Thursday, October 30, 2014

Reformation Sunday reflections


Reformation Sunday.  We begin with the classic Luther Reformation Hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God. After Psalm 90, we read Matthew 23: 34-46, where Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment? And his answer?
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Our reflection begins with history.
October 31st, 1517   at   Wittenberg Cathedral . A day that changed the world.  Martin Luther nailed his  95 Theses to the cathedral door.  Why? To protest the sale of indulgences to pay for  the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica  in Rome. (Not a bad fundraising scheme.)  You could get years off in purgatory for you or deceased relatives inn exchange for cash donations. Luther objected. It didn’t make sense to him.
As it always does, if you ask one question, it leads to many. For Luther this led to the conviction that there was no purgatory. And that no mediator is needed between any believer and God. And that we, in fact, constitute a priesthood of all believers. And that Salvation comes  only through grace. His own  marriage opened the door for ministers to marry.

He did not start out to create a new religion, or split the church, or create a new denomination. He rejected the use of the word Lutheran for his  church. The only acceptable name for believers was Christian only.

This says something about us. Who we are as a Presbyterian church. We are a priesthood of all believers. We honor the equity of ordinations. There are Teaching elders(like me), Ruling elders (our session), the ministry of service and compassion (deacons).  And the ministry of all. The ministry we have all received at our baptism.   

Today we hear the call for radical discipleship. Jesus  is clear … You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39and a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Let’s think about that. There are three points:
1.     We love the Lord our God with heart…soul…and MIND…That’s the one that is most often forgotten …or feared.  It was very important for our spiritual ancestor John Calvin. That’s why we have  always been involved in ministries  of education. It’s what frees us to question. To challenge.
2.     You cannot love God without loving neighbor. Period.
3.     The Hebrew Bible included LAW, the first five books of the Bible, and  Prophets. Read every week in Jewish worship. Like we are required to read from both the Old and New Testaments every week.  Law and gospel, as Luther said. Law and love.
And we must read every verse of the Bible through the bottom line lens Jesus has given us here.

I share the theses we wrote…and nailed to  our door, in 2010, wile we were not yet back and iron gates were in front of  our doors. They reflect a moment in time.


  1. The church is the community of God’s children acting together as the Body of the Risen Christ
  2. The church is the people of God, not the building
  3. The building has been given to the church for the extension of mission and ministry
  4. We are called to witness where we are...this corner in thisneighborhood: this means engaging our neighbors
  5. The church is not for sale
  6. The building is not for sale
  7. Our souls are not for sale
  8. We left our building voluntarily as a step towards rebuilding and renewing
  9. Bureaucrats and zealots kept us out
  10. We return here because we choose to
  11. We will reclaim, renew and restore this building as we reclaim, renew and restore our mission, our ministry, our witness...and ourselves.
  12. Our obedience is first and foremost to the God who created us
  13. God has already given us all that is necessary to do the mission God has called us to
  14. Neither government nor church council (Presbytery) can take that mission and ministry from us against our will
  15. We invite any and all who would be partners to join us now.
We are West-Park.
Here we stand. We can do no other.

And then one year later. 2011. The struggles of that year are very clear:

  1. The quality of a church is not defined by its number of members or financial status but by its faithfulness.
  2. We are called to have faith and grant ultimate  authority to Jesus Christ, and no other power, civil or ecclesiastical, church or state. 
  3. Our obedience is to the God who created us.
  4. We have a specific call to live out in this specific place: our location,our context  is a call, not a circumstance. 
  5. We have been given all that is necessary to live out our call. 
  6. Our building is a means to the end of mission, not an end unto itself.
  7. We are committed to reclaim, renew and restore this  building as we renew and restore our mission, our ministry, our witness...and ourselves. 
  8. The church has too often been silent as economic systems and theories have been accepted as if they were divinely created, God determined and worthy of worship. We have accepted our systems as the way things are and will be without asking with God’s help, what could be?
  9. As the greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves, we must live that out in our personal, church and political life. We cannot leave our children a future without hope. 
  10. The doors of this church are and always will be open and be a place of welcome  to people of every ethnic, cultural, and national origin, those who are and are not citizens, people of different economic circumstances and sexual orientations, differing abilities.  All who would be partners are welcome.
  11. At this church, love is love and marriage is marriage. 
We are West-Park. Here we stand. We can do no other. 

So the challenge is, this year, 2014, What would we write? What do you most need/want in a church?

A sampling of answers is interesting:

Theses 10/26/14

1. 2014;  The Church must be the place where the Love that Jesus talked about is both lived and fought for, in our lives, our community and our culture.

2. We should cater to God, God should not cater to us.

2. This church has remained standing both structurally and in the hearts to fits congregants through good times and bad. That is because the church has provided what we need to face our very ordinary, very perilous, very far from perfect lives with dignity and love in our hearts. We have been without music, without heat, without money but we have never lacked hope, strength and love. We will remain strong and will continue to share our gifts with others as long as out church continues to enfold us.

3.     Walk in the shoes of your enemy.
4.     Through our ups and downs heartbreaks and sorrows we stand as through our struggles. Nor fitter or fall as stand as one in the Name of Our Lord. We are Strong. I lift you up as you would me let’s be one and pray for Peace.

5.. Gun violence is a sin and this church will work and do all we can to prevent /end such including work to end the conditions of ignorance and inequality that make gun violence seem a viable option for anyone anywhere. Promoting Peace and nonviolence is our remedy.

6.-- God’s Love motto
  --The <3 id the best place to start & in reclaiming, renewing & restoring this site symbolically we are also work in progress.
-- Martin Luther said you cannot fight fire with fire
And dance darkness with darkness. We need to shine light to destroy the darkness.

Bob Marley says “Emancipate your mind”

Romans 12:2

1.    7. There must be more money for more light in the Sanctuary.

These are collected a part of our offering. An offering of ourselves. We conclude with another classic, Our God our Help in Ages Past…

Then it’s time to head to Mim’s for a Center brunch to honor Danielle.

Then to the 96th Street Community Space (a former MTA restroom!) for Berik and Leila’s art show.


Late in the day. Leila and I alone in the church.  I turn around and my friend Arjan is there. Former Dutch Ambassador for Human Rights. Formerly at the United Nations. Most recently ambassador to Peru. In town for one of his periodic visits. We were soccer parents together. And now Harlem neighbors.  

He smiles. From his bag he brings out an ice cold bottle of Dutch genever. Their version of gin. From the juniper berry. We need glasses. We settle for plastic cups. And drink a toast to friendship. And shared time together over the years. Tomorrow, he’s back to Holland.

I remember freezing cold nights in Amsterdam. Ice cold genever and bartenders whisking razors through the foam on draught pints. Outdoor tables and conversations around the plaza in brisk January nights.  He won’t be back until spring. We share a hug. The taste of juniper remains.

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