Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent by Caryn Coyle

I am going to start this sermon with a poem I wrote about one of the places in which I work. It is a juvenile detention facility, which happens to be across the street from a very old, very large cemetery:

The opposite curve

There is a brick building
Gently tucked on the curve of a road
On the soft edge of a curve
Of burnished ruby brick
And tender, tended grass
Slashed through with razor wire
Glass eyes seeing,
Not seeing,
Granite graves
On the opposite curve

A fate visited
In hundreds of soft putty brains,
Malleable brains
Already written on with razor wire,
Already hardening,
Already contemplating,
Too soon,
Far too soon,
The opposite curve

When Gretchen asked me to preach a sermon, I was hesitant.  I told her that my theology was weak. I was raised Roman Catholic.  We didn’t study the bible. Instead, I was doled out parts of the scripture and told what it meant.  And, frankly, I am really no better today. I remember the first books of the new testament by a phrase I read once,  “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, you saddle a rat and I’ll jump on…” It is just in the past 10 years that I figured out that the much of the new testament is a series of letters.  Still, Gretchen convinced me that I am able to tell a story. So, out of my love for her, and, lets face it, my own vanity, I took this challenge. I have had months to regret it.  When I reviewed the readings from which I could choose, I was instantly drawn to the Epistle. Romans 5: versus 12-21. It seemed to me to be about sin and redemption. And who knows more about sin and redemption than I?  Not only have I been a veteran sinner for many years, someone who has made the seeking of redemption into somewhat of a hobby, I have also worked in the MA Dept of Youth Services since 2013. For those who don’t know what DYS is, it is the Juvenile Justice system, formerly known as Juvie.  Kid Jail. A place where caring people with the best of intentions perpetuate an inherently unjust system. Many days, I include myself with those people. And MA has a very progressive system. In fact, it is often looked upon as a model for other states. We use a vaguely restorative justice model, although it has been, in some places, bastardized to the point of being unrecognizable.  So, upon reading today’s epistle I became excited. In my interpretation, Paul speaks of sin, (which, to me, is such an icky, fire and brimstone word) , as simply a disconnection from God’s love and trust, and redemption as a reconnection with that same love and trust. For what could be more illustrative of a disconnection than Adam’s direct and flagrant disregard of God’s law in eating from the tree of knowledge, and what could be a better example of reconnecting the whole of mankind with Jesus’s sacrifice of his safety, his dignity and his life?  Recently, I have been working with my son, Sebastian, on viewing trust and love in a different way. For him, as for many people, trust and love are largely transactional. He believes that if he is “good” he gains my trust and love, and thus can get the things that he wants, like a $100 gift card to Gamestop. I have tried, mostly in vain thus far, to show him that love and trust are the very basis for human connection. That disconnection from love and trust, “Sin” if you will, are an inevitable part of the human condition, and that reconnection with love and trust, is God’s ultimate gift to humanity.  In this reading, Paul refers to this gift. He says to the Romans “But the gift is not like the trespass”.  No, he believes that the gift is so much more than the sin.  The reconnection with God is greater, more powerful and ultimately more divine than whatever we did to disconnect.  At least, that is what I thought until I began to read the commentaries. So many opinions, so many focuses. My excitement began to falter as I tried to prepare for this sermon.  Some people were saying that this reading proved that human kind is only saved by an acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Oops. I don’t believe that. Other’s spoke about following God’s law.  Still others were so dense with theology and philosophy, that I took to reading historical romances to cleanse my palate. In desperation, I turned to Gretchen to find commentaries that would speak to me. And she, like she has for the past 15 years, came to my rescue.   She suggested commentaries to which I could relate my own ideas and experiences.

One commentary put the whole of Roman’s 5 into historical context. So very Gretchen. It was long, and frankly, boring. But it did show me that Paul, in his letter, was not speaking philosophically for the ages, but trying to beat down dissention in the early church. He was being practical, ticking off counters to arguments, not making a grand theological statement. The author, Robert Jewett, used the rhetorical method to follow Paul’s argument, which actually allowed me to have a better understanding of the time and the church at that time. And, it was so long it helped me to forget about the more troublesome commentaries that I had previously read. The commentary that truly spoke to me, however, was by Israel Kamudzandu. He said “Implicitly, and, at times, explicitly, the human family builds walls of separation with others, with the intent to control, silence and marginalize others. Embedded in this chapter is both humanity’s failure to live by God’s offer of love to all and the ever present reality of God’s generosity in terms of mercy, justice and grace of which the church is the instrument of God’s garden in which compassion is manifested”. To my mind, there is no better example of this than our very broken Justice System. And, because I work behind some of those walls of separation, it is from here I will tell you a story.  

Early in my career at DYS, I met a young man who was to become my nemesis. I have left out details in order to protect his identity, but I doubt anyone would recognize him in this description. He was simply a boy, like dozens of others that I have met over the past 7 years, whose life circumstances had brought him to commitment behind the cinder block walls of a juvenile justice facility. He was a refugee from el Salvador. He had only come to the US 4 or 5 years earlier, but his English was excellent. A very smart, adaptable child who had seen horrors in his homeland and in his escape from that homeland, that I am unable to fully imagine. He came to live with relatives with whom he had no prior relationship, no bond of love. They fed him and clothed him, but had little time or patience for a boy who stopped going to school, who began to hang out with gangs, who finally got arrested. I forget the crime he committed that got him placed the facility in which I worked. Maybe gun charges, maybe rape, certainly not murder, since he was not charged as an adult. Immediately, he set himself apart by being excessively needing and demanding. We played a game that I call “Medical Whack-a Mole”. He would come to me with a vague complaint. I would try to get a history, which would be equally vague. His exam would be unremarkable. I would try to reassure him that all was well, but he would accuse me of not knowing my job, of ignoring his complaints. I would see him time and time again for the same complaint, until he grew tired of it, then he would declare himself well and reveal yet another complaint. Medical Whack a Mole. I tried to restrict his access; he upped the ante by complaining of more severe symptoms. He complained of chest pain one night and an ambulance was called. He had multiple, almost laughable, suicidal gestures. He managed to get his hands on 6 amoxicillin antibiotics and take them in an attempt to kill himself. He got diarrhea. He attempted to tie a tee shirt around a sprinkler head in his room and hang himself with staff standing right outside his door. The tee shirt stretched to the floor and the staff stopped him. Now, I am not without insight or compassion. I know that these are cries for help. An attempt to explain inner pain and turmoil by attributing them to physical disorders. A way to be heard. A way to scream “SEE ME”. However, to me, these methods were annoying and demoralizing. I couldn’t fix him, I couldn’t help him, so, I avoided him. Whenever possible, I had other providers see him. I, however, was the primary nurse practitioner at the facility, so I could not avoid him all the time. He stayed with us for over a year. Over that time, we began to talk. I told him a bit about my crazy, patch work family. He told me a bit about his former life. I am not sure if what he told me is true, but the feelings were. He was disconnected from love and trust… disconnected from his family, disconnected from his community, disconnected from his country. This is not a story of amazing re-connection healing all, however. It is a story about what happens when that reconnection fails. He and I came to an uneasy truce.  We got used to each other. I like to think we began to see the God that was etched on both of our hearts. When he was due to leave, he was placed in the custody of the Dept. of Children and Families and put into a foster home. There had a difficult time placing him… he was a felon with behavioral issues…not a prime candidate for fostering. At one time, he asked me “Why can’t you just adopt me?” If this was a made for TV movie, I would have done so and he would now be going to Harvard. But it is not a made for TV movie. I had enough kids, thank you very much.  The last thing I needed was another one, especially one with his issues. They did, however, finally find him a placement. A lovely Spanish-speaking Grandma who knew how to make his favorite foods. On his last day in the facility, he came to say good bye. He was so excited, looking forward to a new life. Knowing of his issues, however, I had my doubts. Rice and beans are lovely, but they do not heal trauma. Sadly, I was correct. From time to time, I heard about him from other people in DYS. His placement with the Grandma did not work out. He bounced around from foster home to foster home for almost a year. Then, right after he turned 18, he was arrested again. Three days into his detention, he managed to hang himself in his cell. A complete and total failure of connection.  

Now, some might think that I am speaking of this young man’s disconnection to God’s love and trust. For certainly, all of the young men I work with have, in some way or another, sinned. They have become disconnected, for sure.  But I am actually talking about my own disconnection. For is not the greatest sin and disconnection refusing to see someone as a human in pain? And am I disconnecting myself further by working in a system that holds black and brown youth so much more accountable for their actions than their white counterparts? Is not the ultimate disconnection living in a racist society that hones my implicit bias to a razor’s edge? The problems are so vast, so wide, so overwhelming, that is it easy to give in to despair. But this passage give us hope. For no matter how strong the disconnection, the reconnection is even stronger. Remember “But the gift is not like the trespass” Paul further goes on to say “For if the many died by the trespass of one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow the many?” So today, I issue you a challenge: look for areas in your life where you have disconnected from the love and trust of God. Look for small things…did you throw away a recyclable bottle? Did you start answering emails when your mother called you to complain about her day? And remember, the point is not to dwell on the disconnect. The point is to rejoice in the powerful, beautiful and totally attainable reconnection with the love of God. The point, my beloved community, is the joy.

Zondervan. (2019). Holy Bible: New International version. Grand Rapids, MI.
Jewett, R. (1986). Following the Argument of Romans. Word and World6(4), 382–389.
Kanudzandu, I. (n.d.). Death Through Adam, Life Through Christ.  Working Preacher. Retrieved February 28, 2020, from

A Love Letter to St. Paul’s

This letter was written collaboratively by Betty, Lee, Mandi, Margaret, Mary Lou, Sarah, and Susan as we gathered for Godly Conversations this Sunday morning. We started with the phrase “Dear Parish of St. Paul,” and each added a sentence or two at a time with the thoughts and stories we most wanted to share with you now:

Dear Parish of St. Paul,

This place has become an important part of my week. I love to come here and find a calm place away from the craziness of my everyday life.

Thank you for giving me a safe, stable place to go for warm fellowship for over 30 years — and a way into the mystery of faith.

In a life of almost constant change, the stability of my connection at St. Paul’s is central to my path to community.

I feel at peace here in a way that I didn’t think was possible in a church community.

St. Paul’s is my spiritual home. I enjoy community and I enjoy fellowship.

I look forward every week to being with the folks at St. Paul’s. It’s not so much what we do together, it’s the spirit and being together.

St. Paul’s is the kindest and most generous Christian community I’ve ever belonged to. (To which the assembled group quickly added, “Ditto! Ditto!”)

When I think about moving to Kentucky the primary thing [keeping me here] — besides Mitch McConnell —  is that I’d miss St. Paul’s.

It’s very important to me that St. Paul’s community is not just welcoming but embracing of differences.

I love to hear the Bible readings in the timeless language of the scriptures.

The eclectic nature of our music program through the years has been a source of enjoyment, amusement, and inspiration. (“Ditto!”)

Can I just tell a little story? We used to have this pianist, James, 21 or 22, from Newfoundland. He was a musical genius. Gretchen would say, “Let’s put on a musical!” and he’d just tackle it, with all of our voices. And on Palm Sunday or whatever day we were performing, our whole congregation would put on a musical! He was fearless. The joie de vivre of that man was unparalleled. And he might never have been hired somewhere else.

He gave his graduating recital at the New England Conservatory. Usually there are about 50 people there, family and friends. We at St. Paul’s all came, and we made a complete feast — Kyrah’s pot roast, deviled eggs. It was an Easter-level coffee hour. And afterwards it was all gone! It was a special St. Paul’s moment.  And he asked for it! For Kyrah’s roast, for Kim’s mac n’ cheese…

I always think of coffee hour as “sacramental coffee hour.”

I love that we have outreach to people of different traditions, and that we have shared our longing for social justice and joined in efforts to bring that about with them.

St. Paul’s has been blessed with many gifts. God willing it will continue.

I remember the Christmas pageants that we have had over the years and the many moments of high comedy. The disrobing angel. The groaning-from-birth-pains Mary. The narrator who wanted to shout his lines The effort to herd people down the aisle. And the year we had 2 stars! Because we had 2 kids come dressed as stars, and so Gretchen just said, “Okay!”

So we’re pretty tenacious. We hang on, like a barnacle. A barnacle church! It’s hard to keep a church going. We’ve had these things happen that you can’t plan for but they strengthen our affection. It’s organic and binding.

Can I tell the piano story? The piano we have in the sanctuary was donated to St. Paul’s by one of my clients. I thought it would have a literal spiritual home here. His wife grew up in Georgia, she was an Afro-American woman, and she grew up singing Gospel in the church. She grew up and married a Jewish man and raised her children Jewish. But she kept her Gospel roots. And this was her piano. After church recently (for the postlude) Ken played some more rollicking Gospel and I thought she’d be so pleased that her piano had a home here.

Amen! What a joy. Alleluia!

Betty, Lee, Mandi, Margaret, Mary Lou, Sarah, and Susan

Sermon on the Feast of the Presentation in the Temple by Mandi Rice

Latimore-IMG_5045Gospel Text: Luke 2:22-40

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the Temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed–and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the Temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.



Good morning.

I don’t know about you, but for me this has been kind of a week.

As many of you know, I work as a chaplain in a rehab hospital. Sometimes that comes across sounding very holy, but actually means that I spend a lot of my time going into people’s hospital rooms while they’re watching television. And so actually a lot of my week has been focused around television.

If you have a television or a radio or an internet connection, perhaps you heard that there was something going on this week in the Senate? Maybe you heard of other grave and serious things. I thought about giving you the litany just to show that I was watching, but we don’t want to start there.

Still, all this has been in my peripheral vision as I’ve been talking with my patients. Sometimes it moves from being the literal background noise to being the center of the conversation. And people say to me things like, “I’m scared of what this world is coming to.” And, “It seems like things are just going downhill.” These fears are really real.

In my philosophy as a chaplain and a preacher, our holy times are not when we ignore these fears, but when we intentionally gather together to remind ourself that these fears are all part of a much bigger story. And so the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is a particularly blessed day on which to do so.

On the front of your bulletin, if you have it in hand, you can see one illustration of the Gospel story that you just heard: the mother Mary carrying her six-week-old son Jesus into the Temple while her husband Joseph carries two birds to offer for sacrifice. They are greeted by two overjoyed elders, Anna and Simeon, who immediately recognize that this child, this infant child, is the salvation that they have been looking for.

Like us, Anna and Simeon were living in complex and worrying and yet hopeful times, with reasons to be fearful and faithful that are very contemporary. As Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber summarizes it, “both of these old folks were looking for salvation, trusting that even in the midst of being occupied by the Roman empire and all the tyranny of Caesar, that God was still faithful to God’s promises.” They were living in the kingdom of Caesar, seeing its impacts and its excesses and the suffering around them, and yet they remained deeply faithful to what we would now call the kindom of God. Simeon had heard messages from the Holy Spirit and Anna was given to prophetic speech as well as fasting and almost ceaseless prayer.

And they kept their eyes open, trusting that God would transform the world and bring about the justice that was so deeply needed.

It’s that sort of faithfulness that brings us here together, and it’s that faithfulness that led Simeon and Anna to be in the Temple at the very same time that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus walk in. Simeon is actually drawn there in the moment by the prompting of the Holy Spirit so he’s there at just the right time. It’s Simeon who recognizes the child first and breaks into a prayer of thanksgiving that Christian churches repeat to this day: “Master, now you’re dismissing your servant in peace according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Hearing and seeing this, Anna comes over and she too praises God out loud and tells everyone who will listen that this child is meant for the redemption of Jerusalem.

What gets me about this story, and there’s so much here, but really what gets me is the fact that it unfolds within the Temple. Every other story about Jesus’ nativity is set elsewhere — and by now we’ve heard a lot of them. We’ve heard about the birth and young life of Jesus, through the 12 Days of Christmas, and the Feast of the Holy Name and Epiphany and Epiphanytide. So while I don’t want to understate the importance of Jesus as a light to the world — which is why this feast day is known as Candlemas in many parts — I want to focus today on what it means if we look at it as the Presentation in the Temple, and what it means to have Jesus’ light recognized and proclaimed specifically in the Temple, in Jerusalem, within the religious space and the religious community.

In the first place, if we look that way, we get a reminder that everyone in the story is devoutly Jewish. Because our Christian tradition is woven through with strands of antisemitism and supersessionism, I feel like we can never say this enough. Everyone on the scene is Jewish. And they understand and celebrate their experience in light of the words of Torah and their experiences as the people of God. The whole reason that Mary and Joseph have come to the Temple is to honor the law around ritual purity after childbirth and the dedication of a first-born son, which Jesus is. So Mary and Joseph’s faithfulness to the Jewish law in the Temple is what structures the whole encounter. That’s the historical and religious context.

What does this say about our contemporary Christian contexts? What does it say to us two-thousand-and-twenty-ish years later about what it means to be in a religious community tied together by our presence in one same sanctuary?

The fact that this story unfolds in the Temple lets us ask what kinds of things can happen in this holy space that don’t happen in the same way elsewhere. As our parish community gathers together to speak honestly about our own way forward, we need to hear what the scriptures tell us about the possibilities that unfold specifically in religious spaces.

Here’s what I heard as I read and prayed through this reading.

For one, the Church and the Temple are a place where young and old people gathered together. These spaces are so rare! Rev’d. Isaac and I were talking about it this morning, how rare it is to have truly intergenerational spaces — ones like this, where Margaret and Riley are sitting right next to one another.

We also see that the Temple is a place where we bring our gifts and offer what we have to offer. If you look back at the specific laws around what to bring as a sacrifice, you’ll find that Mary and Joseph and anyone in their situation had two options. If they had money, they were supposed to bring a lamb. And if they didn’t have enough money to have a lamb, that’s when they had the option for the turtledoves or the pigeons. And so we see this as a space that’s making room for both our generosity and our abundance, but also our simpler offerings and our participation with whatever we can bring.

We see the Temple as a place where religious people mark the transitions in life, as Mary comes back 40 days after her childbirth. And this Feast Day, the Feast of the Presentation, happens every year on February 2nd because it’s exactly 40 days after Christmas.

One of the most important pieces to me is that this Temple story shows that our gathering places, our religious places are the ones where the Holy is seen and recognized and where that recognition leads to prophetic speech. It’s not always comfortable speech. Did you hear the part where Simeon says that Mary’s soul will be wounded as part of the unfolding of the story? So it’s a place where we tell each other uncomfortable truth driven by the Holy Spirit and by relationship with one another.

Finally, I see it as a place where no one has all of the answers, but they all have some of the answers. What I mean is that Anna and Simeon and Mary and Joseph on that day, 40 days after the nativity, nobody woke up that morning and knew exactly what was going to unfold. Anna and Simeon were waiting for the Messiah. They didn’t know that today was going to be the day. They in all likelihood didn’t even have reason to suspect that God would be on Earth as an infant child.

Mary and Joseph, on the other hand, had different pieces of the story. They’d heard the angelic revelations that this would be God’s son. They acted faithfully and welcomed the child into the world, and yet there was still something different about hearing that truth declared by other human voices…the fact that this was the Messiah, this was the salvation. And they were amazed at what they heard. This gives us humility: if even the Mother of God needed a religious community to help her understand her child’s destiny, it makes sense that we too, even more so, should be looking for God and the promptings of the Holy Spirit in community… that our revelations are only partial. Only when they are told in community do these pieces of truth provide the full wisdom and clarity that we need.

Finally, it’s important to me to think about what it means to to have this festival in the Temple, in the religious space, because this Sunday — man, I’m going to cry.
This Sunday is the fourth anniversary of my arrival here at the Parish of St. Paul, the same Sunday when I very first walked through these doors. And so the image of Jesus first being brought through the doors of his Holy space reminds me of what it was like to walk through these doors for the first time. And I still remember what the scripture was that day and the sermon that I heard.

I heard Gretchen speaking about Jesus’ transfiguration: when Jesus is up on the mountain, and the presence of God, the radiance, is revealed so clearly. And I remember Rev’d. Gretchen looking out into the community and saying you know, “I see the presence of God, the gleam of God shining through you, Ian, when you sit here and sing along, when you come up to sit among the choir…” And, “I see the presence of God in you, Susan, when you dedicate time that you really have to make space for.” On and on.

I remember all of these little bits of love that she gave, and the way that she called out what is holy and named that within each of us.

And that to me is what we really do when we gather here in church: We tell stories that we are part of that are much larger than us. We remember what is good and holy. And in the times that are difficult that surround us both in this church and within our larger world, that is one of the most important things that we can do — to remember God’s blessing and God’s presence in each one of us.

Thank you so much for welcoming me into this “us” that we will journey forward as together. I love you. Amen.


Opening image by Kelly Latimore, La presentación de Cristo en el templo, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved February 13, 2020]. Original source:

Reflections after the terror attack in El Paso by Mandi Rice

Dear sanctuary volunteer community,

Our hearts are breaking together over the news out of El Paso. As most of you know, a white supremacist traveled hundreds of miles to commit a terrorist attack on Latinx families there.* Since Saturday night I have been thinking often about Sofia and her extended family; our consultants; and many other Latinx people and immigrants across the U.S. who are reacting to this violence. I have been thinking about all of you. This violence is particularly disturbing alongside other mass shootings in Dayton and in Gilroy. Perhaps you are feeling similar to me: anger, fear, exhaustion, heartbreak.

When this pain hits us deeply, our bodies can even forget to eat and drink. Please care for your body. One of the contemporary theologians I respect reminds us, “Listen to your body. Is it hurting? Shaking? Breath deeply. Go for a walk. Meditate. Write. Journal. Color. Paint. Cry. Pray. Soothe yourself with non-harmful coping mechanisms. Reach to folk if you’re alone and that’s hard for you.” Please provide sanctuary for yourself, and seek it with others. Before I sleep, I have been visualizing creating a four-posted space of sanctuary to surround me when I sleep, much like the sukkah we built together last fall.

Most all of us are white allies, and I do want to be explicit with you all: Your Latinx friends, family members, co-workers, fellow parishioners, and fellow Bostonians are almost certainly on edge. Yes, even here in Boston. If you have not already done so, please call them. Check in. Ask how they are feeling and quietly listen. Bring soup if you can. Pray together that God will bind us more closely to one another in love and offer us the wisdom to care for one another in our pain. Pray for their concerns, whatever they are. Learn.

To give you a sense of the scope of this pain, I want to share with you how people have responded to the question, “Latinxs: how do you feel in public right now? What do you think about? Is there anything you’ve visibly or verbally changed, and if so, why?” Here is a small selection, from people all around the U.S. There are hundreds more replies if you click this link.

Please hold all of these folks in your prayers. May they live in peace with their families and communities

I will be praying in repentance, that I may turn around from any actions and inactions that contribute to this violence. May we who are white allies find the courage to co-create a more just and less violent world. Prayer & action.

I would love to hear what you are praying for, what your hopes and concerns are.

…. and as I send this, it seems like there is another shooting happening at the USA Today headquarters in Virginia. As much as white supremacy and racism and misogyny cause violence, so too does the availability of assault rifles. May God help us turn our swords into plowshares.

Con cariño / with deep care,


* Latinx (rather than Latina or Latino) in a gender-neutral way to talk about all Latino/as in one word. Glad to talk about that more with anyone who wants to learn.


Prayer from the Pews April 7 by Whitney Petersmeyer

A reading from my journal

September 2017

A note to my mom

I decided to tell Riley about you today. I’d been dreading this moment because I was sure it would change her forever. That my deep feeling kid would become fearful.

A worrier. She’d worry about me dying. About her dad dying.  Darkness would eclipse her light. Like a weed that creeps into a garden, this could just take over. Ensnare the flowers. Close in on her big bright world and make it smaller somehow.

But I went for it because I wanted this to be something she feels like she knew forever. So no script, deep breath, I told her you died when I was little, even younger than her. I told her I have two mommies, one who lives in heaven and one who lives in Maryland and that’s the one who you know and love as Jules.

I paused and searched her face while she took that in. I braced for tears and a breathless line of questions. But those never came.

Her face was… Peace. Love. Light.

Then this little girl of mine, barely 5, locked eyes with mine and only asked one question.

“Did God choose both mommies for you?”

That day, in that moment, she didn’t ask about death. Not about loss. She wasn’t sad or scared or panicked. She was focused, curious, peaceful.

“Did God choose both mommies for you?”

There was Hope in her voice. The kind of Hope that lives deep within her. The kind of hope that is not wishful or unknowing, but a hope that is certain. A holy Hope. Her eyes danced with fierce conviction, like she’d just answered a question, not asked one.

“Did God choose both mommies for you?”

Not -did God choose one to take away (and the devastating corridor of questions that door leads one to). Rather -did God choose both.

Not reductive.


For you. Not -in spite of you.  For you. Did God choose for you the gift of two profound relationships, one spiritual that you can only feel, the other earthly that you can see and touch? Two relationships with two beautiful spirits that grow and evolve with you, in you, forever?

At 5, Riley’s framework is not one that’s small, finite, anchored by time on this Earth. Hers is a framework of abundance. Of infinite love. Of life everlasting. Quite a command for the transcendent for a kid who’d never been to church.

And so I offer a prayer for where Hope lives:


Help us understand Hope as simply and beautifully as children do, children for whom heart and head are so much the same, before life has had its chance to make them dueling teams w/in us.

Help us nurture Hope in its purest form, etched on our hearts with you but also in our minds where we seek and consider Truth.

Put souls and moments in our paths when we need a holy reminder that Truth and Hope are inextricably connected, and that life, like love, is everlasting.

Do this so that we may translate Hope into action in our lives, and live more fully in your image.



Prayer from the Pews – March 31, 2019 By Caryn Coyle

Forgive us

Forgiveness for a child

Black and white and simple

Break a lamp, talk back, eat too much candy

Sit on a chair, go to your room, no TV

Then a kiss and a hug

Parents a stand- in deity

The sticky black tar of sin won’t stick to a child

On the other side of sin is forgiveness

Forgive us


Forgiveness for a teen

Rows of black and brown children

Encased in a thick coating

Of race and poverty and denied mortgages and school suspensions and fear and rage

And fear of their rage becoming a locked cell

The judge a stand-in deity

On the other side of judgement is forgiveness

Forgive us


Forgiveness for an adult

The hardest person to forgive is herself, ossified in shades of gray

Never understanding that she was forgiven before the sin was committed

God, etched on her heart, cannot be erased by actions

A human a stand in deity

On the other side of self-recrimination is forgiveness

Forgive us


Forgiveness for an Ancestor

An earth encased in dark smoke, rivers running red with dye, muddy fields devoid of trees

Able to ignore the possibility of error and permanent loss

Believing that what was given could not be destroyed

Progress a stand -in deity

On the other side of greed is forgiveness

Forgive us


Forgiveness for all time

A human, frail and alone, and hung on cross

Tortured, yes, but not unique

Many people die from torture

And he had a temper,

He ravaged a temple, snapped at disciples, was impatient with Pharisees

He wasn’t just a lamb

He wasn’t just a God

His cross beam left dusty drag marks on the way to his hill

And we forget how angry his humiliation made him, how un-resigned he was the night before

How he refused to give them the satisfaction of an answer

How his forgiveness came from a beating human heart

No stand-in was needed for this deity

On the other side of forgetting is forgiveness

On the other side of forgiveness is hope

Give us hope.

Prayers from the Pews Sunday, March 24, 2019 “Burning Bush” by David Montgomery

Oh God of many names – each of which is valid yet none of which is adequate,

who identified yourself and your people from a bush burning in the desert,

crackling and glowing in your magnificence yet unconsumed by flame.


You promised to deliver us from our trials by walking with us, among us, in our

suffering, our worrying, our yearning, and our angst.


And you sent your own child – our savior – to toil and suffer among us while

teaching us always how to better love you and ourselves.


We continue to hurt, to suffer, to feel the pain of dreams unfulfilled, of illness, of

death, of morality injured or forgotten.


Help us to recognize our oneness with all of humanity – your people – many with

crushing burdens and broken spirits.


May we ever be reminded of your magnificence, eternally burning within our

hearts, neither consuming nor hardening us but always transforming and tempering

our souls, imbuing our hearts with the malleability needed to bend without

breaking in this crazy world.


Even as our trials persist and our anxieties continue, may we – as you have taught

us – ever strive to grow into our full selves – ever becoming what we are yet to be.


We ask this in the name of community, oneness, connection, resilience and love.



(March 24, 2019)

Prayers from the Pews March 17, 2019. “The Sanctuary Between Us.” by Kathryn Anderson

I.  Laundry Prayer.

A woman stands in her sunny kitchen, sorting baskets of laundry.

A few blocks away, another woman has forsworn the sight of the sun,

To live in a basement.

So she can raise her children. This means that she can no longer do her family’s laundry herself, as she’d like to.Who among us would not willingly forego the light of the sun for a lifetime.  If it meant keeping our dear ones safely with us?

“Goodbye to the sunshine

Goodbye to the dew

Goodbye to the flowers…”

Dear Lord Jesus

Accept thou this, the work of my hands

“The work of this thy servant“

This laundry

“These two tiny, pink socks I have managed not to lose in the wash.

Accept thou this laundry

Let it comfort and adorn thy holy feet.

In gratitude from one who is privileged to walk freely beneath the life-giving sun.

At least for now.

In aid and in honor of a woman who has risked absolutely everything.

To be able to hold her child in a safe place one more day.

Accept thou, O Lord, this washload

Which the woman would complete for herself and for her family, if she could

Except that she has banished herself below ground

Not to see the sun

Not to feel the breeze

Not to smell the rain-soaked sidewalk.The woman in the basement waits. For now, her hands braid a small child’s hair.

II. Abide with Me

Accept thou, O Lord, this pair of strangers

Who sit comfortably with each other, not necessarily talking,

Because they know that they are here for the same reason.

Accept thou, O Lord, this man who, for his shift

Merely wants to be left alone in the very last pew of the afternoon-darkening church for three hours,

head leaned against the back wall, book open on his lap

.Accept thou, O Lord, the hands that open prayerbooks in Hebrew, Spanish, English, Greek

Accept thou, O Lord, this woman, wearing her favorite hat, who took two buses after work in order to be here by 6.

She was thrilled when she got here early, carrying on her shoulders two straining-at-the-seams reusable shopping bags,

plus a bedroll, across 3 towns

So she could sit in a small room And sleep on a borrowed bed Away from her own home, spouse, children, comforts So that a woman she will never see, and whose true name she will never know Can sleep near her children tonight.

Accept thou, O Lord, this silent routine of hands, of feet, of books, of sitting,

Accept the whisper of electrons, a constant prayer like the humming of bees,as hundreds of strangers conspire, plan, worry online For this woman and her family, one more day.

Accept thou, O Lord, the work of our hands

The work of our days and nights

The work of our breath

The work of our bodies, sitting.

On the other side of the wall, a family snuggles down for the night, having managed to stay together for one more day.

III. Keep Watch…

The Lamp of the Presence

Is temporarily detached, in repair.

It will be fine. It will be back.

For now, during Eucharist, as Eucharist,

A woman is cooking for her family and the people upstairs smell, rather than see,

The Onions of the Presence

The Garlic of the Presence

The Carrots of the Presence

The Soup of the Presence

Holy Wisdom lives in the basement

Holy Wisdom is cooking for her children;

Maybe she is humming as she chops and stirs.

All’s right with the world

Jesus has not left the building.

Monday, the child will only wiggle a little bit

While her mother helps her on with two tiny pink socks

The utter foolishness of Wisdom to risk everything for the love of a child in her sock feet.

Accept, O Lord, from this thy servant;

Two little feet, in two little socks, in two little shoes

Skip to preschool, for circle time, for snack time, for story time, for nap time.

Her mother will welcome her home with hot soup….Shield the joyous.

Homily for Sanctuary Sunday: Thoughts on the Sermon on the Plain by Katherine Ballas

Homily for Sanctuary Sunday: Thoughts on the Sermon on the Plain Katherine Ballas  The Episcopal Parish of Saint Paul, Newton Highlands February, 17, 2019

Luke 6:17-26

Jesus came down with the twelve apostles and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.” “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.” Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.” Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

“Homily for Sanctuary Sunday: Thoughts on the Sermon on the Plain


A blessing, according to Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “is the visible, perceptible, effective proximity of God. A blessing demands to be passed on –it communicates itself to other people. To be blessed is to be oneself a blessing.” The Gospel reading heard today, known as the Sermon on the Plain, presents a set of blessings in a format reminiscent of the psalms and proverbs of our wisdom tradition. We are invited to measure our own proximity to God by a frank, candid, list of what Megan McKenna refers to as confrontational truths. If this unsettles you a little, it is because they are meant too. The world that God desires for us to build is one that is counter to almost every human urge; the urge to be rich, the urge to be well fed, the urge to seek happiness, and the urge to be well regarded. I want to take a moment to reflect on the scene from the perspective of those who would have first heard this sermon. If you were here last week, you might recall that Gretchen outlined a key difference in the way the disciples are first called to minister with Jesus of Nazareth. Unlike the call told by the Gospel writers of Mark and Matthew, the author of the Gospel of Luke pairs a miracle with the story of God’s call to them. As Gretchen asserted this is a “reminder that God’s call is always accompanied by God’s grace.”  Another key difference is the timing of the seminal sermon. In the Gospels of Mark and Matthew the sermon is given on a mount, before the disciples are called to Jesus. In the Gospel of Luke, the sermon is given on a plain, after the disciples have abandoned their boats with nets overflowing with fish, left their families, and followed this controversial Rabbi. Imagine now, standing on flat ground, toe to toe with Jesus, having surrendered any possibility of wealth and security, hearing the following

LUKE6:17-263Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.21Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.22Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you. Did it hit you slightly differently? Those who paid close attention in Confirmation class when we compared the synoptic gospels might remember that the author of Luke had a particular interest in economics. You may have even already picked up on the ways in which the Blessings heard above offer particular comfort to the poor. Did you catch the present indicative, signifying that the poor already possess the Kingdom of God”(Ranjar, 2017)?Those who weep will laugh. Those who hunger will be satisfied. Those who are poor have the kingdom of God. Later in the Gospel it’s made explicit that those who make financial sacrifices will possess the Kingdom of God, “in this time and in the age to come”(Luke 18:30).Rich is a negative category for Luke. Throughout the Gospel the blind are promised sight, the lepers are promised a cure, the lame are told they will walk, even the dead are promised life. Never are the poor promised wealth. Luke plays another literary trick by contrasting the blessings to the poor at the top of the first verse to the woes to the rich at the top of the second verse.Luke is alluding to the economic realities of his society, in which large disparities exist between the poor and the rich. And this is how we come to understand that a defining feature of Luke’s Kingdom of God is an egalitarian society. Jesus acknowledges that the shedding of our material comforts is not easy. Scholars have commented that they hear the Woes, offered sympathetically to those who struggle to take that

LUKE6:17-264leap of faith. I don’t know about you but “Woe to the rich, for they have their consolation” brings me back to when my grandma would sigh, “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.” For the disciples, their choice to follow Jesus made them poor. They’re poverty has made them more dependent upon God. And for this dependence of choice the disciples are welcomed into the Kingdom of God. We often talk about this dependence on God in terms of sacrifice but I don’t believe that conveys the depth of what is exchanged. What Jesus is calling us to is surrender. When imagining this feeling of surrender, I was reminded of a favorite poem by Wendell Barry, The Peace of Wild Things(1968): When despair grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sounding fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting for their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. I do believe we are all invited into the peace that comes, as Barry so beautifully puts it, by resting in the grace of the world. The grace that comes with answering a call from God. Can you imagine the freedom that might come from surrendering our desires for those things that feed our own egos and instead placing God at the center of our decisions? What choices might we make differently with this kind of clarity of commitment? The most striking parallel that I can draw between today’s lesson and our sanctuary work is the state of utter vulnerability that our guests have stepped into. As some of you may know, we

LUKE6:17-265had many families inquire about the opportunity to keep sanctuary in our halls. And most decided that it was not a choice they were willing to do for themselves: to stay inside these halls for a year or more, even as other family members come and go, the need to place total trust in a network of strangers, to rely completely on others for food, laundry, and companionship, all this for just the slightest possibility of a positive outcome. Our family left behind all but a few precious personal belongings. They gave up their ability to seek employment. They have completely surrendered themselves to this sanctuary, in the most terrifying way possible. They are the ones who are poor that Jesus is speaking to in this sermon. Of all of us in this building today, they are the ones who currently possess the Kingdom of God. I cannot speak to their motivations ,or their experience of blessing,or whether they have derived any peace of mind from their time in Sanctuary. I can say that they are a blessing to us.  I and my husband were initially apprehensive about getting involved with Sanctuary work. Two years ago we were expecting our first child and commitment to Sanctuary came with unknown risks. It was only after prayerful discussion and reflection on readings like the Sermon on the Plain that we came to the conclusion that we could not say no to God’s call to join this movement: either we were going to live our values or we weren’t. I am so proud of this parish community for being an example of faith in action for my daughter…and so grateful. Saint Paul’s may decide to welcome a dozen more families, or we may only host one. Whatever we decide to do with our time and resources, I know we will continue to put God at the center of our choices. And for all who come through these doors I pray, theywill be satisfied, I praythey will be joyful, and I pray that we all will possess the Kingdom of God. BibliographyMcKenna, M. (Third Printing 2001). Blessings and Woes. Maryknoll, New York:  Orbis Books.

LUKE6:17-266Ranjar, C. S. (2017). Be Merficul Like the Father.Roma: Gregorian & Biblical Press.

TWO WOMEN, ONE TEMPLE AND THE JOURNEY TO ADVENT by Dr. John McDargh November 16, 2018 Proper 28 Year B 1 Samuel 1:4-20 Mark 13: 108

In 2016  American author and social activist Adrienne Maree Brown wrote the following in reference to racial injustice and the Black Lives Matter movement  “Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered.  We must hold each other tight , and continue to pull back the veil”. 

Truth  “alethia”  Unhiddeness – Truth is not a thing, it is an event. .”truth happens to us when the coverings of illusion are stripped away and the real emerges into the open” .. (Martin Smith, Season of the Spirit  p. 5)

If you did not already realize it,  a trip to CVS and the appearance of Christmas decorations  stowed ready to display will remind you that our country and our consumer  culture is rapidly barreling towards Christmas –

But as Christians we operate on a different and slower calendar and last week and this week and the next are stepping stones towards the beginning of the Church year we call Advent.   Advent is  the four weeks of pause and sober  reflection that might , if we let them, ,  bring us to an ever deeper  awareness of what this Christmas thing  is all about in the first place – and what its radical invitation to each of us and to our world might actually be.

Growing up a Roman Catholic kid in a parochial school in Georgia I will admit that for a long time I found Advent both compelling and confusing.  It seemed as if we were being asked  to imagine ourselves into an historical moment when we longed and yearned for the coming of God’s promised one , the Moschiach – the Messiah – except that it was somehow pretend. We  knew in advance that it had already had  happened and so there was not particular surprise. It was the child born in Bethlehem, Jesus. End of Story.

It was rather like the way my mother in July would find socks on sale at Sears and buy them in front of us, and then tell us that they would appear on Christmas morning.  The implication was that we should be grateful and act  surprised when we unwrapped them, as though we did not know they had been squirreled away in her closet for five months.

For Advent and the Christ event to recover its bracing and shocking power to empower and transform us,  I wonder if it is necessary for us once again to inhabit a different  space.  It is one of longing ,  yearning and shared vulnerability and unknowing that was the place of the first followers of the itinerant teacher  from Nazareth , Yeshuah ben Miram, Jesus son of Mary.

And I will say straight out that I am learning myself to do this in new and unexpected ways by the gift of finding myself /ourselves sharing this space and time with our Jewish sisters and brothers in the Sanctuary Collaborative.

To put is in perhaps a provocative way , I am asking whether as we count down to Advent, the count down to the celebration of the Incarnation of Christ .. we need to find the relevant and appropriate ways in which we might understand ourselves to be spiritually and  existentially Jews.

When I wrote that .. I associated to two things.  One was a story one of the brothers of the Society of St. John the Evangelist told me years ago about an interaction with a Harvard undergraduate who had presented himself at their  Monastery  in Cambridge with the request that he be prepared for Baptism.  As this brother began to work with thus young man he said to him that before he could become a Christian, he first needed to become a Jew.   He meant by that, I think,  that the young man  needed to deeply understand and feel how the first century Jesus Renewal movement within Judaism, the movement  that became Christianity,   is incomprehensible without an understanding of its origins in the enduring experience of the people Israel.

To put it another way, the monk was inviting  the young man into some   personal  identification with the experience of that tribe of desert nomads whose narrative of their encounter with  the Mystery  has transformed all of our understanding of how the Holy and the Ultimate intimately connects with humanity.

“ So what happened”  ,  I asked the brother.

Well , that was apparently a  step too far for this young man,”   he told me.  “I have no use for Jews or Judaism” , the student protested rather emphatically and went off to find some other Christian community that did not require that empathic exercise as a requisite part of the path to Baptism.   Lots of luck with that….

My second association was to an observation made by the late Huston Smith, arguable one of the greatest scholars of world religions in  our time .  Smith’s book The Religions of the World  was the foundational  text of the year-long core course on Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity that I taught for over 35 years at Boston College before retiring this past Spring.  Huston Smith memorably if provocatively said,, “Just as Buddhism  is the way we can all get to be Hindu’s  , Christianity is the way we all get to be Jews”.

That statement  is a bit of a koan for me that I still am not sure I have fully understood. Nevertheless in light of my meditation on this morning’s Gospel and reading from the Hebrew Scripture let me offer this.

We get to be Jews when we lean into the fearful and wonderful possibility that our common vulnerability and our shared woundedness  is exactly the place where we will find and be found by the  infinite Love and Compassion we call by many names: Holy Mystery,  HaShem – the Name – Adonai, God , the Source, the Friend, the Beloved,

As I have attempted to “hear, read, mark , learn and inwardly digest” the Scriptures assigned by the lectionary for this penultimate Sunday of the church year (today’s collect) I find there are clues to what it might mean to for Christians to enter Advent as Jews.

First to the Gospel story.  It comes from Mark – the earliest of our four canonical Gospels which scholars place as somewhere around 66 – 70 – the time when the Jewish rebellion against the Roman occupiers brought down the unimaginable power of Titus and his legions and the Temple and the City of Jerusalem were almost totally destroyed.  It is a day that the Jewish community to this day  August 4th 70 BCE remembers with sorrow and fasting as  Tisha B’Av

But when the Temple  stood it was something that inspired  Jesus’ disciples to exclaim . “Look, Teacher, What large stones and what large buildings”   it must have seemed totally awesome and indestructible an enduring monument to God’s Protective Presence with God’s People – an assurance even in the midst of their occupation and subjection to the Empire – that God was still present .

I have prayed in Jerusalem at what remains of the Western Wall  and just from that one can sense that  the “ Second Temple Newly reconstructed by Herod the Great must indeed  have been an awe inspiring wonder.  Its retaining walls were composed of stones forty feet long.. The temple itself occupied a platform twice as large as the Roman Forum and four times as large as the Athenian Acropolis.

Herod reportedly used so much gold to cover the outside walls that it was said anyone who gazed at them in bright sunlight risked blinding themselves.”   (Debie Thomas ,  Journey with Jesus   11 Nov  2018)

That is what the disciples see .. but in our Gospel account, whether written before or after the catastrophic destruction of this place of encounter between the infinite and finite,  what Jesus sees is the fragility, transience and ultimate vulnerability of all human projects –“ fragility , not permanence, loss, not glory,  Change, not stasis “  . “not a stone will be left upon stone”.

In some ways this morning’s Gospel reading is a coda to last week’s when Jesus and his posse are again hanging out around the great Second Temple but are admiring the munificence of  fellow Jews who are donating huge sums into the Temple treasury. But Jesus is seeing with a different set of eyes and points out to them what they were not seeing or even disparaging,  the radical generosity of the widow whose offering of two small coins represents a more heroically  sacrificial gift – because it was all she had.   We are invited to see with different eyes and count by a different measure.

Moving now to the readings from the Hebrew Scriptures we have another opportunity to see with different eyes.

Last week the count down to  Advent gave us the lens of the experience of Ruth – the Moabite woman whose love and loyalty to her mother in law Naomi sends her into a strange land with the commitment only to be loyal to Ruth, and to make “your people my people, and your God, my God”.  Ruth models a radical vulnerability and love that compels her to take risks as a widowed woman without a male protector in a strange land where she could reasonably expected to be rejected and judged as an idolater, as Moabites commonly where.  And all this, as Reb Toba Spitzer pointed out to us in last week’s post service discussion of Ruth, is taking place during the time of “The Judges” – a period of Hebrew history when the lack of consistent central leadership made everyday life in Israel even more chaotic and precarious.

In today’s reading  from the book of Samuel, our Common Lectionary  steps towards Advent with another story of a woman who become vulnerable and radically trusts in the presence and power and compassion of an unseen God to respond to her need.

Hannah’s story is ironically a mirror of the story of Hagar, the Egyptian hand maid of Abraham’s wife Sarah, In that narrative , you may recall, it is Sarah who painfully jealous of her servant Hagar’s successfully bearing a child by Sarah’s spouse Abraham . So she abuses and mistreats Hagar and demands that she and her baby Ishmael be driven out into the desert.  In the story of Hannah it is Hannah’s “sister wife”, Penninah who having   given her shared husband      Elkanah multiple sons and daughter mocks and shames Hannah for her  infertility  and makes her life a misery – and she is not solaced by her husband’s assurance that he wants to be more to her than ten sons.  Hannah is not buying it. She is a failure by the yardstick of her culture and she want God to know her anguish .

It is from that place of shame and sorrow that Hannah comes to the shrine of Yahweh Sabbaoth at Shiloh and – as they say – lets it all hang out. She wails and she laments – but her sorrow is too deep for speech or even sound and so she prays but silently,  And here it gets interesting to me..  The high priest Eli observing her intense and   anguished prayer with her lips moving silently,  assumes that she is has been drinking. ! And he reproves her and accuses her of making a “drunken spectacle of herself”.  .

And then Hannah boldly speaks out to defend and explain herself to the High Priest of Shiloh  : No my Lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do no regard your servant as a worthless woman , for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.”

And with that sharing , I believe that  Eli’s heart is touched and he is moved to join Hannah in her pleading and pray with her “ Go in peace, the God of Israel grant the petition you have made. ”     And strengthened by this empathic connection with another person that is perhaps itself the sacrament of God’s response to her,  Hannah does just that .

She returns in peace to her husband, bathes, dines together, sleeps together once they return home   – and lo and behold,  finds herself pregnant.

Though I am sure that it has not been lost on this community I need to point out that the ecstatic utterance that then explodes from her lips – is the very template for that cry of prophetic joy that another newly pregnant Jewish woman sings out – Mary of Nazareth.  It is the song that the Church came to  call “The Magnificat” and it is part of Evensong in our Book of Common Prayer.  This year happily  we will hear it together on the Fourth Sunday of Advent –

Hannah shouts out “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God”.. Mary bursts out, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant”. And both women celebrate the power of the Holy One to over turn  hierarchies of power and privilege.

Hannah:      The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, He also exalts He raises the poor from the dust ; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.

Mary:  The Lord has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly / the Lord has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.

[It has often occurred to me  that if a woman stood out on Boston Common and shouted either of these words she might be arrested for being an agitator and an anarchist –  or at least  dismissed as  dangerous and deluded.]

So perhaps the recovery in Advent of what it means to “be a Jew” in order to be a follower of Jesus means to recover whole octaves of both lament and rejoicing that we have lost. That trope – which our choir can perhaps best identify with  –  is not original to me. I heard it first from Alan Jones, Canon theologian at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco who said that in our personal prayer and our common life we must practice the chords of both joy and sorrow and extend our range beyond our imaging.

The last thing I want to share about this idea of learning from Jews and Judaism about what it means to be a Christian is that our leaning into our shared humanity and common suffering is always particular and concrete.

People have asked me about the Sanctuary Collaborative –  why such an effort for a single family?  There are thousands of so called undocumented immigrants in our country who are in desperate need of help to prevent them from being deported to countries where many may face death and acute poverty.  Why this expenditure of energy on a single small family?

My first reaction is to remember  the famous story “The Star Thrower” by naturalist Loren Eiseley.  He describes walking on the beach at dawn after a furious storm to discover the beach littered with some thousands of starfish that had been thrown up by the high tide and now were beginning to die in the sun as the tide went out.  He spots a man who is slowly walking down the beach and stooping over to pick up starfish and one by one throw them into the ocean. He comments to the man that with so many stranded star fish and sun rising he could not possibly save them all , so why did it matter? Well, said the man as he picked up a starfish and flung it out beyond the surf, “it matters to this one”.

That is one response.

But the other reason that Sanctuary matters is that humans have a tendency in the face of immense suffering and need to retreat into abstraction that erases the individual human faces of those who are in need of our advocacy and have a claim upon our humanity.  We have seen this in the way in which “the Caravan” of persons traveling from Honduras and Guatemala to seek asylum in the United States has been reduced to a monolithic “invasion” that threatens our security and well-being. As some of you know my husband  Tim and I have been in Orange County California for the last several weeks taking advantage of our retirement to volunteer full time on some of the crucial Democratic congressional races there. We were staying with my twin sister in Dana Point where she and her husband get the LA Times delivered daily.  The Los Angeles Times embedded several reporters with the group of refugees slowly heading through Mexico so every morning I would read accounts of what these reporters were learning about the men, women and children who were fleeing the epidemic  violence and the grinding poverty particularly in Honduras.  (The per capita murder rate in Honduras I read is now greater than the murder rate in Iraq at the height of the U.S. invasion). One image stayed with me.

An LA Times  reporter interviewed  ”Miguel”, a twenty year old young man who was walking with a rainbow flag draped over his bare shoulders..    He explained that in the rural community he lived in it had been discovered by the local gangs that he was a gay and he was warned quite directly that if he did not leave town they would torture and kill him. With the encouragement and  blessing of his family he was walking to the border in the hopes that he might end up in a country where he could be who he was and not be murdered for it.

As you might imagine that story made quite an impression on me.  Miguel  became the face of the Caravan that I held before me.  The opposition to Harley Rouda, the Democratic congressional candidate  two days before the election put up defaming signs at  Freeway exits simply saying  ominously “Open Borders Rouda”.  These signs were not representing Miguel but intending to frighten voters by conjuring  a nameless hoard of “illegals” (“very bad hombres” as the President called them)  flowing unimpeded across the U.S. / Mexican border.  These signs were more than just a dog whistle they were a bull horn intended to hijack our natural empathy by promoting  fear of the stranger or “alien”  in our midst..

Meditating on Judaism and its refusal to retreat  from messy , heart breaking particularity   into abstract philosophizing and the comfort of cosmic solutions that over-leap history,  I came upon this poem by Gerald Stern.  I like it a lot because it evokes the way in which generally speaking Jews have not been drawn to the abstract philosophical systems which attracted Christian thinkers to Platonism or other systems of thought that subordinated our natural response to creaturely suffering to the “higher aims” of the State or the Race  or some Ideal Form.  Jews have been wary of trying to find a place “above it all”. Rather they have  preferred  to  “enter it all”.  Not surprisingly  this is nowhere more evident than in the rituals around death – where every body of a slain fellow human being must be bathed by loved ones, and every drop of blood or flesh that has been shed by martyrs must be reverently cleaned. And this is that happened most recently at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg.    Here is the poem, perhaps it can be your mediation descending into the emotional space of Advent.

The poem is titled “Behaving Like a Jew” and is about the author’s response to seeing the body of an opossum on the highway and stopping to save it.

Behaving Like A Jew

When I got there the dead opossum looked like
an enormous baby sleeping on the road.
It took me only a few seconds – just
seeing him there – with the hole in his back
and the wind blowing through his hair
to get back again into my animal sorrow.
I am sick of the country, the bloodstained
bumpers, the stiff hairs sticking out of the grilles,
the slimy highways, the heavy birds
refusing to move;
I am sick of the spirit of Lindbergh over everything,
that joy in death, that philosophical
understanding of carnage, that
concentration on the species.
— I am going to be unappeased at the opossum’s death.
I am going to behave like a Jew
and touch his face, and stare into his eyes,
and pull him off the road.
I am not going to stand in a wet ditch

with the Toyotas and the Chevies passing over me
at sixty miles an hour
and praise the beauty and the balance
and lose myself in the immortal lifestream
when my hands are still a little shaky
from his stiffness and his bulk
and my eyes are still weak and misty
from his round belly and his curved fingers
and his black whiskers and his little dancing feet.

“Behaving Like A Jew” by Gerald Stern from Leaving Another Kingdom: Selected Poems published by Harper originally published in the book Lucky Life published by Houghton Mifflin.