As we move from one season to another (seasons of the earth and seasons of the church) we can look back, gather our thoughts and memories and then look forward with clearer eyes We don’t have to split the past from the present or the future. We can integrate and celebrate what we have learned and try to make sense of this rapidly changing world. (We have an opportunity to take stock of our experiences of the past year today at 11:30 using the coffee hour link)
On this 2nd Sunday of Easter, the readings bring forth a couple of themes that resonate with my experience this past year.
The first is the a deeper understanding of the themes of scarcity and abundance. Psalm 133 is full of symbolism which describes a people of abundance: the choicest oils, a city green and vibrant, and a people living in unity. From our Canticle today we hear of a holy people, freed from their oppressors, and speaking with tongues of new-born Easter people. Luke tells us, in the Acts of the Apostles, that there is plenty enough of everything if everything is distributed fairly. Anna Woofenden has written a lovely book about establishing a “Garden Church” in southern California. The book is called “This is God’s Table: Finding Church beyond the walls. Anna says that a feeling of scarcity is what separates us. That the worry that there might not be enough can actually tear us apart in community. Luke says that to be of one heart and soul (or to be united in the Beloved Community), we must reorient our lives towards justice and generosity, and away from scarcity.
Early in the Pandemic we saw what it means to have a mentality of scarcity, and I sometimes felt overwhelmed by it myself. We saw what happens when we view life as an 8” pie. If one person takes a big piece, that leaves less for everyone else. A scarcity mentality sees limitations in all things. A mindset of abundance sees a pie amazingly, infinitely huge, sort of like how I imagine the size of God!
In our James and Andrew Good News Garden Group, we learned from native American culture about “The Honorable Harvest” This is a covenant of sorts, a promise of reciprocity between humans and the land, a way of living that ensure everlasting abundance. Here are the ideas in this covenant:
When I’m feeling a bit of ministry burn-out, and my glass feels half empty, wise counselors remind me to reach out and tap into the abundance of resources that are out there in the world. This year I found a group of Faith Community Nurses from Northern California. They have become important “virtual colleagues” and their creativity and support has given me energy when I needed it most. I recently reached out to friends who are passionate about food justice issues and they have connected me to several groups of folks who have organized distribution of surplus fruit and vegetables in the Town of Montague. Seems there is an abundance of ministry partners as well.
So, how can we develop a spirit of abundance? Can we try to focus on what we have, to hang out with folks whose glass is half full, not half-empty, to believe in both/and not either/or, and to develop daily gratitude practices, to take a few moments each day to thank God for this abundant life.
The 2nd theme that speaks to me comes from John’s Gospel about faith. I will no longer refer to Thomas as doubting Thomas. Instead, he will be Honest Thomas. Thomas was not with the other disciples when Jesus made his post-resurrection appearance to them, and apparently the disciples did not do a good job of convincing Thomas. I’m a pretty scientifically minded person (although I do have a firm belief in things that cannot be proven!). Nurses, you see, like to see, hear, touch and even (sorry) smell the evidence before making a nursing diagnosis. Like Thomas, “Show me” is our mantra also. We measure, compare, and evaluate endlessly. I love that Jesus doesn’t chastise Thomas. He understands that belief is difficult, and he gives Thomas the proof he needs. I believe Jesus is telling all of us whose faith has wavered from time to time…. “remain steadfast, you will come to believe.” Keep looking, keep searching. One Forward Day by Day writer said that doubt is not the opposite of faith, it is the companion of faith.
I find myself thinking back to the spirit of abundance again. I think that Jesus is telling Honest Thomas, that he is enough, just as he is, in his unbelief and his belief. That he and we are wonderfully made, and we are made new in abundance at Easter. Consider your own abundant life this Easter season.
In the world that God hopes for, there is enough, and we- are -enough.
By Kathryn Aubry-McAvoy
Today, in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is tested again, and Jesus, like a good rabbi, answers the test question with another question, and then he often tells a parable to shine a light on God’s truth. It’s as if he’s saying, “this is how the kingdom of God on earth should be”.
These last few Sunday gospels have been dramatic… the story a couple of weeks ago of a King who gives a wedding banquet, where guests behave badly and the King banishes a poor fellow for wearing the wrong outfit. Jesus explains the difference between a dress code and radical, welcoming hospitality. Two sons, one who says yes to his father’s request for work and then skips out, the other says no, but turns round right and gets to work, Jesus says the sorriest among you who say yes to God will be the first in heaven; (actions speak louder than words), and builders who don’t recognize the strongest sturdiest cornerstone, which just might be Jesus himself?
My imagination seems to be blossoming during this pandemic. Spending everyday with a 3 year old who has the best ever make-believe ideas has been helpful. We had a great “phone” conversation the other day with two bananas! Also contributing is my addiction to Netfliz crime dramas (I like the ones set in Norway or Finland: they are cold and dark and there is a brooding, lead character who says little but speaks wisely.
These gospels, and the parables that Jesus tells, are tales that are meant to confound, confuse and ultimately amaze us. If you read them over a few times, it’s easy to imagine yourself in the action; you could be a main character or an onlooker in the crowd.
Try putting yourself in different roles. The more you read it, the more the drama builds.
I imagine I’m an onlooker; (I’d like to be more comfortable with conflict, I’m working on it!) I imagine I’m off to the side of the crowd, taking it all in, sitting in a market stall, weaving purple cloth.
And so the play begins today in the Temple. Two groups have gathered, Pharisees (pius Jews, very concerned with obedience to Jewish law), and Herodians, (likely followers of Herod, Jews also, but more interested in the governments’ finances). They intend to confront and confound Jesus with a question that puts him between a rock and a hard place. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” they ask. One answer breaks Jewish law, the other angers the government. (Jesus and his band of scruffy followers do not have a penny (or rather a denarius) in their pockets.)
The Pharisees and Herodians flatter Jesus, telling him that he is sincere and a good teacher. I love that Jesus doesn’t let them get away with this; he calls them out…hypocrites, he says, flattery from one side, trickery from the other. They bully him: “You’re so smart, is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
Jesus does not allow himself to be tricked, and his answer is short and amazing. He says “Yes, the emperor’s head and title are on the coin, it is his. Give him his due, and also, give to God what is God’s.
We know we must “pay the tax’ also. We need roads and good schools and we must contribute to the cost of managing and preserving this wonderful world, but what would it be like if we remembered that all of it belongs to God, that all these worldly things are God’s, not Caesars, and not ours. What if we chose God’s way of love, liberation and justice as we support our institutions, our government and our personal lives? //
After all, we believe that everything we have is only on loan to us from God. We believe that at God’s command all things came to be, from the primal elements God brought all things forth. As we sing in the Venite: “the sea is his for he made it, and his hand has molded the dry land. We are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. //
The kingdom of God on earth is Gods. Everything. Every soul, every flower, and every dollar.
What would it be like if we applied the principals of God’s kingdom (not Caesars) to every decision we made. We have been given reason and choice. Could we align our choices and decisions with the description of God’s “kingdom on earth” that Jesus teaches us in these parables? Does that decision, that vote or that dollar spent, honor God as the Mother and Father of everyone and everything, and does it lead us further into a world of love, liberation and justice?
It’s amazing to think it could be so! Amen
By Kathryn Aubry-McAvoy
View the worship and sermon here.
During this time of Pandemic, we pray in our weekly litany “for those who are ill and those who are frightened, for medical personnel caring for the sick and workers who provide support to us everyday in their communities, for scientists seeking treatments and prevention, and for those officials who bear the weight of decision-making for the common good.” If we look back in history we see many examples of similar heroic service, those who followed Jesus’ call on the beach that night, to heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and raise up the dead.
Today I’d like to draw your attention to the Martyrs of Memphis. In August of 1878, yellow fever invaded the city of Memphis Tennessee for the 3rd time in 10 years. This was a time in the practice of medicine when germ theory was still a controversial idea. It would be another 25 years before it was discovered that a mosquito carried the disease. Living conditions and working conditions in large industrial cities were typically dirty, overpopulated and unsanitary, forcing residents to battle life-threatening diseases.
After a month, quarantine was ordered. 30,000 people had fled in terror, and 20,000 remained to face the pestilence.
Jeannette Keith has written a fascinating book about this time in history called “Fever Season, The Story of a Terrifying Epidemic and the People who saved a City.”
As Keith wryly points out, these saviors weren’t exactly who you might expect. …“Neither heroism nor villainy could be predicted by public standing, gender or race. Upstanding citizens abandoned their families, and prostitutes and sporting men stepped up to care for the sick. White elected officials deserted their posts, but black militiamen stood fast as guardians of the city.”
The cast of characters who rose to the crisis were an unexpected crew united by a single impulse: like Jesus feeding all those folks on the beach that night, they could not turn a deaf ear to those in need. Among them were the editor of the city paper, the Memphis Daily Appeal; a nurse and teacher who had already lost most of her family in Texas to the disease as a child; a wealthy merchant and veteran of the Union Calvary, who “risked his life to help people he had fought against only a few years previously”; the only white Baptist minister to remain in the city; a madam who transformed her bordello into an infirmary; and, in the aftermath of the epidemic, a former slave who became the richest African America in Memphis and would lay the foundations for Memphis’ reputation as the home of the blues. His name was Robert Church. Also notable among them, was Constance, Superior to the Sisters of St Mary, six of her fellow sisters, three physicians, two of whom were Episcopal priests, two matrons and several volunteer nurses from New York.
In the Episcopal Church we dedicate September 9th to Constance and her Companions. The Cathedral buildings were located in the most infected region of Memphis. Here, these men and women gave relief to the sick, comfort to the dying, and homes to the many orphaned children. Only two of these workers escaped the fever. Among those who died were Constance, Thecla, Ruth and Frances, the Reverend Charles Parsons and the Reverend Louis Schuyler.
Let us pray:
“We give you thanks and praise, O God of Compassion, for the heroic witness of Constance and her companions, who, in a time of plague and pestilence, were steadfast in their care for the sick and dying, and loved not their own lives, even unto death: Inspire in us a like love and commitment to those in need, following the example of our Savior Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, then, now and forever. Amen"
Excerpt from Holy Women, Holy Men
“Fever Season: The Story of a terrifying Epidemic and the People who Saved a City"
By Kathryn Aubry-McAvoy
In today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew, we hear from Jesus at his most demanding. Jesus says “To follow me in the true way of love, to go all the way with me, you will be uncomfortable, confused, and even sometimes frightened. Jesus says: If you wish to walk the way of love with me, expect to be upset and confused, even cut off in a way from those you love. And through thick and thin you have to forget about yourself. This forgetting is freeing and it opens you up to find God.
There are times of life when I appreciate expert, no-nonsense advice. For me, this is one of those times. In the midst of a devastating pandemic and a crisis of injustice in our country, some straight from the hip advice gives me comfort. As a member of the leadership team here at James and Andrew I have been reassured by the expert advice from the CDC, the World Health Organization, state and local public health experts and our clergy and church leaders. Our data is not perfect, but it’s the best we have.
Jesus gives pretty straight forward advice about justice, he says that everything eventually will be out in the open, everyone will understand how things really are, so don’t hesitate to go public about God’s love…even if you are uncomfortable or confused. Don’t let anyone (even you), bully you into silence. Nothing can hurt you, the real you of body and soul, if you are motivated by God’s way of love. This love belongs to everyone: student/teacher, laborer/boss, those who are strong and healthy and those with weak immune systems, those who have, and those who have not.
We are instructed to stand up for love against world opinion, or anyone’s opinion, in spite of our discomfort. In the midst of a devastating pandemic and an uprising for justice, can we set aside our comforts? Can we remember the “greater good” and set our hearts on the hope that another, better world is possible?
The expert advice we hear from Jesus is that living out this love might cut like a sword.
Jesus did not come to make life cozy. Being comfortable is nice, but I recognize that it doesn’t always help us to get anywhere. If we stay inside a cozy domestic relationship with the world, or with a church institution, there’s no forward movement, no growth, no life.
My boys suffered from what we called growing pains in their preteen years, those years of rapid physical and emotional growth; they complained frequently of achy legs that bothered them mostly at night. Scientists will say that there’s no evidence that growth hurts, but I believe there’s much about the body/mind connection we do not understand. A broken heart surely hurts, and we now know that it can lead to changes in the heart muscle similar to a heart attack. We also know that the damage can heal.
The pain of lost comfort is real, but maybe that pain is a sign that we’re on the threshold of something new. Our EFM book group is reading Esther de Waal’s book “To Pause at the Threshold” She has wonderful things to say about how a threshold can be a sacred place, a place of openness and receptivity. The threshold leads to something new, something of greater fullness. It is good to remember that God is always with us, at our center and our comfort and also (as Heather says), at our raw and growing edges. Rachel Held Evans, in her book about Loving the Bible (for which Dan Carew will lead us in a Zoom discussion today at 11:30), Rachel says that scripture should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
So, even if we are dwelling in a place of discomfort or confusion, I hope we are dwelling in a threshold place, and that we can equip ourselves for change and growth. Jesus says it plainly: don’t be intimidated, don’t be bluffed into silence, stand up for me, forget about yourself and look to me, learn from me. So here is my plan: I will accept my discomfort, I will accept my growing pains, I will read and seek the truth, I will listen and talk it over, I will walk forward and I will try not to be afraid.
And I will pray for your plan too. Amen
Meet our Preachers
Coffee with Clergy
Do you want to get together to talk about your spiritual life or learn more about our community? Contact us and we will find time to get together.