task of emerging meaning.  Look for a substitute.  Don’t hesitate to ask for advice. And don’t worry if what emerges doesn’t seem pious.  Heterodoxy (difined as thought not conforming with accepted or orthodox standards or beliefs) sometimes goes with the territory.  Poets barge in where theologians fear to tread.

(Directions for writing a Cento from The Rev. Roger Ferlo)

          I love that last line, “poets barge in where theologians fear to tread” because it highlights that this is not a process that is meant to bring us to insights that make systematic sense.  Rather it is a spiritual tool that can help us be free to hear what the Spirit is trying to be speak to our heart as we engage with our holy texts.  And that can be fun, soulful, surprising, disconcerting, deeply comforting. 

          You will find these directions for writing scripture centos on an insert to your bulletin so that you can take them with you if you like.  I commend this to you as a tool to use in whatever ways might feed you.  I will end now by sharing 12 centos constructed this week by several 10:15 am service attendees for me to share with you as part of this sermon.  They are all based on the scripture texts we have shared here today.  I am just going to read them to you in the order I received them, with a slight pause in between each. What I notice is that all together they beautifully form into a larger cento with wonderful repeating of certain lines and many shades of meaning.

          So here they are, St. Paul’s Newburyport  10:15 am Centos:

1

Sanctify yourselves and come

Down in green pastures

Christ will shine on you

And now I see

2

Sanctify yourselves and come

Through the valley of the shadow

Rise from the dead

Who had formerly been blind

3

For the Lord does not see as mortals see

He revives my soul and guides me along right pathways…
Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true
One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see

4

Fill your horn with oil and set out

along right pathways

Try to find what is pleasing

Give glory to God.

5

Fill your horn with oil and set out’

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow

Try to find what is pleasing

Some of the Pharisees near him heard this

6

The spirit of the Lord came mightily

I will fear no evil

Children of the light

We are not blind, are we?

7

The Lord does not see as mortals see.

In the Lord you are light;

Born blind so that God’s works might be revealed.

I shall not be in want.

8

Fill your horn with oil and set out;

goodness and mercy shall follow me;

now in the Lord you are light;

I went and washed and received my sight.

9

I will show you what you shall do.

For you are with me.

All that is good and right and true

Lord, I believe.

10

The spirit of the Lord came mightily

Your goodness and mercy shall follow me

In the Lord you are light

He opened my eyes

11

How long will you grieve
I have come to sacrifice
I shall fear no evil
Now in the Lord you are light
Though I was blind, now I see.

12

Here is an astonishing thing!
The spirit of the Lord came mightily.
Light is found in all that is good and right and true.
I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

In the name of Christ. Amen+

 

 

 

 

 

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 Sermons for Sunday, March 26, 2017 – The Fourth Sunday in Lent  Posted by on Mon, 27-Mar-17 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermons for Sunday, March 26, 2017 – The Fourth Sunday in Lent