Susan E. Thomas Sermon May 24

Psalm 139
Isaiah 61:1-4
Luke 13:10-17
Ought Not this Woman

Then Jesus answered and said, “Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham and Sarah…be set free from bondage on the Sabbath day?”  I first experienced this kind of “ought” when my own niece was almost 2 years old and the experience has stayed with me ever since.

You see, it was a hot summer afternoon and my niece was playing in the backyard. Except that her first-time parents made a mistake that probably a lot of first-time parents make—they put her plastic wading pool right next to her sandbox. So that as she toddled back and forth between the sand and the water, soon we were unable to tell which was the pool and which was the sandbox.

Then suddenly, in a burst of need to be hugged and reassured, my niece with arms wide open came running toward her mother. Her little body was covered in wet, sticky sand from her playing. Her mother— watching her daughter run toward her—had for a split-second that horrified look on her face, not sure she wanted to embrace the wet sand mixed in with her child or hold her out at arms length.  But just as quickly, I saw my sister resolve her priorities and hug her daughter without reservation or question.

Later, I jokingly asked my sister about it and her answer stopped me short. She said simply, “I don’t want my daughter to think acceptance and dirt are mutually exclusive.” She said she would rather get her own clothes dirty in favor of responding to the need for a hug— so, rather than turn away her own daughter’s need for a hug of reassurance she decided to forsake adult propriety and cleanliness rules. She had but an instant to judge that more was at stake than her own inconvenience. The need for acceptance, the need for healing and overcoming separation, does not keep time. And Jesus says, ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham and Sarah, be loosed on this Sabbath day?

Well, do you agree with Jesus and with my sister that people take priority over our propriety and cleanliness regulations?  Has the church of your experience resembled Jesus in this regard? Every religion and every church has its rules and regulations that it asks it followers to abide by. But, sometimes, it begins to feel like the purpose of the Christian church, in particular,  is to preserve its religious customs, rules, and rituals—more so than practicing the love and compassion of God. The rules and regulations can take on a life of their own, and preserving them can become more important than doing and being the compassionate ones of God.

It seems to me that Jesus spent much of his ministry struggling to portray a different way of imagining God; a way that more matched people’s reality. Especially in Luke, God is modeled not as an all-powerful Father, but as a  dad running down the road to meet his lost son. The facades of dignity are dropped in favor of compassion and healing. Jesus is the one who sets people free from the thousands of rules and regulations that started to tie people down, whereby religious regulations become more important than compassion and caring. Jesus’ ministry in many ways was about freeing us from all the laws and customs that interfere with helping people praise God and with being more compassionate to one another.

As we look at this passage this morning, I am mindful ‘tho that today is our Sabbath day – our day of rest. The Sabbath, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, is rooted in the very fabric of God’s creation as found in the fourth commandment in Exodus.  Since God rested on the seventh day of creation, we are to imitate our Creator by doing the same, being a part of God’s creation without labor and toil.  But the Sabbath was also supposed to affirm that all of creation—men, women, children, slaves, sojourners, animals—all are to participate in the life-giving and gift-giving abundance of God and not just the people who had power whether that was in the faith community or in the government or in the workplace.

So, with this understanding, let us look forward with joy to this morning’s Gospel message about a controversial healing taking place in the synagogue on the Sabbath where the gospel-writer Luke tells us—that an unnamed, bent over woman is present.

As I said, to be in the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was Jesus’ practice, was to be at the heart of the Jewish faith. But that religious space was also a social and political place in which any physical ailment implied sin. So that if you were disfigured in some way – like being bent-over, or a hunchback, or lame, or even just pimply – you were presumed to be somehow living in sin and bringing about your own condition. In this religious setting, being bent over was like wearing a scarlet letter. Its obviousness shouted guilt; its pain had no place to be expressed or understood. That she was a woman in such a setting only further submerged her into silence. Presumably, her body— in every way— spoke for her. Because she is bent over, because she is a woman, she must be a sinner.

Now, the healing process, the way to experience God’s freedom and wholeness, begins in this passage with recognition. Jesus sees this woman in the pain of her condition and in recognizing her presence openly right there in the synagogue there is an interruption as Jesus’ recognition of this woman and her condition alters the synagogue program for that day!

Jesus sees her, he calls to her, and speaks to her.  “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”  What Jesus says does two things in the same breath. He names her infirmity openly as an infirmity, giving her an open place in the very social space of the religious service. But also, Jesus confirms for the congregation that the woman’s infirmity is not the whole of her, it is not her only identity. She is free, first of all, by recognition and openness, by Jesus’ seeing and by his words of freedom to her.

But saying she is free does not alter anything. She is not yet straightened. She is rather, totally accepted, as both a “person” and as in “pain.”  In that worship service, she is now given time and space to be both those things.

The next thing Jesus does is he touches her. The acceptance is now made physical. It is rendered real by the laying on of his hands. Only then is she changed in a way that is evident. For in the next moment, she herself becomes active. She assumes her place in relationship to her self and her body. Luke tells us that she not only speaks but she praises God, she jubilates – which is a full-bodied articulation of God’s love……One could say that right there in the midst of that congregation  she is now suddenly spontaneously uppity!  Such is the effect of the presence of Jesus on the way things have always been done. Jesus shatters the old roles by his total acceptance of her new self.

Recognition and acceptance, restoring the outcast to wholeness and active participation with the community of believers – isn’t that fabulous, but how come the story doesn’t end right there with the woman’s freedom?…….. And I believe the answer is, by Jesus, it is not just about her freedom, her release. The healing becomes a part of the witness to a larger truth—the release of the whole tradition of the religious community. “Ought not this woman…be set free?”  The word “ought” used here, I am told, denotes an obligation. Jesus’ words and actions let the congregation know that it is their obligation as a spiritual body to show love and to do justice and to bring about healing no matter what time it is. In doing so the whole congregation is set free from petty legalisms and destructive obsessions with regulations about the Sabbath.

At the end of the passage, the entire space of the synagogue has been cleared of its in-firmity – its lack of strength and assertiveness against the powers-that-be – and what happens?— the people erupt in joy!  Through this woman, the religious community gains its own voice and speaks! Note the ending again—all of their opponents are put to shame, all the people are rejoicing at all the things Jesus has done.

The whole community was possessed by a rigid conformity to a set of rules that had long ago lost their meaning, and by Jesus’ words of confrontation and confirmation, the religious order is broken through! Through this woman’s courage and Jesus’ compassion—the Sabbath and the faith community suddenly becomes what it really should be— a spirit-filled gathering where all people are empowered to stand up against separation and oppression and for freedom and reconciliation. Jesus demonstrates for all to see that God’s compassion for people triumphs over our rules and regualtions, and he reclaims the Sabbath for the celebration of God’s great goodness.

You might be saying just about now—all well and good, Susan, but that was then and this is now. How might this look in the church of today? Well, allow me to share with you a true story that happened to a pastor friend of mine from Michigan just a couple of years back. Bruce Rigdon was the pastor of a very large congregation and he tells about a freeing and healing experience that happened to him, that took place right inside the walls of his church once he allowed himself to be open to the Spirit’s leading.

There was this wedding at Bruce’s church and it was the largest wedding Bruce could remember, the church, he said, was packed! The couple chose to begin their marriage by sharing the Lord’s Supper together with their guests. So Bruce gave the usual invitation for those in a Christian church, you know the one that’s in the rulebook—that is, Bruce invited all those who were baptized and who loved the Lord to come forward and celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Suddenly ‘tho, he was aware that everyone in the crowd was coming forward. He wondered if he should raise his hand and say, “Stop! You didn’t understand my instructions—only those who are baptized are to come forward.” But he soon realized that was impossible and welcomed all who came to the communion table.

Later at the reception, Bruce was approached by an elderly man and woman. “My name is Jacob and this is my wife, Miriam. We are children of Holocaust families.” They went on to say that they had lived there lives with one rule—never enter a Christian church. But, out of love for the bride they came to the wedding. “When you invited people to the table and everyone around us began to move, we couldn’t remain seated. We know it’s Jesus’ table, no ours. But we were drawn, drawn by some kind of love,” said Jacob, who by now was weeping.

Moments later another couple came up to Bruce and identified themselves as Moustafa and Munir, originally from Lebanon. “So you know what our life has been like and why we are here. You know the pain and the bloodshed. We came tonight because we are close to the bride. We are, of course, Muslim.” They explained that at the communion, their three children got up and moved toward the table, and instead of stopping them, they joined them. “We shouldn’t have been there, but somehow for us, tonight, the war has ended.”

Friends, to Jesus, God is not primarily a rule-maker, rather God is a life-giver. When we take in this understanding of Jesus’ message of what God’s love is all about; that understanding can change our focus from God’s law to God’s love for people and the world. Commandments, rules, guidelines, traditions are all well and good but in the end they are subordinate to God’s love—a love that is forgiving, a love that is healing, a love that is transforming, a love that sets us free to be all that God has made each of us to be.

Friends, each of you is given the opportunity to be Jesus’ ministers in the church and in the world. You are charged to build up all that come to you and honor them, more than they have ever been honored before, as receivers and givers of divine gifts. You are charged to help people claim their own acceptance and healing as a gift from God for service in church and in the world. So, in Chilmark Community Church, let there be rejoicing and fullness of life! We are truly grateful for y’all and your ministry! Amen.

Notes from Old Trustees Records

Phyllis Conway trnscribed these excerpts from official Board of Trustees Secretary’s Records.  This is part One 1928-1953.

A Little History.  The present building of the Chilmark Community Methodist Church was moved from Middle Road in 1910.  In 1908 a house, designated the Parsonage was moved to its present site, donated by the Tilton, Adams and Mayhew families.  This parsonage was built on Middle Road in 1863, first as a one-story building, later a 2nd story was added.  Once moved to the Menemsha Crossroad site this parsonage was rented out by the church.  Pastors served more than one Methodist Church on the Island and they lived down-Island, journeying to Chilmark for Sunday worship and pastoral care.

In the Quarterly Conference Book of 1928 it is reported that Chilmark and Edgartown were an allied parish, sharing a pastor.

Chilmark was part of a shared parish in the 1930’s through the early 1980’s.  We shared a pastor with variously;  Edgartown, Lambert’s Cove, Vineyard Haven & Oak Bluffs, in the ’30’s and 40’s.

In 1928 the Board discussed wiring the Parsonage for electricity, but deemed it too expensive.  The parsonage was heated with coal stoves and had a large cook stove in the kitchen.  In April, 1940, at the expense of a tenant holding a 4-yr. lease, the Parsonage was wired for electricity.

In May, 1941 an organ was given to the church by the Camp Meeting Association of Oak Bluffs.  Oscar Flanders (father of David Flanders) moved and installed it under the balcony at the rear of the sanctuary.

In January, 1947 the Board discussed whether to sell or retain the parsonage.  The District Supt. of the Methodist Conference counseled against selling unless imperative.  The board decided rather to repair the building and to continue renting it.

In 1953 Mutual Church Insurance Co. declined to insure the parsonage since it was not the pastor’s home.

In Sept 1953 The Board voted to give the organ in the rear of the santuary to the Bradley Memorial Church of Oak Bluffs.

Categorized as News

May 17 Discussion

What a good discussion this morning!  We managed to tie  all four lessons together .  Starting with the Acts passage and concluding that we’re called to be open to the spirit in others who live beyond the fences of our traditions.  We are to do it receiving God’s love and sharing in all our encounters.  It was described as a cycling of love from God, to each other, and back to God.  The love Jesus commanded, as a friend and not a master, was “agape” love, a spiritual kind of love, not brotherly love.  Language can be a barrier or a bridge in communicating love. You have to get past the words to the spirit/truth they convey (as with African school children hearing the repetitive phrases of a story read in English having learned the phrases in their own language).  Everyone hears the spirit in his own language.  The key is to respect our differences as we understand the truth we share.  Even the psalm for the day seemed to lend itself to the idea of praise lifting us beyond boundaries. ‘ Psalms scholar Walter Brueggeman explains praise for us:  “All life is aimed toward God.  Praise articulates and embodies our capacity to yield, submit, and abandon ourselves in trust and gratitude to the One whose we are…We have a resilient hunger to move beyond self. God is addressed not because we nave need, but simply because God is God.” ‘ James Howell

April 26

Chilmark Community Church, United Methodist
April 26, 2009
Native American Sunday

Prelude  Fugue in C by William Zachau

Gathering and Announcements

Introit  ” Dream Song” from Chippewa

Call to Worship
May the warm winds of heaven blow softly on our house.
May the Great Spririt bless all who enter here. (Traditional Cherokee Nation Prayer)

*Hymn: # 2052 “The Lone, Wild Bird”


Confession   page 329 in Hymnal
Traditional Native American Prayer
(silent reflection)
Proclamation and Praise
Psalm # 4, p.741

New Testament:
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36b-48

Response to the Word:

* Hymn 311″ Now the Green Blade Riseth”

Homily:   Some History of Christianity among the Wampanoags, by Chief Ryan Malonson

Concerns and Prayers

Silent prayer

Prayers of the People
You have come from afar and waited long and are wearied.  Let us sit side by side, sharing the same bread drawn from the same source to quiet the same hunger that makes us weak.  Then standing together let us share the same spirit, the same thoughts that once agian draw us together in friendship and unity and peace.  (Prieres D’Ozawamick, Canadian Indian, 20th Cent)

Lord’s Prayer

Offering 148 “Many and Great, O God” (Native American tune)

Prayer of Dedication:
All things come of thee O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.  AMEN

*Hymn:   “2146 His Eye is On the Sparrow”

Benediction: Before us it is blessed, behind us it is blessed, below us it is blessed, above us it is blessed, around us it is blessed as we set out with Christ.  Our speech is blessed as we set out for God.  With beauty before us, with beauty behind us, with beauty below us, with beauty above us, with beauty around us, we set out for a holy place indeed.  Amen (Trad. Navajo Prayer. Alt.)

Postlude:  “Spring” from the Four Seasons by Vivaldi

Next Week’s Scripture: Acts 4: 5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

Organist: Carol Loud
Lay Leader: __Ann Deitrich

*stand if you are able


Guest Preachers

One of our first guests  the Reverend Charles W. Bowman, returns Nov.15.  Woody  received his BA from Trinity College in 1974  and his Masters of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary in ‘79.  He is the Director of Faculty Ministry and Director of the study center on Lambert’s Cove Road for FOCUS, Fellowship of Christians in Universities and Schools.  He and his wife, Susan  live in WT on the Panhandle.

Guest Preachers (Check calendar for any last minute changes)

Our Guest Preachers from AFAR (off island) Series begins Memorial Day Weekend with Susan Thomas.  Susan holds a both Master of Divinity and Master of Theology degrees from Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia. She has been a supply preacher/worship leader in a number of diverse congregations from retirement community, a  second generation Taiwanese church,  an African -American church, Presbyterian, UCC and UU congregations.  We’re looking forward to her leadership here.Susan will also preach on June 28 and August 9.

Our next guest will be Nell Fields. A press release follows.

Nell Fields, Chaplain and Director of The Hope Project at Westborough State Hospital, will be preaching at the Chilmark Community Methodist Church, June 7 at 9 a.m. She holds a Masters of Divinity from Andover Newton Theological School.  The Hope Project is a multi-year, multi-disciplinary, hospital-wide initiative on hope therapy , a cognitive-based intervention designed to teach patients skills and strategies to increase hopefulness.
Prior to her ministry, Nell Fields had an impressive career in the technology business. She was, most recently Vice President, Product Development  for First Data Corporation in Denver Colorado; prior to that,  Vice President , Business Development for Yaga, Inc, in San Fransisco,  CEO of Clickshare Service Corp. in Williamstown, MA, and Vice President of Global Marketing for Korn/Ferry International, Futurestep in L.A.  She also worked for ten years in journalism at Daily Journal Corporation in L. A.  She has a MFA in English from Mills College in Oakland, CA. Nell will be with us again on Sept 7. She will have been ordained.!
Lia Kahler will be introducing “Walking the Bible” on June 21. Lia, an opera singer by profession, has been studying comparative religions over the winter at NYU.  She is interested in the idea of  learning by moving in space, as on a stage.

Connie Williams will lead our scripture discussion on July 12. Connie and her husband, Preston, worship with us when they are at their home in Spring Point.  She is an associate Professor, Emerita, at Brandeis University.  On the Vineyard, she serves on the Board of the Permanent Endowment Fund.

Michael F. Hall will be with us  July 19. He will have just finished his second year at Andover Newton.   In his other life he has been a Historical Interpreter, think Plymouth Plantation.  His company, Two Trees Productions, does programs in schools, churches and historical societies.  He comes recommended as a preacher!

Rev.Arlene Bodge, not exactly a guest,  will lead us in worship on May 31 and July 5.

Rev. Phyllis Evelyn will conduct our service August 2. She writes:

“My parents come from Portland, ME and Pennsylvania “Dutch” country. Being a ‘war baby’ I was born in New Orleans, LA and I joke that I am “Yankee bred and Cajun born, so I don’t know where I belong; living half my life north (Alaska) and half my life south (Panama). I have lived from Portland, ME in the east to California in the west. The only state I have not visited is Hawaii; having lived in nine different states from Alaska to California, and from Florida to Maine.

My education includes BA in English Literature from Northwestern University, Evanston, IL in 1964 and a Masters in Divinity from Eden Theological School in Webster Groves, MO in 2002.

Currently I am pursuing a Doctor of Ministry at Andover Newton Theological School in Newton Center, MA. My major emphasis is Pastoral Counseling for children (8 yrs and up) and young adult women (18-24 years) who have escaped or been rescued from sex trafficking. Working to discover what a New Abolition Movement would encompass through study at the Carr Institute, Harvard School of Government Studies.

Also, I serve as supply preacher for churches in United Church of Christ, American Baptist, and Methodist denominations. Interest in emerging church movement and contemporary theology guides my personal readings.

Like any new grandmother, my spare time and hobbies revolve around two grandsons, my daughter, her partner, and my son. Since I have been the daughter-in-law of a Methodist Minister (IN Conference) and I never visited Martha’s Vineyard, your invitation is special for me.”
Phyllis Evelyn, M. Div. Summer 2009

On August 23,  Kwame Osei ‘Reed79 M.Div., will be our guest preacher.
Born in McComb, Mississippi, into a family that was active in the civil rights movement, Reverend Reed later graduated from Howard University with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and from the Howard University School of Law with his Juris Doctorate degree. He graduated from Yale Divinity School in 1979, where he served as student body president.

As an attorney, he is an active member of the Virginia State Bar. Since his ordination into the UCC in 1979, he has pursued a career ranging from pastoring to legal and academic work. He served on the faculty of Oberlin College, in the Legal Studies Department of the University of Pittsburgh, and as a Visiting Scholar at Yale Law School. As chairperson of the Potomac Association’s South Africa Task Force, he organized a January 1986 Washington, D.C. Convocation with Archibishop Desmond Tutu, the ongoing work of which has made great strides toward the liberation of South Africa.

Formerly known as Bobby Reed, Kwame was ceremonially adopted into the Ashanti people of Ghana, where he was given the name Kwame Osei. Recently, he and his wife, Rita Wallace Reed, M.D., MPH, a native of Ghana, began construction of a clinic for sick children near Accra, Ghana. Kwame and Rita live in Reston, Virginia with their sons, Nene and Kojo.

In November 1987, at Howard University ‘s Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel, Reverend Kwame Osei Reed was installed as Association Minister for the Potomac Association of the United Church of Christ. In this capacity he serves as the executive officer for UCC congregations in the National Capital Area.

Erika Hirsch will be with us  August 30. Since 9/08 she has been studying for a Doctor of Philopophy in History of Christianity at BU.   She has a Masters in Divinity from Yale (5/07), a Bachelor of Arts in music (flute and piano) and minor in religion  from Emory university . She has a  certificate in Flute Performance from Prague Conservatory, Prague, Czech Republic. She has served in a number of Methodist Churches in NY and Conn.

Rev. David Berube will NOT preach on Sept . 27. He is being deployed Sept 8 and we’ll have to wait for his return to hear him.  Read the MV Times article below.

Preacher finds ministerial calling

Published: June 19, 2008

Officer David Berube described his role as chaplain in a telephone interview with The Times.

Could you talk a little about your background?

I grew up in Connecticut and was ordained in 1987 by the American Baptist Churches USA. At first I served in a more traditional role as a solo preacher for several years. I then decided to join the Air National Guard and started working with people outside of the mainstream parish-type of setting. I moved to the OBPD in 1999 as a volunteer chaplain. The more I worked in a non-traditional setting, the more I realized that it was a good fit for me. In the summer of 2000 I did some training with the department just to be comfortable in the setting I was working in. Then when a full time job opened up I enrolled in the municipal police academy and became a full-fledged police officer along with being the department chaplain.

What is a chaplain?

My job as a police chaplain is not to bolster membership in a religion or to bring people into my faith community but to support everyone regardless of what their particular faith perspective is or isn’t. My role is to assist people in questions of faith or whatever the issue may be. It’s a non-sectarian role.

What are some of your duties as the OBPD chaplain?

I think the biggest highlight of being a police chaplain is that I have absolute privilege in my communication with my fellow officers. I’m not required to report the conversations I have with them to the chief or anyone, except in cases of child abuse or self-harm. What gets said to me stays with me and it’s strictly private. Members of my department can come to me in a way unlike anyone else in the department. I will also get called out to do any type of death notifications or any particularly difficult calls or contacts in a crisis situation.

What prompted you to expand your role as chaplain to include policing duties? And would the use of force pose a moral conflict to you as a chaplain?

I think it was the sense that it would round out my calling as a pastor. For me the hallmark scripture passage for my ministry is the Shepard’s Psalm; “Even through I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will feel no evil, bear with me your rod and staff, comfort me.” Obviously that talks about God and not an individual person. But for me as a shepherd under the Shepherd, there is the sense that all shepherds have the tools to herd and protect the sheep. The staff to guide and direct the herd from harms way. Then the rod, which is a weapon, is used to defend the flock from predators. I think for me stepping between the sheep and wolves, if you will, really has been the completing element to my role as a pastor. People may not really like that other side of the shepherd. In modern culture we don’t see that role when we think of men of faith. We see the pastor as a simple, kind, and loving person, who would never even raise his voice. But the reality is that if all a shepherd does is herd the sheep, the wolves will have the opportunity to pick his herd off one at a time. Someone has to be able to step into that gap and protect the flock. I think that our culture has pacified the role of shepherd. I think of that role as a defender of those who cant help themselves.

What would you say is the hardest part of your Job?

I think maintaining the balance between caregiver and protector is the hardest part of my job. If you swing too far to either side, it becomes difficult. Finding the balance point is a daily thing because it is a moving target. How much care versus how much direction and authority to use is extremely hard in any given situation I am faced with.

Could you give an example of when your role as chaplain was called upon by the OBPD?

On July 7, 2001, we were called to a moped crash down on Seaview Avenue. It was pretty horrific crash. A young couple and their friends were out on the Island for the day. The young woman crashed into a car and died later that day. Her husband had witnessed the whole event. I pretty much spent five hours with him at the hospital giving him pastoral care. Most people just come to the Island and don’t really have any idea what is going on. So we have developed a protocol for situations like that so the chaplain can help out in crisis situations.

Is there anything you would like the community to know about your role as police chaplain?

Just the idea that people don’t necessarily know what its like to be a police officer. I want people to know that police officers are some of the most compassionate and generally human people that I know. And my role as chaplain is to take care of the people who take care of the community. It’s a tough job.

Notes on The Good Shepherd

Notes on The Good Shepherd

Arlene Bodge Preached on the Good Shepherd starting with the childrens’ sermon where she demonstrated that we don’t believe what people tell us unless their actions prove the truth of their words.  Jesus said he was the Good Shepherd, she said, and he proved it by going before, leading, his flock and by laying down his life to be true to his words and his followers.
She amplified on the qualities of a good shepherd in terms of the 23rd psalm: he leads, doesn’t drive; he knows his sheep well and they know his voice; he can take them to quiet , safe places to be nourished; his staff is a tool to guide and protect, not to punish; he can always be depended on.
David wrote the psalm in his “dark valley”, says tradition.   His son, Absalon,whom he loved and depended on, had betrayed him.   Things we come to depend on, jobs, leaders, friends, health, even family, fail us.  God is the only one who, like a good shepherd, can be depended upon to guide us and comfort us all our lives long.