Category Archives: Lent

Tonight We Remember

An Ash Wednesday sermon – February 17, 2021
preached at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone, Queens

Beloved people of God,
every year at Easter
we celebrate the new possibilities
God provides through the life, the death,
and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
During Lent, we prepare for this celebration
and the renewal it brings to our lives.

For many years we have begun
Our Lenten journey with ashes,
often made by burning the palms from the year before.
Mixed with a little oil,
the ashes are traced on our foreheads
in the sign of a cross.

This year we physically distance
while we spiritually gather one Christ,
I, as the pastor, will not impose ashes.
If you have received ashes
in the congregation’s Lenten worship bag or
if you have gathered “loose dust” from in or around your home,
and you would like to use the dust or ash
to make the sign of the cross  
on your head or hand,
we will pause to allow you to do that.
We will take a minute of silence,
which my friend the Rev. Dr. Claudio Carvalhaes reminds us
is an eternity of silence for Presbyterians.
You may also decide to impose the sign of the cross
later in the service – when the sermon gets boring, for example.

Whether we impose the sign of the cross or not,
dust and ashes will play a role in our service.
I invite you to take the ashes you received
or the loose dust you have gathered.
If you have neither, image ashes and dust you have seen.
Look at them.
Consider them.
Think about one of their functions
in Ash Wednesday services.

Ashes, loose dust
jog our memories.
They help us remember what is;
they help us remember what will be.

Tonight we remember.

We remember our mortality.
From dust God makes us.
In the marvelous words of James Weldon Johnson:
Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
God kneeled down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth;
This Great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till God shaped it in God’s own image;
Then into it God blew the breath of life,
And the human became a living soul.

We come from dust.
To dust we will return.
We are mortal. Limited. Finite.
One day our time on earth will end
our race will finish,
our part in God’s great story will close,
the final curtain will fall

and God will welcome us.

Tonight we remember.
We remember our need for repentance.
We remember how we fall short.
How we hurt one another.
How we tolerate social injustice.
How we wound God’s good creation.
How by our actions
and by our failures to act,
we break the heart of God.
We remember our need to turn and follow Jesus Christ
more faithfully this and every day.

Tonight we remember.
We remember those who have gone before us.
We remember people we knew and loved fiercely.
We remember people we never met but whose stories we have learned.
We remember people whose stories have never been told.
In this age of COVID-19, we remember countless people,
who have died from this pandemic.
We remember people killed by the state and racism.
People whose God-given breath was taken from them.
Whether we remember names or not,
we remember each person was and is a beloved child of God,

Tonight we remember.
the unending mercy of God,
the unbreakable grace of God,
the unflagging patience of God.
We remember the incredible love of God
who refuses to give up on us,
and who persistently awaits our return
eager to pour the Holy Spirit afresh upon us
that we might make a fresh start.

Tonight we remember.
that Lent is a time to give up.
Perhaps, like my friend the Rev. Gradye Parsons,
we make a supreme spiritual sacrifice
and give up kale.
More realistically, we seek to give up
that which truly separates and distracts us from God.

Tonight we remember.
that Lent is a time to stand up.
A time to
remove all yokes of injustice,
disrupt prejudice and systems of oppression,
feed the hungry,
clothe the naked,
visit the sick and the imprisoned
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted.
A time to:
raise the foundations of many generations
repair breaches
restore the streets.
Following Jesus, we stand up in Lent.
We stand up to love.

Tonight, my friend the Rev. Shawna Bowman reminds me,
that as we begin the Lenten journey
of repenting and turning back to God
of prayer and fasting
of commemorating Jesus’ journey to death – and beyond,
we remember.
We “are all made from the same dust
That busted forth at the birthplace of creation,
And [we] belong, In life and in death,
to the one who calls [us] beloved.
[We] belong to God.”
And whatever challenges life brings
and however we may fall short,
God, who raises Jesus from the dead,
will have the final word.
And God’s word will be a word of
love and
life and
hope and
joy.

Tonight we remember.
Thanks be to God.

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Filed under Easter, First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone, Lent

So, dusty

Friends –
we are dust.
But do you not know
have you not seen
what the Holy One
can do with dust?
All of creation
every blessed creature,
every amazing facet,
every wonderful human being
you and me and all of us,
made from dust by God.
Made from dust and beloved of God.
So Dusty, if I may call us each that.
Go Dusty,
go and live.
Go and love kindness.
Go and do justice.
Go and walk this Lenten journey humbly with God.
Know, Dusty, that
the love of God
the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
and the peace and fellowship of the Holy Spirit
are with us now and forever.
Amen.
17 February 2021
inspired by a blessing from Jan Richardson

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Are you from Pittsburgh?

Looking at Pittsburgh with Mr. Rogers.
“Excuse me. Are you from Pittsburgh?” the woman spoke gently.
 
“Lenore is,” Charles replied.
 
“We heard you talking about Pittsburgh,” the woman said, gesturing to the radiant, bald, younger woman with whom she shared the table.
 
Of course they heard us. It’s New York. Restaurants put tables pretty much on top of one another.
 
Lenore Williams had come from Pittsburgh to New York. She arranged to meet Charles Atkins Jr and me to talk about the Presbyterian Church’s Freedom Rising Initiative to address the impact of racism on African-American men.
 
We met at the TGIFridays in Penn Station. Charles’ son is playing in one of the New Jersey state basketball championship semifinal games tonight. This location made it easy for him to join us and then to get home for the game.
 
We talked about the work being done by the Presbytery of Pittsburgh and by the Presbytery of New York City. We explored how the presbyteries might support one another and partner for effetive ministry.
 
Our conversation touched on the city of Pittsburgh. Lenore lived there almost all her life; Charles had recently been there for a meeting; part of my childhood was spent on Neville Island.
 
After a fruitful conversation, and when we finished our meal, Charles stood to leave for his son’s basketball game. That’s when the woman stood, took the half step needed to cross the aisle in the restaurant and spoke.
 
“My daughter Erin goes to school outside Pittsburgh,” she informed us. We smiled at Erin who sat with her back to the wall. It appeared she was returning to Pittsburgh. She had her suitcase with her.
 
“We heard you praying,” the woman stated. “Erin has cancer. We were wondering. Would you pray with her?”
 
We would. We did.
 
Lenore and I stood beside Charles. Erin and her mother stood. We joined hands and prayed.
 
We prayed for Erin. For healing. For strength. For courage. For grace.
 
We prayed for Erin’s mother and family. For Erin’s friends. For the medical personnel who care for her.
 
When we finished, we realized we had blocked the aisle. We moved so others who had waited patiently, at least outwardly, could get by.
 
A woman stepped around us toward the exit. Our eyes locked for a moment. She must have been allergic to something in the restaurant because moisture rimmed her eyes, a little bit leaking out of one corner.
 
The restaurant’s host came from the other direction. He had been a tad grumpy when we asked for more napkins. Now a grin stretched from ear to ear. “Thank you,” he said. “That was wonderful. Thank you.”
 
Erin and her mother thanked us. Hugs were shared, by all save one person. I did smile a lot and shake everyone’s hand.
 
We are made from dust. And to the dust we will all return. But until we do, moments of grace will find us. Thanks be to God.
 
New York, New York
7 March 2019

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Filed under Food, Friends, Lent, Presbytery of New York City

Purple flowers guest collection #81

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25 March 2018
First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
Whitestone, New York

The congregation celebrated the beginning of my ministry today with a meal
after the worship service. The flowers on the table were purple.

Photo by Sera Chung

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Filed under First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone, Friends, Lent, Photo

Easter 2017

lenten-reflections-on-the-confession-of-belhar“Brokenness, disunity, and hatred are evident all over the planet. The world needs the witness Belhar calls the church to live out in the world. The church’s primary responsibility is to love God so fully that God’s saving presence shines through her like light in the midst of darkness. The church then becomes a beacon of hope, a lighthouse on the shore of a storm-tossed sea. By confessing, internalizing, and living out the principles of Belhar in her own experience, the church positions herself to become what Henri Nouwen calls, ‘a wounded healer.'”
Mark Lomax
Lenten Reflections on the Confession of Belhar

Christ is risen! Christ’s proclamation that God loves us and Christ’s call to love God and one another provide words of hope in this broken and fearful world.

This Lenten season have used a new resource to explore the Belhar Confession: Lenten Reflections on the Confession of Belhar, edited by Kerri N. Allen and Donald K. McKim. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in which I serve as a teaching elder (pastor), added the Confession of Belhar to our Book of Confessions in 2016. This confession came from the Dutch Reformed Mission Church during its historic struggle against apartheid in South Africa. I am grateful to Kerri and Donald and all the authors.

See you along the Trail.

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Filed under Antiracism, Books, Easter, Lent, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Lent 2017, day 46

lenten-reflections-on-the-confession-of-belhar“… Belhar claims the one God, revealed in Jesus Christ and present through the Holy Spirit, will be present and active when human lives are demeaned, threatened by violence, hemmed in, and held down by law, tradition, and institutional racism.”
John M. Buchanan
Lenten Reflections on the Confession of Belhar

This Lenten season I am using a new resource to explore the Belhar Confession: Lenten Reflections on the Confession of Belhar, edited by Kerri N. Allen and Donald K. McKim. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in which I serve as a teaching elder (pastor), added the Confession of Belhar to our Book of Confessions in 2016. This confession came from the Dutch Reformed Mission Church during its historic struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

See you along the Trail.

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Filed under Antiracism, Books, Lent, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Lent 2017, day 45

lenten-reflections-on-the-confession-of-belhar“The mind of Christ joins us to Belhar’s great themes, struggling toward visible unity and reconciliation as we stand by the suffering. Many of us have great privilege, thanks to the color of our skin, the families of our birth, the value of our education, and the esteem of our professions. Others of us have less privilege, and face challenges the more privileged can only imagine. Still, nearly all of us have some privilege in some given context.

“No matter our privilege, the gospel calls us to use our power to follow Jesus Christ. He gave up his power in order to serve, so that one day every knee should bend and every tongue confess that he is Lord.

“What does this look like in your world?”
Charles B. Hardwick
Lenten Reflections on the Confession of Belhar

This Lenten season I am using a new resource to explore the Belhar Confession: Lenten Reflections on the Confession of Belhar, edited by Kerri N. Allen and Donald K. McKim. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in which I serve as a teaching elder (pastor), added the Confession of Belhar to our Book of Confessions in 2016. This confession came from the Dutch Reformed Mission Church during its historic struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

See you along the Trail.

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Filed under Antiracism, Books, Lent, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Lent 2017, day 44

lenten-reflections-on-the-confession-of-belhar“The calling upon our lives is to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). Yet how can we do this when evil besets us, injustices overtake us, and the lives of black and brown folk are under attack? As we wander in the wilderness with Jesus during this Lent, there is a litany of names we could call right now as we wrestle with the militarization of the police–the names of boys and girls, and men and women who have been killed by police officers; and the names of unarmed people whose crime was being black. Additionally, the violence in our nation and the unattended spiritual and mental care of folks has precipitated last summer’s killing of police officers and members of the LGBTQ community at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando, Florida. … Belhar offers us insight on how to facilitate reconciliation and stand in solidarity with the oppressed.”
Floretta Watkins
Lenten Reflections on the Confession of Belhar

This Lenten season I am using a new resource to explore the Belhar Confession: Lenten Reflections on the Confession of Belhar, edited by Kerri N. Allen and Donald K. McKim. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in which I serve as a teaching elder (pastor), added the Confession of Belhar to our Book of Confessions in 2016. This confession came from the Dutch Reformed Mission Church during its historic struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

See you along the Trail.

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Filed under Antiracism, Books, Lent, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Lent 2017, day 43

lenten-reflections-on-the-confession-of-belhar“The church is not gilded sanctuaries, stained glass windows, padded pews, cushy carpets, table, and font. The church is people from every nation, culture, and ethnicity who (1) call on and believe in God through Christ; (2) are consequently filled with God’s Spirit and led by God’s word to light candles in the shadows of life; (3) live among and act in unity with people who’ve been abandoned, pushed to the margins of society, and disenfranchised; and (4) advocate for justice on the steps of the courthouse or the statehouse, serving the present age in ways that reconcile disparate peoples and groups.”
Mark Lomax
Lenten Reflections on the Confession of Belhar

This Lenten season I am using a new resource to explore the Belhar Confession: Lenten Reflections on the Confession of Belhar, edited by Kerri N. Allen and Donald K. McKim. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in which I serve as a teaching elder (pastor), added the Confession of Belhar to our Book of Confessions in 2016. This confession came from the Dutch Reformed Mission Church during its historic struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

See you along the Trail.

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Filed under Antiracism, Books, Lent, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Uncategorized

Lent 2017, day 42

lenten-reflections-on-the-confession-of-belhar“If we do nothing, singing along with the strains of subjugation, we are complicit with the sins of an unchristian ideology and doctrine. Worse yet, we compose new refrains that reinforce the symphony of domination by pretending that all is well.” With what voice is Christ’s church called to sing?

“We are called to sing faith-filled, new creation, jubilee songs. When we sing a new song, we discover that we sing in Isaiah’s Peaceable Realm Choir–the Beloved Community Chorus of Jesus.”
H. David Stewart
Lenten Reflections on the Confession of Belhar

This Lenten season I am using a new resource to explore the Belhar Confession: Lenten Reflections on the Confession of Belhar, edited by Kerri N. Allen and Donald K. McKim. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in which I serve as a teaching elder (pastor), added the Confession of Belhar to our Book of Confessions in 2016. This confession came from the Dutch Reformed Mission Church during its historic struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

See you along the Trail.

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Filed under Antiracism, Books, Lent, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)