Tag Archives: Gradye Parsons

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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Lent 2017, day 14

lenten-reflections-on-the-confession-of-belhar“If I am going to know and bear your burdens, I must be in relationship with you as an equal partner on the road to discipleship. I must humbly admit my own burdens and respectfully bear yours. We who follow Jesus should be willing to take the yoke with another and give them rest.”
Gradye Parsons
Lenten Reflections on the Confession of Belhar

Guide me to build and nurture
partnerships of equity and justice,
with people who challenge me and the way I live,
who hold me accountable to the vision and to my actions
with people of privilege so that, together,
we can disrupt systems and structures.

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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An invitation to “Choose Welcome”

I have posted one of my sermons about refugees as well as sermon from the Rev. Randy Clayton. Here’s a post from the blog of the Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

I can count on one hand the number of times I have spent Christmas in my own home as an adult. We have shared that day with grandparents and other family. In a pre-Amazon era, we hid presents among the luggage and spent those days on the road just like Joseph and Mary. But of course I knew that my bed was there to welcome me when it was all over.saint mark presbyterian church holding a sign saying we choose welcome

Right now the United Nations says there are more than 60 million people displaced on our war-weary planet who will probably never see their home again. That’s the largest number ever recorded. They have left their homes because of violence, poverty, and fear. There is a story repeated around the world. Some armed men come to your house. They demand money from the parents. They demand that the son joins their gang. They want to sell the daughter into the sex trade underworld. You can’t go to the authorities because the gang is the authorities. What do you do as parents? You flee with your family.

As a church of 1.6 million people we can’t take in 60 million even if our government allowed it. But we can help change the way people talk about the 60 million. I recently put out a Facebook challenge asking congregations to take a selfie with a We Choose Welcome banner. The challenge was to send the photo to their public officials. One congregation that accepted the challenge is St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Rockville, Maryland. I want to give them a shout out.

Maybe your congregation is not ready to go on record on this issue. But sometime over the next Advent days we are going to once again bash the innkeeper for having no room for Joseph and Mary. So perhaps that can be a teachable moment for all of us.

Thank you Gradye!

See you along the Trail.

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The Refugee Jesus

A sermon preached at Rutgers Presbyterian Church on 22 November 2015. I rarely post sermons, however this one received enough positive feedback that I make an exception. Note that this is the manuscript that went into the pulpit; the sermon that came out no doubt differed in several ways.FullSizeRender

The Refugee Jesus
John 18:33-37
Rutgers Presbyterian Church
November 22, 1015
Christ the King Sunday 

Fear.We have to talk about fear this day if we wish to talk about refugees.

Fear always creeps into conversations about refugees and immigrants—a fear of the other—of people from whom we differ.

But this day, we gather after

a bombing in Baghdad

a bombing in Beirut

an attack with guns and bombs on Paris

a bombing in Yola, Nigeria

a bombing in Kano, Nigeria

an attack on a hotel in Bamako, Mali

yet more bombings in Baghdad.

And fear has entered the conversation.

Fear of Daesh and other terrorist groups.

Fear of Muslims even though Muslims have been the targets and victims of many of the attacks.

Fear of refugees, particularly refugees from Syria and Iraq.

Political leaders and candidates and pundits have pandered to the fear and fed the fear.

Governors have said their states will not accept refugees from Syria. The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to make the vetting process for refugees from Syria and Iraq more difficult, it not impossible. Some leaders have essentially said “No Muslims need apply” or “Christians only.” Both phrases resonate with nativist and racist language from our past.

In at least one instance, the internment of Japanese American citizens during World War II has been cited as a model for refusing Syrian refugees rather than the evil act of racism that is was.

And one candidate for President called for a mandatory registry of Muslims in the United States, a call that evokes the horror of the Holocaust.  The New York Times reports he may be pulling back from that position somewhat.[i]

We cannot talk about refugees on this day without talking about fear.

Some pastors may preach that we should be afraid. We should hunker and hide in fear. And we should allow fear to guide us in our behavior and relationships with refugees. I will not do that.

Surrendering to fear in relation to our brothers and sisters who flee for their lives flies in the face of everything I believe as a follower of Jesus. It goes against everything I believe as a citizen of this country and a resident of our great city where in the harbor stands a statue with a poem:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”[ii]

And it goes against the policy statements and congregational actions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Presbyterians have supported refugee resettlement since the refugee crisis created by World War II. The 160th General Assembly (1948) of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America stated, “The United States should pass legislation to bring in at least four hundred thousand displaced persons during the next four years.” (Minutes, PCUSA, 1948, Part I, p. 204). [iii] Presbyterian congregations have helped resettle thousands of our brothers and sisters through the years.

Some pastors may preach today that we have nothing to fear. After all, fear not is what Jesus told his disciples on several occasions. Sermons will proclaim that that God is completely in control, life is working out according to God’s plan, God will protect us, and we have no reason for fear. I will not do that.

The world is a broken and fearful place. I know that and you know that. I fear for my African American friends, Native American friends, Hispanic, Latino/Latina friends, Asian American friends in their encounters with law enforcement and in their daily lives within a racist system. I fear for the gun violence that too often tears lives and communities apart. I fear for the homeless on our streets, particularly as winter comes. I fear for my transgendered sisters and brothers. I fear for sisters and brothers who struggle with addiction, or lack access to health care, or who have lost jobs. I fear for those who serve in our military and come home to inadequate support and care. I fear what those who resort to terror might do. Acts of terror are, after all, a form of public theater intended to provoke fear. I fear the possibility, however small, that despite our best screening efforts, a person who wishes to commit and act of terror may be admitted to our country as a refugee. Megan McCardle observes, “There’s no perfect way to screen out Syrian terrorists from Syrian refugees. It may be that someone we let in will, eventually, do something horrible. In fact, that’s a risk with any immigrant we let in, or for that matter, any baby we allow to be born.”[iv]

We live in a broken and fearful world.

And so it is right and natural that we fear.

But, we fear as those who follow the Jesus – as those who proclaim Christ as ruler. And that makes all the difference.

We fear. But we refuse to allow fear to rule our actions and decisions.

We recognize that courage is not the absence of fear; it is going ahead despite our fear. Indeed as John McCutcheon puts it, “courage has no meaning without fear.”[v] Jesus had his moment in Gethsemane where he first prayed that the cup before him might be removed before he prayed that God’s will be done.

We realize that we need to understand fearful situations as well as we can. For example, we might learn about the vetting process for refugees. It is long and complicated. And it is available online from the White House. Refugees are the most carefully screened travelers to the United States.[vi] We might learn about our country’s history with refugees and immigrants. We might look at what other countries are doing in response to refugees and acts of terror. We might consider how important it is to integrate refugees into society.

We remember that Jesus was a refugee. The 1951 Refugee Convention spells out that a refugee is someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”[vii] There was no UNHCR at the time. And the borders may not have been as clearly delineated as they are today. But under the terms of that definition, when Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus to Egypt to keep him safe from Herod, they became refugees.[viii]

Jesus teaches us that what the way we individually and collectively treat the least of our sisters and brothers is the way we treat him. That would seem particularly appropriate in relation to our brothers and sisters who are refugees—in the world’s refugees we encounter the Refugee Jesus.

The Refugee Jesus is the one who we celebrate today on this Christ the King Sunday. Lots of causes and commitments and things vie to have first place in our hearts and minds and souls and strength. But today we reaffirm our intention that Jesus is Lord. Jesus and no one else. Jesus and nothing else. We know we we will fall and fail as we try to live out that proclamation, but we also know that by God’s grace we can pick ourselves back up and try again. We are not who we should be – but we are not who we used to be – and we know that God in Christ can help us become who we could be.

On this day, our Gospel reading seems a bit out of place. We are at the end of the church year—Christ the King Sunday. And we read part of the confrontation between Jesus and Pilate that follows his arrest and precedes his execution. It’s the stuff of Holy Week. But here it is for today.

The reason lies in the content of the discussion between Pilate and Jesus. Pilate wants to know who Jesus is. The buzz on the street says that Jesus is a king. The Twitter feeds were filled with #Jesus #King of the Jews. “King” is a political term. And Pilate is a political person. He needs to know what is going on.

“Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate asks.

Jesus turns the question back on Pilate. He asks Pilate the question he asked his followers—the question he asks all people—the question he asks us. “Who do you say, I am?” He does not put it that directly. But that’s the heart of Jesus’ response. For who we say Jesus is makes all the difference in how we live.

Pilate tries again. He notes that Jesus has been “delivered” to him by others. He wants to know why. “What have you done?”

Jesus ignores this question and returns to the idea of kingship.  “My kingdom is not of this world.”  He is a different style of leader from what is contained in Pilate’s political understanding of being a king. The reign of Jesus is not “of the world” of political calculation, accusation, and contending interests.

Pilate, tries one more time: “So you are a king?”

Jesus replies, “You say that I am a king.” And again, Jesus describes what type of a king – a ruler – a leader – he is. Jesus spoke to Pilate – but his words have echoed to all people since – his words speak to us today.

The political understanding of a king involved struggle and domination. When we listen to Jesus – not just in this passage – but to his voice as consistently revealed in the Gospels – we know that his reign is about the dignity and equality of all – it is about love and caring and sharing.

Jesus’ ministry and mission is “to testify to the truth” – to proclaim the Good News of God’s love and grace – to call women and men to live in new ways –rooted in God’s love and justice – living as Jesus lived, loving as Jesus loves.

The reign of Christ has no geographical boundaries. Christ’s reign is about faith and hope and grace and love. His reign consists of followers who listen to his voice and seek to do his will and share love in his name and trust in his grace.

So we give thanks today for Jesus in whom God came among us.  We give thanks that the story of Jesus did not end in a cold, smelly barn.  It did not end as the Jesus and his parents fled to Egypt, becoming refugees. It did not end even on the cross.  God raised Jesus and the story continues.

We give thanks for Jesus who invites us to live in new, abundant ways.  We give thanks that Jesus calls us to enter into the story—to love one another. To welcome the newcomer. To build relationships across the diversities God creates.

As we consider responding to our sisters and brothers who are refugees, we quickly realize we cannot do everything to meet their needs. But as Archbishop Oscar Romero taught us, each of us can do something.

Perhaps we can write a letter to elected officials. Or give money. Or work with refugees who have arrived—providing transportation—becoming friends—helping gather needed household supplies. I have a number of friends who have recently had their first babies. They are participating in the Carry the Future project started by a mother from California that provides baby carriers to families that arrive in Greece.[ix] That is not everything. But it is something. And if you have ever carried a baby, you know it is something that can make a difference. Each of us can do something. Each of us can find concrete ways to love as we follow the Refugee Jesus who is Christ the King.

In his statement, “Choose welcome, not fear,” the Rev. Grady Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) noted that, after the crucifixion of Jesus, his disciples hid in fear. They gathered in an upper room and locked the doors. But God had other plans. Jesus appeared to them and said, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you’.[x] We who proclaim Christ as King were not meant to hide. We were meant to walk out in hope and compassion. Fear feeds terror. The Refugee Jesus calls us, invites us, challenges us, transforms us to witness to the Gospel with generous hospitality—to live as Jesus lived—to love as Jesus loves.[xi]

In the face of terror and in the face of fear, hope and faith and love are the way forward; they are the way to life.

As we follow the refugee Jesus; as we proclaim Christ the King, may we live in hope, faith, and love. Today and all days.

Amen.

 

 

[i] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/21/us/politics/donald-trump-sets-off-a-furor-with-call-to-register-muslims-in-the-us.html?_r=0

[ii] http://www.libertystatepark.com/emma.htm

[iii]http://oga.pcusa.org/site_media/media/uploads/oga/pdf/call_to_write_for_syrian_refugees_and_governors%5B1%5D.pdf

[iv] http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-11-20/six-bad-arguments-for-u-s-to-take-in-syrian-refugees

[v] http://www.folkmusic.com/lyrics/here-islands

[vi] https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/11/20/infographic-screening-process-refugee-entry-united-states

[vii] http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c125.html

[viii] Matthew 2:13-15

[ix] https://www.facebook.com/carrythefuture/

[x] John 20:21

[xi] This paragraph draws heavily on the Rev. Gradye Parsons’ statement posted at http://www.pcusa.org/news/2015/11/17/choose-welcome-not-fear/

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Reflections on the World Council of Churches General Assembly

The World Council of Churches recently concluded their 10th Assembly. The Assembly met in Busan, Republic of Korea.

When I traveled to Korea this spring, I had the privilege to address the Busan WCC Preparatory Committee.

I did not return for the Assembly. Part of me wishes I had. A large group of Presbyterians attended, including colleagues and friends. Hearing of their experiences reminded me of my Korean connections.

In addition to the news accounts from the WCC and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), many of the participants wrote and blogged about the Assembly. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly, wrote several reflections

For analysis of the Assembly through the lens of gender and racial justice, check out the blog of my friend Laura Mariko Cheifetz. Here are her current postings along with some teasers.

I know, I should really appreciate everyone’s voices being shared. I should make sure that any decision-making process allows for all voices. But consensus is just as complicated a process as is Robert’s Rules/parliamentary procedure, and the process combined with limited time allowed for discussion really can quash serious disagreement and discussion (unless you’re a dude, according to this meeting).

We have theological and Biblical reasons for our long-standing ecumenical activity. Succumbing to our desire to hoard our diminishing resources and the influence of the isolationist/conservative element in the PC(USA) would be a theological statement – that we believe we do not have enough. We believe in scarcity. We believe that our own institutional preservation is of greater theological value and import than our commitment to being part of the larger Christian family.

There is a line between tokenizing and fetishizing young people’s voices, and genuinely holding up their leadership. Let’s be clear, the church is usually behind other social institutions in giving young people real responsibilities and taking them seriously.

And a highlight of my day, besides the mens’ statement, was going to the steps outside the convention center with hundreds of other participants in the pre-assembly for a group picture, with women from all over the world singing “We Shall Overcome.” This, from women who had just been discussing trafficking of women and children, and sexual violence. There is plenty of hope here. I can’t wait for tomorrow, for the beginning of the assembly.

A woman selling food by the beach gave me a look when I said I was American. I took that to mean that she didn’t quite believe me because of my looks (this is a frequent problem I have when traveling in other countries – I don’t look white, don’t have blond hair or blue eyes, and I like spicy food, so I do not seem very American to some). I said my mother’s family was Japanese, and she walked away. I know that just because my family wasn’t in Japan, and spent a few years locked up in concentration camps in the U.S. for being Japanese, does not make much of a difference to a people who were systematically terrorized by a brutal and dehumanizing regime.

Like many with privilege, I want to squeeze myself into a corner and not take up too much space out of an awareness of that privilege. Of course, as an under-40 woman of color, there is another part of me that knows disappearing is not the answer. Making myself small and withholding my contributions to the work is just another way to exercise privilege, or to allow those from my denomination and country with more personal privilege to dominate. So I will participate. In fact, I think I’ll be working my ass off, dancing between contributing the appropriate amount and making sure my contributions are not dominant over the contributions of others with less economic and social power in this religious world. At least I’m aware that I should not dominate the conversation.

Laura also posts a number of photo blogs:

If you want to learn more about the WCC General Assembly, check out Laura’s work. She says more will follow.

See you along the Trail.

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