Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9 – Psalm 15 – James 1:17-27 – Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

You must understand this, my beloved:let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness[1].

 If ever there were a scripture passage for the days in which we live, this would be it. If ever we needed the spiritual remedy that these verses offer, the time would be now. It seems to me that anger threatens to tear us apart and devour us, in our communities, in our nation, and in the world, if we do not do something about it, and soon.

Perhaps it is because video is so much more readily available now, on television, YouTube, and social media – every day, it seems, we have access to racist rants, grocery store scuffles, road rage, angry white supremacists marching in the streets, politicians denouncing one another, and more. But it has always been there, here, among us, wherever human beings bump up against one another and their needs – or perceived needs – come into conflict. Anger is natural, the scientists and psychologists tell us. When we perceive a threat to our safety or the safety of someone we love, when an irritant becomes just too strong to be ignored, the reptile part of our brain springs into action to deal with the problem. Adrenaline surges into our body; our heartbeat increases.

And the part of our brain that governs reason, memory, and calm analysis – well, that goes into hibernation for a while, until action is taken and the threat has been neutralized. When we are angry, we are less able to consider the consequences of our actions – we lash out in ways that we might not otherwise do if we were thinking clearly. The ancient Christian fathers and mothers, especially in the desert monastic communities, knew the perils of anger. Evagrius of Pontus, who lived in the late 4th century, called anger “the most fierce passion.” He wrote,

[Anger] is defined as a boiling and stirring up of wrath against one who has given injury – or is thought to have done so. It constantly irritates the soul and above all at the time of prayer it seizes the mind and flashes the picture of the offensive person before one’s eyes. Then there comes a time when it persists longer, is transformed into indignation, stirs up alarming experiences by night. This is succeeded by a general debility of the body, malnutrition with its attendant pallor, and the illusion of being attacked by poisonous wild beasts.[2]

Vivid, but pretty accurate, wouldn’t you say? I especially love the poisonous wild beasts part. Evagrius was a good psychologist as well as a theologian. We know that unmanaged anger takes its toll on our bodies over time – increasing anxiety, high blood pressure, stomach problems. Not to mention the toll it takes on those around us. Spousal and child abuse, bullying, and harassment are only some of the tragic effects of anger that has gone unchecked.

The admonition in the letter of James to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger is a wise one – essentially the first century equivalent of “count to ten.” The way to deal with anger is not, contrary to conventional wisdom, to vent, but to breathe, slow down, take time to consider the deeper cause of our distress, and find ways to deal with the issue calmly and respectfully. Evagrius, too, had suggestions. He wrote, Do not give yourself over to your angry thoughts so as to fight in your mind with the one who has vexed you…[it] darkens the soul.[3] It darkens the soul. My own experience with anger tells me this is most certainly true.

But there is such a thing as righteous, holy anger, right? Anger that propels us to work for justice, that shows us when something isn’t as it should be, that’s okay, isn’t it? We should be angry when immigrant children are separated from families, when spouses are abused, when systemic racism leaves young black men dead in the streets and eviscerates whole communities. One of my favorite blessings, which Jeff sometimes uses here and which I have used many times at other parishes, is the Franciscan blessing that says, May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people. Anger at these things signals our understanding of God’s love for the world and our alignment with God’s work of healing the world’s pain.

So yes, there is such a thing as righteous, holy anger. But here’s a question: How can we tell if our anger is righteous, or unrighteous? What is the difference in the way these two kinds of anger feel? What is the signal within us that our anger is justified and therefore holy?

I watch a lot of detective dramas – mostly British. One of the most common plot devices is that initially someone is arrested for a crime who, it turns out, is innocent. Often, as the suspect is brought in or out of the police station or the courthouse, a mob of angry citizens swarms the suspect. These people are furious, their faces distorted with anger – they scream, point, even spit on this person who they are certain has committed a terrible crime and must be brought to justice. In their minds, this is a holy wrath, completely justified. In reality, however, they are persecuting an innocent victim.

In the moment, this rage against someone who is falsely accused feels exactly the same as anger against a “real” criminal. Our anger is incapable of knowing whether we are righteous or not, because our ability to sort out what is true and what is not has been, in the moment, shoved out of the way, just like a playground bully shoves another child into the dirt. Righteous anger and unrighteous anger feel exactly the same when we are in the middle of them. Anger by itself cares nothing for justice – it cares only for vengeance.

There is a reason why half a century ago the civil rights movement worked so hard to train its members in nonviolence – because they knew, firsthand, how anger does not discriminate between those who “deserve” punishment and those who do not. How it distorts our vision and corrodes the soul. How, as the author of the letter of James reminds us: Your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Anger is natural. It may even be justified. But it is also a mirror that distorts what we see reflected back to us. When we look and live through the lens of anger, we are cut loose from God, and from our true identity.

So how do we stay anchored in our true identity? Into what mirror shall we look to remember what we are like, and who we are meant to be? As Christians, we turn to the face of Jesus, who is the Word of God Incarnate. Perhaps we fix our eyes on an icon of Christ, who gazes back at us with solemn and strong love. We read and meditate on stories in the gospels, asking Jesus to be present with us and in us. Perhaps we practice contemplative prayer, releasing our troubled thoughts with every breath. Or we chant the Jesus Prayer – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

We confess our sins and receive forgiveness. We take Christ’s Body and Blood into our own bodies and receive the unmerited grace of God. And we know ourselves and all the world loved, absolutely and abundantly. This, as the letter of James puts it, is the implanted Word that has the power to save our souls. This is where we find the righteousness of God, now and always.


[1] James 1:19-20

[2] Evagrius Ponticus, The Praktikos & Chapters on Prayer. Cistercian Publications, 1972, p.18.

[3] Praktikos, p. 22.

This week at St. Paul's
Monday, September 10 7:00 am Yoga Lichtenberger Room
Wednesday, September 12 7:00 pm Choir Rehearsal Choir Room
The YARD SALE is coming this weekend: September 8 !



The annual GIANT St. Paul's yard sale is scheduled for this coming Saturday September 8. Volunteers will be needed for sorting and set-up this week (up through Friday night), all day Saturday, including clean up folks later that afternoon and evening. Contact Stephen Estes-Smargiassi (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or the church office to sign up (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).  Of course, we're looking for your stuff as well. You may bring books, clothes, toys, household goods, working electronics (with all necessary cords) and furniture to the Great Hall any time prior to the sale, including bikes.


New Format for our Worship Bulletins
This coming Sunday, September 9, we will be introducing a new format for our worship bulletins that all parishioners will use. The larger font and larger booklet will make it more readable, and our environmental impact will remain the same as the new format uses the same amount of paper as our previous folded booklet. Let us know how you like it!
Confirmation & Reception into the Episcopal Church
Saturday, October 27 (Sign-up this Sunday; preparation starts soon!)

If you are an adult who would like to be confirmed or received into the Episcopal Church, there is an opportunity to do so at a Charles River Deanery Confirmation on October 27 (This is when the youth class from St. Paul's will be confirmed). To prepare, we'll spend around six weeks meeting regularly for bible study and prayer (the day and time will be determined by the availability of the group). If you are interested, or if you would like to serve as a mentor for an adult being confirmed or received, please contact the Rev'd Elise Feyerherm after our worship services on Sundayor email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

School Supplies Collection for Mission Sunday: September 9 and 16

Dear St Paul's,

September is "back to school" month for students, teachers, and even Sunday School.  We are looking forward to celebrating and blessing the new Sunday School classrooms and having the annual blessing of the backpacks.


There are many causes for celebration. Let's share our joy and our treasures in a gesture of giving.  The Mission Sunday team will be collecting school supplies for the B-SAFE program in Boston.  We would like to collect any new school supplies that elementary and middle school students would use in an after school program.  Some examples are listed below.  We will have boxes to collect donations on Sunday, September 9 and Sunday, September 16.

Construction Paper

Sketch Paper

Copier Paper



Glue (Elmer's wet glue or glue sticks)

Colored Pencils


Ball Point Pens

Thank you,

Melissa Dulla This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it."> This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

Grand Opening Celebration of our Newly Renovated Lower Level !!
September 16

Please come to church on September 16 and celebrate the grand opening of our newly renovated lower level. After the 10 am service we will process together and bless the new space. Refreshments will follow!


Blessing of the Backpacks: September 16

On Sunday, September 16, all backpacks and supplies will be blessed at the Blessing of the Backpacks during the 8 and 10am services. All students and teachers of all ages are invited to bring their backpacks, briefcases, and totes to the service for this special blessing!

Liturgy Group

We would like to gather a group of folks with interests in the various components of liturgy to advise the clergy and work together to shape worship at St. Paul's. These components include the liturgical seasons, music, physical environment, seating, and ornamentation, liturgical rites and texts, altar vessels, and more. A special opportunity comes this fall with an extended Advent season, beginning November 11 and continuing through December 23 (see for more information on a 7-week Advent). If you are interested in participating in this group, please contact the Rev'd Elise Feyerherm at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Kind Acts: The $5 Project

I have given the $5.00 to Generations for books for this year's programs. Generations is an organization of over 300 older adults who are trained as reading coaches and read weekly with children grades 1-2 in many Boston schools in Revere, Brighton and West Roxbury.

                              ~ Martha Curtis


On June 10, twenty volunteers received an envelope containing a $5 bill. The volunteers were instructed to use the $5 to do something kind: help someone in need, brighten someone's day, etc. Volunteers have been sharing their stories in this space and we invite others to join us in the $5 Project. Please submit your short story to Georgia Smith at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
Faith-Rooted Organizing Workshop: September 15

On September 15 Episcopal City Mission is hosting a Faith-Rooted Organizing workshop for individuals and groups from congregations. This day-long training and community building will help you develop the skills, spiritual grounding and strategies for your community to respond to injustice. In this urgent moment when the effects of racism are impacting our immigration and mass incarceration systems and we experience regular threats to civil liberties, we invite you to join us for prayer, community building, and action to learn faith-rooted approaches to organizing. Come and share what you are learning so that we have the tools to respond in a prayerful, skillful and powerful manner.

We will cover the following topics:

  • Grounding our justice work in spiritual wisdom and practice
  • How to tell your story and share it to build relationships
  • Dynamics of power and how we build power for the purpose of justice
  • How systems of racism perpetuate injustice in Massachusetts
  • Ways of taking action to transform injustice

When: Saturday, September 15 from 9:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m

Where: The Cathedral of St. Paul at 138 Tremont Street - Sproat Hall

Suggested Donation: $25 per person for food and materials

To Enroll: Register for the event here.

(for print) Register Here:

For more information contact 

Dan Gelbtuch - Manager of Faith-Rooted Leadership Development

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Yoga Ministry: Last class will be Monday, September 17

For the past few years, our parishioner Martha Curtis has been leading weekly yoga classes at St. Paul's. We are so grateful to her and her generosity of time and spirit. Martha's work schedule is changing a bit come this fall and she will no longer be able to continue in this ministry at St. Paul's.


The good news is that all of us are welcome to attend her yoga classes twice a week at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Brookline on Walnut Street, 6:30-7:45am on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We know how much Martha's class has come to mean in the lives of those who participated; we will miss you Martha, and THANK YOU for this ministry offering!

Scripture Group has a New Focus for 2018-19

Scripture group will resume meeting this month on Tuesday September 25 from 7:30-9:00pm in the Lichtenberger Room. This year we have decided to try something new. We will be using Amy-Jill Levine's book Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi. Each month we will read and discuss a chapter and the parables she refers to. This would be a great time to try out Scripture Group! Order a copy of the book from your local bookstore or favorite internet site and come join us. It is not necessary to come every time, or commit to the entire year. Sept. 25: Introduction: "How we domesticate Jesus's provocative stories," pp. 1-26  email Leah Rugen with any This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

REGISTER NOW for the St. Paul's All Parish Retreat!



Click on the following link to register:  


For more information about our All Parish Retreat, please contact Elise Feyerherm This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Madeleine Taylor This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.,  or Jennifer Schamel This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

Are you planning a Baptism?

Our next dates for baptismal services this year are October 7 and November 4. If you would like to schedule a baptism at St. Paul's, please be in touch with Jill in the parish office at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and she will put you in touch with our clergy and aquaint you with our baptismal application process.

Serving us this week


The Rev. Jeffrey W. Mello    

Presider  The Rev. Elise A. Feyerherm  
Deacon  The Ven. Pat Zifcak 
Director of Music and Organist  Andrew E. Clarkson 
Verger  Kendall Gray 
Server  Flora Fried 
Crucifer  Sarah Dulla 
Torchbearers  Viola Schultzberg and Lena Schultzberg 
Lectors  Roger House and Alan Fried 
Prayers of the People  Adelaide Xie 
Chalice Bearers  E. Lorraine Baugh and Andrea Brue 
Healing Prayers  Betsy Munzer and LInda Sanches 
Offering Counters  Barbie Maniscalco, Sharlene Wing, and Leah Rugen   
Greeters  Adelaide Xie, Beverly Estes-Smargiassi, John Ahonen, and Judy Rice 
Ushers  Ushers Team
Coffee Hour Host  Brue-Fried Family  

Click here to view the server spreadsheet. If you need to make a change, please find someone to swap with and let your ministry leader know so that the server spreadsheet can be updated. 

Celebrations and Prayers 



We remember and celebrate the birthdays of Megan Moore, Becky Teiwes, Lindsey Toomey, John Munzer, John Ferguson, Faye Mucha, Dale Holzworth, Jonathan Bain, Betsy Munzer, Elizabeth Schrader, and Maggie Taylor.  


We remember especially Elizabeth Evans Jones, Hugh C. Jones, Sr., Hugh C. Jones, Jr., and Benjamin Jones, in whose memory the altar flowers are given by Hugh D. Jones. 



Jennifer L., Felina R., the Children and Staff of Mil Milagros, Janet R., David F., Kendall G., Ruth R., Alexander T., Gerke V., Deborah F., Kitty C., Fran C., Nan C., Sue H., Marnie, Shelley, Harry B., Faye M., Sam K., Susan P., Linda C., Roger H. Sr., Anne C., Tracey G., Henry L., Maurice O., Alissa P., the O'Meara/Bransfield Families, Gail W., Bill H., Judy H., Alex F., those in the military: Lucas S., Hana L., and Jamie C., and those preparing for Ordination: Tammy Hobbs Miracky and Lauren Lukason. 

Scripture Readings 

Isaiah 35:4-7a; Psalm 146; James 2:1-10, 14-17; Mark 7:24-37

Wherever you are on your journey with or toward God,
you are welcome and invited at St. Paul's!

Abundant Blessings,

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Brookline

This Sunday at St. Paul's: September 9, 2018

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

8:00 am

Contemplative Service of Holy Communion Chapel 
9:00 am

Adult Formation 


Great Hall 

Lichtenberger Room 

10:00 am

Holy Eucharist with Sermon  and Choir 

11:15 am  Coffee Hour  Great Hall 
11:30 am  Prison Ministry Group  Lichtenberger Room  
  • Adult Formation: Join us this coming Sunday at 9am in the Great Hall for the first in a series entitled God of Wrath? Confronting our Misconceptions about the Old Testament. Many people assume that the Old Testament shows primarily a God of wrath and punishment, but this is a caricature. Learn how to read the Old Testament with historical insight and an appreciation for the way our Hebrew Scriptures reveal God's creativity and compassion. Children's formation and childcare will be provided so that parents will be free to join the adult session.
  • Prison Ministry Group: Please join us this coming Sunday for our next meeting at 11:30 am in the Lichtenberger Room. At our last meeting, we watched a group of videos entitled  "We are Witnesses," produced by the Marshall Project which are  available freely online at These videos are 2 to 6 minutes in length and feature people who have been involved in the criminal justice system in some way telling their own stories in their own words. Former inmates, parents of inmates, crime victims and their families, police officers, prison guards, judges, public defenders - a cross-section of the many people affected by mass incarceration. If you have questions, please contact Leahanne Sarlo at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

1 Kings 19:4-8 – Psalm 34:1-8 – Ephesians 4:25-5:2 – John 6:35, 41-51

 Ordinary…and holy

The objection, to any reasonable person, is a valid one: Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’? These are not stupid people. They are also faithful, spiritual people. They are asking a legitimate question – how can someone so familiar, so utterly ordinary, be the source of eternal life?

We forget, I think, just how ordinary Jesus would have seemed to people around him. No doubt he was a powerful preacher. In his hands, bread and fish multiplied in miraculous ways; with his touch the blind, lame, and possessed became healthy and whole. But preachers and healers were a dime a dozen in Galilee and Judea – plenty of folks spoke powerfully of the Reign of God, and could draw on God’s power to bless and to heal. This is not what makes Jesus unique, or even unusual.

The confusion comes because of Jesus’ claim to be the bread that came down from heaven. It’s not about what he has done – it’s about who he is. And who Jesus is is at the heart of the gospel of John – Jesus, the ordinary boy from Nazareth, the first-century Jew with homespun clothes and dusty feet, is the divine Word made flesh. They know where he comes from. They actually do – this is not a mistake. They are not wrong; this Jesus of Nazareth comes from exactly where they think he does. The question is, can this ordinary human being also come from God? Can he actually be God? Can something or someone whose earthly origins we can verify be, at the same time, of heavenly origin as well, utterly transcendent and mysterious and able to open for us the gate of eternal life? Can the completely ordinary also be deeply and powerfully holy?

We give voice to this reality every time we proclaim in the Nicene Creed that Jesus Christ is: God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God; begotten, not made, of one being with the Father, through whom all things were made. For our sake he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became truly human.

This is what the doctrine of the Incarnation means. Completely ordinary and human, and utterly and fully God.

But there is probably something a bit abstract for us in this proclamation, because Jesus as a human being is not standing right in front of us. Not like he was standing before his questioners in the Galilean town of Capernaum. Not dusty Jesus, straggly Jesus, locally grown Jesus, but Jesus presented in the evangelical package of the gospels.

So let’s bring it a little closer to home. Let’s circle around this question of ordinariness and holiness using something we can actually get our hands on. Let’s talk about bread.

Flour, water, honey, molasses, baking powder, and salt. Those are the ingredients in the bread we have been baking for the Eucharist the past few weeks and will be continuing to use through August. We know where all these ingredients come from. Most recently, from Stop and Shop, or Shaw’s, or Market Basket, or maybe Trader Joe’s. Before that, from the Midwestern plains, New England beehives, and the public waterworks of Brookline. We know exactly where this stuff came from.

We know exactly how all the ingredients came together. We know whose hands mixed and rolled out the dough; there is absolutely no mystery here. These round, flat loaves could just as easily become dinner rolls or coffee hour snacks, as they were just three weeks ago. So how could these utterly ordinary loaves of bread become, really and truly, the Body of Christ? How could they possibly be the Bread of Life, come down from heaven? Do we really mean it when we say, The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven?

One way to make sense of it all, perhaps, is to keep everything on the level of metaphor, to say it’s all just a memorial of what Jesus did at the last supper, and that it is simply to remind us, in our heads, not in our bodies, that Jesus calls us to love one another and share what we have. Perhaps the bread and the wine are just part of a meal of remembrance of the past, but do not become Christ’s Body and Blood. This is one way to solve the problem of how something ordinary can be divine, by keeping the two realms apart. By assuming that the ordinary can’t possibly be divine at the same time.

That’s one way to make sense of it all – but our ancient tradition, one that goes back to the earliest generations of Christians, teaches us that this ordinary bread really and truly becomes for us Christ’s Body. This is our belief – our trust – in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Not an idea, and not a distant memory, but a present and powerful reality.

How does this happen? Is it magic? After all, the classic term “hocus pocus” comes from the Latin words of the ancient mass: hoc est enim corpus meum – this is my body.

Magic is when human beings, through the right words and actions, try to compel supernatural forces to do their bidding. We are not doing magic – God cannot be compelled to enter into the bread and the wine.

All it requires is God’s word of promise and God’s free decision to be ordinary, that the ordinary may be holy. Remember the ancient creed – for our sake he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became truly human. What happens here, at this table, is because of, and only because of, God’s promise and Jesus’ pledge: This is my Body, this is my Blood. What God promises, God gives in full – not in theory, not in the eye of the beholder, but actually and effectually. Jesus has promised that when we gather to give thanks over bread and wine, he will be here; not just as a visitor but as our very food and drink. Our only task is to trust in his promise and take him into our bodies, so that he can become part of each and every cell. So that as he becomes part of each of us, we become part of him, and through him, linked forever to each other as one Body. This is what God can do and will do when we trust in the promise and say yes.

When the Body of Christ is placed in your hand, and when you drink from the Cup of his Blood, the response is “Amen.” Yes. Yes that the Word made Flesh is truly here for the eating. Yes to everything that will change in your life because Jesus Christ is in you. Yes to giving your life to the world, because Jesus, who gave his flesh for the life of the world, fills every cell in your body.

In some churches, the words that accompany the giving of the bread are a little different that those in our prayer book. Instead of The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven, it is The Body of Christ, given for you. Given for you. That’s important. This is the promise, not only of what Christ has done, but of who we become by means of this sacrament. The Body of Christ, broken, given, and shared – for the life of the world.

Jeremiah 23:1-6 - Psalm 23 - Ephesians 2:11-22 - Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Mind the gap

 In London on the Underground, the subway system, there are some stations where you have to be especially careful getting on and off the trains. This is because the platform and the floor of the car opening don’t meet, and there is a large space between them that one could easily step into if one is not careful. At the stations where this is the case, one can rely on hearing, as the train opens its doors, the deep authoritarian tones of the public address system: “Mind the gap.” One fails to heed such direction at the risk of plunging at least one leg into the abyss and delaying the train, at best. “Mind the gap.” It is good advice, indeed.

This is good advice as well when reading or listening to a passage from Scripture. Gaps that are unheeded can derail our interpretation and send us into an abyss if we’re not careful. Just a minute ago, when Pat was proclaiming the gospel lesson from Mark, we should have stopped at a certain point for a public service announcement: “Mind the gap,” because there are eighteen verses missing between Jesus teaching the shepherdless crowd and the disciples crossing over the lake and landing at Gennesaret. Eighteen verses. That’s a lot.

The reasons for omitting those eighteen verses aren’t nefarious, as far as I can see. What we’re missing is two stories – first, Jesus feeding the five thousand with a few loaves and fishes, and second, Jesus walking on the water while the disciples struggle in the boat, rowing against the wind and waves. We got those same stories from Matthew last year, so it probably won’t hurt to skip them this time around. And next Sunday we hear John’s version of the feeding of the multitudes, followed by four more weeks of Jesus talking about how he is the Bread of Life – do we really want one more Sunday of loaves multiplying all over the place? Maybe not.

So from one perspective, the gap in our gospel reading is reasonable – perhaps even merciful. And it certainly won’t jeopardize our salvation. But the phrase continues to resound in my head: “Mind the gap.” Pay attention to what is missing. Watch where you step – your life could be at stake. At the very least, you could lose a spiritual leg.

What we’ve missed in this gospel reading is important – otherwise Mark wouldn’t have put it there. But to understand just what its importance is, we have to go back a few weeks and take a broader view of what Mark is about in chapter 6. On Sunday mornings we always hear small snippets of readings – the Bible cut up into easily digestible morsels that we can chew. Even when we are hearing a basically continuous story from week to week, it’s extremely difficult to keep hold of the narrative. What did we hear last week, and the week before? How does today’s episode fit in with the big picture? With no recap, it’s easy to lose the author’s train of thought.

So let’s go back – bear with me, because it’s worth it. Two weeks ago, we saw Jesus preach unsuccessfully in his hometown, and then send his disciples off two by two into the surrounding villages to proclaim the good news. He gave them power over the unclean spirits, and the disciples took that to heart. They were super-disciples, casting out demons and curing the sick. It was awesome.

Last week we took a bit of a detour, hearing the story of how John the Baptist was imprisoned and finally beheaded by King Herod. Strong, confident, brave John the Baptist suffered the consequences of speaking truth to power. Proclaiming the good news of God’s justice is not all triumph and high-fives – it can get you killed.

This week brings us back to the disciples, eager to tell Jesus how well they did out on their own. They are excited, and proud, and pumped up for more super-discipleship. Jesus offers them a well-deserved vacation – “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile,” he says. But it doesn’t quite work out that way – the people keep coming, keep asking for help, keep needing things. They are, as Mark tells us, like sheep without a shepherd. The need in the world has always been, and always will be, forever and ever, Amen. It just keeps going.

Jesus, being Jesus, has compassion for them, and begins to teach them. And here’s where the part that has been cut comes in. This is where we hear that the disciples have another opportunity to step up, to be those super-disciples they were when Jesus sent them out two by two. People are hungry, and Jesus says to them, “you give them something to eat.” Who, us? the disciples ask. Uh, yeah, you, Jesus responds – didn’t you just come back all pumped up from casting out demons and curing the sick? You got this.

No, they don’t. Jesus has to take care of it himself, collecting the paltry few loaves and fishes to be blessed and broken and given to the crowd, with twelve baskets left over, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Okay, that’s understandable – the disciples needed a rest from all that super-discipling. They’re just getting started.

But then they get in the boat to cross the lake to Bethsaida – Jesus stays behind, and goes up the mountain to pray by himself. As the disciples are struggling mightily against wind and waves, Jesus comes walking on the water, intending to pass them by. But they are terrified when they see him, thinking it is a ghost. Jesus reassures them, gets in the boat, and the wind ceases. As if they had never experienced any of those past months with Jesus, as if their super-disciple phase had never happened, they sink into confusion and astonishment, because, Mark tells us, “their hearts were hardened.” When they reach land, it is Jesus who carries out the work of the good news, and many are healed just by touching the fringe of his cloak.

What happened? Did they get tired? Are they still learning? Or maybe news reached them about John the Baptist’s gruesome death, and they lost their nerve. Maybe all of those things.

Mind the gap. The gap between what we bravely tackled yesterday and what we allow to ride roughshod over us today. The gap between super-discipleship one moment and abject terror the next. The gap between genuine trust last week and utter confusion this week. This gap is where we live. But take heart – because Jesus’ disciples lived there, too. That’s one of the messages of the sixth chapter of Mark’s gospel. One day you might be given a charge from Jesus to go forth and do amazing things – and you will do them. The next day you may not only need a rest, but may screw things up royally. Your heart may be hardened. But Jesus has not given up on you – on any of us.

One of the old desert monks of the early church was asked to describe the life of the monastic Christian, and he said, every day I get up, and I fall. I get up again, and I fall again. I know what this is like, and I imagine you do, too. In between the getting up and the falling, and between the falling and the getting up – this is where the rich stuff of life with Jesus happens – it’s where we learn what we can do when Jesus calls us, and how helpless we are without him. It’s where we learn to confess our sins and rejoice in God’s forgiveness. It’s where demons are cast out and the sick are healed, but it’s also where we cry out for Jesus to come into the boat and still the storm.

Mind the gap. It’s where Jesus slips in and changes everything.

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.

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