Here come Lobster Rolls.
Chilmark Community Church
April 24, 2016
Rev. Vicky Hanjian
There are lots of ways to name and classify the many books of the Bible. One that I use increasingly is the fact that the scriptures are a witness to a people’s relationship with God. From beginning to end – Genesis to Revelation in our Bible – we encounter many witnesses to the relationship between God and God’s people. From the moment of creation God wants to be in relationship with humankind. The formula for that desire pops up again and again throughout the long drama of our sacred texts. The conversation with Abraham is the first place in which the Holy One’s desire for the future is made known: I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God to you and to your offspring after you. (Genesis 17:7,8) Abraham and God walk together.
Generations later, In keeping with the covenant God made with Abraham to be God to Abraham’s progeny, God tells Moses that, indeed, the Divine ears have heard the suffering of Israel in Egypt. God remembers the covenant. Moses hears God reiterate: “I will redeem (my people) with an outstretched arm and with mighty judgments. I will take you as my people, and I will be your God.” (Exodus 6:7) Under God’s power, Moses begins the work of leading Israel out of slavery in Egypt.
A little more that halfway through the book of Exodus, God commands Moses: “have the people build me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them.”
After a lengthy set of elaborate instructions about how to construct the tabernacle, the tent of meeting that would travel with Israel during its 40 year sojourn in the wilderness, God again renews the promise: “I will meet with you at the tent of meeting, to speak to you there….I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar….I will dwell among the Israelites, and I will be their God.” (Exodus 29:45)
Fast forward to the prophet Jeremiah as God prepares to bring Israel home from all the lands where they have been in exile: “I will bring them back to this place, and I will settle them in safety. They shall be my people and I will be their God….I will make an everlasting covenant with them, never to draw back from doing good to them…” (Jeremiah 32:36-41)
Ezekiel tells the story of the valley of the dry bones, where God promises to give new life to Israel and once again promises: “ I will make a covenant of peace with them….it will be an everlasting covenant….I will set my sanctuary among them forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Ezekiel 37:16-27)
The powerful witness through out the Hebrew scriptures is that God wishes to dwell among and in the midst of God’s people.
So – – if we were to use the metaphor of the “bookend”, God’s often repeated desire to our ancestors in the Hebrew texts would constitute one bookend.
Then we read the same promise again in Revelation at the end of our Bible. Revelation repeats the theme: “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them and they will be his people…..I will be their God and they will be my children.” (Rev.21:3,7b)
Between these two bookends, the event of Jesus happens – – another promise – but this time a visible person becomes the divine side of the covenant – of God’s desire to “dwell in their midst.”
One of the things I noticed about the times in the scriptures where this desire of God to be with us, to be our God, for us to be God’s people, is that they often appear in time of great stress, turmoil, transition and transformation.
A midrash: According to Genesis Rabbah 38.13 R. Hiyya, a first generation Jewish sage, tells the following story:
Terah, Abraham’s father, was an idol manufacturer who once went away and left Abraham in charge of the store. A man walked in and wished to buy an idol. Abraham asked him how old he was and the man responded “fifty years old.” Abraham then said, “You are fifty years old and would worship a day old statue!” At this point the man left ashamed.
Later, a woman walked in to the store and wanted to make an offering to the idols. So Abraham took a stick, smashed the idols and placed the stick in the hand of the largest idol. When Terah returned he asked Abraham what happened to all the idols. Abraham told him that a woman came in to make an offering to the idols. Then the idols argued about which one should eat the offering first. Then the largest idol took the stick and smashed the other idols.
Terah responded by saying that they are only statues and have no knowledge. Whereupon Abraham responded by saying to his father “you deny their knowledge, yet you worship them!”
Abraham receives the experience the Holy One reaching out to him and his progeny at the beginning of a transformative movement away from polytheism toward monotheism. Abraham, indeed, represents the shift to the belief in one God. A massive movement in the development of religious process – a time of great transformation in human consciousness.
The Israelites are still in slavery when God reiterates the promise to Moses as Moses struggles with his own doubts about being able to do what God has given to him to do. Moses carries the promise to Israel even though they do not want to listen or believe him – – “I will take you as my people, and I will be your God.” A great transition is set in motion
But the promise of God is not easy to receive or accept. Israel constantly needs reminding. In the wilderness, fresh from slavery, they are challenged in their awareness and understanding of what a covenant relationship with God means. In Holy wisdom, God commands that they build a sanctuary – a physical, sacred space – where God will dwell in their midst to guide them through the transformation from slavery to freedom.
Jeremiah and Ezekiel both speak to Israel in the sorrowful and disorienting time exile. In the familiar story of the valley of the dry bones Ezekiel addressed Israel as a dried out and desiccated people –like skeletons – lifeless. In the pain of exile, God reaches out in the worst of circumstances to remind Israel “I am your God – – you are my people.” Stressed, almost to the point of death, Israel is sustained by God’s desire to be among them – to be their God – – and they are transformed once again into a living people.
We encounter the other bookend in Revelation. When our 1st century ancestors were beginning to form into what would become the Christian community, when the stress of Roman persecution was at its most vicious and terrifying, when violent destruction rained down on Israel every day, the word of Revelation brought God’s covenant with God’s people into the foreground again: “See, the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with them; they will be his people, and God himself will be with them….”
The times of stress and turmoil and chaos in the sacred texts mirror our own contemporary struggles and fears and concerns. There are ever growing populations in exile –unable to live safely and at peace in their own homelands. In parts of the world, Christian communities with ancient histories are being persecuted in efforts at ethnic cleansing. Terrorist threats have become a part of our daily vocabulary. We carry unspoken fears and anxieties about strangers. We wonder how to protect our children from living with a dark cloud of threat invading their dreams.
Last week, Krista Tippet interviewed Craig Minowa, a musician, environmentalist, philosopher and theologian. He commented on how human beings are genetically programmed to be attracted to negativity. In our early evolution it was absolutely necessary to be aware of the negative dangers around us in order to survive – we had to be aware in order to protect ourselves. He speculated that we are in that mode now – – a time of ongoing and chronic vigilance – – anticipating what crises may come – – but also living in a great unknown: how to prepare and protect ourselves and our families and communities against the threat of fear?
But as I read the texts –and particularly observe the circumstances where the promise is renewed in the context of the 3000 year long drama, it seems to be the habit of God to renew the promise in the midst of the chaos – – I will dwell among them – I will be in their midst – I will be their God and they will be my people. God draws close in times of fear and struggle and anxiety. God is revealed in exile. This is the ancient and living witness. In the midst of the worst, God is struggling to help us become aware that God is in our midst.
For the Christian community, this is abundantly apparent in the person of Jesus – coming into fleshly human experience – to reassure us that God is indeed present in our midst and working in all things for good. Our job is to keep up our side of the promise – God is our God – will we be God’s people? – – will we stay awake and alert to the vital living presence of God in our midst?
Mixed in with a lot of symbolic language that is very hard to understand, the Book of Revelation carries a message of great hope for a new age. The voice of God says “See, I am making all things new….I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end….I will be their God and they will be my children.”
Craig Minowa’s parting words in the interview were simple and profound: “To be a seeker, you have to be open to something scary that you don’t know.” The future is always unknown – and often scary. A New Age doesn’t happen without a lot of disruption and chaos and confusion – even turmoil and violence. On the receiving end of the promise, it is our job to trust that God is always keeping the promise to be with us. What we need to do is to promise to be God’s people in return. As our hymn affirms, we live and move and have our being in God. The scriptural promise is that God has movement and life and being in and among us. The covenant goes both ways. What a promise!
YOU CAN’T HAVE THIS IF YOU WANT THAT
Chilmark Community Church
April 17, 2016
Rev. Armen Hanjian
When you respond to the various opportunities that come your way in life with “Yes. I’ll do it,” or “No, I don’t believe I’ll do that,” are you sure you are making the right decisions? Today’s sermon should help you to say “no” and to say “yes.”
As a boy scout, I recall a campout a fellow built a log bridge over a small brook. He warned the rest of us it was his bridge and we shouldn’t use it. In place of three of the cross logs he placed three pieces of bark so anyone unknowingly using the bridge would put his foot through the bark and into the small stream below. It was good for a lot of laughs when the builder of the bridge was the first to put his foot into his own trap.
The reason the road-runner cartoons were so funny is that they captured an aspect of real life. The fox pulls back a gigantic slingshot which holds a huge stone to capture the bird – and the boulder falls back on him. He builds a long shut down which he will roll a round bomb. He lights it at the top and it goes off immediately.
The naturalist Charles Darwin made a trip into Argentina and Uruguay on horseback with the famous gauchos. Darwin tried to throw the bola, a long rawhide thong with balls of iron on one end. These were used to capture wild horses. In his autobiography, Darwin reported in one of his efforts, the bola wound around himself and his horse. The gauchos roared with laughter – they never had seen a man caught by himself. But it’s not really so unusual. So many of us trip up our own selves. We get all wound up with our own ambitions, gadgets, sports, worries, desires. What begins with smiles and laughs often ends with tears and tragedy.
There was an AP dispatch from Big Stone Gap, VA, with the sad story of the body of a young women, “found entangled in a fence which she and her husband electrified with 110 volts to keep boys out their tomatoes.” Their craftiness boomeranged. You say, “We are not that stupid.” But don’t so many put up fences to protect and actually imprison themselves from almost all of the community. So many avoid the imperfect church only to become less and less sensitive to what Jesus Christ is about, to what God’s will is for them. They build what Hal Luccock called a “premature mausoleum.” There is a line in a hymn that describes too many of God’s children: “And age comes on uncheered by faith and hope.”
The editor of a magazine that specializes in word study asked a small number of distinguished writers to answer these questions: “What English word seems to you the most useful in the language?” and “What word to you seems the most annoyingly used or misused?” Nearly all agreed that the most misused word was “yes,” and nearly all voted that the most useful word in the language is “no”.
Plutarch tells of an ancient town whose inhabitants became slaves to others because of their inability to say “no”. If you didn’t see the cartoon, you saw one like it: a women is saying to her doctor, “What can I do to feel better without giving up what makes me feel so awful?” It’s funny in the lives of others, but not so in our own. Do we not ask similar questions: “How can I lose weight without changing my life style or getting therapy?” “How can I get better marks without giving up any of my other activities?” “ How can I have a better marriage without making personal sacrifices that inconvenience me?” “How can I find more satisfaction in life without changing my cherished pleasures and pastimes?”
By now, you must see the insight I want to drive home to you is that we must sacrifice things of value to attain other things which are of higher value. You can’t have this if you want that. We must give up things which are good and valuable in themselves if we are to achieve the higher goods available to us. It is not that evil will defeat most of us in our attempt at doing good; the danger is that the good will crowd out the better, and the better may keep us from the best. You can’t have this if you want that! None of us are anywhere near maturity until he or she comes to terms with saying “no”, with the principle of renunciation, pruning.
The Christian uses Jesus to measure maturity. Jesus knew times in his life when he had to say “no.” In the temptations in the wilderness he said no. When he was counseled not to go into Jerusalem, he said “no.”
Jesus said in Matthew 10:36-39, “…a man’s foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his for my sake will find it.” Jesus knew that one who says “yes” to God has to be able at times to say “no” to family and to self.
“Jesus demanded a primary and undivided allegiance. He was not despising natural ties. He blessed little children, taught us to call God by the name of Father, and gave his own mother at his death into the care of a beloved disciple.” Interpreter’s Bible 8:259
Jesus knew how to say no. He spent his early years with his family, but he did not let his family prevent him from fulfilling his calling. Jesus calls us likewise, as we begin again to follow him, to practice the principle of renunciation.
Walter Lippmann wrote: “It is a fact and a most arresting one, that in all the great religions, and all the great moral philosophies from Aristotle to George Bernard Shaw, it is taught that one of the conditions of happiness is to renounce some of the satisfactions which men normally crave. This tradition as to what constitutes the wisdom of life is supported by testimony from so many independent sources that it can not be dismissed lightly. With minor variations it is a common theme in the teaching of an Athenian aristocrat like Plato, an Indian nobleman like Buddha, a humble Jew like Spinoza; in fact, wherever men have thought carefully about the problem of evil and of what constitutes a good life, they have concluded that an essential element in any human philosophy is renunciation. “ IB 8:625
Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” Renunciation is not choosing the dull, lack luster life; it is preparation for choosing the fresh air of a joyous venture. If we could ask the apostle Paul what he was about, he might have answered, “Why, I am wrestling with principalities and powers and mastering them thru Jesus Christ.” Surely that beats a tame, colorless life of trivialities. The worldling doesn’t reach for the higher life and keeps finding his or her world cankered. The Christian sacrifices this world for the Christ-like life only to discover that what remains of this world radiates and satisfies. Heaven has its foretaste in this world; it does make this life abundant. The Christian not the worldling lives at the center of life rather than at its fringes; she or he is in the world but not absorbed by it.
The saying goes, “When one door closes another door opens.” Sometimes doors are closed on us. But we don’t have to wait; we can close some doors intentionally freeing up time and money. The New Testament gives us a warning here. Take care that emptying your life of one demon (or even a good thing) and not putting in place some great thing, we well might end up having 7 demons (from mediocre to good things) take residence in us and our situation will be worse than before. In other words, it is not enough to say no every way we turn; it would be bad for your disposition and bad for God’s world. We must say “no” and we must say “yes” to the best we know, the highest challenges.
It is popular to come across to others as one who has an open mind. That is a fine quality; however, for too many it is an excuse for never reaching a decision, for being neutral, for making your life motto, “There is much to be said on both sides.” G.K. Chesterton dealt with this common masquerade of the open mind by saying that the purpose of an open mind is to close it on something.
In the summer, kids are always asking what is there to do. Adults have the same question: what to do with yourself. Socrates had an answer: “Know yourself.” Pascal had an answer: “Hate yourself..” The Bible has one resounding answer: “Commit yourself.” Doctors, psychiatrists can tell us what’s causing our nervous disorders, our pains, our problems, but the cure in the end has to do with our commitments. It has to do with what we say yes to, what we give ourselves to wholeheartedly.
A pastor from Atlanta shared this insight. For 30 years I’ve served this church and watched thousands of people refuse to make a wholehearted commitment to Christ on the ground that they could do it at a later time.
They did not deliberately intend to do wrong; they delayed their decision to do the right. The decay in their character that resulted has been discouraging. Each day people decide to follow Jesus or they drift. When we drift, we delay decisions until some lesser choice has usurped, swallowed up our time.
We must start saying no, so we can start saying yes to what counts. That’s what budgeting money is about. That’s what budgeting of time is about. If you want this, you can’t have that. If we do not make our distribution of time and money relate to God’s will for us we will fall into one of two traps. Either we will do the selfish thing (It won’t look bad others are doing it, and if we buy it or do it for the family it will not be considered inappropriate), or we will do the thing the media has taught us to do: to smell right, look right, feel right etc. You know – the good life as the T.V. pictures it for us day after day after day.
Whoever will come after me, said Jesus, let him deny himself, take up his cross (i.e. voluntarily take up the burdens of others in need) and follow me.
We are getting closer to summer, so let me summarize:
1. We are often our own worst enemy tripping up ourselves.
2. We content ourselves with good lesser choices which rule out the best God has to offer us. Just like the enemy of a great marriage is a good marriage, so the enemy of a Christ like life is a “good life.” He led a “good life” – that’s the phrase we hear down at the funeral home.
3.The answer then is to say no to many good choices so that we can yes to Jesus Christ who is the highest and best we know. We don’t have to worry about aiming too high for we know there is forgiveness and acceptance; we don’t make a bull’s eye every time.
4. If we are to say no and yes we must do it specifically, so let us start sorting thru our financial and time commitments asking “Does God’s work and God’s will take priority?”
Let spend a few moments in silent reflection.
Let us pray these words from Samuel Rutherford: Thank you God that
“….his cross is the sweetest burden that ever I bare; it is such a burden as wings are to a bird, or sails to a ship, to carry me forward to my harbor.” Amen.
“You Are Cordially Invited”
Rev. Armen Hanjian
Chilmark Community Church
November 1, 2015
This will be a good sermon because I am dealing with an area in which I am quite an expert – that of making excuses. It would have been a great sermon – – but I was pretty busy this week.
The Bible is a great book in many ways, particularly so in describing life. In Genesis, old Adam says, “Eve made me do it.” Eve says “The serpent made me do it.” And millions say “The devil made me do it.”
Recall the rich young ruler who was invited to follow Jesus. He could have been a part of the greatest adventure in history, but he made an excuse and went away sorrowful.
Once Jesus asked aloud:”…to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates, ‘We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.”
Here, Jesus describes John the Baptist’s ministry and his own in vivid contrast. “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say ‘he has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking and they say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard.’” John’s ministry was stern like a funeral; Jesus’ ministry was joyous, like a wedding. The people Jesus was addressing didn’t follow either one. They were playing the game of religion in their own way and like irritable children, refused to play any game but the one they knew best: “I’m doing my religious thing so don’t mix me up with what God expects of me!”
The place in the Bible that makes most clear our inclination to excuse ourselves from God’s service is today’s parable of the rejected invitation.
A great banquet is planned. Matthew’s gospel refers in this parable to a king throwing a sumptuous wedding reception for his son – – not sandwiches and punch as we had at our reception, but the whole works. Lo and behold, the people who were invited chose not to come to the joyous feast.
Jesus was always drawing parallels. If there was a fishing boat around, he would say “I will make you fishers of people.” If someone pointed to the harvests, he would say “The fields are white with harvest but the laborers are few.” In Luke’s parable our vision is raised from this banquet and human hospitality to God’s hospitality with the implied question “Will you be there at God’s home?”
This invitation went to the most likely, the so-called “friends of the family.” This likely refers to “religious people.” How nice. Mr. and Mrs. So and So request the honor of your company. Mr. and Mrs. Thus and thus regret that they will be unable to be present.
Sometimes we invite because we have to. Sometimes we don’t go because we don’t want to. But certainly no one would decline an invitation to God’s banquet in heaven. Yet the folly is in this story: “Please present my regrets to the Lord of Heaven and Earth. I can’t come.”
Why did the guests refuse the summons to the feast? Why do people refuse Jesus’ summons to the joyful life? It is not because people are outright wicked. Rather it is because they are absorbed – – -absorbed in their own things.
All three men in the parable who sent their regrets probably repeated their excuses so many times that they thought their reasons were valid. The banquet might be dull and my own affairs seem to promise more happiness. Things are finally going better for me so don’t distract me with other affairs.
Let’s look at the specific excuses they give. They symbolize the successful secular society. “I have bought a piece of land and I must go and look it over.” This can represent our possessions and investments. Certainly we need land to live on and homes to live in and so on, but is that reason enough to ignore the God who made us when God calls us to God’s priorities?
The second excuse avoids the invitation by saying: “I have bought five yoke of oxen and I am on my way to try them out.” This can represent our attempts at maintaining our self-esteem. “World, look at my car, my house, my creations, my crafts, the power I wield.” God know, we need to build up our reserves of self esteem, but these are dead ends that lead to idolatry rather than life when leaned upon.
The third avoids the invitation by announcing, “I have just gotten married and for that reason I cannot come.” At best, the spouse and family represent our human centered comfort and at worst our cult of exploitive sex. God knows that we need to give attention to family and that sexual realtionships can be among the most beautiful channels of love. But even good things, when over emphasized, can lead to an unbalanced life which can lead to death.
Perhaps these are not our excuses for being slow in responding or for not responding at all to God, but our excuses are not so very different. Do any of these sound familiar? “We unfortunately had parents who were too strict – -or too lax – -or too distant — or too affectionate. Our parents conditioned us. “ “We were born during a difficult period that emphasized materialism and drugs and fear of war.” “We were too rich – – or too poor” “What we are is simply a product of our environment and our heredity.” “God made us this way.” “What ever will be will be.” “I don’t pretend to be religious.”
Our excuses are endless. The one that bugs me the most is when someone puts a label on something and thinks he or she has thereby dealt with the matter: “maladjusted and introverted” instead of dishonest and self-centered; “a spasm of re-adolescence” instead of adultery and so on.
One need only listen to conversations on the boat or in line at the post office to know what has absorbed our minds and hearts. The concerns are with boats and houses and sports and vacations. Any one who talks about human destiny or the claims of Jesus is thought of as odd; it makes others shuffle with discomfort. When death or sickness comes, we are tongue-tied because we are used to more trivial topics like the weather or the traffic. When a crisis has passed we return to casual speech with great relief.
Our misguided emphasis on the things that absorb us is not harmless. That way of life can lead to tragedy. That way can lead to broken relationships.
The parable insists that God’s plan will not be thwarted. God graciously invites, but God does not force. If you will not come, God will invite others. When “nice” people beg off, then God goes to those who are considered to be the wreckage of society And if the church becomes too comfortable and self-righteous and deaf to God’s invitation, then God may well take up some secular movement and use it to fulfill God’s glad purpose.
What then must we do? Can we respond to the invitation? Can we change? We keep thinking we are pretty much set, now that we are the age that we are. But don’t be fooled. Each of us is still growing –or slipping. We move subtly, often quietly. The slopes are gentle and easy. We compare ourselves with others rather than with Jesus. It is like riding in a car at 55 miles per hour and being oblivious to the fact that we are pat of a larger system in which the earth rotates at the equator ¼ mile per second while revolving around the sun at some 20 miles per second. At the same time the sun with its planetary companions including the earth orbits the center of the Milky Way galaxy at an estimated speed of 200 miles per second. The sooner we realize that this is God’s world and that it is God’s will that is primary, the better it will be for all of us.
Yes, heredity and environment do affect us all, but they are never the final word. There is our free choice. The boy from a broken family does well. The family that has every right to produce criminals creates leading citizens. If there is a secret, it seems to be that if a person sees someone she wants to be like, she can break away from the powers that mold her. This is why the church holds before the people the person of Jesus Christ.
There is a proverb that the furniture store favors: “Home comes first.” It is nearly true and thus tragically false. For a home trying to feed itself is like a man trying to feed on his own body. It is a cannibalism that succeeds at first but finally yields to the law of diminishing returns. How can we be loyal to family and do our duty to God? How can we be loyal to our nation and differ with it when it is going astray? There are conflicting loyalties wherever we turn.
The only answer I have found is to have one over arching loyalty to the hierarchy of our loyalties. Jesus alone is worthy of such a place. He who said, “He who loves father or mother, son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” knew that putting Christ and his kingdom first would be the way one could best love his family.
When we look to Christ, then we love as he loved. Our love does not depend on how others behave. Thus, we put a stop to our “there are hypocrites in the church” excuse.
Once Christ is made primary in our lives, then we must get busy prioritizing. There is no end to our responsibilities – – so many people to help by our visits, so many causes that would benefit from our time and talent and resources. What is one to do? We can write down and then pick out the priorities. Which will do the most good for the most people for the longest amount of time? We can keep testing our actions by the fruit they produce. Not that we always have to be successful; we need primarily to be concerned with being obedient to God. Through the years, God has proved the abundant fruit-bearing capabilities of those who have trusted in their God.
When we prioritize, this will put an end to our excuses that we do not have enough money or we do not have enough time.
We should look to Christ, we should prioritize, and finally, we should relate to Christ’s people. That will speak to our excuse that we are tired. Every person gets tired while depending on his or her own strength alone. But where Christ’s people are gathered, Christ is present with the resources of God.
It isn’t often verbalized, but many are paralyzed with the excuse of being afraid: fear of what people will say about us; they might hurt us or reject us. We don’t need more of that. Keeping close to Christ’s people can help overcome fear – Christ‘s love casts out fear.
To those who are not 100% sure about Jesus Christ and the Christian way, I say: relate to Christ’s people. The faith of others will encourage us to act on whatever faith we do have.
Look to Christ. Prioritize. Relate to Christ’s people.
THE WEDDING BANQUET
A certain man held a feast on his fine estate in town.
He laid a festive table, he wore a wedding gown.
He sent invitations to his neighbors far and wide,
But when the meal was ready, each of them replied:
I cannot come to the banquet, don’t trouble me now,
I have married a wife, I have bought me a cow.
I have fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum;
Pray hold me excused, I cannot come.
The Master rose up in anger, called his servants by name,
Said go into the town, fetch the blind and the lame.
Fetch the peasant and the pauper for this I have willed.
My table must be crowded, my table must be filled.
When all the poor had assembled, there was still room to spare,
So the master demanded: Go search everywhere,
To the highways and byways and force them to come in;
My table must be filled before the banquet can begin.
Now God has written a lesson for the rest of humankind;
If we’re slow in responding God may leave us behind.
God’s preparing a banquet for that great and glorious day.
When the Lord and Master calls, be certain not to say:
I cannot come to the banquet, don’t trouble me now,
I have married a wife, I have bought me a cow.
I have fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum;
Pray hold me excused, I cannot come.
“Helping, Fixing, Serving”
Chilmark Community Church
August 23, 2015
Rev. Vicky Hanjian
Many years ago my Sunday School teaching partner and I were preparing for our 4th grade class. That year we were blessed with 8 boys between the ages of 8 and 10. The lesson that morning had to do with the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. So we decided to invite the kids to have the experience of having their feet washed and then of washing each others’ feet. As the lesson progressed, we got to the point of filling a large basin with water and my partner asked who would like to be first?
Almost a though a secret signal had been given, 8 pairs of feet were withdrawn, pulled back under the chair rungs – – no willing volunteers. So my friend Ila and I were left with no alternative but to wash each other’s feet and demonstrate what the lesson was about.
We took a few minutes to do this and as we looked around the room, those little guys were paying attention! So we offered the invitation again. This time one or two feet were very tentatively extended beyond the rungs of the chairs. Then one pair of sneakers came off followed by a pair of socks – – and then another and another. One by one, the kids extended their feet to see what it would feel like to have their feet washed. Gradually, they experimented with washing each other’s feet with a lot of giggling and “oooooh phew!” By the end of the class we all had clean feet and we had all learned something about what it feels like to have someone kneel in front of us and serve us in a profoundly simple and symbolic act.
We have two very brief images of service in today’s text. Jesus has returned to Bethany for a visit at the home of his dear friends, Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. They have prepared a dinner party for him. The words of the story are sparse: “Martha served”………Mary took a pound of expensive perfumed ointment, cleansed Jesus’ feet and wiped them, not with a towel, but with her hair.
The images of the meal and the foot washing are repeated again in the later story of Jesus sharing his final meal with his friends – and washing their feet. In the later story it is Jesus who serves and washes.
Today’s story reaches the senses: the smell of lamb and grains roasting on the fire; the scent of perfume filling the house; the intimacy of Mary’s physical touch; the feel of soft hair. It’s a sensual story. It is also a story of contrasts. Death and life are present. Lazarus is newly restored, alive, from his tomb where Jesus was warned of the terrible stench he would encounter there. Jesus is on his way to his own tomb – fragrantly perfumed. Mary and Martha are extravagant in their meal preparations and the bathing of Jesus feet. Judas kind of sulks in the corner worrying about the expense.
There is a two-word sentence in the story that catches the eye: “Martha served.” Serving is what the sisters knew how to do.
A number of years ago, Naomi Remen authored an article in the Noetic Sciences Review titled “In The Service of Life”. She wrote: “In recent years, the question ‘how can I help?’ has become meaningful for many people. But perhaps there is a deeper question we might consider. Perhaps the real question is not ‘How can I help’ but rather ‘How can I serve?’ There is a difference between helping and fixing and serving.
Richard Rohr, in his book “What the Mystics Know” writes: After decades of counseling, pastoring, and clumsy attempts at helping other people, I am coming to a not so obvious but compelling conclusion: Much of our helping is like hoping for first class accommodations on the Titanic. It feels good at the moment, but it is going nowhere. The big tear in the hull is not addressed, and we are surprised when people drown, complain, or resort to life boats. Most of the people I have tried to fix still need fixing. The situation changed, but the core was never touched.
Serving is different than helping. Remen suggests that people tend to feel a sense of inequality when they are helped. The helper may feel good, but the one who is helped may feel diminished in some way. We heard this message clearly a number of years ago when we spent some time on the Lakota Reservations in South Dakota. The tribes told stories about how they had been “helped” by the US government in the form of surplus food. They had been “helped” by missionaries who wanted to convert them to Christianity. They had been “helped” by well meaning groups who sent them boxes of used clothing. But through all this helping, their health, their spiritual traditions and their strength and dignity as a tribal people were all seriously diminished. The integrity and wholeness of tribal life was eroded by the help that was extended to them. To paraphrase Rohr, all that helping and fixing never reached the core. Life on the reservations changed, but the deepest core of life was never touched in a way that would have lead to wholeness in the relationship between the Lakota people the white population.
Service, on the other hand, is a relationship between equals. Helping incurs a subtle kind of indebtedness. Serving has a mutuality about it. There is no indebtedness. In a serving relationship, I am served just as much as the person I am serving. When I help, I have a feeling satisfaction that I have done something good. When I serve, I feel gratitude. These are two very different things.
Serving is also different from fixing. Fixing arises out of seeing the world or other persons as broken. Naomi Remen writes: “When I fix another person, I see them as broken and their brokenness requires me to act. When I fix, I do not see the wholeness in the other person or trust the integrity of the life in them. Fixing is a form of judgment about the brokenness of the other person.
When I think of images of serving, one that comes to mind is hospice work. When a hospice worker receives an assignment, it is an assignment to serve. In the work of attending to the needs of the dying and to the needs of the family, a hospice worker cannot fix anything –nor can he or she really help. In hospice work there is no fixing or helping – – only service – – the service of wise and compassionate presence – – a service that addresses and acknowledges the strength and integrity of the family and the one who is dying. Hospice seeks to serve the wholeness in the life of the client and the family as death draws near.
The images of Jesus and his friends in the gospel are images of service. Mary breaks a flask of perfumed ointment to sooth and cleanse Jesus’ feet. She can fix nothing. Her act of service doesn’t help anything. Jesus already knows his end is imminent. Nothing can fix or help the outcome. There is a mystery in Mary’s service that recognizes the integrity and wholeness of Jesus, of work, of his purpose.
Judas, on the other hand, is a helper and a fixer – – sell the ointment – -help the poor. He has a somewhat self righteous tone about him and the little editorial comment suggests that his motives aren’t really all that pure.
Later on in John’s gospel Jesus is again in the company of friends. This time he is the one with the basin and towel. He extends to his friends the hospitality of serving them by preparing to wash their feet. He comes first to Peter – and Peter resists. He is incredulous at the idea of Jesus washing his feet and he refuses. Jesus responds to him: “unless I wash you, you have no part in me.” And Peter submits to being served by Jesus. Jesus doesn’t fix anything about Peter. We know this because of the way the story unfolds after Jesus is arrested. But Jesus sees something of the inherent worth – indeed the holiness – in Peter. Unless Peter allowed himself to be served by Jesus, Peter would not be able to live out a life of service.
Jesus aligned himself with the wholeness that he saw in each life he touched. He saw that wholeness in each human being waiting to be restored and he acted in service to that wholeness.
When we see this about Jesus, we can understand a little bit more about his willing attitude when Mary anointed his feet and Martha served him a meal. In the face of the unfixable that lay ahead of them all, it was incredibly important that Mary and Martha be able to serve by their devotion and their friendship and their presence in Jesus’ life. When this story is juxtaposed with the later story of Jesus washing his friends’ feet, we see that life in Christ is not so much a life of fixing and helping – – or of being fixed or helped. Rather life in Christ is a life of serving and being served.
Through his life and death and resurrection, Jesus serves us by recognizing the wholeness and the holiness that resides in each one of us. He does not relate to us as needy, or broken or weak. Rather he serves us by honoring our strength and calling forth the best from us. If his purpose were to help us or fix us, he would only make us weaker. But Jesus calls us from weakness to strength. His loving service to us empowers us – – makes us strong.
Martha served. Mary served. Jesus serves. After Jesus had washed his friends’ feet he said to them “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me teacher and Lord –and you are right for that is what I am. So – if I your Lord have washed your feet, you ought also to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
So – the subtle call seems clear. We are called to lives of serving and lives of being served. We all know something about what this means because we live in a community that does this as part of its way of being in the world. The story just helps us do the fine tuning so that we can be more effective. May we enter the coming week with our eyes and ears and hearts wide open to whatever our servant ministry calls us to do and be in the name of God. AMEN.
Please come welcome Kathleen Dorr on Sunday, 28th. The Rev. Kathleen Dorr, M.Div. has served the church and God’s people as an Episcopal priest for 20 years, most recently, in the Diocese of Connecticut. She was ordained in the Diocese of Long Island and has served across the nation. Kathleen enjoys her rest and relaxation on Island spending as much time as possible in Oak Bluffs enjoying friends, the water and the Island. Rev. Dorr has served at the Cathedral of St. Matthew, Dallas , TX., in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, as Interim Rector at Christ Church, Associate priest for Christ Church, New Haven, CT., Chaplain of the Episcopal Church at Yale, Interim Missioner at Eagle Butte Reservation working with the Sioux Nation on the reservation, following these ministries Kathleen trained to be a hospital chaplain at the University hospital in Greenville, N.C. and became a Hospice chaplain working in this area over the past few years. Kathleen is the mother of two sons Robert, a Major in the U.S. Army and soon the U.S. Attache to Lebanon, and Aaron who lives and works in the San Francisco area. Both sons are married and have blessed Kathleen with three young grandchildren. She is widowed and was married to the Rev. Lt. Col. Guy Dorr who, after an Army career, was also ordained in the church serving on Long Island and later in life with the Navajo Nation.
Her hobbies include scuba diving around the world, kayaking, hiking and traveling as often as possible.
Her off-island contact information is:
Arlene Bodge, 303 Brooksby Drive, Unit 218, Peabody, MA 01960. Her phone after May 1 will be 978-587-2699.
In addition to Pizza,
The menu will be bulgoGi.”(Beef), Jabchae (noodle), Rice and some korean snack.