Blog: Random Thoughts on Sunday's Sermon

Below are some random thoughts on this coming Sunday's message.  We hope they create a little time in your day to reflect on the journey of faith and life.  If they spur any thoughts, quotes, or experiences, please share them.  God moves among us as we share with each other.

Historically, “lay” was used to designate Christians who weren’t clergy, monks or nuns. Unfortunately, overtime it has been used to designate a lesser status, as if “real” ministry can only be done by clergy. We’ve all heard people say, “I’m just a layperson,” and what they’re communicating is, “Don’t’ expect too much from me!”

Let me tell you a story about Jeremy Lanphier.  He was a member of the Collegiate Church and was hired as a lay missionary to help the church in its outreach. In 1857 he began a noon prayer meeting. After advertising this new ministry, he had only six people show up. He was not deterred and kept the doors open.

Later that year the stock market crashed, and because of the crisis, attendance picked up—to nearly 10,000! This renewed interest in prayer spread around the country and a revival of faith occurred. It is believed that over the next year nearly one million people came to faith, and it all began with a simple prayer meeting that was started by “just a layperson.”

So you’re not a clergy person, monk, or nun. It doesn’t mean that you can don’t great things in ministry. The truth is that in Christian history most of the great things done have been done by laypersons. There is no such thing as “just a layperson.” Everyone has been given gifts by God that can make a difference in people’s lives. How are you using the gifts God has given you? 

Posted by Rev Michael Bos, Monday, June 2, 2014

This week I am reading The Soul of Hip Hop: Rims, Timbs, and a Cultural Theology by Dr. Daniel White Hodge. This book explores theology through the lenses of Hip Hop and rap music and culture. By analyzing the poetry of rappers from Tupac to Gina Rae, Dr. Hodge reveals what is a sacred space for important Christian themes. As Dr. Hodge transitions to his chapter about the Hip Hop Jesuz, he writes,

“In order to engage the Hip Hop community and really listen to it, we must first be willing to embrace the hostility that lies within that community. Jesus did. Jesus still does. More important, he does that with all of us, every day.”

This week our lectionary brings us a story of a hostile, oppressive world. When Jesus tells the story that we call The Good Samaritan, it is not a feel-good story. The story depicts a traveller on a dangerous road who is attacked by thieves, and then ignored and left to die by passers-by. The priest and the Levite cannot approach the suffering man because he is unclean. Their very belief about holiness prevents them from doing the righteous thing. But the Samaritan breaks the invisible walls of culture and religion to embrace the man in his wounded state. This is the message of Jesus, the message of the New Testament.

As I continue to study the Jesus of Hip Hop, a different sort of prophet emerges in my imagination, turning our lectionary passage into a story of strength and sacrifice, rather than sweet neighborly niceness. Dr. Hodge challenges readers, “We continue to want a G-rated savior in an NC-17 world.” When we remember that Jesus spoke strongly, associated with the “unclean”, and confronted the injustices of the power structures of his day, this NC-17 Jesus begins to take shape in the pages of scripture. Jesus’ message centered on love, and this is not weakness. This love is power enough to face a hostile world.

 

Posted by Mandy Meisenheimer, Friday, May 30, 2014

Longtime residents of the Upper West Side have memories of iconic jazz musician Miles Davis living and playing in the neighborhood around West End Collegiate Church. This weekend, the City of New York honored this legend by naming a portion of 77th St “Miles Davis Way”.  It was an exciting day for this historic community of artists, musicians, poets, and actors.

I spent yesterday listening to Kind of Blue and reading articles about Davis. I came across this quote from Mr. Davis and found it particularly striking. He said, “Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself."

The first sermon I preached I didn’t sound like myself. I had no idea what it meant for me to be Jes in the pulpit. So I mimicked my minister. It was an adequate sermon, but it wasn’t my voice. By the end of seminary my voice in the pulpit had changed. I felt more comfortable preaching. I understood the chemistry of a sermon better and I believed I had something to say. Today I sound different than I did four years ago. I sound more like me. I am preaching more from my voice and I imagine I will keep learning to preach from my voice. Was I lying about my voice eight years ago when I first started seminary?  Was I being fake? No. I just didn’t know it enough. Sometimes you have to preach a long time in order to preach like yourself.

The spiritual life is about learning how to play like yourself. We have guides (ministers, teachers, counselors…) along the way, but our goal is not to imitate our guides. As a minister, my goal is to help you connect with God in your voice, not mine. Just like it takes a while for a jazz musician to play like himself, or a preacher to preach like herself, it takes all of us awhile to “play” like ourselves in our spirituality.  A life of faith sometimes means practicing faith for a long while in order to have faith like yourself!

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat, Wednesday, May 28, 2014

It has been one month and one week since the 276 Nigerian girls were abducted from their school. It’s been one month and one week since mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, brothers, and sisters have seen their family members. When I look at the children in our worship each week I think of this separation and my heart breaks. My prayers cry out to God “Save them!” Last week The Collegiate Churches of New York, along with our inter-religious friends around New York City, gathered together in prayer for the girls. We each had a number that represented one of the abducted girls. Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs and others joined together in our various traditions to cry out to God to bring back the Nigerian girls.

Our prayers continue. We will not grow faint in praying for the girls. We must not grow faint! We must pray steadfastly for them and their safe return.

Jesus cared greatly for children. When the religious leaders wanted to push the kids away and ignore them, Jesus said “Let the little children come to me.” As the song goes, Jesus loves the little children of the world. Join me as we continue to pray for the missing Nigerian girls, today. Let our prayers never cease until these children are returned safely home. Let us pray without ceasing.

Inter-Religious Gathering

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat, Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Sibling rivalry is fierce in our house. My kids love each other, yet behave cruelly to each other, depending upon the time of day and how hungry they are. I suppose all four of us are like that. I suppose all of us are like that.

Last week I tried a Therapeutic Parenting technique to create some connection and a sense of attachment with my children. The air in my apartment was thick with competition and resentment, so we had to do something. I sat down with the kids at the kitchen table with some hand soap and table salt. I mixed it together and made my own salt scrub.

I invited my son to take a spoonful of the sweet-smelling mixture and scrub his sister’s hands. He gently poured the soup into her palm and began to work it around her fingers while I massaged her other hand. Then we switched. Then both kids scrubbed my hands. While we scrubbed, we took a few moments to tell each other one nice thing about each other. It sounds like a 1950’s sitcom, but it really was a precious moment. We rinsed our hands and felt the soft skin underneath. The rough places were gone.

Within an hour the kids were fighting again, pestering each other, and teasing. But we had that one moment and it was not lost even though they quickly lost the spirit of the exercise. It reminded me of the story of the evening when Jesus scrubs the feet of his disciples. Everything was right and safe, just for a moment. Everything fell apart in the next 24 hours, but as Jesus washed the feet of his friends, I bet time stood still.

Posted by Mandy Meisenheimer, Monday, May 5, 2014

Like everyone else, I like a certain level of predictability in my life—a spouse who loves me (even when I’m not acting very lovable!), a hot cup of coffee in the morning, my dog excitedly greeting me at the door.

And like others, I also like my faith to be predictable. My hope is that faith will make the things I already know a little clearer and the things I already do a little better.

Unfortunately, the Easter message conveys a disruptive faith, not a predictable one. When the disciples encountered the risen Christ, everything they had predicted about the journey of faith was wrong. The death and resurrection of Jesus became a disruptive force that caused them to let go of old ideas about the purpose of their religion.  Jesus wasn’t going to be a political leader or military commander. Jesus hadn’t called them together to make them the greatest nation on earth, showing other nations their truer (and lower) place in God’s order of things!

As hard as this was, it was only by jettisoning these old notions that they were open to see life in a new way. It was only then they began to understand “God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again” (John 3:17, The Message).

As uncomfortable as it can be, we all need a faith that disrupts our lives. This  is what clears out old ideas and old patterns of living allowing us to be open to something new, something better and something completely unexpected.

I know that this doesn’t sound very pastoral, but this Easter may God disrupt your faith. And through this may you discover a new hope and a new vision for what life can be.
 

Posted by Rev Michael Bos, Wednesday, April 16, 2014

This Sunday at 10:30 a.m. a group of West Enders will walk the streets of the city with Palms, distributing them to people who ask for them along the way. (It’s amazing how appreciative people are to receive them!)
 
But why do such a thing? We’re told that shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, and people placed palms before him. To commemorate his journey to the cross, we celebrate Palm Sunday. This is something the church has done for nearly 1700 years.
 
It may seem odd to mark an occasion that leads to such a tragic event. Yet in this there is a message of hope for all who face difficult situations.
 
As Jesus faced the crucifixion, a moment in which he was at his weakest and all hope seemed lost, we learn that death would not be the last word. God gave new life to Jesus, and through this the hope for all who are weak that in their darkest moments God is still present and things can change. As Paul said, “God’s strength comes into its own in our weakness.”
 
We all face dark moments and insurmountable challenges. Carrying Palms is a way of expressing that we are people of hope no matter what we face. 

Posted by Rev Michael Bos, Wednesday, April 9, 2014

At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:75)

This is the end of this story. No really, I checked. This is the last time Matthew mentions Peter. Peter denies Christ. He hears the cock crowing and he weeps. And that is the end of Peter’s story, according to the Gospel of Matthew.

As I was studying this passage in the lectionary this week, I immediately looked for proper end, the end where everything is okay. Peter denies Christ, but then Jesus forgives him after the resurrection. That is the way it is supposed to go. That is the way I want it to go. But this is the way it goes in the Gospel of John and only in the Gospel of John.

John writes that after the resurrection, Jesus is finishing up breakfast and he says to Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He asks him three times. What a lovely poetic scene! Peter denied Jesus three times, and Jesus gives him three opportunities to make it right and profess his love to Jesus. This is how I want the story to end. Make it right.

I need to sit down and have coffee with Matthew and explain to him that we can’t have it the other way. People need to be able to make things right. People need second chances. People need to return to the scene of the crime and confess. This is how we do things.

Matthew needs to understand that Peter’s story is important to us regular folk. We deny Jesus and we need to know how to fix it. He needs to show us the way home when we fail under pressure.

Sometimes when my kids really blow it, I don’t feel like making room for reconciliation or repair. I feel like ignoring them for an hour. Sometimes when people irritate me, I don’t want to hear reasons or excuses or show empathy. I want to shake my head and move on. But the beautiful thing about the John ending is that Jesus doesn’t do that. Jesus does not exclude Peter from his circle. He has breakfast. He gives him the chance to fully reconcile. Peter doesn’t fix it. Jesus does. Jesus opens up the dialogue, inviting Peter into this intimate line of questioning, eventually showing us that Peter is completely welcome to continue following Jesus:

After this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:19b)

Matthew may not have needed this redemption, but I do.

Posted by Mandy Meisenheimer, Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Last week West End Collegiate Church sent me to attend and present a seminar at the Progressive Youth Ministry conference in Chicago. I am so grateful for the opportunity to represent our church among many other brothers and sisters in faith. There were attendees from the RCA, the UCC, the PCUSA, the UMC, and other churches, yet behind all these initials there was a deep sense of mutual understanding and community. We worshipped together, learned together, ate together, and laughed together.

This week our lectionary text brings us into the story of the anointing of David. I Samuel 16 describes the process whereby the prophet Samuel overlooks David’s older brothers and chooses David to be the future king of Israel. The Lord tells Samuel, “the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Somewhere along the line, those denominational letters meant something so intentional to some groups of people that they chose to distinguish themselves by them. Some issue, some conviction, some biblical interpretation was so crucial that it was worth forming an institution around it. But when we all get together around our commonalities, the capital letters don’t mean as much. Our denominations, banners, our labels, and our titles are all outward expressions of things that are going on in our hearts. This week’s lectionary text reminds us that God is looking at our hearts, not our labels.

What label are you wearing today? Does it reflect the state of your heart?

Posted by Mandy Meisenheimer, Thursday, March 27, 2014

When I was in sixth grade, I did not like the educational praxis of my math teacher. I informed her that she was not teaching us in a stimulating way and that she could do a lot better to make the class more engaging. When I went home and relayed the conversation to my mom, she gave me some great advice: Not everyone has to know everything that you are thinking, Mandy. Good advice, but it was not completely absorbed that day in 6th grade. I am in my fourth decade of life and I am still learning this lesson.

This week our lectionary points us toward the theme of the pilgrimage or journey. This theme saturates scripture, but does not resound with our insta-change culture and view of self-transformation. When I identify something about myself that could improve, I do not like to see gradual change. I want to master it by tomorrow. And when I fail, I wring my hands and cry, as if I should be beyond this issue by now.

But when we are “born again” as Jesus describes in John 3, we are not perfected in that moment. We wake up the next day with all of our human frailties in tact. The addictions don’t disappear. The bad habits still nag us. The emotional patterns remain. And you know what? That’s okay.

When we are “born again” we are transformed, but not into some divine beings that never make mistakes. We are transformed into people who give and receive grace, freely and liberally. This grace, then, begins to wear away our rough edges. We find space and forgiveness to start over, to stop the nonsense, to deny the cravings, to seek help for the issues. Being “born again” starts the journey, the journey of grace.

Posted by Mandy Meisenheimer, Friday, March 14, 2014