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.

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

This Sunday is All Saints Sunday. It is a day when we remember those who have died and honor their memories in the presence of God. It is a special service at West End when we will have the chance to name the people we miss and remember them with flowers and prayers. In preparing for this Sunday I found the following litany for more notable saints. Mary Lou Kownacki wrote this to help us remember their lasting legacies. I am reminded that the church is not just us today, but it is the people who have gone before us and it is the ones who will come after us. This Sunday we join the great cloud of witnesses as we are held together in the love of the Cosmic Christ. We remind ourselves of the legacies of loved ones and we wonder about what legacy we will leave.

O Cosmic Christ, 
in you 
     and through you 
     and for you, 
all things were created; 
in you 
     all things hold together 
     and have their being. 

Through Teilhard de Chardin, 
     scientist of the cosmos, 
you imagined a new heaven and a new earth. 
Through Teresa of Avila, 
     charismatic leader, 
you inspired a church of courage and wisdom. 
Through Mahatma Gandhi, 
     great soul, 
you became nonviolent in the struggle for justice. 
Through Catherine of Siena, 
     fearless visionary, 
you forged a new path for women. 
Through Meister Eckhart, 
     creative mystic, 
you refused to abandon the inner light. 
Through Hildegard of Bingen, 
     greenness of God, 
you poured out juicy, rich grace on all creation. 
Through Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 
     drum major of freedom, 
you shattered racial barriers 
     and freed dreamers to dream. 
Through Anne Frank, 
     writer and witness, 
you preserved goodness in the midst of great evil. 
Through Cesar Chavez, 
     noble farmworker, 
you transformed the dignity of human labor. 
Through Harriet Tubman, 
     prophet and pilgrim, 
you led the captives into freedom. 
Through Vincent Van Gogh, 
     artist of light, 
you revealed the sacredness 
     in sunflowers 
     and in starry nights. 
Through Thea Bowman, 
     healer songbird, 
you danced the African-American culture 
into the Church. 
Through Pope John XXIII, 
     window to the world, 
you awakened awareness to the signs of the times. 
Through Mother Teresa of Calcutta, 
     guardian of the unwanted, 
you enfleshed a reverence for all life. 
Through Thomas Merton, 
     universal monk, 
you explored the sanctity of every human search. 
Through Mary Magdalene, 
     apostle to the apostles, 
you ordained women to proclaim the good news. 
Through Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 
     musician of Holy Mystery, 
you bathed the world in beauty. 
Through Julian of Norwich, 
     anchoress and seer, 
you showed the Mother image of God. 
Through Dom Bede Griffiths, 
     marriage of East and West, 
you unveiled the divine face 
at the heart of the world. 
Through Joan of Arc, 
     defender and protector, 
you remained true to personal conscience 
over institutional law. 
Through Rumi, 
     poet in ecstasy, 
you illuminated friendship as mystical union. 
Through Maura Clarke and Companions, 
     martyrs of El Salvador, 
you rise again in the hopes of the dispossessed. 
Through Rabbi Abraham Heschel, 
     Hasidic sage, 
you answered our search for meaning 
with wonder, pathos for the poor, and Sabbath rest. 
Through Dorothy Day, 
     pillar of the poor, 
you recognized holiness as bread for the hungry. 

O Cosmic Christ, 
in your heart 
all history finds meaning and purpose. 
In the new millennium, 
     in the celebration of jubilee 
help us find that which we all seek: 
     a communion of love 
     with each other 
     and with you, the Alpha and Omega, 
          the first and last, 
          the yesterday, today, and tomorrow, 
          the beginning without end. 
          Amen.

 

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat, Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Wasn’t Sunday a glorious day as all creatures of God lifted up our voices and sang? It was a privilege to meet many new furry friends and listen to stories of how animals have provided companionship in our lives.  A few people inquired about how they could obtain the prayer about animals so I have provided it here for you to pray whenever you desire. I love how this prayer reminds us to be prayerful for animals that are in vulnerable and abused positions. It reminds us to care for the animals entrusted to us and pray for ones that are suffering. (The prayer is attributed to Albert Schweitzer).  I hope you find it to be a nourishing addition in your prayers.

Hear our humble prayer, O God, for our friends the animals,
especially for animals who are suffering;
for animals that are overworked, underfed and cruelly treated;
for all wistful creatures in captivity that beat their wings against bars;
for any that are hunted or lost or deserted or frightened or hungry;
for all that must be put death.
We entreat for them all Thy mercy and pity,
and for those who deal with them we ask a heart of compassion
and gentle hands and kindly words.
Make us, ourselves, to be true friends to animals,
and so to share the blessings of the merciful.

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat, Wednesday, October 22, 2014

This Sunday, October 19, we’ll celebrate the holiness of all the creatures of the earth.  This is probably my favorite Sunday of the year - I just love to look out at all the pets sitting in the pews, with their sweet ears poking above the seats, their doting owners proudly introducing them to churchgoers and clergy, seeking a blessing on their furry heads. The dogs, cats, hamsters and snakes (yes, we have a snake - named “Dude”) are inherently blessed, just by their gentle beings. The choir will sing some special pieces for the occasion: a song for children called We Thank You God, for Animal Friends, the tune Bless the Beasts and the Children made famous by the Carpenters sung by young Mina Moore, and John Rutter’s setting of Cecil Frances Alexander’s poem, All Things Bright and Beautiful:  

All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all!

Cecil Frances Alexander began writing verse at a very young age. The story goes that she would hide her poetry under a rug, fearing that her father, a strict disciplinarian, would not approve. He noticed a bulge in the rug, though, and read them. Something about the childish lines touched him; he sent them to a member of the clergy at Oxford who pronounced the young author a born writer who should be encouraged! 

Some of her hymns our among our most treasured favorites: All Things Bright and Beautiful, There is a Green Hill Far Away, Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult, and the Christmas carol Once in Royal David's City.

Come to church this Sunday, and bring your creatures, great and small! 

Posted by Cynthia Powell, Friday, October 17, 2014

Have you ever read Scripture from the perspective of the animals? Have you ever wondered how many times an animal is the main character in a story in Scripture? It’s quite interesting to read Scripture highlighting animals. For instance, the first mention of animals is in Genesis 1:20 “And God said, 'Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let the birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.'” Job 35:11a is a particularly fitting verse as we head into The Blessing of the Animals this Sunday “Who teaches us more than the animals of the earth?” Anyone who has had a pet knows how much humankind learns from their animal friends!  In John 12:14 we see a donkey taking a large supporting character role as the donkey carries Jesus into Jerusalem. There are over 120 animal species named in the Bible from peacocks to mules to lions and gnats. Animals are important to God! Animals are important to us at West End Collegiate Church. The tradition of blessing animals dates back to Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) who was known for having a special communion with animals. It is said that Francis would preach to the birds and after preaching he would make the sign of the cross to bless them. This is a joyous day of worship this Sunday and I hope to see you there. Consider joining us for Adult Education at 10:00 a.m. as we look more closely at Scripture from the perspective of animals before worship!

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat, Wednesday, October 15, 2014