Breakfast on the Beach 4/23/17

Breakfast On The Beach

John 21:1-17

Acts 3:1- 10

Chilmark Community Church

April 23, 2017     2nd Sunday in Easter

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

Two weeks ago, we were with Peter, sitting next to the fire in a darkened courtyard  in the run up to Good Friday and the crucifixion of Jesus.  We witnessed his denial of Jesus and also his anguish when he realized what he had done.   Three times – when questioned and accused about his relationship with Jesus, he backed off – – I do not know this man – –  I am not one of his disciples.  Crucifixion happened and there was no chance to make things right.  Peter wept, of course.  I can imagine him in body wrenching sobbing as he heard that cock crow and realized the enormity of what he had done – or had actually failed to do.  I imagine his shame and his sorrow – – and his overwhelming sense of guilt – – having turned his back on Jesus.

I know Peter all too well.  Too many times in my own life I have not been able to say or do the courageous thing – have remained silent when I should have spoken – and ended up essentially doing the same thing Peter did – – denying that I do indeed have a relationship  with Jesus that demands more of me.  I suspect we all have joined Peter at one time or another – hiding in some dark corner of our own souls because we did not have the courage or commitment or integrity to  act or speak out when we should have.

It is not always easy to know clearly, in the midst of growing militaristic rhetoric, triumphal posturing and ever present fear propaganda, how we are to, indeed, demonstrate that we know and love a Jesus who taught nonviolence and truth and compassion as a way of life.  Sometimes it is easier and safer to be quiet, to pull back into the shadows, let things run their course and hope for the best.

But there is this nagging question whispering across the ages…”Do you love me?”   It is hard to stand in the darkened courtyard being accused of being one of Jesus’ people – – – easier to back off and blend into the shadows – – simpler to keep our calling to ourselves.  But then – – crucifixion happens.   All 4 gospels clearly spell it out.  Jesus dies alone while those who love and know him best run for safety.

Only John records this epilogue that we read this morning.  A frustrating fishing expedition – – all night long, time after time casting their nets, moving on – hoping for a better spot – nets coming up empty every time.  I wonder if those of you who are or have ever been fishermen would really appreciate a suggestion from someone on the shore that you should try throwing your nets off the other side of the boat!   Frankly, I think that took a bit of courage on Jesus’ part! 

Be that as it may, the fishermen toss the net over the right side of the boat and the net fills with fish.  One of the men recognizes Jesus as the Lord, standing on the shoreline.  In a flash, Peter is over the side and swimming toward the shore.

There is a bit of comic relief here.  During the night of fishing, Peter had stripped down to a loincloth to be able to work more easily, but before he jumped in the water, he put on all his clothes and slogged his way to shore fully dressed!

Breakfast is on the grill.  Bread and fish.  An awkward moment.  No one asks who invites them.  They already know.  Even so, the living Presence of Jesus defies credulity.  He died.  They heard the accounts.  John, the Beloved Disciple, was at the foot of the cross.  But Jesus is a Living Presence – and they witness this as well.

The crux of the encounter unfolds after breakfast.  Try to imagine being confronted by the Living Christ.  “Do you love me?”  Maybe the answer would erupt out of us as it does with Peter – “Yes, Lord, You know I love you!”

In a forceful formula, Jesus asks Peter three times and each time Peter affirms his love for Jesus and we watch an incredible drama of forgiveness and restoration happen – – Peter , if you love me, feed my sheep.  A triple formula that wipes away the terrible shame and guilt and sadness that Peter suffered in refusing to be identified with Jesus.  Three times of denial – three days in the tomb – three chances to say “yes – Jesus – you know I love you” – and three challenges to Peter to live out his love for the Risen Christ.

No condemnation – no confession of guilt – no recriminations.  Only Jesus’ offer of restoration to right relationship.  It all happens in Jesus’ spacious willingness to entrust to Peter the work that Jesus started.

It is no secret that we stand in Peter’s shoes a lot of the time.  We live in a time when ugliness toward immigrants, toward people of color, toward Jews and Muslims, toward  human beings with a variety of gender orientations, toward strangers, toward women, is given license.  We stand in Peter’s shoes when we fail to acknowledge our connection to those on the outside as beloved children of God – when we are unable to confess and affirm and embrace our relatedness to suffering human beings  created in the image of God.

That courtyard where Peter denied knowing Jesus is everywhere.  If we allow ourselves to think about it, our ability to deny the Christ Presence in other human beings is just as well developed as Peter’s ability to deny Jesus.  We often stand in dark courtyard.

What we don’t often realize, however, is that when we find ourselves standing in Peter’s shoes, we are also standing in the presence of Jesus.  This is inescapable.   We might be kind of naked in our brokenness – in our inability to live up to even our own high expectations – – or maybe we are bogged down with the burden of soggy, wet clothing – – things like broken relationships that need healing; inability to speak with the courage of our convictions; failure to take a stand when it is required of us.  Sometimes it is hard for us to forgive other people.  For some of us it might be even harder to receive forgiveness.  The scenarios play themselves out over and over again: individuals can’t forgive;  nations can’t forgive.  Conditions must be met – offenders must be identified – punishment and sanctions must be meted out – – and then, perhaps, the work of restoration can begin in a process that may take generations to unfold.  Even faith communities struggle with forgiveness – pride is wounded – – barriers go up – – and  – -well – -the sheep just have to wait to be fed.  Almost universally, the critical work of attending to well being of the souls and bodies who wait suffers while we expend our energy in being uncertain, prideful and afraid.  Consequently, our metaphorical nets may come up feeling quite empty.  Our constantly shifting human condition might be compared to a long night of fishing and a sunrise with empty nets.  Not much to show for all our efforts.

But – – the irresistible aroma of grilled fish and bread reaches our nostrils and we are invited to breakfast.  When we respond to the invitation to be in the Presence of the Christ, we are responding to be fully in the present.  This is the mystery of life in the resurrection – – life in the present moment – life in the presence of Christ.

The physical form of Jesus died – as all human beings eventually die – one way or another.  His death was a physical event, a cruel and finite event that happened at a point in history.  But the Christ – the eternal manifestation of God in all things at all times appears at every  moment to issue the invitation to any who will listen….if you love me, then be about the business of being Christ in the world.

In his encounter with Jesus, Peter becomes a metaphor for a fully awakened consciousness – – he  awakens to his own true nature – – his own Christ nature – -as his story unfolds in the book of Acts.  We read descriptions of him that make us think of Jesus.  Peter speaks the truth with courage.  Peter heals the sick.  Peter suffers for his actions – – but he can do nothing else.  He lives the truth that the Christ awakens in him.  He becomes another unique manifestation of the same holy consciousness that enlivened Jesus.

We stand in Peter’s shoes.  Maybe we stand cold and shivering.  Jesus asks the same question of us: “Do you love me?”   It is a code question.  In those simple words, the Christ asks us “Are you willing to wake up to your own true nature?”  “Are you willing to live as offspring of God?”   “Are you willing to live in my Presence with every breath?”  “Are you willing to be a Christ for others?”

There are no blueprints in the story for what it means to “feed my sheep.”   We have most often interpreted Jesus’ words to mean that we need to feed the hungry. clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, heal the sick. Feeding the sheep  means all this and more.  Most fundamentally, the command to feed my sheep follows on the answer to the question “Do you love me?”  The answer we give to that question shapes our identity.  A “Yes” answer rattles us out of the limitations of our belief systems about the world and about ourselves.  When we answer unequivocally “Yes, Lord, you know that I Iove you,”  we take the first step toward allowing our selves  to be shaped and molded by the power of the Risen One.  This is an act of surrender, of submission – – not to some external demand upon our energies, but to an inner and powerful  force that will guide us into all that we are to become.

The specific feeding, the work with the sheep?  That unfolds as each moment arises – -and we respond in each moment out of an awakened Christ consciousness dwelling deep within each one of us.  We are in the 2nd week of Easter.  The resurrection is still fresh in our minds.  The Presence of the Risen One is real.  It calls to us from darkened courtyards, from an empty cross, from a vacant tomb, from a distant lake shore.  It comes to our nostrils in the fragrant aroma of grilled fish and fresh bread.  The Jesus calls out to us: Do you love me?   Our answer determines everything.

Easter Sunrise meditation

“What do we do with an unfinished story?”

Mark 16:1-8

Easter Dawn

Squibnocket Beach

April 16, 2017

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

Mark’s gospel is the earliest one written. It ends abruptly – the two Marys visit the tomb where Jesus crucified body was hastily laid in order to conform to Jewish law that a body must be buried within 24 hours – and that the task needed to be completed before sundown and the beginning of the Sabbath.

The women encounter a messenger who tells them that Jesus isn’t there. The same messenger directs them to tell the disciples to head north for Galilee – that Jesus has gone on ahead of them and the are to meet him there.

The women run out of the tomb in a mixture of wonder and fear – – and Mark tells us “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. “ And this is where the original gospel of Mark ends.

If this were the only gospel we were to receive it would leave us hanging – – sort of like leaving off the final chapter of a good mystery novel.

There are no post resurrection appearances. No one sees Jesus. Jesus gives his disciples no directions or commands other than that they are to go to Galilee – – that he has gone on ahead and will meet them there. The women say nothing to anyone. End of story.

The other gospel writers find this abrupt ending intolerable. Matthew has the disciples meeting up with Jesus and worshipping him. Jesus commissions them to go into all the world to baptize and to make disciples. Luke has two of the disciples walking along the road to Emmaus -conferring with a stranger -who later turns out to be Jesus. John has Jesus serving breakfast to the disciples on the lakeshore – and forgiving Peter for his great denial.

So – I wonder – what would we do if Mark’s was the only gospel – – and all that we had was the direction move forward with the promise that Jesus has gone on ahead.

Is the rest of the story up to the point of the crucifixion compelling enough that we might commit our lives to following the way of Jesus? Would the message of Jesus be enough to change our lives – – powerful enough to call us to something higher? Would we need one more encounter with him just to reassure us that he was all that we thought he was?

This is where Mark’s story leaves us – standing together in the early dawn – – astounded that the tomb is empty – – perhaps questioning what does it all mean. But the direction is clear – Jesus has gone on ahead of us. We do not meet him in the past. He has gone on ahead and waits for us in our future – beginning now. We’re called to take those critical steps toward whatever Galilee represents for us at this moment.

With its abrupt ending, Mark’s story is a call to faith. We don’t always get the vivid and clear signs we need along our life path. Mark’s story challenges us to move anyway!

So here we are. The tomb is empty. Galilee awaits. Alleluia!

“Knowing the Risen Christ” 4/16/17


JOHN 20:1-18 APRIL 16, 2017


To know him is to love him.” That truth applies not only to some of our dearest friends. It applies to Jesus Christ.

To know someone is quite an interesting process. You have heard statements such as these: “After 18 years I’m just getting to know my wife. We have been together for 30 years and I still don’t know him.” As soon as I met him I knew him.”

To know someone has to do with:

-being able to predict what she will do in a given situation.

-being aware what that person’s priorities are.

-being aware of his attitude towards himself, life and his place in it, towards others and towards God.

To know someone has to do with being aware of relationship – am I close to him or distant.

The Bible abounds with illustrations related to knowing – be it knowing a truth or knowing a person. In John 20:9 we read, “As yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” Now Jesus had said this to the disciples, but to hear words is not necessarily to know them. Jesus spoke to the woman at the well; then she ran back to her community saying, “Come see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”

When Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men say I am?” That is, “How do people know me?” Peter responded: some say you are Moses, some say John the Baptist or a prophet. But to him none of these fit. Peter said, “You are the Christ.” In each case, and it seems in most cases, knowing something or someone is not as simple as 1,2,3.

A curious common thread runs thru the narratives describing the appearances of the risen Christ. In each case, no one was expecting a resurrection – no one initially recognized the risen Christ. Even when the tomb was found empty, they did not assume he had risen – only that someone took his body. When Jesus spoke to Mary Magdalene, she didn’t know him. She assumed he was the gardener. When Jesus called her by name – then she knew him.

When the two disciples were walking on the road to Emmaus and the Lord drew near to them they did not recognize him. It was only later when he broke bread with them in their home that they recognized him, knew him.

On another occasion, Jesus stood on the beach and disciples who were fishing did not know him. Jesus asked if they had caught anything and they answered no. Jesus said try on the right side of the boat. They did and caught a big catch. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved concluded, “It is the Lord.”

I assume your experience is similar to mine; namely, each day I know the people around me a little bit better. To know someone is not the end of a process. I can say “I know that my redeemer liveth,” because I know I have had parts of my life redeemed, but I’m sure there is more redeeming to do, thus there is more for me to know about my Lord. “I have been redeemed, I am being redeemed and I shall be redeemed”, all can be said. Likewise, I can say, I knew him, I know him now, and I shall know more of him.

How do we know people? That can give us a few clues to knowing the risen Christ. We know them as we love them, as we are open to them, as we take in their love. We know them as we work with them – not just sharing the fellowship, but as we yoke together there are times when our power is needed and there times when the other’s power is more needed.

We know people and we know the risen Christ as we share pain, concerns and joys.

When you get down to it, how do I know anything? Recall the line of the song, “How do I know? The Bible tells me so.” One way of knowing is by what others tell us. It is an avenue of truth but we have also received some misinformation from others too. A second avenue of knowing is thru our reasoning minds. Occasionally we come to some wrong conclusions because of mistaken or partial information coming into our brain.

So take the resurrection of Christ. Certainly the Bible and others have said it is so. Our reason gives us mix signals regarding it. On the one hand we have not seen or experienced anyone come back to life – how does a heart stop and start again? On the other hand, how could a church last for 20 centuries on only a wish that there might be a resurrection?

-How come the Sabbath day was changed to Sunday?

-How come so many have and still do commit their time and money and energy, their lives to that affirmation?

-How come the New Testament was written?

-How come all of Jesus teachings ring true to life?

All we can do with reason is what St. Paul did with it. He made plain to himself and others (slowly), “now we know in part.”

History and reason can only confirm and point us in this direction or that. The real knowing of a person or a truth comes from our own experience. You and I can only affirm Christ is risen in a way that is full of power when Christ is alive and operative in us. “Christmas is God in Christ. Easter is Christ in us.” (repeat)

As St. Paul said, If Christ is not risen then our faith is in vain. Both history and reason invite us to test the hypothesis that God is, that God cares about us, that God has given us the freedom to choose closeness with God and that closeness comes as we surrender and let the risen Christ come alive in us.

Those who have basically surrendered to Christ, and I count myself among them, have found:

-peace with the universe – not a false escape from life but a harmony of faith and work.

-an inner guidance system that is reliable.

-energy sufficient for life’s loads.

-love as the operative principle of life.

The only way you can more fully know the risen Christ is to surrender your heart to him. Say with John Wesley:

I am no longer my own but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal…Thou art mine and I am thine.”

As the days go by we can know for our selves better and we can affirm with his disciples thru the centuries: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” We can affirm: “Because he lives I too shall live.”

Resurrection will not be merely a symbol of activity. Years ago I saw a sign in the offices of the Board of Global Ministries. It said, “Resurrection. Anyone who does not believe in the dead coming to life should be here at quitting time.”

Instead, resurrection can mean for us: initially a bold assurance. We can follow in the same tradition of Jesus. Virgil Kraft noted his incredible audacity:

He addressed the Creator of the universe


He nicknamed a flabby fisherman


He called the rabble in the streets


He called the hated Samaritans


The incredible audacity of this man!”

We too can have such boldness.. Initially a bold assurance and eventually a growing relationship with God and God’s children in a love that knows no limitation in this life or the life to come.

To know him is to love him. To love him is to serve him.”

Christ the Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!

“I Am Not One of Them” 4/9/17

I Am Not One of Them”

Matthew 21:1-11

John 15:15-27

Chilmark Community Church

April 9, 2017

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

Preaching and worship on Palm Sunday is something of a spiritual juggling act. The task is to worship with integrity and to move from the joyful celebration of Palm Sunday to the persecution and passion of Jesus in the space of a few short days. It would be all too easy to celebrate with the crowds at Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem today and then greet the triumphal Easter dawn of resurrection next week and slide over what happens on the days in between. But the drama of the few days ahead between now and next Sunday is what gives Easter morning its meaning.

We start with Jesus telling his disciples to find a colt on which he can ride. From the prophet, Zechariah, Matthew finds the model for Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem and sets the scene for the celebration: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O Jerusalem! Lo, Your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zech. 9:9) The image of a king riding into the city on a donkey is a curious juxtaposition of power and humility. The colt is found and Jesus begins his ride through Bethany and Bethpage. The paradox of a long awaited king and messiah making a triumphal entrance into the city under the eyes of imperial Rome – – on a donkey – – is street drama at its best. As the word got out, people lined the roadsides – people like you and me – looking for hope – – looking for one who would save them – – who would bring order to life – – looking for a messiah who would liberate them from the heavy weight of Roman imperial power.

And so they celebrated. They spread their own cloaks and garments in the road in front of Jesus – – they laid down palm branches to make his way smooth – – they sang “Hosanna!” Their expectation was so great.

And Matthew says that Jerusalem was in turmoil with people wondering who this Jesus was – and what was all the fuss about. But Jesus does not stop to enjoy the accolades. In the next scene, he becomes quite solitary as he enters the temple and makes his challenges there. And he keeps moving – – healing people who are blind and disabled. And then, just as quickly, he withdraws and returns to Bethany, just outside of the city for the night.

The next day Jesus engages in theological discussions about where his authority comes from. He argues on matters of justice and the meaning of the kingdom of God. He manages to offend a more than a few people. But not the poor and the sick and the hungry – – the powerless ones. If we wander over in to John’s gospel we learn quickly that one of Jesus’ disciples will sell him out for 30 pieces of silver. We join Jesus and his friends for the final meal that he will share with them. We witness him establishing a new covenant with them – to be with them always. We stand in the shadows of the garden where he is arrested and we hear Peter deny him three times in the early hours of the morning. We wrestle with knowing that Jesus is tortured and humiliated by the Roman soldiers who arrested him.

All of this and more happens between Palm Sunday and Easter morning. The parts that are most difficult for me are the parts where the friends, the adoring crowds, the followers – – the disciples – – just seem to fade out of the picture. Jesus is left alone to endure what he must endure.

In John’s gospel Peter becomes the center of the story for awhile. With the best of intentions Peter has made his dramatic promise to Jesus that he will never desert him. But now we find Peter in the courtyard outside the house of the High Priest – sitting near the fire to keep warm. He just has to know what is about to unfold. Roman practice with seditious Jews was consistent and well known. Three times, Peter defensively denies his relationship with Jesus. “I am not his disciple.” In those few words, uttered in fear and anger, the humanity that we share with Peter is played out in all its sadness and confusion.

Peter denies being with Jesus. Peter – – the first one to acknowledge Jesus as Messiah a few chapters earlier. How could this have happened? How could one so close to Jesus not even acknowledge that he knew Jesus.

Denial is a strange thing. It clouds our ability to see the reality of a situation or set of circumstances. It is a defense mechanism which often gets set in motion when life offers us situations that are too big or too painful or too shocking to deal with all at once. Denial serves a purpose. Often, it cushions reality until we are ready to deal with it. It allows us to work through a crisis a little bit at a time when the crisis might completely overwhelm us .

It is ancient history for me now, but there was a day 27 years ago when my mom and dad boarded a plane in Orlando, Florida to fly north to the little town of Bainbridge, New York. My mother had bone cancer and was deteriorating rapidly. My brother had taken decisive action, bought the plane tickets, and told them what time to be at the airport. He brought my mother home. Less than three weeks later, my mother was admitted to the hospital for the first and only time during her illness. We all took turns sitting at her bedside with my dad who waited each day for the word that things had turned around and that my mom was well enough to go home. He was certain that he would be able to care for her and nurse her back to health and strength.

On reflection, it is still a wonder to me that my 4 siblings and my dad and I could look at the same set of circumstances and see very different things. Two of us knew we were walking with my mom toward her death. Four of us were sure this was just a setback from which she would recover. Two of us heard her saying good-bye. Four of us held out for healing and restoration.

There was no way to communicate through those two separate realities without causing each other incredible pain. Denial is like that. Denial creates a different reality to cushion the pain of what is happening or is about to happen. It is an alternate reality – – it is not questioned. Sometimes, denial helps us get through the crisis.

Peter sat by the fire, confronted three times by the reality of what was happening. Three times he argues that he is not connected with Jesus. We might guess that fear beyond anything he has ever known has taken over. Anguish of a depth we can only imagine pervades his mind and his reasoning.

There are times in all our lives when we sit near the fire with Peter. We wrap ourselves in the cloak of our ability to deny the truth of what is happening to us or around us – – a serious illness or problems with addiction, overwhelming financial distress. As a society, denial functions very efficiently to cloud our thinking and our responses to the social injustices that exist right in our own communities – terrified immigrants, children fearing going to school because their parents might not be there when they get home; homeless people who sort of fade into the background; elderly folks who live in isolation surrounded by what they have hoarded around them.

Peter’s words “I’m not one of them” may not fit exactly – but we are just as vulnerable as he was to not seeing the enormity of what we deny because sometimes the problems just seem so big and unmanageable.

But as we learn when we follow Peter’s story to it’s hopeful conclusion, where denial goes unchallenged, there can be no healing, no growth, no resolution to problems, no wholeness. But the power and love of the Christ are such that we are not permitted to live with our denial indefinitely. Sooner or later, the clarity of the love of God breaks through. We gradually confront the reality we have been avoiding. We struggle with the scary and painful and stressful parts of our lives – we find our way through and we come to know healing and wholeness in a new way.

The instrument of Peter’s awakening was the crowing of a rooster. With that noisy and unpleasant early morning sound, Peter heard Jesus’ words again – “you will deny me” – and Peter broke down and wept. Jesus – the one who knew Peter better than Peter knew himself.

Wherever we are on our faith journey – whether as individuals or as part of the faith community, we are assured that there is One who knows us better than we know ourselves. Jesus is offered to us in the scriptures to help us see who we are. The Light that he embodied illuminates the darkest corners of confusion and doubt. That Light draws us toward itself – – and resurrection happens – – life begins anew and we are drawn toward wholeness.

It is for this reason that we can joyfully celebrate Palm Sunday even knowing that the reality of Jesus’ passion and death are hidden within the celebration. And we will celebrate joyfully next week, following the darkest hours of denial and betrayal that happened on the days we call Holy Thursday and Good Friday. We will rejoice following the sorrow and uncertainty that marks the time in the tomb on Saturday.

It is tempting to say we can and will celebrate because we know how the story ends. But it is more accurate to say that we celebrate because we know how the rest of the story begins. With today’s worship we enter Holy Week. May we enter the week mindfully aware of all that we fear and struggle with. May the next several days be filled with awareness of the truth that out of denial, suffering, pain and even out of death comes the possibility of rich, abundant and joyful life. May you have a rich Holy Week.

“The Bread of Presence” 4/2/17

The Bread of Presence

1 Samuel 21:1-6

Mark 2:23-28

April 2, 2017

Chilmark Community Church

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

A number of years ago, my beloved niece, Molly, whom some of you have met, came down to the island for a visit.  Molly is the youngest daughter of my sister who died back in 1999.  We asked her what she wanted to be sure to do while she was here on the Vineyard.  She listed a few things: she wanted to be sure to walk on the beaches – especially Cedar Tree Neck; she wanted to shop at Beadniks (it was still open back then); get coffee at Mocha Mott’s and sleep a lot.  She ended her list with her desire to make bread before it was time for her to go back to school at the end of her break.

The bread she wanted to make was a recipe that my sister and I had shared over the years.  It was a light, yeasty raisin bread called Ephraim’s Bread and it had a lot of meaning for Molly and me to bake it together in my kitchen.  As we went through the process of measuring and mixing  and kneading and raising and baking, my sister’s spirit became a very real presence in the house that day.  Molly and I felt our own relationship deepening through the shared experience of baking together.  Sharing a cup of hot tea and warm bread with lots of butter had all the elements of a ritual meal. That particular bread has power.  It brought me to a kind of boundary between my history with my sister and my history with Molly on the one hand and the experience of the mystery of so many things still to be known and experienced – – so much life still to unfold in the aftermath of my sister’s death.

Bread is at the center of the dynamics of both of today’s scriptures.  In the story of David from Samuel, David is in the temple with Ahimelech, the high priest.  David and his men have been out on maneuvers and have returned to the sacred space near starvation.  David asks for bread to feed himself and his men.  The priest reminds David that the bread on the altar is the only bread available and it is sacred bread.  It was bread laid out on the altar on each Sabbath to remind the people of their connection with God.  Only the priests, who were ritually clean, were  permitted to eat the bread.  But David’s hunger prevails.  He assures the priest that his men have not been near women – – they meet the necessary standards for ritual purity – and they consume the show bread – The Bread of Presence.

When Jesus and the teachers of the Law meet, the teachers question Jesus about why his disciples are plucking grain on the Sabbath.  It is a form of work forbidden on the Sabbath by ritual law.   Jesus reminds the teachers of the story of David as a legal precedent – – his disciples are hungry – – and their hunger is what determines their right to pick up the grain on the Sabbath.  In accordance with Jewish law, Jesus reminds the teachers that the Sabbath is created for human beings.  Human welfare and well being supersedes the strict interpretation of the law.

Part of these stories is about what is OK and what is not OK to do on the Sabbath, but they also have to do with who gets to eat and who gets to go hungry.  Jesus noticed that while people who are well fed and affluent are easily able to observe the prescribed Sabbath rituals and laws with relatively little stress, the poor, who go hungry most of the time – involuntarily – are actually oppressed by religious rituals surrounding the getting and the consumption of bread on the Sabbath.  In good Jewish tradition, Jesus was more concerned about the welfare of human beings – about human relationships – and about the relationship between human beings and their God.

Bread is so fundamental to human relationships at many levels of life.  It symbolizes well being, generosity, hospitality – in all the many forms it takes – muffins, bagels, biales, foccacia, crackers, whole wheat, rye, multi-grain, French, Italian, leavened, unleavened – – bread is the stuff of life that attends human relationships at meal times, at weddings and baptisms, at funerals, at pot-luck suppers – – at the sacrament of communion.

Not too long before we moved to the island, Armen and I were in the midst of moving into another parsonage.  It got to be lunch time and in the chaos of moving, we had no food to offer the movers except a loaf of Pepperidge Farm Toasting White bread and some peanut butter and jelly.  We told the guys what we had  and invited them to eat.  They broke out in big grins and one of the guys said it had been ages since he had actually had a “choke and slide” sandwich.  I had never heard that term for PB&J!   So – we feasted at the dining room table surrounded by mountains of moving boxes with two strangers we never saw again.  Those shared PB&J sandwiches stand out in my mind as the experience of a boundary –  a place between what was remembered and known and familiar on the one hand and the future that was in the process of being formed on the other.  It was the first time I had ever shared a meal with strangers who were African American.  Remarkably, just a few short months later, I found myself serving as the assistant pastor of an African American congregation on the other side of town.

A few years ago, Armen and I saw the film “The Pianist” starring Adrian Brody.  If you haven’t seen it, it is the story of a Polish pianist during the Nazi occupation of Poland – – a story of the almost unrelieved nightmare of one man’s survival of the holocaust during WW II.   There was scene after scene of brutality – the utter de-humanization of men, women and children by Nazi soldiers – and the utter dehumanization of the soldiers themselves in the process.

As the film unfolded, I became aware of a thread – -a very slender thread – of a humanizing factor that appeared at various places along the way – – a thread that kept the pianist alive and human and perhaps even hopeful.

Bread – was the humanizing factor.  It represented the unity of the Pianist’s family in the deepening persecution – – as they shared meager meals together in the ghetto.  Scarce bread appeared in the markets and was occasionally available to the Jews who were doing the forced labor perpetrated by the Nazis.  Bread became  a form of subversive interaction when  it was shared between prisoners who had literally nothing but the clothes on their backs.  Bread was the first thing offered to assuage starvation.

As the agonizing story of the Pianist plays out, he finally finds refuge with Gentile friends he had met before the horror began.  He is starving.  They take him into their home at great risk to themselves.  As they determine how to help him, he weakly asks, “May I have some bread?”  During all his weeks in hiding, someone or other from the underground provides the Pianist with bread from time to time.  In his utmost isolation, bread conveys to him the power of human presence in the most extreme circumstances.

In his final hiding place, he is discovered by a Nazi soldier who commands him to play something on the piano.  In the tension of those scenes, the Pianist’s life hangs in the balance.  Will the officer betray him? Will his refuge be revealed? Is this where his life will end? The Nazi officer returns one last time to the hiding place with a package for the Pianist – a loaf of bread – – the humanizing factor.  In that scene in the movie, it is bread that restores humanity to both the oppressor and the oppressed.  The sharing of bread puts both men at the boundary of what has been and what is about to unfold and come into being.

The sacrament of communion has a seductive power.  It has the potential to take us to the boundary between all that our history has been, all that we have known together on the one hand, and all that is present here – now – waiting to unfold and become.  Jesus’ invitation to us is one that takes us right to the altar of the show bread – The Bread of Presence – and offers us the possibility of seeing not only what we are already aware of in our lives, but what is also already in the process of formation – – we get to see the possibility of what God is bringing into being in us before it actually happens.  This is such a profound time for us as we contemplate a future for our congregation – already in the process of unfolding.

The sacrament is a time of remembering how God has acted in a holy history ever since the breath of God hovered over the waters at the dawn of creation. It is a time to recall the movement of God that draws God’s people out of whatever  whatever sorrow, whatever pain, whatever uncertainty they endure.  It is a time of remembering that The Holy One is always present in the breaking of bread – whether it is bread taken from the altar by the High Priest to feed a hungry David, or bread collected in the desert by a wandering people, or bread shared by a man with his friends on the night before he dies.  The Holy One is even present in the breaking of bread in a small, rural congregation in Chilmark.

The Bread of Presence – – it contains the possibility of bringing us to a boundary – a place of awareness and vision – – a place of meeting a God who says “Behold!  I am doing a new thing!  Can you see it – – ready to break forth from the bud?”

We are invited to dine together – to break bread and to eat together.  And in the breaking and the eating we are invited to see what kind of future is held in store for us as we remember what has been and follow the One who will lead us into what we are to become.

“” 3/19/17

1 Samuel 16:1-13

Matthew 1:1-17

March 19, 2016

Chilmark Community Church

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

In June of the summer before Armen and I “retired” to move to the Vineyard we spent three weeks living on several of the Lakota Sioux Reservations in South Dakota with a group exploring   “Learning Nonviolence With the Lakota”.  At the very beginning of the trip we visited the state prison in Sioux Falls to meet with some Lakota prisoners and to hear about their experience of trying to live nonviolent lives in the prison milieu.  My anxiety was high as our van approached  the prison grounds. I wondered what it would be like on the “inside.”  Needless to say, we were only given access to the outermost areas of the prison campus. We entered a sunny courtyard and two young Lakota men, Mike Standing Soldier and Stan No Heart,  arranged some picnic tables so that our group could sit more or less in a circle for conversation with them.   This all happened a lot of years ago.  Many of the details of their stories are lost  to me now, but one story vividly remains in my memory.

Mike Standing Soldier told a story from his childhood when he asked his grandfather “Why are white people the way they are?” – referring to his experience of white prejudice and his exposure to racism and indignity at the hands of white citizens and local bureaucrats in his brief life span.    His grandfather answered: “They have lost their drum, they have forgotten the dance, and they do not know where the bones of their ancestors are buried.”

Those words  have stayed with me all these years as I have continued on my own spiritual path.  They surfaced again as I was reading today’s scriptures – – especially the phrase

“they don’t know where the bones of their ancestors are buried.”   Across this country, many of us of us do not know where the bones of our ancestors are buried.  While there are a lot of Vineyarders  who can trace their ancestry back for many generations,  many of us of us can’t go back more than 2, maybe 3 generations at the most, when we try to tell our kids their family history.  As a nation of people who have come from someplace else, many of us have lost any deep connection to “the bones of our ancestors.” We  have, in some very essential ways, become spiritually uprooted and ungrounded.  In the process, as a nation, we do not always have  a strong and healthy sense of who we are.   When we don’t know where the bones of our ancestors are buried we are in danger of becoming disconnected from our own history, our own sense belonging to a great stream of life.   Without a firm grasp on our own stories, we are vulnerable to finding threat  where none exists.  The unfamiliar face becomes the other, the stranger, possibly even the enemy.

I’d like to suggest that  this morning’s scripture lessons  help, in a way, to root us securely in a lineage that goes back several thousand years.  As a people of God, it is a lineage, an ancestral line, that we can all claim as our own.   We began with Samuel’s search for a person whom God desired to anoint as king.  In early Biblical history, kings were made and unmade in the service of the Divine purpose.  King Saul was the first king of Israel. He lost God’s favor due to disobedience.  This led to the search for another king.  Through a bit of subterfuge, Samuel, God’s priest and prophet, makes his way to the tribe of Jesse.  Samuel rejects several of Jesse’s sons as candidates for kingship.  Finally, the youngest son, a shepherd, is brought before Samuel.  David, the baby of Jesse’s family is anointed to become the great King David who would unite the tribes of Israel and lead them to the heights of glory. 

Reading the genealogy at the beginning of the book of Matthew can be pretty dull stuff until we realize that this is our genealogy as well as the genealogy of Jesus.   It is the place where we find our roots in our faith tradition and it has a lot to tell us about what a  complex and diverse, and even quirky, family we are as the people of God.

In Native American tribes, there are always members  of the tribe who are the memory keepers.  They are the ones who remember the ancestors and can tell the stories that go back at least seven generations  and often much farther back than that.  Some of you can go pretty far back.  With effort I can trace back one line of my lineage to the 1700s, but for the most part I can only go back  3 or 4 generations – and many of the stories are lost with only names and dates surviving.   Whenever I would talk with my dad about family history he would jokingly say “You might not want to look too closely.  There’s probably a lot of horse thieves in the family tree.”

But we do have a fascination with our ancestors.  ANCESTRY.COM  and mail order DNA testing and other similar resources are gaining in popularity as people seek to understand where they came from.  The first 17 verses of Matthew are an ancient forerunner of our digital age efforts to reclaim our lineage.   

Our faith ancestors are a fascinating bunch.  Matthew’s story carries us backward from Jesus 42 generations!  Now that is an ancestral line!  One of the benefits I have derived from studying Torah with Jewish friends is that I have come to embrace the many rich and colorful characters in the first 5 books of the Bible as my own family of grandparents and great grandparents – – an oooh – – the stories!!

Most of us are familiar with the story of Grandfather Abraham and Grandmother Sarah. We’ve heard how Grandfather Abraham packed up the family to head out on a faith journey without knowing where he was going or where he would end up.  We try not to think too much about how he passed Grandmother Sarah off as his sister to save his own skin – with her ending up in a foreign king’s harem until Abraham’s trick was discovered.   We might not ever think about Grandmother Tamar who seduced her father-in-law, Judah, to gain some justice for herself  and as a result gave birth to Perez who would be the great grandfather of Nachshon.   

According to a traditional story, all the Israelite slaves who were escaping from Pharoah were huddling on the shore of the Reed Sea – looking at the cold, dark water and then at each other and saying “you go first – -No – YOU go first.”  Nachson took the leap of faith and walked into the murky water – – up to his knees – – up to his chin – – up to his eyeballs – – when – – finally, the waters parted and Israel crossed the Reed Sea on dry land. Now – – there is a courageous great grand father to be proud of!   Nachshon lives on to become the grandfather of Boaz whose mother is Rahab  – a prostitute.  Boaz marries Ruth – a non-Israelite – a stranger – a widowed outsider – and eventually he and Ruth become the great grandparents of David.   14 generations!   And we have barely scratched the surface.  The next 14 generations produce many kings – some wise – like Solomon, David’s son.  Some great reformers like Hezekiah.  Others not so great, like the inept Jechoniah who was the first of the  kings to go into exile and who was later cursed by Jeremiah – that he might never have sons. 

The next 14 generations after that produce names that are less familiar to us – more obscure – until the lineage gets to Matthan, the father of Jacob who is the father of Joseph who is the husband of Mary who is the mother of Jesus.

Matthew’s is the only gospel that takes the time to set down the genealogy of Jesus.   So I have wondered why?  Why does this writer want us to know where Jesus came from?  And what can we learn for ourselves by paying attention to our spiritual family history?  What is the point of including the ancestors at the beginning of the story of Jesus when it is so easy to just skip over them and ignore them?   What do we gain from knowing Jesus’ family history?

There are a couple of things that I take from the stories that are embedded in Jesus’ genealogy.   First, placing Jesus with his ancestors helps us to know that as a human being he came from somewhere – he had roots – he had a cultural identity.  He had heard the stories of his ancestors from the time he was a child. He was rooted and grounded in his sense of who he was and where he came from. As a Jew, he was accountable to all the generations that preceded him.   We don’t often think of him as being a person with a family history – with grandparents and great grandparents who had hopes and dreams and expectations.

Second, by telling us about Jesus’ ancestry, Matthew helps us to understand  a little more  about why people were so eager to accept Jesus as a Messiah when he finally appeared on the historical scene.  Matthew creates the family history that tells the story of the longing for a leader for Israel – – and he gives it a very human face. The story grounds the reality of Jesus in the flesh and blood history of a real people.

Third, Matthew gives us the opportunity to graft  ourselves into that family tree just by being connected with Jesus as the center of our faith tradition. The branches of Jesus’ family tree are full of illustrious figures like King David and Abraham – but they are also filled with people from the margins – – widows, wise people, prostitutes, adulterers, foreigners, and a few scoundrels.  The genealogy teaches us that all are welcome and part of the great family tree. Matthew leaves no one out. 

But lastly, my own personal take on the importance of the family history is that without too much searching, we can see the trace of God weaving throughout the stories and adventures and relationships of all the colorful characters – -God’s trace flowing through history in flesh and blood people.   I think Matthew gives us a lot of permission to look at our own physical family tree and see the trace of God weaving its way through our personal histories as well. From Abraham to Jesus, generation after generation  divine influence and grace is demonstrated in the story.  We might entertain the notion that that Divine influence continues on in our own family patterns and ancestry – always working to bring about the intention of the Holy One – regardless of how unpromising our own family trees might appear to be.  The genealogy of Jesus gives our own biological family history significant meaning.  Our ancestry becomes a means of grace.  Whatever the twists and turns our lineage has taken, it has brought us to this moment in time.

As we move deeper into Lent and into this year, 2017, we will be continually confronted by issues of identity – – by questions about who belongs and who doesn’t. Our fears about people clinging to the delicate branches of the human family tree will be cultivated and exploited. Whole families will be left wondering when and if they will ever feel safe and at home in the human family.   It behooves us to learn about and embrace our spiritual ancestors – to discover from their rich diversity what they have to teach us about identity and inclusion.

We can learn as much from their imperfections and scandals as we can from their illustrious and God-inspired accomplishments.   As we continue the journey toward Jerusalem in the weeks ahead, may we be more alert to searching for the bones of our ancestors.  May we be about the work of fleshing out our own stories so that we can see how they blend and harmonize with the stories of the rest of humankind.   

At the end of our visit with Mike Standing Soldier and his friend, Stan No Heart, a very soft and gentle clasping of hands was passed around the circle with the whispered words “Mitakue Oyasin” – – “we are all relatives.”  A prison courtyard seems like the last place to look to find hope, but there it is in the story of a young boy and his grandfather’s wisdom.  Finding our drum and learning to dance is the stuff of another sermon.  For now it is enough to think about re-collecting the bones of our ancestors so that we might find the way to live with all our relatives in the world in greater peace.


Between Two Gardens 3/5/17

Between Two Gardens

Genesis 2:15-17 and 5:1-7

Matthew 4:1-11

Chilmark Community Church

March 5, 2017

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

It would seem that whether one finds oneself in a lush and primal garden or in the middle of the wilderness, there is danger and temptation in the Bible.  There be serpents and devils abroad!  I love that we begin Lent in the Garden of Eden and that we will end Lent in another garden – -Gethsemane this time – – and how different the two gardens are in terms of what they mean to us. And in between the gardens there is time in the desert wilderness.

Let’s begin in the first garden.  Depending upon how we read the story, this is a tale either of our descent into a failed experiment on the part of God – – or it is a story of our immediate elevation to a status just a little lower than the angels.

We begin with a gift and a command.  The gift is a glorious place to live with meaningful work to do.  “God took the human and placed him in the garden” and gave him responsibility for caring for it as God’s steward.  There are all kinds of good fruit bearing trees and full permission to eat from any of them  EXCEPT… and here comes the command: There will be no eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil on pain of death. 

This is the stuff of a good story.  Any of us who have had any dealings with toddlers, or even teenagers, for that matter, know the fundamental truth that if you set down the rule that under no circumstances are they to pull at that shiny ornament just within reach on the Christmas tree or sample that pot that seems so enticing when all the other kids are doing it – – before you know it,  that  ornament – and maybe even the tree will come crashing down – and the teenager is going to experiment.   But – God tries anyway – – do not eat of this particular tree or you will be punished – you will die.

There are ALWAYS reasons why human beings skirt or break the rules.  And there is always someone else to blame for the transgression.   The serpent says “come on – try it. “ The Woman says “no – If I do I will die.”  The Serpent says “Naaahhh! -You won’t die.  God only said that because God knows that if you eat it you will become like God – you will know the difference between good and evil.”

She bites the fruit – – she shares it with her human buddy – – he blames her – – she  blames the serpent – – and the rest is history.

For centuries, this story has been used to help us understand how sin and suffering came into the world.  It has also given us someone to blame for it all.   If we give weight to 4th century Christian thinker and eventual saint, Augustine, we understand that it is through woman that sin came into the world – that woman is the devil’s gateway.  Augustine and others of the early church fathers were very committed to this line of reasoning and interpretation.   At different  times across the 2000 year history of the church  women have suffered stigmatization, abuse and discrimination because of the  of the early church fathers exclusive interpretation of the story.

But they do not have the last word and theirs is not the only line of meaning that might come out of this ancient story of humankind’s beginnings.  Other interpreter’s find a different way of looking at it.  A place to start might be with the serpent – that much maligned creature so often equated with fear, poison, slipperiness, death.   The serpent is  described as  cunning – crafty – having skill.  It seems that the serpent knows a little more about God than the humans do at this point – – and the serpent knows that the woman will not literally die if she chooses to do what is necessary to know the difference between good and evil.  So the serpent says “go ahead -try it!”

The woman makes a choice.  She eats the fruit of the forbidden tree.  Does she instantly know the difference between good and bad?  The story doesn’t say.  But it tastes so good that she offers it to her partner – and immediately they see the world with different eyes. …their eyes are opened.

Actually, a kind of death does, indeed, happen.   They become fully conscious human beings – –  responsible for their own actions – – they suffer consequences from every choice they make from then on.  Like the serpent that appears to die as it sheds its skin when it no longer fits, the first humans “die” to a kind of innocent unconsciousness in order to become fully functioning adults in relationship with God.  This may be our earliest story of death and resurrection.  Rather than pointing to the sin and depravity of humankind, the story embraces curiosity and a hunger for something more. The story embraces life. And it tells the truth.  When human beings are ready and willing to strive for  a higher levels of conscious awareness, there will be consequences.  A certain naivete needs to die – and with increased knowledge and wisdom about both the goodness and the evil that pervade all of life  comes increased responsibility for that knowledge.

The fundamental principle of the story is so contemporary as we daily have to come to terms with what technology and social media have unleashed in our lives.  We are at a Garden of Eden moment as we figure out how to be responsible for all the increased awareness of good and evil, for what it means for our lives and for how we take responsibility for what we can know and do.  We have tasted the fruit – and it is really good – – but now we have to learn how to live with the consequences.

Serpents gradually came to be equated with the devil – with Satan.  But in the Hebrew scriptures, the word Satan only means “adversary”.  Biblical thought has no conception of a devil personified with horns, tail and pitchfork. That imagery came much later in the church’s development.   Indeed, in the scriptures, the adversary occasionally works in realtionship with God to bring about God’s purposes.  We meet just such an adversary in the Book of Job. If we follow the more ancient meaning of the word, Satan – Adversary –  we might find that the serpent in the story accomplishes God’s yearning for human partnership in the work of sustaining creation.  God needs partners who know the difference between good and evil.  I just happen to think it is really cool that the woman is the one who takes the first step! And here is a curious note.  The woman is not given a name until the 20th verse of Chapter 3 when Adam names her Chavah or Eve, and she is identified as The Mother of All Living.  Her name means  “Life.”  She receives her life bestowing name after she has broken the rule and after God has meted out the consequences for her choice to taste the fruit.   

Perhaps 500-1000 years after this story of our human origins was circulating around the campfires, another amazing human being emerges on the scene.  He begins his life journey in total innocence as a long awaited infant.

We catch up with him as he leaves his baptismal waters and begins a 40 day sojourn in the wilderness.   As a young adult, he is already fully conscious of what his moral and ethical and spiritual responsibilities are all about.  He already has the gift of being fully and intelligently human – passed on to him through the centuries of the evolution of God’s people.   But even he wrestles – just as his ancestors did.  His temptations are even greater – because his heightened degree of consciousness and sense of responsibility are greater. 

He must turn down the temptation to supersede  the laws of God by turning stones into bread.   He must turn down the invitation to test God by throwing himself off the highest  point of the temple to see if God will really save him.  He must turn down the offer of wealth and power in order to be faithful to serving God.  In a very short time, his conscious refusal to knuckle under to the enticements set before him will lead him to the second garden.

The stories provide a curious balance for each other.  On the one hand, the humans are given a direct limitation by God – do not eat the fruit of that particular tree.  Because the woman is curious  (what is she doing exploring the garden all by herself?) she interacts with a stranger in the form of a serpent.  In that moment, what the serpent says makes sense to her.  She risks her very life in the service of learning more.  She tastes the fruit.  She and her partner eat together.  It is only after this sharing of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that  she becomes “the mother of all living.” 

On the other hand, Jesus resists the enticing temptations set before him in the wilderness – – he refuses to be led off course back into a lesser state of consciousness that would make magic and power and money his way of life.  He chooses the much harder way of being fully conscious and aware of his truest nature as  the offspring of God.   The woman was threatened with death as a result of her choice – – and she lived.

Jesus  made a choice that would lead to his death.  The paradox is that by his refusing what the world had to offer in the way of power and wealth and the kind of security that  might have come with them, he shows us the Way to eternal life. 

Our choices are not always as clear or dramatic – but we have to make them every day.  In the world we live in, we are constantly bombarded with the choice to live fully in richness and integrity because we seek greater knowledge and awareness of what is going on around us.  The Mother of All Living  bequeathed us this ability when she chose to eat that forbidden fruit.

With the presence of Jesus in front of us,  we have a greater awareness that our choices for the right and the good and the just may be very costly – – – those choices may lead to persecution, imprisonment – perhaps even death. 

As we set our faces toward Jerusalem with Jesus in these next 40 days, it is well to keep both gardens in our line of vision.  In our thinking, in our spiritual lives, in our actual physical interactions, we are continually faced with the choice for ignorance and bliss on the one hand – – and the knowledge of good and evil on the other. Jesus and the Mother of All Living chose knowledge, wisdom, clear vision and resistance to whatever might cloud a bright and alert human consciousness to the reality of life that God places before us. 

Both made choices that led to a kind of death – for the woman it was the death of ignorance and bliss.  For Jesus it was the death of his body on the cross.  Both made the paradoxical choices that led to the fullness of life that is possible in partnership with the  presence of God.  Between the Garden of Eden and the Garden of Gethsemane  there is life – the everyday challenges that we face as we try to live consciously in the way that Jesus did.  We are challenged to make the same kinds of choices that faced Jesus.  We are given the gift of a simple meal to both remind us and to sustain us along the way.  May God grant us the curiosity of the Mother of All Living and the faithful wisdom of Jesus as we find our way to the table.

HOW DOES GOD GUIDE? Feb. 26, 2017


MATT. 7:21-28 REV. ARMEN HANJIAN FEB. 26, 2017

A man moved out West and joined a Lutheran Church; a drought came and ruined his crops. He concluded God didn’t want him in that Church. So he joined the Baptist Church; lightning struck his barn and it burned down. So he joined the Methodist Church and that year his wife ran off with another. He fell down on his knees and thanked God for leading him to the right Church.

Most people don’t expect to be guided by God. I believe there is a rightful place to seek and find guidance from the Creator of the Universe – the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. To honestly seek God’s direction is a great act of faith, for it means you believe God is a living God – a God who can respond.

Most of us would acknowledge that over the years there is some guidance from God by way of evolution. The question for today is, “Can God be counted on to give concrete guidance in the affairs of individuals and nations? I am convinced the answer is yes. Allow me to share some of the ways God guides those who seek God’s guidance.

I say “those who seek God’s guidance because this matter of freedom seems to be tied up with how God deals with us. God will guide , but will not over ride. A minister once stood by a coffin of a young man whose life was cut off untimely by human measurements. After the young widow poured out her grief and asked the unanswerable questions, the minister said, “God will give you strength and faith, and out of this good will come. “ “No”, she answered, “good will not come out of it!” And no matter how much God wills it, good will not come out of it for her unless she also wills it. God will guide, but God will not over ride.

With that as background let us turn to the channels most used in discovering God’s will for given situations. Perhaps it’s too obvious but we must say that God would have us discover God’s will by using our minds. An instance of intelligence of being a useful test of God’s will is given in Dr. Heiser’s book, “An American Doctor’s Odyssey”. He was the health officer in Manila when cholera broke out in various parts of the city. Simultaneously, a fisherman reported a miracle in the bay. He had observed on the surface of the water a black streak in the form of a cross and the water was sweet not salty. He called the priest who confirmed the miracle. The people then paddled out carrying bottles and drank the holy liquid. Immediate investigation revealed a break in the sewer, whereupon Dr. Heiser appealed to the police to suppress the miracle. He was told that the people would riot against interference with what they believed to be the will of God. The doctor said he would rather deal with a riot than an epidemic. So the people were held back until the sewer was repaired. What God wants us to do should meet the test of intelligence.

St. Paul counseled whatsoever things are honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, worthy of praise, think on these things. Fix your mind on them, dwell on them. Don’t let your mind go where the wind blows, where the advertisers want it to go.

Another channel which should be obvious, but is seldom appropriately used is reading the Bible. If you really want to fix your mind on things worthy of praise, let biblical thoughts soak your thinking. This is exactly what Jesus did – how often he quoted from the Psalms and Isaiah and other writing in the Hebrew scriptures – some call the Old Testament.

I’m sure he didn’t seek God’s direction like the man who opened the Bible and pointed and it read: “Judus went out and hung himself. He didn’t like that guidance so he pointed again and it read “Go thou and do likewise.” Didn’t like that. Pointed again and it read ”What thou hast to do, do quickly.”

No, Jesus let the collected wisdom and insight given to others be one of his guides. He knew well the saying, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” The Bible may not be as specific as we would like it to be – it doesn’t tell us simplistically how to deal with marriage problems or environmental problems for today, but it does provide us with the norms to deal with these and other problems – that is what keeps it from being out dated. The Bible speaks to us and then we are better able to speak to the situation that confronts us. The norms of love, forgiveness, obedience and Christlikeness are but a few of the graces God would have grow in us. We can be sure of this, that God will never guide you in a way that cuts across the Christ we know in the Bible.

In addition to our minds and the Bible, the conscience can be used by God to direct us. Yet, it is not sufficient to say, “Let your conscience be your guide.” A Hindu was once asked what would happen if he should break caste and no one else knew about it. He replied that his conscience would trouble him. Now my conscience would trouble if I kept a caste system. Two consciences trained to approve opposite things. For a conscience to be a safe guide, it must be trained at the feet of Christ.

So often we make our decisions by our immediate desires, but Christians should be guided by long-term purposes. The training of our consciences is a long-term matter which will stand us in good stead in our specific decisions.

One of the most rewarding and joyous channels to discover God’s will is the channel of prayer. Too often prayer can degrade from communion and communication to requests for God’s blessing on decisions we have already made. We make the same error that the Disciples made: we offer God two propositions and then wait for God to give us an inkling as to which we should follow. The Disciples you recall put up two men to take the place of Judus, and asked God which of the two men God approved; they cast lots. And the lot fell on Matthias. But apparently God didn’t choose either. He chose Paul. I like the way George Buttrick put it: Prayer is “exposing oneself to the promptings of God.” Prayer can put things in proper perspective such that we see God’s will and receive from God determination and power to do it.

God also guides us by bringing to our door opportunities and needs. Dick Sheppard, the great preacher, said, “Christianity does not consist in abstaining from doing things no gentleman would think of doing, but doing things that are unlikely to occur to anyone who is not in touch with the Spirit of Christ.”

The story is told about a widow of a preacher who cared for all the orphans and illegitimate children and poor in the neighborhood. A man in town so much appreciated her work that he had built for her a snug little home on his property and equipped it with new furniture. The first person she invited into it was the most disreputable woman in town. Horrified, he asked how she could have invited such a creature into her pretty new home. The old lady’s quiet reply was, “Jesus would.”

None of us should dare to seek directions for the intricacies of life if we do not follow God’s guidance in the simplicities of life.

There are other ways God can guide us. Let me share one more: certainly God can guide us through other persons. How many of you owe your spiritual heritage and life to some great or unknown saint that passed your way? “Yes there are many channels to discover God’s directives,” you say, “but I want to be absolutely certain I’m doing God’s will.” E. Stanley Jones, the Methodist missionary wrote, “Do not expect guidance to be as explicit as two plus two makes four. There will always be a degree of probability in any of his guidance, for that degree of probability puts adventure and daring into life, and it is at the point of adventure and daring that we grow. Guidance must be sufficiently clear to act upon but never so clear that an act of adventurous faith is not required.” In another place he wrote, “If you do make mistakes in guidance, don’t be discouraged. I have mentioned the Disciples did 31 things which were wrong and yet were guided into changing the world. You may slip up on the marginal things and yet be centrally right.”(The Way, p282; Growing Spiritually p277)

In so many things, it is later on that we see how God has guided us. No one would assume there was no point to a plot in the middle of a novel. Even at this point in my life I am more and more sure that God has guided me. God guided me into the ministry through an ordinary person; although the ground of my life had been nurtured before and after that one invitation. Biblical standards I see have become some of my many daily standards. I almost went to the church in Clinton N.J. – there was a nice-looking red head on their pastoral relations committee, and besides I never heard of that odd-named Church of Mt. Horeb. But I thank continually God for guiding me there and for guiding me here.

How has God guided you? Tell others about it. It is a witness you alone can make and if you don’t make it we are cheated of spiritual encouragement and you may lose your faith that God guided you at all.

An African patient once asked Dr. Albert Schweitzer, “Why did you come?’ The doctor replied, “Jesus sent me.” My friends God guided that man and he can guide you into avenues of service and love.

Only those who want direction and seek after it with heart and mind, with patience and honesty, who devote blocks of time to the quest can ever hope to find direction.

The promise remains: those who seek will find.