Home

Welcome to St. Paul's

Many of us have come from different faith traditions; some from no tradition. However, all of us have been drawn to this sacred place seeking answers to life's deeper questions. 

As an intergenerational community of faith, we celebrate God's graciousness by proclaiming in word and deed that God's love is abundant and unconditional. Our spiritual commitment to social justice and ministry beyond our walls calls us to individual and collective action.

Wherever you are on your journey with, or toward, God, from any tradition or none, you are welcomed and invited to experience God's life-giving grace and peace with us at St. Paul's.

SUNDAY MORNINGS AT ST. PAUL'S

please see "Weekly Calendar" below for details

8:00 -- Contemplative Communion Service in Chapel with time for silence and shared reflections on the readings

9:00 -- Christian Education for All Ages:  Sunday School and Youth Group in Lower Level, Adult Education in Lichtenberger Room (September through June)

10:00 -- Holy Communion with Music, Choir and Sermon in the Sanctuary

11:00 -- Coffee and Conversation

Find us on Instagram @stpaulsbrookline    

Find us on Facebook by clicking here.

Ezekiel 17:22-24 - Psalm 92:1-4,11-14 - 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17 -  Mark 4:26-34

The six-and-a-half acres where I grew up were full of all sorts of trees. There was the large sugar maple from whose branches hung various swings my father had devised, and the weeping willow down by the road where I was convinced all sorts of snakes lay in wait to wrap themselves around my ankles. Off to the side of the yard, Chinese chestnut trees dropped nuts with vicious spiny outer husks – no summer was complete without impaling our bare feet on one of them. I loved the gingko tree that turned yellow in the fall and dropped all of its leaves at once in one bright shower of gold that carpeted the ground.

But my favorite of all was the copper beech tree – it had a trunk at least three feet in diameter, and its branches formed a great dome so dense no grass could grow underneath. Once you slipped inside, you found yourself in a grand hall of sorts, with branches for rafters and hulking roots like elephant legs for furniture. For me and my brother and sister, and for our friends, it was a refuge, a place of wonder and imagination and safety. We climbed as high as we could go; we danced around its trunk; we knew ourselves connected to something holy.

Throughout the scriptures, trees appear and reappear as symbols of God’s determination to provide for the creatures of earth – all creatures, including human beings. In Genesis 1, the earth brings forth vegetation: “plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it” (1:12). God’s promise to human beings is that the trees with their fruit are to be for nourishment, and it is very good. In Genesis 2 – a slightly different story – the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil, though not for sustenance, are still meant for human flourishing, just in more carefully monitored ways.

Later on in Genesis, God appears to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre in the form of three visitors, who are invited to wash their feet and find refuge from the burning middle eastern sun under one of the trees. Trees mark the places where there is water, and shade, and where life can flourish. They stand, among other things, for the abundant care and steadfastness of the LORD God.

Have you noticed, in our readings today, how the sprig planted by God and the bush that grows from a tiny mustard seed each become a refuge? How their nobility and beauty come from the fact that birds nest in the shade of their branches and find nourishment from their fruit? How their power as symbols of God and the Kingdom of God comes from their capacity to be shelter from the storm, sanctuary from all that threatens life?

“With what can we compare the kingdom of God,” Jesus said, “or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” The kingdom of God is refuge, and safety, and blessing. I think I knew that, implicitly, as I played under the beech tree all those years ago.

The psalmist tells us that “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, and shall spread abroad like a cedar of Lebanon… shall bear fruit in old age…that they may show how upright the LORD is” (92:11, 13, 14). I imagine, then, that those who would follow in God’s way of righteousness would also find themselves mirroring the qualities of the kingdom of God. I imagine that the righteous, like palm trees, will flourish by providing shelter and shade and food to those who are in danger, because that is the way of God’s righteousness.

Which is why it is so unfathomable to me that people of authority and power in this nation would turn to Holy Scripture to defend the practice of tearing children away from parents who are seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border. It is beyond my capacity to understand how anyone with basic human feelings, let alone a professed follower of Christ, could take the practice of traumatizing children and their parents and align it with the teachings of Moses, or Jesus, or the Apostle Paul.

Throughout the Bible, a clear distinction is made between God’s reign of justice on the one hand, which cares for the orphan and widow, feeds the hungry, heals the sick, and frees the captive; and on the other hand, human empires that thrive at the expense of the weak and the vulnerable. The law given to Moses on Mount Sinai is founded on love of neighbor and care for the stranger. And the prophets, like Ezekiel and Isaiah and Amos and Jeremiah, make it clear that governments that pursue self-interest and power over the needs of the stranger are not of God, and will be judged.

When, in Romans 13, the apostle Paul says that every person should be subject to the governing authorities and that there is no authority except from God, this is no blanket approval of the Roman empire and its policies. This is a plea to a vulnerable community of Christians to keep their heads down and stay under the radar – it is not a vindication of Rome’s status in God’s eyes. I wonder if those who use this passage to justify American actions at the border with Mexico realize that by doing so, they are actually identifying America with the Roman empire – an empire that ruled by violence, subjugation, and terror. An empire that used public cruelty to deter any flouting of the system. An empire that assumed the gods were on its side.

As we know, public cruelty is an effective means of keeping a vulnerable population in check. Such cruelty is a mainstay of authoritarian and repressive regimes, regimes like North Korea. It is also a violation of the law of Moses, the teachings of Jesus, and of basic human decency. There is nothing biblical about enforcing a policy of tearing children from their parents when they are seeking refuge from violence and poverty. There is nothing remotely human or humane about it either.

With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade. The kingdom of God is refuge, and safety, and mercy, and blessing. God calls us to watch for where the seeds of refuge and mercy are being sown and to nurture them into full growth – what, friends, does that look like when those who represent us are inflicting trauma on parents and children who are seeking refuge?

 We are the Church, which means that Christ dwells in us and works through us, grows the seeds of refuge and safety and mercy in and through us. The collect we prayed together at the beginning of this Eucharist invited us into this holy work. We prayed:

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion.

 Proclaim God’s truth with boldness, and minister God’s justice with compassion

With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? The parable is now ours to tell, and to live.

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26  - Psalm 1 - 1 John 5:9-13 - John 17:6-19

When I’m working with groups one of the ways I like to help people get to know one another is to have each of them say their full name aloud, and then talk about why they were given that particular name and how they feel about their name. This exercise reveals a great deal about a person’s family context and history, and also about that person’s sense of self.

For instance, I was named after my paternal grandmother – she was Elise Anna Feyerherm, and I’m Elise Anne. She died when I was only a toddler, so I’m glad to be connected to her in this way. But when I was younger I disliked my name – people could never spell or pronounce my last name, and my first name would often turn into “Elsie.” There’s nothing wrong with the name Elsie, but it’s not my name; and I also grew up during the era of Elsie the Borden Cow. It’s complicated.

Names matter, at least where human beings are concerned. I feel that I don’t really know someone until I know their name. It matters to us that we are known by name and can be addressed as something more than just, “hey, you!”

Names in the bible matter as well. They are more than just labels – they carry great meaning about the identity and vocation of the person who is being named. Names change when a person moves into a new relationship with God – Abram changes to Abraham when he enters into the covenant; Jacob the supplanter becomes Israel, the one who wrestles with God. Simon the fisherman becomes Peter, the rock who is called to gather disciples for the Lord Jesus. Names in the Bible reveal deep identity, and they proclaim God’s intended purposes for those who are called to walk in God’s way.

So it struck me in the gospel reading for today how important God’s name seems to be,
for Jesus and for those for whom he is praying. Jesus prays to God, saying “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world.” A little later he asks God to “protect them in your name,” continuing what Jesus began when he was with the disciples on earth. What is it about the name of God that is so powerful?

The name of God is a potent reality throughout the Bible. When Moses encounters God in the burning bush, he asks for the name of this mysterious presence. Without knowing God’s name, the people will be entering into a relationship with a stranger; if they prayed, they would have to say “hey, you!” The name God reveals to Moses is “I AM WHO I AM” – or, “I cause to be what I cause to be.” God is the source of all that is, the One from whom all things flow and without whom nothing would exist.

God has other names in Jewish tradition – Elohim, El Shaddai, Sabaoth, Adonai, or simply, Shalom. But these are, in a sense, nicknames, because they only hint at part of who and what God is. God’s true name – I AM WHO I AM – is synonymous with being itself, all that has been and is and ever shall be. God’s name is not just a label or convenient hashtag – it gets at the heart of who God is and how God relates to the world.

Jesus says that he has made God’s Name known to the disciples – don’t they already know God’s name? They’ve known the story of Moses since they were children; the Name I AM WHO I AM is all over Torah and has already been imprinted on their hearts. All through the gospel of John, Jesus has been repeating this ancient Name, proclaiming, “I am…I am the bread of life…I am the light of the world…I am the good shepherd…before Abraham was, I am…I am the resurrection and the life.” This ancient name of God has not changed – so what is different? Perhaps it is the One who is making that name known: Jesus.

In the gospel of John, it is not the human Jesus we encounter first, but the Word – God’s logos or creative wisdom that is in all things and through which all things have been created. The Word is from God, with God – the Word is God, from before all time. And this Word, become fully human in Jesus of Nazareth, is the One who is making known the Name of God, and who is lifting up the disciples in prayer, asking that they be cherished and protected.

So it comes down to this: the One who is interceding on behalf of human beings, to God, is God. God, Jesus the incarnate Word, is praying to God the Father, for us! In doing this, I think that Jesus is making known another of God’s names – the Name that will gather the gentiles into the ancient covenant and will define us as Christians. That name is the Name of God the Incarnate Word – God the Son. It is why we sing, “At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow.”

Throughout the entire Easter season we have been learning of this divine Name. On Easter day, we learned that, like Mary Magdalene, we could call God by the name Jesus, our Rabbi. The following week Thomas taught us that amid all his scars we could call Jesus our Lord, and our God. Throughout these fifty days we have learned other divine Names: the Name of Messiah, in whom forgiveness has been proclaimed. We learned that Jesus shares with God the name of Good Shepherd; that God is called both Vine and the Vinegrower; and that the Name of Love binds us all together. Next Sunday, on the day of Pentecost, we will learn to call God by another Name – the Advocate, or the Comforter – the Holy Spirit.

Names matter – they reveal history, and identity, and even destiny. As he prays for his disciples, Jesus is hinting at, then and now, a Name for God that manifests above all the power of Love. This Name is the name of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ. Suffice it to say that this Name doesn’t define God so much as it provides a starting place for our exploration. It reminds us that we are in communion with a God who, as the source of all that is, loved the world so much as to become fully a part of it and who is continually embracing and transforming that world.

So here is the question that matters the most: If this is the divine Name that Jesus has made known to us, the Name in which we live and move and have our being, then what does that make us, who are created in the image and likeness of God and bear the Name of the Christ? I think it makes us people who are both in need of prayer and protection, and those who, like God Incarnate, pray for and protect the world. We are, like the Incarnate Word, both those who suffer and those who seek to heal the world’s suffering. We are, like Christ himself, called to be both receivers and givers of love, in one continuous and eternal circle.

We are, like the Word made flesh, in the world, yet not of it – vulnerable to pain and sorrow, and because of that able to hold others up in their anguish. God’s Name – the Name of Jesus Christ – reveals to us our way of holiness, and sends us into the world with the same holiness in our lives.

As we are invited to communion, we hear the words, “Holy things for God’s holy people.” We come to the table to know more deeply the Name of God who is Jesus Christ. We come to be filled with God and to grow in holiness. Happy are we who are called to this supper; happy are we who have learned that God’s Name in Jesus is Love – Love that gives everything for the life of the world.

Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:24-30; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8

Grit, or grace?

Jesus said, “Abide in me as I abide in you.” The word that is translated here as “abide” – in Greek, meno – simply means “remain” or “stay.” The same Greek word is used throughout the New Testament, such as near the end of Mark’s gospel when at the garden of Gethsemane Jesus tells his disciples to “remain here and stay awake” while he goes a little ways off to pray.

This word meno is also related to the word for persevere – parameno, to stay beside or endure. We use parallel language in English: we say, “stay with it” if we want to encourage a friend or colleague to hang in there and keep going. Paramedics and other first responders say to those who are gravely injured and in danger of slipping away, “Stay with me. Stay with me.”

“Abide in me, as I abide in you,” says Jesus. These words come at the very center of that part of the gospel of John that is called the “Farewell Discourse” – this call to remain in and with Jesus comes at a time when Jesus knows he will soon be going away, at least in the form that his disciples have known him. Jesus knows he is going to the cross; his friends are going to watch him die and will tempted to believe that he is gone forever. The disciples are going to want to give up.

Those who come after them in years to come are also going to want to give up, as they try to keep their communities going in the face of Roman persecution. The whole gospel of John is essentially a pep talk, and chapter 15 is the center of that pep talk. The message: stay with it. Stay with me. Remain. Abide. Hang in there. Don’t let go.

It’s easy enough to give a pep talk. Easy enough to be lifted up by inspirational speech, at least in the moment. But what keeps us going when things get tough? Where do we find what it takes to stay, remain, abide, persevere in the midst of difficulty, discouragement, pain, and failure?

A professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, Angela Lee Duckworth, thinks perhaps she has found the key: she calls it “grit.” Her book, called Grit – The Power of Passion and Perseverance, asserts that the determining factor in success, whether in school or sports or work, is not innate talent or intelligence, but that “ferocious determination” to keep going despite setbacks or struggle. Duckworth drew her data from groups like cadets at West Point, players with the Seattle Seahawks. She studied other high achievers like the founder of Amazon, and determined that grit is the key to success – those who have it will make it through, and those who don’t have grit will not get very far. At least, not as far as those who have grit.

There’s some wisdom in all of this, to be sure. If grit is as important as Duckworth says it is, then we can imagine a world in which it’s not just those with high IQ scores and privilege that succeed. It reminds us that so much more is possible than we think, and that failure is not, as Duckworth says, “a permanent condition,” but an opportunity to learn, and try again.

I appreciate the insight here. But I find myself wondering, is grit the key to remaining in Jesus? Is Christian discipleship about that “ferocious determination” that Duckworth talks about? When Jesus says to his friends, “Abide in me, as I abide in you,” is this really the same as saying, “Get yourselves some grit”?

There are some parallels between what it takes to abide in Jesus and having “grit.” What they have in common is that they make it possible to persevere in difficult circumstances. They both have to do in part with focusing on a goal that is far beyond the present moment and not easy to see. But ultimately, I think that these are very, very different realities.

Grit is a matter of human determination and strength. It sees a goal and strives for it. Grit is about training and training and training some more; about competing in all you do, and never being satisfied. Grit is what it takes to run the Boston Marathon in the rain.

Abiding in Jesus is something very different. Although it does take practice – practice in prayer and worship, in listening, in compassion and service – it is not about succeeding or making something happen. Remaining in Jesus has nothing to do with powering through the pain or drilling one last time with your flash cards. Our capacity to abide is just that: a “capaciousness” – allowing Jesus to dwell in us and letting that place open up more and more.

Grit is about cultivating and maximizing your own strength; abiding in Jesus is about learning to receive grace. Grit is about going after what you want; abiding in Jesus is letting Jesus teach you your heart’s desire. Grit is driven by your passion in life; abiding in Jesus is rooted in God’s passion – the Paschal Mystery that through love, death leads to resurrection and new possibility.

It’s the difference, perhaps, between determination and desire. So often we tell ourselves that if we could just work a little harder or a little longer we could get to where we want – lose some weight, get that promotion, write that book, pray more, finish that quilt that’s been laying in a trunk for thirteen years (that last one is hypothetical, of course!). With enough determination – grit – we can do anything.

Determination can get us a lot of places, I suppose. But what I have come to understand is that God works not through our willpower, but through our longing – through our desire. When we abide in Jesus, when we are connected to the vine of grace, our longing for what is true, good, and beautiful is fed and blossoms. And it is when our longing overcomes our fear and our lethargy that we are free to become who we are created to be.

Consider the Ethiopian eunuch in the first reading from Acts. He has come all the way from Africa to Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel in the temple. He is reading the prophet Isaiah – chapter 53, so we know he’s been at it for a while. When Philip comes up to his chariot, the Ethiopian asks for help in understanding the scriptures, and when they pass by a body of water, he suddenly is inspired to ask for baptism. “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” What, indeed?

These are the words of a man whose longing for God has been growing; when he meets Jesus (through Philip), his longing spills over. In many ways the Ethiopian has been abiding in God for a long time, as his study of scripture and his worship at the temple show us. So why bother with baptism? Because his longing has led him there, has led him to desire a deeper mystery, a deeper grace. Because he knows that Jesus is calling him.

I don’t know for sure, but I imagine that baptism did not end the Ethiopian’s longing for God. I think that it must have increased his desire. After all, this is what the sacraments do. They make us hungry for what is holy. It’s not determination that the sacraments give us, but desire. Not grit, but grace.

So listen again to Jesus’ words: “I am the vine and you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” The sap that is moving through you from Christ the Vine, what holy longing does it feed in you? Can you let it make you hungry for the fruit of love and justice and peace? Can you abide in that longing, and let it abide in you? What would happen if you let it fill you, not with grit, but with grace?

© 2018 Elise A. Feyerherm

           

Click to login to St. Paul's Realm

Don't enter user/password below for Realm.


Below is for St. Paul's website login only

Website Login

Subscribe

Get weekly newsletter emailed to you each week!


catchme refresh