OPATCO sermon October 4,2015

Exodus 3: 1-7
Luke 16:19-31
Chilmark Community Church
October 4, 2015
Rev. Vicky Hanjian
One of the more memorable courses that I took in seminary was titled “Church and Community”. It was taught by an equally memorable professor named David Graybeal. Dave was “mensch”. He was wise and he definitely practiced what he taught. He served as pastor, mentor and, often, confidant, for us struggling seminarians and fledgling pastors. He kept an eye on us.

He gave us an acronym that he said he hoped we would remember because it could help to shape our ministries in meaningful ways. That acronym is “OPATCO” – – and it stands for “On Paying Attention To The Community.” By the end of the semester, he had pretty passionately and effectively convinced many of us that our future ministries would be well served by doing just that – -paying attention to the communities in which we were called to serve.

I think, in the images and metaphors suited to his own time, this thing of paying attention was on the mind of Jesus too.

There are a lot of possible directions to follow in today’s story. It might lead us into thinking about life after death. It might take us to a discussion of income inequality and economics. It might lead us to thinking about the “evils of wealth”. It might even take us in the direction of good news for the poor. It all depends on where we put our focus.

We know from a lot of biblical analysis that when a story begins with the words “There was a rich man……” that this phrase is a literary convention – – and it lets us know that that the rich person in the story will serve as a poor example. When a poor person appears in contrast, we know that the story is headed toward teaching us something about the moral and ethical relationship between the rich and the poor.

The contrast is stark in this story. The rich man dresses opulently – he wears purple garments colored with the most expensive dyes. He wears linen – – the most expensive fabric. By contrast, the poor man reclines in the dust at the city gates, too poor and too weak to even beg – he waits for crumbs. The rich man ends up in the eternal fires and the poor man is welcomed into the peaceful, nurturing comfort of the bosom of Father Abraham.

The story might lead us to “rich is bad and gets punished – – poor is good and is rewarded” and it all balances out in the end. But, as Amy Jill Levine points out, we need to think carefully about that. If we are not affected, do not feel any sense of compassion for the rich man’s suffering in the story, then we are not much better off than he is. If we identify with Lazarus’ reward in heaven, then we also have to be able to imagine ourselves enduring his abject poverty in this life. So we have to proceed cautiously with this story.
As I kept wrestling with the details, and with David Graybeal’s acronym rattling around in my brain, I began to wonder if the rich man’s sin wasn’t so much that he was rich as it was that he wasn’t paying attention – – he was able to walk by Lazarus without even seeing him. Lazarus received more comfort and attention from the dogs who licked his sores than he did from another human being.

What was Jesus saying to his audience when he told this story?
Both Roman and Jewish cultures had imbedded in them the expectation that people of means had a responsibility to care for people without means. Justice was enacted when those could afford to attend to the needs of the poor did just that. It was a cultural and also a religious expectation. So, the rich man was going against the norm. He did not pay attention and therefore he did not act.

Paying attention is an attribute of God. When God called Moses from the flaming bush, this attribute of paying attention was the first thing that God revealed to Moses: “I have seen (witnessed, observed) the misery of my people….I have heard their cry…..I know of their suffering……God was paying attention to the suffering of God’s people.

God really had to prod Moses to pay attention, to witness the suffering of his people, to hear their cries, to know and understand their suffering –to act in their behalf. Moses was being called to reveal God’s face to the Hebrews in the midst of their captivity and suffering. Jesus’ story is a way of prodding us too. Because we too are responsible for revealing God’s face in the world. When we neglect this business of paying attention, in a sense, we hide the face of God. We neglect our responsibility to reveal God’s face when we fail to pay attention to what is going on around us. Not paying attention has consequences. God doesn’t speak from burning bushes so much anymore. But I think the Holy One fairly screams at us from the headlines – – vulnerable children suffering abuse, young black men being persecuted and killed because the are black, elders suffering from neglect at the hands of people who are supposed to protect them.
The great chasm that divided the rich man in the fire and Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham was not put in place by God. It occurred through human frailty and neglect – through a failure to pay attention to what was happening at the city gates.

So –what does the story demand of us as we encounter the human family around the communion table this morning?

I wonder if there is a clue in the name of the poor man. Lazarus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Eliezer”. Eliezer is made up of two Hebrew words: Eli – meaning God and Ezer – meaning help.
Lazarus’ name means “God helps”. So I wonder if Lazarus – the epitome of human suffering – is our teacher – our helper. Does his name imply that through his suffering presence at the city gates, God is helping us, calling us to awaken? To pay more attention? To Respond? Does God work through the constant reminders of poverty and economic inequity and human suffering to prod us into action that will help to bring the kingdom closer?

Maybe it doesn’t have to be very complicated. The acronym might just work. OPATCO – paying attention to the community – – whether it is the community within these walls, or within the boundaries of Chilmark, or the world community bounded by the ever moving sea –paying attention is the first step in building a more just and humane world. When we pay attention we begin to reveal the face of God – we make real the attributes of a God who pays attention, who listens, who hears and knows – – A God who responds. Paying attention is the first step. May our time around the table strengthen us in the work of attending to the community around us.

CRAVING by Armen Hanjian September 28,2015

Craving Num. 11:1-2,4-5,18-20,31-34 Matt.5:1-12 92715

When Jesus shared the Beatitudes, he wasn’t addressing children or youth; he was talking to adults who had sharpened their focus regarding life and its meaning. This is particularly true with the beatitude that stated: “Blessed (that is, “happy”) are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

A person has to let go a lot of his or her agenda items in a day if he or she is going to focus on doing what is right – righteousness, to focus on doing what is just – justice. Part of Jesus learning in his younger years of Jewish training was the truth that Micah proclaimed: “….what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

THAT CALL IS JUST AS TRUE FOR THE MATURE JEW AS FOR THE MATURE CHRISTIAN; just as true centuries ago as for today; just as directly a call to me as to you.

How can I right what is wrong in my life, my church’s life, my community’s life? How can one person right what’s wrong in the world? How can I address someone or some group that has been unjustly treated?

I don’t have a single easy answer this morning. Rather, I am trying to help me and you to include it in our daily agenda – the truth that there is deep happiness when we make space in our hearts and minds whereby we hunger and thirst for righteousness.

When the Hebrews were in Egypt, they complained, “We want freedom; we want out of here.” When they were out of Egypt, they wanted the good old days when they had meat to eat. What is it I complain about, or better put, what is it I crave?

I mean more than biting into sweet corn. I mean other than our gradual growth toward hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Through my years, I thought what I really craved were women, sex, that sort of satisfaction. I have concluded what I crave is intimacy. It’s a hot potato; I can’t hold onto it very long. A helpful way of understanding is: into-me-I-see.

Intimacy involves me in various forms, various ways:

1. Eye contact that is sustained.

2. Touching.

3. Hugging with my whole self and being hugged back by another’s offering their whole self.

4.Hearing and/or saying just the right words.

5. Music.

6. Beauty

7. Reminders that connect me with past intimacy, e.g. someone who looks like an early loved one.

A reason we can’t hold onto the feeling of intimacy very long is that it is a powerful charge of energy to be used to move me and you into appropriate action. The pattern is this: ENERGY moves us to ACTION which moves us to INTERACTION with a persons or persons or thing. And those three things (energy, action, interaction) yields: MEANING.

If we are not in touch with the energy of our feelings, no energy emerges and gets named. If that step is missing there is little or no action.

If we are short on feelings/energy, action or interaction beyond our world, our self, we are short changed on something else we crave: meaning.

Be in touch with your feelings. Act on them and discover how God’s blessings will abundantly flow.

I invite you to take a moment, then share your thoughts or feelings on this perspective.

What if it’s all about forgiveness? Sept. 20, 2015



Rev. Vicky Hanjian

September 20, 2015

JOHN 20:19 – 31

What if it’s all about forgiveness? We can’t escape the theme of forgiveness in the JESUS story. As he was dying, Jesus forgave his tormentors on the cross. In his second post resurrection appearance, he greeted his friends behind locked doors and commissioned them to exercise forgiveness in the world. At the end of John’s gospel Jesus forgave Peter for his denial and commissioned Peter to “feed my sheep.”

Forgiveness has been a central place of spiritual challenge and struggle for all who have followed since then. What if it’s all about forgiveness?

Forgiveness made the front page headlines of the Globe several weeks ago when members of a Charleston, South Carolina Church appeared in court at the arraignment of the man who had opened fire in their congregation and killed their pastor and several members. Within just a few days of the event, they offered him forgiveness. A few years ago members of an Amish community in Pennsylvania immediately forgave the man who had killed five young school girls in their community. A little farther back than that, a five-year-old Boston girl, paralyzed by a stray bullet at the age of three made the headlines when she offered the perpetrator forgiveness. In her victim impact statement, she was quoted as saying “What you done to me was wrong” and then she said “But I still forgive him.” Stories like these put forgiveness on the front page and they are met with mixed response. Finding our way in the radical world of forgiveness is not always easy.

Psychologist Stephanie Dowrick has written: Forgiveness deeply offends the rational mind. When someone has hurt us, wounded us, abused us; when someone has stolen peace of mind or safety from us; when someone has harmed or taken the life of someone we love; or when someone has simply misunderstood us or offended us, there is no reason why we should let the offense go. No reason why we should understand it. No reason why we should hope for enlightenment for that person. No reason why, from our own pain and darkness we should summon compassion and insight for that person as well as for ourselves.1

As familiar as the gospel story is to us, it still confounds us – – it confounds rationality. Forgiveness is not a reasonable, rational process. There was no rational reason for Jesus to forgive the Roman soldiers even as they crucified him. There was no reason for Jesus to forgive the friend who denied him. But this is what Jesus did – – And the first thing he commissioned his followers to do was to forgive the sins of others.

Perhaps forgiveness is difficult for us at times because we do not fully understand what forgiveness is and is not. Actually, it is probably the things that forgiveness is NOT that cause us the most difficulty in knowing when and what we can forgive. Forgiveness is NOT condoning the wrong that was done. Forgiveness does NOT justify the actions that caused harm. Forgiveness does NOT always happen in an instant. It takes time – often years – for forgiveness to happen. Forgiveness does NOT mean forgetting what has happened. Forgiveness does NOT necessarily lead to forced reunions between the wounded person and the one who has done the wounding.2 Forgiveness may never lead to the comfort of real and authentic reconciliation.

If forgiveness is none of these things, then what are we left with? William Countryman in his book FORGIVEN AND FORGIVING points out that the Greek word that we translate as forgive (aphiemi) means, basically, “to let go.” “When we pray ‘forgive us our debts or trespasses’ the words means “let our debts go; turn them loose.” Forgiveness involves a letting go – a letting go of our investment in the past so that we can turn toward the future; it means letting go of our need to control the other; it even means letting go of our own self righteousness so that something new can happen in the world.”3 In addition to all the other things that forgiveness is not – – it is NOT about the past, but about the future. There is no way of erasing the past, and we always carry our past with us into the future – which gives the lie to the conventional wisdom of “forgive and forget.” Countryman suggests it is not whether we carry the past into the future, but how we carry it. Do we drag the past with us like a dead weight, something that holds us back? Do we carry it as a weapon to use against ourselves or someone else?4 When we are able to reach a point where we no longer need the past to be any different than it was, we are well on the way to knowing how to forgive.

The command to forgive is central to what Jesus envisioned for the world. He breathed the power of the Holy Spirit into his followers. “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” By His Spirit, He breathes in us today and the challenge of his words remains – we are empowered with both the ability to forgive and the ability to refuse to forgive.

At times it appears that we live in a world motivated more by revenge than by forgiveness. Jesus’ vision of a kingdom where forgiveness and compassion and justice reigns is pretty tarnished. Street gangs kill each other off and wound innocent people because of their need for revenge against one another. Family units dissolve when marriage partners cannot forgive each other or themselves. Nations carry out genocide against one another because historical grievances have been dragged into the present to stoke the fires of revenge. Children carry childhood wounds into their own adulthood because they cannot forgive their parents.

We know what forgiveness is not. But what then does real forgiveness look like? Linda Barker Revell writes: “Forgiveness is a state of grace. It cannot be applied as a concept. It must not be muddled up with who is right and who is not right. That muddling separates us off from the healing power of love and I think that forgiveness is the greatest of the healing powers of love.” 5

Real forgiveness often comes to life not so much through our ability to see the failings in others and to judge them, but through our willingness to own up to our own failings, to know what we have done, and to acknowledge without self pity what we are capable of doing. Forgiveness demands that we take responsibility for ourselves, with all the discomfort that may imply. Forgiveness asks us to think about what kind of society we are creating through our actions – through our ability to forgive….or through our propensity to withhold forgiveness. Forgiveness demands that we ask of ourselves “What kind of a future do I want to create in this situation, in this relationship?” The mother of the young Boston girl expressed it very succinctly: “We live in a world today that seems to want people to be bitter, angry. But I don’t want bitterness and anger in my life and I don’t want it for my daughter.” Imagine the kind of radical process of forgiveness that might activate reconciliation instead of enmity if we asked the question “What kind of future do we want to create?

One sermon will not address the vast possibilities of a future based on forgiveness. The best we can hope for, perhaps, is to open the door to more thinking about it forgiveness – about what it is and is not. We know all too well what a world built on revenge and retribution looks like. Perhaps the best and clearest way to welcome the power of Jesus’ teachings into our lives is to wrestle with the responsibility that has been entrusted to us –“ If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Bill Countryman reminds us that “in the power of God’s Spirit, no good thing is impossible. As people who trust in the good news, we live by hope in what we, with God, can build in the future. The failure or unwillingness of others will not prevent us from living richly and faithfully as we grow toward the vision of the kingdom. We can forgive others without their asking (us for) forgiveness – if we have to. We can repent and build anew without the forgiveness we seek from others – if we have to.”

Real forgiveness begins with admitting the truth of the wounding. 5 year old Kai Lee said it very clearly: “What you done to me was wrong.” Real forgiveness begins by recognizing and naming the wrong doing and bringing it to a halt. Where there is ongoing wrongdoing, the only truly loving and forgiving thing to do is to demand change. This is true of situations involving abuse, racism, genocide, poverty, discrimination, war- – of any situation where the wrongdoing is pervasive and ongoing. The first step toward any real forgiveness is to name the wrong-doing and demand that it stop.

Real forgiveness is what opens the possibility of reconciliation between wrongdoer and victim. Real forgiveness will say “If there is to be a future relationship between us, it has to be a non-abusive one; a non-racist one; a non-class-ist one, a non-warring one. No other kind of relationship is appropriate for those who are citizens of the age to come. No other relationship can endure in that age where harm ceases to be a possibility.”6

Through Jesus, we have been authorized to forgive one another. That’s where it all begins. At any moment we can embark on the life long process. We simply start where we are and we begin to forgive what we can forgive. With practice we begin to let go of the self-righteousness that slows us down. We realize that we have been forgiven – and that, all by itself, is what authorizes us to be about the work of forgiving others. Forgiveness is not for sissies. Jesus shows us that. But forgiveness is also not exclusively reserved for saints. We might very well be the ones hiding out of fear in a locked room – feeling the breath of the Spirit, hearing the commission Jesus speaks, feeling ourselves propelled into a future that God envisions for all God’s people. May it be so. Amen.

1 FORGIVENESS AND OTHER ACTS OF LOVE by Stephanie Dowrick W.W. Norton & Co. New York, 1997. p. 291

2 Dowrick p. 290

3 FORGIVEN AND FORGIVING by L. William Countryman, Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, PA 1998 p.57

4 Countryman Page 57

5 Dowrick page 300

6 Countryman p.84

You Shall Be Holy September 13,2015

You Shall Be Holy….”

Leviticus 19:1-3, 9 –19, 33

Chilmark Community Church

September 13, 2015

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

Imagine being a somewhat cantankerous collection of tribal peoples newly freed from generations of slavery, trying to find the way through a hostile wilderness, following a leader they aren’t sure that they can trust.

Imagine being Moses, having to lead this motley crew into a kind of freedom they had never known. Imagine being commanded to be the mouthpiece for a hidden God that your people have not learned to trust yet either. It seems to be an impossible task – and yet this somewhat chaotic and disorganized beginning is the foundation of the people who will carry forward the reality that there is only one God – and there will be no other gods for them to consider.

At some point in the wilderness sojourn, God commands Moses to speak to this resistant and doubtful people: Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy. We notice quickly that Moses is to address, not just pious folks, not just the men, not just the tribal leaders, not just the elders – God commands that Moses to speak to the whole community with a rather astounding command: Tell them they are to be holy!! So – maybe we need to unpack what it means to be holy – – because we are the spiritual descendants of those early wanderers and the command is directed at us too.

If we continue on a bit in the text we read this morning, we find out pretty quickly that being holy is not a matter of praying regularly and correctly. It is not being saintly. It is not a matter of living a pious life above reproach. It is not even a matter of getting to church every week. Holiness has to do with respecting and caring for and honoring one another – especially our elders as represented by our fathers and mothers.

Being holy means not harvesting every last squash or head of cabbage or grain of wheat from your fields. It means leaving some of the harvest at the corners and edges of the field for the poor and the stranger. Our island farms practice this holiness by welcoming gleaners to harvest what is left in the fields after produce for market is gathered in. The gleaners supply the schools and senior centers and the Island Food Pantry with the crops left in the corners and margins of the fields. Bounty for those who might not be able to afford fresh vegetables otherwise.

So many of the commands at the heart of the teachings in Leviticus are practical laws aimed at creating a just and compassionate society. They are as contemporary now as they were when they were first recorded.

The 33rd verse in Leviticus 19 is particularly in the foreground today as we watch the drama of refugees fleeing from Syria and other parts of the middle east into European Union countries: When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. While Hungary moves toward creating walls and barriers to the strangers at their doors, Germany and France and Austria and England and others are opening their doors and their arms and their hearts to receive strangers into their midst. We have no idea of what the future will look like for these countries or for the thousands of souls who are finding rest and respite from war and wandering. It isn’t possible at the moment to see how graceful the receiving countries will be able to be in the face of such challenges. But for the moment, we are catching a glimpse of the face of holiness –the face of God’s holiness in the faces and hearts and arms of those who welcome the stranger. It is possible that we are also witnessing a process of hope and redemption for the world as this drama unfolds.

Armen and I receive a weekly letter from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks who is the former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth. He wrote this last week:

A strong humanitarian response on the part of Europe and the international community could achieve what military intervention and political negotiation have thus far failed to achieve. The response would constitute the clearest possible evidence that the European experience of two world wars and the Holocaust have taught that free societies, where people of all faiths and ethnicities make space for one another, are the only way to honor our shared humanity.

I use to think that the most important line in the bible was, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Then I realized that it is easy to love your neighbor because he or she is usually quite like yourself. What is hard is to love the stranger, one whose colour, culture or creed is different from yours. That is why the command, “Love the stranger because you were once strangers,” resonates so often throughout the Bible.

[That command] is summoning us now. A bold act of collective generosity will show that the world, particularly Europe, really has learned the lesson of its own dark past and is willing to take the global lead in building a more hopeful future. Wars that cannot be won

by weapons can sometimes be won by the sheer power of acts of human generosity to inspire the young to choose the way of peace instead of holy war.

This morning’s text began with God’s command to God’s people that we are to be holy because God is holy. It ends with the command to love the stranger as ourselves because we were once strangers in Egypt. The Hebrew word for Egypt is mitzrayim. It means “narrow”.

We do not have personal history of being in slavery in Egypt, but we do know what it means to be in a narrow, confining space that does not permit us to be joyfully and fully and generously human. We all know something about grief, and pain and uncertainty. We know what it is to be fearful at times. We know what it is like not to be able to reach our goals and dreams. We know what it is to agonize over the lives of loved ones. We know what it is like to feel estranged. These are our mitzrayim – our Egypt – our narrow places – – these are our places of being strangers in the world. It is from these narrow places that we learn what it is like to be a stranger. God calls us to remember what it is like and out of that memory, to extend love and compassion to others who are also strangers – because they suffer as we have suffered.

To be holy as God is holy means learning how to welcome and love and make space for the stranger. It isn’t always easy or comfortable, but it is what we are called to do and be. Strangers are everywhere.

The new kid in the classroom, the first time visitor to a church, the new Brazilian family in the neighborhood, the unfamiliar face in the crowd. Sometimes the stranger is close by, dwelling inside us as the frightened or angry part of ourselves that we don’t know very well or want to deny. Strangers, external or internal, are everywhere, waiting to be welcomed and loved.

Rachel Naomi Remen interviewed a Holocaust survivor, Yitzak, at a retreat for people with cancer, for her book Kitchen Table Wisdom. Initially, Yitzak was very uncomfortable being vulnerable with a group of strangers. Yitzak tells Rachel at their final meeting that he took up the matter with God and asked God what this retreat was about. Rachel wanted to know what God said in response to Yitzak. Yitzak answered: “…I say to Him, ‘God is it okay to luff strangers?’ And God says to me, ‘Yitzak, vat is dis strangers? You make strangers. I don’t make strangers.’” To Yitzak, his fellow cancer sufferers were strangers. To God, no one is a stranger. (Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen)

The drama that is being played out in Europe is the human drama. Every human being on the planet has a role to play if we are to create a more just and loving world. God did not speak just to a select few when Moses called the people together. God commanded the whole people to be holy. To God, who is holy, there are no strangers. God calls us to be holy. The healing of the world depends on it.

What’s Going on Here? September 6,2015

What’s Going On Here?”

1 Samuel 16:1-13

Chilmark Community Church –UMC

September 6, 2015

From time to time, Armen and I have the pleasure of house sitting for friends who live above Squibnocket Pond.

From the living room window I can see the glittering water, the hills and stone walls, the movement of the sun across the sky, the dunes in the distance, Noman’s Island – – and I can revel in the silence there. Paradoxically, the view everyday is both unchanging and continually changing across the hours from sun up to sun down

All that nature serves as a perfect foil for the themes in the reading from 1st Samuel because a lot of the stories and traditions in the 1st and 2nd books of Samuel pose the theological problem of the unchanging changeability of God. The stories raise questions about the character of a God who does not change and yet changes all the time – – a God who resists any fixed notions that humans may have about the predictability of divine movement and influence.

Gail Godwin has written a novel called “Finishing School”. Near the beginning of the book she describes a penetrating and telling conversation between two characters, Justin, the narrator, and Ursula. Ursula is speaking to Justin:

There are two kinds of people,” she once decreed to me emphatically. “One kind you can tell just by looking at them at what point they congealed into their final selves. It might be a very nice self, but you know you can expect no more surprises from it. Whereas, the other kind keeps moving and changing. With these people you can never say, ‘X stops here,’ or ‘Now I know all there is to know about Y.’ That doesn’t mean they are unstable. Ah, no, far from it. They are fluid. They keep moving forward and making new trysts with life, and the motion keeps them young. In my opinion, they are the only people who are still alive. You must be constantly on your guard, Justin, against congealing.”

And so it is with coming to terms with how we understand any biblical text and ultimately, how we come to know God and ourselves. For the most part we have learned to read the Bible in bits and pieces. Parts of the Bible are so familiar to us that we think we know all there is to know about what those parts mean. The stories and the message have become congealed. So for a few minutes this morning, perhaps we can approach the ancient witness fluidly, assuming nothing. We will probably not gain a true and accurate, complete and final reading, but perhaps just some elusive insight just for today. Next week or next year, the same text might raise very different questions and understandings.

It almost seems like we are jumping on a moving train in the first verse where God says to Samuel: “How long will you grieve over Saul??? I have rejected him from being king over Israel.” Generations of Israel’s colorful and complex history have led to this point. In a nutshell, after many generations in the wilderness under the leadership of Moses, followed by many more generations of struggle to gain a foothold in the promised land under first Joshua and then under a variety of other tribal leaders, Israel begged God to provide them with a king. God chooses Samuel, a priest and a prophet, to find and anoint this king – who turns out to be Saul. The arrangement works for a very brief while, but at some point, Saul loses his ability to lead. His charisma begins to disappear – -and God decides a new king is needed. It will, again be Samuel’s responsibility to find and anoint the one whom God has chosen. In the process, Samuel grieves over Saul. And I wonder what this means? Is Samuel grieved by his own failure as a leader? – – He was the one who anointed Saul in the first place. Is Samuel grieved because he has failed God in some way? Or is his grief personal? Perhaps he has sympathy for Saul who is about to be relieved of his kingship? We don’t know for sure. What we do know is that God directs Saul to get over it and move on. This might be a point where we could ask “What’s going on here?”

Do we have here an instance of an unchanging God having a change of mind and heart? We are not even out of the 1st verse and God says to Samuel: “Go to Jesse, the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king from among his sons. The Hebrew word ra’ah which is translated as “I have provided” may also be translated as “I have seen”. So we might ask “Does God see a kingly possibility that is already there?” or “ Does God actively work to provide the king that God needs?” Which way is the truth about God? The questions keep the text and us from congealing. The answer has to remain fluid.

Whichever translation we choose, it is clear that the anointing of David is not a happenstance event. As Samuel follows the commands of the fluid God, the anointing of David will not be a historical accident or a political stratagem.

It turns out that this is a dangerous adventure for Samuel. One simply does not anoint a new king while the old one is still on the throne. Even though God has withdrawn divine favor, Saul is still the king. Anointing a new king makes Samuel a traitor and Samuel is not too thrilled about carrying out the plan. But God isn’t interested Samuel’s resistance and fear – – and God is not prepared to reason with Samuel.

BUT, God does come up with a way to get around some of the risk and instructs Samuel: “Tell the people you have come to make a sacrifice. This will relieve their suspicion about why you are there. God authorizes a deception that provides protection for Samuel. The Divine goal is to get to Jesse’s family. Maybe this is another place to ask “What’s going on here?”

As only happens in stories, the Bethlehemites naively believe the ruse that Samuel has come merely to make a sacrifice and the deception buys him the entrance he needs.

The story tells us a few things about how our ancestors understood God.

1st – The story tells us that God could act and then decide that the act was a mistake – – it is a glimpse of a God whose mind could change. God commanded the anointing of Saul and immediately regretted it because Saul messed up on his first assignment. God dis-invited Saul from his kingship.

Our ancestors conceived of a God who is fallible.

2nd – The story tells us that being a servant of God is risky. Samuel is put at great risk for his life by the order to anoint a new king. God is not terribly reasonable. God wants something done and expects Samuel to do it. God doesn’t want to hear about Samuel’s fears and orders Samuel to get on with it. Our ancestors conceived of a God with an irresistible will.

3rd – The story tells us that God is not above a little artifice in order to accomplish the Divine will. God gives Samuel a plausible story to tell the elders of Bethlehem in order to get to his real purpose which is to anoint a new king. Our ancestors conceived of a God who was the source, the guide and eventually the goal of the outcome.

As the drama unfolds, Jesse brings out all his sons for Samuel’s blessing and anointing. Eliab – – the oldest – -attractive – – tall – – all the signs of leadership potential. But God says “no – not him.” “Do not look upon his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have (already) rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals; they look on outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

A second and then a third son come forward, but, as in the Cinderella story, Samuel persists. “Are there any other sons?” Reluctantly, Jesse sends for his youngest son who is tending the flocks. The young boy comes forward and Samuel anoints him to become heir to Saul’s throne – and so the great King David of Israel enters the stream of our ancestral story.

On a communion Sunday at the beginning of September and at the beginning of a relatively unanticipated future together, what are we to take from this story that will not allow us to become congealed?

Maybe first and foremost is the notion that God does not wish any of us to congeal prematurely! We can get too fixed and comfortable with the status quo. A congregation can get stuck in an identity that may need to change and grow. A quirky God can shift things around. A clergy couple can get too content in the routines of retirement – and may need to become uncongealed. Maybe we are to learn not to depend so much on external, human forces – on the frailty of human seeing – – but rather draw strength from trusting that God sees more accurately and acts to carry us forward like Samuel – – even though we are uncertain about where we are going. The Divine Influence that sustains and guides us is a radically free and adventuring God. The entire body of scripture that we have inherited attests to this God who is not satisfied with a congealed people. The dynamic activity of God doesn’t end in the ancient story. It continues right here in our midst. We gather at the table to enact an ancient ritual. Some days it has meaning for us – -other days it doesn’t. But we gather anyway because this radically free God works in us through simple things like bread and wine – -drawing us closer to one another – strengthening our connections so that we have the spiritual resources we need to stay in realtionship with this ever-moving God.

God seeks an uncongealed people who are willing to be on the move and to be fully open to the eternally changing Unchanging One.

Perhaps, just for today, to paraphrase the character of Ursula, we can experiment with being fluid – – with moving forward – -with making new trysts with the Holy One. Being in motion with the Christ who offers us living bread will keep us ever young. Indeed, the deeper fellowship around the table is what keeps us alive and uncongealed. Perhaps that is all that is going on here.

“HELPING, FIXING, SERVING” August 23, 2015

“Helping, Fixing, Serving”

John 12:1-8

Chilmark Community Church

August 23, 2015

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

Many years ago my Sunday School teaching partner and I were preparing for our 4th grade class. That year we were blessed with 8 boys between the ages of 8 and 10. The lesson that morning had to do with the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. So we decided to invite the kids to have the experience of having their feet washed and then of washing each others’ feet. As the lesson progressed, we got to the point of filling a large basin with water and my partner asked who would like to be first?

Almost a though a secret signal had been given, 8 pairs of feet were withdrawn, pulled back under the chair rungs – – no willing volunteers. So my friend Ila and I were left with no alternative but to wash each other’s feet and demonstrate what the lesson was about.

We took a few minutes to do this and as we looked around the room, those little guys were paying attention! So we offered the invitation again. This time one or two feet were very tentatively extended beyond the rungs of the chairs. Then one pair of sneakers came off followed by a pair of socks – – and then another and another. One by one, the kids extended their feet to see what it would feel like to have their feet washed. Gradually, they experimented with washing each other’s feet with a lot of giggling and “oooooh phew!” By the end of the class we all had clean feet and we had all learned something about what it feels like to have someone kneel in front of us and serve us in a profoundly simple and symbolic act.

We have two very brief images of service in today’s text. Jesus has returned to Bethany for a visit at the home of his dear friends, Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. They have prepared a dinner party for him. The words of the story are sparse: “Martha served”………Mary took a pound of expensive perfumed ointment, cleansed Jesus’ feet and wiped them, not with a towel, but with her hair.

The images of the meal and the foot washing are repeated again in the later story of Jesus sharing his final meal with his friends – and washing their feet. In the later story it is Jesus who serves and washes.

Today’s story reaches the senses: the smell of lamb and grains roasting on the fire; the scent of perfume filling the house; the intimacy of Mary’s physical touch; the feel of soft hair. It’s a sensual story. It is also a story of contrasts. Death and life are present. Lazarus is newly restored, alive, from his tomb where Jesus was warned of the terrible stench he would encounter there. Jesus is on his way to his own tomb – fragrantly perfumed. Mary and Martha are extravagant in their meal preparations and the bathing of Jesus feet. Judas kind of sulks in the corner worrying about the expense.

There is a two-word sentence in the story that catches the eye: “Martha served.” Serving is what the sisters knew how to do.

A number of years ago, Naomi Remen authored an article in the Noetic Sciences Review titled “In The Service of Life”. She wrote: “In recent years, the question ‘how can I help?’ has become meaningful for many people. But perhaps there is a deeper question we might consider. Perhaps the real question is not ‘How can I help’ but rather ‘How can I serve?’ There is a difference between helping and fixing and serving.

Richard Rohr, in his book “What the Mystics Know” writes: After decades of counseling, pastoring, and clumsy attempts at helping other people, I am coming to a not so obvious but compelling conclusion: Much of our helping is like hoping for first class accommodations on the Titanic. It feels good at the moment, but it is going nowhere. The big tear in the hull is not addressed, and we are surprised when people drown, complain, or resort to life boats. Most of the people I have tried to fix still need fixing. The situation changed, but the core was never touched.

Serving is different than helping. Remen suggests that people tend to feel a sense of inequality when they are helped. The helper may feel good, but the one who is helped may feel diminished in some way. We heard this message clearly a number of years ago when we spent some time on the Lakota Reservations in South Dakota. The tribes told stories about how they had been “helped” by the US government in the form of surplus food. They had been “helped” by missionaries who wanted to convert them to Christianity. They had been “helped” by well meaning groups who sent them boxes of used clothing. But through all this helping, their health, their spiritual traditions and their strength and dignity as a tribal people were all seriously diminished. The integrity and wholeness of tribal life was eroded by the help that was extended to them. To paraphrase Rohr, all that helping and fixing never reached the core. Life on the reservations changed, but the deepest core of life was never touched in a way that would have lead to wholeness in the relationship between the Lakota people the white population.

Service, on the other hand, is a relationship between equals. Helping incurs a subtle kind of indebtedness. Serving has a mutuality about it. There is no indebtedness. In a serving relationship, I am served just as much as the person I am serving. When I help, I have a feeling satisfaction that I have done something good. When I serve, I feel gratitude. These are two very different things.

Serving is also different from fixing. Fixing arises out of seeing the world or other persons as broken. Naomi Remen writes: “When I fix another person, I see them as broken and their brokenness requires me to act. When I fix, I do not see the wholeness in the other person or trust the integrity of the life in them. Fixing is a form of judgment about the brokenness of the other person.

When I think of images of serving, one that comes to mind is hospice work. When a hospice worker receives an assignment, it is an assignment to serve. In the work of attending to the needs of the dying and to the needs of the family, a hospice worker cannot fix anything –nor can he or she really help. In hospice work there is no fixing or helping – – only service – – the service of wise and compassionate presence – – a service that addresses and acknowledges the strength and integrity of the family and the one who is dying. Hospice seeks to serve the wholeness in the life of the client and the family as death draws near.

The images of Jesus and his friends in the gospel are images of service. Mary breaks a flask of perfumed ointment to sooth and cleanse Jesus’ feet. She can fix nothing. Her act of service doesn’t help anything. Jesus already knows his end is imminent. Nothing can fix or help the outcome. There is a mystery in Mary’s service that recognizes the integrity and wholeness of Jesus, of work, of his purpose.

Judas, on the other hand, is a helper and a fixer – – sell the ointment – -help the poor. He has a somewhat self righteous tone about him and the little editorial comment suggests that his motives aren’t really all that pure.

Later on in John’s gospel Jesus is again in the company of friends. This time he is the one with the basin and towel. He extends to his friends the hospitality of serving them by preparing to wash their feet. He comes first to Peter – and Peter resists. He is incredulous at the idea of Jesus washing his feet and he refuses. Jesus responds to him: “unless I wash you, you have no part in me.” And Peter submits to being served by Jesus. Jesus doesn’t fix anything about Peter. We know this because of the way the story unfolds after Jesus is arrested. But Jesus sees something of the inherent worth – indeed the holiness – in Peter. Unless Peter allowed himself to be served by Jesus, Peter would not be able to live out a life of service.

Jesus aligned himself with the wholeness that he saw in each life he touched. He saw that wholeness in each human being waiting to be restored and he acted in service to that wholeness.

When we see this about Jesus, we can understand a little bit more about his willing attitude when Mary anointed his feet and Martha served him a meal. In the face of the unfixable that lay ahead of them all, it was incredibly important that Mary and Martha be able to serve by their devotion and their friendship and their presence in Jesus’ life. When this story is juxtaposed with the later story of Jesus washing his friends’ feet, we see that life in Christ is not so much a life of fixing and helping – – or of being fixed or helped. Rather life in Christ is a life of serving and being served.

Through his life and death and resurrection, Jesus serves us by recognizing the wholeness and the holiness that resides in each one of us. He does not relate to us as needy, or broken or weak. Rather he serves us by honoring our strength and calling forth the best from us. If his purpose were to help us or fix us, he would only make us weaker. But Jesus calls us from weakness to strength. His loving service to us empowers us – – makes us strong.

Martha served. Mary served. Jesus serves. After Jesus had washed his friends’ feet he said to them “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me teacher and Lord –and you are right for that is what I am. So – if I your Lord have washed your feet, you ought also to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

So – the subtle call seems clear. We are called to lives of serving and lives of being served. We all know something about what this means because we live in a community that does this as part of its way of being in the world. The story just helps us do the fine tuning so that we can be more effective. May we enter the coming week with our eyes and ears and hearts wide open to whatever our servant ministry calls us to do and be in the name of God. AMEN.

Let the Healing Begin, August 16, 2015

“Let The Healing Begin”

Chilmark UMC

August 16, 2015

Numbers 21:4-9

John 3:14-22

Dr. David Carlough was a very diminutive figure with snowy white hair and he could walk into a room and make you feel better just by being there. When I was a little kid he came to the house when I was sick. He would thump and bump and probe and listen – – grunt softly and come to a conclusion. He would reach into his black bag and take out just the right medicine and give me the first dose right then and there. Then he would have a cup of tea with my mom and catch up on the family happenings before he moved on to his next visit. It is hard to find doctors like Dr. David anymore. He was more than a physician. He was a healer. Often he was not able to cure his patients, but what happened in his relationship with his patients was as important to the healing process as the pills he dispensed from his medical bag.

As a little kid, I was fascinated by that black bag. The leather handles were kind of cracked and worn. There was a stethoscope inside it and lots of bottles of pills and little white envelopes. He would put the pills in an envelopes and write instructions on it for my mom to follow. On the side of the bag was silver stick with a silver snake wrapped around it.

That serpent wreathed staff, the caduceus, has always been a reminder to me of the capacity to heal. But snakes get mixed reviews in human history and experience. On the one hand, in the Garden of Eden, the serpent is a mischief maker – enticing the woman in the garden to do something she has been forbidden to do. On the other hand, when Moses throws down his staff in front of Pharaoh, it turns into a snake that is a symbol of God’s power and authority.

Throughout history, the snake has been viewed as symbol death and of the power of evil. It has also been understood as a symbol of creation and regeneration and resurrection and healing. We see this duality in the story we are reading today.

In the passage we read from the Book of Numbers, the Hebrew people were tired of their sojourn in the wilderness. Tradition puts them at about the 38th year of their journey. They complained against God and against Moses. They were tired of wandering, tired of having no place to call home, tired of not having enough food and water – and they hated the manna that God provided for them every day. They harangued Moses: “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in this wilderness?” This mantra is repeated over and over again in the books of Exodus and Numbers and Deuteronomy

Long story short, God gets tired of their complaining and sends a plague of poisonous serpents among the people. The snakes bite the people and the people die. The people panic. They repent. They ask Moses to speak with God in their behalf to get rid of the snakes. Moses prays. God says make a bronze serpent – hold it up where the people can see it. If they get bitten and look at it, they will live.

The story raises a few questions. Didn’t God originally tell Israel not to make any graven images? Isn’t God breaking God’s own rules here? What do we do with a story about God’s impatience and loss of temper? How does God transform what was a punishment into something that heals?

At one time or another as we move through life, we experience the same kind of weariness and frustration that happened to Israel in the wilderness. Just when we think things can’t get any worse- -they do. A young mother is sick and doesn’t feel well enough to do the laundry and pack the school lunches– and the kids all come down with the flu. We’re at the outermost limit of our finances and the furnace needs to be replaced or the pipes freeze and cost a fortune to repair. We look to modern medicine and technology to help us get through an illness and the treatment makes us sicker than we were when we started – – and maybe we discover too late that our insurance doesn’t cover it all anyway.

Sometimes our lives are an exercise in wandering in the wilderness.

The story presents a bit of a paradox. God’s answer to the complaints of the people is a plague of poisonous snakes. They sicken and die. The thing that will save them is an image of the exact same thing that is causing their death.

In God’s paradoxical economy, the image of the serpent – the thing that caused them to sicken and die, becomes an instrument of their healing.

A close reading of the story reveals that the bronze serpent does not cure them, however. The last line of the episode reads this way: “So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.”

The story does not tell us that God removed the snakes. The story reads : Moses made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a standard; and when anyone was bitten by a serpent, he would look at the bronze serpent and recover. In the very next verse, The Israelites march on to their next campsite.

It is part of life that we hit the dark valleys from time to time – – pain, sickness, a diagnosis of cancer or Alzheimer’s Disease, the sudden death of a loved one – -these are things that happen to us on our human journey. Our most heartfelt prayers are for relief, for a cure – – we want the sickness and the pain and the sadness and the disability to go away. God – please get rid of these snakes. But death and dementia and, often cancer, and so many other conditions that afflict us can’t be reversed. Strained and broken relationships can be very resistant to any efforts at reconciliation Often, we have to come to terms with knowing that as much as we yearn for a cure there is no cure to be had. A cure means that the disease or the trouble or the snakes go away. We know that in real life, a lot of times that just doesn’t happen. Healing does not necessarily mean there is a cure for what ails us. And yet, time and time again, we are witness to the healing that may take place in the midst of the devastation.

By the time we have reached a certain age, most of us have had the experience, either in our own lives or in the life of someone we know, of witnessing a process of healing and transformation that can happen in the midst of suffering.

We may witness people becoming reconciled with each other and with God when the ultimate concerns of life are met openly and honestly. Suffering through a life threatening illness often gives people an opportunity to be clear with friends and loved ones about what is precious and important. Sometimes there is opportunity for addressing old wounds – – to give and receive forgiveness – – to set right broken and estranged relationships. In the midst of a crisis of physical or emotional dis-ease, healing happens – -even when there is no cure in sight.

God does not always cure us in the ways we want to be cured – – but God is always at work healing us in the ways we need to be healed. Our bodies are temporary vessels for the transportation of the life that God has poured into us. Our bodies fail at times. Sometimes they cannot be cured. But our souls are eternal and indestructible – – when we are wounded, we can be healed.

Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the desert for the healing of the people so that they might live – even though they weren’t finished suffering and struggling and wandering. John’s gospel draws on the wilderness story. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Our tradition affirms that Jesus’ death and resurrection have the power to transform and heal human experience. At the end of his life, Jesus was literally lifted up in a public place so that people could see him. His Roman executioners made an example of him – – to frighten Jews into submission and obedience to Roman oppression. It was the worst that Rome could do. But out of that violent reality something else emerged – something Rome didn’t count on. A small community of Jews witnessed what happened. They lived through the terrible events and had a totally different experience of what death could mean for a new and transformed life.

This is the Divine Paradox…. The things that we fear the most and that cause us the most suffering – – loss, illness, disability, aging, dying – – all have hidden within them the ultimate healing and transformation we need in the service of our own wholeness. The death of Jesus as a healing event remains a mystery. Paul talks about Jesus emptying himself on the cross. The mystics say that this radical emptying is required of us so that the only thing that remains alive in us is the presence of God –and that is the ultimate healing – – when we are no longer living in a state of feeling separate from God – – when we are, indeed, in eternal life – – now in the present moment. Any major life crisis has the potential for emptying us – bringing us to the point where there is nothing else we can do – -to a point where the only possibility left is the graceful healing power of God.

From a composite of the stories of the crucifixion we hear some of Jesus’ words at the end: My God – why have you forsaken me? The human cry of all who suffer when there is no cure in sight . I am thirsty. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. It is finished. From there he undergoes a most radical transformation moving from suffering through death to life in the resurrection. We go through this same process when we are emptied through the suffering and disappointment and frustration and doubt that we encounter as we move through life.

It takes a radical trust to let go of our own expectations of how life should unfold. It takes a major investment of courage to let ourselves be transformed and healed in the midst of suffering. But the principle is there. Snakes happen. Crucifixion happens. Hidden within the worst of the worst is the healing, transformative power of God. May we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear and the heart to understand the truth revealed in these words : And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever trusts in him may have eternal life.

In Everything God Works for Good: August 9, 2015

Romans 8:28-39 In Everything God Works for Good

August 9, 2015

Chilmark Community Church

United Methodist

Rev. Armen Hanjian

A women dies. Her grief-stricken husband sits at the funeral home as friends and relatives pass by to offer words of sympathy. A few religious folk often share: ”All things work together for the good to them that love God.” It doesn’t feel like it rings true. He goes home even more confused and hopeless.

I’ sure most of you know what I’m talking about. That phrase from the King James Version “All things work together for the good” can explain anything in life. One of the high spots of the R.S.V., which had available older manuscripts than the 1611 KJV, has the verse reading “In everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose,” You see the difference? Things can’t work; rather, it is God who works in everything, and the good news is that God works for our good when God’s purposes and ours are the same.

You think, “Well that helps, but how can you read a paper or watch the TV and be made aware of droughts, wild fires, murders and such and still say God works for good in these things.

Ralph Sockman once said that the only way he could understand this verse was to think of it in terms of a ship. There are parts of a ship which taken by themselves would sink. The engine would sink. The propeller would sink. But when the parts of a ship are built together, they float. So with the events of my life. Some have been tragic. Some have been happy. But when they are all built together, they form a craft that floats…and is going someplace. And I am comforted.”

It’s one thing to say God created everything (many people tip their hat to God or give a wave). It is a far greater statement of faith to say God works in everything, even in the worst thing you could imagine, even an unjust execution. In the short view, even the disciples thought God’s purposes would be thwarted by Jesus being nailed to a cross; but in the long view, God will not be permanently or ultimately defeated.

Fearful people put Jesus to death; nevertheless, by his stripes we are healed. What about Jesus in all this? As any of us would, he prayed the cup of pain and suffering he had to drink would pass by. But he went on and said to God, “nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.” And for reasons only partly understandable, Jesus suffered and died. It is important to see that Jesus in his prayer trusted God’s will; he did not ask so much for an explanation, as he did for power to overcome or withstand the suffering. The important thing was not that everything would turn out rosy, but that nothing could separate him or us from the love of God. “In everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to

his purpose.”

Let’s not miss the truth that not only does God work, but that God cooperates with us. The Good comes when we cooperate with God; not when we work it out all by ourselves and not when we turn it all over to God to work out, as did the college student on taking a Christmas exam. The question was, What causes a depression?”

The student wrote, God knows! I don’t. Merry Christmas!” The paper came back with the professor’s notation: “ God gets 100. You get zero. Happy New Year!” If we turn everything over to God or if we turn nothing over to God, God wins and we lose. Both God and we win when there is cooperation.

.as when a little boy asked his father for help in repairing his

wagon. When the job was done, he turned his face upward and said, “Daddy, when I try to do things by myself, they go wrong. But when you and I work together, they turn out just fine.”

John Oman, in his book, The Paradox of the World,(p.30) has pointed out how all persons are used by God. He writes:

“All of us alike are God’s instruments. By not setting of our hearts on wickedness or doing evil with both our hands can we prevent God from using us. Our folly will serve Him, when our wisdom fails; our wrath praise Him, though our wills rebel. Yet, as God’s instruments without intention and in our own despite, we generally serve God’s ends only as we defeat our own. To be God’s agent is another matter. This we are only when we learn God’s will, respond to His call, work faithfully together with Him, and find our own highest ends in fulfilling His.” You could add, no one is good for nothing, you can always serve as a bad example.

So the real question is not will God use me, but whether I will be an unconscious tool or God’s conscious partner – a yoke fellow.

To know that God is your active partner is the source of inexhaustible strength.

Whatever you do, don’t get the impression that God works for us just because we love God. Jesus said, God sends the rain upon the just and the unjust alike and the sun shines just as brightly on the good as upon the evil. None of us has merited God’s help. It is God’s free gift to all. We are blessed not because of our good works, rather we are blessed because our purposes and God’s purposes are one. Paul put it this way: “The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the children of God coming into their own.”

What the Christian faith affirms is that there is a divine purpose to this creation in its entirety; namely, that we children of God come into conformity with the image of Christ – Christlikeness. God has called us to this end and we believe God can and will finish what God has set out to do.

If we do believe that God’s good pleasure is to will our highest good even in the happenings of the world around us, then, the first question which always must be asked is, “How is God working for good here? We are not through with crime and violence and drugs until we ask, “How is God working for good in these social illnesses?

And you are not through with that problem of yours until you ask, “How….” (thoughts from Let Us Break Bread Together, p119)

When we are on God’s side it doesn’t matter who is working against us for nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God. The early Christians knew that as they faced a hostile world. They faced death unflinchingly. Unlike many of us whose anxieties over things make us miserable, those pioneers of the

Christian way kept things in their perspective by keeping their eyes on Jesus – their living companion. Then, as now, a true

Christian is, by nature, an optimist. Those who flounder in fears do so because they leave God out. They think they must pull themselves up by their bootstraps and they only sink deeper in the mire of fear. They fail to count on God’s activity.

Before WW I I, a manufacturing company in NJ received an urgent message from a customer in Japan who had purchased a piece of equipment. It read “Machine does not work. Send man to fix.” The man was dispatched, but before he had a chance to carry out his assignment, the company received a second message, “Man too young. Send older man.” The company wired back: “You had better use him. He invented the machine.” We believe this old world was made in the mind of God, and that is why we commend it, with all the things that have gone wrong, into the hands of God.

We firmly believe and find comfort in the fact that “In everything God works for good with those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” And why not- it is God’s world isn’t it?

Hymn: “This is My Father’s World”

2015 Mission Trip to Ghana

October/November 2015

Mission Trip to Ghana

The Following Are Approximate Costs for the Following Itineraries

Depart Boston, Miami, Tampa or Toronto – Tuesday October 27, 2015. Transfer in Heathrow, London, or Amsterdam for 7 hour flight to Accra, Ghana, West Africa. Arrive at Accra, the next evening and immediately depart for Ho.

This trip will be our last trip to Ghana

During our Ghana stay, we will primarily be housed at the Kekeli Hotel, the Social Center of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in the city of Ho. Clean and comfortable, with air-conditioning, each room will be for two guests and will have an in-room bathroom, cold water shower, and sink. Bottled drinking water will be available for meals, in room and travel use. Meals will be prepared and served in the dining room of the hotel and will feature a mixture of Ghanaian and continental food, sensitive to our dietary needs. Three meals a day are included in the cost. All fees, tips, lodging and ground travel as well as admissions are covered. This includes 12 days in Ghana, departing November 10, 2015 and arriving back November 11, 2015

Lodging for the trip to Cape Coast-Elmina area is in process of being settled.

The Ghana experience will include a Worship opportunity in a village in the region of Ho each Sunday. We will join the people of the villages and communities of the Volta Region. All participants on the trip will participate in age/skill appropriate mission projects to include such things as physical labor at a work site, teaching in a school in the Ho district, work in a medical clinic, presence in a hospital, or with the EP Church. During the time in Ghana, we will arrange cultural presentations of some of the following: arts, dance, drum, song, fabric making, culture, and/or history.

We will mke a four-hour trek to Cape Coast area where we will visit a Slave Fort and Kakum National Park which has a canopy walk over the rainforest.

Afternoons will be reserved for periods of rest and relaxation or free time for exploring the city and market of Ho and perhaps a visit to Tafi Monkey Sanctuary, Wili Waterfall or Keta Sea Defense.

Ghana (Estimated): $2,800

Plus Visa Required: $60-100 Plus Shots required: Yellow fever, malaria meds, etc.

Contact: The Rev. David Christensen telephone: 1-860-759-0791

Box 50, West Tisbury, MA 02575 email: dgcatbcc@aol.com

Send Deposit of $500 by August 20, 2015 mailed to Rev. Christensen

Send Payment of $1,000 by September 15, 2015 mailed to Rev. Christensen

These 2 checks should be made out to “The Federated Church” with the notation “Ghana Travel.”

Balance Due $1,300 in cash carried to Ghana

Ghana Trip: October 27, 2015 – November 11, 2015

Living With Abundance 8/2/15

Living With Abundance

Ecclesiastes 8: 8-16

Luke 12:13-21

Vicky Hanjian

August 2, 2015

Well, this is a doozy of a parable – one that causes us to question “What did he mean by that?” This is Jesus – speaking to his disciples apart from the crowd of thousands who are literally trampling on one another in their efforts to get close to Jesus.

And then – – an interruption – -seemingly out of the blue. A man emerges as an individual out of the crowd and asks Jesus to settle an inheritance dispute. We struggle with Jesus’ response. It almost seems out of character – lacking in understanding and compassion. He asks the man “Who makes me a judge or arbitrator over you?” We would rather that Jesus listened to the man’s complaint against his brother – – and give him advice for how to resolve it – – but Jesus does not answer him directly. He abruptly gives a terse teaching, presumably turning back to his disciples…and facing the crowd: “And he said to them ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

In a way, these words kind of set us up to understand the parable that follows as story warning us about the dangers of greed. But our Bible study last week took us in another direction – toward the question of how do we live with abundance?

The opening line of the parable reads “The land of a rich man produced abundantly” – – Apparently he was a reasonably good steward of his good land. He farmed it well and it produced a bumper crop that year. One almost wonders if he was surprised at the bounty as he talks to himself. “What am I going to do with this? I have no place to store this much food.” One might also wonder if he might also have had a bumper crop of zucchini or tomatoes or kale – we tend to ask the same questions as the height of the summer harvest comes on. What are we going to do with the abundance?

The farmer’s answer is to tear down his existing barn and build a bigger one. All week long I kept hearing the classic line from “JAWS” in the deep background: “We’re gonna need a bigger boat!” The farmer needed a bigger barn. So far, so good. He’s doing the prudent thing – taking care of the bounty – – making adequate storage so it doesn’t spoil or get wasted. Greed does not seem to be the issue. When the barn is built and all of the grain is safely under cover, he takes a few moments to sit back and relax – maybe he has the great feeling of satisfaction that comes when the last of the pickling cukes have been sealed in their jars and the tomatoes have all been turned into sauce for the winter, and the last of the beans have been blanched and placed in the freezer.

The Farmer kicks back in his rocking chair on the porch. Maybe a glass of wine and some good cheese (grape juice if he is a Methodist!). He rejoices – – talks to himself: “Soul – – – time to relax – – you have enough to last for many years – – Eat! Drink – Be merry!” Oooops! God appears in the story and puts another spin on the farmer’s deep satisfaction: “You fool! You won’t live through the night! When you are gone, who will own all that you have stashed away?”

But maybe the story isn’t about a greedy man – – maybe it’s about a person who just doesn’t know what to do with abundance. The version of the gospel that we read pictures God saying: “Fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you.” There are other translations that read “Fool! On this very night they

(all your possessions) are demanding your life from you.” Is it possible that the abundance the Farmer was celebrating was also the thing that put his soul in danger? Parables pose disturbing questions. What do we do with abundance?

There is a clue about a possible meaning hidden in plain sight in the parable. The farmer says to his Soul: “eat, drink and be merry”. – The way we most commonly hear it is “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die.” So familiar – where does it come from? We heard it in the reading from Ecclesiastes. The opening words of the book of Ecclesiastes are most often read as “vanity upon vanity, all is vanity” or “Utter futility! All is futile!” But the Hebrew word hevel that gets translated as vanity or futility also means “insubstantial” “impermanent”, even “vaporous”. The message of the book of Ecclesiastes is not that life is vain or futile, but rather that life is transient and impermanent. Ecclesiastes is a guidebook to living without permanence and security while still finding joy in living.1 So when Jesus includes the phrase “Eat, drink and be merry” in his parable, he drops a clue that says “dig here for treasure.”

There is nothing wrong with abundance. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with being wealthy. The farmer got into deep water when he thought he could hold on to his bounty and it would insure that his life would unfold in pleasant ways. He put his trust in his wealth for his well being. But, as Ecclesiastes reminds us, Death is the great leveler: rich and poor, powerful and powerless, wise and foolish, we all fear the advent of death because it destroys our illusions of permanence.2

So, perhaps Jesus wanted his friends to know that nothing is permanent – wanted them not to get too attached to things the way they are. Even his life among them was not permanent. Maybe he wanted them to know that it was the abundant grace of God that would keep their lives full and rich. But the grace of God cannot be stored up against the future either. It flows out to us beyond all measure, filling us with a sense of well-being, guiding us when we need it, healing us when we need it – -but it is continually moving – – never the same from moment to moment – never the same from person to person. We cannot save it up for the future. If we try to keep it for ourselves, it sort of shrivels and dies. The power of God’s love is often referred to as “Living Water” – – living water is water that moves – a downpour of rain – the oceans – the rivers –Jesus referred to himself as Living Water and reminded the woman at the well that whoever drank from him would never be thirsty again. We are the recipients of all that flowing, moving, thirst – quenching grace. Through the life and teaching of Jesus, God pours forth abundant spiritual wealth. We cannot contain it. We cannot limit it. We cannot store it up for the future. Indeed, we have to continually empty our barns. We pay it forward. For God’s love to work in the world, it has to reach us. We have to receive it. We need to let it flow through us. We extend generosity and hospitality to others out of our abundance. We offer compassion in place of judgment. We seek justice in place of power. When we obstruct the flow of grace – – perhaps like a farmer storing up his abundance in his barns instead of sharing it with others, we die. Not physically, perhaps – – but our spirits shrivel and dry up. We become smaller – dehydrated, if you will – than we are meant to be.

With the writer of Ecclesiastes, at the communion table, we come and share together in the symbols of the abundant, Life-giving, Life-saving generosity of God through Jesus. We eat – and we drink – and we are surely called to be joyful and merry, even in the face of all that is imperfect in the world. Our story ends differently from that of the rich farmer. When we share the abundance, we do indeed have life. Jesus said “I have come that you may have life and that your life may be abundant.” In communion, the barn doors are open wide – and all who want to come are welcome to join the party. May it always be so.

1 Ecclesiastes Annotated and Explained by Rabbi Rami Shapiro , Skylight Paths Publishing Woodstock, Vermont, 2010 p.2

2 Shapiro, p. 74