Blog: Random Thoughts on Sunday's Sermon

Below are some random thoughts on this coming Sunday's message.  We hope they create a little time in your day to reflect on the journey of faith and life.  If they spur any thoughts, quotes, or experiences, please share them.  God moves among us as we share with each other.

Consider joining us tonight for Taizé style prayer and music. You are welcome to enjoy the peace of a candlelit sanctuary and the opportunity to connect with God this evening at 7:00 - 7:45. After Taizé, you are welcome to join us at the Dublin House at 8:00 p.m. for Pub Theology. Hope to see you tonight as we pray and engage our faith this Advent.

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat, Wednesday, December 17, 2014

There are so many lovely parts of this season that I wish I could stop time and enjoy it. But there is at least one part that I will be happy to leave behind in January: the Naughty list. Just this morning before we boarded the elevator in our building, a neighbor asked my children the dreaded questions: Have you been naughty or nice this year? Will Santa be bringing you any gifts this Christmas? At this point, my children look at me awkwardly, not knowing what to say. They have heard a different message from us for the past few years: Christmas is about love. We give gifts to the people we love. There is nothing you can do that will cause you to lose Christmas.

You cannot lose Christmas.
You cannot lose Christmas.

You cannot lose Christmas.

Psychologically speaking, in our household, anxiety creates problems. Less anxiety about losing presents equates to less bad behavior. But spiritually speaking, the naughty/nice dichotomy is missing the point of the gospel message for which Jesus came: We are all naughty. We are all given a great gift. In spite of ourselves.

Now the silly question about naughty and nice may not be as triggering for your family. It may be a fun exercise that doesn’t make your children nervous or anxious. That’s the beauty of grace. Rejoice that your children are so secure in your love and in their place in the family that you can be playful in this way. But when you sit down to open gifts together on Christmas morning, you might consider taking a moment to remind your kids that these moments represent love, not a reward for good behavior.

Posted by Mandy Meisenheimer, Monday, December 15, 2014

This past Sunday we had a special moment in our worship service. A family was leading the lighting of the second candle of the Advent wreath, which signifies peace. One of the little boys in the family wanted to share what he thought peace was. His mother held the microphone in front of him and he said, “Peace is when we do things to help and don’t do anything to hurt people.” This was completely uncoached!

These simple words melted our hearts and spoke truth into our lives. Too often we think of peace as the state of things. We say that we have an inner peace—a state of inner calm and tranquility.  Or we say that we want world peace—a state when war and violence cease. But this little boy thinks peace is something we do, not just a state we experience.

His meaning of peace meshes well with our sacred scriptures. In Psalm 34:14 it says, “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” As we think about what’s going on in our city and in the world, we need to be reminded that we will not experience peace unless we make a commitment to pursue it.

There is much that could be said about this, but sometimes the simple, unsolicited words of a boy are all that are needed!

Posted by Rev Michael Bos, Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Every Advent I return to Mary the mother of Jesus.

I read the annunciation in Luke 1:26-38 and I reflect on artistic ways people have interpreted her role in the Christian story. I read poetry (I suggest Denise Levertov's The Annunciation) and I wonder about this woman and her spirituality.

When Gabriel first shows up he offers her a greeting and then the text says she was perplexed (who wouldn't be perplexed!). Then the angel says, "Fear not, Mary!" The divine call to "fear not" happens many times throughout Scripture. When something is about to change, God often reminds us "fear not!"

I think it's normal to be afraid, or perplexed, when something new is about to happen. We may wonder about our security and recognize our lack of control over a situation. The words "fear not" are not only true for Mary, but they are true for us today.

Whether you find yourself in a changing family structure, or questions of job stability arise, or you are experiencing declining health…fear not. Let Mary's courage grant you courage and ease your anxious heart for God is with you, fear not.

(From the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth)

 

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat, Wednesday, December 3, 2014

West End Collegiate Church is "A neighborhood church for all people." When I read that I usually find my energy gravitating to the "all" in the sentence, but today I find myself gravitating to "neighborhood."  Who is in our neighborhood in the Upper West Side? It's a perfectly understandable question that the lawyer asks Jesus in Luke 10 "Who is my neighbor, Jesus?" Our neighborhood is home to many different kinds of people. Some of the wealthiest and well known and some of the poorest and often overlooked live on the Upper West Side. In one block you can run into someone you saw on TV last night and you can also run into a homeless person who sleeps in a storefront. This is our neighborhood and West End welcomes both to experience the love of God.

Last night at our Tuesday Soup Kitchen congregation I received the sad news that someone from our neighborhood passed away. Eric lived between 79th and 80th street. His home was newspapers, a box he would sit on, and cardboard boxes that covered him up at night. He was a sweet and quiet man. If locals asked him questions he would respond with kindness. You may remember him for his big black beard and shiny baldhead. Every time I walked to Zabar's I could guarantee Eric would be there. It is unknown why Eric was homeless, but we do know he did have a wife and two kids. Somewhere on the journey of life the concrete became his bed.

Today's post is dedicated to Eric and all the homeless who have called the Upper West Side streets their neighborhood and passed into glory. Beloved child of God, Eric, we speak your name and acknowledge your presence in our neighborhood. May you rest in peace and rise in the power of God's love. You will not be forgotten, you were our neighbor.

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat, Wednesday, November 19, 2014

For the month of November, I’ve been growing a beard to raise money for cancer awareness. It’s been twenty years since I’ve gone this long without shaving.  I’d forgotten just how itchy a beard can be!

I have to admit that I’ve been tempted to shave it. But when I get the urge, I remind myself that a little itchiness is nothing compared to the pain of those who struggle with cancer.  In some way, growing my beard has been a spiritual discipline—something my faith has inspired me to do to effect change.

I know that it sounds like I’m overly spiritualizing the growth of hair on my face, and I don’t want to make too much of it. But in the end the itchiness, comments about my beard being so gray, and people giving me a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down,” serve as reminders of why I’m doing this. Through it all, I feel much closer to the cause and those who struggle with cancer.

If you’d like to support those of us who are growing facial hair, you can donate to the Collegiate Churches of NY at us.movember.com. I’ve also issued a challenge: if we raise $1000 by November 30, after church that Sunday you’ll be able to pick the style and color of my facial hair, which will be done while you watch. We’ll then post a picture of my final grooming on Facebook.

Posted by Rev Michael Bos, Monday, November 17, 2014

You do not have to be thankful for everything.

It’s thanksgiving season. It’s time to list your blessings, and remember all that you have, and show gratitude for all the blessings of family, friends, and living. You have clean water to drink, food to eat, a bed to sleep in, and this computer/phone that you are using to stay connected to the world.

But maybe you need a reminder this month: no, you do not have to be thankful for everything. 

You do not have to be thankful for everything. 

You don’t.

In fact, the spirit of Thanksgiving might lead us into a very different direction. We might discover, as we engage a posture of gratitude, that there are many things in this world that should outrage us. That should break our hearts. That should undo our peace and make us grieve. When we spend time thinking about the ways in which we are blessed, we are moved to consider the parts of this world that are wrong.

We are challenged to reflect upon the parts of our lives that were/are filled with pain and heartache. We recall the hurts or the wounds that changed the course of our lives and forced us to survive unthinkable things. And no, we may not be thankful for those course changes. And that’s okay.

You do not have to be thankful for everything.

When you are going around the table, listing the things for which you are thankful, relish those things. But the other things, the dark things, the sad things…those can belong at the table too. God cares about those things too. God does not ask for you to be thankful for those things. We may give thanks in all circumstances, but we do not have to give thanks for all circumstances.

Here is a prayer for all the things we are not thankful for:

God,

I am not thankful for the injustice in this world or in my life. I thank you for being outraged with me.

I am not thankful for the hunger in this world or in my life. I thank you for enabling me to care for the hungry.

I am not thankful for the violence in this world or in my life. I thank you for making me an instrument of peace.

I am not thankful for the loss in this world or in my life. I thank you for grieving with me.

I am not thankful for the diseases in this world or in my life. I thank you for facing treatment with me.

“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for God's compassions never fail.” Lamentations 3:19-22

 

Posted by Mandy Meisenheimer, Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Last week The Wall Street Journal ran an article on guilt versus shame. It stated “there’s a fine line between guilt, which is feeling bad about your behavior, and shame, which is feeling bad about yourself.”

Though we often see guilt as a negative emotion, June Tangney, a professor of psychology, says that guilt can be positive. When we’ve done something wrong, she says guilt “pushes people to repair the harm they did.” In addition, by recognizing our own failings it also creates empathy for others.

Shame, on the other hand, is not a useful emotion. When we’ve been deeply wounded by others and trust is broken, shame can result, leaving us with doubts about our worthiness to be loved and accepted. We begin to believe we are defective, causing us to cover up who we are.

Brene Brown says the bottom line with shame is this: "The less you talk about it, the more you got it. Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment."

Church should never be a cover up culture in which we hide our guilt or shame. In the case of guilt, talking about it may provide the motivation to make positive change. And in the case of shame, by exposing it to the light of day, it allows others to help us release shame’s power so that we do not see ourselves as less than who we are—instead we can see ourselves in the light of who God created us to be. 

 

Posted by Rev Michael Bos, Monday, November 10, 2014

Every Tuesday we begin soup kitchen with worship. On average we get 20-50 people who attend the soup kitchen worship and another 100-150 who join us for the meal. I begin with reminding each person who attends that they are valuable to God and to West End Collegiate Church and then I extend "The Grace and Peace of Jesus Christ be with you all" and they respond "Also with you, Reverend Jes." I open the floor and ask the congregation what are we praying for today? "Good health!" someone shouts. Another "Peace in me and our neighborhood." and then another says "I need God to deliver me." After our prayers I ask "And people of God, what are we thanking God for today?" The first response is usually "We woke up this morning!" and then "For this church!" and another will say "I thank God I'm clean today." We pray and then I lead us in the study of Scripture. At the end of Bible study we conclude by standing up and saying the Lord's Prayer. Then the hungry bodies are greeted by loving volunteers who welcome them to the food line.

Last night we started a new writing group. Once a month we will write and then read our stories together. I felt vulnerable and alive as I sat in silence with these beloved people of God. We wrote stories from our day and then shared our stories. Precious (a soup kitchen member) guided us and said "When we comment after someone has shared their story we can only offer positive words. We want to encourage each other here." After reading our stories there was a true communion, a holiness even. Precious concluded our time and said "I would travel all over the City to get to this soup kitchen. There is a peace here. This church is blessed." The group nodded their head. Then another man said "Yeah, I travel from the bottom of Staten Island to be here. God shows up here." We collected our papers and said our good-byes.

Yes, I do believe God shows up here. I see Jesus every Tuesday. Sometimes Jesus is the smelly guy who sits by himself in the corner. Sometimes Jesus is the happy drunk who has almost all of Scripture memorized. Sometimes Jesus is the one who is tired, a little grumpy, and in need of rest.​ Sometimes Jesus is the volunteer who serves the food.  Each week God shows up and it is our job to keep our eyes open, ready to receive how God wants to show up that day.

Prayer: God, thank you for the many people at West End who prioritize the soup kitchen ministry. Thank you for those who prepare the food. Thank you for those who eat the food. Thank you for showing up in our live each week. Amen.

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat, Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Hello from Halloween Party Central! We are busily preparing the parlor and chapel for a spooktacular party tonight. I hope you will join us!

I’d like to take this moment to provide some helpful tips to grown-ups on this special holiday. We talk a lot about how to best nurture and care for our children, and Halloween provides us with an opportunity to steal their candy. So here are some tips for the sneakiest ways to steal their candy:

  1. Guide your trick-or-treaters to choose the best candy. “Brown wrappers mean chocolate.”
  2. Talk up the gross candies. “Oh, that Laffy Taffy looks so delicious! I hope you share that one with me and not this really disgusting peanut butter cup.”
  3. Teach your children good listening skills. “She said to take THREE pieces. Take THREE pieces. Grab that Kit-Kat.”
  4. Set low expectations, and justify them with health concerns. “Yeah, I will probably let you eat less than half of this collection. If you eat all of this your teeth will rot out. Too much sugar is bad for you.”
  5. Confiscate candy and place bag in an obscure, high, and unreachable location at home. “I’ll put this up in the cabinet for you. We wouldn’t want to attract rodents.”
  6. Put child to bed. As early as possible.
  7. Eat as much candy as you can. The good stuff.
  8. Slowly dispense the yucky candy, a couple per day, until the stash is forgotten.
  9. Happy Halloween, West End!  
Posted by Mandy Meisenheimer, Friday, October 31, 2014