August 25,  9:30 a.m.
Ecumenical Services - First Baptist Church, High St, Westwood

Pentecost 10 *, Proper 15C-1 8/18/19                                            St. John’s Church

Rev’d Jennifer Phillips                             Isaiah 5:1-7;Heb.11:29-12:2;Lk.12:49-56


What kind of crazy peace is it that brings a sword right into the midst of families?

I want to share a memory with you – of a young man named Billy, twenty when I met him for some soul conversation, when he was laid up in hospital with a serious illness. Billy looked like a choirboy- pink cheeks, blond hair with a cowlick, big blue interrogating eyes, small stature, with a mischievous –little-brother look about him. He had been turning tricks on the streets of Boston since he was 14 to feed himself and get at least temporary shelter.

On his 14th birthday, in the 9th grade, he had come out as gay to his parents, who had nothing to say when they heard. They just went into the next room and closed the door. The next day, he got home from school and Mom, Dad and his pastor were sitting in the living room, and there was backpack on the floor at his father’s feet. They told him to sit down. Dad said, “If you want to be a man and be part of this family, you’re going to have to give up that stuff you were talking about yesterday and be a normal young man. Your Mom and I didn’t raise you to be like this.” His pastor said, “Billy, you know you’re going to hell, don’t you? Jesus just hates sinners like you. But you have this chance to repent from your wickedness, and grow up right, and do your Momma and Papa here proud. I’d like to pray with you, right now, that God will change your heart.” Mom just cried quietly into her tissues. Dad said, “This is it Billy. We’ve taken you to church every week and we know you didn’t hear anything there about living that kind of life. So you have a choice to make today. You can take these clothes and $20 and walk out that door and not come back, or you can be part of this family and a normal Christian.”

Since Billy had already prayed very long and hard about wanting to be different than he was, but he was still Billy and liked boys, he guessed that God had no time for him, and so there was no point in sticking around for some more praying. He picked up the backpack, dry-eyed, and went out the front door and had never exchanged another word with his parents, his pastor, or anyone in his small-town community. He hitch-hiked to the city and joined the ranks of runaways and addicts and hookers, at 14 years old. He was 18 when I met him at the end of his life in hospital with AIDS.

I tell this story because this month was the 34th anniversary of his death, but also because sometimes, for all sorts of reasons, families present their members with the edge of the sword and not love or protection. Sometimes the choice to be who one is, to be authentic, to have integrity, to be different, to have a certain calling – sets us over and against those who have been closest to us. Sometimes those we love follow a direction that seems completely wrong or crazy to us. That’s reality, and when it happens, it hurts. But I also tell this story because Billy had asked for the chaplain to visit. He wanted to ask whether I – a complete stranger, representing whatever the church was to him now – agreed that God and Jesus hated him. He said, “I guess I could understand if they did. My life has been kind of a screw up. I could try to do better, but I am who I am, and the odds aren’t good….I just wanted to ask one more time.” There was quite a bit of soul talk we had in his three days in the hospital, and then he was gone. I have always remembered his courage for asking that one more time, for not giving up on God, and not quite giving up on himself either.

The bottom line is: God loves us now, not after we finish shaping up. That’s what grace means – unearned, unmerited, merciful and forgiving love, in our present condition. Jesus hung out with notorious sinners, as well as petty ones: tax collectors and prostitutes like Billy, as well as jealous and squabbling brothers, guys who left their wives, children, and elderly parents without support as they went on the road, a friend who seemed to have an anger management problem, and another who betrayed him for a wad of cash, just to name a few. He didn’t just try to leave them improved, he loved them, from start to finish in all their weirdness. He ate with them and told them they were guests at the banquet of the Ruler of Heaven and Earth.

There weren’t any non-sinners in the group. And I suspect there aren’t any in the Church now, just as there aren’t any running for public office.

But this comes as a nasty shock to some Christian folk. Someone was telling me about a T-shirt that said across the front “Jesus loves us this I know…” and on the back, “but I’m his favorite.” There are whole congregations of Jesus’ self-identified favorites. There are even some that are Churches of the Shared Disapproval – drawn together not so much by what they love as by what they commonly despise and want to stand against. A solidarity of scorn and disparagement.

Now most of us who have been baptized wish for others the fruits of the spirit we see in ourselves, right?– joy, peace, kindness, patience, forbearance, gentleness, self-control – oh yes, and humility. We hope for others healthy lives, loving relationships, enough to eat, shelter from the storm, enough stability of person and life to enjoy some tranquility, even prosperity. I hope none of us wants to hit one another in the head, or wish public shaming on them. I am willing to bet not one of us thinks a 14 year old should be kicked out on the streets to survive by selling him or herself to those willing to pay. If Billy’s life was indeed screwed up in a number of ways – drugs, alcohol, some lying and stealing – his sexual orientation wasn’t one of them, in my book. But whether you think so or not, the simple reality is that he was a beloved child of God, as am I, as are you, right in the midst of our screw-ups, sins, and tragedies. Mercy pours on us like August rain, on the just and the unjust (as the Book of Proverbs 24 puts it, quoted by Jesus in Matthew 5:43-6

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?’”

We find it hard to think the thought- but mercy also for young men full of bitterness and bigotry who pick up guns and shoot people. Mercy not without correction - judgement, cleansing - but mercy as well.

There are consequences of this business of loving sinners, of which God is not unaware, but we sometimes allow ourselves to be. In our church, yes even here at blessed St. John’s Episcopal Church, there will be sinners –what a surprise! - and sooner or later some of them will cross us. They will disappoint us. They will betray us. They will have different ideas, different thoughts about how to be Christian, than the ones dear to us. And another thing: there will be sinners on both sides of the altar. Priests are not immune. We sin and screw up with the best of them – though, hopefully, that is not all we do. If you have recently arrived here and are hoping that this is the perfect church you’ve been looking for, and I am the perfect clergy person, this may not be the church for you. If you are going to leave when a fellow Christian offends you, or when the priest offends you, or when some person or group messes with some aspect of church that is dear to you, perhaps you should get the leaving over with quickly, because it’s going to happen. God doesn’t call the perfectly righteous through our doors. God calls people like us.

Sometimes I think that the whole church is a messy divine experiment in unmeasured love. And that that’s true of the whole human race as well. Messy! Why do we keep expecting the Christian community to be any different? Every crack in the fabric of love – whether because of sin, or difference, or just misunderstanding – is a space through which, if we stay around to experience it, grace pours in. Every time we are broken open, the ocean of grace God immerses us in has opportunity to enter and transform us in the direction of love. We are given to each other in this world to figure this out.

It is a core value of who we are as church: sinners find love here; whatever your condition, you are welcome; we do our best to pass divine love on – and aren’t we fortunate and blessed to find it for ourselves as well!

 95 Deerfield Ave
 Westwood, MA 02090

WEEKLY SCHEDULE                          

Sunday Summer Worship: 9:30 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

Sunday, August 25, 9:30 a.m.
Ecumenical Services - First Baptist Church, High St, Westwood

Sunday, September 1, 9:30 a.m.
Ecumenical Services - First Parish UCC, Clapboardtree St, Westwood

Harvest Moon Arts Festival 
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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. St. John's week this year was July 29 - August 2, and we had a wonderful time with the kids. Here's a photo of one of our lunch teams:

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!