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Monday, May 29, 2017

What do we do now?

5/21/17





Historic note…Good Shepherd Faith Church started as a mission project by West  Church. It’s original property was bought from West Church for the sum of $1 and the first service in the new building came in 1887.
The Good Shepherd
Today it is the last non-Lincoln Center or Julliard building on the block…There has always been a close friendship between West Park and GSF so it was a fitting place for my first sermon after retiring from West-Park…
Guest at Good-Shepherd Faith
Christ the King

Here’s what I  had to say:

Well,I think we could all agree that we live in….different times….they are unlike anything I have lived through in my lifetime before. A bit like living in an alternative reality. With no clear idea of what is going to  happen next.  
Looking up from the altar

So what then are we to do? I’m not going to say a whole lot about the political work that may need to be done beyond a reminder that in our tradition, no political candidate or party can ever be the full expression of the will of God. Every government needs to be  held accountable. It’ sour traditional Calvinist understanding that none of us is perfect, that we all fall short.  And that we need the shared collective wisdom of all of us to figure out our path. And that all of us together are smarter than any one of us.  That’s the Presbyterian way of doing things. And that our American republican form of government was inspired by Presbyterian polity. 

I believe that more than ever we need to be building and strengthening Christian  communities. Communities of people committed to following Jesus.  I was developing a seminar and used the phrase “…in the age of Trump…”. And my partner corrected me, “No…this is the age of Jesus…and will be…”  It’s a matter of where we see the ultimate authority.  

Our former Presbyterian Church (USA) moderator Rick Ufford-Chase has said that our communities need these marks, or commitments:
  1. That we will be there for each other (when it hits the fan…)
  2. To engage in disciplined study together
  3. To worship together (sharing at the deepest level)
  4. To act together

So…in the church year we’re in the season of Easter, almost to Pentecost. Jesus is talking to his disciples as to what to expect without him physically present. it’s kind of like that for us. He says this at the Last Supper.  So we’ll see what he has to say, how it might relate to living in Christian community. 

It begins with LOVE…so easy to talk about….

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments..” It’s pretty clear…that conditional IF…if we love him, we will keep his commandments…There’s  a saying among my Jewish friends that it’s more importing to obey God than to believe in God.  (Last summer at the Wild Goose Festival I heard someone say, “I don’t believe in God, but I love His with all my heart…” I’m thinking of Simone Weil, the French philosopher who once lived on the Upper West Side. 


At 549 Riverside Drive the plaque says:

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. It is given to very few minds to notice that things and beings exist. Since my childhood I have not wanted anything else but to receive the complete revelation of this before dying.

She also said, “Love is not consolation, it is light”


 She said that in society, we are wrong to focus so much on rights. What we need to focus on is obligations. It’s interesting that as anti-Judaism as she was, her approach to ethics is so within the tradition. And of course, for Jesus, the two most important commandments, “to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and to love you neighbor as yourself.”

Now it gets more interesting.  He will leave us another Advocate…not sure if you know this or not, but for Jesus, Satan, the one he knew as tempter, was like the prosecuting attorney. For me it’s like that accusing voice oil your head that never lets up. I think it’s like that for most of us…with the exception of say, Bernie Madoff…the voice that questions you, fills you with self doubt…

So the Advocate…is the defense attorney…Jesus uses this wonderful phrase “…the Spirit of Truth…”  I have a friend who says one of her problems with liberal Christians, liberals in general, is the constant relativity of truth…as an artist (and a Christian) she believes her work needs to be true…for me it’s like when you hear a piece of music, or see a performance and everything inside of you goes YES…

I’m thinking Jesus was like that for people…they saw him in action, and everything inside said YES….none of this Pontius Pilate,”what is truth?”  

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life…” There is no separation between love and obedience….Ofelia Ortega, a minister from Cuba, once came to a Presbyterian General Assembly whose theme, based on an old hymn, was LOVE SO AMAZING……In her assembly sermon, she's said No me quire amor maravillosa pero amor eficaz…that is I don’t want love amazing, I want effective love…

The image Jesus uses is that we will not be orphaned…in his day, that also meant not only without parents, but without resources…that’s why throughout the old testament we hear the phrase “widows and orphans…” the most marginalized and vulnerable..and for some of us today, that being without parents, children or relatives…that feeling of a-loneness..is not uncommon in this city…

you in me and I in you….he says….

It is we who need to be the hands and feet and heart of Jesus now..to hold each other up, to heal hurt, especially the aloneness, to be there for each other. The reformer Zwingli always said that in communion, it is not the bread and wine that is transformed, but it is we who become the body of the risen Lord

Let me make it clear here…we are entering into…already are…in a time when being a Christian is not so much a system of beliefs but a way of life….to love Jesus, in his terms, the true leap of faith is obedience….

We are also entering into a time when more and more  churches will not be able to afford full time pastors. (More than half of New York City Presbytery…) That means to me that we need to create communities that have cohesion and coherence and sustainability even without a regular pastor. 

You are to be commended for the community you have and are creating here…

I will close with these words…

They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”


Following the service, a visitor said that Simone Weil was very special to him and that he appreciated the reference to her.  It felt good to preach again….it was a good Sunday morning…

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