One more time. One service of worship more. Another attempt to join our voices to those of angels and martyrs, apostles and the hosts of unnamed millions of Christians who, through two millennia, have rejoiced that a Savior was born in Bethlehem. Christmas Eve provides us this opportunity. There will be some songs. There will be prayers, proclamation and communion. And we will light little candles to remind us that even a little light overcomes the darkness. Enter with us into the sanctuary and allow silence and contemplative peace to flow through you. Forget for an hour all the tinsel and wrapping paper promises of the shopping mad culture around us. Instead, come and worship. There may be no star over our church Wednesday night at 7pm, but inside, faith and light will join together and make us a people of hope. ~See you Christmas Eve at 7. ~Joy to the World~
Throughout history, there have been those reckless individuals who perpetrated hideous crimes beneath some nobler cause or symbol. Klansmen burned crosses, a sacred symbol to Christians, and carried out lynchings in the name of God. Taliban madmen shot to death more than one hundred innocent children in Pakistan last week. They did so in the name of God. Today we mourn the cowardly executions of policemen in Brooklyn by a deranged individual who apparently decided to cover up his hideous assassinations by appealing to the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. How awful. How wicked and misguided.
We pray for the families of these slain officers. We pray for police everywhere who do their best to protect us and live up to the highest standards of their communities and of our country. But do not be misled by those on the right or left who would lay this at the feet of a movement righteously asking for accountability.
Revenge is not the answer—Christ rejected it outright. The cycle of violence must end. A non-violent movement dedicated to justice rejects violence as a resolution to violence. May all of us hear the better angels of our natures calling out to us in this Christmas season. As the Fellowship of Reconciliation would say, There is no way to peace–Peace is the way. Peter, put away your gun.
Today, Wednesday, on the 17th of December, about one week before Christmas Day, I had the pleasure of visiting Rosalie Harrison. Rosalie is in a wonderful group home in Maryland and next month, she will celebrate her 98th birthday. I always like to tell her the story–because she cannot remember me or her church or her family and has not remembered in quite some time now–about how she came to Washington DC in 1953. I begin that story by telling her that I was only 17 days old when she arrived with Rev. Porter Harrison to pastor Fifth Baptist Church, what is now Riverside Baptist Church. I then tell her that I am now an old man and her pastor. She laughs at this story. We both do. Today, joined by our Chairperson of Deacons, Jacquelyn, we brought her a beautiful red poinsettia and Jacquelyn brought her a gift and card. Rosalie took great pleasure in these gifts. And as I like to do, we prompted her with some songs and she sang them: Silent Night, O Christmas Tree and Amazing Grace. She knew the words and sang in tune, just like the faithful choir member she was for those many, many years at Fifth Baptist and Riverside.
You have family stories to share as well during these luminous days of Christmas. Bring your lives into a holy place, in a holy hour on Sunday and worship. And may your memories stitch you together, hold you fast, keep you warm and give you great, great joy. Joy to the World indeed! I’m headed toward Bethlehem and hope you will join me in that journey. See you Sunday. ~ Pastor Bledsoe
The brassy patriots who disparage those who protested across cities in the United States this past Saturday reveal a constitutional ineptitude that defies their self-proclaimed patriot fervor. When we protest we are patriotic. When we demand that those who govern us do so justly and without discrimination but as equals before the law, we are patriotic. The First Amendment is a beautiful, powerful and empowering right in the Bill of Rights. Those who stepped into the streets on Saturday, December 13th in protest of the failure of prosecutors and grand juries to protect unarmed, African-American civilians were living up to the constitutional vision of a citizenry empowered and protected from tyranny. Here is the amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Look at that last clause. By the tens of thousands, Americans did exactly that when they demanded justice for the victims of police officers who, charged with protecting citizens, instead within seconds pulled a trigger and ended a life. As religious persons and patriots, Riverside Church congregants took to the streets and marched for justice and equal protection under the law. I am proud to pastor a church that puts feet to its words, that acts in the highest sense of patriotism and the deepest religious values of human dignity. We pray, we sing, we march in the light of God. We are not asking our beloved country to endorse a religion. We are asking that our politicians, officers of the court and police and military who protect us to do so out of a devotion to the constitution and bill of rights. Anything less will not do. Holding to account those who violate those sacred documents is a patriotic act. May peace and justice one day walk down our streets hand-in-hand. Until that day, we will continue to march and pray.
This Saturday, December 13th, join us as we participate in a march on Washington together with Alliance of Baptist friends and raise our voices that Black Lives Matter. The march begins at Freedom Plaza at 10:30 a.m. I will be leaving Riverside’s parking lot at 9:15 to metro to Calvary Baptist Church where friends from Calvary Baptist, Covenant Baptist and others who come from around the country will meet for prayer on the steps. We will then proceed to Freedom Plaza. ~Pastor Bledsoe