Trend in part time pastors.

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Part-time pastors claiming more pulpits
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Third in a 10-part series
By Sam Hodges
Sept. 28, 2015 | UMNS

The Rev. Mark Windley (right) prays with parishioner Jada Roarx at Amazing Grace Community of Faith in Louisville, Ky. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

The Rev. Mark Windley (right) prays with parishioner Jada Roarx at Amazing Grace Community of Faith in Louisville, Ky. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

The Rev. Mark Windley works full time and more as sales manager for an industrial supply and services company. When not working, he’s leading Amazing Grace Community of Faith, an African-American United Methodist church plant in Louisville, Kentucky.

Windley preaches. He also sets up chairs and checks the sound system.

The church has grown in worship attendance, but what it’s able to pay Windley doesn’t cover his mortgage payments.

Meanwhile, his workweek, with both jobs, can run to 70 hours.

“My wife would tell you I’m not sane,” Windley said, quickly adding that he feels peace and purpose in ministry.

More and more, The United Methodist Church is turning to part-time licensed local pastors like Windley to lead small churches in the United States.
Trending Local

Read profile of the Rev. Michael Funkhouser, a part-time local pastor and West Virginia’s 2013 Teacher of the Year.
Read the full series about growth of local pastors in The United Methodist Church

Many balance a full-time secular job with church work, and most don’t have a seminary degree. But they often bring workplace skills and a high level of commitment — and they work for less than full-time pastors.

So in a denomination that’s shrinking in the United States, part-time pastors represent a growing category.

“I’m not sure the denomination as a whole has opened their eyes to this,” said retired Bishop Alfred Gwinn, who chaired the 2008-2012 Ministry Study Commission. “We’re very dependent on part-time pastors.”

In Bisbee, Arizona, one of those part-time pastors is the Rev. Michele Kelley, a retiree from investment banking and private investigating who felt a call to ministry and now leads First United Methodist Church in Bisbee and Grace United Methodist Church in nearby Douglas.

“If First Bisbee closed, who would feed the people?” she asked, referring to a food bank she helped the church start in this impoverished area by the Mexico border.

In New Vienna, Ohio, the Rev. Sarah Chapman’s day job is doing social media for Charmin and Puffs, two Procter & Gamble products. For the last five years, she also has been part-time local pastor of New Vienna United Methodist Church.

She’s sure her business skills have helped her as she leads the 150-member rural church.

“I’m a really passionate advocate for bivocationality. I think there needs to be a ton more tentmakers,” Chapman said, referring to the occupation attributed to the Apostle Paul.

The Rev. Mark Windley, pastor of Amazing Grace Community of Faith in Louisville, Ky., is a sales executive and a licensed local pastor in The United Methodist Church.

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Feeling the crunch

Most lead pastors continue to be full-time ordained elders who have earned a master of divinity degree at a United Methodist-approved seminary and passed through a provisional member elder phase. They are guaranteed a minimum salary, as well as health insurance, housing, utilities and retirement benefits.

Conferences vary in their minimum salaries, with most around $40,000. But the total package swells with benefits.

“In (the) Western Pennsylvania (Conference), it takes $90,000 to $95,000 for a local church to afford an elder,” said Bishop Thomas Bickerton, who leads the conference. “That becomes a pretty expensive item for a local church.”

Meanwhile, The United Methodist Church in the United States has seen a gradual decline overall in membership and attendance. About 78 percent of U.S. churches averaged fewer than 100 in worship in 2013, up from 74 percent a decade earlier, according to the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration.

Many churches that small struggle to afford an elder, even one they might share with another small church, said the Rev. Lovett Weems, director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at United Methodist Wesley Theological Seminary.

Increasingly, those churches get appointed a part-time licensed local pastor, who is trained first in a licensing school, and then begins ministry while pursuing the Course of Study education program that the denomination requires such pastors to complete over 12 years.

Bickerton has seen the trend play out in his conference.

“It becomes inevitable that (small churches) are going to approach us and request a less-than-full-time position,” he said. “Over the last 10 years we have seen a doubling in the number of part-time local pastors.”

Denominational statistics show that from 2010 to 2015 the number of ordained elders and provisional member elders appointed to churches dropped from 15,806 to 14,614.

In that same period, the number of part-time local pastors grew from 4,261 to 5,178. Supply pastors — who typically serve small churches on a fill-in basis and include lay speakers and clergy from other denominations — grew from 1,163 to 1,849.

One factor in declining elder numbers is that retirements have outpaced newcomers. Another relevant statistic is that the overall number of United Methodist churches in the United States has declined, with closings running ahead of church starts.

But Bishop Kenneth Carter of the Florida Conference is among the denominational leaders who have witnessed a shift within the clergy ranks.

“The Florida Conference has historically been a region of larger churches,” Carter said. “And yet in many contexts, the resources of the local church cannot sustain salary and benefit structures of full-time elders.”

The Rev. Bill Masciangelo (right) prepares for a baptism at New Moyock United Methodist Church in Moyock, N.C. As a part-time local pastor, he’s led the church to growth and financial stability. Photo courtesy New Moyock United Methodist Church.

The Rev. Bill Masciangelo (right) prepares for a baptism at New Moyock United Methodist Church in Moyock, N.C. As a part-time local pastor, he’s led the church to growth and financial stability. Photo courtesy New Moyock United Methodist Church.

Cost savings and more

The changing reality can be seen with the Rev. Scott Masters and Asbury United Methodist Church in Chesterfield, New Hampshire.

Masters, an economist for an automotive manufacturer, is the first part-time licensed local pastor to serve Asbury. The church, which averages about 40 in worship, had long shared an elder with one or more other congregations. Asbury pays Masters $14,400 a year, and covers some of his expenses.

“I carry my own insurance, I pay for my own mortgage, and the church walks away in a better position,” he said.

Masters calls balancing two jobs and family life a “mega-challenge,” and notes that he uses a tape recorder to collect sermon ideas while commuting 45 minutes to his secular office.

He believes his church has become more self-reliant, knowing his time is limited; and he believes the savings on his salary has helped Asbury do more outreach ministry.

“We serve close to 10,000 people a year in food ministries,” Masters said. “It’s a small but incredibly busy place.”
The ‘local elder’ option

Currently, local pastors are licensed, not ordained. But some church leaders favor ordaining them as “local elders,” a term that has precedent within Methodism.

Read more»

New Moyock United Methodist Church in Moyock, North Carolina, is another church that’s led by a part-time local pastor after having long had ordained elders.

The church had been down in attendance and teetering financially, to the point that it considered selling its building. But under the Rev. Bill Masciangelo — who became a local pastor after careers in the U.S. Marines and the hospitality industry — regular attendance has doubled to about 110 and finances have stabilized.

“I’m just delighted with the way God’s worked,” Masciangelo said.

Masciangelo estimates he spends five to six hours a day on church work. He gets paid about $35,000, and doesn’t need the church’s help for housing or health insurance. At 70, he’s full of energy, to the point that he teaches kettlebell exercise routines at the YMCA.

The Rev. Gil Wise oversees Masciangelo as superintendent of the North Carolina Conference’s Beacon District, and confirms that the pastor is a bargain for New Moyock United Methodist. But he prefers to emphasize Masciangelo’s accomplishments.

“It’s a totally different church than when he arrived,” Wise said. “It’s grown on every front, including community involvement.”

Wise has other part-time pastors who he says have been an “incredible benefit” to churches. Fellow district superintendents agree that the case for such clergy goes beyond economics.

“This is probably a strong statement, but I would more quickly lose my elders than I would my local pastors,” said the Rev. Michael Estep, superintendent of the West Virginia Conference’s Potomac Highlands District.

Estep’s largely rural district last year had 152 churches but only 24 elders. It makes sense that he would be grateful for part-time local pastors and supply pastors.

But it’s more than that.

“Local pastors may not have a seminary education but many of them come to the ministry as a second career, and they may bring other educational experiences, and certainly their other work experiences,” he said. “They’re also familiar with the communities and the culture that is here.”
Both part-time licensed local pastors and supply pastors are growing categories in The United Methodist Church in the U.S., while elders have been declining in number. Source: GCFA

Both part-time licensed local pastors and supply pastors are growing categories in The United Methodist Church in the U.S., while elders have been declining in number. Data source: GCFA
Concerns about the clergy shift

But the Rev. William Lawrence, dean of Perkins School of Theology, worries about the growing dependence on part-time clergy.

He appreciates their commitment and acknowledges they are needed in many contexts. The United Methodist seminary he leads is a Course of Study site, with Perkins professors teaching classes.

But Lawrence believes Course of Study doesn’t come close to substituting for a master of divinity degree, and notes that many supply pastors don’t get much training at all.

“How are you going to be a serious contributor to discussions about end-of-life or beginning-of-life issues, matters of peace and war, economic and social justice, if you don’t have the educational background?” Lawrence said. “What we’re actually saying is that the people in that local church aren’t that important. … It concerns me enormously.”

The Rev. Jeremy Smith, an elder and blogger on United Methodist issues, is a fan of part-time pastors but notes that they tend not to be involved in conference committee work. As they have grown in number, that has led, in his view, to an erosion of “connectionalism” and less democratic decision-making.

And because they don’t enjoy security of appointment, as elders do, Smith sees them as less likely to be prophetic voices.

“I’m able to speak on issues of controversy,” Smith said. “I don’t worry about losing my job because of that. I think a local pastor may.”

The Rev. Debbie Williams is an X-ray technician and a licensed local pastor in The United Methodist Church.

*Click on the i in the upper left-hand corner above the slideshow to display caption information. To turn captions off, simply click on the caption.
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Per diem pastor

But the Rev. Sky McCracken, superintendent of the Memphis Conference’s Purchase District, is a full-throated defender of part-time pastors, including on the question of depth.

“Some of the best sermons I’ve heard on Wesleyan theology have come from these guys and gals that are part-time clergy,” he said.

McCracken speaks with emotion of the part-time pastors he supervises, including the Rev. John Smithmier, who leads two small churches while working full time as a logistics manager for a company, or the Rev. Debbie Williams, who works nearly full time as a medical X-ray technician, and leads two small churches.

One of McCracken’s favorites is Laura Vincent, a county nurse in rural western Kentucky. She’s a certified lay servant, not a licensed local pastor. But she serves as part-time pastor of Oakton United Methodist Church and Shiloh United Methodist Church — combined membership of about 50 — for $180 a week total.

She’s preaching at both churches nearly every Sunday, driving 80 miles round trip. One of the churches is holding on, but the other has seen growth.

Both “absolutely love her,” McCracken said.

Vincent reciprocates.

“They’ve been so welcoming … The longer I’m there, the more I’m like, `OK, God. This is what you want me to do. Gotcha,'” she said.

Pastor Laura Vincent reads Scripture during worship at Shiloh United Methodist Church near Clinton, Ky. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

Pastor Laura Vincent reads Scripture during worship at Shiloh United Methodist Church near Clinton, Ky. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

The Wesleyan way

Church leaders may disagree about whether increasing dependence on part-time pastors is good, but there’s little doubt the trend will intensify.

Weems, of the Lewis Center, notes that baby-boomer elders are continuing to retire at high rates and many more will retire soon, given that 55 percent of active elders are 55 years or older, the highest in denominational history. That, combined with more churches struggling to afford an elder, he thinks will boost part-time pastor numbers further.

The Oklahoma Conference leadership foresees that happening and has created a Bi-vocational Pastors Academy to groom 150 such clergy for small churches. Nearly 250 of the conference’s churches have budgets under $80,000 and can’t afford an elder even if one is available.

Nurse Laura Vincent serves two churches in rural western Kentucky, earning the love and trust of some 50 parishioners between the two congregations.

*Click on the i in the upper left-hand corner above the slideshow to display caption information. To turn captions off, simply click on the caption.
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“We’re trying to find committed, trustworthy laity who are indigenous to the area, who do not see the church as a ‘career,’ but who follow Jesus and have a heart to help others know, love and follow him too,” said the Rev. B. Craig Stinson, director of connectional ministries.

The Rev. Dottie Escobedo-Frank, a Desert Southwest Conference superintendent and co-author of a book about church leadership, points out that John Wesley made pastors of lay people to spread the Methodist movement in the 18th century.

She thinks that Methodism, going forward, will need many such pastors again.

“It’s our past and our future both,” Escobedo-Frank said.

Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or
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“What’s the Good Word?” August 7,2016

What’s The Good Word?”

Matthew 5:1-16

2 Corinthians 12:14-21

Chilmark Community Church

August 7, 2016

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

Have you heard the latest?” “Did you hear what happened to so and so…?” “Did you know that thus and such is going on?” When I watch myself respond to conversation starters like this, I have to admit, I feel my ears opening up with amazing speed to hear whatever bit of information is about to be imparted to me. I seldom ask myself “do I need to hear this?” “Do I want to hear this?” And before I even know it, I have become part of a grapevine! It doesn’t matter how often I commit myself to not listening – – or not repeating – -there is something about the enticement of knowing this or that little piece of information that is very seductive.

You know, probably even better than I do, that we live in a cultural milieu that has an amazing grapevine. It kind of goes with living in a place called “The Vineyard.” News travels around the island quicker than the speed of light. Gossip is a way of life in small communities. Sometimes this is really beneficial. When someone is in need, the word gets out quickly and all kinds of compassionate help is available. That’s one of the things that makes life in a relatively small community so special. But on the shadow side of the grapevine, negative, incomplete and damaging information is passed on as well – -and no one benefits from that.

Out of curiosity, I looked up the definition of gossip. I was amused to find that the word comes from an old English word “godsibb” which was formed from the word “god” and the word “sibb” – -which means kinsman or relative. It is the word from which we derive the word “godparent.” Somehow, the meaning of the word has changed over the generations. It now refers to someone who habitually reveals personal or sensational facts, or reports rumors of an intimate nature. What these definitions fail to tell us is that gossip rarely conveys the whole truth about anything and, indeed, the juicier the tidbit is, the less likely it is to be accurate.

Gossip of this type is harmful. It has an insidious way of undermining life in community.

No less a person than the Apostle Paul felt the sting of gossip and slander which was spread about him in the city of Corinth. Apparently the relationship between Paul and the church at Corinth had deteriorated during the period between the writing of the 1st letter to the Corinthians and the writing of the 2nd letter. For some reason, Paul had not been able to make a third visit to Corinth as he had planned. A crisis in confidence developed between Paul and the church there. He was accused of vacillating in his responsibility toward that church.

There is a fine thread running through 2 Corinthians alluding to the fact that Paul has suffered in some way at the hands of at least one person in the Corinthian Church community. Much of the tone of 2nd Corinthians is very defensive as Paul repeatedly states his love for the church while repeatedly explaining himself and his ministry. Paul fears that when he does finally get back to visiting that congregation he may find quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, gossip, conceit and disorder.

We have no other letters or documents from that congregation or from the people that might have wounded Paul in some way. All we have is Paul’s persistent defense of himself and his ministry in response to whatever has happened. The wounding must have been deep. And gossip was a part of what was undermining both Paul’s ministry in Corinth and the quality of the life of the church there.

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner has written a book called THE BOOK OF WORDS – TALKING THE SPIRITUAL LIFE, LIVING SPIRITUAL TALK. There is a brief section on what is called in Hebrew l’shon hara – which literally means “the evil tongue.” Kushner translates it as “gossip.” L’shon hara may also be translated as “garbage.” Kushner grounds the prohibition against gossip in the scriptures so clearly that we can’t avoid understanding that we, as the people of God, are to be aware and very careful of our words and of our participation in the dynamics of gossip.

At the beginning of his reflection, Kushner cites these words from Exodus 22:30: You must not eat flesh torn by beasts in the field; you shall cast it to the dogs. You must not carry false rumors. Also these words from Leviticus 19:16: You shall not go about as a tale bearer among your people. These texts are embedded in what is called “the holiness codes” – – the scriptural “plan” for God’s people to live as a holy community. Interesting that the scriptures equate carrying rumors with eating the flesh of dead animals in the fields – – that is – with consuming fly ridden garbage. Kushner writes “Like eating carrion, hearing derogatory information about another person can make you ill. Would you eat garbage off the street? Then why tolerate auditory filth in your ears?”

Gossip damages human beings. It damages those who are the subject of the gossip. It damages those who speak it. And it damages those who hear it.

Near the end of my seminary career, I had to take a course in United Methodist Polity and Doctrine. The professors who taught it rotated every semester. It was just my luck to have to take it with Dr. Tom Oden who was probably the consummate authority on the subject at the time. I had heard about how conservative he had become. I had heard that he didn’t much like women and if you were anything even remotely resembling a feminist you could be sure you wouldn’t do well in his class. I opted to take my final exam with him as an oral exam because I just couldn’t face sitting through another 2 hour written test. My mouth was as dry as cotton as I climbed the stairs to his office. It was pure torture for me to sit on the bench outside his office door, waiting for my turn on the rack of that final oral exam. I was shaking and really uncertain why I had ever decided to come to seminary in the first place.

Then, all of a sudden the office door opened. Another student came out laughing. Tom Oden was right behind him. Tom signaled me to come in and I followed him down a tight, narrow hallway lined with bookshelves from floor to ceiling on both sides. The hallway opened out into a fairly large room that looked more like a library than an office. In one corner there was a heap of rubble that turned out to be a desk buried in articles and paperwork. Tom invited me to sit down – – and offered me a cup of tea. He asked me how I was feeling and told me to relax. 30 minutes later the exam was over. It had seemed more like a friendly conversation, and suddenly I was being escorted to the door, laughing over some comic observation about John Wesley – – catching a glimpse over my shoulder of the next student sweating it out on the bench in the hallway.

Gossip had given me an unattractive image of Tom Oden. It was not accurate. It gave me an upset stomach for sure. It shaped his reputation as a human being in an unkind and harmful way. Sure – his theology was much more conservative than mine, but I really felt quite respected by him.

Why such a big deal about gossip? Why talk about l’shon hara – the evil tongue? Because words shape and create our reality. In our faith tradition we are known as People of the Word. God created the world by uttering words – – “…and God said “let there be……” and all things came into being. “In the beginning there was the Word – – – and nothing was made without it…” We celebrate Jesus as “the Living Word.”

We need listen to only a few minutes at the top of every news hour to hear how words are used carelessly and destructively to bend our opinions and attitudes in this embarrassing and debasing election year. We are caught in a kind of meat grinder – if you will pardon the allusion – for the carrion of the fields. There is abundant garbage for our consumption at every click of the TV remote. It is making us sick as a nation – – and hardly any of us are free of it. It has been said that the most impossible of the 10 Commandments to keep is the one that says “Do not bear false witness….”

We heard from the Beatitudes this morning – – the wisdom Jesus gave his followers to help them to understand how to live holy lives in difficult times. Jesus did not give them gossip or hearsay – he gave them the truth. He ended that discourse with two incredible teachings about the responsibilities of people who would follow him:

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt loses its saltiness, how will it be restored?

You are the light of the world – let your light shine before others so they may see your good works and thank God.

While I was looking up “gossip” in the dictionary, I also noticed that about 5 entries above it was the word “gospel.” Again, it comes from an old English combination of two words: god – meaning “good” and “spell” – – meaning a tale or story. So the word “godespel” – meant a “good story” – -and we receive it into modern English as “gospel.” A person who tells a good story is a “gospeler.”

The nature of gossip is that it undermines our collective ability to tell and to live a “good story.” We have a vibrantly living example of this in front of us every day as we move toward the November elections. It is hard to see if there is, indeed, a “good story” anywhere. To be a disciple means to be “disciplined.” Lawrence Kushner puts a challenging discipline before us: He suggests trying to go for three hours sometime in the coming week without saying one thing about another person. Even more challenging – – try going for three hours without hearing something about another person. When you begin to hear something coming at you, try pushing it away with the palm of your hand and say “Let’s talk about something else.” Makes me a little queasy to even think about trying something like that. I don’t think I could do it successfully – – but there is the challenge.

Given the nature of our culture and our political climate, if we all chose the same three hours to practice simultaneously the challenge to neither speak nor receive information about another, I think the silence could be deafening!

This morning we will gather at the table to which we are invited by Jesus. Part of the tradition is that before we eat and drink, we confess that we have missed the mark – – that we have, perhaps done more to conceal God than to reveal the Holy One in our weekly paths. Joining together at the table is our opportunity to covenant together again to support one another in a life of wholeness and holiness, assured of God’s grace and compassion as we continue the journey of return to our high calling to be salt for the earth and light for the world. We are called to bring a good word to the world. What is the good word that you will bring to those whom you touch this week?

I’ll close with the 1st stanza of a prayer hymn we often sing at the end of worship:

Savior, again to thy dear name we raise

with one accord our parting hymn of praise;

guard thou the lips from sin, the hearts from shame,

that in this house have called upon thy name.

“Then he told them a parable..”July 31, 2016

Then he told them a parable…”

Luke 12:13-21

Chilmark Community Church

July 31, 2016 Rev. Vicky Hanjian


This is the time of year in the lectionary cycle when we are on the road with Jesus as he moves about in Galilee – dining with friends, spending time with his inner circle of disciples, and teaching the ever expanding multitudes who gather around him wherever he goes.

In the verses just before the point where we pick up the story this morning, Jesus was teaching his disciples about what they might expect in the near future if they stay the course with him. He has just told them “When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:11) It is a pretty succinct lesson about where they are to put their trust as they venture out into the countryside on their own.

Another version of Jesus’ instructions about how the disciples are to conduct themselves appears in the 6th chapter of Mark where Jesus sends them out with instructions to take nothing for your journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts – wearing only sandals and a tunic – no change of underwear! In both instances, Jesus teaches his followers that they need to let go of their dependency on external resources. The disciples are sent out with only the strength of the message they bear and their confidence in the God whom their master serves. They are to find their sustenance in the hospitality of those whom they meet along the way.

We kind of have to picture Jesus trying to get these challenging and fundamental ideas across to his disciples while surrounded by a crowd of thousands so great that they trample one another. (12:12) Sort of like trying to have an important, intimate conversation in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

In the midst of this conversation with his disciples, a voice from the surrounding crowd shouts out “Rabbi! Tell my brother to share the family inheritance with me!” And Jesus’ attention shifts to responding to the question from the midst of the multitude. It seems as though the conversation with his disciples gets pushed to the back burner temporarily – – but maybe not really.

The man’s request was not an unusual one and the man was not terribly out of line in asking Jesus to intervene in his family situation. From many of the gospel stories, we know that Jesus was viewed as a rabbi. A rabbi was educated in the Torah, the law of God, and one of the functions of a rabbi was to interpret Jewish law and adjudicate disputes between people based on the law.

What is, perhaps, a little unusual, is Jesus response: “Who set me to be judge or arbitrator over you?” Jesus seems to resist the role of judge in response to the man’s request and gives a parable instead.

As we consider the parable, it is good to keep in mind who the listeners are. There is the man who asks the question – he has a personal vested interest in what Jesus has to say. There are the disciples – – the inner circle, who are learning what they need to know to carry out Jesus’ ministry – learning how to be in the world in the same manner as Jesus. And there is the multitude of thousands, trampling one another to get a closer spot to the teacher.

Keeping the whole audience in mind helps to take some of the pressure off the man who asks for Jesus’ intervention. We know nothing about this man except for what is revealed in his demand of Jesus. Is he grieving the loss of his parents. Does he feel left out of the will? Is he in pain – wondering if there is any blessing left for him? Is he feeling anguish, wondering if he is loved and valued? These are the kinds of issues that come up for surviving children as the will is being read. Traditionally, the eldest son received the inheritance – or at the least, received the bulk of it. If this younger son is the only intended audience for Jesus’ response then Jesus’ answer might come off as really insensitive to the complexity of the man’s request. So why give a parable that seems to be about greed?

The multitudes that crowd around Jesus are mostly are poor, uneducated, hungry and oppressed. Many of them are sick and in need of healing and they look to Jesus for a word of hope. They hunger and jostle for position closer to Jesus as the source of compassion, healing, and unconditional love. So – how does a parable that seems to be about greed help them?

And there are the disciples – – always on the road with Jesus; always learning lessons about self sacrifice and faithfulness; learning the intricacies of the life of service and compassion. What do they need to learn from the parable?

On first reading, the parable does indeed seem to be a teaching about greed. Greed is a strange thing and it is something none of us would wish to be accused of. It does terrible things to people. We are all subject to it to some degree in our modern culture.

Theologian Walter Brueggeman, says greed is born out of the idea of scarcity, and scarcity is born out of anxiety – and all three are acted upon in an abundant world.  Abundance is denied, not trusted, forgotten in our culture. 

Greed comes in all shapes and sizes. A really contemporary form is the greed for more “gigs” – – more access to everything the Internet can supply – – more storage space for all that information – – more apps so that more information is readily available – – leading to more need for greater storage space on our devices so that the information will be right at our finger tips when we need it.

I read recently that our ability to simply wonder about things is seriously hampered because we don’t have to wonder anymore – – we can go directly to our devices and find out about absolutely everything – – and our wondering imaginations and our curiosity do not have to be engaged or exercised at all. In many ways, this is a tremendous loss. We have almost literally become attached to our devices.

I am both amused and disturbed as I drive up Circuit Ave in OB and notice how few people in any age category are walking empty handed – – without their “stuff” as comedian George Carlin once so humorously described it. It seems as though almost everyone has a phone in their hand – – many with their phones in use while navigating their way through crowds of people and across moving traffic. Even two year olds in strollers have electronic devices to keep them amused as their parents continually consult their own smart phones while moving through the crowds. The attachment to their devices cuts them off from connection with the human beings around them – sometime putting them in actual physical danger of walking in front of a moving car.

I think it is important to notice that Jesus doesn’t say that wealth is inherently bad. The man in the parable was being a good steward of the abundance with which his crops blessed him. The practical thing was to build bigger barns in which to store and protect the grain. For a farmer to do any less would be foolish and irresponsible.

The parable illustrates Jesus’ primary concern – and that is for the state of the man’s relationship with God and therefore with his relationship with his fellow human beings. It is in the man’s dialogue with himself that we get to the crux of the parable. The farmer has fallen out of relationship. Listen again: The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘what should I do, I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said [to himself]:’I will pull down my barns and build larger ones…’ And I will say to my self: Self, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat , drink, be merry.’ There is no one else in the room. The farmer relates only to himself as he contemplates how to manage his wealth. The voice of God butts in on his inner dialogue and warns: “Fool, this very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared – – whose will they be? So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.

So – therein lies the danger. The our attachment to the abundance of all that we have available to us may be the thing that keeps us furthest away from deep and meaningful relationship with the Holy One – – and with each other.

My grandson and I have been going off island each week for a variety of reasons. I love the trips because they give me a chance to be with him one to one. On each occasion, just as we have been dropped off at the boat, he has gone through a slight bit of panic as he realized he had forgotten his cell phone – – and Grandma doesn’t carry one, much less know how to use one.

This has provided a few “teachable moments” – and it has been fun to be able to say: “not to worry – if we need a phone we will ask for help – It’s the way we did it in the old days.” Being without the technology has allowed for us to find our way together – – to solve problems together by exploring what options are available to us – – to encounter a friendly stranger – – sometimes even an accommodating steamship authority employee more than willing to assist us by letting us use her phones. Momentarily stepping away from attachment to the abundance of convenience and the sense of security that the presence of a mobile phone might afford us, we discovered that talking with each other, engaging in people watching, interacting with the occasional stranger we encounter, enlisting the assistance of others, is all a lot more exciting and fun.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus sends his disciples out with only the clothes on their backs, their walking sticks, and the sandals on their feet. It’s kind of the equivalent of sending them out without their cell phones. They are forced to encounter strangers and in the process, perhaps, encounter the face of God.

They are made vulnerable to the kindness and hospitality of others as they take their Master’s message of lovingkindness and peace and justice into the countryside. Jesus sends them out with minimal equipment so that they are not attached to guarding or protecting anything that might get in the way of a close encounter with another. Jesus asks them to leave their “stuff” behind.

Now – this is not a sermon on the evils of cell phones any more than Jesus’ parable is a sermon on the evils of wealth. The abundance of technology we enjoy often helps to make our lives safer and easier in a lot of ways. Jesus is simply asking us to hear him more clearly – – and to understand that the more attachment we have to this abundance, however it manifests itself – money, land, technology – – even our abundance of talent and creativity and good works, the more we are tempted to place it at the center of our lives. When this happens, the holiness of life in relationship with God and with one another is in danger of becoming impoverished.

The farmer in the story stands to lose his soul in his attachment to his barns and his grain. His inner dialogue with himself is pretty barren. He has lost his connection to what is holy – the intimate relationship with the God and with the human community around him where the Presence of God may so often be met. That is a huge loss.

Perhaps we can hear the parable as a call to mindfulness – a mindfulness that insists that we pay attention to where our attachments lie – – a mindfulness that alerts us to when we are choosing a life that insulates us from “God encounters” with other human beings in favor of protecting what is ours – – a mindfulness that guides us to choose richness toward the Holy One and toward one another. It might just be as simple as that.

We live abundant lives. May we be blessed in our abundance to see the face of God in all the places where God chooses to meet us. May we hold our abundance loosely so that we can dance freely and unencumbered with the Holy One. AMEN


The Mind of Christ 7/24/16


PHIL. 2:1-11

Chilmark Community Church

Rev. Armen Hanjian

July 24, 2016

Some once asked John Wesley, “Do you think God will save this world with your intelligence?”  Wesley sad, “ He won’t save it with your ignorance!”   Some put little effort toward it, but I believe it is imperative that we should have sharp minds.

We know United Methodists stress this aspect of Christianity for we have over 100 Church related colleges and universities in the U.S.A as well as 13 theological schools.  We believe our faith is a reasonable one, that is, that it rings true in our ears when it is brought to bear with the facts of life.  We do not fear truth in any area life; we only fear ignorance. 

Think of the gospel writers telling us how Jesus, at age 12,   sat in the Temple and astonished the teachers with his wisdom and understanding, how they described Jesus’ life between 12 and 30 with this one sentence: “And Jesus increased in wisdom, and in stature and in favor with God and man.”  We cannot escape the fact that Jesus commanded his disciple, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

It is important that the followers of Jesus have sharp minds – minds with a growing edge.  Most adults have little willingness to learn something new.  Oh, we like to learn this little fact or that side light, trivia, but deep down we have hardened opinions.  The waves of new knowledge and even old truths lap at our minds, but we allow them little or no inner hearing or testing.

Two Chinese  coolies on a street in Shanghai were shouting at each other, their noses but two inches apart.  They were surrounded by excited spectators.  “What is the matter?” asked an American bystander of a Chinese next to him.  “There is a Chinese fight going on,” answered the Oriental, smiling.  “But I’ve been here five minutes and nobody has hit anybody yet.”  “You don’t understand, in a Chinese fight, the man who strikes first shows he has run out of ideas.”  How often people strike when we should be contributing ideas gleaned from a searching mind.  We strike or go off in a huff.

The beloved Yale Prof. William Lyon Phelps once said, “ I thoroughly believe in a university education for both men and women, but I believe a knowledge of the Bible without a college course is more valuable than a college course without the Bible.”  I think this teacher was telling us that the Bible offers us a point where a person can set his or her life course, just as a navigator might set his course by some fixed point such as the North Star.  The essence of this sermon can now be seen as we read today’s text: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,…”

All of us set our minds on some fixed goals we work toward.  What I am suggesting is that we consciously, intentionally set our course, our mind by the same thinking of our Lord.  These days we feel we are in style by claiming to be open minded.  We have a distaste for setting our minds on just one course.  Our mental steering gear is all loose.  We are like ships that have no connections with the rudder.  And what happens?  We chart no course for our lives and find we go off in all directions.  We are blown about by the prevailing winds of opinion, but as Halford E. Luccock reminds us, “The purpose of an open mind is to close it on something.”  He goes on to say, “If we are to be saved from the big squeeze to mold us in the world’s image, the mind and the heart must be renewed – a fresh coming of the life God in the soul.  Specifically this demands nothing more mysterious than prayer, which is, of course, the most mysterious thing in the world.”  It means such things as Bible study, discussion groups and any other methods we can devise to saturate our thinking with the mind and thinking of Christ Jesus.

St. Paul tried to hammer this point home in several places.

In Rom. 8 he writes, “To set the mind on the flesh (i.e. to be oriented by the world) is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”

In Rom. 12 he writes, “”Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your minds, so that you may prove (that you may surely know) what is the will of God, what is good, and acceptable and perfect.”

In Phil. 2 he writes, Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,…”  In other words, reach for the point in our lives where we are so much a part of his way of thinking we need not turn to the Bible for most of our decisions and ask ourselves what would Jesus do in this situation.  We can’t follow his steps exactly, for our situation is different than his.  But we can, by having the mind of Christ, make intelligent and Christ-like decisions in our daily living.

This is especially pertinent when we must make quick decisions.

When I was serving rural church in NJ, similar to this one, a friend of mine flew me over it.  We came so low the pigeons flew out of the belfry.  And the thought came to me as I looked down on the setting, “We must get into the habit of seeing everything from God’s point of view.”  That is seen and known best in the person of Jesus Christ.

Thus far, I have said it is important that we have sharp mind, growing minds.  And, I have tried to show that all of us are directed by some guiding principles and as Christians our North Star is the mind of Christ.  Let me now suggest some inevitable responses of those who have the mind of Christ.

One attitude which is clearly dominant in Jesus’ mind is that each person is of tremendous worth.  Jesus called himself the Son of man as if it were infinitely significant to be a human being.  He saw in the sick, the sinner, the criminal, the hypocrite the capability of worthiness.  Jesus made his appeal to the best that was in them confident that the good in any person can be evoked by love.  Jesus would have us love each person as a child of God.  I know he knew that some will not immediately respond positively.  Yet, ultimately persons would be affected by it. (ideas from Social Institutions of the Bible by Soares)

A teacher named Dr. Arnold governed a difficult school of boys by trusting them.  It was commonly said by the boys, “It’s a shame to lie to Arnold because he believes you.  That is the attitude we must develop if we are to have the mind of Christ -to trust people we interact with and to love them.  In the short run,  it may seem impractical, but from God’s point of view , it is the essence of life.

We all have things which mean much to us – we cherish them dearly.  Jesus is modeling for us that we treat every person as one that is tremendously precious to God.

Another thing about the mind of Christ is described in Pierre van Passen’s book The Days of our Years.  He tells of a Protestant who, during the early days of the Reformation, was burned at the stake in his home town.  That night when the crowds had gone home, his wife brought their little son to the place where the husband and father had died that day for the right to worship God as his conscious dictated.  As she knelt beside the charred body of her husband, the wife gathered a few ashes from his breast, placed them in a little bag, and hung them around her little son’s neck.  As she did so, she said, “Son, whenever you see injustice, intolerance, ignorance prevailing, these ashes will burn your heart unless you speak out.”

Just as Jesus spoke out courageously when the money changers profited by the devotion of the poor peasants, so we should speak  out whenever we see exploitation, prejudice or any of the host of evils which surround us.  From the practical point of view it’s best to keep your mouth shut; but what about from God’s point of view?

One other attitude I would suggest to you: knowing we are children of god we should be different from the world about us.  Bertrand Russell offers us a good example of immaturity  of the mind in speaking of George Santayana.  “A few days before the battle of the Marne when the capture of Paris seemed imminent, he remarked to me ‘I think I must go to Paris because my winter underclothes are all there, and I should not like the Germans to get them. I have also left there the manuscript of a book on which I have been working for the last ten years, but I don’t mind so much about that’”(Luccock,  Vol.2:196)

The world about him was crashing to disaster and one sweet thought came crowding out all the others – winter underclothes!

It is tremendously important that we learn to weigh our values.

There is a Church in London called The King’s Weigh House.  The ones who devised the name saw that the church was a place where persons can weigh the things of life on the King’s scales and find their proper weight.  And when we weigh our values by the standard of the mind of Christ we will find we must be different from the world about us.  Jesus attracted people not because he conformed to the world, but because he was different.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians and asked a question which could well be asked of us: “Are you not behaving like ordinary men?”

There you have it;  Three ways we can reflect the mind of Christ in our lives:

to see each individual as of tremendous value to God, as a precious child of God

to speak out when right and truth are at stake

     3.  to be different from the world about us


Let us remember Jesus:

Who, although he was rich, became poor and dwelt among us;

Who was content to be subject to his parents, the child of a poor family’s home;

Who lived the common life for nearly thirty years doing humble work with his hands;

Whom the common people heard gladly, for he understood their ways.


Let us remember Jesus:

Who  healed the sick and the disordered, using for others the power he would not invoke for himself;

Who refused to force a person’s faithfulness;

Who was Master to his disciples, yet was among them as their companion and as one who served;

Whose meat was to do the will of God.


Let us remember Jesus:

Who loved people, yet retired from them to pray.  Who prayed for the forgiveness of those who rejected him, and for the perfecting of those who received him;

Who observed Jewish law, but defied conventions which did not serve the purposes of God;

Who hated sin because he knew the cost of pride and selfishness, of violence and cruelty, to both humanity and to God. 


Let us remember Jesus:

Who believed in human beings and never despaired of them;

Who through all disappointment never lost heart;

Who disregarded his own comfort, and thought of others first, who was always kind, even in the midst of suffering;

Who, when he was reviled, did not revile others;

Who emptied himself on the cross, and showed the way to life eternal.



TWO SISTERS July 17,2017

Two Sisters

Luke 10:38-42

Chilmark Community Church

July 19, 2016

Rev. Vicky Hanjian


I wonder what is going on in the story of Martha and Mary and Jesus?  The two sisters are dearly beloved friends of Jesus.  Along with their brother, Lazarus, they live together about a half hour’s walk from Jerusalem in a little town called Bethany.  Except for the fact that today you would have to navigate a 4 lane highway,  you can still walk to Bethany from Jerusalem and find a small village that appears not to have changed all that much over the centuries.  A home built of Jerusalem stone that shines golden – white in the hot sun.  A packed dirt floor that is swept smooth every day.  Bedding for the household stacked against a wall to be pulled out into the main room or up to the roof when night falls. 

This home is familiar to Jesus.  It is a place where he could find peace and quiet and rest. It is a home of deeply profound spiritual friendship -a home where great crises have happened -where tragedy and anguish have been turned to joy.   John’s gospel tells of a time when Lazarus was sick.  The sisters sent for Jesus. He arrived too late.  By the time he got to Bethany, Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.  In John’s story, Martha is the one who runs out to meet Jesus before he even gets to the house.  She is upset with him. She calls him to task.  “If you had been here, my brother would still be alive.”  A conversation about  resurrection ensues between them..  Martha acknowledges Jesus as the Anointed One – -the Son of God, coming into the world.  Martha runs back to the house to call for Mary who is sitting, being comforted by other mourners.  Deeply disturbed and moved by their grief, Jesus asks where they have laid their brother’s body.  In spite of warnings about the stench, Jesus goes to the tomb and calls Lazarus forth into life.

Two sisters.  So different.  In John’s story, Mary kneels at Jesus feet and weeps – touching him deeply with her grief.  Martha runs to meet him, challenges him, recognizes him as the Expected One.  In Luke’s story, Martha waits on the guests, offers hospitality, does the dishes.  Mary is again seated at the feet of Jesus – listening – devoted to him.

Volumes have been written about the two sisters.  Frequently, the roles of the sisters are somewhat polarized.  Mary is the passive sister who sits at the feet of Jesus.  Martha is the active sister who keeps moving to see that meals are ready on time and served properly.  During my growing up years in the Methodist Church in Franklin Lakes, NJ,  there were enough women in the congregation

to organize into circles of women, 10 or 12 in each circle.  There was the Ruth Circle, the Naomi Circle, the Esther Circle, and, of course there was  the Martha Circle and the Mary Circle.  As I recall, true to form, the Martha Circle ran church suppers while the Mary Circle was a Bible study group.  Mary and Martha have been used to teach about the relationship between good works and faith, about active social justice and the contemplative life, about the traditional role of women in the home versus women in the work place.  The story has lent itself well to a variety of interpretations over the generations – sometimes creating stereotypes of women – but just as often challenging them.  Luke’s treatment of women throughout his gospel invites us to look again at how life might have been for women who traveled in the company of Jesus.

Martha was, in all likelihood, a woman of means. Under both Jewish  law, women were permitted to have their own money and to own property. Martha owned the house in which she and her sister and brother lived.  She had independent resources.  Luke uses the Greek word diakon when he refers to Martha. The term was used to describe women who used their own financial resources to provide for the material needs of others.  We get the term “deacon” from that word and it is still used to describe a level of service in the church today.  In her essay titled “The Gospel of Luke” Turid Karlsen Seim writes By serving from their own resources in order to cover the needs of others, the women of Galilee are portrayed as prototypes of an ethos that is to be valid universally among the people of God.  Models like Martha are frequent in Paul’s writing as he addresses and commends women like Priscilla and Phoebe and Chloe and Junia and Syntyche and others – all women of means who provided hospitality, financial support and leadership in the earliest years of the Christian fellowship.

In her life, Martha models a kind of redistribution of wealth through using her property and her own money to meet the needs of others for food, clothing, and a place to sleep.  This is what she was doing when she hosted Jesus and his friends.   So – Martha is referred to as  deacon.

In the story, Mary’s role is passive. In contrast to her sister, she listens in silence. But Mary also defies the stereotype of women of the time.  She sits at the feet of Jesus and listens – absorbing what he has to teach.  Women did not do this.  To sit at the feet of a master was to assume the role of a disciple – – a role traditionally reserved for males. To listen – to hear – the words of a rabbi – was a privilege reserved for males in Jewish tradition. Traditionally, Jewish women unless they were in the company of the husbands their husbands. Yet Mary,  unmarried, appears in the company of Jesus and in the company of the disciples as an equal. 

So – two sisters.  One who assumes a leadership role as a deacon in the community by providing housing and food and rest for a traveling teacher – who happens to be Jesus – – one who assumes the role of a disciple and sits at the feet of the teacher and listens.

Together, they represent a wholeness that is a model for the life of the people of God.  Too often the interpretation of the story leaves us with a polarization of the active life versus the contemplative life, righteousness by works versus righteousness by faith. The story has even been used to demonstrate a  polarization between Judaism and Christianity where the fulfillment of the mitzvot or commandments is contrasted with the necessity of right belief and faith.

What would it be like, I wonder, to see these two sisters locked in a loving embrace where each sister nourishes and completes the other?

We are living in an era when we are called upon more and more to demonstrate by our lives and by what we do and by where we send our money that we are fulfilling the commands of the scriptures to love our neighbors – with all that this entails.  We are called to be Martha in the world.   I receive at least a half dozen requests for funds everyday in the email.  Some of them can just be consigned to junk mail and ignored, but many are legitimate requests.  There are so many places where we might direct our energy toward making the world a more hospitable place for humanity.  Sometimes it is so hard to choose that we do nothing.  We can’t be Martha to everyone everywhere.

We need Mary.  We need to be able to sit at the feet of the master to be able to hear clearly what the direction is – even if it is only for today. 

Jesus did not criticize the actual work that Martha was doing. She was doing all the right stuff – attending to the needs of her guests. He cautioned her about her distractedness – her irritability.  It is as though Jesus knew that this is what happens to the over-committed.  We do get irritable.  There are not enough hours in the day – – there are not enough people to help with the work of healing and repairing the world – sometimes we might be tempted to think we are the only ones with the world’s needs on our agenda.  This is the point at which Jesus chides us about our distractibility – – and says “come and sit awhile with me – – listen to what I have to say – – get your bearings – – don’t worry so much about  so many things.”   The truth of the matter is that when we step back from the work we are called to do -whatever it is – and spend time in quiet reflection, listening, praying, reading something that nourishes us, even singing a few hymns in the shower, the Mary side of our nature nourishes the Martha -helps to ease the irritability – makes it possible to re-engage in our tasks with renewed energy.


On the other hand, when we would rather simply immerse ourselves in peace and prayer and study and learning, the Martha side of our nature may well prompt us to take our prayer and contemplation, and insight and revelation into the streets, in one form or another, to participate in the Holy work of healing the world wherever we encounter its brokenness.

It is a delicate balance – the business of keeping the two sisters in close relationship.  Jesus’ disciples wrestled with it.  In Matthew’s story of Jesus and Peter and James and John on the Mount of the Transfiguration -that glorious time when Jesus’ is in conversation with Moses and Elijah -where all is in transcendent light and holiness – the epitome of spiritual experience for  the three disciples,  Peter’s first inclination is to build a permanent dwelling in the heights of spiritual awareness and connectedness – to stay there and enjoy the bliss.  But Jesus, in perfect harmony, takes his friends back into the valley where there is work to do. (Matthew 17:1-10)

The early church wrestled with the balance as well as we read in the Letter of James where he writes: “Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham made right by his works when he offered his son Isaac, [in faith,] on the altar?  You see that faith was active with his works and faith was brought to completion by his works.” (James 2:20-22).  There was genuine disagreement in the early church as to which was the effective path – faith or good works. 

As we are impacted by current events – by movements that demand that we discern how we are going to respond to tragedy and violence here and abroad, the pull between social activism and quiet contemplation increases.  The reality is that in times of social upheaval and stress, times of political unrest and protest, the movements for social change that are fueled only by righteous anger and a sense of injustice cannot sustain themselves.  The rate of burnout is high among social activists  who are not deeply grounded in a sustaining faith tradition.

It is the movements that arise out of the fundamental teachings about lovingkindness, patience, forbearance, respect and mutual caring – the lessons of Jesus – – the lessons of our sacred texts – – these are the movements that have a chance to heal and repair the world.

The witness of the scriptures is that the two sisters must never be polarized or parted.  The beautiful, active, concerned nature of Martha must never be divorced from the quiet contemplative nature of Mary.  As in all loving relationships, the sisters feed and nurture each other in the service of The Living One to the benefit of all who come into their sphere of caring.

This has always been the call to the church over the centuries – to stay deeply connected with Jesus – both on the mountain top of clear seeing and holiness and in the valley where the work of healing and reconciling the world needs to happen. May we all rest more easily as we walk in harmony and balance with Jesus and the two sisters into a world that needs all the goodness we have to offer.  AMEN

A Prophet, A Priest, and a King… July 10,2016

“A  Prophet, A Priest, and a King….”

Amos 7: 7-15

Chilmark Community Church

July 10, 2016

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

  On this past Tuesday morning I made a delightful acquaintance  with a clergy blogger who writes under the name of “Preaching in Pumps.”   Her logo is a black, stiletto heeled shoe.  She is a 4th generation preacher in her family.  She, too, was struggling with the prophet Amos this week  when she recalled her mother preacher’s advice: “Tell a joke, make a point, sit down!”

She noted that a sermon that starts off with “A prophet, a priest and a king,,,,” only needs the addition of a bar and a good punch line and she would be on her way to sitting down.  But, alas, try as I might, I could not find a punch line – – so all you get is the sermon.

The prophet, of course is Amos – – “a shepherd and a dresser of sycamore trees”

He lived in the southern kingdom of Judah  but he preached in the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  This fact, all by itself, was enough to make him unpopular with the people in the north.  Imagine a prophet from the deep south of this country presuming to tell New Englanders what is wrong with the way we live! 

The king  is Jeroboam.  Nissan Mindel, in an article called THE PROPHET AMOS (PUBLISHED AND COPYRIGHTED BY KEHOT PUBLICATION SOCIETY)NOTES THAT: By all accounts, Jereboam was a pretty good king. He managed to establish a working relationship of mutual help and friendship between the two Jewish kingdoms and repaired the damage his father had done to the relationship between the north and the south.  Under Jeroboam there was a reasonably good political situation and with that came economic prosperity.  Many  people in the Northern Kingdom became very wealthy and were able to lead a luxurious life.  The problem was that along with the wealth and security came a decline of morality and justice in the society.  The high social ideals of the Sinai Covenant, the great commandments, were ignored.  Notions of the practice of justice and loving kindness fell by the wayside. The wealthy oppressed the poor – – might was right – -corruption was on the rise – and with all of this – – idolatry increased.  The Golden Calves that caused so much trouble way back in the book of Exodus were pulled out of mothballs and the people began to adopt again the religious practices reserved for the Canaanite gods.

King Jeroboam had his hands full.  Good king or not, the covenantal relationship between God and the people was slipping away from him.

The priest is Amaziah.  Amaziah has the king’s ear. He warns Jereboam about this prophet Amos and then tells Amos to get out of town and go back to the south with his prophecies.  Amaziah may well represent the religious status quo – not wanting things to be shaken up too much or his job will be at stake.

Not surprisingly, Amos gets a little defensive.  He reminds Amaziah that he isn’t a run-of -the-mill prophet like those who were active at the time.  Rather, God had singled him out, pulled him away from his quiet peaceful life, to speak in God’s behalf to the king and to the people of the Northern Kingdom.   Real prophets, the genuine thing, are always reluctant to answer the call.

Dennis Bratcher is the driving force behind Christian Resources Institute.  He writes: ….. the prophets’ primary task was to call the people as a community to accountability and responsibility in their relationship with God……. This was the work of Amos.   His prophetic ministry was directly related to the need to keep the king and the ruling elite in line with God’s covenantal relationship with Israel – to call the people into responsible relationship with God.  We do not hear the same strident prophetic voices again after Israel goes into political exile.   There is a haunting question for our time.  Are there any prophets today?  Is there anyone out there fulfilling the role of the biblical prophets to speak the truth of God to the complex economic, religious and political structures we confront every day?

Bratcher answers: Well, no. And yes.  If you mean, “Are there prophets like Israel had in the Old Testament?”, then no. If you mean, “Do people speak with prophetic voices today?”, yes. …… the prophets stood as a counter voice to those who would allow the allure of power, ambition, and self-serving self-righteousness to blind them to the things of God: doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. They were, in the best sense of the term, “counter-culture” Israelites.

Abraham Heschel wrote: “the prophets always sang one octave too high”. They were empowered by a vision of how things could be, a future in which the people and their leaders would live out their calling to be the people of God as a channel of blessing to the world. And the prophets had the courage to call into question any preoccupation with the status quo on any level that interfered with that [god-envisioned] future. As a result, they were often in trouble with those who stood to lose the most if the status quo were changed….. .

If these are the marks of a prophetic voice, then where do we hear it today?  Certainly not in the halls of power.  It is almost as though the words of the prophet Nahum have come true: the voice of your messengers shall be heard no more. (Nahum 3:13) Perhaps the last publically recognizable prophetic voice for our time was silenced with the death of Martin Luther King Jr.

So, in the sense of the classical biblical prophets it is safe to say that no, there are no prophets in our time.  BUT – – and this is a big BUT – – there are prophetic voices whispering and shouting for our attention.  Indeed – some of our own voices may be among them.

Bratcher describes a truly prophetic voice as one who has the courage, perhaps even, in some sense, the calling of God, to look around at the community of faith in its status quo and say, “Not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” A prophetic voice is one who calls God’s people to return to their calling as God’s people. A prophetic voice is one that will not settle for the status quo, not for the sake of stability, or security, or comfort, or even for the sake of conserving the tradition. A truly prophetic voice is a radical voice, a liberal voice that calls for change…

This voice is in danger of being silenced – or ignored – or resisted in the larger church in the service of avoiding conflict or schism.  The resistance and fear of the prophetic voice is nowhere more apparent in the United Methodist Church than in its slowness to recognize that its official policies regarding the full humanity and the full inclusion of the LGBTU community need to change in order for the church to truly reflect its calling as the people of God.

The prophetic voice is surely silenced and mocked and ridiculed and demeaned in the halls of power when that voice speaks out against  policies that contribute to what is an epidemic of gun violence in this country.  Again, the country is reeling in shock and grief as we mourn the deaths of seven more precious souls. The prophetic voices that decry excessive and deadly force by police fall on ears deaf to the  immensity of need for systemic change – even as the country mourns the loss of two more black citizens this week.  The cycle of violence escalated again with the sniper shooting of 5 police officers in Dallas – – a city that has been working to respond to the voices that call for change.  The prophetic voice cries “How Long, O Lord?”

Bratcher continues: A prophetic voice will not gloss over injustice or oppression, will not be silent in the face of bigotry or prejudice or false pride, and will not compromise faithfulness for practical ends no matter how noble those ends may be in themselves.

A truly prophetic voice is one that will sweep away all the trappings of religion [and politics] and simply ask, “What does God require?”, and answer simply, “do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God.”…..” A prophetic voice is one that will settle for nothing less than holiness of heart and life as the result of faithful obedience to the voice of God.

Jesus has been placed in the company of the classical prophets – nowhere more clearly than when he reads from the portion of Isaiah that says  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to bring good news to the poor.  He sent me to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:16-21) Luke’s gospel says he then rolled up the scroll and sat down in the midst of a stunned group of listeners and stated unequivocally that the scriptures were indeed being fulfilled right in front of them.

We are surrounded with a cacophony of  “prophetic” voices promising that if we will just adhere to this diet, or buy this miracle vitamin to lose weight, or follow this or that financial guru that life will indeed be transformed for us if we do what they say. We will be slimmer, have more vitality, live longer, be wealthier.  I suspect the ancient kings of Israel had to sort out the same kinds of claims they were hearing from the “rubber-stamp” court prophets around them – flatterers who would tell the king what he wanted to hear.  Royal courts did not like it when a true prophet emerged and told them that deep spiritual and political and economic change was required in order for life to be in harmony with the Divine will.

In Jesus’ time Herod feared the new voice enough to try to search him out and kill him before he was even old enough to walk. Rome hated his voice enough to crucify him.  A truly prophetic voice is not popular – it makes us uncomfortable -it is risky – a truly prophetic voice may pay a huge sacrifice.  Jesus as prophet should make us all uncomfortable if we are comfortable with the status quo – whether in our church community or in the community beyond these walls or in the way we come to terms with national politics. 

A prophet, a priest and a king walk into a bar……..the prophet takes a big risk.   She asks the priest and the king “What does the Lord require of you?”

The anticipated answer is “to do justice -to love mercy and kindness – to walk humbly with God – or it may be even simpler – love God and your neighbor.  Or it may be a lot more complex.  The real life response to the prophetic call is to shout for the release of those imprisoned unjustly;  work with the community to see to it that those without homes are housed;  agitate to dismantle the violence that pervades our society; Influence policies to insure that all people have access to adequate health care;  make good education available to everyone who wants it and on and on.  These and more are the things that modern day prophetic voices harp on.  When we begin to find our voices – when we begin to join with others who seek to align themselves with the prophetic relationship with God – – when we live from a center of justice, mercy and kindness – – then we too may become the much resisted prophetic voice.  Solitary prophetic voices are few and far between – – too easily silenced.  But the voice of the people of God  can make a mighty and irresistible sound for the good of the children of God.  When we cry for  justice and mercy and lovingkindness together – things can and will change.

I guess the big question is, do the prophet and the priest and the king listen to each other and leave the bar with a common commitment to a world aligned with the law of God? A world where clear seeing and compassion and justice reign?  Or does a bar brawl ensue between them and effectively silence the prophetic voice once again?

It’s really hard to come up with a funny punch line.  But I hope somewhere in this you will find the point.

QUIRKY STORIES , July 3, 2016

Quirky Stories”

2 Kings 5:1-15

Luke 4:14-30

Chilmark Community Church

July 3, 2016

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

Jesus loved a good story. And he didn’t hesitate to use a good story to make a point. It is curious that he used the story of Namaan the Leper as a reference point in one of his first public encounters after he came out of the wilderness following his immersion in the Jordan. One has to wonder why. Perhaps Jesus had an affinity for quirky stories.

Namaan was a chief commander in the Aramean army. Aram was one of the ancient names for Syria – mortal enemy of Israel. Namaan was the Syian general responsible for the death of the Israelite king, Ahab, whom we met briefly as one of the antagonists in the story of Elijah and his muddy run for the mountains a couple of weeks ago. Once that bit of tribal warfare was over, Namaan came home with military honors and a lot of booty, including “a young girl captive from the land of Israel” (5:2 NRSV). He also came home with leprosy. The first of the quirks – – a powerful general, honored and respected, brought low by, perhaps, the most stigmatizing disease of all – a very visible skin affliction called leprosy.

The second quirk – – a nameless, young, female slave, essentially invisible and voiceless in her slave status, an Israelite, puts forth the possibility of healing for her master – maybe he could go to see Elisha, the great prophet of the Israelite God – the prophet who inherited a double portion of divine power from Elijah, his predecessor.

Quirk number 3 – Namaan actually listens to her! – and acts on her recommendation! He goes to the king of Aram and gets a letter of introduction to the king of Israel – the sworn enemy of Aram. A letter asking a personal favor -please see to the healing of my general, Namaan. How quirky is that?

The request causes a bit of a freak-out for the king of Israel because he is sure he is being set up for another battle with Aram because he has no way of personally healing Namaan. But Elisha emerges from the background and says he will attend to Namaan’s search for healing

It is rather fun to imagine this mighty general, Namaan, riding up to the hut of a rather wild and wooly prophet – – dressed in his military might and finery – -carrying all kinds of gold and silver, expecting a dramatic healing ritual – lots of hand waving and incense and prayers etcetera, etcetera – – and all Elisha says is “go wash yourself in the Jordan river 7 times -and you’ll be healed.” Bathing in the Jordan to be cleansed is a quirk all by itself. For all its significance in the biblical narrative, the Jordan is a frequently shallow, very muddy, often slow moving river. I once heard an Israeli tour director say that people would never ask to be baptized in it if they knew how many water-borne parasites made their home in the river. – Perhaps another quirk in the story. The rivers back home in Syria were much cleaner and made more sense.

At any rate – Namaan overcomes his indignity at the behest – again – of his servants – who point out that this is such a simple solution. If Elisha had asked him to do something very difficult to be healed he surely would have acquiesced.

All he is asked to do is to immerse himself in the river 7 times in order to be healed of the leprosy.

Namaan bathes in the Jordan, and his skin is restored to wholeness “like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.” (5:14)

The climax of the story happens when Namaan comes and stands before Elisha, the man of God, and declares that “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.” (5:15).

So we have a quirky story of a powerful Syrian general struck with a humiliating skin condition that separates him from the rest of society, advised by a slave girl, sent to an enemy king for healing, passed along to the quintessential man of God, encouraged by his servants, healed by immersing in a muddy river, returning to exclaim his awareness of the God of Israel.

In an article in The Christian Century (June 20-27, 2001, p. 12) Peter Hawkins wrote: Why do I love this story? Servants telling their master what to do. Enemy kings doing one another’s bidding. Elisha’s moxie. Namaan’s injured pride overcome by his desire to be made whole. The backstairs conversations between servant and mistress, the official missive from one king to another, the “dis-ing” of the River Jordan.

It is full of quirkiness – – It’s the stuff of TV drama! But beyond that it is a rich and useful story about the quirky places where we find God at work in the world. A voiceless, anonymous slave affects the direction of the story. Enemies collaborate in the movement toward healing. Pride of place is subverted in the service of healing. A grudging trust replaces skepticism. The least likely place becomes a place of healing. The uniqueness of God is affirmed. Perhaps, as quirky as anything, is the story teller’s skillful play with the politics involved in the whole situation – – somehow, the thing that transcends is the power of God to heal -in spite of the political enmity between Israelites and gentiles, in spite of the low status of the servant actors -in spite of the resistance of kings and generals. God hides in the quirky details.

Peter Hawkins writes further: In his first sermon in Nazareth, Jesus caught some of this extraordinary richness. In fact, he used Namaan’s healing by Elisha as the ancient Hebrew warrant for his own ministry to the gentiles – the outsiders: “There were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Namaan the Syrian” (Luke 4:27) Jesus plays with the politics implicit in the story, making good use of the perennial tensions between Jew and gentile, us and them. He exploits the essential edginess of the tale, and as a result, pays a price in that Nazareth congregation: “when they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so they might hurl him off the cliff.” (4:28-29).

Quirky stories can get you into trouble. Funny that these stories are ones that often reveal the movement of the Holy One. The divine message that gets transmitted is that God will be what God will be – – and our human resistance to the great unfolding of the Holy cannot thwart it. Jesus trusted all the power that was poured out on him when he went through his own immersion in the muddy Jordan. He heard and trusted and internalized and lived out the words he heard when he came up out of the water: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22)

As I was sorting through some files this week, I came across a quote from the late Alan Rickman, perhaps best known for his portrayal of Professor Snape in the Harry Potter movies. I have cited him before, but his words seem quite appropriate again this morning: “It is a human need to be told stories. The more we are governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are, where we come from, and what might be possible.”

Our stories connect us with where we come from, for sure. Jesus seemed to know that. He drew upon one of the most intriguing stories from his own past to make a point to his audience in Nazareth. He wanted to remind them of their own heritage – – of how God works in, not only mysterious, but occasionally in mischievous ways, to keep the great story of God’s people moving. Lepers and kings and slaves and prophets and muddy waters are the stuff of God’s story. Jesus used stories to create newness and hope and transformation. Sometimes his stories were subversive – – they undermined the status quo and made people uncomfortable. Jesus’ stories almost got him thrown off a cliff and eventually got him crucified. But his story goes on.

As we come together once again to share in communion, we are called to remember the stories – – all of them – – stories about the way the Holy One flows and weaves throughout our holy history – sometimes hidden -sometimes revealed – but always in motion. We are called to remember that the love and power of God is a love that seeks wholeness, a love that embraces and celebrates diversity, a love that transcends ancient enmities, a love that reverses social classes, a love that permeates all the quirkiness of our lives. All of that is present as we share in the bread and the cup. May we feel our connectedness with our deep roots in the story of God as we break bread together. AMEN

Asleep on the Job 6/24/16

“Asleep On The Job”

Mark 4:35-41

Chilmark Community Church

June 26, 2012

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

We had a dear niece and her son visiting with us this week. At breakfast on Thursday morning, Cynthia asked Armen if he woke up crabby. He quickly replied, “No – I just let her sleep in.”

Jesus had been teaching from a boat on the shore of the Galilee.  At the end of the day he expressed a desire to go to the other side of the lake to expand his ministry to the towns on the opposite shore.  His disciples climbed into the boat with him and set sail with him.   

The Galilee is subject to sudden and swift storms that seem to come up out of nowhere because of shifts in the winds coming down from the Golan heights.  Years ago, we sailed with a tour group across the Galilee and the water was as smooth as glass.  There was hardly any rocking at all when the boat was anchored and we stopped for a time of prayer before proceeding to the shore.  A half hour later we were at the lakeside, exploring for shells and stones to take home.  The sky had turned slate grey.  The wind had come up and we were soaked by waves splashing around us.  Our return trip had to be delayed until the storm cleared – as quickly as it had come.

Without warning, the crew on Jesus’ boat is caught in a storm – – vigorous enough that the waves were filling the boat.  In the midst of their panic, the 12 men notice that Jesus is asleep on a pillow in the stern of the boat.  Over the crashing of the waves and the roar of the wind, they yell at him to wake up –

“Jesus – we’re going under!  don’t you care? – – wake up and do something!”

It isn’t immediately clear just what it is that they expect him to do unless we stop to notice that the cushion Jesus sleeps on is in the stern where the pilot of the boat sits – – and Jesus, the pilot – has fallen asleep on the job.  His hand has slipped off the tiller!  The disciples yell at him to wake up.

Without hesitation, Jesus gets up and exercises his authority – speaks to the wind and the sea -“Peace Be Still!”  and the storm is calmed.  A miracle?  Perhaps.  We don’t know and we can’t explain.  Indeed, if we try to figure it out rationally, we get bogged down in trying to prove or disprove  and then we are in danger of missing the point of the story.

And what we tend to miss is that Jesus woke up crabby!  After he calms the chaos of the storm, and the wind and the water become still, Jesus turns around to his disciples and scolds them for being cowards and having no faith!  He doesn’t comfort them -he doesn’t say “There, there, I’m here, no need to be afraid, I’ll take care of things.”  He asks them what on earth are they afraid of?  He asks them why they still don’t have any faith?

What was Jesus doing??  The story doesn’t fit our expectations of a savior who makes our lives right – who uses all his power to save us.  I wonder how the disciples felt.  After all, weren’t they showing their trust in Jesus?  They believed in his power to save them.  He acted in their behalf – kept them from sinking – but then he got all bent out of shape and called them cowards – faithless cowards!

So -maybe a closer look at the story is warranted.  Maybe this story is not so much about what the disciples expect of Jesus as it is about what Jesus expects of the disciples.  But it seems like turning to him in childlike dependency for relief in the midst of adversity and misfortune is not exactly considered an act of faith  for these disciples – at least as Mark tells it.

Mark’s gospel tells the story of Jesus’ entry into history in a time not unlike our own.  Mark’s account of Jesus’ ministry reveals a society and culture  in which the use of control of power by a ruling elite – in this case the over arching rule of Rome –  served to keep the ruling class in control.  The masses had no voice. Those who governed  had no concept that they were supposed to serve the people.  The ones with the power were more invested in protecting their privilege than in building mutuality in the structures that held society together.  The systems which governed life had no integrity.  Economic, political and social conditions caused greater and greater poverty among the people.  The gap between those who “had” and those who didn’t grew wider and wider.

In the midst of this social and political milieu, Jesus went up on a mountain, taking a few people with him.  He appointed 12 to be his apostles.  In the 3rd chapter of Mark, the story says that Jesus appointed the people to be with him – to be sent out to proclaim his message – – and to have the authority to cast out demons.

In this action we see something new and different in the person of Jesus.  As an authority figure, he creates a relationship with his disciples in which he shares his power and authority with them.  He does not call them to the mountaintop to tell them about his power so they can tell every one else so that lots of people will come and chase after him.  He takes them aside to teach them and to give them  authority to do the same work in the world that he does.  Jesus creates a mutual relationship between himself and his disciples.  His expectation is that they will exercise the authority that he has given to them.  This is so foreign to the ethos of the time in which Jesus lived that it is no wonder we read in the next few verses that his family thought he was crazy.

It is pretty radical thinking even today – – shared power???  That’s crazy.  Power from the top is the only way to keep things in order and under control.  The masses are not to be trusted with too much power.  Even in democratic structures, this kind of thinking still weaves itself in and out of our social, economic, political and even our religious structures.

But – -let’s get back into the boat.  What were Jesus’ expectations of his disciples

such that he turned to them and called them “faithless cowards?”

Look at these men.  They were strong muscular people.  They spent every day of their lives on the unpredictable waters of the Galilee – hauling heavy nets, repairing boats, rowing when there was no wind.  They knew the sea.  They were accustomed to dealing with storms.   Any one of them could have assumed responsibility for the boat – – grabbed the tiller – – and weathered the storm.

But they had not yet learned the critical lessons Jesus had been teaching them.  His work was to bring about a kind of re-ordering of power so that the disciples and all the people who embraced the teachings of Jesus would be able to participate in the building of a new age – the Kingdom of God, as Jesus called it.  The vision was one of a community built on the shared power of Jesus. (Drawn from A Re-Ordering of Power by Mark Waetjen)  The disciples’ lack of faith had to do with their inability or their unwillingness to take action by taking the tiller and guiding the boat through the storm.  Instead of acting on the teachings and the examples and the experiences they had had with Jesus, they lost it!  All the authority Jesus had given to them – – they turned it all back in a moment of panic.  “Jesus – -don’t you care if we are perishing?”

So, Jesus rescues them  – but he doesn’t seem thrilled by it.  And when he confronts them – their response is a bit curious. In their awe they ask “Who is this? – – even the wind and the sea obey him!”

These men have been Jesus’ friends pretty much from the beginning of his public ministry and yet they ask the question :  “Who is this?”

We could understand this question if it happened at the beginning of their time together  with Jesus – but when they have to ask this question of someone they have known intimately, someone with whom they have shared meals, someone with whom they have slept out under the stars – recognizing that they do not really know who he is – – their own identity is suddenly thrown into question.  If they don’t know who Jesus is, how can they possibly know who they are in relationship with Jesus?

Mark’s gospel was written somewhere around 70 CE, maybe 30 – 35 years after the crucifixion, for the early community of Jews who embraced the leadership of Jesus.  The thinking was prevalent at the time that Jesus would return immediately to bring in the kingdom of God.  As we know from earlier sermons, the Jewish world was in collapse with the destruction of the temple and Roman determination to eliminate the Jews. Life was as chaotic as any storm on the Galilee.  How tempting and comforting it must have been for the early church to faithfully await the return of Jesus to lead them out of the storm.

But the gospel writer seems to think otherwise.  He portrays Jesus as annoyed, perhaps frustrated, maybe even crabby, about the passive dependence on him displayed by the disciples in the boat.   The message of Mark for that early community of believers was that while they awaited the return of Jesus, they were not to let go of the tiller themselves.  They were, after all, authorized to preach and teach and heal and cast out demons.  Jesus had shared his authority with them.  They were not to simply sit around and wait for him to return before they began to use their authority.

So I wonder what we, as a small church community, might take from the story for our life together today?  Are we the ones in the bow of the boat who ask “Who is he – such that the wind and the sea obey him?”  Are we prone, at times, to forgetting that Jesus has shared his authority with us?  Do we realize that any one of us has the power to take up the tiller and help steer this tiny boat into clear, safe waters?  Is our sense of our identity as authorized followers of Jesus  as complete as it could be?

In his second letter to the church at Corinth, Paul wrote: The Christ you have to deal with is not a weak person outside you, but a tremendous power inside you. (Phillips translation)

It is this tremendous power, shared by God with us in the person of Jesus – – shared with us by Jesus through the person of the Holy Spirit dwelling within each of us and among us as a body of the faithful – it is this tremendous power which often lies asleep on the job. It is this power that Jesus wanted his disciples to trust.

Jesus could demonstrate it to them – – but he could not make them own it.  It takes all of us varying amounts of time before we are willing to own and exercise all the power and authority and love we embody as children of God.  It takes all of us different amounts of time to test out that power by reaching out to take hold of the tiller to pilot the boat of our lives – to pilot the boat of this lovely gathering of the faithful called the Chilmark Community Church.

We are at the end of our first year together as people and pastors.  It has been mostly a year for us to get to know each other better – to learn about trusting and caring for each other, to figure out ways to work together. We have another year to go.  We might view that year as a year on the threshold of something new – – a time when we will be guided into greater strength and confidence and well being  – – or as a year in a boat about to be sent to the bottom by a huge wave.  Wherever we are in our readiness to live into all the power and authority that resides in us by the grace of God, the image of the Pilot, ready to be awakened at a moment’s notice, continues to sustain us as we grow in faith and trust.

Jesus will keep providing the lessons and the scolding until we have fully learned to embrace his power and his loving authority as our own.  The challenge to take up the tiller is always before us in Mark’s gospel.  The grace of God is always there to assist and guide us as we assume greater and greater responsibility for exercising the tremendous power of Christ which resides dormant in us. As we continue on together to develop our piloting skills, may we each assume our share of the responsibility for working the tiller. May we always know that we can depend on that grace to bring us through the storms.  May we share our time together in this boat as people of faith and courage.



JUNE 21 -August 30

Generous Lobster Roll, chips and drink:  $20 (The price of lobster has sky rocketed)

Big, fresh baked cookies $1

(Remember Vineyard Sound performs at 8…a busy night in Chilmark)

The Lobster Crew at Chilmark Church,

The “cooks”.

“Money Changers”

Prized repeat customer!


August 7, 2012