Tag Archives: covid-19

Breath, Fire, Witness

101362404_10157797057209440_9130668230082297856_nPentecost.

God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.

Chaos and excitement.

The birth of the church.

Through the years, Pentecost worship services sought to capture the excitement of the day.

Red paraments. Red stoles. Red clothes.

One year each person at worship received a roll of crepe paper—red, yellow or orange. At the appropriate moment, they tossed their roll into the air creating a cascade of fire colors.

Another year we stationed large fans in the sanctuary corners. Turned on when the scripture reading mentioned wind. Some ideas work better than others.

Worshipers were given homemade pompoms with the instructions to wave them whenever the preacher said, “Holy Spirit.” Pinwheels played the same role one year.

A djembe drummer began a slow, soft cadence at the beginning of the scripture reading. The drumming increased in volume and became wildly uninhibited as the story continued reaching a climax when the crowd said in the followers of Jesus were drunk.

Every Pentecost service differed slightly from every other. Every Pentecost service contained similar themes.

Today’s Pentecost service is the most different Pentecost service I have experienced. But those themes remain.

Breath.

Fire.

Witness.

The Greek word “pneuma” that is used in the Pentecost story is related to the Hebrew word “ruah”. In each language, the word is closely linked to wind, spirit, and breath.[i]

Let’s think in terms of breath today.

Breath keeps us alive. Indeed, it gives us life. According to the account of creation found in Genesis 2, God formed the human creature from the dust of the ground. And then God breathed life into the creature.[ii]

Breath gives life. Sustains life. Provides life. It is a reflex process, one of our most natural abilities.[iii] Until it is not. The age of COVID-19 has taught us that.

As the Rev. Angela Denker of Minneapolis notes, “People who die of Covid often die because they can’t breathe, the virus engulfing their lungs and suffocating them. Sometimes a machine breathes for them, for long enough that their lungs can heal and gather strength again.”[iv]

When we go out, we wear masks. They provide a measure of protection to the people we meet in the event we have coronavirus either with or without symptoms. They also offer a smaller measure of protection to us, the person wearing the mask.[v] As we breathe in and even more so as we breathe out, the mask reduces the number of air droplets that may contain germs.

Last Monday we received another startling, sobering reminder of the importance of breath.

“I can’t breathe.”

The Washington Post reports that “On May 25, Minneapolis resident George Floyd was pinned facedown on the ground, in handcuffs, by a white police officer who pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. He was unresponsive when paramedics arrived, and he was pronounced dead later.”[vi]

Under that knee, bearing the full weight of white supremacy culture, racism, and prejudice George Floyd died. Among his final words, “I can’t breathe.” The same words uttered by Eric Garner, who died in a chokehold on Staten Island almost six years ago in an encounter that was also captured on video.[vii]

The racism that claimed the lives of George Floyd and Eric Garner; the racism that that threatened the life of Christian Cooper in the Bramble and claimed the lives of Breonna Taylor in Louisville and Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia and Tony McDade in Tallahassee and so many other black and brown people in so many places; that racism has been present in this country since its beginning. Racism has always contaminated the air we breathe. Writing from Minneapolis a few days ago, Angela Denker notes that we cannot ignore the “death in the air any longer. It burns bright orange.”[viii]

Fire.

In Minneapolis and St. Paul, people took to the streets to protest the killing of George Floyd. In Louisville, people took to the streets to protest the killing of Breonna Taylor. In New York and cities across the country, people took to the streets to stand in solidarity, to protest other killings, and to protest the existing impacts of racism on black people and people of color. Those impacts are seen in who is imprisoned; who has more wealth; who has better jobs. Efforts to make it more difficult to vote appear to focus on black people and other people of color.[ix] Racism appears in the age of COVID-19. Blacks and Latinx/Hispanics die in disproportionate numbers of the disease. People who continue to work during the pandemic, often in less safe conditions, are black and brown. “African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer,” states Kareem Abdul-Jabar.[x]

This underlying reality, when combined with over acts of violence, leads people to protest. Most protest is peaceful. Some is not. Some is met with overt  violence by police. Sometimes agent provocateurs incite and commit violence to discredit the legitimate protest or for other reasons.[xi] Sometimes all that happens at the same time. And sometimes it leads to fire. In Minneapolis. Louisville. New York. Philadelphia.

Angry fire, purifying fire, destructive fire. Different, on first glance, from the holy fire that brought understanding and unification on Pentecost. Yet the hope remains that God, who raised Jesus from the dead, can take flames of death and transform fire into new life and hope for the future. Phoenix-like, from the flames and ash, by God’s grace, new life may emerge.[xii] God does new things. We have witnessed resurrection before. We will witness God’s marvelous acts again.

Witness.

Jesus commissions his followers to be witnesses.[xiii] To bear witness to what God has done, is doing, and will do in Jesus Christ.

Witness, Dr. Eric Barreto of Princeton Seminary, reminds us is not just about our words or even our tweets.[xiv] Dr. Barreto notes that the kind of witness Jesus calls for involves seeing and listening. Witness trusts the testimony of people who have been oppressed, even when there is no video to view. Witness believes people who have been harmed.[xv]

Witness holds the hand and looks into the eyes of someone who is dying, not as a spectator, but as people whose lives are intertwined. Witness also leads us to stand with people who are oppressed.

Witness marches on the streets. Votes with love. And advocates with those who are elected.

As followers of Jesus, we bear witness to an innocent man crucified by the empire. It seems important this week to remember that crucifixion killed by putting the weight of the body on the person’s chest so that the person … Jesus … could not breathe.[xvi]

After the wind. After the fire. The followers of Jesus witnessed. They told the crowd in Jerusalem what they had seen and heard and learned with Jesus. Luke included that long list of peoples and places in this passage for a reason. And it was not to make life difficult for Eric or whoever reads the lesson aloud. It to say that the Holy Spirit is for all the world. For everyone. As Dr. Shively Smith of the Boston University School of Theology, puts it: on Pentecost all “nations heard the gospel preached in all the many languages that … reflect the glory of the God who created and sustains them all.[xvii]

Pentecost reminds us that the God who created the world inhabits the breath and speech of all our siblings throughout the entire earth. God creates a wondrous diversity in the human family. God revels in that diversity. God is present in that diversity. And God is present when diverse people who love and care for each other.

Today we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit … God’s breath and fire … that reminds us that it is only together with all people that we truly express the image of God. We receive inspiration to witness to that image in our words and in our actions.

If Pentecost reminds us of God’s love for diversity and the value of all people then on Pentecost and every day after, followers of Jesus must denounce racism and white supremacy culture and the actions that it empowers. We must listen and learn. And then witness in word and deed to a different world, a world where all are welcome, loved, and cherished. And when we have done that, we must do so again. And again. And again.

The effort to disrupt racism and white supremacy culture and dismantle systems of oppression is not something we do once and check off a box. It is a calling for a lifetime. It is our calling. For that calling, God gives us the Holy Spirit with its many gifts. Touched by the Holy Spirit, we can be persistent, resilient, and adaptive.

This day, and every day.

In the face of systemic evil, the Holy Spirit empowers us to follow Jesus and work to build a different world. I know I will make mistakes in that work. I will fall short. But I know that each time I fall I can pick myself up again, certain that God will have the final word and it will be a word of grace.

Thanks be to God! Amen.

[i] https://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/passages/main-articles/pentecost

[ii] Genesis 2:7

[iii] Dr. Kimberly D. Russaw, Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible, Christian Theological Seminary, https://churchanew.org/blog/2020/05/29/various

[iv] Rev. Angela Denker, Minnesota Pastor and Veteran Journalist, https://churchanew.org/blog/2020/05/29/various

[v] https://healthcare.utah.edu/healthfeed/postings/2020/03/coronavirus-face-masks.php

[vi] https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/05/30/video-timeline-george-floyd-death/?arc404=true

[vii] https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/14/nyregion/eric-garner-police-chokehold-staten-island.html

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] https://www.aclu.org/news/civil-liberties/block-the-vote-voter-suppression-in-2020/

[x] https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-05-30/dont-understand-the-protests-what-youre-seeing-is-people-pushed-to-the-edge

[xi] https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/pkyb9b/far-right-extremists-are-hoping-to-turn-the-george-floyd-protests-into-a-new-civil-war

[xii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix_(mythology)

[xiii] See Acts1:8

[xiv] Dr. Eric Barreto, Associate Professor of New Testament, Princeton Theological Seminary, https://churchanew.org/blog/2020/05/29/various

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2004/apr/08/thisweekssciencequestions#maincontent

[xvii] Dr. Shively T. J. Smith, Assistant Professor of New Testament, Boston University School of Theology, https://churchanew.org/blog/2020/05/29/various

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“Mountains, deserts, rivers, boats and seas”

Check out this work by a couple of my friends. On Magdalena’s blog (link below), it first appears en Español and then in English.

A litany of affirmation for the church dispersed by the coronavirus
by Magdalena I. García

“And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’” (Matthew 8:20, NRSV)

“It offends me [that politicians demand that our temples be open] because such assertions pretend to limit the worship of God’s people to a building, […] because Jesus was a teacher of mountains, deserts, rivers, boats and seas.”
– Marissa Galván-Valle

A bit of the litany in English:

We worship from our homes,
Mountain Teacher,
because our gratitude goes beyond
the sanctuary pews and the temple walls

We reflect in isolation,
Desert Mystic,
because our soul is strengthened
by the silence of active listening and the quietness of your presence.

Check out A litany of affirmation for the church dispersed by the coronavirus
by Magdalena I. García

 

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10 May 2020

Posted a day late.
The first portion is the second half of the Love & Hope in the Age of COVID-19 playlist by Ester Sihite. Sean provided the song for the Playbill 30-Song Challenge. There are tributes to Little Richard and Betty Wright.
Pacing. The Shire.
Bold as Love – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
I’ll Follow the Sun – The Beatles
My  Love Is Your Love – Whitney Houston
Three Little Birds – Bob Marley & The Wailers
Holy – Jamila Woods
All These Things That I’ve Done – The Killers
Flashed Junk Mind – Milky Chance
Put Your Records On – Corinne Bailey Rae
FourFiveSeconds – Rihanna, Kanye West, and Paul McCartney
Lovely Day – Bill Withers
Calling All Angels – Train
Cecilia and the Satellite – Andrew McMahon
May This Be Love – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
I Know Him So Well – Chess (Playbill 30-day Challenge, thanks Sean)
Rock Island Line – Little Richard with Fishbone

Little Richard
Lucille
The Girl Can’t Help It
Tutti Frutti
Send Me Some Lovin’
Long Tall Sally
Get Down with It
True Fine Mama
Jenny, Jenny
Good Golly, Miss Molly
Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On
Anyway You Want Me
You Gotta Feel It

Betty Wright
Clean Up Woman
Tonight Is the Night
Where Is the Love

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A Prayer in the Age of COVID-19

Thanks to the Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb for this prayer.
“O child of Bethlehem, Emmanuel, God with us, who in your eternal wisdom chose to incarnate in Bethlehem, Palestine, to take on our flesh, fragility, and vulnerability, we thank you for being near us wherever we are today.”

Mitri Raheb Blog

Heavenly Father, our creator, who breathed into us the breath of life, we ask you to give us the needed strength to continue our journey even when we feel a shortness in breath, fatigue, and suffocation under stifling pressures. Teach us the art of breathing, especially when we feel that the marathon is too long and the path too thorny. Help us to see your thoughts and plans for us.

O child of Bethlehem, Emmanuel, God with us, who in your eternal wisdom chose to incarnate in Bethlehem, Palestine, to take on our flesh, fragility, and vulnerability, we thank you for being near us wherever we are today. We thank you for being our healer, who went throughout Palestine healing the sick and lifting up those left behind. We thank you for all the healers of today, the doctors, nurses and caregivers who are working tirelessly risking their lives so…

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A prayer about being freed to love

God of our joyous laughter,
God of our ugly cries,
God of moments between and beyond,
we give you thanks that
Christ is risen.
And Christ reminds us of your love.
You love us.
You love us and nothing can change that.
By your grace in Jesus
We are freed to love:
to love you,
to love our family,
to love our friends,
to love our neighbors,
to love our enemies,
to love all people,
even to love ourselves.
When we are OK,
when we are not OK,
when we are between and beyond,
help us live in love
as you love us.
Amen

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Empty

John 20:1-10
Easter Sunday
April 12, 2020
First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone

Christ is risen.

We gather at the end of a Holy Week different from any other on an Easter Sunday different from any other.

Every year has unique features. Christians have observed Holy Week and Easter in periods of persecution, during armed conflict and war, and while plague ravaged the land.

Still Easter 2020; Easter in the age of COVID-19 differs widely and wildly from any Easter we and most followers of Jesus have celebrated.

No egg hunts. No visits with family. No trips to restaurants. No crowded gatherings around a table straining under the weight of a feast. No new clothes or bonnets for many of us.

IMG-0618We gather in separate places today. Our church building stands empty for the moment. It does so not out of fear. As such buildings do across our country and around the world, that temporarily empty building on the corner of 149th and 15th offers a profound witness to our faith. It proclaims that we are a people of life even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. It represents an incredible act of revolutionary love, amazing grace, and spiritual solidarity. Thanks be to God.

Dr. William Brown of Columbia Theological Seminary points out that this year’s Easter celebration with a temporarily empty building may be among the most biblical Easters we have experienced.[i] The Easter proclamation of resurrection begins with the discovery of the empty tomb.

After the crucifixion, early on the first day of the week, in the darkness, John’s Gospel tells us that Mary Madgalene went to the tomb. Heart broken, soul sick, spirit sore, she made a lonely, courageous journey.

She went to see where they had placed her teacher, her friend. She went to pay her respects even after her death. She went because nothing else made sense.

At the tomb, she found the stone rolled aside. What more indignity can there be, she must have wondered? She went to get others. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Peter and the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” return to the tomb with her. Entering they find emptiness. No body of Jesus; only the cloths from his burial.

Each Gospel tells a slightly different version of the encounter with the empty tomb. They all share two common features. Women first. Women went to the tomb first. Women become the first to tell the good news. While the number varies from gospel to gospel, it is always small. Large numbers of followers did not cram together as close as they could on that day of resurrection. It began with a tomb emptied of death and women.

We know not how the resurrection of Jesus happened. No one witnessed God raising Jesus.

The resurrection of the followers of Jesus proved something more of a process. It did not happen in an instant. As the Rev. Denise Anderson notes, the “women who were first at the tomb to find it empty were rocked to their core. But even when they shared the news, the ones with whom they shared it weren’t instantly changed for hearing it. They hardly even believed it.”[ii]

The Rev. Anderson goes on: for the first followers of Jesus on that day of resurrection, “there was still grief. There was still despair. There was still anxiety. There was still waiting. Wondering. Worrying.”[iii] But. God had raised Jesus. God’s work had been accomplished. Christ was risen. Christ is risen.

Perhaps more starkly than have other Easters, this day reminds us that we live in the tension of believing in resurrection even as we feel keenly the impact of suffering and death. Much of what gave us balance and equilibrium in life has been smashed off kilter. We grieve. Uncertainty grips us. We find ourselves in a similar position to the women and the first followers of Jesus.

And  yet, we have the witness not only of Mary and the other women who went to the tomb. We have the witness of women through the ages … and some men, too. People who lived as Jesus calls us to live; people who loved who as Jesus called us to love. People who though stricken with grief and filled with fear, lived and loved. And in the living and in the loving, they encountered the risen Christ. As we live and as we love following Jesus, we too have encountered the risen Christ. We encounter the risen Christ now. We will encounter the risen Christ in the future.

Grief and doubt and fear do not deny the resurrection. They cannot.

Grief and doubt and fear do not indicate the absence of hope and faith and love; they are fellow travelers. They go together, as the Rev. Ben Perry notes.[iv]

Christ is risen, and we mourn for those who have died and we ache for those who are ill and we endure heartbreak for those who are abused, neglected, and forgotten.

Christ is risen, and COVID-19 grips our city and God’s world.

Christ is risen, and we can love one another.

Christ is risen, and there is work to do to ensure that all people in our society have access to safe homes, meaningful and safe work, health care, good food, and the necessities of living.

Christ is risen, and the Matthew 25 vision invites us to make sure that the least of the human family, the people pushed to the margins, receive our attention and our care.

Christ is risen, and the resurrection reminds us that the worst things are never the last things.[v]

Though we tremble at the tomb, though alleluias quaver on our lips, Christ is risen. This Easter day and every day may we know the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

Goodness is stronger than evil;

Love is stronger than hate;

Light is stronger than darkness;

Life is stronger than death;

Victory is ours through Him who loves us.[vi]

Christ is risen.

People of the empty tomb, people of the temporarily empty building,

Christ is risen!

Alleluia.

[i] https://www.ctsnet.edu/the-life-giving-emptiness-of-this-easter/

[ii] This comes from a Facebook by the Rev. Tawnya Denise Anderson, coordinator for Racial and Intercultural Justice, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), on April 12, 2020.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] This and the next several paragraphs are inspired by words written by the Rev. Ben Perry and posted on Facebook.

[v] Thanks to the Rev. Dr. Michael Granzen for this image.

[vi] Desmond Tutu, “Victory Is Ours” in An African Prayer Book (London: Hodder and Stoughton Ltd, 1995), p. 80.

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Candles, Fireworks, Hope

Romans 8:15-25
Candles, Fireworks, Hope
March 29, 2010
First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
The Rev. W. Mark Koenig

“In hope we were saved. Now who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

I think a lot about hope these days.

Singer and activist David LaMotte wrote, “These are hard days in so many ways. Much of the time, it seems like the headlines are in competition for the worst news. … Being alive is hard work. Some days, I don’t feel hopeful.”[i]

David wrote those words two years ago. The need to think about hope goes with us always. It presses upon us with urgency in the age of Covid-19.

Be clear. Hope differs from optimism. Dramatically.

Optimism says things will get better; things will work out as we want; things will happen in a way that fits our desires and understandings.

Optimism is important. Envisioning we can do something often plays a critical role in allowing us to succeed.

Hope is not optimism. Writer and politician Vaclav Havel, who resisted the communist rule in Czechoslovakia and worked for a new future for his people said, “Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit.”[ii]

Hope is the conviction that however things turn out, life will make sense and all will be well even when we cannot imagine that will be. Hope lies beyond our selves, beyond our capacities. Hope lies in God.

Hope can be elusive, difficult to experience. A quick look at world events and the lives of people we love underscores that. Covid-19 highlights this reality in a dramatic fashion.

How then do we keep hope alive? How do we sustain hope that the world can be different, that we can be different? That our lives have meaning and purpose? That we can contribute to a more just, loving, peaceful society?

I don’t know that my thoughts and prayers about finding and nurturing hope have led to any absolute answers to those questions that will work for everyone. I have some ideas to share that help me understand and sustain hope. Perhaps they will prove of use to you.

Hope is relational. I cannot hope on my own. Relationships are key to hope. Hope is like lighting candles in the wind.

I had been in New York for a little over three months when the people of southern Sudan went to the polls in January 2011. The northern and southern parts of the country had engaged in violent conflict since before Sudan achieved independence. A peace had been brokered. The treaty provided that the people of the south could vote to remain part of Sudan or to become their own country.

An interfaith community gathered at the Church Center for the United Nations to pray for the people of Sudan as they voted. After prayer and scripture reading and song in the chapel, we went outside to light candles.

Cold and wind and big, wet snowflakes greeted us on the sidewalk along First Avenue. We lit our candles, but we had to work together to keep them lit. We relit each other’s candles when they went out. We used fingers and song sheets to shield the flames.

Lighting candles in the wind is relational. It takes a community. So does hope.

To hope, I need to be connected to God. I need to pray and read Scripture and worship. To hope, I need to be connected to others.

Hope is relational. It is experienced in the grace of God and in the wonder and love others who hope in me, hope for me, and hope with me.

Hope is surprising. I can open myself to hope. I can nurture hope. I cannot command or control hope.

13669846_1180325505322138_3800535346819562182_nSummer 2016. A Brooklyn Cyclones game with members of First Chinese Presbyterian Church. I have no idea of the score but in the eighth inning the end-of-game fireworks went off. We looked at each other in surprise. From the row behind me and about three seats to my left, Will Tsang said, “Work that into a sermon, Mark.” (The photo is from that night and was taken by Doreen Cheung.)

Check that challenge off the list. Hope, like eighth inning fireworks, is surprising.

If a baseball story isn’t convincing enough, here’s a Bible story.

Luke’s Gospel recounts that on the Sunday after Jesus’ death, two of his followers walked to Emmaus. The death of Jesus had crushed their hope.

As they walked, a third person joined them. They did not recognize the person, but we, who read the story now, realize it was the risen Christ. The story reminds us that Christ comes to us as we travel on the Emmaus roads of life, in hospitals resisting Covid-19, in jails and prisons, in nursing homes, at meal programs and homeless shelters, even in our homes today as we use telephones to worship. Wherever we are.

When they reached Emmaus, the followers of Jesus invited the third person to stay and the evening meal. As their guest, they asked the traveler to say grace.

The traveler. Took bread. Blessed it. Broke it. Gave it to them. They recognized him. Hope was reborn. And Jesus left them.

Hope comes in surprising, mysterious, unexpected ways. The moments do not last forever. Sometimes they do not last for long. But the moments may fill us and bless us and sustain us for living.

Hope may surprise us in a word in a sermon or in the lyrics of a song or in a passage of scripture. Hope may break through when we receive a kind word. Or when a family member or friend acts in an unexpected way; when we receive grace or mercy in the place of vengeance and punishment; when we welcome one another as God’s beloved children.

Hope may sprout when we hear of the consistent, persistent courage of first responders and medical personnel; the grace of the people who bag our groceries and who clean hospitals, medical facilities, and other essential places; the commitment of business owners who care for their employees in hard times.

Hope does not come through individuals who suggest that others should be sacrificed for the good of the economy. Hope most certainly comes—most certainly comes when individuals make sacrifices for one another.

A Minnesota state trooper stops a cardiologist for speeding. Instead of a ticket, the trooper gives the doctor some of his own N95 masks. Hope. In Italy, people step out on their balconies to make music for each other. Hope. People who live near a hospital in Vancouver open their windows to clap for the medical and support personnel at shift changes. Hope.

Because God, through Jesus, is the source of hope, we live in hope. We live in hope even when life is painful and challenging and horrifying. Hope is an act of resistance and resurrection. Hope says – let the worst happen, God is not done. God who creates and loves us; God who raises Jesus from death to life; God who pours the Holy Spirit out upon us; God will have the final word. And it will be a word of life and love and grace and hope.

“In hope we were saved. Now who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

Hope.

I have been thinking a lot about hope lately.

Like lighting candles in the wind, hope is relational.

Like baseball fireworks before the game ends, hope is surprising.

And rooted in God, hope is real.

Thanks be to God.

 

[i] https://www.davidlamotte.com/2018/hard-days/

[ii] https://www.vhlf.org/havel-quotes/disturbing-the-peace/

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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.

 

 

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The Plague and covid-19

If I were to ask people to guess my favorite novel – the novel that has most influenced me, I think only a few people would get the right answer. The Lord of the Rings and Possessing the Secret of Joy come in high on the list, but they stand just short of The Plague.

IMG-1510The Plague was written by Albert Camus, who as my friend Alonzo Johnson points out was Algerian – his parents were French – but he was born in Algeria. The novel tells the story of a plague sweeping through the city of Oran. It explores the impact on people and how people respond.

Today my friend, Catherine Gordon, posted a link to a reflection on The Plague, Camus on the Coronavirus“.

The author writes: “But there can never be safety — and that is why, for Camus, we need to love our fellow damned humans and work without hope or despair for the amelioration of suffering. Life is a hospice, never a hospital.”

Even as an “at risk, vulnerable” person on PAUSE (yes – that is New York’s name for it) may I love; may I work to ameliorate suffering.

This day. And all days.

I have tracked down my copy, at least the third I have owned, and will read it again starting this evening. Related posts may follow.

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Filed under Books, Current Events, Friends, New York

A prayer and an affirmation

Friends –

I had another prayer prepared for today. It was loaded in my email and ready to send.

Last night, after the Session meeting, I learned about three Asian American friends who had recently experienced acts of hate. No one was hurt, thank God. But that is not always the case. There are at least reported hate incidents in New York City in which people have been injured. Again, thank God, the injuries have not been serious. But – all such behavior is inconsistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the reality that all people are made and loved by God.

Clearly this situation worked on me overnight. This morning the following came out.

A prayer
God for all the world,
we give thanks for your work of creation.
You make all that is and call it good.
You make the human creature
in a wondrous array of diversity:
all in your image,
all beloved by you.
Pour your Holy Spirit upon us and upon all people
that we might:
give thanks for the diversity you create,
honor all people,
welcome the diversity you create as a gift
that enriches and blesses us all.
Lead our community, our city, our nation, and all nations and peoples
to reject hate
and to embrace love.
We pray in Jesus’ name.
Amen.

Affirmation for the time of Covid-19
3/19/2020

As well as I am able
(and when I know better, I will do better)
I reject racism and white supremacy and will work to disrupt it;
I reject “othering,” scapegoating, belittling, demeaning of any person or any group of people;
I reject violence directed against a person or group of people because of their perceived race, ethnicity, nationality, or any other factor.

As well as I am able
(and when I know better, I will do better)
I affirm the worth and dignity of every person; I give thanks for the Asian Americans, Asians, and Pacific Islanders who I know, and who I have never met—I am grateful that I can share this community, this country with you;
I give thanks for the Asian Americans, Asians, and Pacific Islanders who have entrusted me with your friendship and trusted me to be your pastor—I am honored, I hold you in my heart, I see you in my mind’s eye, I am grateful for you.

As well as I am able
(and when I know better, I will do better)
I confess that I have often fallen short of my own affirmations, my own aspirations;
I commit to picking myself up when I fall short and continuing to work for a community, a country, and a world where everyone is welcome and justice and equity reign.

*****

Note: this is an affirmation for this moment. Other moments would elicit other affirmations.

Note two: my blog, my rules. Any comments I deem objectionable will be deleted. No questions. No debate.

 

 

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Filed under Antiracism, Current Events, Prayer