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!
This past Sunday we began our interim worship journey at Jefferson Academy Middle School. We are worshipping there at the same time we have worshipped these many years, 10 a.m. There is parking off of 7th Street. Since it is located across the street from our church building, getting there couldn’t be simpler. No change in routine, same hour and basically same location. And the congregation turned out which made for a beautiful day indeed.
I learned some things in the middle school on Sunday:
*Riverside is not so much a building as it is a people. Maybe it is fair to say that Jefferson is an ark for us at this moment.
*Worship is impacted by the configuration of a space, of that there is no doubt, but worship also transforms whatever space in which it takes place.
*People who are positive, passionate and full of purpose overcome issues that emerge. We are blessed with leaders and volunteers who have a can-do attitude and their example inspires the rest of us to pull together. We’re going to grow in this place!
*The choir is composed of exceptional individuals–not just those gifted to sing or play an instrument, but those who by their faith sacrifice time to practice and then do their best to lead us in worship in a place that is not precisely set up for a congregation.
God bless all of you. We are journeying together, worshipping together and we will grow both numerically and in our faith. Bring a chair cushion if you want. See you Sunday in middle school! ~Pastor Bledsoe
Last week I traveled to Providence, Rhode Island in order to retrieve a stone from the First Baptist Church in America, first gathered by Roger Williams in 1638. We will take this cobblestone–about the size of a baseball—and lodge it into our new building’s date stone. As far as I’m concerned, this stone is as alien and revelatory as that bit of moon stone lodged into the Space Window at the National Cathedral, except our stone shouts for liberty of conscience and freedom from the tyranny of governments or religions.
Last month my dear friend, Rabbi Zemel, presented me with a stone from the Sea of Galilee, brought back from Israel by the generosity of his daughter’s in-laws. It is a large stone that resembles in color a piece of toast. This stone too will be inserted in the new church building at the threshold of our sanctuary, a reminder of the incarnated particularity of the Gospel, fashioned from the yearnings for justice and mercy of a people occupied and oppressed by Rome in the First Century.
We will take some of the existing stone of the current edifice and use it in our new church, thus linking us to the generations who assembled here for worship and for the declaration of those historic Baptist values so valiantly and brilliantly articulated by Roger Williams. Since Fifth Baptist Church became Riverside Baptist Church in 1967, this church has been a “civil rights” church, a people dedicated to racial reconciliation and justice, gender equality and justice, LGBT equality and justice and the enduring belief that loving God and one’s neighbor is the sum of the Law. These stones we bring with us will link us to the past and hopefully remind us of who we are to become in the years and even decades ahead.
In a month, we will vacate this building, and beginning October the first Sunday, we will worship at Jefferson Academy Middle School, same hour (10 a.m.) and same corner. We will leave this building we love and cherish but we will not vacate the principles and values upon which it is founded. We bring these values with us. We carry them into the future. Deliberately, methodically and with our eyes on the prize, we go forward, throwing away stones only to gather them together again in an effort to proclaim the love and justice of God in this place.
~See you Sunday
I have never used a compass to navigate any journey I have undertaken but I am sure I have depended on persons –like pilots–who did use a compass. Even without having used one, I’ve seen one and of course, I know it is important to know where East and West are, North and South, in relation to me and wherever it is I am located.
Some of you are old enough to remember Triptiks, those maps that AA A would print you with details on not only which roads to take in your route to your destination but also warnings on construction and advice on speed traps. Those were useful but of course were overtaken by Mapquest in the dawning internet age and now, of course, GPS systems we carry in our pockets on our phones.
Getting located is something most of us find very important. Indeed, when a loved one or friend seems overwhelmed by circumstances in their lives we will sometimes say, “they seem lost” or “they don’t know where they’re going.” And it is why sometimes we’ll say to our loved ones, be they children or spouses, “come home” since home is that one place where they not only have to let you in (I believe that was Robert Frost’s definition) but it is the one place to be counted on for knowing where you are in the world.
Which all may explain why the Church has hymns like Softly and Tenderly that has the line “come home.” It yanks at our heartstrings. And the Bible has remarkable stories like the one Jesus taught about a young son who took off with his inheritance, squandered it to the point of living and eating with pigs and finally returned home. His father, standing on a porch and seeing him from the distance, ran to meet him in the road, hugged and kissed him and welcomed him home.
Navigating the spiritual life involves all of these things: finding a compass or GPS or map, sensing that one is lost (it is impossible to be found if one has not awakened to the truth that s/he is lost), and making the trip. I hope you’ll join us this Sunday for worship. It is basically the place and time when we who have been and are lost find our way home. We’ll sing “Amazing Grace” and declare that we’ve been found. We’ll rejoice in the sheer joy of being human beings made in the image of God. We’ll embrace like a family reunion and we’ll humbly make our way to God whose light, like a sun rising in the East, confirms the road we’re on leads to a place called faith, hope and love. ~ See you Sunday
On July 4, 2016, I will give thanks for being a citizen of the United States of America, my native land, my country. For its freedoms and ideals so beautifully stated in its founding documents.
I will also pray for the entire world where other citizens rejoice in their citizenship, love their country and admire their ideals.
It is not easy to tack between the right wing and the left wing on Independence Day. I marvel that the Left can celebrate and fly the flags of other nations, particularly of nations either harmed by the U.S. or opposed to the U.S. but cannot take pleasure in their own nation’s flag. Everyone has a right to love their country. I marvel no less at the Right that insists that the United States is exceptional, so different from other countries as to warrant our absolute obedience despite whatever wrongs it has carried out in our names.
As a Christian, my ultimate allegiance is to Christ and the Kingdom of God. I love my nation but I do so out of a critical engagement with its ideals and its practices. Right now, the Patriot organ grinder is churning out his relentless jingles, ginning up the passions and anger and fears of fellow citizens. Christian Evangelicals have been captured by the Patriot organ grinder’s tune. Below is an excerpt from Mark Twain’s autobiography when he reminisces about the nomination for President in the Republican Party of 1876, candidate from Maine, James Blaine. Twain refused to support him though he was loosely affiliated with Lincoln’s Party. His colleagues criticized him for not supporting the nominee. Twain’s words are as prudent for our consideration today as they were then:
…I said: “But we don’t have to vote for him.” Robinson said “Do you mean to say that you are not going to vote for him?” “Yes,” I said, “that is what I mean to say. I am not going to vote for him.” The others began to find their voices. They sang the same note. They said that when a party’s representatives choose a man, that ends it. If they choose unwisely it is a misfortune, but no loyal member of the party has any right to withhold his vote. He has a plain duty before him and he can’t shirk it. He must vote for that nominee. I said that no party held the privilege of dictating to me how I should vote. That if party loyalty was a form of patriotism, I was no patriot, and that I didn’t think I was much of a patriot anyway, for oftener than otherwise what the general body of Americans regarded as the patriotic course was not in accordance with my views; that if there was any valuable difference between being an American and a monarchist it lay in the theory that the American could decide for himself what is patriotic and what isn’t; whereas the king could dictate the monarchist’s patriotism for him—a decision which was final and must be accepted by the victim; that in my belief I was the only person in the sixty millions—with Congress and the Administration back of the sixty millions—who was privileged to construct my patriotism for me.*
Happy Independence Day. Tell the Organ grinder to go home. We are better than the tunes he plays. ~ See you Sunday
*[Twain, Mark; Smith, Harriet E.; Griffin, Benjamin; Fischer, Victor; Frank, Michael B. (2010-11-15). Autobiography of Mark Twain: The Complete and Authoritative Edition, Volume 1 (pp. 316-317). University of California Press. Kindle Edition.]
Sunday, June 26th, The Riverside Book Club hosts Dr. Joseph Sebarenzi as he talks with us about his acclaimed memoir God Sleeps in Rwanda. Dr. Sebarenzi experienced the tragedy of the Rwandan genocide and then rose to become the third most powerful man his country while pushing for greater democracy. Joseph will read excerpts from his book as well as take questions. Join us in the Foster Room next Sunday after worship, approximately 11:15 a.m.
I will be preaching a sermon entitled, A Wreck of A World, in which I attempt to speak critically and theologically about evil and what this says not only about God but also about the last great superstition, as Christopher Lasch, referred to it, progress. At Riverside, we are accustomed to using both our minds and our hearts in our struggle to understand God and ourselves. We pose deep questions knowing that shallow questions only lead to shallow answers.
Please be sure to check out the Sermons tab where you can catch up on sermons you have missed or send a link to a friend or shut in or someone whom you think might like listening to a sermon online. ~See you Sunday
I don’t attend church in order to find God. I attend church because God found me.
I do not enter the church to be entertained. Instead, my hope is that in telling the truth about my life, our world and measuring these beside the great Truth of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ, I will be challenged to live an authentic life.
I don’t attend church to have my political ideas confirmed or the platform of the Republican, Democratic or Libertarian parties stapled into my bible. I attend in order to hear about God’s rule, sometimes translated as “the kingdom of God” and “the kingdom of heaven.”
I don’t attend church to “sow a seed” in order that I might become “prosperous.” I worship God who has blessed me already, gifted me with life and is worthy of my praise and thanksgiving.
I do not enter a church to hear a preacher denounce and berate people, spew hatred or pick on persons who are already at risk in our culture at large. I enter the church to hear about faith, hope and love since, as the Apostle Paul wrote, these three endure when everything else passes away.
I do not enter a church to gossip, text, Facebook or check email. I turn off those devices and turn my back on gossip in order to fellowship, deepen the bonds of love and friendship between myself and God’s people.
I step out of a mad world in love with violence, stoking revenge, fixated on guns and enter the church for peace, peacemaking and justice.
There is a place of peace. Go there. Be found. Embrace truth. Be filled with joy. Be girded in faith. Hold your head up in hope. The love of Christ sustain you. ~See you Sunday