Category Archives: From the Pastor’s Desk

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

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