By Rev. Heather J. Blais
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Today we celebrate the Feast Day of St. Andrew. In the gospel, we hear the story of how four fisherfolk become followers of Jesus. Two of them are our guys; Andrew, who is working alongside his brother Simon, and James, who is working alongside his brother John. Jesus invites all of them into a new way of life, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”
They immediately left their nets, their boats, their very way of life, all to follow this stranger who would turn the world upside down and right side up.
Within scripture, we see that following Jesus is an all or nothing experience for those first disciples. There was so much that needed to be done to help transform the world into a better place. The disciples’ work focused on spreading the good news of God’s love and compassion, healing the sick, and helping the establishment think about why they do things the way they do. Since there is so much of the story left between the lines of scripture, we are left to wonder, did these disciples ever take a rest or were they caught up in the go-go-going way of the movement?
We know a bit about go-go-going, don’t we? Nearly the entire congregation played a role to ensure the Mistletoe Mart & Craft Faire was a success yesterday. We have fun and enjoy the fellowship, but the primary reason for this event is because the funds raised sustain our outreach and mission. It ensures that we have the resources we need to live into programs, such as Whitney’s Pantry, Bread of Life, Cathedral in the Light, St. Andrew’s Guild, our Health Ministry, Emmaus Companions, Church World Service, and much more. We are trying to live into Jesus’ command to feed the hungry, care for the sick, clothe the naked, and to walk alongside those pushed to the margins of our society. We are trying to see the Christ within each and every person we encounter in the walls of this campus and beyond.
This work is constant. Then you mix in commitments to family and friends for the holidays, as well as to other organizations, and the go-go-going of our lives can feel a bit like a rollercoaster that’s gone off its tracks. Particularly for any of us who are inclined to understand our self worth by how much we do. We find we are in the middle of a one way ticket to burn out.
Yet the thing is, any relationship we have with another person is only as healthy as the least healthiest member in the relationship.** The same is true for our ministry teams. Any ministry team in the church is only as healthy as the least healthiest member of the team. Which means if we are setting ourselves up to be burnt out, we are setting up our relationships and ministry teams to struggle. This is not what God wants for us or for creation.
I’d like to share a story I recently came across which invites Andrew, James, and all followers of Jesus to slow down a bit.
We are invited to ensure we have put on our own oxygen mask, before we seek to help others.
A hearty and healthy pause as we seek to go-go-go the way of love.
Jesus’ Day Off by Nicholas Allan (if you listen to the sermon, the story is read in the audio).
What happened when Jesus took time for rest and renewal? (This is not rhetorical)
We know that Jesus routinely withdrew from the crowd to go and ensure his own well was full. It was the only way to sustain his life and work.
During this next week, which I know will surely be chaotic for some--how might each of us slow down and rest? Jesus found that fruits grew during his time of rest, because sometimes we only need to let things be for a bit. What might blossom if we were to try such a radical idea as rest? Amen.
**This idea that we are only ever as healthy as the least healthy member in a relationship originated for me from the writing of Rob and Kristen Bell's, The Zimzum of Love: A new way of understanding marriage.
Rev. Heather J. Blais
This past week we celebrated a trifecta of holy days.
It began on Thursday with All Hallow’s Eve, and while it is not a feast day in the Church, a service for All Hallow’s Eve does appear in our Book of Occasional Services. It draws from the Service of Light in the prayerbook, and there are special lessons appointed for the day, such as the valley of dry bones from Ezekiel, and the unusual story of the Witch of Endor from 1 Samuel (28:3-25).
In the story, Saul has recently cast out all the witches, mediums, and seers throughout the land. Yet after Samuel’s death, with the Philistine army approaching, Saul was afraid. He spoke out to God, but when he heard nothing, he inquired about a seer. When he learned about the Witch of Endor, he disguised himself and went to her, hoping to find solace and advice.
Yet even the witch was afraid to speak, for fear of punishment from Saul. In the story, God surprises us all, by speaking to both the witch and Saul through their fear. They left their encounter with a deeper sense of God’s vision and care.
Sam Portaro in his book Brightest and Best, writes, “To deny or denigrate such experiences as that of Saul and the Witch of Endor is to maintain that God communicates only in the ways we dictate and deem tasteful. Because Saul’s source is suspect in our eyes, we are perplexed by its intrusion into our religious sensibilities” (197-198).
All Hallow’s Eve is a time when we collectively confront our fear of death through laughter, trickery, and playing with the things that normally spook us. And when we cast all the candy and costumes aside, and look at our fears head on, God is there, ready to help us face that which feels so uncertain and scary.
The second day in the trifecta is the Feast of All Saints, which we celebrate today. Scholars believe the day originated in Ireland and spread all the way to Rome, where in the early 800s c.e. Pope Gregory the Fourth urged Emperor Louis the Pious that such a festival should be observed throughout the entire Roman Empire (Lesser Feasts and Fasts 362). There are also subtle hints from even earlier that there was an All Martyrs’ festival. One such hint is the Pantheon in Rome, which was originally a pagan temple dedicated to “all the gods”, yet in 610 c.e. was dedicated as the Church of St. Mary and All Martyrs (Lesser Feasts and Fasts 362).
All Saints Day is the centerpiece of these three days, as we continue to face death, but this time through the lens of particularly holy people, who have embodied goodness in remarkable ways through their actions and lives. This is where we remember the likes of Mary, the unwed teenage mother of Jesus; Andrew and James, fishermen who leave everything to follow Jesus; Mary Magdalene, who showed the world there has always been a place for women at God’s table; Patrick, who brought Christianity to Ireland; and so many more. These individuals, who were very much human, broken and beloved by God, often did not quite fit in with others. By the grace of God, they were able to take their brokenness and see a hurting part of the world and help transform it for the better.
The saints came to represent intercessors or protectors. Even long after they have lived, we still look to these folks for inspiration, as a window into what it means to embody goodness with our whole being. They give us hope.
The last day in the trifecta is possibly my favorite, Commemoration of All Faithful Departed, better known by its older name of All Souls Day. In 998 c.e., Odilo of Cluny, the abbot of Cluny monastery, decided that after the festival of All Saints, all the monasteries under his supervision should celebrate another festival, in honor of all their dead loved ones (Folks Like Me 60). It began as a time where folks might visit their family graves to clear the weeds, have a picnic, and bring fresh flowers (Folks Like Me 60). This festival eventually spread to the whole Church, and is where we get the Day of the Dead celebrations (Folks Like Me 60).
During the reformation this practice was eliminated in some places due to abuses connected with masses for the departed and because in the New Testament the word ‘saint’ is applied to all baptized Christians, not to a special class of believers or to those who have maintained higher moral standards (Lesser Feasts and Fasts 364). When the day was reintroduced, it was done so knocking out ‘all souls’ to become ‘all faithful’. Somehow the Church once again lost sight of God’s vision. God does not intend for us to only remember those who have been faithful; rather, we are called upon to remember all the broken, all the lost, and all who are different from us. It is a day to remember every single member of creation, everyone we have loved and lost, and those who have no one to remember them.
It is the day we proclaim our hope for eternal life with God and one another, as articulated in Isaiah, who proclaimed that everyone is born of God and everyone is gathered up in God at death (Brightest and Best 202).
“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever” (Isaiah 25:6-7)
All three days have roots in older pagan traditions which were adapted and repurposed for Christianity. There is no doubt this was a strategic move by those who sought to spread Christianity with empire. Yet underneath those motives, still remains something beautiful about these traditions. We all must face our own mortality, and these traditions help us to find courage and hope as we look towards God, by remembering those who have gone before us. Which is why today, I want to invite each of us moved to do so, to light a candle. To recognize we all have fears about what is to come, to give thanks to those saints who are a window to help us see and understand God and ourselves in new ways, and to remember those people who made us who we are.
So today, I light a candle in memory and thanksgiving for…
...my grandmother Sally, who showed me unconditional love.
...my aunt Debbie and grandfather Gene, whose own fragility and brokenness taught me how important it is to forgive oneself.
…my friend, Father Bamforth, who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.
….for Chuck in Maine, who died last week and showed the world joy, love, and light by the way he entered every room.
...the saints who have gone before us at Saints James and Andrew who have touched our lives and will not be forgotten.
...my favorite writers, Lewis and Tolkien, who helped me envision and understand my faith in deeper ways through story.
...for the prophet Martin Luther King, Jr., who believed in a better world.
...for Jacob, who teaches us how to wrestle with God.
...for the prophets and early Church, who are constant reminders that God is still doing something new, even now.
For these, and so many more.
I invite you to come forward and light a candle for all those saints you carry with you. Amen.
Rev. Heather J. Blais
Today’s gospel lesson, begins in the middle of a conversation between Jesus and his disciples, who we hear cry out, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5). The disciples are responding to Jesus’ teaching from the previous few verses, which are omitted from today’s lectionary reading:
“If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive” (Luke 17:3-4).
Jesus wants his followers to understand that we are called to forgive every repentant person who has ever wounded us or who might drive us mad. Not only must we do it once, but we must forgive every single time a repentant person seeks forgiveness. He uses the example of seven times, not so we get a free pass once our punch card is full; rather it’s to remind us there is no end to how much we might forgive. If a person is repentant, we are called to forgive, always.
Now can you see why our lesson begins with the disciples crying out, “Increase our faith” or as a young person in my house might say, “UGH”. Because if we are called upon to have such a depth of forgiveness within ourselves, that we might forgive any and every repentant person who has ever hurt us, that sure seems like we need to have a lot of faith. And sometimes, we might be feeling a little thin on faith.
Which is precisely what Jesus is responding to when he tells his disciples,
“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Luke 17:6).
A mustard seed is a speck of a seed, and yet it grows into a massive plant. The point of this tiny seed size faith being able to move a tree into the sea, is not about the quantity of our faith. Rather, it’s that even if only one single cell of our being believes, it is sufficient. That much faith is enough. Which means we don’t need to look to our neighbor and assume because they might seem to have it more together, that they are somehow a more mature believer. No. Each one of us is here because we have some tiny speck of faith. And, it is sufficient. It is all we could ever need to walk the way of love and follow Jesus.
Jesus then offers this second metaphor, which in essence is about an employee who goes about their work because it is what they are assigned to do. Their employer doesn’t say, skip your work today and instead eat breakfast with me. They say go ahead and do your work, then have lunch. The employee is simply doing their job, and when we do a job well, it brings a satisfaction and joy. And as followers of Jesus, one of our assigned duties is forgiving repentant people who hurt us. Nor will it take an extraordinary amount of faith within us to find that forgiveness, because that tiny, mustard seed size faith is sufficient. It will give us what we need to find that forgiveness.Just like it will give us everything we could possibly need to walk the way of love.
Today we will baptize Quinn Everly Butynski and welcome her into the body of Christ. We will each offer her a tiny bit of our speck of faith, when we reaffirm our own baptismal promises in the Baptismal Covenant. We’re telling Quinn, we are in this together, and we will support you and one another, as we seek to walk the way of love.
In the Baptismal Covenant, found on pages 304-305 in the BCP, we promise that...
To live into these promises, all we need is our tiny, mustard seed size faith. That little bit is sufficient. Yet if we work in isolation, we are far lonelier, accomplish a great deal less, and often find we can only grow so much. As a community of faith, we help provide the water, the nutrients in the soil, and the sunlight to help the seed take root. We are better when we come together as a community of faith to do God’s work.
Our work here at Saints James and Andrew is highly relational. From worship and formation on Sunday mornings; to Monday evening at Second Helpings where you might run into a volunteer from Whitney’s Pantry, our street ministers, Emmaus Companions, or our Faith Community Nurse; to the rest of the week when pastoral visitations happen or property needs are being addressed so our space can be shared with and used by the wider community. As a community of faith, we want to help one another draw closer to God, we want to reach those who have not yet experienced the unshakeable and life changing truth that each of us is a beloved child of God, and this idea that every resource we have as a faith community is meant to be shared--whether that be our buildings, our pastors, or our ministries.
We are currently in the midst of our annual pledge campaign, and we are asking that each person touched by the space, people, and/or work of Saints James and Andrew consider promising to make a financial contribution for the coming year with a pledge to ensure we can continue to do this work well. How might you be willing to financially support the relational work that happens through our ministries, buildings, and staff in the coming year?
And a bigger question, that I’d like to ask each of us to dwell on: How has this community of faith helped your faith to grow or blossom?
I invite you to write your answers on the back of the postcard you each have, with a picture of SsJA from this past Pentecost. Whatever you might write, know it is an offering to God, and I invite you to keep it in your home, somewhere you might see routinely so you can know you are a beloved child of God and an invaluable part of this community of faith.
How has this community helped your faith to grow or blossom? Amen.
Meet our preachers
Lay Preacher, Faith Community Nurse
The Rev. Jane R. Dunning, Priest Associate
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.