Tag Archives: justice

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Easter, First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone, Lent

So, dusty

Friends –
we are dust.
But do you not know
have you not seen
what the Holy One
can do with dust?
All of creation
every blessed creature,
every amazing facet,
every wonderful human being
you and me and all of us,
made from dust by God.
Made from dust and beloved of God.
So Dusty, if I may call us each that.
Go Dusty,
go and live.
Go and love kindness.
Go and do justice.
Go and walk this Lenten journey humbly with God.
Know, Dusty, that
the love of God
the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
and the peace and fellowship of the Holy Spirit
are with us now and forever.
Amen.
17 February 2021
inspired by a blessing from Jan Richardson

Leave a comment

Filed under Lent, Poem, Prayer

#FreeThePeopleDay!

Tomorrow is the 4th annual #FreeThePeopleDay! On New Years Eve in 2017, the Community Justice Exchange started this initiative. This year the CJE, the New Sanctuary Coalition, and others, again call people to donate the cost of a drink to their local community bail or bond fund.

Freedom means freedom from cages, and it also means freedom to thrive. Support the holistic freedom of your neighbors and donate to a local mutual aid effort, community bail fund or immigration bond fund. Find a fund in your area.

Tricia and I are in. We will give to the Louisville Community Bail Fund project of BLM Louisville.

Thank you if you choose to participate.

Leave a comment

Filed under Antiracism, Current Events, Human Rights

To remember, to motivate

God of justice,
God of love,
God of grace,
we thank you for the life of
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
We remember her service to our country,
her compassionate, caring heart,
her fierce devotion to fairness,
her persistence in pushing for equity,
her brilliant dissents,
her commitment to pursuing justice for
women, the LGBTQ community, and people pushed to the margins.
We marvel at the incredible courage and grace
she publicly displayed in the face of illness.
We are grateful that she
“used whatever talent she had
to do her work to the very best of her ability”
and that she helped
“to repair tears in her society,
to make things a little bettert
hrough the use of whatever ability she has.”
We give thanks for the life of
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
May her memory be a blessing.
Amen.

Note: the words in quotations are quotes from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, Human Rights, Prayer

I saw Roberto Clemente play … and live

As Major League Baseball celebrated Roberto Clemente Day on Septmber 9, I was moved by the posts honoring this amazing man. Viewing photos, watching videos, sharing posts, memories flooded over me.

A friend shared a post by a baseball fan lamenting never seeing Clemente, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ great right fielder from 1955 until his untimely death in 1972 play. “If there’s one athlete, past or present, that I wish I could have seen play, it would be Roberto Clemente.”

I understand the sentiment. Because I saw Clemente play. And I am forever grateful. 

At Forbes Field and at Three Rivers Stadium, I had the privilege to see Roberto Clemente play. On numerous occasions, I saw him play with the skill and grace and passion that few brought to the game. Slashing hits. Unmatched arm. He covered right field like a blanket. He ran the bases with abandon. 

But as great a player as he was, Roberto Clemente was an even greater human being. He cared for children, offering clinics in Puerto Rico and Pittsburgh. He advocated for civil rights. He demanded that he be treated justly as he challenged the systemic racism that permeated baseball and society.

Interviewed after he led the Pirates to victory in the 1971 World Series, Roberto Clemente spoke first to his parents – in Spanish. There was not a dry eye in my house. I suspect there was not a dry eye in many places. Tears fell in puddles when Clemente died on a humanitarian mission to aid the people of Nicaragua.

Yes. I saw Roberto Clemente play. More importantly, I saw Roberto Clemente live. And I am better for it. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Baseball, Current Events, Human Rights, Photo, Pittsburgh Pirates

A prayer for the Movement

A prayer for the Movement

The bad news, the sad news
kept coming through the day, O God.
The Rev. C.T. Vivian died in the morning.
Congressman John Lewis died in the evening.
Their deaths call to mind the death of
the Rev. Joseph Lowery but a few months ago
and the death of Emma Sanders last week.
Each worked for justice.
Each joined the struggle for civil rights, for human rights.
Each provided leadership to that effort.
We thank you for their lives,
their faith,
their courage,
their love,
their witness, and
their work.
We give thanks that they rest with you in peace and that they will rise in power.
Comfort their families and friends and all who grieve.
May their memories shine brightly
in our hearts, minds, and souls.
As we remember them,
may we also remember
the folk whose names are known to but a few,
but are written in your Book of Life.
The members of the Movement
for freedom,
for equity,
for justice.
As we remember,
may we be strengthened
to be outraged at injustice
wherever, however, it occurs
that we might take our place and do our part
in that Movement,
whenever, whatever that may be.
We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Note: the image of “folk whose names are known but to a few, but are written in your Book of Life” was first given to me by the Rev. Dr. Otis Turner.

Leave a comment

Filed under Antiracism, Current Events, Human Rights, Prayer

What does God require?

What does God require of me? Of us? Of the white church?
To do justice
to disrupt white supremacy culture
to dismantle structural racism
to build equitable systems
To love kindness
to see and honor God’s image in all people and every person
to practice radical hospitality
to build community that crosses social and cultural boundaries
To walk humbly with God
to listen and learn
to repent the sin of racism
to turn around and do better, by God’s grace

Leave a comment

Filed under Antiracism, Current Events, Poem

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.

Leave a comment

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

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.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Antiracism, Current Events, Prayer

Justice giant

Sharecropper’s son,
Baltimore’s own,
justice giant.

Congressman Elijah E. Cummings
January 18, 1951 – October 17, 2019

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, Six Word Story