Riverside Prepares Plans to Resume In-Person Worship Services July 18

What a Day of Rejoicing that Will Be!

For the past year, the staff, deacons, trustees, and lay leaders have been in conversation around when and how to regather for worship once more. Following the messages from the CDC, WHO, and Washington DC public health officials, every decision was made with our community’s health and safety in mind. 

With the vaccine rollout, we feel that we are able to begin planning for regathering for worship with July 18 as our first Sunday together since the pandemic began. This is a preliminary announcement that is subject to change – pending any additional information from the latest public health guidelines in the next several weeks.

Please read the additional information under “Regathering,” noting that we are asking everyone, even those who have been vaccinated, to always wear a mask inside the church. We know that things will be different, and we trust that you will understand that this plan has all who will be in church from the youngest to the no longer-the-youngest in mind. 

We thank you for your cooperation and we look forward seeing you in person and once again worshiping together in our sanctuary on July 18.

Please look for additional information as the date draws nearer.

~ Rev. Nick and the Riverside Leadership Team

Where the Spirit Leads Us

The deepest reality of life in the Spirit depicted in the book of Acts is that the disciples of Jesus rarely, if ever, go where they want to go or to whom they would want to go. Indeed, the Spirit seems to always be pressing the disciples to go to those to whom they would in fact strongly prefer never to share space, or a meal, and definitely not life together. Yet it is precisely this prodding to be boundary-crossing and border-transgressing that marks the presence of the Spirit of God.

Willie James Jennings

At times in our lives, we find ourselves being led to places and in directions we wouldn’t have selected. We encounter people and circumstances that bring us out of our comfort zones. This was the case in Acts with many of the disciples. Philip has a Spirit driven encounter with an Ethiopian eunuch. Peter is sent to “the house of uncircumcised” and ate with them, also learning from God it is not our job to “call anyone profane or unclean.” Peter ultimately learns that “God shows no partiality.”

There are many lessons for us in the book of Acts. In this season of transition may we be open to where the Spirit of God leads us, has us share space with, and when needed even prods us. For as Proverbs 19:21 reminds us, “many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” I pray that the Spirit will guide us, and the Lord’s purpose prevails in all our lives.

~ Rev. Nick

I Am the Good Shepherd

‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.

The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.

So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.’

John 10:11-18

The above pericope from the Gospel of John leaves the door open and warns against any kind of exclusive claim on our Good Shepherd Jesus.

Deciding who is in and who is out is really, as Jesus suggests, not the business of the sheep, but solely up to God, solely up to the Good Shepherd. We sheep-folk are instructed to adhere to Jesus, to love, and to testify, as Jesus makes explicit in the Red Letters; we are to testify to the love, mercy, and grace the Good Shepherd provides in abundance.

As for myself and others in ministry, despite holding the position of the hired hand, we are called to be audacious, and to not run away from the challenge of calling God’s people to a clear understanding of the call to oneness in the name of Christ. We are called to address and welcome diversity in whatever form it is represented in the wider community in which our churches are located. We are called to be Christ-centered, inclusive, and ecumenical.

~ Rev. Nick

The Long Journey to Justice

And he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Luke 24:46-48

The way we, as the body of Christ, can be witnesses to the resurrection is to offer radical hospitality and embrace the traumatized bodies of our neighbors, of those who are strangers, and as Jesus instructed even those we may view as enemies. The verdict rendered yesterday is but a short sigh, recognizing accountability has been adjudicated; but justice is long from being served or realized. As Amanda Gorman puts it, “a reminder that victory would be George Floyd being alive. Every day Black Americans worry if they will be next is another day without justice.”

“All nations” is not a restrictive call to individuals of different ethnicities, but a collective group who have been at the forefront of persecution and injustice, causing suffering and pain. Most of American Christianity preaches and teaches a hyper individualistic salvation, one focused on the sole individual sinner so it doesn’t have to repent from its systemic sin. For those who are ignorant to the evils systemic sin and the need for such repentance, I suggest you spend some time in the Old Testament, particularly the Prophets.

As the Prophet Isaiah wrote, “learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed.” There is still much to be learned as the church grapples with systems of oppression. It is our charge as followers of Christ to continue seeking justice and our mission to rescue the oppressed. We must work toward justice and embrace resurrection as insurrection, as we live into the reality of the risen Jesus whom we worship.

~ Rev. Nick

“A Riot Psalm”

If I were to riot
I would riot against those institutions that actively harm Black people
I would riot against those businesses built on the stolen labor of Black people
I would riot against those churches built with bloodied Black hands
I would riot against book clubs and listening circles
I would riot against performative allyship and corporate co-option
I would riot against blue lives flags and stickers
I would riot against legislative bodies that encode and enact white supremacy
I would riot against white supremacists statues in public places
I would riot against museums and art institutions that promote anti-Black standards of beauty
I would riot against universities promulgating notions of classical that are white supremacist by design and intent
I would riot against financial institutions that flipped there slave-produced wealth into astronomical sums buy redlining and exploiting Black and brown and poor people
I would riot against representatives who gerrymander themselves into a white supremacist hegemony
I would riot against courts that render unjust justice and call it justice
I am not rioting
At least, not in the streets
My words are a riot
A riot of fire
Leaping from page and screen
Feeding the flames of the riots to come

The Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney

The Rev. Wil Gafney, Ph.D. is Professor of Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas. She is the author of Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to Women of the Torah and of the Throne, a commentary on Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah; Daughters of Miriam: Women Prophets in Ancient Israel; and co-editor of The Peoples’ Bible and The Peoples’ Companion to the Bible. The first two volumes of her Women’s Lectionary are due this spring. She is an Episcopal priest canonically resident in the Diocese of Pennsylvania and licensed in the Diocese of Fort Worth, and a former Army chaplain and congregational pastor in the AME Zion Church.

In Spite of What You See

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

There are three takeaways from John 20:19-31 that I wish to offer concerning the resurrection. 

First, the resurrection is personal and relational. When Jesus met Mary, he approached her and offered himself to Mary to which she replied “teacher”, she recognizes Jesus as her teacher and thus she is a disciple. When Jesus first appears to the disciples in their locked home her offers peace and breathes the Spirit of God upon them. Jesus gets extremely personal with Thomas. There is something almost voyeuristic with the encounter of Jesus and Thomas. This is an intimate moment to which Thomas replies, “My Lord and my God.”

Then there is Peter who Jesus walks with. Jesus asks Peter three times if he loved him, once for each time Peter denied Jesus. Jesus reconciles with Peter, instructs Peter to follow him and gives Peter the keys to the church. The resurrected Jesus is personal and relational. As a professor once said, “it’s not pie in the sky, but ham where I am, chicken in the kitchen.”

The second take away is the resurrection is physical and bodily. The fact the Jesus showed the disciples his wounds shows that Jesus didn’t come back as an apparition or ghost, but he, his body, rose again. As Jesus is the first fruits of resurrection, we know that our resurrection will be bodily, our loved ones lost will be raised from the dead, not in spirit, but in reality, just as real as Jesus was when he sat, ate, and drank with the disciples.

Finally, the third takeaway of the resurrection is the effects are communal, not individualistic. The effect of the risen Jesus shapes our communities just as much as it shapes us personally. When we look to the community in Acts, we find a community concerned for each other. There are no superstars or rock stars, but a community where each member is a different part of the same body.

You may have a personal relationship with Jesus, but it is not complete without the body, without the community to which you belong. It’s the reason why so many of us are yearning to when we can regather, which God willing will be soon.

This is the Easter story, that the risen Jesus, still carrying His wound, meets us in our fears and doubts. Jesus is intimate and personal with us. Death is not the final answer, life through the risen Jesus is.

~Rev. Nick

God Participates in Our Suffering

“God not only participates in our suffering but also makes our suffering into his own and takes our death into his life.”

Jürgen Moltmann

We keep hearing it, this past year has been one for the books, one “heck” of a year; I know I’ve said it more than once. And the truth is for many, many people it really has been a pretty horrible year to put it mildly. The Pandemic has now brought death to over 560,000 lives in our country alone. That number doesn’t begin to account for the countless many who are suffering the lingering effects of the virus. Nor does it take into account the economic hardship and injustices so many have faced.

This past year also brought to the forefront the suffering and injustice faced by many people color. There have been numerous killings of innocent black lives, mostly by the hands of the state meant to serve and protect them. Asian Americans have seen a grisly rise in hate-crimes along with many lives cut short. All the while desperate families fleeing from imminent danger to find a better life here (in the country that most likely created the conditions for why they had to flee in the first place) were met with Gestapo like tactics, being thrown into literal cages, while babies and children were ripped from their parents. I still haven’t got to the insidious insurrection just a few blocks from our church that took the lives of five people. And of course there are our own personal losses, loved ones gone in other ways. I could go on, but I think the picture is unfortunately clear enough.

And so, here we are in Easter. We’re doing our best to live into the Easter reality, into the truth of resurrection. We’re doing our best to claim the joy of Jesus’ conquering of death and shall continue to claim that joy. We celebrate lives lived, and life itself for Jesus has brought victory. Yet Jürgen Moltmann says, “God not only participates in our suffering but also makes our suffering into his own and takes our death into his life.” Holy Week reminds us of a God who loves us, joined in our suffering, continues to join in our suffering, and takes our death in to his life. May we take solace and comfort in the God who provides balm for those in pain, offers hope for the hopeless, soothes all suffering, and conquers death, for this realization is Easter.

~Rev. Nick

Down To The Cross

Friends, this week we have a meeting to attend. It’s not a business meeting, so no business casual attire, and no business class seats (or pews), with a window view from which we can look down upon the world, and our fellow humanity. We are traveling by foot, down an unpaved road, on a crowded street. It is a meeting with Jesus down at the foot of the cross. But before we get there some decisions must be made. You see for our meeting to take place we must decide to go with and stay with him there. This is not a moment of pomp and circumstance, but of abandonment and transformation. A decision to follow him, will mean checking your status, your pride and worldly education; (not brain) at the door. To follow him to this cross may mean death for us, but guaranteed death for him. Understanding the true Gospel of Jesus, in today’s nationalized, center left or far right, commodified religions is not easy.

His birth and presence challenged an empire. An empire which sought to acquire, control and define the peoples Worship. This society was numb to the pain, suffering and despair of this broken but beautiful world. We will talk about beauty another day, but today I want us to see the tragic murder of an innocent man named Jesus from Nazareth. The very same empire sent his mother, Mary, fleeing from her homeland to save the life of her newborn baby. Why? What had this child full of promise done? After some time away, for safe keeping he returned a boy, ready to become a man. A child full of promise, steeped in the knowledge of his purpose and mission, he began his ministry. He would not pass by the woman at the well. He would not allow a woman accused of committing adultery to be stoned. He would not allow the crowd on the banks of the river to leave hungry, and after showing them compassion and healing them he feeds the multitude with two fish and five loaves of bread. This caused such a disturbance to the religious, contemporary and earthly authorities’ way of life, that a plot to kill him was ultimately conceived. The empire which claimed and comforted that prominent religious community, struck at night. Attempting to hide their acts by cover of darkness. Jesus was there announcing a new “Kindom” (Rev. Starlette Thomas). Yes, as in those whom you oppose and oppress are my Kin, they are my family. And, as his time with us will be short, the Word made flesh demonstrated the power of God. The same power which will liberate us.

He does not come to bring peace, nor to enlarge our territory. No, he comes with a sword. He comes with a word, words which still keep the powerful up late at night, words which strike fear into the heart or mind of the rich and powerful: “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” Something must be done. And with their hands wringing, and minds spinning, a trap is set. One of his closest friends will sell him out! An arrest is made. He will be beaten all night long and mocked. A show trial is had, and the verdict pronounced. GUILTY. Pilate tries to wash this man’s blood from his hands, but the water is powerless to make him guilt free. Just as our baptism with water alone does not, and will not guarantee freedom from our transgressions, or a guilt ridden conscious. His execution is scheduled for Friday morning. A rugged cross is made for him, a crown of thorns pressed in his head, and he is made to walk a road to a hill of skulls. Along the way a black man is seized and made to carry the cross behind Jesus. “Luke 23:26, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.” His unwitting participation paints a map for the journey we too shall take.

We too must be seized by the spirit, in order to carry this cross. It alone ensures the ultimate downfall of empires which mock God, as they brutally attack and oppress the innocent. Author and scholar: James Cone’s book: “The Cross and The Lynching Tree”, expresses the theological significance of this poignantly. As we make our way to our own meeting with Jesus; remember to pack light. Take nothing with you for your journey. No race, no class, no currency and no hate. Our Great High Priest became a sacrifice for the liberation of the oppressed. The Son of God, The Word made flesh, signs a New Covenant for us in his blood. To partake in this covenant requires more than rituals, or membership in good standing. It will require more than an allegiance split between God, career and country. It announces a reckoning; “Repent, the Kindom of God is at hand”. The Gospel makes reordering of our very way of life necessary. It will mean symbolically leaving behind the world which welcomed him not, and still holds hostility for the immigrant. It brings an end to the dominate social order and brings about the Reign of Christ’s Grace and coming Glory. This sounds like foolishness to some folks, yet 1 Cor. 1:18 says “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’” And as we find ourselves in this Holy meeting, at the cross of Jesus, may we come to see in God’s wisdom and righteousness, just how foolish and often cruel, this world so loved by God truly is. May we find the strength to re-prioritize, be re-educated, and renewed as we go with Jesus; down to the cross.

Acknowledge Our Brokenness

Centering dominate, white culture (even within in the church) must be disrupted in order for us to find new paths that we can walk together. We are in the midst of the season of Lent, a time in the Church when we acknowledge our brokenness. The same deep brokenness that caused religious and political leaders to conspire together to kill Jesus Christ, the bearer of love, rather than embrace his faithful witness is evident in the killings of innocent victims in Atlanta and the other-ing and violence across the country. Each one of us is called to disrupt our desire for comfort and familiarity, to enter a beloved community where all can flourish.

Rev. Larissa Kwong Abazia

This past week we saw the horrible tragedy of yet another racially motivated killing. Anti-Asian racism has increased drastically since the begin of the pandemic, largely due to certain elected officials using racial slurs to describe the virus. We at Riverside stand with our Asian-American sisters and brothers and condemn all forms of racism and bigotry.

What further made matters worse was the initial briefing by local law enforcement that suggested the killer “was having a bad day” and committed the crimes because of sexual addiction. This particular officer, who at one-point last year encouraged the sale of t-shirts that had a racial slur written on it, said he did not think the attack was racially motivated. I won’t go into the all the numerous details of why this horrendous attack was most certainly racially motivated; many other more nuanced and intelligent pieces have been written on the subject. To be clear, the attack wasn’t just racially motivated, but was intersectional cross matters of race, misogyny, and social status. There have been innumerable “bad days” that did not end up with eight innocent people dying.

I do wish to briefly address this idea that somehow the killer’s piety played into his vile actions. First off, it doesn’t. If the killer was a person of faith, particularly the Christian faith, he wouldn’t have resorted to any form of violence. In fact, Jesus instructs us in Matthew 5:29, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into Gehenna.” That’s YOU, YOUR, your eye, not that of any other. To somehow state that the killer’s combination of faith and sexual addiction led to these actions is to minimalize the teachings of Jesus and to not recognize the effects of toxic purity culture in many churches. Jesus instructs us to handle our own affairs before we engage with others’. “… how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:5). I weep for the victims and pray for peace to come their loved ones. These victims were innocent, and targeted because of the racist, perversive beliefs of the killer.

We must continue to train our eyes to see each other as image bearers. We are all children of God and bear God’s image. When racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and the like rear its ugly head, it’s because of a failure to see God in each other. I pray for the many victims across our country who are in pain. I pray that God will not just be the Great Physician, but on this occasion the Great Ophthalmologist training and healing our eyes to see one another as we are, children of God.

~ Rev. Nick

For God So Loved the World

“And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

John 3:14-17

Jesus’ advent amongst us can lead to life or it can confirm one’s place among the dead, much like what we read in Ephesians chapter 2. God’s motivation for sending Jesus is not condemnation, but as John 3 says, God’s motivation is love.

God sends Jesus into the world, and that trip culminates with Jesus’ own placement upon a stake, a pole, a Roman cross. Lifted high, Jesus’ pierced body demands attention, our attention. Just like the serpent in the wilderness Moses used to save the Israelites, Jesus’ body, which is the very location of God’s glory, is the most staggering revelation of the gospel and the life it offers. Rather than judging, Jesus’ form suspends and hangs, in order to be seen by those who dare face the abhorrence of “the sin of the world” that caused the Lamb of God to die.

Yet, rather than despair, this sight is also the place of life, the sign of God’s profound love for all of creation, for all of us. Just as the Israelites in Numbers 21 looked to the serpent, a sign of their sin, in order to be healed, we too must look at our sin in order to be healed. Again, I say we must look at our sins in order to be healed.

Do understand Jesus did not sin, but Jesus took on our flesh, and on the cross Jesus accepted all of our sin upon him, he took on the sins of the world past, present, and future, and he did so that we might have life. Hear the good news this Lenten season, the good news of God’s love for you. God so loves you he gave his only begotten son for you. Jesus so loves you he took upon himself all of your sin, so you may have life.

~Rev Nick

107:1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.

107:2 Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, those he redeemed from trouble

107:3 and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.

107:17 Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction;

107:18 they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death.

107:19 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress;

107:20 he sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction.

107:21 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.

107:22 And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22