The African Bishop of Hippo, St. Augustine, writing in the dusk of the Roman empire in his book, The City of God: “What are kingdoms without justice? They’re just gangs of bandits.”
Mr. Trump meet Bishop Augustine. America, meet your Congress that is dedicated to obstruction and falsification and yes, burdening the poor while enriching the wealthy. How does one live faithfully in a kingdom of bandits? By refusing to sacrifice the assembling of one another in worship; by resisting evil by what is right and just; by rallying around those at risk and certainly, by all means, being willing to name the gansters and bandits, Diabolus. The Congress could begin to redeem its soul by naming a Special Prosecutor to pursue Russia’s entanglement with the Trump campaign and our national election. The judgement of God is not always swift. Sometimes it is a slow train coming around the bend (thanks to Dylan). I can hear the click-clack rumble of that train.
We have nodded to my 25th anniversary as pastor of Riverside Baptist Church this month –provided a collection of sermons, Safe Harbor– and now we conclude with a luncheon after a Sunday morning worship of “testifying.” This past week has been an appropriate reflection of my 25 years. Here is some of what I did.
I visited and counseled with the sick and the despairing; I kept vigil beside the former First Lady of Fifth Baptist Church, Rosalie Harrison, praying with her, reading psalms, and then commending her to God on Tuesday evening, February 21st. She had told me many years ago that she wanted to live to 100 years old. I visited her in January to wish her a happy 100th and then, one month later, she left this mortal world with its tears and suffering. Her graveside service is Thursday the 2nd of March at Fort Lincoln Cemetery. I spent my day Friday visiting the funeral home and the cemetery to make her arrangements and in between those visits, received word that Lauren was on the way to the hospital to give birth. I received news last week that Wyatt was released from Children’s Hospital where he had undergone a significant surgery. I sat on a bench on a beautiful Spring day of 74 degrees in February with the President of SWNA, a delightful and gifted gentleman who wanted to get to know me and our church better. Spoke with Ian over at Blind Whino about the possibility of an art show and an alternative worship experience once a month. Saw several of our development team walking our property, hardhats and goggles on as I drove by, headed for an appointment. I taught a class at Howard Divinity and worked to arrange for as student to serve on a panel discussion of an up and coming play on March 4th at Temple Micah, The Gospel of Lovingkindness, devoted to the issue of prevention of handgun violence.
Plans, prayers, tears and laughter–my 25 years crystallized in one intense week. From joy to sorrow and back again, the pastorate at Riverside has been a novel and a sacred journey. I’d like to conclude this month’s celebration of this anniversary with the Apostle Paul’s benediction in Romans: For from God and through God and to God are all things. To God be the glory forever. Amen. ~ See you Sunday
January 8th is a week away and we can begin worshipping together again! I hope the two weeks away have rekindled your love of our church and you’ll enter this new year ready to make a difference. I have certainly missed being with you as the People of God, formed in the crucible of Grace and Mercy and the proclamation of God’s Good News.
La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona. ~photo by PSTR
As many of you know, I took retreat in Barcelona for a week where I ducked into ancient churches (like the Cathedral of Barcelona and Santa Maria del Mar) and a “new” church, begun in 1882 by the architect, Antonio Gaudi, La Sagrada Familia. I lit a few candles, said prayers and otherwise pondered my life within the light and quiet of these sacred places. I commend our church leadership for its unwavering commitment to the pastoral office and the need for pastors to have not just down time, but time held in the suspension of sacred duties in order to be renewed. Not every church makes that kind of commitment. That annual line item in the budget that secures a means by which I can retreat and renew is a significant affirmation and I am deeply grateful. Clergy burn out (as do others in other professions). There are, sadly, those congregants and churches that begrudge their pastors time away and needless to say even more who, while they may embrace the idea, will not financially support it. Riverside is not one of those churches. ”Pastoral care” then is a two-way street. Pastors who have congregations that care for them can, in turn, provide pastoral care.
While I did not have the chance on this first day of the new year and the first Sunday of 2017 to worship with you, I did worship at a sister church in SW, St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church which, as you likely know, completed their development project and moved into their new sanctuary in November. It is a space filled with light and the homilist this morning, Rev. Martin Smith, delivered a wonderful sermon. Congratulations to our friends at St. Augustine’s, our prayers are with St. Matthew Lutheran Church as they have broken ground for their development and new church and may the God who makes all things new, renew us! SEE YOU SUNDAY~ PSTR
Sunday, October 2nd, we begin our interim journey when we worship at the auditorium at Jefferson Academy Middle School. We are blessed to be worshipping in the same hour on nearly the same corner with parking. Our choir will also be able to rehearse on the same nights at the same time as they are used to. Nonetheless, it will take us some time to adjust to our new setting and find our way. Hence, our slogan in these coming days: ADJUST AND OVERCOME.
We will find solutions to problems and we’ll accept what we cannot change so we can focus on those things that we can change. We are grateful to Jefferson and the DC Public School system for leasing us this space as we witness the building of a new church edifice. Our main office will move in the next week or so into an office across the street at the Wharf Headquarters. Your church secretary, deacons and pastor are still available to you. May the words written to the Hebrews (10:25) inspire us as we cross the street:
And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another…
~See you Sunday
Perhaps you are old enough to remember or have simply seen an old radio with a tuning dial. With deft fingers and patience, one could turn the dial slowly to eventually land on a radio station. With fine-tuning and precision, the noise and static would give way to a clear–if faint–station.
And this is analogous to prayer. Now I grew up in a noisy church. The electric organ would vine leaves of notes around prayers. The choir sang. The church, which is to say, the congregants, would exhort with “amen” like a boy throwing a firecracker on the pavement on the Fourth of July. And the preacher would proclaim for well over thirty minutes and very often forty-five minutes, a sermon that now seems to me in hindsight to have been more stream-of-consciousness than a crafted commentary upon holy writ. Church was noisy. Silence was not even a word in our theological vocabulary.
We live in a very noisy world. I am sure you have noticed this, especially during these weeks of political conventions that provide a stage for our culture’s anxiety. The rhetoric, protests, speeches and and speeches and speeches, pelt us with words. It is little wonder that we feel confused, agitated or simply worn out after listening to even a little bit of all this. What to do?
Prayer and worship offer us a still point of silence. You can listen to my sermon, Still Point, from this past Sunday to ferret out the deeper meanings here. This week, I urge you to patiently tune the dial of your inner life until you find that still point of quiet where you are met by “the peace that passes all understanding.” Turn off the news for a while. Barricade yourself against the noise. Dial into the center where, to borrow from Eliot,
the light is still
At the still point of the turning world.
~See you Sunday where silence and peace meet praise
Monday is another day of snow. The appearance of flakes, the shortening of vision, the powder piled on the sidewalk and great machines tripping and panting along the streets, rendered suddenly powerless by water, snow and ice. It is a good day to remain in doors and ransack the poets.
Tend to your soul. Turn off the meteorologists. They predict and frighten. Tend to your mind. Find one wonderful sentence crafted by a poet that can lead you to heaven’s gate at Jerusalem’s wall (that’s William Blake). Mind you, you could read a novel of two hundred pages or get started but poetry is sonic zen expansiveness. One single line can open a world. Here’s a line I found while ransacking poets today. It is by Franz Wright and his book, Walking to Martha’s Vineyard, in a poem entitled, “My Place.”
I believe one day the distance between myself and God will disappear.