Category Archives: From the Pastor’s Desk

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

The Lord Is Our Shepherd

Henri Nouwen wrote, “Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not ‘How can we hide our wounds?’ so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but ‘How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?’ When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.”

This sentiment of wounded healer reminds me of Psalm 23. Dr. Ellen Davis states that the Psalms are written, in part, as our personal communication with God. The Psalms were scripted for our mouths, becoming our cries and prayer to God. Where other books in the Bible are the stories of a particular people or to a particular people, the Psalms invite and call us into these laments, songs, and prayer to the point where each Psalm is our Psalm, our prayer.

This past Sunday we read Psalm 23 to open our worship service, and until we are meeting together in person I will continue to read from the Psalms to begin our service. Psalm 23 is a psalm of healing. What stands out most about Psalm 23 is the complete lack of anxiety in the midst of such adversity. The psalmists would normally express their cries, anguish, and anxiety freely throughout their numerous laments. This psalmist is free to express their sentiment without anxiety because they truly embodied what they prayed. Psalm 23 comes from someone who has known fear and has faced it down, it comes from someone who had wounds and was healed.

“The LORD is my shepherd.” The metaphor of shepherd is perhaps lost on some of us as I imagine very few have actually spent much time tending to sheep. But I hope over these past weeks as we’ve read and discussed the life and ministry of Jesus the “Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10) resonates and helps comfort as we hear these words from Psalm 23. That though we go through adversity, we have Jesus as our shepherd. To all of us, the psalmist offers the reorienting word that God brings us back to life. The Hebrew for “he restores my soul” in verse 3 is that strong, it emphasizes the life that God restores within us.

Psalm 23 is one of comfort, but not compliancy. It is a Psalm of fortitude. If we are to “dwell in the house of the LORD”, we have our chores to tend to. We have our command to love one another, to encourage and care for another, to uplift and pray for one another. It is my hope and prayer that you are encouraged, comforted, and know that you are loved as part of the Riverside household.

Sincerely,

Rev. Nick

Today’s Trouble Is Enough for Today

Since high school, throughout college, after divinity, and until this day I have had the same favorite Bible verse. Matthew 6:34, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Another translation states, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

These words of Jesus are a welcomed reminder. I know if I focus on my worries too much, they can become onerus, burdensome, and even at times paralyzing. I often have to remind myself of Jesus’ words, particularly his instruction to not worry, because today’s trouble is enough for today. Making sure work is completed, diapers are changed, trash is taken out, the dog is fed, and all the many other daily tasks are enough.

This isn’t to say we should be flippant about the future or not prepare or not be wise in our decision making. However, if you’re like me and tend to worry a lot it is comforting to hear the words of a person who knew very well what the future held from them, an unjust and gruesome death, and yet still taught that we shouldn’t worry about tomorrow.

In the coming days there will be plenty to worry about. I know firsthand that not worrying is often easier said than done. If you find yourself being overcome with anxiety and worries please think back on the words of Jesus and pray for peace. Try to take each day at time and worry about tomorrow when tomorrow arrives. And for those moments in life when the stress becomes so real that I can physically feel it, I find myself singing Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” in my head as a way to meditate and ground myself. I’ve done this so much so that I now enjoy watching birds as I’ve come to associate birds with not worrying. It is my prayer that as we wake tomorrow morning we can smile with the rising sun, handle the day’s task, knowing that God is still God and eventually everything will be alright.

Prayerfully yours,

Rev. Nick

P.S. – For those of you who would like to join in some daily structured prayer and meditation, I encourage you to visit the http://commonprayer.net/.

A word on giving – If you are among those fortunate enough to continue to be salaried or receive other regular sources of income during this national emergency, please mail or give electronically to Riverside Baptist Church’s ongoing expenses despite in-person worship services being cancelled.  We continue to pay our hourly employees who for years have faithfully served the church in a number of capacities, but we can only do so with continuing support from you! Thank you.

God is Still God

Dear Church,
The leadership of Riverside has made the decision for us to discontinue gathering in the sanctuary for worship. Effective immediately all church activities are postponed until further notice.

Beginning this coming Sunday, March 22, we plan to offer a video of our Sunday morning service as well as having the bulletin posted on our website for you to follow along at home. This is new for all of us, so I ask for your patience as we work out the nuances of virtual worship.

Let me state the obvious, but I think it bears repeating, God is still God. God is still loving, merciful, faithful, omnipotent, and everlasting. Though our community, country, world is going through a circumstance that is new for all of us, God is still God.

I want to remind you that we are the church. God’s people make up the church and we do not cease being the church even if we are not physically able to meet in our sanctuary. During this time, we can continue to live out our calling by loving our neighbors as Jesus taught in Matthew 22:39. Part of loving our neighbors is seeking their health and wholeness. The CDC indicates that social distancing is important to slow the spread of the virus. The CDC also indicates that certain populations are especially vulnerable to the virus, namely, persons over the age of 60 and persons with respiratory and chronic health conditions. With all this in mind, we at Riverside seek to love our neighbors by taking reasonable steps to limit the spread of this pandemic.

Please keep checking the church’s website for continued updates. Please be in prayer for one another, and please remember God is still God. Psalm 94:19 “When the worries of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.”

Sincerely,

Rev. Nick

In Times Like These

Over the past few weeks it has been interesting to see a letter written in 1527 make its rounds in religious news cycles and blogs, a letter I first read in an ethics course during divinity school. Protestant Reformer and Theologian Martin Luther’s letter “Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague” addresses the moral dilemma that arose when Christians were confronted with the question of whether or not one should escape the chaos of a deadly plague or remain behind to aid those who are held captive by the bedlam of sickness. Luther examines the ethical question in its relation to the love commandment set forth by Christ. If Christians are to love their neighbor, should they leave them in a time of distress, even if it means putting themselves at risk?

The letter came 200 years after the Black Plague had killed nearly half of the European population and had begun to re-emerge in Luther’s hometown. In his letter Luther states that it is the duty of clergy, public officials and professionals, and family with dependents to continue their vocational responsibilities.

Furthermore, Luther says, “Those who are engaged in a spiritual ministry such as preachers and pastors must likewise remain steadfast before the peril of death. We have a plain command from Christ, ‘A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep but the hireling sees the wolf coming and flees’ [John 10:11]. For when people are dying, they most need a spiritual ministry which strengthens and comforts their consciences by word and sacrament and in faith overcomes death.” What Luther faced was far more dire and deadly than the virus(es) we face today. Yet, there is an atmosphere of fear and anxiety amongst many, especially as more cases of the Coronavirus are confirmed in the DC area.

Luther holds in juxtaposition the sanctity of self-care [Eph. 5:29; 1 Cor. 12:21–26] with the sanctity of caring for others [Matt. 22:39, 25:31-46]. In addition to imploring those with duties and responsibilities to stay, Luther also offers examples of actively seeking refuge and safety so long as it does not harm our neighbor. To put it simply or to reinterpret what Luther was saying in my own words: 1) we should not freak out, we are a community called to live not by a spirit of fear, “but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” [2 Tim 1:7] and 2) we must remember the command to love our neighbors as ourselves [Mark 12:31] and in doing so, that includes caring for those in need as well as making sure we do not put others in harm’s way (please stay home if you’re sick).

As your pastor I am here to guide and lead you on this collective journey of faith in times of joy and in times of uncertainty. I am here to serve the community at Riverside and assuage any apprehension our community may have. The deacons and I have been active in our response and have already begun implementing appropriate decisions regarding communion and the passing of peace. Please do not hesitate to call upon us should you have any questions or concerns. As always, I am available for office hours or visitation.

With Appreciation,

Rev. Nick

All Are Saved?

The final word is never that of warning, of judgment, of punishment, of a barrier erected, of a grave opened. We cannot speak of it without mentioning all these things. The Yes cannot be heard unless the No is also heard. But the No is said for the sake of the Yes and not for its own sake. In substance, therefore, the first and last word is Yes and not No.

Karl Barth

God’s YES repudiates our no; God’s YES overwhelms our no; God’s YES is the final answer to any and all no’s. When we begin to realize this truth of God’s unconditional love for us, we can begin to be transformed as a people following the risen, loving God.

A word about office hours, pastoral counseling, and visitation. I am available to meet and will happily do so if you contact me to set up a time. Please email me at pastor@riversidedc.org or call the church office if you do not have access to email.

~ Rev. Nick

Baptist Participation in Lent

Lent is the liturgical season in which Christians prepare for Easter through prayerful and solemn penance, and contemplation of mortality. Lent is derived by shortening the Old English word lencten which means “spring season.” It begins with Ash Wednesday and ends some forty days later on Maundy Thursday. The forty days of Lent represent the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the desert before beginning his public ministry. Unfortunately, some Baptists have viewed the observance of Lent as being associated with “works righteousness.” It seems this view misses the depth and richness of Lent. Lent offers us a chance to reflect, respond, and strengthen our relationship with God. It also demonstrates a practice that is ecumenical, transcending denominations.

Traditionally, Lent has been observed by giving something up; it could be meat, alcohol, coffee, sweets, dairy, or any number of things. The sacrifice is in part meant to demonstrate our reliance upon God and emulate Jesus. An alternative to sacrifice could be taking something on as opposed to giving something up. This could be by way of community service or volunteering or kind acts or donating to a charity that you normally wouldn’t. A third option is a hybrid of both, such as giving up your afternoon coffee purchase and instead donating the money to a charity that provides clean drinking water for those in need. There are obviously any number of ways to observe Lent.

The essential factor is using your observance to deepen your relationship with God and prepare your heart for Easter. Regardless if you choose to participate in Lent or not, I hope and pray God’s blessing upon you during this season.

~ Rev. Nick