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from Pastor's desK

August 12, 2022

Dear Friends,

What a difference ten degrees makes! It's a lovely thing not to feel like you're walking through hot blankets everywhere you go. A heat wave has passed; we pray that another one does not come--and yet, we know that earth is groaning, sick with a fever we have caused.

There is some good news on that front, as our country is poised to pass landmark legislation that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is biggest, most important climate legislation our country has ever passed; and yet it is still perhaps the worst version of it. Indigenous groups, frontline populations, and especially poor people of color in rural and coast places, have all expressed their anger that they have been put on the chopping block, again: there will still be drilling on their lands, and their lives and livelihoods will be sacrificed.

Still, Massachusetts announced today landmark climate legislation in its state, signed by a Republican governor. And here in New York, we are putting pressure on our legislature and governor to fulfill the promise of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, passed in 2019. Here at OSA, we will be especially focused on that work in September, making videos that tell our faith story, and why our faith leads us to demand climate justice. Nothing is perfect, and there is no one magic bullet here, but rather a barrage of imperfection that may lead us to a better future.

My own concern for the climate comes mostly from the people I love: my parents, who took me camping and showed me the beauty of nature; my grandfather who urged me to look for beauty everywhere I was; my children, the most beautiful creatures on earth to me, whose future I desperately hope will hold good things for them. I grew up in a small family that was concerned with God and God's world--and these things still matter to me today, and somehow matter to me even more than they did when I was young. The text this week tells us about the cloud of witnesses that accompany the living in faith, and I know the cloud of witnesses, from Ignatius to Francis, from my family to your family, all can see the beauty at risk, and, despite the opposition to a green, sustainable world, faith that God will guide us to a better future.

The IRA, as the federal legislation is called, is a first step. Climate is not "done." It's just getting started. And it's important to vote this upcoming week in our state elections for candidates that make fulfilling New York State's pledge to go fossil fuel free. So don't forget to vote, and don't forget to come to church, where beauty and hope and faith reside.

Pastor John

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August 4, 2022

Dear Friends,

We are having a baby shower at church on Sunday! It’ll be low key, an after-church brunch potluck in the garden for Abby and David Degge, and their little guy, who will be coming sometime in September. So we are going to celebrate with a potluck brunch! Bring something to share, and if anyone can come a little early to help set up the tents and tables, it would be very much appreciated.

We have some difficult texts this Sunday that I’m not sure I even really understand, despite having preached on them several times. I have my work cut out for me for this Sunday. But that’s the way it is—often—with God. As Abraham Lincoln wisely said, “The Almighty has his own purposes,” and I thank God that his purposes are salvation, redemption, creation, love. I thank God that truth and beauty are the signs of that love, and that we humans get to experience truth and beauty, that we get to discover the depth of truth and the richness of beauty as we grow older.

Last night, at Banned Book BBQ Book Club (join us next Wednesday at 6:30 as we ditch the banned theme discuss Richard III instead), some of us had a conversation of the conviction of youth—how when we are young the experience of rightness and truth are so intense that it is difficult to imagine that anything else could have merit: Pearl Jam is the best band of the past two decades, and anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong, for instance. The intensity of our feelings can lift our spirits to the stratosphere, and as with most death defying feats of flying, can scare the older and more experienced.

Perhaps, as we grow older, we can see the veins of truth running in many directions, as we look back on our own errors (the answer is clearly Radiohead; Radiohead is the best band of the past two decades, silly), but as we do that we can also see how people we once held as enemies or strangers could possibly be friends.

And, as we grow older, I also hope the convictions we held—that some things are true and good, that there is right and wrong—also grow deeper in ourselves, that our belief in goodness and our yearning for truth becomes even more capacious, as we discover just how deep and wide goodness and beauty and truth are.

I hope that especially when we have difficult, challenging texts from Scripture, which may seem to make sense, or worse, whose sense may be frightening. But the promise of God is unshakable: God’s love is for us, forever. That’s true, and it is beautiful.

See you soon,

Pastor John

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July 29, 2022

Dear Friends,

I sometimes wonder what working would have been like if I had been born at a different time. Like, what if I were a preacher when Michael Douglas, as resplendent and malignant as a Komodo dragon, told a lot of Wall Street types, savoring every word like the delicious meat scavenged from a corpse, that “Greed is good. Greed is right. Greed works….Greed in all of its forms…has marked the upwards surge of mankind...”

That sermon would preach itself this week, when Jesus says, “Take care! Be on guard against all kinds of greed.” Gordon Gekko or Jesus? It is hard to argue with the dripping wealth of the slicked back hair, the suits, the absolute rush of permitting oneself to act horribly and call it good.

The problem is, so many people have memorized that speech and made it their life’s guiding mantra. They are taught a softer form of it in business school and economics courses—I saw it first hand at the University of Chicago, where Milton Friedman’s ghost haunted almost every hall. Greed isn’t just good—it’s right.

So our text this week comes to us many decades after the movie Wall Street came out—many booms and many busts, many crashes. We are now in strange world, much hotter than it used to be, with different threats.

But the greatest threat of all is still the threat of ourselves, and perhaps our greed. “Guard yourselves from every kind of greed,” Jesus says. There are many ways to be greedy, many things to be greedy for.

But we can resist greed by giving. God is the giver of all good gifts, even though sometimes the gods are depicted in story and myth as great devourers. God gives everything, even his own Son, for love of the world. The way we resist greed is by giving—our selves, our time, and our possessions, signs of God’s gracious love.

Contemplate, for now, what you have to give—I guarantee God has given you a lot, which means you’ve got a lot to give. And in the giving you’ll find joy.

Hope to see you soon at OSA!

 

Pastor John
 

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July 22, 2022

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we welcome some friends of Arne and Andrea, a trumpet troupe called Trumpet Power! These kind folks are coming to us all the way from Germany, and Keith has worked up some good stuff for us all to enjoy during worship. It’s going to be a really wonderful service—please do make an effort to come! And bring something to share for coffee hour if you can.

We are moving right on through the summer—here in the Northeast, we were very lucky to escape the intense heat blasting the rest of the country, and indeed, the rest of the Northern Hemisphere. But now the heat is even upon us, although still not at the intensity that much of the world is experiencing.


This week we have the text, “Knock and the door will be opened for you; search and you will find.” Jesus is talking about prayer and persistence and not giving up hope. And I think that applies to us—we have to persist in trying to get the Covid epidemic and the incipient monkeypox epidemic under control, we must persist in stopping the worst of climate change and then trying to repair the damage we have incurred.

This is just the beginning of what we can expect—99 degrees at night in Paris. You don’t have to imagine because it is real. The hottest day in over three centuries of records in England; you don’t have to imagine, because it’s real. Large American cities abandoned because they are unlivable—that is still in the imagination, but the reality is uncomfortably close.

But none of this is cause for despair. The door to a better way will open if we knock; the grace of God will bring us to joy in our search. But we have to lift our hands and we have to turn some things over.

Keep praying! It makes a difference. Keep knocking and searching, and don’t ever give up on doing good.

And come and listen to some trumpets!

Pastor John

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July 15, 2022

 

Dear Friends:

 

First, another Covid announcement: our community is at high risk! Covid is spreading like wildfire here. Please take appropriate precautions, especially keeping up to date on vaccine AND wearing your mask in public. At this level of spread, any indoor space will have someone with Covid. So keep your mask on! Also, if you do get Covid, don’t forget to call the city hotline, 212-COVID19. They will help you with antivirals, a consolation with a medical professional, and other things.

 

We are moving into the letter to the Colossians this week, one of my favorite letters. And we read this week one of an important declaration of just who Christ is. In Christ, all things hold together; in Christ, the reconciliation of all things comes to pass.

 

Good stories need conflict. They need tension, brokenness—that’s what makes you turn the page. Good stories tell the tale of a journey, of change, of progress and regress. Some stories end with a resolution, some kind of satisfying click, like a wedding. Other endings feel inevitable, true, and right, but not joyous—like the gathering of mourners, the crying of the people, the darkening lights of a tragedy. 

 

But Christ’s story is both tragedy and comedy: thus it is a reconciliation. Hemingway says sometimes we are stronger at the broken places, and that is exactly how to think about the reconciliation. We are broken, but Christ reconciles our broken parts, and we are stronger thereby than we were at the beginning.  But Colossians holds that this not only true with our human lives, but with the whole of creation: all of creation is more beautiful, more wonderful in the cosmic reconciliation we have through Christ.

 

That’s why I believe we need a green energy revolution—the world will be more beautiful without smog and CO2 poisoning and the noise of internal combustion. And who knows what revolution Christ will call us to undergo after that? Beauty is infinite, and so are the ways we can be reconciled with our neighbor and with this good creation. 

 

We will be thinking more about these things on Sunday—come and join us!

 

PJ