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.

Like everyone else, I like a certain level of predictability in my life—a spouse who loves me (even when I’m not acting very lovable!), a hot cup of coffee in the morning, my dog excitedly greeting me at the door.

And like others, I also like my faith to be predictable. My hope is that faith will make the things I already know a little clearer and the things I already do a little better.

Unfortunately, the Easter message conveys a disruptive faith, not a predictable one. When the disciples encountered the risen Christ, everything they had predicted about the journey of faith was wrong. The death and resurrection of Jesus became a disruptive force that caused them to let go of old ideas about the purpose of their religion.  Jesus wasn’t going to be a political leader or military commander. Jesus hadn’t called them together to make them the greatest nation on earth, showing other nations their truer (and lower) place in God’s order of things!

As hard as this was, it was only by jettisoning these old notions that they were open to see life in a new way. It was only then they began to understand “God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again” (John 3:17, The Message).

As uncomfortable as it can be, we all need a faith that disrupts our lives. This  is what clears out old ideas and old patterns of living allowing us to be open to something new, something better and something completely unexpected.

I know that this doesn’t sound very pastoral, but this Easter may God disrupt your faith. And through this may you discover a new hope and a new vision for what life can be.
 

Posted by Rev Michael Bos, Wednesday, April 16, 2014

This Sunday at 10:30 a.m. a group of West Enders will walk the streets of the city with Palms, distributing them to people who ask for them along the way. (It’s amazing how appreciative people are to receive them!)
 
But why do such a thing? We’re told that shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, and people placed palms before him. To commemorate his journey to the cross, we celebrate Palm Sunday. This is something the church has done for nearly 1700 years.
 
It may seem odd to mark an occasion that leads to such a tragic event. Yet in this there is a message of hope for all who face difficult situations.
 
As Jesus faced the crucifixion, a moment in which he was at his weakest and all hope seemed lost, we learn that death would not be the last word. God gave new life to Jesus, and through this the hope for all who are weak that in their darkest moments God is still present and things can change. As Paul said, “God’s strength comes into its own in our weakness.”
 
We all face dark moments and insurmountable challenges. Carrying Palms is a way of expressing that we are people of hope no matter what we face. 

Posted by Rev Michael Bos, Wednesday, April 9, 2014

At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:75)

This is the end of this story. No really, I checked. This is the last time Matthew mentions Peter. Peter denies Christ. He hears the cock crowing and he weeps. And that is the end of Peter’s story, according to the Gospel of Matthew.

As I was studying this passage in the lectionary this week, I immediately looked for proper end, the end where everything is okay. Peter denies Christ, but then Jesus forgives him after the resurrection. That is the way it is supposed to go. That is the way I want it to go. But this is the way it goes in the Gospel of John and only in the Gospel of John.

John writes that after the resurrection, Jesus is finishing up breakfast and he says to Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He asks him three times. What a lovely poetic scene! Peter denied Jesus three times, and Jesus gives him three opportunities to make it right and profess his love to Jesus. This is how I want the story to end. Make it right.

I need to sit down and have coffee with Matthew and explain to him that we can’t have it the other way. People need to be able to make things right. People need second chances. People need to return to the scene of the crime and confess. This is how we do things.

Matthew needs to understand that Peter’s story is important to us regular folk. We deny Jesus and we need to know how to fix it. He needs to show us the way home when we fail under pressure.

Sometimes when my kids really blow it, I don’t feel like making room for reconciliation or repair. I feel like ignoring them for an hour. Sometimes when people irritate me, I don’t want to hear reasons or excuses or show empathy. I want to shake my head and move on. But the beautiful thing about the John ending is that Jesus doesn’t do that. Jesus does not exclude Peter from his circle. He has breakfast. He gives him the chance to fully reconcile. Peter doesn’t fix it. Jesus does. Jesus opens up the dialogue, inviting Peter into this intimate line of questioning, eventually showing us that Peter is completely welcome to continue following Jesus:

After this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:19b)

Matthew may not have needed this redemption, but I do.

Posted by Mandy Meisenheimer, Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Last week West End Collegiate Church sent me to attend and present a seminar at the Progressive Youth Ministry conference in Chicago. I am so grateful for the opportunity to represent our church among many other brothers and sisters in faith. There were attendees from the RCA, the UCC, the PCUSA, the UMC, and other churches, yet behind all these initials there was a deep sense of mutual understanding and community. We worshipped together, learned together, ate together, and laughed together.

This week our lectionary text brings us into the story of the anointing of David. I Samuel 16 describes the process whereby the prophet Samuel overlooks David’s older brothers and chooses David to be the future king of Israel. The Lord tells Samuel, “the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Somewhere along the line, those denominational letters meant something so intentional to some groups of people that they chose to distinguish themselves by them. Some issue, some conviction, some biblical interpretation was so crucial that it was worth forming an institution around it. But when we all get together around our commonalities, the capital letters don’t mean as much. Our denominations, banners, our labels, and our titles are all outward expressions of things that are going on in our hearts. This week’s lectionary text reminds us that God is looking at our hearts, not our labels.

What label are you wearing today? Does it reflect the state of your heart?

Posted by Mandy Meisenheimer, Thursday, March 27, 2014

When I was in sixth grade, I did not like the educational praxis of my math teacher. I informed her that she was not teaching us in a stimulating way and that she could do a lot better to make the class more engaging. When I went home and relayed the conversation to my mom, she gave me some great advice: Not everyone has to know everything that you are thinking, Mandy. Good advice, but it was not completely absorbed that day in 6th grade. I am in my fourth decade of life and I am still learning this lesson.

This week our lectionary points us toward the theme of the pilgrimage or journey. This theme saturates scripture, but does not resound with our insta-change culture and view of self-transformation. When I identify something about myself that could improve, I do not like to see gradual change. I want to master it by tomorrow. And when I fail, I wring my hands and cry, as if I should be beyond this issue by now.

But when we are “born again” as Jesus describes in John 3, we are not perfected in that moment. We wake up the next day with all of our human frailties in tact. The addictions don’t disappear. The bad habits still nag us. The emotional patterns remain. And you know what? That’s okay.

When we are “born again” we are transformed, but not into some divine beings that never make mistakes. We are transformed into people who give and receive grace, freely and liberally. This grace, then, begins to wear away our rough edges. We find space and forgiveness to start over, to stop the nonsense, to deny the cravings, to seek help for the issues. Being “born again” starts the journey, the journey of grace.

Posted by Mandy Meisenheimer, Friday, March 14, 2014

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. - Matthew 22:36-40

I have a friend who is so very different than me in many ways. She's apt to hold back her well-thought through opinions, I'm apt to speak out before I think. She's apt to ask for permission, I'm apt to say I'm sorry. She likes pearls, I like metals. Cursing would never come from her tongue while I am happy to tell you my favorite swear word. You get the picture, we're different. Yet, her love for God and her love for me is ridiculously beautiful. She will email me questions gently wondering how I make sense of topics that on which she holds a different opinion. We are both ministers and I will often get texts from her cheering me and her expressing that she is praying for me. Curiosity and care seem to be a marker of what love means in our friendship. We do not let our differences stop us from loving each other. 

Love is the greatest commandment. One way we grow in love is practicing curiosity and attending to the other. Love allows another person to be themself without asking them to conform to the image of who we want them to be. Love releases control and welcomes vulnerability. 

I'm so grateful for my friend who takes these words from Scripture to heart and lives love. She is an example of what Jesus taught us and inspires me to love better.

 

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat, Wednesday, March 12, 2014

In coming across a quote from Bono, it prompted me to think about the nature of religion. Here’s what he said:

“Religion can be the enemy of God. It’s often what happens when God, like Elvis, has left the building.  A list of instructions where there was once conviction; dogma where once people just did it; a congregation led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spirit. Discipline replacing discipleship.”

So what is religion all about? Our instinct may be to define religion in terms of that which facilitates our beliefs about God or our belief in God. But this would miss the fundamental essence of the Christian faith: a relationship with God through Christ that opens our lives to love and be loved. When this is missing, faith turns into a religion that is about preserving the institution, not opening ourselves to the transforming love of God in Christ. I’m going to side with Bono on this one. If religion becomes about dogma and discipline, then God has truly left the building!

When religion goes wrong maybe it’s because we feel more comfortable participating in an institution rather than opening ourselves to the unpredictable journey that ensues when God’s love enters our lives.  Again, here’s what Bono has to say:

“God is love, and as much as I respond in allowing myself to be transformed by that love and acting in that love, that’s my religion. Where things get complicated for me, is when I try to live this love. Now that’s not so easy.” Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas

We all may not agree with Bono, but we all should be asking, what’s the essence of my religion?

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

It seems more and more churches have videos--it's the trendy thing to do! So not to be left out, this Monday I made a video to show at our Consistory meeting, which is the governing body of the Collegiate Churches of New York. It's amazing what you can do with a movie app in fifteen minutes!

My opening comments were something like this: "People want to know that they can do when faced with evil in the world. This is West End's response. Roll the video!"

Sometimes we need a little levity, but amidst the shenanigans of the video, I do believe that West End is a safe place for all people!

Posted by Rev Michael Bos, Thursday, March 6, 2014

Pastor Jes is a regular contributor to the blog “The Twelve. Reformed. Done Daily.” Today she is weaving her thoughts of All Saints Sunday, Ash Wednesday and her personal story of being adopted together on her post “The Dust of the Saints.”

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

Though a church may be in people’s neighborhood, they may still have to make a cultural commute when they enter a church. Keith Anderson lists some of the cultural commutes people make:

  • from increasingly diverse neighborhoods and workplaces to a homogeneous congregation
  • from flat screen TVs and smart phones to no technology at all, except for a decades old sound system
  • from an increasing awareness and appreciation for the gifts of different ethnicities to a focus on one particular ethnic tradition
  • from everyday conversational language to specialized church language
  • from digital media and contemporary art to images, art, and banners that are decades old
  • from contemporary shared cultural reference points to stories, events, images, music and movies that happened before we were born
  • from a majority of society supportive of gay rights to conflict or silence about it in the church.

For those who were raised in the culture of the church, we forget that newcomers are making a cultural commute, sometimes a strange and uncomfortable one, to attend church.

The solution is not to jettison anything that may be different from the culture around us. If we do, we diminish our distinctiveness and lose some of very traditions that have spiritually nourished people for millennia. Nor is the solution to hold fast to every aspect of church culture. If we do, we lose touch with what’s important to people today.

The difficult task of a church is mentoring people in the ancient spiritual practices that are life-giving sources for one’s life, all while letting of those things that are dead traditions that become barriers to people who seek to grow in their faith.  The reason it is difficult is that one person’s dead tradition is another’s life-giving practice!

A long cultural commute to church isn’t necessary, but we’ll never know how to shorten it unless we engage one another in conversation about it.  We need to be asking one another: what are the practices of the church that breathe life into you? What are those things that seem stagnate?

No matter where we stand in the conversation, our goal is the same: we desire to focus on those things that God uses to bring abundant life.

 

Posted by Rev Michael Bos, Tuesday, February 25, 2014