Tag Archives: love

A prayer for everyone who grieves – a prayer for us all

We pray, O God,

for everyone who knows grief

be grief recent and raw

or from long ago and seemingly buried,

be grief for a solitary reason

or a complex situation snarled from multiple causes,

be grief a dull ache of loss and longing

or a sharp, almost unbearable tearing,

We pray, O God,

for everyone who knows grief

and because impermanence and loss

are woven into the fabric of creation and life,

we pray for us all, even ourselves.

May we have the grace to grieve

in the ways that bring healing to us;

may we find the courage

to accept appropriate help as, grief-stricken,

we make our way through shadowed valleys.

May we restrain our judgements,

check our expectations,

and allow each person

the freedom and space

to grieve in their own fashion.

Grant each person

the strength to mourn

and the wisdom to rely on you

as they grieve.

We pray in the name of Jesus

who wept at the death of his friend.

Amen.

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I Believe in the Communion of Saints

Hebrews 12:1-3
I Believe in the Communion of Saints

August 7, 2022
First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
The Rev. W. Mark Koenig

         The movie Amistad aired a day or two ago.

          It tells the story of a rebellion by a group of Africans on the Spanish ship La Amistad in 1839. The Africans, of the Mende people, had been illegally taken into slavery near Sierra Leone by Portuguese. They were taken to Cuba where they were sold to the Spaniards commanding La Amistad.

          As the ship sailed to another port, some of the Mende people escaped their shackles and killed most of the crew. They tried to force surviving crew members to sail them back to Africa, but they were tricked. Eventually the ship was seized by the forerunner of the U.S. Coast Guard.

          Trials followed. The issue pivoted on whether the Mende were free people being enslaved or not. To trade in human beings was illegal at the time. Enslavement was allowed. People born enslaved remained enslaved. People already enslaved could be sold to others for further enslavement. But the small step of banning the trade of free people had been taken. Were the Mende people on La Amistad free when they had been taken? A court decided they were, and the people should be released.

          The U.S. government, fearful of starting a civil war, appealed. The court again ruled in favor of the Mende.

          The U.S. government, fearful of starting a civil war, appealed again. To the Supreme Court.

          At this point, former President John Quincy Adams became involved. He was serving in the House of Representatives at the time. The abolitionists and lawyers representing the Mende people had approached him earlier and he had declined. Now, he said yes.

          I do not know if it happened this way in real life, but there is a scene in the movie where President Adams is speaking to Cinque, the leader of the rebellion. It happens shortly before the final arguments with the Supreme Court. Cinque is nervous. Adams seeks to reassure him. “You are not alone,” Adams says. He refers to himself and the other attorneys and the abolitionists supporting the Mende people.

          Cinque draws himself up to his full height. Speaking through a translator, he says, “I know. My ancestors will be with me. I have summoned them.”

          I had seen Amistad before. A couple times. But somehow I had missed this Communion of Saints moment.

          I believe in the Communion of Saints.

In the wooden pews of the Neville Island Presbyterian Church, l breathed in the aroma of pipe tobacco that permanently permeated my father’s clothes and joined my family and the congregation in affirming, “I believe in the Communion of Saints.”

I did not understand what that meant. I could have been no more that eight or nine years old. With no understanding, I affirmed the words. I believed.

Understanding has grown somewhat over the years. Belief has deepened profoundly.

Here is the basics of what I understand.

In the Reformed tradition, we do not believe that saints are holy people. People somehow better than the rest of us. People to set apart and place on pedestals.

Saints are everyone of us. Ordinary people. Believers who seek to follow Jesus as well as we are able. Believers of every time and every place.

Look around you at the people gathered here this morning – whether in person or on Zoom. You are seeing Saints.

When you have a chance, look in a mirror. You are seeing a Saint.

When you think of family, friends, acquaintances in other places, you are thinking of Saints.

When we celebrated Bill’s life yesterday, we celebrated a Saint.

When we call to mind those who have gone before us into death, our ancestors to use Cinque’s term, we call to mind Saints.

The Communion of Saints surrounds us at all times. We may not always be aware of it, but we live and move and have our being within the Communion of Saints.

From time to time, the reality of the Communion of Saints breaks into my head and heart and spirit with overwhelming power and grace. Usually when I least expect it, the understanding that in Christ, by the Holy Spirit, we are bound together in God’s love flows over me.

When we share a meal together. When friends and strangers help us with our daily lives. When we know that no matter how far apart Whitestone and Louisville may be, we are tied to one another in the love of Jesus Christ.

At times such as these, the Communion of Saints, some living and some in God’s nearer presence, began to swirl around me.

          It happened yesterday as we celebrated Bill’s life. I don’t know about you, but as I gave God thanks for Bill, so many people whose lives had touched Bill’s were present. Maybe, like Mary, they had gone before Bill in death. Maybe like Malinee and Lisa, they had other responsibilities. But they were all with us in the Communion of Saints.

          Three things that I believe we should do because we are part of the Communion of Saints.

          Give thanks to one another when we can.

          The Rev. Dr. Gayraud Wilmore was a giant in the world of theological education in the Presbyterian Church. I never met him. But I read his books. And many of the people I quote on a regular basis in my sermons studied with him.

          This year’s General Assembly gave Dr. Wilmore with an award for Excellence in Theological Education. Wonderful things were said. Important milestones celebrated. It was a touching moment.

          Except that Dr. Wilmore has been dead for two years.

On the one hand, it is never to late to say or do the right thing. On the other hand, there is blessing in letting people know what they mean to us when they can hear our words. I thank each of you and all of you for being part of my Communion of Saints. I am grateful to God for you.

Remember.

As my friend and mentor, the Rev. Dr. Otis Turner says, “The Communion of Saints consists of people everyone knows, people known to only a few of us, and people whose names we have never heard but are written in God’s book of life.” In almost every area of the church’s life and ministry, we are part of a long line of witnesses linking us to the past and moving into a future we can only imagine, knowing our imagination will fall short of what God has in store.

Remain open to what God is doing.

The Communion of Saints reminds us that God’s people are an evolving people. Learning. Growing. Being changed by the Holy Spirit. Again and again, drawn out of ourselves to something more faithful … more just … more peaceful … more loving. Drawn by a God who did new things and who is not finished with us yet. We are part of an evolving people. It is who the followers of Jesus have been. It is what the followers of Jesus have done. It is who Jesus calls us to be. It is how the Holy Spirit gifts us to be. We recall the past. We make our way in the present. We look forward to what God is doing in us and in our community.

I believe in the Communion of Saints.

For all the saints and what they teach us. Thanks be to God.

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Filed under Antiracism, Current Events, First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone, Human Rights, Movie

A prayer for the family, colleagues, and friends of the Rev. Dr. James Reese

The Rev. Dr. James Reese died on June 17 at age 98; he served over 70 years as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); he lived his life in ministry.

For the Rev. Dr. James Foster Reese (presente!):
for his life and love
for his faith and kindness
for his courage and witness
for his persistent challenge to white supremacy
for his insistent commitment to justice
for his consistent service to Jesus,
revealed in so many ways but particularly
as he ‘refused to leave the table’ where decisions were made
even when he felt pushed to the margins and ignored,
thanks be to God.
For his wife, Neola,
his family,
his friends,
his colleagues in ministry,
his mentees,
and all who knew and loved him,
we ask your comfort, God.
Keep his memory present and alive
as an inspiration and example to us all.
We pray in the name of Jesus
who the Rev. Dr. Reese followed.
Amen.

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Filed under Current Events, Friends, Prayer, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Presbytery of New York City

10 May 2022

Stretching. Walking. Gym at the Apartment.
Playlist based on Love & Hope in the Age of Coronavirus by Ester.
My Love Is Your Love – Whitney Houston
Holy – Jamila Woods
All These Things That I’ve Done – The Killers
Flashed Junk Mind – Milky Chance
Put Your Records On – Corinna Bailey Rae
FourFiveSeconds – Rhianna and Kayne West and Paul McCartney
Calling All Angels – Train
Cecilia and the Satellite – Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
Bold As Love – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
I’ll Follow the Sun – The Beatles
Lovely Day – Bill Withers
I Know Him So Well – Elaine Paige & Barbara Dickson
Anything at All – Over the Rhine
Nowhere to Go – Snow the Product
Eachother – Grace Potter feat. Jackson Browne, Marcus King & Lucius
I Believe That We Will Win – Pitbull
May This Be Love – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

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Filed under Exercise, Friends, Louisville, Music, playlist

A Spot of Tea or the Cup of Christ

Perhaps I should have felt disappointed.  Our tea with Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu was canceled.  I had looked forward to this visit.  We were to meet him and to share tea with him at his home on Bishop’s Court.  However, his schedule became very hectic during the days when we were in Cape Town.  Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the Archbishop had to change his hectic schedule.  I complain about how full my calendar gets – imagine what his looks like!  At any rate, the tea with our group from Cleveland was dropped from Archbishop Tutu’s schedule because he had to go to Johannesburg during that time.

This photo, by Benny Gool, is in the public domain, according to the Archbishop’s personal assistant.

On Thursday, November 2, we rose early.  We arrived at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town for the 8:00 am All Soul’s Day mass.  Archbishop Tutu was the celebrant.  Brightness and life beamed from him as he prayed his way through the mass.  When the time came to pass the peace, he came among us and wished the peace of Christ upon us.  The service continued.  The moment of the Eucharist arrived. We made our way forward. From the hands of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, we received the host.  From his eyes, loved shone on each person. From his face, welcome emanated, surrounding us each and all and embracing the world.  

As the service ended, Archbishop Tutu asked that we be introduced to the congregation of about thirty or so.  He greeted us warmly.  We presented him with a “Rainbow Children” stole.  In joy he put it on.  We could sense his excitement although he did manage to refrain from dancing!  It took an effort.  Then he asked if we were really from the United States – because no one was ready to take pictures.  The cameras came out and, with gracious exuberance, Archbishop Tutu posed with the group and with each of us individually.  Then he was gone.

Perhaps I should feel disappointed.  But I do not.  If you had a choice between sharing with Archbishop Desmond Tutu either a spot of tea or the cup of Christ – how would you choose?

For the life and faith and love of witness of Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu, thanks be to God.

Cape Town, South Africa
2 November 1995
revised
North East, Maryland
26 December 2021

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Filed under Antiracism, Current Events, Human Rights, Uncategorized, Worship

It comes this night

It comes this night.

Faintly, 
ever so faintly,
it comes.

Above the roar
of anger and hatred,
Above the howl 
of prejudice and bigotry,

Above the maelstrom
of systems and structures,
Above the crash 
of violence and war,

Above the groan
of doubt and despair,
Above the dis-ease
of heartache and heartbreak

Above the tumult
of turmoil and trouble
Above the clamor
of struggle and strife

Above it all,
despite it all
because of it all,
it comes.

Faintly,
ever so faintly,
it comes.

A baby’s cry,
proclaiming
life and
love and 
justice and
peace and
hope,
this night
and all nights.

It comes.
Thank God, it comes.

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A prayer, September 11, 2021

Gracious God,
twenty years on
we remember.

We remember
your precious children killed in
New York
Washington, DC,
Shanksville.

We remember
your precious children killed in
Afghanistan
Iraq
and around the world.

We remember
death
wounded bodies
wounded spirits
wounded souls.

We remember
acts of terror
acts of valor
acts of violence
acts of peace.

We remember
fear
anger
hate
prejudice.

We remember
kindness
courage
grace
generosity.

We remember
people coming together to
reach out
weep
sing
embrace
care.

We remember
songs ended
songs gone
songs created
songs begun
songs lived
songs shared.

Remembering,
may we take bold, faith-filled, hopeful steps
to unlearn the ways of war and
turn to ways that might make peace between people;
to overcome fear of one another
and recognize the dignity and value of every person;
to seek understanding of suffering
and nurture the empathy needed to work to alleviate it; and
to walk the paths of love
that leads to peace and justice.

Remembering Jesus,
in response to your Holy Spirit,
we pray. Amen.

with thanks to Shannan Vance-Ocampo, Chris Shelton, leaders of the United Church of Christ and Come from Away

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Resistance

“Resistance is the secret of joy,” writes Alice Walker (Possessing the Secret of Joy)

Perhaps, in a manner akin to a mathematical equation, the words could be reversed.
Perhaps, joy is a secret of resistance.

Joy is, at one and the same time, personal and communal.
Joy comes when communities and individuals are strengthened, nourished, sustained.
Joy comes when individuals and communities welcome and embrace one another in love.
Joy comes when communities and communities affirm all God’s children.
Joy comes when individuals and communities (including God’s whole creation) thrive.
Joy comes when communities and individuals experience well-being and wholeness.
Joy comes when individuals and communities love and practice kindness.
Joy comes when communities and individuals acknowledge evil and sin, repent, and seek repair, reparation, and justice.

To work for such joy is to reject the lies that we are made for enmity … the lies that we are made to “other” and fear and hate people from whom we differ … the lies that creation is ours to exploit … the lies of white supremacy and patriarchy and homophobia and all systems and structures of oppression.

To work for such joy is to resist.

“Resistance is the secret of joy.”

Joy is a secret of resistance.

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Filed under Books, Human Rights

15 months

You could never have imagined these past fifteen months.
You could not have planned for them.
But you faced them.
You adapted,
you improvised,
you learned,
you wept,
you laughed,
you cursed,
you resisted,
you persisted.
You found strength and love
and grace and hope undreamed of.
You made it this far
and you, awesome you,
will keep on going.

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Swamp oaks

Bare now,
soon to be leafed,
the four hundred
raise their branches
to remember
horror and hope
fear and courage
destruction and grace
and, in a place of death,
to proclaim love and life.

30 March 2021
Louisville, Kentucky

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