Worship Resources for December 12, Advent 3

Sermon from Mark+.

Who Are We Waiting For

Advent is a time that refocuses our attention on the spiritual virtue of hope. Hope is the universal aspiration of the human heart. Regardless of differences in the imagined outcome -hope is a universal of the human spirit.

I’ve mentioned before that one of my fatalistic Irish grandmother’s sayings was don’t hope- never be disappointed. This saying captures that quality of risk inherent in hope. To hope is to risk wanting – and wanting raises the possibility of disappointment. But my grandmother’s expression, while it captures our fear of risk, it nonetheless misses the essential point about hope. Hope’s not primarily a picture of a longed-for future – realizable or not. Hope is the compass setting that establishes a direction of travel in the present.

Hope is the compass setting that establishes a direction of travel in the present.

You see, hope is not a future dream – although much of human hope is couched in this way. Hope is primarily an expectation for the present. Don’t hope -never be disappointed is not simply a protection against future disappointment it’s a severe limitation on present time possibility.

We are the ones we have been waiting for is a saying the origin of which has multiple attributions. We are the ones we have been waiting for is however the title of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning book about which Alice Walker has said:

We are the ones we have been waiting for because we live in an age in which we are able to see and understand our own predicament. With so much greater awareness than our ancestors – and with such capacity for insight, knowledge, and empathy – we are uniquely prepared to create positive change within ourselves and our world.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for was also used by Barak Obama – not to indicate that he or his administration were necessarily the ones desperately awaited but that present generations of our society have the potential to really change American society’s direction of travel towards an – as yet – unrealized future.

Don’t hope -never be disappointed is not simply a protection against future disappointment it’s a severe limitation on present time possibility.

Sustaining hope is a lifetime’s work. Advent invites us to refocus on this task of sustaining hope in a world that tends often – like my grandmother’s saying – to play up the risk of hope’s disappointment.

We can see the tension between hope as a longed-for future expectation and hope as the invitation to open to present time possibility played out in the book of the Prophet Isaiah – which forms the mainstay of Advent’s O.T. lessons. On Advent Sunday, picking up on Third Isaiah’s plaintiff cry: O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence, I posed the question: in Advent what are we waiting for, and why are we still waiting? I noted that the answer was too complex for one sermon and I promised to return to the question.

Third Isaiah’s cry: why God are you too long in fulfilling your promises – is certainly a complaint we can identify with. But the problem here lies in the nature of expectation. Third Isaiah’s complaint is an expectation of a God who dwells outside of human affairs and is required from time to time to swoop in to rescue us from our folly. Yet, in the book of Isaiah we find the earlier voice – that of First Isaiah, writing some 200 years prior to Third Isaiah. First Isaiah anticipates God’s arrival not as an all-powerful – God who rescues us – but as Emmanu-El –literally, God is with us.

The implications of First Isaiah’s expectation of God as Emmanu-El  – is of a God who has come not to rescue us and take us out of the mess of our own creation, but as God who enters into the mess of the world alongside us: to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.

If our Advent hope causes us to raise our eyes heavenwards waiting for divine rescue – we will miss the object of Advent hope- that God is already here – among us – journeying alongside us in our travail.

At the heart of our Christian faith is the realization that in the birth of Jesus, the Creator, hitherto dwelling outside of creation – now enters to dwell within the tent of the creation. In the Incarnation God comes to be with us. However, the birth of Jesus is only the beginning.

Although not the gospel appointed for Advent 3, Luke’s chapter 4 show us the adult Jesus’ first act in his public ministry. On entering the synagogue, he reads First Isaiah’s words: the Spirit of the Lord is upon me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. His audience’s familiarity with these words as future promise give way to astonishment and then to anger as he tells them that: today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. They react badly to being told to forget about the future, and open their eyes to see that things are really happening now. In Jesus, hope has come as the challenge for change in the present time.

We are the ones we have been waiting for focuses our attention firmly on the present time in which hope is not a future dream but a present-time activity. Of course, there is a hidden irony here. Writing of Obama’s use of the phrase in the Atlantic Magazine, Andrew Sullivan wrote:

But I think some have missed a nuance. The phrase is actually a self-indictment as well as a self-congratulation. The point is surely that we shouldn't wait for someone else to save us, or lift us up, or fix our problems or address our fate.

What are we waiting for and why are we still waiting?  Maybe this is not the question after all.

The great 20th -century theologian Paul Tillich wrote:

the power of that for which we wait is already effective within us. Those who wait in an ultimate sense are not that far from that for which they wait

On Advent 3 we arrive at a different question from the one I posed on Advent 1. What are we waiting for becomes who are we waiting for? Allowing for an appropriate sense of humility, if we are not to be the ones we have been waiting for – then who will be?

Lent 2020

The 2020 Lent Program Weekly Schedule

  • Tuesday through Thursday at 9am – Morning Prayer
  • Thursday Evenings 5:30-6:30pm -Meditation Hour via Zoom click here for invite– for more on meditation visit here and and on how to meditate visit here.

Lent and Social Justice

This Lent we will also do something aiming to have a practical effect in the wider world. Following our screening of the film Lost in Providence last Wednesday evening, we are proposing that the parish engage in a letter writing campaign to the members of the General Assembly requesting their action on much needed reform of the outdated eviction laws that promote tenant evictions as a principal cause of homelessness throughout RI. RI lags behind neighboring states in achieving a better balance between landlord and tenant interests. Visit evicted-in-ri.com for more about the urgent social problem of decaying housing and widespread family homelessness.

Useful background information and letter writing materials:

Local Representative Letter Template

Statement of Need H7596 – S2264 Sealing and Unsealing Eviction records

Ending Housing Discrimination fact sheet 03-19

How does source of income discrimination affect RI


Daily Reading in Lent available from Amazon Prime

Bishop Knisely’s  Lent Is Not Rocket Science: An Exploration of God, Creation, and the Cosmos

Station to Station: An Ignatian Journey Through The Stations of The Cross. Gary Jensen

Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters. N.T. Wright. Audible version available

The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. N.T. Wright. Audible version available

The Resilient Disciple: A Lenten Journey from Adversity to Maturity. Justine Allain Chapman

Online – daily and weekly podcasts

Signs of Life  Why Church Matters Lent Program from the Society of St John The Evangelist, Cambridge, MA.


Embedding the Bible -The Good Book Club

In 2020, our main program as part of our strategic objective of embedding the Bible in parish life will be to follow the Forward Movement program

The Good Book Club.

Each week the latest link to the monthly Bible reading program will appear


You can find three week’s worth of readings so plug into the relevant week links at the bottom of the commentary section.

Interfaith Thanksgiving Service

This service reaches back to the days of the Abrahamic Accord – a relationship between Christian and Jews on the East Side. The Accord has ceased to function for some time now, yet the interfaith Thanksgiving service has continued, alternately hosted by Temple Beth-El and St Martin’s. Attendance has been falling each year at this service, and although billed as interfaith it is now mostly Christians who attend.  This year as the host I signaled a desire to review the approach to this service.  Following the Pittsburgh shootings, I then wondered if we needed to hastily put something together to signal community solidarity with our Jewish neighbors. In discussion with the Temple, we decided that having had a tremendous community vigil to mourn the shootings, and with busy calendars, nothing further was needed at this time. We have jointly agreed not to hold an interfaith Thanksgiving service this year.

Vestry Matters

Nominating Committee News 

We are seeking nominations for the positions of Senior and Junior Warden, Treasurer, Clerk, and one Vestry member

Our parish bylaws require that the Rector and Wardens appoint a nominating committee at least eight weeks before the Parish Annual meeting which is traditionally held the last Sunday in January. Our parish custom has been for the Rector, Wardens, and retiring vestry members to constitute the Nominating Committee. The Nominating Committee will nominate persons for the positions of Senior and Junior Warden, Treasurer, and Clerk as well as the number of necessary parishioners to replace those Vestry members whose three-year team has expired. It is customary for the Junior Warden to move to the Senior Warden slot. This is not required and others may be nominated to stand for election to Senior Warden at the Annual meeting.

This year, we will be seeking names of parishioners who would be capable and willing to serve in the four Parish ‘officer ‘ positions: Senior and Junior Warden, Treasurer, and Clerk — we do anticipate that John Bracken will stand for nomination as Senior Warden for a one-year term, having ably served as Junior Warden. In addition, the committee will be seeking one person to  serve on the Vestry for a three year term.

Note that we are only attempting to fill one vestry position this year rather than the customary three. We are proposing to change our bylaws to allow for a smaller, more streamlined vestry that is more in keeping with the current size of the Parish. The proposed change, also to be presented at the annual meeting, reduces the size of the vestry from 14 to 8. We feel that this change also acknowledges that many of our capable parishioners who would like to serve on the Vestry are simply too busy to be able to serve in the  fully committed fashion they would prefer. Please contact the Rector or one of the Wardens if you would care to nominate someone to serve in one of the positions mentioned.

Help St. Martin’s continue its work


Leave an Enduring Legacy by Contributing to Saint Martin’s Endowment

Since it opened its big red doors at 50 Orchard Avenue in 1922, Saint Martin’s has brought to the Greater Providence area a thoughtful approach to Christianity; one that combines the beauty of traditional Episcopal liturgy with vigorous outreach programs and a striving for social justice. In order to help ensure that Saint Martin’s continues to thrive, the Parish is strengthening its endowment and asks your help.

Saint Martin’s Endowment was set up decades ago to help fund long-term expenses and to insulate the parish from the vagaries of economic cycles. The endowment provides an ability to offer financial support to new initiatives and to make needed repairs to our beautiful and historic facility in a timely and cost-effective manner. It has also been used to support and jump-start new ministries and outreach programs. Dedicated funds within the endowment also fund special music programs on Christmas and Easter and allow the replacement of worn vestments and the like.

Our goal is to grow the size of the endowment so that we can restrict withdrawals to 4-5% of principal per year range. This is a sustainable level and is considered a “best practice”.

How can I help?

There are many ways to contribute to the Endowment. Some are simple and straightforward such as: an outright gift of money or assets such as stock or real estate, including Saint Martin’s in your will, making Saint Martin’s a whole or partial beneficiary of a life insurance policy, or a gift from an Individual Retirement Account. Other techniques such as Charitable Gift Annuities and Charitable Remainder Trust are more complicated but well worth considering if a sizable gift is contemplated. Consideration of tax and estate law can make your gift more powerful by reducing taxes and expenses.

Common Ways to help strengthen Saint Martin’s Endowment

  • Simple & Immediate Gifts. Cash, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, real estate and personal property can be given at any time to the Endowment. Some people have the idea that a gift to the endowment needs to be large. That is not the case. Any amount is always welcome. You can give a small affordable amount each month which adds up over time; others choose a larger one-time gift. The parish can also take title to real estate and valuable personal property such as jewelry or paintings and sell them with the proceeds going into the Endowment.
  • Gifts from an IRA, 401K and some other retirement plans. This is an increasingly common technique. The money that has accumulated in the plan has never been taxed but is taxed when you withdraw or when it goes into your estate when you die. However, gifts from such retirement accounts to charitable or religious organizations such as Saint Martin’s are not taxed at all. In addition, you may be entitled to a charitable deduction in the amount of the gift.
    • Tip: If you are over 70 1/2 the IRS requires that a portion of your IRA account be distributed each year until your death. This is the so called Required Minimum Distribution (RMD). If the money goes to you, it is taxed at your individual income tax rate. However, if you instruct your IRA to give the money directly to a not for profit such as Saint Martin’s then the distribution is not taxable to you.
  • Deferred Gifts: Wills and Bequests. A bequest through a will is the most common way the Endowment has been funded. It is a simple and straight forward way of giving and creating a legacy of good that will live on. Bequests can be in simple dollar amounts, or as a percentage of your estate or even a percentage of the remainder after other specific bequests such as gifts to children or other charities have been made. The language needed to add a bequest to an existing will can be quite simple: “I give, devise, and bequeath to Saint Martin’s Parish, 50 Orchard Avenue, Providence, RI, the sum of $ XXX. to be placed in its Endowment.
    • Tip: You should always use an attorney to develop your estate plan and draft and make changes to your will. Even if you do not have a lot of money, a will helps your family and friends understand how you would like to handle things. It can also avoid complications and confusion. The Episcopal Church Foundation’s “Planning for the End of Life” booklet contains considerable information about these topics. It can be found on line at http://www.ecfvp.org/webinars/122/basics-of-planned-giving-2.
  • Life Insurance. You may have life insurance that is no longer needed (children grown, spouse has passed) Some name the parish the beneficiary or partial beneficiary of such excess life insurance.
    • You may get a tax  deduction for the cash surrender value of the policy not its ‘face value”. If the policy requires continuing the premiums, those too can be deductible.
  • More Complicated Techniques. There are some techniques which only make sense if one has considerable assets. These include charitable gift annuities, Charitable remainder Trusts, and Pooled Income funds. Should you wish to explore these options Saint Martin’s will be happy to work with your advisors.

For further information please contact the church office or one of the Clergy or Vestry. The phone number is 401-751-2141; [email protected];

(Information provided in this brochure is of a general nature. You should always consult your own lawyer or accountants before making important decisions.)



Days 134-141 editorial comment

The books of I & II Chronicles seems to start the whole story we have read through Samuel and Kings all over again. But we will note how different Chronicles is. It’s a more one-sided version of the story of Israel told only from the perspective of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Clearly written during or after the Exile it’s the story of those that were left.


With Paul’s letter to the Romans, we now enter into a very new world, a world fashioned not by Jesus but by Paul. Paul wrote a good chunk of the N.T. although scholars dispute his authorship of all the books attributed to him by tradition. However, Romans is Paul, through and through. His central message is the Jewish Messiah is for everyone and not simply the Jews. Following his dramatic conversion, Paul came to understand that Jesus was God’s surprising ending to the story of Israel. This was an ending that the traditional reading of Israel’s story was not set up to handle.

Jesus himself played fast and loose with Scripture, using it as the scene setting device for taking the story in new and shocking directions from a Jewish point of view. Paul does likewise. He takes the long history of Israel and gives it its most universalist twist. Actually, the universal inclusion of all the nations on Mount Zion was already part of the prophetic tradition evinced by the Third Isaiah. So Paul simply picks up where Third Isaiah left off and moves to his central thesis.

In Romans, Paul spends a lot of time debating the merits and demerits of the Law. Put simply Paul notes that according to Israel’s reading of its own story, failure to keep the Torah was the core problem that led to national catastrophe and exile see the last chapter of II Kings for a heart-wrenching description of this. If Torah keeping was the core of Israel’s struggle, then it seemed logical to the Jewish Christian lobby that Torah keeping should be the gentiles’ problem as well.

In Romans and elsewhere Paul lays out his case, that Torah keeping is no longer the problem for either Jew or Gentile. Sin is a universal human problem, not exclusively a Jewish or Gentile problem. Jesus’ death and resurrection gives a new twist revealing God’s plan is the defeat of sin through death. Henceforth the promise given to Moses becomes the promise to all peoples.

Day 127-133 Editorial

Now the rest of the acts of Ahab and all that he did, ….are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the kings of Israel?

So ends the First Book of the Kings. The period covered by First and Second Kings is a period of fragmentation with a series of very unsatisfactory kings sitting on the thrones of the now divided kingdoms of Isreal and Judah. As the state of kingship continues to decline there arises a new breed of prophet in the land. As typified by the great Elijah and his successor Elisha we encounter the rise of the political prophet as the antidote to the corruption of the monarchy. The office of the political prophet is to speak truth to power. The prophets function like the Supreme Court, guardians of the constitution. At the heart of the Hebrew constitution lie two key concepts:

The political prophets function like the Supreme Court, as guardians of the constitution. At the heart of the Hebrew constitution lie two key concepts:

As typified by the great Elijah and his successor Elisha we encounter the rise of the political prophet as the antidote to the corruption of the monarchy. The prophets function like the Supreme Court, guardians of the constitution. At the heart of the Hebrew constitution lie two key concepts:

  1. The definition of Israel as those who God brought out of the land of bondage. The Exodus is the defining moment in the birth of the Israelites as a distinct people, a people born in slavery and liberated by God to be his chosen race.
  2. There is to be no other God but Yahweh who is the only true King in Isreal.

In all ages and in each political system there needs to be a mechanism for judging unconstitutional actions by those in authority, a voice that speaks truth to power. Thus all the kings are assessed by how faithful they are to God.  In Canaan the king was sovereign. He was God’s appointed surrogate. Like God, the king stood above the law. In Israel, the king was not sovereign, he was a servant of God with the responsibility to ensure faithfulness to the laws of God, sitting under God, not above him. This was easy for Isreal’s kings to forget when they become mesmerized by the example of real divine Canaanite models of kingship all around them.

First and Second Kings is a chronicle of the failure of each king to remember and to obey the founding principles of the covenant. So each comes to a sticky end – hastened by the work of the political prophet who declares what is valid and what is not according to the laws God has established in the Covenant with Moses.

First and Second Samuel and First and Second Kings comprise that phase of Hebrew history we refer to as the Monarchy. The struggles recorded reveal a universal tendency that without checks and balances power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts, absolutely. This is a powerful message for us to remember in our own current period. We see the resurgence of the figure of the nationalist dictator aided and abetted by the resurgence of an uncritical and paranoid nationalism. We see how this resurgence has not left America untouched. We witness the tensions when a dictatorial interpretation of presidential leadership, aided and abetted by a resurgent nationalism with all the xenophobic elements of fear of foreigners, those who are not of the tribe, of racism, and sexism expressions of the patriarchal systems of oppression, arises within a system founded on checks and balances designed to place limits on executive power.

To read the Bible is to read and learn that there is nothing new under the sun.Vigilance emerges from a knowledge of history and a long, long memory.

Day 114 Editorial Comment

The story of the rape of Tamar (2 Samuel 13) is one of the most horrifying episodes in the Hebrew Scriptures, arguably second only to the story of the rape, murder and dismemberment of the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19. These “texts of terror,” a term coined by theologian Phyllis Trible, leave the reader stunned at the least, and potentially triggered at the worst. How can we possibly read such horrific passages spiritually? How can such despicable behavior be part of our sacred Story?

The first thing to remember is that our sacred Story is a checkered one. It reflects the stark and often cruel reality of the human condition. The key is to read each episode as being in the context of the broad arc of God’s relationship with Creation—a relationship that progresses toward reconciliation in fits and starts from the very beginning; one step forward, sometimes five steps back. And in this passage we are currently in a dizzying backward swing.

So how to read this story? One possible option is to avert our eyes and pretend it isn’t there. That isn’t too difficult to do, since this is not part of the regular lectionary; there is little chance that you will hear it read or preached on in a Sunday service. But averting our eyes doesn’t make it go away any more than closing our eyes to human suffering makes it cease to exist. No; we need to look more closely, not away, and interrogate the text. What is the writer trying to tell us? And where is God in this story?

Up to this point in the account of David’s life and kingship, if we look closely, we can see that David’s biographers aren’t exactly enamored of their subject. David is light and shadow—a lot of shadow. There are times when David shows humility and love for the God who called him to lead God’s people. But by this point in the reading of Samuel you may have also noticed that a lot of people around David have died violently, and somehow David has avoided responsibility almost every time. Nothing sticks. And in the case of his daughter Tamar, the writer makes quite clear that David is indifferent to what is going on, effectively under his nose. This entire episode precipitates a family tragedy of epic scale, ultimately alienating David’s son Absalom from his father and dividing Israel.

Remember how the Deuteronomist writers made clear that God wanted one thing and one thing only of God’s people—to put God first? Remember how Samuel warned the people that if they got a king they would forget God and regret their decision? This rather sideways portrait of King David and his sons invites us to hear the writer say, “I told you so.”

But what of Tamar? She speaks 82 words as she begs her half-brother to see sense and not do this horrible irrevocable thing. And once it is done, and he recoils from her, she begs him again not to cast her out in disgrace. Just 82 words. But it is her actions that are most eloquent. This young woman, whose life has been effectively ruined by the combined actions of Amnon (rapist), Jonadab (conspirator), Absalom (who tells her to remain silent and waits two years for revenge) and David (willfully ignorant) refuses to accept her fate silently. She tears her garments, puts ashes on her head and wails with grief as she makes her way home from Amon’s chamber. In effect, she demands that the entire community witness to what has happened to her.

Where was God? God was in the ashes Tamar put on her head. God was in her tears. God remains in her testimony read through millennia, and in the testimony of abused and abandoned women everywhere and in every time. This text of terror invites us to hear Tamar’s call for justice and comfort for people like her, and to respond on their behalf.

The inspiration of Scripture isn’t just in the writer. It is also in the reader, if we have ears to hear.

[by Linda, reallocated during site cleanup]

Day 110 editorial comment

Luke, in Acts chapter 7 reports the death of Stephen. Stephen was one of those who in chapter 6 we learned were entrusted with the social and pastoral support of the members of the community, especially among the poorer Hebrew Christians. These men were called servants or diakonoi and are the first in the ministry of those today we call deacons.

Stephen is brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious council where he retells the history of Israel. Stephen’s speech is reminiscent of the long speeches that occur in Exodus and Judges in which Israelite history is rehearsed for the benefit of the people, lets they forget their origins as those whom God brought out of slavery in Egypt.

Every time Hebrew history is rehearsed it’s always to make a particular point. The present always dictates how you think about the past. With Stephen we get a good view of how the first generation of Christians related to the Hebrew Scriptures. They were incredibly inventive. Unlike us to day, they did not feel constrained to paint only within the lines of conventional interpretation.  For the early Christians, Jesus had changed the course of Jewish history and vastly expanded the destiny of Abraham’s children.

Luke employs the literary convention of rehearsing Israel’s history throughout the early chapters of Acts. When Peter addresses the authorities he, like Stephen begins with historical rehearsal as the basis of introducing a new twist to account for the effect of Jesus. It’s this new twist that gets them into trouble. The purpose of Stephen’s rehearsal of history is to land in a new and different place in order to explain how Jesus has changed everything. So we see Stephen landing on the theme of the Jews rejection of their prophets, and so their rejection of Jesus was nothing new. Now, stung by his words, his hearers become consumed with murderous intent.

The purpose of Stephen’s rehearsal of history is to land in a new and different place in order to explain how Jesus has changed everything. The purpose of Stephen’s rehearsal of the story all his hearers already knew by heart was to land on the theme of the Jews rejection of their prophets. This is the point he wants to bring out about Jesus. He is saying you killed him like you killed or rejected all the prophets before him. So their rejection of Jesus was nothing new. This is too much for his religious hearers. Stung by his words, they become consumed with murderous intent.

When we rehearse the history of God’s relationship with Israel, how does our 21st-century twist shape the way we read the Biblical story? What do we hear in the story and what conclusion does it lead us to that informs us of God’s presence among us?

The Bible read as a kind of rule book or owners manual on how to live life in the present is likely to miss the point that Luke, Stephen, and the other early Christian writers show us. The words on the page are not the story. When we lift our eyes from the literal fixation on the words we come to see the words are part of a bigger story shaped by Jesus, who is bigger than the Bible.

Luke concludes chapter 7 with one seemingly insignificant detail. He tells us that the man entrusted with holding the cloaks of the men who stone Stephen is one called Saul. Luke’s introduction of this seemingly insignificant bystander prepares us for a dramatic shift taking his narrative of the early days of the church in a new direction.