Lent and Spir.Disc.-Day 5

It’s Sunday night now, maybe Monday morning, and I think we are actually on Day 5, if you don’t count Sunday. We’re not supposed to, as Sunday is a feast of the resurrection. On Sundays, my spiritual discipline is to try to present a non-anxious presence, which didn’t exactly work out this morning. The goal is to do two things at once–to be calm, or at least to have equanimity, and also to be energized. The day didn’t start well.

First off, I woke up too early thinking I had to change my sermon. Never a good idea, at 6:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. I had used a story about a young man who had returned from Haiti. He recounted his experience of the earthquake, and what it was like for him to hear people singing hymns in the darkness of the streets around midnight in the aftermath of the quake. It’s a great story, of course, and moving, but it seemed to me that to use it in a sermon was manipulative. It was too close to the bone, and as much as one might wish that people be moved by worship, using a story to play on people’s feelings simply seems wrong. So I took it out – a good choice, because it shortened the sermon by about 100 words, thereby reducing the time.

Second, when I got to church, the first half-an-hour was spent setting things up for a special workshop on Lent. Not a big deal in itself, but there was a lot to do, from finding scallop shells for a Lenten fountain, to locating purple felt for the Godly Play story of Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. I forgot the shells. Called my husband, who faithfully and without complaint brought them to church. Still remained calm, so far.

The children’s workshop was delightful. Godly Play has the effect of calming everyone down. I told the story of Jesus welcoming the children, which they always like. One grandmother was holding her grandson in his lap. We looked at her, and someone said, “see, Jesus was just like that, holding the little child.” And another piped up, “yes, just like my little brother.” Such moments open time up; things slow way down, and you hear beneath the clamor–the children understood that they were loved.

We ended story-time, and trouped upstairs to look at the Lent fountain. It’s a beautiful large blue vase. Water bubbles up through the center and washes down the sides of vase. We lined the fountain with scallop shells to remind everyone of their baptism. The younger set, 5-7 year olds, were pleased with running water in the narthex, a novel event.

Third, the steeple bell rang in the church across the street, and caught us by surprise, signaling 10 minutes to 10:00 a.m. and then all was a rush and flurry. Who was acolyting–was he still there? Did he go home? He was there–we had a quick prep for the procession. Five minutes before it was time to start, still in my office, I discovered I had practiced a different liturgy setting than we were doing. Anxiety struck. I wanted to pull out my hair. And then I remembered the scripture that morning–Jesus’ trial in the wilderness. Getting ready for worship is hardly the wilderness, but it seemed almost comedic to experience such a chaotic morning the day the Gospel was all about the devil. He’s a trickster in the desert encounter.

The thing about anxiety is if you express it, which sadly, I did, then everyone around you is affected also, the choir director, the parish administrator, the choir. If I had been a hen, (next week’s Gospel), my feathers would have been flying. Lesson learned. Never flap on Sunday morning! We quickly realized all was well–we all knew the liturgy (Setting IV ELW) and there would be no problem.

As soon as we began Confession, I felt relieved. For this sinner, at least, having 5 minutes to rest in the knowledge of God’s forgivenes restored the stately loveliness of Sunday silence. I leaned into the liturgy as if it were the shoulder of an old friend, and felt the support of beloved community, of peace, and the wonderful mysterious solace that is the hour of worship. Sweet hour of prayer, indeed.

Trials come in all shapes and sizes, from big 40 year wilderness journeys, to the very small wilderness of an anxious Sunday morning–The devil will trip us if he can. Take heart, be not afraid! Return to God, the refuge! Easy to remember, hard to practice.

Lent and Spiritual Disciplines Day 4

On-line Inspiration: This blog is for the web surfer who is interested in some wonderful sites for spiritual rumination. Many of us spend hours on-line as part of our jobs, and websites to serve the spiritual seeker are cropping up everywhere. Like the spirituality shelves at bookstores, you can find spiritual websites on almost any topic. I’m not sure what the spiritual practice of today should be. For many people surfing the net is not something that requires a huge spiritual effort. For me, it is. I do find religious connections with people on-line through various blogs and websites.

Connection, communion, these happen in unusual ways, and the Holy Spirit seems to be using the internet in surprising ways.

In my on-going penitential duty of become more adept at cyber life, I include below some of the blogs and sites I’ve been researching this winter. The first is close to home for me. My daughter Amy is writing a blog for Lent, too. We came to our blogging decisions independently, mine because I resist technology, hers because she is thoroughly at home with it, and uses it often. She is currently an intern in California, and she offered to write a blog of Lenten devotions for her congregation. Her site is here. I’ve told her that I’ve passed on the blogsite address to some people here, and she was delighted.

Another wonderful blog/website is by an exciting young pastor in Denver:
sarcasticlutheran.com. This site is authored by Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, who serves as a mission developer for a church called House of All Sinners and Saints. Pastor Bolz-Weber is a bright light in the ELCA, an energetic out-of-the-box thinker, and in her own words, the most-tattooed pastor in the ELCA. That should be at least worth one look at the site. She’s a great preacher–read some of her sermons. House for All Sinners and Saints is what some might call an “emergent church.”

If the term “emergent church” piques your curiosity, see the website below for an adventure in the 21st century church. The times are a’changing, and so is church as we know it: emergentvillage.com I became interested in the emergent church movement at a conference several years ago. Take some time and look at this site, especially some of the blogs.

Recently our adult education group started exploring the Book of Faith materials provided by the ELCA in response to the Book of Faith Initiative. Basically, the Book of Faith Initiative, which you’ve heard me speak about many times, encourages all of us to become more familiar with scripture, to relearn the first language of faith: the Bible. Rob Claypool, in our congregation, has been working with on-line Book of Faith websites: see this.

Two on-line resources I use religiously for religious inquiry, especially in sermon preparation are: textweek.com and workingpreacher.org

Both of these websites are full to the brim of treasures, scripture studies, articles, art, translations, and some of the best scholarship available today. I can’t say enough good things about the WorkingPreacher site, sponsored by Luther Seminary. Good hunting.

If you wish to respond with a comment do so here.

Lent and Spiritual Disciplines-Day 3

Psalm 91

Once when kayaking on a remote river in Maine, we were visited by an eagle. He lived downstream, at the mouth of the river on the edge of a lake. My friend and I had stopped by some rocks to rest and eat our sandwiches. All was quiet, a mid-afternoon stillness in the woods. The only sound was water rippling past the banks. Into the stillness came a great sweeping bird, flying up the middle of the river, just at the height of the trees. We had the distinct feeling he had come to check us out, since we were in his territory. He was as big as a we were, his wingspan wider than a man’s outstretched arms. He was so low, I could see distinct feathers on his underside. They were the strongest wings I’ve ever seen. I’ve never forgotten them, and now, when we sing the song “On Eagles Wings,” I think of that eagle, in his solitary home on the river, guarding the edge of the forest.

This week, on Sunday, we’ll be singing a hymn version of the beautiful Psalm 91. The Psalmist speaks of God as refuge, as fortress, as a mother bird, under whose shadowed wings the believer takes shelter. One of the commentaries on this Psalm calls it God’s “bold invitation to live in the divine presence with protection, safety, and love.” (Katherine E. Amos).

Yesterday, I suggested we take a look at the world from the perspective of a child. Here in Psalm 91, we are invited into another perspective: here we see God as loving parent, sheltering presence, who offers us refuge in our frailty, in the midst of sorrow and troubles.

Psalm 91 is not a magic incantation casting a protective mist around us. It describes the comfort of faith: where do we go for hope, for help, for refuge? Here, in the Psalm, is a heart that clings to God; it flies to God as a small bird seeks the warmth of its nest, the shadow of great wings. (Large Catechism: 1st Commandment). God is the shelter of the broken and contrite heart, the creator of the clean heart, the renewer of the right spirit within.

The Psalm speaks of the reality of what Rabbi Barth often calls the “canopy” of shalom. This is the kind of Psalm that offers gospel comfort, a promise of grace, love, and peace. Recall Jesus, wishing to shelter all Jerusalem under his wings.

Having looked at the world for a day through the eyes of a child, rest now in the shelter of God’s grace. Come back to that holy peace, bring yourself back, when your attention leaves it.

That is a spiritual practice: returning to the center, to the inner refuge. Stand under the canopy of shalom. Live from there.

Return, repentance, penitence, or metanoia, that amazing transformation of the mind, begins with a return to a God who promises to shelter us, to restore us, to make us a watered garden, or a spring of water whose waters never fail (Is. 58:11).

Meditate, as scripture tells us, on the Word. Many people study meditation, myself included. One of the aims of meditation as a daily practice is developing fortitude : meditation strengthens and trains the mind and body to live with equanimity, to be able to stand in the midst of pressing events and stay centered, calm, and focused.

A spiritual discipline is just a practice to be done like any other exercise. It tones the mind, spirit, and body. Spiritual disciplines are worth doing, not for the glory of one’s own spiritual achievements, but because they make us better servants, able to respond to others’ needs because we are relieved of the clamor of self-concern. Take refuge under God’s shelter. Put yourself in the way of the Word. Spend a week meditating with verses of Psalm 91, and see what happens.

Lent and Spiritual Disciplines Day 2

Last week Pastor Thomas Chittick came to preach at St. Paul. He’s a former pastor, having served at St. Paul from 1967-1970. It was Transfiguration Sunday, and Pastor Chittick reminded us to look for the shining, shimmering signs of God’s glory in the world, in the midst of the “madness” of what actually happens. That being said, Lent is a time of “turning” toward God, a rough translation of the Greek for complete transformation of one’s mind. Last week, the word for us was “transfiguration,” metamorphosis, from the Greek. And Jesus, shining from within, is the sign of God’s transfiguring power at work on us, within us, and in the cosmos. This week, as Lent begins, the word is “transformation” or metanoia, and means far more then simply turning toward God. It’s a radical reorientation, a turning of the mind so profound, that our ways of being and doing are transformed.

Transfigured and Tranformed. Go after those things for Lent.

We had two children in the service last night. I’m always delighted to have the opportunity to translate loaded theological terms like “confession” into phrases small children can understand — like “I’m sorry.” And to talk about reconciliation as a way of coming back to each other, of being in connection again, like climbing back into your parent’s lap, after an argument, or feeling friendly again towards your brother or sister. Confession isn’t rocket science, at least in the technical aspects of science. Sometimes, though, for some of us, it’s the hardest thing we learn to do. Even for rocket scientists.

It’s always a spiritual discipline for me to drop what I was planning to do, and try to speak to the “least among us” whoever that may be–in our case, last night, the two visiting children, who had never been to a Lutheran church. Instead of saying “remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return” when they came forward, I said, “this is a sign that God loves you.”

This Lent, we’re using the Luther’s commentary on the Small Catechism to focus our evening worship services We planned this in response to a request from adults in the congregation who were wishing they had a “confirmation class” for grown-ups. Some of our members are fairly new to the Lutheran tradition, and would like to explore Lutheran catechesis.

Each week, based on a plan we received from Sundays and Seasons, we’ll do one of the topics from the Catechism. Last night, since it was Ash Wednesday, we talked about confession and penitence. Next week will be the Ten Commandments. Remember, the Catechism is based on the dynamic between Law and Gospel. That’s why the Ten Commandments come first. Luther revised the materials of the prayer books available in his time, cutting away all that he deemed inessential. The idea was to create a handbook, that any one could use to learn the core content of Christian faith. In the front matter to the new pocket version of the Small Catechism published by Augsburg, the Rev.Dr. Timothy Wengert explains Luther’s context, the considerations he took, and the structure of the book. Dr. Wengert believes that Luther’s experience of parenting played a part in the way the text is structured. Luther’s first born son would have been about the age when children begin asking questions all the time. The “What is this” of the Catechism may have been directly quoting his son.

I’ve decided to write something in this blog every day for forty days based on what is happening for us at St.Paul in Lent, perhaps my experiences or others’ experiences, our readings, for example, or memorable moments. And each day, to recommend a “spiritual exercise” derived from the three basic practices of Lent: prayer, fasting, and works of mercy. (See Ash Wednesday’s lessons–Isaiah 58:1-12, 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, Psalm 51, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21. ) It is a penance for me to use technology–it brings me to my knees, in helplessness and frustration.

So, for today’s spiritual exercise: notice the children among you, the very “least of these” dependent upon adults for all their needs, for kindness, for food, for medical care, for education, for shelter, for love. Jesus came as a child among us first. Spend the day noticing what your world is like from the perspective of a child. What needs to change so that a child would have what he or she needs? We have such responsibility for them, often poorly discharged. For what it’s worth, because of their littleness, their dependence, and frailty, a child is always going to be the most important person in the room, because a child has the least power.

What is it to honor your children, Luther asked in his commentary on the 4th commandment. Reversing the direction of the commandment, he argues if children are to honor their parents, parents need to be worthy of that honor, and to care for their children with respect, with dignity. Our church tries to be child-friendly. How would standing in the world with the perspective of one of our children change how we see and do things? What else can we do in our community to foster our children, to give them better lives than they have now? How does worship need to change so children have more access to it? What would we need to change to really preach the inclusive love of God for them?

If you have children, and you are not praying with them, try it. It’s a wonderful experience. Show them how to bring their needs to God in prayer. Invent a small ritual to use with them. Make a special prayer corner in a room. Some small children enjoy lighting a candle together before prayer.

Be trustworthy for children in the things of faith. Christian adults made promises for the children in our midst when we brought them for baptism, whether they are our own children or not. We promised to put the scriptures into their hands, to bring them to church for Word and Sacrament, to teach them about justice and peace. All of us promised those things. The whole congregation takes part in baptising a child. Take a look at those promises and see whether you are doing them. How can we better support the spiritual lives of the children among us?

If you want to make a comment on this posting please email the pastor here.

Haiti and Cana–Sun. January 17

Since last Tuesday, we’ve all been watching as the tragedy in Haiti unfolds. Though what we see and hear may be overwhelming, the calamity calls forth our generosity and our prayers; we want to do what we can to help.

Haiti is a close neighbor to us. We have Haitian communities in many of our towns and cities. You may have friends who have been to Haiti, or have supported ministries there. You may have traveled there. Our churchwide office provides daily updates about the earthquake to pastors and churches. Our Presiding Bishop sent a letter and a video address to all Lutherans in the ELCA on Friday. We’re putting the link on our website; it’ll be on the first page. You can listen to the address at our national website elca.org as well.

The Lutheran church in Haiti is small, but vibrant. Our partners in ministry there extend our capacity to serve people quickly and effectively through The Lutheran World Federation and Lutheran World Relief to provide emergency food, water, shelter and medical supplies. We work with other agencies as weill. Such times open our eyes to our common bonds as human beings, and our differences, for once, are put aside in an outpouring of compassion.

Today our scripture lessons direct us to be mindful of God’s grace and generosity. The images are those of abundance and faithfulness, from the symbol of the wedding feast in Isaiah and the Gospel, to St. Paul’s account of the many spiritual gifts given to us by the Spirit to do the work of the church.

But remember this, every one of these beautiful hopeful texts were written in a time of uncertainty, even national distress. Isaiah, in exile, longs for the day when his people will be restored to their homeland, a restoration as beautiful as a crown in God’s hand. The prophet will not keep silent until his nation is rebuilt—he intercedes for his people, reminding God of what God has promised. He calls on God to rebuild the nation, to look upon her with delight. “As a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you.” No longer shall you be called forsaken, Isaiah prophesies. No longer shall your land be called Desolate. But you will be my delight.” With a vision of God’s saving love before him, Isaiah prays for his people, “as one rejoices in marrying one’s beloved, so shall your God rejoice over you.” The prophet holds out the promise and hope of a future for his people.

Here is a prayer we can claim for Haiti: that out of the forsaken and desolate landscape of an earthquake, God will reach in through the hands and hearts of her people, and all who wish to help, to rebuild a country. We, too, can take up Isaiah’s constant prayer, refusing to keep silent, reminding God of God’s promises to bring life out of death.

In a similar prayer, the Psalmist intercedes for his people. If you read the whole of Psalm 36, and not just the section for this morning, you see the singer moves through a lament over our broken humanity, naming our limitations and sorrows. But then, in verse five, where we come in this morning, he remembers God’s steadfast love. Wherever there is sorrow and fear, where there is suffering, that is where God is. This God doesn’t stand above or apart from our lives in distant judgment. This God draws near, setting up his tent amidst our tragedies.

Jesus suffered the deepest experience of human loss in his death on the cross. It was an unjust death, a burden shouldered for us. This is the mystery of our faith: this cross of Jesus. God is with us, Immanuel, not to send us pain, but embracing us, never to let go. We know that where the cross is, Christ is—and we see the face of our Lord in the faces of our suffering neighbors in Haiti.

We may feel overwhelmed by the need we see. Yet we are not helpless—we have many gifts to share. St. Paul urges his fellow Christians in Corinth to join each other in unity, and remember they are the body of Christ—that they have been given the Holy Spirit, equipped with gifts to serve their neighbors in need, bringing healing and help.

We can extend our hands to our brothers and sisters in need through wonderful, effective organizations like Lutheran World Relief. We can respond to needs as we hear about them. Already a call has gone out for health kits—well that’s something we’ve done in the past, we know how to do them, and we can help. This is part of God’s work of healing through our hands. Haiti has been a poor nation for many years, and this calamity on top of their poverty is more than they can bear alone. We can help bear their burdens, just as we do our friends here at home. This is Christian life, that we bear one another’s burdens.

Our final lesson today is the Gospel story of the wedding at Cana. We must find a way to bring the miracle of Cana into our present experience. This is the scene of Jesus’ first miracle; we can see from the response he gave his mother, that he wasn’t quite ready for it. Yet Mary, like the prophet Isaiah, like the Psalmist, calmly reminds Jesus of what and who he is, just as they have reminded God. Jesus is the one who transforms our lives, bearing such love and grace that our empty jars are filled. Where there was water, now there is something even richer, the wine he pours out.

Cana is ultimately about the gift of a God who pours out his life for us, over and over, filling us, renewing us, and overflowing through us into the world. And we are surprised, as the steward is surprised. When the servants at the wedding feast serve the wine, the steward says with amazement: you have saved the best for last.

Grace is poured out in Cana, as Jesus comes to the aid of his friends at a wedding feast. It is a quiet miracle, an intimate transformation behind the scenes. Few people know about it, and yet it is a great sign of who Jesus is, and what it is to come. Yet isn’t it often that way with us. Something happens in our lives, behind the scenes, transforming us, and showing us the signs of things to come.

Cana is a sign of the grace of a God who has joined himself to his people in a marriage covenant of faithful love. In your prayers and actions this week, remember God’s steadfast care. His power transforms us, as water is turned into wine, restoring nations, reconciling enemies, healing and binding up the broken. Remember his great faithfulness and be agents of His grace, Cana people filled with Christ, bound in loving service to God and neighbor.

(For more on this topic of preaching the texts this week in light of the earthquake see Working Preacher at the Luther Seminary website).

Prayers for Gloucester

Inauguration Day—January 1, 2010

Invocation

Holy One, wise and gracious,
maker of heaven and earth
blessed are you.
You formed us for love and for service.
You call us into community, and guide us
in the ways of truth and peace.
We thank you for the beauty of our city,
the light of sea and sky, the landscape of rock and field.
We thank you for her proud history,
for the creative, industrious,
independent spirit of her citizens.
We thank you for the generations who have gone
before us, and for those who live here now,
for their courage and fortitude,
for all whose gifts have helped to create a strong community.
Today, we thank you most especially
for those who offer their gifts of leadership,
who serve their neighbor in public life.
Grant us your presence now,
as we honor them, and bear witness to
another generation of our leaders as they take office.
Stir up in us a vision for our future;
Grant us the dedication to work together,
in a spirit of wisdom, kindness, and justice,
for the well-being of Gloucester.
Amen

Prayer and Benediction
Holy One, we commend to your gracious
care and keeping: the land, the seacoast, the harbor,
and all those who live here,
the people, the wild creatures, birds and fish.
Make us good stewards of our beautiful home.
Bless those who hold office in our city government,
for Mayor Kirk and her staff, for the City Council,
and the School Committee.
Help them to use their authority
to serve faithfully and govern wisely.
May we who benefit from their service,
value their sacrifice for our general good.
We commend to you their families; strengthen their bonds of love.
Renew the ties of mutual regard which form our civic life.
Bless the people of our city,
men, women, and children,
from various cultures and with differing talents,
that we may find with one another, the fulfillment of our humanity.
Guide us into the ways of liberty, justice, truth and peace.
And now as we go forth, let us go with courage,
knowing that we each have a part.
Help us to do the work before us brick by brick,
one step at a time, with heads held high
and hearts full of hope.
Blessings, comfort, and peace be
with all of you and your families
on this New Year’s Day. Amen

Adapted from several sources including the Lutheran Book of Worship, and the ELW

Advent Blues

Blue is the color of the church season Christians call Advent–meaning presence, or arrival–although some churches use purple. Our church uses blue. Our Advent wreath has three blue candles, and one rose for the third Sunday. Blue is the color of royalty, a color notoriously difficult to achieve in dye, often unstable. In Christian iconography, blue is the color of divinity. For me, blue is always the color of holy mystery, coming as it does in the season before Christmas: a sign of divine presence stirring, the mystery of birth, of water, of womb, of hidden events about to come to light. Blue is what gets lit up by stars, the color of distant space, the deep of the cosmos, and the deep of the sea.

Blue is appropriate for a church on Cape Ann, for we have more opportunities than most people to contemplate the color blue. Blue on blue, the sky and ocean surround our small rocky bit of an island.

Blue hues underlie the gray of our granite, and blue spruce crop up in the woods. Evenings in December deepen into a midnight blue; stars brighten with the colder weather. Every day I see different possibilities of blue in the sea, blue-green, blue-purple, blue-black, blue flecked with foam, still quiet blue.

Advent for us is a penitential season, but there’s an underlying joy; blue is not as somber as the purple of Lent. Words and themes we use in this season have to do with darkness and light, repentance, watchfulness and preparation. It’s a rich season. When you observe Advent with some conviction, you find yourself making a kind of spiritual resistance to the pressures of the secular forms of Christmas, especially those which encourage us to be good consumers and spend money we don’t have on presents we don’t need.

We use blue in church as a sign of hope. Yet for many people, in a supreme irony, Advent arrives with the blues. Sometimes a blue mood in this season is due to Seasonal Affective Disorder, a sadness or depression which comes with the change in sunlight. As we lose exposure to the sun, we lose vitamin D, as well, and our mood may change. As the days darken and grow longer, sometimes our spirits sink.

Some of my friends who have the blues in December sit under special lamps, soaking up artificial sunlight. Some people fight the blues with extra vitamins and exercise. Others fortify themselves for the holidays with eggnog, pies, fruitcakes, and a host of holiday carbs. Some drink too much, some argue with their families more, others travel. Some make music, singing and playing in wonderful seasonal concerts. Some of us just hunker down and hope for the solstice, when the days begin to get longer again.

But here are some things to ease the heart, small daily happenings that speak of light in the darkness. The first winter storm of the season is due, and it smells like snow. We head out the door for the holiday fairs happening all over Cape Ann. We are surprised to find a gift. Sometime the day before, unseen, a neighbor has dropped off a large bag of beautiful butternut squashes, enough to last the winter. A little boy passes us on the street and calls out “Pastor Anne, we’re going to the Christmas fair! Are you coming?” He’s practically jumping up and down. He’s got change in his pocket, and will spend 25 cents on a large purple glass ball, to be hung on his Christmas tree.

At the Christmas fair, Martha Hill, our eldest member and one of our beloved centenarians, rides the church elevator for the first time. She looks surprised to be doing it. Santa Claus stands in the elevator with her, smiling hugely. We shoot photos. Later in the morning, two women come by with their dogs for more pictures with Santa.

At the Plum Cove Grind, Meredith Glaser, the owner and baker, par excellence, is taking orders for holiday cookies and pies. She’s busy; people are in and out all day. Her shop smells like the warm spicy kitchens of childhood. We discuss the delights of church fairs, hopping from one church to another along Washington St., picking up recycled treasures from Christmases past.

Every day, kindnesses abound. Someone takes the time to knit mittens for her neighbor’s children. Another person comes home from work to find his yard raked and cleared by his friends next door. In the church office, we field requests for help with gifts for the holidays, or food, or bills. We delegate the requests out to willing helpers, who want to lend a hand in a tough time of year.

When I take time and pay attention, when I look closely at the lives of those in our communities, I find signs of hope and faith. I see a gracious generosity ready to spill over into acts of mercy and compassion. So far this Advent, the good things I see people do for each other far outweigh the bad news on the airwaves. This is the season of goodwill toward all. Look closely, watch for it, expect it, practice it, and you will see it.

Whoever you are, whatever your faith, may peace be with you in the coming days.

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.