Sunday, February 17: 10:00 a.m

Epiphany +5C, Feb. 10,2019                                                             St. John's Church

Rev.Dr. Jennifer Phillips                                        Isa. 6:1-13;1 Cor.15:1-11;Lk.5:1-11


Listen again to Isaiah, the young prophet to whom the seraph, the divine messenger is speaking: the seraph said, “Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.” Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; until the Lord sends everyone far away, and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land. 

This is a terrible prophecy - of a time when people will listen but not comprehend, shut their eyes so as not to see and be unable to understand what they do look at because their minds have grown dull and mute, till they have stopped perceiving God in their midst, stopped behaving in a healthful sane manner, with the result that their environment will be laid waste and uninhabitable. And that God seems to think that in this instance these events are inevitable! And long ago, in a small corner of the world it came to pass for that people as the prophet had foretold them. The story is told generations after all this as a cautionary tale; in fact the Book of Isaiah the prophet is the Book of likely 3 different "Isaiahs" at least, written at intervals between 742 BCE. and 510 BCE and with further editing on top. Powerful prophecy, with its truths larger than mere history, lends itself to being used as somewhat modified advice for fresh times!

In 2007, when a new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary - widely used in schools around the world - was published, a sharp-eyed reader soon noticed that around 40 common words concerning nature had been dropped. Apparently they were no longer being used enough by children to merit their place in the dictionary. The list of these "lost words"  included acornadderbluebelldandelionfernheronkingfishernewtotter, and willow. Among the words taking their place were attachment, blogbroadbandbullet-pointcut-and-paste, and voice-mail. The news of these substitutions - the outdoor and natural being displaced by the indoor and virtual - is seen by many linguists, educators, and scientists,as a powerful sign of the growing gulf between childhood and the natural world. In 2018 British naturalist writer Robert MacFarlane and Jan Morris published "Lost Words" a book with the goal of trying to restore  basic vocabulary of nature to a generation that has lost it.

It is shocking to think that children in our own city and cities (particularly cities!) across America who are not allowed to play in their own outdoor neighborhoods because of their parents' fear for their safety or because the closest they get to nature is a soccer field, may soon not even have words to describe what they might see on a walk in the park or back yard.

This is a paradox in an era where there is widespread film and television and YouTube clips of vanishing species across the globe and distant landscapes. How could it be that a schoolchild could recognize and name a leopard and not an acorn? It is largely between seven and twelve years old that children generally delight in being able to name things- to develop technical language for dinosaurs and butterflies, football plays, and types of trucks and cars. This is also the age where they should be developing fluency in the description of the natural world, and of the traditions of their religious heritage, too. If you can't name it and talk about it, you will not be able to come to love it and desire to preserve it. It's an irony of the age of Google that with vast information at the touch of a finger, we may be becoming illiterate in the knowledge of the wild world, even as it is disappearing under our influence. The next generation will not have need of words like tiger, penguin, rhinoceros, mahogany, trillium, and sperm whale.

So on my little list of personal saints I have added a name some of you older ones may recall from when you were seven to twelve: Herbert S. Zim - anyone remember that name? He died in 1994 - a naturalist, educator, writer - in 1945 he founded and became editor-in-chief for a series of some 45 books in a series called The Golden Nature Guide - on Birds, Rocks, Fossils, Mammals, Insects, Stars, Butterflies, Trees, Spiders, Seashores, the Everglades, the Rocky Mountains, and more. They were designed to carry in your pocket as you walk the world - I still have eight or nine tattered volumes on my shelf and I still pull one out to check on the species of the snake in the back yard!

In the Bible, as in lots of other ancient literature, the process of naming (and sometimes renaming) is a sacred one. At the Creation in Genesis, God makes and names the aspects of creation - day and night, plants and animals, all of it, and then calls it all good. Adam, the original earth-creature, is named for adamah the ground from which it is crafted, and Chava (whom English calls Eve, the matriarch of humankind) in Hebrew is named for chayim, Life. Then when the human being arrives, God invites is to name the creatures of its environment for itself. When Abram and Sarai receive their vocation to go out from the land of Ur on pilgrimage through the wilderness to a new homeland, and thereby to become God's particular beloved people, God renames them Abraham and Sarah. Naming establishes relationship via loving attention. First, we notice and are curious; then we wonder and seek to name. The object of attention becomes an identifiable subject with whom we are in interaction, for whom we feel concern and exercise care. Then we can communicate about the named entity to others both when it is present and when it is absent. Naming an opponent was to exercise power in relationship; of you could name enemies you could, literally, call them out, dis-cover them. Naming matters.

When we name badly, wrongly, maliciously, disrespectfully, we curse - with ethnic slurs, lies, and profanities; we misrepresent those of which we speak. When we name rightly, truthfully, and respectfully, we bless; we honor, recognize, acknowledge the being of that other who is named. When a writer or poet names the world in surprisingly fresh and attentive ways, our blunted sense of wonder and awareness of connection is sharpened. In ancient societies - and I think still - the poets have a priestly task: they identify the sacredness of the world. Naming is a spiritual work that sets us in relationship to our world and its occupants - for better or worse. So when in the Church we thank God for a human life, dedicate it to God, Christen it - literally mark it with the name of Jesus Christ, and bless it in the name of God as Father, Son, and Spirit - we name the person in front of God, just as Adam did for the fellow-creatures, just as God did for Godself, in the ancient stories, we recognize the baptized as Christ's own for ever, a disciple alongside us, a member of us, an equal partner in the work of the Gospel.

So it is no small thing to take your child, or your friend's child, or your grandchild or student out into the world and show and touch and name what you observe there: this is an acorn. This is an oak tree. This is a dandelion. This is Slippery Jack, Suillus americanus, the fungus that grows only in symbiotic relationship with Eastern White Pine trees, Pinus strobus, allowing the roots of that tree to absorb nutrition from the soil. Maybe you hardly notice the little beige fruiting caps of the mushroom among the pine roots. Lose one and you will lose the other. The community of the planet is wonderfully and mysteriously knit together for life. We have hardly begun to name what is sustaining us here. We must not forget what we have come to know. It is certainly reasonable to snap a photo on a phone and have an app find similar images and offer potential identifications, but it is very easy on a screen to connect one image to another and file it, without having the real being in front of you brought into relationship with your own mind and heart; naming is about touching with your mind and heart beings that are mutually God-given. It is about not just becoming well-informed and knowledgeable, but becoming wise and humane, in the image of God.


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

Monday, February 11, 3:45 - 6:30 p.m.: St. John's serves a nutritious chicken dinner at Old West Church, Boston to guests experiencing homelessness. Thanks to all who cook chicken or bring fresh fruit & cookies!
Tuesday, February 12, 7:15: 
Bible Study at the Rectory

Wednesday, February 13, 10:15 a.m.:
Holy Eucharist

Sunday,February 17, 10:00 a.m.:  
Holy Eucharist

Bake Sale during Coffee Hour to kick-off our fund raising for the B-SAFE summer program that will take place at our partner parish, Church of the Holy Spirit, Mattapan. Every July St. John's sponsors several lunches and a field trip.

Please let Emily know if you'd like to bake: emilysugg30@gmail.com. Middle School youth are especially encouraged to bake and/or sell our 

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!