Category Archives: From the Pastor’s Desk

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

Stay Safe, Stay Connected

Dear Church,

I hope and pray this message finds you and yours well, safe, and healthy. We are still continuing to discern what is best for our community at Riverside and will continue to gather and worship virtually for the foreseeable future. I encourage you join our RiSET Safe Space Chat this Friday that will be facilitated by Deacon Jonathan Holley. Details for the meeting can be found here. As always, please do not hesitate to contact me or any of our staff should you have any questions or concerns.

Prayerfully yours,

Rev. Nick

Our Church, Our Refuge


“We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.”

Bayard Rustin

This past weekend saw two powerful events in our corner of Southwest DC. Friday there was a rally for racial justice where hundreds gathered at the intersection of Maine and 7th to demand justice, mourn for the innocent, and raise our voices for action. The following day, Riverside continued in solidarity and also celebrated Pride. Saturday’s efforts were spearheaded by Deacon Jonathan. We saw a terrific turnout of both church and community members along with local clergy.

I wish to reaffirm that Riverside is a refuge where we welcome you in this house of hospitality. May this faith community be a beacon of light, warmth, and a sanctuary for you. May you always know that Riverside is a community where love is love; love is celebrated, love is shared, your love is welcomed, and you are loved.

Prayerfully Yours,

Rev. Nick

God Is With Us and We With Him

The late James Cone once said, “The best way to liberate the cross from desecration—or, worse triviality—is to place it alongside of the lynching tree. The cross is a scandal, a paradoxical religious symbol that inverts the world’s value system with the good news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first last…The cross was God’s critique of power—white power—with powerless love, snatching victory out of defeat.”

Deacon Jonathan chose a very apt text for our first lesson this past Sunday. St. Paul appeals to the church at Corinth to “…live in Peace.”

Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

2 Corinthians 13:11

I said previously I don’t know the final answer to what is taking place. But I do know how we begin, and that is with the Spirit of God comforting, guiding, advocating, teaching, and leading us. Leading us toward justice, leading us toward understanding, leading toward love, leading us toward hope, and ultimately toward peace. Nonetheless there is work to be done.

Riverside’s existential existence is predicated on the very foundation of a diverse community, a community of many colors, a community of many orientations, a community of many backgrounds and identities, a Christ centered, ecumenical, inclusive of all community coming together to worship and serve the God who is with us.

As we try to understand the events that are transpiring in our country, in our city, and we grieve for the suffering that has and continues to occur, as we continue our fight for justice, equality, and unity; remember God is with us and thankfully, we are with God.

Prayerfully Yours,

Rev. Nick

God Be With You Till We Meet Again

When we first began physical distancing in March, many of us began to envision the day when we would be able to return to our sanctuary as normal. Conversely, more recent developments have indicated that such a return and regathering in our sanctuary will not look normal, but instead will involve special precautions, changes, safety measures, and most likely a protracted process unfolding in various phases as circumstances allow.

Our church leaders have been prayerfully discussing what regathering might look like for Riverside. We are paying close attention to what the mayor of DC and both governors of the surrounding DMV area are permitting. While local and state governments decisions are important in our own response plan, we are also seeking the wisdom and guidance of public health officials like the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the COVID Act Now organization. Furthermore, we have been looking to both the DC Baptist Convention and the Alliance of Baptists for specifics concerning congregations. Please know that we are praying, studying, discussing, and discerning with due diligence what it would take to move toward regathering in person. I also want you to know our guiding principles as we plan for regathering.

Principles for Planning to Regather

  • In Christian love, we seek to uphold and sustain the physical health of our members and staff, especially those who are most vulnerable to the virus.
  • In Christian wisdom, we seek to regather safely and soundly rather than hastily.
  • In Christian stewardship, we seek and have already begun obtaining the necessary supplies for cleaning and maintaining of our building before regathering.
  • In Christian discernment, we seek to incorporate medical and scientific knowledge as well as spiritual and theological understanding in our decision-making process.
  • In Christian fellowship, we seek to regather in person as soon as we are able to do so responsibly.
  • In Christian unity, we seek to regather in a way that honors our entire church membership.
  • In the Baptist tradition of local church autonomy, we seek to regather in a way that best suits Riverside Church in all of her uniqueness as a family of faith.

We are not sure when we will be able to regather, but we will continue working to determine the safest and best way to do so, especially since we so dearly miss being together and the intimate fellowship that entails. In the meantime, we will continue our online offerings. We hope you will continue to worship with us, join us for prayer after our service, and study scripture on Wednesdays.

Prayerfully Yours,

Rev. Nick

We Will Be Back

Greetings Riverside Family,

My family and I cannot begin to thank you enough for the love, support, prayers, and encouragement you have shown us. The phone calls, the cards, the messages, the flowers, the prayers have all been received and cherished. Forgive me if I have not been able to respond to each one but do know they are appreciated.

I will be back in the church for this coming Sunday’s service. It is Pentecost and I can think of little else than celebrating God’s gift of the Spirit in our lives to serve as a much-needed balm.

Bible Study will resume on June 3 (not this Wednesday, but the following). I look forward to opening and studying God’s word with you once more. Details for the meeting will be posted soon. Lastly, I am eager to see and hear from you during our Sunday morning fellowship hour and to join in again with one another as we lift our prayers to God.

Right now, for my family grief is like the sky, it’s over everything, but so too is love and hope.

With My Sincerest Appreciation,

Rev. Nick

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