Tag Archives: First Chinese Presbyterian Church

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.”


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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Back for a weekend tour 5

IMG_4868After church on April 2, some friends and I went to Chinatown for lunch and dessert and most importantly for conversation!

Peng had to leave early to visit a member of the church in the hospital. And we forgot to take a photo before Jim and Holly left. But we did get one with Jamie, Don, and me.

See you along the Trail.

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Back for a weekend tour 4

IMG_4871On Sunday, April 2, I had the privilege to preach at First Chinese Presbyterian Church in the City of New York. It is one of the churches where I find myself at home. The people make it so.

Thanks to my dear friend Peng Leong for the photo that was taken after the service.

See you along the Trail.

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Back for a weekend tour 1

IMG_4830I returned to New York for a long weekend. It involved staying with my son Sean and my grand puppy Henrik, leading a workshop for the Committee on Preparation for Ministry of the Presbytery of New York City, and preaching at First Chinese Presbyterian Church.

Henrik did not seem to understand that I was at his apartment to work rather than to play with him.

Maybe next time.

See you along the Trail.

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The Until We Meet Again Tour – 24 July 2016

The  Until We Meet Again Tour went to First Chinese Presbyterian Church in New York City today. It was a wonderful day with dear friends. Truly a blessing. As noted earlier, my intention had been not to accept invitations to preach during the tour. However, invitations began to arrive from congregations that mean a great deal to me and it became impossible to say no. Once again I am delighted I agreed to preach. It was a tender, precious moment filled with sorrow and joy. The experience crystallized a reality that has been emerging for me – I will miss the people of New York even more than I will miss the places of New York.But they will travel with me in the mystery that is the Communion of Saints. And in the photos I take:

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I even rose to a challenge from Doreen to take a selfie:

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See you along the Trail.

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The Until We Meet Again Tour – 15 July 2016

The Until We Meet Again Tour began in the offices of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations with an afternoon of recycling programmatic files. Then I hopped the 7 train and rode one stop to transfer to the D. The ride ended at Coney Island, which as my son Sean points out is not an island.

I walked to MCU Park to join friends from First Chinese Presbyterian Church of New York City for a Brooklyn Cyclones game. The group included Peng Leong, Vicki Louie-Shek, Jimmy Shek, Tony Chan, Will Tsang, Doreen Cheung, Brandon Louie, Jason Chan, Michael Sellers,Suzanne Yong-Sellers, Stephanie Travitsky, and Doug Bolan. Jim and Holly Nedelka from Jan Hus Presbyterian Church were also at the game.

I failed to get any photos of my friends, but several of them did and posted their photos on Facebook. If this works, here’s a gallery from Doreen.

I did get a photo of a couple of Brooklyn Dodgers who could play the game and who helped change our country.


See you along the Trail.

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Adventures with the bandanna – Citi Field

The bandanna went to its first baseball game today: the Mets hosted the Marlins. We joined friends from First Chinese Presbyterian Church and my friends Jamie Tan and Germán Zárate, Several friends recognized that the bandanna is a Pirates supporter. Thanks to Germán for the photo!


30 May 2015

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In action

Here are a couple of photos of me preaching at the commissioning service for my friend Peng Leong. Thanks to Ryan Smith for this one:



Sera Chung took this one:

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See you along the Trail.

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A wonderful, joy-filled afternoon!

The Presbytery of New York City commissioned Peng Leong for ministry at First Chinese Presbyterian Church in New York. Peng will work with children. Her ministry will focus on growing both the Mandarin and Cantonese Sunday School classes. Peng will also work with recreation and tutoring programs for you. And she will assist in the outreach program to the Chinatown community.

The requirements to become a Commissioned Ruling Elder include serving in a ministerial placement. Peng chose to serve with the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations. We had a blessed year together.

Peng completed all the requirements in decency and orderliness. In May, the presbytery voted to commission her. And today, in an act involving Peng, First Chinese Presbyterian Church, and the Presbytery of New York City, the commissioning took place.

Adolfo Griffith and Sera Chung sang. Anne Conroy and Joseph Collazo provided the charges. Dr. David Ofori moderated. Nathan Lim, Betty Jones, James Tse, and Polly Lewis helped lead the service. Ryan Smith and Ricky Velez-Negron from our office attended along with many of Peng’s family members and members of the congregation and presbytery. It was a great day!

Me? Peng honored me with an invitation to preach.

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Thanks to Ryan for the photo.

See you along the Trail.

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Two weeks in January 2012

I had the privilege to spend the last two weeks with a January Term Doctor of Ministry class that met at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations – my employer. Mark Douglas of Columbia Theological Seminary led the class as it considered the Environment and Ecumene.

Class participants included Elizabeth Adams, Katie Preston, Carol Underwood, and John Weems. My colleague, Ryan Smith, helped coordinate and lead the class. Ricky Velez-Negron, our office manager, provided wonderful hospitality and organizational support; she also took the picture of the class beside the Isaiah Wall. Volunteers Peng Leong, from First Chinese Presbyterian Church, and Grace Bickers, Columbia University student, joined us for a number of the sessions.

Speakers came from ministries of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), UN programs and our colleagues and friends from the UN NGO community.

The content included the UN and environmental concerns to climate change, land and water, women and the environment, children and the environment, indigenous peoples and the environment, food and hunger and the environment, conflict and the environment, and more.

The class attended a policy lunch on climate change and agriculture sponsored by the NGO Working Group on Food and Hunger. The class also attended a meeting of the Sustainable Development Working Group of the Conference of NGOs.

On Thursday, January 12, class members led worship at the Church Center for the United Nations.

Representatives of First Chinese Presbyterian Church, Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, Huguenot Memorial Church, Old Bergen Church, and the Presbyterian Church of the Mountain joined the class on Thursday, January 19 for conversations about how congregations can care for creation. Rebecca Barnes-Davies, PC(USA) associate for Environmental Ministries helped facilitate the discussion.

Worship ended the class. We gathered in the Tillman Chapel of the Church Center for the United Nations and walked to the Isaiah Wall for closing prayers. After quick goodbyes, class members returned to their homes with new visions for ministry.

Gifts to the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations make possible the class.

I look forward to 2014 when another group will gather for another class on another topic.

See you along the Trail.

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