Thursday, April 23, 2015

Now What? Sermon Delivered At Easter Vespers Service. April 05, 2015.


 

 

April 05, 2015

Easter Vespers

Mark 16:1-8.

"Now What?"

The Rev. Cecil Charles Prescod, OCC.

 
“16 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (Mark 16.1-8. NRSV)  
From our earliest years many of us are familiar with the story of Easter.  Whether from Sunday School, parents, or Hollywood movies, the outline of what happened early one Sunday morning in an out of way place in the vast Roman Empire 2000 years ago, is one we are able to recite.
One thing that is common about familiar stories is that often we are so familiar with them that we do not realise what we do not know about them.  When we recall a common experience in our lives, each of the participants may remember it slightly differently. When my sisters and I gather and share stories of family trips or holidays, each of us tell the story differently.  Sometimes we are amazed that we were at the same event.  I suppose our interpretations of an event depend on our station in lives, our ages, what were important in our individual lives at that times, and so many other things. It is not that the incident did not happen, but its significance and what we learn from the event may differ because we each bring and receive something from our lived experiences.
The Bible offers four different account of what happened when the women went to the tomb to anoint and mourn their friend and leader, Jesus of Nazareth.  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
The details differ, but each highlights common significant points: Jesus had died; his friends, except for a few women, had abandoned him and were hiding in fear of the authorities (no one wanted to be the next victim of Rome’s cruel and barbarous actions); Jesus was laid in a borrowed grave; on early on the  first day of the week, his brave women friends came to the  tomb to mourn; the stone was removed, the body was gone, and they met, or were told to go and meet, the risen Jesus.
Mark, the earliest and shortest gospel, can be characterized as the “Joe Friday” of the Gospel writers.  You know, the police sergeant from “Dragnet”, who when he investigated a crime, did not have time for elaborate tales, who always told the witnesses, “Just the facts, ma’am or sir”.
Mark’s gospel does not have any long narratives about Jesus birth, death, or resurrection. And he ends his story, abruptly. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Now what? Throughout the gospel Mark emphasized following Jesus.  Jesus called, and people followed.  As he was headed to Jerusalem, and his death, Jesus called, and told his followers that he will suffer and they would too if they followed him. For those who follow Jesus are not exempt from hardships, pain, sorrows, and griefs.  Jesus reminds them that he will experience such difficulties and they will too. But if we follow him, we will experience more than suffering, but life.  If we follow him, we are assured that God is with us.  God has not and will not abandon us. Whatever challenges we face we will not face them alone, but that the one who breathed life into our lungs, who sustains the earth and all of creation, is not a God who is separate from us, but one who walks with us, and most importantly, is willing to lead us.
Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou art with me, the Psalmist reminds us.  The life death, and resurrection of Jesus is the testimony that the Divine presence is with us. Always.
“He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you” Jesus confronted the horrors that humanity face, and the miracle of that first Easter morning, was that when confronted with them he met them all and overcame. The jaws of death were not able to hold him.  We are called to walk on, to face the future, knowing that Jesus will be with us, just as he told us.
Now who can explain the inexplicable?  Mark, unlike the other gospel writers, does not share stories of encounter with the resurrected Jesus.  What he does share is that we will meet that Jesus in our daily lives. Each encounter will be unique. Each miracle we encounter will be new.  The resurrected Jesus will meet us and guide us.  Those chapters are written in each of our lives.  We are able to share them with one another. The story does not end but continues. The chapters are continuing to be written in our lives today and into the future.
 Let us continue the journey. “There you will see him, just as he told you”.



Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Change Is Gonna Come: Sermon Preached on Transfiguration Sunday at Ainsworth UCC on February 15, 2015



February 15, 2015                                                                                               
Transfiguration                                                                               
Mark 9:2-9
                                                                 “A Change Is Gonna Come”

  The Rev. CECIL CHARLES PRESCOD, OCC

 In the name of the Triune God.  Amen.
 
Mark’s Gospel is the earliest and shortest gospel about Jesus in the New Testament.  Short, even abrupt, sentences characteriz Mark’s narrative. It is as if Mark is in a hurry, with no time for frills or fillers.  We are introduced to Jesus not with any beautiful birth narratives: The archangel Gabriel does not appear to Mary to announce that she would become the mother of the long awaited messiah;, no angels come to Joseph to comfort and assure him that Mary’s child will be the Saviour of the world; there is no angelic choir in the heavens; no shepherds are led to the holy family, there are no magis with presents for the baby Jesus;   There is….well…nothing but the ordinary.  Or so it appears.
Instead we are introduced to Jesus as he rises from the cold waters of the river Jordan and the skies appears to be ripping apart.  The Spirit appears as a dove to descend upon him, and he, and he alone, hears a thunderous voice proclaiming that he is God’s beloved.  Then “at once” he disappears into the desert.  47 times Mark will use the phrase “at once” (that can be translated “without delay”, “immediately”, “quickly”).
He emerges out of the desert following the arrest of his cousin John and picks up and expands John’s critique of the oppressive political and economic system.   In an almost frenetic pace, he travels throughout the land, calling followers, healing the sick, releasing the demonic, and proclaiming God’s new realm.
Perhaps because they were first mesmerized by the signs that Jesus performed, crowds began to follow him.  The authorities kept an eye on him. Jesus was just one of many street preachers in the land.  Throughout the villages people were talking about this young man, the miracles he performed, the words he preached, and speculated who he was and what he intended to do in the future. In small groups people gossiped about his origins and his intentions.
Speculations abound- and indeed a growing consensus begins to emerge that perhaps indeed, this man from a small country town was more than a simple country preacher; perhaps the aged old hope of a liberator would be revealed in the person of this man Jesus. Peter declares Jesus as the Messiah. For Mark’s listeners this term was not a casual addendum at the end of vain prayers, or what Jesus’ followers would assert to affirm that they had a special personal relationship with the divine, but a bold political statement which directly challenged the ruling powers’ authority and legitimacy.  It was a revolutionary and incendiary term that if uttered was viewed as terrorist speech by the ruling powers. Ched Myers reminds us that “The Messiah was understood by many Jews in first-century Palestine to be a royal figure who would someday restore the political fortunes of Israel” (“Say to This Mountain”: Mark’s Story of Discipleship).
Peter’s revolutionary declaration appeared to be affirmed by what he and two of his friends experienced when they were invited by Jesus to ascend the mountain.  There, as they reach the top of the mountain, the place where the heavens touch the earth, they experienced what was perhaps inexplicable.
The writer declares that Jesus’ clothes “became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” (v.3). It is a faint hearted attempt to capture something which cannot be captured. It is described in rabbinic writings, but not in the Old Testament, as the Shekinah of Yahweh. Shekinah expressed divine imminence or universal presence. The word literally means “that which dwells” and clearly designated Yahweh’s dwelling on earth as in heaven.
The writer continues that in the midst of this luminosity Jesus appears with the greatest of all leaders, Moses, who represents God’s covenant or testimony, to be with the people as their guide and protector;  and Elijah, the prophet who represents denunciation of idolatry and corruption of God’s ideal.
Well, Peter is often ridiculed or disparaged as being too quick to speak to try to explain. And as he has done before and will do again, Peter speaks when he should have been quiet. But who can fault Peter?  Have you ever experienced something that surprised, or overwhelmed you?  And instead of standing in silent awe you felt the need to speak, to try to explain, to try to control?  Perhaps not.  But I have.
After Peter’s poor attempt to take control of the situation, the listeners once again hears a voice that was heard at the beginning of Mark. “This is my Son, my beloved, listen to him”. Peter, James, and John look up and the only person remaining is Jesus.  Moses is gone.  Elijah is gone. At this point, all are silent: including the loquacious Peter and even Jesus. 
I cannot explain what happened that day. What I can say is that for those who were with Jesus that day, it served as a confirmation of what could and would be.  That even though the situation of the people is seemingly hopeless, the vision and determination to live out that vision, empowered them as they descended the mountain and began their final journey into Jerusalem to confront the power which held a death like grip on the people’s aspiration to freedom.
 
Jesus is about to enter the city of Jerusalem.  This city viewed as the spiritual center of the world, as holiest place on earth was occupied by a hostile military force.  The people’s dream of freedom, wholeness, had been thwarted time and time again over the centuries by one hostile occupying force after another. One potential leader after another had risen and fallen.  Nothing really changed except the name of the occupying army.
 
Within a few weeks of that event on the mountain Jesus and his rag tag group of followers will gather additional followers as they wandered into Jerusalem.  Hope would mix with fear.  Courage will be followed by cowardice. Unity would break down into dissent and fracturing of the movement. And within days of what appeared to be a triumphant entrance into the holy city,  Jesus would be lynched and hung on a tree, Peter and the others would go into hiding, and the Romans would be congratulating themselves on crushing another weak coup attempt by delusional fanatics.  And things would return to what was normal.  Or so it appeared.
 
Mark ends his narrative by recalling that the few women who remained loyal to Jesus to the end, went to his grave to anoint the body only to find his body missing and told that Jesus had been raised.  In the direct and abrupt style that characterized his narrative, Mark ends his story with these words: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (16.8).
But we know that they did say something, and that they were not overcome by fear. They recognized that the world is in fact a disfigured world, and can and will be transfigured.
They remembered and were empowered by the vision of the Transfiguration.  That God has not and will not abandon God’s people.  That the way of the world can be transfigured.
Racism is a reality in our world today.  However we affirm that it is not the ultimate reality for our world.  Racism is a disfigurement of the human condition.  We must continue to be guided and inspired by the vision of the Transfiguration, of what the human condition is called to be.
Where are the signs of transfiguration in regards to racial justice?  They are in our communities everywhere:  They are:
·         Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi: young queer black women who started the #blacklivesmatter campaign and are examples of the mobilization of a new generation of black activists
·         The immigration rights movement that are led by  young people, known as “dreamers” who have come out of the shadows of fear and unashamedly proclaim their immigration status and thus risk being deported to countries they never knew.  These young people who walk the corridors of powers in Washington and confront legislators, engage in civil disobedience such as sit in in government offices, are fueling the  movement for a just immigration policy in our country.
·         #IdleNoMore campaign of First Nations people on this continent is only the latest incarnation of the sustained Indigenous Resistance to the rape, pillage and exploitation of this continent and its women that has existed since 1492.
The signs of Transfiguration occur in the midst of movements that remind and inspire us of our goals and destiny.  They are often momentary, gone to soon, but are nevertheless empowering.  Like Jesus and the three we must come down from the mountain of inspiration and confront the valley of opposition. 
Mark places the Transfiguration story in the middle of his gospel, as the story shifts and moves forward toward its climax in Jerusalem. It serves as a reminder and inspiration as we continue the struggle. We are not there yet, we will be confronted by setbacks, pushbacks, disappointments, pain and death.  The disciples desired to remain on the mountain and to bask in the radiance of the Shekinah.  We too may want to remain at places and moments of inspiration and hope.  Yet we know that the work continues, that God continues to beckon us to follow the way and will of Jesus, which is the way of the cross, the way of choosing to stand with those who are struggling for justice.
Fifty years ago our nation was in the midst of an era of advocacy and movement for racial justice. Those who were active in the movement testify that our nation was experiencing profound changes in attitudes and behavior. Lest we romanticize that era, we must remember the countless numbers of people who sacrificed careers, families, health, and those who were martyrs of the freedom struggle.
 “On October 8, 1963,  [the singer Sam] Cooke called ahead to the Holiday Inn North in Shreveport, LA to make reservations for his wife, Barbara and himself, but when he and his group arrived, the desk clerk glanced nervously and explained there were no vacancies. While his brother Charles protested, Sam was fuming, yelling to see the manager and refusing to leave until he received an answer. His wife nudged him, attempting to calm him down, telling him, "They'll kill you," to which he responded, "They ain't gonna kill me, because I'm Sam Cooke." When they eventually persuaded Cooke to leave, the group drove away calling out insults and blaring their horns. When they arrived at the Castle Motel on Sprague Street downtown, the police were waiting for them, arresting them for disturbing the peace. The New York Times ran an AP report the following day headlined "Negro Band Leader Held in  Shreveport,”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Change_Is_Gonna_Come).  
African- Americans were outraged.
That incident inspired Sam Cooke to write the song “A Change Is Gonna Come”, that would become an anthem of the American Civil Rights Movement. In the midst of difficult times, we need to recall and be empowered by our experiences of Transfiguration.  Although fleeting these experiences are real and are empowering.  They will strengthen us in difficult times and remind us things will not remain as they appear.  We will be able to affirm and sing:
There been times when I thought I couldn't last for long
But now I think I'm able to carry on It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gon' come, oh yes it will”

 
 
 
 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Call: Sermon Preached on Martin Luther King Jr. Day at Ainsworth UCC January 18, 2015


 
January 18, 2015.                                                                                               
Second Sunday in Epiphany.                                                                               
Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday

1 Samuel 3:1-10.

                                                                 “THE CALL”

 The Rev. CECIL CHARLES PRESCOD, OCC

 In the name of the Triune God.  Amen.

 Samuel was a small boy.  His prospects were negligible.  His mother was unable to conceive, she prayed and her prayers were answered.  Samuel heard the voice calling him. He responded, and because of his response he helped usher in a new era of justice for his people.

 Little Mike was a small boy.  His prospects were negligible.  His parents believed and prayed, and their prayers were answered. Little Mike heard the voice calling him.  He responded, and because of his response he helped usher in a new era of justice for a nation and world.

 Ainsworth United Church of Christ was a small church.  Its prospects were negligible. The founders prayed and their prayers were answered.  They heard the voice calling them.  They responded, and because of their response they created a community that would herald and work to establish a new era of justice for a city.

 Three stories. Three calls.  Three responses.

 On this day that we celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, the scriptures tell a story about God’s call and the human response. 

 Thirty years ago, members of St. Andrews and Second United Church of Christ embarked upon a unique mission together.  Two mono-racial congregations established a multiracial, multicultural community. As Samuel was an answer to his mother’s prayers, so too was Ainsworth UCC an answer to the prayers of many. Samuel was dedicated to God, so too was Ainsworth dedicated to God. Samuel was called by God to do a new thing, so too did God call Ainsworth to do a new thing. As Martin articulated and lived out the vision of the beloved community, so too did the founding members of Ainsworth UCC articulated and lived into a vision.

So where do we go from here?

The Call: The story of Samuel is one that resonates with all of us.  The story of a dark silent night.  So dark that one cannot see one’s hand in front of the face.  All that is heard is your breath entering and leaving your body. Today was like yesterday, which was like the day before. You lay in your bed, twisting from one side to the other. The unresolved problems of today promise to become the unresolved problems of tomorrow.  Tomorrow will probably be like today, which was like yesterday, which was like the day before that. 

And then there was the voice.  Whose voice is calling?  How should I respond?  Twice he rose certain that his elder was calling him.  But that was not the voice of his elder.  In fact, the wise older man counseled the young boy to return to his bed and listen with his ear and heart.  There was nothing special about the boy, nothing about his birth or family which would lead one to believe he would be a mighty prophet. He was nothing more than a young boy when he heard the voice of God to engage in a mighty work.

So the boy went back to his bed and listened. The boy heard the voice of the divine calling him by name, “Samuel, Samuel.” The young boy could not have imagined what God was calling him to do. He did not know that the voice was calling him to a life that would challenge powerful evil forces.  What he did know was that it was the voice of God so he responded, “Speak for your servant is listening” (I Samuel 3.10)

Motivated by seeking to do what was right, and not what was popular, the man who was known as Little Mike as a child often rejected the advice of his counselors and chose the more difficult path.  His support of the sanitation workers, his mobilization of the Poor Peoples’ Campaign, his opposition to the War, all cost him support from many, and the toast of the establishment in1964, was on the outside with the poor in 1968. He was a man, and often had to be pushed to take actions. Young people in SNCC, and grassroots organizers such as Ella Baker, had little patience for what they saw was the calculating cautionary moves and decisions of the civil rights establishment and their leaders such as King.  They advocated in words and deeds, for him and the movement to become more radical in their critique and methods.

What those who opposed him for being too radical, and those who opposed him for being too conservative, did not grasp was that throughout his lifetime, Martin King exhibited a unique ability to see what many could not see, to embark on campaigns that were thought of as doomed, to yes, I will say it, dream, what many could not imagine. He was called to be a prophet.

In a recent article about King’s focus on economic justice at the end of his life, Washington Post’s columnist Eugene Robinson writes:” King was a prophet. His role was to see clearly what others could not or would not recognize, and to challenge our consciences."  That prophetic edge was evident throughout his life.  He continued to challenge and question.  He continued to call us to examine our lives and to think critically about where we are going. The title of King’s last book. written in 1967, was “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community”  The title of the sermon he was to preached two days after his murder was “Why America May Go to Hell”

His prophetic call and response led to his arrest more than 20 times. Those who were committed to the movement knew that freedom would not come without paying a heavy price. The heavy price is something that we so easily forget.  So as a reminder of the cost of freedom instead of hanging pictures of King standing at a pulpit, or addressing the crowd at the Washington DC Mall, perhaps we should  adorn our walls and festivities tables with pictures of Dr. King in a jail cell or his mug shots, or pictures of the tortured bodies of freedom workers.  Freedom ain’t free.

So what was the voice that called Samuel saying to the Dr. King?  Martin, the reluctant prophet, was unexpectedly called to take on a leadership role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. David Garrow in his book, “Bearing The Cross”, writes about King’s struggle. One powerful incident took place late at night on Friday, January 27, 1956.  He had returned home from a long strategic planning meeting.  His wife was asleep but he was unable to rest.  He got up made a cup of coffee and sat down at the kitchen table. He pondered about the role he that was forced upon him. A role he did not seek. A role as a leader when he was not prepared to lead. In “Stride Towards Freedom” Dr. King writes:

I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.

The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. "I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I've come to the point where I can't face it alone." At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: "Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever." Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.

Three days later his house was fire bombed and his family nearly killed.  One year later the King family woke up and found twelve sticks of dynamite on their front porch, fortunately the fuse had smoldered out.  King prayed,

"You gave me a vision in the kitchen of my house and I am thankful for it....So I am not afraid of anybody this morning. Tell Montgomery they can keep shooting and I'm going to stand up to them. Tell Montgomery they can keep bombing and I'm going to stand up to them. If I had to die tomorrow morning, I would die happy because I've been to the mountaintop and I've seen the promised land and it's going to be here in Montgomery.

Throughout his ministry, even the night before he was murdered, he would remind himself and those who shared in the struggle about this hope, this mountain top experience, the vision of the Promised Land, the beloved community.

Danger stalks those who advocate for justice. Violence and the threat of death is ever present.

More than thirty years ago parishioners at St. Andrews and Second United Church of Christ congregations believed that God was calling them to work together in unknown territory.  Two congregations with two different histories and cultures, heard the voice of God calling them strive to create a multicultural, multiracial church. This year members of this congregation are embarking on mission that will preserve on video the stories of some of the older members of this church.   We call it the “The Legacy Project”. Young people will interview older members of the congregation.  The interviewees will share the reasons why they are committed to living into the beloved community. These stories will inspire new generations.

Just as Samuel did not rest with the knowledge that God had spoken to him once, and Dr. King did not rest with the accolades he received for his work, neither must Ainsworth rest on what we did in the past. The Sacred Conversation on Race Team (SCORE- don’t you love acronyms?) is embarking on engaging our church to examine who we are and where we are going in regards to racial justice. One question we will ask you to ponder in coming weeks is: Are there any actions or values Ainsworth should adopt, drop, or adjust to more effectively manifest itself as a multiracial congregation?

The United Church of Christ’s identity campaign proclaim “God is still speaking”
A natural response to that assertion is if God is still speaking how and when do we here God’s voice?  If we are honest we might acknowledge we know what God is saying, but do not want to heed the divine call. Our statement of faith proclaim “You call us into your church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship to be your servants in the service of other, to proclaim the gospel to all the word and resist the powers of evil, to share in Christ’s baptism and eat at his table, to join him in his passion and victory.”

Our heritage as a faith community in the United Church of Christ testify to our commitment to struggle for racial justice.  Our commitment was evident in the solidarity and support given to the enslaved Africans on the ship Amistad in their freedom struggle in 1839. Our commitment was evident when we established and establishing the first anti-slavery society with multiracial leadership, the American Missionary Society, in 1846. When Southern television stations impose a news blackout on the growing civil rights movement Martin Luther King Jr. asks the UCC to intervene. Everett Parker of the UCC's Office of Communication (who recently celebrated his 102nd birthday) organized churches and won in Federal court a ruling that the airwaves are public, not private property. The church’s unswerving commitment to freedom of the civil rights activists, the Wilmington Ten, the first report on environmental racism and thus pioneering the work for environmental justice, are evidence that the UCC has a rich history of advocating for racial justice.

The prophets Samuel and Martin did not rest on the laurels of their past accomplishments. Neither can Ainsworth or our denomination rest on noble efforts in the past. We may have seen from the mountain top the beloved community, but we must continue, to paraphrase Dr. King’s last speech, until we as a people get to the Promised Land.

Last week the national officers of the United Church of Christ issued a statement to the 5000 churches in our denomination.  In this document, called, “The Pastoral Letter On Racism: A New Awakening”, our national United Church of Christ leaders remind us about our history and calling:

Born in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement and having deep roots in the 19th century struggle to abolish slavery, the United Church of Christ has a lasting engagement in the struggle for racial justice. The 1991 Pastoral Letter on Contemporary Racism emphasized the Seventeenth General Synod declaration that “[r]acism is a sin and an evil that stands as an affront to the Christian faith.”  The 2008 Pastoral Letter that accompanies Sacred Conversations on Race pointed out, “Racism remains a wound at the heart of our nation that cannot be wished away or treated carelessly.” These writings from our leaders during those years remind us that acknowledging and challenging racism is not new for the United Church of Christ. They also remind us that we are theologically and spiritually compelled to seek the elimination of racism within ourselves, in the church and in society.

They conclude their pastoral letter with:

In the 2015 season of Epiphany and beyond, may the Spirit of God embolden us to recognize and resist the evolving virus of racism in our social body, encourage us through our hope in Jesus the Christ to repair the breach, and embrace us all as we move into the brave spaces of interracial church relationships, more just communities, and active engagement to put an end to the evil of racism.

Let not our inaction be an affront to God. Let our actions be a sign of the healing love of Christ through the Holy Spirit.

God is still speaking.  God is still calling.

So let us listen prayerfully and proclaim prophetically. The prophet Joel stated,
 
“I will pour out my Spirit
    on every kind of people:
Your sons will prophesy,
    also your daughters.
Your old men will dream,
    your young men will see visions.
I’ll even pour out my Spirit on the servants,
    men and women both.
 
Today, as in days past, God is doing a new thing.  God is calling and the people are responding in Ferguson, in Portland, in Mexico, in the Middle East, in Asia, in Africa, in South America.
 
God continues to call and empower people for service. God called Samuel, and Samuel heeded the call.  God called Martin and Martin heeded the call.  God called the founding members of Ainsworth United Church of Christ and they heeded the call.  God is calling us, will we heed that call?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Feast of St. Stephen, Deacon and First Martyr. December 26.

The glitter and festivities surrounding Christmas may lead many to forget or ignore that allegiance to the Prince of Peace may lead to a difficult life. Immediately following the celebration of the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord the church reminds us of the cost of discipleship. 

 Today we recall the faith and sacrifice of the first martyr St. Stephen. In a couple of days we will recall how the empire sought to kill the child Jesus by unleashing its armed forces and terrorizing families and massacring children.
 
Pray with and for those who are enduring hardships and martyrdom in many lands today. May we commit ourselves to the way of peace. May God grant us the strength and faith that St. Stephen, deacon and martyr, demonstrated. Kyrie Eleison.
 
 
From the Office of Readings for today:
A sermon of St Fulgentius of Ruspe
The armour of love
Yesterday we celebrated the birth in time of our eternal King. Today we celebrate the triumphant suffering of his soldier.
  Yesterday our king, clothed in his robe of flesh, left his place in the virgin’s womb and graciously visited the world. Today his soldier leaves the tabernacle of his body and goes triumphantly to heaven.
  Our king, despite his exalted majesty, came in humility for our sake; yet he did not come empty-handed. He brought his soldiers a great gift that not only enriched them but also made them unconquerable in battle, for it was the gift of love, which was to bring men to share in his divinity. He gave of his bounty, yet without any loss to himself. In a marvellous way he changed into wealth the poverty of his faithful followers while remaining in full possession of his own inexhaustible riches.
  And so the love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven; shown first in the king, it later shone forth in his soldier. Love was Stephen’s weapon by which he gained every battle, and so won the crown signified by his name. His love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbour made him pray for those who were stoning him. Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment. Strengthened by the power of his love, he overcame the raging cruelty of Saul and won his persecutor on earth as his companion in heaven. In his holy and tireless love he longed to gain by prayer those whom he could not convert by admonition.
  Now at last, Paul rejoices with Stephen, with Stephen he delights in the glory of Christ, with Stephen he exalts, with Stephen he reigns. Stephen went first, slain by the stones thrown by Paul, but Paul followed after, helped by the prayer of Stephen. This, surely, is the true life, my brothers, a life in which Paul feels no shame because of Stephen’s death, and Stephen delights in Paul’s companionship, for love fills them both with joy. It was Stephen’s love that prevailed over the cruelty of the mob, and it was Paul’s love that covered the multitude of his sins; it was love that won for both of them the kingdom of heaven.
  Love, indeed, is the source of all good things; it is an impregnable defence,- and the way that leads to heaven. He who walks in love can neither go astray nor be afraid: love guides him, protects him, and brings him to his journey’s end.
  My brothers, Christ made love the stairway that would enable all Christians to climb to heaven. Hold fast to it, therefore, in all sincerity, give one another practical proof of it, and by your progress in it, make your ascent together.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

I, Too, Sing America: Thoughts on the Fourth of July


I, Too, Sing America

 by Langston Hughes
I,too,sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"
Then.

Besides, 
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.
________________________________________________________________________________________ 

I am a man with a double consciousness.

In the Souls of Black Folks, W.E.B. DuBois wrote,
"It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife — this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He wouldn't bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face.”
 I remember rising early on a warm summer day, grabbing the flag, going on the roof of our home, and unfurling the flag to wave in glory. My years as a Boy Scout taught me how to care for the flag.

I remember hearing my paternal grandfather, an immigrant from Barbados, proudly proclaim, “ I am an American.” I remember hearing the stories of his struggle to come to this country and arriving on Ellis Island. Later he sent for his wife, and eventually built a home where my father was born in, and I and my sisters were raised.

I also remember hearing stories from my  maternal grandmother; stories about her journey from Virginia to New York to flee the inhumanity of Jim Crow. Raised by her grandparents who were borne into slavery, she manifested a fierce commitment to the freedom of black people. She raised her children with a deep allegiance to the freedom struggle. I remember her leading us into a southern restaurant a few days after Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act to prove to her family and impress on her young grandson  that we had the right to be there and to be served.

From both sides of my family I received lessons about  freedom, about the history of oppressed people to obtain their liberation, and this country's obligation to fulfil its ancient promise of freedom for all its inhabitants. Both sides of my family came to these shores in boats, one side willingly, the other side in shackles. Both sides of my family held onto the promise of America even though America refused to embrace their full humanity and potential. 

So I approach each Fourth of July with weariness and determination; wearied by the never ending struggle and determined by the eternal promise. Like Langston Hughes, I, too, am America.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

30th Anniversary of My Ordination

On this day in 1983 by the grace of God I was ordained as a minister of Word and Sacrament by the Metropolitan Association, New York Conference of the United Church of Christ. I solicit your prayers that I may continue to keep my ordination vows and fulfil my duties of ministry by serving God's people, building up Christ's Church, and glorifying the holy and undivided Trinity. Soli Deo Gloria.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Interview with Jim Wallis

Recently I had the opportunity to speak to Jim Wallis of Sojourners .  Since my college years I have followed and admired the work of this community. 

"Sojourners is a national Christian organization committed to faith in action for social justice. We seek to inspire hope and build a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world. With a 40-year history, Sojourners is a nonpartisan leader that convenes, builds alliances among, and mobilizes people of faith, focusing on racial and social justice, life and peace, and environmental stewardship. Working through Sojourners magazine, Sojourners’ website sojo.net, public speaking events, media outreach, educational resources, books, advocacy, and trainings, Sojourners is an internationally influential voice at the intersection of faith, politics, and culture." (from their website).

His recent book is entitled "On God's Side: What Religion Forgets And Politics Hasn't Learned About Serving The Common Good".

This interview was originally broadcast on KBOO community radio on June 10, 2013.