Dedication Sermon

How do dreams begin?
Sometimes it’s a stirring within, maybe a still small voice,
whispering a future is possible.
Maybe it starts in prayer, or an awareness
that something is about to change, a quiver,
in the soul, a fresh breeze across
open water, light dances and dazzles,
something beautiful, something wonderful is about to happen.
We catch the light,
a dream of God, riding the breath
of the Holy Spirit.
We’re going to tell a story today,
of a dream we caught here at St. Paul.
We’ll be hearing from
some of the people who helped make
the dream come true. But the story
really begins with the Gospel and the dream of Jesus.
When Jesus walked and talked among us,
he drew us into a great vision,
God’s universal building project,
a dream of the kingdom of heaven on earth,
where everyone is drawn under
the holy canopy of shalom,
into the divine shelter of a good creation,
peace on earth, good will toward all.
It’s a vision, as deep and wide as love itself.

How the vision comes to earth depends on how we live
—the way we live the promise
of the kingdom here in our lives,
in faith active in love, justice and peace.
We discover that acts of mercy, peace and justice,
happen in the fundamental gestures
of welcome, of taking time, energy, and commitment
to make room for others,
in our souls, in our communities, in our buildings.
Jesus promises when we have welcomed another
in his name, we have welcomed him, and the One who sent him.

When you come into a room and experience it
the way a person in a wheelchair might experience it,
or the way a very elderly person
or a small child, or a deaf or blind person,
might experience it, your world changes.
We experience an epiphany,
a stunning recognition
of this truth: whatever we do for those
who have less privilege, less power,
than we have, makes everything better for everyone.

I learned this lesson powerfully
when I worked at Goucher College
as an advocate for students with disabilities.
We discovered that every time
we made a change toward accessibility, whether
it was enlarging printed texts, or providing better sound,
redesigning curriculum,
or simply creating wider spaces in classrooms,
everyone’s learning improved.
Accessible spaces and classes affected all of us.
The world is a more open place for everyone.
It was a spiritual lesson in abundance, the more
welcoming we became,
the more we and our students received.

And sometimes the kingdom looks like this:
a small community that wants to be more
loving decides to take on the weight of reality
and transform it, acting on the wisdom of the Spirit,
drawing on the strength of gospel faith.
In this case the weight of reality
was a building that
needed a major renovation.
The impulse for transformation had to come from within,
from a conversion within, rather than a mandate
from outside.

We all have memories of people struggling
to negotiate this space,
of being asked, can a wheel chair get in?
We have had to apologize to guests who struggled
to come for funerals and weddings, and services.
We’ve watched some of our long-time members
stop coming, because the stairs were too steep,
or they had stop to get their breath.
We have had to turn down programs and groups
that wanted to come here because we weren’t accessible.
We all wanted to see this change
for the sake of someone we loved:
for Buster Demilia with his oxygen tank,
for Billy Natti, with his cane,
for Joey Enos in his wheelchair,
for strong advocates in Michael Stoffa and Vi Ray;
we all have names we remember.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that God wastes nothing.
When I came here, everything I had learned
about accessibility came into play.
You had a vision,
you wanted to be a community church,
a welcoming church.
It was clear to all of us
that if we were going to extend God’s invitation,
if we were going to preach God’s welcome
to everyone at the banquet of the Lamb,
if we were going to be salty Christians, with flavor,
and people of the light, if we were going to preach
the kingdom of God was something worth living and dying for,
if we were going to unleash the Gospel,
then we had to preach with everything we had.
People are watching, and they expect the world of Christians.
Are you who you say you are?

In the first week of my time here,
it became clear: if you were going to do
all that you had envisioned as a church,
if you were going to be the community you wanted to be
and serve the neighborhood they way you wanted to serve,
the building had to change.
How we could preach the wide all-embracing
spacious joyful welcome of God
in a building that wasn’t accessible?
A major vision required a major building renovation.
That was implicit in all you wanted to do.

Opening the building came up at the first Council meeting I attended.
Vi Ray, who we miss every day, sat at the end of the table,
and said, as she did at every Council meeting she attended,
“what about the elevator.”
The dream of an accessible space
was dear to your hearts, and so we had to
work it out, in fear and trembling sometimes,
but mostly in joy and a sense of adventure.
Everyone did their part, from the youngest child,
to the eldest of our members.
Along the way we’ve been inspired by
incredible stewardship;
gifts came in from far and near,
from former members and friends, from strangers
who lived elsewhere.
We asked for guidance from churchwide in Chicago,
and from our Synod, and got it.
George Scharfe came forward as project manager;
our small parish raised almost four hundred thousand dollars;
we received a surprise bequest from Vi Ray,
and further help from Rockport National Bank.
The City of Gloucester approved us.
We had incredible architects and builders.
We made new friends,
and our neighbors delighted in our progress.
The dividing walls came down, the doors opened,
and the God who had been far off drew near.
We prayed and built on in the face of an economic downturn.
People stopped me on the street to say
how glad and inspired they were to see what we were doing.
And now the Holy Spirit, the beauty of this place,
and the steady faith of all of you
have made the building itself a proclamation of the Gospel.
Here the gracious love of God is at work in
a long cherished dream come alive.
And so rejoice dear friends,
with those here today, and those
who have gone before us, for
we can finally say All are welcome in this place,
and know that it’s true.

Jairus’ Daughter–June 28th

Last Sunday, we heard the miracle
of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee.
The disciples awakened to the awe and wonder
of Jesus as Lord of wind and water.
This week, their eyes and our eyes are opened to Jesus
as the Lord of Life and healing.
Last week, after Jesus calmed the storm,
he asked the disciples, “why are you afraid? Have you still no faith.”
And this week, he consoles a frightened family:
“do not fear, only believe.”
Jesus offers faith as the antidote to fear.

In my work visiting the sick,
healing stories often come deeply alive.
For example, during these last two weeks,
this morning’s Gospel is reenacted every time
I visit the ICU of Children’s Hospital in Boston.
The Natti family, and their friends
are praying for their daughter Lacey,
as Jairus prayed for his daughter.
Jesus’ voice, “Do not fear, only believe,”
becomes a living voice, Jesus, a living presence in their midst.
How impoverished I would be
if I did not know the scripture stories of faith
and pray the comforting words of gospel promise.
Scriptures become lifelines,
thrown out as saving grace to us,
a living bond to a living God.

And for those who are deep in crisis,
wondering whether God hears their prayers,
“Lord do you hear us?,” scriptures
overflow with comfort and courage.
This morning especially,
we hear a faithful witness to a gracious God,
one who comes with kindness and mercy,
a healing God who does not desire our hurt.
In our passage from Lamentations,
the prophet speaks words of comfort in a time of terror:
“the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
the mercies of God never come to an end;
they are new every morning.
Great is thy faithfulness.”
Or this: “The Lord is my portion, says my soul,
therefore in the Lord I will hope.”

Every Sunday we offer healing prayers,
for friends and family,
sometimes for people we don’t even know.
Healing miracles have a certain immediacy for us.
We can easily identify with the people in these stories today.
And we may pray as they do.
Sometimes we ask Jesus directly,
with longing as Jairus does,
sometimes indirectly, as the woman with the hemorrhage does.
We seek glimmers of hope: “if I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”

We understand the frustration and pain of the woman with a hemorrhage.
We see her exhaustion—we have known people like her,
seeking help and finding none.

What we may not realize because we live in a different time and culture,
is the woman with a hemorrhage in Jesus time,
was a woman who was unclean,
someone whose disease separates her from others.
She lives on the margins of her society.
But we, too, can think of many illnesses that isolate people
from the loving hands and healing presence of others.

AIDS and HIV used to be illnesses that carried great fear with them.
Mental illness, such as depression
or complicated illnesses like addiction can be isolating.
Anyone who is going blind or deaf knows isolation.
Elderly people in nursing homes experience isolation.
The woman with a hemorrhage becomes a metaphor,
the hemorrahage a symbol for any of us,
man or woman, suffering from conditions that drain our life energies.
She could be someone struggling with
memories of violence, or terror,
a returned soldier, a rape victim, a refugee.
She could be someone chronically weakened
by injustice and indignity.

In today’s Gospel,
Jesus himself lays hands on Jairus’ daughter.
And it is Jesus himself the woman touches.
But sometimes Jesus heals in other ways.
Miracles of healing often come to us
through the loving hands and care of those around us.
That’s not hard for us to believe—
Jesus told his disciples they would do even greater
miracles than he.
God has used people in this roo, and beyond these walls,
to touch our lives, strengthen our faith, and heal us.
All of us have experienced God at work
in the healing words and loving actions of others.

When you are walking around an ICU
in a Children’s hospital,
among many families with sick children,
the gospel promise of a loving God
becomes powerfully real.
Prayer takes on a deep intensity—you
pray unceasingly, with every cell of your body.
Some of the children on the ICU are older,
as Lacey Natti is, and some are newborns.
And every one of those children,
and everyone of those families needs a holy touch,
and healing, a divine word of comfort and grace.
On the ICU of Children’s Hospital,
people from all over the world bring their children for healing,
Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus,
all of them joined in a common longing,
all of them like Jairus and his daughter.
For many of them, good health care, and access to it,
becomes the means of God’s healing miracles.

Watching the doctors and nurses care for those children
these last two weeks was like watching Jesus
touch Jairus’ daughter, and the woman with a hemorrahage.
Those caregivers were vessels of the Holy Spirit.
Compassion for the sick and their families is palpable.
Everyone who works on that floor,
from the people cleaning the rooms
to the neurosugeouns, is doing a holy work and they know it.
They are the Lord’s hands.
It is a holy place to be. We are blessed
to have such people in our congregation, nurses, paramedics,
doctors, caregivers, whose hands are healing hands.

Walking around an ICU, or
visiting the sick here in our parish,
I hold the Gospel promise close.
“The Lord will have compassion
out of an abundance of steadfast love,”
says the prophet in Lamentations.
This morning, we hear
the resurrection truth:
for each of us, even in death, we are only sleeping.
Jesus does come and raise us up.
All healing stories are ultimately the resurrection story.
May God’s healing come to you today,
with blessing and grace wherever you need it.
May the Lord call you from sleep,
“little one, get up.” May he take your hand,
and raise you to new life.
His mercies are new every morning.

Sermon–Trinity Sunday

At our Sunday School teachers’ meeting in May,
we wondered how to celebrate today, on Trinity Sunday
the last day of Sunday School for this year.
Should we have ice cream and cake?
Outside? Inside?
What would be our theme?
Some of you have read Miranda Johnson’s report in our newsletter
with the Sunday school quote of the month.
Zoe, one of our Sunday School students,
described what she would do if Jesus came to her house:
She’d have a big party, invite lots of friends,
there would be food, music, and laughter,
and of course, a disco ball.
And while her vision is not quite Isaiah’s with
seraphs and angels round the throne,
and burning coals of fire, Zoe’s got the right idea.

Every Sunday, our teachers
come ready to stir up
the religious imaginations of our children,
feeding their spirits with stories
and songs of faith, prayers and activities that help
them find expression for their experience of God.
Sunday School teachers
are doing what Jesus charged us all to do,
in the Great Commission, making disciples,
preaching and teaching, and baptizing, in the name of the Triune God.
Each teacher prays, searches the scriptures,
offers his or her best thinking, and prepares
for these times with our young people.
When one of the children is able
to tell the story of God’s love in their own way,
when they are able to find words or images,
to express what is most high and most holy,
most beautiful, wonderful and mysterious,
we fall on our knees, so to speak, with gratitude and delight.
A Party for God, that’s what we decided to have,
but we needed to find a disco ball, to make it complete.

That was a month ago—
phone calls and emails went out.
Where we would we find a dicso ball?
And I started wondering,
how on earth I would tie a disco ball
into a sermon on Trinity Sunday.

For this is a most amazing day,
for those of you who like to ponder
the mystery of our faith—Trinity Sunday
celebrates our Christian witness to a Triune God,
God who is Creator, who gave us the Son,
whose Spirit fills all things, whose being is communion,
so mysterious we bring many names:
Maker of the Universe, whose voice
called into all things into being, God who is Father, Mother,
Almighty, Most Holy, Dweller in the High Places, Great Healer,
And Son, fully human, fully divine, Prince of Peace, Mighty Savior,
Counselor, Word and Wisdom, Good Shepherd,
True Vine, Friend, Light from Light, true God from true God,
Begotten not made,
and Spirit, Teacher, Comforter, Advocate,
mighty Spirit whose life flows through creation,
who hovered over the face of the waters at the beginning of time,
who overshadows the world in clouds of glory,
who comes as whisper, as wind, as water, and light upon light,
who speaks through the prophets,
Spirit of life, spirit of truth, of peace, of joy,
whose gifts are poured out for our sake, for the world’s sake,
and of whom we are born of God,
and whose voice cries within us, Abba, Father.

Just sit with that a minute.

Sit at the foot of the throne, for a minute, as Isaiah did,
in the temple of the Holy One, where the hem of God’s robe
filled the room. Dwell in the presence of all that is Holy.
When that happened to Isaiah, he felt a great unworthiness.
Who was he, that God should send such a vision?

Or sit with Nicodemus for a moment, who came to hear Jesus teach,
in the dark of night, as we often do, asking questions.
Hear Jesus say to him,
you must be born from above,
and then you will see God at work in the world.
You will see the kingdom.
Be born from above,
see the great love God has for all beings, for all creation.
God, holy and marvelous, magnificent Maker of the Universe
this great God so loved us, that he gave his divine self to us in Christ.
Sit with that for a minute—in all its the power and beauty.

Jesus had patience with Nicodemus as he tried to explain this mystery.
Like all good teachers, he sought for an image that
Nicodemus could understand.
Listen to the wind, Jesus suggested.
“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it,
and you do not know where it comes from, or where it goes,
so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Born of water and Spirit, we become children of God,
not to fear God, but to know God as Jesus did,
holy mystery, holy presence in our daily lives,
no matter how young or how old we are.

So we throw a party for God.
but we couldn’t find a disco ball.
We looked far and wide, even on the Internet.
Last Sunday, before the service,
Deb Coull walked into my office
bearing a gift, like one of the wise kings at Christmas.
She said, ” I saw this the other day, at the store, and I thought,
you know, we might need one of those someday for the Sunday School.”
She handed me the gift—it was a disco ball.
The thing is, Deb had no idea we’d been
searching for a disco ball for a month.
We’d almost given up.
We wanted to call the disco ball one of St. Paul’s little miracles.
But it seemed more like divine comedy,
for we laughed and laughed.

Jesus said to his disciples one day,
when he was teaching them about God’s love,
not a hair on your head goes uncounted,
not a sparrow falls without God’s knowing.
As a mother bird, shelters her chicks in a nest
under her wings, so God shelters you.
What parent, Jesus asked, gives his child
a stone when the child asks for fish?
Ask for what you need. Ask and it shall be given,
seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened,
for God so loves the world.
Extravagant loving and extravagant giving,
this is the life of the Trinity:
extravagant love and extravagant giving,
pouring out a river of joy through all things.
Thank you God, for being God,
for giving birth to a universe of glory, of infinite beauty and light.
Thank you God, for comforting and teaching,
for showing us the way, the truth, and the life, in Christ Jesus.
Thank you God for your Spirit, who gives us life.
Thank you God, for children, for teachers, for your Word,
for truth, and for creativity, for imaginations,
for delight, for grace, for love, for surprises,
and for parties, and even a disco ball.
Thank you God, for all your good good gifts. Amen.

Sermon–Sunday, May 24th

This is an inbetween Sunday—between Ascension and Pentecost
all the faithful in Christendom are waiting.
Ascension happens 40 days after Easter;
it was celebrated on this past Thursday
and you can read about it in the first chapter of Acts.

The Ascension marks a turning point in the life of the church.
Jesus is lifted up into a cloud like the cloud of God’s glory on Sinai,
or at the Transfiguration.
No longer tied down to local geography,
Christ becomes available in a universal way.
The Ascension is a stunning moment, of loss, and of promise.
The disciples return to Jersusalem to watch and pray
for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
That’s where the story finds us this morning,
in deep prayer, waiting for something wonderful to happen.

It’s appropriate, on this morning of watching and praying,
that we hear to Jesus’ great intercessory prayer in
chapter 17 of the Gospel according to John.
The prayer takes place,
in the context of the Last Supper,
on the night before he was crucified,
at the end of the evening,
after the disciples have eaten and listened to his teaching.

This is the living healing prayer of a loving teacher:
the good shepherd, the Vine, the Friend,
the Savior, the Holy One, Beloved of God,
the mighty Prince of Peace praying for you.
Jesus prayed for his disciples that night,
for those with him,
and for all those who would come after.
And so this prayer, we hear this morning, is for us, too.
It’s an intercessory prayer we can cling to.
It reminds us that Jesus led a life of prayer.
As Jesus practices it, prayer is a way of abiding in God’s word.

We have only one section of the great prayer this morning.
The prayer concludes a portion of John
called the Farewell Discourses: beginning in Chapter 14.
Each discourse offers a self-disclosure on Jesus’ part.
Have you ever wanted to understand another person
in order to be closer to them?
And just wished they would sit down with you,
and tell you why and what they have been doing?
Most of us can only have those kinds of conversations
with close friends.
These final discourses of Jesus
are the gift of a Holy Friend
his last words for those he loves.
Chapter after chapter unfolds with a revelation of Jesus’ loving heart;
he talks about what he did and why he was doing it.
And then he prays.

He prays that we may share the joy
he has known in the company of God.
that we may share his joy in loving God.
Jesus prays on our behalf, he says,
helping us to understand that all we have been given comes
from the hands of God, that all he was given comes from God.
“I have made your name known to those
whom you gave me from the world,”
he prays, “they were yours and you gave them to me.”
“All mine are yours, and yours are mine—
and I have been glorified in them.”
It’s a pastoral prayer,
the good shepherd interceding for his lambs.

“Father, protect them,” he prays, “in your name,
so that they may be one, just as we are one.”
“I speak these things,” he says,” so that they may have my joy
complete in themselves.”
Jesus prays here for a radical reorientation of our lives
toward God—and not just toward God, but union with God.
so that his joy may be our joy.
He came so that each of us can be one with God.

This is a powerful prayer.
A life-changing prayer.
Jesus’ prayer doesn’t stop with him.
He gives it into our hands as church, so that we pray for others,
as he has prayed for us.
Many of us pray for others daily.
And every Sunday, for two thousand years,
we intercede for the life of the world in the prayers of the people.
for creation, for this world, for nations, and families, for food,
for all those in need of shelter, for healing
—we pray, as Jesus taught us to pray, for everything we can think of.
We lift up names each week,
of those who have asked us to pray for them.
Many of us reach out to people whose names are on our prayer list,
but there others, who are in need of prayer and comfort who aren’t on this list.

Often people ask me how someone is.
I can usually give a little information,
but more often I can’t because of confidentiality
or because of Hippa laws.
If there is someone you haven’t seen for awhile,
or are wondering about,
chances are they would love to hear from you,
would love to hear from others besides me,
to know you are missing them and praying for them.
Sometimes when we pray, a person might come to mind—
that’s the prompting of the Holy Spirit—
that’s a spiritual call to pray for them and reach out to them.
It’s a manifestation of the ministry of that great intercessory prayer
of Jesus. He hands it over to us, prays it through us,
as his presence in the world.
It’s our ministry to connect with each other, to pray for each other.

On any given day,
when we recall the way Jesus prays and
intercedes for us, that we may all be one with God,
that our joy would be complete, when we recollect this,
and grasp it in faith,
our spiritual lives are planted by streams of living water.
We are nourished by streams of grace
as we sang in the Psalm today.

In prayer, we tap into the deep waters of Christ’s peace.
Jesus doesn’t pray for us to suffer here,
he prays for our joy, for our faith, for our safety,
he prays for our healing, for us to held in God’s hands;
he prays that we would be made holy in truth, just as he is.
He prays that his life would be our life on earth.
This is a prayer for the whole church,
for the whole body of Christ on earth.
As you read this prayer, you see the words give, given, giving,
appearing over and over again.
The prayer is a rushing fountain of flowing gifts—
Over and over again, like a fountain of water,
God gives to Jesus, Jesus gives to us, we give of ourselves
to God and to the world. It is a giving life, a joyful life,
a life washed with prayer, a life abiding, one with God.

Epiphany news

Recently, I returned from a visit to my granddaughter in California. Coming back to Lanesville, I was greeted by some neighbors early one morning, who offered their congratulations about our church building project. They stopped me in the Plum Cove Grind, our local coffee and pastry shop, and expressed enthusiastic praise for the way the building is beginning to look.

While I was gone, walls have been raised, and windows cut in them, so now the construction really does look like a church is being built. I told the work crew about the praise the neighborhood had heaped on them. The crew was pleased in a quiet way, and looking forward to the day the roof goes on. They have been working in inclement weather, and it will be a pleasant change to have something over their heads when the snow flies.

We’re preparing for Lent, in these last days of Epiphany. Christmas, of course, was delightful, the Christmas pageant the best ever. The children sang beautifully, the church was packed despite snow, and we had a wonderful time. Then, all of a sudden, the season passed, and we entered Epiphany and the heart of winter. As I drive around Cape Ann, though, I notice many people haven’t yet taken down the Christmas decorations.

Epiphany calls me, at least, in powerful ways. There are so many wonderful words to roll around in during Epiphany: light, shining, wisdom, water, majesty, glory, beauty, transcendance, delight. And, too, Epiphany always carries the solemn knowledge and remembrance in the scripture lessons of those who turn away from light. Epiphany in New England always involves snowstorms. We’ve had several on the weekends in January and February, but despite bad weather, people came to church. One morning in January, we had no power in the sanctuary, so we met downstairs, all jumbled together in one- half of Fellowship Hall. We plunked out hymns on the old out-of-tune-piano. It was a lovely, intimate service. Children sat in their parents laps. The close proximity thawed out our chilled bodies, warming our hearts. Later, one of our members said, “we should do that more often, just for the fun of it.”

Another Sunday in January, two children were baptized. They were members of the fourth generation of one of our families. One was a young boy named Austin. He was thrilled to receive a candle, and even more thrilled to carry it up and down the central aisle while we sang a baptismal hymn. We should have taken a picture of his face–it was bright and shining; his huge smile was lit up by the candle, an Epiphany moment if there ever was one. Last week, as Austin was leaving the church, he ran back in from the parking lot and pulled on my robe: “I loved getting baptized” and laughed up at me again. And then dashed off to join his family.

Now the season is moving more toward spring. We’ve had a February thaw this week, and mist rose in the woods from the melting snows. It was warm enough to rain, and the thermometer hit 50 degrees at least. In the angle of light and the lengthening day, we sense the change coming. For two days, we took off our mittens and muffs, our heavy coats and scarves. Everyone said hello on the streets, as if we hadn’t seen each other for ages. We’ve been too bundled up to recognize each other. Then the winds began to blow, the temperature dropped, puddles froze once more to an icy slick. But there was enough of spring to get us through the last weeks of winter.

In about two weeks, we observe Ash Wednesday. Our theme for this year’s Lent is “going green,” a shorthand term for thinking about mending our relationship with creation. The teens are planning a Pancake Supper for Mardi Gras, and we’re searching for healthy recipes for toppings, instead of just buying sugary confections. Real maple syrup, for example, instead of corn-syrup based ones, organic milk, eggs, and pancake mix. During Lent, we’re asking the Sunday School children to pay attention to how they use water and electricity at home, or oil and gas, to notice where their food comes from.

In worship, we’re going to try a paperless service. Although we’ve already ordered all the Celebrates for the season, we won’t be using a bulletin. We’ll keep track of how much paper we save. I’m hoping that lack of a bulletin will help us become even more familiar with our new Red books.

We are continuing to collect bottles and cans for a fund drive for a well in the South Sudan for Wunlang village. We’ll keep on developing our relationship with Lutheran World Relief through quilts and coffee, and other Fair Trade products. We are already a fairly thrifty church, thanks to our members who are conscious of wise spending, and who remember to turn down the heat, close doors, and turn off lights.

A new ministry is unfolding in one of the colleges in our community. Kimberlee Cloutier-Blazzard, who teaches at Montserrat, recently became a member of the Campus Ministry Committee for the New England Synod, along with a talented young artist, Montserrat student Kristine Williams. Both are working with the New England Lutheran Student Movement to plan and implement a Faith in Art retreat at Montserrat on February 21st. Please keep this retreat in your prayers. There’s been an enthusiastic response from students.

On February 28th, our Mission Area Assembly will be held at St. Paul Lutheran in Arlington, Massachusetts. There will be presentations and workshops on several ministries in which we are involved, including Book of Faith, the Wunlang School, Campus Ministry, and Habitat for Humanity. Lutherans in the Northeast Conference and the Boston Metro Conference will be attending, representing about 35 churches. This is a lay organized and lay led event to continue to build partner relationships with each other. Last year’s Mission area Assembly was a success. St. Paul Lutheran Church, Gloucester sent 5 members, and organized worship for the event. It’s a good venue for learning about each other’s ministries, and connecting with friends across Boston and the North Shore. ALD

Advent Greetings

Advent Greetings!
The mallards have returned to Lane’s Cove, as they do every November, when it gets really cold. They huddle about in the grasses, nibbling gently at weeds. Elmer and I watch with interest the occasional chases, as one mallard challenges another for the best bit of flotsam. On really cold days, the ducks hunch down, like the rocks around them, laying their necks over their backs and burying their heads among the feathers of their wings. Yesterday was warm, and they wandered at the water’s edge at ebb tide, quacking and chatting over broken bits of crab and old lobster claws. Their return to the Cove in late November often coincides with Advent. Every year I feel surprised by how quickly the season arrives.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that other pastors of other churches send special letters at Advent with Christmas greetings, on beautiful stationary. I am sure I break one of the commandments, in my envy of their foresight and thoughtfulness, the loveliness of the letterheads, the colorful art on the sides of the paper, the flying angels, and manger scenes.

Why am I surprised, I think, this happens every year. It’s predictable. The first Sunday after Thanksgiving is almost always the first Sunday in Advent.

But maybe the surprise is the whole point, the sudden awareness of a great event about to happen. Consider the wise kings watching the sky for portents, day after day, age after age: maybe when the star finally rises, they are surprised, too. Or the shepherds in the fields by night, the sky brightens, and voices sing. They are surprised.

Joseph is surprised to find his wife-to-be already with child. And then perhaps, he surprises himself, by deciding to marry her anyway, and raise the boy as his own, as God’s own child. I’m sure the animals in the stable are surprised to be awakened from their slumber by the labor cries of a young woman giving birth for the first time. Perhaps not. Perhaps, the creatures take it in stride, birthing being a matter of course for them.

As a grandmother, and a mother, I knew our babies and grandbabies were coming, and watched my daughters through each pregnancy. Still, I was surprised by the first small cries in the moments after their births.

May you be surprised this holiday season. By many things, by the abundance in our lives, despite the economic blip we’re experiencing, surprised by the love in your homes, by the friendships, by the tender attention of a God who is like a mother and father, in a small stable, attending your birth, your life, your days and nights. And know that your pastor loves you, too, and wishes the very best for each of you this incredible season of joy and light. In Christ, Pastor Anne Deneen

November Greetings

More Stone Soup!
It’s the season of saints, the season of thanksgiving, the last month of the church year, and for us, the middle of our annual stewardship campaign. This year, our theme is based on a children’s story called Stone Soup. It’s a wonderful tale of a small community transforming an economy based on anxiety and a sense of scarcity, into an economy based on trust and a sense of abundance. When you come into church on Sunday, in front of the altar you’ll see a small campfire—don’t worry, it’s not lit!—with a soup pot placed on top of it. The soup pot is an image we’ve adopted from the story to give us a way to talk about Christian community. Each week we’ll be adding an ingredient of “stone soup” to the pot. On Reformation Sunday, we’ll add a bible, since all that we do in Christian life is founded upon God’s Word.
Each week, we’ll hear stories of “stone soup” experiences. A “stone soup” experience is a time when one discovers the gift of community, the art of working together, or the ways in which each person’s unique gifts and talents helps create a thriving community. A stone soup experience leaves a sense of gratitude in its wake.

Building Rebecca’s playground was a “stone soup” experience, and it left the participants with a sense of gratitude and connection. In the south Sudan, the Wunlang village school is a stone soup experience: built with homemade bricks and love. The school reflects the generosity and determination of people from all over the world, including Cape Ann, to help make a dream come true.

A Sunday morning worship service is a stone soup experience. Liturgy simply means the work of the people; each person present is necessary to the experience. The whole is greater than the parts. A meal at the Open Door is a stone soup experience. We usually make stew for these meals, so there’s a literal example of how each person’s particular offering goes to feed a hungry person. Even voting is a stone soup experience, where each individual’s contribution in a vote makes a difference to a nation.

“Stone Soup” celebrates the art of creating a community that has more than enough to offer others. The story celebrates the power of one joined to the power of many. It celebrates the act of sharing our abundance, even when it seems that there is little to offer. It celebrates the joy of caring for others in need. It’s a parable of community life.

Fall is a time of soup-making, literally, as we use the bounty of autumn’s harvest. During this season of stewardship, as we make our figurative soup, may you know the blessings and abundance of God’s love.
May it be food for your soul, and zest for your life. In Peace, Pastor Anne

Laurie Jamieson’s Stewardship Talk–Sunday, October 19, 2008

Stewardship – October 19, 2008

As Pastor Anne mentioned, the theme of this year’s stewardship campaign is the story of “Stone Soup”. Many of you may be familiar with the story, but I thought I would take a few minutes to refresh your memory and explain why I thought the story was a good starting place for our efforts.

The Story begins….

“Three soldiers trudged down a road in a strange country. They were on their way home from the wars. Besides being tired, they were hungry. In fact, they had eaten nothing for two days. “How I would like a good dinner tonight,” said the first. “And a bed to sleep in,” said the second. “But all of that is impossible,” said the third. “We must march on.” When reading this introduction I am reminded of how I felt when I was in school and returned home after a particularly difficult test or how I felt after interviewing for a job I did not get, or frankly, now after a long day at work when I feel I have less at the end of the day than when I woke up. Comfort seems impossible and out of reach and I must march on…

The story continues… “On the soldiers marched. Suddenly, ahead of them they saw the lights of the village”….In the book, the page with this text includes a picture of a village and the most notable feature of the village is a church steeple. The artist must have felt that a church presented a welcoming view of the town for a stranger, someone who was hungry and tired and feeling that comfort for them might be impossible…

The story goes on…. “Now the peasants of that place feared strangers. When they heard three soldiers were coming down the road, they talked among themselves.” “Here come three soldiers. Soldiers are always hungry. But we have little enough for ourselves.” And they hurried to hide their food….They hid all they had to eat. Then – they waited.” One of the strongest instincts I have and I expect most other people have is the instinct to protect yourself and your family from strangers, but more importantly to protect your and your family from things that you believe are a threat. The villagers in the story acted like most of us might act if we were asked to stretch our resources beyond what we believed was possible…the villagers ‘battened down the hatches” and waited.

What happened next? When the villagers were asked for food by the soldiers and a place to stay, the villagers replied “We gave all we could spare to soldiers who came before you.” “It has been a poor harvest” And “Our beds are full.” “Not a villager had any food to give away.” The story tells us that “They all had good reasons.” “One family had used the grain for feed. Another had an old sick parent to take care of. All had too many mouths to fill.” The villagers were telling the truth. The story does not suggest that the villagers were acting in bad faith or that they meant to cause the soldiers harm. They were protecting their families they best way they knew how.

How did the soldiers react? They did not yell or complain or make the villagers feel bad, they “talked among themselves”. They then told the villagers that they had decided to make “stone soup.” I have always been impressed with the soldiers at this point in the story…they were hungry and tired…they must have felt despondent and yet they did not make the villagers feel guilty or threaten the village (they were after all soldiers), they quietly laid out a plan by which they and all of the villagers could be fed. The soldiers let their actions speak for them. The soldiers believed in the villagers and their generosity…the soldiers had faith in the villagers.

The story goes on to tell us… that much to the amazement of the villagers, the soldiers took a large pot, filled it with water and placed three stones into the pot. To quote the story “The villagers eyes grew round as they watched the soldiers drop the stones into the pot.” It might be said that unlike the soldiers, the villagers lacked faith in their own generosity – they did not believe soup would come from a pot which held only stones. I admit that sometimes I have difficulty believing good things can happen in the midst of all the negative news and events around us. Sometimes I feel like the villagers.

But….the villagers were curious…. “Stone Soup,” they said, “that would be something to know about.” As the story continues, the soldiers each express how a true soup really needs salt and pepper, and how it would be a much better soup with carrots and a bit of beef and potatoes. Next a cup of milk and a little barley seemed just the right thing to add to the soup. Upon hearing each of these comments from the soldiers, the villagers feel the urge to bring forth the ingredients mentioned by the soldiers they had earlier hidden away. No one villager provides all of the ingredients. No one questions that the mixture in the pot is actually soup. Everyone keeps repeating that the content of the pot is soup, and collectively, the villagers emerge with the ingredients of a true soup.

What happens? The villagers and the soldiers set tables in the town square and light torches. The soup smells great! Bread is added to the feast because (to quote the story) real soup requires bread. “Never had there been such a feast,” the villagers exclaim. “Never had the villagers tasted such soup.” This must have been the best meal they had ever had, better than any meal they had each made for themselves. After their meal, we learn that the villagers danced and sang far into the night. The villagers then offer up the best beds in town for the soldiers who now are referred to as “gentlemen” and not “strangers.” The sad looks and frowns on the faces of the villagers in the beginning pages of the story are now replaced with satisfied smiles and happy looks. In the end of the story, the soldiers leave and the villagers comment that “We shall never go hungry, now that we know how to make soup from stones.” The soldiers reply that “it is all in the knowing how.”

So what does this story have to do with stewardship? Why is a pot with stones in it and dancing villagers important in a time when we listen to our music on I-pods and we worry about our jobs, heating bills and our families?

Stewardship is sometimes defined as “taking care of something one does not own but something over which one watches.” A teacher is a steward of his or her students. A daughter or son might be considered a steward for a parent experiencing ill health. Employees of a company expect their employer to be a steward of the business from which they all receive their livelihood. I believe we are all stewards of this church and the legacy of the people who worshipped here before us and those who will worship here after we are gone. I also believe the church community is a steward of the welfare of all who participate in it.

Like the soldiers, when I see our church, I feel that there is an end to my marching, my hunger and my exhaustion. St Paul’s offers me a place of refuge at the end of a long day – I am not forced to march on without comfort. Each of us can see the church and know that we have a place to rest which offers us sustaining faith. Like the soldiers who believed in the villagers, God believes in us and we believe in each other. I believe that as a church community we have the faith to turn stones into soup. That like the villagers with their soup, we will find the generosity in ourselves that enables us all to come up with the ingredients for a strong church and church community. No one will be threatened or made to feel bad, but like the soldiers, I hope I can inspire each person to contribute. One of my favorite expressions in church is – “Not as we ought, but as we are able.” It seems like such a human statement. Like the makers of the soup, you are not being asked to come up with all things necessary for the continued stewardship of our church and the people in our church community on your own, but rather you are asked to consider the requirements of our church and consider what you can contribute from your skills, talents and gifts to make it the best church ever.

As we continue our stewardship efforts during the next few weeks and over the coming months, I hope that each of you will feel free to offer up suggestions for making the communications of the stewardship committee more effective (I am always available for feedback) and that you will set aside your own fears and help us realize our goals. A soup with just stones and water cannot sustain us.

Thank you.

Laurie Jamieson

September, 2008

For those of you connected to St. Paul via the website–here’s some interesting news. We’ve started the building project: Building the Dream, as of the end of August. The front of the building has been removed, even the granite stairs, and a new foundation for an extension is in place. Entering the building is a bit of a challenge since the two front entrances are gone. We enter through the Education Wing, and climb the back stairs past the Parish Adminsitrator’s Office, the Pastor’s Study, around the corner, down some more stairs, and then into the nave. The first Sunday we did this, a wonderful thing happened: every time someone came through the door into the church, he or she entered from the front. Instead of seeing the backs of people’s heads, we are greeted by the smiles of people already sitting in the pews. It was a powerfully different way to enter Sunday morning. There was a little confusion at first as people sorted out where to sit, and how to come in, which aisle to walk to, etc. But it was a cheering experience.

Our neighbors at Temple Ahavat Achim will be celebrating the High Holy Days during the last part of September and early October. They are also beginning to rebuild the Temple after the tragic fire of last December. Please keep them in your prayers during these solemn weeks.

An important day is coming up in the life of the Synod: Saturday, October 4th, a workshop on Leading Change in Congregations will be held in Arlington, at St. Paul Lutheran Church, there. It looks like a wonderful day, especially for congregational leaders who are navigating a course of change in their communities.

Bishop Payne recently sent a letter to the pastors of congregations letting us know her commitment to deepening her prayer practice and her listening skills. She is committed to supporting all of us in our prayer, and asks that we pray for her as we journey through this second year of learning to listen together in prayer. If you are interested in materials from the Synod on prayer and listening, you can find them at the Synod website. I don’t know how to do a link from this blog, but there is a link on our web-page. We recently finished a bible study on prayer at church, on Monday evenings, and we plan to resume this topic for study in early October.

Sermon Back Story: Every Sunday there are things I leave out of sermons. Recently, I preached a sermon on Jonah and forgiveness. What I didn’t say in the sermon is something I found in a book by Wendy Farley on healing. Forgiveness is complicated for the heart that suffers, especially when that suffering has come from the hands of others. She writes “Restoration, reconciliation, and redemption do little for the heart enraged at its suffering. This is why Jonah was so outraged at having to prophecy to Nineveh. The children of Israel had suffered cruelly at the hands of the Assyrians. When the Ninevites repented, Jonah was furious. “O Lord! Is not this what I said when I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God…” It is easy to sympathize with Jonah.” We might read Jonah as a self-concerned prophet, but according to Farley, his heart was wounded by suffering, and he didn’t want to be the voice of grace for those who had caused his suffering. Farley’s depth of understanding of Jonah’s suffering changed the way I read the text. If you are interested, the book is: “The Wounding and Healing of Desire: Weaving Heaven and Earth.” Jonah material is on page 68.

Years ago, when I was first involved in anti-racism work, one of my closest friends was a Passamaquoddy woman. We often discussed each other’s experiences, and my experience as a white, middle class woman, was very different from hers. Our world veiws were shaped by our social locations. Part of the dynamic energy of our friendship came from doing the work of understanding how systemic racism had affected our lives, and our sense of ourselves. Yet, even with that bond of friendship, one day, in conversation, I asked a question about her community in Maine. In a flash of anger, she told me I should do the research myself, instead of asking her. She said, ” I am not my oppressor’s teacher.”

It was a powerful moment. As she saw things, the measure of my commitment to her liberation, as a person and as a Native American, would be my willingness go the distance with her, to really try and understand the world from her perspective. And then to work to change the conditions which produced the oppression. She wanted from me a kind of accompaniment, a willingness to seek and hear the truth of her life: to be changed myself, by her truth. I learned much in that moment, and it helps me understand Jonah’s pain, when he was asked to go and preach repentence to his oppressors. Like my friend, who didn’t want to be her oppressor’s teacher, Jonah didn’t want to be the instrument of his oppressors’ spiritual recovery. Jonah’s story becomes even more liberating, a commentary on the process of healing individuals and communities.
In Peace, Pastor Anne

March 2008

March Greetings!

The word on the street is that this has been a hard winter for many people. And I mean on the street literally. In my rounds on Cape Ann, I often run into people associated with St. Paul, either as members or friends of members, or new families, or relatives of people in the congregation. Usually we stop for brief conversations, sometimes held through car windows, or outside shops.

In these on-the-spot pastoral conversations, I have been hearing the toll the times are taking on people, from high oil prices and joblessness, to illnesses and medical costs, to frustration with local and national issues. On the other hand, I hear, too, the profound faith and hope that many people carry with them through all of it. Part of having an inner core of faith, a center or ground on which we stand is the equilibrium or equanimity such a ground provides when external events are tumultuous. We don’t stand on sinking sand, as the old hymn goes, we stand on Christ the solid rock. I have come to appreciate that metaphor even more since living here on Cape Ann. We literally do stand on rock. It’s good to remember the firm ground of God’s grace in the midst of the ups and downs most of us experience.

Lent is one of those times that calls our attention to our need for grace: sustaining, creating, renewing grace, grace that doesn’t depend on what we do or say, but on God’s great will to love us regardless. I was reminded of that again this morning. I went out to walk the redoubtable Elmer, who has finally learned to heel. We went down the street at a leisurely pace, and for the first time, I smelled the mud of spring. Spring mud has a different fragrance than winter. Spring mud smells alive. It’s a wonderful aroma, all that wet earth, rich with life below the surface. Underneath all the snow, the ground is softer. In the woods, the bare limbs of trees and bushes are beginning to change color, from gray to burgundy red and warm brown. Leaf buds soften on the tips of branches.

Spring is coming. With it comes Easter, and all the joys of the risen life. I hope when you go out today, whether you are walking your dog, or getting the mail, or standing on a street corner, the smell of spring coming up from under the snow will gladden your heart. Grace comes all the time toward us; it’s there whether we feel it or not, whether we notice it or not.
We can count on it. May God send you the joy and hope of spring, of Easter. May the living water of new life and the warmth of the Son bring you the certainty of faith that Easter is our way of being.

Blessings and peace,
your sister in faith, Pastor Anne