Category Archives: SERMONS, WORSHIP, MEDITATIONS

Home meditation March 29,2020

Chilmark Community Church 

March 29, 2020, Fifth Sunday in Lent

Rev. Ernest Belisle, Pastor

 

Opening Prayer:

O God, source of all life, we thank you for your abiding presence.  Sometimes life seems unbearable and we struggle with the burdens of life and death. We try desperately to be in control. Set us free, in mind body and spirit O God, from all our worries and insecurities. Free us now from a wandering mind and a restless heart that we might worship you in spirit and in truth. Renew within us an awareness of who we are as God’s people. May this be a time of new life and new resolution to live in and through the One who came not to be served but to serve.  Amen.

 

Meditation for the Week

Today we give thanks that God is our strength and shield. With the hymn writer Martin J. Nystrom, we can sing:  As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you. You alone are my heart’s desire, and I long to worship you. You alone are my strength, my shield; to you alone may my spirit yield. You alone are my heart’s desire, and I long to worship you.

Our scripture reading for the day assures us that in Christ there is certainty in life and through death. The reading is for the fifth Sunday of Lent in the A Cycle of the Revised Common Lectionary from the Gospel according to St. John’s Gospel chapter 11 verses 1-45.  What an event!  Jesus, having left the Bethany area (near Jerusalem) because of threats on his life received a call to return, from Mary and Martha, because his friend, Lazarus, was extremely ill and near death (corona virus?).  After Lazarus’ death, Jesus decided to return to Mary and Martha, against the advice of his disciples.  When he arrived, Martha scolded him, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  Mildly suggesting, why bother to come now that he is dead for three days.  Jesus was genuinely moved, his answer to Martha was, Your brother will rise again… I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet they will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?’’Jesus then went to the tomb (with a group following him) and asked that the stone be rolled away. There were, at first, some objections because of the stench and contamination that would come from the tomb. Eventually, the stone was rolled away and Jesus ordered, in a loud and passionate voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Lazarus came out in the manner in which he was placed in tomb; bound head, hands and feet with burial cloth.  Jesus ordered, “Unbind him, and set him free.”

This is a significant and extraordinary event for many reasons.  Here are a few:

  1. a) That Lazarus was dead for three days makes the point that he was not in a coma; he was really dead. (This is no making believe, it is a spiritual account! The implication is that many are dead and entombed; while there are also those who are out of the tomb but still wrapped in their death cloth.)
  2. b) That Jesus was willing to risk his life and return to the area demonstrates Jesus’ love for his friend. (Jesus risked/gave his life for all the world.)
  3. c) That Jesus was able to raise Lazarus from the dead displayed Jesus’ power over death and the grave. (Jesus/God still has power over spiritual and physical death.)
  4. d) That Jesus ordered himunbound from his death clothreveals Jesus’ desire to set him free from the marks of death to live a new life in Jesus the Christ. (Jesus still orders us unbound from the things that bind us in death and to death.)

To all of us in this time of uncertainty, disease and death may we hear the words of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet they will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”… “Unbind him/her, and set him/her free.”

Let us remember that it is in Christ that we find new life spiritually and physically; even in this time of disease and death. We are a people of LIFE.  Hear the words and thought of Cardinal John Henry Newman who advised, “Fear not of death, but fear rather, that when you come to the end of your earthly journey you find out that you never have lived.” Yes, so afraid of death that we never lived – if so our whole earthly sojourn becomes one long morbid journey because of the fear of death, because of a lack of faith and trust in God: the All-Mighty, All Loving, All Powerful God of heaven and earth and the universe. So in these times of lock down and social distancing let us remember to do our best to find life – joy, peace and love in our family, our loved ones and our God.  We journey with Jesus through hardships, sacrifices and even death, from Galilee to Jerusalem and then to new life.

Remember Jesus’ word, “Unbind …set … free!” The scripture reading suggests: Be not bound by death or the fear of death. (Of course, I am not suggesting we discontinue our physical practice of social distancing!) Let us remain spiritually connected through prayer, meditation and thinking of each other.

You, O Christ, are in us, in our hospitals, in our nurses and doctors, in your Church, in your world, and in you we find ‘the resurrection and the life.’

Sincerely,

Your Brother in Christ,

Ernest Belisle (Pastor)

Prayer with you family or alone:

Leader: Be with us O Lord as we pray this prayer.

From the swirling chaos of the primeval waters you brought forth light and life, O Lord.

All: One thing I know, though I be dead as Lazarus, you loved me so much that you brought me back to life, unbound me and set me free to eat and drink, sing and dance with you in your house.

Leader: From the mud of the earth you brought into being one who is intended to see what you see, O Lord.

All: One thing I know, though I be dead as Lazarus, you loved me so much that you brought me back to life, unbound me and set me free to eat and drink, sing and dance with you in your house.

Leader: From my sisters’ prayers and tears for a sick and dying brother you have called my name that I may be a witness to your glorious power, O Lord.

All: One thing I know, though I be dead as Lazarus, you loved me so much that you brought me back to life, unbound me and set me free to eat and drink, sing and dance with you in your house.

 

Pastor: Send forth your Holy Spirit on me and on all your people in ways yet unimagined, that through this time of chaos and confusion we will be opened, and, will see your heart at work in me and in the world. May we not hold back but cry out loudly:

All: You are the Resurrection and the Life, O Christ, my God.

 

Your Personal Prayers:

 

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

As we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

 

The Hymn for the day:

         Jesus, Joy of Our Desiring         UMH644

(Martin Janus, 1661; trans. anon.)

 

  1. Jesus, joy of our desiring, holy wisdom, love most bright; drawn by thee, our souls aspiring soar to uncreated light.

Word of God, our flesh that fashioned, with the fire of life impassioned, striving still to truths unknown, soaring, dying round thy throne.

 

  1. Through the way where hope is guiding, hark, what peaceful music

 rings; where the flock, in thee confiding, drink of joy from deathless springs.

Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure; theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure.

            Thou dost ever lead thine own in the love of joys

         unknown.

 

Closing Prayer and Benediction

Love mercy, deal justly, practice patience, and live peacefully with all.  Know that Jesus is our Resurrection and Life; in him we can find new Life in troubled times; in the name of the God our Father and Mother, in the name of the Son Jesus the Christ our Brother, and in the name of the Holy Spirit our Comforter.  Amen.

Benediction:                   Traditional Irish Melody

May the road continue smooth before you;

             May there be enough light along the way;

May peace greet you at every crossroad

             And joy accompany you to the end.

Through whatever pain and suffering is yours to endure,

             Know that God is in it with you.

Amen

Chilmark Community Church

March 15, Worship from Home

Chilmark Community Church

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Third Sunday in the Lenten Season

“In nearness shall Thy voice be heard;

Spirit to spirit Thou doth speak.”

(Alfred Henry Vine)

 

Scripture Reading for the day is from St John 4: 5-42

We are happy you are reading, reflecting and worshiping from home.   Our Scripture reading for reflection is from the Gospel according to St. John. It tells the story of the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at Jacob’s well as he was travelling through Samaria on his way to Jerusalem.  (Please read the record of the event from the Gospel.)

Water and Food are two basic human needs. In the Gospel narrative the woman, like Nicodemus (last week’s reading), misses the point regarding spiritual things.  When Jesus offered her “living water” but she thought it was physical water from Jacob’s well.  She saw and thought of only the physical and not the spiritual. “Everyone who drinks of this water will never thirst again,” said Jesus.  The woman light-heartedly asked Jesus to give her that living water so that she would have no more need to return to the well.  Jesus spoke of the water that quenches our spiritual thirst and yearning.  Jeremiah noted that “it is the Lord who is the fountain of living water.”  Jesus pointed to the Messianic age in which, “They shall not hunger and thirst” any more (Isaiah 49:10).

There is the larger theological question of the nature of the souls of human beings and the nature of the Divine Soul (Holy Spirit) and how these two relate to each other. Paul, in his epistle to the Romans 8:16 noted that “it is that very Spirit (God’s Spirit) bearing witness with our spirit that we are the children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ”.  Your soul and my soul are connected to God’s Holy Spirit and in constant communication.

Along with this there is also the question of God granting us free will.  In the midst of our Spirit to spirit connection God grants freedom of will.  So it was for Adam and Eve. So it was for the Israelites in the desert, so it was for the people of Jesus’ time and so it is for us today.  Think of our biggest human struggle and how crucial today’s reading is to the question:  “Who/What satisfies our deepest needs: “living water,” wine, strong drink or what?” Every human soul is thirsty and needs to be quenched at the fountain of “living water” given in God through Jesus Christ.

May God’s Divine Spirit continue to speak to your spirit and mine in this time of uncertainty and dread.

Richest blessing as we travel the road Jesus walked during this holy Lenten Season!

 

Let us Pray:

Almighty and everlasting God,

giver of health and salvation,

we give thank for your presents with us in times of both health and illness.

As your holy apostles anointed many who were ill,

so pour out your Holy Spirit on us and especially on those who are ill, afraid or mourning the passing of a loved one.

Increase our faith and confirm our hope in you,

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen

The Lord’s Prayer:                 

Our Father, who art in heaven,

     Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

As we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.

Amen.

March 22, 2020 Worship from Home

Chilmark Community Church

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Fourth Sunday in the Lenten Season

“Through the night of doubt and sorrow, on ward goes the pilgrim band;

Singing songs of expectation, marching to the promised land.”

(Bernhardt Ingemann, translated by Sabine Baring-Gould)

 

Scripture Reading for the day: St John 9:1-41

Welcome to the Chilmark Community Church Family meditation for the week beginning Sunday, March 22, 2020.  Thanks you God that you have led us through another week of corona pandemic uncertainty and social distancing.

My prayer is: Leader us, eternal One, lead us

Through our time of pandemic uncertainty;

Guard us, guide us, keep us, heal us,

For we have no help but you,

Yet possessing every blessing

If our God our Leader be. Amen

                                                   (Adopted from James Edmestom)         

We continue to reflect on our Lenten Theme: Journeying with Jesus – From Galilee to Jerusalem.  Galilee is the place of home and security and Jerusalem the place of uncertainty and pain, but Jerusalem is also the place of Resurrection and eternal life. Our Journey with Jesus is a spiritual journey.

During Lenten we are reflecting on spirituality, understanding spirituality and the place of spirituality in our lives. In our reading for the day the woman at the well, like Nicodemus the week before, had no idea of spiritual things. She understood thing only from a physical point of view.  Our spirituality strengths our inner fortitude and assures us that although we may not know what the future holds, we know God holds our future.  The church is, first and foremost, a spiritual institution. The church suggests and offers to the peoples of the world ways to be closer to God the source of all spirituality. During this time of physical and spiritual crisis we encourage all to spend some time in reflection, self-examination, repentance, self-denial and prayer.  We encourage you to pray for our researchers and scientists, our health care-workers and public servants, and our polities and service workers.

In the reading for Saint John (9:1-41), Jesus heals a man who was born blind. Those who saw what had happened asked Jesus, “Whose sin caused this man to be blind, his or his parents?” Jesus replied, “neither his nor his parents’ sins but that God’s work might be raveled through him.”  The occasion demonstrated that God transformed the man’s blindness into sight – darkness into light!  The man is in fact an example of all of us how have allowed Jesus to transforms our darkness and despair into light and hope. Jesus is the light of the church and the world! Again, the people of Jesus’ day were looking for the physical sins the man or his parents had committed while Jesus was speaking of the spiritual place of God in our lives.

Traveling with Jesus is a spiritual journey – from blindness to sight, from darkness to light, from disbelief to belief, from anxiety to assurance, from insecurity and serenity, from despair to hope and from death to life. As the record of the event goes, sometime later, Jesus came across the man and had a conversation with him. The man had come to believe in Jesus the Christ – the Messiah, the Light of the world.

The life, teaching and example of Jesus dispel our spiritual blindness and lead us on our journeying through these times of uncharted waters.

Very sincerely,

Ernest Belisle (Pastor)

 

Let Us Pray:

O God of the ages, you have always journeyed with humanity – with Abraham and Sarah, with Moses and Joshua, with Mary and Joseph, with Paul and Silas, with the pilgrims and with all our fathers and mothers to the place you promised. Bless and guide all the peoples of the earth who are suffering in any way because of this new corona virus outbreak. Grant to our scientists the wisdom of a cure, calm our anxieties, grant us inner peace and help us to learn to trust in you during this present time of social distancing. We remember that all the sacrifices we make are made for the sake of all humanity. Increase our hope in you and rekindle our vision in Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd of the sheep. Speak to us Spirit to spirit as we continue to journey into an unknown future. We pray all these things though Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, now and forever. 

Amen.

 

Your Personal Prayers and Reflections:

 

The Lord’s Prayer:                 

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

As we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.

Amen.

 

 

The hymn for the day:

Hymn: “He Leadeth Me: O Blessed Thought” #128 UMH

  1. He leadeth me: O blessed thought!

O words with heavenly comfort fraught!

Whate’er I do, where’er I be, still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.

Refrain: He leadeth me, he leadeth me,  by his own hand he leadeth me;

  1. Sometimes mid scenes of deepest gloom,

sometimes where Eden’s bowers  bloom, by waters still,

o’er troubled sea, still ’tis his hand that leadeth me.

 

Refrain: He leadeth me, he leadeth me,  by his own hand he leadeth me;

  1. Lord, I would place my hand in thine, nor ever murmur nor repine; content, whatever lot I see, since ’tis my God that leadeth me.

Refrain: He leadeth me, he leadeth me, by his own hand he leadeth me;

  1. And when my task on earth is done, when

by thy grace the victory’s won, e’en death’s cold wave
I will not flee, since God through Jordan leadeth me.

 

Refrain: He leadeth me, he leadeth me, by his own hand he leadeth me;

(Joseph H. Gilmore, 1862 (Ps. 23)

 

Closing Prayer: (the Irish Blessing)

May the road continue smooth before you;

          May there be enough light along the way;

May peace greet you at every crossroad

          And joy accompany you to the end.

Through whatever pain and suffering is yours to endure,

          Know that God is in it with you.

Amen

The Widow and the bad Judge 10/20/19

Today’s reading from the Holy Scriptures tells of the unjust Judge. As the Parable goes there was a judge who answered only to himself, couldn’t give a rip about spiritual things and worst still did not care one hoot about or for the poor widow. Mosaic Law prescribed that the husband’s immediate family and the community of faith were primarily responsible for widows. This notion would not have been lost on Jesus’ audience that she had no one – family or faith community. The point is there was only one person on earth who could help her — the judge. The parable suggests that if even this notorious unjust Judge ended up giving the woman justice how much more would God the merciful do for those who keep asking. Remember that our God is God even of the unjust Judge and God can change the minds and attitudes of the unjust in our world.

The widow knew that this Judge was her only earthly hope, so she prattled on and on, daily waiting for the judge to arrive at his office in the morning, daily being the last face he saw as he left for his comfortable home in the evening. Her persistence in prayerfully dealing with the unjust Judge won in the end, he gave her justice. The point Jesus made was, “we must prayerfully persevere in dealing with the ungodly world and in the end we will come to know God’s justice.”

What a powerful word this is for us in a society that wants everything to come our way easily. At the first inkling of things not going our way we throw in the towel. We do not want to hear any other view but our own. We lock ourselves in silos and thus there is no cross fertilizing of ideas and actions, no holy conversations and God directed comprises. The result is that we grow progressively impoverished in character and spirituality. This is how it is in politics and this is how it is in the many church. The parable speaks loudly to us, it is time to prayerfully persevere.

Faith, patience, hope and openness be yours!

Ernest Belisle (Pastor)

Sept.22,2019 Parable of the Shrewd Manager

This introduction to the worship service gives a broad outline of the sermon themes.

Chilmark Community Church

9 Menemsha Crossroad, Chilmark, MA

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Worship Service of Praise & Thanksgiving

Rev. Ernest Belisle, Pastor

Thought for the week:

“We live in a cheating culture, one that encourages us to focus on earthly wealth, short-term profits and worldly commissions.” What about you?

(Homiletics 9-19-04) 2

A Special WELCOME to

Chilmark Community Church!

We trust that you will be inspired by this morning’s worship service and pray that it will bring you some amount of spiritual renewal. Today’s Lectionary Reading (St. Luke 16), “the parable of the shrewd manager” (vv. 1-8a) is associated with present material wealth and future relationships (vv. 10-13).

Was the manager dishonest? At first glance it sounds like he was a card-carrying member of the cheating culture – he was charged with squandering his master’s property, and was given his marching orders – “You’re fired!”

“What will I do,” the so call shady manager asked himself, “now that my master is firing me?” He came up with a plan. In order to guarantee that he would have a safe place to land after his present job, he summoned the master’s debtors and gave them some wonderfully deep discounts. To one who owed 100 jugs of oil, he said “make that just 50.” To the other who owed 100 containers of wheat, he said, “You’re in luck – your bill is now 80!” The whole thing sounds pretty unethical and it seems as if he were running the risk of being thrown in the slammer for stealing. But the master’s reaction sounds rather odd. The master “commended the dishonest manager because he acted shrewdly,” which is an unlikely response from a man who has just lost fifty jugs of olive oil and twenty containers of wheat. The Liars’ Club

The parable teaches that the shrewd manager (steward) was willing to sacrifice short-term earnings for long-term security. Many Bible scholars believe that the manager was simply cutting out his own commission. The hundred jugs of olive oil could be broken down into fifty for the master, and fifty for the manager. 3

That explains why the master (God) was not angry. The manager was simply eliminating his own commission, knowing that he would benefit long-term from having a place to stay once he was out of work. At this level the parable is about “make friends for the future”(Luke 16:9). Its focus is on preparing for the next life after the present which was swiftly coming to an end. It is more about securing heavenly riches than about enjoying earthly gain.

May God bless you richly as we worship together!

Pastor Ernest

“There be giants in the land” by Vicky Hanjian

“There be giants in the land…”

Numbers 13:1-3a;17-33

Matthew 28:5-10

Chilmark Community Church

June 30, 2019

Perception is a really curious human phenomenon. There is the old cliché observation that if four people witness an automobile accident, there will be four different descriptions of what happened – each person believing that they saw accurately. Moses sent 12 men, representing each of the 12 tribes out into Canaan to scout out the land and bring back a report about what they found.   

They were supposed observe whether the land was good, what kind of people lived there, whether there were settlements?  Or were there armed fortresses? Moses asked them to bring back some produce so he could see what the land produced – whether it was fertile or not.  It is clear that this was not an espionage assignment – too many men were going and Moses would not have risked losing so many leaders in a spy operation.  It seemed like a prudent thing to do – to scout things out before making a huge leap into the unknown.

The men returned with mixed perceptions about what they saw.

The majority report, on their return, was full of dire warnings – “Yes – – the land IS flowing with milk and honey and look at the fruit we brought back – – it takes two men to carry the bunches of grapes we found.  BUT the people who live there are strong and the towns are big and fortified – and we saw giants there.” 

Their report instilled fear in the people when they heard it -and they took up their 40 year long chant – “we would have been better off back in Egypt” – -“it would be better for us if we had died there or at least if we had died in the wilderness.”  It seemed as though they had learned nothing from their 40 years of sojourning with God and Moses.  At the slightest provocation, their fear took over and they yearned for the security of the good old days which weren’t that great, but which were familiar and predictable.

As a church community, Chilmark Community Church is on the brink of yet another “crossing into Canaan ” – – into a land that God will show you on the other side of July 1st.    Next week, you will welcome a new pastor who will lead you in new and unfamiliar ways.  Most likely you will spend a period of time adjusting to one another, discovering which expectations are realistic and which ones need to be moderated.  There may well be a lot of mixed perceptions as part of your conversations as you begin a new life with a new minister. 

I have no doubt that you will be the welcoming congregation you have always been as you and Ernest Belisle find your way together into being God’s people in a new land of relationships.

But that does not make the transition easy.  There seems to be  an unspoken, unwritten  expectation, I think, that churches will be able to weather the anxiety and stress of  changes in leadership gracefully and without a lot of questions about what comes next. In the Methodist tradition, congregations are asked  to place a lot of trust in the “scouting party” – the SPRC – and in the District Superintendent.  It is actually quite natural to wonder about the giants in the land.

Among the men who returned from the scouting party there was also a minority report from Caleb and Joshua – they stood up in the community and  said  -“Hey -wait a minute – -“The land through which we passed to scout, the land is very, very good.  “If the Lord favors us, He will bring us to this land and give it to us, a land that is flowing with milk and honey.  And there is this curious admonition:

“…. do not rebel against the Lord… do not fear the people of the land, for they are our bread, their shade has turned from them and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them.

The Hebrew is translated in a number of ways – the idea is that “these possible enemies are like our bread -we will consume them”   In the desert regions where the story takes place shade was scarce and it was sought out as protection for both humans and animals in the heat of the day.  Joshua and Caleb report that whatever protection the perceived enemies enjoyed has disappeared.  Joshua and Caleb had a different perception of the possibilities in Canaan.  They were ready to move forward into the land.

While some of the scouts felt like powerless grasshoppers in the face of the giants they perceived, Joshua and Caleb saw possibility in the place where God was leading them.

On the threshold of any transition, there may be appear to be giants in the land – – sometimes they come in the form of  unvoiced anxieties that come with another substantial change in the life of the Chilmark Church.

And even though the report of your “scouting party” has come back in a pretty positive way, there may still be a   chorus of anxious inner whispers that ask “How will things change?” “What will be different?” “What if we don’t get along?” “What if they don’t like the parsonage?”  “What if the island is too rural?” “What if he picks hymns we don’t like?” “What if we don’t understand each other?” “What if he doesn’t love us?” “What if….?  What If…?” “What if…”  Giants in the land.

As we reflected on what  a new appointment might mean for Ernest and his family, we thought that perhaps they might be having the same inner wonderings about the giants they might encounter when they get to the Vineyard – “Will we and the congregation be good working partners?”  “Will the school system serve us well?”  “What will it be like to adapt to living on an island?” “Can we afford to be there?” “Will our son make new friends?” “Will we be able to get the medical care we need in an emergency?”  “And what about all those tick borne diseases?”

There were consequences for the Israelites who feared the giants in the land.  In their fear, they demonstrated to God that they were simply not ready to take responsibility for their future yet.  Their distorted perceptions  of slavery were a safer bet.  They did not get to enter the land.  Those who were able to listen to  Joshua and Caleb followed them and the adventure of the ages began as Israel established itself in the land.

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary  encountered the same fear of “giants in the land” at the empty tomb.  With the crucifixion, they were plunged into a strange borderland without Jesus’ leadership and friendship to guide them and they were afraid.  But they were not left to stay in their anxiety about what would come next. The minority report came in the words of the messenger at the tomb : He’s already gone on ahead of you – – go to Galilee and you will see him there – – they start to run in both fear and joy – – and Jesus greets them on the way.

So -perhaps that is what is in store for Chilmark Community Church -whether we use the metaphor of entering the promised land or running along the road to Galilee as a new ministry begins here – – in either or both stories, the truth is the same.  When change is inevitable, it is the presence of God with us on the road into the new land that guides and protects and informs and keeps us whole. 

Our prayer for you as you move forward is that you will be blessed with the knowledge and assurance that the Presence of God and the power of the Holy Spirit  go before you and accompany you.

May you enter the land with excitement and joy as you greet your new pastor and knock out those pesky giants together. And, along the way, may you meet the Risen Christ and enjoy the power and the newness of what comes when you enter this new land with courage and optimism and trust.  AMEN

“The Cost of Discipleship” Armen Hanjian 6/23/19

THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP

     87, 128, 421                                                                                 92362

Luke 14:25-33                                                                    Luke 9:57-62

     The cost of discipleship.  It cost Jesus.  It cost the disciples.  To be worth anything, it’s got to cost you.

     To be a disciple, one who does the will of God, it cost Jesus a lot.  It cost him what many might call the pleasures of life:

the comforts of marriage and a home, popularity, ridicule, death in the agony of hanging on a cross.  It cost Jesus.

      The cost of discipleship.  It cost the disciples quite a bit too.  Jesus said, “Follow me.”  One man said I must bury my father, then I’ll follow.  Jesus replied, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”        Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”  Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Jesus was not interested in their excuses. 

     Do you suppose God is not interested in our excuses?  We are asked for the supreme sacrifice – give up your ego and follow.  Christ so emphasized this giving of all, that Bacon noted in his writing, “prosperity is the blessing of the Old testament; adversity is the blessing of the New.”

     The principle obstacle to discipleship is concern with yourself – especially your comforts.  As one person put it, “It’s natural to think habitually of ourselves, remembering others only when their inescapably confront us; Jesus is calling us to think habitually of others, and only occasionally remember ourselves.” (Interpreters Bible, Vol. 8,p170)

     We all must face countless burdens in life, but that’s not what Jesus was referring to when he said, “If any want to be my followers, let them deny themselves and take up your cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)  It’s not some calamity, loss of a loved one, shortcoming in our temperament; it’s not enduring the hardships that come our way.  To take a cross is to volunteer, in spite of hardships. To carry someone else’s burden for Christ’s.  It is deliberately choosing an action that could be evaded.  To take up the cross is plain old fashioned self-denial.

     The cost is great.  The rewards may be few, the road bumpy, but to those who persevere will find a life of meaning and joyous satisfaction.  The Christian faith affirms that apart from Jesus Christ one cannot know this fullness of life.  There are compensations, however even in this life which far out weigh any sufferings or renunciations we may be called upon to make.

     Most people seem content to drift to and fro with the crowd.  There is a saying: “Fools wander, wise men travel.”  When you decide with your mind and heart where you want to go with your life, you also have to decide with your mind and heart what your willing to pay to get there.  Christ asks for all of you.  So when the preacher asks for more of your time or money or whatever, as god’s spokesperson,  your being asked for more of you.

     You who are parents – were you happy when your children were born?  Vicky and I were deliriously happy seeing Clark and Adam born.   Even with our insurance we knew we would have to struggle to meet expenses but we decided to keep them. We took Tim in as a foster child and when he was not adopted, we adopted him after a year.

     For many years following they brought us indescribable happiness, but Clark, Adam and Tim never brought in a penny, but we kept them and any friends they gathered along the way.

     Life you know, is never very certain.  There is always the possibility that Clark, Adam or Tim might lose life in a war, or an accident or from an illness.  Then we couldn’t keep that one any more and he wouldn’t cost us a cent.  The dead never do.

     And you know anything alive, whether it’s a child or a church is going to cost and cost.  And when it stops costing, then it’s too late.

     The cost of discipleship is high, but only those who are willing to make the investment will ever know burdens to be easy and life to be abundant.

     In a moment of quiet, would you consider committing one more aspect of your life so that your discipleship would be more pleasing to God.

     

Figuring Out The Blueprint

Figuring Out The Blueprint

Deuteronomy 4:9-14  Acts 2:1-21  2 Corinthians 3:17-18

Chilmark Community Church

June 9, 2019

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

I love the story of Pentecost.  What drama!  The early band of followers of the Way all gathered together in one place 50 days after the resurrection  when all heaven breaks loose with roaring wind and blazing flames  – and a mixture of languages that everyone understood in their own tongue.  And the Holy Spirit is poured out on all who are gathered – – and a new movement called the church is born.   Among other things, the story gives us an image of a radical unity in the midst of incredible diversity – – people from the middle east -Parthians and Medes -Mesopotamians – -people from North Africa – Egypt and Libya – – people from Europe – represented by Rome  – – mixed religions – – Jews and proselytes – – all hearing and experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit in their own way – in their own language – together in a united diversity.

The story is not unlike the traditions that have accrued around the giving of the law at Sinai. The text in Deuteronomy tells us that the revelation of God was given to all who were there -in all their diversity – and it was also given to all who were not there – -the multitudes of generations yet to come. The wisdom of the rabbis has long argued that all human beings who have ever been or ever will be were present at Sinai when the mount roared and blazed and the voice of God was heard.  They also have argued that each person heard that revelation in words they could understand no matter how old or young they were or where they came from.  The people of God were in a state of unity in their diversity as they received God’s revelation.  This morning, members of the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center are gathering at the beach to celebrate Shavuot – the giving of the law on Sinai .  It is a big day of celebration for both traditions.

More than at any time in our history, it is important to pay attention to these stories of diverse peoples being together – receiving the divine revelation as one – living it in the world in a multitude of ways.

The day of Pentecost, the coming of the power of the Holy Spirit, formally introduces the complexity of the Trinity into the early church’s consciousness.  In some sense, of course, the willingness of God to make Godself known in many ways has always been part of the process of revelation – fire and smoke, thundering mountains, a still small voice – – God has always chosen to reveal  Godself in ways that would most readily get human attention.

With the day of Pentecost, the young church receives its own central form of revelation in tongues of fire and rushing wind and strange, multifluid languages that everyone can understand.

It seems to me that God wants everyone under the tent – regardless of where we come from, what language we speak, what color we are or whom we choose to love.

But, of course, being the human receivers of this revelation of unity, we have a hard time living it out in its fullness.  We work quite hard at separating ourselves out by color, gender, religious belief, political preferences, and a myriad of other social constructs that prevent us from the knowledge that we are, indeed, one people in the sight of God.  We seem to need to create an “other” in order to maintain our own identities – – and in the process we create a separation that God did not intend for God’s people.

In his daily meditations this week, Richard Rohr,  referred to author and activist Adrienne Maree Brown who writes:

Separation weakens. It is the main way we are kept (and keep each other) in conditions of oppression. . . . Where we are born into privilege, we are charged with dismantling any myth of supremacy. Where we are born into struggle, we are charged with claiming our dignity, joy and liberation. . . . From that deep place of belonging to ourselves, we can understand that we are inherently worthy of each other. Even when we make mistakes, harm each other, lose our way, we are worthy.

In the same meditation last Monday, Rohr wrote: It seems every generation must be newly converted. While we seek to transform individual hearts and minds we must also work to create change throughout systems. Until a full vision of equity is realized, we must continue naming and resisting the ways in which so many people are excluded and oppressed.

With the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost comes the Holy and paradoxical vision of unity in diversity.  God’s own self becomes the blueprint for how that looks.  Three very different manifestations of the Holy One – – in traditional language -Father – Son – Holy Spirit -and yet the affirmation that there is only the One…..  A challenging complexity for a monotheistic people.  How can three be one?  On the surface, unexamined, it seems an impossibility. The notion of three different ways of knowing God sparked one church council after another right through the 4th century in an attempt formulate what Christians should affirm as true – – councils that frequently resulted in excommunication and  some times even death for those who could not align themselves with the conclusions of a particular body of church  leaders.  The Body of Christ that came into being with such color and drama and hope on Pentecost witnessed schism after schism.  Indeed, 2000 years later we continue to live with that brokenness – witness the fracture in the United Methodist Church as Methodists are in conflict about how to live out the life of Christ in our midst – embracing our diversity – and facing the possibility of schism once again.

Again from Richard Rohr: I’m convinced that beneath the ugly manifestations of our present evils—political corruption, ecological devastation, warring against one another, hating each other based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or nationality—the greatest dis-ease facing humanity right now is our profound and painful sense of disconnection. We feel disconnected from God, certainly, but also from ourselves, from each other, and from our world. Our sense of this fourfold isolation is plunging our species into increasingly destructive behavior and much mental illness.

The isolation of which Rohr speaks was part of the conversation last Sunday as more than a hundred Islanders gathered at the Hebrew Center to  hear what gun violence is doing to our land and what we might do to heal it.  A diverse group of people for sure, from across the spectrum of opinion – manifesting a remarkable  unity around one of the most troubling public health issues we face in this country today.

Somewhere in one of his reflections, Rohr offered an image for understanding the Trinity as a metaphor for relationship – self emptying relationship.  He described  three buckets on a moving waterwheel. Each bucket fills and empties out, then swings back to be filled again. The Father empties into the Son, nothing held back. The Son empties into the Spirit, nothing held back. The Spirit empties into the Father, nothing held back. The reason they can empty themselves out is they know they will be filled again. They know that the center of the universe is infinite love.

So, in the notion of the Trinity,  the blueprint for us as God’s people is an image of flowing interrelationship – one of allowing ourselves to be emptied in loving care and service to one another and the world in the confidence that we will be continually filled in order to continue the relationship – – and we are to sustain and maintain this relationship in our differences and our diversity.

From Richard Rohr again: With the endless diversity in creation, it is clear that God is not at all committed to uniformity but instead desires unity—which is the great work of the Spirit—diversity nurtured and nourished by love. Uniformity is mere conformity and obedience to law and custom; whereas spiritual unity is that very diversity embraced and protected by an infinitely generous love.

The gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost results in the “mad logic” of the Trinity and the Trinity is all about relationship and connection. We know the Trinity through experiencing the flow itself, which dissolves our sense of disconnection.  God is not a being among other beings, but rather the Ground of Being itself which then flows through all beings.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians that “…the Lord is spirit, and where the spirit of the lord is, there is freedom.  And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into that same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”  What Paul was seeing – – and what we must struggle and learn to see, is that the gift of the Holy Spirit is one that guides us into understanding that we – – each one of us – – reflects the face of God – when the  holy one “sees us” we are as reflection in a mirror.   The “face” of God is as diverse as all creation.  Showing itself in everything we see, in every relationship in which we engage. 

It is taking a long time for the church -the body of Christ -to read and interpret the blueprint set forth in the Day of Pentecost -and to live it out.  May we be blessed with strength and courage, and above all, with the unconditional love we need for one another and the world as we seek to create a world built on the Master Blueprint.  AMENFigur

On Blessing..June 16 by Armen Hanjian

INCOMPLETE UNTIL….

CHILMARK COMMUNITY CHURCH       June 16, 2019

PSALM 104 AND  LUKE 6:27-28             ARMEN HANJIAN

I have just the prayer for you in case people have started eating before the prayer: “Bless the Lord , O my soul, and all that is within me bless God’s holy name.”

In many places in our Bible we are called to bless the Lord.  We have some tasks to attend to then.  One is to identify the many benefits God gives us – to recall them, to remember them.  That’s not sufficient.  Many say “I am thankful for peace and for health and for my good looks – at least I look better than so and so.”  That is a very limited step.  That step is just a matter of making a list, a matter of rationally knowing  I have a debt.  What is missing is the feeling component.

In so much of our lives, we have had squelched that feeling part of life.    When we started out in  life as infants, we came packaged with good balance: with ability to reason and being in touch with and able to express our feelings.  For many in the world, society has found a way to squeeze the feelings out of our awareness.

We are told, “Cool it; we don’t want to know about your feelings and especially about any negative feelings.  And if you have any positive feelings of rejoicing – that’s o.k. but only so much.  Don’t over do it.”

So the amount of feelings we are allowed to express are very limited in scope.  We can have a little bit of positive and even less of negative.  The overall message that we have gotten is “Stuff it.”

Yet God has given us the ability to have deep, deep feelings – feelings of despair, of hopelessness, of pain, of being in touch with our times of deprivation and at the other end of the spectrum feelings of joy and exhilaration and excitement.  But for most, we have been limited  to a very narrow range, a narrow world of feelings.

And what people have had to do is to take drugs, to drink, to force a party in order to push past those limits.  And you know there are healthier ways to get past them.  The healthiest thing of course is not to dampen and limit feelings in our children.  When they get out into the world they will get limited there  so our task is to give permission to others and to our selves to take the time to be aware of feelings and welcome them.

So, in order to bless the Lord we must not only remember all God benefits.  We also need to express the feeling they have the ability to stir up in us.  That is what the blessing part is, that is what the praising part is.   When we get in touch with our feelings and usually when it is in the area of thanksgiving –  they are feelings of gratitude, of pleasure, of satisfaction, of having been attended to – when we are in touch with those feelings – then we are moved to action.  Because feelings are not just for the moment, for the experiencing; they are energy  which is given to us to prompt us to action perhaps to sing, to praise, to dance, to share or some other move.

Notice the many places where praising or blessing perk up; it is happening in a myriad of places.  C.S. Lewis in his book, The Joyful Christian (p.118) noted, “The most obvious fact about praise – whether of God or anything else strangely escaped me.  I thought of it in terms of a compliment, approval or the giving of honor.  I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously… overflows into praise unless(sometimes even if) shyness or the fear of boring others is brought in to check it. The world rings with praise – lovers praising their mistresses, readers praising their favorite poets, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game, praise of weather, wine, dishes, actors,… horses, colleges,  countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars.”

Lewis said, “I had noticed that the humblest, and at the same time the most balanced minds,…praised most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised least….Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.”

“All that is within me bless God’s holy name.”  What is within a person?  Love the Lord our God with all your mind and heart and soul and strength.  With your voice, your singing, with your hands, with your feet, with your talents, with your work, with your life. The Psalmist says, Let everything that breathes praise the Lord.”

Many other things praise the Lord just by being – the earth, the sky, the sea.  We humans who breath have a choice.  It is not that God has this need to be praised.  It I rather that we need to praise.  There are rules, laws in the Hebrew scriptures, saying on the Sabbath we should worship as a community of the faithful.  We could translate that:  “You need to go to Church every week to praise God.” And that sounds like a dull, difficult requirement to many.  At least that is how it is for those who don’t go every week.  Those who go every week don’t see it as a dull requirement; they see it as a source of strength, as a way of expressing, as a way of being in touch with the truths inside and the truth outside and the Source of all truth.

Did you ever notice that just as we spontaneously praise whatever we value, we also try to get others to join us in praising it?  “Wasn’t that a great day?”  “Isn’t she a beautiful person?”  So when the Psalmist writes to us, “Bless the Lord…,”  he is doing what everyone else does when they speak about what they care about.

We  delight in praising what we enjoy because it completes the enjoyment.  C.S. Lewis adds, “It is not out of compliment that lovers keep telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete until it is expressed.”

Isn’t it frustrating seeing a beautiful sunrise and everyone else in the house is asleep?  Or worse, wanting to point out a truth but the one alongside you doesn’t care a stich about it?

Our feelings seldom get full expression.  Sometimes they get out in poetry or music or art or dance where we almost burst with the fullness of vitality.

What does it mean to bless?  The meanings include: to make holy, to baptize, to dedicate; to endow, to benefit; to guard, to protect, to watch over, to support.  The Hebrew Scriptures are full of directives to bless.  Only one place do we have Jesus saying we should bless.  Luke 6:27-28 “But I say to you who  listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

And we also can glean insights into Jesus when he expressed feelings. 1) When Jesus was angry, he turned over the tables of the money changers and drove out the sellers of unblemished sheep for sacrificial offerings in the Temple. 2)Upon hearing of the death of his friend John the Baptist,  in sadness, Jesus wept.  It is o.k. to cry. Then he went about teaching and modeling the Kingdom of God about which John preached. 3)When Jesus felt compassion for the sick, the lame, the blind, he healed them. 4)When he felt the lostness of the people who were like sheep without a shepherd, he engaged people with a ministry of teaching such that they connected with God’s leadership and God’s purposes.

5)When Jesus felt respect for children, he acted by welcoming them amongst his hearers; removing the barrier he said, “Let the children come.” 6)When he felt frustrated with the slowness of the disciples to catch on to his way, he expressed it verbally.  7) When Jesus felt unjustly accused, he had a variety of responses:  One time he responded with a counter question, another time with intentional silence and once with “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”

The beautiful thing about letting feelings prompt the action is that the action is usually the most appropriate action to take.

We don’t write letters of thanks to all, but we do to some.  We don’t visit everyone who has blessed us, but there may be a few. We don’t give gift to all who have been kind to us, but it may be fitting for this person.  The feeling may prompt a hug offered to a child or even to another man.  I find it best to ask, “Are you open to a hug?”  Your response may be a creative piece of art or cooking or poetry that is just suited to the feeling and to the person.  And, the feeling may spontaneously overflow in joyous, even extravagant action.

It doesn’t take much time at all to stop and be aware of God’s benefits and then take the next step and be in touch with your feelings.  Then your soul will truly bless the Lord  and will overflow in benefits to others and to yourself.

“Bless the Lord O my soul, and forget not all God’s benefits.”

“off the Beaten Path” , June 1,2019

Off The Beaten Path

(or The Spiritual Practice of Getting Lost)

Chilmark Community Church

June 2, 2019

                  Genesis 12:1         Numbers 10:11-12               Luke 4: 1-14

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

                             

Armen and I recently spent a week visiting  the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

We traveled in unfamiliar territory on roads we had never seen before, slept in strange places and ate in untried cafes and restaurants – on at least two occasions experiencing some pretty dicey results.  Traveling “off season” sometimes had me  wondering when we would find the next gas station, or the next place to eat.  Most of the businesses were still closed.  From time to time, in the misty remoteness I really felt like a stranger in a strange land.

As we drove through dense forests of Jack Pine and birch rising steeply on either side of the road, covering miles and miles without seeing another car or human being , Barbara Brown Taylor’s reflections on the idea of getting lost as a spiritual practice were very much with me.

Taylor writes about how we humans get into stable patterns that help us to move through our daily lives in an orderly way – patterns that become automatic and almost unconscious.  She compares this to the way cows follow well trod paths day in and day out without having to think about where they are going or what they are doing.   She writes “I am convinced that this is normal human behavior, which means that something extra is needed to override it.  Why override it? Because once you leave the cow path, the unpredictable territory is full of life. True, you cannot always see where you are putting your feet.   This means you can no longer stay unconscious. You can no longer count on the beaten down red dirt path making all of your choices for you.  Leaving it, you  agree to make your own choices for a spell.  You agree to become aware of each step you take, tuning all of your senses to exactly where  you are and exactly what you are doing.

This was my  experience, traveling along hairpin turns high above the ocean, not being able to see whether other vehicles were approaching  on the road ahead, keeping conscious watch for obstacles in the road where the signs indicate the danger of falling rocks.  The play of light on the ocean; the softness of the mist shrouding the trees;  ribbons of water falling from hidden places in the rocky cliffs all stood out with greater clarity.  On those occasions when the GPS device occasionally couldn’t  “find us” we did get to have the experience of being lost.  All of a sudden, it is just us in the car in the wilderness, unable to even sense direction because of the fog and the lack of an appearance by the sun.

Being of a theological mindset, I found myself connected in a new way to  Abram and Sarai being called out to “a land I will show you” – not really knowing where they were going, but answering the call with a willingness to get lost;  then Jacob running to escape his brother’s murderous rage and getting lost in holy space;  Moses and his band of wanderers finding their way through wilderness to a place of promise;  Jesus spending time in the wilderness – – all willing to be “lost” – – all on  their way to finding new ways of being conscious of  God, all on the way to discovering who they were to be in the Divine unfolding of God’s people. 

In the off season wilderness , we spent a number of mealtimes sitting at the dinner table in small out of the way restaurants and diners enjoying the company of wait staff and local people as well as others who were traveling the off the beaten path.  Places with unlikely names like “The Yello Cello” and “The Farmer’s Daughter”, the “Foggy Skipper” – even visited a place called “Proud To be Hookers” (It turned out to  be a rug hooking co-op).  We encountered gentleness, kindness, generosity, trust, interest, hospitality, grace and delightful humor in strangers wherever we landed.

Last week we heard the guest preacher at the Congregational Church in West Tisbury name and confirm the emotional and spiritual stress that is in our country today – that we are all, regardless of our politics, having the experience of being in the wilderness – “off the beaten path” – lost.  We are traveling in a wilderness where the familiar patterns of civility and  the traditional values of honor and respect, honesty and integrity, trust and truth telling are barely holding on like battered prayer flags in a strong wind.  Whether we have chosen it or not, we are enduring an experience of the spiritual practice of being lost.

In a climate of fear and name – calling and distrust, we are reluctant to talk to one another about what is important to us – afraid to be with one another in our differing opinions about what we understand to be  right or wrong.  Many of the trail markers of civility and honesty that have guided us have rotted and faded by the trailside.  Alongside  all the other crises we are in – humanitarian, constitutional, environmental – we are also in a spiritual crisis.    The holy impulse of God desires holiness – – wholeness and unity in our immense diversity of belief and understanding and political orientation.  But we live in a time of being fractured and divided – and therefore vulnerable to exploitation and abuse by powers beyond our control.

I’d like  suggest that, as uncomfortable as this is for many of us, it may be an invitation from the Author of All Life to engage in the spiritual practice of being lost – to confess that this is where we are -to trust that in the wildness  in which we may find ourselves, that there is, indeed, a guiding principle – the same One who guided Abraham and Sarah and Jacob and Moses and Jesus through their wild and lost times.   Wherever a sense of being lost  has happened in our ancestral stories, it has resulted in a new and heightened consciousness of the movement of the holy One  – – guiding the narrative if you will.   

Life in this country and, indeed, in this world, today literally calls us to take the risk of getting off our beaten paths – to join our faith ancestors in the discomfort of the journey into wilderness territory – to find and encounter one another -to encounter the stranger – to have the difficult conversations, to have the experience of entering unfamiliar terrain, of being lost, as we try to reach out to each other in our differences.  Barbara Brown Taylor suggests that we all may carry the “wilderness gene” – – that we have a propensity as God’s people to be wanderers, sometimes lost in strange and unfamiliar places.  She also affirms that the practice of getting lost is a way of awakening to God.

The very act of sharing together today in communion at the table Jesus has prepared for us is, indeed, an invitation into that place of being lost – – being in the wilderness – – being in the wild and unruly presence of God’s dynamic and ongoing creating as we travel in this strange and stressful time together.  May it be so.