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Sunday, January 14, 2018

Urban Church, Global City: Montevideo

10/14





with the people of la Iglesia en Montevideo


Our journey with La Iglesia Valdense del Rio de la Plata comes to an end in Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay.  It's arc of high rise apartments and hotels along la playa are reminiscent of Miami as are the well preserved streets of art deco, more than any other city in South America.
Montevideo Deco

It's appearance is expressive of the most secular and progressive country in South America. And the safest city. It is a bit surprising, then,to learn of Uruguay's high suicide rate. 

This is the  context for the ministry of la iglesia valdense . in Montevideo.  While our plan was to have  a workshop similar to what we did in Argentina, it became clear to me that the Montevideo Church may be the most important to look at because of it's history of having followed the cardinal rule of urban ministry, namely to be aware of and informed by its context. In listening to the stories of long time members, there was a conscious intentionality in how the church's ministry was lived out in the urban context.


Łux lucet en tenebras
Located in the central heart of the  city, its architecture is classic postwar modernist with the largest sanctuary I encountered in Rio de la Plata. 
La Iglesia
It's interior is classic Valdensian, filled with bright streams of natural light. The light is another expression of the  Valdensian motto, Lux lucet in tenebras, light shines in the darkness...  


The church began with a fellowship of young people in 1952 and by 1958 the church building was erected.  It's worth noting that the church is  directly across the street from the military hospital
Military Hospital
which during the junta years 1973-85 became a place of detention and torture. (On reflection, I would have liked to  have heard more from the church members about what these years were like. It must have had a chilling effect on church life to be so near.)


There were a good mixture of older members, "legacy" valdensians, a former Methodist, an Argentine and an American.  At least one through mrriage and one by choice, attracted by its history, ideas and its living faith. And one member, the President, responded wit a sigh that he had been there "800 years."
Gathered for conversation


Among concerns of the people were the suicide rate and increasing refugees/migrants from the Caribbean, especially Cuba and Republica Dominicana.

One of the richest resources of e congregation is its building, which was built to provide not only student housing but also housing for transients. And there is an appropriate sense of pride in having wanted mission as part of its  original design.

(It's also interesting that the walls outside the downstairs fellowship hall of the church have painted murals of the history of la iglesia valdense in Uruguay.) 
Historic murals


There is also a strong sense of pride in their interfaith commitments and relationships, their women association and especially the musical and choral programs of the church. Known as the "home of choirs."

Sunday was a bit of a different worship day in that Pastor Hugo Armond Pilon's ministry was up for a renewal vote and he was not there. It was also a special women's led service. Although larger in attendance than  most, the sanctuary still had a lot of empty pews. 
Sunday the women led worship


In my conversations after the workshop and on Sunday, I discovered that the original plans were even more visionary. The idea was to have a building that would essentially house all the members of the congregation as an intentional community. For its time, this was a truly unique and creative expression of urban ministry.

Although that never actually happened, a number of families did initiate the process and one current member has war memories of growing up there and the sense of community and being able to move freely from floor to floor and apartment to apartment...a true sense of community. 

Hearing some of this story helped me to understand  some of the weariness I felt from some members. They had opened their minds and hearts and had dreamed big. And there is that sense of aging with the dreams unfulfilled and wondering who new dreamers will be. 

This is a story that needs to be gone into more deeply and recorded as it was a very important experiment in urban ministry.  Something of that vision can inform and inspire a new time of visioning.

Certainly the building and its student and itinerant housing could be further developed in a number of different creative ways. Perhaps even related to refugees and migrants. It also strikes me that in this highly secular culture, the suicide rate may be expressive of a spiritual hunger. My impression of the Valdensians is that their unique spiritual culture may be especially consonant with the spiritual needs of the progressive secular culture in which they live. 

The basis for a creative progressive urban ministry that could revitalize the church and be an even more valuable presence in the city is clearly  there. 

Lux lucet in tenebras.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Holding on to Christmas, or The other side of Christmas


1/7


Geraldine's family is growing.....




On a freezing cold day, i make my way through the ever worsening subway system and somehow get to Beverley Church.


We could've gone  one of  two ways today..either the Baptism of Jesus or Three Kings...We'll have time to look at Jesus' baptism again in Lent...so I wanted to go with the Three Kings...it's like we need them to finish our Christmas. And I'm a believer in holding onto Christmas as long as we can.  In our house, we always wait until the last week before Christmas to put up our tree and then leave it up until January  6th...Epiphany....And for our friends in the Orthodox Churches, this  is their Christmas, old Christmas, Eastern Christmas. When I was growing up, our local paper always had an op ed honoring their celebration. So we today have one final day of Christmas.

Especially since the secular commercial Christmas begins right after Halloween, I want to keep the spiritual, Christmas of faith on its own...all twelve days...

And at West Park Church, when we were a fully bilingual congregation, this was a very special day for us, Three Kings Day, el dia de los tres reyes magos. That  was the day of our Christmas pageant and procession.  And our Latino members always had special gifts for everyone..and we had rosca de reyes...a special Mexican bread for the day...with a little baby Jesus inside..and whoever had the baby Jesus had to host a party.....usually with traditional tamales...so today we will welcome and honor the kings.

Luke has the shepherds and the stable, Matthew the kings, and if you look close, (2:11), they went into a house..that's where the tradition came from that they actually arrived about a year later. We like to mash them up all these scenes together, like with the live camels and the procession at Radio City Music Hall...

And it doesn't say three, though there are three gifts...and they got the gifts ...and camels from Isaiah, but Matthew adds myrrh.....as a foretaste of what will come...


This is  a nativity for adults. My friend Pastor Heidi Neumark of Trinity Lutheran wants us to keep Herod in Christmas.  Driven by fear, Herod winds up murdering all the children under two...there is of course no external verification of thi story....but this was so common or Herod .that a relatively small massacre in a small  hill country    town would not be making the news...Herod was so afraid of losing power he even murdered his own son...so the deaths of these poor people in Bethlehem wouldn't be noticed.

Pastor Heidi says:
We Christians like to talk about putting Christ back into Christmas, but let's not forget to put Herod back into Christmas. Herod represents the dark side of the gospel. He reminds us that Jesus didn't enter a world of sparkly Christmas cards or a world of warm spiritual sentiment. Jesus enters a world of real pain, of serious dysfunction, a world of brokenness and political oppression. Jesus was born an outcast, a homeless person, a refugee, and finally he becomes a victim to the powers that be. Jesus is the perfect savior for outcasts, refugees, and nobodies. That's how the church is described in scripture time and time again - not as the best and the brightest - but those who in their weakness become a sign for the world of the wisdom and power of God. from Joy Carroll Wallis

This kind  of violence is certainly part                                                                                             of our own history. Last week I saw the new movie"Hostiles" . it takes place in the waning days of the US government conflict with Native Americans. Christian Bale  a longtime "Indian fighter" who is assigned to accompany an Indian leader (Wes Studie)back to his home  in Montana. Along the way, old enemies have to find way to live together, work together in order to survive. Along the way they  come to  respect each others integrity. Importantly, it is not the liberals, eastern journalists,etc.. who never actually   encountered one another  but those who truly engaged with ine another, vs "hostiles" ...who show the way towards reconciliation.


So....Free people see Rome for what it is... There is enough love to drive out fear..

God is in and with all the characters..in these stories. A light glimmers on the horizon and the darkness has not overcome it

And so the Holy family flees to to Egypt...as refugees...many traditions grew up around their time there...they'll even show you where they stayed.....One of my youth group advisors suggested they used the gifts      to pay for the trip to Egypt.        ,                                                                                                                              

So what do we make  of  all this?

God places God's child in the hands  of fallible human beings...just like us.  Herod, the powerful one, is afraid.
Joseph, who has nothing but a dream, is not.
Ready to start as journey into a new year. Much to frighten us. We're called upon to face our own Herods.  And go home by another way?  Once you've come to know Jesus,you just can't go back the same way. It's got to be. new.  What's our new way home look like? You tell me....




Here is James Taylor's song, "Home by another way":

Home by another way . James Taylor
Those magic men the Magi
Some people call them wise
Or Oriental, even kings
Well anyway, those guys
They visited with Jesus
They sure enjoyed their stay
Then warned in a dream of King Herod's scheme
They went home by another way

Yes they went home by another way
Home by another way
Maybe me and you can be wise guys too
And go home by another way
We can make it another way
Safe home as they used to say
Keep a weather eye to the chart on high
And go home another way

Steer clear of royal welcomes
Avoid a big to-do
A king who would slaughter the innocents
Will not cut a deal for you
He really, really wants those presents
He'll comb your camel's fur
Until his boys announce they've found trace amounts
Of your frankincense, gold and myrrh

Time to go home by another way
Home by another way
You have to figure the Gods saying play the odds
And go home by another way
We can make it another way
Safe home as they used to say
Keep a weather eye to the chart on high
And go home another way

Home is where they want you now
You can more or less assume that you'll be welcome in the end
Mustn't let King Herod haunt you so
Or fantasize his features when you're looking at a friend

Well it pleasures me to be here
And to sing this song tonight
They tell me that life is a miracle
And I figured that they're right
But Herod's always out there
He's got our cards on file
It's a lead pipe cinch, if we give an inch
Old Herod likes to take a mile

It's best to go home by another way
Home by another way
We got this far to a lucky star
But tomorrow is another day
We can make it another way
Safe home as they used to say
Keep a weather eye to the chart on high
And go home another way

So as God entrusts God's children to fallible human belongs, God entrusts us to each  other. And we will walk with each other as we find our way home.  

And so we share our communion.  And a hot cup of coffee. And unavoidably back out into the cold. 
(Like -14 degrees Centigrade!)


Happy New Year!

Matthew 2: 1-12
[1] Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, 
[2] "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him." 
[3] When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 
[4] and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 
[5] They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet: 
[6] `And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will govern my people Israel.'"
[7] Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared; 
[8] and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him." 
[9] When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. 
[10] When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; 
[11] and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Ecclesia: a la puerta del ano nuevo (en espanol)

12/31

Listo para culto de adoracion con mi hermano Padre Clyde


Ecclesia es una iglesia muy especial. Adorando el Dios todos los domingos afuera en tres parques de la ciudad, una communidad "pan-denominacional" con peronsas sin hogares con oraciones, himnos, y eucaristia. Esta manana me siento honorado a compartir con mis hermanos y hermanas en el parque en el viento helado: -10 degrees C!
Despues leyendo de gospel, fue el tiempo para mi homilia.......



Ya casi estamos terminados con 2017. No hay mucho mas.  Muchos de mis amigos estan diciendo que ellos  tengan mucho alegria a ver el fin de este ano. Pero, el problema es, el ano pasado, estaban diciendo la misma cosas. Yo necesito pensar me...el projimo ano, va pasar la misma cosa de nuevo? .

Sin duda este ano ha sido muy dificil, muy duro. Especialmente con mis companeros del camino. Muchas temores, muchas heridas.

Ahora estamos a la puerta del ano nuevo. Una nueva oportunidad para renovacion.

Tambien es el septimo dia de navidad. Yo creo que es importante siempre a celebrar todas doce dias, . ...En la biblia tenemos el nino Jesus en el templo por su dedicacion. Sus padres fueron fieles en tradicion..Les encuentran dos persones justos...Simeon y Ana.

Simeon lleva el nino en sus brazos. Este es el cumplimiento de sus expectaciones....este hombre justo entienden que este nino viene por todo el mundo, si todas personas, justos o no. Todo el mundo.

Anna esta profeta sin cuidado por su misma. Con profetas, asi es. Ella tiene cuidsdo por la redencion de su ciudad. Y asi es con nosotros. Pero Simeon tiene una otra palabra por Maria.
He aquí, este Niño ha sido puesto para la caída y el levantamiento[i] de muchos en Israel, y para ser señal de contradicción 35 (y una espada traspasará aun tu propia alma) a fin de que sean revelados los pensamientos de muchos corazones.

Porque este nino  esta aqui para nosotros, el va caminar con nostros cada paso del camino porque este es el camino del amor.. Y por eso, es inevitable que el va sufrir. y por eso, su madre va sufrir. Por que este es el camino del amor.

Estamos al puerto del ano nuevo. Soy uno que creo en resoluciones del ano nuevo. Alguna vez, actualamente se hacen. se hacen direccion. Trata mandar este tarde en refleccion del ano pasado. Y sus esperanzas por el ano nuevo. Y manana, abra la puerta. Hace un paso. Simplemente uno. EN este direccion. Y paso por paso, dia por dia, camina. Conociendo que el nino que  nosotros celbramos es con nostros en cada paso.



Nunc dimittis servum tuum Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace.

Ahora deja que tu siervo
Señor, Señor,
De acuerdo con tu palabra, irse en paz.
Señor.

Let your servant now go in peace, O Lord
Now go in peace,according to your word.

Despues oraciones y compartiendo la paz, vamos juntos a rompir pan como hermanos y hermanas. El ano esta casi terminado......






Ecclesia: at the doorway of a new year


12/31


Ready for worship in Marcus Garvey Park with  Clyde Kuemmerle



Ecclesia is a special church. As a "pan-denominational" Christian community, there are three congregations worshipping outdoors in three New York City parks, Madison Square in the Flatiron, Tompkins Square in the Lower East Side and Marcus Garvey in Harlem. Gathering every Sunday afternoon throughout the year, regardless of weather, there is preaching, prayer and Eucharist followed by a meal served by a select circle of "sponsor" congregations and a rota of preachers. Founding Pastor Clyde Keummerle is very particular at who preaches at the services, so I consider it a bit of an honor to be invited for this last Sunday of 2017.

As I head to Marcus Garvey Park, it's a frigid 12' F (-11'C) and with the wind, even colder. I'm greeted by Pastor Clyde and volunteer Vijay from the Interfaith Center. There's an overflowing shopping cart under the ledge. Clyde figures its owner is probably in the hospital since its been there since last week. Christmas  Eve Sunday was milder and several dozen turned out here in Marcus Garvey. In this weather, the circle will be smaller. There are other logistical issues as well, but we will worship.

Clyde passes out hand warmers and we're ready to begin. After reading Luke 2: 22-40, I share my homily:

So we're just about done with 2017. Not much left. Can't tell you ow any  friendsI I have who have said how glad they are to see it go. Only thing is, I remember last year everyone saying how glad they were to be done with 2016. Makes me wonder if we'll be back here again next yearsaying the same thing about 2018.

No question about it ...it's been a rough year.. Especially for my neighbors. Folks I walk with. Lots of hurts. Fears. Anxieties.

But we're at the doorway of  another year. A new year. And maybe how it turns out, maybe we have something to do with that. A new year's a new opportunity to reboot, take another shot at what we want.

This is also the seventh day of Christmas. ...that's seven swans a swimming if you're keeping count...and in the Bible we've got baby Jesus being brought to the temple for dedication. His parents were good about keeping the traditions...and they encounter two people....two righteous people...Simeon and Anna...

Simeon takes the child in his arms ...this so what he's bene waiting for ...and rejoices....because Simeon, righteous and devout, understands that the Messiah has come for the unrighteous and the unclean, God's people Israel as well as the Gentiles.  FOR EVERYONE.

Anna is a prophet, not concerned with her own salvation, but with the redemption of her city. That's what prophets do. But Simeon has another word for Mary, Jesus is sent for the falling and rising of many, but a sword will  pierce her soul. Because this child is here for all of is, because this child will walk with us every step, because this chid will walk from Garvey Park and the streets of Harlem and wherever we will go, it is inevitable that things will happen that will hurt. That will be painful. And because they hurt him it will hurt her. But that's what comes with love.

We stand stand at the doorway of a new year.  I'm one who actually believes that New Year's resolutions are ok and that sometimes they actually work, if only to set directions. What would it mean to leave this park this afternoon, reflect on the year just past, and reflect on what we might want for the new year. And wake up tomorrow morning, open that door and take just one step. Just one step in that direction. One step at a time. One day at a time.

Knowing that the baby we  celebrated  last week is Jesus the human one who walks with us every step of the way.

Nunc dimittis servum tuum Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace.

Ahora deja que tu siervo
Señor, Señor,
De acuerdo con tu palabra, irse en paz.
Señor.

Let your servant now go in peace, O Lord
Now go in peace, according to your word.

We share our prayers. There  are family  issues. And housing issues. And job issues. And then the sharing of peace.

My feet and even lips are freezing. Clyde will lead us to Manna's, a soul food restaurant, for a luncheon buffet. The year is almost over.

Gospel Luke 2:22-40

22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29  “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
          according to your word;
30  for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31       which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32   a light for revelation to the Gentiles
          and for glory to your people Israel.”

33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed — and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wis

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Urban Church, Global City: Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

9/12

a gathering in Colonia del Sacramento


The City of Colonia (del Sacramento), Uruguay is one of those cities that lives larger than its actual  numbers. This is a reflection of both its historic and current reality. Historically, Colonia bounced back and forth between Portugal and Spain until Uruguay finally gained its independence from Brazil.  This historic colonial port city is cosmopolitan by its very nature. Today, less than an hour across the river from Buenos Aires, it can almost feel like a part of the metro area. The city is constantly  filled with tourists taking in  the narrow colonial cobblestone streets,
Narrow streets


the old city
dating from 1680,
Historic archway
fortifications, convents, lighthouse with sweeping views, etc. as   well as the sharp corner of Uruguay.
Add caption
Such is the context for ministry here.


Colonia the southwest corner of Uruguayserves as the center of pastoral  activities for  four more communities including  Riachuelo, San Pedro, El General y La Barra all under the leadership of Pastor Ariel Charbonnier. A single newsletter publicizes the activities of the various communities including worship, Christian Education, Bible Study and the Women's League. 

Pastor Ariel has brought together a gathering for conversation including members from the "other" Colonia, Valdense, and their pastor Oscar Geymonat.
Iglesia Valdense de Sacramento and Pastro Ariel
There is some joking about the  that in Colonia Valdense, todo el mundo son valdense... everyone is a Waldensian. 


We focus in on the particulars   of church and city, seeking to understand  the context of ministry. We talk about history, the tree most important events, etc. And especially why be a Waldensian now? And then began to talk about the importance of paying more attention to gifts than needs. 

As is true elsewhere, the Waldensians here seem to have a greater social and cultural impact than thier  numbers would seem to indicate. it would seem to be important moving forward to ask what special call the cosmopolitan reality of Colonia del Sacramento maybe making on the church. 



Sunday, December 17, 2017

Urban Church, Global City: Dolores, Uruguay

10/10

"El Granero de Pais"



The city of Dolores, Uruguay, calls itself el granero de pais, that is the barn of the country. It is the center of the surrounding agricultural  area and sits on the left bank of the San Salvador River before it empties into the Uruguay River. 

Dolores' true claim to fame is it's annual celebration to welcome spring every October. For one weekend a year, every other activity  stops and .the  city fills with visitors from all over. 
Festival float
While there are many accompanying activities like carnival games and rides, music, food and drinks, the center piece of the festival is a grand parade that passes through the city's streets.
A grand parade


Ostensibly organized by the lcoal high school students, the hands of the  parents are clearly visible and the students joke abut their parents' intensity about the event. (Something strikes me as universal about that...)One can imagine the fathers who drive the vehicles that haul the giant decorated floats gathering for a beer after. 

The festival is so all consuming if the city that even church  services set aside for the weekend. La Iglesia Valdense, however prides itself  on the massive barbecue it produces. Thanks to a member who donates a whole   cow, and the dedicated  work of a crew of volunteers, it is truly a church activity of another kind truly building...and serving...community.  And that is typical of this congregation. 

One important strategy for most successful urban ministry is to be engaged in one's community in integral ways.  And this is very much a reality of the way this congregation lives out its ministry. A year ago a tornado touched down in Dolores, a virtually unheard of climatic event. Four people died and some 200 were injured. A third of the people lost their homes A high school was destroyed.
School destroyed by tornado
And the  church itself was blown away.  A terrifying experience for the community.


In talking about the church's response, Pastor Carola Tron quotes Isaiah 44:26:
26 who confirms the word of his servant, and fulfills the prediction of his messengers; who says of Jerusalem, "It shall be inhabited," and of the cities of Judah, "They shall be rebuilt, and I will raise up their ruins"; 

Even while devastated itself,
Add caption
the church gathered for worship among the ruins of its sanctuary and turned to serving their neighbors. Only when the neighbors were taken care of did the church turn its attention to its own needs. 
with the people of La Iglesia Valdense de Dolores


Eventually a new functional multipurpose building was constructed making use of what was still usable from the existing community house.  The new bulldog houses worship, fellowship, education and meals. The congregation though small, feels vibrant and united. The response to the tornado and yes, the annual barbecue, show an urban church actively engaged in its community.  (And it was a joy to be accompanied by Juan on cajon when I sang ).
Joined by Juan on cajon


Pastor Carola ...and her sister Claudia in Parana, Argentina...are typical of the dynamic  and creative leadership of women pastors I have met on my visit. Pastor Carola Tron is also currently serving as Moderadora of la Iglesia Valdense del Rio Plate. Such leaders are a rich resource for the Waldensians of the Rio Plate. 





Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Advent 2: Preparing the Way

12/10
Decorated for Christmas






A cold December morning. The first snow. The second Sunday in Advent. And I'm on my way to Good Shepherd Faith Church. I enter the church to find it lit up with lights and holiday decorations. We light the Advent candles.
Lighting the second candle
Here was my "prompting," as they call the sermon, intending  and expecting ,response... for the day: 



'Comfort Ye"

This always used to be one of my favorite Advent Sundays.  Some of my favorite Bible verses and one of my favorite characters, John the Baptist. SO many memories...like when we all got together and did "Comfort Ye" at West Park? It continues to this day at SPSA but long forgotten is the role of our friend John in creating the project. I can still hear the solo tenor voice, maybe our late friend Philip,  opening the evening in the darkened sanctuary, "Comfort Ye..." Handel's Messiah. 

"Prepare Ye"

And the times at West Park when we would  open this Sunday with Godspell's "Prepare ye the Way of the Lord..." Has it ever been done  better?  That solo voice (in the wilderness?) crying out and one by one joined by others? 

Yes....lots of memories. But here interrupting, disrupting, disturbing...comes John the Baptist...crying out..'Prepare Ye the way of the Lord.."

So...who is this guy?  This man dressed in animal skins and living on 'locusts and and wild honey?" Like a dedicated  nazirite, those ascetic prophets of the Lord. 

By tradition, Jesus' cousin.His mother Elizabeth  carrying  him as Mary carried Jesus. Son of Zechariah, a  temple priest..son of a tall steeple, 5th Avenue or Brick Presbyterian (Associate) Pastor.  One way or another, a child of privilege. Turns hippie and heads to the wilderness. 

Or like Jay Baker, son of Jim and Tammy Faye, who walked out of the PTL  Club televangelist world and eventually walked into Pete's Candy Store in the wilderness of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, tattoos and all, to start the Revolution Church....

Think about that....

Jill Duffield who writes lectionary commentaries for the Presbyterian Outlook, reminds of  us of an old story about the importance of punctuation:

Let's eat,mother
Let's eat mother.
Commas save lives

In this  case it's  the placement of a colon:
In Isaiah . 
3   A voice cries out: 
     “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, 
          make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 

In Mark:
          who will prepare your way; 
3   the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 
          ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, 
          make his paths straight,’” 


Are we to hear a voice crying out in the  wilderness to prepare a way?
Or hear a voice telling us to prepare a way in the wilderness?
And does it ultimately matter?

I've got two issues for  you...
First of all, what is wilderness to you?
and second, What does preparing the way mean?

Wilderness...good or bad? Positive or negative? It's where Israel became a people...where Jesus went to be tempted, to figure himself out... a pace where thngs are stripped down, simplified, clear...

or...man does it  feel like  a wilderness now...(Duffield)
 Such wilderness wanderings are fraught with wild beasts, unexpected visitors and disorienting landscapes, but they also include manna, water and angels.

You don't have to go to the wilds of northern New York, those thick forests north of  Lake Placid on the way to Canada...there can be a wilderness right here in the city..Williamsburg or Upper West Side..

What is your wilderness? What do you hear there?

How do we prepare?  The women have called us to attention here...with the "me too"....so Al Franken's down...but  what about Roy Brown? And need i say it, the president himself?

And we can't let this issue  lead us to forget that we who are white folks have a lot of work to do to start deconstructing white privilege as well as male privilege. What have you all in this congregation experienced in your efforts to be a multicultural congregation learned? What do you have to share? What stories to tell? 

I had dinner last night with the former Dutch Human Rights Ambassador to the United Nations...He said that the diplomats he knows   want to know why we aren't rising up...filling the streets...what's going on?

I couldn't really answer that. The Revolutionary Communist Party has tried, but as could be expected, no mass uprising yet.  

Start by being honest to yourself about yourself..then  we all come together ...that's how we begin to prepare the way...

This time  there was  much conversation about what preparing the way meant, especially  in this day. Some discussion  of Jesus' anger. Knowing  time and place of our responses. The general mood of tension in our subways and buses. The power of just one kind  act. Our responsibility to lighten the world with kindness.  A good conversation. 

Over coffee downstairs there is casual conversation with the arriving members of the Korean language service. The conscious desire to connect in simple ways. 

They call this the Advent Sunday of Peace. 

Getting ready to preach








First Reading Isaiah 40:1-11

1   Comfort, O comfort my people, 
          says your God. 
2   Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, 
          and cry to her 
     that she has served her term, 
          that her penalty is paid, 
     that she has received from the Lord”s hand 
          double for all her sins.

3   A voice cries out: 
     “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, 
          make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 
4   Every valley shall be lifted up, 
          and every mountain and hill be made low; 
     the uneven ground shall become level, 
          and the rough places a plain. 
5   Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, 
          and all people shall see it together, 
          for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

6   A voice says, “Cry out!” 
          And I said, “What shall I cry?” 
     All people are grass, 
          their constancy is like the flower of the field. 
7   The grass withers, the flower fades, 
          when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; 
          surely the people are grass. 

8   The grass withers, the flower fades; 
          but the word of our God will stand forever. 
9   Get you up to a high mountain, 
          O Zion, herald of good tidings; 
     lift up your voice with strength, 
          O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, 
          lift it up, do not fear; 
     say to the cities of Judah, 
          “Here is your God!” 
10  See, the Lord GOD comes with might, 
          and his arm rules for him; 
     his reward is with him, 
          and his recompense before him. 
11  He will feed his flock like a shepherd; 
          he will gather the lambs in his arms, 
     and carry them in his bosom, 
          and gently lead the mother sheep.

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

1   LORD, you were favorable to your land; 
          you restored the fortunes of Jacob. 
2   You forgave the iniquity of your people; 
          you pardoned all their sin.                                              Selah

8   Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, 
          for he will speak peace to his people, 
          to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts. 
9   Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, 
          that his glory may dwell in our land.

10  Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; 
          righteousness and peace will kiss each other. 
11  Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, 
          and righteousness will look down from the sky. 
12  The LORD will give what is good, 
          and our land will yield its increase. 
13  Righteousness will go before him, 
          and will make a path for his steps.



Gospel Mark 1:1-8

1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2As it is written in he prophet Isaiah, 
     “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, 
          who will prepare your way; 
3   the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 
          ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, 
          make his paths straight,’” 
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”