Tag Archives: church

We Are the Church

I Corinthians 12:12-27
First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
22 March 2018
The Rev. W. Mark Koenig

We’ve never done it that way before. We’ve never done it that way before.

A minister comes to a new call direct from seminary with a fresh vision and untried ideas. A minister comes to a new call after years of experience in other have tested and reshaped vision and possibilities.

A Session meeting happens. With enthusiasm and handouts and video clips, the minister proposes a new program or a new way of doing ministry.

The people listen respectfully. The minister finishes. And silence ensues.

After what seems like an eternity, but is only 12.8 seconds, someone says, “Yeah … that’s interesting. We’ve never done it that way before.” And there the idea ends.

Today we worship in a way that at least I have never done before. As are congregations across the country and around the world we are finding new ways to live as church in the age of Covid-19. Ways we have never done before.

On this first day we worship apart, it seems essential to me to affirm that we are the church. On this day and on all the days ahead with whatever they may bring, we are the church.

As Paul reminded the followers of Jesus in Corinth, the church is first and foremost the Body of Christ. The people who have come to faith in Jesus and are bound together in his love and by God’s grace, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

When we are together, we are the Body of Christ. When we are apart, we are the Body of Christ. Everyone on this phone call. Everyone we can call to mind—in other parts of the country or around the world. People we have never met and will never know. All are part of the Body of Christ. All are the church.

We are the church. Things have changed in this age of Covid-19. It is odd to preach looking at a phone instead of people. Other changes may occur in the days ahead. We don’t know.

But we know we are the church.

We are the church. We love God. We gather to worship by conference call. We will continue to explore ways to worship. We pray. I am sending a daily email with some form of prayer or spiritual nurture. Let me know if you are not receiving that. Pray in other ways. Read Scripture. Meditate. Sing. Sing as if no one is listening, goes an old saying. We can do that now. Find whatever ways keep you connected to God.

We are the church. We love neighbors. For those who can stay home, we love our neighbors by sitting on our couch. For those who have to go out, we show our love in the steps we take to show love and protect ourselves and others. For all of us, love is shown when we wash our hands and cover our mouths.

As we physically distance ourselves from one another, it is crucial that we socially connect. My friends Stephen and Laura learned of a family struggling to make ends meet. They shared the concern anonymously on Facebook and raised over $700 in small gifts. Susan is sewing face masks for a friend who is a nurse. We are going to ramp up our Flock program this week with Deacons and Elders checking on congregation members.

We can connect with family and friends. Call. Text. Send a card. I have four friends who are now working at home and caring for children. They feel a tad overwhelmed. I send them a simple text each week—no great solutions, just a  reminder that I am thinking of them. Facebook has issues but it is a way to remain in touch with each other and a broader community. Rex is willing to help you if you want to learn more about using Facebook. If we are financially able, we might consider buying a gift certificate at one of our favorite restaurants.

We can advocate for governments to respond to hateful, racist acts against Asian Americans. We can call the federal government to ensure that relief measures benefit people in need as well as corporations. We can prepare for the conversations that will be needed as our country recovers and restructures when the age of Covid-19 ends.

Keep looking for random acts of kindness and organized acts of justice that keep us socially connected while we physically distance ourselves.

We are the church. We love ourselves. We take care of ourselves. We ask for and accept help when we need it. If you need help, contact me or another member and we will do what we can. During the PAUSE as our governor calls us, learm something new. Practice a hobby. Laugh. Cry when tears are needed. Grieve when grief comes. Exercise. That gets tough. It’s 30 steps for a lap across and back my apartment. That’s 333 steps to get to 10,000. When I told my friend and trainer Nicole, she said: this is a perfect time to finally do those stretches I taught you. Eat well. Take a nap. Forgive someone. Forgive yourself. Give thanks to God daily.

We are the church. Much has changed. More will change. But we are the church.

There is a scene in The Lord of the Rings where Frodo, the hobbit, reflects on the challenges facing the community as he talks to Gandalf the wizard.

“I wish this need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for us to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

I certainly wish Covid-19 had not happened. I wish it had not happened in my time. But it has. It is. This is the time we have been given.

We decide what we do with this time. But we do not decide alone. Wherever we are and however we gather as the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone, we are the Body of Christ, bound together with followers of Jesus around the world. Jesus is with us. We are the church. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone, New York

Now available: Healing Our Broken Humanity

51cLCp75G0L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In a world torn by division and conflict, how can we seek peace and reconciliation? In Healing Our Broken Humanity, Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Graham Hill explore Christian practices that can allow individuals and communities was to pursue reconciliation, justice, peace, and love. The book provides theological reflections on nine practices that can help heal our broken humanity. Each chapter includes questions for thought and discussion and suggestions for activities to explore further the ideas presented. Appendices include additional resources for engagement. Kim and Hill have provided a significant, practical resource for the church.

Healing Our Broken Humanity is now available from the publisher or on Amazon. You can also ask your local independent bookstore to order copies as well.

Enjoy this important book!

See you along the Trail.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Friends

Healing Our Broken Humanity

IMG_8004 (1024x768)I’m looking forward to reading Healing Our Broken Humanity, the new book written by my friend Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Graham Hill. It’s currently number two on my reading list.

You can read it too, ordering from the publisher or on Amazon.

Check out this reflection on the book originally posted in Outreach Magazine. And here’s a podcast featuring Grace talking about the book that originally appeared on Spirituality for Ordinary People.

I’ll post more about it as I read.

See you along the Trail.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Current Events, Friends

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Antiracism, Books, Easter, 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.

Leave a comment

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

What We Need To Hear

Larissa Kwong Abazia, Vice-Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) reflects on what the story of an interaction between a Syrophoenician woman and Jesus teaches the church today.

What We Need To Hear.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Show up for each other

The Rev. Dr. Neal Presa, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) participated in the orientation for Presbyterian delegation to the 58th Session to the Commission on the Status of Women.

After being in New York, he flew to Whitworth University in Spokane, WA for the Third Moderator’s Conversation on Unity with Difference on Race, Gender, and Religious Differences.

The Rev. Laura Mariko Cheifetz was among the speakers at the conversation. As always, Laura made an insightful, challenging, hopeful presentation on Power and the Black-White Binary: Forging Authentic Church Identities in the Midst of White Supremacy, Patriarchy, and Being “Other Asian”.

Laura provides the following summary of her presentation:

Being church together is challenged by the ways in which various church communities and individual church members interact with power based on race and gender, not to mention class status and regional identity. The church, particularly the PC(USA), includes people with diverse capacities for a real conversation. Through exploring the place of Asian Pacific Islander Americans (who in the PC(USA) can check either “Korean” or “Other Asian” for demographic information on some forms) and others dislocated by the black-white binary in church and U.S. society, together we seek a way to move forward toward being a church that allows for complexities of identity and addresses real inequalities.
A couple of passages should encourage you to read the whole presentation:
Race and gender themselves are not the problems obstructing unity. The problems here are racism and sexism. Who we are isn’t the problem, but how we live into oppressive constructs that separate us from one another is. What I will say this morning is part of a longer conversation we in the church need to have with one another, because even though we have been in this conversation for decades, we have yet to diminish our capacity to sin when it comes to relationship with one another.
Our conversation cannot depend upon a generic experience of racism (usually defined by blackness) or sexism (usually defined by middle-aged white women) imposed upon other experiences. Racism is not just about color. It is also about language, culture, colonialism, national origin, and citizenship status. Sexism is not just about how many women get to be heads of staff of tall steeple churches or directors of church agencies. It is about how we continue to think about gender identity and gender roles, and how those thoughts are embedded in our culture and our policies. It is about earning potential; church policies around work hours, compensation, and family leave; about how well churches minister to the lived realities of women in their employ and women who choose to be part of churches. It is about the culture of church leading change in the culture of this country instead of propping up legal and cultural patriarchy.
 
Social issues are theological. It is a theological problem if Christians believe employment opportunity for those with varying levels of education, immigration, the criminal justice system, gun control, political gerrymandering, disenfranchisement, voter ID laws, the financial services sector, hunger, poverty, and economic inequality are not the business of the church. These are things that have a disproportionate impact on the lives of people of color. These are the problems that keep us from attaining a shot at racial justice. These are the problems that shape our lives because we’re always negotiating with banks to allow our in-laws to keep their homes, or finding lawyers so our mothers can stay in the country, or finding people to write letters attesting to the character of our wrongfully accused sons, or looking for ways to feed our families. We have to worry about elected officials who don’t look like us or care about our communities. This takes up a lot of time and energy, and it is our faith that keeps us going. These are the circumstances we bring with us to church every single Sunday.
Laura also identifies resources for further conversations:
I have read Laura’s presentation several times. I will read it several more as I seek ways to respond to her invitation and challenge:
So if we of varying races, genders, and religious groups show up for each other, and if we of varying spiritual gifts show up for each other, maybe that is a way of finding how to be authentically church. Maybe that is how we can create change.
See you along the Trail.

Leave a comment

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