Lent

Dialogues with Harlem Heritage: A Church’s Prophetic Voice in the Context of Diversity

Beloved community illustration, urtcan / Shutterstock.com

Beloved community illustration, urtcan / Shutterstock.com

I stepped off the elevator and was greeted by three men with hoodies in church yesterday. My shoulders tensed for a few moments. Growing up in New York City, I’ve been groomed in paranoia and 20/20 peripheral eyesight. Yet after taking a second look, I smiled as I admired the theater props: Three hooded figures containing the faces of Hillary Clinton, Jay Z, and Trayvon Martin, with a caption reading, “We are Trayvon Martin.”

Metro Hope Church meets weekly at Harlem’s National Black Theater, so our church gatherings can often be a dance in improvisation as we’re frequently welcomed by new sets. One summer we were greeted by a gigantic “tree” protruding from center stage. It made this preacher’s imagination run vivid with all sorts of sermon possibilities.

But the hooded figures that greeted me last Sunday were a tribute to Trayvon Martin called, Facing our Truth: 10 Minute Plays on Race and Privilege. This month also happens to be the month that Trayvon Martin was born, and a month for celebration of Black History. These convergences do not escape me, nor does the distinct mission of our church in Harlem.

No stranger to dialogue on race and privilege, our church will often reflect on Dr. King who once lamented, “We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America … 11:00 on Sunday morning …we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation.”

Marked with Ashes and Bearing the Cross

Ash Wednesday illustration, Ansis Klucis / Shutterstock.com

Ash Wednesday illustration, Ansis Klucis / Shutterstock.com

With the exception of “WWJD” bracelets, there are few times when outward physical appearance reveals Jesus followers in the public square. Other religions often require their faithful to move through the mundane activities of life outwardly proclaiming the core of their faith. For the traditional Hindi it is the saree or the sherwani. For the Muslim it may be the kurta or hijab; for the traditional Jew the yamaka or headscarf. Every day around the world these men and women move through life, often in cultures unlike their own — marked.

Once a year the global body of Christ reveals itself to the world en masse. Foreheads marked with ashes, the global church moves through the first day of Lent with the sign of the cross in plain view for all to see. In the midst of the mundane, those ashes blend with sweat and soot and reveal to the world just who is a follower of Jesus in their midst.

It is a profound feeling to move through the streets of Washington, D.C., New York, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, or Huntsville, Ala., with your deepest beliefs marked on your forehead.

The Lenten mark of the cross, in tangible form, brings the church into solidarity with Jesus’ 40-day struggle in the wilderness — the place of desolation, the place of waiting and wandering, temptation, and confrontation with the limitations of our human-ness.

Vatican Defends Pope Francis’ Washing of Women’s Feet

Pope Francis waves during his inauguration Mass at St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Photo courtesy RNS.

The Vatican on Friday dismissed criticism of Pope Francis’ decision to wash the feet of two women during a Maundy Thursday Mass at a Rome youth prison.

The move has come under fire from Catholic traditionalists who say that the rite is a re-enactment of Jesus washing the feet of the 12 apostles before his death, and thus should be limited only to men.

Traditionally, popes have washed the feet of 12 priests during a solemn Mass in Rome’s St. John Lateran Basilica.

Welcoming Christ by Welcoming the Stranger

The night was cold and dark as the family approached the border. Ahead of them were miles of desert that would test their will and drain their stamina. What they were doing defied the law. But they were a family, and families will do anything for the sake of their children.

The law they defied was that of Herod. The family: Joseph, Mary and the Christ-child.

As Christians prepare to celebrate Easter, let us remember that the life that ended on the cross began on the road. This Easter, let us remember that Christ the Savior began his life as an immigrant, fleeing the land where he was born to escape Herod’s wrath.

Easter is a holiday of new beginnings. It welcomes a new season. It is a time to start fresh. At the heart of Easter is a magnificent reservoir of grace. Of this holiday, Katherine Lee Bates reflected, “It is the hour to rend thy chains, the blossom time of souls.” Easter is a time to set people free, fix things that are broken, watch souls blossom — all for glory of the risen Christ.

Good Friday: How Deep the Father's Love Is For Us

Image of the crucifixion, Daniela Sachsenheimer / Shutterstock.com

Image of the crucifixion, Daniela Sachsenheimer / Shutterstock.com

The first Christians confessed that Jesus is "God from God, light from light, true God from true God." Jesus is, they finally confessed after centuries of dispute, who the Gospels and the apostles plainly tell us: God without qualification. Bethlehem's baby boy grew to be the man from Nazareth, who is also from before time and forever the only begotten Son.

Jesus tells Philip that he and the Father are one; that if Philip has seen Jesus, then Philip has seen the Father. Paul tells the Colossians that Christ is the visible image of the unseen God. The Hebrews are taught by their apostle that Jesus bears the very stamp of God's nature.

If anything we think we knew about God before Jesus arrives in Mary's womb contradicts what we see and hear of Jesus in the Gospels, then we are the ones who are mistaken, the ones who weren't paying close enough attention before he came (yes, Jesus reveals the same relationship-initiating God of holy love we encounter in the pages of the Hebrew Bible); we are the ones who have, since his decades of extravagant humility among us as one of us, forgotten the Christ.

On Scripture: How Long Does Darkness Last?

Darkness illustration, imy / Shutterstock.com

Darkness illustration, imy / Shutterstock.com

For the sake of the world, we should all be feminists. And given what we know about the role of independent, empowered women in the community of disciples, for the sake world, we might be “Christians.”

Raymond Brown, the late, great scholar of John, writes: “In this Gospel, where light and darkness play such a role, darkness lasts until someone believes in the risen Jesus.”  

Therefore no darkness, no heartbreak, no grief, no injustice can long stand where the Risen Christ is proclaimed. Jesus Christ is the light of the world.  The light shines in the darknessa and the darkness does not — cannot — will not overcome the light. 

Just Leave Me Alone!

Door hanger, PondPond/ Shutterstock.com

Door hanger, PondPond/ Shutterstock.com

We are offered a significant choice, namely between two ways of being human. The difference between logical necessities or physical necessities and vital necessities is made clear in that in the latter we have the possibility of refusing ‘to turn away from a disaster’ – we can in fact choose a lesser way of being human over a fuller way. What is at stake in the necessity of cry is one’s own humanity, the meaning of one’s own existence, and to turn away from crying is to turn away from decision and responsibility. This is to deny the very possibility of becoming genuinely human.

Preparing the Way: Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Bible opened to the sermon on the mount, Vibe Images/ Shutterstock.com

Bible opened to the sermon on the mount, Vibe Images/ Shutterstock.com

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Social Justice Reflection:

Jesus was a peacemaking, blessed child of God, but he also was an “other.” Reviled and persecuted, he was the paperless son of displaced immigrant parents. The prophetic iconoclast. That guy who hung out with those people, the type most modern leaders would not associate with, except for a photo opportunity at a Thanksgiving Day soup kitchen. Let us remember on Sunday when we celebrate his resurrection, that Jesus was crucified because he was an outsider whose way of doing things scared and angered the powers-that-be.

We have become a nation that loves to “other” people. We point out their differences as reasons they cannot be trusted, as evidence that they take too much from the rest of us or threaten our well-being. We have lengthy, bitter debates about allegiance and legitimacy, and we reject those who do not meet our standards. We know who belongs, and the others need to clear out and leave us alone with our worldly possessions, our rules, and our way of doing things.

Sermon: Knowing Our Own Minds

 Decorated palm,  nito / Shutterstock.com

Decorated palm, nito / Shutterstock.com

We're anticipating.
We're jubilant!
“Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

So, we dance and we sing.

But just before this moment in the story there's this surprising passage. The Gospel of Luke reads, "As they were listening to this, he went to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they assumed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately."

"Immediately." Well, at least they knew their own minds. This is the trouble about knowing our own minds. It's not the same thing as having a thesis with a well constructed argument. And it's not the same thing as being right.

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