Swimming in the heart of God

Readings: Song of Solomon 2:8-13 and Mark 71-8, 14-15, 21-23

Aug. 29, 2021

By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan

Once again, I am grateful to the folks who put together our suggested readings every Sunday. They knew the only way we can really take in Jesus’s strong words about religious hypocrisy is when we first bathe in the words of a Lover who is determined to win us over.

So let’s begin with the love song.

 

“Listen! It’s my lover; here he is coming now, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag. Here he stands now; outside our wall, peering through the windows, peeking through the lattices.”

 

The love of God for us and of us for God. The love between and all around us. The love that lives in the heart of the Great Commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind."

 

The love that can’t get enough of us, even when we are hypocrites or greedy deceivers, arrogant, divisive, and foolhardy – the list is long – even when we are all that and more, here comes the Lover to meet us in love.

 

Years after the Song of Solomon and Isaiah were first preached, Jesus comes on the scene. Like most of his first followers and detractors, Jesus is Jewish. He is a rabbi.

 

Rabbis love to tussle and dance with and deeply engage the scripture. The scripture and all the laws within it are sacred, but sacred does not mean set in stone. Sacred means “connected with God.”

 

Rabbi Jesus says, let’s connect all this hygiene business with God. As the prophet spoke, “This people (and he means us now, too) this people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from me.”

 

Our hearts – the heart of love – are far away from God when our hearts and minds and wills use teachings or tradition, dogma or politics, public health requirements, or any human ideas to injure another person or group of people.

 

Jesus is fine with dogma and tradition and scripture, if it is used in the service of God. What gets him riled up is when tradition or laws or dogma or proclamations are used to separate us. As when the religious leaders called out the few disciples who did not adequately wash their hands. (Are you hearing something this morning about how we “other” people who do not act the same way that we do, washing, mask wearing, vaccines?)

 

Jesus gets riled up and he is riled up today when we spend our precious time on earth focusing on other people’s failings without first accepting our own internal “mean kid.” As one of the 12-step prayers says, “Grant me the tolerance for other people’s struggles.”

 

Many of you know that I love swimming. It is a good day for me when I dunk in just about any body of water. Like all of us, I still need to wash my hands multiple times of day not as to not spread illness, but I also need to dive in deep and swim my heart out. Swimming almost always brings me close to God. It is hard to be grouchy or mean or super critical when swimming. If you have never swum the Serenity Prayer, I highly recommend it. One stroke, one breath at a time.

 

Lately I have been discouraged when I go swimming. I have been seeing what I call “gaggles of people” of all ages standing around in the water, reluctant to swim, happier to stand and gossip about others. They cannot get enough of comparing themselves to other people with the other people coming out less than them. I want to shout, “Cut it out, kids! Get your hearts together, folks! Look within.”

 

Of course, even as I want to shout at them, I know that I am kvetching while I am talking to you about them!

 

Jesus says dive into your heart. Not just as far as the nasty things we think even about ourselves, but as far as God looks. Rise up, my dearest, my fairest, and go deep into your own thoughts and words and deeds.

 

For Jesus, the heart of the problem is not dogma itself but the human heart. The prophets and the rabbis and Jesus do critique the world. They also declare the consoling and encouraging promises of God, especially the promise that God will go to all lengths to soften, transform, and unmask our hearts to write a new covenant on them.

 

From day one, God loves us fiercely and will not let us settle for the mean stuff that we fall into so easily.

 

God promises to give us new hearts that are closer to God’s own heart and when that happens, we get to spend our time on earth well. Hearing and doing the work of God. Swimming in the heart of God. Washing our hands and wearing masks when needed, mourning the loss of life from illness or war or any other cause, and confessing our own sins because we trust that God will wash everything that hurts the world, just as God wipes away all our tears and our fears.

 

Thanks be to God.

 

Amen

How Lovely Is Your Dwelling Place

Aug. 22, 2021

Readings: Psalm 84 and John 6:56-69

By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan


Let me begin my message to you with a message that was sent to me by my colleague, Reverend Steve Garness-Holmes:


Dearly Beloved,
Grace and peace to you.
How lovely is your dwelling place, O God!

Even the sparrow finds a home at your altars.
                 — Psalm 84.1, 3

You, small and ordinary,
have a place.
You, beloved,
fragile and minor, belong.
You, sparrow on the sidewalk,
chipping at the smallest seeds,
the color of waste, the color of forgetfulness,
sitting under the bush
to avoid being stepped on,
you, bird on the wing, nestless—
you, my little refugee,
you, precious, are welcomed
here in the Holy of Holies,
in the heaven of my heart.

Come, Beloved; nestle.


The theme that I am hearing today from our Psalm and Steve’s prayer is that there is a place for all of us. Whether we are small and defenseless or are powerful and competent. Whether we have a tiny personal nest, a full nest, or an empty nest. Even the swallows and sparrows have a home with God in Christ who came so many years ago in the person of Jesus. And who, as Nancy will soon sing, is a sibling, a friend, and an open door for everyone. As Pastor Steve says, it is time, Beloved, to nestle in and listen.


Our five-week discourse from the Gospel according to John finally finished this morning. All those difficult to hear and understand and difficult to accept teachings about the bread of Heaven were wrapped up and lo, what a surprise! Most of Jesus’s followers left him, scratching their heads as if to say, “That homework is way too much. I am going on to something a lot less taxing.”


We might expect this culminating passage to end the chapter in triumph and illumination with the amazed crowds lining up to join the Jesus movement, but John’s story is moving in the opposite direction. Hearing Jesus’s words, the crowds turn away, confused and disappointed, and many of Jesus’s followers do, too. The throng of 5,000 now dwindles — just 69 verses later — to the original 12. The atmosphere is at once charged with awe and overcast with dismay. Just a few verses later, John poignantly adds, “not even his brothers believed in him.”**


What is the connection between the assurance of the Psalm and the hard to digest, never mind understand, words about eating Jesus’s body and drinking his blood?  What does it have to do with us at Trinity Church? For me the connection came when Jesus gently asked the remaining 12 disciples, “Do you also wish to go away?”


I love that Jesus gives them, and us, permission to go away. Many people take him up on his offer. As we all know, pews in houses of worship of any faith are less full these days. Many people say, “That Bible stuff has nothing to do with me. I don’t get it and don’t want to. The teachings are too old and too hard; who can accept it?”


Whether you hear Jesus speaking as I do, poetically and spiritually, or you take his words literally, it is hard to stay the course with the one who was betrayed by his friends even when we know that Jesus asked his Abba to, “Forgive them. They know not what they do.”


Jesus gives us permission to go away. He also reminds us that if we abide, or if we go away and come back, we are welcomed back, as Steve says, into the “Holy of Holies, the heaven of his heart.” The best nest you could imagine.


Peter, who will later desert Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, boldly answers for the rest of the disciples. He says, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”


Church buildings and church worship services are not for everyone. There is nothing new about that. The 5,000 people who feasted on bread and fish soon wandered off the hillside. The first Christian communities formed after Jesus died were small house churches. Many people see God, as I do, not only in Sunday worship but in the wide world of nature, in service to the hungry and the poor, and in ordinary and extraordinary daily miracles of love incarnate. Most, if not all of us, struggle as the first disciples did to understand the teachings.


And yet when Jesus asks each of us, “Do you also wish to go away?” we get to give our own answers. Maybe you will stand up and say, “No way!” Or maybe your answer will be like the majority of people, “Yes, I wish to go away.” Or maybe it will be not so clear; not a “yes,” not a “no.”


But a question like Peter’s, “Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe (even if we do not understand) that you are the Holy One of God and to be in your dwelling place, the heaven of your heart, is what we long for.”


We know that when we long for Jesus, taking him in and with us everywhere we go, when we abide with him and he with us, we are in a holy place. Together.

Friends, I am glad to be with you in this lovely dwelling place that we call Trinity Church. This has been a very hard year for all of us. Our faith has been and continues to be called on as we face sorrow and loss and worldwide distress and inequities. Thank you for walking together on this sometimes joyful and often lonesome road of faith. Your abiding presence makes a difference in ways that neither you nor I can totally understand. Thank you for choosing to be here today.

“The sparrow finds a shelter, a place to build her nest, and so your temple calls us within its walls to rest.”


And then to leave, in the name and the spirit of Jesus.

Amen


**Real Life: SALT’s Lectionary commentary for 13th week after Pentecost


Not someday, but now

Readings: Psalm 130 and John 6:35, 41-45

August 10, 2021

By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan


A song from my youth included this phrase: “and the beat goes on.” The beat goes on today with this long — and often confusing and kind of repetitive — sixth chapter of the Gospel According to John.


Of the four gospels that we read out loud on Sundays, the Gospel According to John is the newest. It was written many years after Jesus died and long after many other gospels were circulating in the world.


Although they are different from each other, each gospel was written with the same intention: to tell the particular communities that were listening about the good news of Jesus the Christ who came to live among and between us.


What does this gospel say to us today? Well, for one thing, today’s gospel says, “It is written in the Prophets, and they will all be taught by God.”


Godly lessons go on and on and on. We may, like some but not all people in John’s time, grumble about this or that. As we grumble about our daily lives, we might also say, “I don’t get this bread of heaven thing. I don’t understand how Jesus brings us to new life so many years after his death. It doesn’t make sense.”


Confession: I don’t get it either, so I am glad that our gospel reading is paired today with the Psalm that Jesus prayed when he needed help for what was happening to him in his life on earth.


“I cry to you from the depths, Lord - my Lord listen to my voice!”


Help me! Help me to wait.


I, for one, hope and pray that God is not just a distant concept for us but a “life coach” who sticks with us our whole lives-long teaching and redeeming us day-in and day-out, whether we get it or not.


When I sat with the readings this week, I remembered hearing in the gospel from Luke the story that I shared with the children today. The one about Jesus’s friends, Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus. Lazarus, who Jesus raised from the dead, must have lived the rest of his life in a kind of daze. . .what was that all about?! Then there was Martha, who we mostly remember cooking for her friends, including Jesus. Mary? She was found more often than not sitting with Jesus, listening to him and soaking up his presence.


There is nothing about Mary that makes me think she was a brilliant student. Nothing she said or did makes me think that she understood what “bread of life” or “bread of heaven” or “living bread” actually meant. In fact, given that is was Martha who spent time in the kitchen, Mary may not have even understood how bread was actually made!


What Mary believed was that Jesus arrived on this planet to teach and embody love and justice and mercy and to point his finger toward God. Mary also believed that she was being given the opportunity at that moment to receive God’s instructions at Jesus’s feet. So there she sat.


Mary did not worry about whether she understood the teachings. She trusted Jesus when he said those who come to him have been sent by God. That is about as complex as it got for her. And so she sat and listened and took him in.


As one commentator was to say years later, “Believe and you will enter eternal life. Not later, in some future realm, but eternal life, now. To take this in, to absorb the essence of who he is and what he is about, is to eat the bread of heaven. It is to consume and be consumed by ‘thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,’ not someday, but now.” *


Maybe we are not meant to understand these kinds of ideas with our rational minds. These teachings (and we are going to hear more of them over the next few weeks) are given to our contemplative minds, the part of us hungry enough to chew on the Word of God.


It reminds me of a long time ago when for a year or so I took on a macrobiotic diet. One of the practices of this diet is to chew each mouthful of rice 50 times. I did not stay with the diet, but I did keep the practice of slowly taking in and digesting what is given to me.


Jesus says, “I assure you, whoever believes has eternal life.”


Whoever believes and trusts God will be led beyond what we can understand.


I have said before — and I know I will say again — one of my favorite hymns is the one that says, “Lead me Lord, lead me in thy righteousness; make thy way plain before my face. For it is thou, Lord, thou, Lord, only that makest me dwell in safety.”


I get why some people grumble about Jesus’s teachings. I get why they want more proof about this whole bread of heaven thing. Even more than that, I get Mary, the sister who called for Jesus when her brother was dying. The one who sat at his feet even when her sister was hollering at her. I want, above all things, for us to be led as she was led, to sit, sometimes wriggling, at God’s feet. To be taught how to live a full and faithful life. Right now.


Amen

*Kayla McClurg, from Passage by Passage a Gospel Journey.

Trust me

Readings: Ephesians 4: 1-6 and John 6: 24-35

Aug. 1, 2021

By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan


Trust me. How often have we heard someone say, “trust me” and our reaction is, “I don’t think so!” The age we are living in is steeped in disbelief and distrust.


I remember as a teenager hearing, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”


Nowadays we are told to not trust anyone or anything. Not the politicians or the internet. Not the church or our neighbors. Not public health officials or the scientific community.


We are not so different from those first Jesus followers who struggled to trust their world. Our dollar bills may say, “In God we trust,” but we struggle to put our trust in everything and everyone, including God.

Listen to the beginning of this Gospel again,  this time in another version, The Message.


“The next day the crowd that was left behind realized that there had been only one boat and that Jesus had not gotten into it with his disciples. They had seen them go off without him. By now boats from Tiberias had pulled up near where they had eaten the bread blessed by the Master. So when the crowd realized he was gone and wasn’t coming back, they piled into the Tiberias boats and headed for Capernaum, looking for Jesus. When they found him back across the sea, they said, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”


Jesus answered, “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free.


“Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.”


To that they said, “Well, what do we do then to get in on God’s works?”


Jesus said, “Sign on with the One that God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s works.”


They waffled. “Why don’t you give us a clue about who you are, just a hint of what’s going on? When we see what’s up, we’ll commit ourselves. Show us what you can do. . .”


The disciples waffled. They wanted proof before they committed themselves to Jesus although they had already been fed with 5,000 other people. What more proof did they need?


They must have known in their heart of hearts that they were no different than the long-ago Hebrews who did not trust when God sent manna with only one restriction: take only what you need for one day at a time. They called that God given food “manna” which translates to “what is that???”


The Hebrews had tried to stock up and the manna spoiled in their hands and now the followers of Jesus were crying out, “give us this bread always!” Not, “give us our daily bread,” but our constant bread. Then we will believe. Maybe.


Does any of this sound familiar? For many of us the sign of the miraculous increase in the loaves and fish is very familiar. We see it every day when it seems like we don’t have enough of anything and then lo! we have even more. We call it experiences of loaves and fish.

But what happens to us then is the same thing that happened to the disciples. We think it is a “one-off” miracle, not reality. We don’t see how our lingering mistrust, in God and anyone, clutters our minds and hardens our hearts. Oh, to be curious rather than critical!


For the next few Sundays we are going to hear how this Gospel story played out in Jesus’s time. It is not pretty. Mistrust never is. Living with a heart tuned to mistrust is corrosive to the life of the Spirit. Living with a heart tuned to relationship is what faith and action is all about.


Today we are hearing that Jesus is committed to deepening our relationships – with each other, with him, and with God. What the old-time song calls “a closer walk with Thee.”


This is what we need to make sense of our world, a deepening experience of trust that God is right here. Abiding with us through the hard times and the good times.


Jesus says, “I am not talking about signs or symbols or miracles. I am talking about me. Trust me on this one. Walk with me. Eat with me. Be with me. Now and forever more.  The rest will come in time.

​​​​​​​

Amen

Camping with God

July 18, 2021

Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-14a and Mark 6:30-34. 53-56

By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan


This upcoming week Dorrie and I are going camping with our daughter and son-in-law and grandkids. We were hoping that we could all gather up the road from here at the DAR State Forest, but they wanted a bigger adventure after hunkering down last year because of COVID, so we are driving to New York State to camp at Lake George.


Of course, it will rain because rain seems to be the norm this summer after that big heat wave we went through. I bet the mosquitos will be huge, but I hope slow moving, and I am sure that we will spend a lot of time around smoky fires cooking marshmallows.


We will swim and hike and do all things camping. We won’t rest. Nothing about camping is restful, but it is very real. You might say it is elemental.


I am thinking about camping because it is summer and this is what my family is doing but also because this week I read both of our texts and I imagined camping or roughing it with Jesus and God and the suffering world.


From the book of Samuel we hear that King David is loving his big, old, fancy cedar house. He might be starting to feel a bit ashamed of his grand house, but not so ashamed that he decides to open it up as a shelter for the homeless. Just enough to decide that he should make an even more glorious house for God. He thinks, “here I am in this great house (which I love and totally deserve), but God is out there roaming around in a tent. It is time to get God in from the elements.”


“But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David. Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, 'Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’”


God has never been attracted to houses made of stone or brick or cedar. God, it appears, refuses to be domesticated. God’s very self is determined to camp in the middle of the grime and grief that comes with being human.


We human beings are more like King David. We are domesticated. We crave rest and distraction, security and comfort, power and safety. Some parts of us are drawn to God’s way of living — as I am attracted to camping — but truth be told, I find camping to be a bit too rough and sometimes I come home early because I miss my house.


I am that way about God, too. Sometimes I want to put God in a box with a roof. That is because I — and you — am a human being. Thankfully God is more than we are.


King David rests in his house and the Apostles try to get some rest after teaching and preaching and healing and feeding the people. Yet that rest is short-lived in both stories because in that stillness God’s and Jesus’s hearts and our hearts burst open with compassion for all the suffering we see in the rough, elemental world.

Our Listening to the Gospel group begins every week asking each other who or what is weighing heavy on our hearts. Who do we need prayer for? This week everyone had a different country that we were grieving for. Cuba. South Africa. Israel. Afghanistan. India. The United States.


We prayed for our family members who are addicted to alcohol and other drugs. We prayed for the strength to meet our families with compassion when we land on different sides of politics. We prayed for the sick and the lonely.


We held all of that in the Light of God. In the holding, we were held.


Like Jesus saw the crowds and had compassion, we turned our attention to the Word and recognized Jesus’s message and his Presence among us.


Friends, here is the message I heard for today: God is not tired of us. God sees that we are like a bunch of needy sheep. This is just who we are. Prone to wander and needing rest. Yet we also thirst to touch and be touched by something and someone elemental. Compassion.


If you are thirsting for compassion for yourself or for others, listen to this poem by Mary Oliver. It is called “Thirst.” Listen and then sit while Keith plays an interlude, which is an opportunity to recalibrate and refocus our ears on the bigger picture.


“Another morning and I wake with thirst for the goodness I do not have. I walk out to the pond and all the way God has given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord, I was never a quick scholar but sulked and hunched over my books past the hour and the bell; grant me, in your mercy, a little more time. Love for the earth and love for you are having such a long conversation in my heart. Who knows what will finally happen or where I will be sent, yet already I have given a great many things away, expecting to be told to pack nothing, except the prayers which, with this thirst, I am slowly learning.”

Amen

Going forward

June 27, 2021

Readings: Lamentations 3:22-33 and Mark 5: 21-43 and Tear-Water Tea by Arnold Lobel

By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan

The readings from the Bible today are a shining example about how God listens to us, not just in our times of rejoicing — as we are rejoicing now at being back to in-person worship — but also when we are crying about the continuous suffering in and of the world.


For the residents of Jerusalem in 587 BCE who watched the Babylonians smash the walls of Jerusalem, burn down the temple, and knock down the houses in the city, the world seemed to lose all sense of order and coherence. Life suddenly felt chaotic, brutal, meaningless, and hopeless.


Listen again: “Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust – there may yet be hope.”


These emotions and the questions that arose from the  destruction of Jerusalem are reflected in the Book of Lamentations. We also hear those same emotions and questions in our daily newspapers. In every age, there are reasons to lament.


If you take the time to read the whole book of Lamentations, what you will find sounds a bit like the children’s book Tear-Water Tea in which an owl sits and thinks and cries about all the sad things on his mind. Owl then collects his tears and puts them to boil in the tea kettle and drinks tear-water tea, to honor the truth of all of it.


Now, does this also sound a bit like the long-suffering woman in the Gospel? “Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’ He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.”

Starting with her 12 years of non-stop bleeding when all the physicians could do was making her worse and ending with her determination to come near him and touch his cloak. Do you wonder if she were hollering or crying when she looked at Jesus?


When we put tear-water tea together with the Book of Lamentations and the story from the Gospel according to Mark, what we get is a witness to personal and worldwide suffering and to God’s steadfast mercy. The word for this kind of mercy in Hebrew is hesed.


God listens to our crying so we can get the help we need to move toward transformation. From exile to freedom. From sickness to health. From hopelessness to hopefulness.


Today’s Gospel is a story of moving, pausing, and moving on again — in other words, faithfulness. It begins with Jesus “crossing to the other side” of the lake after the storm we heard about last week. He agrees to go with Jarius to the sick girl. He pauses when the bleeding woman reaches to him. And then he moves on again to Jarius’ home, even when they are discouraged from proceeding because it is reported that the girl has died.


Death cannot turn Jesus away from life. As Jesus takes the young girl by the hand, he helps her and the crowd move forward from their grief and shock by saying, “Give her something to eat.” Jesus knows this hungry preteen has a long way to go in her life. She is going to need nourishment for the long haul of womanhood.

I thought of the girl this week when I attended my granddaughter’s 6th grade graduation. Most of the graduates were 12 years old. Some were tall and some were small. Their teachers talked about their steadfast love for the students. They encouraged the boys and girls to remember that they have never been alone, even as they walk across the stage from childhood into middle school. They spoke of the pandemic year that everyone had been through. But their focus was on going forward. The keynote speaker talked about her hope that the young people would find ways to engage in what Senator John Lewis called “good trouble.”

Jesus is a man familiar with the sorrows of our troubled and broken world. He came to be with all of us, as one member of our Listening to the Gospel group this week said, not so we can be him (no way!), but so we can follow his ways, aware of who we are and determined to do what we need to do to thrive, like the graduates and the revived child and the healed woman.


Here in our part of the world we are still coming through a pandemic trial. We have lots of time now to talk about what happened while we were away from each other. We need to tell our stories in full detail, the truth as we know it.


And yet, if we listen to Jesus’s parting words in the Gospel, he does not want us to labor on about the past — not the tragedy or the miracles. He wants us to revive and thrive.


“At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this and told them to give her something to eat.”


And so, let us pray.


O, Faithful God, you yearn to be so close to us that we can know you in every breath, in every hope, in every relationship. You long for us to trust in your power to bring to life new possibilities where there has been no hope. Meet us here today and teach us to recognize the ways of life and hope into which you are leading us. So may our desires become your desires, our work become your work, and our community the place where you are sought and found.    In Jesus’s name we pray,


Amen

Same storm, different boats

June 20, 2021,         

Readings: Job 38:1-11 and Mark 4:35-41

By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan


This past week Dorrie and I went to Maine for a few days to open our tiny cabin on the tiny island. We did not bring our aluminum boat, as my brother Michael graciously allowed us to use his to get to the island. We went to open the cabin and sweep it clean from whatever the squirrels and mice had been up to all winter.


We also went to celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary. Twenty-four years ago we were married in our church. We honeymooned on the island. So it was sweet to boat to the cabin — 24 years older, I hope a tad wiser, and very grateful.


Maine is the place I get to see the ocean in all its calm and wildness and rising tides. Motorboats, sailing boats, lobster, and other working boats, canoes, and kayaks – not so many in early summer, but always enough to remind me of Jesus and his disciples, of Jesus trying to get a needed rest and they are getting anxious as the wind and waves mounted and their boat got swamped. Dorrie and I love going out in our boat, but we don’t go too far in early summer because we want to be sure there are plenty of other boats out just in case we need a rescue!


Today’s story is about Jesus showing up as a loud-mouthed peacemaker. 


“Peace be still!” he shouts to the disciples and the sea.


It is also about Jesus as miracle worker. Who else can calm the sea? And it is about faith.


“Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”


There is something else here, too. Something you could, in a quick read, overlook.


“Other boats were with him.”


“Other boats were with him,” says that Jesus is not alone, not even when he sleeps. That, in itself, is reassurance for those of us who feel like Jesus and God have abandoned us. This story says that whether he is on land or on the sea, Jesus is not alone. Just like Dorrie and I don’t want to be out alone on the sea, neither, it seems, does Jesus.


“Other boats were with him” also says to me that we should be wary when we say or hear someone else say, “We are all in the same boat.”

Jesus sees our “different boats.” He knows that even when we are unified by the same storm of a world pandemic, we suffer in different ways. What makes the difference? Our incomes and race. Our social supports. Our accesses to health care. Our ages. Our needs to work. Our abilities to stay home. All these and more “risk factors” have made it clear that the pandemic connected us, but it did not level the playing field.

It did not calm the sea.


Today is the summer solstice here in the western hemisphere. The sun is high in the sky and for us in Shelburne Falls there is not a cloud in sight. It is also World Refugee Day. And so today let us pray for all the refugees around the world who are trying even now to make their way in dangerous waters, across mountains and plains, to places of safety.


This is the world that Jesus is preaching in and that we live in. Different boats and different people always surround Jesus. He and his God, the same God that talks back to Job when Job is swamped with grief, undergirds every boat and every person.


Even the wind and sea obey Jesus. And he stands up for all of us.


Can you see him standing in the stern? Boats all around him, while he rebukes the wind and shouts to the sea, “Peace. Be still.”


Like last week’s story of the mustard seed, this text teaches us that we are in control of almost nothing. What we are called to do is trust Spirit’s ability to bring peace where there is no peace. This Spirit can reach us when our boat is small and the sea is big and we feel swamped.


“Who, then, is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”


That is the question of the day. Who is this mighty and gracious One who stands with us and between us and for all of us?


This is not just a miracle story, although it is pretty miraculous. It is not just a story of powerful God, although the wind and sea are rebuked. It is a revelation of who Jesus is and who we are in relationship to him and to each other. Jesus is the Christ. The Light. Our hope and our salvation. We are called to look to the other boats. Like Jesus does.


We are swamped — some more than others — and we are all held in the arms of peace, love, and light. Who is this who crosses to the other side to get where he needs to go? Who is this who invites us to come along? Who is this who is asking us about our faith?


“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who, then, is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’”      


Amen

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

Text...

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

Not to condemn but to redeem

Readings: Psalm 107 (interpreted by Rev. Christine Robinson) and John 3:14-21 

March 14, 2021

By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan

Today’s teaching does not come out of the blue. It comes to us this morning as the end of a nighttime conversation between Jesus and a man named Nicodemus, a religious leader who came to Jesus under the cover of the night, saying, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God."


How often we begin hard conversations with compliments. 


“I really like your new haircut, but. . .”  


“I know you come from God, but. . .”  


I know it was you who turned over the tables in the temple. I know it was you who turned water into wine at Cana. I know it is you out there on the highways and byways inviting people to come and follow you. But I would rather stand in the darkness where you can privately enlighten me than stand in the light of day and be seen by everyone else as the torn, twisted, troubled person I am. But. . . in the comfort and safety of darkness, will you teach me? 


Jesus said, “Of course! Come as you are, Nicodemus, and hear this: God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world would be saved through him.” 


Hear this: God is not like humans, eager to condemn each other. God cares more about salvation that condemnation. Human beings have a tendency not only to condemn each other but also to run from the truth. “ . . .for those who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds might not be exposed.” 


Lent is about a lot of things but one of the things is facing evil in ourselves and in the world and standing up against it — which is why one of the things our church is doing this Lent is participating in the three-part, interfaith series on systemic racism right here in Franklin County. 


Facing racism, ours and others’, is one way of standing up to evil. The series is called “Lifting the Veil” because, as Jesus shows us today, we need to bring everything into the light of day. It is no coincidence that at the moment of his death the veil in the temple was ripped open, just as at the moment of his birth and baptism the sky was torn open. Our first session focused on lifting the veil on the experience of people of color in Franklin County. Our second was hearing from members of local interracial families. The last session on March 25 will focus on the call to not only lift the veil and face racism, but also to actively work against it. 


This Lent we see Jesus living life in the dark of night and in the bright light of day, calling disciples, healing the sick, toppling over tables, and speaking truth — no matter the cost of losing his life to death on the cross.  


Most of  us prefer to rush through Lent and on to Easter so we can get away from the focus on our broken parts, so every year at this time we drag out the old, wooden cross and put it right in the center of our vision. It is hard to ignore the symbol of the cross when it is standing here.


And every Sunday we fill this suitcase at the foot of the cross with our burdens, aversions, and promises.

Imagine, just for a moment, Jesus inviting Nicodemus to put his fears of being seen for who he is and is not in the suitcase. In our minds, at least, let’s turn out the lights — not the Christ light because we can no more do that than Nicodemus could — but the other lights that distract us. The overly bright light of worry or fear. The piercing light of shame. The shadowy light of “this is too hard; we have already lost so much during the pandemic and you want us to voluntarily give up more of ourselves?” The gold-plated light of whichever idol you are focusing your attention on. Whatever light is grabbing your attention away from the cross, turn that light off, or, even better, drop it into the suitcase.  


Now lift your eyes from the suitcase and look to the cross again. The cross that symbolizes how long-ago and present-day empires — what Paul called the powers and the principalities — always try to kill the Spirit. 


Let the light of Christ, shimmering in that very cross, shine on you. For God so loved the world, God gave God’s Beloved One so that everyone who puts their trust in Christ may not perish but live, fully known and loved. 


Can we leave the cross for a moment now and go to the Psalm? Imagine Nicodemus, who would have known the prayers of his people. Imagine him alongside you and me listening and praying. 


God stills the storm to a whisper
and quiets the waves of agitation
Give thanks for God’s mercy
for the wonders God does for all people.

And as for the poor, remember, always—
God has a heart for the poor.
The upright will see this and open their own hearts.
Whoever is wise will ponder these things.


We have two weeks left to ponder this suitcase and this cross and these words. On March 28 we will put our attention on Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey only to be betrayed by his close friends. Know that those friends, and Nicodemus, and all of us who are poor in spirit and less than faithful are still held day and night in God’s heart for God so loves the world. 


Use these last days and weeks to do what Nicodemus did. Open your heart and ponder these stories and stand in the light of God.  


Amen 

Living into the covenant

Readings: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 and Mark 8:31-38

Sunday, Feb. 28

By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan

Have you ever heard the phrase, “the devil is in the details”? That phrase came to me this week when I was praying on the two texts that were given this morning; the ongoing conversation among Abraham and Sarah and God about what covenant God was entering into with them, and the ongoing conversations between Jesus and Peter about Jesus’s mission in the world. 

“The devil is in the details” is a phrase that “refers to the catch or mysterious element hidden in the details, meaning that something might seem simple to do at a first look, but will take more time and effort to complete than expected.”

From the book of Genesis, it seems as if this covenant with God is pretty simple. We heard about it last week, too. God agreed to not send a huge flood to the planet again. To remember that covenant, God tossed a rainbow into the sky reminding God (and us) about it. Sounds pretty simple, but as the story unravels, it gets more risky. This covenant turns out to be not one sided. God calls something forth from human beings and that something is not easy at all. 

God starts by promising not to not wipe out life. God also promises to produce nations —not from a rainbow in the sky, but from an old man and an old woman who will be blessed and give rise to generations of nations! Talk about the overwhelming responsibility that comes with the gift of parenting. Being on the receiving end of God’s promise turns out to be costly. 

The story reminds me of the tender sign we have outside our church. It reads, “Kindness is a road we can all walk on.” It sounds pretty simple. . . until you encounter your own unhappiness with people and the last thing you want to do is be kind. We can all walk on the kindness road, but we have to decide to do the hard work of kindness. That is the detail hidden in the message. 

In come Peter and the disciples, who were pretty happy to tag-team with Jesus. No problem tossing away the fishing nets. Pretty fun, really, traipsing over the countryside with the up-and-coming Messiah. Pretty cool watching him cure the blind and talk back to the Pharisees. It all sounds a lot like rainbows and kind roads. 

But today Jesus gives the details of what is going to happen to him and to us. Claiming our identity as followers — if each one of us, one by one, wants to be his follower — it is going to cost us everything. The new covenant that Jesus is always talking about is not simple or one sided: Love the world as I love you; love your enemies; give your life to receive life. 

Peter stopped listening after the words, “suffered and be killed.” So afraid of facing the pain, he missed the rest of the story, including the “rising again.” This happens to me, too. I hear something distressing and my mind goes wonky and I am not able to hear the rest of what that person is trying to tell me about his or her story. 

“Get behind me, Satan,” might mean also mean, “The devil is in the details.” Jesus rebuked Peter by saying, in effect, “Are you are ashamed of me? Maybe you are not ready to face what I am facing. Maybe you should fall behind me and watch and listen and learn what the details are.” 

Lent is 40 days long for a reason. Abraham and Sarah needed to hear God tell them over and over again about what this life-changing covenant would mean for them. Sometimes they stepped up. Sometimes they messed up. The disciples gave their lives watching Jesus talk the talk and walk the walk. We have to pay attention to these stories — not as though they are just old-time religion, but as teachings directed to each of us. 

During Lent we ask each other pesky questions like, “What do you need to give over when you say ‘yes’ to God? What do I need to give over to be faithful?” We have a huge suitcase set up under the cross [in our sanctuary] to hold our burdens. It can also hold our rebukes and our “no thanks.” 

Lent is a time of reflection and discernment. Are we willing to sign onto this covenant of belonging to God, not knowing the details until we bump against them? Can we accept that our lives, when disconnected from God and our neighbors, is not worth a hill of beans? 

Abram got his named changed to Abraham. Sarai became Sarah. Simon became Peter. They lost what used to define them when they agreed to accept God’s claim on them. 

Abram and Sarai and Simon Peter and all the generations to come, right down to us today, are scared to death when faced with the choice to let God claim us as God’s own, but really, as Jesus so starkly says today, “What will it profit. . .to gain the whole world and forfeit [your] soul?” 

How tender it is to know that God is intent on offering life to every single being. The cost is outrageous, as Jesus confessed. But what a difference it makes when we put our hands in the hand of the One who is walking ahead of us, the One who turns to look back to us and says, “Drop your burdens. Pick up your life. Give it all to me.”

Amen 

A Big Enough Suitcase

Readings: Genesis 9:8-17 and Mark 1:9-15

Feb. 21, 2021

By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan

I love the seasons — winter and spring and summer and fall. Each gives me an opportunity to see and be in the world. I also love the seasons of the church — Advent and Christmastide, Epiphany and Lent and Eastertide and Pentecost and Ordinary Time. These “churchy” ways of marking time help me to see where I am on or falling off the Way of Jesus. 

Our Lenten devotional had a sweet reflection for the first day of Lent. There was a picture of a hiker wearing a backpack and starting off on a trek. The chosen text was from the Gospel of Mar:”  “See I am sending my messenger ahead of you who will prepare your way.” 

The author said this: “The Gospel of Mark begins with a call to prepare, but this preparation looks different than the kind we are used to. Often our preparations begin with loading up – packing for a trip, shopping back-to-school sales, or cramming for a test, but this is not the sort of preparation the gospel calls us today. Instead this preparation looks a lot like shedding – shedding what we think we know, confessing our shortcomings and owning up to what we have and haven’t done. We shed and shed until we are capable of a wild indifference (which is different from apathy), releasing our personal agendas and letting go of hoped-for outcomes until we feel quite bare. There, in that stripped down state, with empty hands, we are ready and open to receive Christ.” 

The author ended with prayer: “God, take what you must from me until I am unburdened and therefore ready to receive what you have for me. Amen.”

Did you see that our Lenten wooden cross is back? Every year we bring it out to help us see that we are being taken through suffering on to a resurrected life. Last year at the start of the pandemic, I set out a small backpack under the cross and invited everyone who was even then worshipping from home to fill that backpack with disappointments and anxieties, expectations, and agendas, so we could, as they say in 12-step programs, “let go and let God” in. 

It was a long year. We shed and shed and shed and here we are again. I was dismayed and delighted to read the first Lenten message this year about the need to again shed our stuff, but I get the message and I know you do, too. 

The world has suffered and is still suffering. Clearly, we needed something larger than a little backpack, so this year I brought out a pretty big suitcase and am once again inviting you to drop your burdens. Don’t worry, it is large enough to take everything. Drop them at the foot of the cross. At the end of Lent, if you want to pick them up, they will be here for you, but maybe by then you will be ready to move on, a little emptier and a little more open. 

In our time and day it seems like even the sky has opened and emptied. The whole world, including Jesus and us, is being given visions of God’s presence deep and rich enough to keep us steadily moving through the pandemic. Think now just for a moment of the kinds of shedding you’re seeing in these times of pandemic and natural disasters – unexpected and random or planned acts of generosity in the midst of loss. The sky is no longer the limit to how much we can shed and spread around. 

Back in the day Noah and his family survived the flood, but survival is not enough. God wants more for us and so placed a rainbow in the clouds as a reminder of a heavenly covenant where God continues, in every season, to be steadfast with every living creature. Noah’s family lost just about everything, but the flood, devastating as it was for the world, was not the end of the story. It was the beginning of a new season where they would have more chances to be renewed. 

The sky is no longer a limit. When Jesus was coming from the Jordan, he saw the heavens split open and the Spirit named him Beloved. This vision lasted but a moment and that very Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness where he shed everything except the vision of the rent-open sky and the trust that whatever was going to happen, he was held in God’s steady presence. 

Jesus stayed in the wilderness for 40 days, the same amount of days (plus Sundays) that we walk and pray through Lent. He hungered and was tired. He encountered wild beasts and temptations and the Devil itself. But Mark’s Gospel also tells us that angels cared for Jesus, maybe holding him in his fears or whispering in his ear, helping him shed what he did not need for his journey. 

If you feel swamped like Noah, or in a wilderness like Jesus, or dismayed that here we are again, still in the pandemic, or if you are standing at the start of your Lenten journey ready to drop whatever is weighing you down, remember this: God knows our suffering and has made a covenant with every living creature to bear with us, to take what we have done and not done and to make us new. This is more than a good winter-to-spring cleaning. It is a complete overhaul. 

So friends, during these 40-plus days use your time well. Open your hearts and minds and join me in filling this suitcase. Put your trust in God, who has no intention of leaving us. Look to the rainbows around our church and in the sky and remember what Peter said last week: “It is good to be here with you.” 

Amen

Give Yourself to Love  

Readings: 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 and Mark 9:2-9

Feb. 14, 2021 

By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan

Peter, who never shied away from speaking, said, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here.” I agree with Peter. It is good for us to be here. 

Have I talked enough in the past few week about the gifts our church is receiving from the greater community? Gifts of light and love and prayer that are helping us walk faithfully together through this pandemic time. 

We have received and continue to receive financial gifts from community members who want to help us keep our free Friday night community meal going. 

Just about every week, this week included, we receive gifts of song and music from members and friends who are singing at home and want us to join in. 

Last week we received a gift of a visit from our United Methodist Church District Superintendent Rev. Megan Stowe who joined us in Zoom at our annual meeting. Megan blessed us with an opening prayer and stayed with us as a testimony to our connection with a greater body of churches. 

This morning, along with the gift of music and scripture, we also received a prayer that I want to share as part of my reflection. It was written by Rev. Rachel Fraumann from way up in Barre, VT. Here is Rachel’s prayer. It is called “Transfigured,” but it may also be called “Transformed by Love,” the Love to which we are instructed to give our whole selves.


Transfigured
 
Beloved God,
Here I am —
Your Child.
 
Am I Beloved?
The days are long
The months are short
 
What am I to say?
To pray?
I am terrified.
 
Well, sometimes.
Sometimes I’m just bored.
Often I’m overwhelmed.
 
Am I Beloved?
Even when I can’t handle it anymore?
Even when I wish I could escape it all?
 
Emotions rage, to-do lists totter.
They tell us to be still.
I am restless.
 
I believe!
Help my unbelief!
Transform me!
 
So that I can rest in You.
And know that You are God.
My refuge and strength.
 
I hear your voice:
 
“Beloved little one,
You are enough.
Peace. Be still.
Know that I am God.
Know that there is nothing you can do
Or not do
To separate yourself from being
My Beloved Child.”


Today is the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany. From now on we will be walking through 40 days of Lent, a church season where we stand in the bright light of God to let that Light convict, comfort, and transform. Today we witness Jesus transfigured, shining with light, a light that reminds me of the first light we heard about on Jan. 6, the Epiphany, the star that directed the Magi in their trek to find the infant King. We began and end Epiphany with light. 

Rachel’s prayer anticipates the Epiphany to Lenten move from the mountain to the cross to the empty tomb. 

“Beloved little one, you are enough. Peace. Be still. Know that I am your God. Know that there is nothing you can do, or not do, to separate yourself from being my Beloved Child.” 

Nancy and Julie sang, “You must give yourselves to love, if love is what you’re after.”  Even if, like Peter, we are afraid. Even if we are confused, as the early Christians were in Corinth, when the Gospel seemed veiled and inaccessible. And even when we, with the rest of the people in our country, are struggling to hang together while being deliberately torn apart. Even when we think that we cannot handle it anymore and we want to hunker down in a winterized tent.  

It is good to look back to what comes before the story that we are offered. Today our Gospel says, “six days later” Jesus took the trio up the mountain. Well, what happened six days before? Six days before, Jesus gave the disciples a terribly hard teaching, that he “must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priest and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him because who really wanted to follow a Messiah that is going to undergo such suffering? Isn’t that like giving your all to a loser? 

Six days later, here is Jesus showing who he is in all his glory, maybe so the disciples could hold that light as a comfort and strength on their walk down the mountain and into the hands of those who will do what Jesus predicted.  

Jesus gave his disciples a vision so they could remember the why of it all. 

Why he came to be with them. Why they were going forward with him. The “why and what for” of the whole of life. The why we heard about in the song today, so that we can give ourselves to Love. Because Love is what we are after. As Nancy, when she told me the song she wanted to sing, said “I thought it would be good for Valentine’s Day. And Jesus is all about Love as far as I’m concerned!”

We are after Love and Divine Love is after us, calling us out, showing us who we are, with all our hopes, foibles, and failures. Not to shame us, because “there is nothing you can do or not do to separate yourself from God,” but so that we can say, “Here we are, beloved children of God, standing on the receiving end of Grace.” 

Thank you, God, for this beloved community. Thank you for gifts of stories and teachings and presence, for comfort and conviction and a vision of how we can live as the beloved community in the middle of pandemics and politics and transitions. Thank you for helping us claim that Love is what we are after and to testify that love comes with courageous truth-telling and reconciliation. 

Jesus is all about Love. 

Amen 

Five minutes of peace 

Readings: Psalm 146:1-11, 20c and Mark 1:29-39

Feb. 7, 2021

By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan

It is good to remember that the Gospel messages have been passed down from generation to generation and worldwide, not in a dry and static form, but alive and still speaking. 

It is good to remember this because then it makes sense when hearing the stories that we might more easily picture ourselves on the scene. Like today, are you there with tired Jesus getting up early in the morning so he can have a secluded place to pray and be restored? 

Jesus reminds me of so many young parents I know who are confined to their homes with children whom, of course, they dearly love, but demand attention 24/7. Those stay-at-home children and stay-at-home moms and dads are hungry for what one children’s book calls “5 Minutes Peace!” As in, please, give me 5 minutes of peace! Thank you, Jesus, for scooting away from your dear disciples for a little while. You give us permission to seek a place and a time to pray, even if it is only for 5 minutes a day. 

Can you find yourself also with Jesus the day before his quick break in the desert, when he went with his new followers to the home of Simon Peter? Do you wish that you could do that too? Go off to a friend’s home maybe for a cup of coffee or a home-cooked meal? In this pandemic many, if not most, of us miss being in each other’s homes. 

When you heard of Peter’s mother-in-law (first of all, who knew that Peter was married, and second of all, what was his mother-in-law’s name? I wish those women were named!), when you heard she was sick with a fever, who did you think of? Part of our being here today is to pray that every sick person we know, with or without a fever, feels the presence of Christ at their bedside encouraging them, taking them by the hand, comforting them through and beyond their illnesses. 

The story goes on to say, “And the whole city was gathered around the door.” In other words, everyone witnessing Jesus at work thought of themselves and their loved ones and brought them into the circle of love and healing and community. 

I trust that what we are doing today — many of us alone or with one or two precious family members — is not just watching at the door of the church but fully participating in a circle of love and healing and community. We want to be up-close and intimate. We cannot yet do that, but in new ways like YouTube and Zoom we can seek and find an experience with him and each other. In worship. In an annual meeting. We can enter the “house” and lend a hand the way Jesus does.  

Mark says after a long day of healing and casting out demons and being a fully present Presence for the people Jesus rose in the dark of early morning and went to a deserted place where he could be, as one translator says, “alone in prayer.” 

I think that Mark or Mark’s translator got that one wrong, or maybe Mark got it right and what I am hearing now is the space between “alone in prayer” and “Simon and those with him hunted him down.” 

Jesus was always being pursued, from the days before he was born when Herod sent out the search party to kill him throughout the rest of his life. Even Simon Peter is hunting Jesus down today, but here is what I hear, in the space between going off to pray and being found. 

Jesus, linked in that miraculous and mysterious relationship with God, was never truly alone. When he was tired or active in the village. When he was preaching. When he was sleeping. When he was sad and joyful, sorrowful, and determined, hungry, and lonely. He was never alone and he was certainly not alone in prayer.  

We are not alone. That is the message, the Good News, that Jesus came to proclaim. The truth that God is with and within us, on the sick bed and in the deserts of life, with company and when we get a moment of solitude, in a worldwide pandemic and in good times. “The kingdom of God has come near.” Now is a good a time to pray and re-look at what we think is going on around us and focus our attention on the healing, strengthening, and sustaining Presence of God. 

I am enjoying thinking this morning that Peter’s mother-in-law is with us as we ready ourselves for communion this morning. Maybe she will serve the meal! 

I love knowing I am not alone presiding at the communion table. You are home and breaking the bread and I trust that our being together today is an ordinary and extra-ordinary time of healing where we now will have 5 minutes of peace with Jesus. Thanks be to God. 

Amen 

Free at last    

Readings: Psalm 111 and Mark 1:21-28 

Jan. 31, 2021

By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan

​​​​​​​

“Awe of God is the beginning of wisdom.  I will praise God forever.” 


Is awe the same as amazement? Like in the Gospel today, when the people in the synagogue “were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this?’”  


Is awe the same as being astounded? 


“They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” 


I don’t know if awe and amazement and astounding are the same thing, but I do know that these powerful reactions were signs of wisdom coming to Capernaum. Maybe in our hearing today we can catch something of that wisdom. Something of Jesus. I have already heard some of that this morning in my listening to Brook sing “Amazing Grace.” 


When was the last time you were stood in awe in the presence of God? Was it during worship? Or watching the snow falling, one perfect flake after another? When you were playing with your children or grandchildren and you saw who they were becoming? When the bells tolled last week? When you sat in silence as a loved one took their last breath? 


Awe, amazement, being astounded almost always comes in an experience of being caught by surprise. No one at the temple in Capernaum was more surprised to witness Jesus teaching than the man with the unclean spirit. There he was, sitting on his bench along with everyone else, expecting that the day’s Torah reading would be like every other one he had heard. He expected that he would sit there, in his pain and suffering. Maybe he was feeling lucky that he was allowed in the building given his condition. And then Jesus got up and started teaching and everything changed because the man recognized who Jesus was. 


“I know who  you are! You are the Holy One of God! What have you to do with us? Are you coming to destroy us?” Notice that the man speaks for us. “What are you going to do with us?”


I imagine the man with the unclean spirit was shouting frequently. That is what Spirit, clean or unclean does. It gets a person hollering. Jesus did what everyone else did when the man called out. He told him to be silent. Hush. And then, because surely Jesus is not afraid of whatever calls him out, he released the man. “And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.” 

Mark says the bystanders said, “What is this? A new teaching?” The unclean and overwhelmed man said something entirely different. “I know who you are! You are the Holy One of God!” 


This morning I am thinking about what it is like when you are truly seen by someone and when you truly see someone. When you know whose you are. What an awesome thing that is. 


When my three grandchildren were born it amazed and astounded me to see each one come into the world. Suddenly, there in front of me was a totally new creature who I loved on first sight! At each birth, this little song of love and awe came out of my mouth. “Who are you? Where did you come from? Who are you? How did you get here? Who are you, what did you come to teach us?”  

When we are seen, as the man with the unclean spirit was seen — and when we see another person for who they are, a Holy One of God — we stand in awe.


Imagine this man, seen and healed now, standing in the synagogue. Whatever had possessed him, or twisted him up inside, or held him captive, this spirit obeyed Jesus and departed, leaving the man free at last. In the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we celebrated this month,  “Free at last. Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I am free at last!” 


I see the freed man running up to Jesus and dancing around him. I see him saying, “I don’t know where you came from, but I know you. What can you teach me? I am yours!” 


That is what we are talking about today. When you — and this is true for all of us — when you see who Jesus is and when you let him see you with all your hurts and shortcomings, with everything horrible spewing out of your mouth because you are such a wreck, and you fall totally and absolutely in love. All you want to do is follow behind this Holy One of God. Even when you know now that something in you needs to be destroyed so something new can live.


Life is horrible for many of us. We are sad and fearful and missing our loved ones. Some of us are terribly sick and all of us are sick and tired. In comes the One of God who loves us dearly and is not afraid, who is ready to free us of what holds us back, who is talking with authority because he is speaking his own mind which we believe is the mind of God. 


This is our story. God is here. Seeing us. Loving us. Freeing us. Like the freed man in the story, we get to walk out from this worship service. Where will you go now that you know that your spirit has been freed? Thank God Almighty, free at last! 


Amen  


Christmas Returns

Readings: Isaiah 9:2-7 and Luke 2:1-20

Dec. 24, 2020

By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan

Merry Christmas, everyone! What a joy it is to be here with you and to imagine each of you this evening wherever you are celebrating this night and tomorrow morning. Merry Christmas! Rejoice tonight! Emmanuel. . .God is with us. 

Because the ongoing pandemic has had us worshipping virtually since March, this has been the most unexpected year and this must be the most unusual Christmas Eve in our collective history, unless you stop and think about the dark night long ago when Mary and Joseph saw Jesus for the first time. That event of that night was totally ordinary, a child pushing his way into the world,  and a most unexpected gift; hope for the world which, in those dark days and these dark days, was hard to find. 

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined.” 

That Holy Night is why we are here tonight. To remember the darkness and the bright light of hope that came as a guiding force for the family, some shepherds, their animals, and the onlookers who came bearing their troubles and wonderment. Tonight we are remembering and honoring the darkness and the light. Remembering both darkness and light brings us together and oh, we need to be together now. 

We come together on this Holy Night acknowledging first of all what what and who are not here. There is not the fun of crowding into the church on Christmas Eve. There are no crowds on this night, or our traditional Christmas choir. There are no kids of all ages dressed up and carrying Baby Jesus out to the stable. There is no passing of the light down the pews.

And then (because this is not just another night, it is, after all, Christmas Eve) we also rejoice in what and who are here front and center — the Christ Child, who in his birth and life brought heaven and earth and all of us back together. 

Our rejoicing tonight is because Jesus came into the world long ago and because Christmas returns every year with an assurance that life itself is a gift and is good, even if it is often painfully hard. If there ever was a night to give thanks for the good gift of life itself, this is it. 

Listen now to Reverend Howard Thurman’s Christmas Eve blessing: 

Christmas returns, as it always does, with its assurance that life is good.
It is the time of lift to the spirit,
When the mind feels its way into the commonplace,
And senses the wonder of simple things: an evergreen tree,
Familiar carols, merry laughter.
It is the time of illumination,
When candles burn, and old dreams
Find their youth again.
It is the time of pause,
When forgotten joys come back to mind, and past dedications renew their claim.
It is the time of harvest for the heart,
When faith reaches out to mantle all high endeavor,
And love whispers its magic word to everything that breathes.
Christmas returns, as it always does, with its assurance that life is good.

Tonight wherever you are, I urge you to pause and to allow all your joys to come to mind and your spirit to lift in this wondrous story and in the common places where Christ is lodged. 

Lodged not just in a long-ago Bible story or out in the stable on Severance Street, but in the common beauty of our human life, starting with ways you are already reaching out in loving care to your neighbors, showing up at someone’s house with cookies or a meal, calling someone shut in even more than you are, Zoom calling with grandchildren or friends, asking for and giving forgiveness. 

Long before that first Christmas Eve, the creation story tells us that after breathing life into every single thing, God declared it to be very good. And so it is tonight. God is with us as we bring our lamentations and joys into the Light that continues to heal and guide us, whispering, “Love came down at Christmas, Love, all lovely, Love divine.”  

I am pausing tonight to rejoice for the gift of Nancy Parland and her family, who are gracing us with song. For Keith, who is making that old organ sing! For Brook, who every week is here filming our services. For the shepherds and animals who trekked from Winterberry Farm to be with us in the cold. For the Porter family, lighting the Advent candles. And for all the candles, those already lit and those that will soon be lit. Your hopes and dreams for the world. Pause now, on Christmas Eve and believe that the gift of life is good. 

Merry Christmas Eve! Come and bring out your own candle, whether it lights with a match or with a battery. Raise your voice in song so this night will ring out. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace on earth. 

Amen 

A Divine Love Story   

Readings: Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26 and Luke 1: 26-38

Dec. 20, 2020

By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan

Here we are at the last Sunday in Advent and a few days before Christmas Eve. We have been walking together these past weeks companioned by hope and peace and joy and now we are coming close to the end and hearing about love. As Paul said, “and the greatest of these is love.” 

The Christmas story is in many ways a radical (meaning “at the root”) Divine Love story that is embodied not only in Mary and Jesus, but also in all of us. If we hear this just as a sweet story about a teenaged girl from long ago who was visited by an angel, the story stays a story, something we tell our children but do not take seriously because it’s about them and long ago not about us and now. But if we hear this as a true story, meaning a story that touches the deep truths of our lives, if this story actually rings true for us, it is because we have found our place in the story. 

Here is a prayer I received this week from Rev. Steve Garnaas-Holmes. It was a help for me in finding my way through the Advent and Christmas story and I want to share it with you. 

If Christ is to be born
it will not be in a manger:
that was long ago.
Now it will be in you.
You yourself: be Christ;
bear love into this world.
Dare to believe
that what is holy
may be conceived in you;
that the eternal Word
may be made flesh
in your flesh.
All God intends
is that love be embodied,
and you, child—you
are called to bear this love
into the world.
With Mary, say Yes
to the divine in you.

Can you hear Mary’s story now a little differently? Here comes the angel or, if you prefer, the messenger, or someone knocking on the door of her life. The messenger says, “Hail Mary! Greetings Favored One! Guess what? The Lord is with you! The Lord is not only knocking on your door, but the Lord also wants to be with you and in you!” 

No wonder Mary was perplexed and wondering what kind of greeting that was. My guess is that she was in the least skeptical and maybe suspicious. I bet she was thinking what every young person I know would be thinking: “You have got to be kidding. What is so special about me that God wants to be with me? How can I bear this divine child? I can hardly bear myself.” Before Mary could say “yes,” she had to first say or at least think, “You have got to be kidding.” 

Put yourself, just for a moment, in Mary’s place. Imagine a messenger coming to your door and telling you that God wants above everything else to be with you. You! What would you say? How long, if ever, would it take for you to say, “yes”? What kind of excuses would you come up with? I am too old, I am not good enough, I am or am not a virgin. I am too tired or too scared or too skeptical or just not up for this. What would bring you from “no” to “yes”? 

If the greatest of these is love, it must be true that what God wants from each of us is to bear love, to risk doing the hard work of loving and being faithful not just to a story but also to Love itself. God desires us to be as steadfast and faithful in our loving as Mary and Jesus and Joseph and Elizabeth were after their own first incredulous reactions.

Our love affair with God and, by extension, with the world is a powerful thing. It helps us be more than we can be alone. When we say “yes” to God we become as Mary would become, “heavy with child.” As everyone who has ever mothered or fathered or in any other way taken full responsibility of caring for and about another person knows, when you say “yes” and bear this Divine kind of over-the-top and give-all-you-have kind of love, your life is magnified. Which, of course, is what happened to Mary and Joseph and all the disciples who grew to love Jesus right up to and past his death. Nothing stays the same when we give ourselves to Love. 

“If Christ is to be born, it will not be in a manger; that was long ago.” 

Maybe this wonderful story about waiting for Jesus to be born was passed down in this way not because it is word-for-word true but because it speaks truth. 

Our Fourth Sunday in Advent message is this: dare to believe that what is holy may be conceived in you, in your family, in your church, or community; in your flesh and bones. All that God intends is that love be embodied. 

What a wonderful message in this year when we are so concerned about our bodies and the body of the world. It is true. God is with us, even now. . .especially now. God is over-the-top, steadfast love. And you, child, you are called to bear this love. 

Amen  

Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord

Dec. 13, 2020  

Readings: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 and John 1:6-8, 18, 28 

By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan

Those of you who were with us last Sunday might be scratching your head and saying, “Didn’t we hear that Gospel last week?”  

It is like the game some of us played as children called “telephone.” A group of kids gets together. One person tells the next person a story or part of a story. Then that person retells the story to the next person and on and on again until it finally gets back to the first storyteller. What he/she hears sounds something like the initial telling, but often there are big changes, some of them funny and others radically different. 

Last week we heard Mark talking about John the Baptist. Mark sounded pretty certain that any minute Jesus was going to return in person to the planet. He was convinced that people needed to wake up and stay awake so they did not miss Jesus’s arrival. The Gospel according to John talks about John the Baptist, too. John is not so focused on Jesus’s coming back in his Jesus form. His story says that what is coming is a Light so brilliant it could change your life forever. 

Here we are thousands of years after Jesus walked the Earth and we are still re-telling this story, even if sometimes the Light is so bright we don’t know what we are seeing, like the people surrounding John did not see or know who Jesus was even when he was standing right there in the water with them. We are still singing the songs of Advent and Christmas. We are still waiting for something good to happen in this weary world. We don’t always see the light shining bright. 

One hymn writer put it this way: “What is the crying at Jordan?/Who hears, O God, the prophecy?/Dark is the season, dark our hearts/and shut to mystery.”

Maybe you are having trouble with this whole story, even when hearing it twice. Maybe you are like the friend who confessed, “I am not great at seeing you, Jesus. I need you to see and reach out to me!” 

There is something refreshing about that confession. It sounds like John the Baptizer’s testimony. John knew who he was not and who he was not. He did not try to be more than he was, but he also did not shirk from testifying to the Light that had overwhelmed him and would soon overshadow him. 

One of my favorite reminders about being who we are is a prayer by the Quaker Isaac Penington: “Be no more than God hath made thee. Give over thine own willing, give over thine own running; give over thine own desiring to know or to be anything and sink down to the seed which God sows in the heart and let that grow in thee, and breathe in thee, and thou shalt find by sweet experience that the Lord knows that and loves and owns that and will lead it to the inheritance of life.”  

During Advent we are preparing to meet the Light of Christ through the stories of John the Baptist and the infant Jesus and in our own anticipation or resistance or skepticism. Advent says God finds us in our wilderness, darkness, or grief, or in an amazing peace, hope, or joy.  Advent does not just look at Jesus, Advent also looks at who we are and what in us needs to die so that we can receive this Light. 

This week I heard about a re-telling of this Gospel that I missed when I was 21 years old and making my way out to the big world.  It’s the musical “Godspell.” In the Gospel according to “Godspell,” John the Baptist is found where he is always found, in the water and calling — or in this case, singing  — “Prepare ye the Way of the Lord, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, Prepare ye the way of the Lord!”  

The response of the people is to run toward John while tossing off whatever piece of clothing or of their history that had been holding them back from sinking down in the water or, as Penington describes it, the seed that God plants in them to be who they were meant to be. I looked at a clip from “Godspell” this week and there were John’s followers, singing and dancing and splashing in the water, as joyful as John the Baptist must have been, a voice calling out for other people to see the Light of Love. 

We are not living in a musical, but we are three quarters of the way to Christmas. Then again, who is counting? I am using this week to pray on what I need to give up, what race to stop running so that I might see the Light of Life in all of you and in me, too. 

“From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.” 

This Sunday is about rejoicing, expressing a deep joy in knowing that we are loved. The message is this: Be no more than God hath made thee and rejoice in that gift. 

Can you hear John calling out, “Drop everything on the shore. Look who is with us! Look who loves us! It is the Light we have been waiting for! Rejoice!”

This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice — even in our sorrow and unknowing — let us rejoice and be glad in it – not glad for it but in it! 

Amen