Advent and Christmas at Riverside

Advent and Christmas reminders: 

Please note:  Because DC Public Schools will not open the school for us on a holiday,  New Year’s Eve Sunday service will worship elsewhere.  Where?

Sunday morning New Year’s Eve, 10 a.m., some of us will worship at Christ United Methodist Church (we will not be involved in leading the worship or participating in the worship). 900 4th Street, SW. You may park at Jefferson and walk over to Christ United Methodist.

Please remember our church depends solely on your offerings and since we will miss two Sundays of collection, we encourage you to mail in your offering or use the PayPal button on this site.

The Peace of the angelic presence and announcement to shepherds in the field abide with you throughout this season of hope.  ~See you Sunday


Embracing for a New Year

A favorite story for the coming “new” year:

“Two brothers shared a farm.  One brother was married and had seven children.  The other brother was single.   They worked hard and the land was good.  Each year the harvest was abundant; and each year they split the wealth of the land evenly.  They gathered the perfectly divided grain into their separate barns and thanked God for his goodness.

“One night the single brother thought to himself, ‘It is not right that we should divide the grain evenly.  My brother has many mouths to feed and he needs more.  I have only myself to look after.  I can certainly get by with less.’  So each night the single brother would take grain from his barn and secretly transfer it to the barn of his married brother.

“That same night the married brother thought to himself, ‘It is not right that we should divide the grain evenly.  I have many children who will look after me in my old age.  My brother has only himself. Surely he will need to save more for the future.’  So each night the married brother would take grain from his barn and secretly transfer it to the barn of his single brother.

“Each night the brothers gave away their grain.  Yet each morning they found their supply mysteriously replenished.  They never told each other about this miracle.

“Then one night they met each other half way between the barns.  They realized at once what had been happening.  They embraced one another with laughter and tears.

On that spot they built a temple.”*

What have you been building with your life?  What will you build in 2018? May our mutual care, covenantal love and duty create a sacred space and in turn hallow our world.*

*A rabbinical story as told by John Shea in An Experience Named Spirit (Chicago:  The Thomas More Press, 1983), pp. 7-8.



The Peace of Jerusalem

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:

“May they prosper who love you.

 Peace be within your walls,

    and security within your towers.”

Psalm 122:6-7

In November of 1995, one week after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, I sat on a hill just outside the Seven Arches Hotel, overlooking the city of Jerusalem.  It was and is a honeycomb of the Sacred.  The molten golden color of its stones in the setting sun, the call of the minaret, church bells ringing, great stone walls with gates, intoxicated me.  A city over 3,000 years old and the hub of sacred stories and events, this city is deeply loved by persons of many faith traditions.  I am not surprised that some religious pilgrims come to the City of David and lose their identity, overcome by what is called “the Jerusalem syndrome.”

Unfortunately, it is not only individuals who can lose their minds but also nations.  President Trump, in what many of his Evangelical followers applaud as a right thing to do, has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the modern state of Israel.  He has been moved to this decision by who knows whom but the Evangelicals seem to think that such recognition is both a biblical right and a contribution toward the actualization of what they call the Second Coming of Christ.  It is neither. It is the politicization of a complicated religious history and a beautiful, sacred city.

If we want to honor Jerusalem and work to safeguard the peace of that city then Jews, Christians and Muslims should be working toward a de-politicization of Jerusalem so its sacred streets and shrines are accessible to all.  That history is polluted by efforts by all three of those religions to thwart the others from such access.  When the President acts to place the American embassy inside Jerusalem, he not only complicates what is already complicated but he immediately acts to thwart a particular group of people, as so many have acted in the past two thousand years. Mr. Trump is anti-Muslim. He has spewed his distrust and stereotyped that religion since he began his campaign to become President. There is simply no way for his action to be perceived by Islam but as a hostile act.  I can only assert that as a Christian, he does not speak for me, nor do the Evangelicals.  Stop conflating biblical hopes for shalom with Machiavellian nation states that could care less about those hopes.  The other problem with the President’s action is this:  while on the surface he seems to be raising the stature of Jerusalem and Israel, he is undermining its security. He has made the world unsafe for Jewish and Christian residents of Jerusalem as well.  This is a shame.

Jerusalem is such a bright light that we are drawn to it like a moth to flame.  Those who carelessly fumble their way toward it risk being consumed by that flame.  Not only religious individuals, but entire nations.  I pray that the President retracts this action.  For the peace of Jerusalem to be a reality, the city should be protected as the shrine it is and no religion and no government should deny its mysteries to others.  I am a realist though.  Mr. Trump will kick a canister of tear gas, a can of hot coals, into a crowd just because he can—the spectacle of that appeals to him. Alas, this raises other questions about American governance and his psychology that need to be addressed. For now, let us pray for the peace of Jerusalem and ask our nation to facilitate dialogue, not exacerbate tensions.


Dear Dishonorable Republican Majority

“We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities,like the wind, take us away.”  ~Isaiah 64:6

Dear  Dishonorable Republican Majority:

It is Advent and we who happen to be Christian and honor this season as a time of hope for what is born in Bethlehem now have little choice but to see you playing the role of the puppet ruler, Herod, depicted in the Gospels as a  ruthless and traitorous sycophant of Rome.   And yes,  as well you have stepped into the role of the inn-keeper who delivers to Mary, about to deliver her holy child, and to her husband, the bad news that there is no room in the inn.  Off to the barn with you! How dare you be needy and without money to secure a place in the inn?   You, Republican Majority Congresspersons, are, however, decidedly not the Wise Men who come seeking the child to honor him. Nor are you the shepherds, poor and at risk in the fields, who receive the angelic announcement that there is a prince of peace born to counter the reptilian minions of Rome.  But yes! dear Republican Congresspersons who have just decided to transfer a gigantic amount of wealth from the needy, the meek, the poor, the sick and at risk so that your wealthy donors might benefit, you are the very same reptilian princes who prowl in predation in the Christmas story while the great Lizard King sits mad in the White House, fumbling toward nuclear war.  While you do nothing.  Well, not exactly nothing because you have just taken steps to raise deficits by a trillion dollars —something you preached against repeatedly in years past—as you destroy the flimsy medical access net provided by President Obama. Even a flimsy medical access is too much in your estimation.  You now have in sight the goal of dismantling Medicare and Social Security. Bang the drum slowly.

Well, I’m just a pastor. I and my congregation will be reading and repeating the Christmas story and celebrating the news that the blessed mother of Jesus sang about:  the powerful will be brought down, the hungry filled and the rich sent away empty. The meek are getting ready.  And you, you will fade like a leaf and your iniquities will, like the wind, take you away.  That is a warning. From the Prophet Isaiah. From the mother of Christ. From the Galilean, who was considered by people like you as smitten by poverty, too powerless to count.  Get this though, dishonorable governing class:  That Galilean is  raised from death.  May your dreams and sleep be haunted by his pronouncements of solidarity with the oppressed.

To you Christians, take hope. Christ assured us,  ”In the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have  overcome the world.”  To people of peace and good will everywhere, we stand with you in this dark night.  May your works of justice and mercy shine like stars in the firmament.


Born Under a Bad Sign

Albert King’s Blues anthem, Born Under a Bad Sign, is about bad luck.  It comes quite close, however, to the narrative matrix of the Lukan birth narrative. That narrative begins in the second chapter with:  ”In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.” Jesus was born under a bad sign. Things, however, are not as they seem.

This is one of the first pieces, in fact, that you and I must put into place in order to understand the counterpoint of Luke’s narrative about a humble and holy child born in Bethlehem.  A ruthless and cruel ruler moved an entire empire by his mere decree.  And though this seems to be the way it always is–forces that move and shape us beyond our power to resist–Luke is writing a manifesto of resistance.  For things are not what they seem.  It looks like Caesar Augustus is the one controlling the world but no, Luke says, there is another prince who will not only counter the cruelty of kings and puppet rulers, but he will defeat them.  Christ was born under a bad sign but in its place, raised an emblem of Peace and Justice.

In those days, a tweet went out from President Trump, and the entire world was roiled.  The impulsive and delusional impulses of our President have once again resulted in his spewing lies about President Obama’s birth certificate and attacks on Muslims.  In this season’s Advent watch,  once again, the Christ child is born under a bad sign.  Remember Luke’s subversive message of the Christmas story, that this same holy Prince of Peace will defeat these forces of cruelty and malevolence.  As Christ’s mother, Mary, sang upon the news that she carried within her the messianic hope of the world [Luke 1:46-55]:

 God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
 God has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.

Listen, you who provide tax breaks to the 1% and burden the poor and sick.  Pay attention.  Tweet and decree all you like but in this Advent season, we know that the Christ child who countered the power and cruelty of Augustus will overcome you as well.

Raise high the insignia of Peace and Justice over the bad sign of cruel rulers. The Good News has shattered the twitterdom of presidents and sycophants.