Going the Extra Mile

Homily for Sunday, June 21, 2020
Pentecost 3A
Matthew 10:24–39

struggles_of_the_early_christians_28185829_281480486090329Reading Matthew’s Gospel is a bit like watching “Shtisel,” the Netflix series about an ultra-orthodox family living in Jerusalem. Both offer a glimpse into an insular, exotic setting. Both center around issues of “orthodoxy.” Both can be achingly intimate—the characters are so relatable. Both can be maddening (to see how small-minded people can be). Yet both are riveting and really hard to turn away from. (And in just a minute I’ll tell you why I think that’s the case…)

Today’s text takes us to the insular and exotic setting that is Matthew’s Gospel. The “theys” and “them” of the opening verses are the other Jewish synagogues with whom Matthew’s is in conflict:

So have no fear of them

If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household?

And today’s text is achingly intimate, showing us something of the depths of Matthew’s grief in a feud so bitter it split apart families. “And one’s foes,” Matthew writes, “will be members of one’s own household.”

And today’s text gives us a glimpse into what (at least for Matthew) are the demands of “orthodoxy.” “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,” Matthew writes. “Whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

Taken together, these passages—all of which are unique to Matthew—I find maddening. Maddening because Matthew’s community and the neighboring synagogues with whom they were in conflict were probably much more alike than different. Did their differences really need to lead to people living in fear of each other? Did their “orthodoxies” really need to be held so dear as to split up families?

As insular and exotic as Matthew is, as caught up in “orthodoxy,” as maddening as Matthew can sometimes be, yet Matthew is familiar—intimate even—because don’t we all recognize ourselves in Matthew? Don’t we all have a tendency to feud, even over matters that at a distance might seem small?

And… on an even deeper level, in addition to recognizing in Matthew our own tendency to feud, I have a hunch that what truly keeps us riveted and coming back to Matthew is that we also have within us, like Matthew, the desire for reconciliation. Matthew is filled, not only with evidence of bitter feud, but also with his desire to reconcile: to “turn the other cheek,” or to “go the extra mile,” as he writes; to forgive “not seven times but seventy-seven times”; and before we “offer our gift at the altar” to first “reconcile with our brother or sister.”

mister-rogers-congressDeep-down, we tend to find reconciliation much more interesting than conflict. Fred Rogers put it beautifully when, in speaking to the Senate Subcommittee on Communication in 1969 about PBS programming in contrast to other programming, he said that he found it…

much more dramatic [to show] that two men could be working out their feelings of anger, than showing something with gunfire.

It is not Matthew’s conflicts but Matthew’s desire to reconcile that we find so compelling, that keeps us riveted and coming back. For if we in our own small circles could, as Fred Rogers says, try to “work out our feelings of anger,” or if we could, as Matthew says, try to “turn the other cheek,” or to “go the extra mile,” and to “forgive not seven but seventy-seven times,” it would go a long way in helping to heal us and our broken world, a healing that I suspect is what we all in our heart of hearts want. Such reconciling will not be easy. I pray that we may have the grace to be agents of reconciliation, bearing witness to Christ’s forgiveness, forbearance and love in this, our fallen world.

Foreign and Familiar

Homily for Sunday, June 14, 2020
Pentecost 2A
Matthew 9:35–10:23

Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans,
but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

matthew_the_evangelist_-_iconTo read Matthew is to read a Gospel that is Oriental; that is, a Gospel “of the East.” Whereas Mark, Luke and John are decidedly Western—John hints of Greek philosophy; Luke’s images have inspired countless works of Western art; and Mark in some ways reads not unlike a Greek tragedy—to drop the needle on the record that is Matthew is to hear not a Western but an Oriental language being spoken; it is to catch a glimpse of a world that is starkly foreign, and to enter into conversation with a community that is markedly “other.”

If in Luke, for example, Luke’s genealogy goes forward—“So-and-so was the son of so-and-so;” Matthew’s genealogy goes backward: “So-and-so was the father of so-and-so.” It is in Matthew that the Magi come “from the east.” It is in Matthew that the Holy Family travels from Egypt and returns to their home in the east. It is Matthew who models Jesus on Moses who led the people of Israel toward the Promised Land in the east. And some scholars believe Matthew wrote not in Greek but in Aramaic, a language of the Middle East. If the sensibilities of Mark, Luke and John tend toward the West, Matthew looks to the East.

__________

Matthew’s “otherness” is on full display in today’s Gospel:

Go nowhere among the Gentiles,” he writes, “and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Where here is the concern, such as we find in Luke, that the Gospel spread “to the ends of the earth?” Where is a sensitivity toward outsiders, such as we find in Mark, with his helpful, sidebar explanations of Jewish traditions (e.g., Mark 7)? Even John, arguably the most “Jewish” of the Gospels, yet maintains an eye to the universal: Jesus is “the light of all people” (1:4), John writes. It is as though Matthew intentionally turns his back on the Greek and Latin West— not caring a whit for the universality of the Christian message—and instead focuses on the East, on his own traditions, on his own people, on… the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

___________

Icons at every cornerAnd yet… as insular and “other” as Matthew can be, Matthew speaks to us all. Matthew’s Beatitudes, for example, have a universal appeal. All probably can relate to Matthew’s bitter “family feud” between the synagogues of Matthew’s community and the other local synagogues. All cultures probably would recognize and appreciate Matthew’s headstrong but endearing version of Peter. And wouldn’t people everywhere like to see lived out in their own neighborhood Matthew’s care for the poor and his hope for their vindication, which Matthew expresses so beautifully in his parable of the sheep and goats?

__________

Over the course of this summer and into the fall, we will hear weekly from Matthew’s Gospel. As we do, we are likely to experience a paradox, which is: the more we enter into Matthew, the more “other,” and at the same time the more familiar, Matthew becomes.

I invite us in the coming weeks and months to allow ourselves to be open to Matthew’s otherness… and at the time to notice his familiarity. Because it is likely that, as we enter more deeply into Matthew—so foreign yet so familiar—we will see more deeply into ourselves (so familiar yet so foreign). And there encounter, in a deeper and more meaningful way, the Jesus of Matthew, who is at once “other…” and who yet shows us our truest self.

 

Music for Trinity Sunday

Song of Praise: Laus Trinitati
Hildegard of Bingen; Caroline Corrales, cantor
Sequence Hymn: “Christ be with me”
to the tune Gartan; Caroline Corrales, soprano
Postludium: Sollt’ ich meinem Gott nicht singen?
Sigfrid Karg-Elert; Joshua T. Lawton, organ

An Abundance of Space

Homily for June 7, 2020
Trinity Sunday
Rev. Todd Miller of Trinity Parish

Holy Trinity aMerce Cunningham, the choreographer, purportedly said that “speaking about dance is like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.” The same might be said about the Trinity: speaking about the Trinity is like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. Which may be why the Church Fathers used dance to speak about the Trinity. Perichoresis, Greek for “dancing around,” is what the Trinity does, according to the Fathers. For me, that God is a Trinity who dances invites me not only to fully live into and be at home in my body, but even now in my body to know something of Jesus’ resurrection.

So often and in so many ways, I do not live into my body. When I feel painful emotions, for example, such as shame or guilt, or anger or fear, I can—like Adam and Eve hiding in the garden—retreat and shrink back within myself. That God is a Trinity who dances gives me permission to move, to go out—like the father going out to meet the Prodigal—and to welcome all parts of me to come and make their home…in my body. For if God is a Trinity who dances, then God must dwell in an abundance of space, space even for me and my painful emotions.

And maybe—if God is a Trinity who dances and in whom there is an abundance of space—then maybe I, allowing myself to accept God’s invitation into the dance, allowing myself to rejoice in God’s “moves,” allowing myself to respond to God’s agility, God’s ability to not be pinned down, then maybe I even now in my body might know something of that dance, of God’s agility and spaciousness—something of Jesus’ resurrection.

God as Trinity

Shared homily, June 7, 2020, Trinity Sunday, Year A
The Rev. Sharon Ciccarelli of Trinity Parish

IconGod is not always shrouded in mystery.
God proceeding forth and our returning
Shapes the human pilgrimage.

To me, the Trinity expresses a living God
fundamentally.
Not in quantity,
But in the quality of God ‘unshrouded,’ ‘unmasked’:
The God of power, form, grace and clemency,
The God of justice, love, . . . all these
The living God revealed
to human being.

To me, the Trinity
is this living God who forms my will and
teaches responsibility, because God as Trinity
redeems,
because Jesus Christ
informs hope and possibility
and demonstrates to us
the blessed community.

To me, there is in every child a trinity.
And
in the infant reaching up
to cup the mother’s cheek
and finding there,
palpably,
love;
is a glimpse of God
‘unshrouded’ from mystery;
But oh!
that this should not always be!
That there is
an infant hand that reaching up
finds none to touch,
and falls back, listlessly.

And oh!
that the mother’s face
sorrowful might be,
that behind the stained glass rain is falling,
that from this womb
the course of the beloved’s life
is marred by tragedy.

This too, is God ‘unshrouded,’
present to our sorrowing,
as if our heart, our respiration,
as if eliciting
return,
This too, is blessed Trinity.

To me, Trinity begets prayer.
For what is prayer but our response
our reaching up
iconically, instinctively?
What is prayer but our response
to sin and loss
as we perceive these
limits to community?
What is prayer but our desire to say, like Donne,
though I have more
daily to confess
yet at my death
when I reach up
to You whom I have known, loved, yearned for
by the Son
This child will touch the face of God
and fear no more.
This, to me, is God as Trinity.

What the Trinity means to me

June 7, 2020, Trinity Sunday
Sermon by Laura Crain of St. John’s Church Newtonville

eglise_saint-samson2c_bobital2c_cc3b4tes_d27armor2c_france2c_la_trinitc3a92c_rosace2c_facade_ouest2c_5685For me, that God is a trinity means exploring what it means to be made in God’s image. I imagine a “three in one” within me to be the origin of the conflicts and struggles of being human.

As a young person, I admired the Jesus aspect of the Trinity; the Holy Spirit seemed like a Caspar the friendly (or maybe not so friendly?) ghost. The father felt like a stable person in charge, who could put order into my chaotic household.

As I grew up and decided on my vocation of psychiatry, I sought to emulate the healer, the listener Jesus. This path includes struggles—when do I turn from the needs of the sick and suffering to attend to the needs of my own body and mind, or the needs of my family, friends and community? How do I call up the stabilizing Father image within myself to bring about internal peace and balance? Can I perceive the movement of the Holy Spirit and allow myself to be guided?

At this point in my life, the Trinity within me feels like a foundation with three legs that will fall if one leg fails. I feel called to be attentive to the multidimensional aspects of living in faith.

Today, I search for the gentle breezes of the Holy Spirit, not expecting them to magically carry a virus or the disease of racism away. I think now that maybe that movement of Holy Spirit can encourage me to press forward, to make adjustments and sacrifices in my life to promote the health of myself and my family, while ministering to others via telemedicine as best I can, and still be alert to my responsibilities to help heal our traumatized community.

Perhaps, meditating on the Trinity is an opportunity for us to experience the fullness of what it means to be made in God’s image.

Foundation and Balance

June 7, 2020, Trinity Sunday
Sermon by Laura Brewer of St. John’s Church Newtonville

5434484160_25040bfbbb_bTo me, that God is a Trinity means that God is balanced. God is not only a creator or rule giver, God is not only teacher, a sibling knowing our joy and pain, and God is not only an inspiring fire that burns within us, or a quiet comforter.

I think of the Trinity as three legs of a stool. If one of the legs were missing, the stool would not hold any weight, so the Trinity holds us steady in our faith.

This weekend, Brookie stood on a stool to help me make banana pudding. If he were only watching, if he were only stirring, if he were only eating his dessert after dinner, he wouldn’t learn to make it independently, or understand the ingredients. He wouldn’t suffer spilling the cream or enjoy licking the spoon. He wouldn’t hear the stories of my Mamma’s banana pudding and Cool Whip. Each step of learning, measuring, stirring, slicing, stacking, layering and, most importantly, waiting made eating the special treat all the sweeter.

Another way I think of the stool is when we can’t find a way to be with people we disagree with. I know many of us are experiencing this today—people we respected and love so wholly on a side of an issue that we cannot believe it. How can we come together and make progress? I often think of the phrase, when two are together, I will be with you.” We need God the Trinity to be the third leg: we need creativity, discipline, comfort, sacrifice, the fire of righteousness, the teaching. Any of these aspects of God can be just the one that restores balance and creates the foundation upon which it is possible to build upward, to reach the top shelf, and ultimately to support us when we need to rest.

Interconnection

Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
June 7, 2020, Trinity Sunday
Sermon by the Rev. Eric Litman of St. John’s Church Newtonville
Matthew 28:16-20

celtic-triquetra-or-trinity-knot-symbol-1-joan-stratton

Joan Stratton

Yahweh and Theos, Rua and Pneuma, Messiah and Christ. Judaism and Christianity both have categories for God, and spirit, and the coming of God’s anointed one. But the belief that God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus are united, that the three persons of the Trinity are one, one substance, one God, is a distinctively Christian belief. Our beliefs, our traditions, and our experiences are intimately intertwined: the Trinity signals that God is present in both the material and the spiritual, in both this life and in the life to come.

In the Celtic tradition, one symbol for the Trinity is the Triquetra, the iconic knot, with three inter connecting leaf shaped loops, each of the three loops representing one person in the Trinity. This symbol seems to indicate that the Trinity is both beautiful and complicated, not difficult to understand necessarily, but dynamic; God is not a static being in a far off place, but God is with us, blowing like a holy wind, dwelling among us. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us about the unity of God, and it calls us into contemplation to consider how the Trinity informs our faith and our life together. The Trinity, in its own complicated interconnected way was not intended to be untangled, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, three persons, one God. We can spend a fair amount of time trying to untie all of the knots that complicate life, complicated family histories, complicated experiences of work, complicated relationships; but what if our knots didn’t need to be untangled? What if they just needed a little bit of grace and forgiveness? What if our knots could be transformed from pain into wisdom and grace? For me, that God is Trinity means that if the Trinity is beautiful and complicated then maybe, as God’s children, as people who bear the image of God, maybe we too can be both beautiful and complicated, knots and all. Amen.

A Reflection on the Trinity

June 7, 2020, Trinity Sunday
Sermon by David Nelson of Trinity Parish

As I reflected on God as Trinity I ended up with three words: Limitation, Revelation, and Invitation.

Limitation because I find the Trinity a conceptual conundrum. The theological arguments surrounding it drove the early church to schism. The Nicene Creed stabilized the church but it didn’t end the discussion. My personal conclusion is that creatures bound by time and space will never fully comprehend the One who exists outside of time and space. The result of any attempt to do so, to quote from The King and I, “Is a puzzlement.”

And so I move on to revelation, specifically to the beginning of the Gospel of John. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Why do I find this so powerful? Let me read it in Greek.

En ar-khay’ ane ho Logos kai ho Logos ane pros ton Thehon kai Thehos ane ho Logos

It’s almost an incantation. It calls up an image of a messenger standing in a doorway, throwing open the doors, letting the light in. It’s John introducing us to Jesus. The Jesus who tells Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” The Jesus who promises to send the disciples the Spirit of Truth, commenting, “You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you.” The ruach ha-kodesh who brooded over the waters and in whom, Paul tells the Athenians, we live and move and have our being. Which leads me to the incredible invitation embedded in the priestly prayer of Jesus, “The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, so they might be one heart and mind with us.”

That’s as good as it gets.

Music for the Day of Pentecost

Sequence: “Factus est repente,” Gregorian Chant (Acts 2:2, 4)
Caroline Corrales, cantor (accompaniment after Gerald Near)
“Veni Creator Spiritus,” Gregorian Chant (Rabanus Maurus)
Caroline Corrales, cantor
“Komm, Gott Schöpfer, heiliger Geist” [original hymn title], BWV 667, Johann Sebastian Bach
Joshua T. Lawton, organ