The sermon

Sunday, July 23, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“Wheat and Tares Together”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

The United States incarcerates a larger proportion of its people than any other nation. Even in our schools, responses to student’s behavior can place them on a path toward prison. We separate those we criminalize. But Jesus’ parable speaks of  wheat and tares that grow together. In the field of the parable, the roots of the good wheat and the weeds become entangled in the soil. They cannot be separated while they are growing–not until they are ready to cut and gather in.
In the mysterious workings of God, we find ourselves living with a mixture of good and bad. This is true in our own inner selves and in other people. We need to maintain openness toward others, recognizing it is God who judges in the end, at harvest time. We do not know what is in the heart of others or what situations they face.  Concerning ourselves, we wonder, Am I “wheat” or “tares?” Any of us may be judged falsely by others, but it is God’s Spirit alone who can tell us we are God’s children. Nothing can take this away. And we can live in the hope that, as we suffer together with Christ, we will also share in glory with him. God wants us to grow together and leave it to God to judge. Our task is to nurture what God has planted in us, so that it bears fruit in a good harvest.

Sunday, July 16, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“In the Soil of Our Being”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

Words from Mark 4 similar to the Gospel lesson we heard today, from Matthew 13:1-23, were being studied at Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C. on the night two years ago when nine of their group were shot dead. Soon words spoken by the survivors began to bear fruit. These words of forgiveness were planted in many hearts. Thus the desire of the shooter to foment racial conflict failed. We read in the Epistle to the Romans that desires that are ruled by God’s Spirit are for life and peace; they overrule death.
Today we need to look into our hearts. The biblical texts are a mirror to see ourselves over and over again. In Isaiah, the same soil is said to produce both thorns and trees. So it is that Jesus’ story of a sower sees the same people as soil which can yield different results. The point is that we can be changed—transformed to produce different fruit—when we turn ourselves over to God. Where is the word of God being gobbled up, withered, choked by our attention to other things? Do we even expect a hundred-fold harvest from God’s sown seed? (In our nation, money used for military spending could accomplish much if committed to God for peace, health, and reconciliation.) Where can God work in us? God is generous and sows seed without regard for the kind of soil. In gratitude, we can become God’s seed, doing the faithful work of witness in the midst of trouble even though we do not know when and where God will bless and give a rich harvest.

Sunday, July 9, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Margaret O. Thomas
“Why Do I Act the Way I Do?”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

It is frightening to read Paul’s words : “I have been sold as a slave to sin.” Through this imagery, Paul tells us that he lacks the freedom to break loose from sin. As we develop spiritual maturity, we also recognize that we are surrounded by corporate sin that entraps us, no matter how hard we try to behave rightly. For example, we cannot individually control (and cannot escape the effects of) the sinful reality that, amid the racism in our society, not all persons are treated with the respect that our compassionate and merciful God wills for all. Or, in our city, there isn’t food security for everyone, and it is wrong that some go hungry while others of us eat well.
We are not all entrapped in the same ways. Some of us find ourselves in situations such as what we call “white privilege,” in which society offers us benefits that are not extended to all. Others of us are “sinned against” but may be guilty of not valuing ourselves and our gifts as God would want us to do. As we involuntarily are caught in injustice, we do what we don’t want to do! The outlook is bleak. We can understand Paul when he asks, “I am miserable. Who will rescue me?” He answers, “Jesus will rescue me.”
Jesus invites us to put our burdens on his shoulders and to learn from him. As we confess that we are part of a fallen people, we are on the road to healing. It is a mystery that, laying the burden of our participation in society’s sin on Jesus, we are freed—not to go our own way but to follow him and serve him. Our healing comes through service in his name, and our actions become signposts that point our neighbors toward the kingdom of God. We turn away from ourselves and toward God, our King. God’s power is above measure, but God comes in humility to rescue us and give us hope.

Sunday, July 2, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Jose Collazo
“Welcome to Our Table”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

Our common greeting, “Welcome,” and our doormats with the word printed on them serve to hide the biblical meaning of “welcome.” It is a kind of blessing, an invitation to be received.
In the Torah, we read that strangers and travelers were to be welcomed. The act of welcoming is rooted in the practice of hospitality; it is an act that makes us feel that we are known. Yet offering hospitality contains the risk of receiving a stranger without engaging “insider” and “outsider” categories; all are to feel “at home.” Paul reminded the Christian community that it was to offer hospitality to all. Matthew depicts Jesus speaking to his disciples about welcome.
Hospitality should be the central practice of the church today, a practice that shapes our encounters with people. We should not be restraining the stranger and foreigner in our midst. This hospitality does not come naturally and can be complicated. Barriers must be removed, and the practice must be learned. The word “stranger” in Greek is from a root word for “fear.” Fear can lead us to be influenced by stereotypes and racism. Welcoming another is setting aside our discomfort and paying attention to the other.

Sunday, June 25, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“To Save Trust from Assault and Love from Perishing”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

Scripture speaks in challenging words that are true to the ups and downs of life. We read that Jesus says, “I came to bring trouble,” and, indeed, in life we experience an ongoing assault upon our capacity to trust and to love. Yet we have spiritual reasons to develop spiritual muscles to resist such an assault.
Reading Jeremiah’s words, we ask how God’s word stayed in the heart of the prophet when he faced accusations and insults. The answer is in gratitude, forgiveness, and living one day at a time—keeping God’s love real. Sheldon Vanauken wrote a book in which he describes the death of his wife. He sees God dealing with him with a severity as merciful as love; it took a lot of trust for him to keep the knowledge of God’s love from blowing away like dust. During this past week, many persons with religious convictions gathered at Columbus Circle in a vigil that put them in uncomfortable conflict with a President and others who want to put a limit on health care provisions.
In the church, we are eager for stability and peace but find ourselves facing disruption and resistance. Through death and resurrection comes new life, and we cannot turn back to the old life. The contemporary theologian and biblical scholar, Walter Brueggemann, says, “The world for which you have been so carefully prepared is being taken away from you by the grace of God.” God makes us uncomfortable. God makes us move. Love presses us to take sides. When we go beyond the assaults on our sense of trust, we see that, in the hardships of life, there is a mercy of God. We need to go deep, to the solid rock we find in God, a solid rock on which persistence and endurance can be built that will not be defeated. God is moving

Sunday, June 18, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“On Eagle’s Wings”
To find the Scripture for the day, click here.

It is Father’s Day, and among us we have many different experiences of a father. The fathers of some of us have been close and supportive or perhaps more distant but still tangibly helpful in some way; others’ fathers have been completely uninvolved or even unknown. It is fitting, as we consider fathers, that we meet one particularly beautiful image of God in today’s Scripture: God is like an eagle carrying its young on its back. Whether we see God lifting us up or not, God is at work. The Harry Potter books catch this idea. In them, skeletal figures like eagles are invisible to all except those who have witnessed death; these characters find support from the birds and also can help others know the birds are present. This is strangely similar to what we read about in our Gospel narrative told by Matthew: Jesus begins by describing a plenteous harvest without enough workers to gather in the crop; more workers are needed. With this imagery in mind, Jesus sends out his disciples to heal and cast out demons. He tells them that they have received without paying and now should give to others without pay. He gives them power and authority; he gives them specific instructions. But he also tells them that, when they encounter things for which they are unprepared or inexperienced, they will be given the strength and words they need. Jesus is telling his disciples that, as they go, they will be lifted up on eagle’s wings.
We, too, will have occasions in our earthly life and our spiritual experience when we need to know that God is with us, ready to carry us as we trust God’s capacity. Sometimes we think we can help ourselves, but we must let go and allow God to carry us. As we take on the suffering of the world, God can lift us up and carry us to God’s self. Though our experience is on the ground, we are lifted up!

Sunday, June 11, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Jose Collazo
“Go! And Share the Good News”
To find the Scripture for the day, click here.

There are probably few words in Scripture that have had as great an effect as the words of Matthew 28: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” The missionary movement inspired by these words has touched almost every country and culture of the world, and many of us are products of that movement. But we can also see the dislocation and destruction of culture that went with the movement, the pain and suffering of colonization that accompanied it.
It is time to take seriously the saying “The medium is the message.” What do we do now? Do we realize that we are oppressors and no longer engage in missionary activity? No! But, on this Trinity Sunday, we need to consider questions about our attitude. We need to remember that the Great Commission of Matthew 28 includes the words “all authority is given to me” (that is, to Christ Jesus). Our role is to share the Word of God, not to exercise our own authority. To be a missionary church is to be a church of love and peace. We can recognize the wrongs we have done when exerting our own wills, and become ambassadors of the good news of the authority of Jesus Christ.

Pentecost Sunday, June 4, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“All Heaven Breaks Loose”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

With the words “Come, Holy Spirit!,” we prayed today for the Spirit to revive us. We hear about the Spirit’s presence in revival in a piece of black history that isn’t well known to all of us. News clippings from 1906 tell us about the early Pentecostal movement’s Azusa Street Revival in southern California, led by African American preacher William Seymour.
In the face of outpourings of the Holy Spirit, there are varying ways of viewing what we see, and the religious establishment often misses the point. The account of the coming of the Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles tells us some people simply thought that those who had received the Spirit were drunk. But these recipients of the Spirit spoke about what God had done in their lives, and people responded to their unashamed testimony to God’s work. The question now for our congregation is, “Are we talking about what God is doing in our midst?” This is what has impact.
The Spirit came at Pentecost when people were gathered together in one place. The Spirit still comes in ways that encourage unity and diversity. The Spirit comes as we are, at one and the same time, standing together and also each hearing in our own context / language. God is at work in all places and stops at nothing. All heaven breaks loose with life-giving love, compassion, and strength when we respond to God by each allowing the lighting of our one candle. The poet W.H. Auden wrote, “Defenseless under the night / Our world in stupor lies; / Yet, dotted everywhere, / Ironic points of light / Flash out . . . / May I, . . .  / Beleaguered by the same / Negation and despair, / Show an affirming flame.”

Ascension Sunday, May 28, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“Orchestrating an Exodus”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

Jesus’ ascension is the signal of all that the Spirit will do. Jesus was lifted up into heaven in a kind of exodus from the world. Just as Moses led an exodus out of Egypt, Jesus is leading an exodus. He is orchestrating it in the way a conductor leads an orchestra where each instrument contributes. Not only was Jesus lifted up on the cross, in his resurrection, and in his ascension. We too will be lifted up and freed., but we will together be a fellowship of those who participate in the suffering that comes from following Christ in his suffering. We will suffer for a while then will be made complete and strong.
Jesus will return, and we will see him in the “least of these.” When Jesus comes, in the form of a servant, we can celebrate being one with him.
Preparing to exodus from Egypt, the people united to ready themselves. We are all to be ready, too, in our fellowship. God is still at work in the world. All that God has is ours. We are not alone in these in-between days. God is with us as we work on behalf of blessing and redemption in the world.

Sunday, May 21, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“The In-Between God”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

After the resurrection, it was the Spirit who revealed Jesus, even to his disciples who did not always recognize him. The knowledge of what Jesus is really like is something none of us can get on our own. When Paul went to Athens, he did not leave the Athenians to their own efforts. He opened up the space offered by the thinking of Greek poets in order to speak of the God who raised Jesus from the dead.
God has been involved in the work of redemption since the beginning. Even before the Spirit was given to the disciples at Pentecost, it was working in all the realms of creation. It is a great mystery of our faith that, in every time, everything is transformed by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Even everything in hell is overcome by Christ (as we see when I Peter speaks of Jesus’ preaching to the spirits who disobeyed God).
We need to look for ways the Spirit is at work in our lives, even in the hellish parts of them. Christ has won victory over all powers. If we trust and do what Christ commands, we become one with him and the Spirit shows us what is true. We understand this reality only when we have entered it. The experience of God’s love has to take central place in our lives. We cannot understand it simply by making an altar to an unknown God or taking God for granted. We have to keep letting the Spirit teach us during the “in-between” time in which we live.

Mother’s Day Sunday, May 14, 2017
Meditation preacher: The Rev. Margaret Thomas
Also speaking: four children of our congregation
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

Mother’s Day isn’t just about celebrating women; it is about supporting nurturing relationships across generations. When women first experience motherhood, commonly one of their starting points is their experience of having been mothered as a child. She is taken back to that time in her memory.
In a society that idealizes motherhood, it is hard to admit that our childhood wasn’t perfect. So the words of 1 Peter are particularly apt: “Be like newborn babies who long for pure spiritual milk, now that you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” We all need the milk of kindness. God is, for us, a nursing mother, and we are all suckling children, growing through God’s care. We learn this at the Lord’s Table, where we all are invited to celebrate as God’s children, no matter what our age or intellectual understanding.
As God’s children, we are built into the church, a spiritual body and a human institution. As a human institution, the church (like our parents) can disappoint because it is not perfect. Even though this is true, in the church we experience God as our nurturing parent who does not fail us, and having tasted God’s kindness, we can offer mercy to others just as we have received mercy from our mothering God.

Sunday, May 7, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“I Will Fear No Evil”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

The tenth chapter of the Gospel of John records Jesus’ words saying he has come to give life in all its fullness. And in the story told by Jesus that John records there, Jesus fills all the roles: gate, gatekeeper, and shepherd. We trust and follow him.
In the face of the world’s evil, we pray in the words Jesus taught us, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” These words resonate with the 23rd Psalm: “I will fear no evil . . . thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
Our longing and need draw us to the one who can help us. Nevertheless, we do not always hear an answer to prayer, and we ask where the Good Shepherd is. We must continue to pray, even when the prayer feels like one-sided communication. If we fall silent, we turn away from union with God and with our connection to God. When we keep the connection intact, God’s presence is eventually felt. When we gather at the Lord’s Table, it is not simply fellowship we experience but also promise—a promise that the Lord, the Good Shepherd, will be there not only today but also tomorrow.

Sunday, April 30, 2017
Preacher; the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“For Everyone Our Lord Will Choose”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

On Easter evening, someone joined two of Jesus’ disciples going to Emmaus, the place where Jews had expected an attack on the Romans would free them. The two had hoped Jesus would be the one who would save them, but Jesus was gone. He had died, and so they walked in sadness. The two on the road did not know it was Jesus who walked with them now. They did not recognize him until he broke bread, as he had done at meals during his ministry. Then suddenly they recognized him—knowing him as if for the first time. They had not fully known the earthly Jesus; now they came to know him as the resurrected one.
Jesus transformed expectations. Rather than using his body for killing and taking of life in order that Israel might be saved from the Romans, Jesus shared it in a different way. He laid down his life, doing so to bring salvation from sin. His death was not the end of his story; he was raised to new life. Through all this, Jesus transformed the Passover seder into a joyous meal of thanksgiving (described by Christians as the Eucharist, taken from a word for “gratitude”).
After Jesus departed from them, his two followers hurried back to Jerusalem. They had a changed sense of being alive and a whole new vision of what God had done and will do. God had broken in.
God breaks in and changes us, as well. Those who are sad and hurt need not hurt others. They can become a community of people who deal with one another’s pain. We in the Church are here because we need healing and nourishment. Those who have suffered can gather now in courage and love to share our hurts and also our gifts. We can offer help in humility, as servants. We can leave our judgmental ways at the door and offer forgiveness.

Sunday, April 23, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“But You Still Love Jesus”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

Thomas the disciple was a very forthright man. When Jesus told his followers that he was going to prepare a place for them, Thomas responded, “We don’t have a clue where you’re going!” When Thomas realized that Jesus would be killed, he urged, “Let’s get it over with. Let’s all go and die with him.” And after Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas wanted the evidence of feeling Jesus’ wounds. Yet when Jesus appeared before him, on an occasion after the other disciples had already seen Jesus, Thomas did not touch him. Instead, Thomas burst out with the words “Lord and God,” calling Jesus by a title fit for a Roman emperor. Thomas had made room for an experience with Jesus that would match that of his fellow disciples.
We, too, can make room for an experience of God. We can experience salvation now. We, who have not seen Jesus, can know and love him without seeing him.
When we face things we cannot handle, our best response starts with our being forthright and honest. Do we need to tell God he didn’t show up for us? If so, by saying this we make room for God, and God will show up. We can acknowledge in faith and praise what happens when God acts with and through us. We, who have heard Thomas’s story, can tell our stories, too, so that others may also find faith and full life.

Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“Open the Gates”
To read Psalm 118, part of the Scripture for the day, click here.

The Psalmist proclaims that those who are righteous may enter the gates of the Lord. Yet who among us is worthy to enter?! The truth we celebrate on Easter is that God has not waited for people to be righteous in order to open the doors of his welcoming love, a love we do not earn. Someone has recently said, “Forget the wall — build a deck and invite everyone over.” This is the way God speaks!
We live with the consequences of our errors in this life, but the curtain that kept the people away from the holy of holies in the Temple has been torn from top to bottom, as the story of the crucifixion tells us. Jesus died to open the gates in order that we might know God’s love.
On Easter morning, an earthquake moved the stone of the tomb. Did this happen so that Jesus could come out? No! He was long gone. Rather, the earthquake was the drum roll for the procession that began that morning with the women going into the tomb and coming out and that continued as the disciples went to meet Jesus in Galilee, the place where his ministry began. We, too, join the procession.
Take heart today in the words of the angel to the women who came to the tomb: “Do not be afraid.”

Palm / Passion Sunday, April 9, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Joseph Collazo (chaplain, New York-Presbyterian Hospital)
“One Week to Live”
To read portions of the Scripture for the day, click here.

“One week to live” . . . These words are heard from doctors many times in the hospital. We all know death will come sometime, but on Palm Sunday the excited crowds did not know what would come in the week ahead. By entering Jerusalem accompanied by a crowd, Jesus provoked a crisis, and in one week, events moved from adulation to cries of “Crucify him!” By then, Jesus’ disciples could not face the pain of Jesus’ coming suffering and death, and they denied knowing him. Yet Mary had done something else: She anointed Jesus with perfume and enabled everyone present to say goodbye to him.
On Thursday, the situation was out of control. Jesus was betrayed in the worst way, by one who had been trusted. On Friday, he was nailed to a cross, a moment when many expected him to show his power and save himself. But Jesus did nothing. Upon his death, the curtain of the temple was torn in two; the hopes of the disciples were torn in two.
We risk this when we walk with Jesus during this Holy Week, even though the pain and death have now been torn in two by the resurrection! We have the privilege of knowing the resurrected Jesus in real time. Nevertheless, we can decide whether to walk through the events of this coming week or to hide. We need open hearts and the support of Scripture to live through this time.

Sunday, April 2, 2017 (Celebrate the Gifts of Women day)
Preacher: Elder June Ingram
“Fan into Flames the Gift of God”
The Scripture for the day: Lamentations 3:19-26; 2 Timothy 1:3-10; Matthew 6:25-33

In an experiment, monkeys deprived of a mother’s love did not grow to relate well to others. We think of motherly love, care, and compassion when we think of women. Society also often looks at women as sexual objects. But women must learn to find security in God’s love and mercy, rather than in any judgment made by other people. We cannot add days to our lives; we can only thankfully turn to God for security and care. We lose our way through worry and negative thoughts. We are to fan into flame the gift of God and to push other things aside.
We have role models in our congregation of women who do many different things, and history tells us about many strong women: The biblical Esther risked her life to save her people. Early in the last century, Mary McCloud Bethune worked to provide a good education for African American children. But Jesus is our great role model, compassionate and loving. The Spirit of God does not make us timid. Jesus can fan the flame of faith in us, so that we can use the gifts God has given us.

Sunday, March 26, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“Jesus Leads Us Out”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

The thought of walking “through the valley of the shadow of death” (in the words of Psalm 23) is found in Samuel’s fear that he may be killed by Saul, the rejected king for whom Samuel is called to find a successor. As Samuel searches, he initially sees all of Jesse’s sons but the youngest, David, whom Jesse does not think is important enough to be introduced. Yet it is David, the shepherd, who is chosen to be king because God sees the light inside him.
Christ shines in the shadow of death and confusion. In John’s Gospel, Jesus heals a blind man and the story demonstrates the power of self-deception, a problem we too have when we do not see the light that heals and transforms. The man who had been born blind gradually became emboldened and finally acknowledged Jesus as Lord. But the Pharisees did not know what to make of Jesus; they did not see him as the shepherd who leads people out from the darkness and confusion that bind them. Yet the blind man’s healing is an undeniable fact that is like a candle in the darkness. We too can hold onto its truth amidst all the uncertainty of untrue shepherds in our own confusing time.

Sunday, March 19, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“Life-Giving Water”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

In sharp contrast to Nicodemus–the teacher of Israel (in John chapter 3) who did not understand what Jesus was talking about–and in contrast to Jesus’ own disciples in the same story, who cannot see much beyond the provision of physical food, comes the foreign woman at the well in John’s chapter 4. She is spiritually curious, drinks deeply of the water Jesus offers, is enlivened and able to keep up with Jesus, and produces a splendid example of the rich harvest of souls while Jesus is busily describing such to his disciples in words. The story begins with an implied thirst on Jesus’ part that points forward to his cry “I thirst” from the cross.
Mother Teresa, in the painful experience of God’s absence revealed to us in her diaries, came to think of “bearing in her body and soul the love of an infinite thirsty God,” thus helping to satiate the burning thirst of Jesus on the cross.
We too can take comfort from the love poured into our hearts,  reaching out into the life of others. Even if our lives do not seem complete or fulfilled or ripe for harvest, God is the one who still thirsts alongside us for the fulfillment and vindication of each and every one of those made in the image of God on this earth, past, present, and future, including each and every one of us.

Sunday, March 12, 2017
Preacher: Elder Justina Serlin
“Faith”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

We tend to think “faith” and “belief” are interchangeable concepts. The dictionary doesn’t agree: “Belief” is a strong conviction about something, it says, while “faith” is a commitment to a person or an idea. In the church, our creeds are about beliefs that bind us; faith is broader. The New Testament teaches us to have faith in Jesus; this is not something we do or propositions about what we believe. It is trust that Jesus is there and that we can depend on him. It is true that we live our lives according to Jesus’ teaching and doing so makes us better persons, but this does not save us. Rather, it is faith that brings us into a relationship with God.
In the epistle to the Romans, Abraham is described as having faith in God, not as a statement about what he did but about his trust in God. We can do nothing to earn God’s love; we are not perfect. We are here in the church to share our faith and to hold hands with others to strengthen faith; this is not the same as trying to make ourselves acceptable to God. It is a joy to live in faith—to know that God is with us and we are with God.

Sunday, March 5, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“Confronting the Fear of Death”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

The root of all our fears is death—not just physical death but also broken relationships and loss of spiritual connections. In Matthew’s telling of Jesus being tempted by the devil in the wilderness, Jesus provides an example of holding on to a relationship with God; facing a final difficult temptation, he must separate his desire for things of the world and God’s desires. When Jesus discerns the difference and follows God’s will, the devil leaves him.
We have to admit that we do not handle temptation well. In the opening chapters of Genesis, we have a parable about the line we cross every day. Yet, though we break away from God, we keep coming back as we seek to live in integrity. God continues to  call us to come close to him.
In the tale of Red Riding Hood, the wolf, dressed as Grandma, wants to fool the girl and invites her to come near. In our lives, only in prayer can we distinguish between “the big bad wolf” beckoning us close and God’s summons. And the closer we come to God, the more difficult our disciplined choices. We exaggerate what God says to us until it no longer expresses God’s desires. But God is gentle. Those who know how to fast also know how to feast at the banquet of our Lord. We are freed from our fear of death.

Sunday, February 26, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“Assistant to God for Communications”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

Moses was invited up a mountain to be with God, so that he could later communicate with his people. Moses had met God through a burning bush; now the fire on the mountain to which Moses went was a “burning bush” experience for the people—a preparation for the time God would come down to be among the people. But there were difficulties. Moses’ absence made the people impatient, and, in fear that overwhelmed their faith in God, they created an idol!
Fear can be overcome by touch, and we can feel the loving touch of God through two senses: the contemplative eye and the ethical ear. Through these, we come to know the power of God, God on fire for us and in us.
We see the grip of fear among Jesus’ disciples when he told them that he would die and be raised again. Three of them go up a mountain with Jesus. There they see Moses and Elijah—figures from the rich history of God’s presence. Peter’s response pointed to a contemplative life but set aside the ethical. In contrast, Jesus knew how to live in God’s presence both ethically and contemplatively.
When we are in fear, we need to confront our hopelessness. We bring to memory those things from the past that give us hope in the present. Our hope is not in the person or people in power. Hope comes through the experience of God “caught” by us (as much as “taught”) as we live in community. Our way is lit by those who have the light of hope and courage. All of us who have seen the light of God’s presence can be God’s assistants in communicating hope to others.

Sunday, February 19, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“Holiness in Practice”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

We often sing, “Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy . . . ” A sanctuary or a temple is a place where God is present. In our lives, we are a sanctuary when we practice being holy as God is holy. As we incarnate the holiness of God in our lives, we are offered—and can offer others—safety and belonging. An old idea is being revived these days: having places where people seek safety when they are vulnerable to losing their freedom. This is called “offering sanctuary” and is one of many ways we can practice holiness. There are many, many others.
One example comes from the biblical practice in which the poor, in order to survive, “gleaned” in fields, picking up bits of wheat that had not been gathered by the owner and his workers. A Lutheran congregation has adopted a modern form of this practice by asking its members to tithe (give a tenth of) their tax refunds to the church, to be used to meet human needs.
The gospel calls us to practice holiness in our relationships and attitudes. Jesus told his followers to love their enemies and gave practical examples of what this meant. We sometimes don’t pay attention to the ways our society creates enemies, even by something as simple as discourteous driving or refusing to wait for a turn in line. Enmity creates hatred, which Maya Angelou said never solved anything. When we love our enemy, something happens that makes us more like our Father in heaven. Hostility is changed into acceptance. We need to remember this during  the days when we experience division and relationships suffer.

Sunday, February 12, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Margaret O. Thomas
“But . . .”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

“You have heard it said,” Jesus stated as he pointed to laws of God, “but . . .” He was not telling people they didn’t need to keep the laws; he was telling them there was even more to consider as they obeyed God. Murder is not just about killing the body . . . but also about destroying a person’s humanity. Being faithful in marriage is not just about our actions . . . but also about our disloyal thoughts.
Jesus often criticized religious leaders who had a superficial, “surface” understanding of the law. He was actually inviting people to do what the book of Deuteronomy had earlier urged: “Choose life!” by obeying God. Of course, we can also choose to disobey. In the time when Deuteronomy was written, the people suffered exile as a result of their bad choices.
We in our time need to dig more deeply into what God expects of us. We are told to have no gods but God, but there are many questions: >>Today, when institutions of society—including the church—are being rejected, can we give up the superficial ways we keep old traditions about the church and, instead, find new ways of serving God? >>Do societal divisions (based on race, class, economic status, gender, sex, age) enter even the churches, making other things seem as important as our worship of God? >>Can we help children remain in the church as they grow older by helping them to wrestle with the hardest issues of their time?

Sunday, February 5, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“Then Your Light Will Shine”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

The central point of a worship service (unlike other meetings) is the reading of Scripture. Scripture is like a light on top of a mountain—there to guide us and help us find our way. The sermon in a worship service, which interprets Scripture as God’s Word to us, is prepared around what we read. Later in the service, we pray for needs of the world, seeking to know how we can be light in the world, and we hear announcements that directly relate to our response to God’s Word.
In Jesus’ day, Scripture was studied regularly in the public square. As ordinary people grasped its meaning, Jesus said, they became “the light of the world.” What would make their light shine? Isaiah talked about the real meaning of God’s Word when he pointed to his hearers’ actions in relation to others. It is then, when they act, that their light will shine in the dark.
We have to be people who not only read the news but also spend time in study of the Bible. This is what will prepare us to be light in the world. If we meditate deeply, even in our frailty and weakness, we can obey God’s commandments more clearly and be light in the world. Today we laid hands on officers who will be light to us—and we are to be light to them. We need to speak up through the Spirit given to us. As we do so, we test everything by asking, Is this what God wants?

Sunday, January 29, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“Keep It Simple”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

The people to whom Scripture was first written certainly did not find that life was simple. It was not easy for them to know what the will of God was amidst the confusion of their lives and the intertwined messages they heard. Micah made it simple when he said that it was the responsibility of everyone to do justice, show mercy, and obey God—that is, we humans are to depend entirely on God. As Paul explained it, God’s foolishness is wiser than the best of human wisdom. Paul talked to very ordinary people about keeping life simple by admonishing them to know Christ and his power, which could bring them all together. And Jesus turned everything on its head. Speaking very directly to his followers, he helped them understand that, even when they were mistreated, true life is possible. Simply, we know nothing but Christ on the cross; we are to brag about nothing but our Lord. The truth we know of God is to be revealed and shared. We need this message today as so many things we hold precious are attacked and mocked.

Sunday, January 22, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“Time to Regroup”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

After John the Baptist was imprisoned, Jesus regrouped. He began preaching, as John had done. He started in Zebulun and Naphtali, areas comparable to the “rust belt” of our day. Isaiah had prophesied that these neglected and ignored lands, once hated, would become respected; their inhabitants, who lived in the shadows, would see light. And so, in that place, Jesus invited fishermen to come with him—to be part of the light that would shine in their region, to be part of the healing that would come.
We have a romantic view of the call of the disciples. In fact, they were very ordinary and insignificant people, far from the elite of Jerusalem. Jesus trusted them with the work he would do, the changing of hearts and minds. They would not be hopeless, complaining men but would become the light of the world.
Jesus calls us to come with him, to follow a different drummer as God’s people in a place where there is work to be done. It should be clear to all of us that there is indeed work to do. Light is not dawning in the way we expected. Change does not come through political leadership. We have to turn back to God, to look to the One who is calling us. God works in and through every circumstance, and it is in darkness that light shines. We are to take care for the most vulnerable in response to the invitation of Jesus. We need to regroup, to provide hope and light. Come and follow Jesus.

Sunday, January 15, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“Come and See”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

In John’s Gospel, two of John’s followers turn to follow Jesus. “What do you want?” he asks, and they answer, “Where do you live?” In this week of a presidential inauguration, we ask, “Where do you live, Jesus? Where can we find you!?” And we hear the message “Come, see how the Gospel is made real in life” in our very lives. The presence of Jesus is clarifying but also disturbing, and light and recognition often come in the darkest moments.
It was one of the two first followers of Jesus who called the next one, and that process continues. Do we live the kind of life in which people see Jesus? Martin Luther King Jr.’s life didn’t make sense apart from his knowing Jesus. President Obama has had the spiritual strength to confess his frailty and to express assurance that is not based on his own accomplishments.
Jesus asks us, “Do you know what you are asking for?” Do Americans and the world know what we are asking for? First Corinthians is a letter that talks about failures, yet it starts with the assurance of identity in Christ. “Happy are those who trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40), who know what they are to be and do in the world. We see this good news in Isaiah: Give up your small ambitions. See what God is doing. It is not enough to keep on doing what you are already doing. See what God is doing, and change your lives.
Jesus is the light of the world and of the nations. Go, get your neighbors; see the light and follow him.

Sunday, January 8, 2017
Preacher: Elder Justina Serlin
“All Who Have Faith”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

We should reflect periodically on what it means to be baptized: What does it mean to be a Christian and a part of a church community? Who are we? The event of Jesus’ baptism by John was one of the few times when Jesus was publicly acknowledged as being God’s beloved son. Today, our denomination baptizes publicly in an event that is witnessed by a community. The “Scot’s Confession” tells us that “by Baptism we are engrafted into Jesus Christ, to be made partakers of his righteousness, by which our sins are covered and remitted.” And the “Second Helvetic Confession” says that, in baptism, we are enrolled in the covenant family; we are called in the name of God to be sons and daughters of God, entering into a new life. Our sins are washed away.
We Presbyterians regularly baptize infants and children. At a baptismal service in Port Jervis (N.Y.), a baptismal child was carried throughout the church to be introduced to the whole congregation as a member of the church. It takes a whole church to raise a Christian; the whole congregation is the godparent. Then, as an adult, the person baptized as a child makes the personal decision to follow Christ.
Our Presbyterian “Confession of 1967” speaks of our responsibility as a part of the community that goes out, telling the world about God and serving God. We have a particular responsibility to the needy in the wider community.

Sunday, January 1, 2017 (Epiphany Sunday)
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“Why Troubled and Trembling?”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

King Herod’s trembling concern for preserving his political power had brutal, deadly consequences. He was ready to kill the baby for whom the magi were searching in order to be sure that the child could not replace him. The result was the slaughter of many infants.
There are those in today’s world who act in just this manner. But Jesus’ birth has greater significance, far beyond this one political event. There is symbolism in the fact that the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is built in such a way that it is impossible to enter without bowing low. All are called to bow the knee—to relinquish their power—before Jesus the Christ. In the scripture we heard today, those in authority are drawn to the brightness of God’s light and fall down in worship. Oh, that the Church would respond in this way!
In some aspects of our lives we are trembling and troubled, but our instruction as a church is to bear and embody the light of Epiphany. We need to be beacons of this light in the world, even willing to tremble and put our lives on the line for the good of the world—even if this involves struggling and going against what others think. Nancy Hastings Sehested has used the image of walking with two women, our arms around them: one arm around Rachel, in her grief for her children who have been slaughtered at the hand of Herod; and the other around Mary, in her hopeful awareness of the promise embodied in her son. We will move slowly, Sehested says, because neither Sister Grief nor Sister Promise can move quickly. We may struggle in sorrow in today’s circumstances, but we are given the hope that Christ brings into the world. Let the promise of this season work slowly and deeply in us, so that we may go forward with grief and a sense of promise.

Sunday, December 25, 2016 (Christmas Day)
Preacher: the Rev. Lydia E. Lebron-Rivera
“To Be Original Is to Find the Origins”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

At the beginning of John’s Gospel the word “light” is contrasted with “darkness. Light is goodness, new life; darkness represents evil, the hidden, night, death. Jesus is the light who has come into the world to give light to all, John says as his way of announcing Jesus’ birth. The opening words sound like the creation story, when God separates light from darkness; they are reflected at the end of Scripture, in the book of Revelation, where another John writes that around the throne of God there will be no darkness at all. In John’s Gospel, we hear that darkness cannot overcome the light; whoever believes in Jesus will not remain in darkness. We gather in worship to hear this good news. The light shines for you and for me. The light shines forever, and everyone will see God’s saving power. It has come so that we can become light for one another.
Strangers in New York are afraid to navigate the subway system, but a stranger who rides daily can learn to manage well, without fear of getting lost. We are like those strangers, and in our journey in the world, we can ask, “Why were we afraid?” All we need is to follow the light.

Sunday, December 18, 2016 (the Fourth Sunday of Advent)
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“Love–It’s Complicated”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant, and he expected to divorce her until God intervened. A divorce would have followed the laws given by God, but God’s loving plan broke even these laws. It was complicated, and, in varying ways, we all experience human love as complicated. In our relationship with God, love can be complicated, too.
In our families, frustrated by our children testing us, we may lose patience and fail to recognize when we seriously need to show up for them. In contrast, God responded to Ahaz and offered proof that his promise was true; God did this even after Ahaz, who had tried God’s patience, refused to test God. A young woman of marriageable age would give birth to a son, God said, and would name him “Immanuel.” This is the promise that Joseph heard, in his doubt. God did something surprising for both Ahaz and Joseph.
For Joseph there would always be a doubt, “Whose child is this?” And the confusing answer would always be, “It is God’s child, the beginning of God’s purpose for you.”
We can name our doubts to God. But we need to situate ourselves with God at our side and find God’s way; then God will show us that he is faithful.
In Paul’s time, it was radical for people to hear that they were part of a plan for bringing God’s word to Gentiles (an amazing thought in a time when people believed God acted only for their own people). Can we recognize that God is at work through our lives on behalf of others? When we learn the patience to listen to God, God will surprise us and take us out of our ordinary way of thinking, into a new way of life.

Sunday, December 11, 2016 (the Third Sunday of Advent)
Preacher: the Rev. Jose Collazo
“Are You the One?”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

Today is known as Rejoice Sunday, a difficult theme in the present political climate. “Joy” has become an overworked, trivialized word.
In his day, John the Baptist was in a dark prison cell wondering if he had relied on a false prophet. His story is an anti-conversion story. In conversion, we go from doubt to bold confidence, but here John goes from boldness to doubt and from confidence to uncertainty. John had seen the dove of the Spirit descend on Jesus and had expected the promised One to finish the work of judgment and renewal that he had started in the desert. But now, in doubt, John sent others to ask Jesus, “Are you the One we were waiting for, or are we waiting for someone else?” In response, Jesus invited John’s messengers to tell John what they had seen, to tell stories of the blind seeing and the leper cleansed.
We don’t know what John’s reaction was. We do know that he died a grisly death without ever seeing what Jesus did. What would it mean if we took to heart Jesus’ invitation to tell what we’ve seen?
John’s story doesn’t describe exuberant joy in the face of extreme suffering, and neither do we see justice as the end of suffering in our lives. We don’t see what we expect, and we are offended at still being in suffering and darkness. Yet Jesus said, “Blessed are those who take no offense at me.” We need to step away from unreal expectations and dare to believe in God’s promised salvation, even amidst suffering. Joy can be unworldly, finding its fulfillment in the eternal age. We all have a narrative of what God has done in our lives. Let us tell those stories and find joy in this season.

Sunday, December 4, 2016 (the Second Sunday of Advent)
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“Words of God at Work”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

John the Baptist announced the coming of the Lord in an edgy way. People went into the wilderness to be baptized by this man who had a strange diet and wild clothing. Yet it was his words that stood out—strong and fierce, able to address religious leaders powerfully. Yet someone much more powerful than he was coming, John said.
In his day, Isaiah also spoke of a coming One, a king who would be like a new sprout growing from a seemingly dead tree stump, enabling new life that can yield both fruit and shade. This king’s words would be law; they would bring peace and justice.
Words have power. The power of our words is found in our conversations. The word of God comes to us when we are in community, changing us and bringing us together. In response to what is happening in the present time, we can engage in the simple act of making friends with those we do not yet know, perhaps reaching out to those who are in some way different from us. Peace can come in even small expressions, words like “Let me pray for you.”
The peace of God is around us, but we sometimes do not see it. We need to express to God those things that are oppressing us as well as those things that we want to be sorry for and confess. Then the word of God can work in and through us, bringing peace and justice.

Sunday, November 27, 2016 (the First Sunday of Advent)
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“Join the Song of Ascent”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

Mayor Bill de Blasio works to be ready to resist threats to New York City residents. What are we preparing for? How ready are we?
Isaiah, like Martin Luther King Jr., had a powerful vision of a future promise not yet realized. Both he and Paul, in the epistle to the Romans, call us to be ready to “live in the light.” They call us to wake up—to stay awake to possibility, even in the darkness of present injustice, rather than allowing ourselves to be bound by the powers of this present world.
On this first Sunday of Advent, we read a Psalm of Ascent sung by those who were going up to Jerusalem. Spiritually, to go up to Jerusalem is to go where God rules, to look for what God is doing. This should be what we do in Advent, but we can be easily misled by the predictability of events each year. In the countdown to  Christmas, we do the same things each time. Christmas, the time we celebrate the coming of the Christ child,  comes at a fixed time on the calendar. And we forget that, in reality, we do not know when what we are awaiting will come.
In the meantime, we are to be awake to resist evil. In Matthew, chapter 24, we read about evil being swept away. Jesus compared those who were not swept away with those who were left in the ark with Noah, saved from the flood. In the imagery of Matthew, alert “homeowners” who are ready will not be surprised when the Son of Man comes; it is the “thief” who will be surprised!
We can live without anxiety if we focus upon being obedient to the Lord. We need not be perfect to do what is right; we can do the groundwork of preparation, even in the dark. This is the reality described in the words of Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” when he writes, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” We do not know everything about the future, but we nonetheless can go about praising God, remaining ready. Will we join in the Song of Ascent?

 

 

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