Sunday, September 30: 10:00 a.m.

Pr. 16B-2 8-26-18       First Parish UCC Westwood   Rev'd Jennifer Phillips

Josh.24:1-2,14-18;Eph.6:10-20;John 6:56-69                          

I have nasty thoughts. ( No, not that sort of thoughts!) Uncharitable, mean, unChristian, and mostly (thank goodness) unspoken thoughts. I am suspecting that perhaps you have a few of those, too, though I do know a few people of whom it's hard to imagine having thoughts as mean as some of mine. When some leaders decide that separating children from their migrant parents is a suitable deterrent to immigration, I think that if those leaders' own children were hauled off from their homes, taken across country and locked in cages not able to communicate with them, maybe they would change their minds. 'Punishment fitting the crime', says my tit-for-tat nasty mind. After awhile my better angel reminds me that NO children deserve to suffer in such a way, not even privileged white citizen children...but I had the thought. I've thought the rude and dangerous driver in front of me into the ditch, and wished the entire revenue service of a state in which I formerly lived into personal bankruptcies. 'Let my enemies fall into the snare they have secretly set for me,' I can pray right along with the author of Psalms. But I really don't want to live in a world where we are all stuck bleeding in each other's bear-traps! Do you?

It's a kind of sympathetic magic-thinking, that hope that enemies get their just desserts; that evil rebounds on the workers of evil, maybe even in double measure. It's our four-year-old sense of fairness offended by others' unfair actions, but often oblivious to our own misdeeds, that prays this way. It's totally understandable. Pretty human! Also nasty. But I think it is good news that we are allowed to talk to God this way. Seeing that the ancestors did it right there in the Bible, right there in the parts we pray aloud in church, doesn't make it nice, but makes it permissible. God knows what we are doing. God sees our vengeful four-year old at work in our prayers. And in the ones where we pray: "O Lord won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz? My friends all drive Porches; I must make amends. Work hard every day, every night until ten, so O Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?" (Thank you Janice Joplin!) Our young, hungry, needy, hurt inner selves pray for our beloved dead to come back through the door, our cancer to vanish as if it had never been, our twenty-year old bodies to return to us after a month at the gym.

Just when I was pondering these thoughts, the most serendipitous email arrived with a little essay from geraniumfarm.org by Barbara Cawthorne Crafton, purveyor of wonderful Anglican wisdom for decades. She described her grandkids' minor tantrums and said, "There is a direct relationship between degree of intimacy and tantrum intensity. Parents get both barrels. Those of us whose presence is less constant don't -- kids aren't sure what the market will bear with us, I guess. Or maybe it's just that we don't carry the magic parents carry, that miraculous ability to solve every problem and make everything all right. It lives for decades, that perfect trust in us -- I remember feeling that life just couldn't go on when my mother died. But of course it could: I was a young adult, perfectly capable of managing life on my own. I hadn't thought my mother was magic, not for years. Still, underneath all my thinking, I must still have felt she was. 

"We see the same trust in the psalmists, and the same outrage when things don't go well -- fully a third of the psalms are complaints. They shake their fists at heaven, the psalmists do, and this is precisely because they trust God so completely. What's going on here!?! they want to know. I demand an answer!!! 

Funny: even our tantrums are based on the certainty of being loved."

So maybe our nasty prayers are a sign that on some level we may not even understand, we trust God to listen to us with love.

I am, however, so relieved that God, loving us and our enemies, doesn't just do what we want. When Jesus talked to his followers about praying and said, "You can say to that mountain, 'shift yourself!' and it will be done for you." It's pretty clear to me Jesus didn't mean that we should all start praying to relocate the Adirondacks and Berkshires to a place we'd like better (like lifting us all further above sea level!)  Jesus also said, "What father if his child asks for bread will give him a stone?" Maybe a really frustrated human Dad who is sick of his child bugging him for lunch might try to distract the child with geology. Maybe Jesus was implying something else: "When you have an amazingly generous father-mother hearing your please, why would you waste your prayers of hungry longing asking for stones to throw at someone?" as well as maybe, "When someone prays to you for bread, what sort of father-mother-human-being are you going to be? The stone-hearted sort or the bread-giving sort?"

In John's Gospel today, I suspect Jesus was not quite feeling as long-suffering as the bread-providing Father of which he spoke. His opponents have been chivvying and sniping at him, getting hot and bothered, and missing his points. And then his own disciples must have been raising their own objections to what he was saying about his flesh and blood and the True Bread he was offering the world. "Are you offended by me?" He asks - maybe with irritation; 'you want me to tone down my language and pull my punches to please your narrow sense of reality?' 'You ain't seen nothing yet!' "What if you were to see the Son of Man, this earthchild right here, ascending up into heaven before your eyes? Would that offend you, too?'

Was he shouting inside his own mind to them all, "Get a grip! Grow up! Pay attention!?'

Perhaps John's Gospel shows us this scene of Jesus so vividly because in that first century community of Jesus-followers in the next generation, people were still quibbling over what the Eucharistic meal, and more, what the life and death of Jesus were really about, and who should be included or excluded from their table, like a bunch of schoolkids in the lunchroom fighting over who gets to sit with them and who gets to eat Sam's homemade cupcake and who goes without. Because squabbling over the gifts from God and being offended by God's grace and God's way of bestowing it is something the nasty selves of every age indulge in. Because we understand more about retribution than distribution; more about graft than grace; more about parsimony than provision. I know I struggle with learning to pray with both passion and humility - to lay out my heart's desire authentically and also to admit that I have no idea how the pieces of the universe fit together in the fabric of God's design and providence. But the invitation of Jesus reassures me that not knowing how best to pray does not make me - or any of us - ineligible to do it.

The not-so-longsuffering Jesus of that scene goes on to say something very poignant to some of his friends. John the Gospel-writer minimizes it by adding in, as he was wont to do, a bit about how the omniscient Jesus really knew what everyone was going to do before they did it and why; but I hear a very human Jesus saying quietly, a bit plaintively: "Friends, Do you also wish to go away and leave me?"

Our little resentful or hateful or disappointed or covetous selves may indeed want to turn on our heels and walk away from God when we don't get what we think we want, or slink away disbelieving when things don't turn out according to our plans and desires. But thank heaven that God doesn't answer our prayers by doing what our nasty thoughts, our narrow understanding, or our self-interest demands. Thank heaven that God treats our enemies more lovingly than we want, and treats us more lovingly than our enemies want. Thank God for hearing us when we pray. Thank God for not relocating the mountains to solve our problems, but rather giving us reason, agency, and a shovel. 





WEEKLY SCHEDULE                          

Sunday Worship: 10:00  a.m. 
Wednesday Eucharist: 10:15 a.m 

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 2018:

Rev. Dr. Jennifer M. Phillips
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Jennifer joins us at the Norwood Sports Center for bowling with members of Ecclesia Ministries.

Looking Ahead 

Saturday, September 29: 10:30 a.m.
All invited to the Celebration of New Ministry at Cathedral with installation of new Dean Amy McCreath, reception to follow,  138 Tremont Street, Boston, opposite Park Street T Station.

Sunday, September 30, 9:00 a.m.: An acolyte training and refresher
10:00 a.m.: 
K- 5 and High School classes meet
1:00 - 2:00 p.m. Middle School Youth to Launch trampoline park in Norwood

This Sunday, please bring non-perishable, healthy food items for the Westwood Food Pantry when you come to church. The last Sunday of the month the kids will bring our food wagon up the aisle at the time of the offering. We deliver the donations the last week of every month.

October 3,  7:00 p.m.
Community forum on Transgender Equality at Temple Beth David 7pm - (in response to state referendum question 3, sponsored by The Coalition for Transgender Equality of Westwood, Dedham, Walpole, Norwood. 

Christian Discipleship in Action via St. John’s

Come join in:

Oasis Ministrieswe cook and serve a monthly hot chicken dinner to about 100 homeless neighbors in downtown Boston on 2nd Mondays.

Ecclesia outreachwe invite homeless and poor neighbors from Boston to Hale Reservation for a summer picnic and for a Spring bowling afternoon in Norwood.

Tutoring after-school reading and homework help for city children at Church of the Holy Spirit, Mattapan on Tuesday afternoons.

Pantry support for the Westwood Food Pantry and the Center for Life elderly housing complex in Mattapan – bring non-perishable groceries to church year round.

Habitat for Humanity home buildcoming soon, a St. John’s team to help build an affordable home in Westwood.

Prayer Shawlsknitting group prayerfully makes shawls for people facing illness or crisis.

Urban Promise Honduras missioners from St. John’s & CHS travel to learn and work with children at a school in Copan every few years.

Boston B-SAFE summer program our team works during a July week each year to provide meals and a field trip & picnic for this large city children’s program.

Eucharistic Visiting members are trained and take the Sacrament, offer healing prayer, and make friendly visits to people who are homebound, in hospital, or other institutional settings.

Speak to Rev. Jennifer if you’d like to put your discipleship to work in one or more of these parish ministries!

Old West Church Boston: Our new site for our monthly Oasis Dinner

Our annual picnic for Ecclesia Ministries at Hale Reservation

B-SAFE field trip to the Capron Park Zoo