Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pentecost at the Fish Ladder

Sheepscott Community Church May 31, 2009

Acts 2: 1-21
John 15: 26, 27; 16: 4b-15

Pentecost at the Fish Ladder

Pentecost! Everything has been all about going up lately––Jesus rising up, Jesus ascending to the Father. Finally, today, there is some thing, Someone coming down. The Holy Spirit, the One that Jesus promised he would send when he returned to the Father––we commemorate and also experience that One being sent, poured out today. It’s a holy and a happy day for the church.

When I was thinking about this sermon, Jim Croce’s song “Time in a Bottle” drifted into my head. “If I could save time in a bottle/ the first thing that I’d like to do/ is to save every day til eternity passes away/ just to spend them with you,” and so on. The impossibility of indeed saving time in a bottle to spend with those we love the most is a little bit like trying to capture the living flame of the Holy Spirit in a bottle, and then to examine it closely. Ain’t gonna happen. Maybe the closest we do get is when we or our kids or grandkids capture fireflies and watch them futilely signal to potential mates about their availability. Better we should let them do their flashing over the field. I think that’s much more like the Spirit, who freely brings the light and mystery of the power that continues to push the whole project of life forward, unhindered by natural predators, including kids with mayonnaise jars out and about on the Fourth of July.

Taking this would-be theological illumination of the Spirit a bit deeper into the natural world, Jon and I went to see the progress on the alewives fish ladder restoration project last weekend, as I’m sure many of you did. Cyndi Brinkler’s husband Jim, who has been involved in the welfare of the alewives for years, gave us a guided tour along the waterway.

After the alewives have come up the Damariscotta River from the ocean, and thence to Great Salt Bay, they angle off toward Damariscotta Mills. As they pass along the channel of water, they make a fish decision to go right or to go left. If they go to the left, which is the wider, easier choice, they come up against the metal grate that prevents their further ascent to the spawning ground. Their fate as lobster bait is now sealed. Those who choose to go to the right, or are simply carried along with the mob, are channeled into a much narrower passageway. Forgive me, but I can’t help myself: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7: 13 and 14.

In fact more than a few found that narrow way at the fish ladder. They were slipping and sliding against each other as they began the ascent, packed in like sardines, if you’ll forgive me that as well. Their journey up the fish ladder would be a 47-foot ascent through 50 resting pools. They looked, well, let’s say I projected on them, a youthful, eager naiveté in the first few pools. By the time they were nearing the top, they looked tired, older, and yet more determined than ever to reach the spawning ground of Damariscotta Lake, where they could swim freely and easily and spawn, hopefully an ample reward for their struggles. The older alewives would then die happy, and the younger return the way they came, back to the sea, to return again next year.

If I may appropriate the whole transparent analogy for this Pentecost Sunday, we too have our struggles in this life, but we doggedly keep at it. I note that we are not alone in these resting pools, where we come aside from whatever our trials are for a breather, for some prayer perhaps, or just a nap. The Holy Spirit, the Holy Ghost, if you prefer, Sophia, is with us there. As Jesus called the Spirit the Comforter, the Counselor, whom he would send following his ascension, I think you can add Divine Cheerleader to that litany of epithets. That presence of God is in the struggle with us, urging us on, reassuring us we have the strength to do it, whatever “it” is for us in our lives––a difficult decision; a disappointment in love, finances or friendship; concerns for our children and grandchildren. It’s a truism that God will never ask more of us than we are able to do, meet, or deliver. God is not a sadist, notwithstanding the bad press God has received on many fronts forever.

In fact, God is the empathizer par excellence, the Compassionate One who, yes, is indeed in the pool with us. Also above the pool, beside the pool, under the pool, in fact the pool itself––God is with us. Suffering with us, encouraging us by the sense of that One’s presence. So when all you hear from the critic is that God is disinterested transcendence, if a reality at all, test God’s immanence, test the presence of the Spirit in the world, by how you feel in a rough situation when you do turn to God. God is in the pool with us in the midst of the struggle up the fish ladder.

I was talking with a woman who has gone to view the alewives’ running a number of times because she experiences a real sense of empathy herself with the fish. She recalled a very difficult relationship she was in and from which she was trying to extricate herself. Watching the fish was like looking in the mirror and there was healing in that for her. That is only one way we are blessed by nature, when our understanding is opened so we can see our situations more clearly. I am happy to report that this woman did finally extricate herself from the situation.

If the alewives were an inspiration to that woman, I think I would be accurate in saying that Donna Krah’s little Maltese dog, aptly named Spirit, has been an inspiration to her on the road of recovery, if not as a mirror of her suffering, as a source of unconditional love for her, and nothing, NOTHING heals like that. Anyone who is a lover of animals knows that. As much as the doctors and technicians have helped Donna on her road, as much as our prayers have, her mother Joyce and her dog Spirit have been the Holy Spirit’s primary agents toward restoration. That’s what I believe anyway.

You see? The Spirit of God reveals itself in myriad ways: in a pool of alewives on the fish ladder, in a small white dog who loves his mistress fiercely and unconditionally. What is identifiable in these two manifestations and in all manifestations of the Spirit, is this drive towards life. At its most basic and beautiful is the act of procreation, the continuing of the species, whether it’s by spawning, as with the alewives, or in the context of a human family, where love desires full expression of itself and is sometimes rewarded in that with a child, whether that child comes in the birds-and-bees way, in a petri dish, or by adoption, or any other way. Love holds up a mirror to itself and continues the species, all on their way up the fish ladder.

No less creative and a full expression of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is each work of art we create. And we do create, in imitation of the One who created us, and with a sense of inevitability because we can do no other. A painting by Jan Kilburn or Barbara McCarthy, a sweater knitted by Sonnie, a quilt stitched by Cyndi––for my money, these are all works of art. I have to include Jon’s wooden bowls and his 17th-century book bindings, also works of art. Who are the other artists among us? Sam Low, who works so well in so many media that I can’t pin him down as an artist of this or an artist of that. Carroll at the organ, a dedicated artist as musician.

If you held up any of these objects of art, you could object that they are not animate, in fact they are inanimate. You hear the word anima in those words, which is Latin for spirit, lower case. A plant, a tree, an apple, even a stone, certainly water, a child, all of these we have little trouble thinking of as animate, as having spirit, as being alive. It’s a bit more difficult with an apple or a turnip, but we do know that although these objects don’t have independent mobility, one characteristic of animation, they have the power to nourish and potentially transform another organism toward health. Perhaps that could be considered a kind of mobility.

What about this painting? It has no independent mobility either. But it has the power to transform the individual spirit by the revelation of a level of truth the person might not have seen before. Is it not animate in that sense? I would argue that when the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, inspires, infuses a work of art, that an aspect of the life of God is communicated to others by the artist who has been inspired. What is true in the work will resonate with the viewer, the listener, the reader, will change them in some way, known only to that person and God.

There is little mobility, little if any change brought about by a work that is not inspired. It does not lift off the page, does not cause a little hum at the base of the spine when we see it or when we hear it sung or spoken. It’s hard to listen to Mozart without getting a little silly and danc-y oneself; hard to listen to Beethoven without being made ready to roto-till the 75’ x 75’ garden all in one afternoon. Nothing is impossible to the appreciator of Beethoven. Hard to listen to Gershwin without being inspired to do better at whatever work we are called to do in our lives.

Art, whether in song, graphics, sculpting, writing, fabric, film making, photography––the list goes on. Art, as surely as procreation or spawning are expressions of the spirit of God in living creatures or organisms––and I didn’t even get into flowers; who cannot see the face and hand of God in them or in the wing or eye of a bird? As surely as procreation and spawning are creative acts, so is the work of the artist at the easel, the keyboard––whether computer or instrument––the sewing machine, the garden, the barre in the dance studio. In all of these places, in all of these ways, praise is ascending in the creativity of us creatures to the One who inspires them in the first place.

Another angle into this is the person himself or herself as a work of art, a container for the Sprit of life. What do I mean by that? Think back, or think about your present life, for that matter. Can you think of someone who inspired you to live a better life? Thomas Merton? John Wesley? Jesus? Dorothy Day? Rachel Carson? For many of us, it is often someone who called us forth, who saw in us something that we didn’t see in ourselves. One person I would name––and I love paying tribute to him in this venue––is Louis Giannini, who was my Problems of Democracy teacher in my senior year of high school. He appreciated me and my work and let me know by his encouragement. Unconditional love, which is the action of God’s spirit in the world, calls us forth into ourselves. We need each other, whatever our formed communities, to do that. I had the happy gift of seeing Lou again, when he turned up at my office at Bates College four or five years ago, a few years before he died. We had a wonderful visit over coffee in the Den, reminiscing, one of the great consolations of later life.

Is anyone willing to share briefly, to give tribute to a person who had an effect on your life? Who was an agent of the Spirit of God for calling you into your fuller self, whether by inspiration at a distance, like Thomas Merton through his writings or accounts of his life; or in a person in your own life?

Notwithstanding all of these ways of the Spirit operating in the world––alewives, procreation, all the arts, through human beings––I haven’t yet addressed the most straightforward way that the Holy Spirit of God reveals that One’s self in the world, and that is directly to the individual, or in a gathering of people, as it happened in the Upper Room at the time of the first Pentecost. That was a religious phenomenon in time that is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, the writing of which is credited to the writer of the gospel of Luke. The church has sacramentalized the experience in the rite of confirmation, at which time an individual chooses to become a confessing member of a church.

You heard Ted read the account of the descent of the Spirit as tongues of fire and a driving wind. That’s pretty exciting stuff, and I assure you that God in God’s sovereignty can do that again at any point in any form as God wills. It isn’t just a story of and for another time because the Spirit is not just a Spirit for another time. No, the Spirit is God forever, which means now, for us, here in this place with these people––look around––these are the people with whom we are making our heaven on earth. These are the other fish in the resting pool with us, struggling with us, not against us, to reach the lake, the spawning ground. And God is with us in that resting pool and for us in every other one all the way up the fish ladder. And you can rest assured that that same Spirit of God will be ushering us into the peace and tranquility of the lake, when we reach it. Amen.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Stone the Builders Rejected

Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26
John 17: 6-19

The Stone the Builders Rejected

All of us in this church have our stories, and they are little stories, in spite of them being big with meaning for each of us in our lives. Once upon a time, they all begin, Once upon a time, Carol Shorey was born in the village of Sheepscot, Maine; Cyndi Brinkler was born in Lynn, Massachusetts; Jon Robbins was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. We all began once upon a time, and our lives have unfolded from that point.

Jesus was no different. He was born once upon a time in Bethlehem, and he grew up in Nazareth. Nobody heard much about him until he made a splash at a wedding feast in Cana, where he changed water into wine. Then word began to leak out about the miracle worker from Nazareth. Notwithstanding his notoriety, or maybe because of it, he became the stone the builders rejected, as in the title of this morning’s message.

That title comes from psalm 118, vs. 22, and 23. “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,/ By the Lord has this been done; it is wonderful in our eyes.” These verses can be read as anticipating the Christ, who in Jesus was indeed rejected by the majority of pharisees and scribes, and those who generally exercised power in that time.

Jesus understood rejection and didn’t let it get him off message. In fact he used that rejection as a platform for teaching again and again. I wonder though, whether any of us would have done as well. What brought all that to mind was this morning’s first reading from Acts. If you recall, the eleven apostles remaining after Judas died, had to choose someone to take his place, to bring the number of apostles back to twelve. That number was symbolically important to the group because of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. It at least partially indicated that the Messianic teaching about Jesus was to be offered first to Israel.

The names of two men were proposed: Joseph, called Barsabbas––also known as Justus––and Matthias. They cast lots and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles. Where did that leave Barsabbas? He is dropped from the conversation like a bad habit. We don’t hear about him again, unless he is the Judas, also called Barsabbas in chapter 15 of Acts. One could argue that the similarity of the names Justus, as Joseph Barsabbas was also known, and Judas Barsabbas were one and the same, but it’s as likely they are different characters. My point here is that after this mini-election Joseph disappears, as in always a bridesmaid––or best man––never a bride, or bridegroom.

To be the one not chosen as prince or princess, king or queen of the prom; to be one of two candidates for a job, interviewed by all staff members over an eight-hour day and then not to be chosen. There’s a sting in that, especially if it has happened before. The times we were not chosen for the sports team or the cheer leading squad; the times we were overlooked by our grandparents for the overnight in favor of our older sister or brother. Hey! What about me? How do you think I feel, the little kid in you cries out.

All those things crossed my mind in relation to Joseph Barsabbas. How did he feel fading back into the woodwork? How could he make meaning out of not being chosen? Well, how have you made meaning in the past out of not being chosen for something: editor of the school yearbook, varsity instead of jayvee, the lead role in the play? In fact there are still other roles to play besides that lead role, aren’t there?

I thought of Brother Lawrence, who lived in the seventeenth-century in a Carmelite monastery in Paris. The most significant spiritual event in his early life occurred on a cold winter day in the presence of a leafless tree. Nicholas Herman, as he was known then, thought to himself that in a little time the bare branches of that tree would be covered with new leaves, and that thought filled him with “a high view of the providence and power of God.” He went to the Carmelites in Paris, where he was admitted as a lay brother and became known as Brother Lawrence.

He spent the next forty years in the monastery kitchen, scrubbing pots and chopping vegetables. No doubt he would have remained entirely anonymous in his life if a visiting official had not initiated a conversation with him and been amazed at the depth of his spiritual insight and wisdom. They had successive conversations and a long correspondence, that were distilled into the spiritual classic, The Practice of the Presence of God. According to Brother Lawrence, wherever we find ourselves, whatever the task at hand, we should perform our duties with a consciousness of God’s loving presence. With that consciousness, all of what we do is holy.

Brother Lawrence made no distinction between great works and small. As he liked to observe, God “regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” Wise words from Brother Lawrence, and words that we can appropriate to make meaning of our lives, which sometimes appear less than earthshaking because they are.

In the late nineteenth century, when she was nine years of age, Josephine Bakhita was kidnapped from a small village in Sudan. She was a mistreated slave in the home of many masters before she found a kindly mistress with whom she traveled to Italy. She accompanied her young charge to a boarding school in Venice, and it was there she heard the gospel for the first time and felt God was calling her to be free. After finding out that slavery was illegal in Italy and realizing she was already free, she was baptized and later became a nun. Like Brother Lawrence, Josephine Bakhita spent her life in simple tasks of sewing, cooking, serving as sacristan and doorkeeper. No work was unimportant when performed for the “Master,” her favorite title for God. She became famous for her quiet faith and the care she brought to her assignments, big and small. I am reminded of Mother Teresa’s quotation: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

We can do that, can’t we? Alex and her work on the cookbook cross my mind; Carol greeting at the door; the faithful choir and Carroll, their director; Chrissy with the children; Sonnie and Bill tending whatever they do with great consultation and care. I’ll stop, but you know I could go on. These are all small works done well, and they’re done not for ourselves, but for the community, and therein lies the satisfaction and any joy that comes from it. The message of the last few weeks has been Jesus’s command to “Love one another,” and I talked about the ways we do that. Those things intersect with what I am talking about this morning.

Our lives are not Big Lives, in the eyes of the world, but they are what we have to work with and we do try to make the best of them that we can. To quote Mother Teresa again, “To show great love for God and our neighbor, we need not do great things. It is how much love we put in the doing that makes our offering something beautiful for God.” Something beautiful for God.

I think people in this church have a genius for knowing that life and its partner eternity are happening right along. How many times have we observed the attitude that when this thing happens or that thing happens, then, then I will do this or that. The idea of postponing living until this or that great event takes place––this birthday party, that holiday, a wedding––to establish or shift meaning––that’s a great deception. Life is happening now. This is it. In these small things, washing or drying the dishes, preparing the garden for planting, painting a picture, changing the baby... Doing these little works with a consciousness of the presence of God doesn’t change the work, but it does change how we think about it and make meaning of it in the larger context of our lives.

Life is happening right now. The moment is all we have. It’s good to make plans and to have goals, but it’s even better not to lose sight of what is right in front of our eyes. Even more important, of who is right in front of our eyes. We make our eternities, we make our meaning through our work and especially in relationship with each other. That’s what we’re here for, to learn how to do it, to relate in love. To pass on the gift of love, as Jesus was doing in today’s gospel.

I was touched by the sentiment of Jesus, as the writer of John portrays it. Jesus is leaving the world and he’s concerned, very concerned for his little flock. He’s having a conversation with his abba, his Father, wherein he is asking the Father to watch over these. He can’t do it any longer because he is leaving the world. He is asking the Father to protect them by the power of his name so that they may be one as Jesus and he are one. I can imagine the disciples listening to this prayer, feeling both fear at the imminent loss of Jesus––he keeps saying he’s going away and they won’t be able to follow him there––and tenderness toward this one who loves them so much. He’s trying to safeguard them, asking the Father to protect them from the evil one. It isn’t much different from what I was actually criticizing the figure of Job for doing in the Mothers Day message. But this is a little different; I think Jesus probably knows whereof he speaks––and prays.

Even so, he does remind me a bit of Holden Caulfield, the anti-hero of Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. The title represents Holden’s imagined role whereby he protects his sister Phoebe and all the innocent children, who are running through the field of rye, from going over the edge. He will catch them so they don’t hurt themselves, so that the world does not hurt them. That’s a bit like what Jesus is saying here.

I also thought of fathers dying and having an interior conversation with God along these lines. It is so difficult for a good father to let go, to trust that his children will be okay in the world, especially if he is no longer there to act at least as a sounding board. Even if he may not have had his physical strength and all his faculties for some time, his children could always turn to him for advice. But now, he must leave this world. Thank God for the Father of their spirits, who watches out for them. Thank God for the heavenly Father who loves them beyond what the human father can even imagine.

The great promise for both the earthly fathers and for Jesus is that the Spirit will come, the Holy Ghost will come and will teach those disciples, will teach our children, will teach us about God, wil comfort and counsel. The Spirit is in the wings and will be center stage next Sunday on Pentecost.

It is true that the Spirit is always with us, enabling the church to continue by breathing into it. While the constant presence is a truism, the celebration of that original descent of the Spirit on Pentecost, called the birthday of the church, as Jesus had promised, cannot be overly celebrated. I recommend that you prayerfully anticipate our worship next Sunday. Dare to ask God to reveal to you the wider and deeper meaning of your life, which revelation is possible through your connection with God by that same Spirit. We are surrounded by what we call mystery, especially when we speak about God, and this is good. But there are some things God would like to reveal to us in order to have the joy of our praise and thanksgiving in response, as we come into understanding. Anyway, please pray for greater insight in your own life, or as God gently directs.

Who cares about our stories and our little lives? Oprah won’t be coming to The King’s Highway any time soon. There’s nothing too spectacular in the eyes of the world going on here in the village. Or is there? I think of Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, where he discovers how important his life has been, interwoven with the lives of so many others. That makes me think of Carol, Cyndi, and Jon again, and indeed all the rest of us, whose lives are part of the fabric of this church and how we would all be diminished by the absence of even one of us. It’s important that we keep track of our stories, of who we are, of where we have come from, of whom we have met along the way because it is in and through these stories in all their particularity that God makes himself known to us powerfully and personally.

I would like to know what Joseph Barsabbas did after he was not chosen to be the twelfth apostle, Judas’s replacement, but I don’t have to know. I suspect he went about the business of the early Christian community, quietly helping, like Brother Lawrence or Josephine Bakhita, or Carol Shorey, making meaning, building community, loving those he lived with and for. Amen.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Exegesis by the Book

Sheepscott Community Church May 17, 2009

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1 John 5: 1-6
John 15: 9-17

Exegesis by the Book

I think this morning’s gospel is such an important one that I thought I would do exegesis per se on the chance that someone would garner an insight he or she might not have otherwise, bringing home the message of the gospel more forcefully and thereby making the entire project worthwhile. There will be time enough for the application of the scriptural message after the exegesis, but let us now look at this text.

First, exegesis. What is that? Simply put, it is explanation, exposition, especially of the Scriptures. And this morning, because I’m up here, I’ll play the role of exegete. That given, let me say that each of us is not only entitled to be an exegete unto himself or herself, thanks in part to Martin Luther, but if we are to grow in knowledge and an informed faith, we have a responsibility to do personal exegesis. That means reading the Scriptures, thinking about them, using references and commentaries that proliferate on the shelves of bookstores and libraries, and certainly praying into the scriptures, trusting the Spirit of God to enlighten. All of these means will enable our private exegesis and we will be better off for thinking about what we believe or don’t believe, having come to a reasoned, and hopefully enlightened position from close attention.

That said, let us do a limited exegesis of this morning’s gospel because it is such an important one. First, we will place the gospel chronologically. John 15: 9-17 occurs on the last night of Jesus’s life. It was an ominous time. In the preceding chapters, Jesus had predicted his death for the third time. He had washed the disciples’ feet at the last supper, had predicted his betrayal by one of the disciples––Judas––who dipped his bread into the same dish as Jesus, and had predicted Peter’s denial in a lesser betrayal as well.

The disciples were greatly disturbed by his saying that he was going away and that they would not be able to follow at that time, but he offered comfort. In fact, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, the Counselor. He promised to send the Spirit who would teach the disciples all things. He reassured them that they were like branches attached to him as the vine. That was the gospel we heard last week., which opens out into today’s gospel of love and a command.

Let us review verses 9 through 17. We have established that these sayings of Jesus were placed in the context of the night of the last supper and followed ominous other sayings and actions of Jesus. The passage is without narration; rather, it is supposed to be one protracted soliloquy by Jesus. He attests to his love: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you,” and then challenges them to “remain,” or live on, as it is in the New American Bible, “remain in my love.

The question immediately arises: How do we do that? How do we remain in your love? The text has Jesus answer that question. “If you obey my commands you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” Another question then arises: What are your commands, Lord? He is ready with the answer. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

How have you loved us, Lord? “Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends.” That is the gauge of Jesus’s love for his disciples, which we know in hindsight, will be proved out over the next three days after that fateful night.

But how are we Jesus’s friends? Right back to the top: If /we/ remain/ in his love. How do we remain in his love? By obeying his commands. And what is that command? That we love one another as he has loved us. We can go ‘round and ‘round on that.

One indication of the importance of the message is that he had already spoken it in John 13: 34, where he has just told the disciples that where he is going they will not be able to follow. “A new command I give you,” he said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

In the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, each of the writers makes the same declaration as the writer of John has Jesus declare, but in slightly different words. As it reads in Mark, under the heading, The Greatest Commandment, “The most important [commandment] is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Were the disciples able to lay down their lives for their friends, as Jesus said he would do? Would they have to love to that degree? Would we be able to do that? There is this Spirit Jesus promised them, the Comforter and Counselor. Maybe that One would make it possible to meet such a challenge. It is exciting to think that we will celebrate the descent of that Spirit in two weeks on the feast of Pentecost. It is the same Spirit that descended on the disciples in the Upper Room. Same Spirit. Different time and place. Same Spirit. Sheepscott, Maine. Now. But that is still ahead of us.

Meanwhile back at the last supper where Jesus is telling the disciples what they have to do, to love one another as he has loved them, they indeed are wondering how this might play out in their lives. How much more would they have to give? Hadn’t they already in a real way given up their lives? They may have trembled inwardly when they considered the idea of having to literally give up their lives. They had to accept that they could only wait to see how it played out. In John 13: 34, from which I quoted earlier, Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Now hear this: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

I hear this as the cross piece of the cross. The vertical is our private time with God where we go into our closet, as scripture says, and shut the door, and there God will speak to us. We take what comes to us there, in our time away or apart, and bring it back to the marketplace, the horizontal, where we interact with others, where we really try to love one another, to see past the differences that would separate us, to the places of agreement, which join us. When that Spirit comes, we will not simply try to see past those places of disagreement but will rejoice in the differences, because that is who God is and what God does: God is One. Much and many in One. What we cannot see or understand as One, where we see only dichotomies and opposites, God is One, the Seat of Reconciliation, the Ground of our Being. His Spirit enables that kind of understanding which can bring us into the place of truly loving one another in God. All you have to do is think of someone at the way other end of the political spectrum to test the power of the Spirit in this area. Really, God? One? It will take your Spirit to enable me to see that. And the Spirit will enable you to see that and therein is God glorified. You know it’s not your own doing, that grace, a.k.a., God, is in the world.

I recently read the inaugural sermon preached by Rev. Peter Gomes, the minister of Memorial Church at Harvard University on January 18, 2009. Reverend Gomes included a note about the sermon preached by the layman John Winthrop aboard the ship Arbella just before the Puritans landed in New England. It’s a cautionary exhortation suitable for any group embarking on a new adventure together. I appropriate Winthrop’s exhortation here as an expansion on the need to love one another in obedience to Jesus’s command. Winthrop told the people that they had to stick together or their society would fall apart and that they should set an example and be as the biblical city set on a hill. The only law that would count would be the law of love whereby they bore one another’s burdens, wept with those who wept, rejoiced with those who rejoiced, shared in everything and looked after one another, knowing that on their own they could not survive.

Back to the exegesis, Jesus still speaking. Jesus has just said that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. And he then calls them friends, if they do what he commands. He no longer calls them servants, or slaves in another translation, because a servant doesn’t know his master’s business. But he, Jesus, has made known to them everything that the Father has revealed to him. It just hasn’t been quickened yet, as it is in Jesus, because he has not yet sent his Spirit. They are hearing all this and registering it but not really understanding what he means. Our minds are able to grasp only just so much of this esoteric information before the light starts flashing: Overload! Overload! But the Spirit can enable us to bear joyfully all of it, all of the information that we seek out or that comes our way, in conversation, or through prayer or any other medium.

I am reminded of a priest I knew years ago. This was a man who had been ordained for many, many years and who read the Scripture faithfully. Reading the psalms was part of his daily devotion. At a certain point in his career he was in prayer with other priests for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, what John Wesley experienced in his famous “warming” incident, where his heart was suddenly warmed and his preaching, which had been lukewarm at best, caught fire and he ministered out of doors on the hillsides of the English countryside to his thousands of eager listeners. And this priest? What happened to him was not a warming in his breast, but after praying for what in the nineteenth century was called sanctification, this priest opened the psalms as usual the next day for his devotions, and they came alive on the page in a way they never had before. God will meet us on our own ground, the ground that he sanctifies by his Spirit, the ground that makes it possible for us to love one another, in obedience to Jesus’s command, regardless of how far apart we may be in terms of economics, politics, even religious practice. You’ll see. Pentecost.

Remember William Skiff: You pray for the Spirit to come, God hears. The Spirit comes. William had none of the blockages we have. His little child spirit is as pure as pure can be. The Spirit settled on him like a dove, as the Spirit settled on Jesus at his baptism.

That Spirit is who enables us to go and bear fruit. In verse 16 of the gospel, Jesus continues, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit––fruit that will last.” Last Sunday I talked about our helping the children of our families and communities to bear fruit. Now it’s our turn. Because Jesus has chosen us and appointed us––and now I am appropriating the language of today’s gospel for us. I have moved from simple exposition to application––because Jesus has chosen us and appointed us, no less than the disciples, we will bear fruit unless we actively resist the movement of the Spirit of God in our lives, and we can do that because we have free will. But why would we want to do that? Why would we not want to bear fruit for God? All of us have to deal with whatever in us resists our own goodness or the action of the Holy Spirit in our human spirits. Some of us have more of a battle than others, so let us be patient with one another and not judge. In other words, let us love one another where we are in as complete a response to Jesus’s command as we can.

I love the straightforwardness of that command, the unqualifiedness of it: Love one another. That’s pretty clear, huh?

We all notice how people do that, how they love one another. Metaphorically, it is laying down one’s life for another or others. I think of any number of people in this congregation, this community. Last Sunday Chrissy Wajer and her family prepared individual pots of marigolds, beautifully presented, to every mother in the church. The whole family was involved in making, delivering, and presenting. No one asked them to do that. That’s just the way they are, one way of loving one another.

At Sonnie’s prompting last Sunday, I recognized Ken Hatch in absentia for having been named volunteer of the year by the Pemaquid Watershed Association. Here’s this former academic administrator and teacher of French working in the Pemaquid Watershed. He has exercised his administrative gifts there, yes, but he has also done work to maintain and improve the Watershed’s preserves; he has mentored four students from the Center for Alternative Education in a footbridge construction project; and, as the writer of the article in the LCN pointed out, he can also be counted on to do the heavy lifting and grunt work behind the scenes that make the Watershed’s annual fundraisers a success. How do we lay down our lives for our friends?

Linda Zollers' volunteering at the Wiscasseet, Waterville and Farmington Railroad (the Narrow Gauge Railway) right down the road has opened up a way for us, for the church, to raise funds for maintenance and upkeep, even as the Saunders Grant is running out. Can you say manna from heaven? God provides, but we have to be listening and at the ready with our aprons lifted at the corners to catch the quail that fall, to pick the manna off the ground. How do we lay down our lives?

I can’t not mention Jan Kilburn’s leadership, yet again, at the suppers at Second Congregational on the second Wednesday of the month. Lily, Clara, Sonnie, Carroll and Ted, Lee and Michael and Esther, Dede and all those who cook and bake, have all responded to Jan’s patient leadership and clear commitment. How do we lay down our lives for our friends? Who are our friends?

We are a community called by God to worship together in this village of Sheepscot, Maine. We are being as faithful as we can be, and we wait as the disciples waited for the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost to enable us to more effectively give witness to the life of God by how we love one another, in obedience to Jesus’s command. Therefore does he call us “Friends.” One can do worse than to be a friend of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Thinking of Mrs. Job on Mothers Day

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Sheepscott Community Church May 10, 2009

1 John 4: 16b-21
John 15: 1-8

Thinking of Mrs. Job on Mothers Day

It’s important to remember today, on Mothers Day, that God is as much like a mother as like a father. But we are more accustomed to hearing paternal rather than maternal language about the parent of our spirits. In today’s message I’d like to consider how God may be like a mother, or how a mother may be like God.

Who among us who are parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers of children, who among us who have interaction with children, whether our own or others’, who among us isn’t at least occasionally concerned for the welfare of their young souls? Especially if they are on the cusp of young adulthood and more than eager to leave behind the churchgoing habit of their families.

Some of us experience this scenario in our own families, and I know that many a parent over the years has brought to me that concern about children choosing not to be part of a religious community, with the inherent question, “Oh, what will happen to them?” Out of today’s gospel of the vine and the branches, I hope to illustrate a way of thinking about the issue that might be useful, fruitful for you, and might produce some peace of mind, if it’s needed.

First I’d like to consider Job and his family in the traditional story we read in the Old Testament. In the prologue to that story, we read that Job’s sons used to take turns holding feasts in their homes, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would send for them and have them purified by offering a burnt sacrifice for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom.

Does that remind you of anyone you know? Yourself perhaps? Praying ceaselessly for your children and your children’s children, your nephews and nieces, your students, that they may be right with God, however your prayer is phrased. Far be it from me to discourage praying, one for another; on the contrary, I am a strong advocate for that. However, I would like to add a caveat to that kind of prayer. We think of the unjust judge and the woman who keeps badgering that judge to make a decision about her case. He finally agrees to do it because the woman is driving him crazy. There are models aplenty in the gospel for persevering in prayer, and that’s just one, with God as judge.

But, back to the caveat, however. In the case of Job interceding for his children, hoping to assuage God if any of the children have cursed or blasphemed, to take on himself the burden of any blasphemy or sin on their part, I suggest that Job might have left that to the children themselves. If these seven sons and three daughters were feasting together with food and wine, I suspect they were old enough to be responsible for themselves before God.

So am I saying pray for them or don’t pray for them? There’s a fine line here. What it feels like is whether we think we can control God’s response to the situation and to prayer––or not. Whether we entertain the thought we can control what finally is the fate of our children––or not. If we pray openhandedly, openheartedly for the best outcome for those children, according to God’s lights, and yet for enlightenment and all that that means for them, I think that is a very different attitude and kind of prayer from that of the hands clasped to the bosom, imploring God to spare this one, to lead that one.

Alden Davis gave me my first teaching about the Tao de Ching in our first conversation, at the Hill Church, and it seems relevant here. I asked her if there were a bottom line of understanding about that religious philosophy, and she said, paraphrasing, that everything is unfolding the way it should, and that we should let that happen. That was a new kind of thought for me as somewhat of a hand-wringing parent, and I offer it to you. As with everything else, it is seeking the balance and cutting ourselves all the slack in the world for our humanness and how that translates into our experience around our own children, regardless of their ages, and the children of our various communities.

Our children learn more from watching us and what our choices are in situations than in any other way. If a non-begrudging attendance at church and a joy in the activities there are part of our regular experience, they will probably be part of our children’s experience, sooner or later. We are always in the business of making memories, which can have a profound effect on future actions.

But when the children get to the age of young adulthood, anywhere from 13-25, probably like Job’s children, they have come to the point of individualizing, becoming themselves, discovering more fully their own personal identities apart from the family. That is the work of adolescence, and the wisest parents among us––of whom there are a number in this congregation––know that. But oh, sometimes it’s hard to keep hands––and certain kinds of prayers––off. Again, the balance, the emotionally, healthy attitude that will allow us to come before God with the open and not clenched hands, the open and not clenched heart, as we pray for all of our children.

In the reading from 1 John 4 this morning, the author says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment.” If we backtrack, we can imagine that Job was praying out of an attitude of fear toward God, fear of punishment, if not for himself, for his children. But, perfect love drives out fear. As it is written further on in that same letter, ”God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him.” How encouraging is that? How much can we trust that that is true? What’s the alternative to not trusting that that is true? To live in fear––no way to live a fruitful life. Living that way recalls the man again who buried his talent under the ground so that he could return that talent intact to his hard taskmaster who had given it to him.

The response to that choice is clearly outlined in this morning’s gospel, where the writer of John has Jesus identify himself as the true vine and his Father as the gardener who cuts off every branch that bears no fruit, the hard taskmaster who takes the little from the man who buried his talent in the ground and gives it to him who has much, who had doubled what he had. How do we relate that to what we are discussing here regarding young people who no longer choose to attend church or who have no observable religious practice, who possibly in our view may be setting themselves up for a terrible tumble from grace? What does this business of fruiting or not fruiting have to do with them?

While I mentioned earlier that church attendance is a good and reasonable way to set an example for young people that they may later choose to follow on their own, there is a commensurate calling forth who they are that they might bear the fruit that Jesus speaks of, the fruit of their individual lives, for which they are responsible before God. Let me offer an alternative narrative for the Job story in order to explain what I mean. Let’s say that one of Job’s daughters was a gifted flute player. Mrs. Job, her mother, whom we never heard of in the bible story, but without whom there wouldn’t be seven sons and three daughters, Mrs. Job, as we’ll call her, knew her daughter’s talent and desire. She encouraged Job, the girl’s father, to use the resources at his disposal to ensure that their daughter had an instructor and an instrument on which to practice. Thereby could her development as a musician be assured. She would bear the fruit of music, which would give glory to God and pleasure to her family and herself and all those for whom she desired to play.

Maybe Job and his wife had a son who loved camels. Everything about camels delighted the boy, much to the puzzlement of his father. But the boy had talked to his mother, and she knew how he even dreamed about camels and riding them across the countryside, the wind in his hair, like a young motorcyclist of our time. She encouraged Job to let their son help the grooms in the care of the animals and not to worry about what the neighbors would say, mixing the classes.

In this alternative narrative, Job, rather than pleading for his children with those clenched hands, agonizing with worry, as parents tend to do, rather than making the burned sacrifices for them to ensure that the awesome God would be appeased and not punish the children who might have offended God, rather than all that, if he listened to their mother, he could be enjoying the children, watching them, listening to them to find out more about who they themselves are. And then, as he was able, to make opportunities for them to shine, to bear fruit, to give glory to the God who loves them and wants them to succeed, is not watching with a hammer in hand to knock them on the heads when they step over some imagined line.

One way of looking at it is to give to them as we ourselves wish we might have been given to when we were younger. I am not talking about material things but about the gift beyond price, which is ourselves taking time to truly listen and reflect back to them what we see. And that’s true of us adults in relation to one another as much as it is true for us reflecting back to children. It’s one way we are community together. Choosing to speak a word of kindness that gives life, rather than not.

I believe holiness for us consists in trying to be our best human selves, and that includes discovering and developing and exercising our gifts that God has given us on behalf of our communities––home, school, church, work, the list goes on. Can we see that by helping our children, however they are our children, go forward in their lives as athletes, scholars, musicians, naturalists, healers, writers, educators, social workers, and so on, as we help all our children to go forward in trust that they will discover God within themselves as they grow and become wholly themselves. They will bear fruit as members of their own various communities, and we? We will be letting things unfold as they should with our support, as Alden suggested about Taoism, but without our interference.

Mr. and Mrs. Job’s hypothetical daughter playing her hypothetical flute or their son tending to the camels, these are artificial models but models nevertheless, which we can consider as sacred activities because they represent children fulfilling their gifts, being fruiting branches off the vine that is Christ. Flute-playing and camel-tending are not recognized as religious activities per se, no, they would be called profane. But they do represent a way of fulfillment of the sacred contract we all have to fulfill the promise of our lives, no matter at what stage we find ourselves.

Think again about the vine and the branches. No less than we are branches off the vine of Christ who can not bear fruit apart from him, so our children are branches off that same vine. They have their own row to hoe in their own way. Let us be observant caretakers, adding fertilizer when we see it’s necessary and possible and can do that without interfering with who they are before God.

In conclusion, an afterthought to this message: Some of us think we have the best mother the world has ever known, and that has to include Jesus, whose mother Mary was there from the very beginning to the very end. When we tick off our mothers’ virtues and talents, it’s clear that we have thought a great deal about them, whether they are living or dead. On the other hand, some of us may think we had the worst mother in the world, especially when we take stock of her over against our own construction of what makes a good mother and how she fell short of that ideal as we think about our growing up.

Whichever group you fall into, the celebrators of mothers or the non-celebrators, or more likely, somewhere in between, remember her today. Remember your mother, and if you need to forgive her, for both your sakes, do that. Give yourself a rest. She was probably doing the best she could with what she had and what she knew at the time, as is true for most of us right now. Amen.

In His Presence

Sheepscott Community Church April 19, 2009

1 John 1: 1-2:2
John 20: 19-31

In His Presence

There is a happy confluence of influences this week that made for almost infinite possibilities for the message. It is the Second Sunday of Easter, with its charged gospel about Jesus’s appearing in the midst of the disciples, including Thomas. Earth Day happens on Wednesday, and a day to honor Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was set aside by Robert Ellsberg in his book All Saints. Ellsberg takes the liberty of making saints of some whom others might not, but he’ll get no argument from me on de Chardin...

...who was a geologist and paleontologist, and a member of the group who discovered Peking Man, at one time thought to be our earliest ancestor. De Chardin was also a Jesuit priest who was as much a visionary as he was a rock-solid scientist. His ideas converge in a prayer, which I find relevant to today’s readings and for today’s world.
You’d guess he was from Maine, when you hear it, if you didn’t know he grew up among the volcanic hills that surrounded his family home in an area of the Auvergne region of France

The prayer: “Blessed be you, harsh matter, barren soil, stubborn rock: you who yield only to violence, you would force us to work if we would eat... Blessed be you, mortal matter! Without you, without your onslaughts, without your uprootings of us, we should remain ignorant of ourselves and of God.”

De Chardin was an incarnational thinker and believer. He understood the spirit of God and the principle of matter definitively joined in Jesus as the Christ. He perceived the divine in all of creation and was thrilled with the idea that through working in the world human beings were participating in the ongoing extension and consecration of God’s creation.

What a perfect gospel we have this morning to illustrate de Chardin’s understanding of the perfect union of matter and spirit in Christ. In the second part of the gospel, Jesus stands in the midst of the disciples, as he had the previous week, but this time Thomas, who had doubted, was present. How chagrined must Thomas have felt when Jesus used Thomas’ own words of the previous week––”Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it”––Jesus used those words to call Thomas to belief. I don’t doubt that as soon as Thomas saw Jesus, he had no need to place his finger in the nail marks nor his hand in the side, but Jesus was not going to miss this opportunity to teach, when he said to him, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” That quotation can be read with an edge of frustration. I suspect Thomas never doubted again, at least in mattrs related to Jesus.

To return to de Chardin’s incarnational view, Jesus was present in the flesh as they had known him in his lifetime. In Luke’s gospel account of this event, Jesus says, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a host does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” Not only that, but also in Luke’s gospel, he asks, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.” He who had been dead was alive and they had all seen him, including now, Thomas.

Also, in the second reading, this from the letter 1 John, the writer says, “That which was,” or “what’ was, from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have looked at and which our hands have touched––all of that indicating substance. They had heard a voice with their ears, had looked at and touched something, someone substantial, something apprehensible by the senses. In other words, real. Matter. And then the writer says, “This we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” Word capitalized, indicating Jesus, the spoken Word the writer of John alludes to in the first chapter of the gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made...In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shone in the darkness, but the darkness did not overcome, overwhelm or understand it––different translations of that same word.

1 John echoes much of this, as we heard read this morning. “The life appeared”––Jesus––”we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.” Jesus never approached from “on high,” and this is consistent with how he appears to the disciples in today’s gospel. He was always in the midst, in the midst of the people, in the midst of real life and the questions real life asks.

It hardly matters how the body of Jesus came to be missing. We try to reduce resurrection to poetry––the coming of spring with the return of life to the dead earth. I myself have used that metaphor, but as valuable and as useful as that and other metaphors are in speaking about resurrection, resurrection cannot ultimately reduce to metaphor. In the scripture it simply states a fact: Christ is risen!

Some of us believe he was raised up by the power of God, that love could not do anything but that. Some believe resurrection had to happen that way that way in order to fulfill the scriptures about Jesus. Others may believe what no doubt some believed at that time, that Jesus’s body was taken away by his followers and reburied somewhere else. There are as many ways to think about the resurrection as there are people who do the thinking: I subscribe to the bodily resurrection of Jesus and what that promises for all of us, but y’ know? In the last analysis what I said earlier––that it hardly matters how the body of Jesus came to be missing, still holds. As Frederick Buechner points out in a meditation on the resurrection, what convinced people he had risen from the dead was not the absence of his corpse but his living presence, as we have heard in this morning’s gospel. And so has it been ever since.

How does that living presence happen? How does it come to be? In the gospel, we read and hear that Jesus breathed on his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” There are two things going on there: Jesus does breathe out his Spirit, his Holy Spirit in this gospel––we can read that as a first installment on the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, 50 days after resurrection. The other thing that impresses me is that Jesus gives over to the disciples the business of forgiving sins––or not. I don’t read this as a gift to those particular men at that particular time to be passed down to other particular men for other times. I read it as a responsibility for all people in their communities through time––to forgive one another.

Jesus does not arrogate the business of forgiveness to God, but breathes his Spirit on these disciples, and so on us as well, as we seek it and believe it, to be the actors in the business of forgiveness. It sounds like Jesus is giving the Spirit to enable community at that time. “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” We may bring problems and questions before God in prayer, and then let them go, trusting that our decisions following that kind of even partial surrender, will be our best decisions we can make at any given time, and that includes the forgiveness of individuals.

There are three pictures of community we have in this morning’s readings, beginning with the psalm: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers––and sisters––live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head.” It is what happens when the community comes together, to study the Book of Job, to share an Easter meal together, to worship together, to serve a meal to others together. In Acts, we read, “All the believers were one in heart and mind... they shared everything they had.” What made that possible? We know how hard it is sometimes even being under one roof with members of our families, never mind having community with groups of people who may have until only recently been strangers to us.

I think it’s possible if we look at the third picture of community, the disciples huddled together behind a locked door for fear of the Jews. There comes Jesus into their midst, breathes the Spirit on them, and they receive that Spirit and undertake to deepen their bonds, with forgiveness––or not––being a primary work in the formation of the community.

If we have the breath of the Spirit breathed on us, we also are among those of whom Jesus said to Thomas and the others, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” That’s us. So, we have the Spirit breathed on us and we have the blessing of Jesus for the formation of a believing community. How can we miss? If you’re squirming, I would exhort you as Jesus did to Thomas, Stop doubting and believe. Stop holding back on forgiveness; stop holding back on hoping that this time it might be different. Stop holding back on love out of fear of being hurt. A life lived that way is pinched and stingy, and we ourselves are the ones who suffer as a result. Sure, if we open ourselves to life, we are opening ourselves to all that goes with it, including being hurt in any number of ways. We’re dealing with human beings, after all. But is a life lived otherwise worth living?

What comes to mind is the scripture about the talents given by the master to his servants before he goes off on a trip. The first doubles his money, as does the second. The third, poor devil, buries his in the ground because he doesn’t want to lose it, fearful as he is of his master, who is a demanding and hard taskmaster. We know the outcome of that story. The master denounces the servant’s cautious approach and takes away what he has, giving it to the one who already has the most.

We are offered life, and I remind you again that the writer of 1 John speaks of “life” appearing; we have seen it,” he wrote, “and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.” He is talking about Jesus, and that is the same Jesus that I am proclaiming to you this morning, the same one I am inviting you to take a chance on giving in to, privately in your own way, surrendering the mountain of what seems unsolvable to the air, the pneuma, the breath of the Spirit that blows where it will.

A couple of other things I’d like to mention are first, the time element in today’s gospel, and second, that I see the breath of the Spirit of Jesus extending the already existing community that this church has been. First, the time element. Jesus came into the midst of the disciples behind locked doors when it was time for him to come. It was not predicted; he just appeared. One week later, when Thomas was present, he appeared again. He was not operating according to someone else’s clock, or idea of what he should be doing, but apparently according to what worked best for the furtherance of his kingdom and the glory of God. I think of Jesus on the cross and those below tormenting him verbally: “Let this Christ, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” God is not moved according to men’s demands on his time, but acts sovereignly.

I also note the growth in our community of faith. It is as if God is lifting the pegs of the tent and placing them at a greater distance from each other in order to expand the area, the ground that the tent covers, to build up the body that worships together with Christ /as the head/ and the church/as it has been in this community for almost 200 years, as the heart. That’s the way it seems to me.

No less than Jesus appeared in the midst of the disciples following his resurrection and about which we heard today, no less than that is the Spirit of Jesus moving among us, breathing his Spirit out on us, that we may forgive one another and grow into the community God envisions for us. Our community is growing. The generosity of that community continues as we share within Sheepscott and beyond through our service, through our donations to the maintenance of our church, to the food pantry at Second Congregational, where we also serve at the Wednesday supper.

In our own lives before God, we also know how we are growing individually in prayer and service in our households and beyond. That is a result of Jesus guiding our hand to open the locked door of our inner room, where we hide out no less than the disciples hid out in the Upper Room in fear for their lives. Jesus appeared in their midst. He was in the room with them. He is in our room with us, and when the moment is perfectly balanced,the timing perfectly right, he will enable us to fully open that door to the world beyond our own lives, our own ways of thinking about things. He will enable a generosity of spirit we have not known before.

I read in this morning’s gospel, “These signs are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name.” Amen.