Sunday, February 24: 10:00 a.m

Epiphany 6C*, Feb. 17,2019                                                             St. John’s Church

Rev’d Jennifer Phillips                                    Jer.17:5-10;1Cor.15:12-20;Lk6:17-26

The dark-adapted eye can see one single photon. Only once have I been outside in a place that was utterly dark: going to visit a friend who lived in a trailer in the woods, a mile down a country dirt track in very rural Western Massachusetts. In the car on my way there, I hadn’t thought how dark it might be, since I lived in the little town where there was always the glow of a streetlight or sign somewhere. When I parked at the end of her half-mile long track and turned off the headlights it was blindingly dark, on this cloudy autumn night. To either side of the track -- I had walked it many times - was a deep ditch with swampy water, field beyond for the first part of the distance and then increasingly thick woods. It was so very dark I couldn’t see my feet or the hand that I held out in front of me because of that spooky feeling one has in the dark that some obstacle is just in front of you. But I resolved to go on, trusting that eventually I would see a glow from her little kerosene lamp through the trees. So I felt my way slowly, listening to the different sounds my feet made on the firm packed earth of the center of the track versus the softer moister earth toward its sides, hearing all the insect and animal noises around me, in a state of intense focused alertness that had no space for fear. And after a long, long time, it seemed to me, maybe only a quarter-mile, but surrounded by this palpable and utter dark and moving through it as though I was swimming through outer space, there it was, the tiniest gleam of a particle of light winking through the fir trees somewhere ahead. That spark changed the feeling of my landscape completely, even though it was still too far off to light my steps or show the path toward the door. Suddenly there was a destination, a finite amount of darkness left that I knew would grow less and less complete with every step as I came within range of the glow of the little lamp behind the window. Suddenly the utter solitude of the darkness was inhabited by the promise of someone else besides me inhabiting it.

In the dark of our lives come sparks like that to keep us moving forward in hope and trust. As I think of utter darkness, I think also of a luminous life I’d like to introduce to you, one of the saints you may not know of. We meet him, in the middle of his life, at the bottom of a deep completely dark hole in the cellar of the Chateau D’If (that island fortress made famous by the stories of the Count of Monte Christo and the Man In the Iron Mask). His name is Elie Nault, a French Hugeuenot (a Reformed Protestant Christian) born in 1661. As a young boy of 12 he became a sailor and later a merchant, traveling between Europe and the New World, including Haiti. While there he had a religious awakening that he was to describe saying, “God began to speak to my heart, and granted me his love.” As a young man he lived in Boston for a short while where he married and came to the command of the ship La Belle Marquise. Captured at sea by a French privateer, Naud was hauled in chains back to France and because he was a Huguenot, a Protestant and not a Catholic, was condemned to a life sentence as slaves rowing in the galleys. Men- Turks, Africans and some 550 Protestant French were commandeered to 30+ year terms of rowing. About 4% of the 60 thousand who served over a century, 4% were enslaved because of their faith, another group for leaving their country, some for illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, and some for sheltering Protestant pastors, and the ships were more detention and punishment centers than cargo or military vessels. They remained chained to their oars 24/7 on the open deck, and in between 3 month voyages when they stopped for provisions and officer leave, the slaves worked for port workshops, and knitted socks. 44% died before finishing their sentences. Naud was chained to oars to row in two ships, where he encouraged and prayed with his 160 fellow slaves, and converted others to Christian faith, and they called him the Great Mystic of the Galleys. He came to be thought so dangerous by the power of his influence even in chains that he was taken into solitary confinement in the prison-fortress of the Chateau D’If and dropped into the well-like windowless, doorless earth pit where he was utterly alone except for scant bits of food tossed down. For five years he lived in darkness as his clothes rotted off his body and rats competed for his bits of bread, but he refused to convert to the king’s Catholic religion. There he composed poems, a few of which were later published.

Elie Nault was released in 1698 when the treaty of Ryswick was signed, allowing some freedom for Calvinist and reformed Christians, and he returned to America where his daughter was already growing up in New York City, and had been baptized in the little Huguenot Anglican congregation of St. Esprit on East 60th Street. There he settled and became an Anglican missioner and catechist to the poor, particularly to slaves. He labored to organize local clergy, who resisted vigorously, his attempts to educate African and Indian slave and poor street children. Such children could not attend schools because they did not possess suitable clothing, so these city classrooms in churches and homes were called ragged schools - his was the first in this country. He was licensed as a catechist by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel - that great British Missionary Society- to whom he appealed for resources for the slaves “who were without God in the world, and of whose souls there was no manner of care taken.” Nault was instrumental in bringing a bill before Congress to compel slave-owners to baptize and educate in faith  any slave children under their control. His life was repeatedly threatened by those who opposed education of slaves and beggars, believing that learning Christian faith would “be a means to make the slaves more cunning and apter to wickedness,” not to mention sparking their desire for freedom. Elie Naud’s first school may have been the start of the Trinity School that still exists in New York, and he was buried in 1722 in the Trinity Churchyard, leaving behind a few hundred dollars to St. Esprit Church to feed the poor, and 52 hymns and poems in French, later published. He was a servant of slaves, in the Gospel spirit. The light shone in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it!

In Luke’s telling of the story of the sermon on the mount (which in Luke’s narrative, is the sermon on the plain), Jesus says to the crowd, knowing the lives they lead and their suffering and difficulty, “Blessed are you poor ones. God’s reign belongs to you. You who feel so hungry, you are really fortunate for you will be completely satiated with food. Blessed are you who mourn and grieve; joy will come to you, though you can’t even imagine it now. And you who bear the pain and scorn of following me, how honorable are you, for this distress is not all there is. You, like the great prophets of old, shall find a divine reward and vindication before long.” Coming from Jesus, a poor man on the road, with an early torment and death ahead of him and the world’s darkness quite visible around him in the suffering faces and meager lives of the poorest of the outer inhabitants of the mighty Roman Empire, proceeded such words of comfort and consolation and promise! Blessed are you. Fortunate are you. You are to be congratulated, now in the midst of your misery, for everything is soon to change for you. There is a speck of light visible for each of them as he speaks, and surely everything in their landscape was changed by glimpsing it.

Luke’s Jesus speaks with considerable eloquence, and yet the next moment he turns on the privileged among his hearers and speaks to them very harshly, a cry of outrage and sorrow, for the sense of the Greek is this: “Damn you rich people - you’ve had all you are going to get. Damn you who are full up-- soon enough you’ll be really hungry, and you who are laughing, your turn will come to mourn and wail.” How could the well-to-do in his audience not feel shaken and ashamed and scared at a public rebuke like that, reminding them they should not feel so secure? For them the searing light of Jesus’ attention shows them their own inner darkness, the brink they are standing on, the abyss below.

We readers are invited to listen, each according to our circumstance- those who need a rebuke, those who need a blessing - for both are offered to us. We are invited to be photons of the divine light, little particles of hope and brightness to the world, none of which will be invisible to eyes conditioned by the darkness all around. We need not be cast down by that darkness. We need not lose heart because of the wars and wickednesses that, even if we would not willingly join in, we are joined into because of where we live, what our leaders decide, and what goods we have. We need not lose hope because illness and loss and death are close at hand and we feel powerless to hold them back. We have the capacity to be particles of divine light whether we are chained to the oar of our suffering, in the bottom of a pit of sin and failure, or sitting in comfortable seat, by the power of that light that is in us through God’s Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul points directly to Christ’s resurrection as the first fruits, the anticipation and the sign, of our own eternal destiny and salvation. In fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of all that have died. In fact. Truly. And everything is changed by the brightness of that revelation. Just a glimmer of it and our night-encircled landscape is transformed. Just a glimpse and we can keep on placing our feet on the unseen path ahead of us. Just daring to open to the possibility for a moment, and our world will not be the same. Dying becomes not an end but a gateway. Goodness becomes not a futile naivete, but a sturdy trust in a reality that is coming into being but is  not yet fulfilled. Hope becomes not a silly imagining, but a joyful acknowledgment of the immense and merciful mystery which is God. Faith becomes not a sign of weak-mindedness but an investment in a promised future that lends us strength and peace and determination to shine as brightly as we can. Our dark-adapted eyes can see these photons of light around us, and so we keep walking on the way.


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

Tuesday, February 19, 7:00 p.m.: Bible Study at the Rectory

Wednesday, February 20, 10:15 a.m.:
Holy Eucharist

Sunday, February 24, 10:00 a.m.:
Holy Eucharist
No Church School classes; Nursery care available
Confirmation Class 4:45 - 5:45 p.m.

Tuesday, February 26, 7:00 p.m.: Bible Study at the Rectory

Wednesday, February 27, 10:15 a.m.:
Holy Eucharist

Sunday, March 3, 10:30 a.m.:
Worship at Church of the Holy Spirit, Mattapan

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!