Wednesday, July 17, 2019

4th of July weekend Sunday 2019


Happy birthday Geraldine

My friend from Oklahoma and I exit the subway and take the half-mile walk to Beverley Church, passing by the Victorian style houses in this neighborhood named for the London setting for Peter Pan. We note the gardens, the houses that remind me of my hometown south of Pittsburgh and the ceramic workshop, Mexican bakery and Bengladeshi Halal restaurant that show the neighborhood in midst of change. A man notices our interest and offers us a fsbo (for sale by owner deal) before he goes to an agency. Only 1.7 million for the whole house. As is. Well, not today.

This day is also special because it is Geraldine's birthday. Evgeny and Geraldine are having tea as we arrive and Evgeny, always the genial host, offers to get us tea as well. Soon enough it is time for the service. 
ready for reflection

So here's what I had to say:

We are at the end of a long holiday weekend. One where we remember and honor the best of what our nation is supposed to be. The  ideals that seek to inform the best of who we are....So important these days with what  is swirling around us....

The controversy around migration became visibly real for me as I spent two weeks in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, the beginning places of the so-called caravans. World wide there are more people on the road than ever before...

I'm wondering what's been on your mind, this holiday weekend. What your joys, concerns are. Your families.

The gospel passage this week is a tough one.  Lots of edges and corners and twists and turns and places to get lost.  

Let me start with some free association...    

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. These are the emissaries of the kingdom, LDS (apparently we can't say Mormon anymore) missionaries.  The freedom riders going to the south for  voters registration, Presbyterian missionaries across the world bringing ministries of health and education and social justice...

2He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go on your way. 
Life is hard for the small churches like this...God asks of us nothing beyond our best.  And yet we feel so small....and what is it, after all, what is God asking us to  do ? And what is the harvest?

See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. So are the migrants who are coming from Central America. And North Africa....and...dangers at every turn....from bandits to coyotes to rushing waters and burning deserts and border guards at every that's how  we're being sent out?

4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. We are sent out to be completely vulnerable and dependent on the people to whom we are sent...

.5Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!' 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 
You never lose anything by offering your peace. If it's not accepted it comes back to you.

8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; Accept hospitality

9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' 
Jesus wants us to be about his ministry of healing ....proclaiming the kingdom, the kindom of God
.....and here's the best news of all....
10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.'
This means you don't have to keep beating your head against the wall.....there comes a time to move on....

16"Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."

When we truly serve in his name and his spirit, he will be there there for us, with us.....and in us... 

17The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" 18He said to them, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

With every healing, every curing, every restored relationship in reconciliation, every restored substance abuse addict, every child reunited with its  parents, every act for social justice, every victory of the people, even small ones, every true act of grace....Satan falls from heaven....

In dangerous circumstances, God will keep us safe. God joins us in the victory that has already been won. 

And especially in what we do, we are not to glory. Not to seek credit or honors or Facebook likes. Our glory is that we do them because that is what  we do. Because that is what it means to follow Jesus.


As always we share communion. And today sing Happy Birthday to Geraldine. Then go downstairs for more sharing, including a cake.

We leave for the long subway ride to Marcus Garvey Park where we will meet with the Ecclesia congregation of homeless people.


When we arrive at the Drummers Circle, it's very quiet. Seems the volunteers bringing food didn't know where to bring it and randomly gave it away. There's no bringing people together for our circle of worship if there's no food to share. We'll share the last few lunch bags and that's it for today. Time for a slow walk back through Harlem/ 


The day will end helping to set up the beds and serve the dinner for the women at homeless shelter at Saint Paul and St.Andrew Methodist Church (SPSA) where West Park worshipped for 3 years. the church continues in this volunteer work here. Apart form the usual sandwiches or pizza, Kate always serves a full meal.
dinner is ready
"Everyone deserves Sunday dinner," she says. And her 4th of July special includes salmon, ribs and fried chicken, rice, potato salad, coleslaw, corn on the cob and strawberries, blueberries and whipped cream on poundcake for a truly All-American dinner. 

No better way to spend the 4th of July.
kitchen volunteers

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Central America: Random Notes


Guatemala Highlands

Central America random notes:

Ca random notes

. The ubiquitous tuk- tuks, scrambling around the border control area in El Salvador, where are they ferrying people from and to?

. There are armed guards in every public space in Honduras. And El Salvador. And Guatemala. With automatic weapons.

. Men don’t wear shorts. Women don’t either.

. Camionetas individually painted like works of folk art. Bearing the name of wife. Or girlfriend. Saint or Pentecostal exhortation.

. Tiendas, bodegas, barberias, casas de belleza, ferreterias with names like Rey del Mundo, Corazon de Caridad, Reina del Cielo....

. Futbol Copa de Oro every tv.

. During the civil wars and deaths quad days I ran 5 miles a day every day. A bit crazy but...Today we are confined to patrolled bonds of our hotels, dorms....todays lawless chaos more dangerous than yesterday’s wars.

. Honduras accepts dollars as well a sit down currency. Guatemala only Quetzaltes. El Salvador has just given in and made the US dollar its  currency. Pocketful of Sacajaweas and Susan B’s that’s where they all went....
US dollar coins in El Salvador

. US fast food triumphant everywhere...Mc Donald’s. Burger King. Dunkin’ Donuts. Pizza Hut. Honduras’ homegrown Pizza House has a pretty good knock off of Pizza Hut logo. Oh and donuts are donas.

. Honduran food has the baleada with convoluted story of a woman tortilla seller who got shot, as in, I'll buy from the shot one. And rice and beans, gallos pintos in Nicaragua, painted roosters, are casimientos, or married ones,  in Honduras.

. Morning juices are high fructose concoctions. The real stuff is all exported.

. Leaving Tegucigalpa....miles and miles of bananas....they called them banana republics for a reason....then the miles of sugar cane...,in Guatemala cornfields crawl up hill sides and hold on for dear life...,

. “Auto hotels” are everywhere along the highways . A place for that illicit triste. Or maybe there’s just no privacy and everyone deserves a little romance...

. In the highlands, Guatemalan men and women in traditional dress. Including skirts for men. 
Guatemalan women

Man in traditional dress

. The two monuments we see in Guatemala we see are a warrior chief who resisted the colonizers and the statue migrant. A story without word dances between these statues.

. At an overlook high in the mountains, in a market filled with folk crafts, a New York Yankee hat for sale. 
2nd row up, Yankee hat for sale

. Many of the people I have spoken to were not even alive the last time I was here.

. Stunning how in the midst of poverty one can always see the breathtaking beauty of Gods creation. Despite our efforts to destroy it, it is
in the highlands of Guatemala
still there......

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Hands to the plow


Good Shepherd Faith ready for worship

On the Sunday on which the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising was celebrated in our city, I came to Good Shepherd Faith to lead the service. Here were my refections:

There’s been a lot on my mind this week. I’m just back from two weeks in Central America, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. And when Jesus says “Foxes have holes, and birds of he air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” I could do a whole sermon just on that. But I chose this passage because last Saturday I was in a music festival  on Governors island and after my own set, I sat in with an Appalachian band and their last number was “Gospel Plow”....
Ready to preach...rainbow stole....

Mary wore three links of chain
Every link was Jesus' name
Keep your hand on that plow, hold on
Oh Lord, oh Lord, keep your hand on that plow, hold on
Mary, Mark, Luke and John
All these prophets are dead and gone
Keep your hand on that plow, hold on
Oh Lord, oh Lord, keep your hand on that plow, hold on
Well, I've never been to Heaven
But I've been told streets up there
Are lined with gold
Keep your hand on that plow, hold on
Oh Lord, oh Lord, keep your hand on that plow, hold on
Oh Lord, oh Lord, keep your hand on that plow, hold on
Oh Lord, oh Lord, keep your hand on that plow, hold on

So I had to preach on this...

It’s about Jesus saying once you start out, there just ain’t no turning back...can’t be going back to take care of business, can’t be making farewells, just hand to the plow, hold on.....

I was in the Village twice this week for music. And every time I went, the energy was building for today’s global celebration of 50 years of Stonewall, a rebellion that reverberated across the globe.

In the religious world, the Stonewall story is a Presbyterian story. It started in 1978 when the General Assembly in San Diego voted to prohibit ordination of “avowed and practicing homosexuals” one then knew it would take until 2011 to finally open the doors to acknowledge ministries that god had already called into being. That’s 33 years... the whole life of Jesus ....that’s a lot of years with hands on the plow...

And I’m proud that the church Stonewall moment took place at my old church West Park in September 1978 when the Session at West Park approved the historic More Light statement. It’s valuable to hear it again...

In harmony with the General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church, West-Park Church affirms the civil rights of all person. Further, in keeping with our General Assembly’s guidelines, this community of faith welcomes as members homosexual persons who both seek and have found Christ’s love.
This local congregation will not select one particular element from a person’s total humanity as a basis for denying full participation and service in the body of Christ. Nor will this community of faith condemn or judge our brothers and sisters who declare their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and promise discipleship to Him. We affirm that in meeting each other in Christian love. God’s spirit frees us all to live and grow, liberated from the oppression invoked upon us by ourselves and others.
Within this context, West-Park Presbyterian Church reaches out to Christian and non-Christian homosexual persons with a ministry of support, caring and openness—a ministry in which the creative, liberating power of the Holy Spirit rules and guides." [5]

The name More Light came from the farewell words of Pastor John Robinson to the pilgrims as they set sail on the Mayflower on 1646:
...if God should reveal anything to us by any other instrument of his, to be as ready to receive it, as ever we were to receive any truth by his Ministry. For he was very confident the Lord had more truth and light yet to break forth out of his holy Word.

In the 1850s George Rawson would write a hymn with these words:
...We limit not the truth of God to our poor reach of mind --
By notions of our day and sect -- crude, partial, and confined
That universe, how much unknown! that ocean unexplored
For God hath yet more light and truth to break forth from the Word.
Eternal God, Incarnate Word, Spirit of flame and dove,
enlarge, expand all living souls to comprehend your love;
and help us all to seek your will with wiser powers conferred
O God, grant yet more light and truth to break forth from the Word.

..... so what began with the session of West Park birthed the More Light movement that jumped across denominational lines and inspired movements in all mainline denominations.

33 years. And still, villages turn him away....even this summer our Methodist brothers and sisters failed again to step into freedom and even took a step back. Countries in Africa, inspired by North American missionaries, pass draconian laws against lgbtq people. In Central America among those seeking their way  north are lgbtq people who suffer the worst of repressive measures putting their very lives in danger as we raise walls higher both literally and figuratively to keep them out.

And today, our country seems to be moving backward even as acceptance become more and more normative, banning trans people from the military, not allowing our embassies to fly rainbow flags this week and on and on...

Hands to the plow my brothers and sisters..

and of course it wasn’t just west park, it was pastors and members in small churches just like this one all across the country who kept tower hands to the plow and held on even through the darkest hours.

Things do and can change. Today in the Village the Evelyn Davidson memorial water table will again be in operation..who remembers its origins? In the gospel of Matthew (10:42) Jesus says “and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward. That was the verse that inspired an act of witness by Evelyn Davidson, wife of my preceding pastor, Bob Davidson. Around 1982, she felt that the gay community had been so rejected and hurt by the church that there had to be a counter witness.  So she came up with setting up a water table and distributing cool cups of water --in Jesus name—every Pride march day. It would be in  front of First Presbyterian at 5th and 12th along the parade route. At first, First Pres was resistant. Then Presbytery Executive George Todd had an office there and rigged up a hose on the top floor in his bathroom and dragged it all the way down and through the church the outside to fill up the cups. By the next year, the church became an active participant. And today the table is a fully owned project of First Presbyterian.

People are marching. There is much to celebrate. As of 2014 the PCUSA recognizes same gender marriages. But still so far to go. Keep your hand on the plow....hold on!

In our conversation, people were interested in the parts of the Gospel we hadn't spoken of. Like the not burying the father, letting the dead bury the dead. Which could take years.  Despite its hyperbolic language, the sense is clear, we can't be stuck on what is dead. We need to move forward.  And don't look back.

Outside the sun was shining. A good day to celebrate....

Luke 9: 51-62

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”[a] 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then[b] they went on to another village.Would-Be Followers of Jesus

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus[c] said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Friday, June 14, 2019

Central America 2: suffering leads to?


A touch of beauty in Tegucigalpa

I asked to lead worship this morning, because my Nicaraguan friend asked that we join them - the Nicaraguan diaspora-in worship and prayers of solidarity on Thursday or Friday. With of course Thanksgiving for the release of political prisoners and the promise to release the rest. I would like to believe that all our actions of solidarity helped to bring this about but I suspect the threat of the Trump administration for more sanctions had something do with it.

And it’s all in the context of an “amnesty” act that frees those responsible for the murders of protestors  from any accountability and criminalizes further protests. Sigh.

The words of this passage certainly came to  my my mind earlier this year as I watched los Hermanos Mejia in concert and heard the familiar chants “un Pueblo unidos jamas sera vencidos” and “viva Nicaragua Libre” now joined with “ Ortega y Somoza esta la misma cosa”....With the waving of flags and dancing and .....stories from students and people from revolutionary families like Katia Cardenal driven into exile and I think, “ How long go lord, how long does this suffering people have to go through this? Live through this again? "And I look out at a 98 % Nica crowd and realize that before, the audience would be augmented by myriad gringos internacionalistas singing loudly “adelante, el frente Sandinista”.....Overthrowing a right wing dictator is sexy. Forcing out a one time revolutionary turned repressive autocrat, well, you’re on your own.

And then I live through a day like yesterday and realize that Honduras has never had an explosion of hope like the revolution of 1979. When Sandinistas sang Si Nicaragua vencio, El Salvador vencera, y Guatemala prepara ya con fusiles de libertad, nary a word about Honduras. Honduras was never sexy. Honduras is without a doubt a text book testimony to the reality of global predatory capitalism ringing every last ounce of life out of a country....and a people...

You hear stories like I heard last night from everyday Honduran Presbyterians and join in the question “Where is God?” The obvious answer is there...God is there en the midst of the people...On the their side. But then, so what? .What does hope even look like here? In the darkest days of apartheid, Archbishop Tutu would smile that all conquering smile of his and say, “ We have already won. The other side just doesn’t realize it yet.” What would that even mean in Honduras?

I hear Paul’s words again:

1Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

And I wonder if I can believe these words. Does suffering always produce persevere despite everything? Doesn’t it also produce desperation, resignation? Does character really grow out of suffering and does hope necessarily follow?

What faith I have says that with the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit, yes. But humility bids me to be silent and listen. And let those with ears to hear, hear.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Central America 1: Bienvenidos a Honduras!


Presbyterian Church Central America Study Team

Honduras. San Pedro Sula.  My first time back in Honduras in  36 years.  And my first time ever in this city. Honduras. The awkward kid in the back of the classroom . The one who gets picked last for teams. The poor cousin. Back in the '80's, the  Sandinistas sang:

Si Nicaragua vencio
El Salvador vencera
Y Guatemala prepara ya con fusiles de libertad
Somos el Central America, la esperanza de la humanidad.

(If Nicaragua won, then El Salvador can win. And Guatemala is now preparing with bullets of liberty. We are Central America, the hope of humanity.)

Yep. Not one word about Honduras. Nicaragua had the victorious Sandinistas. El Salvador the valiant FMLN in the face of daily death squads. Even Guatemala had a genocidal born-again Christian madman to contend with. There was just nothing sexy about Honduras.

The wet tropic middy heat hits my lungs and I remember. Honduras trying  to contend with refugees from Salvador and Nicaragua. I remember the massive US airbase at Comeagua. The people joked that the US had turned Honduras into an aircraft  carrier. And that the brothels near the base were a metaphor for the country. 

A random connection with an old classmate on our taskforce led to an invitation to Rafael Leonardo Callejas' birthday party. As a what you might call an agrotechnocrat phd from Mississipi State, in 1990  he would be elected President in the first peaceful transfer of power in Honduras since 1932. 

My photo of a Tegucigalpa barrio graced the Presbyterian AD magazine cover in a feature article on the region. I wrote an extended article for a Synod of the Covenant newspaper series on the five countries of Central America pretty much by default. Someone had to do it.  It was called "On the space of a tear." Even then, it was a story of unremitting sadness.

Historically one of the poorest nations in the hemisphere, last year it was the murder capital of the world. 

The hotel, like most local businesses, has a security gate with a red "ALTO"sign and an  armed guard. We are instructed if we go out, not to leave the perimeter of the hotel. 
 Our hosts are against going to  see la plaza in city center or where the caravans gather. The local papers are filled with stories and pictures of the latest murders. Four teenagers. A kidnapping. Traffic disruted by burning tires and striking teachers and doctors.  A pile of tires was ignited on the door of the US embassy leaving it scorched. A few pages later feature the smiling faces and classy celebrations of a lighter class's 2019 graduates. Caravans...why are the people leaving? What would it take to make it livable enough for people to want to stay?

That's what we're here to explore....

Bienvenidos a Honduras.....

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Last Sunday in Easter: Prison Break


Sunday morning Beverly 

It's a beautiful spring day walking from the subway station to Beverly Church. 
along the way....

along the way
As I arrive, Evgeny is very excited telling me about his art show. He will fill the church with 300 paintings.. Today is the last Sunday in Easter....
Ready to preach


Let's start with Paul and Silas in prison. Incarcerated is what we say. When I say that, what do you think of? How many of us have family members or friends behind bars? I was never chosen to be a juror because I always had members of my church incarcerated. 

So common that we speak of the "school to prison" pipeline. A friend of mine who works with homeless people tells me that in Oklahoma they  use  3rd grade failure rates to predict future prison building needs. Michelle Alexander has shown us how mass incarceration is "the new Jim Crow." In a direct line from slavery. 

According to the NAACP:
Incarceration Trends in America
Between 1980 and 2015, the number of people incarcerated in America increased from roughly 500,000 to over 2.2 million.
Today, the United States makes up about 5% of the world’s population and has 21% of the world’s prisoners.
1 in every 37 adults in the United States, or 2.7% of the adult population, is under some form of correctional supervision.

StopFriskRacial Disparities in Incarceration
In 2014, African Americans constituted 2.3 million, or 34%, of the total 6.8 million correctional population.
African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites.
The imprisonment rate for African American women is twice that of white women.
Nationwide, African American children represent 32% of children who are arrested,

Though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately 32% of the US
population, they comprised 56% of all incarcerated people in 2015.

Drug Sentencing Disparities

African Americans represent 12.5% of illicit drug users, but 29% of those arrested for drug offenses and 33% of those incarcerated in state facilities for drug offenses.

In 2012 alone, the United States spent nearly $81 billion on corrections.
Spending on prisons and jails has increased at triple the rate of spending on Pre‐K‐12 public education in the last thirty years.

I'm gonna stop. It's just not right.

There sit Paul and Silas in prison....why? Well as always it's got something to do with money. Seems this slave girl kept following them around. Calling out that these men were "slaves of the most high God" who were ".....proclaiming a way of salvation. Well, come to think of it, that was true! And she is annoying  Paul to no end. So  he discerns that  there's a spirit involved  and he draws the spirit out.

SO the owners who were making  money from her "psychic readings" or "fortune telling" or "tarot card reading" are angry at having lost their meal ticket and seek to find a way to get  Paul and Silas taken in. And it of course involves some "Jew" baiting language and sure enough there's an angry mob and beatings.  And they wind up in double bondage, not only in jail, but in stocks as well !

So far, as to be expected. I like the scene where they are singing hymns and the prisoners are listening...I remember when I was arrested in the protests following the Mohamed Diallo killing. As I was led in to the cells, my African-American brother clergy were singing spirituals and gospel songs, making the prison walls vibrate with sound. I thought of this verse. 

SO here's where the story takes a turn...seems God doesn't like prison walls either . and there's an earthquake and the walls fall down. And everyone runs away, right? No way. They stay. And presumably the other prisoners do too. 

The jailer is sure he will be blamed and made to pay. But when he looks, they're all still there. Still praying, singing , testifying. 

And before  it's all over, the jailer will have become  their  captor, in essence. By this  propaganda of the deed, as my Central American call it, the jailer is converted...and his whole household. 

And Paul and Silas, who took the risk to stay in jail, are washed, bandaged and fed. .

What we see is caring about someone enough to take a very serious risk on their behalf. Showing by doing. We're called to that kind of love. 

Loose ends. I don't expect any earthquake to take down our walls anytime soon. Rikers Island isn't going anywhere anytime soon. We'll have to do our own actions, like Paul and Silas, and see what can happen. 

At our last General Assembly last year in St.Louis,  as a sign of protest against the bail bond system, we  took up an offering of some 65000 and a whole bunch Presbyterians marched downtown and bailed out over 100 prisoners...not a bad way to begin....


In our prayers, there are many intercessions  as always. But this tine, prayers of thanksgiving as well as Geraldine's granddaughter has 6 college acceptances to choose from.  Geraldine always knew something special was in store. As always we will go downstairs to break  bread together.
Beverly is hospitality

First Reading Acts 16:16-34

16One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, "These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation." 18She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, "I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And it came out that very hour.

19But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. 20When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, "These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe." 22The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened. 27When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28But Paul shouted in a loud voice, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here." 29The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30Then he brought them outside and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 31They answered, "Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." 32They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Sixth Sunday in Easter: Pick up your mat....


Ready for worship

It's a sunny Memorial Day Sunday as I head to Good Shepherd Faith. Folks are talking about the holiday. And Fleet Week. And the Yankees...Pam starts the service by playing "Eternal Father Strong to Save," the Navy hymn. And I think of my father, and what  that  hymn mean to him. After the scripture is read, it's time for my reflection, or "prompting," as they call it here.

So it's been  a busy  week in the city.  Graduation week. The streets uptown were filled with Columbia blue robes. The subways with NYU purple. And all around Times Square with sailors in their dress whites and marines in khaki and blue. Fleet Week. Not sure why, but I always enjoy this annual visit of the navy ships to our city.  And now, Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial beginning of summer. And the beaches are open. And we are here, still in Eastertide. Alleluia! Christ is risen. (Christ is risen indeed!)

I chose this passage this morning because it's a weird one. And I wanted to wrestle a bit with it.

We're at a pool in Jerusalem ,at a time of an unnamed festival. Beth-zatha, probably the same as 'Bethsaida'or even "Bethesda." Meaning "House of newness" or "house of kindness." There's a back story here you don't have. The tradition was an angel would stir up the pool and the first one to make it into the water would get healed. We don't know exactly what was wrong with this man except that he'd been ill for 38 years.

Apparently he gets beat out every time he tries to get to the water. No wonder he sounds bitter. It's perhaps the strangest of Jesus' healing stories. When Jesus asks him "Do you want to be made well?"  you expect, as is usually the case, to hear an affirmation of faith followed by either a statement of Jesus about faith or forgiveness followed by a healing.

But what do we get? A complaint. No one will help me..And how does Jesus respond? He says
"Stand up, take your mat and walk." And  he does. Our lectionary ends with Now that day was a sabbath. 

If you're paying attention, that means trouble. Because pretty soon Jesus will be accused of healing on the sabbath. Which was forbidden.  And there's no note of gratitude on our man's part. Never even bothers to say thanks, just goes on.

And later, when confronted by the authorities for carrying his mat on the sabbath, he tries to deflect the blame back on Jesus whose name he didn't even bother to ask.  When he learns Jesus' name, he immediately goes to tell the authorities. Maybe hoping they'll leave him alone.

On the one hand, it's the nature of living under occupation. It reminds me of the  popular current Broadway play  "the Ferryman" where the IRA (no worse than the British) coerce and manipulate people into informing on each other. In the East Germany, during DDR years, some 260000 people were recorded as being informers. One never knew who to trust. Likewise with Palestinians today and their Israeli overlords.

This healed person is the least heroic, let alone faithful, loyal or even thankful of all Jesus' healings. So what's up here?

A simple answer might be that Jesus is promiscuous in his love....not just for the worthy or deserving, it's for all.

But maybe there's something deeper going on here. Three images come to mind:
* First, I remember John Lennon singing "War is over if you want it"....sounded overly simplistic, but.... that's kind of how it starts.

Or the lesson I learned  that if you want to play music, the only way to do that is to play music.

Or the exercise I've seen in retreats and you're in a group and they tell you to imagine you are surrounded by an invisible box then are asked how do you get out of the box. There are usually overblown strategies or dead silence. The answer of course? Step out of the box...

So Jesus tells him to pick up his mat and walk. And he does. It's that simple. No faith has made you well. No sins are forgiven. Just  "Stand up, take your mat and walk." And it works...

So what do we see here? Sometimes the answer is right in front of us. And we can't see it because we believe theres no there there. And so we keep on waiting for someone to carry, drag or pull us down to the pool. Or take us out of the box. So we refuse to take the first step or even try because you know, we can't, right?  And 30 years or more go by and we're still bitter, lying there beside the pool. Waiting.

And Jesus says, "Yes you can, pick up your mat and walk."
Where have we been stuck? What are we waiting for? Are you ready to take that step?
"Stand up, take your mat and walk." 

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christi is risen indeed...)


We talk. Neil, who does flower arrangements, says it's often the ones who get something for free that are most demanding and least appreciative. We talk about gratitude, how important it is to get us moving. And how hard that step can be. And about the Jewish Passover story that the Israelites had to go into the water up to their noses before God parted the waters. We finish by singing "How beautiful for spacious skies" and I mention the irony that this much beloved hymn, as someone reminds us, was written by Kathy Lee Bates. How conservatives don't even realize it was composed by someone who could so clearly fit that general category of queer. And of course, the conversation turns to Ray Charles....

                                                       Ray sings it....

Gospel John 5:1-9

1After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

2Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3In these lay many invalids-blind, lame, and paralyzed. 4, 5One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be made well?" 7The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me." 8Jesus said to him, "Stand up, take your mat and walk." 9At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.