Journeys to Faith - June 6, 2009
by Kate Kelley
I am Kate Kelley. With my husband, Steve, we have attended church at St Paul’s for over 20 years. We have 2 sons who attended St Paul’s during their school years and still sometimes attend when they come to visit us.
I am going to talk about them, Jon and Nick, a couple of times. They are now both in their mid twenties. Jon lives in Washington DC, Nick in the Colorado Rockies. Just so no-one worries that I am spilling family secrets, I talked with and interviewed both of the boys yesterday for this sermon, told them what I would say about them and they both gave me permission to tell you.
All three of the readings today deal with, in part, the development of a religious faith. Each reading shows a different way in which people in the bible came to a belief or faith.
Before talking about the readings, I’m going to start with the beginning of Jon’s and Nick’s faith journeys. We started coming to St Paul’s when Jon was 7 and Nick was 4. Up till then they had rarely gone to church, except for their baptisms. When Steve and I moved to Brookline, we wanted to become part of a community, one that would help us develop a sense of morality, social values and, maybe, spirituality. Not so Jon and Nick! They didn’t want to come to church. Neither of them was good at sitting in one place for more than 5 or 10 minutes. They thought the services were boring. There was at least one Sunday when Steve had to carry 8 year old Jon down our 40 steps, kicking and screaming, to get him into the car and drive to church. Our other son, Nick, complained regularly about being lonely in Sunday School until Maria O’Meara’s son, Tim Bransfield, joined his Sunday School class.
So you can hear that we had 2 unhappy children who often thought we were really mean parents to make them come to church and Sunday School. They would rather have been watching TV or playing soccer. My guess is that some other families here at St Paul’s have or have had similar experiences at times.
Now I’m going to talk about today’s bible readings, but we’ll come back to Jon and Nick later!
In the first reading, Isaiah talks of a dramatic occurrence, a vision, where God appears to him with seraphs, the most holy of angels. Isaiah feels he is unworthy to see God, he has not led a good life. In this vision he is forgiven his previous sins. This is such a powerful and dramatic experience that when God asks who can he send out into the world as a prophet, Isaiah volunteers “Here am I, send me” This was sudden acceptance of faith, after a dramatic experience, or conversion.
In John’s gospel, Nicodemus, a Pharisee and leader of the Jewish council, comes to Jesus at night, under cover of darkness, presumably so that the other Jewish leaders won’t know about his visit with Jesus. He is obviously perplexed by Jesus’ miracles, amazed by them but unsure how a how a human being can do such things. He seems in a quandary, unsure how a poor young carpenter can be sent from God, when the Jews were expecting a royal King type figure to fulfill earlier prophesies from the Old Testament. Nicodemus rebuts or questions each of Jesus’ comments.
It was obviously very difficult for Nicodemus to accept Jesus’ divinity. In the end, after all of his doubts, I like to believe he became a believer. Later in John’s gospel it says that Nicodemus helped Joseph of Arimathea prepare Jesus’ body for burial.
Nicodemus reminds me of many people, including some scientists, who come to a religious faith after much uncertainty and doubt, feeling that one can’t believe in God if you can’t scientifically prove that God exists. These people may argue and discuss for years but some then acknowledge that not all things in life are logical or rational. They become able to accept that one can be both a rational thinker in worldly matters, but also combine that rationality with a spiritual faith
Lastly, in the epistle to the Romans, Paul says “for all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. You have received a spirit of adoption.” I think that means that God has spiritually adopted people who try to live by the tenets of Jesus’ teaching, encouraging us to social activism on behalf of disenfranchised people. As Terry’s husband, the Rev Richard McCall preached some weeks ago: by coming to St Paul’s on Sundays we are making a statement and commitment to try and find faith or enrich our current faith. On many different levels, we people who come to services are enriched by our community and communion at St Paul’s. We don’t have to believe a precisely detailed creed.
As an example of this last group, I come back to Steve’s and my sons, the ones who came so reluctantly to St Paul’s when young school children. Where are they now on their faith journeys?
I asked them yesterday: did St Paul’s give you anything? If so what? Here are their quick, ready answers, unscripted by their mother! “St Paul’s gave me my moral compass; Youth Group helped me to think of other people’s problems and do something concrete to help people; the people at St Paul’s are really good people and made a community for me where I learned the social values I try to live by now.” They don’t currently articulate a religious faith, but are totally aware of the gifts they received from their experiences at St Paul’s.
I think Jon and Nick are reflective of many of us at St Paul’s, where we experience a diversity of faith journeys and include members at different stages along the continuum of religious belief.
As a member of the Rector Search Committee, I reflect back to our Parish profile, the description we wrote, with the vestry’s review and approval, about our St Paul’s community. The profile opens with: St Paul’s is an intergenerational community on a spiritual exploration. We value people of all backgrounds and invite them to journey with us.
I think today’s readings show how many different ways people can come to God. We at St Paul’s certainly have many varied examples!
I want to close with another quote from our Parish profile. We express our wish for a new rector who will “be our spiritual leader who follows in the path of Christ, be grounded in faith traditions and challenge our complacency, as Jesus did. We will move forward with a rector who embraces people of diverse spiritual beliefs, sexual orientations, races, classes and ages. I am excited and looking forward to Jeff Mello coming to St Paul’s as our new rector. I believe he will help us on our faith journeys with spirituality, humor and energy.
First Sunday of Advent - November 30, 2008
by Sarah Thiemann
We are the wilderness, crying. We are the desert, parched. We are the wasteland, the crooked roads, the rugged land. We are all people everywhere. We wait for you. Comfort us. Come like rain, and abundant harvests. Come to us, Lord Jesus. and fill us with your glory. Amen
There is a precious gift that comes even before Christmas. (and I'm not talking about a Hanukah gift) I am talking about Advent.
What a gift Advent is, what a gift it is to be given this time to get ready.
I want you to think about -- you wish you could have been more prepared for?
A test in school - an interview for college or a new job - pause - the loss of one
a date - a game you had to play in - when your best friend moved away - when your parents got divorced, when the stock market crashed, when you lost a loved one.
There are so many things that can happen when we least expect it, when we are not ready. How many times have you said If only I had known...or ...I wish I had been more prepared.
What a gift it can be when we ARE given time to prepare. This advent, As I think more and more these days about someday becoming a parent, I have been thinking about Elizabeth and Mary. I imagine the birth of a child is one of the most life changing events a person can experience. Thank goodness we get nine months to prepare ourselves. Even though I hear you are really never ready for it. But even more importantly that child, that life, NEEDS that 9 months, to be ready for the world.
At the science museum there is a wonderful presentation in the planetarium about the winter solstice, the longest night of the year.
There are many many cultures that celebrate this event with lights and feasting.
I was so struck by what Wikipedia told me when I looked up the winter solstice - Apparently Jan-April were the toughest months, with not a lot of food, - so after April, communities would start preparing for the next winter, because it wasn't certain who would live survive it. So they started gathering 9 months in advance.
So what are we getting ready for this advent? And every advent?
And how do we do it?
John the Baptist is our messenger - In Mark he proclaims "the one who is more powerful than I is coming after me" Now I believe this is commonly thought to mean "Someone more powerful is coming next."
But when I read this in preparation for this sermon, I heard the phrase "coming after me" a little differently. This time I heard instead "the one who is more powerful than I is seeking me out, is trying to find me."
Advent is about preparing ourselves because GOD IS SEEKING US OUT so that we can do God's work.
Definition of prepare : to make ready before hand for some purpose
God is trying to find us. And Jesus comes like a beacon of light.
"Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths, TO US, straight."
2nd question how do we do it - what does it mean to prepare?
Pre - in advance, beforehand
Pare - to trim off an outside, excess, what is not needed, or what gets in the way.
Isaiah tells us what is necessary - "every valley should be lifted up, every mountain and hill be made low, make straight in the desert a highway for our God" - what might the end result of this road construction be -
ASK: will it be easier or harder for God to find us? Easier - and a highway is two ways.
It will be easier for us to find God.
As the lay preaching group sat around the table and discussed these readings we made different associations to this imagery. I immediately thought of the roads in Honduras. Anyone who has gone on our Honduras mission can tell you what the roads there are like. Full of potholes and treacherous. It definitely made it a lot harder to get to the villages we were trying to serve.
Someone else in the group thought of earthquakes. A violent upheaval. Certainly not an easy task.
Here's what I think is the really good news about advent: we don't only have 4 weeks to prepare, there is no set deadline.
Those tectonic plates whose shifting causes earthquakes? It takes a million years for them to move 25 km. They move as slowly as your fingernails grow.
In 2 Peter, Simon Peter tells us to the Lord, One day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like one day." The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some may think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish."
To me, this means that this time of preparation, this time to ready ourselves, will take as long as it needs to take. God is waiting for us on the other side of that highway.
And as the unexpected occurs, the plates shift, the mountains and hills rise up again, our smooth places will, yet again, start to get a little rough.
Thank goodness that we have the gift of advent every year so that we can get ready over and over again. Amen.
Good Stewards of His Gifts - November 16, 2008
by E. Lorraine Baugh
Blessed Lord, I ask that you guide me, give me insight and wisdom to say the right words in my interpretation of your holy scriptures. Amen.
Jesus taught people through sermons, illustration and parables. Jesus' teachings show people how to prepare for life by living properly right now. In today's Gospel the parable is set in the realm of finance or loaned money. It tells the story of a master, a wealthy land owner, who is about to embark on a long journey. Before leaving he entrusts three slaves with his property in the form of Talents. The master has the expectations that the slaves will invest or do something that will increase his money. In those days a talent was the equivalent of 15 years of wages for a laborer and was worth more than a thousands dollars.[i] So in this period this was a fairly substantial investment on the master's part. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to the third one. The first and second slaves play one role and the third another. The key to these roles rest on the phrase found in the text, "he gave to each according to his ability." It is also important to note that each slave was given something. No one was left idle. Why is this so important? It is important because it ties in with the expectations that the master had of his slaves and its ties in with the expectations that Jesus has of us. No one received more or less than he could handle. If one failed in his assignment his excuse could not be that he was overwhelmed. Failure could come only from laziness or hatred toward the master.[ii]
The master expected a return on his investment but had the wisdom to recognize that based on the knowledge of his slaves he could not or should not expect the same return from each. What we do or how we plan to make a return on Jesus' investment is based on using all of our abilities. Not all of us are five talent people. I would venture to say that there are more one and two talent people than there are five talent people. The important thing here is not so much how many talents we have but after a long time how well we have used our talents. It is Mathew's way of saying: "Our master may be delayed in his return, but, in the meanwhile, what are you doing with the talent that has been entrusted to you. Matthew was clear, on one issue. God expects a return. We had better not simply bury that which has been given us and return it when he comes.[iii]
When the master returned and called his servants in for an accounting he praised the first two servants who had doubled his investment and said "Well done, good and faithful servants! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness. The master was not happy with the lack of effort of the third slave and condemned him and sent him out to be punished.
God expects us to be good stewards of his gifts. The phrase "to each according to his ability" in modern languages is translated to mean the gifts, aptitude and flair, or talent we have. To be good stewards of His gifts to us we must use all of our abilities to accomplish it. We must be prepared to use our time, talent and treasures diligently in order to serve God completely in whatever we do.
Of Paradoxes and Honduras - July 6, 2008
by Molly Lanzarotta
Sunday, July 6, 2008
I was thinking about the New Testament readings when I was in Honduras last week, volunteering with a couple of other families from St. Paul’s on work projects in rural mountain villages.
In both of our new testament readings today – excerpts from Paul’s letter to the Romans and the gospel of Matthew – the early Christian writers of these texts were grappling with the same paradox that Christians have grappled with throughout the centuries and that we each confront today. The paradox is that the teachings of Christianity are pretty simply: “Love one another, love God, share what you have, forgive each other.” Basically, that’s the gist of it. And yet, as each of us has realized at one time or another, it can be really hard to forgive someone. It can be hard to be generous. And it can seem impossible to love people we don’t like, or who drive us nuts, or who scare us.
This excerpt from Paul’s letter begins “I do not understand my own actions” and many of us have been there. I meant to be kind to that person, but he’s so annoying. I was going to go and volunteer but then I didn’t feel like it. Or, in my case, I really wanted to go to Honduras, I felt like it was the right thing to do, but then a plane crash closed the airport in Tegucigalpa and we were going to have to take a bus across the entire country, and it started feeling complicated and a little dangerous and, in fact, I was feeling scared about the whole thing.
Paul says, “ I do not do the good I want”. These teachings about love and generosity were counter-cultural, and counter-intuitive, 2000 years ago and they are still radical and challenging today.
In the reading from the gospel of Matthew, we are given a story in which it seems Jesus is in a way addressing this same paradox. His teachings of love and forgiveness are a stumbling block to the wise, but perhaps can be best understood by “infants” he says, by those who don’t complicate things too much. He tells his followers that his wisdom is so simple that it becomes hidden from the wise.
Then this reading ends with words that many find to be among the most comforting in the New Testament:
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
These are very comforting words, but I see them, again, as reflecting the same paradox. This story about Jesus has him saying “share my burden, my burden is light.” But have you ever thought of Jesus’ burden as being light? And, really, when you think about Christians throughout history, many of Christ’s followers seemed to carry quite a challenging burden, too. I remember the Sunday before we left for Honduras, Terry preached on another reading from Matthew in which Jesus’ commissioning of his apostles’ ministry is recounted: go out and proclaim the good news, cure the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, give without payment. Take no money, no bag, no clothes with you.” My yoke is easy and my burden is light!?
Well, in Honduras, I saw a cow wearing a yoke, and it didn’t look very comfortable. In the rural area of Honduras where we were staying, the agricultural metaphors of Jesus’ times are not as foreign as they are to us modern city-dwellers. You can see a cow wearing a yoke, a big wooden collar that allows them to pull heavy burdens. Sometimes, in some places, people still wear yokes, to carry water, for example. If you think about the metaphor a bit more, you can image that perhaps the gospel writer was using this wooden yoke as a metaphor for a wooden cross – “take up your cross and follow me.” For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
And so even in these words of comfort, we still have the paradox that the simple and inspiring teachings of Christianity can get complicated for us to live, and sharing the burden of Christ can turn out to feel like quite a heavy burden sometimes – maybe even feel like a cross -- but still, somehow, can bring rest for our souls.
It was challenging for me to journey to Honduras, in many ways. In my mind, I knew that it was very much in line with what I believe as a Christian to reach out, take a risk, venture outside of my comfort zone. I trusted, that for all that I was feeling nervous, that the “heavy burden” of traveling to an unknown place and a sharing in an unfamiliar culture, would, in the end, bring a sort of peace to me that I’m not always finding in my everyday life.
I experienced hospitality and friendship as well as challenges to my complacency, and the whole endeavor shook up my world view. My experiences in Honduras did not always leave me feeling comfortable, but the experiences were gifts indeed. Amidst poverty I could glimpse tremendous hope; across language barriers, I could feel friendship and good will. The teachings of the social gospel challenge us to go against conventional wisdom and reach out in love to the stranger, to share what we have, to venture on risky journeys whether we feel prepared or not. Sometimes, this can feel like a burden, but sometimes, it may just lead you to find rest for your soul.
Good News - June 1, 2008
by Lizbeth De Selm
When people ask me what I do for a living, I look them in the eye, all serious like and tell them, "I make drugs." No elaboration initially. Then I wait and watch their response, usually with a mischievous grin developing. At this point I explain my job.
In case you haven't been on the receiving end of this discussion, I should probably explain: For you knowledgeable about very early drug discovery, I am a medicinal chemist. I use synthetic organic chemistry to make small molecules that we test first in enzymes, then in cells. If we are lucky, we then test the molecules in tumors, and if we are really lucky, we get to test in humans. If we are astronomically lucky, we get to actually release them to market, helping patients everywhere. Theoretically.
For those of you are don't know the ins and outs of drug development, let me use more conventional terms. Let me explain it to you this way. I make really super complex ‘keys' (molecules) (often from scratch) with the hopes that I'll be able to fit my key into the lock we are targeting. The lock is the enzyme. We are usually looking to ‘gum up' the lock- that is, block it and render it useless for a short duration. The idea is if we stop the lock from turning, then we stop the disease.
It sounds like a really neat job. ‘Sounds' being the ‘key' word here. You see, I make maybe about 100 molecules (keys) each year. If I am lucky, one out of one thousand molecules (keys) that I make, may actually enter into clinical development- which is another, perhaps more sterile way of saying we test it in humans. If I am really lucky, one of my molecules, out of ten thousand, might actually make it out of clinical trials and into the sick patients. Everywhere. Theoretically.
So statistically speaking, 99% of my work is destined for failure, and of that remaining 1%? Lets say 99% of that is still destined for failure. Talk about long odds.
I wonder at this point just how many of you are wondering what this has to do with today's Good News? Well... is it simple.
Our Gifts of the Spirit - May 11, 2008
by Elizabeth Laurençot
I find it interesting how the spirit of God moves. Here's a small example: the lay preaching group along with Terry had agreed that the members of the group would preach on the first Sunday of each month. But since we had the Appreciative Inquiry workshop this past Sunday, that wasn't an option for May. Instead, I was assigned to preach on May 11, which is a fun situation for me. For one thing, it's Mother's Day...and I'm a mother, and it's an unusual treat to be able to speak to you all today. And it's also Pentecost, and I enjoy very much the way we celebrate Pentecost here at St. Paul's, with the reading from Acts in many languages.
This probably doesn't come as a surprise to some of you, but many of you may not know that my college degrees are in the field of linguistics, which is the study of language. Among linguists, there's something we call "the quintessential cocktail party question," and it goes like this: "Oh, you're a linguist....So, how many languages do you speak?"
Aside from those rare individuals who can rattle off a long list, most linguists I know claim some competence in two or three different languages.
But as for me, I always feel-perhaps ironically-a bit tongue-tied when asked this question. I usually respond with something like, "Umm....well....actually, you know, umm....I've studied a number of languages: German, French, Russian, Japanese, American Sign Language, Hebrew."
More often than not, though, my skills are usually limited to phrases like "What time is it?" or "I have a new yellow pencil."
But because I do enjoy learning different languages, I work on them, I take classes, I get a tutor, or arrange for conversation partners, but all of those efforts clearly don't make a fluent speaker. What would it take for me to really be able to improve my skills in, let's say, French?
Honestly, I think it would have to be an immersion experience. I would have to be in a situation where I had no choice but to speak French, because if English were an option, knowing myself, I'd probably try to take the easy way out.
My guess is, that kind of situation would, quite frequently, be quite uncomfortable. I'd have to be willing to make lots of mistakes. I'd have to be willing to step out of my comfort zone. There would be the potential for miscommunication; I might not be able to get my thoughts across clearly. There would be the potential for misunderstandings; I might not understand what someone else is trying to tell me.
And I even think, it might have to be the case that I didn't get to actually choose the specifics of the situation. I might just have to be thrust into it. Then I'd probably be motivated enough to work my way through it.