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’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

Historically, “lay” was used to designate Christians who weren’t clergy, monks or nuns. Unfortunately, overtime it has been used to designate a lesser status, as if “real” ministry can only be done by clergy. We’ve all heard people say, “I’m just a layperson,” and what they’re communicating is, “Don’t’ expect too much from me!”

Let me tell you a story about Jeremy Lanphier.  He was a member of the Collegiate Church and was hired as a lay missionary to help the church in its outreach. In 1857 he began a noon prayer meeting. After advertising this new ministry, he had only six people show up. He was not deterred and kept the doors open.

Later that year the stock market crashed, and because of the crisis, attendance picked up—to nearly 10,000! This renewed interest in prayer spread around the country and a revival of faith occurred. It is believed that over the next year nearly one million people came to faith, and it all began with a simple prayer meeting that was started by “just a layperson.”

So you’re not a clergy person, monk, or nun. It doesn’t mean that you can don’t great things in ministry. The truth is that in Christian history most of the great things done have been done by laypersons. There is no such thing as “just a layperson.” Everyone has been given gifts by God that can make a difference in people’s lives. How are you using the gifts God has given you? 

Posted by Rev Michael Bos_2, Monday, June 2, 2014

This week I am reading The Soul of Hip Hop: Rims, Timbs, and a Cultural Theology by Dr. Daniel White Hodge. This book explores theology through the lenses of Hip Hop and rap music and culture. By analyzing the poetry of rappers from Tupac to Gina Rae, Dr. Hodge reveals what is a sacred space for important Christian themes. As Dr. Hodge transitions to his chapter about the Hip Hop Jesuz, he writes,

“In order to engage the Hip Hop community and really listen to it, we must first be willing to embrace the hostility that lies within that community. Jesus did. Jesus still does. More important, he does that with all of us, every day.”

This week our lectionary brings us a story of a hostile, oppressive world. When Jesus tells the story that we call The Good Samaritan, it is not a feel-good story. The story depicts a traveller on a dangerous road who is attacked by thieves, and then ignored and left to die by passers-by. The priest and the Levite cannot approach the suffering man because he is unclean. Their very belief about holiness prevents them from doing the righteous thing. But the Samaritan breaks the invisible walls of culture and religion to embrace the man in his wounded state. This is the message of Jesus, the message of the New Testament.

As I continue to study the Jesus of Hip Hop, a different sort of prophet emerges in my imagination, turning our lectionary passage into a story of strength and sacrifice, rather than sweet neighborly niceness. Dr. Hodge challenges readers, “We continue to want a G-rated savior in an NC-17 world.” When we remember that Jesus spoke strongly, associated with the “unclean”, and confronted the injustices of the power structures of his day, this NC-17 Jesus begins to take shape in the pages of scripture. Jesus’ message centered on love, and this is not weakness. This love is power enough to face a hostile world.


Posted by Mandy Meisenheimer_2, Friday, May 30, 2014

Longtime residents of the Upper West Side have memories of iconic jazz musician Miles Davis living and playing in the neighborhood around West End Collegiate Church. This weekend, the City of New York honored this legend by naming a portion of 77th St “Miles Davis Way”.  It was an exciting day for this historic community of artists, musicians, poets, and actors.

I spent yesterday listening to Kind of Blue and reading articles about Davis. I came across this quote from Mr. Davis and found it particularly striking. He said, “Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself."

The first sermon I preached I didn’t sound like myself. I had no idea what it meant for me to be Jes in the pulpit. So I mimicked my minister. It was an adequate sermon, but it wasn’t my voice. By the end of seminary my voice in the pulpit had changed. I felt more comfortable preaching. I understood the chemistry of a sermon better and I believed I had something to say. Today I sound different than I did four years ago. I sound more like me. I am preaching more from my voice and I imagine I will keep learning to preach from my voice. Was I lying about my voice eight years ago when I first started seminary?  Was I being fake? No. I just didn’t know it enough. Sometimes you have to preach a long time in order to preach like yourself.

The spiritual life is about learning how to play like yourself. We have guides (ministers, teachers, counselors…) along the way, but our goal is not to imitate our guides. As a minister, my goal is to help you connect with God in your voice, not mine. Just like it takes a while for a jazz musician to play like himself, or a preacher to preach like herself, it takes all of us awhile to “play” like ourselves in our spirituality.  A life of faith sometimes means practicing faith for a long while in order to have faith like yourself!

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat_2, Wednesday, May 28, 2014

It has been one month and one week since the 276 Nigerian girls were abducted from their school. It’s been one month and one week since mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, brothers, and sisters have seen their family members. When I look at the children in our worship each week I think of this separation and my heart breaks. My prayers cry out to God “Save them!” Last week The Collegiate Churches of New York, along with our inter-religious friends around New York City, gathered together in prayer for the girls. We each had a number that represented one of the abducted girls. Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs and others joined together in our various traditions to cry out to God to bring back the Nigerian girls.

Our prayers continue. We will not grow faint in praying for the girls. We must not grow faint! We must pray steadfastly for them and their safe return.

Jesus cared greatly for children. When the religious leaders wanted to push the kids away and ignore them, Jesus said “Let the little children come to me.” As the song goes, Jesus loves the little children of the world. Join me as we continue to pray for the missing Nigerian girls, today. Let our prayers never cease until these children are returned safely home. Let us pray without ceasing.

Inter-Religious Gathering

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat_2, Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Sibling rivalry is fierce in our house. My kids love each other, yet behave cruelly to each other, depending upon the time of day and how hungry they are. I suppose all four of us are like that. I suppose all of us are like that.

Last week I tried a Therapeutic Parenting technique to create some connection and a sense of attachment with my children. The air in my apartment was thick with competition and resentment, so we had to do something. I sat down with the kids at the kitchen table with some hand soap and table salt. I mixed it together and made my own salt scrub.

I invited my son to take a spoonful of the sweet-smelling mixture and scrub his sister’s hands. He gently poured the soup into her palm and began to work it around her fingers while I massaged her other hand. Then we switched. Then both kids scrubbed my hands. While we scrubbed, we took a few moments to tell each other one nice thing about each other. It sounds like a 1950’s sitcom, but it really was a precious moment. We rinsed our hands and felt the soft skin underneath. The rough places were gone.

Within an hour the kids were fighting again, pestering each other, and teasing. But we had that one moment and it was not lost even though they quickly lost the spirit of the exercise. It reminded me of the story of the evening when Jesus scrubs the feet of his disciples. Everything was right and safe, just for a moment. Everything fell apart in the next 24 hours, but as Jesus washed the feet of his friends, I bet time stood still.

Posted by Mandy Meisenheimer_2, Monday, May 5, 2014