Category: Blogs

America’s Original Sin(s)

America’s Original Sin(s)

It’s been said that racism is America’s original sin. Whether it be Native Americans, Africans, or the Japanese, America has a long and ugly history of singling out certain ethnic and racial groups for special attention, detention and abuse. Slavery, perhaps is the darkest chapter of that history and we are still dealing with the aftermath.

The evangelical church used to be as equally concerned with social ills as with personal salvation. Key players in the abolitionist movement were people of faith who risked their lives and fortunes eradicating what they saw as a sin against God and humanity. The Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th century brought not only personal salvation but social reform. The Presbyterian Minister Jonathan Blanchard decried the evils of slavery based on his interpretation of the Bible and, in particular, what he considered the oneness of all humanity. He stated that: “I rest my opposition to slavery upon the one-bloodism of the New Testament. All men are equal, because they are of one equal blood.”

You have heard me say essentially the same things from the pulpit and that “we all stand on equal ground at the foot of the cross.” We share not only in the blood of Christ but in each other’s blood by way of our common humanity and connection to the Source. It’s shocking to me that the 80% of evangelicals, who happened to vote for our current president, have not made racial reconciliation a defining issue. Many in the church have made a Faustian bargain with the political establishment and have been willing to overlook the continuing injustices related to law enforcement, the criminal justice system and economic inequality.

There certainly needs to be room in any faith community for discussion and disagreement about the political solutions needed to address the social ills and sins which still plague us. But if there’s any evangelical blood left in my body it yearns for the great tradition of spiritual and social reform embodied in people like Blanchard, Lyman Beecher and even C.G. Finney.

If the evangelical church is to save its soul and if our great United States of America is to save its democracy it needs to get back to “basics.” A recent Atlantic magazine article nails down what this means for me: “Democracy is not merely a set of procedures. It has a moral structure. The values we celebrate or stigmatize eventually influence the character of our people and polity. Democracy does not insist on perfect virtue from its leaders. But there is a set of values that lends authority to power: empathy, honesty, integrity and self-restraint. And the legitimization of cruelty, prejudice, falsehood, and corruption is the kind of thing, one would think, that religious people were born to oppose, not bless.”

The Jewish high holy days have just been completed. A part of that great tradition is the cry of repentance and the search for atonement. In that vein I am reminded of a Hebrew Scripture popular with evangelicals: “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will heal their land.” II Chronicles 7:14

“Your Spiritual Autobiography: Emmanuel, the Next Chapter”  Seminal Moments in Emmanuel’s Story

“Your Spiritual Autobiography: Emmanuel, the Next Chapter” Seminal Moments in Emmanuel’s Story

Pastor Kenneth Gill, 8/12/2018, Emmanuel

“Your Spiritual Autobiography: Emmanuel, the Next Chapter”

Seminal Moments in Emmanuel’s Story:

From: “Emmanuel the Autobiography of Emmanuel Baptist Church

on its 125th Anniversary”, Written in 1991

Choir or Quartet

In 1944 a young Japanese American woman had become a part of the Emmanuel Baptist Church. She had just been released from a Japanese internment camp and was living in the home of Marilyn and John Thomas. The young woman wanted to join the choir but this was wartime and the largest contributor to the church, an internationally known businessman, predicted that Emmanuel would become known as the “Jap church” if she became a choir member. Consequently, the next choir practice consisted of four people instead of twenty and the wealthy donor threatened to withdraw his pledge and leave the membership if the woman were allowed to join. There was an extended, agonized meeting of the Board of Trustees soon thereafter to come up with a policy and decision. Opinions were divided and tempers flared but finally they voted to allow the Japanese woman to join the choir. Consequently the disgruntled wealthy member left the church and withdrew his huge pledge. Time passed and within the next two years the church budget doubled.

The Klux Klan Calls

When the new minister came to town there were large signs as one entered the village which read: “This is a Christian community.” He thought that was nice until he realized the slogan meant, “No Jews wanted.” In fact, the real estate board had a regulation that if a realtor sold property to a Jew, the penalty was twice the commission on the sale. Aware of the racist messaging, the new Emmanuel minister preached a sermon saying, “It was easy to refer to Christ or Lord, or Son of God, but there seemed to be a block against evening thinking about Jesus as a Jew.” The word spread fast and the next night Emmanuel’s minister answered the doorbell at home to be confronted by representative of the KKK, threatening him and the church if he continued to talk of equality or fellowship amongst people in that way. As it turned out, the editor of the Ridgewood paper ended up printing the whole sermon in the local paper and the police were alerted. The KKK members cowered and disappeared and the congregation would eventually would go on not only to pride itself in a free pulpit but the freedom of all people of all kinds to enter into church fellowship.

Punishment or Redemption

There was the time when Emmanuel’s beloved Senior Minister announced the end of his long term marriage and his impending divorce. (Unlike now, forty years ago divorce, especially by a clergyperson was still stigmatized and often ended a minister’s ministry.) The pastor submitted his resignation to the congregation but the church leaders refused to accept it. Instead, they offered support and compassion and shared the pain in what was for that pastor a terrible moment in his life. Likewise, when a young , female associate minister at Emmanuel became pregnant “out of wedlock” there was a heated debate about what to do. Opinions were sharply divided, some people left the church but in the end redemption was the last word. The young woman continued to serve the church and to this day continues to have a flourishing ministry in a local church. (A footnote that in its almost 150 year history the church has never booted a minister out!) The story of a person’s life, or that of a church hinges on critical moments and choices. The future is open for Emmanuel and the next chapter is yet to be written.

Following are two possible accounts or scenarios of how that next chapter might be written: Emmanuel 2030, 40 years after the last account was written in 1991.

EMMANUEL 2030, SCENARIO #1– Emmanuel officially closed its doors today on the eve of its 140th anniversary. It joins several historic Ridgewood churches which have closed in the last year, one becoming a restaurant and the other used as a site for the long debated parking garage. The dwindling congregation of about ten participating members just could not sustain the church any longer. Dwindling finances and attendance had plagued the church for years but in the end, demographic and cultural changes and the general decline in participation in mainline Protestant churches made it impossible to continue. The Holmstead School closed in 2027, which eliminated its major financial subsidy. After work with several consultants and numerous attempts at church renewal with several ministers, the congregation was unable to attract and retain new, contributing members to it’s basically traditional program and structure. Both a Unitarian and Reformed congregation approached Emmanuel leadership about consolidating congregations but the members were unwilling to make the necessary changes to accommodate a merger. A vital Korean Christian congregation offered to share expenses but, again, the church was unwilling to move its Sunday morning worship from 10:30am. to 9:30a.m. and so the negotiations stopped. It’s not that the “Emmanualites”, as they like to call themselves, were unhappy with the handful of remaining congregants. They still enjoyed listening to the organ every Sunday, they still loved their coffee hour and what remained of the annual festival but with most members approaching 90 and above, there was little energy left to keep the church running. The upside is that the substantial remaining assets, including, the building have been turned over to a foundation which will fund significant not for profit and charitable work throughout northern New Jersey. Part of the proceeds will go to the ABCNJ, which itself is in financial straits due to the shrinking and closure of many of its own member churches. Unfortunately there has been a lot of arguing and acrimony amongst some of the remaining members over how to distribute the assets and most recently denominational authorities have needed to provide a conflict mediator to help sort things out. The sales agreement calls for the sanctuary to be preserved as a kind of historical landmark and wedding venue and the educational wing will be replaced with luxury condos. The new property owners have agreed to leave a large, attractive memorial plaque on the front of the remaining structure as a tribute to the rich legacy of mission and ministry of the Emmanuel Baptist Church.

EMMANUEL 2030, SCENARIO #2– The congregation of Emmanuel Church has just celebrated its 140th anniversary. In a special ceremony, the celebratory crowd planted it’s fourth tree on Hope Street in the shade of the flourishing first tree which was planted in 2016. The congregation has undergone substantial changes over the last 10 or 12 years and is barely recognizable compared to its traditional constituency. Worshipers come from many diverse faith backgrounds and ethnic groups. In a religiously and ethnically pluralistic community, Emmanuel has adapted by embracing the rituals and wisdom of many traditions along with the Bible and other sacred texts. The church has become known not only for thoughtful, compelling preaching but for the excellence and diversity of its music. On most Sundays the sanctuary is comfortably full with an additional service offered on special religious holidays and with a live stream audience that far out numbers those physically in the sanctuary. Asked about the reason for the growth in membership, the current church moderator said it wasn’t so much a particular program but the fact that Emmanuel had truly become known as a welcoming, inclusive, caring and open community where all people were received. As well, since it adapted its sanctuary for use as a theatre space, people come from throughout the tristate area to enjoy thought provoking, high quality plays and productions, a kind of off-Broadway of Bergen County which includes a significant program for low income children.

Like all of its sister churches, Emmanuel has faced its share of financial challenges but has have been able to create a unique, multi-staff ministry with several part time bi-vocational pastors and increased lay leadership. Five years ago, the church called its first openly gay associate minister and the abandoned church “dungeon” has been given new birth as a vital center for teenagers seeking counsel , support and friendship. The church offices are home to an interfaith community outreach program which provides volunteer opportunities and sponsors a county wide program promoting peace and justice and sustainability issues (The Wheeler Center). The Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities share together in ministry to youth and young adults, in the affordable housing initiative and in the Charter for Compassion. With the sale of several church properties in Ridgewood, congregations, interact and even worship together much more frequently and share as much as possible in community outreach. Emmanuel has a long history of connecting Biblical faith and social action, but in recent years, the congregation has taken a huge leap in its outreach program. The property at 324 Ridgewood Ave is currently being used as a highly structured “halfway house” program for men recently incarcerated (The Clark Initiative) and Emmanuel just celebrated the third anniversary of the four condominiums built on church property used as affordable senior housing. Two of the units are now occupied by senior church members. Over the years Emmanuel has become known as a community center and clearinghouse related to the pressing social issues and crises that have emerged in Ridgewood and Bergen County. When a local mosque was defaced last week, over 300 gathered at the church as a show of support. Since 2020, the church has sponsored 8 refugee families (The Shaver Fund), as well as having provided sanctuary to 3 undocumented families during the massive 2019 U.S deportation program. In recent years we have lost a number of our beloved older members but their memory and legacy lives on. One longtime member left the church a considerable endowment, the proceeds of which are exclusively dedicated to outreach beyond the doors of the church. Pastor Gill retired some years ago, but the strategic planning project which began before and during his tenure continues. Some items have dropped off the list but new opportunities have emerged. Congregational members and others still regularly enter the Meditation Chapel to light candles, pray. The members of Emmanuel have come to deeply understand and appreciate that their life and work together needs to be rooted in the spiritual life, the “mind of Christ” , which has sustained their unity in the midst of many disagreements and has seen them through their many challenges over the years. At the end of a recent planning session one thoughtful congregant suggested we change the tagline from: “Emmanuel: God With Us” to “Emmanuel: God (is still) With us”….Indeed She is!

In Summary: These two scenarios are neither inevitable nor predestined. The fact is that we don’t know what the future holds, or exactly how the next chapter will be written, but we do know that we can and should have a hand in writing it. We don’t have to wait until to 2030 to write down and describe what has happened in retrospect; instead we can and should be a part of writing the next chapter. Just like the story of our own lives, we have the privilege and responsibility to “work out our salvation with a sense of awe and wonder.” As Antonio Machado has said, “My (fellow) travelers, there is no path; we make the path by traveling.”

Are you An “Enlightened Soul?”

Are you An “Enlightened Soul?”

Buddhists call it enlightenment. Christians and Jews call it salvation. Hindus call it nirvana. It is the place in religious experience in which one comes to fundamentally see and experience reality in a new way. One of the earmarks of that altered state of consciousness and of authentic spirituality is the recognition of the divine in every moment and every movement of life.

After our enlightenment we may continue to do the same work and live the same lives but do it in a fundamentally different way. Anthony de Mello makes the point by retelling a little parable: The young seeker asked the guru, “Before enlightenment what did you do?” The wise teacher responded, “I chopped wood and drew water from the well.” “And after enlightenment what did you do?” “Oh wondrous marvel,” the guru responded, “I chop wood, I draw water from the well!”

After we find enlightenment/salvation, most things remain the same. The tree is still a tree. People are just what they were before and so are we. We may continue to be as moody or even tempered, as wise or foolish. We may go to the same jobs and eat with the same people. The one difference is that we see things with a different eye. We are, at once, more detached and more engaged in each moment. Our hearts are full of wonder in each moment and with each person we encounter.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, “Every bush is afire with God, but only those who have eyes to see know they’re standing on holy ground.” We sometimes cry out to hear or see some evidence of the presence of God in our lives and in our world but equally often fail to see and hear the little epiphanies that fill our daily lives. Such was the case with one desperate seeker:

The man whispered,

“God, speak to me,”

And a meadowlark sang

But the man did not hear.

So the man yelled,

“God, speak to me!”

And the thunder rolled across the sky

But the man did not listen.

The man looked around and said,

“God, let me see you,”

And a star shone brightly

But the man did not noticed

And the man shouted,

“God, show me a miracle,”

And a new life was born

But the man did not know.

So the man cried out in despair,

“Touch me, God, and let me know that you are here!

Whereupon God reached down and touched the man

But the man brushed the butterfly away and walked on.

Remember, enlightenment comes in unexpected forms.

WHEN DOES GOD GET MAD?

WHEN DOES GOD GET MAD?

You don’t hear me preach much about “the God of anger” on Sundays, as I prefer to emphasize the “God of love” in my sermons. Certainly, the entirety of the biblical witness describes God primarily as “loving grace,” despite the fact that the church, for centuries, has used the image of a vengeful, punitive God to “scare the hell” out of people and enforce compliance with the rules and expectations of the church. There are, however, many instances in the Hebrew Bible and even in the New Testament in which God’s “anger” takes center stage. The question is, “what provokes the “wrath” of God and is that “righteous indignation” ever justified even by the followers of the Prince of Peace.

It is clear that the thing that really makes God’s mad is injustice. Even more so, injustice perpetrated or supported in God’s name and by those who claim to be God’s people gets God’s blood boiling. Just a few of the dozens of relevant biblical texts are found in the prophets Amos, Jeremiah and Isaiah. Amos said in 5:21 in response to those who were abusing their own people, “I despise your feasts and take no delight in your solemn assemblies” The epitome of God’s righteous indignation against religious hypocrisy at the expense of the poor, the oppressed, the most needy and most vulnerable is described in Isaiah Chapter 58. Please read that chapter in its entirety as you reflect on the latest current events. Even Jesus, at times, could not hold back his anger when it came to taking advantage of the most vulnerable and powerless. When he overturned the money changer’s tables in the Temple he was calling out economic injustice. He could have just as easily been in a modern payday lending office.

Yes, the God I know is a God of love but this same God seems to have a pretty short fuse when it comes to using his/her name in defense of doing things which hurt other people, especially the “least of these.” One of our own government officials recently appealed to the Bible to justify the unjustifiable practice of separating children from their parents. I don’t think God would be to happy with this, in fact, I think it would make him downright mad. What makes you mad? Do you get mad when somebody steals your parking place or cheats you out of a few dollars? Maybe we’re getting angry about the wrong things. This past week there has been a groundswell of indignation regarding the separation of immigrant families. The right kind of anger is not necessarily bad. Paul himself said to “be angry and not sin.” I challenge you to become more “Godlike” by getting upset about the things that matter most and then channeling that anger into constructive, redemptive action which can, in small ways, bring some light into the world.

”No Other Way”

”No Other Way”

“God is Love and those who make their home in love, make their home in God and God in them.” I John 4:16

 

The deepest yearning of the human heart might just be the need to love and be loved. Raymond Carver said, “And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.”

The need to feel ourselves valued and affirmed is overwhelming and universal. We all have the need to be loved as we are and for who we are. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes an existential crisis of one form or another to bring us to the point where our veneers of self-sufficiency and are carefully crafted  personas are adequately stripped away so we can receive the love for which we so desperately yearn.

Therapist Rebecca Raymond tells the tale of one young lady and an experience which led her to allow herself to be loved as she had never before: “In the eighth year after her recovery from cervical cancer, Hellene was a truly beautiful woman who spent hours on her appearance. Even during the worst of her chemotherapy and illness, her nails had been perfect and her wigs were exquisite. No one had ever seen her face without makeup since she was a teenager. She had been a single person for several years, now, but when she was married, she always woke 30 minutes before her husband did to be fully made up and dressed before he opened his eyes. Hellene came to see me before she became engaged. She described her fiancé as a wonderful person who was kind, loyal, intelligent and humorous. He was a highly successful and creative businessman. They had been living together for some time and got along very well. She described him as perfect, with one exception: He lacked passion. Their romantic life was pleasant but boring-he asked her permission every time he kissed her and she was not sure that this was the kind of man she wanted. All of that changed abruptly at 5:04 p.m., Oct. 17, 1989. On that afternoon, Hellene was in one of San Francisco’s finest department stores seeking the perfect outfit for a business dinner honoring her fiancé. In the company of a personal shopper, she was in the dressing room wearing fuchsia silk that she decided was just right.

Both women were admiring the dress when the shopper suggested she wear it up to the 7th floor and match it to a pair of shoes. Leaving all her belongings in the locked dressing room, she went to the shoe department. She had just tried on a pair of heels when the earthquake struck. All of the lights went out, the building shook violently, and she was thrown to the floor. In the darkness she could hear things falling around her.  When the shaking stopped, a few saleswoman and several other customers somehow made their way down the stairs to the darkened front of the store. There was broken glass everywhere. Helene found herself standing in the street in a very expensive dress and perfectly matching 4 inch heels. Frightened and dazed people rushed by her. All of her clothes and purse were somewhere in the dark chaos of a building, which was quite possibly no longer safe to reenter. Her money was in the purse and so were her car keys. Walking to the corner she picked up a phone, but it was dead.

There were no cabs and no one to ask for help. She turned north and started walking toward her home many miles away. It took her almost eight hours to reach there. After a short time her feet began to hurt, so she took off the heels and threw them away. As she walked on, her nylons tore and her feet began to bleed. She passed buildings that had collapsed, stumbled over rubble and waded through streets filled with filthy water from firefighting efforts. Dirty, sweating and disheveled, she walked down the marina to the Golden Gate Bridge and crossed into the next county and her home in San Rafael.

She reached home sometime after midnight and knocked on her own front door. It was opened by her fiancé who had never seen her with her hair uncombed. Without a word, he took her into his arms, kicked the door closed and covered her dirty tear stained face with passionate kisses. Hellene is a very intelligent person, she couldn’t understand why she had never met this ardent lover before. When she asked him he said simply, “I was always afraid of smearing your lipstick.”

Hellene tells me that now when she begins to relapse into her former perfectionism, she remembers the look of love in her fiancé’s eyes when she opened the door. She had been looked at by men all her life, but she had never seen that expression in a man’s eyes before. She had never felt so loved before.

From a religious perspective, the idea of recognizing our “belovedness” and living in and out of that belovedness is the heart and soul of living faith. As priest and author   Henri Nouwen has said, “Jesus whole life and preaching had only one aim: to reveal the inexhaustible love of God and show the way to let that love guide every part of our daily lives.” In the circle of faith we talk about the “unconditional” love of God. Put more simply, that means that God love us anyway-even with our, smeared lipstick, checkered pasts, our character flaws and our faltering faith. I like to say that God loves us for exactly who we are that we might become more than we are. That unconditional love provides the platform for our growth and transformation. God loves us with a tender and relentless  love that calls us to our true home in the spirit. This is the only things that can fulfill the deepest yearning of the human spirit….there is no other way.

Why Is Change So Difficult

Why Is Change So Difficult

Why do many if not most human beings inherently resist change? From my personal and congregational experience over many years it seems there three basic reasons: We are confused, we are fearful and we are exhausted. First the confusion part. The world is changing exponentially and at light speed these days, especially with the rise of technology. Many of us don’t understand the how and why of the changes taking place and how those changes will affect us. Sometimes those who are attempting to enact the change haven’t clearly described or communicated it to us in a way that makes sense. These feelings of confusion give rise to fear. People tend to fear what they don’t understand. Think about our relationship with strangers and “outsiders” who invade our comfortable spaces (and churches) bringing with them unusual practices and ideas. We often fear them until we get to know them and then our attitudes can suddenly and dramatically change. Finally, following all of the confusion and fear comes exhaustion. So much in our world is changing so fast that we get worn out trying to adjust. For most people, simply going through the motions of life and fulfilling our basic responsibilities absorbs much of our time and energy with little appetite left for adjusting to change. In this case inertia takes over and even if the same old thing(s) aren’t really productive or adding value to our lives we find it easier just to continue to do the same things in the same way.

Here’s the deal, however, in terms of change and how we relate to it. We cannot stop the change. We may have the illusion that we can control things, but in the end the changes will arrive and we will either learn how to navigate them or we will left behind in a sea of resentment and fear. Change is the very nature of life and transformation should be at the very heart of the spiritual life and congregational life. Churches are notoriously resistant to change because they often identify their structure, theology, ministries and traditions with “eternal values” and “eternal truth” which is fact, usually have nothing to do with how they function. As well, when church folk consider change in their congregations and then consider how rapidly the world around them is changing, the one thing they want to remain the same is their church. As a pastor I understand this. In what can be a very unpredictable world the church becomes for many a solace and sanctuary which provides comfort, familiarity and a measure of “stability.”

Are you ready to live?

Are you ready to live?

The Christian community is fast approaching Easter and the celebration of the life and resurrection of Jesus. Maundy (Holy) Thursday acknowledges the events immediately prior to the end of Jesus life, including the last supper. “Good Friday,” acknowledges the significance of the death of Jesus on the cross and comes three days before Easter. Easter Sunday is the climax and focal point and rightly so. In reality, the true essence of the ministry of Jesus is not about death but life! Yes, Jesus spoke of “dying to live”, of sacrifice and of “laying down one’s life,” but the sine qua non of the Gospel story is found in the Gospel of John, Chapter 10, vs. 10: “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.” Through many years of pastoral experience I have found that what many people fear most is not death but life. For many reasons, people are often afraid to really embrace life. They often lack the courage to choose life and to be “fully born,” into this world and to embrace life unconditionally so they can experience all the thrills and challenges of being human. One of my favorite parables illustrates the point:

Once upon a time, twin boys were conceived in the same womb. Seconds, minutes, hours passed as the two dormant lives developed. The spark of the life glowed until it fanned fire with the formation of their embryonic brains. With their simple brain came feeling, and with feeling, perception; a per caption of surrounding, of each other, of self.

When they perceived the life of each other and their own life, they knew that life was good. and they laughed and rejoiced, the one saying, “Lucky are we to have been conceived and to have this world,” and the other chiming in, “Blessed be the Mother who gave us this life and each other.”

Each budded and grew arms and fingers, lean legs and stubby toes. They stretched their lungs, churned and turned in their newfound world. They explored their world and in it found the life cord which gave them life from the precious Mother’s blood. So they sang, “How great is the love of the Mother that she shares all she has with us?” And they were pleased and satisfied with their lot.

Weeks passed into months, and with the advent of each new month, they noticed a change in each other and each began to see changes in himself. “We are changing,” said the one. “What can it mean?”

“It means,” replied the other, “that we are drawing near to birth.” An unsettling chill crept over the two, and they both feared, for the knew that birth meant leaving all their world behind.

Said the one, “Were it up to me, I would live here forever.”

“We must be born,” said the other. “It has happened to all others who were here.” For indeed there was evidence of life there before, as the Mother had borne others.

“But mightn’t there be a life after birth?”

How can there be life after birth?”, cried the one, “Do we not shed our life cord and also the blood tissues? And have you ever talked to one that has been born? Has anyone ever re-entered the womb after birth? NO!” He fell into despair, and in his despair he moaned, “If the purpose of conception and all our growth is that it be ended in birth, then truly our life is absurd.”

Resigned to despair, the one stabbed the darkness with his unseeing eyes and as he clutched his precious life cord to his chest said, “If this is so, and life is absurd, then there really can be no Mother.”

“But there is a Mother, “ protested the other. “Who else gave us nourishment and our world?”

We get our own nourishment, and our world has always been here. Andi if there is a Mother, where is she? Have you ever seen her? Does she ever talk to you? No! We invented the Mother because it satisfied a need in us. It mad e us feel secure and happy.”

Thus, while one raved and despaired, the other resigned himself to birth, and placed his trust in the hands of the Mother.

Hours ached into days, and days fell into weeks, And it came time, Both knew their birth was at hand, and both feared what they did not know.

They cried as they were born into the light. They coughed out fluid and gasped the dry air. And when they were sure they had been born, they opened their eyes seeing for the first time, and found themselves cradled in the warm love of the Mother! They lay open-mouthed and awe-struck before that beauty and truth they could not have hoped to have known!

Lenten Reflections by Pastor Judy

Lenten Reflections by Pastor Judy

During the Lenten Season we are again invited to accompany Jesus on his way to Jerusalem, to the Cross, and then on to the Resurrection. We can again read the accounts of this in the Four Gospels. We can again pay close attention to what Jesus says, what he does, how he meets each challenge, and treats those who would crucify him. Despite all the danger and all the opposition, Jesus keeps on keeping on, demonstrating the way of compassion. He continues to teach and to heal. He continues to bring hope, showing signs of God’s Kingdom come. Jesus keeps his focus, determined to be true to his calling, faithful to his mission, no matter the consequences.

Then while suffering death on the Cross, he continues to show compassion for others, for his mother, for the thief, praying forgiveness for those crucifying him. And then he prays to his Father, “Into Your hands I commend my spirit.”

And thanks be to God, death is not the end. God brings life out of death, hope out of despair. The Resurrection shows us that nothing, not even death, can separate us from God’s love. God’s love prevails!

On our Lenten Journey we continually marvel at such a life and such a witness! We affirm that the crucified Jesus and the Risen Christ reveal God. We call Jesus, the Christ, “Emmanuel,” God-with-us, revealing God’s heart, God’s nature. As Richard Rohr puts it in A Spring Within Us, “Jesus was desperately trying to change our mind about God” so that we would know God as a Compassionate Presence, a Loving Father, calling us into a loving relationship with God and with one another.

Have we let Jesus, the Christ, transform our understanding of God? Do we now, at last, see that God is that loving, that forgiving, that self-giving, that life-giving?

Again, as Richard Rohr writes, “Do we see Jesus, crucified and resurrected, is the whole pattern revealed, named, affected, and promised for our own lives?”

There is so much to ponder on our Lenten Journey, 2018!

 

(Quotes are from Richard Rohr’s book, A Spring Within Us—A Book of Daily Meditations.)

What ethnicity was Jesus? It doesn’t matter

What ethnicity was Jesus? It doesn’t matter

There has recently been an avalanche of material in the media, including a number of books and television specials, regarding the person of Jesus. The question revolves around who the historical Jesus actually was and what his life and work actually embodied. I’m reminded of a fictional theological summit in Rome where the profound question of Jesus’ ethnicity was contemplated and discussed in an ecclesiastical forum:

“One by one the scholars offered their evidence. First, there was the group that thought he was Mexican because his first name Jesus. He was bilingual and he was always being harassed by the authorities.

“But then there were other arguments that Jesus was black. He called everybody “brother.” He liked gospel and couldn’t get a fair trial.

“Then there were equally good arguments that Jesus was Jewish. He went into his father’s business. He lived at home until he was 33. He was sure his mother was a virgin and his mother was sure he was God. But then there was an argument that he was Italian. He talked with his hands; he had wine with every meal; and he used olive oil.

“Somebody else argued that Jesus was a Californian. He never cut his hair. He walked around barefoot, and he started a new religion.

“But then there were arguments that he was Irish. He never got married, He was always telling stories, and he loved green pastures.

“And someone else contended that Jesus was a woman. He had to feed a crowd at a moment’s notice when there was no food. He kept trying to get the message across to a bunch of men who “didn’t get it.” Even when he was dead he had to get up because there was more work for him to do.”

On a more serious note, theologian Douglas John Hall notes: “The Jesus for perhaps the vast majority of Protestants in North America is a good, mild-mannered, sexless, kindly but serious, nonpolitical male of indeterminate age, who counsels devotion to God; evenness of temper; patient acceptance of difficult experiences; courtesy in one’s dealings with others; obedience to those in authority; and resignation with cheerfulness in the face of sickness and death.

 

This Jesus in short, looks much like a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant, implicitly renouncing any Jewish traits, and who behaves in a way that is quite unlikely to throw into question any of the mores, taboos, and values governing mainstream culture.”

Hall goes on to say that for those who are willing to look at the real Jesus with some degree of honesty and open-heartedness, “Not only will Jesus be for us many things that we did not anticipate and would prefer not to encounter, but in seeing him, we – like the original disciples –will also discover needs that we did not know we had; needs that we have perhaps spent a lifetime erasing from our consciousness.” As a Christian, I feel compelled to continue to search out the “Jesus question” with brutal honesty. I fear that popular religion has subverted the historical and even spiritual Jesus so that many of his teachings have lost their real potency and impact at a personal, as well as social level.

The popular little expression, “W.W.J.D.” (What would Jesus Do), can only correctly be answered if we come to terms with the radical nature of this Mediterranean Jewish peasant who came to turn the world right-side up. He did things which were unheard of in his time: he talked to women in public; he ate with “sinners;” he touched the diseased; and he refused to retaliate or use violence even when justice seemed to demand such a response. This was truly a man of God and a man of the world who brought people of different nations, tribes, sexes, social classes and religions together in a movement of true compassion and human companionship. I think even a depraved Californian like myself might find him interesting to meet.

The Passage of Time

The Passage of Time

There is a truism that I’m finding more true as I grow older; time passes more quickly as we age. There seems to be an exponential component to the passage of time as we get into the latter seasons of our lives. Many of us are saying, “Where did that year go?” I’m a Frank Sinatra fan. Frank would have been 102 this year and his song “It was a Very Good Year” always puts a tear in my eye and a little nostalgia in my heart. I also like the Psalms and one of my favorite verses comes from Psalm 90, verse 12: “Teach us to number our days that we might gain a heart of wisdom.”

Some members of Emmanuel have gained/earned that heart of wisdom through a lifetime of thoughtful, reflective living and spiritual growth. Others of us, struggle with living in the present and moving into the future while leaving the past behind. I have a little mantra which I’ve shared with you which I encourage you to bring into 2018: “I will not bring the mistakes and regrets of yesteryear into this new year.”

Remember that none of us is perfect. We usually do the best we can. We make mistakes and we sometimes get it wrong. Gaining a “wise heart” and making the most of the time we have on this earth and the time we have left depends on our willingness to let go of the past and embrace the future. 2017 was a “very good year” for me. I know some of you have struggled with deep disappointments, health challenges and suffered various loses this year but I challenge you to turn the page in your mind and open your hearts to being surprised by grace in 2018.