Tag Archives: Jesus

Persistent. Resilient. Adaptive.

98350027_2933499853406610_1310349137090183168_oActs 1:1-11
May 24, 2020
First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
The Rev. W. Mark Koenig
(Image by the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow)

Whatever else they were, the early followers of Jesus were a persistent, resilient, adaptive group of people.

Yes, they failed to understand what Jesus taught them. They made mistakes. They fell short. Often. At the end, Judas betrayed Jesus. The other men fled when he was arrested.

Then there was Peter. No follower demonstrates their shortcomings as clearly as Peter.

When Jesus taught his disciples that he would suffer and die, Peter “took Jesus aside” and objected to the teaching. This may have been a set-up. Because the gospel says that when Jesus replied, he looked first at his disciples and then rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan.”[i]  I don’t know about you, but I would have something of a problem following someone who called me Satan. Peter hung with Jesus.

John’s Gospel tells us that there was something of an awkward moment when Jesus went to wash the disciples’ feet at the meal we call the Last Supper. Peter said no. Jesus explained why. Peter said wash my hands and head too. Jesus explained why not. Twice in one conversation, Peter got it wrong.[ii]

He did so again when Jesus talked about his coming death. “I’ll lay down my life for you,” Peter said. Jesus answered, “before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.”[iii] After Jesus’ arrest, Peter did exactly as Jesus predicted.

At the arrest of Jesus, A disciples took out a sword and started hacking away. All three gospels include this story. John names the disciple. Peter. A noble gesture to protect Jesus. But misguided. “Put away the sword,” the nonviolent Jesus said.[iv]

But, for all the times that Peter fell short, and for all the times that the others fell short, I still say those first disciples were persistent, resilient, and adaptive.

Consider all they went through as they followed Jesus.

They left their families behind. Not always easy to do.

They left their homes and employment. I do not know how much a fisherperson earned in the time of Jesus, but it had to be more than one could earn following an itinerant preacher and teacher with no place to lay his head.[v]

Jesus expanded their understanding of who God loved. To the Jewish people, Jesus added: Samaritans, Gentiles, Romans, Syrophoenicians, women, children, people with illnesses that normally put them outside the community, and everyone. Each act of kindness and healing and welcome on the part of Jesus meant his followers had to draw love’s circle wider and wider until it disappeared, and they realized that each person is a beloved child of God.

The length of Jesus’ ministry is not precisely known. Many scholars suggest between 3 and 3.5 years.[vi] Others think it was shorter. However long, his disciples spent most of that time with Jesus.

Then  came the arrest and crucifixion. And Jesus was gone. His disciples left alone. They struggled with what to do.

Three days later, the resurrected Jesus appeared to them again. After some confusion, they rejoiced.

Then came the Ascension. The return of Jesus to heaven. The events described in today’s passage. As did many of the people of the day, his disciples still had political expectations of him. They still thought he would establish an earthly kingdom, so they asked if he would do that now. Jesus responded that that was not for them to know. God controls the time.[vii]

Jesus then promised the Holy Spirit.[viii] I invite you to join us next Sunday at the same Zoom time and the same Zoom channel to learn, or hear again, what became of that promise.

For now, consider all the disciples experienced.

They left much behind to follow Jesus.

Life on the road.

Prejudice breaking, mind expanding teachings.

Jesus with them.

Jesus arrested and put to death in a state-sanctioned execution. Not with them.

Jesus resurrected. With them.

Jesus ascended. Not with them.

They lived a whirlwind life following Jesus. And for the record it that whirlwind would continue as they continued to follow.

Through it all, they were persistent, resilient, and adaptive. Persistent. They stayed the course. Resilient. They recovered from difficult events kept on going. Adaptive. They changed again and again and again.

Persistent. Resilient. Adaptive. These are not named in the Bible as either the fruits or the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I believe they are both. Because without them, the movement that started with those first followers of Jesus could never have grown to be the church that it is today.

This weekend, one of the conversations in our nation has been about opening churches and other house of worship. But to talk about opening churches is to address the wrong question.

Buildings played, play, and will play an important role in the life of the church through the ages. But the Church is the people—people who have committed to follow Jesus and covenanted to do so together.

I was confirmed as a member and ordained as a minister of the Word and Sacrament inside the physical facility known as East Main Presbyterian Church in Grove City, Pennsylvania. But that building has undergone many renovations and additions, as I noticed when I returned three years ago for my mother’s memorial service.

As it is and as I remember it, it holds a warm spot in my heart. But far warmer are the spots filled with people – Rev. Gordon Boak, Rev. Jack Dunlap, Nancy Paxton, Polly Beech, Becky May, the list goes on and on. Because the Church … the Church is the people. People who have committed to follow Jesus Christ and who have covenanted to follow together.

A church is not closed because the doors to its building are temporarily shut.

A church is not closed because the people have made the difficult choice to provide sacred distance and care for its members and community—particularly the most vulnerable people in its community—by not meeting in person for a season.

A church only closes when its people fail to love. Only closes when its people stop proclaiming the word. Only closes when its people no longer reach out to one another and the community and the world.

Churches have not closed. The First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone has not closed. We do not need to open or even reopen the church because we never closed the church. We and many others closed church buildings. And when the time is right and the risk can be minimized, we and congregations and mosques and synagogues and other houses of worship will return to our buildings.

Until then, we will be persistent. Resilient. Adaptive. The first followers of Jesus did this. And the Church of Jesus Christ has done this since the day of Pentecost. Teaser alert: tune in next week, same Zoom time, same Zoom channel to learn more about that day.

The Roman Christians of the third century who from time to time worshiped underground in the catacombs would be stunned to take part in a Zoom worship service.[ix] But after a while, and after they learned English, they would figure out that gathered around devices the likes of which they never imagined, we are worshiping Jesus.

Despite all the movies I have watched, I really have no idea what it would have been like to worship in a massive cathedral during the middle ages. I have no desire to invent a time machine and go back and find out. I do not want to study Latin for one thing. But if I did, I would learn what to do and see the connections.

Persistent. Resilient. Adaptive. That is the story of the Church. That is the story of the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone.

Presbyterians have gathered for almost 149 years on the corner of 15th and 149th. The building has changed over the years. I first saw our building about 10 years ago. Fellman Hall and the lift were not there. Programs changed over the years. But the essence of the Church has remained the same. The First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone has always consisted and consists today of followers of Jesus Christ who have proclaimed the Good News of God’s grace and witnessed to the love of God in Jesus Christ.

After almost 149 years, we worship on Zoom Church.

We share the Lord’s Supper.

We sing. That is a challenge for us and for everyone using Zoom, but we have figured out a way to make it work.

We pray for each other and for needs in God’s world.

When one hurts, we all hurt. When one rejoices, we all give thanks to God.

We celebrate birthdays.

We study.

We have learned a new way to reach out to neighbors who hunger.

We have received the One Great Hour of Sharing Offering to support caring ministries in our nation and around the world.

We have trained officers. We will ordain and install them next Sunday.

The First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone is open, serving God, and following Jesus.

We are Christ’s Church:

Persistent.

Resilient.

Adaptive.

And one last time, I invite you to join us next week at the same Zoom time, the same Zoom channel to hear about the Holy Spirit who gives us those gifts. Amen.

[i] Mark 8:31-33

[ii] John 13:1-17

[iii] John 13:36-38

[iv] John 18:11

[v] Luke 9:58

[vi] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ministry_of_Jesus

[vii] Acts 1:6-7

[viii] Acts 1:8

[ix] https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/first/catacombs.html

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Laundry night in NYC

Frodo walked into Mordor,
even though one does not simply do that,
to destroy a ring of power.

Dorothy followed the Yellow Brick Road
to find the wizard who could return her to Kansas.

A shepherd, left 99 sheep behind
to search for one that was lost.

With the knights of the table round,
Galahad sought the Holy Grail.

I’m looking for a lost sock.

13 October 2018
Manhattan, New York

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I choose the way of life

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. has apparently urged students, staff and faculty at his Christian school to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon on campus. The purpose seems to be protection in the event of an attack.

“Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here,” Falwell reportedly said.

This from a man who purports to follow Jesus who told Peter to put away his sword.

But Falwell further appears to have added an Islamphobic remark.

“I’ve always thought if more good people had concealed carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in,” Falwell said.

Donald Trump issued a call to bar Muslims from entering the United States.

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” a campaign press release reportedly said.

This from a man who claims to follow Jesus who continually crossed lines of prejudice and discrimination.

To Falwell and to Trump, I say “No! You do not speak for me.”

I reject these messages of hate.

I reject these messages of hate because of what I understand it to mean to be a citizen of the United States of America. We are the home of the brave and courage comes from inside ourselves and among ourselves not from being armed to the teeth and shooting first. The message of Lady Liberty is a message of welcome not a message of exclusion.

F26 Lift Highlands Camp, CO 25 August 2012

I reject these messages of hate because they are incompatible with my faith in Jesus.

Jesus calls us to include not to divide; to love not to fear; to respond to violence with creative nonviolence. Jesus invites us to live into hope; to make ourselves vulnerable; to build and nurture community.

The world is a scary place. I know that.

However, responding with weapons and violence and judgement and exclusion leads only to more fear, destruction, and death.

The way to life, and it takes hard, hard work,  is to recognize we are all God’s children, created with an amazing diversity, to honor God’s image in one another, and to love one another. It will involve challenges and risks and pain and sorrow. But it will also involve grace amazing and joy abounding and blessings abundant.

So I reject these, and all, messages of hate. And I choose the way of life. I will protest hate and I will love as well as I am able.

See you along the Trail.

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On this night we gather

On this night, as we gather,

bellies spasm with hunger
winter seeps into the bones of people with no homes
thoughts turn to Syria, South Sudan and places between and beyond
people plot violence
children watch parents die of AIDS, wondering when their turn will come
relationships fray and come apart
children and women and men endure abuse
economic uncertainty undoes nations and households
walls divide people from their homes
handguns bark and blood flows
racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, and more
privilege some and crush life from others
drugs surge through veins to allow escape from reality’s pain
death comes calling — sometimes welcome, sometimes not
sorrow and suffering spread around the world
trouble and turmoil touch us all
evil stalks the earth

Yet
in the midst of all that
in the face of all that
in spire of all that
because of all that
on this night,

we gather

to sing and pray;
read ancient words and light candles
as we celebrate again
the birth of a child —
— nothing more and nothing less
than the every day miracle —
except that this child — this Jesus —
tells us
teaches us
shows us
life does not have to be the way it is
but that it can be filled
with
hope and
faith and
grace and
sharing and
commitment and
community and
justice and
righteousness and
well-being and
wholeness and
peace . . .
. . . on earth . . .
. . . for all!

May it be so.

(originally written for Christmas Eve 2003; adapted annually since)

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Lent 1: Who am I?

F13 Who am I? Trinity Cathedral, NY 22 October 2011

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, New York
22 October 2011

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Trumpeting resurrection

The saints of the United Presbyterian Church of Ozone Park invited me to preach this morning. It was a beautiful, sunny, cool day in Queens. Easter lilies graced the front of the sanctuary, trumpeting resurrection. 

As usual my photo fails to do justice – and yet, perhaps under some unperceived artistic inspiration, the photo blurry photo the sense of movement present on that first Easter morning – going to the tomb – returning to get others – going back to tell what they had seen, though not yet understood.

Alleluia!

See you along the Trail.

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Maundy Thursday 2012 makes me wonder

Maundy Thursday this year fell on an interesting day on the calendar. Wednesday marked the anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Friday marks the anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan genocide.

On the night of his arrest, the night before his execution, Jesus shared bread and the cup and gave his followers a new commandment: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another (John 13:34).”

On the night before his assassination, Dr. King proclaimed that he had been to the mountaintop.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

On the night before Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira died in a plane crash, the night before hell engulfed Rwanda, what did the people do? What did they feel? What did they think?

I wonder.

See you along the Trail

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