July 2, 9:00 a.m.

Pentecost 4, Proper 7A 6-25-17                                                                         St. John’s Church

Rev’d Jennifer Phillips                                                      Gen.21:8-21;Rom6:1-11;Mtt10:24-39

Did it slip by without your noticing last week – the 29th of June - “Juneteenth” in the African American calendar? In January 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing U.S. slaves, but it was two and a half years (!) before that news actually reached the ears of the last slaves and owners in the continental U.S. (in Texas) and the last slaves were freed by military persuasion- on June 19th, which has since been marked as African-American Independence Day. And remember, Rhode Island slave traders continued to operate plantations and traffic in human beings from Africa in Cuba and Hispaniola for years after slavery was outlawed in both Europe and the United States. Slavery is still with us – human trafficking around the world for sex and for slave-labor – including within our own U.S. borders. 

The divine story of emancipation is always bigger than any one group, race, or nation, and its uncomfortable iterations in history warn how oppressed folk may become oppressors, conquered become ruthless conquerors, and the privileged take their turn on the ash-heap. Our Bible moves from the deliverance of the Israelites led by Moses from Egyptian bondage. Then in Ur of the Chaldean Empire, the herder and trader Abram sets off in his tribal caravan with wife Sarai into the wilderness on an extraordinary promise of a newly revealed God. His story is to become father of a great nation…after a very long delay.

Last week we heard his wife’s story which emerges from the shadows – really from behind the tent-flap as she overhears three strangers giving a renewed promise to Abraham-grown-old that is really a promise to the childless and now elderly wife Sarah. You may not remember that as they journeyed through Egypt (yes, Egypt, the place of the forebears’ enslavement and deliverance), they end up at the court of Pharaoh (you remember the ancestor Pharaoh who would not ‘let my people go!’ as we heard at the Easter Vigil?) Abram is very nervous about angering Pharaoh and pretends that Sarai is his sister. Pharaoh gives him a young daughter to be his wife, and off she goes with the caravan across the desert. This daughter, the great Jewish Rabbi Rashi comments, is Hagar. Today is the day for her story. Things don’t go well for Hagar among the Israelites. She isn’t treated as an honored first wife, but instead becomes a servant to Sarai who is already first wife…in other words she is a second wife who isn’t regarded as a wife with any rights. Sarai makes use of her labor around the camp for years, and then desperate because she has produced no children, sends her to Abram’s bed. No wonder then that when she conceives a son, Hagar turns around and holds Sarai in contempt. In the fine detail of the vocabulary the story says Sarai beat Hagar severely to the point of torture, and that’s why she runs away and fetches up at the wellspring where Hagar encounters God. There, the angel of the Lord finds Hagar, questions her, and sends her back to her mistress, (back into her abusive family! We shudder!) But through the angel God gives Hagar a promise similar to the one given to Abram in Ur - that she will become matriarch of a tribe beyond counting. This divine promise given directly to the woman, Hagar, marks her as unique in all the Scriptures. This promise doesn’t come to her husband/owner but to the servant herself. 

Her son Ishmael is to be born - his angel-given name means Zebra (or great stud!) - he is to be wild, contentious, and virile! This must sound very promising to a beaten-down slave woman – a son whpo can stand up in power with his own great family. Then, the story says, she who was seen by God names God the God “for seeing,” and the wellspring on the spot acquires the naming legend: “well of the Living One Seeing Me”. For what Hagar says is that, instead of being struck down by God  on the spot, “have I not gone on seeing after God saw me?” God lifts up the lowly and delivers the oppressed. 

So Hagar returns to the hostile camp to bear her son, like many a servant-woman. It will be 14 years before the promise is made to Abraham for Sarah’s own childbearing. Was there rapprochement between the two wives once there was a baby Ishmael? Or did they continue in an unfriendly truce? We leap ahead in time: the birth of Isaac leads to fresh conflict between the wives. Sarah wants to disinherit Ishmael in favor of her own newborn son. Abraham is crushed by Sarah’s request to exile the slave-wife and her pre-teen child away, for he loves them, and yet his first wife is powerful in the family; it is her right. God tells Abraham to go ahead and do as Sarah asks and that he will watch over the exiles and make of Ishmael another great nation. His first son will survive and extend the promise Abraham regards as his own. 

So Hagar is freed from her slave-status, and given only a skin of water, and she and her young teenage son trek off into the Arabian desert and nearly die of thirst. Hagar weeps, but it is the voice of the boy that God hears first, and he is the one to answer Hagar, reassuring her of the promise made to her, and God shows her a spring of water by –once again - opening her eyes to see. Mother and child survive and continue to live in the wilderness and Ishmael becomes a bowman and marries an Egyptian (!) wife…but then they disappear from the Torah, which turns its attention back to Abraham and Sarah. They appear in the Koran, where Hagar is recognized as the legitimate and first wife of Abraham, and it is Ishmael who is nearly sacrificed by his father on the mountain (not Isaac in next week’s story), and Ishmael becomes the patriarch of the Arabian peoples, and establishes Mecca as a city-center of holiness. The Muslim feast of Eid Al-Adha recalls this alternate story with great prominence in their calendar at the end of the Hajj – the feast for the pilgrimage to Mecca.

It is sobering to ponder how the telling of the stories of origin produce ripples in history in which oppression and privilege move and shift and may even turn-tables. The story we may comfortably hear as our own, with its winners and losers and God-given mandates and promises, may suddenly intersect the story of another branch of the human family with different heroes and vindicated ones. The privileged may take their turn on the ash-heap. The hated enemy may be revealed as the blood-sibling formerly unjustly rejected and exploited. The feisty heroine may turn out to be an abuser, and the uppity slave a great royal matriarch. Immigrants and founding families may swap places. The shadow stories of our history color the present and affect relationships between the families, tribes, and races of privilege and of un-privilege.

Thomas Norman DeWolf’s candid book detailing his family’s recovery of their own slave-trading history and its impact on their own various patterns of privilege and identity (detailed in the documentary film Traces of the Trade) quotes a pediatrician Dr. Ron David, who says, 

Relationships are primary. All else is derivative. Nothing matters more to us human beings than to be in relationship for its own sake. “We tell each other our stories and disclose our innermost selves in order to fall in love with one another. The burden of disease, despair, and early death is not the lack of access to health care. It’s the breakdown of relationships. If we examine the underlying damage to relationships and repair them, we will become healthier people and communities.”

It becomes irrelevant then to argue over whether one’s own family had complicity in slavery, or which groups have a right to be where. Our human family was and is tangled in abuse, and fractured and has not yet healed. Across lines of sex and sexual orientation, religion, tribe, and class, fractures will take effort, much respectful listening, and self-examination for the reconciliation that will benefit everyone to come to pass. Step one is owning the whole history, not just the dominant stories, as our own, and noting the way that they benefit some at the cost of others, but in the end cost everyone. 

Through what lens do you hear the current discourse about slavery, race, and privilege? Our stories are complicated in the way they intersect the lives of others. We do not do well to make assumptions about each other until we have listened and heard with attention.

The apostle Paul says just a bit earlier in Romans from today’s portion, “rarely will anyone die for a righteous person - though possibly for a good person someone might possibly dare to die, but God proves his love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us” to establish us in right relationship with the justice of God. Self-sacrifice is the cost of righting relationship that sin has alienated, and it is the call of love that we be willing to assume a measure of reconciliation’s cost. It does not cost us so much to sit quietly and listen to the stories of others - a bit of self-discipline and holy curiosity and the risk of extending an invitation that might be rebuffed or hearing something we might not wish to hear. Are we as Christ’s own willing to sacrifice any part of our own comfort to extend holy hospitality to the lives of others by mutual granting of the benefit of the doubt, let alone by laying down our own lives not just for a friend but for a stranger, even an enemy? 

Even Jesus started out convinced that he was bringing good news of the kingdom of God only to his own people, the Jews. He instructs his disciples to avoid the Gentiles and the despised Samaritans. But in the course of his ministry he meets those “others” - a Samaritan woman at a well in the heat of the day, a Roman centurian whose son is dying and who begs him for help, a Gentile Syrophonecian woman who argues with him that “even the dogs eat crumbs from the master’s table” and so he should share the crumbs of his divine message with a foreigner - and he changes his mind about the parameters of mission for himself and his followers. He is profoundly related to others, friends and enemies. He listens. He is moved. He changes his behavior. Can we do less?

WEEKLY SCHEDULE                          

Office Hours:  
Tuesday 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
Thursday 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
Friday 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

Sunday Worship:  9:00  a.m. Remainder of the summer

This is St. John's Episcopal Church... please click on photo below to see more photos of church life!

This is St. John's Episcopal Church, Westwood MA

Want to check on the readings for a particular Sunday or other day?  Click below to go to the Lectionary page...  all readings available for 2017:

Rev. Dr. Jennifer M. Phillips


Wednesday, June 28:
10:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist
Last one until the fall
Summer Schedule:

Sunday, July 2:
9:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist
Sunday Services will be at 9:00 a.m. for the remainder of the summer

St. John’s Summer Schedule and Events  

Summer Reminder....                                     

We don’t have scheduled acolytes or lectors and intercessors in the summer. Instead, the rector will greet people at the door with a basket of cards for the various roles in the day’s worship- please take one when you are able.

Also, we don’t order altar flowers in the summer months. Parishioners are invited sign up to provide bouquets from their gardens or their favorite florist shop and arrange them to add beauty to our space. You might take these after the service to a home-bound member or friend, or leave them for Zion Church to enjoy on Sunday afternoon at their worship and collect them next day if you like.


Starting on July 2nd, we will move our schedule as usual for summer to a service at 9am Sundays, and the Tuesday Bible Study/Night Prayer group and Wednesday morning Eucharist will take a break for July-August. This makes our servicer a bit cooler in the heat of the season, too.

The annual Ecclesia-St.John’s picnic at Hale Reservation will be Saturday, July 15, 12-2ish. Drivers will be needed to collect our friends from Norwood train station and transport them to Hale and back.

Another date of note – at our 9 am service July 16th, we look forward to baptizing our newest member Dylan Trier, son of Katherine and Henry and brother to Liam.


August 27th and September 3rd (Labor Day weekend) we are invited to join our neighbors at First Baptist Church on High Street, along with the people of First Parish Congregational Church, for Sunday services outdoors at their woodland chapel next to their parking lot. So those Sundays there won’t be a separate service at St. John’s – we’ll pray together there.

And looking toward fall – mark your calendar

Friday, September 15th, LYRA, the acapella Russian vocal ensemble returns for a concert of sacred and folk music at 7pm. Over-2-night bed and breakfast hosts will be needed for the 4-5 musicians on the 14th-15th.




 Flowers enhance the beauty of our church and greatly contribute to our worship.  We place flowers near the altar to remind us of Creation, which brings us to the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, which we celebrate every Sunday.  Here at St. John’s, rather than have a general budget item for flowers, we invite our parishioners to provide the flowers in memory or honor of loved ones, or in thanksgiving for special events.  There is a sign up sheet on the bulletin board  on which one may select a Sunday, (or Sundays!), for a special tribute.  The cost for flowers, which the Altar Guild orders, is $35. (Please be sure to note on your payment that it is for flowers.)  We are grateful to  Westwood Gardens Florist, which, for many years, has provided beautiful arrangements to us for a modest price.