The sermon

Sunday, November 26, 2017
Preacher, the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“Lovingkindness Shapes Good Judgment”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

In Israel, the image for a king is a shepherd. So it is in Ezekiel that the imagery of shepherds who have not cared for their flocks represents kings mistreating their people. And Ezekiel brings a word of comfort: God will rescue the people. The words are like those in Matthew 25 that bring comfort to refugees, the homeless, and all who have been hurt by authorities. Matthew portrays a king on a throne, making the judgments a king makes. God is now the shepherd. Jesus reigns as a good shepherd.
Terrible things happen when the two functions of shepherding and judging are separated. Jesus fulfills both functions with compassion that flows from his living among us in a relationship of interdependence, as one born of woman. When we—who are also born of woman—help others, we are helping Jesus.
We need to see Jesus in the faces of others. When we know interdependence with others, the tendency for judgments of vengeance is turned aside. We meet one another in mercy—mercy given and mercy received. In that moment, Christ is there. The compassionate mercy of Jesus is our meeting place. In this meeting there is space for restorative justice rather than retribution and vengeance. Jesus wants our peace and our healing.

Sunday, November 19, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“When What Is Buried Is Lost”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

Jesus told a parable that invites us to understand the Kingdom of God and our journey of faith. (See Scripture below.) In the parable, the master entrusted what belonged to him to his servants, doing so according to each one’s known abilities. One of the servants did not participate in the master’s economy in any way, simply burying what he was handed, while the other two did participate. In our lives, the most important treasure given to us is Christ and our faith in Christ. In this economy, how do we respond? Are we fearful of God and what God has given to us? Or do we accept the opportunities given to us, to bless others when we bring our whole selves to God? We can choose to live in a self-imposed exile, but we are invited instead to enjoy the life of fellowship with God and others.
The priorities of God’s Kingdom are different from those of the world. In Zephaniah, we see that all the outward appearances of the people’s lives do not matter. What is important is their relationship with God. We can choose to open ourselves to God or to become cast-outs who have not opened our hearts. As we move toward the Advent season, the season of Christ’s coming, we are urged to stay alert and sober so that our faith and love will be like a suit of armor. We sing, “Lord, I want to be a Christian in-a my heart.”

Sunday, November 12, 2017
Preacher: Elder Patricia Pastas, commissioned pastor at First Presbyterian Church, Ridgefield Park, NJ)
“Serioius! Is Jesus Coming Back?”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

Today’s parable about the kingdom of heaven contains harsh, frightening words: “I don’t even know you!” What good can come from these difficult words of warning?
Jesus told the parable during an in-between time after his entry into Jerusalem, while he awaited his trial and crucifixion. It is about our living in an in-between time, too, waiting for Jesus’ return—just as the parable’s bridesmaids wait for the bridegroom. Five girls missed his return as a result of running low on lamp oil, while five others had lamps full of oil.
Have our lamps run low? What causes this? In our waiting, we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Our role in the church is to support and wait with each other, wise and foolish alike. We keep vigil with each other in times of pain, loss, or grief; we celebrate achievements and console after disappointments. We find hope when hope is scarce and courage when we are afraid. That’s why we come together each Sunday. Yes, seriously, Jesus is coming back. Come, get enough oil for your lamp!

Sunday, November 5, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“Beside Us to Guide Us”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

We experience God beside us to guide us through the incarnation—the coming of Jesus—and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus guided through teaching, but, more than this, he was a perfect example. He taught humility, and he was perfectly humble. In him, we see that it is a humble person who expresses leadership, not someone seeking glory. Matthew’s Gospel contains scenes of glory, but it begins and ends with the humility of God-with-us.
On the lips of Micah, we hear God’s frustration with prophets who do not speak truth but want to be fed (that is, be rewarded). Every good leader needs someone to speak truth to him or her. Without this, the leader is already lost. This was the role the prophets were intended to play.
Paul recognized that he did God’s work in the midst of the people. In the Presbyterian Church, the role of discernment belongs to the whole congregation; the members decide who shall represent them as leaders, and the members all continue to participate in God’s work themselves. Twelve-Step programs have prospered under a simple structure that has no hierarchy, in which no one person speaks for the group. In the Church, we are all brothers and sisters of one another, children of one Father. When we give importance to titles, we lose sight of the purpose for which we exist. The secret is that God is the one who is beside us to guide us.

Sunday, October 29, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“More
Love”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

In Leviticus, we read that God expects that we are to be holy as God is holy. “Holiness” implies being “all-encompassing,” loving both rich and poor, rather than being self-centered. When the two commandments—“Love God and love your neighbor as yourself”—were first put together, the hearers would have thought of a neighbor as being one of their own people. But Jesus went deeper: He saw the Messiah as coming from the “family of God” and not simply the family of David. Jesus stretched the imaginations of his hearers to become all-encompassing. When he was asked directly, “Who is my neighbor?,” he answered with the parable of the Good Samaritan in which a wounded man’s own people walk past him, but a man who could have been called an “enemy” is a true and compassionate  “neighbor.”
Today masses of people are on the move because life is impossible where they are. But the average length of time such a person will be a refugee is 26 years. More than seventy countries have borders closed to refugees. International crises arise due to our lack of ability to love others. In this situation, we are called to practice love beyond our comfort zone, expressing generosity in this season of Thanksgiving and beyond.

Sunday, October 22, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“You’ve Got to Serve Somebody”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

Jesus gave a brilliant answer to a question intended to trap him, a question meant to catch him between loyalty to the king and to God. “Should we pay taxes to the emperor?” he was asked. His answer leads us to consider more deeply what our own allegiance is. Because the image of the emperor was on the coin used to pay taxes, Jesus said, “Give to the emperor what belongs to the emperor.” Then he also said, “Give to God what belongs to God.” The image of God is on all of us! We all belong to God. Even all that belongs to the ruler’s is God’s!
In Isaiah, we read what God said to Cyrus, the Persian emperor. God told him, “You belong to me, and I am leading you, even if you do not know me. There are no other gods; only I am God.” God is Lord, even of an emperor. And today God’s image is over the soul of our President.
No matter what changes are made in our tax system or health system, it is to God that we render everything, and to render to God is to recognize the value of every person made in God’s image. This means we are to be concerned about the weak and the vulnerable—all our brothers and sisters. How are we to live out our days in submission to God, on behalf of all people?
We all serve someone. Who are we serving?

Sunday, October 15, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“Is Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning?”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

The parable we read today is full of surprising and disconcerting elements. If we can suspend our natural abhorrence of its violence, there is a powerful lesson for us in the desire of the parable’s king to have his invitation to his son’s banquet respected. Accepting the invitation and entering the banquet hall is not enough. We must be in the spirit of the event, know why we are there, and be in harmony with the host’s intention.
Another of Jesus’ parables uses a different metaphor: Lamps must be trimmed and burning, with sufficient oil for a long night of waiting. We may be in the second wave of invitees to the king’s banquet, but are we dressed properly? This is not a question of having resources or time to go shopping for a new outfit; the outfit is provided. Yet one guest just did not put it on. Here is the metaphor: The guest was not awake! As our young people would say today, he was not “woke.”
Paul’s friends in Philippi are urged to apply their minds to the unity that the Spirit desires in the Church. We can be in church and in active service and not be “woke.” Like the elder brother in the story of the prodigal son, we can be working at home with the father all our life and still know nothing of the father’s love. God wants us present in the banquet and fully awake and aware. Only then can the burial shroud that covers the nations, of which Isaiah speaks, be lifted from our hearts, too.

Sunday, October 8, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Jose Collazo
“Who Is in Charge?”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

What would be the answer now in Puerto Rico to the question “Who’s in charge?” In a chaotic situation, we may not even know who is in the position of authority! “Who’s in charge?” The question is at the heart of today’s parable. The emphasis in the parable is on relationships, not legal rights. An owner made expensive investments in a vineyard, then went far away. Nevertheless, he thought he was in charge only to realize that the renters who worked the land thought they were in charge. The workers even killed the owner’s son when he was sent to claim the owner’s share of the harvest.
God has put us in his world to be stewards of it. It is not ours, but God’s. Yet we think that even the church is ours, to use at our convenience. We forget that many of our opportunities come from hard work of others. We forget that we are to live for the benefit of others, not ourselves. We become possessive when we should be reaching out to the needs of others. If God is in charge, we must seek God’s standards and values, not those of the world. And if say we hear no demand from God, we have effectively moved to atheism!
Our call is to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior and to let him be in charge. God is all-powerful, and when we are not responsible for what we have been given to care for, God will judge us. The theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that when we refuse to surrender to God, we should not be surprised that we have not received the Holy Spirit and the blessings of God. In life and in death, we belong to God.

Sunday, October 1, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“God Is Working in You”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

When we have painful experiences of loss and suffering, we ask, Where is God in the midst of all this? Who is responsible? In our Scripture reading from Ezekiel, God recalls that the people use an old saying that holds parents responsible for what their children become. But God says there is a direct relationship between God and his children; we are each responsible for our own actions.
In Matthew, we read an account of the religious leaders’ conflict with Jesus. They question the source of his authority. Jesus responds by questioning whose authority they accept. By people’s actions, he says, we will know who is of God, and some may appear to be followers of God who do not show this in their lives. When God works in and through us, it is apparent in our fruits.
We are to think like Jesus did, even when this leads to suffering and death. It is not by our own energy and power, but by the power of God, that we are able to surrender and let God work in us to have lives of service. On this Sunday when we focus on Peace and Global Witness, we who live as part of the one billion in the world’s richest nations might think particularly about how we care about the other five billion people living in the world’s developing nations. How is God to work in us to bring peace in the world? We are invited by Paul to care about others as much as we care about ourselves. Which are we, the ones who say Yes but do nothing or the ones who may say No but who do what God wants?

Sunday, September 24, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“God’s Living Wage”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

The parable of the vineyard scandalizes its hearers. Laborers who work all day get the agreed wage, but workers who labor only a short time get the same pay. The last to be hired are not blamed for being without work most of the day, through no fault of their own. Reading the story of Jonah, we see that Jonah is scandalized by God’s compassion—upset that God will spare the people of Ninevah from destruction—though when a vine dies, he is angry because he wanted the plant for shade.
We are all trapped in the thinking of this world. We expect to be blessed by God, but we don’t believe others should be blessed. In our nation, we have zero-sum thinking; if there is money for this, then there will be no money for that. We ask, Who has to be torn down so that others can benefit? This is so different from the way God thinks.
In the world of work today, minimum wage workers labor all day, then have nothing left after paying for their necessities. In the interests of profit, industries do not retool their production facilities, leading to unemployment. Applications eliminate potential employees with a felony record even before they can present their qualifications. But the whole world should know the dignity of work and the ability to support oneself with a sustainable wage. In God’s compassionate eyes, this is not impossible. Paul tells the Philippians that they should live in a way that gives honor to Christ: They should work together, side by side.

Sunday, September 17, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“Forgive with All Your Heart”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

In one of Jesus’ parables, a king forgives his official a debt equivalent to 150,000 years’ salary, an immeasurable amount that teaches us what forgiveness is in God’s Kingdom. We cannot demand forgiveness, and to demand payment from another who has wronged us is to live by the measures of the world. But the Bible does not talk about cheap forgiveness. It must come from the heart, and its costly price is set in the context of relationships.
We are invited to live into the kind of forgiveness of others that God offers, recognizing that we also need to be forgiven. In giving and in receiving forgiveness, we belong to God. In the story of Joseph and his brothers, they come asking forgiveness and he exclaims, “Am I God?” He cannot change what has happened, but God uses it for good. In forgiveness, we are released from resentment and can go on.

Sunday, September 10, 2017
Preacher: Elder Tina Serlin
“I Am There with You”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

Our four Scripture readings today are connected through an emphasis on law and community. According to the passage in Romans 13, we are in community as we love one another. Love of God and neighbor is the Law we need to follow. If we love, God is with us. The Gospel of Matthew speaks of how we are to treat people who do not follow the Law. We are to begin by talking to them privately; next, by going to them with two or three others. Finally, if there is no change in their behavior, we are to go to the community; it is the community that will tell them that they are not acting as members of the community and will excommunicate them.
The concept of community is important. We think of it in these days when we have hurricanes and storms. We are in community with people who are affected. This includes the personal community of our own families. We are also part of a church community; it is a circle that faces inward toward our own members and outward toward others who need help and support. Let us find ways to support one another.

Sunday, September 3, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“Be Sincere in Your Love for Others”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

Sincerity in our love for others, (Romans 12:9)–whether those in Texas and Louisiana devastated by the hurricane, or those closer to home who are sick or in special need, or our president, as was remarked on by our liturgist–begins with sincerity in our love for God. Jeremiah teaches us how to be sincere in the intimacy of our prayer with God, and we learn that God answers with assurance and promise, even though it may not be on Jeremiah’s or on our terms. Peter learned this same lesson in his intimate conversation with Jesus about Jesus’ identity as messiah and what that would mean for Jesus and his followers.
Jesus was Son of God, but he would suffer and die on account of his nonviolent commitment to love at all costs. Peter found himself invited to follow suit. To be invited to take up our cross is to be invited to not take up the sword. In the wake of Charlottesville, the movement that seeks to resist violent anti-Semitism and white supremacism with true integrity has some deep soul searching work to do. It’s the work that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others had to do in their time–the work of counting the cost, guiding a movement, and then still walking the walk, knowing what the cost of nonviolent resistance  will be.

Sunday, August 20, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“Bread Nonetheless”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

The Canaanite woman, a foreigner who followed after Jesus, knew who he was and wanted what he had to offer. But both Jesus and his disciples wanted her to go away. When the woman doubled down in begging Jesus’ help, Jesus likewise doubled down in resistance. “It isn’t right to take food away from children and feed it to dogs,” he tells her (and he has just said that what comes from a person’s mouth shows what is in the person’s heart!). The woman is not deterred. She knows that bread thrown or fallen to the ground—even crumbs—is bread nonetheless. Jesus is changed by her perseverance. In his humanity, he has spoken harshly, but now he recognizes the truth of what she says. And her perseverance has also required her to forgive Jesus for his attitude toward her.
The response of the Church to people who come to it has often required their forgiveness of us. We are slow to recognize that grace and mercy are for all people. Yet Jesus’ example teaches us that people can change. We need the hope of his example in the face of what is happening in our nation today, as blind eyes are cast on economic inequality and on racism masking as “law and order.” We need a change of heart. The epistle to the Romans speaks of God’s mercy offered to all. We need to see that God calls us to relationships in which we share what God has given to us. The bread of God’s healing and love is bread nonetheless, wherever it may be. It is for all. God waits for us to have the humility to change, just as Jesus changed.

Sunday, August 13, 2017
Preacher: Patricia Pastas (commissioned lay pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Ridgefield, NJ)
“Ordinary Spirituality”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

In the modern world, some of our traditions are losing authority; in fact, religion has become optional. Why are we attracted to private spirituality and popular religion? Are we still looking for signs?
The scribes and Pharisees wanted signs—something flashy that would show them that Jesus was the Messiah. But Jesus told them the only sign they would receive would be the sign of Jonah—something yet to come, when he would lie in the tomb for three days; the real sign was Jesus’ own life. What they had already seen should have been sufficient, yet the Pharisees refused to follow Jesus, wanting a sign instead. Jesus accused them of being an “adulterous generation” (see Matthew 12:28 in the NRSV translation). That is, they were breaking a relationship with God just as adultery breaks a marriage. A marriage breaks when someone is dissatisfied. They were breaking the promises of the covenant.
Today many people want something “exciting,” but the way to faithfulness is to listen to Jesus rather than to seek new teachings and signs. Jesus said he was greater than the temple or Jonah or Solomon (see John 2:18-22). Jesus is prophet, priest, and king; Jesus is the true way. The teachings of Jesus are the ultimate revelation. The road of ordinary spirituality takes us along a path of listening to and following Christ. We are to stay clear of silly stories; we are to exercise spirituality daily in the word of God.

Sunday, August 6, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“Jesus’ Family-Style Meal”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

When Jesus heard about the terrible death of John the Baptist, he wanted to be alone. Though he tried to get away, however, he was followed by a huge crowd of people. And so, in spite of wanting to be alone, his heart opened with compassion to them. His compassion was like the compassion felt by God in Isaiah 55 (see the Scripture below), where we read that God invites everyone to come freely to a feast. God promises his eternal love to all. God addresses the people of Israel, telling them to call out a welcome to all the nations.
We can recognize that “compassion fatigue” sets in when we are tired of helping others. Yet, mysteriously, what we often need to do at such times is to engage in acts of service that express the love of God for others. This is what Jesus did when he was surrounded by the many people who followed him. He invited people to sit down on the grass in an action like a family’s—an action like a mother’s, who invites everyone to sit down and eat the food they are offered. The solution Jesus’ disciples had for meeting the needs of the hungry crowd was to send them away to buy their own food. But the Kingdom solution was to have people sit down, look each other in the face, engage with each other, and share food given from hand to hand. Jesus offered an abundant family meal that is the pattern for our Communion service and our coffee hour alike.
Paul expressed love for people who had not put faith in Christ, welcoming them. The father of the prodigal son, in the parable, welcomed his elder son to the table, urging him to be present with all the family. The model for our faith is not a solitary seeker meeting God. It is the humble work of hospitality in which God is revealed. The simple and the scarce become a feast, a bounty with /which all are filled. Jesus not only breaks bread and gives us the cup. He also takes us and breaks us to be open to others, to welcome those who do not feel welcome. He does this even when we are fatigued, even when we have done our bit and are now being asked to go the second mile.

Sunday, July 30, 2017
Preacher: the Rev. Alistair Drummond
“Ask for What You Really Want”
To read the Scripture for the day, click here.

What do we desire from life and from God? Solomon was told by God to ask for anything he wanted. In response, he humbly asked for wisdom to discern between right and wrong, and thereafter God also gave him much he had not asked for. We are reminded of the words, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God . . . and all these things shall be added unto you.”
Paul wrestled with the fact that we don’t always know what to ask for. We don’t know what is in our best interest; we have been attuned so long to what others want that we really don’t know what we want. Yet in humility we can put ourselves at God’s disposal; we can ask the Spirit to work in and through us. Amazing things happen when we do this, though others may only see what they think is sheer madness in us. It is like finding a treasure in a field and selling everything in order to buy that one field in order to get it—or selling everything in order to buy one highly valuable pearl. But when we are busy with trifling things in life, we resist the one thing God wants us to do. A T. S. Eliot poem says, “All manner of things shall be well / By the purification of the motive / In the ground of our beseeching.” Only through our asking and our listening can motives by purified by God. We need to be careful what we ask for and for what we give thanks. Twelve step programs teach that we should ask only for God’s will for ourselves and the knowledge of how to carry it out.

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.

 

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