All posts by Rev. Nicolas Mumejian

Living in the Realm of God

“Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid…”

Matthew 25:24-25a

“So I was afraid.” Afraid of what? What was the servant who received one talent afraid of? Perhaps fear of the character of God and also perhaps fear of taking a risk?

I’d argue the third servant doesn’t understand the character of God. The reason he doesn’t understand is because he responds to the master by saying “I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed.”

If you look at all the parables in Matthew, you don’t see these characteristics of God. The third servant’s comments to the master are a mischaracterization of God, the God that we are told who throughout the Old Testament, and even in Matthew, is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and mercy.”

This third servant in the parable of the talents had more fear than trust, fear of living out the abundance and riches for which we have all been given. If we live just in the now, then perhaps we too will live in fear, but if we live in the realm of God, in the kingdom that is already but not yet, the time between Jesus’s first coming and second, then we can live both in abandon and with abundance; and we can go for it, risking all, loving everyone. When we hold back love we hold back our greatest talent.

~Rev. Nick

Take Refuge in God

Dear Church,

This past Tuesday night I was privileged to participate in the prayer vigil in DC led by the Emergency Clergy League. Below are the words I shared and the prayer I offered:

The Muslim theologian Said Nursi famously said, “I take refuge in God from Satan and politics.” These days when hate is normalized, children are ripped from their parents, prohibitions are placed on ethnic and religious groups as well as groups associated with their specific orientations, and the value of life is commodified to determine if it matters or not, I speak sincerely when I say it seems hard to find the line between Satan and politics; nonetheless, we seek refuge in God.

And so, as a nation we see many supposed people of faith claiming heirs, rights even, to the “true” political way.

I was reminded recently how James Wm. McClendon cited Roger Williams as a key source for understanding authority rightly. As a Baptist minister I would be remise not to include a little nod Williams. McClendon, drawing from Williams’ life and thought, observed, “From Jesus onward, government interference in anyone’s faith, be that faith false or true, constituted disobedience to Jesus himself; if undertaken for supposed biblical reasons, it was self-refuted.”

Yet here we are with a new supreme court justice, on the day of a critical election where a coalition of “emergency clergy” have gathered to intercede. And intercede for what? I suppose for many of us, of all faiths, we would say peace and justice.

But allow me to speak as a Christian for a moment. The always brilliant Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney reminds us, “If our gospel proclamations are not true for the most marginalized among us, women, non-binary folk, trans folk, gender-nonconforming folk and LGBTQIA folk, then our gospel is not true.”

And so, we pray to the God of creation to create new hearts within our elected leaders, reminding them that we are all tasked as stewards of God’s creation, a gift for us and our children.

We pray to the God of Abraham whose offspring are more numerous than the stars above, may we as children of Abraham work towards peace and not conflict, as we are all family.

We pray to the God who used Balaam’s ass, that even if a donkey can be taught obedience unto God so can any of us. We pray that obedience unto the sovereign God is instilled upon the hearts of our elected officials.

We pray to the God of Joshua, that as the walls of Jericho fell, so too will the walls we build up both spiritually and physically be brought down.

We pray to the God of a Jewish radical who taught the first shall be last, the captives would be set free, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves and even love our enemies, praying for those who persecute us.

And finally we pray as the one who once did the persecuting instructed saying: Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in God, and the God of peace will be with you. Amen

~Rev. Nick

Think About These Things

Dear Church,

As we take each day at a time and approach this critical election, let us be prayerful and hopeful. May we be comforted in knowing that the God of all creation is in control no matter the outcomes. I love you all and am praying for each of you by name.

In relation to the election, I encourage you to read this article in which Pastor Bledsoe, along with some Riverside friends, are featured.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in God, and the God of peace will be with you.  Amen.

~Rev. Nick 

A Nap and a Snack

Sometimes all we need is a good nap and a decent snack.

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

I Kings 19:4-9

I was reminded recently about the need for selfcare, and not just selfcare but specifically the benefits of some rest and a decent meal. In the scripture above the Prophet Elijah had finished one of the more interesting scenes in the Bible. There was a famine in the land that had lasted years as prophesied by Elijah because of King Ahab’s (the seventh king of Israel) sin of allowing Baal worship to take place among the people of Israel. In order to end the drought and have the people of Israel turn back to God, Elijah proposed a contest between His God and the gods of Baal to demonstrate who the true deity of Israel was.

So, Elijah had the people of Israel, 450 prophets of Baal, and 400 prophets of Asherah summoned to Mount Carmel. Elijah challenged the other prophets to build an altar and have their gods light the altar on fire. After a few days of frustration among these prophets and nothing happening, Elijah builds his altar. In addition, he builds a trench around the altar and has water poured all over his altar and in the trench. With a soaking wet altar, surrounded by a water-filled trench, Elijah prayed to the God of Israel who brought down fire and burned the wet altar. Elijah then prays for rain and the many yearlong drought and famine ends.

Winning this contest put Elijah’s life into trouble as it seems that those in charge weren’t (and still aren’t) very fond of being shown up. Elijah flees the area and arrives at where the passage above begins. Elijah is tired, angry, and wants to die. What is the remedy? Some rest and food. After which, Elijah decides perhaps things aren’t so bad that he can’t go any further and continues in his calling and ministry for God.

While I don’t mean to patronize what some of us are going through right now, I do however, wish to encourage you to remember self-care; even if it’s just a nap and snack, as even a nap and snack are Biblical remedies for having a rough go of it. So if the pandemic has you down, caring for your family during a quarantine is exhausting, this election cycle is causing anger and anxiety, or whatever it is you may be going through, take a note from Elijah and treat yourself to a little relaxation and a good meal.

~ Rev. Nick

A Community Engrafted

These past few weeks we have been studying the lectionary texts from the book of Exodus. We have been taking a closer look at the people of Israel, their community, their journey, and their God who happens to also be our God. As we read these stories and study the meanings and texts, I want to warn against the idea of supersessionism.

Supersessionism is the theological belief that Christians, via the church universal, have succeeded the people of Israel as God’s chosen people. Supersessionism is the belief that the New Covenant in Christ somehow negates the Mosaic Covenant or Sinaitic Covenant God made with Moses and the people of Israel. To be clear, this is not the case, Christians have not succeeded or replaced or negated the people of Israel.

In fact, the theology and belief of supersessionism has been at the root of theologies that lead the way to white supremacy. For more on that topic I highly recommend Willie Jennings’ fantastic book The Christian Imagination. In short, we as Christians are to see ourselves as engrafted into the story of Israel. Jesus was born Jewish, died Jewish, and rose again ascending into heaven Jewish. The Apostle Paul was also Jewish as were the disciples. At no point did Paul or any of the other disciples become “Christian” as we understand the term. Instead when we read the letters of Paul in the New Testament, we find Paul trying to universalize Judaism, not begin a new religion.

Of course we can begin to have theological conservations with our Jewish sisters and brothers about these differences and who Jesus was and is to both faiths. I am not trying blur the lines of differences between our faiths. I am, however, cautioning against the misguided temptation of viewing the Bible, the story of Israel, and the church today through a lens that puts supersession for Christianity over against Judaism.

We as Christians only have the Old Testament as part of our canon of scripture because of Jesus who was Jewish. And through Jesus we are given many gifts, one such gift is the engraftation into God’s salvation story for God’s people.

When we read and study these texts about the people of Israel and about their relationship with God, we should pay attention to the details of the community and pay attention to God’s actions towards them. We should ask questions about what do these stories teach us about the character of God, and how can our own faith be continually transformed, and our minds renewed?

Just as the Abrahamic Covenant made between God and Abraham did not negate or replace the covenant God made with Noah, and just as the Sinaitic Covenant God made with Moses did not negate or replace the covenant God made with Abraham, so too the New Covenant with Jesus does not replace or negate God’s covenant with the people of Israel.

~ Rev. Nick

God of My Salvation

O Lord, God of my salvation, when, at night, I cry out in your presence, let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry.

Psalm 88:1-2

Psalm 88 is typically referred to as the “Prayer for Help in Despondency.” Despondency, such an accurate word for many us right now. This past week we witnessed the failure of our justice system for Breonna Taylor. This injustice, this despondency many are feeling, seems to be a thread woven through 2020.

The Coronavirus pandemic has not only shown its ill effect upon America, with over 200,000 lost lives, and many hundred thousands more left with permanent infliction, but the pandemic highlighted racial and economic injustices within our nation. People of color and people with inadequate healthcare are suffering loss at a greater percentage and rate. “God of our salvation… incline your ear to our cry.”

Furthermore, we’ve witnessed the virus of racism from the murder of Ahmaud Arbery to the murder of George Floyd to the murder of Breonna Taylor and many others, the thread of injustice is continually woven. “God of our salvation… incline your ear to our cry.”

What is perhaps most interesting about Psalm 88 is that it ends without a verse of joy or praise or thanksgiving. As a dear colleague pointed out after my brother passed, Psalm 88 ends with, “You have caused friend and neighbor to shun me; my companions are in darkness.” His point in telling me about this unique Psalm was that sometimes our prayer or laments just end, sometimes we need a moment (let me emphasize moment, and not season or residence) to just end our prayer as the Psalmist does in Psalm 88. Just think about that for a minute.

Ok, your minute is over, or perhaps you need another, but when you’re ready there is work to be done. Beloved sisters and brothers there is work to be done. I want you to know that I am here as your pastor to co-labor in this work, to celebrate our community, to call upon the name of the risen Lord, and as the Prophet Isaiah implores, to seek justice. For though we need our occasions from time to time to question, lament, to “have a moment,” we do so as a community called to trust in the faithful and merciful God we serve and worship here at Riverside.

~ Rev. Nick

Checking In

Greetings Riverside Family,

I want to share with you all that though the church continues to hold virtual services, church leadership has recently met and will continue meeting regularly to reevaluate when we believe regathering can be done safely.

Until then please continue to worship with us Sunday mornings and join us for our 11:00 am fellowship hour. The first and second Sundays of the month we conclude our time together with communion. We are also offering Bible study on Wednesday nights where we are reading through and discussing the Gospel of Luke. This coming Wednesday we will be discussing Luke chapter 2. All the information for these services can be found in the newsletter and on the church’s website.

And as always, please to not hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

Rev. Nick

Darkness Reimagined

“In the beginning before God created light there was darkness.”

Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney

There has been some recent conversation revisiting the duality and comparison of light and darkness. While on the surface some take the comparison at face value, given the context and often the voice of those who tend to use this comparison (in such a way as to paint darkness as bad and light as good) I wished to touch on the subject for a moment and suggest a different of understanding to this juxtaposition thanks to the brilliant Dr. Wil Gafney.

Dr. Gafney reminds us, “The mystic Howard Thurman taught us that somewhere between the light and the darkness, between the shadow and glory, there is a space that he called the luminous darkness, others have called it radiant blackness. Think of the night sky spangled with stars or the sheen on black silk or satin, or the glow of beautiful ebony skin. In the age of Black Lives Matter I invite you to take another look at the light and the darkness and see them on their own terms.”

She continues by saying that God, unlike many of us, is not afraid of darkness but rather uses it as a creative space from which everything under the sun (and even the sun) was created. This is not to deny the existences of darkness, but to reimagine darkness as a partner with light as opposed to a polar opposite, to understand the value and benefits of darkness as opposed to only being a negative. Yes, sometimes light is needed within darkness, but also sometimes darkness is needed within light, just ask any parent of a young child trying to put them to sleep.

As we continue in this exilic year and the days grow shorter, I pray that we are able to reimagine and carefully consider imagery and concepts we are accustomed to and think of new ways to grow in our faith and in our commitment to one another.

~Rev. Nick

What Originates in the Heart

“If we want a beloved community, we must stand for justice, have recognition for difference without attaching difference to privilege.”

bell hooks
"Love Heals" graffiti

In the first pericope we read this past Sunday (Matthew 15:10-20) Jesus taught the crowds — including Pharisees and his disciples, that a person is defiled not by what they puts in their mouth and stomach, but by that which originates in their heart and is manifested in their life. Jesus says in Matthew 12:34 that “from out of the mouth comes the overflow of the heart.”

Jesus’s words in chapters 12 and 15 causes us to reflect on what it is we are putting into our heart and who we are as followers of Jesus. We live in a precarious time to say the least. Matters of justice have been at the heart of Riverside and many of her congregants for decades. The coming weeks will be tiresome for many, and I’m not even speaking of matters related to Covid-19. I hope and pray for our communities. I look forward to those who are able join in the march on August 28 along with the evening’s edifying and educational RiSET session. Please join us as you are able.

It is my prayer that we will continue to encourage, challenge, edify, and uplift one another as we cause “good trouble,” stand for justice, truly recognize our sisters and brothers while not privileging any over the other, and set examples of Christ personified if our lives.

~Rev. Nick

Manifestation of Patience

There’s a kind of madness commensurate with being a disciple of Jesus. To see the world, to understand that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, requires a people who refuse to be hurried.

Stanley Hauerwas

The past three Sundays we’ve been examining the parables of Matthew 13. One of the themes that is present in these parables, especially the parable of the wheat and tares, is that of patience. Patience is a virtue they say, one that I’ll admit I often have very little. Yet we see in Jesus just what the manifestation of patience truly is. Jesus, after all, was patient with his disciples and in particular Judas, knowing full well what was to come.

In the parable of the wheat and the tares we see that evil is real and will exist among the good. Yet, just because evil is real it doesn’t mean that good ceases to exist nor should we stop striving to produce good. The parable teaches us that we must have patience until the time comes when the tares are removed. It feels we are in a time now where the roots of the tares seem to be suffocating the wheat. The pandemic has placed us in an exile of sorts, one much longer than we anticipated. At times I feel my patience is running out, my patience with the pandemic, my patience with leadership (or lack thereof), my patience with my neighbors, many of whom demonstrate their carelessness.

Yet, as Jesus teaches us to see significance in the insignificant (i.e. the mustard seed and yeast), we ought to try and see what the harvest can yield from this season in which we find ourselves. This requires patience, again, a virtue I’m doing my best to practice yet would sure like it to hurry up and get here. Whether it is patience for the pandemic to end, patience for justice on behalf of our brothers or sisters who have been greatly wronged, or just patience until November, I pray that God will grant us patience. And may what seems like the insignificant in our lives right now grow and flourish into the significance which shapes and changes lives.

Rev. Nick