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
I like padded pews, not that I get to sit in them since I’m the preacher. But they provide a measure of comfort that seems legitimate given how hard it is at times to listen to a preacher. You deserve a padded pew. At the least though, a preacher ought to preach the Gospel in a way that makes the pad necessary and I don’t mean by that the kind of hellfire and brimstone beating people in the name of Jesus sermons I heard growing up. I mean sermons that call us to the justice and peacemaking Gospel Jesus preached even before there was a crucifixion.
Speaking of which, we’re getting close to the Easter High Holy Sunday and as you know, you can’t really get to Resurrection Sunday without passing through Thursday and the Garden of Gethsemane, betrayal and Friday’s catastrophe of blood and shattered body that was the flogging and crucifixion. But like padded pews, lots of folks–both liberal and conservative–try to pad the Gospel and reduce Jesus to an ethical teacher or a prosperity salesman. It will be very important in the coming days and weeks as we approach Golgotha that we listen to the Christ and all he had to say about servant-ministry and sacrificial love. Martin Luther King summed it up well when he said, ’When I took up the cross I recognized it’s meaning. The cross is something that you bear, and ultimately, that you die on.’ We are all not called upon to give up our lives as King or Christ did, but we darn sure ought to get a splinter now and then from following the Crucified Lord.
Be awake. Be alert. We are following Jesus to Jerusalem. We will sit in the upper room and commune with him. And a time will come when we are tempted to betray him, to run from him, even before the rooster crows for the rising sun. It is time to weigh our souls in the balance and find our way to a Holy place. Easter is coming. First, however, there is a Thursday night of betrayal and a Friday noon of nails.
One might easily overlook someone confusing a communion plate for an offering plate if that person has seldom if ever entered a church. Even so, a communion plate as passed along in a Baptist Church or an Evangelical Church (and I do not equate the two denominations as some do) will have bread of some sort in it. How do you put money into a plate filled with bread? But as I say, this is easily overlooked when the error is made by someone without experience in such churches. But when you are someone who is running for the presidency of the United States and have loudly claimed the bible is your favorite book, though you cannot seem to recite a verse from it, and you make a point to embrace Christianity and especially Evangelicals in Iowa who are about to caucus, well, that is a different kind of error. It too is forgivable but it cannot be overlooked.
That is exactly what Evangelicals seem to be doing, however, as they flock –as Jerry Falwell, Jr. has done—to embrace a candidate who claims to be one of them but betrays in quite glaring ways that he is as a matter of fact quite clueless when it comes to their religion. But elections in our country at this point in time require enormous sums of money, outrageous lies and promises and lots of whining in the face of the most straightforward and obvious questions. The failure is not just one candidate but the convention of which he is part finds it nearly impossible to counter misogynist, racist, and xenophobic rhetoric spewed on a weekly basis by this candidate. The wholesale cowardice is actually frightful. I won’t blame the media. The media should confess its own complicity. But I will, as a clergyman, say that having religious spokespersons and entire swaths of Christians embracing a megalomaniacal candidate who borrows Christian symbols to promote himself is shameful. Pope Francis clearly has decided it is time to confront what he believes to be a posturing Christian (denouncing the building of a wall between Mexico and the United States as “unChristian”).
We, the Church, are a table fellowship, a covenant people and we practice—or at least we should—a radical table fellowship that does not discriminate. We take the words in Ephesians from the Apostle to the Gentiles as true: Christ has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. When a politician arises in the land who promotes hostility, division, rancor, intimidation of women, and xenophobic hatred then it behooves all of us but especially Christians to note the incongruence. Putting an offering in the communion plate is the least of the problems.