MARK 4:35-41 AND PSALM 9: 9-10 

June 24, 2012

Reverend Marguerite Sheehan, First Parish of Northfield and The Unitarian Universalist Church of Winchendon 

Focusing Scriptures:

Mark 4: 35-41
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” 

Psalm 9: 9-10
The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you. 


Who does not relate to this story? If you have ever been in a storm that took your breath away you know what the disciples were feeling and why even the skeptics among them let out that foxhole prayer of Help! This has been a season of storms as the climate is going hay wire. More towns and cities are experiencing thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes, and now, the summer storms of heat and fire. And of course, most of us are totally unprepared. No matter the kind of storm (even storms of the heart) we find out that we are just like the disciples. We set out for a nice evening boat ride to cool off after a hot and harried day and suddenly, out of the blue the great windstorm rises up, waves beat into our boats and we are swamped and scared to death. We thought that we were safe and just heading out for a ride into the sunset. 

The disciples were not only afraid for their lives; they also felt unloved, uncared for, and simply abandoned. Isn’t that how it works? When your life is going along at a good and happy clip you feel like all is well with the world. And then the rug gets pulled out from under you and all that trust, all that faith, all that surety is gone in a flash and you are crying like a baby who woke up in the stroller and did not see their parent. Jesus is right. At those moments of crises, our faith seems to just blow away and we are lost again. 

That is the truth. But it is also the truth that we who have known God in good times can call upon God; the LORD, Abba, Mamma, Jesus, whatever name that rises out of our fearful throats. We can, like disciples call out for help. “And those who know your name(s) put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.” All we have to do is to be who we are which is simply seekers. We do not have to steer the boat out of the storms of life. We do not have to stand up and shout at the waves to be still. We do not have to feel strong and sturdy or even very faithful. Jesus calls us out “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” No Jesus, you are right. We are afraid. We are not faithful. When we are in times of trouble, we do not even know that you are in fact our stronghold. But we do know how to cry, and to practically capsize the boat by scrambling across the seats to get to You. 

And this is the grace of the Gospel. In fact, it gets even better than that; because God is with us, whether we know it or not. Carl Jung once quoted Erasmus, by saying “Bidden or unbidden, God is present.” Or “Called or uncalled God is there.” So as I read the Gospel and the Psalm today I take heart. If I can remember to call out to Jesus or God that is great. But even if I forget to seek, if I am in too much anguish during the storms of my life, God is still there in the boat. The disciples were not alone. Jesus was with them. We are not alone. Jesus is with us, bidden or unbidden. Thanks be to God. 


My God, my God, have you forsaken us? Do you not care that we are perishing in this storm? Are you even there in the back of the boat? Forgive us now as we show our lack of trust in your abiding presence. You are our saving grace in all manner of weather. No matter if we believe or not, you are in the boat with us, and that makes it all possible. Amen 

June 17, 2012

Reverend Marguerite Sheehan, First Parish of Northfield and The Unitarian Universalist Church of Winchendon 

Focusing Scripture:  

Mark 4: 26-32 Jesus said, "God's kingdom is like seed thrown on a field by a man who then goes to bed and forgets about it. The seed sprouts and grows—he has no idea how it happens. The earth does it all without his help: first a green stem of grass, then a bud, then the ripened grain. When the grain is fully formed, he reaps—harvest time!” 

"How can we picture God's kingdom? What kind of story can we use? It's like a pine nut. When it lands on the ground it is quite small as seeds go, yet once it is planted it grows into a huge pine tree with thick branches. Eagles nest in it." 

Psalm 20: May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans. 


God’s kingdom is the time and the place where Life rules and where growth happens in the manner and the mystery of the Divine. We live in that kingdom all the time, stumbling around, doing our best, and for the most part not even seeing what is in front of our faces. Or at least not understanding what is really important and what we are called to do about it. As The Message translation says “he has no idea how it happens.” 

God’s kingdom is not “the man” and is not “the seed” itself, but is like seed thrown on the earth by a man who then goes to bed and forgets about it. The kingdom of God is the alchemy, when one substance is transformed when it is picked up and tossed about by an agent and then left in the darkness of the earth which breaks it open so it can become fully what it is intended to be, and then the agent comes back into the picture and reaps the harvest. All that ~ action and rest, and action again is what the kingdom of God is like. 

Or maybe the kingdom of God is like a pine nut (or in other translations, a mustard seed.) I like the pine nut translation myself because I have held such a nut in my hand and gazed up at that tall and sappy tree and marveled at how such a thing could be already contained within the nut. 

It reminds me of the privilege I had at being at the birth of my nephew Marty. Suddenly, out from my sister’s earthly body slid this bloody and beautiful, fully formed and wide eyed boy. When Marty was born, and since then when I have held any newborn, I have sung a song of wondering. “Who are you? Where did you come from? Who are you? How did you get here? Who are you? What did you come to teach us?” Marty is now a pine tree of a man, towering over me, yet still fully who he was when he burst on to the scene. He is still teaching me. 

In a delightful musing on this week’s scripture, the Episcopal priest Suzanne Guthrieintroduced the theologian, poet and farmer Wendell Berry. Berry writes about what happens when human beings do not nurture the seed of God’s kingdom here on earth, but instead trample it. We do that because we have a strong tendency to fall asleep when God asks us to just stay awake through the harvest and during the most powerful and frequently painful scenes of life. I wonder. Is the terribly beautiful face of God witnessed in creation or anywhere too intolerable for us to keep in our view? 

Berry says: “Those who will not learn in plenty to keep their place must learn it by their need when they have had their way and the fields spurn their seed. We have failed Thy grace. Lord, I flinch and pray, send Thy necessity.” 

Most of us do not deeply and fully gain wisdom about the kingdom of God even by being surrounded by it. Perhaps some farmers do. Perhaps the mystics do. Perhaps the children do when they first burst onto the scene. But most of us, even though we are immersed in the kingdom do not understand how it happens or even what it is, never mind how to nurture it. I concur with Wendell Berry that for many of us, real learning about the kingdom of God comes not when we are sitting in the lap of creation but when we are faced with loss, grief, and need. Parables are wonderful for how they take us and toss us, sink us and find us, confuse us and challenge us, and finally, by the grace of God, bring us to growth. 

The psalmist prays, as Berry prays, that we would be given not what we want, even what we dearly want, but what our hearts truly need. “ May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans.” 

And so today, on this glorious day in June, when the sun is shining, the children are splashing in the ponds, and the farmers are making hay, I pray. May our hearts desire to know and to love, to nurture and to marvel, to tend and to participate in Your kingdom. Today I pray the prayer for a newborn child, even as I struggle to stay awake to all of creation and to the Creator who rules. 


Who are You, where did You come from, how did You get here, what have You come to teach us? ~ Amen and Blessed Be. 

June 10, 2012

Reverend Marguerite Sheehan, First Parish of Northfield and The Unitarian Universalist Church of Winchendon 

Focusing Scriptures: 

2 Corinthians 4: 15-18
For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 

Psalm 138:3
On the day I called, you answered me, you increased the strength of my soul. 

Mark 3: 28-29
“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” 


Our Scripture readings today are a mixed bag. We are told that faith in the living Christ extends grace to more and more people, and brings thanksgiving and endless forgiveness even while our bodies are wasting away and we are suffering all kinds of hard times, which Paul calls “slight momentary afflictions!” On the other hand, the Gospel says that those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit are guilty of an eternal and unforgivable sin. It appears that while most of our sins and most of what we say will be forgiven, this one thing can never be forgiven. Jesus, as quoted in Mark, reminds me of the Creation story when God offered Paradise to Adam and Eve but gave them one forbidden fruit. And when they took the fruit they were not given a second chance but were thrown out of the garden “to till the ground from which they were taken.” 

Here we have a second unforgivable sin. What is blaspheming against the Holy Spirit? Is it swearing, using the name of God in vain? Hopefully not because it seems like every other word we utter these days is OMG! As a grandmother I feel like I am pushing a rock up a hill when I tell my 3 and 7 year old grandchildren to try “Oh My Gosh”, or “Oh My Goodness.” Truly I do think that it is a good thing to stop habitually saying Oh My God, but somehow I do not think that this is what Jesus was talking about. 

In this passage Jesus was talking about the scribes who were saying that his healings were not by the power of the Holy Spirit but by the power of Beelzebul, the Prince of Demons (also called the Lord of the Flies.) In slandering Jesus they denied that the Spirit was working through him and in doing so they cut themselves off from the saving grace of the Spirit. In cutting themselves off, they did not damn Jesus but damned themselves. Just as Adam and Eve turned away from God’s direction and chose to align themselves with the serpent, the scribes aligned themselves with the lesser power of evil. And aligning ourselves with evil does not bring endless grace and forgiveness but leads toward a pretty poor outcome. 

But is it unforgivable? As a Universalist pastor I cannot agree with this reading. I trust that with God all things are possible, including forgiveness for blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. And as the rest of the Torah and the Christian Scriptures that followed showed, even Adam and Eve and the succeeding generations were redeemed when God renewed the covenant over and over again. Paradise and the tree of life was not destroyed for all ages but was guarded by cherubim! 

If the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Eternal Life, then blaspheming the Spirit is in a sense, aligning ourselves with Beelzebul and choosing death over life. Anyone who aligns themselves with death rather than life knows how hard it is to come back into the graces. We align ourselves with death when we fall into despair and stay there. We align ourselves with death when we alienate ourselves from each other, from creation and from the creator. We align ourselves with death when we seek revenge rather than risk forgiveness. Blaspheming the Holy Spirit is not an “ordinary” sin, but I trust that as with every other sin, this choice holds within itself the possibility of radical change. 

Radical change is what Jesus offered in his ministry and is what threatened the scribes and what both threatens us and saves us. We may not be able to get out of our destructive choices by ourselves, but with God, all things are possible; even if the Gospel of Mark says that they “can never have forgiveness.” Maybe even Jesus (or Mark) was still learning about the power of the Holy Spirit! 


Oh Spirit of Life and Love, Unseen and yet Eternal God. Help me to not lose heart, even when I doubt you and deny you and your power. Help me to call on you in my darkest times and answer my prayers. Increase the strength of my soul even when my body is wasting away. Oh My God, when I come face to face with your healing power, I bow to Your Spirit and offer thanksgiving. With you, all things are possible.

June 3, 2012

Reverend Marguerite Sheehan, First Parish of Northfield and The Unitarian Universalist Church of Winchendon 

Focusing Scriptures: 

Romans 8:14-17 ~ For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!"it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ - if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. 

Mystical Revelation by Julian of Norwich

“As verily as God is our Father, so verily God is our Mother; and that shewed He in all [her revelations] and especially in these sweet words where He saith: I it am. That is to say, I it am, the Might and the Goodness of the Fatherhood; I it am, the Wisdom of the Motherhood; I it am, the Light and the Grace that is all blessed Love; I it am, the Trinity, I it am, the Unity: I am the sovereign Goodness of all manner of things. I am that maketh thee to love: I am that maketh thee to long: I it am, the endless fulfilling of all true desires.” 


Little did I know when I volunteered to write the lectionary reflections this month that the first Sunday would be Trinity Sunday! As a Christian Unitarian Universalist pastor, who attends a weekly Bible study at the local Episcopal Church, who is in a pastor’s group with evangelical ministers and who is a semi regular attendee at a local Quaker meeting, it seems only right that I should be granted this opportunity to grapple with my experiences of three and one! Two weeks ago my Bible study group presented me with a prayer shawl and the rector talked about Greek word for Trinity which is Perichoresis. Perichoresis means “going around” and suggest a divine kind of vigorous and vibrant dancing, maybe like ecstatic Sufi dancing. It also means “to weave.” He suggested to me that as I meditate on the Trinity I should wear the shawl that was woven with so much loving prayers by the members of my group. And so here is a bit of a dance and a bit of a weave about how I, a child of God and a bearer of the Christ Light, envision the “Light and the Grace that is all blessed Love.” 

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he says that we did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear but that we have received a spirit of adoption. As an adoptive step parent myself I know deep in my heart that adoption is a true and deep familial relationship where “strangers” become family for eternity. Adoption, as any other kind of family making, ensures the parents and the children that our “life line” is now woven together and we are now one family, a “unity” that is made out of the “trinity” of previously separate identities. Paul says that our Christian inheritance as sisters and brothers of Jesus, and as the bearers of his spirit, is that we are lifted straight out of fear. Imagine dancers, one lifting the other off their feet, twirling now as a unit, flying across the stage. Such is the deep trust and love that comes with the Spirit of adoption. 

As Christians, in our identification with God in Christ, we are lifted out of the fear that comes when we envision ourselves to be alone in the world, struggling on our own two feet, and subject only to our limited imagination and our grasping and restless minds. As disciples of Jesus, whose whole ministry was to reconcile humanity back with the Source of Love, we experience that we are inheritors of life, a life that is one of suffering and of glory. We are “maketh” to love and long for an interconnectedness with our father/mother/sister/brother and in our longing we are both entwined (I am it the Trinity and I am it the Unity) and set free. 

Paul says that when we cry Abba, that the Spirit bears witness to our individual spirit. I think about the times that I have been in a crowd, with people pushing in on each other, whether in celebration or in agony, and I have heard the sound of a child crying for a parent. Abba! Mamma! My head lifts up, I search in all directions, until my eyes lay on that child and that parent re-uniting and then I can rest. The Spirit in that small and desperate voice of longing bears witness to my spirit. That which maketh the child to love and to long maketh me to search. How could the Unity of God be anything different that this tug of my heart in response to the calling of the child or the witnessing of any suffering? 


Oh God who are it, who are the Goodness of the Fatherhood, the Wisdom of the Motherhood, the Light and the Grace that is all blessed Love, we joyfully and totally join ourselves with all creation in dancing and singing songs of praise for this Unity, this Trinity and our place in the family. You make us long for You and for all that is. In You, fear does not have its way with us, for Love, the Love that is You, and that is in You and that is in us, binds all things, frees all things, weaves all things together. Amen and Blessed Be