Category Archives: SERMONS

“The View From Mt. Nebo” 6/25/17

“The View From Mt. Nebo”

Deuteronomy 33:48 – 50; 34:1-10

June 25, 2017

Chilmark Community Church

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

Quite a few years ago now,  on one of our trips to Israel, we landed first in Jordan, on the eastern side of the Jordan River. One of the stops early in our trip was a visit to Mt. Nebo.  It was late in the afternoon and we were facing into the setting sun at the northern end of the Dead Sea – looking out over the view that Moses must have seen as he reached the end of his journeys with the Israelites.  We looked out over rugged hills and valleys toward the land that Israel was about to enter.  The sunlight was reflecting off the water in the distance.  The air was chilly and quiet.  It was a profound moment that stays in my memory – – standing in the  spot where tradition says Moses looked over into the land that had been promised – coming to terms with knowing that he would not accompany his people as they crossed over.

There are lots of reasons buried in the scriptures for why Moses didn’t ever get to the Promised Land.  The predominant one is that he had displeased God by striking a rock to get water for the thirsty tribes in the wilderness when God had instructed  him merely to speak to the rock.  Other stories speak of Moses’ advanced age – he was 120 years old – that he was tired after 40 years sojourning with the people and didn’t have the energy required to  guide them through their conquest of  Canaan.  Still other stories suggest that it took the entire 40 years for the first generation of slaves to die off so that the next generation would no longer think and feel like slaves, but would take responsibility for themselves as free agents under God. For this they needed the leadership of someone younger who had transcended the slave mentality. 

The story is a poignant one.  It comes at the end of  Deuteronomy which is attributed to Moses as his farewell address to Israel.  Deuteronomy rehearses the entire saga of the 40 years of wandering.  No wonder it sounds familiar and repetitious in so many places.  It was calculated to remind the people of where they had been – where they were going – – and who it was that would always lead them – regardless of who the person was at the head of the line.

I think it is a great story for guiding us as we contemplate a change of leadership, both for us and for all of you.  We get into murky waters if we take every word and story of the Bible literally.  But if we can let the wisdom in the stories inform us we may be on more solid ground.  And the wisdom here is that the people of God are always in the process of becoming – – because we follow a God who is always in the process of becoming.  We are not a static people and God is not a static God.  This always takes some getting used to because for many of us, we grew up thinking that either God was immutable and unchanging – and therefore somewhat dependable and predictable, on the one hand, or we were taught that God was malleable and that our prayers could change God in some way – – sort of like with my childhood prayers  that God would make the sun shine on the day of  my class trip.  But it turns out that God is none of that.   

Rather God is a God of relationship and becoming – and we are invited along for the ride.

So – -here we are, on our own Mt Nebo of sorts.  As your pastors we can stand on the peak and kind of look over Jordan with you to envision something of the future as 

you move forward under new leadership.  But envisioning and predicting with accuracy are two very different things.  So we all are living with a measure of uncertainty.   We will descend the mountain on our side to see what future awaits us there while you will move on into the future that awaits on your side of the mountain.

Because, as science tells us, we cannot predict the future any more than about  a few fractions of a second ahead of us,  we are now drawn, or maybe pushed or pulled, to a moment of absolute trust and faith in this God who prefers relationship  with us – who prefers the process of becoming something new with us rather than some static and predictable outcome. 

This is challenging.   And it is apt to be uncomfortable.  With our ancestors, about to come under the leadership of Joshua, Moses’ successor, we may be asking “What will we do without the person we have trusted to guide us?”  “How can we be sure this is the right leader?”  “What will be expected of us?”  “Moses loved us and stayed with us through thick and thin – what if Joshua loses patience? What if Joshua doesn’t love us?”   

I think we can intuit from the text that these are the murmurings of the people as they realized that Moses would  be stepping down.   In Deuteronomy 31, the people are fearful of what they will encounter in the way of enemies as they cross over the Jordan.  Moses reassures them with these words: the Lord himself will cross over before you. The Lord will give [your enemies] over to you and you shall deal with them in full accord with the command I have given you…Be strong and bold, have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God

who goes with you; God will not fail you or forsake you.

Moses doesn’t only reassure the people, he also reassures Joshua: Then Moses summoned Joshua before the people and said to them in the sight of all Israel: “Be strong and bold, for you are the one who will go with this people into the land…It is the Lord who goes before you.  He will be with you; he will not fail nor forsake you.  Do not fear or be dismayed.

If we fast forward several generations to the days immediately following the resurrection of Jesus, we hear the same affirmation of the God Who Goes Before.

Near the end of Matthew’s Gospel we hear a messenger telling the women at the tomb: Jesus has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him. This is my message for you.” (Matthew 28:7)

They begin running to deliver the message and they encounter Jesus in his Risen Nature who tells them: Do not be afraid. Tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me. Matthew 28:10).

Galilee is where it all began – the business of preaching God’s love, feeding the hungry, tending to the needs of the poor, healing the sick, learning the skills of forgiveness and reconciliation, seeking justice for the poor and downtrodden. 

In a sense, the crucifixion is a Mt. Nebo for Jesus and his followers.   It is in crucifixion and resurrection that the relationship between Jesus and the disciples  changes.  Jesus is gone from their physical presence – no longer to be depended upon for doing the feeding, the healing, the forgiving, the teaching that he had always done with them.

A new relationship is now there to be explored – learning how to trust that what has been begun on one side of the cross will continue in another form on the other side of the cross.

So – here we are – all of us facing an ending together – wondering what will happen on the other side of tomorrow.  We are also together hearing the assurances -whether we think  in terms of crossing Jordan into a  strange land under new  leadership or in terms of life on the other side of the cross – we can affirm with faith that we belong to a God who goes ahead of us – a dynamic God who seems to become evermore trustworthy the more we are able to offer our trust.   In the process, we become the people God chooses every day to be the people who will make the crossing and buy into the adventure. 

So – as we come to a time of ending a way of being together, may we know without a doubt  that even as we say farewell today to this particular way of being together that we have enjoyed, God is bringing something new into being.   

God has never been satisfied with a static and comfortable people.  God  seems to enjoy life with us – always unfolding -always changing – always in process.  Indeed even Jesus made his most significant encounters and teachings while he was on the move – – on the road .   So we are invited once again to move on, to sojourn, to live always in a state of being temporary.   One of the first books I read in seminary was a book titled “The Journey is Home” by Nelle Morton.   The title says it all .  We live and move and have our being in a God on the move.  God is the Journey.  And the Journey is, indeed our home.  May God bless us all on the way.  AMEN

“Witness, Presence,Unconditional Love” 6/18/17

Witness, Presence, Unconditional Love

Exodus 3:1-15

Romans 8:38-39

Chilmark Community Church

June 18, 2017

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

Perhaps about 15 years ago, after the birth of our grandson, our second grandchild, I had the experience of feeling absolutely overwhelmed by the love I felt for  the two beautiful young souls who were being entrusted to their parents and to us for as long as we would have time to be in their lives.  I hardly knew what to do with the feelings I had;  what to do with the awareness of what an incredible privilege and responsibility came with being a conscious grandparent.  So – I prayed for some guiding wisdom for how to go about the awesome task of loving these two precious beings and for how to be a strong and positive influence in their lives.   In the deep silence of prayer, I heard “You are to be a Witness, a Presence, and Unconditional Love.”

15 years later, I am still challenged with what these words mean, but I took this  wisdom as my marching orders for grand-parenting.  It turns out that they were marching orders for my life as well as they have continued to echo in my spirit over the years that I have been a grandmother.   You are to be a Witness, a Presence, and Unconditional Love.

On reflection, I think these orders are why I dearly love this story of Moses and his first encounter with God.  Moses is so like us in so many ways – he works hard at his daily tasks of caring for his father-in-law’s flocks; he is curious about the world around him; he is in awe and trembling of the power of the Holy One;  he is really uncertain about what God is asking him to do – – and yet, he says “Here I am!”

The story up to this point has Moses first persecuted by Pharoah under the decree that all the Hebrew baby boys are to be killed as soon as they are born.  He is saved at birth by two subversive midwives, rescued from the waters of the Nile by the Pharoah’s daughter (who is a bit of a subversive in her own father’s court), raised in Pharoah’s palace. He is witness to an overseer abusing a Hebrew slave. He kills and buries the overseer. He is seen and accused of murder – runs for his life – and ends up in Midian, tending the flocks of Jethro and marrying Jethro’s daughter.

It is in his quiet time in the hills with the flocks  that Moses encounters the God of his ancestors.  We don’t know anything about Moses’ relationship with this god up to this point.  Moses was raised as an Egyptian after all, without any connection to the god of the Hebrews.

But in this brief part of the story, we learn a lot about this god and how this god  will be with those who listen and follow.

So, for a few moments, we might let our imaginations take over, and imagine Moses in the rugged mountains of Midian, keeping an eye on his father-in-law’s flocks – – maybe a herd of goats and a flock of sheep.  The location is Mt. Horeb.

And there is a little bit of dramatic foreshadowing in the name of the mountain.  Mt. Horeb means Mountain of God.    It is sometimes used interchangeably with Mt. Sinai – the place of divine revelation. Moses experiences a revelation from God on Mt. Horeb and will be there with the people at the big one on Mt. Sinai.

I rather suspect that on the Mountain of God, just about anything can happen – and indeed it does.  A messenger, an angel of God, appears in the midst of a bush that is in blazes – but does not burn up.   In his curiosity, Moses takes a closer look to see why the bush has not burned up.  As he does so,  he hears the voice of God calling to him by name – “Moses!  Moses!”    

Moses answers with words  that appear many times across both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.  Moses answers the voice of God , saying “Hineini” – – here I am!

And a  pattern for life is set in motion.  God calls Moses by name – Moses responds: “here I am” – – and God goes to work.

Moses has a lot of reservations, however.  He is not completely sold on the idea of working with God. He is modest to a fault.  He confesses that he stutters and can’t really be a public speaker and tries to convince God that someone else would do a better job. But the story isn’t just about Moses.  It is more about God at this point – about God revealing the Divine Self to Moses.

And here is how God does it:  God says to Moses, “I have observed the misery of my people…I have heard their cry . . . I know their suffering . . . I have come down to deliver them from slavery . . .  .I will bring them to a good land . . . .

In this small part of the grand saga that will follow, we learn that it is in the nature of God to witness what is going on in creation – – and it is in the nature of God to be an active presence in the midst of creation.    A third clue to the nature of God  in these few verses is not quite as obvious – and that is in the line where God says “I am the God of your ancestors, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

We learn from this that God is a God of unconditional love who cares for humankind from generation to generation – – whether we human beings measure up to our divine calling or not.  We find this theme of steady, unconditional love in Paul’s reflections in Romans 8:38 – where he writes: ‘I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God.”

The sacred texts tell us something of the nature of God – as Witness to our lives  and to what we both enjoy and endure, as Presence in our lives and in the world, and as the source of Unconditional Love.

Way back in the 1st chapter of Genesis, we have the beautiful story of the creation of humankind – and the divine intention behind the beginnings of humanity: Genesis 1:26 and 27: “Then God said ‘Let us make humankind in our image and according to our likeness…..so God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God, God created them, male and female God created them.”

And here’s where the rubber hits the road for us here, now, today.  If we trust the intention of our sacred texts, we can affirm together that we, each one of us, and all of us together, are created in the Divine Image and Likeness of God.  That’s the beginning of the story.  As the story unfolds, more and more of the nature of God is revealed – – and we therefore get to know more and more about what it means to be created in the Divine Image.  We know that God is creative.  We know that God seeks human companionship.  We know that God shapes the lives of people who respond to God.

In this vignette from the grand story of Moses and the Exodus, we learn about some of the more subtle attributes of God – namely that God is a Witness, a Presence, and is Unconditional Love.  We kind of expect all that of God – no surprises there – – however – – being created in the image of God, these attributes belong to us as well.

These attributes lead us to a high calling in our life together as a community of the faithful, and in our life in the world beyond the walls of this sanctuary.  The good news is that we are already familiar with these attributes.  Indeed we practice them every day  when we witness, we notice, we observe, we see.   We witness one another’s lives in the joys and the sorrows, the challenges and celebrations, the fears and concerns, the illnesses and the healing that we go through together as a body.  We witness the effect that life has on each other – and we learn empathy and compassion. This witnessing is what makes a church family hold together at the center.  It is also what makes us more effective as we take our caring into the world.

When we are present to one another, we become Presence – Some times we are called upon to take action – to make a phone call in one another’s behalf, to check in when we haven’t seen each other for several weeks,  to attend to one another when one of us is suffering.  Sometimes we are called upon to  be present to one another in profound grief when there are simply no words to be said. As Paul writes, “we weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.”  We each have the capacity to be a presence in each other’s lives – whether through actual physical hands on help or through prayer, or through words of encouragement or comfort or celebration.  Being a Presence means saying “Hineini” – – here I am – – my spirit and my energy are available to you – – I am part of your life.  Being a Presence means being a little bit of God available to the life of another person. 

And then there is the call to be Unconditional Love.  We know from the long saga of God’s journey with Israel that God does not give up when the going gets tough.  The scriptures are full of reasons why God could have just thrown up the proverbial divine hands and walked away in frustration and disgust – – but that never happened – – because the love of the Holy One for all of creation does not depend upon how faithful we are,  or how good or cooperative or thoughtful or sensitive or caring or patient with each other we happen to be.  Unconditional Love is just that – it unaffected by the conditions of our lives.    Being created in the Divine Image, we have the capacity to love one another in the same way, through thick and thin – – even when we aren’t sure we like each other very much – even when we disagree about how things ought to be done, even when we hurt one another’s feelings.  Being Unconditional Love means being in our holy center where we do not get shaken by the dramas and ups and downs of our daily interactions – it means being Love even when we don’t feel particularly loving.

The older I get, the more I am convinced that life together in a church community is a kind of  practice room where we get to hear the wisdom for living that comes from our sacred texts -and we get to practice it with each other.  When we are able to witness one another’s lives and to be truly present with each other, when we are able to hone our skills at being Unconditional Love – when we practice enough together to become skilled at these attributes, we are trained and strengthened for our role in the world beyond.

Jesus came among us to show us what the master of these attributes might look like.  He Witnessed every part of human life as he lived it among us.  He was and is a Presence with a capital “P” in the lives of those who elect to follow him.   And he became the visible form of Unconditional Love on the cross as he offered forgiveness even to those who were in the process of extinguishing his life.

“You are to be a Witness, a Presence, and Unconditional Love” – these are profound marching orders for our life together in community as we head into the future.  May we be faithful in our practice together so that we may be a Witness, a Presence and Unconditional Love in a world that sorely needs us in its midst.  AMEN

“Call the Midwife” 6/11/17

“Call The MIdwife”

Isaiah 66: 7-9

Psalm 22:3-5; 9-10

Romans 8:19-27

June 10, 2017

Chilmark Community Church

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

One of my favorite programs is the PBS series “Call The Midwife”.   The drama is great. Every week there is the promise of a tension filled labor and delivery and the miracle of a live birth right in front of my eyes.   We witness the personal dramas of the nursing sisters and the midwives  as they  carry out their mission to provide safe childbirth in the poorest sections of town.  We are also included in the  significant issues of health care, racism, social justice, ethical dilemmas, internal conflicts in the midwifing community.  As each season unfolds, we watch the evolution of maternal and child health care as the show progresses through the 50s and early 60s.

Some of the scenes that have the greatest drama value are of the progress of labor at the point when the midwife is called.  The tension in the room builds as the mother reaches the transition phase of labor.   Much fun has been made of this phase of labor in situation comedies over the years. Stereotypically, transition is the time when the mother is near exhaustion with the labor. She is anxious. She is sure she will not ever deliver this child.  At times she says “I will not do this.  I want to go home!”  In really high drama, the mother wants nothing to do with the father who caused it all and just sits there not knowing what to do now. “Get him out of here!”  In reality, the transition is the last phase of labor, is fairly short compared to the earlier phases, and transition signals that birth is near.

Transition is just plain hard work.  The labor and delivery room are an apt metaphor for what happens when any life transition is set in motion. 

On the one hand, there is hope and expectation for whatever the new thing is that will come into being at the end of the process – but on the other hand – there is tension and anxiety – and a yearning for things to just go back to the way they were before the labor ever began. 

As a faith community, we are in transition.  The metaphors of labor and delivery are helpful for thinking about the work we will do together between now and July 1 when a new phase of life begins for our faith community.  It is a good  time to call upon the midwife!

The scriptures are full of midwifing images of God.  Isaiah offers one that speaks to the life and history of Israel.  After a number of verses addressing the suffering of Israel, Isaiah shifts to prophecies about Israel’s restoration and re-birth and describes the ease with which new birth takes place: “My holy city is like a woman who suddenly gives birth to a child without ever going into labor.  Has anyone ever seen or heard of such a thing? Has a nation ever been born in a day? Zion will not have to suffer long, before the nation is born. Do not think that I will bring my people to the point of birth and not let them be born.” The Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 66:7-9)

I take from these prophetic images that  God is involved with the life of Israel from the moment of conception – and there is never a time when God is not part of the process – continually working with Israel in order to bring about a satisfactory birth.  Even before the labor begins, the birth is already assured – because God has been in the picture, attending to the pregnancy all along. This is an image of God we can trust as we make our own transition.

In Psalm 22 the psalmist affirms Israel’s trust in a midwife-ing God: “… you are enthroned as the Holy One, the one whom Israel praises. Our ancestors put their trust in you;  they trusted you, and you saved them. They called to you and escaped from danger;  they trusted you and were not disappointed. It was you who brought me safely through birth, and when I was a baby, you kept me safe. I have relied on you since the day I was born,  and you have always been my God. (Psalm 22:3-5;9-10)

From the psalmist we can take assurance that as we move through  a time of transition to new pastoral leadership,  there is a Holy Presence in attendance – like a midwife – monitoring and guiding us toward a healthy delivery if you will.  It is the intention of the Holy One that we will be well and there will be a healthy outcome.  God will midwife this beloved church community into a healthy life on the other side of the transition

Even so, transition is not without its stress.  Transition is hard work.  In a normal labor, the contractions come more frequently and are much stronger.  Both mother and midwife are intensely engaged and focused. 

Life is full of transitions.  We might even say life IS transition because life is in a continual flow of change.  The death of a loved one sets in motion a life transition as those who mourn move into a new way of being in the absence of the loved one.  Transition  is vividly apparent  at this time of year as our kids of various ages prepare for their graduations and the inevitable transition to different schools, whether to high school or college.   Weddings signal a major transition from life as single persons to life in committed relationship.  June signifies the transition to the summer season when life changes for all of us as we anticipate what  we will need to navigate between now and the end of August.  The arrival of a new pastor precipitates a time of transition.  Transitions are stressful.

So, we must acknowledge that we are in a transition phase.  And just as with a pregnancy and labor and delivery, even though we knew it was coming, it is still a bit jarring to know that we are here – that the transition phase has begun and that something new is about to be born.

As we move through this time together, there has been an increase of attention needed in order to make the transition a smooth  one.  This engages all of us at one time or another at a variety of levels.  The SPRC has had more communication flying back and forth. A few unscheduled meetings had to 

be added to already full life schedules.  Contractual expectations between the congregation and the new pastor need to be stated and clarified.    The trustees have the parsonage preparation on their agenda.  Files in the office need to be current.  Anxieties need to be addressed.  A grieving process is in motion as we begin to mourn the passing of the way things have been.  Transitions are hard work.  Giving birth is called “labor” for a reason.

In an occasional episode of “Call The Midwife”, it is interesting to watch the shift in the behavior of the midwives as the transition phase begins.  Sometimes the midwives turn into cheer leaders – – “Come on – you can do it – breathe – push – One more good one and your baby will be here!!”   Midwife and mother become a team effort to get that baby into the world.   In other episodes, the midwife is the center of calm in the midst of the stormy emotions that often typify the transition phase when weariness and frustration and fear engulf the mother.  Calm reassurance becomes the midwife’s mode of operation in order to ease the mother into a successful delivery.

The prophetic understanding is that long before anything begins, God is there.  God witnesses and guides the process.  Isaiah intimates that because the Holy One is always a part of the process, that giving birth to new life begins long before the labor contractions start – -that all the work God does with us all along the way brings us to the point where we consciously begin to participate in the labor of birthing ourselves into the next chapter of life as a church family.

Sometimes transitions are challenging – in the birthing room a laboring mother can reach a point of exhaustion.  She may think she cannot see the birth through – it’s just too hard.  She may feel like she doesn’t have the  inner resources to get that baby into the world.  At times like this the midwife plays a critical role in supporting the mother, reassuring her, calming her – – reaching with her spirit into the mother’s anxiety.

Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome witnesses the way the Holy Spirit works as a midwife to bring our innermost longings to birth – and how important it is to the world – indeed, to all of creation that we trust in the power of God to attend to the safe birth and re-birth of the church: All of creation waits with eager longing for God to reveal the children of God.   For we know that up to the present time all of creation groans with pain, like the pain of childbirth.  But it is not just creation alone which groans; we who have the Spirit as the first of God’s gifts also groan within ourselves as we wait for God to make us God’s children and set our whole being free. For it was by hope that we were saved; but if we see what we hope for, then it is not really hope. For who of us hopes for something we see?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.    In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not even know how we ought to pray; the Spirit itself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express.  And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of God’s people and in accordance with God’s will. (Romans 8:19-27)

The Holy Spirit becomes the midwife who assists us in bringing to birth the prayers, the  longings and hopes and desires that we may not be able to easily articulate without the assistance of the Holy Spirit in quiet prayer and discernment as we move along.  The Holy Spirit whom we celebrate on Pentecost is an invisible living reality in our midst who can be trusted, like a trusted midwife, to help us bring to birth a renewed life, a sense of adventure into a new unknown, a revitalized sense of who we are as a power for good in the community and in the world.

So as we move closer to the time of the end of our own transition phase, may we increasingly depend upon the wisdom and guidance and companionship and love of  the Great of Midwife – – and may we take our training from her as we learn to take our own place as midwives ourselves in a creation that waits on tiptoe, groaning in anticipation of our birth as Children of God.  14th Century mystic, Meister Eckhart wrote the “God never leaves the birthing room – her hands are always wet.”   May we enter into this transition with confidence knowing the midwife is on the way.   AMEN

“You Can Count On Him” 6/4/17

YOU CAN COUNT ON HIM

ACTS 9:10-31 CHILMARK COMMUNITY CHURCH JUNE 4, 2017

Rev. Armen Hanjian

What does one say to his congregation after years of connection and two years as a pastor here? After some thought I came to the conclusion my message should be simply this: Put your trust in Jesus. Base your whole life, your actions, your thoughts, your words, your relationships, your whole life around Jesus. You can trust your lives into his keeping. You can count on him.

It’s so hard to find people you can count on these days.” That is a statement I’ve often heard. The early church had people you could count on and this church has people you can count on.

Use your imagination for a moment and picture the walled city of Damascus. Paul is in the city, he who once persecuted the followers of Jesus, now made an about face and became a defender of the faith. His message was that Jesus was the hoped for Messiah. Some of the Jews were convinced Paul was right, some wondered, and some planned to take action to still this disruptive voice of Paul’s.

The friends of Paul sensed the danger and aided him in a night escape. Picture it. They put Paul in a basket and lowered him with a rope over the city wall and freed him to become the saint and missionary he became. We don’t know who they were up on that wall at the other end of that rope, but we know Paul could count on them.

What was the greatest thing about the early Christians? Not their wealth. Not their schooling. Not their social position. The greatest thing about the early Christians, the distinguishing characteristic was their fellowship. They were a brotherhood and a sisterhood who loved and trusted and served each other. “How these Christians love one another,” was the commentary made by the world in which they lived.

These Christians were like the ancient Teutonic tribe – they used to go into battle with the whole tribe roped together. When one member suffered all suffered, when one was victorious all rejoiced. Christianity was not launched by one St. Paul or by the twelve Disciples alone; it was launched and it has been sustained by a fellowship – persons who could count on each other.

Many of the friends of the Chilmark Community Church have recently said to Vicky and me, “Oh, you have done so much for this church.” Then they go on to say other kind things, but, you know, when you see a turtle on a stump, you know it didn’t get there by itself.

The richness of this church in the past year particularly, has been the fact that so many of us could count on each other. That faithfulness is like that which President Lincoln displayed when the fortunes of the Federal States were at their lowest in the Civil War. Lincoln was the target of all kinds of abuse. A friend said to him, “Why not resign and let them sink or swim?” To which Lincoln slowly replied, “ If I resign they perish.”

We care about one another, so we can count on one another. Sometimes this has meant work when we didn’t feel like work. The composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky one wrote this in his diary: Worked without any inspiration, but successfully.” Such fidelity to our life together out ranks inspiration among the marks of a Christian life.

The early Christian Church had people that could be counted on; this church has a growing number of people that can be counted on. The good news is that what they had and what we have is a Lord, a teacher, a leader, a friend, a Spirit that can be counted on.

I read of a poor women who earned her living by hard labor, but who was a joyous Christian. “Ah Nancy,” said a gloomy Christian lady to her one day, “It is well to be happy now; but suppose, for instance, you should have a spell of sickness, and be unable to work; or suppose your present employer should move away and no one should give you anything to do, or suppose….” “Stop!” cried Nancy. “I never suppose. The Lord is my Shepherd, and I shall not want. And you know dear, it is all those supposes that are making you so miserable. You had better give them all up and just trust the Lord.

Believers are always joyful, but who ever heard of a joyful supposer?”

Communion offers us the same chance to put our trust in another as did a guide in the Alps that saw this timid, fearful soul hesitate at a demanding point in the climb.

The guide bent down, braced himself and said, Take it!

That hand has never lost a man!”

My message to you is simply this: Put your trust in Jesus. You can count on him. That hand has never lost a man or a woman in 2000 years.

Blessing of the Fleet 5/28/17

BLESSING OF THE FLEET

Menemsha Harbor

Chilmark Community Church

May 28, 2017

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

This morning we have gathered for a blessing of the fleet. It might be good to pause for a moment and ask ourselves why do we do this? What good does it do to leave our comfort zones early on a Sunday morning to come to the water’s edge and go through this ritual that happens ot sea coast and river edge harbors at different times of the year all over the country.

Do we bless the fleet because that’s what we’re supposed to do? Because it has become something habitual that we do every year? Or does it have meaning beyond tradition? What does it mean when we bless something anyway? What does it mean when we invoke God’s blessing on someone or something?

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3 NRSV)

This reading from Genesis begins to tell us what blessing is about. Most obviously, blessing is the opposite of cursing. While cursing invokes energies and emotions that separate people from one another, blessing sets in motion the energy of relationship. Blessing puts in place the foundation upon which love and concern and friendship may be built.

Abraham and his clan traveled on land. The tempests and storms they faced had more to do with encountering other people, other clans, strangers, and potential enemies, than they did with encountering storms or enemies on the sea. Still, the challenge of blessing fell upon him and his family. Essentially, God said “I will bless you….so that you will be a blessing.”

So – the act of blessing is a divine and human thing. We receive the blessing of God so that we might also become a source of blessing for others – a force for good, a force for healing, a force for reconciliation and well being.

On this Memorial Day weekend we honor and remember lives spent and lost in the service of protecting all that we are privileged to enjoy in this country. We also take time to remember all the ways we are served and blessed by women and men who spend much of their lives on the water. On this occasion of blessing the myriad vessels that sail in our waters, it is well for us to remember the power that we have to unleash goodness – to affect relationships in a positive way – to create a more harmonious world.

To invoke a blessing is essentially an act of gratitude. When we bless, it is hard to carry forward grudging or negative feelings toward the object of our blessing. To bless opens the way for the flow of lovingkindness, compassion, hospitality and grace. In the ancient story, our ancestors are called not only to bless – – but also the BE a blessing. The very way that they carry themselves in the world is to BE a blessing.

So why do we bless the fleet? Surely to invite the safety and well being of all who make their living on the water; definitely to honor all who serve to protect our shores; and certainly to care for all who find rest and relaxation and re-creation on the water.

But invoking a blessing does more than that. When we bless, we open channels of grace – – we become channels of grace – – and our own lives become larger and more generous. We actually become a blessing in our own persons.

So may we offer our prayers and our songs together this morning in the service of an ancient affirmation that we are indeed blessed in order to be a blessing to others and may grace flow in abundance toward all whom we bless this day. AMEN

“A Mental Journey” 5/21/17

A MENTAL JOURNEY

ISAIAH 55:6-9 REV. ARMEN HANJIAN MAY 21, 2017

Chilmark Community Church

(read slowly)

I invite you to take a mental journey. I will tell you some of my life experience; I invite you to connect with your own life experience. It is easier if you journey with your eyes closed.

I was born in N.J – not in Syria or India or Vietnam. (take 10 seconds picturing, reviewing your birthplace)

My grandparents never got to spoil me; they were all killed in the genocide in Turkey. (10 seconds recalling your grandparents)

My parents had three sons – I was the youngest, so I didn’t miss being spoiled. (10 -recalling your parents.)

My parents were committed to each other and to our family all their days. (10)

From childhood, I have been nurtured (10),

supported (10),

protected (10),

respected (10),

and limited for my benefit by family, friends, and by faith communities. (10)

I had a few dull teachers, but countless wise and engaging ones. (10)

Jesus has more and more been the guiding person of my life. (10)

I have lived in a peaceful environment. (10) Life was not all sunshine and roses. My father was shot and killed in his rug store. I had a curvature of the spine and operations to address it. (15)

I never grew tall, but I did have expressive eyes. (10)

If I described my life in terms of dollars, I would have to admit I was given $100,000 for my living and I have repaid, say (an estimating face) $116. (10)

In other words, I have been and am now and will always be for the rest of my life in debt. With such a huge debt, I am surprised I am not in prison. (10)

As I see it, God has given me an undeserved pardon – truly a gift of grace. And out of gratitude I will spend the rest of my days paying forward to those who have not been so richly blessed as have I. (15)

It’s All About Holiness

It’s All About Holiness

May 14, 2017

Leviticus 19:1-17

Ephesians 1:1-6

The Mitzvah” by Abraham Joshua Heschel

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

A few years ago a friend and I were preparing to study the book of Leviticus as part of working our way through the Torah readings for the year. We were approaching it with a little dread – mostly because Leviticus seems to be the book that people love to hate.

Genesis is easy to love. It contains brilliant narratives, rich poetics – – the family dramas that comprise most of the book are as contemporary and insightful now as they were when they were first conceived. Exodus tells the tales of the beginnings of the Jewish people. The great movement from slavery to liberation – the story of the formation of a people out of a rag tag group of slaves who complained about everything – – who couldn’t agree with each other about anything – and who gave their leader nothing but grief as they sojourned for 40 years in the wilderness. But very little “happens” in Leviticus. The whole book takes place in one month, and it all occurs at or around Mount Sinai. Leviticus is something of an “an acquired taste” …… and yet, for the careful eye and the willing heart there is much to be learned within her pages.1

Holiness is a major theme in Leviticus. The Source of All Blessing spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation – to the entire community of the children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” No one was left out – the command was addressed to All of Israel – to the resident aliens – – to everyone from the Moses the elder to the wood chopper to the person who carried water – – the young, the elderly – – the infirm – – no one was excluded.

The word shall is an imperative. God does not say you may be holy……or you will be holy at some point in the future – God says “you shall be holy….”

As Abraham Joshua Heschel points out the text does not say “You shall be full of awe because I am holy but rather “You shall be HOLY, for I the Lord your God am holy.” 2

And it is through this command that the Holiness of the Source of All Creation extends itself into creation itself. And Heschel asks: “How does a human being, “dust and ashes,” turn holy?

When the Sacred Unity of All Creation demands holiness of us because we are a part of that Sacred Unity and it is part of us, then we have to answer.

The command to be holy demands a response. We cannot simply say, “That’s nice. Now let’s get on to something else.” “An encounter with the Sacred Unity of All Creation places a demand on our behavior.” Sometimes the obligation is nothing more than a promise to remain silent in God’s Presence…..Other times we are driven to make changes in our (lives and) our actions and to persuade others to join us. We have “heard” something; something has been ‘laid upon us.” We feel, in some way, personally obligated, commanded. To ignore this summons would violate the wonder of the moment and the profound relationship it whispers.3

I want to tell you an imaginative story that comes from Jewish mystical thought. There is a tradition that before creation came into being, there was nothing but The Blessed Wholeness – the most profound and indescribable Unity. Everything was One – nothing was separate from the One. In order to create a space for something else to exist, The Blessed Wholeness contracted in a divine movement called TsimTsum. Then The Holy Blessed ONE poured forth divine emanations of light into containers called vessels. The light was so powerful that the vessels could not contain it and in a cosmic event, the vessels shattered and the pieces scattered. Each shard carried within it a spark of the great light and it was out of the shards that creation came into being. There is no place where the divine light is not – it is embedded in every part of creation. Every aspect of creation “cloaks” a spark of the divine emanation of light. This means that the dark purple eggplant, the richly ripe tomato, the bright green worms that attack the garden, the soil that supports the growth, the gardener who tends the garden – – all are vehicles for the sparks of holiness. The congress who works together – – – or does not – – – the vast military industrial complex, the people who make weapons, the people who deploy and fire them, the victims, intended and unintended – – – -the infant newly entering the world, the elder on his or her way out of this life – – – all of life cloaks the original sparks of the Holy Emanations. This particular tradition tells us that it is our work to uncover the sparks – to reveal them – -to raise the sparks so that creation becomes whole again, fully expressing The Sacred Unity of All Creation.

It is the witness of 3000 years of Jewish and Christian and Islamic tradition, at least, that the holiness demanded of us is not some high and lofty and unreachable goal. Indeed, the first requirements that follow the command in Leviticus are very mundane things –like honoring and respecting our parents – -like keeping the Sabbath as a day of rest and restoration – – things that are well within the reach of all of us. Abraham Heschel coined the phrase “Theology of the Common Deed” which challenges us to understand that holiness is concerned with everydayness, with the trivialities of life- Human deeds and acts are the stuff of holiness. He goes so far as to say that “the deed is the source of holiness”.4 What we do – -and how we do it – matters.

A few years ago my yoga teacher gave me a lovely hand painted card and invited me to put it on my mirror where I would see it every day. On the card was the statement “I am a holy being.” It is not so easy to say that about ourselves. I’m guessing that most of us do not dwell in a

continual awareness of ourselves as holy beings – – we probably do not readily think in terms of being a holy congregation either. And it follows that we probably do not consciously view one another as holy beings. If we do not understand ourselves as holy, then we are not apt to think of our lives, individual and corporate, as an exercise in holiness.

This is where the mystical and the metaphorical notions of creation and holiness weave their way into the mundane and the concrete.

Back in the 18th century, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Societies, organized a group of seminary students into what was called “The Holy Club.” Their discipline was to rise at some ungodly hour – 4 AM, if memory serves –for prayer and to seek guidance for the day. Their spiritual discipline consisted of visiting the sick and people who were in prison, of meeting with other small groups to inquire after the state of their souls, of making offerings of money so that the hungry could be fed. Because they were very disciplined and orderly and methodical about their prayer and their pursuits, they were derided as “Methodists” and the name stuck. But the point is that their notion of holiness was concrete – it involved deeds and actions that helped to restore some element of wholeness to the lives of the people with whom they ministered. They heard the command “You shall be holy…”

There is really not much glamor in holiness. Almost the entire book of Deuteronomy and all of Leviticus have the focus of providing guidance for a rag tag bunch of ex-slaves to find and claim and own their own holiness. There are commands about helping your neighbor – even if you don’t like her; about pulling an ox out of a ditch on the Sabbath when no work is supposed to be done, about paying a laborer at the end of the work day so he can feed his family. Out of those some 613 commands come the pattern for our own tort laws today – practical considerations for how to live together in community as a holy people – – but the notion of the holiness involved in that has taken a back seat.

So –what I am suggesting this morning is that as individuals and as a community of faith, we might begin to listen in a more profound way to the command to be holy –to take it more seriously as a guiding principle for our lives – -remembering that the command was given to the entire community –no one was excluded – -remembering that the mystical tradition affirms that all of creation enshrouds the divine light.

So – – as Heschel asks “How does a human being, dust and ashes , turn holy?”

The first part of an answer – and this is only one answer – is that we begin by taking it as fact that we are holy beings – – that might be the first step in our response to the command to be holy – -simply to recognize that we already are, indeed, holy beings – – that we, in our bouncy, young and energetic bodies, in our creaky, achy, uncooperative bodies – – we carry the holy emanation of light from the very beginning. Just doing this much –just recognizing this – begins the process of “raising the sparks” – – of bringing scattered holy sparks of creation closer to wholeness.

So –our holiness is a given – – so why all the laws and commandments???? We tend to forget our original blessing. And as Kushner says “Holiness demands a response.” And as Heschel seems to argue, we remember our holiness and reconnect with it through our deeds and actions. So –we find ourselves working for peace and social justice in the world. We gather food for people who are hungry. We fight for more just laws for people who have been pushed to the fringes of society. All very earthy and practical manifestations of holiness. – – Holiness moves in all the circles of our lives. As holy beings, we have the power to make everything we do or think or touch holy. So – here are a few a “what ifs” for us to consider: What would happen to our life in community if I were to experience the holiness in arranging the chairs, just so, in preparation for meeting after worship on Sunday morning. What if I were to feel my own holiness by doing the mundane work of cleaning up after an event? What if I were consciously aware that I was bringing another spark of holiness to this or that committee simply by saying yes to serving. What if I were willing to accept the responsibility for taking my holiness into the home of another person who has truly forgotten their own – – perhaps in the deed –the act – raising a little bit of the spark of their holiness –thereby contributing to the wholeness of creation. What if I were in a state of mind that recognized that every other person that I encounter has the power to ignite that spark of holiness in me – – and that I have the power to do the same with them?

Practical holiness. It isn’t glamorous – There are no spotlights – it is just us – saying “Yes” to the ancient command –the ancient call to BE holy because holiness is all there is at the center of it all.

On the outer surface of things, the world is an extremely dangerous and frightening place – and we live in very edgy times. There is a teaching from the Baal Shem Tov, a great Hasidic master. It goes something like this: We often find ourselves in times of darkness when we don’t know where to turn or what to do. Wholeness, the right and the good are obliterated in dark clouds of doubt and confusion. The first thing to do is to recognize it is a holy thing to sit in the darkness. To simply be in it. To let the darkness be the darkness. But our sitting in it is not to be utterly passive. While in the darkness, we are to be watchful for the sparks of divine light wherever and when ever they might appear in the darkness. The second phase of coming into balance is to focus on those sparks of light and expand them so that they begin to become connected. And the third phase is to let them expand until there is nothing but light and the darkness is filled with light.

As I thought about the Baal Shem Tov’s teaching, I could not help but ponder the immediate drama that is unfolding in our national life today. I wonder what it would be like for our political leaders and all the parties who deliberate – – what would it be like to sit in the darkness and confess that we really don’t know what to do – – to confess to ourselves and one another that the darkness has never been darker or more filled with fear and confusion. I wonder if we could sit together in the darkness and begin to watch for the sparks of holiness hidden in the darkness. Together might we add our own sparks to the hidden ones –might we raise a few more so that light began to appear in the darkness. And – -if we were willing to sit long enough, might we amass enough light to displace the darkness with holiness and begin to find our direction again?

A fantasy perhaps and yet………..

The command to holiness has never been more necessary or urgent. We have to be reminded from time to time. It seems imperative that we listen to the command and respond. Art Green makes the command more accessible: “Recognize that you are holy! Despite the great differences between you, each of you has God within you.” This is where we begin – -recognizing and honoring the sparks that WE are in the darkness – – reaching out to each other so that the sparks can connect and expand. We have a role to play in becoming the light that illumines the darkness. The healing and wholeness of creation is the responsibility of those who respond to what God commands – – You shall be holy, for I, the Creative Wholeness, the unity of all things, I am holy. You are part of me and I am part of you. When Jesus says in John’s Gospel: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me – – and you are in me and I am in you – it is his reminder to us that we are holy beings with a responsibility to be holy in the world. So……Let’s get on with it.

1 Rabbi Joseph Rook Rapport, d’var torah on Vayikra Reformjudaism.com

2 Abraham Joshua Heschel I Asked For Wonder – A Spiritual Anthology Samuel Dresner,ed. Crossroad, New York 2003 p.86

3 Lawrence Kushner The Book of Words – Talking Spiritual Life, Living Spiritual Talk Jewish Lights Woodstock, Vermont,1993 p91.

4 Heschel Man’s Quest For God –Studies In Prayer and Symbolism, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1954. P.109

Facing The Future Without Fear

Facing The Future Without Fear

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Ezekiel 34: 1-16

John 10:1-10

Chilmark Community Church

May 7, 2017

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

(Bold, italicized text indicates material excerpted from a talk and commentary given by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks as foot noted below)

“These are the times that try men’s souls, and they’re trying ours now.” Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks quoted Thomas Paine as he began a talk about how we can face the future without fear if we face it together.

There are so many layers of meaning in the scriptures that we have just heard.  As we so often discover with rich texts, we will probably miss a few.

I want to use three questions to get at some of the layers.  Actually, they are questions we could use for any bible study.  First : What does the text reveal about the relationship  between God and  humankind?    Second: If we understand that the scripture can reveal something about God, what kind of  Self is God revealing?  And third: What is the text either teaching or asking us about our own relationship with The Holy One?  And then perhaps one final question: “What  does the holy One have in mind for us to learn about moving into the future with confidence?”

The passages we have just heard are chock full of sheep and shepherd images.  I never realized how the metaphors  of flocks, and shepherds and sheep permeate so much of the Bible until I began thinking about today’s sermon.   One of the first things we notice in the words of  Ezekiel is that the prophet points to the reality that the flock –  the people of God – is scattered – wandering – at risk – in danger of becoming food for predators.  Their wounds are not being cared for.  When they stray off from the flock no one seeks them out to bring them back. They are separated from each other – – lost sheep.

The prophets used the metaphor of shepherding to talk about the health and well being of the people under their various leaders, their shepherds. They did not paint a pretty picture. On  April 24, 2017, Rabbi Sacks spoke in Vancouver, Canada. The theme of his talk was “The Future You”.  He spoke about facing the future without fear. I want to intersperse some of his remarks here.

Rabbi Sacks names our contemporary scene. “It’s a fateful moment in history. We’ve seen divisive elections, divided societies and a growth of extremism — all of it fueled by anxiety, uncertainty and fear. The world is changing faster than we can bear, and it’s looking like it’s going to continue changing faster still. Sacks asks: “Is there something we can do to face the future without fear?”

One answer to the question of what the Bible reveals about the relationship between God and God’s people is that God notices the state of disarray – – the scattered-ness – – the wounded-ness – – the disunity of the flock.   If we are to trust the words of  Ezekiel, then the text reveals  that the current state of the world  both wounds and angers God – – and  God lays responsibility on the shoulders of the shepherds –  who have failed to keep faith with the flock – to keep the flock safe and healthy and free from harm.  I think it is fair to say that  much of the flock of humanity feels insecure – – is scared and fears the future.  God notices – – and God is angered.  This is not what God intends for humankind.  Indeed, the disarray in which humanity finds itself in the 21st century offends the sacred unity and holiness    the Wholeness of God.   And God does not like it.   So there is an overarching revelation in the text that there is a profound Wholeness that is broken.  In our individual lives and in our small community, we may be able to maintain our connection with the Holy One. But on a larger scale humankind is scattered, disconnected and afraid.  Taken as a whole, there is a rupture in the harmony of the relationship between humanity and the Source of All Creation.  The passage Ezekiel reveals this much to us about the relationship between God and humankind.

The second question kind of piggy backs on the first one:  What might God want us to know about the Divine Self? What kind of Self does God reveal?  I think we can go right back into the words of the prophet.  In a very telling line we read: Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep from their hands…no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves…  I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that my sheep may not be food for them. (Ezekiel 34:10)  This is an image of a passionately loving God of justice.  That passion takes the form of anger at the dereliction of the shepherds – a dereliction that God describes as the shepherds eating – consuming their own flocks. The God revealed in these verses is a God who seeks out the lost, the scattered, the abused, the  exploited, in order to feed, and heal and restore to full health and unity.  Whenever we read or hear the words “Thus said the Lord…” we need to be prepared for some revelation of the mind of God.   We also learn here that God doesn’t  choose to remain hidden in secret – leaving us to guess what is going on. Sometimes God says it outright as through the voice of Jeremiah: Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture, says the Lord.  Therefore thus says the Lord, 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 (Jeremiah 23:1-6).  There is a price to be paid by the people who are irresponsible in their leading and governing – who do not carry the vision of God for the wholeness of the people.

Through Jeremiah, God is revealed as the movement toward justice for all people.  We know enough about life and social and political and economic  dynamics to know that the Divine vision for justice and peace and harmony and well being for humanity must happen through human beings who embody the vision that carries us forward.  When human beings lose sight of the vision – or ignore it –  the vision goes unfulfilled.  The poor get poorer.  Access to adequate health care becomes more difficult.  Fear and the threat of violence grow.  It becomes easier to take aim at the lives of strangers.   Nevertheless, the prophets hold before us a holy and passionate Urge that demands that we keep moving toward justice for the human community.  This is the God – Self revealed in the prophetic texts. This is what gets conveyed through the metaphors of shepherding and sheep.

The third question. What does the text  ask me to think about in my relationship with The Holy One? What does the scripture want me to understand more fully about who God and I are together?

This is where the metaphor of the sheep begins to fray a little.  There is always an “is and is not” component of metaphors.  While on one level I can own that I am one of many sheep in the flock of humankind that is held in the gaze of the Holy One, I also must own that I am not a sheep.  I am a distinct human individual. I have a brain that asks questions and tries to figure things out.  I am capable of  teasing out right from wrong. I am capable of making a conscious choice about whether to follow a particular shepherd or not. 

I’m thinking that this is where Jesus comes in to tell us about who we are and about what our relationship with Him might involve. 

I  read a bit of commentary on the nature of shepherding in the ancient MIddle East relative to today’s text.  In Jesus’ world of  shepherding, several flocks were sometimes allowed to mix. More than one flock might be kept in the same sheepfold.  Often, flocks were mixed while being watered at a well.  When it became necessary to separate several flocks of sheep, one shepherd after another would stand up and call out something like: “Tahhoo! Tahhoo!” or a similar call of his own choosing. The sheep would listen and after a general scramble, they would each find their own shepherd. The sheep were familiar with their own shepherd’s tone of voice. Strangers might try to use the same call, but their attempts to get the sheep to follow them would fail.

The story of Jesus and the sheepfold lets us know that we are a mixed and diverse people sharing space on the planet – – and there are many, many voices of would be shepherds calling out for our loyalty.  But we are attuned to the voice of Jesus because that is the voice we have been taught to listen for. Hearing requires a focused listening. There are lot of other voices also calling for our attention – voices that threaten – – voices that lie – – voices that play on our fears and anxieties.  The truth that the sheep recognize their shepherd’s voice puts the spotlight on our relationship with God.  Whose voice do we listen for?  Whose voice do we trust and follow?  Do we listen carefully enough?  Do we recognize the particular sound of the voice of Jesus over the din of all the other competing voices?

From the same commentary I learned that the Eastern shepherd does not drive his sheep as  Western shepherds do. The Eastern shepherd leads the sheep, often going out ahead of them. “And when he has brought out all of his own, he goes ahead of them and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”(John 10:4). This does not mean that the shepherd is always in front of his sheep, although he would usually be in that position when traveling.  The shepherd might also walk alongside, and sometimes  even follow behind, especially if the flock was headed for the fold in the evening. The shepherd positioned him or herself wherever the sheep might be the  most vulnerable in the given conditions. This reminds me of a verse from Psalm 139 describing God’s all encompassing presence: ‘You are present before me, and behind me, and you hold me in the palm of your hand.  Such knowledge is too awesome to grasp; so deep I cannot fathom it.” 

Scripture guides us into thinking about where we stand in relationship to The Shepherd. It asks us to look at ourselves.  Are we listening for the voice?  When we hear it are we able to get up and follow?  Do we know and acknowledge that we are continually in the attentive embrace of a Shepherd at all times.  Is this what we are meant to understand about our relationship with God  from Jesus’ about the shepherd and the sheep?   

Then there is the fourth question.  What might the God want us to understand  as we face into the future?  Is there something we can do to face into the future without fear?

Back to Rabbi Sacks: Future anthropologists, Sacks says, will take a look at the books we read on self-help, at how we talk about politics as a matter of individual rights, and at “our newest religious ritual: the selfie” — and conclude that we worship the self.

This worship of the self conflicts directly with our social nature, and with our need for friendship, trust, loyalty and love. As he says: “When we have too much of the ‘I’ and not enough of the ‘we,’ we find ourselves vulnerable, fearful and alone.”

To solve the most pressing issues of our time, Sacks says, we need to strengthen the future US in three dimensions: the “us of relationship,” the “us of responsibility” and the “us of identity.”

Starting with the “us of relationship,” Sacks challenges us with the idea that it’s the people who are not like us who make us grow.  “We need to renew [and engage in] face-to-face encounters with the people not like us in order to realize that we can disagree strongly and still stay friends.  We need to recognize that we are a mix of flocks in the same sheepfold.  Our sense of “me” needs to be replaced by a sense of “we” and “us” as humankind under the care of the Shepherd with Many Names if we are to find our way to a safe and secure future.    Sacks notes that “In [encounters with the stranger], we discover that the people not like us are just people, like us.”  We need to strengthen a sense of “Us” in relationship. 

In considering the “us of identity,” Sacks invites us to the memorials in Washington, DC, for American luminaries like Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. They all feature panels of text and quotes enshrined in stone and metal. In London, memorials are different, with very little text. Why the difference? Because America is largely a nation of settlers from elsewhere.  We created our identity by telling a story. The trouble is now that we’ve stopped telling the story of who we are and why. “When you tell the story and your identity is strong, you can welcome the strangers. But when you stop telling the story, your identity gets weak and you feel threatened by the stranger,” Sacks says. “We’ve got to get back to telling our story — who we are, where we came from, what are the ideals by which we live.”  Our story, in part, is a story of sheep and a Good Shepherd.  We confirm and affirm our “us of identity” when we continue to tell the story.  It helps us to keep from being consumed by fear and anxiety.

Finally, the “us of responsibility.” Sacks finds that we’ve fallen into “magical thinking” when we believe that electing a particular strong leader will solve all of our problems. When this kind of thinking dominates, we fall for extremism — on the far right or far left, in the extreme religious or extreme anti-religious.

“The only people that will save us from ourselves is we, the people — all of us together,” Sacks says. “When we move from the politics of ‘me’ to the politics of ‘all of us together,’ we rediscover those beautiful, counter-intuitive truths: that a nation is strong when it cares for the weak, that it becomes rich when it cares for the poor, it becomes invulnerable when it cares about the vulnerable. That is what makes great nations.” This is the strength that we have available to us when we recognize and pay attention to the voice of the Shepherd who knows us by name.

This is the message of the prophets and of Jesus.  When we have a sense of ourselves belonging to a larger flock – a sense of being in the world together with every other human being – – and when we have a sense of working together under the careful attention of a Shepherd who gathers us, whose voice we recognize, who calls us by name, who leads from before and behind and along side of – – we really do have the possibility of facing  the future together without fear. 

As we come to the communion table, may the sacrament be a reminder for us that we are known by name and that we are called together by a voice we can recognize.  And may we know that the closer we draw to one another, the closer we come to the Shepherd.  AMEN

A Spaceship

A SPACESHIP                                                               CHILMARK COMMUNITY CHURCH                                     REV. ARMEN HANJIAN  ISAIAH 24:1-6                                                           APRIL 30, 2017

Would you like to take a trip in a spaceship?  I’ll bet it would be exciting.  They say when you move away from something you can see it better.  That’s true of a mountain; it’s probably true of our earth as well.

So, how about it?  Let’s blast off.  Wait.  Let’s make sure we have enough of what we need for our trip: food, water, fuel, oxygen.  Ok. 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1,0.  Blast off! Wow, we are up here already.  Sure is beautiful.  A thousand questions go thru the mind.  Whose earth is it?  Why is it there? Will it go on spinning for ever and ever?

Where do we get our answers from?  Some I can figure out.  I know the earth doesn’t belong to any one person or nation.  Some answers, like why is the earth here, I’ll have to take the word of those who studied that question, at least until I have had the chance to think it thru again and again.  And I guess some questions, like when will it stop spinning, I may never get answered.

Just look at that turning earth.  My parents, my minister and the Bible all have said, “The earth is the Lord’s…” It belongs to God.  So I guess the first earth day was God’s idea.  I wonder how God did it?  God probably said, I’ll make me an earth and I’ll put people there to make me a family.  I’ll love them and provide for their needs and I’ll wait and see if they will love me and if they will love the others who are part of my great family. If this earth thing is an experiment, it sure is a tremendous one.  Do you suppose God is waiting to see if the people down there will be thankful or forgetful, good caretakers or thoughtless?

Hey, we have been flying thru space for a while now just lost in  thought about that round ball in space we call earth.  We better check our gauges. We have to get back to earth before our supply of food and water, fuel and oxygen run out.  Back in  1970, the Apollo 13 spaceship almost didn’t make it back safely.

It may be hard for some of you youngsters to understand, but try.  Take a look out thru your window at that other spaceship  out there; you say you don’t see another spaceship?  The other spaceship I’m talking about is the earth.  You see when you leave the earth and pass thru the clouds and the layers of air around the earth, there is no more water, no more oxygen, no more food.  Just as our imaginary spaceship has a limited supply of life supporting items, the same is true with spaceship earth.

The problems our earth faces are many.  Unless we take care of these two I am going to mention, we will have the same problem as the Apollo 13 astronauts: no place to go to find breathable air and no place to go to find food and drinkable water.

Problem #1, the number of people on earth is growing and of the 7 1/2 billion people here more the 1 billion will being going to bed hungry tonight.  Problem #2, the air, water and even the food is slowly being poisoned.  No one is doing it on purpose, but a lot of us are doing it – with chemicals and car exhausts for example.

It seems like there is an endless supply of land on which to grow food.  What good is good soil in the desserts of the world if there is no rain there?  What good in moisture at the North and South poles if the temperature is too cold? The many mountains are too up and down.  Only about 7or 8% of the 100% of land surface of the earth is useable for food.  As you can see there on the upper half of planet earth, our country has many great resources.  We  only make up 5 1/2% of all the people of the world, but we use over 33% of the world’s resources that are used each year.  I just can’t help thinking about what Jesus said, to whom much has been given, much shall be required.

The idea of people being put in charge of God’s world and all that is on it, was most important to Jesus – we see that in so many of Jesus lessons.  When we use the word stewardship we mean taking care of something for someone else.

Another word we hear about is the word ecology – it is used to describe our relationship with everything about us: the seas, the sky, the wildlife, everything. The word ecology comes from the Greek word, “oikos,” which means house..  So you see, the earth is God’s house and we are God’s guests.

No human pain or problem can be ignored by the followers of Jesus.  That is why we are so concerned with what is happening with our earth, ugh, God’s earth.  We care not because things might look more and more messy, but because people can be hurt.

The church, that is, you and I, acts just like the religious leaders in the parable of the good Samaritan that passed by the man in need if we go our merry way without acting to help with these fast-growing problem.  We must interrupt our fun sometimes if we are to be followers of Jesus.

Well, it’s time to change our orbit to prepare for our reentry.  Before we get back down to earth, let us be certain we have in mind some things we can do to make sure we don’t hide from fulfilling the needs of God’s earth and caring for God’s children.

Number 1, let us keep in mind that both church leaders and scientific leaders have told us have we have a growing problem, a crisis.  I do believe God is supporting those who care about our problems, but nowhere do I read that we can do as we please because God’s “got the whole world in his hands.”

Number 2, By your own action you can make a difference, you can help.  Don’t do anything that would spoil God’s good creation.  As the comic strip character Pogo says, “we have met the enemy and they are us.”  Act by yourself and with others, clean up where you can.  Set the example.  I would say, most people have become Christians not from hearing about it so much as from seeing in people, by their Christ-like lives, caring and meeting needs by their actions.

Number 3,  work in cooperation with others, because if we depend on individuals by themselves to solve the earth’s problems, we are lost.  We have tried that way and today people are hurting and in pain and hunger more than ever.  If caring people don’t band together to meet the earth’s needs, selfishness of the non-caring people will overwhelm us!  That is the drama that is going on now on this planet.

Did you feel that?  We are beginning our reentry.  As we float down to earth I can’t help thinking God has provided enough for the people down there, but the problem we face is something like this.  There are 2 cupcakes which are enough to feed 5 people, but who wants to share, not to mention how are you going to cut them so everyone will be happy?

You know something, I think God planned it that way.  We need to care and think about others in order to get along, to survive.

The only way we can care enough to do our very best, anything else will not solve our problems, is by giving our lives to Jesus Christ.  He can do more with them than we can.

Splashdown – in the ocean.  We have been picked up by those who have worked with us.  Now let us see just how Jesus Christ will use us to help keep spaceship earth in good condition for people, for all the years to come.

Breakfast on the Beach 4/23/17

Breakfast On The Beach

John 21:1-17

Acts 3:1- 10

Chilmark Community Church

April 23, 2017     2nd Sunday in Easter

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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