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I do not think it means what you think it means…

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Here in these disunited states, we continue to struggle with a pernicious racism, even though race itself is an artificial construct with no basis in biology. This fault line through our national conscience is nowhere more clear than in our relationship with our president. This week, Tea Party protesters stood in front of the White House calling for Obama to be lynched, and who can forget the “Put the white back in the White House” tee-shirts from the 2012 election. We’ve clearly got work to do, and while these problems may seem distant to us, Selma was a long way from the South Shore of Long Island. And yet, our pastor of blessed memory…

Dividing folks, us vs. them, by color of skin, ethnicity, how we celebrate communion, this is both incredibly human, and incredibly wrong. Ted Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, touched on this theme more than once. Butter-side up or butter-side down?

It is then, with some trepidation, that I suggest dividing people neatly into three categories, but here goes… Continue reading →

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Not in the expected form

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Back when I was young, you learned cursive writing. I barely use it anymore, except when I have to sign something, and as I understand it, fewer and fewer kids are learning it. It was part of the three “r’s,” reading, writing and ‘rithmetic… clearly spelling was not one of the “r’s,” since the “a” at the beginning of arithmetic was viewed as optional. Today, we are teaching a new set of “r’s,” reduce, re-use and recycle. And its a good thing, given the accelerating pace at which the human animal is destroying the ability of the planet to support life. But we’ll get back to the doom and gloom.

In truth, humans have been historically good at the “three “R’s” of reduce, re-use and recycle right up until the Industrial Age. Most humans had to re-use and recycle, poverty and limited supply meant it was what you did to get by, long before the fashionable term “upcycle” was even coined. And we didn’t just recycle hand-me-down clothing and stale bread. We recycled bits of culture too, stories, snippets of music. Britten uses Purcell in his Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Joyce turns Odysseus into an Irish Jew wandering the streets of Dublin. Warhol turns the Mona Lisa into serialized pop screen prints in neon hues. We add and reconfigure and appropriate. It is good, creative, holy. It is what we do. Continue reading →

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A Gathering Prayer

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St. Thomas Merton spoke of uncertainty
and desire
And we come before you
Our Lord and God
Uncertain,
Of where we are going,
Of the road ahead,
Of ourselves.
But like Brother Thomas,
we have faith in you
that if we desire to do your will
you will guide us by the right road
Fill us with that desire
cover us in courage
and unfold your challenging word
in our worship and in our lives.
Amen.

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The Judgment of Solomon

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The Roman Empire had respect for things that were old. Their own pantheon of gods was derived from the Hellenistic culture of Greece and the eastern Mediterranean. They were able to accept the Egyptian gods when they conquered that land. They were a little twitchy about the Hebrew god, because the Hebrews insisted on exclusive worship of Yahweh, which was just weird, and wouldn’t participate in the Imperial cult. This lead to a few conflicts, but ultimately, the fact that the Hebrew god was an ancient god was enough, and the Hebrews were tolerated. Continue reading →

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A Pastoral Response to Fear and Ebola

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When I was young, a distant cousin was convinced that Skylab, falling out of orbit, would fall on her home and kill her. The threat was not real, but her fear was. It changed her behavior for several weeks, making her world a small and threatening place.

On 9/11, I walked from lower Manhattan, back to my home in Queens, crossing with thousands the Queensboro Bridge. Exhausted, anxious, at the bottom of the bridge I discovered merchants from that neighborhood handing bottles of water to anyone who would take them. Ironically, most of these merchants were Pakistani, and would find themselves anxious and afraid in the coming weeks as violence against Sikhs and Muslims spread throughout the country. I would succumb to fear as well, experiencing panic attacks when I was in high profile sites listed as potential targets by law enforcement and the news media.

Fear is a powerful thing, a weapon that is used all too often, to drive up ratings, to incite violence, to gain political advantage.

Ebola is a terrible disease. It has been around for years, and has reached epidemic proportions in West Africa, a region with repeated civil wars and ethnic conflict, with distrust of government, and with health systems that are primitive by Western standards.

There have been two cases of Ebola transmission in the US. Both cases involved nurses who had direct contact with the bodily fluids of a patient who contracted the disease in West Africa. There has been no casual transmission of the disease in the US. And, so far, the other cases treated here, those originating in West Africa and the two domestic cases, have not proved fatal. The first two patients have recovered, and one has contributed to the care of others.

Reputable news outlets have played a contradictory game with this crisis. I regularly watch ABC News, where they tease the great disaster one moment, only to have their in-house expert, a former Acting Director of the Center for Disease Control, play down those fears the next. Less reputable news outlets have manipulated the situation to further their extremist agenda.

Have you wondered why Ebola is the focus, and not Enterovirus 68, which is actually spreading throughout the United States, killing and crippling children? Could it be because Ebola originates in Africa, playing into the racist fears flamed by extremists in recent years? Is this one more case of “fear of the black man,” no different than the false charges that our current president takes too many vacations, a charge meant to invoke the “lazy black man” trope of the Jim Crow South? (When in fact, he takes fewer vacations days out of the White House than his predecessor.)

There are enough things to make us anxious without being lead into fear by those with an agenda, whether it be profit or politics. And fear changes us. We are less ourselves. A society gripped in fear turns violent, seeks scapegoats, from Kristallnacht to the murder of Sikhs after 9/11.

Be informed. Use common sense, both is responding to health concerns, and in choosing your exposure to the poison of fear-mongering. And remember, if we trust in our God and in the promises of Jesus, then we can choose to live into his instruction to those who would follow him. “Be not afraid.”

Blessings,
Pastor Gary

 

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Sinful Genes: Sermon for the Decalogue

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We speak of aimlessness and sin. We wash away sins in the rivers of baptism. We seek forgiveness for our sins. Some claim that Christ died for our sins, paying it forward across thousands of years for countless individuals. But what is this sin of which we speak? And is there anything “original” about it? Can it be passed on from generation to generation, as a blood guilt, as sinful genes, as a portion of today’s reading suggests? Continue reading →

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A 9/11 Prayer for 2014

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Blessed Savior,
we speak of celestial beings that attend thee,
we sing of spacious skies,
we think of heaven as up,
no matter where we stand on the
round jewel that is our home…
But again, like many years ago
the skies have not been friendly…
planes brought down by violence,
by accident,
or simply lost.
We are brought up short by such loss,
and humbled in our powerlessness
before forces of hatred and avarice.
Then we are reminded that we are not our own,
that we belong to a loving Creator,
and that we are called to be people of hope –
that the practice of hope is a practice of faith,
and we believe –
that you can soften hardened hearts,
that faith, hope and love abide…
and that the greatest of these is love…
your love for us,
our love for one another,
and the love we are called to…
to love the stranger,
to love our enemies.
Fill us with your love,
that we might change lives,
and follow on your way.
Amen.

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Final Sermon on the Book of Ruth: August 31st

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Many of you are already familiar with the myths of Ancient Greece. They are powerful, filled with archetype, stories of devotion and love. And lust. And murder. And divine manipulation. Perfect for a new series on Showtime… though even cable television might find some of the stories distasteful. So we come to the founding hero of Athens, one Theseus. And, as always, there is a back story, for despite the biological impossibility of the thing, Theseus has two fathers. One, Aegeus, is a powerful mortal king. He might be the first bigamist, for he goes out of town to take a wife, the daughter of another king. On the night of their wedding, having consummated their marriage, the bride promptly goes down to the beach and gets funky with Poseidon. And so Theseus is conceived as a quarter god. Aegeus buries his sword and sandals under a huge rock, and says the boy can claim them, if he is heroic enough, and so confirm his royal parentage. And then Augeus does what all good bigamists do. He promptly goes home, where he takes up with Medea, fresh from killing her own sons. Continue reading →

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A Gathering Prayer

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Challenging Creator, we always come with the same silly hope, that somehow being here for an hour on Sunday will provoke a divine magic act, that we will suddenly feel okay, that life will be easy and fair, that we will be freed from the world of sin and despair. We know this is not so, but we repeat the ritual week after week. Forgive us our delusion, for in our hearts we know the truth, that your word is a word of challenge, that we are called to be broken and remade every week by the power of your word, cleansed by the fire of the Spirit, re-invigorated by the waters of baptism. We know that this is not our home, that our home is in the world, that you send us out to do your will, and so we pray that in this place we might be prepared and transformed, comforted for a moment before we return to your mission: that we might deepen faith, that we might make disciples, that we might build your just and caring realm. Amen.

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