Things We Do Not Understand   

Readings: Ezekiel 17:22-24 and Mark 4:26-34

June 13, 2021

By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan


This week, just before taking a walk through our awesome church garden, I received a prayer that was pleasing to me, I hope to you, and to God. It was written by Rev. Teri Peterson. Teri is a minister in the Church of Scotland. She based her prayer on the passage we just heard from the Gospel According to Mark. Have a listen now to how one pastor in Scotland is pondering this message:


“The kingdom of God is like. . . things we do not understand. More than thatThe kingdom of God is like things that are impossible.Starting with ordinary and moving to extraordinary with a breath, with a word. Mustard seeds do not grow into trees. And yet. Farmers do not scatter seed recklessly. And yet. The kingdom of God is like. . . things we cannot control. More than that, the kingdom of God is impossible to control. Starting with ordinary, and moving to extraordinary with a word, a breath. Day and night, things happen beneath the surface, hidden from our sight. Night and day, we work, and we watch for the moment it breaks through. The kingdom of God is like. . .a story that opens more every time, with room for all in its branches, feeding whoever will come. Starting with ordinary and moving to extraordinary with a breath, with a word.”


Here we are, in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, listening to words that were first spoken out loud thousands of years ago in the Middle East and are now pondered on by a minister across the pond in Scotland. What we are hearing this morning is some of what we have been experiencing these past 15 months.


Fifteen months ago it seemed impossible that we would be worshipping from home. Now it seems impossible that we are back inside. How did that all happen? It still seems impossible to me that a virus, much smaller than a mustard seed or a cedar tree, could spread across the world and infect so many of us. It seems impossible that the spirit of God and of humanity has not been wiped off the planet.


And yet, all these things are true. Here we all are, with prayers of comfort and consolation arising for those who did not survive the virus.


The reading from the Prophet Ezekiel is much older that the Gospel according to Mark. It comes from the time when the Israelites were exiled to Babylon and their beloved and holy temple was destroyed. Talk about living in a time of upheaval and lack of control.


When the disciples closest to Jesus heard about the mustard seed parable, they must have laughed out loud because for them as students of Ezekiel, they thought, “Are you kidding me? A mustard bush is so much smaller than the noble cedar. Mustard is an invasive species! Too common to be compared to God!”


And yet here is Rabbi Jesus, speaking in parables, a typical Rabbinic way of teaching and reminding them of the God they knew. When they heard him speak, they recognized that the same God that nurtured a slip of a cedar tree on a high mountain can also take a wild tiny mustard seed of faith and plant it in our hearts. Impossible and true.


Reverend Peterson said, “The kingdom of God is like a story that opens more every time, with room for all in its branches, feeding whoever will come. Starting with the ordinary and moving to the extraordinary with a breath, a word.”


Some things we understand and most things we do not. We are earth-bound creatures, bound as well to a cosmic Christ, which may be why the prophets and rabbis — including Jesus — spoke in parables and poems and metaphors about life on Earth. Seeds. Gardens. Trees. Fields. Birds. Farming. Weeds. People of all ages gathering in ordinary times while facing extraordinary circumstances. . . like pandemics.


Jesus is bent on preaching the Kingdom of God. So we will laugh at our own disbeliefs while taking comfort in being citizens of this wild and glorious kingdom under the reign of God.


The Kingdom of God is not a place. It is not heaven. It is ordinary and extraordinary experiences of life entwined with God’s very self, which spreads everywhere and governs in love. A God who cares deeply about abundance and freedom and growth. No wonder it is that during Pride month and the season of Pentecost, this is God we cling to.


This week I read a meditation on congregational life. The theme was church as a “School of Love.” I passed it along to our Leadership Team so that we might reflect together on how our church can school us to be more loving, more tender, more like Jesus and his first students.


Life at Trinity Church is like a tiny mustard seed or a lofty cedar tree, or a story retold, or a people gathering in all kinds of ways. Simply because we are caught up in God’s love for the world – an over-the-top grace that is impossibly large and amazingly small. Like us. Feeding whoever comes along. How can it get any better than that?    


Amen

Welcome Home

June 6, 2021

By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan


Welcome, everyone! Whether you are visiting with us this morning or watching this service on YouTube or Falls Cable. Whether you consider yourself a member of this church or an active or not-so-active attender. Whether this feels like a homecoming for you after a long pandemic time away or you are wondering what this place stands for. Whoever you are, wherever you are, however you got here today, I am so very glad that you are here. What a year. What a day. What a time this is!


I am grateful that our building is re-opening during Pride month and in the church season of Pentecost. With the rise in violence against transgender people, it is so important for open and affirming churches like our own to stand firmly on the side of Love for the most vulnerable of God’s people.


Pentecost is called the Season of Living into the Mission of the Church. Many of you know we did not stop living into our church mission while our church building was closed. We found new ways of living – online, drive-up, pick-up, Zooming, meeting in our parking lot, you name it. Now that many, but not all, of us are back in person, we are getting to listen again to the Holy Spirit about how important it is, as Mark in his Gospel says today, to do the work of God.


That is our mission. To do the work of God. As brothers and sisters, friends, and strangers alike, directed and united, not by our history, but by Spirit. The same Spirit that lead us years ago to commit ourselves to become a fully open church to our gay. lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer brothers and sisters.


The mission of the church, according to the Apostle Paul, is to gather, by the grace of God, extending grace into the world; to increase thanksgiving to the glory of God.


We do this in many ways. Some we call our missions. Some we call worship. Some we call fellowship or service or communion. What connects these acts is the amazing grace that unites us and lifts us into a new life of Spirit.


Here we sit, keeping our focus on Jesus, who is filled to spilling over with the Holy Spirit — so spirited that even his family thinks he has lost his mind. He says forgiveness is available for all things, except when people turn away from Spirit. If we refuse to respond to Spirit, our divine connections shatter.


So today we are praying  for the strength and courage and sheer joy to be of that same Spirited Mind of Jesus the Christ. A mind that says, welcome everyone, we are glad you are here listening to God with us.


Jesus’s family and religious community were offended or frightened by the way the Spirit was leading him and them. What he was teaching. The ways he was healing. How he gave no truck to evil in any form. How he hung out with motley crowds and how he sometimes needed to be alone. How he spoke in parables and poetry rather than in doctrine. How freedom was always on his mind.


The freedom to say “yes” to God’s invitation to be something new, not for the sake of newness, but because God says, “Come here. Try this. Go there. Repent. Try again.”


Brothers and sisters, the mission of Trinity Church, whether online or in person, is to do the work of God. As one writer said, “God is doing new things, Jesus proclaimed, but only those with new minds and hearts can see a new world breaking through the cracks of the old.”


What a message for us as we come back to our building looking to see what cracked open in our church and the world and in each other during our exile from this place.


We are now in the season of Pentecost, which reminds us that when the church was born, they were together. They were worshiping. And they were seen. And heard. And cared for. They didn’t just talk, they revealed who they were and they were loved and understood. They learned from and about each other. All facilitated by the Holy Spirit.


How wonderful it is to be listening with you. I have missed seeing your dear faces in the pews. I continue to believe with my whole heart and soul and mind that God has something really good in store for us.


Our  building is a beautiful place, yet our home is wherever God takes us. Welcome home, everyone, if you are in our building or in your house. Welcome home.

Amen

Teaching Stories        

Readings: Acts 8:26-40 and John 15: 1-8      

May 2, 2021

By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan


Here is the truth. I love a story even more than I love a teaching. I think that Jesus did, too which is why we often hear him saying that the Kingdom of Heaven is like this or that — and out comes a story like, “A woman lost a coin and had to sweep her whole house before finding it and then she had a party and invited the whole town!” Jesus does teach didactically, as we heard in the Gospel today. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.” But not so often. Mostly he tells stories where we find ourselves as characters. Sometimes all the characters.

Today we heard one of the stories told in the Book of Acts. We also heard a Gospel teaching about how when Jesus is gone, he still abides: “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”


I heard Jesus say this and it made sense to me. I know from personal experience that without God I can do nothing. This teaching moved me even more when I heard it happen in the story from the Acts of the Apostles.


An angel from the Lord told Philip what road to take. If the angel had not abided in Philip, who knows where Philip would have gone? Spirit continued to speak and said “run to catch up with the chariot.” The eunuch invited Philip in and asked for Philip’s help in understanding a confusing scripture. The rest is salvation history for both of them. The eunuch (I so wish we knew his name!) was baptized and went on his way rejoicing and Spirit took Philip off to another adventure somewhere else.


Teachings can inform us but what transforms us is when we experience the teaching. The eunuch got some understanding of the teaching he was reading alone in the chariot, but he did not take it on for himself until someone was willing to stay with him, to share in word and deed the Good News about God’s abiding love. It was then that he and Philip experienced that there was nothing to stop this castrated slave from being fully embraced as another child of God.


For those who are in our study group of the book Caste, can you hear something about fixed roles/castes here and how hard it is to break through them?


Jesus says that apart from God we can do nothing. With God we can cross boundaries, like Philip did when he jumped in the chariot. We can humbly ask for help, as the eunuch did. We can risk doing the unexpected, as they both did when they pulled the chariot over, jumped down, and walked deep into the water where God was already waiting for them.


Today I am grateful for good teachings and powerful stories in the Bible, in our book groups, in Zoom groups, and in our personal relationships. I’m grateful for teachings and stories about how Spirit enables us to see “that of God” in someone we might otherwise disregard or not even see; for stories about when we were “spoken to” and thought ‘what is keeping me from becoming who I really am?’ and for when we felt disconnected and our prayer was to be a branch connected to a vine and we were more than ready to have everything that was holding us back be pruned away.


I hope that we will be back together in person soon. I want to be as close to you as Philip and the eunuch were to each other sitting there in the chariot and in the water. I want to hear what happened to you this past year; how you suffered and joyed and where you met God in the pandemic, when you were stretched thin and someone reached to help you or when you reached out to someone else, when you rested in abiding love.

For now, in our strange and weirdly wonderful world of YouTube and Zoom, we are doing what we can, which is blessing each other and praying like this: Abide with us Lord. Help us to know and trust that there is nothing that can separate us from each other and from your love.

Amen

Staying  Power    

Readings: 1 John 3:16-24 and John 10:11-18   

April 25, 2021

By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan


If there ever was a time when we needed someone to know us in and out and to care for us as the wandering sheep we are, this is the time. I imagine that every group across the ages has said this when they heard the scriptures we heard today. “Thank you, God, for sending a very good shepherd. We need one, now!”


I love that Sandy and Nicole wanted to make the image of the Lord as a shepherd theirs and I am glad we had a chance to film them for this service today. It is a wonderful testimony to our Sunday Friends Program here at church. Both before and through the pandemic these relationships have continued to thrive.


Our call to worship this morning says, “The Lord Jesus is our shepherd. He speaks and we listen for his voice.”


I know that as Sandy and Nicole listened to the psalm together, they were listening for Jesus’s voice so that when times were tough, as they are still for most of us, they would hear that voice again. “Do not fear evil, for I am with you.” Do not fear this pandemic for I am with you.


For many of us the image of Jesus as a shepherd is a sweet one. Some of us think about the paintings we might have seen of Jesus with a staff in hand and a little sheep draped around his shoulders. We might remember the lone sheep lost among the brambles and along comes Jesus while the rest of the 99 hold tight back on the farm. Or grassy meadows and restful waters. Or we fall asleep counting sheep, trusting that Jesus is counting us among his flock.


But when I think about Jesus as a shepherd, I think of my friends Jill and Jim Horton Lyons. You saw Jill’s image in our prayer time, looking down at that lamb like it was her very own baby, which in so many ways it is. But there is another side to the good shepherd, as Jesus reminded us. The shepherd not only reassures the sheep and cuddles them close, the shepherd also gives his or her life for the sheep. The shepherds and the sheep dog lead and call to the sheep keep them alive.


Jim and Jill are shepherds at Winterberry Farm in Colrain, where there is lots of land for grazing and a beautiful barn they use during lambing season and huge dogs that love nothing more than guarding the sheep. But I remember Jill and Jim back when they lived in Leverett, where they had to put their sheep out in pastures farther away from home. I remember the way they kept the sheep safe from coyotes was by staying outside with them in all kinds of weather, sheltered by a no-so-great and not-so-warm truck. Even now, with a solid barn, most of their lives with the sheep are in the darkest valley, day and night.


Someday I will ask Jill and Jim to come talk with us on Good Shepherd Sunday. I would love to have them tell us how hard it is to care for sheep on any day, never mind on Good Shepherd Sunday. I imagine that for those of us who have not stayed up night after night in the cold waiting and watching and fighting to save the life of the sheep and lambs, we would be shocked to hear how risky the sheep and the shepherd’s lives really are. How much sacrifice is required.


Jesus’s disciples must have been shocked when he used the good shepherd metaphor for his life with us. Are we really in that much danger that Jesus needs to shepherd us? Does he love us that much?  How much?  Enough to lay down his life.


If you look ahead to see what happened after Jesus talked about his kind of “save your life by giving your life” shepherding, what you will see is that the people listening to Jesus preach this message rejected him and started to stone him. Not because he did good deeds, but because he called himself God’s Anointed One.


Jesus said by way of explanation, “The Father is in me and I am in the Father.”


They tried to arrest him, but he escaped. For a time. And he never gave up on us or on God. He never said, “This is too hard.” If he did, it was at Gethsemane and God heard his desperation and stayed with him. Like Jim and Jill stay with the sheep. Like Sandy and Nicole stayed listening to each other and Jesus through the pandemic.

The letter to the people of Ephesus (at least that is where we think the letter writer came from) says this to the Christians under his care: “Little children let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth. This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts in God’s presence. Even if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts and knows all things.”


That last line clinches it for me. Even if our hearts condemn us. Even if we fail to do what we are called to do. Even if we know we don’t really trust all this Good Shephard talk. Even if we find ourselves more talk and less action, God is greater than our hearts and knows all things. And God’s love saves so that we can start again with action and truth. Again and again.


Thank you, Sandy and Nicole, for staying with each other this year. Thank you, everyone for staying with our church as we navigate this pandemic. Thank you, Jesus for staying with us.


Goodness and mercy still follow us all the days of our lives.


Amen

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter, April 18, 2021

​​​​​​​

By Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas for Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts and Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts

Readings: Acts 3:12-19 1 John 3:17 Luke 24:36b-48


Earth Sunday: “You are witnesses of these things”


Friends, what a blessing to be with you! We have some firsts going on this morning. For starters, this is the first time I’ve offered the same sermon to folks in the Dioceses of Massachusetts and of Western Massachusetts. To those of you I haven’t yet met, my name is Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, and although my title in each diocese is different, my role is the same – to help us work together to heal and protect God’s creation, to defend the precious web of life that God entrusted to our care.


Today we’re celebrating Earth Sunday, the Sunday before Earth Day, on April 22, when people around the country will re-commit ourselves to restoring the blue-green planet that we call home. So, here’s another first: This is the first Earth Sunday since the bishops of our two dioceses declared a climate emergency and issued a call that we reach deep into our faith and rise up to take action. As I see it, our two dioceses are poised to do great things together, to bear witness in fresh ways to the redeeming love and power of Christ. I’ll say more about that in a moment, but first I want to share an Easter story.


It’s told by Mark Macdonald, formerly the Bishop of Alaska and now the National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Canada. Bishop Macdonald was leading worship on Easter Sunday for a congregation in the middle of Navajo Nation, which is in the American Southwest. When the time came to read the Gospel account of Jesus’ resurrection, Bishop Macdonald stood up and began reading in Navajo: “It was early in the morning. . .” Almost before the words were out of his mouth, “the oldest person there, an elder who understood no English, said loudly (in Navajo), ‘Yes!’” the bishop thought that “it seemed a little early in the narrative for this much enthusiasm,” so he assumed he had made a mistake – maybe he had mispronounced the words in Navajo. So, he tried again: “It was early in the morning. . .'” This time he heard an even louder and more enthusiastic "Yes!" After the service, the bishop went up to the lay pastor and asked her if he had pronounced the words correctly. Oh, she said with surprise, of course he had. Well, asked the bishop, then why did the older woman get so excited? The pastor explained, “The early dawn is the most important part of the day to her. Father Sky and Mother Earth meet at that time and produce all that is necessary for life. It is the holiest time of the day. Jesus would pick that good time of day to be raised.” Bishop Macdonald realized that while the early dawn is certainly the best time for new life, he had never thought about the possibility that “[this] observation about the physical word could be theologically and spiritually revealing, that it suggested a communion between God, humanity, and creation that is fundamental to our… existence.” It took him a while to absorb this.


He writes: “An elder with no formal schooling had repositioned the central narrative of my life firmly within the physical world and all its forces and interactions. It was,” he says, “an ecological reading of a story that, for me, had been trapped inside a flat virtual world misnamed ‘spiritual.’” Today, on Earth Sunday, the Third Sunday of Easter, we celebrate Christ’s resurrection and the sacred power of the natural world. Like Archbishop Macdonald, today we remember and re-claim what he calls “a primal, long-ignored layer of spiritual consciousness that [is] also an ecological consciousness.”


I don’t know about you, but I grew up thinking of “spirituality” as completely ethereal. The God I grew up with had no body. Being a good Christian was all about distancing oneself from the body and transcending the body – both our own body and the “body” of the natural world. The natural world and its wild diversity of creatures was essentially irrelevant and dispensable, just the backdrop to what was really important: human beings. Since the time of the Reformation, most of Christianity – at least in the West – has had little to say about the salvation of the natural world and the cosmos, as if only one species, Homo sapiens, were of any real interest to God. So, what a healing it is, what a restoration of the ancient biblical understanding – an understanding that was never forgotten by the indigenous people of the land – to know that the Earth is holy. Its creatures are holy. The whole created world is lit up with the power and presence of God. Our Gospel story this morning is full of meanings, but surely one of them is that the Risen Christ is alive in the body, in our bodies, in the body of the Earth. While the disciples were talking about how they had seen Jesus risen from the dead, "Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you.' They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost” (Luke 24:36-378). But Jesus doesn’t come as a ghost. He doesn’t come as a memory, as an idea, or as something from “a flat, virtual world misnamed ‘spiritual’.” He comes as a living body, a body made of flesh and bone that can touch and be 3 touched, a body that can feel hunger and thirst and that wants to know, “Hey, isn’t there anything to eat around here?”


Scripture tells us that the Messiah is born, lives, suffers, dies, and rises as a body. That must say something about how much God cherishes the body and wants to meet us in and through the body – through our bodily senses of sight and sound, through taste and touch and smell, in this very breath. Scripture tells us that for forty days the disciples met the living Christ through his risen body. And then, when he ascended into heaven, Jesus’ body withdrew from the disciples’ sight, so that now his living presence could fill all things and so that all of us can touch and see him, if our eyes are opened. What this means is that when you and I go out into nature, when we let our minds grow quiet and simply gaze at the maple tree, the snowdrops, the seashell on the shore – when we gaze with a quiet eye, not grasping for anything or pushing anything away, we begin to perceive that a holy, living presence fills everything we see. Wherever we gaze, the Risen Christ is gazing back at us and his presence is flowing toward us. “Peace be with you,” he is saying to us through wind and tree, through cloud and stars. “Peace be with you. I am here in the needles of the pine tree beside you that flutter in the breeze, and in the bark overlaid with clumps of lichen, each one a tiny galaxy. I am here in the ocean waves that form and dissolve on the shore, in the sand under your bare feet, in the sea gull that is crying overhead. Peace be with you. I am here, and you are part of this with me, and you are witnesses of these things.” “You are witnesses of these things.”


We witness Christ when we sense his living presence in the natural world and our deep reverence for Earth is restored. Our hearts are opened and so, too, are the eyes of our faith as (in the words of today’s Collect) we “behold [Christ] in all his redeeming work.” But that’s not all. A witness is not just a bystander or a spectator, a neutral observer who watches from the sidelines. Scripture tells us that bearing witness to Christ means being an active participant, someone who testifies, who speaks out, who even risks everything3 to convey the good news that God in Christ is with us in our suffering and our joy, in our ardent longing for life, and in all our efforts to create a more just, healthy and peaceful planet. In a time of climate emergency, when ice caps and ice sheets are rapidly melting, extreme storms, droughts, and wildfires are becoming more common, and part of the Gulf Stream seems to be weakening, leading to the possibility of what one scientist calls “monstrous change” that would affect not only the Atlantic Ocean but life far and wide, we are summoned as never before to bear witness to our faith in a God who calls us to live in harmony with God and God’s creation. If you haven’t yet done so, I hope you will read the bishops’ declaration of climate emergency – as the bishops suggest – “thoroughly, thoughtfully, and 4 prayerfully.” The text is posted on both of our dioceses' Web sites.


It gives us four areas in which we can focus our efforts: we can pray, individually and together, rooting ourselves in the love of God. We can learn, coming to understand, for instance, how tackling the climate crisis connects with tackling poverty, economic inequity, and racism. We can act, finding ways, for instance, to radically reduce our carbon footprint, to plant and share food through Good News Gardens, and to turn our churches into “resilience hubs” that support vulnerable populations during a climate disaster. And we can advocate, pushing for the urgently needed changes in public policy that will propel a swift and just transition to clean, renewable energy. There is so much we can do!


Next month, along with Creation Care Justice Network, I will host a four-week series of webinars to explore each of these areas – pray, learn, act, and advocate – so that members of our two dioceses can connect with each other and talk about how we can move forward together in addressing the climate crisis. I hope you’ll join us. For this is a very good time to bear witness to our faith. Thanks to the tireless advocacy of climate activists in Massachusetts – including some of you – Governor Baker just signed a good, strong climate bill, and momentum is building for even more ambitious action. Momentum is also building at the national level, as the Biden Administration convenes a Leaders Summit on Climate and looks ahead to the U.N.’s international climate talks this fall. What part will we followers of Jesus play in leaving a habitable world to future generations? On this Earth Sunday, please join me in renewing our resolve to bear witness to the God of love “who makes all things new (Isaiah 43:18-19; Isaiah 65:17; Rev. 21:5) and who came among us to bring us life, and life abundant (John 10:10).”



Peace be with you

Readings: Act 4:32-35 and John 20:19-31

Sunday, April 11

By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan


There is so much going on in both of these readings today and so much going on in our lives that it is hard to find a starting place for reflection. . .until we stop and listen to what Jesus says three times: “Peace be with you. Peace be with you. Peace be with you.”

Thank you, Jesus, for being the peace that surpasses all understanding. Thank you for guarding and strengthening our hearts and being with us even when we are less than peaceful.


The disciples were less than peaceful. In fact, they were scared to death. Jesus had just been crucified. Word was out that he had resurrected and was on the loose. His closest friends were afraid that the regime that killed Jesus would come after them. All of them except Thomas were huddled behind closed doors. We don’t know why Thomas was not there the first time. Maybe he was a bit braver than the others and was walking around on the streets. Maybe he was huddled at home. So much we don’t know.


We don’t know the depths of each other’s lives. Some of us are still closed up at home during this pandemic. Some of us are venturing out with cautions after getting vaccinated. In our Easter sunrise service we offered prayers of lament for those who died from the virus and prayers of hope for the vaccines becoming more available. Outdoors in the field, with joy at seeing each other making us giddy, a Spirit rose up in us and for us. We wanted to reach out a hand or give a kiss of peace, but we did not, because we are still rightfully cautious as the disciples were in that upper room. None of us would have been shocked if Jesus himself stood eight feet apart from us and gave a blessing:

“Peace be with you. Peace be with you. Peace be with you.”


Today we received two post-resurrection stories. First, Jesus bringing peace to his frightened friends in the early days of their grief. And second, the Holy Spirit arriving in a radical experience of a small group of people deciding that they had more than enough to give it away to those in need.

The story from Acts recounts how months after Jesus came and left followers continued to gather  bear witness as to how their faith had grown exponentially. The Spirit that had been breathed on them when Jesus showed up was acting like yeast. Listen again: “They held everything in common. . .there were no needy persons among them. . .those who owned property sold it and brought the proceeds and placed it under the care of the Apostles where it was distributed to anyone who was in need. All that they had they gave to those in need.”


Talk about a resurrection story! A band of fearful people giving all they had to help the world, not holding on to their treasures “for a rainy day” or for their own children or grandchildren, but giving it to those in front of them who were in need.


It has been said that the “sell it and give it away” attitude and practice of the early Christian communities was what drew people to the faith. The idea that Jesus had been resurrected was doubted by many strangers — as Thomas doubted at first what his friends had told him — but the resurrected community was and is a living example that cannot be restrained. It attracted many people and troubled others.


Believing in a resurrected Lord is not a safety net. It was not with the Roman Empire watching and it should not be now. It should be labeled “live this way at your own risk.” Resurrection living should make us tremble. It should make us act like Thomas — running toward, not away, from the wounds of the world.

Here is the resurrection truth. Our old ways of being church died with COVID-19. And yet here we are in our second year of worshipping virtually and serving outside. We are attracting people in our town and at a distance including many of you who give your all because you see that what you are giving is being given out. Feeding the hungry and caring for those in need. Keeping our worship services going and reaching out to more people on YouTube and Falls Cable and our Web site. Keeping our building in good shape not in anticipation of the “good old days” coming back, but for the day that we return inside as a transformed congregation that has learned to live fully outside and inside our doors.


I spoke with a friend this week who participates in our church via our YouTube service. We agreed that the cross finished something in a profound way. It is a full stop and yet the story is not over because of what came and is coming next.


Today’s Gospel ends with a little message that tells me that Eastertide and our Easter community will continue: “Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in this disciples presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll.”


My faith tells me that Spirit is continuing to breathe around the world and in our towns and in our congregation. The peace that Jesus brings is guiding our hearts and minds and decisions. Who will we be in the future? What will our church look like? If the past and the present have anything to say about the future, we will be a generous and trusting, risking and spirited community of faith, commissioned to bring peace and love and hope into the world.

Amen

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Divine Interruptions

Readings: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 and John 20: 1-18)

Easter Sunday - April 4, 2015

By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan

The Easter Story, from the Gospel writers right to today, is a living story about God’s Spirit that will not stay put; even death cannot hold it down. Resurrection activates whenever one of us talks about it, lives into it, or shows us where it is appearing. As one poet said, now is the time to practice resurrection.


This morning in our Easter sunrise service I preached a message that needed to be preached: Mary weeping and Jesus calling her by name as we are called by name, but that is not the only message we heard standing out there in the cold morning. We heard then and hear now that Mary Magdalene did not stay captive to her grief. She did not go home to nurse her wounds, which were plentiful. She did not weep throughout the day. Why? Because her grief was interrupted by angels.


When her grief was interrupted by the two angels, she heard Jesus call her “Mary” and then she recognized him and in turn called out to him, “My Rabbouni! My teacher! My love!”


The Easter story is not the first time we hear God interrupting humans. Abraham is interrupted in the nick of time as he is about to sacrifice his son Isaac. God interrupted the Pharaoh’s soldiers from pursing the Israelites. God interrupted the men who were intent on stoning the woman accused of adultery. God interrupted Lazarus when he was tucked away in his grave. Over and over God stops us in our tracks, as Paul was stopped in his tracks when he was persecuting Christians.

Step out of the Bible and you may hear God interrupting us in our families and neighborhoods and the world. In the witness of children to what we are doing with our environment. In people installing a free refrigerator on the main drag of our village. In the many people who are choosing to join our book groups focusing on racism. Small day-to-day interruptions that surprise us and comfort or challenge us.


Today’s Easter Sunday message tells me that divine interruptions save the world. That when denial is interrupted, we can see clearly. When violence is interrupted, peace blooms. When grief is interrupted, life resumes in a strange new form that in Jesus was resurrection. In Mary it was a call to preach, “I have seen the Lord!”


Life, the way we used to know it, was interrupted this year not by God, but by a powerful, worldwide virus that lead to sickness and sorrow and death by the millions. We who are gathering virtually all around the world are living testimony to the effects of a deadly pandemic.


Some people believe that this virus was God’s wrath on the world gone crazy, a strange but necessary corrective.


I am here today to say otherwise. Pandemics cause havoc and take lives. In Jesus time, the Roman Empire caused havoc and took lives, even Jesus’s life. God, on the other hand, is busy interrupting despair, power grabs, narrow vision, poor choices, and the limits of our imagination.

God’s angels (however you conceive of them) show up and interrupt when we are vulnerable and open, which often but not always happens in times of great grief or great joy. Maybe a birth (remember the angels singing “Gloria!”) Maybe a death. Maybe when we are locked out of our church building because of a virus and we see God in action in new ways, on the street.


The thing about the resurrection is that it didn’t happen for Jesus. Certainly, he had no need to come walking in the world again. Resurrection happened for us. The disciples Simon Peter and the one we think was John were content enough after seeing the empty tomb to go back  home to “life before Jesus.”


God in Christ interrupted us with the grace and courage we needed to wipe our tears and go forward into something we could not even imagine. It took Mary, whose faithful weeping and seeking kept her open, to turn the world’s great sadness into joy as she courageously preached a life-saving message.


Because Mary Magdalen’s grief was interrupted, she heard Jesus call her name and she preached, “I have seen the Lord.” Because of an interruption we are here this morning.


Jesus died. Some say for our sins. Some say because of our sins. Some say because the Empire could not tolerate his presence.


I hear today that Jesus died and resurrected to interrupt our old ways. To keep our hope alive. To give us a powerful experience of life unbound, the kind of life that makes you want to share it with the world.


Alleluia! Christ is Alive!

Amen

Christ the Lord is risen! Alleluia!
Welcome to this morning's Easter Sunday service. Please click below.

https://youtu.be/eCVQ8zwmz9Y

 

Holy Week is drawing to a close and we are looking forward to Easter Sunday with two worship services — sunrise outside on the lawn at 6:30 a.m. and our usual Sunday YouTube service — but we do not get to fully appreciate Easter without experiencing Good Friday. Below you will find three different online worship services. One is offered by our Music Director, Keith Rollinson. Through music and visuals he leads us in a contemplative service recorded in our sanctuary. https://youtu.be/oOKtssYFbjk

We are also offering a YouTube production of the St. John Passion with full orchestra and choir. There are two links for this. One is the video and the other is the words to read along.

Video: https://youtu.be/zMf9XDQBAaI

Words: http://www.emmanuelmusic.org/.../translation.../t_bwv245.htm

The last offering is a gift from the United Church of Christ entitled "The Seven Last Words of Lament."

https://vimeo.com/526335301

Blessings to all.

Trinity Church’s Good Friday video: https://youtu.be/oOKtssYFbjk

Bach's St. John Passion: https://youtu.be/zMf9XDQBAaI Words: http://www.emmanuelmusic.org/.../translation.../t_bwv245.htm

Seven Last Words service: https://vimeo.com/526335301

Another Pandemic Palm Sunday   

Readings: Philippians 2: 5-11 and Mark 11:1-11

March 28, 2021

By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan


I had a very odd experience this week when I was sitting on zoom with our Listening to the Gospel group. One of our members was talking about the images she often receives when hearing the story of Palm Sunday. She says she first tunes into the shouts of “Hosanna!” then the sound and smell, perhaps, of the branches laid down and visions of what must have been an overexcited colt (remember it had never been ridden), and the noises as the people got more and more worked up when Jesus rides down the dusty road.


As I imagined this vision of sound and smell and emotion, I sensed a quiet silence. As if the scene went on pause. The activity was not actually frozen, it just went deep — like the Spirit of God, hovering silently over the scene and holding it, and us, and Jesus.

I think my experience of hearing divine stillness within the chaos of the parade came to me because I was sensing how dangerous it was for Jesus to be riding into town with such fanfare.


Because we always hear scripture pared with our present-day lives, this week I have been seeing dreadful pictures of present-day violence all around the world and in our country, including the shootings in Atlanta and Denver. I needed silence to hold love in the face of tragedy.

I am glad all these images are pared this morning with the Lenten song that Brook sang. Hear the ancient words from the fourth-century monk Ephrem the Syrian:


O Lord and Master of my life
Keep me from indifference
Keep me from discouragement
Lust of power and idle chatter

Will you grant to me your servant
The spirit of wholeness of being
Humble mindedness
Patience and love.


O Lord and King of my life
Grant me grace to be aware
Of my sins and not to judge
My brother and my sister

For you are blessed
Now and forever
For you are blessed
Now and forever


Palm Sunday, the last Sunday in Lent, is about many things. One is that Jesus is not what we think he is. He never was and never will be because we are limited in our understanding of him and his mission. We think that when our religious ancestors called out “Hosanna!” they were shouting, “Hurrah! Here comes the King!” like the Beatles in our day sang, “Here comes the sun!”


Really, they were desperately shouting, “Save us!” from the Empire. From our restlessness. From acts of violence. Save us from being enthralled with the parade so we can hear God at work. Save us to prepare us for what is going to happen next.


What happens next in the story of Jesus is his betrayal, arrest, and horrific torture as Paul in his letter to the Philippians wrote, “When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.”


Which should silence us and cause everyone in heaven, on earth, and under the earth to bow.


This is our second Palm Sunday in the pandemic. It is the second year that we do not have a loud and boisterous and joy-filled Palm Sunday procession followed by a delicious brunch.


Our palms are blessed today because we need them as a symbol of who Jesus really is and what it meant for him and for us to be mortal beings. These palms will soon be taken out to a table on the street as a silent witness that we are here, praying for the world that is still experiencing violence and the virus and praying that we will be able to withstand whatever comes next.


Jesus needed a young colt and he needs us to be patient and outraged. To lay palms out on the street corner. To confess our temptation to disparage other people or ourselves. Our temptation is to act like we think that God is on our side, when really God has no need to take sides. God in Christ is bearing witness to everything we are doing and saving all of us.


The Palm Sunday gospel ends with Jesus leaving the street corner and going into the temple. Imagine him walking along Severance Street, stopping at the table, maybe taking a cross-shaped palm, and standing outside our church. No locked door can keep him out. He walks in alone. The disciples are waiting outside in the safety of the fresh air. He looks around at everything; the purple banners, the cross, the candles we already put out. It is late in the evening. He turns around and goes to the home of some friends and has dinner. This chapter is over.


Holy Week will continue this year at Trinity without our Maundy Thursday last supper service. It will continue without anyone seeing our altar stripped to bare wood. Good Friday will come. We will mourn lives lost again. And then will comes the deep silence of Holy Saturday.


I wonder if the silence I heard above the parade was that silence and a hint — just a hint — of sun rising on Easter morning. That is coming, too. Palm Sunday begins this week. Easter is coming.


But now we pray, Hosanna. Save us. Help us. Be with us. Wipe our tears. Teach us to listen to you.

Amen

We want to see Jesus

March 21, 2021

Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34 and John 12: 20-33

By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan

If you are anything like me, you have many Bibles around your house —or maybe these worship services are the only times you get to hear the Bible read. Either way it is fun for me to think not just about the texts but also the rest of what you might find when you start looking to and listening to the Bible.

In one of my Bibles I have photographs of my parents pasted in the covers so when I open the book, there they are. I also have snippets of texts that have spoken loudly to me printed in my scrawly script and slipped in the pages. I have poems that people have sent me and prayers given to me for encouragement. Some of my Bibles have footnotes helping illuminate what the words might be trying to say and some have reflections for meditation. You can spend a lot of time with the Bible, or a little time. If you really settle there for a long or short time, something is sure to speak to you.

This week while I was praying on today’s texts, I found one of those random pieces of paper stuck in one of my Bibles. It was a prayer that I think I wrote a few years ago. I say that I think I wrote it because it was in my handwriting but there was no author named, not even me. It spoke to me this week about our texts, Lent, what God wants from us — and what we want to give God. Here you go:

Take my reluctant heart, O God

and make it soil

that allows the Gospel

to create a harvest of good.

Teach me to recognize

and bear my cross for you.

Amen


When I re-read that prayer, it reconnected me to the prophet Jeremiah who, speaking for the Lord, promises to use our reluctant hearts for something good. Jeremiah says that God will put teachings within us and engrave those teachings on our hearts. God says, “Forget the tablets that broke the first time they were given. I am going to put them in you this time.” The instructions God puts on us become permanent, like internal tattoos.

If we look within our hearts, we see that we belong to God and are forgiven all our wrongdoing. All of it. It is good to know that we are forgiven. It is good for the world because this is the message we have to share. The Gospel can be distilled to this: You belong to God. You are loved and forgiven even before you err.

I love how God takes our reluctant hearts (not just the seats of our romantic or friendship love or our cardio systems) but our full selves, our souls, and God makes something beautiful by making us into a rich and dirty garden where the Gospel seed (also known as the Christ seed) will break open and take root and thrive. That is what God is doing to us right now — turning us into soil to welcome Christ.

Come with me now to today’s Gospel. Imagine a whole bunch of people in Jerusalem for a big religious feast. There are people here from all around the world. Even Greek people are here to worship. You’ve got to wonder why John bothered saying they were Greek. Sounds to me a lot like how we tend to describe people by their race or nationality. “My neighbors, the Cambodians. . .”

The word is out that Jesus is here, too. Some people seek Philip, who is one of Jesus’s disciples. They say the most simple thing they can to be sure he understands. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Nothing more, nothing less.

Philip tells Andrew. Andrew and Philip tell Jesus. “These people want to see you,” and instead of saying, “bring them here,” Jesus talks about who he is. What it means for him and for any followers to die to their old selves. How troubled his soul is right now and what he knows about his destiny.

When I hear Jesus talk about his troubled soul, I think of how he came once to a pool of water where sick people were wading with hopes of being healed. The text says, “An angel of God would come to the pool from time to time to trouble the water; the first one to step into the water after it had been stirred up would be completely healed.”

God in Christ, in Spirit, in angels, in you, and in every way that God enters the world, troubles the water, making what Congressman John Lewis called “good trouble.” What troubles our souls is not something to run from but something to pay deep attention to. You want to see Jesus? See what troubles his soul. Do you still want to see him?

Jesus did not come to soothe our souls but to take our troubled hearts into God’s heart to make us soil, breaking up our old selves, softening and transforming us so we can recognize the cross and our sinful ways and forgiven selves, so that we can bear witness to God’s work. We will not have to say “know the Lord” because we will all know and be known.

Lent is a time to reluctantly approach the teachers, the texts, our neighbors, and our own selves and to admit that we really just want to see Jesus. We do not understand what seeing Jesus will do to or for us, but we know that we need to see him. We trust that God, who Jesus always directs us toward, will take our desires and bring forth good fruit. Remember in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, God said, “It is good!” about all creation?

More than one year into this pandemic it can be hard, if not impossible, to imagine good fruit. Yet what we hear over and over is that God persists in doing the fruitful work of creation and healing and resurrection. Right now.

Thanks be to God who brought us out of the void and is still working with the soil of our lives. God is troubling and healing us and encouraging us to see Jesus.

Now is the time to receive the new covenant and the judgement of the world. Now is the time to see and be engraved with this phrase: “We want to see Jesus.”

Amen

 

TRINITY CHURCH 

INFORMATION ABOUT OUR CHURCH


OUR SERMONS



We publish Pastor Marguerite Sheehan's sermons online so it's easy for you stay connected. You can also watch our Sunday 10 a.m. service on Falls Cable Corporation TV channel 17. See the local listing for days and times.

OUR MINISTRIES



Here at Trinity Church we have some amazing outreach ministries in the community, including our free Friday Night Community Meal, free Community Clothes Closet at Cowell Gymnasium and more. We have seen God do some incredible things here and we'd love for you to be part of it. 

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