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Saturday, February 18, 2017

What does it mean to choose life?


Choose life….

On the night we first went to Ground Zero following 9-11, I looked around the 17 acres. I witnessed for the first  time the power of deconstruction. De-creation. Nihilism. Death. And I also realized  the power of creativity. Creation. Life.  And that we have a choice. It also changed forever how I understood creativity. That the act of creating is itself an act of resistance. The banners Chris Shelton created for us. Declaring  Beauty and justice. Ethics and esthetics. 9-11 haunted my consciousness. For nearly a year, I think every sermon i preached was somehow influenced by 9-11.

Our President has used 9-11 as justification for his executive order on immigration. Even though no one from any of the countries listed was involved and the three countries where they did come from, Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia…were left off..

Meanwhile, my neighbors have now put up signs on the corner deli run by Yemenites that say…STAY STRONG…We love & support you! We have your back!#NOBANNOWAY!! Your neighbors!

I’m just back from Berlin…I went to church last Sunday…in coffee hour, I was asked endless questions…about life in the United States the days and what did I think.

it’s funny….that the closest experience I’ve had to the weeks after 9-11 have been these weeks after the inauguration..and every week it seems ti impact my sermons…

So the question before us today is what does it mean to choose life?

The answer from Jesus appears to be: 
Loving the Lord your God
Walking in his ways
Observing his commandments

(Note…he says not a word about believing…or doctrine….it’s a way of life…

….and to not be led astray to bow down and worship other gods…and that to is not about belief systems or doctrines but life choices, making other things, realities, your principle commitment…like money or power or security or nationalism….what you worship…because if you make anything else the center of your life, it will already be lost..

…loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you …

With all we are hearing, we need to pay very close attention, listen very hard for Jesus’ word..Comentator JiIl Duffield has said:

I am convinced that the only way we will hear and heed Jesus in these chaotic and difficult times is to listen carefully and in community. I am convinced that the only way our outward actions will match our inward hopes will be through prayer, worship and mutual accountability.

These, plus action, are the very qualities we are seeking to build a community on..we need communities of resistance who do this in plain sight, countercultural communities…

”Ministry requires seeing others and letting others see us for who we are." McCray pointed out that in our culture of social media we do a lot of looking, but very little seeing. 

Andrew Wilkes writs of Howard Thurman:

Thurman’s take on self-deception is especially important to retrieve in a society where self-righteousness lurks in a thousand places, including our own hearts. Deception, he argues, is a hound of hell that tracks the trail of the disinherited, its barking away the complacency of the gilded and impoverished alike.

And here is where our language deceives us. We cloak the color-coded stratification of wealth and opportunity in America, for example, with terms like “racial disparity” or “differential outcome.” Deception. Disparity rightly suggests that a problem exists, but the term leaves unspoken the degree and duration of the problem. Black and white unemployment has created two social trajectories of earning power for decades, a legacy carried forward by slavery, the strange career of Jim Crow, and a service economy that looks increasingly like an on-demand, servant economy. Overcoming these problems requires that we name them accurately, even if our problem-solving abilities are outstripped by the enormity of our challenges.

The price of deception, Thurman continues, is to become a deception.

When we talk about obedience, Jesus makes it clear that it’s more than about rules…he goes to the heart of the matter. Don’t turn his words into another set of commandments..

With the 10 commandments…I’m convinced that two through ten  are all related to the first…to have no other gods before you….the rest are all about having other gods…and in the end, they are about community, not individual righteousness..what it takes for us to live together. 

At the center of his conversation, Jesus says:

If you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.

In an age of alternative facts, Jesus says Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”

Deception….if we deceive, we become deception embodied…

Our communion is a sign of community and inclusion…openness and acceptance, sharing bread together…as my Yemenite friends say, Our culture is hospitality…If community is broken, if there are broken relationships, perhaps to be true to Jesus and the wholeness, we should leave and go take care of business before we share the bread…but instead, I’ll ask that as we break off a piece of bread today, we remember our broken relationship, meditate on what it might take to bring, or even move towards reconciliation, only then will the body be whole…

so….Choose life….

First Reading Deuteronomy 30:15-20

15See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Psalm 119:1-8
1   Happy are those whose way is blameless, 

          who walk in the law of the LORD. 

2   Happy are those who keep his decrees, 

          who seek him with their whole heart, 

3   who also do no wrong, 

          but walk in his ways. 

4   You have commanded your precepts 

          to be kept diligently. 

5   O that my ways may be steadfast 

          in keeping your statutes! 

6   Then I shall not be put to shame, 

          having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. 

7   I will praise you with an upright heart, 

          when I learn your righteous ordinances. 

8   I will observe your statutes; 

          do not utterly forsake me.

Second Reading 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

3And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?

5What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. 6I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. 9For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Gospel Matthew 5:21-37

21“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

27“You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall not commit adultery.’ 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

31“It was./ ‘also”?/ said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

33“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”.;/////

Thursday, February 16, 2017

By Night in Chile: a review


In these strange days in which we are living, I’m interested in what can be learned from others who have lived through oppressive nationalist regimes. 
Roberto Bolano is an author who lived through the Pinochet era in Chile. His first novel translated into English, By Night in Chile, is his exploration of religion and aesthetics under that  regime. The novel is the deathbed confession of Sebastian Urrutia Lacroix, a priest, a poet and literary critic who shares his reflection in a fevered unbroken stream of consciousness. It’s a flooding rush of words in a style that has been used by others like Jose Saramago.

A wizened youth looks at him accusingly and Urrutia feels compelled to make his confession. He has been an aesthete who seems to prefer the world of literature to that of the church, although he wears his cassock much of the time clearly identifying himself as a priest. He is open about  his association with the ultraconservative Opus Dei movement.  His literary associates can praise and fawn over Neruda without ever understanding the political convictions that inspire his work. He describes the Allende years almost parenthetically in his reflections on the Greek classics and his church and literary associates breathe a sigh of relief when Pinochet’s coup is successful and Allende dead. 

While Bolanos does not write as a magical realist, he edges into that territory in a fantastic section where Urrutia takes on a project with priests who have become falconers to rid their churches of pigeons. (A problem I know all too well!) There is a moment of pure beauty as Urrutia releases a flacon into the wild. 

Later, he will accept an assignment to educate Pinochet and his junta on the basics of Marxism. He approaches this work as a pure teacher, while setting aside wrestling with his conscience.

As curfews are imposed, he settles in with a crowd that spends the nights together in extended salons. And then later discovers in horror that the house where he has enjoyed intellectual discussions of literature has also been used for the torture and even murder of dissidents by the husband of his host.

For Urrutia, this journey is about accepting responsibility for one’s actions, but also one’s silences…”One must be very careful with one’s silences..”  He begins to see that the whole of Chile has become a “Judas tree, a leafless, dead looking tree, but still rooted in the earth, our rich black earth..”  And he discovers that “…life was much more important than literature…”

Finally he begins to realize that the wizened accusing youth may be himself…
“Am I that wizened youth? Is that the true, supreme terror, to discover that i am that wizened youth whose cries no one can hear?”

By Night in Chile is a reminder that in the time we are living there can be no bystanders. There is no aesthetic without ethics, and no beauty without justice because beauty requires truth and there is no truth without justice.

All of us, artists, priests, intellectuals…are responsible, and accountable, even for our silences…

Saturday, February 11, 2017

What does the Lord require of you? Of us?


I can’t start without remembering Mary Tyler Moore. I was a young chaplain at a University and the young women professors i hung out with always took time out from there fork to watch her show. Every week. So I did too. I actually preferred Rhoda, but it was clear that Mary Tyler Moore played  a character who they identified with….

What a week it’s been. (Again).. A wall. An immigration ban. It’s Muslims no, “religious minorities,” that is Christians, yes…
It is shameful, it is wrong…

So the question of the day comes to us from Micah…

what does the LORD require of you 
     but to do justice, and to love kindness, 
          and to walk humbly with your God?

We have two prophets,Micah vs. Isaiah, working in the same era. 737-696 BCE. He was one of the minor prophets, with Amos and Hosea. Isaiah was the inside man, working the court. They both had the “swords into plowshares” line, but I’m going with Micah in that one. He came from the country side, prophesied against city. He  experienced the  effects of an invasion, he had seen it coming…not as punishment, but as the natural consequences of a society that lost the bonds that between people that make a society by failing to do justice. 

The Beatitudes answers the question by  spelling it out…in our Bible study, we learned that at the center of the book of Leviticus, there is the ..”neighbor passage”, followed two verses later by “Treat the alien as your neighbor”….this was for Jesus the most important commandment, made real by the Jubilee, the “reset”, the sabbath of Sabbaths that was to occur every 50 years…all debts forgiven, all property back to original owners…perhaps what the Beatitudes are all about is Jesus saying it’s time to make the jubilee real…was it on the Mount? or the plain? Just depends where he was standing…in Luke, he’s preaching to the crowd, but in Matthew, he’s speaking to his disciples, away from the crowd..all the blessings are third person until he gets to what happens when you follow…and then the turn to you…and what will happen..

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Last night, I saw ”Hell or High Water.”  For someone who lived in the west for 10 years, the West Texas setting is familiar territory. Two brothers are robbing banks to redeem their mother’s ranch. The people are sympathetic, refuse to cooperate with the police. The dying towns, the victims of predatory  capitalism…those who have been forgotten by the rest of us..and probably Trump supporters. 

Our epistle takes it further…it’s about us….

26Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

So what does the Lord require of you? Of us

Simon and Garfunkel once rewrote  the Beatitudes like this…

Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit.
Blessed is the lamb whose blood flows.
Blessed are the sat upon, Spat upon, Ratted on,
O Lord, Why have you forsaken me?
I got no place to go,
I've walked around Soho for the last night or so.
Ah, but it doesn't matter, no.

Blessed is the land and the kingdom.
Blessed is the man whose soul belongs to.
Blessed are the meth drinkers, Pot sellers, Illusion dwellers.
O Lord, Why have you forsaken me?
My words trickle down, like a wound
That I have no intention to heal.

Blessed are the stained glass, window pane glass.
Blessed is the church service makes me nervous
Blessed are the penny rookers, Cheap hookers, Groovy lookers.
O Lord, Why have you forsaken me?
I have tended my own garden
Much too long.

Perhaps we have tended our own gardens too long…what does the Lord require of you? Of us? 

It’s Jeremy’s last Sunday before returning to Switzerland. He leads us in a song:
Courage, Muslim brothers, you do not walk alone
We will walk with you, and song your spirit home. 
Based on a song from the South African struggle. And to honor the promise of new life and hope, he sings a song for his son, Elio. and as a grandfather, I understand. I understand. 
Thank you Leila....note kaffiyeh and stole from Palestine

Pastor Brashear and Jeremy

First Reading Micah 6:1-8

1   Hear what the LORD says: 
          Rise, plead your case before the mountains, 
          and let the hills hear your voice. 
2   Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD, 
          and you enduring foundations of the earth; 
     for the LORD has a controversy with his people, 
          and he will contend with Israel.

3   “O my people, what have I done to you? 
          In what have I wearied you? Answer me! 
4   For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, 
          and redeemed you from the house of slavery; 
     and I sent before you Moses, 
          Aaron, and Miriam. 
5   O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, 
          what Balaam son of Beor answered him, 
     and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, 
          that you may know the saving acts of the LORD.”

6  “With what shall I come before the LORD, 
          and bow myself before God on high? 
     Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, 
          with calves a year old? 
7   Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, 
          with ten thousands of rivers of oil? 
     Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, 
          the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 
8   He has told you, O mortal, what is good; 
          and what does the LORD require of you 
     but to do justice, and to love kindness, 
          and to walk humbly with your God?

Psalm 15

1   O LORD, who may abide in your tent? 
          Who may dwell on your holy hill?

2   Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, 
          and speak the truth from their heart; 
3   who do not slander with their tongue, 
          and do no evil to their friends, 
          nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; 
4   in whose eyes the wicked are despised, 
          but who honor those who fear the LORD; 
     who stand by their oath even to their hurt; 
5   who do not lend money at interest, 
          and do not take a bribe against the innocent. 
     Those who do these things shall never be moved.

Second Reading 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

18For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written, 
     “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, 
          and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 
20Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

26Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Gospel Matthew 5:1-12

1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Tears We Cannot Stop: A review


During the last year, there has been an increasing awareness that one of the principle issues needing to be addressed by us as people of faith, and as US citizens, is that of white privilege. One of my concerns is that as the new administration begins to take over, so much will be taking our attention on on a daily basis that the deconstruction of white privilege could  get lost in a cascade of  concerns demanding to be dealt with immediately. On the other hand, it is most likely only a matter of time until the next police shooting of an unarmed African-American and call to the streets by Black Lives Matter. We have to hope that the same kind of solidarity present in the Women's March will be visible then as well. 

To the end of exploring white privilege and how we can begin to dismantle it, Michael Eric Dyson has given us an invaluable resource in his entry published Tears We Cannot Stop.   The nature of Dr. Dyson's book is made clear when you see that he has structured it as an African-American church service compete with Hymns of Praise, Invocation, Scripture, Sermon, Offering Plate, Benediction, Prelude to Service...  It's an invitation to enter into a shared spiritual space together, to be willing to hear what other wise would not be heard. His words are more than analytic, they are personal, accessible, honest and searing.

He helps us to see that white privilege is not about individual attitudes and prejudices but about a system that enforces oppression with the police as the frontline forces of that system. He helps us understand the difference between racism and prejudice, that while related are not synonyms. And that ultimately the system will need to be dismantled. 

Dr. Dyson carefully explains that what we have called "American" is essentially  white and that the entry of Italians, Irish and Jews into "americanness" has essentially been an acceptance into whiteness.  And that ultimately Donald Trump's call to "Make America Great Again" is a call to make America white again. 

He also offers very concrete and helpful advice as to how we as individuals can begin to free ourselves of  privilege through reading and study but more importantly through relationships and individual acts of accountability like establishing an "Individual Reparations Account" and other similar acts.   It is however disappointing that in his list of resources he omits any mention of our friend and colleague Cornell West. Despite their interpersonal conflict, Dr. West is nonetheless an important figure in touch with the grass roots and offering a frankly more radical analysis of what is needed systemically. (Other figures like Dr. William Barber of Moral Mondays are also omitted.)

For those white people ready to enter into this journey, Michael Eric Dyson's Tears We Cannot Stop is a good place to begin. As daunting as that challenge is, speaking of the African-American community Dr. Dyson says We will not surrender because we know that faith is greater than fear, good triumphant over evil, love more noble than hate.

That same knowledge can spire and sustain us as well.

Saturday, January 28, 2017



Wow. It was amazing. Being in the match yesterday was  a profoundly moving experience. One (as a sign put it) like a mighty stream up 5th Avenue
and it was....
with a spirit of  anger, joy, determination and yes, humor. All those wonderful pink …kitty? hats…..(missing an opportunity of a first in a sermon)…
Love the hats!

Less noticeable things that you had to pay attention to notice…like the waving nuns at St. Patrick's Cathedral and  church bells at St. Thomas playing “This Land is your land” and “the Star Spangled banner” and “We shall overcome”. All afternoon we marched and posted and chanted and sang. All afternoon  picking  up new notifications from my friends. 

But it was only when I woke up in the middle of the night  and checked my phone that I fully got it..the full width and breadth if my friends…there were West-Park folks..:
  1. Pat, Russ, Kate and in the snow in Utah, Jeremy and Center board member Pat
  2. Presbyterians…and Methodists, Lutherans  and Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs
  3. Mothers, daughters and grandmothers!
  4. Family members and friends in New York, D.C., Oklahoma City, Portland, Los Angeles ,Utah, Louisville, and the US embassy in Tel Aviv….and a funeral parade for democracy in New Orleans…
  5. Longtime veteran marchers and many, many first timers…

It was the largest one day demonstration in history….conservatively at least three million people…organized and led by women!…wow…

The inauguration dwarfed by the march…

Our scriptures speak of an inauguration today..the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry. It’s easy to forget that he was brought up with at least a hint of suspicion about his parentage. That in an age where couples married young, at age 30 he was still unmarried , living at home and working in his father’s shop, considered odd, at least. And now he has stepped out….being baptized by John in the wilderness…

His  ministry begins in this way…John has been arrested…he heads to Galilee, to Capernaum on the lake, and to a people “who sat in darkness…and in the “shadow of death” brought light. And he does so not with a NEW word, but by picking up John’s mantle…and message…right where he left off and proclaims “repent! for the kingdom of heaven is at hand..”

Isaiah describes that time of darkness of exile, of being under another’s control…under yokes and bars and rods

(This is still the season of epiphany so still with the light…)

The psalm is a song…the Lord is my light, my night and my salvation, in God I trust…a song I remember our friend Andre filling with jazz improvisations…

Corinthians describes division within the community…I belong to Paul…to Apollos…or Cephas…or Christ

To Donald…to Hillary…to Bernie…(even our faith community breaks down that way..) Easy to forget how sincerely millions of  people in this country are in their hope for what our new President can do…some of my friends actually have friends who disagree with them who open up debates in the comments section…some of which disturb me greatly…at how little we understand one another..still trying to understand one of  the occupiers who lived here who felt Trump’s speech was an expression of  a radical perspective…returning government …“to the people”

What is to be  done? What is the light to be brought to his darkness…well, yesterday sure shone…I look at many of my photos  and see bright sunlight shining through…but as for the church…

Note how Jesus calls people….as individuals, with particular
places, jobs and names…when we look out, how do we see people? Do we know them? Even our neighbors? (Mine in Harlem knew me before I knew them..)

Paul was called not to baptize, but to proclaim the gospel..not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross not be emptied from its power…
Let’s make that clear…it’s not about saying yes to a formula or saying the right words or giving assent an idea or fancy philosophical argument or systematic theology…but the power of the cross…being willing to follow, even to the end if necessary…from the sake turning away form a system of death and oppression and to one of life and light….

allowing our own lights to shine in the process….shining so that this community can share its light in the broader light that shone yesterday…
may this  be a new beginning…an inauguration, of you will, of a new life of faithful resistance…

Today with Jeremy in Utah for the premiere of the new film on which he worked musically, On the Sly: In search of the family stone….and we sang the old song. “They’ll know we are Christians by our love” and “How firm a foundation.”  Old songs…we finished with “Fight the Good Fight..” It’s just begun.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend 2017: Where is Jesus?


It was the Sunday before the inauguration. And we gathered to celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And reflect on where we are …now.

All the music of the day was chosen for special reasons….we opened with “Jesus the Light of the World…” continuing our Epiphany theme of light..and getting it…and sang Siyahamba…We are marching in the light of God…a South African freedom song that was late taken up by the More Light movement for full inclusion in church life  by the LGBTQ community..a movement that was birthed at West-Park in 1978…the religious Stonewall, you might say…Precious Lord, take my hand was Dr.King’s favorite song, the one that brought the confirm in times of doubt and fear .the uncertainty of our  time moved me to sing Blowin in the Wind, a song I would sing the next day at the annual Upper West Side Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. peace walk at Pastor Heidi’s invitation..and of course we called with the Civil Rights Movement’s We Shall Overcome…

And this was my reflection…

This is the Second Sunday in Epiphany…a season of Light…a season of “getting it”…as we continue ti hold our breath in our journey into the unknown…and the weekend of celebrating the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, JR…

In our gospel lesson, somehow we’re still with Jesus where we left him last week, on the banks of the Jordan with John…and this time it’s from the perspective of the Gospel of John…and John too has seen the dove of the Holy Spirit descend and remain on Jesus.

Ultimately, in seeking what Jesus is up to, the people ask him where he’s staying, he responds come and see…and it’s not so much asking where he is but what he does and who he is and by doing so we will discover where we are…

And where is he staying?  I’m convinced that  these days, we’re going  to find him a lot in the streets…
Last Friday, the Micah Institute (and others) walked together to deliver a letter. We walked with Mama Bah, the mother of a murdered child. The Micah Faith Table calls on US Attorney Preet Bharara to launch a full investigation into his case and fully prosecute all officers who killed her son Mohamed Bah, an African  Muslim son of our city in Septemer 2012…three years ago…It was profoundly moving to see Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu and  Christian clergy all together…with my neighbor Imam Konate, the spiritual leader of the mosque where Mohammad worshipped…later. he told us emotionally how moved Mama Bah was by the solidarity of so many. She felt a dam in her heart had broken open. “Come and see’’’ says Jesus…

We’ve got macro concerns and micro ones as we  move forward…macro-wise, there was recently a full page ad in the New York Times  calling us to  “Stop Trump” before he is inaugurated…calling on 1000’s…or more.. to come to Washington,DC to block the streets, etc…and of course the women’s march that will take place January 20th…these are macro actions…

We need to be concerned with the micro as well…local issues  and actions that are definable, achievable, measurable and verifiable …(the DAM-V test of organizers..)

Tomorrow is our annual Upper West Side Martin Luther King, Jr.  walk for peace and justice organized by our clergy and Westsiders for Peace and Justice…
Our march
this year the action is very specific….support for West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing’s proposed expansion of affordable housing at West 108th street…
WSFSSH founder Rev. Laura Jervis

We support affordable housing
.280 units…(20% of our seniors live in poverty, in Manhattan Valley alone 2000 of them are  on a  waiting  list for affordable housing …with a seven year wait..)The plan to use  three garages owned by the city has caused a community uproar..…come and see

And our friends from the National Movement Against Sweat Shops  and Justice will be Served…are organizing to pass a statewide SWEAT bill to stop wage theft…from the most vulnerable of our neighbors, immigrant workers from Mexico, China and French west Africa…come and see…

Frequently at these services, we read from Dr. King’s I have a dream speech. But this year i want to read from Dr. King’s 

Letter from the Birmingham jail….1963…

There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period that the early Christians rejoiced when they were
deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas
and principles of popular opinion; it was the thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians
entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being "disturbers of the peace" and
"outside agitators." But they went on with the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven" and had to obey God rather than
man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated."
They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.
Things are different now. The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often
the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average
community is consoled by the church's often vocal sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the
early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no
meaning for the twentieth century. I meet young people every day whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright
I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour

Yesterday, our Session met with Rick Ufford-Chase
Meeting with Rick
…..we dreamed of creating a congregation committed to:

,,,each other
…radical (and disciplined) reading of scripture
…worship (deep sharing)
…and taking action together…

of this you will be hearing more..come and see

Jesus is here..

Thank you (again) Leila!