Category Archives: From the Pastor’s Desk

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

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