Welcome to the Sermons from Christ Church Needham Blog

We hope you enjoy this archive of sermons preached at Christ Church in Needham, Massachusetts.

For more information, please visit our website at www.ccneedham.org.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Pentecost II- Suzanne Colburn

People Pleasers

“Ascribe to the Lord the Honor due his name; bring offerings and come into his courts."  Amen     Ps. 96.8

Good morning and welcome to this glorious preamble of hot summer Sundays in New England. I want to welcome anyone who might be visiting today, and especial Lynd Matt who is with us from The Episcopal Diocese and who will be helping to give out pledge cards for the Together/Now offering to come in just a few minutes.

First though, a few reflections on this morning’s lessons.

One of the things I dislike about human life is the experience of broken relationships. Broken relationship hurt. We all know of them and we all are probably in various stages of reconciliation (or not) in one or more relationships.

Not only that, as parents and grandparents and children of parents, we usually are dealing with several relationships that put us in different postures. Sometimes we are the wise parents, sometime we are being accused of being foolish parents.

Sometimes we are grandparents who know how to listen and sometimes we are overflowing with advice. Sometimes we are parents who are stumbling to teach their children values that go the distance; all the while, wrestling with our own brokenness at work or at home.

Sometimes we are children confused by the above!

Paul, in his Letter to the Galatians is struggling in his own relationships. He’s struggling with the Galatians, with the Jewish followers in Jerusalem, and with the Gentiles he’s converting. Paul admits to being a human being who is wrestling with being a servant of the Good News of God, on the one hand, and the temptation to be a “people pleaser,” on the other hand.

In verse 10, Paul exclaims: “Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

“If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Somehow we have heard this message before, but from a different human being; from the One we call Messiah. Jesus, too, struggled in the desert with the reality of worshipping God only. God, not mammon, not other human brings, not family, not friendship, not good works.

I have a tendency to be a people pleaser. I have always been tempted to choose the path of least resistance which, at times, seemed like the people pleasing path. And then something happened.

In 1974, just after my first child was born and I was part of a post-Vatican II Catholic Charismatic Prayer Group, I had an experience of being grasped by God; of being taken over by the Holy Spirit in a way that changed my allegiances forever.

The best way I can describe this experience is to recall science class and the iron filings and the magnet, One minute the iron filings are going here and there and the next minute, they are completely oriented to the direction and pull of the magnet.

While I was amazed and thrilled by this new sense of direction, it has taken  many years to realize just how strong that magnet called God’s Love really is. Being a people pleaser by nature often put me at odds with the God of my conversion. Often, like Paul, I struggled with whose approval I wanted- was it human approval or God’s approval?

And then Paul’s haunting self disclosure: “If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Our lessons today have themes of authority and faith running through them.

Whether it is Paul or the Centurion in his encounter with Jesus, both men had come to a point in their lives where they were absolutely clear about who Christ is, who the one authority is, and the dividing line between living the life of God or being cast hither and yon by this person or that person, this gospel or that gospel.

Wendy Farley, in her commentary of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, writes:

“The Gospel is the unbearably good news that divine love anticipates us, surrounds us, precedes us; anything that serves as an obstacle to our awareness of this love is ‘accursed.”[1]

As the disciples would say to Jesus, “That’s a hard saying!” “Anything that serves as an obstacle to our awareness…of this love…is an accursed.” For any of us who are prone to be people pleasers, pleasing people can become an obstacle to our awareness of Divine love.

Farley continues:

“Christians lived outside of the claims of empire, loyal and devoted to a completely different logic and power. The…shadow side of this love is that no authority, practice, or social hierarchy deserves our deepest loyalty.”[2]

And there you have it. The ultimate message of Biblical theology: whether we like it or not, it all comes down to monotheism. There is but One God who created us and when we are called into a relationship with this one God we find ourselves operating in a spiritual system of “completely different logic and power.”

In a few minutes, we will all be faced with a decision: to pledge or not to pledge to the Diocesan Together/Now Campaign. The decision, really, is a spiritual one. It’s about who to please: The Diocese or God who surrounds us and precedes us?

We come to Church to set ourselves and our relationships right before God. We come to offer whatever we have, even if on any one day that is simply our stuckedness, or our resistance, or our joy.

No matter how illogical it seems to us, it is our gesture of offering that pleases God so much.

We come this morning to be set aright; to be re-ordered by God’s Word, God’s Sacraments, in fellowship with one another.

For those of us who are people pleasers, we come to exchange our desire for harmony with others for harmony with our God.

Our spiritual task this morning is to be aware of God’s love for us. If we can achieve this, then giving will be easy and not “accursed.”

To quote Farley one last time, “The great conversion of faith is to let this love live in us.”

As irrational, uncomfortable, or unfamiliar this new spiritual awakening may be, we are exactly like those iron filings sitting on a table top minding their own business until they are all pulled into a new allegiance that knows only one direction: “One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; On God and Father of all.” (BCP. p299)


[1] Wendy Farley. Feasting on The Word.. Year C Vol. 3. Westminster John Knox Press. KY. 2010. p88.
[2] Ibid.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Easter II - Suzanne Colburn

“Low Sunday” 

Alleluia, Christ is Risen….The Lord is Risen, Indeed.

Good Morning and welcome to anyone who may be visiting Christ Church today, and yes, it’s still Easter; the second Sunday in Easter.

Having just walked through Holy Week and celebrated a glorious Easter morning with an Easter Egg hunt, and a congregation of over 600 souls in both services, we find ourselves today on the “flip side of faith,” so to speak.

The headiness, the giddiness, the sensual power of sight and sound, trumpets and heavenly hosts of choirs, are moving off to stage left and we find ourselves on what has been called “Low Sunday.”

Low spirits? Low attendance? Low church? I have no idea what it really means other than it’s a stark contrast to last Sunday, the Day of Resurrection.

Perhaps “Low Sunday” means back down to reality after the high of Easter. If this is the case, then our faith journey will fall prey to the highs and lows of the emotional responses we tend to have to various movements of the Spirit within us.

St. Ignatius called these movements Consolation and Desolation[1].

Consolation when we are feeling high; when all is right with the world and we feel and know God’s wonderful presence and grace.

Equally valid in the life of the Spirit, though, is Desolation, when we don’t feel anything; and worse, when we’re convince IT was all a lie, or a fiction. God does not really exist, didn’t really rise, did God? I can’t feel it.

Or, if we are Thomas, we’d say. “I can’t see Jesus or touch Jesus; “it can’t be true.

To borrow from a Methodist colleague of mine, The Rev. Ed Deyton, “Seeing is not believing.”[2]

Seeing is not believing, and we might push things even further and say “Feeling is not believing either,” and both would be perfectly correct according to Jesus’ last comment to Thomas:
“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe.” (John: 20:29)
But why bother to bring all of this stuff up on the second Sunday of Easter?

We bother because Jesus bothered to pave the way for a spiritual understanding of belief and faith that is not dependent upon religious experiences of the five senses.

Of course there is nothing wrong with those wonderfully consoling experiences when they come, and St. Ignatius and Jesus would both acknowledge the joy and hope they bring.

More sobering however, on this second Sunday of the Day of Resurrection, this “low Sunday” is the plain fact that we are called to believe whether we are in consolation or in desolation. What we see, what we hear, what we touch; all these are part of being a human being, but they are not necessary for being a spiritual being; a person of belief.

Let’s unpack this a little further and ask a more direct question. “How do we know we have faith?”

If I keep coming to church, does that mean I have faith? Does it mean I believe? Conversely, if I don’t go to church, like so many other folks, does it really mean that I don’t believe?

Here are some possible ways to answer these nagging questions:

The first one is: What does my behavior tell the world about my faith or my belief or my lack of it?

Do I treat people equally and justly? Am I compassionate to those less fortunate than me? Do I talk to others about how much my faith means to me, even in the times I doubt? Am I a forgiving person, a patient person, an open person?

A second way of assessing our faith is to think back on those times of trouble or trial.

Did we react any differently than a non-believer would? What do we do? How do we get through? Do we use our relationship with God through prayer, or do we assume God doesn’t care because we do not feel God close? Do we put more faith in what we feel than what we believe?

Even when we doubt like crazy, can we still pray like the man whose son Jesus cured, “I believe, help Thou my unbelief?” The reason Jesus was so impressed with this man’s faith was because the man recognized he didn’t know everything and still stayed in relationship with Jesus.

And this is perhaps the main point: belief, faith, whatever we want to call it, is staying relationship even when we don’t see, or don’t hear, or don’t feel. We keep talking to God because, whether we know it or not at the time, God has never gone anywhere. That’s the story of the Resurrection.

Here’s a little personal story about seeing and believing.

This past summer two of my best friends and I took a road trip to Lubec, Maine. Dorothy, who just turned 80 said that she always wanted to see the most Eastern point in Maine where the sun first hits the United States when it comes up in the morning.

Gayle and I were certainly up for this, so off we drove for four hours down east to Lubec.

Lubec, Maine feels like the end of the earth. It’s a pretty poor fishing village just this side of the border with Canada. The only rooms we could find were above a tavern that was hosting a rather raucous wedding party.

It was raining and damp and we bunked in- setting the alarm for 4am. We were told by the locals to get up at 4am and drive to South Lubec to Quoddy Point Lighthouse for the best viewing of sunrise.

4am came and it was pitch dark- of course. We packed up at made it to Quoddy Light where we, and a couple of other tourists, waited and waited and waited.

As it began to get just a tiny bit light, all we could see was pea soup fog, which, with hindsight explained to very loud fog horn we heard all night.

No clearing. No wind to blow away the fog. And no sunrise. But, as I stood there taking pictures of Dorothy and Gayle standing by the longitude and latitude sign that read “You are here, where the sun first hits the United States of America,” to prove to everyone that we really did get there, I thought to myself, well darned if this is just like the Resurrection.

You can’t see it, you can’t feel it, but with every pore of your body you know that that sun/son is rising.

I kept checking myself. Did I really believe the sun was coming up even though there was no indication of it? Yes I did. Well why couldn’t we do the same thing with the Resurrection of Jesus? Why couldn’t we assert, on faith, exactly the same way, not needing proof? What would happen if we just believed?

Both Lynn and I have talked about the monks at the monastery in Cambridge, the brothers of SSJE, of which Bishop Shaw is a member and today I want to share with you Brother Curtis’ “word” on Resurrection:
“Wherever we bury Jesus, he comes back to life. We can bury him in the Bible or in stained glass windows. We can bury him in creeds and formulas and the heritage of our own tradition. We can bury him in movies and plays and music. We can bury him in our past. We can even bury him in bread and wine. And each time from each place he rises from the dead. He sheds the words and images and walks right out into the world.”[3]

We can bury Jesus in our faith and in our doubt, too.

In the truth of Resurrection Reality, it doesn’t matter what we construct and how we know- Jesus will never be captured, contained, bound by any human construct.

Jesus’ resurrection takes our breath away simply because it always takes us by surprise and the Risen Christ is never what or how or Who we expect him to be.

Since this really is the case, how about we all just relax this Easter Season and let God be God? How startlingly wonderful this Mystery is and how blessed we are to be in Its Grasp today.


[1] George E. Ganss. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: A Translation and Commentary. 1992

[2] Grove Street sign in Auburndale, Ma. at the UCC-Methodist Church. Rev. Deyton was the Interim.

[3] Br. Curtis Almquist Resurrection- Brother Give Us a Word. Sat. April 14, 2012. friends@ssje.org

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Lent V - Tim Kenslea

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

The temperance movement of the early 19th century was one of the most successful reform movements in our country’s history. Just about every scholar who has tried to work out the rough statistics agrees that alcohol consumption fell, and fell by a lot, between the 1820s and the 1840s. One leading historian believes that alcohol consumption fell in those decades from about seven gallons per person per year to about two.

That’s a huge decline. Some of it is attributable to other social changes. But the temperance movement does deserve a lot of the credit.

And who were its leaders? Mostly educated middle-class women, inspired by the enthusiasm of the Second Great Awakening, the revival of religious sentiment that was sweeping through evangelical protestant churches all over the country.

Their tactics were simple and personal. Some of them used the term moral suasion, and modern historians haven’t found a better term for it. They reached out with emotional, personal appeals to individual drinkers, and won them over, one husband, father, brother, son, and neighbor at a time.

So energetic were they, and so successful in their organizing, that they became the seedbed of all the other great reform movements of the 19th century: Education reform, prison reform, asylum reform, the abolition of slavery, and of course women’s rights. The leaders of all these movements were inspired by the temperance movement, and many of them had taken part in it.

Now this was not the Prohibition movement. It was a movement for temperance. Many of these women favored Prohibition, but it was not their priority. Politics and legislation in the United States in those days were part of an exclusively male public sphere. Male allies of the temperance women were successful in pushing through Prohibition laws in a number of states starting in the 1850s, but those laws generally didn’t last. They were quickly found to be unenforceable and counterproductive.

But some Prohibitionist politicians kept pushing for them, and decades later, in 1919, they were able to ratify the 18th Amendment and bring about nationwide Prohibition.

I suspect you know disastrous that was. It had little if any effect on alcohol consumption; it provided a kind of perverse economic stimulus for organized crime; and it was repealed after only a decade and a half.

I heard one young historian present a paper on the differences between temperance and Prohibition, when the annual meeting of the American Historical Association was held in Boston about a decade ago. The gist of her argument was: “This is what happens when you take a perfectly successful movement, and put men in charge of it.”

I couldn’t help but recall that remark, and the stark differences between the historically mostly female world of moral suasion and the mostly male world of power politics, when I considered the contretemps between Mary of Bethany and Judas in today’s gospel reading

All three of the major figures in this gospel story seem to be aware that something momentous is about to happen. Shortly before this, they have witnessed Jesus raising Mary’s brother Lazarus from the dead.

Now Mary anoints the feet of Jesus. It’s an extravagant act, one that Jesus compares to the anointing of a body for burial.

Judas is beginning what will be about as bad a week as any human has ever experienced -- in a little more than six days he will betray Jesus and turn him over to the authorities. Here he upbraids Mary for wasting the valuable perfume. He knows exactly what it is worth – 300 denarii, about the equivalent of a year’s wages for an ordinary day laborer.

And Jesus rebukes Judas, in one of those startlingly sharp commands that he sometimes utters in the gospels: “Leave her alone.”

Like Paul in the letter to the Philippians, Mary is clearly ready to lose all things, to “regard them as rubbish, in order that [she] may gain Christ.” Now Paul, like us, knew only the risen Christ. But Mary knew Jesus, and she believed.

Then again, Judas knew Jesus, too, and so did Peter. In the harsh words Judas speaks to Mary in today’s gospel, he sounds a lot like Peter will sound less than a week later, when he complains as Jesus begins to wash the disciples’ feet at the last supper.

Neither Judas nor Peter has the patience to try to understand the significance of the ritual that Mary enacts in Bethany, or of the one that Jesus enacts in Jerusalem.

And yet, I have to admit, Judas makes sense to me. At first glance, Mary’s extravagant act of worship bothers me, too. It just seems so wasteful. The 300 denarii could have been used to help the poor. John seems to know that some readers of his gospel will react this way, too -- so much so that he has to warn us away, by making the charge that Judas was an embezzler. That’s not found in any of the other gospels.

But Judas and Peter make sense to me. Is this what happens when you take a perfectly good church and put men—men like Judas and Peter (and me, I guess)—in a position of responsibility?

Unlike Judas, Mary of Bethany, wiping the perfume from the Lord’s feet with her own hair, knows that the followers of Jesus are not a social service agency, that the strange and transformative human experience called worship is at the center of their community’s life.

Mary is the sister of Martha as well as of Lazarus, but in John’s gospel Mary and Martha are not the hands-versus-hearts opposites of Luke’s telling. Before the raising of Lazarus, Martha is one of the first to say to Jesus, “Lord, I believe that you are the messiah, the son of God, the one coming into the world.” That proclamation of faith seems to be a necessary precursor to Lazarus’s restoration to life, along with Mary’s simpler statement, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”.

So many of the people in John’s gospel who share Mary and Martha’s faith, and their impulse to worship, are women! This culminates in the presence of four women (along with the unnamed beloved disciple) at the foot of Jesus’ cross – Jesus’ mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. I think the key for all of them, as for Mary and Martha, as for the temperance women of the nineteenth century, lies in a connection that is personal and emotional, not simply theoretical or ideological.

After his betrayal, Judas has disappeared from John’s narrative, never to return. After his denial, Peter is in hiding, cowering with the other apostles. But these women who are extravagant enough to worship without reservation, without counting the cost, are also brave enough to follow as disciples where that impulse to worship leads: to the foot of the cross, and then, on the third day, to the empty tomb.

Back in Bethany a week earlier, Jesus (who we are told knows full well what Judas will be doing in the next week) admonishes Judas by saying “You always have the poor with you.” Jesus is not dismissing the poor here, or the commitment of his followers to serve them and mitigate their misery. He’s not looking around and saying, “What, are they still here?”

He’s charging his followers, and charging us, with an everlasting responsibility for the poor. For one thing, he’s paraphrasing a verse in Deuteronomy that concludes, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”

But he is also reminding them, and us, that this responsibility is rooted in the extravagant personal devotion and connectedness of Mary’s act of worship, not in the scientific management and dutiful budget-balancing that Judas espouses—or claims to espouse.

And Mary’s extravagant act of worship is rooted in her and her sister’s personal realization, especially vivid to us at this season, that Jesus is “the messiah, the son of God coming into the world”; that his days among them are growing short; and that she must make the most of them—as must we all.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lent I - Suzanne Colburn

Why Temptations?

Grace and Peace from our Lord Jesus Christ and from God our Father in the Power of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Good morning and thank you to everyone who helped and came and laughed and enjoyed our Mardi Gras Un-Talent Show on Tuesday. Thank you also to Lynn and Holly, altar guild, Pam and the Choir and everyone who was part of our three Ash Wednesday services.

And now, here we are, at the first Sunday of Lent.

I know you all noticed that our entrance was different this morning and I’ve written some worship notes in the bulletin, giving some background for the changes during this Lenten Season.

Our outward context has changed: the colors are different, the music is different, and the prayers are more penitent. But what about our inward context, has that changed also?

How aware are we? Do our hearts and souls know that we are being led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit just the way that Jesus was led?

An old clergy friend of mine used to wear a sweatshirt that simply said, “Lent Happens,” a play on words referring to that other slogan that is similar that I will not repeat here.

The point being: Lent is not something that we have any control over, any more than anyone has control over the leading of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Lent, like all movements of the Spirit, belongs to God.

“Lent Happens” and perhaps we could even say the first Lent happened to Jesus right after he was anointed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism. We just heard Holly proclaim:

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1)

Like Jesus, who gave us this same Holy Spirit, we find ourselves suddenly in a spiritual season where the Holy Spirit is the one who is in control. “Lent Happens,” and when “Lent Happens,” we, too are led by the Spirit into our own interior wilderness to face, for better or for worse, our own temptations.

Today’s Collect defines this interior landscape as we pray …”Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let us find you mighty to save…”

One might be tempted (no pun intended) to ask, “Why Temptations?” What purpose do they serve in this spiritual journey that we are on?

If you are like several friends of mine who absolutely do not like Lent at all, and, a matter of fact, give Lent up for Lent, this is a completely valid question.

Sometimes, when Lent rolls around, it feels like we haven’t “progressed” one bit in the last year. At other times it seems as though we’ve moved forward by leaps and bounds.

Regardless of our feelings, the Spirit alone reveals to us where we are, who we are and what God is calling each of us to do. That is part of being in the wilderness.

Often, in Lent (or otherwise) we are “led into temptation” even though we pray daily not to be.

Not only does Jesus teach us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” but also, he urges the disciples who are with him in the Garden of Gethsemane to pray that “they may not enter into temptation.”

Clearly, temptations are part of the human spiritual journey whether we like it or not. The answer to “Why temptations?” Lies with the fact that the same Spirit that lead Jesus into the wilderness, knew, as we need to know, that it is only through dealing with temptations that we find out who we really are.

Sometimes in the wilderness we learn that we have more faith than we thought we did. Sometimes we learn that we are much more human than we want to admit. Sometimes we find out that if it were not for Grace, we would utterly, utterly, fail.

Sometimes we find out that when we do fail, we fall with our Lord as he fell carrying the Cross in His Passion.

The other thing that we learn when we face our temptations is that no matter how horrible or offensive they may be to us, God in Christ is never sitting in judgment over us.

Are there consequences to our thoughts and feelings and actions? You bet there are. Can falling into our temptations lead us to sin; breaking down relationships, separating us from the very God we need? Absolutely.

But the paradox is that we are still not condemned by God.

Remember what Jesus said to the woman who committed adultery after everyone who was going to stone her left?

“Woman where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” (John 8:1-11)

One of the absolutely most important things we learn when the Spirit leads us into the wilderness is this paradox: we are weak and sinful, and are held accountable, on the one hand, and yet not condemned, on the other hand.

The second thing we learn when the Spirit leads us into the wilderness is that even when we do fall into temptation and sin, God is still right there with us.

We are held responsible, yes. The woman is told to “go and sin no more,” a phrase we hear Jesus use with several people. We have Confession to atone for our sins, and part of the Rite of Confession is to not only recognize our many temptations and weaknesses, but also, to choose to make an “amendment of life;” to go, “and sin no more.”

God does not condemn us, but God does hold us accountable to ourselves and one another through the gift of free will choice. We may be weak, but we all have the power to ask for the Grace to change. Being responsible for our actions means that we recognize the need to change and go about changing.

So what are temptations we face? They are the same ones Jesus encountered in his wilderness.

1. There’s the temptation to supply our own needs. 

The devil tempts Jesus to turn a stone into a loaf of bread, and Jesus was probably pretty hungry when the devil did this. How many times are we tempted to take matters into our own hands?

2. Then there’s the temptation to worship anyone or anything other than God.

The devil shows Jesus symbols of glory and power captured in the phrase “the kingdoms of the world.” But even more than power and authority over others, it’s the temptation to worship the devil- meaning to worship anything or anyone other than God that is put before Jesus just as it is put before us.

The temptation to worship people, things, the past, health, jobs, being young, money, etc is so pervasive that most of the time we are not even aware that we are doing it. The Bible is most consistently concerned with one thing: that we worship God and God alone.

3. Finally, there’s the temptation to test God. 

And of course, this is a slippery slope. The devil uses Scripture against Jesus, and how many times do we use Scripture against one another now in our time and unfortunately, since the beginning of the Christian era. Scripture has been used to justify some of the worse sins of humankind.

The forces that oppose God know how to use God’s Word against human beings and this is when Jesus draws the line with the devil saying, “It is said, Do not put God to the test.”

Like Jesus, we need to learn about ourselves in relation to temptation and our human nature. The best antidote to temptation is self-awareness and God-awareness, and if Jesus needed to go into the wilderness to learn about himself and temptation, so do we.

The Good news, however, is that we have this same Jesus with us every step of the way. The One who knows temptation but who does not sin is the same One who saves us from ourselves. On our own, we are powerless.

Paul makes it very clear in his Letter to the Romans, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” The Psalmist makes it very clear also: “You are my refuge and my stronghold, my God in whom I put my trust.”

The Psalmist, speaking for God, continues,

“Because he is bound to me in Love, therefore will I deliver him;
   I will protect him, because he knows my name.
 He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;
   I am with him in trouble, I will rescue him and bring him to honor.”

All this because we “know his name.”

These are the promises of God that Jesus stood on, and these are the promises of God that we need to stand on, too.

Sometimes, we resist temptation, and sometimes we do not. When we do not, we are accountable to God. When we are able to resist, we give thanks to God for his abiding Grace that holds us up. And when we fall, we discover that even there, in the falling, Christ is with us.

“There is no ‘is not’ with God.” God is everywhere, and even though The Son of God knew no sin, He is still able to be with us in ours. Another paradox of the Incarnation.

“Why Temptations” we asked? Because even in temptation, we discover that God is with us. It is not the devil who is in the details, it is God.

To quote Leo Buscalia:

“I will love you no matter what. I will love you if you are stupid, if you slip and fall on your face, if you do the wrong thing, if you make mistakes, if you behave like a human being- I will love you no matter what.” 1

And this is the Good News of the Gospel of God in the Person of Jesus Christ.


1 TodaysGit@hazelden.info Thu. Feb. 14, 2013 at 2:15 am.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Epiphany II - Suzanne Colburn

God is Able

May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in Thy sight, O God our Strength and Redeemer. In the Name of the One, Holy and Living God, Amen.

Good morning, and welcome to any of you who may be new to Christ Church.

Welcome also to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. As we know, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a preacher as well as a larger than life figure in our Nation’s history. In one of his sermons, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote,

“At the center of the Christian faith is the conviction that there is a God of power who is able to do exceedingly abundant things in nature and in history. This conviction is stressed over and over again in the Old and New Testaments. The God whom we worship is not a weak and incompetent God…This ringing testimony of the Christian faith is that God is able.”1

God is able. Where we cannot, God can. Where big and little events in our lives prove us out of control, God is able. Where we are frustrated, tired, perplexed, stuck, God is able. Where we are heartbroken, angry and withdrawn, God is able. Where we are bored, uninspired, confused; God is able.

The Apostles and Prophets knew their message was to tell people just how able God was. Paul’s letters, the earliest descriptions we have of Jesus other than the Gospels, speaks of Jesus as being the human face of God’s Glory; of God’s able-ness.

If this is the case, as we continue to ponder the revelation of Jesus in his public ministry, what do we see of God in the narrative of the Wedding at Cana?

First, a little background.

Wine is a very ancient and complex metaphor in the Bible. From Old Testament times, the Israelites and YHWH portray an ambivalent relationship with wine.

On the one hand, positive and on the other hand, negative.

On the positive side, wine is an expression of God’s delight in God’s people. Like all signs in the Bible, wine points to a reality that is larger than itself, and in this case, wine points to the Coming of the Reign of God in a Joyous, abundant new age.

Wine also, from the earliest times, reflected God’s wrath. When YHWH was displeased with how the Israelites were behaving, their behavior was characterized as excess, drunkardness and impurity.

This ambivalence, or really, dual symbolism, makes its way right into the New Testament. New wine is God’s in-breaking into our world in a way that transforms old, painful realities. But new wine also demands “new wineskins…” as Jesus tells us.

We must change our thinking to be able to receive the abundance of God. We cannot fit the new reality of the Kingdom of Abundance into an old reality constructed with concepts of fear, lack, competition and greed.

In the Bible wine is sometimes just called, “the Cup.” The Psalmist speaks of God as his or her portion, “my Cup.” Wine as “the cup” appears in the Last supper, and the texts that we base our Eucharistic prayers on.

“The Cup” figures large in The Garden of Gethsemane, and symbolizes Jesus’ anguish as he struggles to follow the Father’s will even to the grave.

One can see how many different levels and interpretations there are to this one word, “wine.” Perhaps the most transcendent meaning of wine is that it represents the fact that God’s love “extends beyond the known boundaries of heaven and earth.”2

Theologian NT Wright would put it this way: “It is about transformation: the different dimension of reality that comes into being when Jesus is present.”3

Now we know a lot more about the context that informs John’s Gospel of The Wedding at Cana. If we were hearing John’s Gospel as contemporaries of Jesus, we would know how loaded this text is.

We’d know that the first hint is that the narrative begins with “On the third day…” We’d know that something surprising was about to happen. We’d remember that Jesus rose on the third day. We’d know that on a very human level, God was about to do a new thing, and we’d know that there would be both moments of delight and moments of challenge.

What a setting for a great story! God is a God of surprise, and there are several surprises at this wedding (like there often are a most weddings, one might add).

So we have a wedding. We are told that Jesus’ mother is there first, and then Jesus and his disciples arrive. Something surprising does happen. Jesus’ mother notices that the wine ran out. Jesus doesn’t notice, his mother does.

Then there ensues one of those all too human tugs of war between a mother and her eldest son. (We remember that before at Jesus’ Baptism, in the version in Matthew, John and Jesus have a “moment,” where they struggle, too, about who is going to baptize whom.)

In this early stage of Jesus’ “coming out” into public ministry, we glimpse these unformed moments of entirely human interaction. Whether it’s Jesus and his mother or Jesus and John at the Jordan, there is a minor struggle about whose authority is going to win out.

Why Jesus’ mother thinks it’s her son’s responsibility to help the host family “save face,” socially, we’ll never know. Why Jesus is a little bit ornery, claiming that “his hour has not come,” we can only speculate.

Perhaps Jesus doesn’t want to be at work spiritually; maybe he just wants to enjoy the wedding. Perhaps Jesus doesn’t think he’s ready. Perhaps Jesus isn’t even sure what he’s supposed to be doing. Perhaps he thinks to himself, “ What can I do to help these people?”

Perhaps Jesus is still getting used to his own dual nature as the Son of God and the Son of Man. Being fully human Jesus would not have just appeared as a completely formed, perfect, human being. Despite his divinity, he would have had to develop just like the rest of us.

Like the Baptism of Jesus at the Jordan, we have a miracle, the divine intersecting of heaven and earth where the needs of other’s are met by the compassion of God. We also have another surprise: the revelation of just how human this God, who is able, really is.

In this moment between Jesus and his mother we glimpse a very familiar dynamic.

A mother is still being a mother to a son who is growing up; who is trying to claim his own identity apart from his family. Jesus needs to discern for himself the need at hand and the action to follow. This may be why he says, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not come.”

To us in our time, Jesus sounds a little cruel, calling Mary simply “Woman.” In Jesus’ time, though, and in his language, calling his mother “woman” is a way to de-personalize the relationship; a way for Jesus to gain the detachment, the separation he is seeking.

Like John at the Jordan, Mary acquiesces. She steps back from a potential argument and turns to the servants acknowledging her son’s authority by saying, “Do whatever he tells you.”

We have another amazingly human moment in John’s Gospel that we can all relate to. It is these rare glimpses of Jesus the son that make us love him so much. Now we know how familiar Jesus really is with the dynamics of human life. We can trust that when we come to him in prayer with our own very human problems and needs, Jesus really is able to help us.

Jesus knew (and probably his mother did too) that he would have to develop a stronger relationship with God his Father, than with his human mother if he was going to be as able as God his Father, is able. Jesus knew that he would have to have a strength within that would lead him unerringly to do his Father’s will.

Even so, it is Jesus’ fully human mother who teaches him to become aware of the needs of others, even if those needs are simply saving face for a young couple at a wedding.

Psychologist Carl Gustave Jung talked about the role of Mary in the church. He applauded the Catholic Church for elevating Mary to the level of the Trinity through the human construct of the Assumption.

In Roman Catholicism, Mary is still the one who is most sensitive to the needs of others. She is the one closest to us; she is the great intercessor. Jung saw this feminine principle of awareness as a healthy addition to an otherwise male Godhead.

Like many of us, Jesus had parents who taught him well. Like us, Jesus had to become his own person, understand his own spiritual nature, and discern his own call.

Once again, this morning, the true miracle at Cana is the miracle of the Incarnation. It’s the miracle of how intimately our God, our Lord and our Savior understands us, loves us, and offers us new life in a new context. Our task is to dare to let Jesus be near to us, even if just for a split second.

“When Jesus is present, a different dimension of reality comes into being,” and surprising things happen.

And today, right now, Jesus is present.

Whether millions of molecules of H2O, a mother and a son at a wedding, or all of us in our own particularly human lives, nothing in Creation can resist the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Nothing can really resist the best wine; the best that God always offers.

1 “God is Able.” A Sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. edited by Charles Henderson. Online God Web. Charles Henderson. 2013

2Brown and Bartlett, Editors. Feasting on The Word. Year C, Vol. 1.Westminster John Knox Press. Louisville, Kentucky. 2009. p260-265

3NT Wright. John for Everyone. Vol. 1. Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, 2009.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Epiphany I - Suzanne Colburn

“You Are Mine,” says The Lord (Isaiah 43)
In the Name of the One, Holy and Living God. Amen

Good morning and welcome to all of you who may be visiting Christ Church today, or, who like me, are newcomers.

I am The Rev. Suzanne Colburn, your new Interim priest and you can read all about me in the bio in your bulletin. I look forward to getting to know all of you and I bring you greetings from St. James Episcopal Church in Amesbury, Ma. where, just like Skip, I did my final service last Sunday.

Since we are at the beginning of a new relationship, let me say thank you to the Wardens and Vestry for calling me to be your Interim Priest. Having been the person in charge of several parishes, I know how bittersweet it is to say good bye to a parish and how bittersweet it is to welcome that new clergy person. I am very glad to be among you and look forward to getting to know you all.

Today we begin a new journey filled with new relationships, new beginnings, new thoughts and fears, needs and excitements.

Today (at the 10 o’clock service) we will celebrate Christopher Jonathan Day’s new beginning as Christ Church’s newest member. In a few minutes Lynn will baptize Christopher into the household of God, using that wonderful three-fold formula, “In the Name of the Father, and of The Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Like the Trinity Itself, Baptism is a love story- it’s about the love between God and us and God and the world. The birth of child is a love story and how fitting it is on this day of new beginnings that we remember Jesus’ own baptism that is filled with words of love.

Knowing that I would begin with you on The Feast of The Baptism of Our Lord, and that we would have a baptism today, I began thinking about Jesus and his baptism, and how easily it might be mis-interpreted as only a sign of his divinity.

When we think of the story of Jesus’ baptism, I’m sure some of us have thought, “This is kind of far fetched; I highly doubt any dove from heaven came and descended above Jesus’ head, or that a voice from heaven came and declared him God’s favored son.”

We tend to be a little skeptical because in our day, these things simply don’t happen, or if they do, we’d think the person was crazy, to say the least.

We do not live in an age where invisible spirits are part of our reality. We don’t have angels wandering among us at least that we are aware of.

Whether we believe that a voice declared Jesus a Beloved Son or not, we need Jesus’ baptism because Jesus’ baptism is his “coming out” story.

Baptism is a Rite of passage for Jesus just like it is for us, too. Jesus is “coming out,” into his public ministry and is revealing himself as a fully human being, not as some supernatural deity.

By coming to John to be baptized, whether he needs it or not, Jesus is coming out as “One of Us.” Jesus is being just like any other human being hearing John the Baptist’s announcement that the kingdom was at hand.

Relevant for us is how much Jesus wanted his ministry to be down to earth- to be the Son of Man, as the Bible would say.

There’s that famous hymn from Paul, the one that describes Jesus’ humility as one who was equal to God, but chose to descend and live like one of us so that God’s Divine Love could actually be seen and felt and heard and touched.

This is the importance of Jesus’ Baptism at the Jordan. The importance is not the divine flashy lights, it is the fact that this man, who could have been so special and removed form the people, insisted, on being one of us.

It’s a love story and it begins with the prophet Isaiah’s pronouncement that we heard in the first lesson:

“Thus says the Lord…who created you…who formed you…who redeemed you…who called you…”You are mine”…and I, The Lord …your Savior… say, I love you.” (Is. 43:1-7)

From the beginning, God’s Voice is a voice of undying love for humankind.

If the Father is well pleased with Jesus, or any of us, it is because we choose, despite all odds, to live fully as the human beings that we are.

The birth of Christ into human history signals an elevation of being human to the status of Beloved. This is why we are baptized into Christ. We are baptized into the One who helps us to become more fully human than we could ever be without Him.

It’s a Mystery of Love- that only through the Son of God and Son of Man can we become the most fully human beings we can be.

In our becoming more human each day by living our lives in Christ, we draw the Father’s affirmation to us just as Jesus, choosing to be fully human, drew the Father’s love to himself.

One would think it would be easy to be fully human. We are human beings after all aren’t we? Doesn’t being human come naturally? Isn’t it odd that we need the Christ of God to show us the way?

And of course, that’s what we love about Jesus. In all ways he shows us what it’s like to be fully human, even to the point of going through the experience of dying when he didn’t have to die any more than he had to be baptized.

But Jesus’ love for us is such that he and the Father and the Spirit want to be part of every single one of our human experiences.

God has an agenda!

It warms my heart to remember the baptisms I‘ve witnessed or done.
The quiet, sleeping babies, the terrified ones, the nervous parents, the curious toddlers, the matter-of-fact older children, the godparents and sponsors, family members and friends, and yes, the congregations too.

All these people would have been standing around John the Baptist and Jesus at the River Jordan, too.

It warms my heart to know that we have help in becoming human, that when we get stuck at any particular point in our life’s journey we can say to Christ, “how did you do this?” “How am I to live this particular human being that is me?”

Relevant for us is the fact that living out one’s destiny as a human being was no easier for the Son of God than it is for any of us.

We all have had near misses in our own lives; moments of fate, or decision, or simply coincidence when things could have gone just as easily one way as another. Yet, something appears to intervene. Later in life we are able to look back and see how the events of our lives really all do fit together in one, meaningful, human journey.

In the story of Jesus’ baptism Jesus receives special acknowledgement from God, but Jesus does not ask for special treatment from his fellow human beings.

Jesus did not need to be baptized. Jesus did not need to repent of his sins, he was the arrival of the Kingdom of God in the flesh, and John the baptizer knew this. Yet for Jesus, it was crucial that all who were standing by see him, as he knew himself to be, as the Son of Humankind.

This is what is so Beloved about Jesus, that the Son of God knows himself to be fully the Son of Man as well.

The Father’s response to Jesus is one of pure love; love for this incredible human being, who, though he could pull rank over any other human being, chose, as he always did, to understand himself more as a son of the flesh than as a son of special privileged.

John may have single Jesus out publicly as someone special. Perhaps someone to be revered or even worship or stood in awe of. Yet Jesus, prevailed over John, because being singled out as someone special was exactly what Jesus of Nazareth did not require.

For Jesus, it was all about brining us and God back together; it was never about Himself. The Father’s response purely was one of love for his son who had spoken and acted so beautifully, so humbly, so perfectly in terms of knowing how to wear his humanity and not exalt his divinity.

Like many of our Baptisms, Jesus’ was a very intimate moment between two cousins, a father and a son.

We recognize how much Jesus chose to be in solidarity with the rest of us. We recognize how much it meant to him to join his kin and not to be over against them or above them even when he could have been.

When we remember the baptisms we’ve been to, the Godparents we may be, the parents or the siblings or cousins, we realize that what we are baptized into is this remarkable opportunity to be as fully human as Jesus was himself.

John the Baptizer was a good guy he just didn’t quite get who his cousin really was. Jesus is God and God is one of us. The Baptism of our Lord is about how much God loves us just like God loves his Son. God clearly has a thing for human beings.

In our Baptism, in Christopher’s baptism, we receive the same acknowledgement from Our Father in heaven as Jesus did. We are sealed and marked as Christ’s own forever. And like Jesus, and Christopher, I think it’s a beautiful way to begin a ministry together, don’t you?


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pentecost XXI - Lynn Campbell

“Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45)

In the name of the One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

I want to tell you about a friend of mine. His name is Dennis. I first met Dennis about 5 years ago. We were both members of the Crossing, an Episcopal worshipping community in Boston. I have to admit that when I first met Dennis, I tried to stay as far away from his as possible. You see, Dennis is homeless, living on the streets of Boston. He didn’t have access to a shower to use regularly or to clean clothes and you could tell as soon as he walked into a room. At the time I worked a few blocks away at a day shelter for people who are homeless. I felt like I “deserved” a break when I came to church. At least that it what I told myself. I constructed walls around my heart as I carefully avoided Dennis. But God has a way of breaking down those walls.

After a few weeks I noticed that during the prayers of the people, a time at the Crossing in which all people are invited to share their prayers aloud, Dennis prayed the most inspired and heart felt prayers. And they weren’t for what I had expected. They were not for himself. They were not that he would find a job or housing. His prayers were always for others. He prayed for his brothers and sisters on the streets. He prayed for the people who walked past him and looked the other way. He prayed for places of violence and hurt in our world. He prayed that people would come to know the healing power and abundant love of God.

I slowly moved past some of my selfishness and got to know Dennis. He doesn’t know how to write so he would ask me and others in the community to write down his words. They were beautifully crafted poems. Poems he shared with people who were struggling. I got to know about the people he helped who couldn’t afford food. I heard about the people he helped who were being held down by drug and alcohol addictions.

“Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

In this mornings Gospel reading we encounter the disciples at not one of their finer moments. In the verse just prior to what we heard read this morning, Jesus has predicted his passion, death, and resurrection for the third time. And for the third time the disciples just don’t know what to do with this information. Perhaps out fear or their inability to grasp what Jesus was telling them, James and John ask Jesus for the honor of sitting at his right and left hand in glory. The disciples were seeking their own glory and honor. They just didn’t get it. They didn’t get what Jesus had been trying to teach them all along. Being a follower of Christ is not about our own glory, it is about serving God by serving our sisters and brothers. It is about lifting up others, not ourselves.

This is something my friend Dennis understands. And it is something so many in this congregation understand. I was reminded of this yet again on Friday night as our vestry gathered for a time of conversation and prayer.

We spoke about the many reasons we love Christ Church, and what makes us a unique community.

We spoke of the people of Christ Church who serve one another with such open and loving hearts. Those who visit parishioners in the hospital, who provide a listening ear to someone who is hurting, cook a meal for someone who is sick, knit a prayer shawl for a person grieving, and who offer their intercessory prayers for so many in need.

We spoke of the people of Christ Church who serve beyond our congregation by donating food or preparing and serving a meal at the Monday Lunch Program, by volunteering with the B-Safe program during the summer, sorting clothes for Circle of Hope and driving the donations to homeless shelters, supporting and participating in the Youth Mission Trip, and traveling to Haiti.

And, as the vestry was gathered I was so aware of how the women and men serving in this leadership capacity give so generously of their time and their gifts. We have investment experts, communication gurus, people who remind us to look beyond our own walls and others who are experts on keeping our walls standing and our basements free of water.

We have so many, who like Dennis, understand what it means to seek God’s glory rather than our own, to serve the needs of others rather simply our own needs.

Let me tell you one more story about Dennis, another way in which he seems to understand so much of today’s Gospel reading. Another way he taught me about being a follower of Christ, a servant of all.

At the Crossing, the community puts a basket on the Altar for people to place their financial offerings. People are invited to bring their gifts to the altar during what the community calls “Open Space,” a five minute portion of the service in which people can enter into one of a variety of spiritual practices (meditatively walking through the Church, silent prayer, healing prayer, lighting a candle). One of the spiritual practices is pledging. One Thursday evening, during open space, I was praying near the altar. I noticed Dennis walk towards the Altar and reach into his jacket pocket. From his pocket he pulled a plastic baggie filled with change. He placed the entire bag into the basket, stood in silent prayer, crossed himself (make cross), and walked away.

He placed all the money he had on the altar of God and walked away trusting that all would be well. I’ve seen him make this offering several times. It is how he fulfills his pledge to God and to the church in which he is a vital member. Dennis is so grateful for all God has given him, that he is moved to give of the little he has, the baggie full of change, recognizing that what he does have does not belong to him, he is simply the steward of it.

This is when I finally started to understand financial giving as an essential piece of what it means to be a servant of all. In his simple action, Dennis invited me to think of my own habits of giving and how giving affects me and the communities I’m a part of. I didn’t grow up with the idea of pledging, it wasn’t a part of my churches tradition. As a child and young adult, I don’t remember learning to think of the resources I had as truly belonging to God and not to me. These are lessons I’ve only begun to learn since joining the Episcopal Church. I’ve had a taste of the freedom that comes as I hold onto my financial resources less tightly; as I give more freely to the communities I’m invested in. There is a sense of joy in knowing that we are returning to God what is God and that it is being used faithfully to further God’s mission. The choice to pledge, to prayerfully discern what we will offer back to God in this coming year, has the potential to bring us closer to God. It increases our trust and faith in the goodness of God.

I’m not saying the pledging is easy. It is still something I struggle with. The bills pile up and the anxiety increases. I worry about paying off my seminary loan, about the cost of living in Needham. I think about whether or not I’ll ever be able to afford my own home and whether or not I’m saving enough for retirement. I imagine many people in this congregation have similar anxieties about money.

But over the last two weeks, Skip and Myra in their sermons, have invited us to pledge from a place of grace and hope, not from a place of fear. Skip spoke about pledging as planting seeds of hope. We have so many reasons to be hopeful at Christ Church. Our ministries are flourishing. People are coming to know God more deeply. Our sisters and brothers are being cared for in meaningful ways. New families are coming and experiencing this community as a place of welcome, a place that feels like home.

I want to be a part of this season of planting and invite you to as well. Skip has invited us this year to increasing our pledging by 10%. This increase will allow us to further the ministries of Christ Church as we seek to serve God. When my pledge card comes in the mail, I will respond to Skip’s invitation and will increase my pledge by 10%. I hope you will prayerfully discern whether this is something God is inviting you to do as well.

And if you haven’t before made a pledge at Christ Church, try it on. Pledging for the first time, increasing our pledge to a place that is more of a stretch, is the only way to discover for ourselves the joy and grace available to us through the spiritual practice of giving. And it is a way we live out Jesus’ call to us to be servant of all.

Know that I’m walking this path with you and I look forward to seeing where it leads us as individuals and as a community. I’m confident it will deepen our relationship with God and will increase our capacity to live in service of God and God’s mission for us at this time and in this wonderful place.