June 25, 10:00 a.m.

Pentecost 3, Proper 6A* 6-18-17                                                           St. John’s Church

Rev’d Jennifer Phillips                                Gen.18:1-15,21:1-7;Rom5:1-8;Mtt9:35-10:8

Sarah laughed at God. I can just imagine her, crouching behind the tent flap, all ears, listening to three divine messengers chatting with her husband, and saying under her breath, “But really - I’m spiritual not religious. I leave that organized religion stuff to Abraham.” She’d stayed awhile in Egypt and was intrigued by the curious animal headed deities there and the cycle of observance that went with the flood and shrinking of the life-giving Nile River. She’d been to some workshops on Canaanite fertility religion while Abraham was haggling over a big livestock purchase. Some friendly woman in a market in North Africa somewhere had given her some crystals to hang from her tent pole and they made lovely multicolored patterns on the scraped hide walls. Her husband was quite clear about his decision to follow the summons of a single over-arching God he called Elohim. But then, back in Ur, Elohim had made him a very personal promise to found through him a great nation. Sarah was beginning to wonder in what way that fabled future could possibly pertain to her as she saw her fertile years heap up and disappear. When the evening breeze actually cooled the camp and there was enough water for people and animals, and the great disc of the desert sun dipped through sheltering palm branches, sometimes she gazed at the horizon and felt a sort of oneness with the expanse of sand and sky that she identified as spiritual. But organized religion: so male, so dry, so hierarchical, so full of regulations, she sighed. Yes, I’m spiritual but not religious.

(Of course the term religion didn’t actually occur until the Roman world gave us Latin - the word religare means to bind. Unfortunately for many, what comes to mind is ropes and shackles rather than human connections with each other and God which is what the word was intended to convey for Christians.) Spirituality focuses on tending the inner flame on a primarily solo journey of discovery in the transcendent dimension – not anything like what the Gospels and Paul describe as central for followers of Christ: Prayer, yes, separately and together; but chiefly, mixing it up in a community of believers engaged with, struggling with the world as it is and as it should become! 

Today we catch sight of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, coming down from his solitary prayer and the quiet company of his closest disciples into the towns and villages, drawn by a burning compassion at their helplessness and disconnectedness - like sheep without a shepherd, Matthew describes. His guts were twisted with distress for them, and he saw their numbers and the few disciples who could heal and offer his message of repentance and hope alongside him and longed for more help. So he sent out the twelve two by two with his authority in a very targeted mission to Jewish communities to tell and show them “the imperium of heaven is come near to you, here, now.” This is no general or private spirituality, but a religious mission, binding those healed, cleansed, forgiven, raised up, and offered hope a lasting connection to each other, to Jesus, and to the God he called Father and the reign that God was inaugurating on earth. When our missioners travel to Honduras they are going to build and nurture relationships in which the Holy Spirit is already at work both here and there in Coban.

It was the amazing apostles Peter and Paul who picked up the mission Jesus had launched and carried it beyond all the boundaries of what was religiously appropriate in their time and place. Peter, the Jew, who was given the shocking vision of a sheet full of clean and unclean food animals and told to eat them all like any Gentile, and so understood that the good news of Jesus the Christ was destined for Gentiles, not just for Jews. Paul, whose blinding vision on the Damascus Road sent him to baptize Gentiles and to spend most of his energy carrying the Gospel to foreigners of every stripe. The new binding to Christ in a turned-around life begun by being baptized, was indeed a new religion - a new sort of binding. Christ broke down the dividing walls, Paul explained, and created a radically different sort of household without the old social distinctions of slave and free, male and female, and without the religious separations of Jew and Greek and Samaritan. The energy and drive for this transforming of relationship, this connecting work, between the baptized and all others, between the baptized and God, which formed the churches and saw faithful human being in terms of membership of diverse parts in a single body - a new blood relationship - was and is the energy of the Holy Spirit, that same Spirit which was in Jesus and is in us and every baptized Christian. It does not make us merely spiritual. Any person can be spiritual and go on an inner quest for enlightenment. Being baptized into the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ makes us religious - bound to one another in an unseverable connection, and marked and sealed as Christ’s own for ever.

This does not mean that we have to like the Church. It does mean that we are the Church, that hospital of sinners, that community where the person you least want to live with always dwells! In the ties of blood-family, a person can walk away from their parents or children, or be carried away by circumstance but those people are still their relatives and part of their biological and anthropological identity in the world. The ties of baptism are even deeper and more lasting because they are God-made. So it is a contradiction in terms to declare as a baptized Christian, “I am spiritual but not religious.” You can take the person out of the church (alas!) but we cannot take the church out of the person, as it were. Blest be the tie that binds our hearts.

This higher citizenship we have in the empire of heaven, this membership we have in the body of Christ and in one another calls us to embrace it and celebrate it (which is why we are here this morning). This is the connection that turns us back toward one another and toward God when we have turned away - the process of repentance (which means, after all, turning around, or re-turning. God calls us together and joins us together in our very being, but God does not coerce the actions we choose. God calls us to commit and to walk the path of the cross as Jesus did, that is, to undertake the risk and probable personal suffering and labor of being those who live in the reign of heaven even before it finishes coming. Many may think this is nuts. They may say to us, “Look around you! Does this look like heaven to you? Does this look like a world where you should risk trusting others, or acting more like a servant than a middle-manager, or being non-retaliatory peace-makers, or giving away a lot of what you have, or sticking your neck out for people who aren’t your relatives, and for a future that seems like an impossible dream? Is this smart? Are you gonna believe all that stuff? Are you going to be one of those tedious religious people?” 

Back to Sarah, not quite ready to believe the impossible. I often wonder whether God would have done better speaking to Sarah directly, as God speaks to Hagar later on in the story. God didn’t speak directly to Eve in the Creation story either, but relied on giving her husband the information to pass on. My hunch is that God hadn’t experienced enough of human history yet to observe what happens to the average married couple in which the husband is the one to take and relay all the vital telephone messages for the family. I want to whisper to God (just a suggestion - talk to the woman! Otherwise you’re lucky if the ten commandments don’t end up in the pants pocket at the drycleaners. Why would Sarah be likely to believe four guys having a conversation about her reproductive issues? Would Abraham even be likely to mention to three strange men at the watercooler -oasis that is) if he was having some trouble in that department? I think not. Really, this is a funny story!

Rashi, the greatest of the Medieval Rabbis who wrote commentaries  on the Torah, noted in the verse about the appearance of God to Abraham at the oaks of Mamre in 18:1, that God came “to inquire about his health on this third day after Abraham’s circumcision.” and that of the three angels sent, one is given the task of healing the old man. Sarah says in the Hebrew, “after I have become this old, shall my wrinkled flesh be smooth again?” (also translated “Shall I have pleasure, Abraham also being an old guy, if you know what I mean?” Now remember, Sarah wasn’t the only one laughing at God. In chapter 17:15 the story says, “and Abraham fell on his face and laughed” when God said that Sarah had conceived a son - he rolled on the ground and laughed! “I’m a hundred, Sarah is ninety. God, maybe you should stick to making a great nation of my already born son Ishmael,” that’s what the disbelieving Abraham says.

I remember this story every time I hear the promises of God through Jesus to return in glory, to sort out the world and raise the dead and complete the reign of heaven right here, and I am tempted to scoff or to roll on the ground with laughter at the absurdity of it. But the promises of God are not just for those two people Abraham and Sarah, or for their kids. For this is not a story about private spirituality achieving its goal. In fact everything doesn’t work out happily for Abraham and Sarah -the next years are hard, their household fractures, Hagar and Ishmael are sent away and Abraham never sees his son again. Sarah and Abraham die living apart in different towns. God’s promises are for the whole future that is to come forth through those individuals - for the great binding together of a people, and then many peoples, through the power of the Holy Spirit. These are promises that might have made another woman laugh when an angel announced that she was to bear a son to be the Savior of the world.

It is a big future that God is weaving from these early origins, and from our time and our stories also. Bigger than we can imagine, laughably impossible to conceive of. So I’m sure God will pardon us if we laugh, if we have trouble believing, even if we lose heart from time to time as the forest disappears behind the trees of our daily worries and woes. But for us who try to live in the reality of that holy future which God has begun and is bringing into being even now, who live our resurrection life while slogging through the mud of the world not yet perfected, who glimpse what is coming through the hope poured into us by the Holy Spirit, we begin to taste and see the glory of God

WEEKLY SCHEDULE                          

Office Hours:  
Tuesday 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
Thursday 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
Friday 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

Sunday Worship: 10:00 a.m. 6/25/17
Sunday Worship:  9:00  a.m. Remainder of the summer

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

Tuesday, June 20:
7:00 p.m. Bible Study

Wednesday, June 21:
10:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist

Sunday, June 25:
10:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist

Tuesday, June 27:
7:00 p.m. Bible Study
Last one until the fall

Wednesday, June 28:
10:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist
Last one until the fall
Summer Schedule:

Sunday, July 2:
9:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist
Sunday Services will be at 9:00 a.m. for the remainder of the summer

St. John’s Summer Schedule and Events  

Summer Reminder....                                     

We don’t have scheduled acolytes or lectors and intercessors in the summer. Instead, the rector will greet people at the door with a basket of cards for the various roles in the day’s worship- please take one when you are able.

Also, we don’t order altar flowers in the summer months. Parishioners are invited sign up to provide bouquets from their gardens or their favorite florist shop and arrange them to add beauty to our space. You might take these after the service to a home-bound member or friend, or leave them for Zion Church to enjoy on Sunday afternoon at their worship and collect them next day if you like.


Starting on July 2nd, we will move our schedule as usual for summer to a service at 9am Sundays, and the Tuesday Bible Study/Night Prayer group and Wednesday morning Eucharist will take a break for July-August. This makes our servicer a bit cooler in the heat of the season, too.

The annual Ecclesia-St.John’s picnic at Hale Reservation will be Saturday, July 15, 12-2ish. Drivers will be needed to collect our friends from Norwood train station and transport them to Hale and back.

Another date of note – at our 9 am service July 16th, we look forward to baptizing our newest member Dylan Trier, son of Katherine and Henry and brother to Liam.


August 27th and September 3rd (Labor Day weekend) we are invited to join our neighbors at First Baptist Church on High Street, along with the people of First Parish Congregational Church, for Sunday services outdoors at their woodland chapel next to their parking lot. So those Sundays there won’t be a separate service at St. John’s – we’ll pray together there.

And looking toward fall – mark your calendar

Friday, September 15th, LYRA, the acapella Russian vocal ensemble returns for a concert of sacred and folk music at 7pm. Over-2-night bed and breakfast hosts will be needed for the 4-5 musicians on the 14th-15th.




 Flowers enhance the beauty of our church and greatly contribute to our worship.  We place flowers near the altar to remind us of Creation, which brings us to the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, which we celebrate every Sunday.  Here at St. John’s, rather than have a general budget item for flowers, we invite our parishioners to provide the flowers in memory or honor of loved ones, or in thanksgiving for special events.  There is a sign up sheet on the bulletin board  on which one may select a Sunday, (or Sundays!), for a special tribute.  The cost for flowers, which the Altar Guild orders, is $35. (Please be sure to note on your payment that it is for flowers.)  We are grateful to  Westwood Gardens Florist, which, for many years, has provided beautiful arrangements to us for a modest price.