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Monday, July 4, 2011

Fourth of July weekend: How its supposed to work


7/3
Empty bottles of St. Ides 40, Romanoff vodka and Snapple. An empty prepared foods container and an empty Newport pack. And two stray paper bags.
Andre is first to arrive and is playing the piano as I go out to sweep.  Guess you never thought you’d be doing this when you went to seminary. I look up and its David Mogentale from Barney Greengrass. And 29th Street Rep. You’re right, but someone’s got to do it, I say. He asks about the big guy, ie, George. Tell him I haven’t seen him for awhile. Explain that he’s actually got a home in the Bronx. Just comes here to hang out. And he talks about the new guy, ie, human being, coming off on people last week. 
I tell Andre I’ve got to go out and get the bulletin copied, pick up the communion bread and juice.  First few copy places I go to are closed. Fourth of July weekend. Stop by Key foods to get thr ebread and juice.The prophet is outside. Finally have to go up Broadway to find an open copy shop. 
Israeli. What is it with Israelis and copy shops? With the exception of the Bengladeshi guy Danielle goes to, all the other shops in the neighborhood seem to be run by Israelis. Wondering what church will be like on a Fourth of July weekend.
When I get back, Jane is telling her story to the congregation. I greet her, the gathered people. Pass out the bulletins. Move a few more pieces of furniture around. Green cloth on the table.  Ready to go.
When we get to the scriptures, I get the large Spanish Bible off the pulpit so that Hugo can read the gospel.  Later, I will  ask Arcadia to read the Romans passage. 
When I prepared to lead our clergy lecrtionary group thsis week, it was one of those times that the selected scriptures do not excite.  Some weeks, there are sermons  all over the place, not this week.  Finally decided to preach on Romans 7: 15-25.
It’s the 4th of July weekend.  Always wonder how to make that part of what I’m talking about. 
As I said, the scriptures today, don’t excite me so much. I don’t usually like Paul, but that’s where I have to go today. He usually presents these carefully worked out, logically developed expositons and apologia for Christian theology. .Well thought out doctrine. Not here. Which tells me soemthing deeper must be going on.
Explorations of this passage usually begin by adding  this verse: 14For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin.  That annoying flesh/spirit dichotomy that I do not accept. 
He goes on: 15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  Hmmmm, been there.(still there)  16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. Whoa....wait a minute...I want to say no...it is you..18For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. We spend thousands of dollars in therapy  trying to accept that there is good in us. God at creation said, it is good, including us.  I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.  Say what? Is this the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak? Is it that wills not enough? If I can will it, why can’t I do it?
9For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Why is it that way? Andre says because we are born in sin, but what does that mean? Calvin’s concept of total depravity is misunderstoood. It’s more like flawed, imperfect...
20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. No again... it is you who does it...me
21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. True..and sometimes confusing...a friend’s mother used to say, you are so close to right...the whole with 666 thing. It’s not about spooky numerological stuff. In the Hebrew culture, seven was the number of perfection. 666 means that evil can be  so close to perfect so as to be virtually indistinguishable. Between discernment and temptation, hard to say...How many politivians go in with good intentions and then go off the track somehwere? We make compromises to achieve an end only to see the end disappear.  
22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.
All right then, who’s responible for what here?
When I was in Pittsburgh, I serbed a little church west of the city. One of my elders hosted an AA group in the basement. I always enjoyed coffee and donuts with them.  I couldn’t help but compare the reality of the sanctuary upstairs with the AA meeting downstairs. Nowhere had I ever seen such radicalacceptance fully lived out. Beyond class, job, etc. All were truly welome and accepted because  of shared issues of weakness, radical acceptance, community.
Richard Rohr sees a connection between liberation theology on the social level with its preferential option for the poor and how this gets lived out inside of us. We are called to embrace and love the poor part of ourselves. To find Christ in the wounded needy depths of our soul...
In AA they say that it is the disease that is in me ...but I still must be responsible for what I do...and I must make amends to all i have harmed as long as it would not do harm to them..But the first step is most important...to admit that we are powerless...on our own. The need for a higher power. 
OK...back to 4th of July...in our society, we can see addictions to power, dominion, security, money...how do we break free? We can do great damage all the while thinking we’re so good intentioned that we can’t do anything wrong...that makes us dangerous.
I’ve spent 4ths of July in many places. Like the annual Pawnee nation annual pow wow. And in Managua, Nicaragua following our witness on the border with Honduras. Bill Coffin was with us. Wanted us to sing How beautiful for spacious skies. Some of our more ideological types objected. Coffin called our attention to the last verse:
America! America! God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
(This was written by Katherine Lee Bates, 1913. She had a decades long live-in relationship with Katharine Coman...wrote a book of poems dedicated to her  after she died...another untold story)
Can we create a community of radical acceptance? Where we can share our weaknesses in community? Strengthen one another?
Following the sermon, Jane and Jeremy Mage get up and start with His eye is on the sparrow. She starts to get us all singing. She’s good at this. The leads into This little light of mine. 
Then I call us together, as the community of acceptance for our communion. Remind everyine that it is not the bread and wine , but we who are transformed through this sharing  of bread and cup. 
After the service, Amy is playing the piano and Jeremy the Hammond. This is great. I had noticed Caleb, the young African-Amercan who had come in last week. I introduce him to Andre. He pulls out his music. Amy accomoanies him as he sings Bess you is my woman now. I go back to my office to talk with Marc’s partner Sarah who has attented the service to see what our worship is like. I emphasize how important it will be to listen to all session memebrs so that they feel they have been heard. If I have learned one important thing, it is if anything is to happen, people, neeed to feel involved at the front end. Time invested at  the start saves resistance at the back end. There are no short cuts. 
When I come back, Amy says you have to hear this. And Caleb sings the Louis Armstrong classic, What a wonderful world. Andre is working with him.He is very young. With a great instrument. What will it take for him  to truly sing?
Much here about the importance of that opne front door, Jeremy came to the speakeasy last Saturday, hun gout played the piano. Walked thorught bedoors this week ot play. Randomly, Jane came back to pick up a bag she had left. Started to sing with him, that led to this morning. Caleb just walked in looking for a place to sing. It came together on Sunday morning. That is how it is supposed to work. 

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