Thanks to Lorna for bringing him to the island this summer for the Teen Camp Meeting and for Rev. Charlotte for inviting him to preach in Chilmark. We enjoyed meeting his Mother, Sister and Niece , Hannah, who came all the way from R.I. this morning for the service.Another special blessing this day was the music Lia Kahler offered, her amazing voice filling the sanctuary with Spirit.
July saw the return of two of our previous pastors. Seongmoon Ahn and his family returned to celebrate his ordination with us, his first congregation.
Arlene Bodge joined us for worship another Sunday and the congregation was thrilled to see her well there as well as at the sunset worship service in Oak Bluffs that was part of the youth camp meeting that weekend.
We’ve been blessed with these lovely leaders!
Check this link to our page on supporting afternoon school at Lilavois School, Haiti. http://chilmarkchurch.org/service/index.php/a-community-church/haiti-school-mission-at-lilivois/
CLICK ON LINK ABOVE TO ACCESS WEEKLY DEVOTIONALS FOR THE MONTH OF JULY.
1 Samuel 16:1-13
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.
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
Resurrecting God, as we enter the season of Eastertide, may your enduring Presence remind us of the tidal qualities of your love for us. May your love break upon us as water upon the shore, molding and shaping us. May it expose us to new sharpness of vision. May your grace beckon to us the way a wave reaches out to our feet as we walk along the shore. We open ourselves to the ways in which you will surprise, inform us, change us and draw us to you. Grant us receptivity to your living presence in our lives. AMEN
“adapted from a prayer for the 2nd Sunday in Eastertide in
TOUCH HOLINESS Resources For Worship Edited by Ruth C. Duck and Maren C. Tirabassi
The Pilgrim Press NY 1990