Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Container for Grace

Dear People of Christ Church,
Thank you, thank you, thank you to all who are making our annual stewardship and roof campaign possible. From stewardship co-chairs Heather and Chris Leonardo who have invited us into our dreaming and reflecting on our past, present and future, to Michael Mailman reminding us of how the light comes through the windows and Jonathan Duce presenting us with the shingles that had blown off the roof, to Doug telling us the story of our 2011 campaign and how his family had just joined, and how far we’ve come since then. I spoke in my sermon about how our building is a container for grace—how this is a place where transformation happens. Whether people coming for AA, or Chaplains on the Way contemplative prayer, or REACH’s trainings on elder violence or yoga for survivors, or each one of you, your imagination caught by some indescribable something that reminds you of how God is present and moving in your life—750 Main Street is a place where things happen.

This is a place where things happen for us and for our city. Where the hungry are fed at Grandma’s Pantry, the wet baby gets dry at Diaper Depot, and our Sunday School classes invite our children into times of wonder and joy at the stories of God’s living Word.

Our 2011 campaign is on track—bathrooms and carpets and parking lot are all being funded and rolling along, but to avoid jeopardizing all of that good work we need to attend to the roof. When he started working here last summer, Daniel, our music director, didn’t know that it sometimes rains over the organ! So there is much to do, and so many people passionate for the work of God who are doing it. If you weren’t in church, please check out their videos on youtube. I’m also sharing a recording of my sermon here.

Finally, I can’t let this week go without offering some words about the current moment in our country regarding Syrian refugees. The fact that a Syrian passport was found near one of the terrorist’s bodies after the attacks in Paris has led fully half of US governors, including our own Charlie Baker, to say that Syrians are not welcome in their states. Not only are the vetting processes for refugees coming to the United States among the most stringent in the world, to single out a single nation as somehow more suspect than any other is simple intolerance. You can read their whole letter here, but let me close with these words from Christian leaders across the state, including our own bishops Alan and Gayle, as well as Mass Council of Churches Executive Director Laura Everett:
Refugees do not bring terror, they are fleeing from it.
As Christians we try to live our lives in accordance with Jesus’ Great Commandment—to love our neighbors as ourselves. We want safe homes, the freedom to worship, stable governments and opportunities to thrive. Our Syrian neighbors desire the same. Our faith also teaches us to welcome the stranger. Syrians seeking refuge, as well as the Somalians, Bhutanese, Iraqis, Central Americans and others, are neighbors worthy of our welcome and in need of our care. Our nation is founded on this welcome. We must make sure that we do not allow fear to overwhelm us, crowd out our compassion, or fundamentally change our character. We refuse to live as a Commonwealth scared of those unlike us.
Amen, Amen, Amen.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Big Dreams

Dear People of Christ Church,
Last Sunday, parishioner Maria Aleman invited us to think about our “big dream” for Christ Church. She talked about how delighted she and her wife had been to find a community where they could ground their marriage in their faith. She talked about how Christ Church reaches out into the community in welcome and love. She said her big dream was for us to be a place for learners—where a school could ground people in love of God and love of knowledge. Or a place for newcomers to the US who need to learn English, to offer support and instruction for those in need of new skills. She talked about her big dreams. What are your big dreams?

A colleague of mine recently described me to someone as the priest from “the diaper church,” because we are known for our outreach to families in need. When I first started working here the parish used to hold 4 rummage sales a year, taking over the whole lower hall for months at a time. Our “white elephant” room was well known around town. I once received a phone call from someone asking, “Is this the church where you come and get people’s stuff when they die?” Indeed we were. We’re also the senior food pantry church, the church that has a Ugandan Church, and “the big stone church.” Those are all ways that we’ve been known, and are known. How do you know us?

Maria’s talk got me thinking about how my big dreams have changed over the years. When we started planning our work on the entryway narthex and our tower in 2011, we learned that the whole structure was unstable, from the floor of the narthex to the cross at the top—at that point, the big dream was that no one would risk bodily injury coming to church! Those dreams were dreams I never even imagined we’d need to tackle—and while it sounds modest to dream about a secure building, in the year 2015 it’s actually not. Waltham has said goodbye to Immanuel Methodist and to the Evangelical Covenant Church, both beautiful, historic churches that were once part of the lifeblood of our town. The Episcopal Church in Wayland closed last summer, and we’re receiving the Stations of the Cross from St John the Evangelist, which closed this fall.

So, yes, my dreams do include the stability of our building, because I love what other dreams it makes possible. My big dreams are of a place where everyone knows that God loves them, that Christ can be found in every single person. My big dreams are of a place that gets to be the church that really, truly welcomes everyone, where you walk in and think, “Wow, something is happening here that is getting me curious about what God might be doing in my life.” My big dream is of a place where you can lose yourself in transcendence and awe and then walk out the doors and remember that Jesus is hanging out on the park bench as well, not only met in bread and wine. My big dream is that we can remember that, to paraphrase the prayer book, we come for “strength, as well as solace, for renewal, as well as forgiveness.” My big dream for Christ Church is that we become a place where we take risks together, knowing that Christ’s heart beating in us makes us strong. My big dream is that wandering toddlers bless us all with their sense of freedom while elders bless us with their wisdom and generosity.

What’s your dream?


P.S. Here’s the link—apologies for the cut off! (watch here).

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Search for Justice

Dear People of Christ Church,
This week our Old Testament reading is from Ruth—we leave Job, and move into several weeks of Old Testament texts about women. Naomi and Ruth this week, Hannah in the book of Samuel next week. Then before we know it, it’s Advent! In trying to come up with something that speaks to a week of elections, though, I find myself back with Job.
Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. (Job 1:21).
Job comes to mind not because I feel particularly long-suffering about any of the results of the elections this week, but more because I was looking for something to put in context both the joy and sorrow of human politics. Whether your candidate won or lost, it’s worth it to remember that as vital as these contests are, God’s presence with us is unchanging. Unfolding, yes, revelatory, yes, contextualized, yes, but still unchanging.

No matter who the mayor is, there are still hungry to be fed. No matter who the president is, there will still be peace to build. No matter who sits on city council, there will still be those for whom we must advocate. This fall, my husband’s church spent several weeks reading the beatitudes for their adult formation time. Noah and I walk together almost every morning, and our conversations would often turn to what each of us were thinking about for work. His refrain for the conversations at Grace Church during that time was always, “Not a tweak.” To dry the tears of the weeping? Not a tweak. To see how the poor are blessed? Not a tweak. To give your cloak as well as your shirt? Not a tweak. To be serious about making peace? Again. Not a tweak. You can’t just go on ahead with business as usual with a little extra sprinkling of discipleship on top. The invitation is for our faith in God to be woven throughout our lives, not an extra cherry to make things look nice.

If we are serious about being disciples of Jesus, our whole lives will require a turning toward the good news of God in Christ. It’s not about giving to the poor when you happen to have money in your pocket; it’s about making sure you don’t come up empty handed when it’s time. If you never have cash in your pocket, you can honestly and kindly say “No, I don’t have any change,” when someone asks. It’s a little like confronting a kid after Halloween who has chocolate streaked over their chin with the question of whether they have any candy. With open hands, the kid says, “No! Of course not! No candy here!” but only because he just stuffed it in his mouth.

Electoral politics are important, but will also only take you so far. As clear as it seems to me that Jesus would vote for “my” candidate, I am also aware of the caution offered by, I think, Anne Lamott: You know your faith is in trouble when you assume that God hates the same people you do.

So wherever you land this election week Thursday, here’s my prayer.
May your heart be enlarged by the compassion of Christ, your vision widened by a God who holds everyone precious in the divine sight, your mind set on fire by the Spirit’s relentless search for justice. Amen.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Deeply Seen by Jesus

Dear People of Christ Church,
I’m still mulling over the Gospel for Sunday, Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man. It’s an astonishing and tragic moment: he comes up to Jesus and bows down, offering deference and respect. “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” We can imagine that maybe he’s expecting to be told he’s doing well; he says he has kept all the commandments. But something unanticipated happens—Jesus looks at him, and loves him. In that loving glance, Jesus sees him and knows him, and tells him what he’s missing: “You lack one thing. Go, sell all you own, and give the money to the poor. Then come, follow me.” The man was looking for approval, not grace. Certainly not this kind of love that will change his life. So he leaves. The text says, “He went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”

This, it seems to me, is as clear a picture of hell as we ever see in the New Testament. Never mind all that stuff about the eternal fire where the worm never dies we heard a few weeks ago. This is the real thing. All of the promises of God’s eternity so close he could touch it, and instead he turns his back. The psychological keenness of the Gospel story is so striking—he went away grieving. Giving in to his fear, he can’t listen to his sorrow. He walks away into hell, rejecting the invitation and love of Jesus.

There is a stained glass window at Grace Church in Medford, where my husband is the rector, that has a person with exactly the same expression as I imagine Jesus offering this young man. It’s full of compassion and love, a deep, knowing comfort. In this all-encompassing gaze, you are seen, deeply seen. All of your fears, all of your vulnerability, all of your joy and strength. And I imagine when this young man encountered Jesus looking at him like that, he just couldn’t manage it. It was too much. This is where the depth of this story really hits home—that glance. How often do I let my fear of vulnerability take over? How often do I rely on the safety of invisibility rather than the risk of transformation?

What would I do if I heard that call to sell everything I own and give it to the poor? Jesus is really clear here—it’s give the money. Not to a charitable organization that will “responsibly” dole out assistance. It’s about the cash, here, giving it up and giving it to those who don’t have any. Is this the call of the Gospel now? With every home improvement project and nice sweater I buy, am I walking step by step away from the promises of eternal life? Is it possible still to inch closer and closer, slowly, slowly, near to God’s dream of peace and justice, however often we become distracted and confused? How about you? Where are you encountering that love of Jesus, and how are you turning toward it?


P.S. So—when I say I like the window—I really like the window. I sat opposite it when I was on sabbatical three years ago and sang in the choir at Grace, and started contemplating it as a tattoo. This fall I took the plunge—more about that process on my own blog.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

I Give my Heart To

Dear People of Christ Church,
This week I’m delighted to share that our Tuesday night education for all ages went off swimmingly, with about 15 of us gathered for dinner, conversation (both a kids’ section and one for adults), and Eucharist. We all looked at the same lessons from the book of Kings—the adults with text and the kids with felt and wood. We heard about the prophet Elijah, as he was fed by ravens, supported by a widow, and imparted his “Spirit” to Elisha, his prophetic successor. Godly Play defines a prophet as “someone who comes so close to God and God comes so close to them, they know what God wants.” I am not a prophet and I’m not sure who in our world now I’d offer that appellation, but I know that the prophetic call is part of our faith, even if we wouldn’t adopt that identity. To be close to God and listen for what God wants—both for the world and for ourselves.

In Scripture, there’s a unity between the prophet and God’s desire—God’s desires become their desires. And, maybe, their desires become God’s desire. God provides, not always as they might want, but as God wills. Someone in Tuesday’s conversation laid it straight on the table—“Am I really supposed to believe this?” That someone lived in the wilderness and didn’t starve because the birds fed him? That the widow who gave him her last morsel of food had a miraculous bag of flour and bottle of oil that never ran out? Here, as I often do, I find it’s helpful to hold the meaning of “belief” a little lightly. I believe in the wonder of a God who makes something out of nothing, in ways both small and great. I believe that, as we remembered the prayer of St Francis on Sunday, “in giving we receive,” and that each of our small generosities add up to something enormous and holy, something that’s only possible in community. I believe in a world in which three women at our service for domestic violence month could get up in front of the church and speak the truth about their experience, that they were done wearing masks or pretending things were fine. That going forward is not the same as “moving on.” That those who are hurt by violence and evil can respond with love, kindness, and generosity without giving those who hurt them the last word. These are all prophetic tasks, whether or not those who embody these graces would claim that title for themselves.

So yes, yes I do think we can believe it, but maybe more in the traditional Latin sense of the word credo, rather than the usual sense of the English. Credo means “I give my heart to.” Sometimes it’s intentional, choosing to invest ourselves in something bigger than ourselves. Sometimes we slip into it, like falling in love unexpectedly. And sometimes it’s something like faith, where the answer is sometimes yes, and sometimes no, but step by step we walk the path together.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Blessing our Created Nature

Dear People of Christ Church,
This week I’m excited to be planning for an action-packed week ahead, with some very odd juxtapositions. On Sunday we’ll have our annual St Francis Day blessing of the animals at the 10am service—worshippers of all species will be welcomed with a blessing and sign of peace. I think we usually end up with more stuffed animal friends than living ones, but I hope if you’re a pet owner you’ll consider bringing, if not your pet, a picture of them. At my house we are not pet owners—our cat and dog both died within two months of each other 6 years ago, and to be honest we haven’t looked back. Caring for young children has seemed like enough for me. But…

There’s always a “but.” This summer a woodchuck moved into our yard. At first we thought there was just one, but there are distinctly now a fatter one and a thinner one, and with that combination I can only guess that there might be smaller woodchucks on the way. They ate our cucumber plants, but for the most part left the garden alone. The thing I appreciate about them is the sense of surprise they bring—my daughter races to the window at breakfast to see if “Chuckie” is also eating. In the hymn attributed to St Francis, “All Creatures of our God and King,” we sing the praises of creation and God’s blessing and provision for us. Watching for our woodchucks makes me feel part of a wider whole, a creature dwelling beside others. At least as long as the woodchucks continue to behave themselves reasonably well!

If on Sunday we remember the goodness and delight of our created nature, on Monday we remember the tragic dimension our relationships sometimes take, when grace and trust are replaced by control and the desire for power. In our service for hope and healing from domestic violence we’ll sing, pray, and listen to the voices of survivors. Alison (who is returning to her unmarried name of Shea, no longer Lasiewski) will sing, Anna Jones will preach, and MJ from Reach who also spoke last year will be joined by Marisa, also from Reach. The centerpiece of the service will be a time of candle lighting, when people are invited to come forward and light a candle of prayer for themselves or another. This year I’m glad to have as a partner Pastor Angel from Santuario Waltham, a new Spanish-speaking Lutheran congregation beginning in Waltham, based at First Lutheran Church.

It’s an ecumenical service—there won’t be communion, and, if you’ll pardon the term, it’s not terribly “Jesusy.” But I will be thinking of the crucifixion and resurrection, about how even in the most terrible places of suffering and pain the love of God finds a way to come through. Even though sharing the sacrament is important to our community, there is something lovely about making space for others to pray together, to set aside “my” practice for something that more people can share.

Blessings on these cooling fall days, and the presence of God in every aspect of our lives.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Tradition, Pageantry, and New Additions to the Christ Church Nave

Dear People of Christ Church,
Blessings on the first days of fall!
I’m excited to share the news that on Monday the Christ Church vestry took a vote, based on parishioner feedback, to adopt the Stations of the Cross from St John the Evangelist, Boston. Marjorie Hartman told me that her father had attended church there when he first came to the United States and that he had always loved the pageantry of the Episcopal Church, eventually leading him to our own Christ Church. That’s the same thing that I loved about St John the Evangelist, too, when I interned in the year 2000/01 before I went to seminary. I was sad to hear that the space was closing as a parish (it’ll become condos, most likely), but I’m so delighted to have a little piece of that sacred place here.

There was a time when the Anglican tradition made a huge fuss about rejecting anything that seemed more in line with the Roman Catholic side of the church. Not politely, such things were dismissed as “popish” idolatry. In the mid 1800s, a group based at Oxford began a revival of heretofore “Catholic” practices, like incense, candles, and more formal ritual, coupled with a commitment to ministry in the city. The response? In 1874 the ‘Public Worship Regulation Act” sent clergy to jail for wearing chasubles (that’s the big tent-like garment worn by the priest at the Eucharist in some churches). Using wafers at communion and water in the wine—all pretty non controversial now—were also suspect.

Kneeling at communion had long been a political question. In 1552 a text was written that came to be known as the “black rubric” because it was pasted in afterwards clarifying that worshippers were to receive communion kneeling, but not to get any ideas about the traditional (Roman Catholic) understanding of transubstantiation: For as concernynge the Sacramentall bread and wyne, they remayne styll in theyr verye naturall substaunces, and therefore may not be adored, for that were Idolatrye to be abhorred of all faythfull christians.

The black rubric has come out of there since then and our Anglican view of what the sacraments mean has broadened, somewhat, and become a little depoliticized. Every church still has their own traditions about their practices, but the wider world just doesn’t view things in those categories quite the same way. Are you “low” church or “high” church? The distinction seems pointless. I hope to lead our worship into good church, to be able to pull out all the stops with incense and bells and all the rest once in a while, but also to be comfortable enough that we understand that our prayer is to help us to give glory to God, not our own performance.