DECEMBER 10..Ready and Waiting for lunch customers.
Chilmark Community Church
December 4, 2016
Rev. Vicky Hanjian
Our sacred texts are full of physical metaphors for our use during Advent. This week, Isaiah offers us the image of the tree as a figure through which to understand God’s work in bringing about new life out of what seems to be utter hopelessness. Just before the verses we heard from today’s text Isaiah wrote these words about the destruction of the Assyrian army that was advancing on Israel:
“Look, the Sovereign, the Lord of hosts, will lop the boughs with terrifying power; the tallest trees will be cut down, and the lofty will be brought low. He will hack down the thickets of the forest with an axe, and Lebanon with its majestic cedars will fall.” This is an image of forestry management writ large.
As the Assyrian army advanced with their spears erect, they, indeed, looked like a forest, like the cedars of Lebanon. But, in one night they were decimated. According to Isaiah, God acted in Israel’s be half, much as a forester might act when managing the woodland resources – God removed the advancing overgrowth that threatened what was left of Israel.
With barely a breath between the lines, we read next “a shoot shall come forth from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”
Armen and I have had many occasions to house sit for friends in Chilmark over the last 10 years or so. There are a lot of plants in the house and it has been my responsibility to keep them watered. Near one window in the living room there is a bare branch in a large flowerpot. It is strung with little white lights and is quite lovely when it is turned on after dark. That bare branch has been there for a long time. For a number of years I thought the branch was just an interesting foil for little white lights in the winter time. There was never any sign of life on it. Nevertheless, I dutifully watered it along with the other plants surrounding it – – just in case.
Then, one year, for the first time, I noticed tiny green buds at the ends of the branches. Over the two months that we were house sitting that year, the buds grew into large dramatic and beautiful, healthy green leaves. It was such a living image for the possibility of something new and alive growing out of something that seemed to be dead. I later learned that the branch is, indeed, a fig tree. But that will lend itself to another sermon at another time.
Last year, we decided a couple of the oaks in our back yard had to come down. They had been attacked by borer wasps and there was almost no foliage on them. A sure sign that they were dying – or dead already. All around our neighborhood oaks were dying and needing to be removed. So Armen took down the dead trees. This summer, barely year later, there is lush green growth coming out of the stumps.
Isaiah prophesied that a shoot would grow out of the stump of Jesse. Out of the humble beginnings of Jesse, the grandson of Ruth and Boaz and the father of the shepherd boy who would become King David would come yet another king who would rule a kingdom of peace and wisdom and justice. Isaiah prophesied that new life would emerge out of an Israel that was almost dead, decimated by war and violence, deceit and corruption.
Isaiah preached a message of profound hope to Israel for a new way of life under a new kind of king – a king who would be filled with the spirit of God – the Ruach Hakodesh – the spirit of holiness. This new king would be full of wisdom and understanding – he would be strong and wise. He would know God and would lead the people to know God.
Our faith ancestors envisioned the growth of the human family as “treelike” – hence the term “family tree.” These familial “trees of life” provided safe shelter as well as life-sustaining nourishment for all creatures, great and small dwelling in and under their protective branches. But the family tree of Israel had been seriously damaged by war and exile. Loyalty to God was fraying at the edges. Ineffective leadership was the frosting on the proverbial cake. Israel had been cut down to nothing more than a stump.
Into this time of near death, Isaiah brings a word of hope. “A shoot will spring up from the root of Jesse……” A few chapters later, God says “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing: now it springs forth. It shall spring up as the grass does from the earth; or it shall bud forth like the opening leaves and flowers – beautiful images that hint at the way in which God’s purposes come to pass.
As we know, at the time of the writing of Matthew’s Gospel, Israel is struggling again under the heel of the foreign domination – this time it is Rome. And again, the people are faltering in their faithfulness. The religious community is fractured. Fear abounds.
Into that mix, Matthew gives us a vivid image of John The Baptizer calling Israel to repentance. Camel hair and leather, locusts and wild honey – – kind of a wild man – – but people were listening. John was the “awakener” – – calling Israel to prepare for the new thing that God would do next to save and to heal God’s people –to bring new life out of oppression and tyranny, out of fear and sorrow. Calling the people to watch for that shoot that was promised.
The imagery of God, the forester, laying an axe to the root of the tree was a powerful one because it carried with it the memory of God’s decimation of the Assyrian armies in Israel’s behalf centuries before. But this time, the tree to be destroyed was the tree of internal corruption among religious and political leaders who collaborated with Rome.
John’s rant was aimed at people who should know better – – at people who ought to have been responsible for the bearing of good fruit – for leading Israel in the ways of God. John’s call to repentance brought with it dire warnings that reflect the violence of the time. “The axe is at the foot of the tree – – every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
The time was ripe for the appearance of a messiah and it is no wonder, then, that the early church embraced Jesus as the shoot that would spring from the stump of Jesse.
The hope for a messiah has been part of Jewish and Christian thought for centuries as people of faith have yearned for the kind of leadership that would take us to a place of wholeness and well-being – – to a time when the earth would be in such harmony that the unthinkable could happen – – that wolves and lambs and leopards and young goats, and cows and bears could all lay down together and the goats and the lambs and the cows would live to tell about it!
As our celebration of the Incarnation draws near, we, too, look with hope for the One who will satisfy our yearning for wholeness and peace and well being.
The real world is a messy and complicated place, and getting messier every day. There are many hard questions and no easy answers. The gap between rich and poor grows wider daily. Like lambs and wolves, we have a very uneasy dynamic between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. Migrant workers who harvest the food we find at the Stop and Shop cannot put healthy meals on the table for their own families. Violence in the streets and our current prison system attest to the venal racism that continues to infect our society. No matter how hard we try we cannot seem to create an economy and a health care system that will care well for human beings in every walk of life Fear and anxiety and mistrust threaten the fabric of life as we try to anticipate what lies ahead in 2017. It would be so easy to join our ancestors in their drift away from the center of all Life.
But it is Advent. The great promise of the coming of Jesus is that through his willingness to be fully human, he shows us we all have the capacity to live up to the potential given to us as human beings created in God’s image. The hope for a messiah stays alive because inside each one of us is the desire for the healing of the world. We deeply want to be made whole – to throw off all that seduces us into being cruel or indifferent or uncaring – – we deeply want a world made whole.
With the birth of Jesus comes the hope that we can be liberated from whatever it is that binds us to the dubious comfort of the status quo. When the power of his life and teachings reaches into the inner places in our deepest being, our energy becomes infectious. Little by little we find the power and the direction to do and be the large and small things that make the world a better place. We find in Jesus’ life and teachings what we need to become healers for the world. And this is how the messiah comes – – through all the large and small ways that Jesus inspires us to be in the world – – through our willingness to be vulnerable to his life and teaching – to do justice – – to love mercy – – to walk humbly and courageously with God. Indeed, the messiah is always coming into being – – a new thing springing forth – rich, newly green, alive – – emerging into this time and this place out of what might appear to be frustratingly dangerous, ineffective, lifeless and dead. We are challenged and invited to have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to welcome a messiah who is always coming into being.
This morning, we are given a symbolic meal to remind us of where our center of gravity is – where our promise of abundant life resides. Now, more than ever, we need to keep returning to that center for guidance, for comfort and for strength for the days ahead.
Last week we lighted the candle of hope. The reality of Jesus is our hope. This week we have lighted the candle of peace. Peace comes when we live out the reality of Jesus in our lives. Peace is knowing that God is at work everywhere at all times and in all places and in each one of us – – May we be a rich, green, dense, grove of trees in which God can take great pleasure from the good fruit we produce – – may we be the new thing that God is bringing forth in this Advent season. May we be living proof that, indeed, the messiah we yearn for is already at work in the world.
Gutters on Fellowship Hall cleaned: Pam and Clark Goff and Julie Flanders
Terrace shrubs pruned: Katy Upson
Terrace raked: Kathie Carroll and Pam
Leaves Blown off driveway and handicapped ramp: Tim Carroll
N.E. boundary walls weed whacked: Clark
MORE LEAVES TO HANDLE. “One Day at a Time”.
A TIME TO BLESS
The first verse of Chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes declares: “To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”
David Spangler asks: When is the time to bless? (p. 79)
For reflection: Think about all the times you encounter some form of blessing ie public occasions, worship, ceremonies etc.
When are the times you are most likely to encounter a formal blessing?
“Blessings are asked at beginnings and endings, and at many points in between. Indeed, any time we feel a situation or a person needs the benefit of divine providence we ask for a blessing. This is how we normally understand a blessing in our culture. It’s an invocation of the presence and the power of the sacred upon a person’s life or upon the function of an object.”
“BUT as much as a blessing is an invocation, it is also an act of discovering the part of us that moves in harmony on the dance floor of creation. In fact,
the art of blessing is not only about the act of blessing, but about an attitude towards the world, a way of seeing things that go beyond our ordinary perceptions.”
On Sunday we talked about somehow being in harmony with the greater mystery. We had difficulty naming it (which is as it should be!). Spangler uses the metaphorical language of flowing energy, of obstruction, and of openness.
Our tradition might use the term “grace” – the continual flowing of divine energy in our behalf.
Here are a couple of questions to ponder: Can you identify a time when you have felt yourself in “the flow” of blessing? of unexpected grace? (be careful not to censor your insight or understanding when something comes to mind).
As you recall, were you able to be in a state of openness – receptivity?
Did anything in you “obstruct” the flow? or were you able to receive and let it pass on through you in some way to its next “destination?” ie: can you identify a time when you were “blessed in order to be a blessing?’
“The real power of blessing is that it awakens us to the power of spirit. A blessing is an energizing of our sense of the sacred: the more we attune ourselves to that presence, the more we live in its midst.”
Chilmark Community Church
November 27, 2016
Rev. Armen Hanjian
Perhaps you noticed the sermon title, “Be Prepared,” as the motto of the Boy Scouts. Today is the first Sunday in Advent – that season when Christians start preparing to celebrate the coming of Christ. Advent means “the coming of the Savior.” As far as we know, Advent formally began in the 6th century when the cycle of the Christian year was being established. It implies both anticipation and preparation. I thought it was important for me and you to take seriously the phrase we sing: “Let every heart prepare him room.”
First thing to ask is, did Jesus have anything to say about being prepared? The answer is yes, specifically in his parable of the 10 maidens. He couches the parable of the coming of the kingdom, or better, the coming of the King, in terms of a wedding. The Interpreters Bible tells us that a wedding party was the greatest of all festivities in Palestine. Everything was put aside for the occasion, even the study of the sacred law. Naturally, the neighboring maidens, like all girls, would want to be present. The high point of the wedding was when the bridegroom took the bride from her father’s house to her new home, usually in a litter, and her attendants and guests would escort her there.
They had receptions in those days too. There were 10 maidens whose task it was to welcome the bridegroom when he arrived at the marriage feast. Usually it is the bride that’s late, but not in this case. He came at midnight. Jesus points out the 5 foolish maidens who did not prepare, who did not have foresight, who did not bring any extra oil for their lamps. He compared them to the 5 wise maidens who made preparation and brought extra oil that there might be light for the marriage feast. The fault was not in the fact that all the maidens fell asleep, but that the foolish just feel asleep, while the wise slept only after they made due preparations.
Some of you might feel that the wise maidens were not very Christ-like for refusing to share their extra oil. Parable usually have one major thrust and preparation was the thrust of this parable; however, how true it is that spiritual preparedness just cannot be shared. Christian courage cannot be given on demand to someone who all his days has led a life of a coward. Insight from years of prayer cannot be shared with someone who has been careless toward God all her life.
Jesus pointed to preparedness, too, when he told of the man who built his house upon a rock. Just as we can prepare for the storms and stresses of our physical life, there is value in preparation for our spiritual life – for those inevitable delays when we long for a manifestation of God. The Christian must learn to build up reserves of strength so that in all circumstances, favorable or unfavorable, one may cause his or her light to shine and thereby find a life of joy.
To prepare for the coming of the God-sent redeemer I ask myself the question, “How do I prepare in other areas of my life?”
For one thing, I am always making lists. I make lists of things I have to buy, things I have to do. I make lists for meetings. I make lists at my desk. My appointments I list on my calendars. Lists keep me from racking my brains to remember. Lists are constant reminders. Why not do some listing in your advent preparation -Persons you wish to visit, persons you could bless by calling on the phone, persons or situations for which to pray.
If you care about preparing, you will set time aside in your daily schedule, your weekly schedule. Most of us would like to have God revealed to us in more ways; are we willing to pay the cost of setting the time aside?
The same person who knows to learn mathematics knows he must study, seems to be ignorant that the life of the spirit demands preparation as well. Whether you are painting a house, rebuilding a basement or seeking connection with God, the successful outcome depends on time consuming, effort demanding preparation. I hope Santa Claus won’t be the only one who is “making a list and checking it twice.”
Another way I prepare in life is how I prepare for a sermon. As thoughts come to me that excite me, that I really connect with, I will write them down and place them in a file. When I am ready to prepare another sermon, I review the file, and if its apropos and I am still energized and connected with the words, I will read, pray, think and if all seems right, I will create a sermon to share. No one has the right to such a captive audience as you, unless he or she has tapped the best resources available. So you can see that for a long period of time, I keep in mind that for which I prepare.
A young man tells of a time his church had an outdoor nativity pageant including shepherds, wise men and animals. At the close of the first scene, before starting again, an intermission was held during which the cast would leave the stable to be warmed and have refreshments. After that first showing, a mother sent a note to the boy with this request: “Please don’t allow them to leave Baby Jesus out in the cold alone like that.” It seems, that during the intermission, no one thought to take the doll from the manger. That mother, caught in the drama of the narration, rebelled at leaving Jesus out in the cold. At first, said the young man, it caused us to chuckle, but on after thought, are we not often guilty of becoming so involved with the mechanics of religion and life that we leave Christ out in the cold? The how of it I leave to your ingenuity, but do your best to keep Christ in your thoughts every day.
A third way all of us prepare in life is when we expect guests. You know what you do. Listen to what Christians in Iceland do as they prepare to welcome the King of Heaven. Charles W. Koller describes the peculiar customs in his book Tents Toward the Sunrise. “First of all, everything must be clean for Christmas. Every corner of the house and every bit of clothing must be immaculate. All necessary repairs must be made, however inconspicuous the need. All of this is symbolic and preliminary. The greater preparation is that of the heart. All differences must be reconciled. Then there are gifts, family reunions and fellowship with friends. And over all, there hovers the sweet consciousness of the coming of Christ into the world and into the hearts of men.”(and women)
When you prepare for company what do you do? You make lists. You keep the coming visitors in mind. You clean house. How important all these steps are. One year when Life magazine was preparing its Christmas issue, A photographer was sent to the School of San Roco in Italy to get pictures of the wonderful Tintoretto murals of the nativity. With every conceivable kind of light, the photographer attempted to capture the natural colors of the paintings, but he could not. Upon close examination, it was revealed that these murals of the nativity had been overlaid with 4 centuries of varnish, dust and the accumulation of dirt through which the radiant of colors of the paintings could not shine. Only when polaroid light was used could the authentic colors get through to the camera.
And has this not been the case with Christmas in our day? The real meaning has been overlaid with what Robert E. Luccock calls “….centuries of sentimental varnish and commercial dust until millions see Christmas only the sweet story of a baby shuffled off to a manger for whom we are moved to pity, or the occasion for an organized, commercialized, vulgarized carnival of gaudy splendor.”
An unknown poet in the 17th century has written some lines which, for me, perfectly capture the reaction of such humans as we. He describes in old English what our response would be if our nation’s President, in his case it was a king, should come to visit our home. Then he compares that with the-coming-toward-us of the God-sent Redeemer.
Yet if his majesty, our sovereign lord,
Should of his own accord
Friendly himself invite,
And say, “I’ll be your quest to-morrow night,”
How we should stir ourselves, call and command
All hands to work! “Let no man idle stand!”
Set me fine Spanish tables in the hall,
See they be fitted all;
Let there be room to eat,
And order taken that there want no meat.
See every sconce and candlestick made bright,
That without tapper they may give a light.
“Look to the presence: are the carpets spread,
The dazie o’er the head,
The cushions in the chairs,
And all the candles lighted on the stairs?
Perfume the chambers, and in any case
Let each man give attendance in his place.”
Thus if the King were coming would we do,
And ‘twere good reason too;
For ‘tis a duteous thing
to show all honour to an earthly king,
And after all our travail and our cost,
So he be pleased, to think no labour lost.
But at the coming of the King of Heaven
All’s set at six and seven:
We wallow in our sin,
Christ cannot find a chamber in the inn.
We entertain Him always like a stranger,
And, as at first, still lodge Him in a manger.
If we would entertain the God who befriends us, let us
“Walking The Psalms With Walter”
Chilmark Community Church
November 20, 2016
Rev. Vicky Hanjian
Well – – we are at Thanksgiving Sunday – – preparing to celebrate a national day of gratitude. More than at any other time of the year, the Psalms give us the words that fit the occasion. We don’t often turn to them outside of their occasional use in the liturgy and aside from the best known ones, we may not really know what is in this beautiful prayer book that is almost always right at our finger tips. I have been especially drawn to these ancient poems over the past week.
I’d like to introduce you to another of my “walking buddies” – Walter Brueggemann – – not an actual, physical walking buddy – I met him only once, years ago, but he’s a dear friend and spiritual mentor and companion, nonetheless. He is about my height, and a bit on the stocky side. When I last saw him he was graying and sporting a full beard that did nothing to hide his piercing, energetic black eyes. I have been walking all week with Walter as my guide in my exploration of the Psalms – – these amazing poetic glimpses of human life and anguish and celebration.
In his little book THE MESSAGE OF THE PSALMS Walter identifies three major themes in the Psalms. He calls them poems of orientation, poems of disorientation, and poems of new orientation. He invites us to recognize that The Psalms are a beautiful witness to the fact that “human life consists in satisfied seasons of well being that evoke gratitude for the constancy of blessing… the “Psalms of Orientation” give us words for affirming God’s goodness and reliability and consistency – they bubble with joy, and happiness and delight in well-being.1 Listen to a few verses from Psalm 93:
God acts within every moment
and creates the world with each breath.
God speaks from the center of the universe,
in the silence beyond all thought.
Mightier than the crash of a thunderstorm,
mightier than the roar of the sea,
is God’s voice silently speaking
in the depths of the listening heart.2
Psalms of “orientation” celebrate the daily order of life – the regularities that we experience as reliable and dependable. They often celebrate the created order. These Psalms give thanks to God for ordering and sustaining creation and indeed our very lives. They remind us to give prayers and songs of thanksgiving to God out of sheer gratitude for creation and for everything in life that we enjoy. Listen to these lovely words of gratitude for creation from Psalm 104:
The mountains shelter the wild goats;
rock squirrels dwell in the cliffs.
You created the moon to count the months;
the sun knows when it must set.
You make darkness, it is night,
the forest animals emerge.
The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
The sun rises, they withdraw
and lie down together in their dens.
Humans go out to their labor
and work until it is evening.
How manifold are your creatures, Lord!
With wisdom you made them all;
The whole earth is filled with your riches.
I will sing to you every moment;
I will praise you with every breath.
May all selfishness disappear from me,
and may you always shine from my heart. 3
We sing songs of praise when life is good, ordered, balanced, whole. Our orientation is toward the goodness of God. Joy, well-being, dependability, security, the connections of healthy relationships, enough food on the table, shelter over our heads, the safety of our kids and grandkids, our health….
all of this brings the words “Thank God!” up out of our hearts and to our lips just as they did for the Psalmist.
But, as Walter reminds us: “life also has its seasons of confusion and anguish and hurt and alienation – – suffering and death. These times can evoke feelings of sorrow, fear, rage, self pity, resentment – and for these times the psalmist gives us the psalms of “disorientation” – – poems that match the “ragged disarray”. Psalms of “disorientation” are full of extravagant lament, and abrasiveness – – poetry that helps us to give expression to the sorrow and suffering and anxiety and pain that we endure from time to time….Life is not all equilibrium, coherence and symmetry. Life is also sometimes savagely marked by disequilibrium, incoherence, and asymmetry.4 Life is marked by unwanted surprises like serious illness, the loss of a friend’s child to drug overdose, a costly, leaky roof, the unanticipated pain that follows surgery, the devastation of a nation after a hurricane, the disorienting confusion and anxiety following a national election.
The Psalms give us words to pray when life falls apart. From Psalm 13:
How long will this pain go on, Lord,
this grief I can hardly bear?
How long will anguish grip me
and agony wring my mind?
Light up my eyes with your presence;
let me feel your love in my bones.
Keep me from losing myself
in ignorance and despair.
Teach me to be patient ,Lord;
teach me to be endlessly patient.
Let me trust that your love enfolds me
when my heart feels desolate and dry.
I will sing to the Lord at all times,
even from the depths of pain.5
Walter observes that our hymns most often focus on equilibrium, coherence and symmetry – – all the positive things we attribute to God’s grace and creative goodness. But he also reminds us that “our dependence on the hymns of orientation may deceive and cover over or, worse, ignore, that life in our time is tumultuous, out of balance, and sometimes crazily incoherent.” 6 Psalm 13 that we just heard is a personal lament, but the Psalms also include the lament of the people as they mourn public events of loss. When Israel was in exile, there was tremendous grief. I expect it was not unlike what millions of refugees and immigrants are feeling today as they are uprooted from their homes and their countries by forces far beyond their abilities to change.
Psalm 137 is a lament of an entire people as they mourn a catastrophic public event – their exile in a foreign land:
By the rivers of Babylon –
there we sat down and wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
asked us for songs
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?
If I forget you O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you.
Perhaps the most familiar personal lament Psalm of disorientation is the one we hear from the lips of Jesus on the cross – the opening words of Psalm 22:
My God, my God, why have you
Why are you so far from helping me, from the
words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day but
you do not answer;
by night, but find no rest.
Walter finds it odd “that the church has continued to sing songs of orientation in a world increasingly experienced as disorienting.” He writes:” I think the serious religious use of the lament Psalms has been minimal because we have believed that faith does not mean to acknowledge and embrace negativity. We have thought that acknowledgement of negativity is an act of unfaith, as though the very speech about it conceded too much about God’s “loss of control.” 7 But if we are going to live authentic lives, there are times when we absolutely need to name our sorrows, our fears, our disabling events – -and we need safe places in which to do that – – and we need compassionate and receptive ears to receive our complaint. Healers of every stripe affirm that healing begins with naming what hurts. The lament Psalms of disorientation help us to do that – sometimes with dramatic words and images that aren’t even in our prayer vocabularies. Consider these words, also from Psalm 22:
I am poured out like water,
and all of my bones are out of
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.8
But, as Walter reminds us, the Psalms also attest to the reality that “we don’t take up permanent residence in anguish and alienation. Human life consists in turns of surprise when we are overwhelmed with the new gifts of God, when joy breaks through the despair. Where there has only been darkness, there is light.”9
And so the Psalmist gives us the songs of a new orientation – the songs that we sing when we realize that, indeed, God has heard our cries from the depths of our disorientation. Psalm 30 is perhaps the best example of a song of the new orientation. It tells the narrative of the passage into and out of a time of disorientation – of going into the trouble and coming out of the trouble – whatever it may be:
I thank you and praise you, Lord,
for saving me from disaster.
I cried out, “Help me, dear God;
I’m frightened and have lost my way.”
You came to me in the darkness;
You breathed life into my bones,
You plucked me from the abyss;
You made me whole.
You rescued me from despair;
you turned my lament into dancing.
You lifted me up; you took off
my mourning, and you clothed me with joy.10
We need Psalms with all three themes to help us experience all of life as cut from a whole piece of cloth. We need to affirm the goodness of the order of our lives in the midst of the good times. We need to be able to give a clear loud voice to all the range of negative emotions we feel when life spins out of control; and we need to recognize the new and greater gifts that come from God when we emerge from wherever the stress of disorientation takes us – we need to recognize and give thanks that God does not leave us there. Indeed, we may find ourselves praising God for the gifts that began to take shape even in the midst of the darkest times. Only then do our songs of thanksgiving rise with authenticity and integrity.
I want to close with words from Psalm 149:
Sing to the Lord a new song;
praise him with words and silence.
Praise god through all your actions;
Praise him in sorrow and joy.
Praise God with music and dancing,
with bodies moving in delight.
Let the wise sing out in their freedom;
let the whole earth echo their song.
Let all creatures be peaceful
and walk in the path of true life.
Thanks for letting me share a little of my walk with Walter this week and may you come to the day of Thanksgiving with full hearts wherever you find yourself in the continuum of orientation -disorientation and new orientation. If the truth were known, we occupy these multiple worlds simultaneously most of the time – and God dwells with us wherever we are. Thanks be to God.
1Walter Brueggemann THE MESSAGE OF THE PSALMS A Theological Commentary Augsburg Press, Minneapolis 1984 p. 19
2 Stephen Mitchell A BOOK OF PSALMS Selected and Adapted From the Hebrew; First Harper Perennial Edition, New York, 1994. p.42.
3 Stephen Mitchell, A BOOK OF PSALMS Selected and Adapted from the Hebrew First Harper Perennial Edition, New York, 1994 p. 54
4 Brueggemann p.19
5 Mitchell p. 6
6 Brueggemann p.
7 Brueggemann p.52
8 Psalm 22:14-15 NRSV
9 Brueggemann p. 19
10 Mitchell p.16
THE BLESSING WAY
Adult Bible Study and Discussion
Chilmark Community Church
BEGINNING ON SUNDAY NOVEMBER 27 FOR 3-4 WEEKS
In spiritual communities here and there around the country the idea of “blessing” is coming into the foreground. More and more books are appearing on the theme. Some writers simply lift up the possibility that we could live lives of blessing; others devise exercises to be used in small groups or between two people to practice blessing each other; still others create poetry and daily meditations to help seekers develop a sensibility for “blessing.”
The notion of “blessing” is a central theme in our scriptures. In the book of Genesis alone, the word is used more than 50 times as the earliest narratives of our beginnings unfolds. So, it seems we could be in a “blessed movement” as we explore the idea of blessing.
I’d like to propose 3-4 sessions, beginning on November 27 (Sunday after Thanksgiving).
Genesis seems to be a good place to start since the notion of blessing is so prevalent there. Across the narrative, blessing happens in many ways. God blesses creation. God blesses humans. Humans bless God. Humans bless each other. Sometimes blessings move the narrative along in a happy and generous way, but sometimes blessings backfire.
For the 1st session:
Read several selections from the following:
Genesis 1:22 and 28
Genesis 9: 1-10
Genesis 17: 15-16
These are the verse where a few blessings are named. You will need to read a bit on either side of these verses to get a feel for the context.
Keep in mind several questions: Who is blessing whom? How is the blessing received? What is the possible outcome of the blessing? Notice what effect the blessings have on you.
Would you want to be on the receiving end?
This will help us get started. Hope the topic and the timing will work for you.
As always, with abundant blessings, Vicky
“Where’s The Shepherd?l”
Chilmark Community Church
November 13, 2016
Rev. Vicky Hanjian
It has been a real challenge to know how and what to preach this morning. All through my seminary training, I was taught that when I was ordained, I would be ordained to the work of pastor, priest and prophet. I have been wrestling with knowing which “hat” I wear this morning. I identify most with the role of pastor, finding it very natural to care for others in a pastoral way. But this is a time for the voice of a prophet – one who speaks God’s irritable word of both challenge and warning – and God’s angry word of justice. I am not easily comfortable with that role. And somewhere in the process, the knowledge of how to be a priestly presence has to fit into the mix – how to orient myself and others toward God’s Holy Presence through order and ritual. Which hat do I wear and when? And, boy! Do I have a headache!
On three mornings a week, I walk for several miles at sunrise with my walking buddy, Rabbi Lori Shaller. On Wednesday morning, post election, the sunrise was glorious. Sengekentacket Pond was pristine. Its surface mirrored the ever changing colors of the grasses and almost imperceptible movement of the clouds overhead. Our practice is to stop on a small dock as we come around Farm Pond. We stand in the quiet as the day moves from darkness into light and we bless God – the One who separated light from darkness. Regardless of the weather on any given day, we have certainty that the day will move from darkness into light. Walking the ponds is a grounding exercise. It centers me in God – and God is a God who delights in order. The election has happened. Our sense of orderliness is disrupted. Many people around the country finally feel as though they have a voice and they are rejoicing. This is their right to do as their candidate has won. Many others woke up in shock and disbelief on Wednesday morning – knowing that life has undergone an irrevocable change – and feeling a sudden loss of stability – – feeling as though a massive death has happened.
Mercifully, the poison and vitriol has stopped for awhile. The sense of ambiguity and ambivalence that has pervaded our lives over these last months has abated somewhat. A decision has been made. But there is no avoiding the fact that the election has activated fear and anxiety and uncertainty about what the future will look like for our country. The results are reverberating around the world and we cannot yet begin to see what it will all mean. As I listen to people’s reactions I hear profound grief, unbelief, fear, anger, dread and a sense of hopelessness. These are the emotions triggered by sudden and dramatic change. Perhaps with a little more time, they will begin to soften. We will move through these initial days together. We will regain our balance.
One of the questions Lori and I often entertain as we ponder life and the events that we observe is: “Where is God?” How is the Eternal One manifesting in this or that situation or process?
Not being a strong prophetic voice in my own person, I gravitate to the strength of Jeremiah. He lived through a time of terrible political turbulence in ancient Israel. In Jeremiah’s time, the metaphor of ‘”shepherd” was applied to the ancient kings. Their role was to care for their people the way a shepherd cares for the flock. The mark of a good shepherd-king was that the people were safe, had food to eat, clothes to wear, and adequate shelter for their bodies, and were protected against foreign invasion. Jeremiah had sharp words for two self serving kings of Israel who disregarded their role as protectors of their people. Their failures resulted in invasion by foreign governments and a terrible, destabilizing and debilitating exile for Israel. The people were deported from their homeland and scattered. Israel was broken. They were without a shepherd.
As a nation, over the last year and a half at least, we have all – regardless of political affiliation – – been sinned against by the very people who would be our shepherds. We have been verbally and emotionally and psychologically abused, subjected to the sin of what the scriptures call l’shon hara – the evil tongue. The damage that has been done has had far reaching and as yet undetermined effects. The great sages teach that the evil tongue damages the one who speaks, the one spoken about – and the one who listens. It is the equivalent of murder because it kills the soul. It creates division and anger and hatred among the children of God – it sullies the image of God. Where is the shepherd?
While we were in Scotland, driving on one lane roads through the highlands, we saw flocks of sheep grazing everywhere on the hillsides. Quite often, they were grazing right at the roadside – – occasionally lying down to rest in the middle of the narrow, warm pavement – blocking traffic until they decided to get up and move. There were no fences in the vast, mountainous countryside – – not even any signs of human habitation for miles around – – no classic scenes of sheep dogs keeping an eye on things. The only sign that the sheep might belong to someone was the pink or blue or yellow splotch of spray paint on their rear ends. I couldn’t help wondering “Where is the shepherd?”
As we confront the reality of the brokenness and the divisions in our country, we might well hear Jeremiah’s strident voice railing: Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord.” In the ancient diatribe, God does not condemn the Assyrians or the Egyptians or the Babylonians who conquer Israel – – God condemns the failed shepherds – – the leadership of Israel itself.
The voice of the prophet resounds
But God also witnesses the trauma and confusion, the painful wounding, the disruptive forces of division and separation, the degradation of God’s people at the hands of leaders who are supposed to serve as shepherds. And after promising to attend to the evil of the shepherd-kings, God says: Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock – – I will bring them back to the fold – – and they will be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them – they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed – – nor shall any be missing. God intends to shepherd the people where human leadership has failed and promises to provide shepherds who will, indeed, care for the people. Words of hope, spoken to a fractured and broken people. Words of promise – – words intended to let the people know they were not alone -words of healing and reconciliation and wholeness. The voice of a pastoral God echoes in the text.
We find similar witnessing in Mark. In one of the more grisly episodes in the gospels, John the Baptist has just been beheaded. In the immediate aftermath of the trauma, the disciples gather around Jesus to tell him what has happened. Recall, for a moment, that Jesus and John the Baptist were cousins. The very political death of the Baptizer was also very personal and traumatic for Jesus. It affected all those who followed the Baptizer as well as those who followed Jesus. Their feelings of shock and grief and confusion and disbelief mirror our own. In the midst of the personal suffering of Jesus and the disciples the crowds gather again around Jesus. He witnesses them in their hunger, their fear, their pain and their confusion. Mark tells us: “as he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd…”
So – “Where is God ?” Our sacred texts tell us. God witnesses the confusion and anxiety and fractured-ness of our human condition. God is affected by it. God is not separated from it. God takes action. God does not abandon. God stands in the midst of the gathered multitude.
Mark’s gospel affirms this in such a succinct and subtle way : Jesus encounters a confused, fearful, suffering humanity – – caught in a storm of power and passion over which they have no control. He has compassion on them – – and – – “He began to teach them many things.” And then he feeds them.
We are in the throes of change. Anxiety and uncertainty are always a part of transition. This is heightened for us largely because of the destructive and negative nature of this election campaign. For months, we have been relentlessly exposed to language and attitudes that are an affront to our sense of respect and civility and accountability to and for one another. Trust has broken down. We are like scattered sheep. The divisiveness -the fracturing – the brokenness – – is not unlike the exile of Israel. Regardless of where we come down politically, we have all been affected by this. And now we dwell in these moments of exile and transition together.
As we traveled those sheep populated roads in Scotland, I realized that the presence of those pink and blue and yellow splotches meant that the sheep were of valued and did, indeed, belong to someone. Someone bought those sheep. Someone paid attention to careful breeding. Someone made sure that they were grazing in pastures that would sustain them. The sheep are valuable. It simply did not make sense that they would be left totally unattended. Someone, by means not visible to us as we traveled, was attending to those sheep.
Jeremiah reminds us that we dwell in the line of vision of God – that we are of inestimable value in God’s sight – – and that God notices.
Jesus noticed the disarray of the people – – like sheep without a shepherd. He had compassion on them. And then he taught them many things. My own faith tells me that we are in a teachable moment. In both scriptures, we are taught that God and Jesus respond to the suffering of their people with compassion and with action. That’s the “God model.”
For a time, we will be suffering together as we begin to find our way to some kind of stability as this massive transition occurs. We can be thankful that we have in this country a peaceful transfer of power when an administration changes. But we are not to be passive in the face of such tremendous change.
We are created in the image and likeness of God. God’s characteristics are lovingkindness, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, patience. We bear the image of God. We are empowered to offer gentleness, patience, forbearance, compassion and lovingkindness to one another and to all whom we meet.
The voice of the classical prophet calls for repentance – – for tshuva – – for a return to what is highest and truest – – It calls all of us – -both shepherds and sheep to reclaim our holiness as bearers of the image of God. True repentance requires that those who would be shepherds apologize for what they have done to the flock – – to vow that the sin against the flock will not ever happen again. This has never been more critical. It is the beginning of the path to healing.
As the sheep who have been scattered, we have a significant role in repairing our world too. Civility – – simple good manners – – thoughtfulness – – kindness – – patience – -all the things that we learned in 1st grade. We can make the choice to extend loving compassion under any circumstances. And, perhaps, as important as anything else, we can maintain a heightened vigilance in one another’s behalf, in behalf of the stranger, in behalf of the immigrant, in behalf of the most vulnerable populations in our midst.
Where’s God? – – God is present when suffering and confusion are witnessed, when compassion and understanding are offered. This is the antidote to a toxic environment. We can do this. We have the power. By listening to the Compassionate Teacher who sees us like sheep without a shepherd – – we can recognize the Shepherd in our midst – – in each other – – in ourselves. This our responsibility. We have an incredible opportunity to make the Presence of God known wherever we find ourselves these days – – plainly visible. I would like to close with a few lines from Nikos Kazantzakis, Greek author and poet who lived and wrote through two world Wars. He wrote this:
“And I strive to discover how to signal my
companions…to say in time a simple word, a
password, like conspirators: Let us unite, let us hold
each other tightly, let us merge our hearts, let us
create for earth a brain and a heart, let us give a
human meaning to the superhuman struggle.”
God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.
A message from Bishop Devadhar
John 21: 1-7
Chilmark Community Church
November 6, 2016
Rev. Vicky Hanjian
This morning we are in one of our most beloved and intriguing stories in the early biblical narratives about how the human community came into being – – the story of Noah. Noah appears in the narrative 10 generations after the story of Adam and Eve. Much has happened in those 10 generations. When we pick up the story here we find that the great experiment that had caused God to stand back and look at all of creation and call it good has now run amuck. Part of the problem begins with an odd note that “the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were fair and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose.” (6:2) The verse is reminiscent of the ancient Greek mythologies wherein the gods mated with human beings and a class of great heroes, neither divine nor human, were born. Genesis says that the Nephilim were on the earth in those days…these were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown” (6:4).
Biblical scholar, Aviva Zornberg, suggests that the function of God creating human beings has been usurped. Human beings now replicate themselves – and in so doing they replicate the divine image. But the image gets distorted. In the Garden of Eden, the two humans had desired to gain knowledge of Good and evil – – but by the time of Noah, humans seem to be unaware of the evil they have generated – -unaware of the self imposed evil under which they suffer. Evil overshadows all of life.1 The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. (6:5)
Zornberg cites Martin Buber: “man no longer knows or can discriminate between those radical opposites, fortune and misfortune, order and disorder that are experienced by a person – as well as that which he causes.”2
God is deeply grieved. What had begun in great beauty has deteriorated and God is painfully sorry. And so, like the occasional artist, frustrated and dissatisfied with the outcome of her efforts, God decides to destroy what God has created. “…and the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on earth and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said ‘I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created – people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”
And then, in a dramatic shift in tone, the narrative says: “But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.” (6:8) And, if we were reading this to our children as a bedtime story, we might pause here and ask the kids “Why do you suppose, out of all the wickedness that makes God’s heart sad – why do you suppose Noah finds favor with God?” The story teller does not keep us in suspense.
“Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God.” (6:9)
Now – this verse has caused a lot of discussion among biblical scholars. They want to know what it means that Noah was righteous and blameless “in his generation.” There is much speculation. Was Noah truly sinless and righteous?
Or was his generation just so bad that it made Noah look good in comparison?
This is a truly contemporary question in a time when we are so often faced with trying to find the best choices and none of them feel really good. In a world that is filled with irony and shadows and hidden secrets – – how do we perceive who is truly “righteous and blameless” in our generation? Is it the person who is simply a little less murky than society in general? In a very real way, the question of how “righteous and blameless is Noah in his generation” presents a pretty contemporary challenge.
So – Aviva Zornberg identifies this as the over-arching question in the narrative: “Why Noah?”
God says: “You alone have I found righteous in this generation.” Zornberg suggests the “rational is apparently simple and ethically reassuring – Noah is different from his generation. They are full of evil. He is righteous.”3
Again from Martin Buber: “[Noah] is the first human being [in the biblical narrative] to be described by any epithet – -and [he] is the only human being in the entire narrative to be described as “righteous” both in direct encounter with God AND in the authoritative voice that begins the story in verse 9: “Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age.’ The emphasis on Noah’s difference serves a moral purpose – – his difference justifies his exemption from the universal disaster.” 4
BUT – – and this is a big BUT – – as we continue to let Zornberg suggest a direction for our thinking: there is another reading beneath the surface of the text: Noah is chosen by God not because he is different – – he is chosen because he has found favor with God. In verse 8, before there is any mention of Noah’s righteousness, the narrative states that “Noah found favor in the sight of God.”
Now – we fast forward to the post resurrection narrative of Jesus and his disciples on the lakeshore. We have already experienced the devastation of the crucifixion which was preceded by, among other things, Peter’s triple denial of Jesus. Three times in a fire-lit courtyard, Peter refused to own his friendship and relationship with Jesus. We don’t have any descriptions of Peter being righteous in his generation. We do know that he was a human being who made both rich and poor choices in his lifetime. The choice to deny Jesus was devastating for him. Like all his ancestors before him, in a moment of fear he lost his sensibility of good and evil and was not even aware in the moment of how he was contributing to the creating of his own suffering. Crucifixion happened.
And then there was sunrise on the lakeshore and a chilly, soggy encounter with the Risen One – – the thrice repeated question – – “Do you love me?” The thrice repeated answer: “Lord, you know that I love you.” The thrice repeated command: “Feed my lambs – – tend my sheep – – feed my sheep.”
Why Noah? Why Peter?
There is a midrash – a kind of parable- that give us something to ponder. To refresh your memory, the parable mentions Joseph (of the coat of many colors) and Potiphar, the Pharoah’s right hand man under whom Joseph gradually rose to power in Pharoah’s court. Joseph eventually marries Potiphar’s daughter. The midrash may move us toward the answer to “Why Noah? Why Peter?”:
This is like one(ehad) who was traveling along and saw another traveler (ehad) and sought his company. To what extent? Till he formed bonds of love with him. That is why it says here, “Noah found favor.” Compare this with “Joseph found favor in [Potiphar’s] eyes” (39:4). It is like one who was traveling along and saw another traveler and sought his company. To what extent? Till he gave him power….to what extent? till he gave him his daughter….To what extent? Till he could tell which animal is to be fed at the second hour of the day, and which at the third hour of the night.”
Zornberg explains: “The traveler’s choice of companion as narrated in the midrash is almost arbitrary. It is because The Traveler is One – – God – -Alone–Matchless – – that He seeks another – any one – so that He may love and empower and educate him. The anonymous hero, undeserving, finds himself married to the King’s daughter. In many midrashic parables, the King’s daughter is symbolizes as wisdom. The commoner marries the King’s daughter. But what is the intention of the end of the midrash? The acme of wisdom that Noah attains is a knowledge of the feeding schedules of the animal on the ark! …is this a satirical comment on Noah’s limitations, or a serious insight into the nature of the wisdom God has to teach Noah?5
God chooses Noah, not because he has achieved significant virtue or wisdom, not because Noah is righteous and blameless – – but because God seeks to convey to some one the knowledge of God’s Self.
Jesus chooses Peter, not because he is perfect , not because he is dependable, not because he is blameless and righteous. Jesus chooses Peter so that he can impart love and wisdom to him, so that he can empower and teach him – – Jesus chooses Peter so that he can convey to Peter some of his own self knowledge as the Son of God.
Why Noah? Why Peter? Both are flawed. Peter buckles at the knees at a most critical moment in the Passion narrative. It is hard to imagine any individual like Noah being totally blameless when the society of which he is a part is so utterly corrupt and evil.
Back to the Genesis narrative: God says: “…I am sorry I have made them.” But – – Noah found favor in the sight of God.”
This is a snapshot of what pure, radical, unmerited grace looks like. Grace – – it could be God’s middle name. The two stories affirm the central, life giving message of our sacred texts from start to finish: the Holy One, the Giver and Sustainer of Life, the Spacious One who gives us room to live and move and have our being – – enough room even to reject God – – to be sinful – – this God is a graceful God who desires to be in relationship with us – – at any cost. This God is a God who wants to love us – to empower us – – to teach us. This God is a God who trusts us so much that the Divine Life itself is entrusted to us – so we can participate fully in the life of God. This God entrusted the less than perfect Noah with the responsibility for saving and regenerating and repopulating the earth. This God, in the person of Jesus, entrusts the entire future of his ministry to the flawed disciple, Peter. That is GRACE writ large. And it will sustain us through anything. The stories both convey to us that God WANTS to accompany us – to love us – to impart wisdom to us – to educate us; and that God will continue to find the way to do that – – no matter how flawed we are – – no matter what. Beyond everything else today, especially today, as we live with the uncertainty and anxiety about what the coming election will mean, we can and we need to depend on this.
This is what we affirm when we come together at the communion table – that we are, indeed, loved. We are and we will be empowered to be God’s people in the world and we will be taught – -we will be given the wisdom we need as we depart from the table.
Blameless and righteous or not, we are assured of the gift of grace. Like Peter and Noah, may we rise to the occasion to receive it as fully as it is given.
1 Aviva Zornberg The Beginning of Desire: Reflections on Genesis Doubleday, New York 1995. P.38
2 Zornberg p.38
3 Zornberg P. 40
4 Zornberg P.40
5 Zornberg P. 41