Category Archives: Featured

A Mission And A Mandate

 

Christ, woodcutter Steffan

Christ, woodcutter Steffan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Johannes Baptist Metz writes that becoming a human being is both a mission and a mandate.  We are not given our humanity or our destiny as other animals who simply live out of their “natures.” That’s what dogs do. That’s what cats do.  That’s what a lion does. And then of course the next statement is, that is what humans do.  To which Oscar Wilde responded that if a person says they were just acting like a human being you can pretty much count on their having just behaved as an animal.

 

Your mission and my mission is to be fully human. We want to live up to and through what is most noble about that.  This is also a mandate, a call and command to us to grow, expand, and reach for what is best in ourselves and others.  This Lenten season offers us a chance to be introspective about how we’re doing with that mandate.  We do so within the Christian religious context of Christ’s forty days temptation in the wilderness. There he struggled with his human poverty and limits, resisted the temptation to be something other than what God had called him to be and stepped into and through his destiny as the Savior of the world. When he finished those temptations, he came out of the wilderness preaching that God’s Kingdom was near.  What about us? What about you?  If you’re going to “give up something for Lent,” then how about this:  give up those less-than-noble calls that would diminish your humanity and dignity, your life in God. And embrace the mission and mandate to be like Christ. If we do that, we might awaken to that kingdom that Jesus proclaimed is very near.

 

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The Point Is NOT To Stay Here

Desert Oasis

Having grown up in a Southern Baptist context in the 1950s and 1960s, I recall being at church all day Sunday (well, we had a lunch break and then came back in the evening for “training union” and a warmed over sermon left on the back burner a little too long so it was crusty and well, . . .burnt. The saving grace of that was, the preacher was so tired by the time he entered the pulpit that he ended up preaching maybe 20 minutes instead of 45).

Anyway, we also had a midweek service. And once I became a teen/adult and served on a committee then I realized that when I signed up to love God and neighbor I had apparently also signed up to be at church as many days as possible.

This may come as  a shock to some but look, the point is not to stay here inside the church.  Some liken the church to an ark or ship that makes safe passage and I like that to some degree as long as you don’t press it so that we are literally stuck together at the church building more days than not and for hours at a time.  The point to the church, and I suppose I should capitalize it, so:  the point to the Church is actually to go out into the world and be salt and leaven.  By the way, you can look through the Gospels and will be hard pressed to find Jesus speak of the church more than once.  He did preach often about the Kingdom of Heaven or Kingdom of God.

If that is a minimalist approach to the nature of the Church then so be it.  I think it a scriptural approach as well.  Don’t get me wrong, I want you here on Sunday and worshipping in the community of believers is essential.  But Riverside is an oasis.  Drive your camels in, park them, then sit under our shade tree, crank the bucket down into the cool-water-well we have, drink deeply and then fill your canteen and head back out there. Because you know what? The world needs healing and is in great need of people who love it and repair it.  See you Sunday.  If you don’t have a camel, just walk.  Either way, let’s be the Church.  ~PSTR

 

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The Destruction of Near Eastern Christianity

coptic-christians

I posted this a year ago in July but given the executions of 21 Egyptian Christians by ISIS in Libya and the current situation in Nigeria where Boko Haram is threatening 200,000 Christians, we would do well to remember these martyrs and demand that governments and the UN take steps to protect Christians from annihilation at the hands of radical Moslems.

update 8/7

Iraq’s Largest Christian Town Abandoned

As Hamas sent thousands of missiles into Israel and the Israeli government responded by invading Gaza to silence these missiles, our attention has focused upon the Middle East. What you may not be aware of is how horrific a price for their faith Christians are paying in the Middle East.  From Egypt to Iraq, Syria to Pakistan, Christians have been systematically singled out and beaten, killed and their churches set ablaze.

ISIS has declared a Caliphate–echoing seventh century imperialist oppression.  In Mosul, they told Christians to convert to Islam, leave the city or risk being put to death “by the sword.”  An 1800 year old church was burned in Mosul according to reports on Sunday, July 20.  Crosses are torn down and the black flag of ISIS put in their place.  These are not isolated instances in Mosul, however.  Copts in Egypt have similar stories and all of us witnessed how a pregnant woman, Mariam Yahya Ibrahim,  in Sudan was scheduled for execution by hanging because she refused to renounce her Christian faith.  She has since been released after international calls for her freedom but note, she and her family had to leave their home.  Christians have come under fierce persecution with atrocities piling up in Syria.  There is not enough space in this post for the myriad stories of intimidation, torture and execution of Christians.  The destruction of Near Eastern Christians is happening before our eyes. The West and the UN ignore their plight. At the very least, we should be praying for Christians there and finding ways to educate others about their plight.  May God have mercy on them and save them from annihilation.

You can find more information here at the The Week and an article by Professor Franck Salameh, Associate Professor for Near Eastern Studies at Boston College, entitled, “The Destruction of Near Eastern Christianity.” And this Vatican News report on atrocities in Syria.iraqChristianchurch

Silence, Dark Sky: Spirituality

Snowy Lane

Recently I spent a couple of days and nights in the Catskills, remote and unlinked from the bustling matrix of the city.  Two aspects of that geography struck me (well, three if you count the mountains).

There was brilliant silence to the place.  It was as though someone had pressed the mute button on the remote.  No noise.  Birdsong rippling across wooded terrain, snow blanketed and frigidly cold, the place was just QUIET.  Then on the first night as I walked in the cold silence I peered into the dark ink sky and noticed how bright the stars were. They pierced laser sharp holes in the fabric. And I realized, there was no light pollution here like there is in the city.  

Let me make two points about spirituality or a life disciplined by the spirit. And these two points are, I would suggest, universal for religious traditions or thoughtful life. That is, these lessons are  not tied to a Christian doctrine of any sort. First, silence is requisite for hearing oneself and asking the right questions.  Noise from the entertainment consumer culture of which you and I are a part is an enemy of the spirituality.  And certainly, in a religious tradition like Christianity, where hearing the Word of the speaking God is simply essential, noise acts as a riptide, pulling us away from the shore.  Take deep breaths at some point in your day.  Deep, slow breaths in silence so you can listen to the mystery of your life pulsating at your wrists and in your chest.  The problem is not so much that you cannot hear God or your life but that you hear too well and the still, small voice of God goes ignored.  Second, the themes of night and day begin in Genesis and perhaps culminate in the Light of the World language used by the Gospel of John.  That is, night is a handy metaphor when things get to a point where we complain we cannot see God or see the handiwork of God’s love.  Something happens to us–an event, a betrayal or a diagnosis–and often our first reaction is that God has abandoned us.  But when I walked along that stretch of road in the Catskills that night and saw the illumination of stars so bright, I realized that it was the depth of the night which provided the opportunity to see.  So this second point boils down to this: even when you walk in a dark valley or a night of sorrow, even there and perhaps especially there, the Light of God is brilliantly offered to you.

Practice silence. Hit the mute button, I dare you, I urge you. Find a way to stop listening to the noise around you for at least one hour in the day.  Quiet. Listen.  When it is dark, look up.  Be illuminated.

See you Sunday~ PSTR

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We Are The Church

Communion

Here’s what I saw today on the first Sunday of February, on my 22nd anniversary as your pastor:  a choir and musicians who inspired us with beautiful music (notice I didn’t use the word, “entertain,” but inspire–they sang from their souls for God and for God’s people); a diverse congregation who, when they had the chance at the Peace of Christ, embraced one another; I heard laughter, the exchanges of peace and greetings between congregants, our children with smiles on their faces, two of our children displaying their Tai Kwan Do skills and being blessed and affirmed by the adults; a young man we’ve known since he was knee-high to a grasshopper arriving at 7:30 to lend me a hand setting up for church; leaders who worked behind the scenes to extend pastoral care and to insure we have heat; people reaching out to friends and inviting them to church; the proclamation of faith; a young adult covenanting with us to love God and others in this place; Holy Communion woven into our lives like golden thread; in short, I saw the Church today.  We showed up. We worshipped. We were blessed and we blessed.

Have a great week.  Go heal the world.  Do not tire of well doing.  And as the choir sang to us, Stand.

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The Gate Called Worship or, Three Things To Do Prior to Entering A Holy Place

English: Garden Gate All around Ballumbie Castle

Throughout the course of any given day in our lives, we find ourselves opening doors and following steps that will facilitate our movement through the labyrinth.  For example, think of how you prepare for something as routine as going to the store. Even if you do not make a list, you take a moment to consider why you’re entering the store and take steps to make sure you have cash or a credit card.  From the moment you exit your domicile or office to the moment you walk through the door of the store, how many doors have you opened? How many thresholds have you crossed?

When you cross the threshold into a holy place, like our church, you have opened doors, crossed boundaries, exited and entered a variety of doors.  Ponder this for a moment.  There is this experiential, bodily transition from one portal to another. We would do well to be mindful.  Be awake. Alert.  ”I am walking across the threshold into…”

Peace.  Translucency (blue stained glass, milky light powdered over walnut pews, symbol-adorned walls, table, glass). ” In the midst of others, I am positioning myself to…”

Come before the Holy, the Unutterable, the Fountain of Light.  What you have done is this: you have opened the gate called Worship. This is a series of actions from prayer to song to proclamation that weave you into a sacred tapestry of space and time and all in a singular effort to place one’s life before the Giver of Life.

There are secondary reasons we gather in the church and those reasons are fine as long as they remain secondary to the one great thing you do that day:  worship.  So we show up to socialize and network and accomplish some other secondary tasks.  What we want to do is show up in that holy place at least as mindful as we are when we enter the grocery store with our lists, our money and coupons.  Indeed, we enter sacred time with the small change of our lives seeking a treasure that far exceeds our expectations.

This is one reason I value so much the first gate we open on Sunday.  Have you noticed in your church bulletin that our order of service is a series of gates? And the first gate is “prayer.”  We begin our service without noise, practically in quiet and in prayerful repose. Think of that and how that might compare to your experiences in other churches.  We begin in quiet, contemplative prayer.  I don’t know how you experience that, but here is what I experience: the illusions of the world begin to crash like slags of ice into the sea; the noise of the world melts, dissipates and dissolves into quiet; I can feel my chest rise and fall to breath; eyes closed, I trade darkness for light. And I pray, Christe eleison, Christ have mercy.

Three things you might consider doing prior to entering a holy place:  be mindful of your thresholds; find the gate that opens into your heart, mind and soul; open that gate as you open the gate of worship.

I’ll end by quoting Augustine from Book XII of his Confessions:

O let the Light, the Truth, the Light of my heart, not mine own darkness, speak unto me. I fell off into that, and became darkened; but even thence, even thence I loved Thee. I went astray, and remembered Thee. I heard Thy voice behind me, calling to me to return, and scarcely heard it, through the tumultuousness of the enemies of peace. And now, behold, I return in distress and panting after Thy fountain.

There is a gate. Open it.  There is a fountain of light by which we see light.  See you Sunday.

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