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“Wisdom” from the new D.S.

DS Rev. Foster’s Monthly Devotional for August

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Greetings RISEM District…
Below is a District Devotional that can be shared with your leadership or small group ministries… The Devotional is adapted from “Dare2B Wise” by Joe White and Kelli Stuart.  Enjoy…
August 2017 – Wise Up
Read Together: “The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young – let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance – for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise.”  Proverbs 1:1-6
An older bumper sticker that was popular in Texas read, “If you don’t have an oil well, get one!”  The obvious joke was that everyone would like to have an oil well, but getting one is a lot easier said than done.  The message of the book of Proverbs is similar:  If you don’t have wisdom, get some!  But unlike the bumper sticker, the message of Proverbs is no joke.  And unlike the humorous slogan, Proverbs doesn’t tell you to get something – without telling you how.
The highest goal you can set for yourself, the best use you can make of your time and the smartest choice you can make in life is to follow the advice of Proverbs and get wisdom.  But what is wisdom?  The meaning of that word is fuzzy, isn’t it?  That’s because people use the word wisdom to mean all sorts of different things.  In the Bible, the word means the skill to live God’s way.  It comes through gaining understanding about how God wants you to live and then applying that understanding by putting it into practice in your daily life, if you do that over the course of your life, you’ll be wise!  And being wise is better than being rich, popular, and famous, a great athlete, or any of the other earthly goals we set for ourselves.  So, if you want to get wisdom, where do you start?  Next month, we’ll look at the first step on the exciting, lifelong journey of becoming wise.
Discussion Starters:  What does wisdom mean to you?  How is being wise different from being smart?  Why do you think it’s important to God that we get wisdom?
Lifeline:  Pray that God will give you wisdom as you study together as a family/church/district and ask him to help you apply the things you learn in your daily life.
Reflections:
Let us seek God’s wisdom for our local church, our district, and our conference.

Blessings Always, (Numbers 6:24-26)

Rev. Dr. Andrew L. Foster, III.
RISEM District Superintendent

 

 

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The New England Conference

Our District Contact Info

District Superintendent
Rev. Dr. Andrew L. Foster III

 

Administrative Assistant

 

Mrs. Susan Leatherwood

 

Lay Leaders

 

Dan Genannt and Darin Krum

 

Address

 

12 Bay Spring Avenue
Barrington, RI 02806

 

Office Phone

 

(401) 246-1100

 

Email

 

Lia Kahler & Friends Concert

Save the date:  September 10.  Silent Auction at 2.  Concert at 3.

Lia Kahler & Friends

Lia Kahler, mezzo-soprano; Philip Dietterich, organ; and Richard Gordon, piano. Songs, arias and spirituals with solos for piano and organ. Silent Auction starts at 2 p.m. and the concert at 3 p.m.

Benefits Island Clergy Homeless Fund and Chilmark Community Church.Lia Kahler SS

Rising Tide Therapeudic Horse Program

Rising Tide Expands Equestrian Programs

On a recent afternoon, five people tended to Noble, a 27-year-old, large gray Percheron cross horse, in the barn at Rising Tide Therapeutic Equestrian Center in West Tisbury. While 10 hands weren’t necessary to prepare Noble for an upcoming riding lesson, his pull drew everyone in the barn.

Volunteer Ashley Loehn brushed his coat.

“You get the benefit of the connection while you’re doing it,” she said. “You can’t take your hands off of them once you’ve started, you know, and that’s their magic.”

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Sally Snipes and Ashley Loehn. — Maria Thibodeau

Rising Tide’s mission is rooted in the idea that everyone can benefit from this ineffable connection between humans and horses. In keeping with this belief, the center recently expanded their programming.

Founded in 2007 by Vicky Thurber as a therapeutic barn, Rising Tide’s operations previously catered primarily to riders with disabilities. Now they have a wide variety of offerings for riders of all experience levels and abilities.

Hot to Trot is a recent addition for riders aged 55 and over. A Hatha yoga program will incorporate horses in both mounted and un-mounted poses. Trail rides and private and semi-private lessons are available to all.

“It’s not just for people who need special solutions in their lives . . . it’s for everyone, and our horses are able to give to everyone, which is what makes them remarkable,” said program director Linda Wanamaker.

Ms. Wanamaker is certified as a therapeutic riding instructor. She said horses have the ability to mirror the energy of those around them. To approach and interact with horses, riders have to settle themselves first. “So it helps you to center yourself, to calm yourself,” she said.

Lucy Menton said Rising Tide is a unique light in her son John’s life. John is 34 and has schizophrenia.

“He shuffled around to different group homes and day programs and never really fit in,” Ms. Menton said. She found Rising Tide in 2015 and John got involved shortly after. He volunteers twice a week.

“For 34 years he’s had nothing. But this program, just him going a couple days a week and volunteering with these gentle horses . . . has totally changed his life,” Ms. Menton said.

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Linda Wanamaker, Joan Richards, and Susan Fieldsmith. — Maria Thibodeau

Frances Pizzella feels similarly. Ms. Pizzella started volunteering at Rising Tide in January 2016 because she rode horses as a child and wanted to reintroduce them to her life.

“I go out there, I’m scooping poop, it’s happy, I’m happy to do it,” she said.

In August, she began taking riding lessons with Ms. Wanamaker.

“I started to feel what the riders were feeling, just like a sense of accomplishment, and really just becoming close to the animals,” she said.

She added that riding and volunteering at Rising Tide helped with her winter blues. “In riding them, they’re protecting and helping you out. I just started feeling such a sense of trust with the animals, and I just wanted to be over there more and more, helping with the animals.” It’s hard to explain, she added, but the animals have a calming, non-judgmental presence that she finds incredibly relaxing.

Staff and volunteers at Rising Tide have countless stories about the healing powers of the five equines in their stables: a nonverbal autistic child spoke her first words on horseback, riding helped a grieving woman through her loss.

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Staff and volunteers have countless stories about the healing powers of their horses. — Maria Thibodeau

For those with physical disabilities, Ms. Wanamaker says the movement of horses is most similar to walking. She pairs riders with horses based on their unique physical needs. Camp Jabberwocky sends groups to the barn each summer. Rising Tide also works with groups from Windemere and the Center for Living.

To keep up with the center’s expanding programming, they have begun a series of fundraising events this summer. On Saturday, July 15 a Rock Your Boots event held at the Sailing Camp Park in Oak Bluffs from 6 to 9 p.m. There will be live music, dancing, auctions, food and drink. Tickets are $70.

“We can’t offer what we want to offer without outside funding,” said board president Susan Fieldsmith, looking out at the arena.

Noble was in the ring with 10-year-old Emily Gilley on his back. Emily was just starting to get the hang of trotting — a big accomplishment for her. All eyes followed the pair as they kicked up dusty circles together.

For more information, visit risingtidetec.org.

“The View From Mt. Nebo” 6/25/17

“The View From Mt. Nebo”

Deuteronomy 33:48 – 50; 34:1-10

June 25, 2017

Chilmark Community Church

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

Quite a few years ago now,  on one of our trips to Israel, we landed first in Jordan, on the eastern side of the Jordan River. One of the stops early in our trip was a visit to Mt. Nebo.  It was late in the afternoon and we were facing into the setting sun at the northern end of the Dead Sea – looking out over the view that Moses must have seen as he reached the end of his journeys with the Israelites.  We looked out over rugged hills and valleys toward the land that Israel was about to enter.  The sunlight was reflecting off the water in the distance.  The air was chilly and quiet.  It was a profound moment that stays in my memory – – standing in the  spot where tradition says Moses looked over into the land that had been promised – coming to terms with knowing that he would not accompany his people as they crossed over.

There are lots of reasons buried in the scriptures for why Moses didn’t ever get to the Promised Land.  The predominant one is that he had displeased God by striking a rock to get water for the thirsty tribes in the wilderness when God had instructed  him merely to speak to the rock.  Other stories speak of Moses’ advanced age – he was 120 years old – that he was tired after 40 years sojourning with the people and didn’t have the energy required to  guide them through their conquest of  Canaan.  Still other stories suggest that it took the entire 40 years for the first generation of slaves to die off so that the next generation would no longer think and feel like slaves, but would take responsibility for themselves as free agents under God. For this they needed the leadership of someone younger who had transcended the slave mentality. 

The story is a poignant one.  It comes at the end of  Deuteronomy which is attributed to Moses as his farewell address to Israel.  Deuteronomy rehearses the entire saga of the 40 years of wandering.  No wonder it sounds familiar and repetitious in so many places.  It was calculated to remind the people of where they had been – where they were going – – and who it was that would always lead them – regardless of who the person was at the head of the line.

I think it is a great story for guiding us as we contemplate a change of leadership, both for us and for all of you.  We get into murky waters if we take every word and story of the Bible literally.  But if we can let the wisdom in the stories inform us we may be on more solid ground.  And the wisdom here is that the people of God are always in the process of becoming – – because we follow a God who is always in the process of becoming.  We are not a static people and God is not a static God.  This always takes some getting used to because for many of us, we grew up thinking that either God was immutable and unchanging – and therefore somewhat dependable and predictable, on the one hand, or we were taught that God was malleable and that our prayers could change God in some way – – sort of like with my childhood prayers  that God would make the sun shine on the day of  my class trip.  But it turns out that God is none of that.   

Rather God is a God of relationship and becoming – and we are invited along for the ride.

So – -here we are, on our own Mt Nebo of sorts.  As your pastors we can stand on the peak and kind of look over Jordan with you to envision something of the future as 

you move forward under new leadership.  But envisioning and predicting with accuracy are two very different things.  So we all are living with a measure of uncertainty.   We will descend the mountain on our side to see what future awaits us there while you will move on into the future that awaits on your side of the mountain.

Because, as science tells us, we cannot predict the future any more than about  a few fractions of a second ahead of us,  we are now drawn, or maybe pushed or pulled, to a moment of absolute trust and faith in this God who prefers relationship  with us – who prefers the process of becoming something new with us rather than some static and predictable outcome. 

This is challenging.   And it is apt to be uncomfortable.  With our ancestors, about to come under the leadership of Joshua, Moses’ successor, we may be asking “What will we do without the person we have trusted to guide us?”  “How can we be sure this is the right leader?”  “What will be expected of us?”  “Moses loved us and stayed with us through thick and thin – what if Joshua loses patience? What if Joshua doesn’t love us?”   

I think we can intuit from the text that these are the murmurings of the people as they realized that Moses would  be stepping down.   In Deuteronomy 31, the people are fearful of what they will encounter in the way of enemies as they cross over the Jordan.  Moses reassures them with these words: the Lord himself will cross over before you. The Lord will give [your enemies] over to you and you shall deal with them in full accord with the command I have given you…Be strong and bold, have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God

who goes with you; God will not fail you or forsake you.

Moses doesn’t only reassure the people, he also reassures Joshua: Then Moses summoned Joshua before the people and said to them in the sight of all Israel: “Be strong and bold, for you are the one who will go with this people into the land…It is the Lord who goes before you.  He will be with you; he will not fail nor forsake you.  Do not fear or be dismayed.

If we fast forward several generations to the days immediately following the resurrection of Jesus, we hear the same affirmation of the God Who Goes Before.

Near the end of Matthew’s Gospel we hear a messenger telling the women at the tomb: Jesus has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him. This is my message for you.” (Matthew 28:7)

They begin running to deliver the message and they encounter Jesus in his Risen Nature who tells them: Do not be afraid. Tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me. Matthew 28:10).

Galilee is where it all began – the business of preaching God’s love, feeding the hungry, tending to the needs of the poor, healing the sick, learning the skills of forgiveness and reconciliation, seeking justice for the poor and downtrodden. 

In a sense, the crucifixion is a Mt. Nebo for Jesus and his followers.   It is in crucifixion and resurrection that the relationship between Jesus and the disciples  changes.  Jesus is gone from their physical presence – no longer to be depended upon for doing the feeding, the healing, the forgiving, the teaching that he had always done with them.

A new relationship is now there to be explored – learning how to trust that what has been begun on one side of the cross will continue in another form on the other side of the cross.

So – here we are – all of us facing an ending together – wondering what will happen on the other side of tomorrow.  We are also together hearing the assurances -whether we think  in terms of crossing Jordan into a  strange land under new  leadership or in terms of life on the other side of the cross – we can affirm with faith that we belong to a God who goes ahead of us – a dynamic God who seems to become evermore trustworthy the more we are able to offer our trust.   In the process, we become the people God chooses every day to be the people who will make the crossing and buy into the adventure. 

So – as we come to a time of ending a way of being together, may we know without a doubt  that even as we say farewell today to this particular way of being together that we have enjoyed, God is bringing something new into being.   

God has never been satisfied with a static and comfortable people.  God  seems to enjoy life with us – always unfolding -always changing – always in process.  Indeed even Jesus made his most significant encounters and teachings while he was on the move – – on the road .   So we are invited once again to move on, to sojourn, to live always in a state of being temporary.   One of the first books I read in seminary was a book titled “The Journey is Home” by Nelle Morton.   The title says it all .  We live and move and have our being in a God on the move.  God is the Journey.  And the Journey is, indeed our home.  May God bless us all on the way.  AMEN

“Witness, Presence,Unconditional Love” 6/18/17

Witness, Presence, Unconditional Love

Exodus 3:1-15

Romans 8:38-39

Chilmark Community Church

June 18, 2017

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

Perhaps about 15 years ago, after the birth of our grandson, our second grandchild, I had the experience of feeling absolutely overwhelmed by the love I felt for  the two beautiful young souls who were being entrusted to their parents and to us for as long as we would have time to be in their lives.  I hardly knew what to do with the feelings I had;  what to do with the awareness of what an incredible privilege and responsibility came with being a conscious grandparent.  So – I prayed for some guiding wisdom for how to go about the awesome task of loving these two precious beings and for how to be a strong and positive influence in their lives.   In the deep silence of prayer, I heard “You are to be a Witness, a Presence, and Unconditional Love.”

15 years later, I am still challenged with what these words mean, but I took this  wisdom as my marching orders for grand-parenting.  It turns out that they were marching orders for my life as well as they have continued to echo in my spirit over the years that I have been a grandmother.   You are to be a Witness, a Presence, and Unconditional Love.

On reflection, I think these orders are why I dearly love this story of Moses and his first encounter with God.  Moses is so like us in so many ways – he works hard at his daily tasks of caring for his father-in-law’s flocks; he is curious about the world around him; he is in awe and trembling of the power of the Holy One;  he is really uncertain about what God is asking him to do – – and yet, he says “Here I am!”

The story up to this point has Moses first persecuted by Pharoah under the decree that all the Hebrew baby boys are to be killed as soon as they are born.  He is saved at birth by two subversive midwives, rescued from the waters of the Nile by the Pharoah’s daughter (who is a bit of a subversive in her own father’s court), raised in Pharoah’s palace. He is witness to an overseer abusing a Hebrew slave. He kills and buries the overseer. He is seen and accused of murder – runs for his life – and ends up in Midian, tending the flocks of Jethro and marrying Jethro’s daughter.

It is in his quiet time in the hills with the flocks  that Moses encounters the God of his ancestors.  We don’t know anything about Moses’ relationship with this god up to this point.  Moses was raised as an Egyptian after all, without any connection to the god of the Hebrews.

But in this brief part of the story, we learn a lot about this god and how this god  will be with those who listen and follow.

So, for a few moments, we might let our imaginations take over, and imagine Moses in the rugged mountains of Midian, keeping an eye on his father-in-law’s flocks – – maybe a herd of goats and a flock of sheep.  The location is Mt. Horeb.

And there is a little bit of dramatic foreshadowing in the name of the mountain.  Mt. Horeb means Mountain of God.    It is sometimes used interchangeably with Mt. Sinai – the place of divine revelation. Moses experiences a revelation from God on Mt. Horeb and will be there with the people at the big one on Mt. Sinai.

I rather suspect that on the Mountain of God, just about anything can happen – and indeed it does.  A messenger, an angel of God, appears in the midst of a bush that is in blazes – but does not burn up.   In his curiosity, Moses takes a closer look to see why the bush has not burned up.  As he does so,  he hears the voice of God calling to him by name – “Moses!  Moses!”    

Moses answers with words  that appear many times across both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.  Moses answers the voice of God , saying “Hineini” – – here I am!

And a  pattern for life is set in motion.  God calls Moses by name – Moses responds: “here I am” – – and God goes to work.

Moses has a lot of reservations, however.  He is not completely sold on the idea of working with God. He is modest to a fault.  He confesses that he stutters and can’t really be a public speaker and tries to convince God that someone else would do a better job. But the story isn’t just about Moses.  It is more about God at this point – about God revealing the Divine Self to Moses.

And here is how God does it:  God says to Moses, “I have observed the misery of my people…I have heard their cry . . . I know their suffering . . . I have come down to deliver them from slavery . . .  .I will bring them to a good land . . . .

In this small part of the grand saga that will follow, we learn that it is in the nature of God to witness what is going on in creation – – and it is in the nature of God to be an active presence in the midst of creation.    A third clue to the nature of God  in these few verses is not quite as obvious – and that is in the line where God says “I am the God of your ancestors, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

We learn from this that God is a God of unconditional love who cares for humankind from generation to generation – – whether we human beings measure up to our divine calling or not.  We find this theme of steady, unconditional love in Paul’s reflections in Romans 8:38 – where he writes: ‘I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God.”

The sacred texts tell us something of the nature of God – as Witness to our lives  and to what we both enjoy and endure, as Presence in our lives and in the world, and as the source of Unconditional Love.

Way back in the 1st chapter of Genesis, we have the beautiful story of the creation of humankind – and the divine intention behind the beginnings of humanity: Genesis 1:26 and 27: “Then God said ‘Let us make humankind in our image and according to our likeness…..so God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God, God created them, male and female God created them.”

And here’s where the rubber hits the road for us here, now, today.  If we trust the intention of our sacred texts, we can affirm together that we, each one of us, and all of us together, are created in the Divine Image and Likeness of God.  That’s the beginning of the story.  As the story unfolds, more and more of the nature of God is revealed – – and we therefore get to know more and more about what it means to be created in the Divine Image.  We know that God is creative.  We know that God seeks human companionship.  We know that God shapes the lives of people who respond to God.

In this vignette from the grand story of Moses and the Exodus, we learn about some of the more subtle attributes of God – namely that God is a Witness, a Presence, and is Unconditional Love.  We kind of expect all that of God – no surprises there – – however – – being created in the image of God, these attributes belong to us as well.

These attributes lead us to a high calling in our life together as a community of the faithful, and in our life in the world beyond the walls of this sanctuary.  The good news is that we are already familiar with these attributes.  Indeed we practice them every day  when we witness, we notice, we observe, we see.   We witness one another’s lives in the joys and the sorrows, the challenges and celebrations, the fears and concerns, the illnesses and the healing that we go through together as a body.  We witness the effect that life has on each other – and we learn empathy and compassion. This witnessing is what makes a church family hold together at the center.  It is also what makes us more effective as we take our caring into the world.

When we are present to one another, we become Presence – Some times we are called upon to take action – to make a phone call in one another’s behalf, to check in when we haven’t seen each other for several weeks,  to attend to one another when one of us is suffering.  Sometimes we are called upon to  be present to one another in profound grief when there are simply no words to be said. As Paul writes, “we weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.”  We each have the capacity to be a presence in each other’s lives – whether through actual physical hands on help or through prayer, or through words of encouragement or comfort or celebration.  Being a Presence means saying “Hineini” – – here I am – – my spirit and my energy are available to you – – I am part of your life.  Being a Presence means being a little bit of God available to the life of another person. 

And then there is the call to be Unconditional Love.  We know from the long saga of God’s journey with Israel that God does not give up when the going gets tough.  The scriptures are full of reasons why God could have just thrown up the proverbial divine hands and walked away in frustration and disgust – – but that never happened – – because the love of the Holy One for all of creation does not depend upon how faithful we are,  or how good or cooperative or thoughtful or sensitive or caring or patient with each other we happen to be.  Unconditional Love is just that – it unaffected by the conditions of our lives.    Being created in the Divine Image, we have the capacity to love one another in the same way, through thick and thin – – even when we aren’t sure we like each other very much – even when we disagree about how things ought to be done, even when we hurt one another’s feelings.  Being Unconditional Love means being in our holy center where we do not get shaken by the dramas and ups and downs of our daily interactions – it means being Love even when we don’t feel particularly loving.

The older I get, the more I am convinced that life together in a church community is a kind of  practice room where we get to hear the wisdom for living that comes from our sacred texts -and we get to practice it with each other.  When we are able to witness one another’s lives and to be truly present with each other, when we are able to hone our skills at being Unconditional Love – when we practice enough together to become skilled at these attributes, we are trained and strengthened for our role in the world beyond.

Jesus came among us to show us what the master of these attributes might look like.  He Witnessed every part of human life as he lived it among us.  He was and is a Presence with a capital “P” in the lives of those who elect to follow him.   And he became the visible form of Unconditional Love on the cross as he offered forgiveness even to those who were in the process of extinguishing his life.

“You are to be a Witness, a Presence, and Unconditional Love” – these are profound marching orders for our life together in community as we head into the future.  May we be faithful in our practice together so that we may be a Witness, a Presence and Unconditional Love in a world that sorely needs us in its midst.  AMEN

“Call the Midwife” 6/11/17

“Call The MIdwife”

Isaiah 66: 7-9

Psalm 22:3-5; 9-10

Romans 8:19-27

June 10, 2017

Chilmark Community Church

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

One of my favorite programs is the PBS series “Call The Midwife”.   The drama is great. Every week there is the promise of a tension filled labor and delivery and the miracle of a live birth right in front of my eyes.   We witness the personal dramas of the nursing sisters and the midwives  as they  carry out their mission to provide safe childbirth in the poorest sections of town.  We are also included in the  significant issues of health care, racism, social justice, ethical dilemmas, internal conflicts in the midwifing community.  As each season unfolds, we watch the evolution of maternal and child health care as the show progresses through the 50s and early 60s.

Some of the scenes that have the greatest drama value are of the progress of labor at the point when the midwife is called.  The tension in the room builds as the mother reaches the transition phase of labor.   Much fun has been made of this phase of labor in situation comedies over the years. Stereotypically, transition is the time when the mother is near exhaustion with the labor. She is anxious. She is sure she will not ever deliver this child.  At times she says “I will not do this.  I want to go home!”  In really high drama, the mother wants nothing to do with the father who caused it all and just sits there not knowing what to do now. “Get him out of here!”  In reality, the transition is the last phase of labor, is fairly short compared to the earlier phases, and transition signals that birth is near.

Transition is just plain hard work.  The labor and delivery room are an apt metaphor for what happens when any life transition is set in motion. 

On the one hand, there is hope and expectation for whatever the new thing is that will come into being at the end of the process – but on the other hand – there is tension and anxiety – and a yearning for things to just go back to the way they were before the labor ever began. 

As a faith community, we are in transition.  The metaphors of labor and delivery are helpful for thinking about the work we will do together between now and July 1 when a new phase of life begins for our faith community.  It is a good  time to call upon the midwife!

The scriptures are full of midwifing images of God.  Isaiah offers one that speaks to the life and history of Israel.  After a number of verses addressing the suffering of Israel, Isaiah shifts to prophecies about Israel’s restoration and re-birth and describes the ease with which new birth takes place: “My holy city is like a woman who suddenly gives birth to a child without ever going into labor.  Has anyone ever seen or heard of such a thing? Has a nation ever been born in a day? Zion will not have to suffer long, before the nation is born. Do not think that I will bring my people to the point of birth and not let them be born.” The Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 66:7-9)

I take from these prophetic images that  God is involved with the life of Israel from the moment of conception – and there is never a time when God is not part of the process – continually working with Israel in order to bring about a satisfactory birth.  Even before the labor begins, the birth is already assured – because God has been in the picture, attending to the pregnancy all along. This is an image of God we can trust as we make our own transition.

In Psalm 22 the psalmist affirms Israel’s trust in a midwife-ing God: “… you are enthroned as the Holy One, the one whom Israel praises. Our ancestors put their trust in you;  they trusted you, and you saved them. They called to you and escaped from danger;  they trusted you and were not disappointed. It was you who brought me safely through birth, and when I was a baby, you kept me safe. I have relied on you since the day I was born,  and you have always been my God. (Psalm 22:3-5;9-10)

From the psalmist we can take assurance that as we move through  a time of transition to new pastoral leadership,  there is a Holy Presence in attendance – like a midwife – monitoring and guiding us toward a healthy delivery if you will.  It is the intention of the Holy One that we will be well and there will be a healthy outcome.  God will midwife this beloved church community into a healthy life on the other side of the transition

Even so, transition is not without its stress.  Transition is hard work.  In a normal labor, the contractions come more frequently and are much stronger.  Both mother and midwife are intensely engaged and focused. 

Life is full of transitions.  We might even say life IS transition because life is in a continual flow of change.  The death of a loved one sets in motion a life transition as those who mourn move into a new way of being in the absence of the loved one.  Transition  is vividly apparent  at this time of year as our kids of various ages prepare for their graduations and the inevitable transition to different schools, whether to high school or college.   Weddings signal a major transition from life as single persons to life in committed relationship.  June signifies the transition to the summer season when life changes for all of us as we anticipate what  we will need to navigate between now and the end of August.  The arrival of a new pastor precipitates a time of transition.  Transitions are stressful.

So, we must acknowledge that we are in a transition phase.  And just as with a pregnancy and labor and delivery, even though we knew it was coming, it is still a bit jarring to know that we are here – that the transition phase has begun and that something new is about to be born.

As we move through this time together, there has been an increase of attention needed in order to make the transition a smooth  one.  This engages all of us at one time or another at a variety of levels.  The SPRC has had more communication flying back and forth. A few unscheduled meetings had to 

be added to already full life schedules.  Contractual expectations between the congregation and the new pastor need to be stated and clarified.    The trustees have the parsonage preparation on their agenda.  Files in the office need to be current.  Anxieties need to be addressed.  A grieving process is in motion as we begin to mourn the passing of the way things have been.  Transitions are hard work.  Giving birth is called “labor” for a reason.

In an occasional episode of “Call The Midwife”, it is interesting to watch the shift in the behavior of the midwives as the transition phase begins.  Sometimes the midwives turn into cheer leaders – – “Come on – you can do it – breathe – push – One more good one and your baby will be here!!”   Midwife and mother become a team effort to get that baby into the world.   In other episodes, the midwife is the center of calm in the midst of the stormy emotions that often typify the transition phase when weariness and frustration and fear engulf the mother.  Calm reassurance becomes the midwife’s mode of operation in order to ease the mother into a successful delivery.

The prophetic understanding is that long before anything begins, God is there.  God witnesses and guides the process.  Isaiah intimates that because the Holy One is always a part of the process, that giving birth to new life begins long before the labor contractions start – -that all the work God does with us all along the way brings us to the point where we consciously begin to participate in the labor of birthing ourselves into the next chapter of life as a church family.

Sometimes transitions are challenging – in the birthing room a laboring mother can reach a point of exhaustion.  She may think she cannot see the birth through – it’s just too hard.  She may feel like she doesn’t have the  inner resources to get that baby into the world.  At times like this the midwife plays a critical role in supporting the mother, reassuring her, calming her – – reaching with her spirit into the mother’s anxiety.

Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome witnesses the way the Holy Spirit works as a midwife to bring our innermost longings to birth – and how important it is to the world – indeed, to all of creation that we trust in the power of God to attend to the safe birth and re-birth of the church: All of creation waits with eager longing for God to reveal the children of God.   For we know that up to the present time all of creation groans with pain, like the pain of childbirth.  But it is not just creation alone which groans; we who have the Spirit as the first of God’s gifts also groan within ourselves as we wait for God to make us God’s children and set our whole being free. For it was by hope that we were saved; but if we see what we hope for, then it is not really hope. For who of us hopes for something we see?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.    In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not even know how we ought to pray; the Spirit itself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express.  And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of God’s people and in accordance with God’s will. (Romans 8:19-27)

The Holy Spirit becomes the midwife who assists us in bringing to birth the prayers, the  longings and hopes and desires that we may not be able to easily articulate without the assistance of the Holy Spirit in quiet prayer and discernment as we move along.  The Holy Spirit whom we celebrate on Pentecost is an invisible living reality in our midst who can be trusted, like a trusted midwife, to help us bring to birth a renewed life, a sense of adventure into a new unknown, a revitalized sense of who we are as a power for good in the community and in the world.

So as we move closer to the time of the end of our own transition phase, may we increasingly depend upon the wisdom and guidance and companionship and love of  the Great of Midwife – – and may we take our training from her as we learn to take our own place as midwives ourselves in a creation that waits on tiptoe, groaning in anticipation of our birth as Children of God.  14th Century mystic, Meister Eckhart wrote the “God never leaves the birthing room – her hands are always wet.”   May we enter into this transition with confidence knowing the midwife is on the way.   AMEN

“You Can Count On Him” 6/4/17

YOU CAN COUNT ON HIM

ACTS 9:10-31 CHILMARK COMMUNITY CHURCH JUNE 4, 2017

Rev. Armen Hanjian

What does one say to his congregation after years of connection and two years as a pastor here? After some thought I came to the conclusion my message should be simply this: Put your trust in Jesus. Base your whole life, your actions, your thoughts, your words, your relationships, your whole life around Jesus. You can trust your lives into his keeping. You can count on him.

It’s so hard to find people you can count on these days.” That is a statement I’ve often heard. The early church had people you could count on and this church has people you can count on.

Use your imagination for a moment and picture the walled city of Damascus. Paul is in the city, he who once persecuted the followers of Jesus, now made an about face and became a defender of the faith. His message was that Jesus was the hoped for Messiah. Some of the Jews were convinced Paul was right, some wondered, and some planned to take action to still this disruptive voice of Paul’s.

The friends of Paul sensed the danger and aided him in a night escape. Picture it. They put Paul in a basket and lowered him with a rope over the city wall and freed him to become the saint and missionary he became. We don’t know who they were up on that wall at the other end of that rope, but we know Paul could count on them.

What was the greatest thing about the early Christians? Not their wealth. Not their schooling. Not their social position. The greatest thing about the early Christians, the distinguishing characteristic was their fellowship. They were a brotherhood and a sisterhood who loved and trusted and served each other. “How these Christians love one another,” was the commentary made by the world in which they lived.

These Christians were like the ancient Teutonic tribe – they used to go into battle with the whole tribe roped together. When one member suffered all suffered, when one was victorious all rejoiced. Christianity was not launched by one St. Paul or by the twelve Disciples alone; it was launched and it has been sustained by a fellowship – persons who could count on each other.

Many of the friends of the Chilmark Community Church have recently said to Vicky and me, “Oh, you have done so much for this church.” Then they go on to say other kind things, but, you know, when you see a turtle on a stump, you know it didn’t get there by itself.

The richness of this church in the past year particularly, has been the fact that so many of us could count on each other. That faithfulness is like that which President Lincoln displayed when the fortunes of the Federal States were at their lowest in the Civil War. Lincoln was the target of all kinds of abuse. A friend said to him, “Why not resign and let them sink or swim?” To which Lincoln slowly replied, “ If I resign they perish.”

We care about one another, so we can count on one another. Sometimes this has meant work when we didn’t feel like work. The composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky one wrote this in his diary: Worked without any inspiration, but successfully.” Such fidelity to our life together out ranks inspiration among the marks of a Christian life.

The early Christian Church had people that could be counted on; this church has a growing number of people that can be counted on. The good news is that what they had and what we have is a Lord, a teacher, a leader, a friend, a Spirit that can be counted on.

I read of a poor women who earned her living by hard labor, but who was a joyous Christian. “Ah Nancy,” said a gloomy Christian lady to her one day, “It is well to be happy now; but suppose, for instance, you should have a spell of sickness, and be unable to work; or suppose your present employer should move away and no one should give you anything to do, or suppose….” “Stop!” cried Nancy. “I never suppose. The Lord is my Shepherd, and I shall not want. And you know dear, it is all those supposes that are making you so miserable. You had better give them all up and just trust the Lord.

Believers are always joyful, but who ever heard of a joyful supposer?”

Communion offers us the same chance to put our trust in another as did a guide in the Alps that saw this timid, fearful soul hesitate at a demanding point in the climb.

The guide bent down, braced himself and said, Take it!

That hand has never lost a man!”

My message to you is simply this: Put your trust in Jesus. You can count on him. That hand has never lost a man or a woman in 2000 years.