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.

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_2, 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_2, 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_2, 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_2, Friday, June 20, 2014

On Sunday I had the opportunity and privilege to preach the message here at West End. I spoke about a disruptive peace that does not always feel comfortable or easy. Today I bring you a quote from a theologian who makes a similar point about hope. Our hope does not make everything lovely. Our hope does not mean things are just or fair or pleasant. Our hope is that in the midst of all the chaos and pain and suffering, we can see a brighter reality ahead. Enjoy this tidbit today from Daniel Migliore:

As the power of God’s promised future, the Spirit awakens hope, yearning, and restlessness for the completion of God’s redemptive work and the establishment of justice and peace throughout the creation. The Spirit sighs in us and in all the creation for God’s coming kingdom. The Spirit keeps hope alive and incites fresh visions of God’s new world. Where there is no vision or hope, no discontent or protest against present injustice and evil, there is assuredly no presence of the Spirit in the biblical understanding of this term. 

- Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology. Eerdmans Publishing Co - A. Kindle Edition.

Posted by Mandy Meisenheimer_2, Wednesday, June 18, 2014

I’m currently attending General Synod, the annual meeting of our denomination. On Saturday night a historic decision was made: the Reformed Church in America (RCA) and the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) voted unanimously to “act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately.” (By the way, this statement is known as the “Lund Principle,” which has been very important in bringing denominations together. You can Google it for more information.)

The reason we are separate denominations is that in 1857 some people left the RCA to start the CRC because they disagreed with a few things. We have continued our separate journeys since then. Here’s the funny thing: we no longer remember why we separated. Whatever it was that was so important back then has receded into history as insignificant.  

This plays out in our personal lives as well. How many times have we had a disagreement escalate into a fight, only to look back and say, “What started this anyway?” Or “I can’t believe we were fighting over such a small thing.” It is sad to think of the number of relationships that have ended, institutionally and personally, over things that no one can remember or that seem insignificant with the passing of time.

I think we would do well to remember the counsel of Ephesians. It says that we are to “speak the truth in love” so that we are “building up” one another and are being “knitted and joined together.” (4:15, 29) This means that if the truth we want to share doesn’t lead to these things, maybe it isn’t a truth that needs to be shared. It’s not that we shouldn’t share difficult things. But we should always do a gut check to see if what we want to share is to knock down another or if it is to pursue a relationship. In the end, our disposition means everything!

Posted by Rev Michael Bos_2, Monday, June 16, 2014

Praying for peace seems to be a more consistent prayer of mine lately. I heard that yesterday's shooting at Reynolds High School marks the 74th school shooting since Sandy Hook. My heart breaks at this news. Around the world the Nigerian Girls are still missing, Ukraine continues to be in a vulnerable situation, and words like "friendly fire" make their way into our vocabulary. 

The words of Christ call to us "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." (Matthew 5:9) Sometimes these situations seem so overwhelming that I'm not sure what to do about them. So I turn to God in prayer over and over again. I know many of you, also, find your prayer life continues to reflect prayers of peace. I recently discovered this prayer from St. Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace and want to pass this along to others. Perhaps you will find this to be enriching in your prayers today, too. 

God of life,
Every act of violence in our world,
between myself and another,
destroys a part of your creation. 

Stir in my heart
a renewed sense of reverence
for all life. 

Give me the vision to recognise your spirit
in every human being,
however they behave towards me. 

Make possible the impossible
by cultivating in me
the fertile seed of healing love. 

May I play my part in breaking the cycle of violence
by realising that
peace begins with me.  Amen.

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat_2, Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Yesterday something historic happened. Volunteers from West End Collegiate Church and Shearith Israel joined together to help beautify--a.k.a. pull weeds--in Riverside Park. This might not sound like much, but it represents the oldest Protestant church (with continuous worship) in America collaborating with the oldest Jewish congregation in America. Unbelievably, we both started in the same loft above a mill on the lower tip of Manhattan. And now, over 350 years later, we are located less than a mile from each other on the Upper West Side!

As we pulled weeds and got to know one another, it reminded me how easy it is to live in a small bubble in the big city. We have the usual places we shop, the usual places we eat, and the usual friends we see. There is value in having a routine, but it also has a way of closing us off to new people and new experiences. 

In Romans it says, “Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, ‘How can I help?’” (15:2 The Message). If we want “to look after the good of the people” rather than look past them, we need shake up our routines by making new friends and collaborating in new ways. When we open ourselves in this way, we are opening our lives to the transforming presence of the Spirit of God.  

Posted by Rev Michael Bos_2, Monday, June 9, 2014

Our theme this Sunday, June 8, is Wisdom. I’m not sure how to define wisdom, but I know some very wise people. I aspire to be wise, (though it’s takes a lot of doing). So rather than define wisdom, it’s easier to describe the traits of a wise person. Here are several that I’ve observed among people I consider wise:

A wise person

-Sees the Big Picture and has a keen view of reality
-Is authentically humble
-Can think critically but is not critical or judgmental
-Sees beyond black and white
-Is comfortable not knowing
-Seeks the greater good
-Thinks before speaking
-Appreciates absurdity
-Has compassion and respect for all living things
-Allows him/herself to grow and change
-Has a great sense of humor

Pentecost is also this Sunday, which recounts the story of how the Spirit enters into a  room where Jesus’ followers are gathered and ignites them with fire in the shape of ‘cloven tongues’ which burn atop their heads. What imagery! (see the image in Pastor Jes's blog!) They are given the ability to speak in other languages, i.e., they are now equipped to spread the message. In the synagogue where I play we just celebrated Shavuot, which commemorates Moses’ receiving The Ten Commandments (I remember that wonderfully cheesy scene from the movie when Charlton Heston encounters the Burning Bush, the “I AM”, another fiery image!). It occurs to me that these are seminal moments when our religious ancestors come face to face with the Holy - a flash of sudden insight - a peak experiential moment (as Abraham Maslow calls it in Religions, Values and Peak Experiences) - which makes them wiser and more ready to put aside themselves for the greater good. For Moses it was the moment when he understands the mission ahead - to serve the people and free them from enslavement. For Jesus’ followers, it was time to set their sights on higher things, rather than devolve into an exclusive cult of hero worshippers. It was time to serve, and spread the message of love.

We all need these encounters with the Holy in order to grow in wisdom. How we get there? Not easy, and alas, cannot be willed into happening. We can only remain open, work to overcome the things that hold us back, and be ready for the fiery flashes of enlightenment that can change our lives. 

Listen to this week's anthem: The Call to Wisdom by Will Todd - this version is sung by the choristers of St. Paul's London.

Posted by Cynthia Powell_2, Friday, June 6, 2014

We are moving out of the Easter season and into a new season in the church calendar, Pentecost. Pentecost is a celebration of God emboldening the church with the gift of the movement of the Holy Spirit. On Sunday you will notice that both Pastor Michael and I will change the stoles on our robes to red for this season. Red symbolizes that God gives each person in the church gifts; we sometimes call them spiritual gifts. Red also symbolizes the tongues of fire that came upon the early believers in the Acts 2 story. One of my favorite Biblical artists, He Qi, represents this scene in his painting here.

Pentecost by He Qi

Here's why I love Pentecost in Acts 2: it was a little bit chaotic, quite noisy, vibrant, and the Spirit of God filled their meeting with God's presence. I sometimes imagine New York City when I read this story. We live in a City where many different languages are being spoken, it's noisy, it's vibrant, and it is full of God's presence.

We enter this season believing the Holy Spirit is still speaking to the church today and guiding us in vibrant ways. 

Prayer: Come Holy Spirit, kindle in us the fire of love. Embolden our steps so that we may walk in love and live in love. Amen.

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat_2, Wednesday, June 4, 2014