Sunday, July 15: 9:00 a.m.
Note Change of time will continue through Labor Day weekend

Pentecost+8, Pr. 9B*. July 8, 2018                                                  St. John’s Church

Rev’d Jennifer Phillips                                             Ezek2:1-7;2Cor12:2-10; Mk6:1-6


Can it be that God’s ability to do mighty works is diminished by human unbelief? Could God, the Creator of all that is,  be limited by human shortcoming? Mark’s gospel is the excited announcement of God’s holy reign breaking into the world and human history in a transformative way through the person of Jesus. Healing follows healing; exorcism heaps upon exorcism; Jesus does mighty works of power among Jews and Gentiles. But today, in his own hometown, he fails. “He could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few frail people and healed them,” so says Mark. “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country among his own folk,” says Jesus, and we are told he was dismayed by their unbelief, and went away to work elsewhere.

Recently I took some friends for a day at the beach. They splashed while I went for a walk along it and had reached the far end and was just turning around at a fenced-off enclosure, put up to provide refuge for a pair of nesting piping plovers and their two chicks and a few pairs of nesting terns. There are two squares of sand, each maybe twenty yards on a side, with a walkway left between them so that people can pass to the far tip of the beach just beyond. Another walker with headphones and a brisk executive stride came marching across the bird enclosure, ducking under the taping and past the signs warning people of the nesting birds. I said, “Excuse me but couldn’t you walk around the pen? You could crush the nests without even noticing.” He answered, “I walk where I please.”

I know the voice inside myself that protests being inconvenienced by others, that wants my own way and my own space, and to not be bothered with anyone or anything else. I think this demon of self-importance plagues most of us at one time or another, so I quiet my own responding inner voice of outrage against this other human being and think instead about the small discipline of keeping myself out of some spaces in order to let some other creature be. It seems good for the soul, this gesture of self-limiting in order to honor the place of another, the right of another to its share of creation and life.

We speak a lot about God’s goodness, love, justice and power – the going-out of God to accomplish God’s good purpose, God’s energetic activity. Judaism has cherished another aspect of God, particularly in relation to God’s creative work - called Tsimtsum. Before everything, say the rabbis, God was all-in-all. God was everywhere, the Ein Sof  -the infinite Divine Light. In order to accomplish creation, the first thing God needed to do was to make room for it, to withdraw God's infinite light enough to allow the creation to come into being in its own right. This act of hospitality was the first part of creation before even the word “Let there be light” was uttered. And so I have a sudden playful image of God as the park ranger who ropes off a little corner of the universe and says, “I’m going to keep my big feet out of here so that these little creatures have room to live their lives without being walked all over and squashed by me.” Out of the infinite imagination and delight of God’s wisdom come forth the creatures, one by one: the tern, the tufts of dune grass, the piping plovers with their twinkling feet, the hermit crabs, the sand fleas, and human beings. We all have our beginning in the mind and love of God. The Hindus have another image of God’s creative imagination: the great god Brahman sleeping afloat on a sea of milk, dreaming the universe into its reality – human beings as dreamed by God. 

Hospitality is the virtue of opening oneself and making comfortable room for others to find their well-being. In Hebrew scriptures this quality of God is known as “racham”, from the root-word for womb. This is God’s mercy, God’s spaciousness, God’s nurturing embrace, God’s womb-ness. To choose to be hospitable is to become vulnerable to another. The lodger may refuse to leave and eat one out of house and home, or turn out to be a betrayer from within one’s own household. By hospitality God feeds us of God’s very self – like that mythic Christian symbol, the pelican, feeding its chicks with drops of blood from its own beak-pierced breast. St. Julian of Norwich wrote: "The mother may give her child suck of her milk, but our precious Mother, Jesus, He may feed us with Himself, and doeth it, full courteously and full tenderly, with the Blessed Sacrament that is precious food of my life".  Anselm of Canterbury, writing in 1109, said, "But you too, good Jesus, are you not also a mother? Are you not a mother who like a hen gathers her chicks beneath her wings?" God in some sense chooses a position of vulnerability toward us – so that we may genuinely be free to push God away or even to abuse God’s hospitality, we are not coerced to do or be good, though God never tires of seeking and caring for us.

I think of God opening the holy space of God’s reign among us here on earth and showing the signs of it, the characteristics of it  through Jesus’ acts of healing and casting out evil influences and feeding and entering into friendships with unlovable outcasts, and inviting us in. Is it then God’s radical hospitality that allows us to choose and to push God back to the margins of our lives, that even allows room for the evil by which human beings push the Savior of the world out of life onto a cross, into death. Our appetite for power, for turf, for control drives the Holy One out of house and home on our planet, no less than piping plovers, great auks, burrowing owls, and all the other creatures that go into extinction to make room for us -approaching a third of all species inhabiting the lands of the earth when I was born, already gone or vanishing. We end up like those evil inhabitants of the ancient city of Sodom in the time of Lot who consume everything and then stand outside the door and demand that even the visiting angels be handed over to them for the satisfying of their own lust and greed. There are, of course, consequences of our behavior in the desolation of lives and ecosystems, in the loneliness and meaninglessness into which we may fall, and in the purifying judgement of God to which all must come.

But God’s will toward us is vastly merciful. By hospitality God gives to us who are created, finite and mortal, a share in God’s eternity. God desires for us who are made in God’s own image to reflect the divine hospitality to one another, to all the creatures of the earth, and to God, Godself. God desires us to make room, to open ourselves, to nurture and welcome the being of these others as we have been welcomed. In our community, in this congregation, the business of welcoming is at the heart of our baptismal calling. We welcome the visitor and stranger in Christ’s name. We welcome one another with tender concern and attention. We work to create a gathering that is a womb of safety, a sanctuary for the broken-hearted, children needing formation in faith and service, those yearning for God, those hungry for community, those seeking meaning and direction for their lives, a holy place. God invites us to collaborate in the divine work of building the reign of God, of restoring the brokenness of the world. We may choose to participate in our own healing – or not, like those citizens of Jesus’ hometown. We know from our own experience: love cannot be forced, only offered and invited. God allows us the power to choose against the Holy Spirit working within us – though to do so is a sort of suicide – that sin against the holy Spirit that prevents the image of the Holy One from showing or working in us, that sin the gospels consider unforgivable because in it we do not allow forgiveness to enter us.

How far does the hospitality of God extend? Consider that Scripture makes the astounding statement that God “made Jesus to be sin who knew no sin”. Traditionally many in the church have understood that as meaning that God’s justice required a substitute to bear the penalty of human sin and Jesus was sent for that task. But consider also the possibility that God’s tender heart toward humankind perishing in its broken state desired that we not be made distant from God’s goodness by it. How could God, perfectly good and complete and wise know us fully in our plight and come near us? Was it that in entering human flesh and experience fully, even to death, and by Christ’s “becoming sin who knew no sin” even our sin and isolation has been gathered into the heart and mind of God – that God takes the brokenness of creation into the breaking of the divine heart, so that God knows it all from within its flesh and substance, and then redeems it all and draws it toward its perfecting? By hospitality, God allows even death and sin and abandonment to enter the space made by God’s goodness, so that we who are subject to these miseries should never be alone in them, Christ being our bridge home.

In the simplest language, God does not keep distant from us in the perfect heavens but through Jesus can say, “I’ve been there, I’ve done that. I love the whole of this creation and I’m going to save it and give it back a new and eternal life despite its mess.” And to us God says, “see what I am doing – see the healing, the good standing up against the evil, life breaking in everywhere? Come join me in this work of joyful hospitality. Make room! Lay your selfishness aside and share the goodness you have been given. Welcome all the others in my name.     







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 2017:

Rev. Dr. Jennifer M. Phillips
Jennifer offers a blessing to our High School graduates, Matt and Casey, on June 3

Sunday, July 15, 
Worship ~ 9:00 a.m.

Tuesday, July 17
Bible Study ~ 7:00pm

Wednesday, July 18
Morning Eucharist ~ 10:15am

Looking Ahead 

Mark your calendars for our B-SAFE days: July 18, 19, and 20 when we will be serving lunches and offering a Field Trip for 60 or so elementary school children at our partner parish, C.H.S., Mattapan. Speak to Leslie or Emily if you'd like to join us in this joyful outreach. Below: kids having fun posing for pictures after lunch.

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!

Six St. John's volunteers, along with college students from nearby Suffolk & other regular participants, at the end of the Oasis dinner.

Our annual picnic for Ecclesia Ministries at Hale Reservation