Tag Archives: inclusive baptist church

What Do These Stones Mean?

Sunday September 25th is the last service to be held in the current building.  We’ll begin worshipping in the auditorium of Jefferson Academy Middle School the first Sunday in October, the 2nd.

This process of exchanging our current configuration–a parking lot with a church building–for a new building closer to Maine Avenue and across from the Wharf–began in 2007.  I and the chairman of Trustees sat informally in my office with the previous and beloved pastor of fourteen years, Robert Troutman.  He blessed us as we began a process of questioning and pondering our future.

After many, many meetings and countless discussions and endless hoops jumped through and navigated, here we are:  we are about to exit this building and cross over into our future.  We are ready. We are brave. We are full of hope.  When Joshua, the heir apparent to Moses, took the children of Israel across the Jordan River into their land of promise, he ordered them to take twelve stones out of the river bed and make a memorial.  The scripture says, “When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’  then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord.”

At some juncture three years from now, we’ll step into a new church building on the same corner. We will have secured our church financially for another fifty to one hundred years if those who come after us are as prudent and careful as we have been.  I can hear a child ask what those stones mean–the stone from the First Baptist Church in America that will be placed near the date stone of the new edifice; the stone from the Sea of Galilee that Rabbi Zemel was so kind to have arranged delivery of and will be placed near the threshold of the new sanctuary. And the answer will echo through the millennia: God made a way for us to cross.  Hallelujah!  ~See you Sunday.

Orlando: We Mourn With Our GLBT Brothers and Sisters

120px-Gay_memory_flag.svg  Pastor Bledsoe’s pastoral prayer and remarks from Sunday, June 12th:   Pastoral statement and prayer

It’s okay not to have the words to speak your grief.  This grief will take a very long time to pour out of our lives in torrents of tears; to trickle out in beads of sweat; to bleed from us in what has been too bloody a wicked act already.

There is plenty of blame to pin on any number of persons from politicians to preachers to radio talk show hosts and the contemptible NRA and its brood of coward politicians.  For now, until we have prayed our goodbyes and pondered what we have lost by these who have been slain, we need not assign blame. But a Day of Reckoning is coming for those who insist on fanning flames of hatred and then legislate access to assault rifles, guns and ammunition so that millions of  Americans are turned into potential lone wolf terrorists.

It’s okay to be angry.  Our anger is our wound, turned inside out. But today, this week, let us pray for these families who bear the terrible burden of loss. We will touch our wounds and weep with those who weep.

Our hearts especially break for the GLBT communities across our country and particularly in Orlando.  Saturday I had the joy of participating in the Capital PRIDE march.  Last week, I blogged about why I, a pastor, march but I did not think to include the reason that a madman, fueled by religious hatred, would gun down scores of innocents.  After an ecstatic Saturday of marching in solidarity, I awakened on Sunday to this grievous news. Dearest GLBT individuals:  we stand with you and express our profoundest sympathy as you were viciously attacked simply for being who you are.  Beautiful.  Wonderfully human. Children of God.

We will not abandon you in this time but pray for you and say again, we at Riverside are a refuge of peace for all and will not accept any religion—Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, ANY—that refuses to accept you for the gift you are.  It is incumbent upon each religion and its practitioners and spokespersons to critically engage their religious teachings and stop persecuting Gay human beings.

We in the United States are living in a country that is terrorized by its own inhabitants. We are and have been perpetually at war now for more than fifteen years.  We are polluted by violence.

We pray in the words of the ancient Church:

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.

~See you Sunday:: Pastor Bledsoe

Padded Pews and Splinters of the Cross

I like padded pews, not that I get to sit in them since I’m the preacher.  But they provide a measure of comfort that seems legitimate given how hard it is at times to listen to a preacher.  You deserve a padded pew.  At the least though, a preacher ought to preach the Gospel in a way that makes the pad necessary and I don’t mean by that the kind  of hellfire and brimstone beating people in the name of Jesus sermons I heard growing up. I mean sermons that call us to the justice and peacemaking Gospel Jesus preached even before there was a crucifixion.

Speaking of which, we’re getting close to the Easter High Holy Sunday and as you know, you can’t really get to Resurrection Sunday without passing through Thursday and the Garden of Gethsemane, betrayal and Friday’s catastrophe of blood and shattered body that was the flogging and crucifixion.  But like padded pews, lots of folks–both liberal and conservative–try to pad the Gospel and reduce Jesus to an ethical teacher or a prosperity salesman.  It will be very important in the coming days and weeks as we approach Golgotha that we listen to the Christ and all he had to say about servant-ministry and sacrificial love.  Martin Luther King summed it up well when he said, ‘When I took up the cross I recognized it’s meaning. The cross is something that you bear, and ultimately, that you die on.’  We are all not called upon to give up our lives as King or Christ did, but we darn sure ought to get a splinter now and then from following the Crucified Lord.

Be awake. Be alert.  We are following Jesus to Jerusalem. We will sit in the upper room and commune with him.  And a time will come when we are tempted to betray him, to run from him, even before the rooster crows for the rising sun.  It is time to weigh our souls in the balance and find our way to a Holy place.  Easter is coming. First, however, there is a Thursday night of betrayal and a Friday noon of nails.

Step Into The Mystery

David Berlinski writes poetically a breathtaking overture to his book, A Tour of the Calculus.  I am no mathematician nor a physicist, but Berlinski’s devotion to his subject is that of a priest at an altar.  He has seen across the threshold into and through the mechanics of the universe and its symmetry astounds him.  He relays his awe not through numbers–though he would likely argue that he could have done so by numbers alone–but through brilliant, often poetic, English. Which is to say, he relies as much on symbol and poetic nuance as any preacher trying to decipher scripture.  His awe revolves around the fundamental revelation to which he is a witness:  “the real world may be understood in terms of real numbers.”  You should take a moment to enjoy his brief prologue (easily enough to accomplish by looking inside the book on Amazon or having a sample of the book sent to you).  This revelation is simply the notion that the world is comprehensible. Einstein said as much, “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is at all comprehensible.”  I prefer St. Augustine’s paean to the mystery of being, “And yet it is neither the heaven of heavens, nor the measure of the stars, nor the scope of sea and land, nor the nethermost hell; it is our own selves that we are incapable of comprehending; it is our own selves, who, in our too great height and strength, transcend the humble limits of our own knowledge; it is our own selves, whom we are incapable of embracing…” (“The Soul and Its Origin”).

As you tour the calculus of your life; fumbling with change and counting it; responding to the grumbling in your stomach by eating food; quenching your thirst; catching a glimpse of the moon carved in space in a pale blue sky; singing along with a song; communicating by way of words what is inside your mind to another living, breathing, sentient being; as you do these things and thus trace the symmetry and order of your life,  you may step into the mystery (ah, thanks to brother Van Morrison!).  I look forward to seeing you in the holy space of our sanctuary on Sunday. We’ll celebrate and sing the mystery.  ~See you Sunday

 

Communion and Offering Plates

One might easily overlook someone confusing a communion plate for an offering plate if that person has seldom if ever entered a church. Even so, a communion plate as passed along in a Baptist Church or an Evangelical Church (and I do not equate the two denominations as some do) will have bread of some sort in it.  How do you put money into a plate filled with bread?  But as I say, this is easily overlooked when the error is made by someone without experience in such churches. But when you are someone who is running for the presidency of the United States and have loudly claimed the bible is your favorite book, though you cannot seem to recite a verse from it, and you make a point to embrace Christianity and especially Evangelicals in Iowa who are about to caucus, well, that is a different kind of error.  It too is forgivable but it cannot be overlooked.

That is exactly what Evangelicals seem to be doing, however, as they flock –as Jerry Falwell, Jr. has done—to embrace a candidate who claims to be one of them but betrays in quite glaring ways that he is as a matter of fact quite clueless when it comes to their religion.  But elections in our country at this point in time require enormous sums of money, outrageous lies and promises and lots of whining in the face of the most straightforward and obvious questions.    The failure is not just one candidate but the convention of which he is part finds it nearly impossible to counter misogynist, racist, and xenophobic rhetoric spewed on a weekly basis by this candidate. The wholesale cowardice is actually frightful.  I won’t blame the media. The media should confess its own complicity. But I will, as a clergyman, say that having religious spokespersons and entire swaths of Christians embracing a megalomaniacal candidate who borrows Christian symbols to promote himself is shameful.  Pope Francis clearly has decided it is time to confront what he believes to be a posturing Christian (denouncing the building of a wall between Mexico and the United States as “unChristian”).

We, the Church, are a table fellowship, a covenant people and we practice—or at least we should—a radical table fellowship that does not discriminate. We take the words in Ephesians from the Apostle to the Gentiles as true:    Christ has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.  When a politician arises in the land who promotes hostility, division, rancor, intimidation of women, and xenophobic hatred then it behooves all of us but especially Christians to note the incongruence.  Putting an offering in the communion plate is the least of the problems.

Come, Now is the time to worship

Come, now is the time to worship.  Sunday January 31st, 10 a.m.  Let us gather for prayer, for song and praise, for confession and repentance, for declaring that which  is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable, standing together shoulder to shoulder and shining like bright lights in a darkened world.

Hebrews 10:24-25:  Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another…”

~See you Sunday!

 

Sabbath Snow Day

Church_Rise

So on this Sunday, the third and final day of the Blizzard of 2016, I did something I usually do not do on a Sunday:  I stayed home.  And let me say this–staying home on  a Sunday left me empty.  People can yap and complain all they want about church-goers and hypocrisy but they miss a deeper point.  We need each other and being in a holy place together on a weekly basis goes a long way to resolving the issue of hypocrisy.  It may not cure it, but it blunts it.  Besides, you can’t talk about hypocrisy unless there is some standard of holiness and justice.

What do people do on Sundays?  Laundry, grocery shopping, shoveling snow, watching way too much television and maybe a football game with talking heads and politics thrown into that drab mix.  What a formula for cynicism and despair.

Keeping Sabbath–worshipping in communion with others on a specified day of the week where we rest from work and contemplate the gift of our lives–that is remarkably energizing and empowering for a meaningful life.  I missed singing with you, praying with you, hearing the Word of God read and declared in our midst. Didn’t you? And if you haven’t been to church in a long time or ever, then you don’t know what you’re missing.  The snow day is over, let’s come together for sabbath rest and empowerment this coming Sunday, January 31st.  The Holy, Just and Loving God of Jesus Christ stand guard over us and give us peace.  ~See you Sunday

Blizzard Watch, The End of the World As We Know It, and Soulcare

SUNDAY SERVICES CANCELED

Stay safe,   read or listen to a sermon under the sermon tab, pray and return to us Sunday, January 31st.  The Lord bless and keep you +

So my snow shovel from the last two years is pretty worn and I thought I might buy me one on Weds, two days before the end of the world as we know it  (this is actually a song by R.E.M. and I think you might want to listen to it as you watch the blizzard roll in, while drinking some hot cocoa of course)… so I was hoping to buy me one (I admit this is poor grammar) and Home Depot was completely out of snow removal implements. Like there was a rapture, but only snow removal tools were taken and we’re left behind (that is a title too of a bad movie about “THE rapture” but I’m not linking to it).  This got me thinking:  if the world were really to be near an end then would people rush to churches to care for their souls? And the answer to that is, I’m afraid, no. How would I know this? Because even if people as a rule (at least in America the united states of entertainment) do not believe they have a soul much less that their souls might be in any danger, they do know beyond any measurable doubt that their lives are limited. Finite.  Brief.  The world is ending every day. People know this but… yeah.  Life pretty much goes on until it doesn’t and lots of people ponder at that moment why they didn’t prepare for the fact that their lives end, that life is very precious and might should be lived justly and in harmony with God.   Yes, you could use a shovel in DC this week-end but you need your soul any day and anywhere.

Be careful.  Stay tuned.  If we must cancel church then we will post an announcement to that effect right here. Check in on Sunday morning before you head out.  If the meteorologists are wrong and it just rains then I look forward to seeing you Sunday. You can put your snow shovel back in the shed or wherever you store it and bring your soul into a holy place. Because we need soulcare.  Just look around: the warnings are up, the evidence is glaringly obvious:   something is awry.

Leave the “tournament of lies”* (*R.E.M. in the song noted above), turn off the talking heads, and enter a sanctuary of peace.  ~ See you next Sunday, January 31st, snowflakes.

At The Crossroads: Let Us Be Found Ready

We are impoverished.  I mean by this what Johannes Baptist Metz means in his luminous book, Poverty of the Spirit, when he writes, “We are all beggars. We are all members of a species that is not sufficient unto itself. We are all creatures plagued by unending doubts and restless, unsatisfied hearts. Of all creatures, we are the poorest and the most incomplete. Our needs are always beyond our capacities, and we only find ourselves when we lose ourselves.”

We find ourselves as we resign ourselves to God and into the care of others. There are simply things we cannot do for ourselves.  It is a sign of our poverty that others must act for us and on behalf of us.  This poverty is not something of which to be ashamed but it is merely an acknowledgement of our interdependence.  When you are selfless, acting on behalf of others, you find yourself.  This is something of what Jesus must have meant when he taught, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life because of me will find it.”  Yes, we are impoverished and need others—and others need us.  In selfless, devotional acts, we redeem our lives and the world.  Our interdependence is a remarkable spiritual truth… and a remarkable, redemptive opportunity.

Our church is at a crossroads as we submit who we are and ourselves and all that we do into the care of others who do not know us nor share our view of the world.  That is okay. That is, as noted above, the condition of humanity.  I pray that we will be given a fair hearing, a just consideration, and that people of humane spirit will link with us in a brilliant, humane and humanist effort to heal the world around us. Whatever decisions get made, however our journey is travelled, our destiny remains unchanged:  we live in this world by God’s grace and we are trekking always and ever toward the Kingdom of light and peace.  May God bless those leaders and decision-makers who have some sway over our immediate circumstances.  May the mission and mandate, as Metz describes being a human, be met in us so that “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable” would find us ready.  Amen. So be it.

Speak, For Your Servant Hears

You go to the cinema and you pause long enough to determine which seat you prefer to sit in, not necessarily for comfort (since the seats are all the same) but because you desire to position yourself in the best possible way to hear and see the movie.

You pay for a class and upon the first day of entering the classroom (be it an academic setting, an art or craft class, or a one-time lecture) you take a moment to determine where you will sit.  Factors may enter into your decision like how best you can hear or see the screen or chalkboard or how isolated you might be from interference from others taking the course.  You do this in order to maximize the experience and get as much as  you can from the class.

Positioning ourselves, orienting ourselves toward the source of information is something we do every day and certainly in moments like those noted above.  This is a skill that can serve you well as you ponder your spiritual life. Consider the boy, Samuel.

In our First Sunday Bible Study this past Sunday, we discussed chapters 1-3 of I Samuel and in that narrative there comes a moment when the young boy, Samuel, hears a voice calling his name in the middle of the night.  He goes to the high priest, Eli, and says to him, “Here I am, you called me.”  Eli, in so many words, tells the boy to go back to sleep.  “I did not call you. Go back to bed.”  The third time this happens, Eli realizes that the Lord God is the one beckoning to Samuel. And then we read this in chapter 3:

“Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”

This week, every day if you can, upon awakening, position yourself as Samuel did and say, “Speak, for your servant hears.” The point here is not to pry some mystical experience out of you.  You and I may hear nothing like Samuel heard. But the point is to position ourselves in a way that we may hear what God is trying to tell us.  And, of course, one way to do that is by worshipping together on Sunday as the Word of God is addressed to all of us through scripture and proclamation.  God is calling to us.  ~See you Sunday