Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!
This past Sunday, March 5th, upon entering Jefferson Middle School, there was a white-board sign propping open one of the doors that leads to the auditorium. Written on it in black marker were the words, “Lost & Found” with an arrow pointing to the auditorium which on Sunday serves as our sanctuary for ninety minutes. Sometimes things come together and make perfect sense.
Every Sunday we sing two verses of Amazing Grace and there is a line in that first verse that reads, “I once was lost, but now I am found/ Was blind, but now I see.” The truth is, we would be hard pressed to come up with a better sign to signify who has gathered in that auditorium on any given Sunday.
We’re the lost. We’re broken hearted by the violence and confusion that runs rampant through our world. We’re given up on any number of causes and hamstrung to come up with any fresh ideas about how to heal the world. We are lost in our caregiving of children, of parents, of ourselves. We enter Sunday sometimes with barely enough light to see.
We’re the found. We come to the church service not because we believe sitting in church makes us Christian. It no more does that than sitting in a garage makes one a car. We arrive on Sunday lost, that is true, but much of the time we enter joyful for having been found. We were slogging our way through the world when someone came alongside us and held our hand. We were captured by self-hate when someone reminded us that we were made by a loving God and are configured to love. We were lost when suddenly, we awakened to the presence of the Good Shepherd. So we show up found. And we didn’t make that happen but, as Annie Dillard writes in her marvelous work, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, grace is like a person who holds their cup under a water fall or stream.
We are the lost and found. We invite you to worship with us and despite all that generates fear in our lives in these precarious moments, discover a great grace and a remarkable love that overcomes the world. ~See you Sunday
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts, . . .
[As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII]
One can forgive a playwright for casting all of life as a stage. Indeed, Shakespeare by so doing ended up revealing a psychology of human social interaction that is informative and helpful. What role did you play today? What lines were you given? What improvisation did you make when interrupted by an audience member or by a misplaced prop? What kind of entrance did you make this morning, grand? Quiet?
Every Sunday we of Riverside Baptist Church worship in an auditorium at a local middle school. It has a stage with a beautiful burgundy curtain. The chairs squeak. The sound reverberates against hard walls, making the speaking and singing parts at times difficult to hear. But you recall middle school and plays don’t you? How exciting it was to work for the first time on a theater crew, arranging the moving parts of scenery and stage; how tense for actors to remember their lines and for singers to sing in tune; and how delightful to play one’s role before parents and family and friends. To say that each Sunday we “play” at church is not flippant, but is as profound as Shakespeare’s keen insight into our daily lives that unfold into Acts, scenes and exits.
Like the Pulitzer Prize winning play, Our Town, we begin with the Stage Manager making announcements and orienting people to the surroundings, helping the audience to transition from “audience” to the role of “congregation” and this occurs just after the stage crew has covered a simple plastic table with a cloth, placed flameless battery-operated candles on it, along with a chalice that was made by a local potter in our last service in the building that used to stand on the corner of 7th & Maine. As Thorton Wilder has the Stage Manager say, this is Maine Street (our Maine is named after the state) and this is Our Town. And our “sanctuary” now is a middle school auditorium and the props include school paraphernalia collected in corners, school signs and wide hallways with their shiny floors. As with any play, whether or not you can see the world through the thinly constructed scenery depends on your own imagination and willingness to look into and through your own life. Charles Isher, writing for the New York Times wrote about Thornton’s play, “Wilder sought to make sacraments of simple things. In Our Town he cautioned us to recognize that life is both precious and ordinary, and that these two fundamental truths are intimately connected. “
This he could have written about Our Church. When you drive down Maine Avenue in SW these days, you’re likely to be distracted by cranes, large trucks, unfinished buildings being pieced together and flagmen. But along that avenue is a rippled roofline of Arena Stage, a beautiful and provocative building that dominates the skyline and by its transparency invites any and everyone in to view a stage, a play, and their life. But it’s not the only stage in town. Just down the road in a brick middle school, an audience gathers weekly to learn lines, sing interludes, make gentle entrances and courageous exits. Indeed, we “make sacraments of simple things.” Every week, each Sunday, 10 a.m. just off of Maine. ~Ladies and Gentlemen, See you Sunday ~
Wave upon wave of noise and actions have swept over our city and our nation. By now, many of us are feeling exhausted or depleted. I would encourage you to consider the power of silence and stillness. Challenge the assumption in our culture that you must respond, retweet, blog or otherwise contribute to the swollen tributaries of information and disinformation.
How will you and I distinguish between truth or lies, fake news or facts, the guiding and dependable star of our destiny or the temporary flash of famous but disreputable persons? Silence. Quiet. Stillness. Fill a jar with water and then pour some dirt in it and shake it. The agitation merely makes it difficult to see. Let that jar sit undisturbed and soon, the sediment settles. So with your heart and mind.
Lao-tzu (chapter 11 of the Tao te Ching) captures the power of emptiness:
We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.
We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.
We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.
There is the scene in the Gospels of Jesus getting into a boat after days spent with crowds of people who pressed him for healing and for words, for miracles and cures. He rowed across the lake and then walked to a lonely place to pray…alone.
In these unsettling days, settle. In these loud days, practice silence. Find that place of peace and quiet so you can hear your own heart and mind and the still, small voice of God. Shhhh. Listen. The waves retreat. There is a still point on the horizon. And believe it or not, one of those quiet places of peace and a refuge can be found every Sunday in a middle school auditorium in SW D.C. We worship there. We retreat from the world at large so we may reenter it with truth, mercy and love. ~See you Sunday
One Sunday from the inauguration of President-Elect Trump, many in our area are trying to find a way to step out of that drama. How about this alternative? This Sunday is also Martin Luther King Sunday, a day we remember the Baptist preacher and dreamer who led the “second revolution,” the Civil Rights Movement. And we at Riverside will not only worship and sing in celebration of the values of the Civil Rights Movement–the enduring dignity of human beings, the worth of all of God’s children and the constitutional mandate to protect all of our citizens–but we will be dispensing thirty grants totaling $100,000 to groups who help heal, repair and redeem the world. Want to be inspired and plugged into those values in a powerful way? Join us Sunday for worship at 10 a.m.
Among those we’ll be offering grants to are the Malala Fund, Temple Micah’s Micah House, the Equal Justice Initiative and many local groups that carry out humane and just actions on behalf of the marginal. Schools in Southwest like Jefferson Academy, Amidon Elementary, Apple Early Learning; shelters, hunger solutions like Martha’s Table and S.O.M.E; housing like Casa Ruby and Mary’s House, Sasha Bruce Youthwork; LGBT advocacy groups like Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, the Gay Christian Network and DC LGBT Center’s Global Division; special needs children who, with their families, find support through ARC of Montgomery County; and many more. We are doing this for a few reasons. First, because we are blessed to have secured an endowment for our church that will safeguard it for decades to come. Second, because we can think of no better way to counter the extreme right-wing rhetoric that would put these very persons and families at risk than to make a donation to the urgent work of these groups. Third, because as our Lord taught, “to whom much is given, much is required.”
This Sunday, join us. Together, let’s honor the Dreamer and his legacy and worship in power and truth as we bless those who heal the world. ~See you Sunday
This is our first year (and hopefully only one of two) in our interim journey. We worship in a middle school, for which we are grateful. Trust me, other institutions in SW would not have us, apparently dismayed that we’re a religious organization. But the DC Public School system allowed us to lease a space and for that, we are indeed thankful. But as you might imagine, the school system does not open buildings on Christmas Day or New Year’s Day, both of which fall on a Sunday this year. So what you need to know: there will be no services on Christmas Sunday or New Years Sunday. Enjoy your family, worship where you’d like and then be sure to return on Sunday, January 8th!
This Sunday our choir presents their Christmas music. Surely one of the favorite scenes in the birth narratives is Luke’s presentation of angels singing and offering good news to shepherds tending their flocks in the fields. In the night of Roman oppression, they received news of a light that the darkness cannot overcome. So what you need to know: the Choir will bring you angelic news on Sunday Dec 18th at 10 a.m. Given the gloom enveloping our nation, you might find this a very good moment to reprise the role of the shepherds.
Martin Luther King Sunday is January 15th and this happens to be the Sunday prior to the inauguration of the President-elect. On that day, we will worship in truth and power, not only recalling the Dreamer’s legacy but dispensing grants totaling $100,000 to organizations that repair and heal our world. Groups like the Malala Fund, the Equal Justice Initiative, the Evangelical Environmental Network, local schools in SW, food banks, an LGBT shelter and civil rights groups and the list goes on. We are doing this as a sign of hope in darkness. We are doing this to declare that the marginal should not be oppressed or made to suffer more than they already do. We do it because we have been blessed and to whom much is given, much is required. So what you need to know: there is a candle of justice and peace burning in our world and the darkness will not overcome it. A blessed and Merry Christmas to all of you!
~See you Sunday
For a while now those of you who have been attending worship have realized that I really like this text from the book of Numbers, the tenth chapter, in the Hebrew scriptures, that speaks to the wilderness wandering led by Moses after the people have been to Sinai and covenanted with God.
11 In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle of the testimony, 12 and the people of Israel set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai. . .
I love the texture of those verses, their concreteness, their particularity, striking into time itself the moment when they got up and began to journey. So it is, that in November of 2016, Riverside Baptist Church is also on a journey. We can call it our interim journey since we have an endpoint or goal to our “wandering.” The old church building is about to be deconstructed, its stained glass saved for the new building and then in December it may come down. The expectation is that we will enter our new church building by September 30, 2018. We might want to enter on Reformation Sunday of 2018–that would be fitting and an inspiration all by itself!
We are carrying with us during this time a stone from the First Baptist Church in America gathered by Roger Williams in 1638 and we’ll place this stone near the date stone of our new building; we are carrying with us a stone from the Sea of Galilee where Christ ministered and first called disciples and we will place that at the threshold of the new sanctuary once we reach our destination. And we carry with us the vision of this collective of radical Baptists who believe in soul freedom, the separation of Church and State, and the priesthood of believers, believing our voice raised for justice and peace is as vital now as ever.
Meanwhile, we worship in the auditorium of Jefferson Middle School Academy on Seventh Street at 10 a.m. Sundays. We are vibrant. We are full of hope. And we invite you to worship and travel with us. ~See you Sunday
Pastor Bledsoe will preach on Sunday, November 13th a sermon entitled, “The Foundations Shook,” based upon the scripture of Isaiah 6:1-8 when the prophet, confronted by the death of his king and an apparent darkness and foreboding faced by the people, was surprisingly confronted with the reality of God. An excerpt from tomorrow’s sermon: “You and I are about to step off into a Machiavellian period that would make Orwellian politicians blush.” What is to be our response?
Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together, the writer of Hebrews wrote. Come to worship, embrace one another and let us find a response worthy of God’s people for this time in which we live. Remember, we worship now in our interim space at Jefferson Middle School Academy on Seventh Street, directly across from our church building. ~See you Sunday
“I am an ally. I will stand for your right to be who you are. I am safe.” Join me in wearing a safety pin to declare to others at risk that we stand with them in these perilous times.
You could stay home Sunday and watch another round of talking heads. But at this point, why would you?
You could go online and check polls at various news outlets and ideological outposts and forget coming to church for an hour to sing, pray and hear scripture read and expounded upon. But at this point, why would you do that?
Our souls need respite from the turmoil of the world and especially we need access to light, unfettered grace and love, the truth of God-in-Christ, reconciling the world.
Saturday night, turn your clock back one hour and then Sunday morning, bring your soul to worship. You got a soul–don’t give it to the politicos this Sunday. Bring it to Christ for restoration, redemption, renewal and empowerment. In the Name of God, peace to you and all whom you love. ~ See you Sunday!