Tag Archives: faith

A prayer for people in our lives

For those who live in faith,
for those who live in hope,
for those who live in love,
for those who do justice
and love kindness
and walk humbly with you,
for those whose living
melts the hardness of our hearts,
touches our souls,
and draws us closer to you,
we give you thanks, O God.
Amen.

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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

A prayer for Easter, 2020

God of the empty tomb,

God of the temporarily empty building,

God of our lives,

We thank you for

the resurrection of Jesus.

May this day remind us

that you will have the final word.

Always you will have the final word.

And your word will be a word of

hope and

grace and

faith and

love.

Christ is risen.

We thank you Christ is risen.

In his name we pray.

Amen.

The Rev. W. Mark Koenig

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Filed under Current Events, Easter, First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone, Prayer

Prayer 1

God of the ages,

grant us patience, courage, and grace;

grant us faith, hope, and love;

grant us all we need

for the living of our days

in the age of Covid-19.

Amen.

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Devotion

Cardboard on sidewalk,
he bows, prays

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Filed under New York, Six Word Story

Emanuel

EmanuelPosterOn the fourth anniversary of the horrific, terrorist attack at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston by an avowed white supremacist, I had the opportunity to view a new documentary Emanuel.

The event shattered lives and rocked Charleston and the nation. Emanuel powerfully weaves the history of race relations in Charleston, the significance and impact of Mother Emanuel Church, and the hope that somehow emerges in the aftermath.

Featuring intimate interviews with survivors and family members, Emanuel tells a poignant story of justice and faith, love and hate, and examines the healing power of forgiveness.

Emanuel is playing in theaters across the country for two nights – June 17 (tonight) and June 19 (Wednesday). See if it is playing near you and check it out.

Clementa Pinckney
Tywanza Sanders
Daniel Simmons
Sharonda Singleton 
Myra Thompson
Cynthia Hurd
Suzie Jackson
Ethel Lance
DePayne Middleton-Doctor

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Filed under Antiracism, Current Events, Movie, New York

Earth Day and people of faith

“As stewards of the earth, humans are called by God to live sustainably and work toward creation care. We all have a part to play. This Earth Day, how will you live out God’s call?”
Check out Grace Ji-Sun Kim’s reflection on Earth Day (April 22).

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Five years

Five years. The vagaries of time make it feel like yesterday and like a lifetime ago, all in the same moment.

Ruling Elder Cynthia Bolbach, moderator of the 219th General Assembly (2010) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) died on 12-12-12 in the afternoon. This post was written on that day at a time before I knew of her death. For a number of reasons, it seems worth sharing again and remembering this amazing woman and beloved child of God.

I did something today I have never done before.

I stood in silence for five minutes.

I am not big on pomp and circumstance and formality. A South African friend once observed that I can be a bit “cheeky” to those in authority. For some reason everyone who has heard that assessment has agreed with it. Go figure.

I stood in silence today for five minutes in honor of Cindy Bolbach.

The tradition in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is to stand when the General Assembly moderator enters the room. Almost every moderator in my memory has encouraged people not to do so. Most of the time most of them meant it. Yet the tradition persists – in honor of the person and even more so in respect of the office. And while it is not my favorite thing, I take part.

Today, without being asked, without being prompted, I chose to stand in silence for five minutes in honor of Cindy Bolbach – moderator of the 219th General Assembly (2010).

I watched her election from the back of the auditorium in Minneapolis. My son Sean and I leaned against the wall.

A period of questions and answers precedes the voting. Commissioners (the folks with the votes) pose questions and the individuals standing (we’re Presbyterian, we don’t run) respond. The questions deal with theology, issues before the church, and issues in the world.

At one point, a question was posed along the lines of: “What would happen to the church, if you were not elected and one of the other candidates were?”

One by one the candidates offered replies praising the others and noting that the church did not depend on their election. Then Cindy Bolbach stepped to the mike. I do not remember her exact words, but the essence was:

There will be utter chaos.

The Assembly erupted in laughter. Sean turned to me and said, “She just won, didn’t she?”

The Assembly still had to vote. But Cindy did win. And I believe her sparkling humor that bristles with wisdom played a key role.

I stood in silence today for five minutes in honor of Cindy Bolbach.

Cindy is a woman of incredible faith, deep love, amazing grace, and an incredible wit. She lives daily her commitment to Christ, to the Church, to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) , to all people, and to God’s world. She mixes simplicity and profound sincerity with a capability to navigate complexity and controversy. I am privileged to know her. The Church (in all its manifestations) is blessed by her presence.

For most of this year, Cindy has struggled against cancer. The struggle cut short her ability to attend events but it never dampened her spirits (at least in public). She wore a fedora to the 220th General Assembly (2012) and she wore it well.

This morning came the news that Cindy has entered hospice care. And I stood for five minutes in her honor.

But in the silence it came to me that another way – a better way – to honor Cindy Bolbach – is to give thanks to God for Cindy – to entrust Cindy to God’s merciful care – to pray for her without ceasing – then to get back about the business of ministry. I am pretty sure that is what she would want. So it is what I have done.

When Cindy returns to the dust, as we all will someday do, I will shed more tears. But I will also proclaim “Alleluia.”

When Cindy returns to the dust, as we all will someday do, there will be utter chaos. But in the chaos there will be love and there will be grace and there will be God. And all will be well for Cindy. And all will be well for us. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.

See you along the Trail.

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Until we meet again, Ted Hickman

14316837_10209909925482586_6630254089391490747_nOnly 17 short days ago they gathered to bid me farewell. My colleagues and friends from the community of nongovernmental organizations at the United Nations; my friends and colleagues from the Presbytery of New York City.

Ted was there. And after the words were spoken and the time came for people to leave, Ted and I looked at each other across the room.

We smiled. We moved toward one another. And as we had done before, threw open our arms and walked into an embrace, two bears seeking to engulf each other.

He whispered into my ear. Words of thanks. Assurances of prayers. Best wishes for what lay ahead.

I whispered back. Words of thanks. Assurances of prayers. Best wishes for what lay ahead.

As we disengaged, I said my final words. I refused to say goodbye as I left New York. And so I said to Ted, “Until we meet again.”

Only two short hours ago I received the email from the office of the Presbytery of New York City.

“In Memoriam” read the subject line. I had received enough emails with that subject to know what it meant. Someone had died.

I was prepared to learn of a death. I was not prepared to see Ted’s gracious, smiling face. Nor did I expect to read these words:

It is with deep sadness and grief for his family and this presbytery that I tell you that Theodore (Ted) Hickman, the Moderator of our Presbytery of New York City, died last night in his sleep.

Ted was 51.

My initial shock has given way to deep sadness and grief.

I grieve for his family … for Duryea Presbyterian Church where he served as the Commissioned Ruling Elder (pastor) … for his colleagues at NYU-Langone Medical Center … for the Presbytery of New York City … for all who knew and loved this good man.

I grieve for a song and life ended too soon. Too soon.

I grieve for what might have been.

I grieve for myself.

I grieve, knowing that, in life and in death, Ted, and all of us belong to God.

I grieve, knowing that love never ends, even death can never sever the cords of love that bind us together.

I grieve, believing in the resurrection.

I grieve and proclaim “Alleluia.”

I grieve and remember those final words I said:

Until we meet again,
my friend, my brother.
Until we meet again.

Note: the photo of Ted Hickman is the one that appeared in the message from the Presbytery of New York that announced his death. 

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The Until We Meet Again Tour – 20 August 2016

UN Ministry New LogoThe Until We Meet Again Tour for today saw most of my time spent at the Shire packing, cleaning, and walking packages to the U.S. Post Office. The tour included finishing the appraisal for the final Princeton Theological Seminary field education student who served at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations.

He was the 36th.

36 field education students, volunteers, and volunteer interns who worked at the ministry from 2011 through this summer when I left.

36.

36 unique individuals.

Each with gifts and skills; each with challenges; each with faith and grace.

Each served Jesus Christ.

Each touched my life.

Each is remembered.

To each, I say thanks.

36.

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Filed under Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, United Nations