Saturday, May 30, 2015

Pentecost: Gifts of the Spirit


It’s Pentecost Sunday and our theme is Celebrating the Gifts of the Spirit;

Pat's Pentecost trable

We begin by chanting Veni sancti spiritus, veni sancti spiritus, come Holy Spirit. And then we sing the traditional Pentecost hymn,Come O Spirit,  to a tune that was written shortly after the West-Park sanctuary opened.

Our Psalm this morning is 104: 24-34,35b and we sing in response Praise the Lord! The Gospel lesson is John 17: 10-14 and we finish with the story of Pentecost, in
Acts2: 1-21.

Something significant happened this week. Oscar Romero was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. Chosen to be the Bishop because he appeared safe, he became a man of the people. After death threats, he had said, You can kill a bishop but I will rise again in the lives of Salvadoran people. His recognition is part of what makes this Pope, Francis, so important.
Today is Pentecost…how I wish we could duplicate that experience in worship…I don’t know as I’ve ever had the Pentecost experience I’d like to have.
What was the miracle? Far from speaking in ecstatic tongues, it was speaking in intelligible tongues, so that everyone, no matter where they came from or language spoken, could understand. That I could hear someone who spoke my language, and you can take that from the literal to the figurative.
You know, like young musicians, or people who are homeless or people who left the church angry or flamenco dancers or communists or successful professionals of various kinds or police officers or…you get the idea?
How did it happen?  They were gathered together in one place…that seems to have been important…they were there for a holiday that came 50 days after Passover…celebrating the giving of the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai accompanied by fire and smoke and dramatic presentation…that’s what the people have in their mind when this miracle of tongues happens…
Toward what end? Well, a couple…Acts gives us an apocalyptic vision from the prophet Joel. About end times…but if we look, any time can seem to have those signs, meaning I guess we live as if…and we think about all those in need of liberation, of whatever kind…
John speaks of an advocate…here’s the way this works, if Satan is the prosecuting attorney, the holy spirit is the defense attorney…in the trial that’s always going inside you…the Holy Spirit is there to defend you against that inner accusing voice…
John also makes the point that even the resurrected Jesus could only be in one place at a time. After the ascension, Jesus now can be everywhere at once, in the spirit.
I’m not so concerned about theology here, although I need to affirm that the Holy Spirit has always been there, from creation on. I’m more concerned with can we be open to experiencing it? Can you think of any times you have?
It’s about inspiration….and proclamation….and discernment..
That’s as individuals…but also as a community, there are challenging times ahead…let’s be open to receiving the gifts of the spirit and see where it might lead.
We close our service with Every time I feel the Spirit. We had a very special guest today, Pastor Miguel Coelho, a Brazilian Pastor from Rio de Janeiro. He had a warm and caring spirit about him. I could feel his spirit embracing us, caring for me as a fellow pastor. And of course he told me should I ever get to Brazil, I would of course be his guest, no need for a hotel. He asked for my sermon notes, something I said had touched him even as his English is not so good. So something Pentecostal had happened after all.
Pastor Miguel from Rio de Janeiro

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Post-memorial day thoughts


Honoring our troops with camo

It’s late afternoon on  Memorial Day. Four young sailors in summer whites are on the corner of 86th and Amsterdam checking out their iPhones. I walk over and ask if I can help. Finally, one sheepishly says, We’re looking for a place to pick up some women. I tell them, about the string of young adult bars and Irish pubs heading south on Amsterdam. Put in a special word for the Gate.

It’s also Fleet Week, that annual visit of  naval ships to New York City. It used to be a bigger deal. There’d be ships from Canada and France and other allied countries. All docking at our westside piers and filling our streets for  a week. Now it seems to be just Americans. And more ships docking in Brooklyn as well. But somehow, i still look forward to it every year.

I just got back from the Memorial Day ballgame at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees wore special hats and uniforms with camouflage trim, something they never otherwise do even when every other  team has multi-special event unis. So did the Royals, and every other MLB tam, including my Pirates. The national anthem was sung by an active duty sailor. Every inning saw groups of white clad sailors on the scoreboard. Much was said about honoring the troops.

We seem to have gotten something confused along the way. Memorial Day is supposed to be about, well, memory. Remembering those who  served and are no longer here. My father always went to the cemetery to honor his father. Something in me wishes I could be back at home  and go to his grave and do the same. It wasn’t about honoring the troops.

Honoring the troops. All this camo. At every level of sport. It's emotionally distancing, abstract. Pro forma.Ritual. Liturgy. Paul Lukas of ESPN’s Uniwatch calls it going GI JOE. OK, we’ve worn camouflage, on to the picnic.

We honor them, but they are somehow not us. They fight on and on in wars we don't think of and that don't touch most of us on a daily basis. I’m thinking maybe ending the draft was not such a good idea. 

Oh, I know why we did it. During Vietnam, we believed that only those who wanted to serve should have to  serve.  Yet even though there were ways for the rich and educated to avoid serving, by the time they instituted the lottery and ended college deferments, we were all vulnerable. The whole concept of citizen soldier was still in effect. Every working class community was emotionally  connected to the daily events in Vietnam. Our fraternities held draft lottery night parties to toast brothers on their way. And we toasted them  when (or if)  they returned. So much older. It was that shared commitment of communities, I’m convinced, as much as anything that led to the end of the war when  we collectively said no more.

We never imagined the class based system that we now have. The lowest number of US congress ever have now served in the military. Most of us have no connection with those across the seas on active war duty. Disproportionately people of color and poor looking for the only way they can to make a living, escape poverty. As some families reach second or third generation, it’s as if we’re creating a warrior caste that lives among us but not with us. It’s out there. Dangerous. Other peoples' children paying the consequences for decisions made by people who will never feel the personal weight of what they have done.

So we cheer. And we say thanks. And wear camo baseball hats. And are never responsible. And there will always be more to remember.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The presence of the world within our walls


El hombre sin nombre and his carts are gone.

Gathered here tonight are two choirs for a concert of Eastern European Polyphony, featuring the Georgian singers Supruli
and the Ukrainian Village Voices
Ukrainian Village Voices
  to benefit relief in the Ukraine and also West Park. This is a fruition of a dream going back to last December when Supruli volunteered to take part in the benefit for the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing. It just wasn’t feasible at that time. But Brian who had connection s back to Bread and Puppet worked with Carl and Ezra to make to all happen and so tonight’s concert. There were connections through Brian back to Nicaragua as well.

Their deep and rich voices brought to life these far away villages with love songs, work songs, liturgical songs. All from days before, during and after what we knew as the Soviet Union, an undistinguished colossus for most Americans. Now revealing a universe of cultures and traditions and ethnicities which only add to the fascination of a failed, but nevertheless bold social experiment, an empire if you will, that stretched over time zone s and was its own universe. The singing for the relief of the  Ukraine pointing to the ongoing unresolved legacy of the break up of that empire.
handshake of friendship

Following the concert, the choirs gather for wine and food and the inevitable vodka followed by toasting songs and songs just for the joy of singing. Nicaragua last week, Ukraine this week…the presence of the world within our walls continues….

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Seventh Sunday in Easter, Rising:Unbroken Circle


Andre, Stephanoie, Bob and Jillian

It’s the seventh, and last Sunday in Easter.  It’s AIDS WALK Sunday. Streets filed with marching people. Outside the Amsterdam Street festival is in full swing, inflated play spaces right outside our front doors. This will be a crazy day. Our them e today is Rising 6:  Unbroken Circle. One last time we will begin with  singing our Alleluias. Our first song will be the much maligned Kum Ba Yah. I’ll explain it’s intriguing trans-Atlantic journey back and forth between the US and Africa until Pete Seeger brings it back in it's African form. It deserves better than it’s current image as a camp fire song. 

Our first lesson this morning  is from Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26, the meeting to replace Judas. Following the First Psalm, we sing We shall not be moved. And then a brief reading from John 17: 10-14.

. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost… 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 

Our reflection begins and ends with music from our guests Stephanie Johnstone and Jillian Buckley. Songs from their new project, Love Songs for the rest of Us. (

Stephanie and Jillian sing with us

Our theme this morning is the unbroken circle. We begin with the story about replacing Judas. He’s a character that has continued to capture out imaginations from Jesus Christ Super Star to the recently discovered gospel of Judas where Jesus needs someone very special to play this role and determines only Judas is strong enough to fulfill it. At its base is the need to need to keep the circle complete…

I’ve said many to me here form my experience in Oklahoma that my Native American friends always said that once a circle had been created it would always remain.  Our circle once made always remains…

The question has meaning for us. We have  lost numbers…how do we replace the people who have left? How do we complete our circle? Our situation is not dissimilar to main line   Christianity  as a whole, although  some congregations are doing quite well and will continue to do so. So how do we?

But reflecting on Stephanie’s project took me to a deeper place…how we have kept people out of the circle..

At the recent Rock Stars and Prophets celebration at Stony Point, a gathering of the people who worked and fought  all these years for LGBTQ inclusion in the church, I couldn’t help but think of   all those lost years, of rejection, of excluding….of my friend and fellow Yale student Chris, his ordination kept on ice for nearly 35 years…lost in our  celebration of inclusion, now won, is some kind of amends, an apology,

Young people today are  so  much cooler…In the Black Lives Matter movement self named  queer leadership is on the front of the struggle arm in arm with everyone else, It's a new day. 

Here’s what Jesus had to say:

10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost… 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 

Hear those words:
protect them…
guarded them…
not one lost…

If, as we have through this season, we are looking for Jesus, then we must look  at the edges, the margins, the outside of the circle…let us welcome him and join in his work of guarding, protecting…so we might be one…

Stephanie and Jillian share another song with us. And we pray. And receive the offering. An we conclude with Will the circle be unbroken? As I have adapted it. 

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, by and by?
Is a better home awaiting
In the sky, in the sky?
In the joyous days of childhood
Oft they told of wondrous love
Pointed to the loving Saviour;
Now they dwell with Him above.
You remember songs of heaven
Which you sang with childish voice.
Do you sing new songs of freedom
And with loving hearts rejoice?
Once we gather in our circle
That circle shall remain
We will be one in spirit
Until we’re home again.

After we sing our Amens, we share peace with one another. Tome to walk outside, explore the life of the street fair filling our street. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Un hombre sin nombre


I see him asleep on the steps as I approach the church. The front doors are locked. Apparently Charles has left for the day.
Me perdon, Senor, se necesita salirse. No es permiso a dormirse en las escaleras duriente el dia.
Di me, he says, demandingly, di me.
Me dijo que necesita salirse las escaleras. No puede dormir en las escaleras.
Pero me no estoy durmiendo.
No importa. No puede esta como este en las escaleras.
Y quien es usted?
El pastor de la iglesia.
No.  Usted es caminando en la calle.
No. Yo soy el pastor.
Ok. Me voy dentro la iglesia y me voy abrir las puertas.
Ah man, why you bother me Jus leave me alone.
Can’t do that.
You follow me everywhere.You follow me..
No sir, I don’t.

So I go in the church. I open the doors.
That other man, he leave me in the church. Say it’s OK.
And it is. You can sit there. He enters and sits down. I look out and realize he has two SUV shopping carts tied to the scaffolding.  I sigh.

My coffee man brings me a coffee. I tell him he  can play the piano. He points to Luli and a friend pointing and talking.  It’s OK, I say. Soon Martin is there. Pigeons again. He has a friend. She wants to take a look, I agree. She comes back with two dead birds. And some fresh eggs. She’s not sure what to do. You don’t want me to kill them  do you?
No, I say.
They’re gonna die anyway, says Martin.
She seems to have a plan.

Hugo arrives. With a bag of leftover food from work. I turn to our friend, sitting in the back charging his cell phone. Homeless. SUV carts. And a cell phone. Es el tiempo salir. Yo nececito cerrar las puertas.
He nods.
Tiene hambre, senor? He nods again.
Hugo opens the bag and our friend  selects what he wants. Ensalada de pollo, pan…

While I close up, I hear Hugo ask him his name. He responds that he has no name. He leaves. Hugo locks up. As we leave, Hugo tells me the man told him he has no name. Yes, I overheard, I said, Un hombre sin nombre con hambre….And Hugo laughs.

When I come back from a good dinner and  conversation, the man is asleep. In the north doorway. Out of site of our new security cameras.

Inside, there’s a private swing dance class going on in the sanctuary. I follow the music upstairs to the gym where the weekly Syncopated City swing party is, well, in full swing .Walking up the stairs, it could be the 1940’s. Despite the wholesale renovation of the lower floors, the gym still looks like the Weimar era Berlin Spiegelhall when it reopened after having been locked down by the Nazis and
kept mothballed by the DDR only to be rediscovered after the wall fell. Like that. And the dancers swing on.

One floor down, RL has another appointment with Nero Wolfe.