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from Pastor's desk -
a Weekly Message

April 2, 2020

Dear Family of God:

The daffodils are blooming in the garden, and a bunch of other flowers whose names I don't know. The trees bud and bloom, the sun seems to grow stronger and brighter. Palms arrived in a box, ready to be prepared for a parade. All signs point to the Holy Week and Easter that we love and know. But Holy Week will come without the washing of feet, the adoration of the cross, the great vigil, the trumpets and pancake potluck of Easter morning. Instead, it will be another Zoom worship, another YouTube video, another day at home.

Nevertheless, this week is holy. It would be holy if it were not a special liturgical week, because "this is the day the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." This day, this week, are the Lord's--they are holy because God has caused the Earth to turn again, the sun to send out its rays, and sent us the Holy Spirit to comfort and strengthen us for this days. So, confident that God is with us, we can commend to God our minds, our bodies, and all that is ours, and be open to the ways that God wants to use us. 

We are going to celebrate Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday this Sunday. We will do another Zoom service--but we will also have our Parade of Palms. If you click here and here, you will find some downloadable templates for coloring palms. You can also trace your palm on a piece of paper and cut it out, if you wish, or really make any kind of palm you'd like. We will wave these palms and march around our living rooms--you can also wave them out your window and shout, "Hosanna in the highest!" 

On Maundy Thursday, I'll offer a meditation on Holy Communion that I'll share over YouTube and on our website. On Good Friday, we have a live Zoom broadcast at 7:30 p.m. We will do an Easter vigil of scriptural meditation and music, and a live Easter morning broadcast.  Soon I hope to do live daily prayer--watch for details on this next week.

In the meantime, you can follow video reflections on my YouTube channel here by various pastors and OSA members. And don't forget to get ready for Palm Sunday--we will be marching all over this neighborhood. It is a day the Lord will make: let us rejoice, and be glad in it.

Pastor John

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March 27, 2020

Dear friends,

Lockdown continues, and with it, all our efforts to connect and support one another. I hope that by now, every church member has received a call from me or someone on our council for a check in. Please, if you ever need to talk, don't hesitate to call me. We have people ready to offer assistance with food and other items, so if you are quarantined and need help, let us know.

I'm also working on doing a daily video devotion on YouTube. More details to come--I'm enlisting members of OSA and some friends of mine to make reflections on hymns, Scripture, poems, and anything else that comes to mind to sustain us as time goes on. This should be up and rolling next week.

This social distancing is very hard. It's hard emotionally for everyone--we all feel anxiety, grief, stress, depression, uncertainty, and fear. It's hard work while supervising kids doing their schoolwork. It's hard to stay inside as the weather changes to spring. And perhaps most importantly, it's also very hard for many people financially--how to pay the bills when you can't work? 

No one knows how long this will last. I have seen epidemiologists counsel a two-month "pause," followed by slow expansion of movement. They believe this will keep the rate of infection manageable. If we do things carefully, we can find a semblance of normalcy in a few months. If we do things wisely, perhaps we can even improve our public health practices to make our lives better and safer. 

All this depends on us: first, by our commitment to one another by distancing; second, by our ability to hold our elected leaders accountable. For now, OSA will continue to follow the guidelines of the state. I encourage everyone else to do the same.

I am in recovery from my bout with Covid-19. Today, I graduate from quarantine to lockdown. I hope that I'm through my illness, and I hope I don't get it again! 

Today, this verse from the First Letter of John comes to mind: "Beloved, since God loves us so much, we also ought to love one another." Love casts out fear. It is a balm for grief and a path through depression. Don't forget that God loves you; don't forget to love one another.

Yours,

Pastor John

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March 20, 2020

Dear Family of God:

Everything has changed. Our lives have completely turned upside down. It’s too quiet in our neighborhood, too calm. But that is also good: perhaps we are beginning to mobilize and overcome this virus. 

I’d like to take a minute to pass along two important updates.

First, as of Sunday evening, March 22nd, all New Yorkers must stay at home except for exercise, groceries, and medical needs. Please familiarize yourself with the order. It definitely means there will be no church on the 22nd! We will try to stay abreast with all developments as they come. Remember, we’re all in this together. We will get through it together, and we will rebuild together. We can do this—together. In the meantime, it’s encouraging to hear the governor say that New York is now testing more people per capita than South Korea and China. Finding the virus and quarantining it is the key to overcoming it: and New York is finally doing that.

Second, OSA has taken steps to clean all public spaces according to CDC guidelines. Our custodial staff, Christopher and Lidia, deserve our thanks and gratitude for their very quick response. They used CDC approved materials in accordance to CDC guidelines. You can rest assured that common areas in the church are clean and ready for use, once the order is lifted.

The exception to this rule is the kitchen, which is being used by a guest whom we have been hosting in our hospitality suite for about a month and a half, since before the breakout occurred. The kitchen, however, will be cleaned every morning and evening according to CDC guidelines.

I have been staying home, as has my family. We have kept our distance from almost everybody. It’s a hard thing to do. We long to see others, but know it is safest for everyone to avoid one another. My chief symptom now is fatigue, which seems to come in cycles. According to the trajectory of the disease, I’m right in the middle of the hard part. I hope this is as bad as it gets for me—but please keep me in prayer. And not only me, but also my magnificent wife, who has been handling the bulk of the childcare and cooking. And please pray for all families who now have a positive case in their homes.

 

Clare and I also appreciate all the offers of help and food we have received. It’s been overwhelming and we feel so blessed and thankful. You are an amazing community—thank you.

It would be sad if we were the only ones who benefited this way. Please, if you need help, send Jane or me a note. We will safeguard your anonymity. If you’d like to offer help, send us a note. We will organize help as needed. 

OSA’s Executive Committee will meet over Zoom soon to discuss next steps. Right now we all need to hunker down and be patient with one another. Look for another interactive bulletin and taped sermon on Sunday. I have a couple other things up my sleeve that I’m looking forward to doing once I feel better.

Finally, some words to help us from St. Paul:
 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

We will overcome this evil by doing good. So please pray, especially for our government and those who protect us, and every single health care worker everywhere. If you are a nurse, doctor, aide, or any other kind of health care worker, God bless you and protect you, strengthen you, and defend you. Thank you for protecting us.

Pastor John

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February 26, 2020

Dear Friends,
 
Join us tonight for Ash Wednesday services at 7:30 p.m. After all, who else is going to tell you that you are going to die? It’s a truth we don’t want to hear. It’s hard to face, so we usually face away from it. But every now then the reality comes to us: this, all this beauty, all this wonder, will someday continue without us. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
 
It can be hard to hear, especially if you’ve just lost someone you love. It can be hard to say goodbye to someone and then, coming to church, hearing that you will have to say goodbye yourself. But it can also be a comfort to hear the truth. We are not gods. We are not angels. We are dust, human dust, and to dust we shall return.
 
But we hear another truth, another promise. It is God’s promise to us, that the dust God has breathed into life will be turned to new life. Jesus, having died, will never die again. So we join him in death, as he joined us in death, so that we may also join him in life, as he has risen from the dead. There is a love that undergirds all this beauty and wonder that passes on without us, and that love calls us, even from beyond the grave.
 
Hear it tonight, for the first time or the last, or any time between.

 Pastor John

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January 10, 2020

Dear Friends,

 

This Sunday marks one of the oldest feasts in the church calendar, the Baptism of Our Lord, which means, “Whoa! Jesus got baptized!” I remember when I first had to preach on this text—I was so confused. I know why I had to get baptized—why did Jesus, sinless and Son of God, have to get baptized?

 

Over time, I’ve found some answers to that question. Some seem satisfying at first and then less satisfying over time. But this year, I keep thinking of how the early church in places like Syria and Egypt that combined the celebration of Jesus’ birth and baptism into one great celebration on the 6th of January. I keep thinking about how I was taught, initially, to think about baptism—the binding of a person to God, making a person part of God’s family, the drowning of sin and death—and what seems to be going on in these old accounts—the revelation of God becoming human, the mark of the salvation of the cosmos, the casting down of idols, enlightenment. In other words, I was taught to think of baptism as God’s work on me, but now I’m beginning to think of baptism as that and more, God’s work on me as God works on everything, just as Jesus is my Savior and the Savior of the cosmos.

 

Or, as an old Christian letter put it: “This is he who was from the beginning, who appeared as if new, and was found old, and yet is ever born afresh in the hearts of the saints. This is he who, being from everlasting, is today called the Son; through whom the Church is enriched and grace, widely spread, increases in the saints, furnishing understanding, revealing mysteries, announcing times, rejoicing over the faithful, giving to those that seek…”

 

There’s more to our faith than just me and my relationship to God. In fact, something interesting happens once I let go of my grip on myself. I discover myself more as I see how God works everywhere, with everyone.

 

The Epiphany, the bright light of understanding, was sometimes the called the Theophany, the sight of God. If we want to see God, we must see the world as God does first— and that requires a lifting of a veil, new heart, new eyes—baptism. With a baptism, Jesus’ ministry begins, and so does ours. With baptism, Jesus is revealed as God’s child: and with baptism, so are we.

 

This is a great feast, and so come, for God invites you out into the adventure that awaits. My own confusion persists, but it is way more interesting than it was before.

 

Pastor John

 

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December 19, 2019

Dear Friends,

 

If you’ve come to church with us, you may have noticed a few things: our building doesn’t look like a normal church building, we’re a quirky bunch of people, and you never know what kind of art you’re going to see on the walls. Anything can happen here, and often does, because God is on the move among us. But one thing’s for sure:  if you come to OSA you will have noticed that we have lots of kids and wonderful music.

 

This Sunday we will feature both those things. In the morning, our kids will offer the Christmas Pageant during Sunday worship, and at 4:30 in the afternoon, our Choir will present a Festival of Lessons and Carols. It’s going to be a spectacular day at OSA—please come for all the fun. There will snacks after church and a reception after the festival, so be sure to bring both food and an appetite to share. The Choir will be featuring Vivaldi’s Gloria, the handbells will ring, and we have instrumentalists ranging from the dulcimer to the double bass.

 

This is the season in which our striving to connect with God changes from dissonance to harmony. I hope you can be part of it with us.

 

Pastor John

 

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December 13, 2019

Dear Friends,

 

If you’ve come to church with us, you may have noticed a few things: our building doesn’t look like a normal church building, we’re a quirky bunch of people, and you never know what kind of art you’re going to see on the walls. Anything can happen here, and often does, because God is on the move among us. But one thing’s for sure:  if you come to OSA you will have noticed that we have lots of kids and wonderful music.

 

This Sunday we will feature both those things. In the morning, our kids will offer the Christmas Pageant during Sunday worship, and at 4:30 in the afternoon, our Choir will present a Festival of Lessons and Carols. It’s going to be a spectacular day at OSA—please come for all the fun. There will be snacks after church and a reception after the festival, so be sure to bring both food and an appetite to share. The Choir will be featuring Vivaldi’s Gloria, the handbells will ring, and we have instrumentalists ranging from the dulcimer to the double bass.

 

This is the season in which our striving to connect with God changes from dissonance to harmony. I hope you can be part of it with us.

 

Pastor John

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December 5, 2019

Dear Friends,
 
I forgot to ask for your donations on Giving Tuesday. Well, I didn’t so much as forget as decide not to ask. Every time I think of Giving Tuesday, I think of a Black Friday scrum some years ago at what I believe was a Walmart. The doors opened, the crowd surged, and people died, trampled over by other people.  So we have, in one week, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday. The pause at Thanksgiving is a beautiful—feeling, that lull in activity, seeing the empty streets, the shuttered shops. Something, however briefly, matters more than commerce. But then the malls open, the traffic resumes. Then I catch myself Sunday night scrolling through the deals on my computer, beginning with things I need and ending with justifying my bank account to the things I want. Sometimes they are things I never knew I wanted until see them, in all their digital glory, in the beautiful glow of my computer screen.
 
I have thought of Giving Tuesday as an indulgence, a place you put your money to gain a reprieve of conscience. In my mind it looks like this: For 36 hours, you have enjoyed an orgy of spending: now please pay something to the National Resources Defense Council to mitigate whatever object lust you may have stoked. Perhaps it will allay some of the environmental damage done to make and ship the things you ordered, and rekindle a bit of reflection on the real meaning of life.
 
In that sense, I really can’t stand Giving Tuesday. It is an offense to the sensibility we try to develop as Christians, in which we encounter the complete self-giving of God at the Eucharistic table and in the effluence of Creation. It smacks of an attempt to buy virtue without changing character. It seems like a way charities, churches, and non-profits try to act like market actors when they are—or should be—alternatives to the ideology and practices of markets.
 
And yet. I need a pair of waterproof boots for hiking and getting around the city in rain and snow. Good ones don’t come cheap, but they are cheaper on Cybersale week at REI and Backcountry. Most of the outdoor equipment sellers include a button on their checkout page that asks for small donation to an environmental organization. You feel good because you’re getting something; it’s the holidays. Give a little.
 
I also read a story by a man who grew up poor. His family waited all year for Black Friday, because if they needed a fridge or a sofa, they couldn’t just go out and buy one. They had to save up and bide their time for the best price. Black Friday was important for his family. If they could save, and if they could get to the store, they could afford what they needed. And so he said, “Don’t be too hard on Black Friday doorbusters.” But yet isn’t that the point, too—why do the poor starve to bust the doors while the rich consume whenever they please?
 
Christians are supposed to give not just on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, but all the time. We are supposed to give because whatever we have does not truly belong to us: we are dust, the things are dust, and both we and the things we own will go down again into the dust. Whatever we have, we have received from the open hand of God. And so we, having received grace upon grace from God’s open hand, steward what God has given with our own hands, open and stretched out to anyone in need. We call this stewardship, and we are to see ourselves as stewards of the possessions of God. Giving builds our faith—giving helps us trust God, and is part of our formation into godliness.
 
It sounds nice. Sometimes it’s hard to remember when you are face to face with your wishlist on Amazon, or studying up on the New York Times best books of the year list. Or deleting email after email with great deals.
 
So we come to Advent, when we pray for the inbreaking of the kingdom of God in all our darkness. The lull of Thanksgiving, the freedom of not shopping, the delight of family, but most of all waiting for the presence of Christ, who fills all our needs, satisfies all our wants, and straightens all our warped desires.
 
Pastor John

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November 21, 2019

 

Dear Friends,
 
Thank you for coming to our Boiler Benefit—and for supporting our fundraising efforts to replace our boiler. For two and a half hours last Saturday night, our church was the coolest place in our neighborhood. Yes, there were keystone cops and 1920s characters, beautiful decorations, great food, plenty of wassail and cheer, and a sweet speakeasy. But it was the coolest place in our neighborhood because of all of you, who came together to support OSA and its work for the neighborhood, to celebrate our congregation and its ministry of welcome and hospitality to all. It’s fun to celebrate, and it’s especially fun to celebrate with your friends. And because of all of you, our event grossed $10,480! Now, we are working on tracking down one or two receipts, so the net will be less, but that’s a huge boost for us. So thank you so much—none of this could happen without all of you.
 
We remember another kind of celebration this Sunday—a celebration of passage. Luke tells us that after Jesus was crucified, he was lifted up before the crowd, who mocked him and encouraged him to save himself. Also they placed him between two criminals, on one his left, and one on his right. One of them mocked Jesus and laughed at him, again saying, “Save yourself and us!” It was quite a party, complete with sour wine. But the other criminal says, “…we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” It was a simple prayer, but made in faith. He saw, on the cross, the man who really could save him. The man who undergoing the same pain, the man also under the penalty of death, that was the man the criminal asked for help. He could have pleaded with the soldiers, who had weapons and authority because of them. He could have appealed to the crowd, who may have rioted on his behalf. But he didn’t. At this party, he pled with the object of scorn and derision and he put his faith in his promise: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
 
That party has not ended, and we, like the criminal place our faith in our crucified compatriot. We see ourselves in him. Our suffering, we see in him. Our estrangement, we see in him. But still, we see in him our hope, hope that God reigns over death, as well as life, and that nothing, nothing at all, can separate us from the love of God in that man, Christ Jesus. So we gather on Sundays to celebrate his presence among us and his promise to be with us in the feast of the eucharist. As Rowan Williams said, “We do not eucharistically remember a distant meal in Jerusalem, nor even a distant death: we are made ‘present to ourselves’ as people compilicit in the betrayal and death of Jesus yet still called and accepted, still companions of Christ in the strict sense—those who break bread with Him.” So come break bread with Jesus on Sunday.
 
Pastor John

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