from Pastor's desK
February 23, 2024
Everywhere you look, you’ll see crosses. On buildings, around necks, on T-shirts, tattooed on every patch of skin imaginable. It’s become a brand, a decoration, as innocuous and uninteresting as the logos of sports teams, and just as unimportant.
We should sometimes take a minute to think about the cross, and why an instrument of torture and terror now often hangs, encrusted in diamonds, around the necks of people gyrating and singing about sex and drugs. How did this happen?
This week, we get the story of Jesus telling the disciples that he is going to be crucified. Peter, who got that name (which should probably be translated as 'Rock' or ‘Rocky’, but that’s for another blurb) because he was the first to recognize and confess that Jesus is the Messiah, was so mad he started telling Jesus that he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t go to the cross—it would be a scandal, a failure. Not to mention, it would be an excruciating death.
And that was the point of the cross—it was a method of execution that took days, while keeping the victims in horrible, suffocating pain. The corpses of the dead would stand in the sun, ravaged by wild animals, so that the population would be reminded: Rome is in charge. Toe the line, or end up like this. The cross, in other words, is no place for a Messiah, but it was the place Jesus was deciding to go. It was the consequence of a way of life—and it was also the way that Peter died, too, although legend has it that he requested to be crucified upside down, so as not to be equated with Jesus, which is positively the most Peter thing of all time. But you’ll hear Jesus in Scripture tell his disciples to take up their crosses.
The cross means suffering. It means sacrifice. It means choosing a different way of life. And at Lent, it’s a reminder that God marked us with an indelible cross, one that cannot be seen on our flesh, but instead is a fire in our soul that cannot be quenched. Lent is a time for us to look around for that dusty cross that maybe we packed in the closet, maybe put down out of shame or fear, and take it up again.
If it weren't for the inoculation of culture, I think the cross would be as weird today as it was in Jesus’ time. Because what it means is the same: all this stuff, this whole rat race toward popularity and wealth, which has been goal of civilization for millennia, is condemned still by the one person who claims victory over the cross. For those of us who want to wear a cross, we should also think about what a cross means, and the way of life that leads to it.
See you soon,
February 22, 2022
Tonight at 7 pm we begin our Thursday evening Lenten series, Mothers of the Faith. We begin with Mary, Mother of our Lord. We’re going to explore why, exactly, we remember her, what’s important about her, and how she remains an example for our own lives. Hint: it’s about what she does and the choices she makes, more than what she does not do. Her scriptural story is more interesting than we may realize, and I’m really looking forward to exploring her story with you.
Please bring a snack/dessert to share, if you’d like, or a beverage. This isn’t dinner church, but we will have some time for discussion around tables.
Also, if you would like for us to get childcare, I’ll do my best to make that happen, too. Please let me know.
February 16, 2024
I’m excited for this Sunday—it’s the First Sunday in Lent, which always features the temptation of Jesus. This is typically an exciting story, almost like a vision quest. Jesus goes out into the wilderness for a long period, to the point of famishment. Then, when he is weak, Satan comes to test him. This year we’re encountering Mark’s rendition, which is typically sparse and understated. Mark doesn’t mention what the temptations were—he just says Jesus was "in the wilderness for forty days, was tested by Satan, and was with the wild beasts, and the angels waited on him.”
It’s striking how often Jesus goes to the wilderness. He is often found there, praying and resting. In fact, his disciples search him out there. They wake up and can’t find him. I can imagine them standing around with coffee and saying, “Anybody see Jesus? No? Check the garden? Must be in the wilderness.” Then everybody sighs and divvies up search parties and spends the day hiking around in the brambles and the bushes and keeping an eye out for snakes, until they find Jesus, maybe on a rock or in a high place, and he slides down, brushes off his hands, and says, “Ok! On to the next town."
What is the wilderness? In our mind we often think of it as a place untouched by human activity, pure, pristine. This is true in some cases—but human beings have touched every part of this planet in some way, and one of the ways colonialists of every kind have treated their further neighbors is to say that they lived in the wilderness. Of course, those folks didn’t think of living in the wilderness, but as living in their home. The American West is very much like this—as the white settlers moved West, they erased the idea of people having a home in the lands they possessed. Those lands were home—to the Cheyenne, the Lakota, the Pawnee, the Utes, the Apache. The land as such, was a home for the people who became accustomed to living there.
Most places on the Earth have had human occupation, save the very extreme places. I have heard that the aboriginal people of Australia say the land needs the people—perhaps that is another way of saying that humans belong to the Earth. Scripture, in its wisdom, calls the first human being Adam: which means Earthling. The second story of creation shows God scooping up dirt and breathing life into it—the ruddy color of dirt taking life. Both stories show the human beings living in comfort and in harmony with creation, friends with the animals, living lightly on the Earth.
This reading from Mark is remarkable because it says that after the temptation, Jesus was with the wild animals—meaning that he was living as Adam and Eve. Mark gives us a little window into the purpose of God—that Jesus does not just reconcile humanity to himself but reconciles all creation with itself and with God.
If anyone ever asks why Christians care about the Earth, that story should suffice. God recognizes the strife of creation, our human estrangement from the materials that make us, and through Christ, directs us to living, not just in harmony, but in friendship in the earth.
See you soon,
February 9, 2024
Next Friday is the final day to sign up for Lutheran Ministries in Higher Education’s Trivia Night! OSA generally sends a team, captained by Diane Schneck, for a fun-filled fundraiser that supports the work of Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Methodist ministries to college students.
Lutheran Campus Ministry made a huge difference in my own life. They were there when I arrived at college, and I met lifelong friends at dinners, Bible studies, and church trips. We went on Spring Break trips to South Carolina and Colorado to do Habitat For Humanity builds, we hung out on retreats, and most importantly, we worshipped and prayed together every week. I would not be the person I am today without that ministry. It was where my call to ministry was solidified, and it provided me with mentors and people to emulate as I began my own career.
The problem with Campus Ministry is that it can’t fund itself. College kids aren’t exactly swimming in cash. I got mugged once in Chicago, and when the person opened my wallet, he saw my last three dollars, literally all the money I had to my name, and he said, “Is that it?” Yeah, that was it. Some students have even less. LMHE, our city's Lutheran Campus Ministry, operates a food pantry for college students, which also provides hygienic products and other necessities for college kids’ lives, but all of its support has to come from someplace else, and that someplace, generally, are the congregations of the ELCA, and the Metropolitan New York Synod, where OSA is found.
So if you’re looking for a fun Friday night out, consider joining the OSA Trivia Team on February 23rd. E-mail Jane to join the team—who knows, if we get enough folks, we could get two teams together! Your support will feed a hungry student, pay for the Pastor Becca's salary so she can minister to the students, and help the program survive. Your support, in other words, can change a life.
If you can’t change lives via trivia, you can change lives by donating here, at LMHE’s website, thevinenyc.org.
Speaking of changed lives, this Sunday at OSA is Domingo Gorda—Transfiguration Sunday! Keith has got a nice jazz band put together, and we’ll be breaking out the old time hymns and songs. There will dancing in the aisles, and most wonderful of all, God’s voice, which will say of Jesus, “This is my beloved.” Love and harmony, that’s what’s up this weekend—bring a dish to share and don’t forget to clap on 2 and 4.
February 2, 2024
This week we get one of my favorite passages in the Gospels: Jesus’s healed Peter’s mother-in-law! Yes, you read that right, Peter, the precursor to the Pope, was married! He probably had kids; he was a family man. It tells you just how much the disciples sacrificed to follow Jesus, as well as shining a spotlight on enforced celibacy in the clergy, or on anyone for that matter. But anyway, Jesus went to Peter’s mother-in-law because she was very sick. He went there after preaching on the sabbath and casting out a demon. There’s a lot of interesting things to notice in this story: Simon (he got his new name Peter later) and Andrew invited Jesus to come into their own home after Sabbath service. There is a very old house just steps away from the ancient synagogue in Capernaum that became a church during the Byzantine era: this is possibly Simon’s house. In that little place, Jesus took his mother-in-law by the hand cast out her fever, and she got up and began to serve him. Then, once the sun went down, the whole village brought their sick and their possessed and Jesus spent all night healing and casting out demons.
I find it touching that Jesus didn’t just wave his arms and cure the whole village at once. Instead he went one by one. He wanted to touch every person, examine every person. He wanted each person to believe in him, to see him, to touch him back. They breathed together in the same room, they trembled with hope and happiness and relief, the possessed stood and were freed. I imagine that as a night full of wonder, of tears of joy, witnessing the beauty of God’s power and love.
In that time, there was an evening service in Jewish homes when the Sabbath was over called Havdalah—a service still celebrated today, although I don’t know if it’s the same service. In the time of Jesus, this service celebrated God’s creation of the world and victory over demonic forces. And in this picture of Jesus, we see God’s beauty, the beauty of creating anew and setting things free. The power of the Creator God is fully present in Jesus, in his touch, in his breath, in his word. And that power is manifest as kindness, care, tenderness, and in the joyful welcome of one who believes.
The signs and wonders that appeared that night were signs of peace and the wonders of love. Many centuries later Capernaum was abandoned, and now it’s torn in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian West Bank. That night of peace remains only as memory and hope. But that night did pass, and the people who witnessed it committed themselves to follow Jesus—including Peter’s mother-in-law. And I think anyone who hopes for peace, anyone who holds fast to the promised power of Jesus’s touch, can become servants of peace, just as Jesus’s disciples were. Our own homes, our apartments, can be similar places, where the wonder of God With Us becomes known, a sign of a better way of life.
I hope your own home becomes a holy place, a place of welcome and healing, and place where the touch of Christ is welcomed with joy.