Monday, April 29, 2013

Is there ministry here?


Is there ministry here? At 11? An elderly man with a white beard is asking the question. Beside him, an older woman with a friendly smile.  Yes, I say. At 11, more or less. I explain that sometimes our people are a little slow in coming.

After I return from getting the Sunday bulletins from the Bangladeshi copy shop down the street, we sit and talk for a few minutes. They are from Zurich, Switzerland. The German speaking part. Swiss German, he tells me.  Visiting their recently married daughter in the neighborhood. Their first visit to the US. And he was a pastor. For 42 years. Ah, Calvin, I say. No, he was in the French part. I am of Zwingli, he says. I liked him better, I say. Especially his view on Eucharist. That it is we who are transformed into the living body of Christ, not the bread and wine. And from where come Presbyterian, he asks. Calvin, I respond. But through John Knox of Scotland. Yes, Scotland he says, and smiles. 

                                                                    Richie Havens

I start the service by playing Richie Havens singing Freedom. And give thanks for  the gift of his life, what he gave to us in his music. When I asked why I played that, Marsha is quick to say because he died this week. I remember hearing him sing for the last time three summers ago in Great Neck. Andrea’s Uncle David opened.

In our prayers we remember the families in Texas. Also mourning the same week as Boston, but quickly passed aside because it was just an accident, not a terrorist attack. Given the disregard for safety at the plant, the disregard for workers’ lives, once again the deaths of first responders, was it truly any less tragic? And we pray for Brother Sekou’s job interview, may it bring him back to New York and closer to us. 

I ask Cara to read Psalms 148 with its vision of all creation, every living creature, all creation singing God’s praises. Even creeping things and sea monsters. 

My question this morning is What does it mean to change your mind? To see something new? In a way you never did before?

It’s Peters’ vision that raises this question for me. (Acts 11: 1-18) The picnic blanket filled with all kinds of food. Animals and fish of every kind...And the voice that tells him kill and eat....(obviously not a vegan passage...) He sees all kinds of treif food...He’s been hanging out with uncircumcised people,  hanging out with people who eat unclean food .... and he responds, but nothing ever entered my mouth,  kind of like Clinton saying But I didn't inhale...

The bottom line is, of course, what God has made clean you must not make profane... It’s such an easy step to go from declaring people’s food unclean to seeing the people themselves as unclean.....If God gave then the same gift that he gave us when we believed in Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?

One of my big mind changes was the Vietnam War. I went from bitter arguments with my roommate to registering as a conscientious objector. Then in 1978, the gay ordination issue. I supported it as a confirmed liberal, but couldn’t see it Biblically. Until I began to study in depth. And also thinking about my friend from Yale, Chris Glaser. One of the best every sense there is...I knew. And while I celebrated my ordination, he was denied his. His ministry had already  been given by God, the only question was whether we would have the courage and grace to  recognize it or not...And we failed him for over 30 years.
I could say the same thing about marriage. Many of the lgbtq couple I have married have been together much longer than many straight couples. Their marriage already existed in the eyes of God. It was the state, and sadly the church, that refused to recognize the reality. 

I ask and others respond:
  • That the free market system works the best for all
  • That the government of Nicaragua had become hopelessly corrupt and the people you loved and respected were going a las montanas, yo eh mountains to fight.
  • That parents cold make mistakes....
  • The abortion debate

So if this is true, if we are called to be open to accepting and welcoming all, truly all, the question is....where is the line? What sets us apart, deifies us, one barriers break down

Calvin teaches us that God has sovereignty over all. If God is God,then  God is radically free to do what God wants when God wants, save, choose, whoever...God wants. God is not bound by our expectations.

The bottom line's about love....

But let’s set something straight... what we read in John 13:34, is NOT a new commandment. It was the heart of the tradition. In Leviticus  19:18, and 34,  love of one's fellow and the stranger are basic commitments. A contemporary of Jesus, Rabbi Hillel taught   Be of the followers of Aaron...loving peace, pursuing peace, loving your fellow human beings and bringing them to Torah....

Not a new commandment but It is part of the New Life to which disciples are called...Jesus said, Just as i have loved you, you should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have  love for one another... 

If we could actually do that, What would that look like?
What would that feel like?
A recent study said young adults are most concerned about what we do....What they are looking for is .radical discipleship...How do people know what that is? Well, you know it when you see it...

What would that take to do that, see that, be that here? What new idea, new thought? Might we be brave enough to explore?

Do you remember these words?

They'll know we are  Christians by our love

We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity
May one day be restored

And they'll know we are Christians
By our love, By our love
Yes, they'll know we are Christians
By our love

We will walk with each other
We will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other
We will walk hand in hand
And together we'll spread the news
That God is in our land

We will work with each other
We will work side by side
We will work with each other
We will work side by side
And we'll guard each man's dignity
And save each man's pride

All praise to the Father
From whom all things come
And all praise to Christ Jesus His only son
And all praise to the Spirit
Who makes us one

In conclusion, Make us one, Lord!

We gather around the table. Our friends from Switzerland tell us how much they have enjoyed  the reality being better than the common misconceptions  about unfriendly New Yorkers. In  their experience everyone sought to help them whenever they needed.  People have been so kind that ...I explain that New York works because collectively everyday we have to  extend 1000 graces to each other.  It’s a collective act of will. We wish them well on their journey home.

The Session, as always, has a lot to deal with. Stalled negotiations. Daily new challenges. Upcoming events. Need for strategic planning. Almost overwhelming.

Later that night, I return after hearing Peter Galperin at the Bitter End.  I talker to him about bringing his new musical about Robert Moses to West-Park. And in the West 4th Street subway station, I saw a whole wall advertising the Red Bull Music Academy concerts and among all the other venues, West-Park. 

I need to tell Stephen about these.  How do we really get our resume out there? Have these amazing events we have hosted build to being a desired venue? It feels so close....

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