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.

I was talking to a teenager here in the city and he was telling me about some of his older friends who had already graduated from high school.

“They all turned out okay. Except one.”

“What happened to that one?” I asked.

“He didn’t get into the college he wanted to go to. He had to go somewhere else.”

“And?”

“That’s it. He had to go to the other school.”

New York City is a thrilling and competitive and exciting place to grow up. With access to world-class museums, libraries, and cultural experiences, students in the city lack for no educational stimuli. There is competition for each classroom placement from preschool to college and it is based upon many factors, both within and without a parent’s control. By the time a student is in high school, the pressure is a familiar friend.

As an outsider and educator trying to get accustomed to the educational systems of New York I see an interconnecting web of opportunity, resources, and excellence. But as a minister, talking to a kid on the street about success, I also see some things that we can do as a church community to support our young people through this process, a rigorous gauntlet that hopefully drops them off at the doorstep of their preferred university or trade school or web start-up.

We must convey to our young people that success in life is not defined by or confined to access to your chosen educational institution. There is life after college. There is life outside of college. There is life at a college that wasn’t your first choice. There is life in staying home with your parents for a year to save money. There is life finding an unconventional, non-accredited education through connections and apprenticeships. How can we convey our unconditional support and pride for our young people in our church community? Here are two ideas:

  1. Are you tempted to ask the big three questions? (What college are you going to? What is your major? What do you plan to do with that degree?) Try some alternative questions. What are you passionate about right now? What kind of person would you like to be become? Where are you interested in living someday? What kinds of connections are you looking for?
  2. Celebrate the achievements, no matter how mundane. There is popular wisdom out there with regard to the self-centered millennial generation. This wisdom says that when we give all the kids a trophy and tell them all that they are special, they grow up lazy and entitled. I would like to suggest the very opposite. When I graduated from high school and college, I thought the fanfare was absurd. I did not even invite my parents to my college graduation. Graduation was just a formality for me. But looking back, I realize that no matter how assumed it was that I would graduate (or pass AP tests, or play in the orchestra, etc. etc.), it is in celebrating these mechanical successes that I could learn a major life lesson: Life and success are found in the mundane.

When we only celebrate our students when they accomplish something unexpected or unique or special, we teach our students that very misguided value that they must perform well to make life worth living; we teach our students to be dissatisfied with the mediocrity of daily life. And the truth is, most of life is a series of mundane, expected tasks.

If my son or daughter were talking to someone on the street about the successes of their friends someday, I would hope the conversation would go something like this:

“They all turned out okay. Except one.”

“What happened to that one?” I asked.

“He is miserable because none of his ideas are succeeding yet. He just can’t find a way to be happy in the struggle.”

“And the rest?”

“They are working hard, finding satisfaction in relationships and community, and pursuing their goals one step at a time.”

I know. 18-year-olds don’t usually talk that way. But if we can train them to see success in the everyday breaths of life, they may learn, years before we did, that success is not found in an acceptance letter.

Posted by Mandy Meisenheimer, Friday, July 25, 2014

I want to borrow from the greater Christian tradition today and write on the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene.

Different canonized saints have their particular days when we reflect upon their legacy and life of faith. They are people of faith, like you and me, who sought the path of Christ. A saint is not a perfect person, but their life of faith has the possibility to inspire us in new ways. Canonized saints, though, have special feast days because something particularly striking in their faith journey has the potential to help illuminate our path with Christ.

I have a particular joy for the Feast Day of Saint Mary Magdalene (July 22). In John 20:11-18 we see Mary as the first disciple of Jesus to whom the resurrected Christ appears. She, a first century woman, is the first person Christ calls to tells others about the resurrection. She became the apostle to the apostles. For many female ministers she provides a source of strength and confirmation of our calls. For all people, we learn about the courage she had to trust that Christ had called her name and the courage she had to share with others about her experience with the resurrection.

Mary Magdalene is a complex character like so many of us. She has the possibility to teach us about courage and that God calls all sorts of people to share about the resurrection. 

How does Mary Magdalene inspire and challenge your faith?

Mary

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat, Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I was recently riding the subway where we were packed into the train. There was very little breathing room and people's attitudes were impatient and vocally upset. I was in the middle of the train car doing gymnastics just to hold onto the pole. This was a very anxious situation. I felt stuck. I hate feeling stuck in tight spaces. I began to breathe heavily. The guy next to me noticed that I was not doing well. He looked at me and kindly said, "Are you claustrophobic?" I nodded as I focused on my breathing. I said to him "Distract me." Much to my surprise he warmly reminded me to breathe deeply. He then told me a story about biking around Manhattan that even produced a laugh from me. Before I knew it the car had emptied out and my anxiety calmed down.

Total strangers and yet he was God's presence of peace in my life.

The next day I was walking down Amsterdam and a guy yelled out to me "Hey!" I turned around and it was the subway guy, who I now endearingly refer to as my subway yoga instructor. I was able to thank him because he was the one that assured me that everything was going to be okay and the train wasn't going to crash, and we weren't going to be stuck under the subway, and rats weren't going to come walk over us, and (well you get the picture what anxiety does). He reassured me of peace.

As I preached this past Sunday, peace is not the absence of anxiety, but peace is the assurance of God's presence in the midst of anxiety. My subway yoga instructor, a complete stranger, was God's peace in the midst of a very anxious situation for me.

When have you experienced God's peace in the midst of anxious situations?

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat, Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Parrotfish eat algae and poop sand.

That’s right. They are the coral cleaners and the beach makers.

Among coral reefs where parrotfish are protected, the coral flourishes and the beaches are pristine. Among coral reefs where parrotfish are overfished for human consumption, algae reigns and the coral is buried by green fuzz.

So humans have to decide. Where do we want the remaining parrotfish to end up? On plates or in the water? It is a complicated question, and the answer may be “both”, but the lifecycles of the world’s coral reefs depend upon leaving parrotfish where they can do their job cleaning up the reefs.

Our church ecosystem depends upon people being free to do their jobs, what they were created to do. When we are all empowered to be ourselves and do the things we were made to do, the ecosystem is alive and safe. When we prohibit ourselves or others from participating, the algae grows thick and the church can’t grow.

So, what is your algae? How do you make sand for church? In what areas are you most involved? Do they make you come alive?

If you are looking for a place to use your gifts and talents, the pastoral staff at West End can find a place for you. We need you just like the ocean needs parrotfish.

Posted by Mandy Meisenheimer, Friday, July 11, 2014

A recent article in The Daily Mail cited the religion of George Clooney’s fiancée, Amal Alamuddin, as a potential barrier to their impending marriage. The article claimed she is Druze (see below), and because the Druze don’t allow conversion and must perpetuate the faith through marriage, this was going to make their relationship problematic.

As it turns out, she is not Druze. Clooney slammed The Daily Mail not only for the falsity of their reporting, but also for exploiting religion. He said, "The irresponsibility, in this day and age, to exploit religious differences where none exist, is at the very least negligent and more appropriately dangerous.”

Though Clooney doesn’t explicitly say it, the article was using religion to create an attention getting foe for the article. Unfortunately, this happens often. Anthony Gittins, a social anthropologist, says that societies have a way of fabricating their enemies by who they make the villain of their stories and the butt of their jokes.

It’s no wonder we have problems. Think of the current television shows and movies that portrait Arabs as the villains, Latinos as gangbangers, and blacks as thugs. We use stereotypical images of people groups to supply the role of antagonist in our plots, and without realizing it, we are fabricating our society’s enemies.

The Clooney debacle should remind us to take better care in how we represent people.  As Christians, we believe that all people are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), and we are called to represent our neighbors fairly (Exodus 20:16). These are God’s reminders for us to be affirmers of people’s worth, not fabricators of our enemies.

Note: The Druze community is located primarily in the Levant. It is a monotheistic faith that is an offshoot of Islam that has incorporated elements of the Abrahamic faiths along with other philosophical influences. 

Posted by Rev Michael Bos, Thursday, July 10, 2014

“After the Pride march I now see that I can be gay and Christian; I am both! Thank you Collegiate Church!”

“I cried a lot today. The amount of love that I experienced at the Pride March was incredible. God is love!”

“I’m proud to love Jesus and I’m proud that I am a lesbian. God loves me!”

I am still riding the joy I felt from yesterday’s Pride March. Some of us were marching as members of the LGBTQ communities and some of us as straight allies in solidarity. Our message, inspired by Jesus, “Love. Period.” Seven clergy from the Collegiate Churches marched in pride, some of us straight and some of us members of the LGBTQ communities.  Clergy, parishioners, believers, wanderers, pilgrims of faith in Christ who say “Yes, you can be gay and Christian!” We marched our faith. Our feet were our prayers. Our voices were the benedictions of God’s love.  The Gospel Choir sang as the Steppers danced. It was a picture of the heavenly courts.

Yesterday in worship we focused on Psalm 150, the anthem of praise to our God. I felt like we were living Psalm 150 as we marched. We were dancing, we were praising, we were singing, we were blessing, we were holding our heads up high in pride knowing we are “queerly beloved.” As Lady Gaga says, we were born this way. No one, no one can take away our beloved status. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, straight, and trans* -- beloved image bearers of God our Creator.

So, dear beloveds of God, hold your head up high in pride throughout the year. You are a gorgeous creation of God. And let us continue to share this love we have found in Christ with others. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, let our message of hope be clear, Love. Period.

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat, Monday, June 30, 2014

This week I am wrapping up my second full year of seminary. I have been in a class called Preaching Foundations and this week I wrote my final paper. I thought I might pass along this excerpt for my blogpost this week. My title is “The Choosing of the Words: A Theology of Preaching”. 

(The context of this portion is "being a voice for those who are not heard" while preparing a sermon.)

            Along this race, there are those who are silent and downtrodden, those who feel unheard. Before the minister can choose the words, she must look around for who is unable to speak. She looks at her congregation, her neighborhood, her city, and her region and she sees that there are people whose voices are being lost in the wind of privilege and oppression. She hears them, because she is trying to train her ear to hear them.

            She hears little children who do not have an advocate. She hears disabled people who do not have access. She hears single mothers who do not have good legal counsel. She hears immigrants who are struggling to find shelter. She hears gay and lesbian and trans* youth who have been abandoned to the street. She hears a cacophony of voices that are not heard by the mainstream, the influential. She knows from the record we have of Jesus’ life on earth that his words reflected the voices of those who were not heard. She must incorporate their cries into the choosing of the words. She must speak to the systems of oppression that burden others and to the sinful inclinations of those in power. Like any good shepherd, she must dare to confront the wolves in the pews and in the city. She has 20 minutes. She must choose her words carefully.

 

Posted by Mandy Meisenheimer, Friday, June 27, 2014

Magic happens around a camp fire. At the Warwick Retreat last weekend that was certainly true. The light of the fire piercing the darkness creates a warmth of belonging to all who sit around and behold it's allure. Children got up and led us in riddles and songs as sticks with marshmallows extended into the fire. As we walked back to our camp housing from the fire someone pointed and said "Look!" We looked up and saw the night sky twinkling with millions of stars. The brightest light we normally see in the City is a neon sign hanging off a skyscraper, but here we were in the presence the natural beauty and we were in awe. These are holy moments. These are moments when we slow down enough to see God in each other and in the great universe. The Psalmist (72:19) say, "Blessed be God's glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen and amen." I think we got to experience this Psalm and God's glory that evening.  

Campfire at Warwick

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat, Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Imagine that you purchased an old sofa at Salvation Army for $20. When you get it home, you discover that it has wads of $100 bills stuffed inside--$40,000 in total! What would you do?

This was a dilemma recently faced by three roommates in New Paltz, N.Y.  After purchasing the sofa, they discovered that the lumps in the sofa’s pillows were actually envelopes of $100 bills. As they were unpacking and counting their loot, they began dreaming about how they were going to spend it.

But then they saw that one of the envelopes had a name on it. This created an ethical dilemma. Do they try to track down the previous owner of the sofa? They spent some time wrestling with the moral implications of their decision.

They ultimately decided to find the owner. They arrived at rustic house in a rough neighborhood and found a widow there. As it turns out, the widow’s husband had stuffed cash in the sofa so that his wife would have money when he was no longer around. The cash represented decades of savings. When they gave her the money, she said, “This is my husband looking down on me and this was supposed to happen.”

After hearing this story, would you return the cash or keep it? After NPR reported this they ran a poll, and 24,225 people said they would return it. But here’s the shocker: 12,036 said they would keep it!

This prompts one simple thought: as Christians we are called to DO what is true (John 3:21). Too often we frame our faith only by what we say we believe is true, which leaves great latitude for how we conduct ourselves. But we are called to be people who do truth. So if you happen to find $40,000 in your sofa, think about this before deciding what to do. 

Posted by Rev Michael Bos, Monday, June 23, 2014

Today some of the West End Collegiate Church family are headed out of the City to the Warwick Retreat Center. Our theme this year is "Life is a Journey." Some of the things I'm looking forward to include: enjoying the woods and grassy fields, sharing faith stories with kids and adults, reflecting on what journey means to us, going to bed smelling like a camp fire, and playing silly games as we all laugh together. Please keep us in your prayers as we travel to and from the city. On Sunday morning we will worship outdoors and it will all be lead by West Enders. We will be thinking of those who chose to stay home and join you in the Spirit as you worship on 77th/West End!

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat, Friday, June 20, 2014