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.

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

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, 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.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Progressive Portland: A Bitter Divide

The flouride ballot measure unveiled a deep divide within Portland progressive community. It became clear early on that the election would follow the all too familiar pattern of American politics of viewing one's position on an issue as the only moral, correct, logical, fill in the blank, position, and those who took the opposing view as immoral, incorrect, illogical, fill in the blank. Rather than bringing out the best, the campaigns brought out the worst. Forgive the pun, but it leaves a sour taste in my mouth. 

If those of us who call ourselves progressives are unable to model a way that allows for disagreement in a way that builds rather than destroys trust among ourselves, how can we hope to bring together communities with even stronger more fundamental differences? We all lost this evening. The winners were self righteousness and cynicism. We did not model the beloved community we often profess is our goal. We should pause, reflect, and repent. We should commit ourselves to seeking a better way together. In the words of St. Benedict, "always we begin again".

Friday, January 4, 2013

Epiphany Proclamation: 2013

JESUS MAFA. The Three Wise Men, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

In the first lesson for the Feast of Epiphany the prophet proclaims, "Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you" (Isaiah 60:1 NRSV).  For those in the Northern hemisphere who must rise out of their beds in the early hours of the morning it may be difficult to affirm this insight.  Yet, if we are observant, we notice that it is lighter earlier this week than last week, and that next week the sun will rise earlier. 

For many the fussiness of Christmas is over, except for packing and storing Christmas decorations, the thank you notes for soon to be forgotten gifts that parents ask their children to write to distant relatives, and paying the bills that will arrive in January.  Yet, before we return to the humdrum of our ordinary lives, we are called to stop and behold the child.

The light has come. 

Like the wise rulers we behold the infant and return to our worlds by a different route, intrigued and perplexed by our experience of beholding the divine in human flesh. However we soon realize that today does not look any different than yesterday, or a thousand yesterdays.  Torture, hunger, climate change, domestic violence, human trafficking, continue. Yet, we can not help but affirm the prophet's proclamation:

The light has come.

Perhaps it is because the incarnation reminds us that we are not alone.  The  struggle for justice and peace is a difficult one.  But we are not alone. 

Dorothy Sayers wrote: -->
"That for whatever reason God chose to make man as he is - limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death - he had the honesty and courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from himself. He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When He was a man, He played the man. he was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worth it" ("The Greatest Drama Ever Staged: Is the Official Creed of Christendom", in Christian Letters To A Post-Christian World, published by Eerdmans. 1969).

God is with us.  Emmanuel.  The light has come.

And so we enter Epiphany and Ordinary time (from the Latin, tempus per annum, time through the year)  and are invited to accompany Jesus on a journey. As we journey we will encounter wonders, disappointments, miracles, and hardships. Yet we believe. 

God is with us. Emmanuel. The light has come.

Soon the season of Lent will be upon us.  We will examine our lives, priorities, hopes, and fears. Maybe we will experience metanoia, a radical change. God only knows. Yet we know we are not alone in this journey.  

We are with our community.  God is with us.  Emmanuel.  The light has come.

But, we should not rush ahead too quickly as we are culturally programmed to do. Instead, let us recall and reflect on an ancient practice of the church. 

Before personal electronic devices, before the printing press, before most people could read, Christian communities gathered on Epiphany  to hear the dates of the liturgical year, and to be reminded how to live, that is, by following Jesus who guides us on our journey.  "The Proclamation proclaims not only dates but the reality that our lives are to be lived in rhythm with and according to Jesus’ life." (Michael Marsh). This is called the "Epiphany Proclamation".  Today many churches are embracing this ancient practice.

The Rule of St. Benedict reminds us, "always we begin again."

We are with our community.  God is with us.  Emmanuel. The light has come.

The Epiphany Proclamation 2013:

Dear brothers and sisters,
the glory of the Lord has shone upon us,
and shall ever be manifest among us,
until the day of his return.

Through the rhythms of times and seasons
let us celebrate the mysteries of salvation.

Let us recall the year's culmination,
the Easter Triduum of the Lord:
his last supper, his crucifixion, his burial,
and his rising celebrated
between the evening of the Twenty-Eighth day of March
and the evening of the Thirtieth day of March,
Easter Sunday being on the Thirty-First day of March.

Each Easter -- as on each Sunday --
the Holy Church makes present the great and saving deed
by which Christ has for ever conquered sin and death.
From Easter are reckoned all the days we keep holy.

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent,
will occur on the Thirteenth day of February.

The Ascension of the Lord will be commemorated on the Ninth day of May.

Pentecost, joyful conclusion of the season of Easter,
will be celebrated on the Nineteenth day of May.

And, this year the First Sunday of Advent will be
on the First day of December.

Likewise the pilgrim Church proclaims the passover of Christ
in the feasts of the holy Mother of God,
in the feasts of the Apostles and Saints,
and in the commemoration of the faithful departed.

To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come,
Lord of time and history,
be endless praise, for ever and ever.