All posts by Rev. Nicolas Mumejian

Greater Things Than Jesus

During the Last Supper in the Gospel of John, Jesus tells His disciples what it means to be a Christian. He says, “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater things than these.” Accordingly, there are three stages of faith:

  1. There’s believing in Jesus;
  2. There’s doing what Jesus did; and
  3. Then there’s this astonishing third element – doing greater things than Jesus. What could that possibly mean, doing greater things than Jesus?

One suggestion I’d like to offer is set forth by the example of Stephen, the first martyr in Christianity, found in Acts chapters and 6 and 7. We see how Stephen turned faith into concrete acts of love. He faced opposition with grace. And he told the story of God. But Stephen did not just stop there. Yes, those three actions are sufficient, but he went even further.

After everything Stephen did, the serving of others, the grace he offered those he met, the kindness he showed those who despised him, he went even further and in the face of a sham trial where he, an innocent man, was about to be executed, Stephen prays, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them,” just as Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

That, my sisters and brothers, is what I believe earns you a standing ovation from the Son of Man, or it at least did for Stephen. The radical love that enables you to see the face of God in your enemies, to see your enemy for who they are capable of being, not for who they are, to have such grace and compassion you can forgive your enemies even as they wrongfully kill you.

I am fortunate to have never faced such adversity as Stephen did. Honestly, if faced with that adversity I don’t think I could respond with the grace and compassion Stephen demonstrated. However, it is my prayer that I will continue to grow in spirt and truth, with the sanctifying love of Christ, and will one day be able to do “greater things than these.”

~ Rev. Nick

Love Letter

If I adore You out of fear of Hell, burn me in Hell!
If I adore you out of desire for Paradise, Lock me out of Paradise.
But if I adore you for Yourself alone, Do not deny to me Your eternal beauty.

Rabi’a Basri

The Bible in many ways is a love letter from God to us, but we often read it as a long list of do’s and don’ts, and sometimes it is even read as a threat. This is the basis of the psychological critique of religion made popular by Sigmund Freud. Freud said that the faith of Moses rests on a God who’s always asking more than Israel can give. Hence there’s a perpetual cycle of demand and failure, and guilt and sacrifice, demand and failure, and guilt and sacrifice.

Freud may have had a point if religion was indeed a human creation, if our faith was nothing more than fire insurance. The grace of Christ brings joy, or it’s supposed to anyways. We would do well to remember that God desires mercy and not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6).

I don’t believe God wants to make us guilty or even for us to feel guilty. God wishes to give us joy and abundant life (John 10:10). Yes, God gave the Ten Commandments because God wanted to provide Israel with a guide for which to live. Still it is the joy and beauty of God which should conjure our worship and obedience.

The Christian life is not a list of rules and regulations telling us, “Don’t do this,” and, “You must do that.” Being Christian invites us into the presence of God, into a life and relationship with God and God’s people, a life and relationship predicated upon mercy and love.

~ Rev. Nick

Hospitality

People will forget what you said. They will forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel.

Maya Angelou

The Emmaus Road story we read this past Sunday is as much about hospitality, if not more, than any other theme found in Luke 24.

The New Testament writers routinely implored the practice of hospitality. Paul in his letter to the Romans states, “practice hospitality.” In Hebrews we read, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” In 1 Peter the author goes even further, “Practice hospitality without complaining.” In 1 Timothy and Titus it says that leaders of the church must be people who are “lovers of hospitality.” The entire letter of 3 John is focused around a “thank you” for a church’s hospitality. All of these instances, not to mention the numerous stories of hospitality in the Old Testament, give clear direction for church to practice hospitality. And of course, we have in Matthew 25 where Jesus himself said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Hospitality and love for one another is at the heart for the Bible; it is after all entwined within the second greatest commandment (Matthew 22:29). Hospitality is a deep and well-developed biblical concept and there is extraordinary continuity between the Easter story of the Emmaus Road and many other stories of throughout the scriptures.

Hospitality and love of one another allows us to participate in God’s love of all. Hospitality gives hope. That is one of the most beautiful aspects of Riverside, her hospitality for all of God’s children. We may have difficulty recognizing the Risen Jesus during these troublesome days, but I encourage you to continue to practice hospitality and love for one another. May our love for one another be part of our hope and celebration of the risen Jesus.

Rev. Nick

Doubt and Faith

The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote that doubt comes into the world through faith, doubt is not the antithesis or antidote of faith, it is a companion along the way. Only those who have belief can doubt. Only one with faith can doubt and, in some cases, doubt is precisely faithful where certainty is unfaithful.

Some of our doubts, like the disciple Thomas’s, grow out of our believing the promises of a good and loving God and seeing the tension and disconnect between that aspect of God and what we experience in the world. Just this past week I was asked, “Where is God’s goodness and sovereignty during this pandemic?”

Since the start of our virtual services we’ve been beginning each service with a reading from the Psalms. This was intentional. The Psalms often encapsulate a type of questioning/doubting prayer in the form of lament. Not all the Psalms are lament, but many we have read in the weeks leading up to Easter have been. The Psalm Jesus quotes while on the cross, Psalm 22, is a lament. The lament Psalms articulate a paradox that it is sometimes more faithful to doubt when it seems like God’s goodness has been veiled by the tragedy of life.

My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?
Why are You so far from helping Me,
And from the words of My groaning?

Our fathers trusted in You;
They trusted, and You delivered them.

Psalm 22:1, 4

It’s not that we don’t believe, it’s that it seems we can’t believe; and at those moments God shows up, like Jesus to His disciples, and God says “yes” to our doubts and fears. And Like Jesus did for Thomas, God meets us where we are and in doing so affirms that sometimes even our doubt is faithful, because it’s predicated on a trust that God is better than this, a belief that God is greater than any pandemic or crisis in our lives.

This is the Easter story, that the risen Jesus still bearing His wounds meets us at our fears and doubts; death is not the final answer, life through the risen Jesus is.

~ Rev. Nick

The Politics of Good Friday

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

Martin Luther King Jr.

I often hear, “You shouldn’t politicize (this or that),” in reference to a number of things. More often than not, that sentiment comes from a place of privilege. It’s a privilege to experience various circumstances in life and not make political connections to real needs. Jesus is often invoked as someone who was politically neutral. When I hear this, it makes me chuckle a bit because it shows the person saying this hasn’t spent enough time reading the red letters in their Bible. Jesus was extremely subversive and political. Simply look at the Lord’s Prayer we recite each Sunday. When we pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done,” we pray a very political petition to God.

Good Friday is no less political. We recognize the injustice found in the killing of Jesus, an innocent person if there ever was one who was brutally executed. Yet, how often do we look at the criminal justice system that sentenced Jesus to death? Do we notice the poverty of Jesus and his family which prevented any sort of bribe being offered that would perhaps sway his release, or in today’s term he didn’t have the means to post bond? When we read the account of Jesus’ trial, we find Pilate declaring Jesus “not guilty” multiple times (Luke 23), and yet he was handed over to be crucified in what James Cone would describe as a lynching.

Though it may feel like long ago, it was just last month Nathaniel Woods, an African American from Alabama, was executed for a crime he did not commit. How do we know he was innocent? The person who committed the crime confessed multiple times that Nathaniel Woods had no role in the crime whatsoever. Nathaniel Woods is unfortunately the tip of the iceberg of such injustices. I’m sure many of us can recall the names of numerous men and women who were either wrongly convicted of crimes or worse, experienced in a single moment the horrifying effects of an antagonist acting as judge, jury, and executioner. I would be absolutely remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the prevalence of such injustices are often within African American communities.

And so Good Friday speaks to us today imploring and encouraging us to be watchful and steadfast in our pursuit of justice in all its forms (criminal, economic, healthcare, equality) for all our neighbors. Good Friday tells us God loves us unconditionally and is with us, truly with us in all aspects of our lives. God is with us as one who, at times, feels forsaken as Jesus did when he quoted Psalm 22 before his death. God is with us as the parent who lost their child, as the family member who lost their loved one. God is with us as the victim of oppression, power, and greed. God is with us as the person with insufficient funds struggling to make ends meet. God is with us as the one who enlists to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others. On Good Friday we see the political context of the crucifixion; on Good Friday we see God is with us and we are with God.

~Rev. Nick

God Forgives Even Judas

The band U2 has a song which is sung from the perspective of Judas. In one of the final verses of the song Judas is meeting his demise and says, “I reached out for the one I tried to destroy. You, you said you’d wait ‘til the end of the world.” I’ve always found the song interesting as it is one of the few forms of art in which we are presented with Judas’ perspective. I often think about Judas during this week and on Maundy Thursday in particular. In many ways I find him far more complex and “real” than how some of the other disciples are represented.

Yes, Peter denied Jesus three times after he insisted he would never do such a thing, and then eventually finds reconciliation with Jesus after the resurrection. And John was seemingly faithful till the end, being one of the few who stayed near Jesus until his death. But how often is it that in life, circumstance, temptation, “stuff happening” reveals we are a little more like Judas? Some who may be reading this will surely say, “Speak for yourself, Rev. Nick.” I don’t mean to generalize and lay blanket statements, but I’d like to think I have a little understanding of the human condition. And for many on the day before Good Friday we find ourselves contemplating and confessing our own sins.

I think what fascinates me about Judas was that he was set to be the fall guy before he had any idea of who Jesus even was. Just as God had hardened Pharaoh’s heart against the Jews (Exodus 9), God also had a specific role for Judas to play in the salvation history of His people. Staunch Calvinists would state that this is who God is, a God who elects those who will receive mercy and a God who elects those destined for punishment. Luckily, I’m not a staunch Calvinist and find myself as more of a Christological optimist. In other words, I think more of Jesus.

Back to that lyric, the one where Jesus’ reply to a desperate Judas is to say that Jesus would wait till the end of the world to intervene. How Easter of Jesus. I rather like that. I can’t imagine the lead singer of U2 is a scholar of early church history, yet this lyric makes me think of the teaching of the Early Church Father Origen, one who taught the theory of apokatástasis.

“Ok Rev. Nick, first U2 lyrics, then empathy for Judas, and now crazy Greek words?!”

Apokatástasis means a return to the original order, before sin; a doctrine that teaches a time will come when all will share in the grace of salvation. Remember, Jesus is the Second Adam who came to make right what the first Adam made wrong. Jesus brings life to all just as Adam had brought death to all. In the end when all is said and done, God reconciles and brings all things back into the fold, even Judas. And that my sisters and brothers is a very hopeful thought as we enter the bleakest time in our church calendar.

In Jesus, not only is Peter forgiven, but even Judas is given his reprieve. God’s “YES” engulfs and swallows up our “no.” Sure, many of us may not be betraying the savior of the world, but we do mess up a great deal, at least I know I do. I’m not advocating that we use this grace as a license to sin (the books of Jude and Hebrews warns against that), but I am suggesting that no matter your circumstance, no matter what you’ve done, no matter your shame, no matter what, in the end you are still God’s beautiful child, you are still loved, and you are reconciled.

~Rev. Nick


P.S. –

I want to apologize to those who were attempting to join the Wednesday night Bible study via Zoom and could not. Zoom had an update yesterday that created a few extra hurdles in joining the meeting that were not originally there when the Bible Study was created. I am sorry for those who had difficulty. These matters should be resolved and we hope to resume next Wednesday in a regular manner.

We Are God’s First Love

But the ultimate reason for our hope is not to be found at all in what we want, wish for and wait for; the ultimate reason is that we are wanted and wished for and waited for. What is it that awaits us? Does anything await us at all, or are we alone? Whenever we base our hope on trust in the divine mystery, we feel deep down in our hearts: there is someone who is waiting for you, who is hoping for you, who believes in you. We are waited for as the prodigal son in the parable is waited for by his father. We are accepted and received, as a mother takes her children into her arms and comforts them. God is our last hope because we are God’s first love.

Jürgen Moltmann

As we enter this Passion week and look toward the cross, may we remember that we are indeed God’s first love. All the events, trials, and suffering represented in this week were done in an act of love, a love of each and every single one of you. Though we may feel alone and burdened, we truly are wanted and wished for and waited for by the God who became human and endured so much for our sake, out of immense love for us. I pray that you taste and experience the acceptance and embrace of God’s unconditional love for you.

God Bless You All,

Rev. Nick

We’ll Get Through This Thing Together

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.

Prince

Generally, I would quote the Prince of Peace, but today I think Prince will serve us well. Beloved, we are certainly here, together, to get through this. And so, I wish to share a few things related to how this body of Christ is staying connected and helping one another.

Church, we’re near the end of Lent and about to begin Holy Week. And yet for many nothing about our current situation seems to conjure up the anticipation and hope that comes with next week. Nearly forty days ago I encouraged you to participate in Lent. As one person recently put it, this has been the Lentiest Lent we have ever Lented; indeed, it has.

Many of us are under stay-at-home orders. Others are essential personnel and are risking their lives going into work. Many of us are anxious, perhaps not knowing where money for rent and groceries will come. Some of us have underlying health conditions that make us more susceptible to COVID-19. And the list of worries goes on. For those who are working from home I wish to remind you that you are not working from home (or simply continuing to work), but you are home during a crisis trying to work. I think this is an important distinction to make as our minds are busy grappling with our current situation.

Therefore, I believe prayer is in order. A reminder that we are meeting through Zoom to greet one another and pray each Sunday at 11AM. The link for the meeting will remain the same until June, please click here – and if you do not have access to a smart phone or computer please join us by dialing (301) 715-8592 and entering the meeting number 766-90-1652.

Next, I would like to announce we’re beginning a Bible Study through Zoom starting next Wednesday April 8 at 6pm EST. It’ll last about an hour. We’ll be going through the book of Galatians, chapter by chapter. If you would like to join, please feel free to read Galatians 1 and be ready to discuss. All are welcome to join, and I look forward to seeing your wonderful faces and hearing your gracious voices. I will send the Zoom meeting info for the Bible study this coming Monday April 6.

Daily Quarantine Questions

For a bit of pragmatic application, I wish to share these daily questions adapted from Rev. Linda Couser Barnette. These are daily questions to ask yourself to help you take it one day at a time and keep yourself balanced.

  1. What am I grateful for today?
  2. Who am I checking in on or connecting with today?
  3. What expectations of “normal” am I letting go of today?
  4. How am I getting outside (if possible) today?
  5. How am moving my body today?
  6. What beauty am I creating, cultivating, or inviting in today?
  7. How I am speaking to God today? Did I either thank, confess, lament, petition, or say whatever I need to say?

I encourage you to try and answer these questions each day as you are able. Please remember to practice self-care as you care for one another.

Finally, this Sunday is Palm Sunday. Customarily across the globe Christians gather in their places of worship to celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Many of us would take home the palms we would receive during this service. Since most churches across the globe are being loving, wise, and prudent by not gathering, there is a movement happening where Christians are being asked to place some sort of leaf, branch, palm, etc. on their door or window. Though we may not be able to have the procession of the palms in person we can still celebrate this day at home with our neighbors. In case you don’t have access to a leaf, branch, palm, etc. here is a template of some palms for you and yours to print and color as you’d like and use for Palm Sunday. 

I am praying for you and look forward to seeing you during our prayer meeting this Sunday. Beloved, with God’s grace we are here to get through this together.

Rev. Nick

Think on These Things

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 me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9

The news can be disheartening at times, particularly during this pandemic. Social media, one of the outlets for many during physical isolation, is also littered with posts, memes, and stories that can be overwhelming, especially when we’re already feeling anxious. I want to encourage you to find that which brings joy and peace and try to focus on these. Perhaps praying through the Psalms or reading Gospel you never paid much attention to; my favorite happens to be Luke. But it doesn’t necessarily need to be religious. Perhaps you could read a book that you wouldn’t normally pick up or taking a virtual tour of a museum you’ve always wanted to visit or re-watch a favorite show or movie that puts a smile on your face. I personally find great comfort in listening to an album that I haven’t visited in some time.

This is not to suggest that we shouldn’t pay attention to what is happening. On the contrary, we need to be informed and discerning. However, regardless of the medium I want to encourage you think about things that are pleasing, noble, commendable.

Riverside is blessed to have such a wonderfully diverse and gifted community. Jonathan Holley has gifted us with this video he made. May it bring some joy and peace to your day.

~ Rev. Nick