Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Awakening 1: Thanksgiving, Christ the King and Matthew 25


Jeremy mage, Roland Burks, Thomas Bo, Bob Brashear, Jon DiFiore, Josh November

Thomas is the first to arrive. Then his accompanists, Jon DiFiore the drummer ( and Josh November, bass.
( And finally the baritone, Roland Burks. ( There’s no question  that Thomas’ ensemble will be ready, but will we?

I have to hold my breath for these kind of experiments. Our natural draw is not great. Priska has made a beautiful poster, but I’m not sure of distribution. And we're still learning our social media ropes.

We’ve got to take down our usual circle of chairs in anticipation of a larger turnout. Faithful Dion is there right on time to help. And Pat K is here to decorate with her husband Larry. And Marsha will arrive with a Tex-Mex casserole to share.

The idea is to explore the intersection of arts and social witness to build a faith community. Thomas has been challenged to build his program around the themes of Matthew 25: 31-46.

When a critical mass has arrived, Roland starts from the balcony with Sometimes I feel like a motherless child descending the stairs and walking through the congregation with City called heaven. He will later sing Gershwin’s I got plenty a nothin’ and then Thomas’ premiere of Prophecy from the refrigerator box, from the poem by Jake Schneider.

As we get ready to move into the service itself, I am glad to see Mim and several friends of the musicians.

Our first shared hymn is the traditional Thanksgiving hymn, For the beauty of the earth. We do Psalm 100 responsively and then I read the Gospel, MATTHEW 25:31-46/
31When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

As a reflection on the Gospel, we hear Thomas’ setting of another Jake Schneider poem, written specifically for this occasion, Anesthesia.

Then I begin my own reflection.

When I came to church last Sunday, I’d been setting up, getting ready for awhile, when opened the doors and literally found a young man asleep in a refrigerator box.

I am very thankful for our music today…This all came out of  a conversation with Thomas about Matthew 25.  I thought of telling the young man, you have to move this morning, but be sure to come back next week…

Today is the Sunday before Thanksgiving. We’re focused on gratitude. On family. Consumption…..of food….of football…shopping. This used to be the beginning of the holiday season…but that boundary is long gone. (We were talking in the office about what Thanksgiving songs do you remember? Of course , Over the river and through the woods? We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessings? Come ye thankful people come? Any others? They are disappearing as Thanksgiving is engulfed by a Christmas shopping season that takes over like global warming sea level floods… )

In the church year, this  is Christ the King Sunday. Or in the new PC version, Reign of Christ. I always thought this was an ancient tradition.  Actually it was 1925. Pius VI.  To inspire the laity not to fall into secularism.In 1970, Paul VI gave the holy day an upgrade in the terms of obligation. But enough history. Our concern is how we live today.

We live in a post-Christendom day. Here in the  Upper West Side, we live in the heart of what Harvey Cox called the secular city. (Our two closest zip codes are to of three most secular in the US, the third is Berkeley. …) But it is also a neighborhood resident to many who claim to be spiritual, not religious.

So there are questions. If we’re talking kingdom, what kind?
Let’s talk about Jesus’ categories:
If  you close your eyes, what do you see?
Let’s start with
1. Thirsty.
More than 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes. Nearly all deaths, 99 percent, occur in the developing world. Lack of access to clean water and sanitation kills children at a rate equivalent of a jumbo jet crashing every four hours.
There are 11.3 million undocumented persons in the US including 2.85 million parents and over 650,000 children
3. Naked (? Didn’t have  one for that…unless we think of those who are vulnerable and unprotected in any way...)
4. Sick
There are  currently more than 45 million  uninsured in the US and an additional 16 million under
5. Prison
A.      65% arrested for drugs are African-American
B.     75% brought to trial
C.     85% convicted
D.    If you're a young black man without a high school degree, there is an  85% chance that you will be incarcerated
E.    There are more black men between 18 and 25 in prison than in college
F.     The US #1 in total population incarcerated and  number 2 in total percentage (behind the Seychelles?! What’s going on there?)
Enough . And so what.
Old-school Christians say everything will be OK when Jesus returns.
Old-school lefties (last week at Riverside, nearly 1900  turned out for a dialogue with Bob Avakian, the Revolutionary Communist Party chair, and Cornell West) when capitalism is  gone.
For most Republicans when Obama is gone
And for Democrats when they get the Senate back

Are most people cynical? I am reminded that Sharon Welch has said that cynicism is the prerogative of privilege. If you are truly oppressed, you cannot afford to be cynical or despair will follow.

What Jesus is saying is that it is the job of the church to see the face of Christ in all who come and to share that same face in response.  And to be honest, this is hard…

Can you remember the faces of the last three  people who asked you for money? How did you feel? We get calloused.

For this Sunday, let me start with this. When we first moved to the city, I and my children were overwhelmed by people asking for money. I asked my friend Marc Greenberg  of the Interfaith Assembly on Housing and Homelessness how to respond. He said that more important than giving money is to acknowledge their humanity. Again, it is not easy. There is a risk of vulnerability. But I challenge us to try this as a spiritual discipline….

What else? There is the West Side Campaign Against Hunger’s 1000 turkey challenge…(better than an ice bucket challenge…) And our concert coming here in December to benefit the Assembly.

Thomas through Jake’s poem took us inside the refrigerator box…How can you use who you are, what gifts you have to engage the challenges of Matthew 25?

We are seeking to create a community here  where beauty and justice, ethics and esthetics come together…we invite you to help us  shape that and make it real…

For our Prayer of Thanksgiving, Thomas and  Roland Burks gave us the traditional Witness.
We finished with the traditional setting of Psalm 100 (the old hundredth) All people that on earth do dwell.
We gathered this time, not in a circle, but in an extended ellipse for our final blessing. The only way we could include everyone. Then stayed awhile with each other, sharing Marsha’s casserole and coffee and each other.
And then, unavoidably, the session met with a long agenda. Important work, but took away from what had been a moving Sunday for everyone. The West-Park community wonderfully surprised by what they had just experienced. Beauty and justice, ethics and esthetics.

We will persist.

Roland and his (3D) vest of many colors

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