Tuesday, September 1, 2015

How far is what people see from who we really are?


A little after church fellowship

It is a struggle getting to church. Trying to avoid at all costs a cough or sneeze either of which result in serious pain. Very happy to see the smiling face of Dion walking down the street to help me out. I won’t be alone. Walk up Amsterdam to go into Barney Greengrass and pick up an iced coffee. The steps are a mess. One of the sisters is there with all their worldlies.  And there’s a sleeping figure in a wheel chair. After I look closer, I know it can’t be Sean because he has one leg while Sean has none. Forgive me for saying this, but my first feeling is,the way I feel right now,  I’m leaving this for the Koreans to deal with.

Soon enough Leila and Pat K have arrived as well . And John R has arrived for one more Sunday of music. So we will have church. Back in the Sanctuary for the first time since Antigona.

I discover hitting high notes hurts as well. The congregation will need to take charge of its own singing.

Much on my mind today.

It’s the 60th anniversary of the death of Emmet Till…lynched at age 14. And it is the 10th anniversary of Katrina.

So what’s at stake today in our scriptures? Jesus is in conflict with the Pharisees again. Much to do about hand washing. We know all about hand washing. Sanitizers are everywhere. We carry mini-sanitizers in our purses and pockets. We worry about germs. Think about even one subway pole on a hot summer day…I remember Good Shepherd Faith’s Maundy Thursday hand washing  ritual in place of foot washing.  So much more in tune with our present urban reality. Some of us won’t shake hands. Prefer fist bumps. Some churches have stopped praticing intinction. (The way we do communion…)We take our shoes off at peoples’ doors. But sanitation is not what is being discussed here. It’s ritual purity. Holiness.

We don’t talk much or think much about that. But what are our holiness codes? The unwritten rules of NYC liberal upper west side culture? Our equivalent of handwashing? What boxes do we check off?  Political correctness? Do we carry righteous bags to Whole Foods?

More importantly, how do we define unclean? As the Presbyterian Outlook asked this week, more than who hasn’t washed their hands, the question is  who would we not want to bold our hands? Or our children’s? And what do we do with that information?

Jesus, in language more graphic than our NRSV, says that it’s what comes out from us that matters more than what comes into us and that it is the content of our heart that determines that.

James has his word to say as well.

We should be….quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger …(and we might add slow to hit the send/post/tweet button… email and social media, the devil’s tool….)

We are to be doers….not just hearers… of the WORD. how to say that and not sound obvious or didactic? Again he gets specific…. to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world….

Who are our widows and orphans? What does it really mean to care for them?  And how do we remain unstained by the world?

James compares us to those who look in a mirror and then forget what they see…although I’m not so sure that’s us…I feel for many of us, we look in the mirror and struggle…and wonder how we measure up…I don’t detect much selfrightouesness when I look out here at our gathered community…

But it does get to the question  I posed earlier in the week…what do others see when they see us? If Christian or righteous or holy were defined by what others see in us, what would that definition be? And I believe that the honest answer would be something mixed, good and bad…ultimately human…

So how far is what people see from who we really are? And as we sit here today, are there 3 things you could do to narrow the gap? I think one of the greatest compliments paid is when someone says he/she is who the appear to be…authentic.

(Later my friend Pastor Steve will call me out on that one..Donald Trump is authentic, he will say, but is that enough? Where do values, community values, fit in? What good is it if you’re authentic….and a jerk?...And I will respond by recalling how when my son Nate went to Seattle U, a Jesuit school, they said to us parents that their goal was not that their students be  Catholics or even Christian but that they be authentic…in the context of a community committed to building a more just, humane and sustainable world.. and Steve nodded, we agreed…authentic is not enough…)

Doers of the word…another anniversary…50 years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. visited the southern Presbyterian conference center Montreat…his visit made some traditional southern Presbyterians nervous, if not outright offended. I’m pleased that this week over 1000 people gathered at Montreat to talk about “the unfinished agenda”….and I enjoyed the steady stream of tweets I received …and the wrestling going on…certainly to be righteous today requires us to seriously wrestle with the unfinished agenda, the racial divide in our country…

And last Wednesday there was an eclectic gathering in my neighborhood… at First Corinthian Baptist Church… speakers included Christian Cornell West and communist Carl Dix, ….parents of children who have died by police violence and activists and Baptists …all trying to make a plan to raise a voice that cannot be ignored..and our own Presbyterian friend Stephen who ‘s with us this morning boldly declared that God is angriest when we’re told to wake up and we roll over….(well, that was my version..pretty close, Steve?)

I actually find myself thinking of Michael Jackson…yes, really, do you remember this?
I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change


And when I ask John to play something for our offertory, John immediately responds with, of course, the man jn the mirror…

Later, as we lift up our prayers, my son Dan asks for prayers for his high school friend Kyle Jean-Baptiste.  The first African-American and youngest actor to star as the lead Jean Vajean in les Miz on Broadway, in rehearsals for the Color Purple, dead at 21. Fell off the fires escape athios mother’s in Brooklyn. (

There was a cool young couple fresh from California. Set to move to Grteenpoint. I share my experiences of Greenpoint with them, the confluence of old Polish and young and hip, Café Edna and my singer-songwriter-dancer friend, truly one of a kind, Liana.

Session meets to discuss a proposal for rental of our sanctuary on Sunday mornings. Are we ready to make that move? Jamie has visions of how sacred the chapel could be. If it were reserved for sacred use only.  And there will be budget issues to face,  not only practical but philosophical. Missional, to use a term I generally don’t like.

The meeting ends as the pain begins to set in once more. I’ve made it through.

and one with Dion....

17Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

19You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20for your anger does not produce God's righteousness. 21Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
22But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act-they will be blessed in their doing.
26If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
GOSPEL MARK 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
1Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him,2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?"6He said to them, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 7in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.'8You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition."
14Then he called the crowd again and said to them, "Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile."
21"For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder,22adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

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