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Saturday, July 23, 2016

A basket of summer fruit


As we gather for worship today, we are here on the one year anniversary of the death of Eric Garner.  (Last week  also the anniversary of the death of Sandra Bland…)  And so I must ask, one year later, where are we?

Amos gives us an image of …  a basket of summer fruit… I’m sure at least one year when this passage came up I actually brought in a basket of summer fruit for us all to share…it’s ironic because it is basically a pleasant image…but for Amos, it’s a sign that the best is past…that what looks fresh and pleasant and abundant is already rotting…
Thank you, Leila....

We recall that Amos last week protested that he was not a “prophet or a prophet’s son…”, just a simple working man, a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees…but nevertheless, he answers God’s call to speak to God’s people, and his people in his own language…

In his book Sabbath as Resistance, Walter Breuggeman sees this passage as a sign of a society where everything and everyone has been commodified….
Where there is no time for rest because as, the prophet says,
Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
    and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
saying, “When will the new moon be over
    so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
    so that we may offer wheat for sale?

What has been set in motion is a time of a society falling apart…and be clear, this is not a judgment imposed from outside but a result of allowing  the bonds that tie us together to weaken and break…our worship, our feasts and celebrations will be empty…and meaningless in Goid’s eyes…tp the extent that we do no tcare fpr the weakest among us, we bepcms vulnerable to falling apart…vulnerable to any enemy
And in such a society, the biggest loss of all will be the absence of the word of God…
Prophecy is like the best science fiction, like Star Trek, for example…….it’s not a predictive describing of what will be but a metaphoric description of what already  is…
On this Sunday one  year after the death of Eric Garner, what is in  our basket of fruit?
Given that Eric’s last words were I can’t breathe, I was moved to include this hymn today:
1 Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.
2 Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with Thee I will one will,
To do and to endure.
3 Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Till I am wholly Thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.
4 Breathe on me, Breath of God,
So shall I never die,
But live with Thee the perfect life
Of Thine eternity.

And then these words from the Peace Poets:

"I still hear my brother crying ‘I can’t breathe’
Now I’m in the struggle and saying 'I can’t leave'
Calling out the violence of these racist police.
We ain’t gonna stop till people are free
We ain’t gonna stop till people are free"

Might I say, I’m proud that the Peaec Poets recorded their CD here at West- Park…

This is what the Lord God showed me—a basket of summer fruit.[a] He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.”[b] Then the Lordsaid to me,
“The end[c] has come upon my people Israel;
    I will never again pass them by.
The songs of the temple[d] shall become wailings in that day,”
says the Lord God;
“the dead bodies shall be many,
    cast out in every place. Be silent!”
Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
    and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
saying, “When will the new moon be over
    so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
    so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
    and practice deceit with false balances,
buying the poor for silver
    and the needy for a pair of sandals,
    and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”
The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
Shall not the land tremble on this account,
    and everyone mourn who lives in it,
and all of it rise like the Nile,
    and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?
On that day, says the Lord God,
    I will make the sun go down at noon,
    and darken the earth in broad daylight.
10 I will turn your feasts into mourning,
    and all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth on all loins,
    and baldness on every head;
I will make it like the mourning for an only son,
    and the end of it like a bitter day.
11 The time is surely coming, says the Lord God,
    when I will send a famine on the land;
not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
    but of hearing the words of the Lord.
12 They shall wander from sea to sea,
    and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord,
    but they shall not find it.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Reflections on the nation....


We gather for worship on the day before July 4th.

So there’s our American flag.
It’s always been involved in controversy. It was removed from the sanctuary in ‘70’s. The question was raised as to whether there should ever be any presence of the American flag at all in a church? We brought the flag back on the Sunday after 9/11, which was September 16th. Andre came in wearing an American flag shirt. He brought along a friend who was a Muslim to play the flute. To show we would not give in to the hysteria. (That still is with us…) This was one of the times I was most proud of what we were doing. We wanted to express love for our country and people and at the same time make clear that our grief was not a call for vengeance. The flag remained  for several years. I can’t say why or when it came down again. 

I think of Abraham Joshua Heschel. Who said the inspiration of a prophet must be Love. A prophet musty come from a people and speak to that  people. Always owning identity with that people.

Today our bulletin cover features Katherine Lee Bates. 
She was a professor at Wellesley. For 25 years she lived with Katherine Coman. Though Katherine has been claimed as an lgbtq hero, there has been an ongoing academic  debate. Over that issue with much discussion of the topic of  “Boston Marriage”… One friend recently cleared this up by saying well, she may or may not be lesbian, but she sure was QUEER.

I remember Seeing our flag raised in Managua, Nicaragua, celebrating our revolution. And having Bill Coffin lift up these words: 

Oh, beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

They seem to have special meanings we stood on the brink of an invasion.  That was the first time I felt the critical power in that song...

Our texts today have much top say about “De-privileging” and hospitality. There is the story of Naaman. He was a serious Syrian with all  the accouterments of power.  And a case of leprosy that won’t go away. It’s a captured slave girl who tells him about Elisha. He goes to the king. And by doing so scares him to death. Then he is directed to  Elijah. He expects big dramatic demands and actions from this famous prophet. Waving hands and all. Dramatic magic. But Elijah only makes a simple request for washing. And Naaman comes out Clean “as a child”..(did he have a new child like point of view as well?) It was like Baptism. The metaphor here is that Naaman  has to give up all the trappings of power and privilege to be healed.

Likewise, in Luke, Jesus sends his workers out “stripped down” and vulnerable. (They are not even to wear sandals…so that their hosts will have to wash their feet…hospitality…) It’s about Inviting us into a new space of openness and vulnerability.

Paul in Galatians talks about  giving up privileges of “circumcision…..”

We should notice a couple of points…if we are not offered the peace of the house, we are to shake off the dust from our feet and move on…there is no command to keep beating your head against the wall….

The disciples come back boasting of their accomplishments. Jesus, says, yeah well I saw Satan fall from heaven….all that is important is that your names are written in heaven…

We spend some time talking about these passages together and then we celebrate communion.  This is Russ’ first time to be serving  communion as an ordained elder.
And we finish the service by singing I’m gonna live so God can use me…

Our conversation on these issues has only just begun…

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Reflections on the events of the week...let the conversation begin


Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons 
Is as important as the killing of White men, White mothers’ sons
We who believe in freedom cannot rest We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes
     From Ella’s Song by Bernice Reagon inspired by the words of Ella Baker in 1964


Do you remember the Sunday our music director Jeremy Mage led us in that song? After which killing?  How sad it is that we can’t remember. Or that words written in 1964 could sound like they were written yesterday.
I am now back from North Carolina…four days with no cell phone or internet. I am sorry that I was not able to be with you last Sunday when faith communities around the country took time to stop and reflect and pray about the violence that tore our country last week… Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Dallas…
Throughout the Wild Goose Festival (Of which I will write more later), there was an underscoring sense that we are at a critical moment in our society. How it turns out will be up to us.
While at one level it is true that ALL LIVES MATTER, that statement can be used to undercut the demands of the present moment that unless BLACK LIVES MATTER specifically and concretely, NO LIVES MATTER. Unless we take seriously the current reality of a black community that feels under attack, from every social measurement to gentrification, mass incarceration and seeming disregard for human dignity let alone lives, we will not be facing the truth of the moment we are living in.
What does our gospel lesson from last Sunday have to do with this? As Claudio Carvales of Union Seminary said, “What do we do when black bodies are lying bleeding in the road in front of us? Do we pass by? Or do  we stop?”
And if we stop, what are we to do?  Unless…and until…we begin the project of actively and intentionally  de-privileging, of deconstructing privilege, we will continue to be caught in this devil’s bargain. Black lives…and when anger rages, blue lives are the price of privilege.
The loss of life in Dallas is no less tragic. But when anger rages and lives continue to seem to be disregarded, where there are victims of ptsd from wars that never end and easy access to guns, these tragedies as well are almost predictable.
How do we begin? I do not have a formula. All I know is that we have to ask ourselves, what can you do, what can do, what can we do, and how can we help each other begin? That conversation must begin, above all, with those of us who claim to bear the name of Jesus. 
Let the conversation begin….

Saturday, July 2, 2016

PRIDE 2016


Celebrating PRIDE 2016

Today we are gathered on PRIDE SUNDAY. This year more than ever…it I san important day to celebrate as celebration becomes an act of resistance against the forces of hate, fear and violence.
Last night, I went to a concert and celebration event at the Brooklyn Commons CafĂ©…a gathering of the young queer community…white, black ,latino/a and Palestinian…beyond categories…as our epistle lesson said last week, there is”Neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female..” I’ll never hear those words the same way again. There were poets, singers, performance artists, telling their stories…filled with anger, rage,resolution….and  fierce love..and finally my friend Stephanie Ryan Johnstone (…and the  choir…the second song was  by our friend Osagyefo Sekou (…about violence done to a trans woman of color...Ryan is bringing back an old tradition…that of churches, unions, communities…singing together…in harmony …and unity.
(I’m thinking a concert with Brother Sekou and his Holy Ghost Band, and Ryan  and their choir..that’s what we should be doing in our sanctuary..) The Commons became that night  church…safe space for being together, singing together, and shouting at God…the same one we claim to represent…
Rick Ufford-Chase has written in his  new book: Faithful Resistance: Gospel visions for the church in a time of empire…(

“As for the kind of community I want to be part of, I am interested in creating a community where those who have been rejected in every other space can come and feel safe…”  ad to that I say amen..
In Portland, I was inspired by watching on C-Span the resistance video feed of  the Democrat sit in…led old saint John Lewis…WOW…Hillary should have dropped by…I mean Elizabeth Warren brought donuts..BUT…then my Plaestinian friend 
Linda Sarsour, and another  lesbian friend reminded me  that …most massacres in this country have been committed by people NOT on the list…Orlando was NOT about terrorists…(but Oklahoma City was, did we call Timothy Mc Veigh a radical Christian terrorist?) .stop the gaming, just ban the damn assault weapons already…
In our gospel, Luke says: "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."
What does that mean to you?  Once we get started down the Jesus path, the way, there can be no turning back. ( The Wile E. Coyote moment, someone says…like Paul walking on the water to Jesus until he realizes what he’s doing..and then starts to sink…all too often we take ten leap of faith and then stop and crash before we reach the other side…Lot’s wife tuyrns back, becomes a pillar of salt…like Bib Dylan said, Press on…)
So a few words about the Presbyterian 222nd General Assembly:
The action that started with our Session and our friends across town at Jan Hus, calling for an apology to the lgbtq community for years of exclusion, of gGod-given ministries denied, Apology?  well, not quite…we couldn’t quite get there…it still seems that ”Sorry is the hardest word..”
And related to migration and the statement of Sanctuary principles our international work group, facilitated by Russ, ha sbeen working on? Yes…unanimously…
An effort to join the Methodists in leaving the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice was turned back. (Although we white pro-choice people wtil have to deal with the legacy of Margaret Sanger’s racist eugenics philosophy that informed her work on contraception..)
The Belhar Confession from apartheid era South Africa has now become an official creed of the Presbyterian Church. (
We have written a new, more pointed statement on Israel-Palestine (but voted no no on a call to boycott of Hewlitt-Packard..)..and we continue to support two states still…
Re. fossil fuel? Shall we divest? Well, no not yet…but we will double down on engagement, yes.
We made a radical new declaration on communion, that  will no longer be restricted to those who are baptized..(simply all who are faithful…)
We passed a statement of concern for the lives of Black males (but amended it to read black people..)
There is HOPE. We are finding our way into a new day..this year the rejectionist right wing didn't even have a booth…now that the cultural wars are being settled, we have BIGGER questions to face, of race and class, big vs. small, privilege and power…
For the first time we elected two co-moderators, both  women, one black, and  one white
We have elected our first African-American  stated clerk, our highest office…a nd J.Herbert Nelson comes as a prophet, not a lawyer..

It was great to have our music man Jeremy Mage
Jeremy sings his song
back again from Switzerland. A new father! Jeremy played one of his new songs…and helped us rock some old ones….
Welcome back Jeremy!
Don’t look back? Well, sometimes there’s value on knowing where you came from. And so I shared stoles from the shower of stoles that for years were not by volunteers from around the country to be worn at GA’s as a sign of protest.
From the "Shower of Stoles" project
In a movement that began here at West-Park in 1978 with the More Light Statement.  The religious Stonewall, as it were…1
I lift up the t-shirt from the Evelyn Davidson Memorial Water Table,
Add caption
named for the wife of our former pastor who called for a direct  and concrete witness to the lgbtq community that not all churches rejected our bothers and sisters by passing out “a cup of cool water in Jesus’ name”…
And we end our service by singing together, We are a fiercely loving people, and we are singing  for our lives…

[1] 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.

1Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel." But Elisha said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel.
6Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan." But he said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So the two of them went on. 7Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 8Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.
9When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you." Elisha said, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit." 10He responded, "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not." 11As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12Elisha kept watching and crying out, "Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
13He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, "Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?" When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20
1I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, that he may hear me.
2In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
11I will call to mind the deeds of the LORD;
I will remember your wonders of old.
12I will meditate on all your work,
and muse on your mighty deeds.
13Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is so great as our God?
14You are the God who works wonders;
you have displayed your might among the peoples.
15With your strong arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Selah
16When the waters saw you, O God,
when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
the very deep trembled.
17The clouds poured out water;
the skies thundered;
your arrows flashed on every side.
18The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lit up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
19Your way was through the sea,
your path, through the mighty waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.
20You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
Second Reading Galatians 5:1, 13-25
1For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
13For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 15If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
16Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
Gospel Luke 9:51-62
51When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54When 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?" 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56Then they went on to another village.
57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." 58And 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." 59To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." 60But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." 61Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." 62Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."