from Pastor's desk -
a Weekly Message
May 27, 2022
Our Spring Fling Fundraiser is coming up soon! We need your help to begin our transition away from fossil fuels! Details are in the flyer below. You don’t have to attend the fling to help—just go to www.osanyc.org to make a donation.
I’ve been hearing the words “unspeakable”, “unimaginable”, “horrific”, “unforeseeable”, and so on used by some of our country’s more notable citizens lately. I’m tempted to say that these people must be mute, but they speak; must be unimaginative yet are constantly sharing their feverish fables of society’s ills; must be repulsed by the shooting of children yet do nothing to prevent them; must have the vision of people closing their eyes before they walk near a cliff. It must be that these folks are lying to themselves or for other purposes: the children of the United States die mostly by guns, and the mass killings of children here have become too common for them to take anyone by surprise.
Last night, at our prayer vigil, some people shared their anger. Others have shared with me their despair. It’s important to know that the people who sell guns have had a vision they’ve been working on for a long time. They’ve invested a generation of personnel and, most importantly, money in the political process. Their vision is coming to pass. Shootings, after all, are very good for business.
I’ve been thinking about another vision, one from the prophet Isaiah, who delivered this message:
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
I think this vision almost seems unimaginable now. How could we live in a land like this? Of course, no nation governed by human beings can ever look like this. But we need a vision to help us become more peaceful and safer. We need a vision of God’s kingdom so we make our nations safer.
Last night our friend Rabbi Guy Austrian said that we are in the grip of idols, the idols of wealth and violence and weapons. As Isaiah pleaded with his people, so it behooves all Christians to plead: turn away from these idols. Turn to peace. Guns don’t make us safe. They just make us more dangerous.
It’s time for a different vision, perhaps a vision less financed, to fill our minds and hearts. It’s the vision of children playing without fear. It’s the vision of school days with out shooter lockdown drills. It’s the vision of a place where the people prosper instead of perish.
This isn’t easy, of course. The perfect world is God’s alone. But let God be perfect. We can still do better. We must do better.
I don’t know if our nation can see that vision, if the people can hear. But we need to share it nonetheless. Because look at what God’s kingdom is like. Isn’t that where we want to go?
May 20, 2022
Did you grow up with cross-stitched cozies, doilies, dishtowels, and handkerchiefs? I seem to remember them all over church kitchens and the homes of my grandparents and other folks. Like a lot of arts and crafts, cross-stitching seems a lot rarer than it used to be, although you can now find ironic cross-stitching online. I’ll let you discover the joys of the new generation of crafters, who are often very funny. The idea, as I see it, with a lot of crafts, is to make your home your own: cozy, warm, or cool and refined, as you like it. Sometimes a boring old dishtowel just needs a flower, and sometimes the pieties of the past just need a little deflating. But one thing is for sure: a home should the place you can be completely yourself together with your family.
One of those cross-stitched cloths may have said, together with some flowers and some hearts, home is where the heart is. I grew up seeing this on bathroom walls, kitchen towels, halfway done in wooden rings. I always thought it meant home was a good place, my place, our place. But as I grew older, and perhaps it was just part of being a teenager, I realized something else could be true. It could be true that one’s heart was never here, that the heart might be somewhere else: at work, in the mountains, in someone else’s home altogether. I decided it kind of sounded like Jesus’s warning: where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
How delightful, therefore, to read in scripture that God will make a home with us, and that our home will be with God. If God’s home is where God’s heart is, then God’s home is God’s people. Thus we see the shining face of God’s heart in Jesus Christ, one of us, living among us. St Augustine wrote, "Here you see that, along with the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit also taketh up His abode in the saints; that is to say, within them, as God in His temple. The triune God, Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit, come to us while we are coming to Them: They come with help, we come with obedience; They come to enlighten, we to behold; They come to fill, we to contain: that our vision of Them may not be external, but inward; and Their abiding in us may not be transitory, but eternal. “
The coming of God to make a home with us is forever—God is forever with us. Sometimes we see God clearly in our lives, sometimes we can barely feel God’s presence at all. But nevertheless we are at home, for we live and move and have our being in God.
And we get to join in meal, a meal suitable for the eternal home of God's people, the celebration of God’s eternal presence among us. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper together, where we can taste, touch, smell, and feel the presence of God in bread and wine, a meal where we can be our true selves, a meal where eternity breaks through time.
So come on home.
May 13, 2022
I have returned from the Midwest, from the places I grew up, from the places my grandparents and their parents grew up. I’ve returned bearing tokens of their lives: an old communion set of my great-great-grandfather’s, my grandfather’s stoles and toys he made for his kids and grandkids, the tie my other grandfather wore at my wedding, and other odds and ends their lives left behind. It’s not the same Midwest I remember. For one thing, Iowa has built windmills in its farms, swaths of standing giants, churning away, providing energy and hopefully income to the farmers. Politically it’s different, too, angrier and more right wing—but that’s the whole country, I suppose. I try to keep my mind there at least a little, try to hear from very far what’s happening in the region I still call home. People grow up. Cousins graduate from college. Babies suddenly babysit your babies—and family’s come together to sort through the legacies of lives lived and gone, love and fight with one another, and cry as they come apart again.
We live here in a big country in every sense of the word. It spans a continent from edge to edge, it’s the birthplace of dreams and nightmares. This place is a blessing and struggle, and you can read it as a paradox in search of a place to settle: the need for individualism in a society that’s greater than sum of individuals; a marketplace that provides for all; a republic constantly flirting with authoritarianism.
I now live a five minute drive from Interstate 80, and if you wanted to go the place I was born, all you have to do is take a right over the George Washington Bridge, drive straight for a while, and then make a left to arrive at the University of Iowa hospitals. It’s literally three turns—a right, a right, and a left. It’s a straight line from Iowa City to New York City, and that great highway, like a vein, connects this whole country together. Every place you stop, at every gas station and every fast food joint, in every small-town square and every college bar in Iowa City, you’ll find the image of God in the faces of all who struggle through these days.
When you sort through the stuff your forbears leave behind, you hold history in your hands. It’s the story that gives these things meaning, a story that continues through you. I wish we could think of our whole country, and indeed our whole world, through a story that connects us, and a story we can together bend toward the good. Whoever I am, I am because of all who have come before me, and all who live beside me, each of them bearing God’s image.
This Sundays’ Gospel, for some unknown and I think probably unwise reason, is an extract from the Maundy Thursday pericope, in which Jesus gives his followers the commandment to love one another as he loves them. To love as a master who puts aside his authority and washes his students’ feet: as I love you, so also you ought to love one another, he says. Or, as Abraham Lincoln put it: we cannot be enemies, but friends.
I know we’re all struggling right now. For many of us, it’s hard just getting through the day. It like some cosmic vampire has descended on our planet, sunk its teeth into the crust of earth, and is taking a giant slurp, sucking all the happiness from things. But as I figure out what to do with these things I brought home, there’s one thing I do know. Love never ends, and the more it’s shared the more it multiplies. And in a hard world, love is the most important thing, and it’s a gift. Christ gave us the command for a reason: love one another. We can’t get through any of this alone: love one another.
May 8, 2022
One of our Psalms goes, “O Lord, I call to you, come to me quickly; hear my voice when I cry to you. Let me my prayer rise before you as incense; the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” The Psalmist has nothing prepared, nothing to offer, except a voice and a need and faith that God will hear and act. This Psalm is a prayer of a person who is trying to do good in the midst of evil, feeling alone and powerless. “My eyes are turned to you, Lord God; in you I take refuge.” We often plead to God—hear me, help me, act on my behalf. And the most important part of the psalm is what is left unsaid, what is assumed: God does hear our prayer. God does act for good in the world. And God cares not just about the world in general but also about people in particular.
Have you ever called out to God, out of exhaustion, or confusion, or despair? Life in this world is confusing, full of joy and pain. I know a lot of people are saddened or angered by the predicted Supreme Court decision that will overthrow Roe v. Wade, a sign of a greater push that seems to want to curtail the rights of everyone who is not rich, white, and male. It should be stated that not all Christians wish to ban abortions. The ELCA, our denomination, has what you might call a “safe, legal, and rare” position, which you can read for yourself here. And I think it honors the position of people who have to decide whether or not to terminate a pregnancy, which can be fraught, terrible, and necessary to preserve life. These are times when people really do pray, “O Lord, I call to you, come to me quickly; hear my voice when I cry to you.” These are calls and cries of faith.
But prayer is a two-way street. Our Gospel for Sunday reminds Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” When we pray, we also listen for God’s voice. And it’s a different voice than the one we hear the world sharing. It’s calm when the world is shrieking; it brings us together when the world is trying to pull us apart; it directs us to compassion when the world is directing us to judgment.
The best thing we can do is to do what we can for one another, to care for one another’s needs, to guard one another’s freedoms, and to forgive one another’s sins. While we await the return of Christ, there will always be enough sin, hurt, and struggle for us to address, and sometimes it will feel like the same old thing all over again. But the truth is we have made progress, and we can continue to progress, even if we know that we will never reach perfection. But the struggle is meaningful in itself, and healing and forgiveness are never for naught.
So, take care of one another, carry one another, and forgive each other. See you soon!
April 29, 2022
Is it you?
That’s the title of a song by Justin Roberts, who once wrote a couple of children’s Bible albums a long time ago in place called Chicago. Is it you, who called us from our boats?, the song wonders. It’s a question the disciples have as they look back on the shore and see a figure standing there. Is it you, who walked upon the water, is it you who told us of the father who forgives the son and makes the world brand new? The figure says, have some broiled fish. It’s your favorite dish. The disciples respond: Must be you.
A life of faith is a life of surprises: one of the biggest surprises is having faith at all. It’s tulip season, and I think that faith is sometimes very much like a perennial: there can be a long season when it’s completely hidden and buried, but then, one day, it suddenly springs into life and color, and the memory of that color lasts a long time. And not only that, but it makes you want to plant more. And the more we plant, the more surprises spring, the more color, the more beauty. The trick is to trust the spring, to trust that under the bulb remains.
Christ is all around us—as one of my favorite Luther quotes has it, God is in the tiniest tree leaf. And yet Christ is also cosmic, encompassing the universe. We live and move and have our being in God, and so we should should expect the surprises of the signs of God’s presence, if we know how to look. And sometimes God makes an undeniable surprise, so beautiful everyone has to stop and take it in.
This week we enter into the story Justin Roberts was singing about: the appearance of Jesus after his resurrection. One way to see tulips is to walk by the places you know they’re planted, and the best way to encounter Jesus is the moment he promises to be among us—at the holy meal we share when we gather. Bread, wine: is it you? Surprise—it is.
See you soon,
April 21, 2022
I will be away this week attending a memorial service for my grandfather, and I’ll be away in a few weeks time to attend a memorial for my grandmother. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered for those weekends—worship will still be happening! It’ll be nice to hear a new voice in the pulpit, although this Sunday our member and old friend Bob Wollenburg will be preaching and presiding. There won’t be any Sunday School or Garden Communion on April 24th or May 8th.
Now that Easter has passed, I’ll be taking a few days to gather my breath and work on planning out the next few months here at OSA. On Pentecost we’ll be having a confirmation, we’ll be planning for summer BBQ Book Club, and a few other things besides. Be on the lookout next week for more announcements. Our Spring Fling planners are hard at work, and our Stewardship teams are also beginning meetings and workshops.
I’d like to take some of this space to say thank you to everyone who helped make Easter beautiful—from the parents who helped with the Easter Egg dying, stuffing, and hiding, to the all the worship helpers, singers, and readers, we had a beautiful Holy Week. Thank you all so much. This was Keith Burton’s first time through Holy Week at OSA—he’s still on his feet, and managed to make some beautiful music along the way. This Sunday marks Keith’s one year anniversary here—let’s show him some love!
If you are out of town, visiting family, I urge you to get tested for Covid before and after your trip.
Please keep one another in prayer. We all need one another in this life. As Eastertide unfolds, I know that I will be giving thanks for all of you, and I hope to see you all soon.
April 14, 2022
Tonight we begin the great Three Days, or in mustier church lingo, the Triduum. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday—these days mark the end and beginning of our faith and our lives: the death of Christ, his gift of life, the gift of the sacraments, the glimpse of glory beyond the grave. We move from death to life, from confusion to revelation, from darkness to light. Tonight we begin with the words of forgiveness, with the washing of feet, and with Lord’s Supper.
If you’ve not taken part in the Triduum (I confess, I like the musty church language), please consider doing it this year. We will be streaming our services if you cannot join in person, but each one has varied tone and purpose.
We will also be having an outdoor potluck brunch Easter Sunday: please show up a little early to help set up tables and tents before church! And bring a dish to share, along with your own plates and utensils.
Here’s the schedule:
Maundy Thursday (Holy Communion and Footwashing): 7:30 pm
Good Friday (with Adoration of the Cross): 7:30 p.m.
Easter Vigil: 7:30 p.m.
Easter Egg Hunt 10 am
Worship 11 am
Outdoor Potluck Brunch 12pm
Finally, we are in the beginning of another Covid surge. It’s difficult to predict how serious this will be, especially given that so many people got Omicron early in the year. But please remember even a mild case of Covid can have serious long-term consequences, and that there remain many vulnerable people, especially the elderly, the immunocompromised, and the very young.
We will continue to wear masks at all times indoors at OSA events, and we encourage you to remain up-to-date on your vaccines.
Thank you, and have a blessed Holy Week!
April 8, 2022
This Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week! We will wave palms, hear the story of Jesus’ death, and enter a week of intense contemplation and celebration of the God who loves us through the other side of death. This is also a time for family, for getting together, celebrating life, love, Spring, the Resurrection of Our Lord, so please, if you’re traveling to visit family and friends, and if you plan on gathering with others, take 15 minutes to test for Covid over the next few weeks, before and a few days after your gatherings.
You’ll find the schedule of all our services here:
Palm Sunday: 11 am.
Maundy Thursday: 7:30 p.m.
Good Friday: 7:30 p.m.
Easter Vigil: 7:30 p.m.
Easter Sunday: 11 am. (Easter Egg Hunt: 10 a.m.)
As always, the services will be in-person or on Zoom.
Take heart, be of good courage, and stay safe!
April 1, 2022
The Covid-19 risk level has increased from low to medium here in New York City thanks to BA.2, the most contagious version of Covid yet, and our lack of masking and boosters. Please take steps to protect yourself and your community. Please wear a mask whenever you are inside, and be sure to stay up-to-date on your vaccinations. If you are over 50 years old, this means getting a second booster.
I have to admit that I woke up feeling unsettled this morning: maybe I did not sleep well, or perhaps I had those strange dreams that trouble you but disappear when you wake up, leaving you with nothing but the feeling of being unsettled. Or maybe it’s that the first thing I saw in my inbox this morning was the announcement that our city has gone up a Covid threat level, and all I could think was, “Here we go again,” even though anyone who has talked to me over the past few months has probably gotten super annoyed at my general Covid pessimism. What to do when you’ve got the blues? The standard thing, and the treatment that works best for me, is to sing the blues. I turn, in other words to music.
Right on cue, right when I needed it, I got another email in my inbox from one of our OSA members, Peter Holsberg, who puts together a weekly music message. Turns out yesterday was Bach’s birthday. So I followed Peter’s advice and listened to Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, and Wachet Auf, which are as beautiful works of art as human beings can make. Beauty is a great healer—I have even read that one of the best treatments for PTSD is being around beauty: art, the beauty of nature, music. I don’t know the scientific explanation of this, but I do know how I feel in the presence of beauty: I feel like I am in the presence of good. I feel whole.
One of our church’s most problematic and most brilliant theologians, Robert Jenson, said the end of all things, heaven, is music. “God is truth and goodness at once in that he is one in his beauty…God is a great fugue. There is nothing so capacious as a fugue,” he wrote. For Jenson, God is truth because God is beauty. “In the conversation God is, meaning and melody are one. The end is music.”
Consider the lilies of the field, Jesus says. Consider how beautiful they are. Beauty is a healer, and however ugly we may feel, however flawed we may be inside or out, God’s beauty is the kind of beauty that fits imperfect things into wholeness. True beauty needs no other reason to exist than just being beautiful, but it’s being truly beautiful makes beautiful everything else it touches. God’s beauty, this great capacious fugue, has room for everything. You find your own essential part in the fugue as the music plays.
Sunday we see Mary, the sister of Lazarus, anoint Jesus feet with expensive perfume. She does this as an act of thanksgiving, and the sweet smell of the perfume fills the room. It was an act of pure beauty, and Jesus receives it as such. We should not be scared of beauty, but rather seek to make as much of it as we can. If nothing else, it will cheer us and gladden our hearts, and give us hope. Because if there is beauty in this world, what other miracles are possible? Any good thing could happen.
March 25, 2022
Spring—or is it summer—is coming. I pick up my daughter from school every day, and walk down Broadway. Yesterday we could lift our heads and see the whole Eastern tier of Fort Tryon Park, the winding paths up the ridge, and the budding trees following slope after slope, and the tower of the Cloisters standing tall over everything. That view is one of the best things about our neighborhood, and if you live here, whenever you see it, you know that you are home.
Of course, home can mean many things. Once I was on the train coming home from some late meeting downtown, standing near a group of young people. They were mean, taking care to insult other passengers, threaten them, intimidate, and infuriate. They spoke to one another on and off in some Slavic language. “Are you surprised I did that,” one of them shouted. “Do think because I’m white I don’t know another language? You’re gonna get off at 181st around all those nice apartments, yeah, I know who you are.” He knew how to push buttons, all right. He knew exactly what to say to simultaneously convict your conscience and wound your careful liberal self-regard while simultaneously making you mad. Another person on the train yelled, “You stand back! You don’t scare me!” I was ashamed—she was probably sixteen or seventeen, and I knew when she spoke that I was a little scared. My stop came, and sure enough, I got off with all the other folks in Patagonia gear, filled with loathing and fear.
But what was home to them? It was clear they despised the rich people living in the Heights near the A train. It was also clear that they had a chip on their shoulders. As we all know that polarization and tribal identity have dramatically increased over the past decade, and there are folks everywhere trying to find their tribe, and those who don’t feel at home with any of the big groups. And there is anger—anger at being left behind, anger at being tokenized, anger at having their own suffering ignored. Home can be where others aren’t—your own space, where you know your place.
We will sing a 19th-Century hymn called, “Softly and Tenderly,” which has the chorus, “Come home, come home, you who are weary, come home; earnestly, tenderly Jesus is calling, calling ‘O sinner, come home.’” God’s home is a far more expansive place than ours. “I go to prepare a place for you,” Jesus said—there is a place in God’s home for the angry young people on the train; there is a place in God’s home for me. There’s a place in God’s home for you. God has all this room because God can overcome our divides of class, race, gender—everything. God has a place for us in all our uniqueness and brings us to a table where everyone can share their commonality. We can do this because God forgives—and when God forgives, God gives us the power of forgiveness, too, which helps us recognize one another as human beings, together one human family, all at home in God.
Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling “Oh, sinner, come home."
March 18, 2022
After a nice lull in Covid-19 infections, the curve has started to climb again. We are generally two or four weeks behind Europe, and cases are rising quite dramatically there. Here’s the reality: BA.2 is here and unless you are up to date on your vaccines--meaning 3 doses--you are not protected against severe disease. Please get boosted as soon as you can, and wear a mask indoors. We will continue to wear masks in worship at OSA.
I suppose we all have been thinking recently about crises, and how one crisis is generally enough. Now we have the global pandemic, climate change, and the rise of authoritarianism, all converging into some horrible mutant hybrid virus of human pain and destruction, plowing through this globe, eating hope and people for what seems like no reason at all.
The virus, of course, doesn’t think, has no motivations, doesn’t feel—it just reproduces, shoddily, which gives it an even greater advantage. But the other two crises are entirely partly of our own design, and partly of our acquiescence: we love the power of fossil fuels, and switching to clean energy will have some costs and means a lot of work. Who can be bothered? Who is going to tell the Koch Brothers, the gas and electric utilities, who is going to convince Joe Manchin to give up half a million dollars a year, so that we will have a stable food and water supply in 30 years? 30 years is a long way away, and now there are planes to fly, vacations to take. It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of money. It’s a lot of getting used to a new way of living.
But once again the West faces severe drought this year. And all our political leaders are failing us. They fail us in Albany, they fail us in Washington D.C. The spirit is not willing, the flesh far to fattened by the money from the coal, oil, and gas lobbies.
And as for authoritarianism, well you have to be careful! We need the manufacturing in China, and the fringe lunatics who think that the 2020 election was stolen are too crazy to be believed. Right? Russia’s invasion into Ukraine has certainly showed us what happens when we don’t think these things through and act as if these are existential threats to democracy. But yet we still wait for legislative protection of voting rights as the Supreme Court drools over cases that will strike down the Voting Rights Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act.
Why does evil keep working? Most of the people at work don’t believe what they’re doing is evil: they think they are doing right. I’ve never believed that morality is about doing what feels right, or even what I think is right. I’ve noticed that I am far too capable of weaseling my way into things that are wrong to completely trust myself. “If you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall,” St. Paul warns us this week. An Jesus himself, speaking of disasters, says, “Do you think they were worse offenders than you? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”
These are tough words to hear, but I think they are true. Sinclair Lewis, aghast at what he was seeing across the globe and in his own country, wrote a book called “It Can’t Happen Here,” the premise, of course, being that it can happen here: the authoritarians can win here, too. It can happen anywhere. Trials come—sometimes one at a time, and sometimes, like now, many at once.
We pray, “Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil,” and I have long thought that mean that we are praying not get tried at all, that evil never engage us. But I think I’ve had it all wrong. Trials come: evil works its worst. We don’t pray that we avoid, we pray that we overcome it through the grace of God. We pray it not in confidence of our own abilities—look around and see the mountains of human failings everywhere. Instead we pray confident in God’s mercy and love, trusting and believing in the resurrection, the redemption, the holiness of Christ Jesus. In Lent we particularly focus on Jesus’s love in the middle of evil, and it must be so, because God’s love in Christ Jesus is a saving and redeeming love.
Never let, therefore, a trial or crisis go to waste. If we learn nothing else from this terrible, unnecessary war, we should learn just how deep the money of the fossil fuel interests go, and how great a threat fossil fuels are to the security and safety of free people everywhere. We must know now that the health of our community is tied to global health. We must know that democracy has to be defended, encouraged, tended.
Finally, we must know that God’s love is the one thing we can trust beyond all others, that God’s mercy helps us when we can no longer stand. We cannot do this without God—and God is here in our midst. Trials and testing are times for trust—so reach, reach for God. Even in the dark, with a flailing hand, you’ll find God’s sure grasp.
March 11, 2022
I am part of an online biking club of dads—one of the outcomes of the pandemic. It’s a cross between support group, workout group, and computer game. Everyone has an avatar and for some reason, perhaps to encourage some camaraderie, a spot next to your name for your country’s flag. Last week, we all changed our flags to the blue and gold of Ukraine. It’s an absurd thing to do, honestly. It provides no material help to the Ukrainians, does nothing to stop Putin’s advance into the country. It may “raise awareness”, for anyone who may not be aware that Ukraine has been transformed into a nightmare of shelling, bombing, shooting, and death.
What do these colors mean? The red, white, and blue, the blue and gold, the albiceleste. They mean identity. They mean belonging. They mean power and struggle, they mean history and soil. They mean myth that makes meaning, they mean memories of sacrifice and victory, they mean defeat and sorrow. Flags are not meaningless symbols. The tears and blood and joy of thousands soak them. And it’s not just flags, of course—it’s also the colors of sports teams, the pride of city and region, even the badge of a Hogwarts house on a phone case. We find meaning in the world wherever we can, however we can. The stories we share of the things we care about make us who we are, or what we hope to be.
The Christian identity subverts these others. You can be an American fan of Leeds United Football Club, and British San Francisco Giants fan, you can hold season tickets for Kansas Jayhawks basketball and a pile of clothing for the games, you have medal after medal on your wall. Christ comes and says—there’s something more. There’s a still more beautiful story to tell, and you can be part of it.
This is a story that includes every color, every people, the reconciliation of enemies, friendships that span the globe. The beauty of this call is that this identity is shared across species, ecosystems: “This is my Father’s world,” as the old hymn says. Can we find our story in that? And what could that mean for places of violence and war?
The first step to finding out is to worship together and to live into the blessed community together, as a congregation, as a church. It’s our common life together that shows us how grace and forgiveness work, how other ways of life are possible. And joining that common life also joins the common life of Christians across the world. Prayer, praise, healing, compassion, care for life: those mark the Christian life.
Join us for worship to explore this together.
March 4, 2022
Think about the moment you were born—of course it’s not a moment you remember. You came into the world far earlier than most mammals, in order that our greatest evolutionary advantage, our brains, could emerge. Unlike most other species we can’t walk in a few hours, we can barely see. It takes years for us to walk, talk, develop instincts. And everything we do depends on our interaction with the outside world—the germs, viruses, animals, people, and environments that make our world. We can never avoid the influence of the world—God made us a part of creation, and will not extract us from it. We are matter, we are dust, and to dust we shall return. If being innocent means being untouched, unstained by the world and its woes, we are not born innocent. From the moment our brains process information, we are part of this world, and all the sorrow and joy that it entails.
We also therefore must ask ourselves how we are to live in this world. We cannot escape it, save through death. And that means there is no escape from making choices, and the consequences they bring. So we end up finding comfort, we try to work through our days, we try to live reasonably most of the time.
Jesus, right after his baptism by John, goes to the wilderness in order to be tempted: he’s tempted to prematurely complete his fast, to end his suffering early. He’s tempted to take the whole power of the world on his own shoulders to rule the armies and wealth of the world as he desires. And then, finally, he is tempted to faithlessness, to see if God is really there. And case by case, Jesus rejects those temptations. He continues his suffering until the devil departs. He refuses to take on the world’s power and wealth. He refuses in his suffering to test God.
We hear this story this Sunday, our first Lenten Sunday. We hear it because Lent is supposed to be a time of self-examination, reflection, and change. And some of the change Christ asks us to make are unnatural—we have been developing these instincts from birth. We want to control our environment so we can keep ourselves safe. We want to test things for the same reason. Faith is hard because it means letting go, and even more so when it means we have to change the way we live.
But that is what we have to do. And it’s better to change the way we live now, before there is a crisis. Meditate on the story of Jesus—hear him when he says that we don’t survive on bread alone, that our worship belongs only to God. What do we worship? Where do we find our security? And do we live like we tell people we do?
Probably not. I know I don’t. But Lent is a way for us to live better, to start some change. And even though it is hard, when we turn to God, we find we turn also to freedom.
February 27, 2022
Somewhere deep in my memory I stumble across a nuclear missile site: I think I am in one of the Dakotas on a family vacation. Or maybe it wasn’t a missile site, but an old military testing range, or just a military installation. It is quiet—I hear only the sounds of summer, grass thick from a good year of rain, blue skies with just wisps of clouds here and there, and a red sign with a skull and crossbones. I remember remembering then a bandanna I had at home that I got a Global Mission Event, when the youth groups had a seminar about land mines, how they lurked beneath the ground all over the world, where kids would sometimes play, and sometimes lose their limbs and their lives. The ELCA back then was firmly anti-mine. Later I would read about the radical Catholics who penetrated the nuclear missile sites and threw paint on the missiles and damage equipment. In my memory they are octogenarian peace activists, so old they shame the judges at their sentencing, judges used to handing out decades of imprisonment, now squirming at the thought of putting a nun behind bars for the rest of her life. In my memory I hear the wind pass over the tall grass and through the wires, I see the white skull and crossbones wave in the breeze. Memory is inherently unreliable: I don’t know if this a memory constructed of other memories, or something real that happened to me, but in any case, I turn away to go back the car, and in an hour I forget that just beyond that fence, not even a morning’s walk, the weapons that can destroy life on earth stood ready. Apparently the nuclear arsenal now can be launched within 15 minutes. As I said, memory is inherently unreliable, and I don’t—I didn’t—spend much time thinking about nuclear weapons.
How many times will we dodge the bullet? And what have these weapons done to deserve our trust? I remember also coffee with a professor I admired and respected, who lived through World War II, who remembered what it was like to attack Japan, to lose friend after friend, soldier after soldier, the length of time and cost in blood to retake that island. I thought Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unforgivable: he thought it would have been unforgivable not to bomb them. I remember talking with my Uncle Heiner in Germany, how he left the room after talking about the bombing of Dresden and Nuremberg. Just a few days later the planes flew into the World Trade Center. A year or so later I watched US tanks storm through Iraq on Argentinian television as they played the Carmina Burana over them, the same tune that played over the commercials for the Marine Corps before movies in the theater—movies like Kindergarten Cop. If memory serves, that movie also ended in violence and gunplay.
Now, as octogenarians report for duty to the Ukrainian militia, as columns of Chechen reinforcements, skilled in the arts of war crimes and destruction, as planes and paratroopers fall from the Ukrainian sky, the nukes come back to mind. It’s been a while since the world has seen an invasion like this. Do the elderly among us feel sick at the sight of conventional warfare in Europe? I know I do. I won’t pretend to know what’s best, or how this will end, or what will happen.
But I do know this: we worship war. We treat the instruments of destruction as sacramental tools. And in the end they always betray us. And the same goes for the fossil fuels filling Russia’s coffers and feeding Western consumption: we should have transitioned away from them decades ago. But the tycoons profit and the politicians pander, and all we are left with is war and pollution, and the regular people have to deal with the aftermath.
I’m trying to think of Sunday’s sermon. It’s Transfiguration Sunday, which around here we call Domingo Gordo, or Fat Sunday. Covid (remember Covid?) won’t let us have our traditional potluck and pancakes in the gym. But it’s a day for letting loose and celebrating, for parades, for old-time music. Jesus lets his robe slip—the story is that before he goes to Jerusalem to die, he meets with Moses and Elijah on a mountain, where everything changes to dazzling brightness. For a minute, Jesus reveals himself as the Eternal Son of God, far more powerful than any hydrogen bomb, Lord of Life, King of the Universe. But just for a minute—he then puts his old clothes back on, the dingy old clothes of an itinerant gadfly. And then he walks without weapons to his death. Meanwhile, the geopolitical wars rage on.
It’s important to see this. Yes, we have a God of Justice. Yes, our God reigns. But Jesus shows another path that leads beyond detentes and peace treaties. He leads us to the world where the bombs are dismantled and turned into playgrounds. Christ’s glory does not come from war, or weapons, or destruction, but from love. And all the empires that thought they ruled over him have fallen, long since consigned to history. And so shall fall every empire, and every tyrant, and every ruler. You can cover yourself with any uniform, and all the trappings of wealth and power. But you can’t defeat God. Not with all the weapons in the world. God’s Word is the last word. For tyrants, that is a terror: for us, a comfort.
We must resist totalitarianism everywhere, not only in Russia, but also here in the US, where we are much closer to living under its cruelty than we wish to admit. Along with sanctions, the best way for us to help Ukraine is to keep our country a democracy, a healthy one. The witness against totalitarianism must be more than war. Against the threat of death we must provide a vision of life: and our Lord Jesus does that.
I don’t know how any of this ends. However it comes, it will probably be unsatisfactory. But there’s something about that unassuming man from Galilee, who put on his dingy garments and walked straight on to Jerusalem, who opened his arms on a cross, who defeated death with life. That’s our way forward. That’s where we go.
February 20, 2022
As Omicron fades and BA.2 begins to take over, it’s a good time to remember: the pandemic is not over. We will continue to wear masks in worship, get up-to-date vaccines when we’re eligible, and ventilate our sanctuary by opening windows. Please be prepared for worship.
We are back worshipping in-person! It’s great. It’s nice to be together, and it was fun to welcome the Bishop on our first day back.
But, we’ve gotten out of some OSA habits, and we need some extra help with some things.
First, we need some help with coffee hour. Yes! We are going to have coffee hour—outside in the garden. But I am not able to make coffee in the morning—we need some folks to volunteer to make the coffee and bring some snacks. No sign up necessary, just come on in a little early and I’ll show you what to do.
Second, and this is really important: we need help washing the communion cups and the altar linens. Washing up doesn’t take too long, but the altar linens do need be taken home and washed, or washed in the church basement’s washing machine and dryer. They also get wine and grape juice in them, and should be washed promptly.
Both these things are extremely valuable to the life of our congregation, and we really need folks to take on some of these things, even if it’s a bit of an informal process to begin with.
Finally, we hear some challenging passages this Sunday: love your enemies. Do good to those that hurt you. Prime Sermon on the Mount/Sermon on the Plain things. Of course, they sound beautiful in the sterility of the text, but are really hard to put into practice. But that’s why we gather—to hear our Lord speak, and to encourage one another on the way.
See you soon,
February 13, 2022
I won’t be writing a super long reflection this week, but I am excited to remind you about a couple things:
1. We resume in-person worship at 11 am this Sunday, February 13th. I am even going to make a pot of coffee to serve in the garden after church! Coffee hour, baby. It’s back! Of course we will still be streaming the service over Zoom, so for those of you who are out of town, or need to take extra caution, or are feeling ill, can still worship with us on Zoom. Same link as always.
2. Our Bishop, the Reverend Paul Egensteiner, will be joining us for worship! Many of you may know that Bishop Egensteiner was my internship supervisor and was the preacher at my installation eight years ago. I am excited to welcome him and his wife, Marianne, and I hope you are, too.
3. Please bring food for the Blessing Box! Thanks to leadership of Anna and Henry and the help of some volunteers, our Blessing Box is up and, well, not running, but it is up and staying put! The idea: to take what you need and give what you can. The shelves are open for all kinds of non-perishable food items. Please bring a can or tin or something to church, where we will collect it in the offering, bless it, and put it in the box outside.
We are in the hammer and the dance. Right now the hammer is going away and the dance is beginning. But please, for the love of God and your neighbor, keep wearing your mask. Get your third dose once you are eligible. Stay home if you are sick. It may feel like we are through the worst, and maybe we are, but we aren’t in great shape yet. Keep your masks on for a few more weeks, and hopefully we can dance a little harder, a little longer. Let’s keep the hammer at bay as long as we can.
February 6, 2022
I have a few things to plug this week.
First, please sign up for a time slot for our congregational read through Philippians Philippians is a short book, only four chapters. We will read one chapter a week through the month of February. This is not a Bible Study as we may customarily think of it: instead, it is meditation and contemplation of the living Word. We read together, in community, to hear what God is saying to us today. And then we pray for one another. It’s a beautiful and wonderful thing to listen to God together. Please sign up! We kick off this week.
Second, if you haven’t signed up, please consider attending the Lutheran Ministries in Higher Education Trivia Night. The Lutheran church and campus presence at the University of Chicago changed my life. I don’t know what I’d be doing now without it. I also know that good campus ministry changes the lives of many people, and that Pastor Becca Seely and her colleagues are doing amazing work under very challenging conditions. Plus, Trivia Night is fun. You can join up with other OSAers as a team, or just sign up and get added to another team. It’s all on Zoom, so you don’t need to leave your house or even get super dressed up.
I was reading a little bit about science this week. As anyone who knows me can tell you, I am not a scientist. I read about science and try to understand things. But it’s a party I’m not quite at home in. Once the math comes out, I get left behind pretty quickly. But I did read a bit from Carl Bergstrom, whose book Calling Bullsh*t: The Art of Skepticism in a Data Driven World I highly recommend. He mentioned being nineteen and a professor telling him that science is inherently political because it is a “collective social activity carried out by human beings.” This doesn’t mean that science isn’t true, or anything like that. It just means that it’s a human act, and subject in some ways to the same ends and means that govern other activities. And yet it is part of humanity’s love and search for truth and meaning. In philosophy we might call this a telos, or just use the word ‘end’. We might ask, for instance, “What is the chief end of human beings?’”, to which the Westminster Catechism says, “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” I believe that science is a means of glorifying and enjoying God—just look, for instance, at the wondrous, life-saving work of vaccines, which combine medicine, immunology, virology, epidemiology, chemistry, logistics, and yes, politics, into a lifesaver. It’s beautiful. I thank God for them, and for the lives they continue to save every day.
Our reading from Corinthians this week tells us about our ends as Christians. We believe and hope in the resurrection. But that end may also direct our ways here. What happens to us when we trust God? What happens when we work to glorify God in our work? What kind of collective social action can we take up as God’s people, who ought to be governed by wonder, curiosity, courage, and compassion? I don’t know. Sometimes I wonder if I am too faithless to find out. But I hope we, together, can undertake some collective social activity to further our understanding of God and this world God has made and entrusted to our care.
January 30, 2022
It’s going to be a snowy one! Please stay safe, make sure you have blankets and water and food, and enjoy the comfortable feeling of watching a blizzard from your couch.
I remember being startled by a line from Watership Down (a quest story about rabbits): "humans think they love cold days, but they really love being warm on cold days." I thought about that for a while because I always thought of myself as a cold weather person: I’ll take a blizzard in January over any dog day in July, thank you very much. But I began to think more about it, and it occurred to me that I’ve never spent a winter’s night without heat. I’ve been cold, yes, I’ve even been worried about frostbite once or twice, but I’ve never feared for my life from the cold. It’s a privilege to say that.
God has placed human beings in the whole creation, but we influence the whole—at least, we do in our planetary home. Even now in the deep of winter, we cannot forget that our delight in the warmth of our boilers and cars is heating up our world. It is good to be warm in the cold, just as it is good to be cool in the heat. But we have to be careful about what we love.
We also love knowledge and inventiveness, creativity and compassion. We can use those things to keep warm in the winter without damaging the atmosphere. We need our government to enact policies and secure funds to get us there.
Wherever you are reading this, perhaps you can take some time to contact your elected officials and ask them to direct our way to a more sustainable future. The time is now. If we do not act soon, we will have very different feelings as we huddle.
January 23, 2022
Please fill out our Racial Justice Task Force survey HERE. Your responses will help us grow as a community.
Community is the theme of our texts this week—a community that lives with the Word. The typical way of saying this is “in, with, and under the Word.” The Word being Jesus, who speaks to us both in judgment and in love. It turns out we need both. In the Gospel lesson this week Jesus gives his first sermon: He quotes Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
The Scripture he read is a message of liberation to a community. This message comes as good news to the oppressed, the poor, the sick, the downtrodden. It comes as judgment to the oppressor, the rich, and the downtreaders. Same Word—but as Scripture says, the word of God is a two-edged sword.
But this is not a zero-sum game. Take, for instance, the sick: their health does not detract from the health of others. No one I know of is upset when the sick are healed. And yet people seem to get riled up when the poor get some money, the homeless get homes. The downtreading get all mad when someone asks them to stop stomping on other people’s faces.
The truth is that when the poor prosper, we all prosper. When everyone is included, we all get better. Unless your game is to get better at the expense of others.
We see this in our politics today: When it’s easier to vote, we get more representative outcomes. Some people don’t like that, and have successfully spent millions of dollars and years to vitiate the Voting Rights Act, gerrymander like crazy, and build barriers to voting. This is a poison, and not just for the people that are oppressed, but for the oppressors themselves. Their erosion of our common project of democracy will fall on their own heads.
Our own community needs this word of both judgment and promise. We love each other, but we fail each other. And part of loving each other is trying to work through our failures together. We can to do this with confidence because even though we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves, we have a Word that breaks the chains, that releases us, that tells us to be free.
January 16, 2022
Watch out for the weather this weekend—it’s going to get COLD here in New York City. It’ll be a good weekend to stay in and cuddle, as Olaf the Snowman likes to say. It’s going to be below freezing for most of the weekend. Please stay safe!
This Monday is also Martin Luther King, Jr day. It’s a good time to ask you to fill out a survey for OSA.
It’s important to do this survey. We have a Racial Justice Task Force that has been looking into our policies and procedures at OSA, trying to align them with anti-racist principles. One of the things we learned in 2020 was that doing anti-racist work is different from talking about doing anti-racist work. And the Racial Justice Task Force examined our church’s constitution, our hiring practices, our budget, and even tried to look at unofficial habits to see what we could do and how we could be a more welcoming, inviting, inclusive, and safe space for everyone. But we also know we have blind spots and perhaps even places we don’t want to look. So please fill out this survey to share your experience of being a part of the OSA/Cornerstone community.
Take the survey by clicking here.
I’m going to be preaching about Psalm 36 this Sunday, which includes one of my favorite lines from Scripture: “In your light we see light.” In God’s light, in other words, we see. God’s light reveals all kinds of things, often things we try to hide in the shadows. In God’s light, everything is revealed, nothing is hidden, good or bad. God’s light can be searing, and the thought of confronting the parts of us that make us feel ashamed, or that we may discover we are actually sinners, can fill us with fear. But light allows life to flourish. And God’s light also is a beacon, a vision. What we know, what we discover, we can leave behind. When God’s vision beckons, we can move to a more beautiful community.
I believe the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream, the dream Mahalia Jackson told him to share in Washington, D.C., comes from the light of God. That dream is still a dream, but I’m hoping that in our beloved community, we can move forward together, praying that God makes that vision real among us.
January 6, 2022
Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, when the Wise Men, or the Three Kings, or the Magi, come to pay homage to Baby Jesus. In many countries this is a holiday and a day of gift-giving, commemorating the Wise Men’s gifts and worship at the cradle. In our country, however, the holiday now finds more resonance with the dark side of the story: “When King Herod heard the news of Jesus, he was frightened, and all of Jerusalem with him.”
This is not just a happy-go-lucky story about Kings traversing the desert sand, or magical stars. It’s a story about power and the powerful. One of the central characters is a brooding tyrant, a utensil of Rome, who decides to murder every baby boy under two years old in the village of Bethlehem, just to get rid of Jesus. As the heartbreaking Coventry Carol puts it:
Herod the king, in his raging,
Chargèd he hath this day
His men of might in his own sight
All young children to slay.
There may have been a dozen or fewer baby boys in Bethlehem at the time. It was an act of atrocity that history probably would never have recorded. Tyrants have done much worse anonymously and under the cover of darkness. And yet the baby lived. Other tyrants crucified him—and yet he lived. He lives today.
Jesus is the enemy of all the people who seek to use power for themselves. One year ago, thousands of people tried to take democracy by force. They are part of a larger story in America of right-wing political actors who have figured out how to rig the game in their favor. You see the pioneers of this in Wisconsin and Michigan and North Carolina, where gerrymandering has become a science. You see it everywhere the right wing cannot win through ordinary means, where it bunches all the votes of people of color into as few electoral districts as possible.
We saw chaos and evil that day—men and women marching through the capitol, crushing police officers, smearing blood and feces along the walls, building a gallows, chanting to kill the Vice-President, the Speaker of the House. Chaos and bloodshed, enlivened by lies and misinformation, all cheered on by a man who cares only for his own gain. It almost worked out for him.
It may be tempting to believe that the crisis was averted. It has not been averted. Insurrectionists are running now for Secretaries of State, so they can sway election outcomes. They are running for other offices, they are consolidating power. 2022 and 2024 will tell if they achieve their aims or not. It’s important to know this—and it’s important to know that some people in the media and in politics may be attempting to downplay the insurrection as a protest.
It was, however fumbling, an attempt to disrupt an election. It was an attempt to take power through violence. It was a coup. And many of the people responsible continue plotting to take power through soft means or hard.
The Epiphany story has a lesson for us, though. The tyrants don’t win. The worst may yet befall us. These people very well might succeed. But the boy lived. He lives today.
There is more to our lives than the pendulum of power. The Epiphany is about more than that. Our homage, our worship, is due a different kind of King, who reigns through love and mercy and giving of himself to lift the world. He has no respect for national borders, does not care for the piles of missiles, ignores all financial inducements. He lives in the open, telling the truth. He heals, teachers, prays. He invites the wicked to his meals, he fraternizes with the poor. All of this makes him a threat to tyrants, because they cannot stand truth, or solidarity, or forgiveness, and do not realize the deep strength we have in weakness.
The holy family fled Bethlehem. They stayed awhile in Egypt, refugees. But the boy lived. Christ lives.
We do not have to accept the power of evil. Indeed, evil has no power in itself. It can only imitate, at best, the good. It is always fearful because it knows the power of the truth. And try as it might, the truth will always live.
Later on the baby Jesus would grow up and he would say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” His way is always open. His truth lives on. He gives his life to all who live under the shadow of death.
Epiphany is the story of God frustrating tyranny. May God ever do so, and may God bless us.
January 2, 2022
Yesterday, there were 600,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the United States, more than any other day during the pandemic. There is a lot of Covid out there, so please take special care of the little ones who cannot get vaccinated and the immunocompromised. If you have not gotten your booster shot, please do it, and if you haven’t gotten vaccinated yet, please do it.
We will continue to have Zoom worship through January 9th, when the council will meet to discuss what comes next. We hope this is more of a flare than a wave, and will quickly pass.
Well, here we are again, the end of another year, and I’m reminded of W.H. Auden’s epic poem For the Time Being, that has an ending section that is the best post-Christmas thing I’ve ever read: “Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree...” After the visions, the angels, the prophecies, the gifts, the Magi, we are left with the kitchen table, which “…exists because I scrub it./It seems to have shrunk during the holidays.” Auden does a beautiful of job of weaving the wonder of the Christmas story into the mundane operations of our lives: going to the office, doing chores, waking up again in the morning when it’s not Christmas any more:
...the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
There is something about that last line that lingers, like a seed under ground. I think it’s a little bit of hope: what happens when everything becomes a You? Could it happen again?
In a lot of nativity scenes, you’ll often see a gigantic Jesus, arms akimbo, looking noting like a newborn and more like a child actor. Around him you’ll see shepherds on bended knee, Mary with her hands on her heart, everyone looking as besotted as a person can be. These scenes can be very weird, with the factories and plasters doing their best to translate Caravaggio and Raphael into new mediums. It’s fair to say some things get lost in the translation.
But being so besotted with Jesus, so in love—that’s right. I don’t know if you can go over the top with that. Sometimes, at birth, when a mother takes a first look at her child, she falls completely and immediately in love with him. There are hormonal shifts that have the force of tectonic plates sliding at speed happening, physical trauma, lots of screaming, sometimes even out-of-body experiences, but when you first see that goopy, encrusted child, everything becomes a You. And the expressions on the faces of the parents—no one would believe them if they were in a Nativity scene. Of course, no one thinks of the diapers when that cute little baby starts eating solid food. But that’s coming.
Our world has changed. In the space of a few months in 2020, everything became different. It’s likely that the change is permanent. But I don’t believe it precludes the joy of finding Jesus, or even our joy and finding Jesus at work among us. We are Jesus people, and that means there’s a You constantly asking us to remember that there is You in this world. Christ is the key that unlocks that mysterious door between us and the gifts. Christ is the key that unlocks the door between us and the created order, which itself is not an it but a You—and praises God in a way all of her own.
Joy to the World!
December 17, 2021
Wait for the Lord, be strong, take heart!
This message from the Psalm 27 is often sung at Advent, and seems even more important these days. Wait for the Lord, whose day is near, wait for the Lord, be strong, take heart! Take this as your mantra over the next month or two, to remember that the pandemic will end, the suffering of God’s people will cease, that God hears our cry, and that we can do what is required in the meantime. Wait for the Lord, be strong, take heart.
Omicron, of course, is messing with our plans. So this is where we stand for this upcoming week.
12/19 Sunday Morning Worship:11:00 a.m. Blended (in-person and Zoom). Sunday School Marimba!
12/19 Festival of Lessons and Carols: 7:30 p.m. ZOOM only
12/24: Children’s Christmas Eve Service: 4:30 p.m. ZOOM only
12/24: Christmas Eve Candlelight Service: 7:30 p.m., blended
12/25: Christmas Day:11:00am ZOOM only. Wear your funny hats and ugly sweaters!
12/26: 1st Sunday of Christmas: blended.
Of course, given the state of things, all of this could change in a minute. Please, if you can, take a rapid test before you gather with others. If you feel sick or off, stay home. Get your booster!
The most important thing right now is to keep faith, keep trust, and remember what we have on our side: We have vaccinations that still do well in preventing infection and serious illness; we have masks and ventilation, we have ways of keeping distance, we have new antivirals coming online in January, and most important, we have each other and we have God. We can do this.
If you need support, even just a time to talk and pray, let me know. I’m available. If you want to vent or yell, I’m available. If you need anything, reach out and our community will do our best to help.
God loves you. Wait for God, be strong, take heart.
December 10, 2021
The theme of the week is joy: joy that God is with us. Sometimes, that’s a very radical thing to believe. In fact, it’s dangerous: how many times have human beings claimed that God was on their side? I learned recently that the great political philosopher John Rawls gave up religion when a Lutheran chaplain told his platoon during a firefight with the Japanese that God was guiding their bullets to kill their enemy while guiding the enemy’s bullets away from them. Experiences like this consistently drive people away from God—when, in times of anguish, pain, violence, one side claims God’s will. Isn’t the question really supposed to be, am I on God’s side?
I think that’s true—and yet, the news for this week tells us to rejoice, to make merry, to be glad, because God is with us, right in the middle of us. I joked at the Vespers service that the God portrayed in this week’s Zephaniah reading, the God that exults in the throng, the brings home the outcast, is like a different OutKast: he is the type of God that makes the club get full. He’s the god that get’s the party started.
And I’m not just talking justice and all the good liberal pieties now: I’m talkiing about sheer joy, joy greater than politics, the feeling that makes you want to stand up and dance, to shake it all off, to leave everything behind. Simple joy and freedom. “Rejoice,” Paul says. “Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.”
The Lord is near; the Lord is in our midst. That takes opposing sides and turns them into a mob—it makes a circle of the square. God standing in the middle means God becomes the center of gravity, and the party spins around him. No longer do we ask which side we’re on—we are in a circle spinning and moving.
In Christ, God steps across the divide between the sacred and profane and brings them together. God fills that chasm. Because of Christ, we do not have a God up there while we’re down here. God descended so we can ascend. And even by the act of descending, the holy presence of God has found a home in the middle of us. God’s the kind of God that doesn’t just help one side win the war—God’s the God that makes wars cease, if we can believe Scripture. It’s a staggeringly crazy thought, hard to for our mind’s eye to see.
To see it, God calls out to us—turn just a little bit. Step into the swirl. Let’s get this party started—I am in your midst. I’m in the middle. Dance and see.
We have come to a peculiarly American day, the day of Thanksgiving, in which the faith of civic life and the faith in God bleed together. This is a civic holiday in every sense—a day set aside by the government celebrating the continuity of that government, but also asking the people to give thanks to a deity, or at least a kind of benevolence in the universe. Interestingly, in the long history of Thanksgiving, these days came during extremely harsh moments in our national life: the colonists of the Mayflower had lost half their number, but had forged and unsteady and ill-starred alliance with the indigenous people. It was not clear that the colony would survive, yet they feasted with their new allies for three days. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation for Thanksgiving, during the darkest gloom of the Civil War. Then FDR moved Thanksgiving to its current Thursday in 1939, when our nation was in the depths of the depression and watching with concern as war broke out in Europe. He did this mostly at the request of businesses that wanted a longer holiday shopping season, but two years later, Congress finally made the fourth Thursday in November the official and permanent day for Thanksgiving. By then war was everywhere, death and bombs falling in Europe, and America’s children marching off to war.
I read a lot of headlines about whether or not you should talk to your crazy relatives, and how to win arguments with them. I suppose this reflects this bonkers time we live in, when reason finds no messenger, and conspiracy theorists spew such toxins that no one wants to touch them. I’ve never lived through a pandemic, nor ever thought that the basic foundations of the democracy that our forbears worked so hard to build would be so corroded by their descendants. But here we are, one more November, one more thanksgiving, and I’ve gone and bought a turkey and cranberries and stocked up on butter. Hopefully I’ll convince my children to set the table, and we’ll give thanks to our Beneficent Father who Dwelleth in the Heavens.
Thanksgiving, it seems to me, is never about counting our blessings. It’s not about how we have it so good. It’s not about comparing our blessedness relative to the blessedness of other. It’s more like lighting a candle in the dark, and rejoicing in the light it brings. It’s more about thanking God that we are here at all, that we live on in a beautiful world, that love has found us. Somewhere in Scripture it says, “I shall give thanks to the Lord at all times, his praises shall ever be in my mouth,” and I think this is the time when we learn just how powerful it is to give thanks. Thanksgiving is a candle in the dark, and part of the unseen power of God, who has worked love into matter. And when the times are hardest, when the cares and concerns of the world have scraped away all the accoutrements we adorn on live, we find ourselves cut to the bone of existence, and we find there the pulsing heartbeat of God, who loves us.
One of our great American poets, James Wheldon Johnson, wrote,
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.
May this be a Thanksgiving prayer for all of us this year.
November 19, 2021
This Sunday marks the last Sunday of the church year—Christ the King. That means we celebrate what it means to be followers of Christ and his gentle yoke, his way of life. In ancient times, Caesar had a title: Lord. Only he was to be called Lord, but the Christians dared to give that title to a crucified Jew named Jesus, and dared even to say that this Jesus was Lord of all things. Who is really in charge—Caesar with his legions, or Jesus with his love? And whom will you serve? Those have been the questions ever since, and that’s what we’ll be thinking about on Sunday.
I’m pleased to announce that we are bringing back the Advent Fair! This year’s fair will occur on December 4th in the church parking lot from 10 am to 3pm, with the customary tree sale in the church garden. We could still use some volunteers to bring baked goods and hot beverages for St. Martin’s Table, to help set up, and to help take down. Set up will happen from 8:30 to 10, breakdown from 3:00-5:00. Any help will be very appreciated—and you’ll have a lot of fun. Please email me HERE if you can help.
See you soon,