Showing posts from 2018

A decree went out

In those days a decree went out from President Trump - no wait, it was Emperor Augustus. Well, there's always someone who thinks they're on top... Anyway, a decree went out that all the world should be registered. Because the empire needs everyone to have papers. Without papers, you can't be properly tracked, can't be properly taxed, can't be properly subject to those trying to run the show.

This was the first registration and was taken while Bashar al-Assad was governor of Syria. (Or was it Quirinius? So many governors...) All went to their own towns to be registered. Maybe that's where the original papers were. Or maybe it's because once you're a Judean, always a Judean, once a Mexican, always a Mexican. Once a Kurd, an Eritrean, a Cambodian, a Yemeni... you get the idea. The Authorities said you'd better get the idea.

Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended fro…

The night is long, but the light still shines

Light in the darkness, a road through a wasteland, welcome in a foreign land, shelter in a storm. Pick your image. There is never a time and place where we cannot use hope, and grace, comfort and assurance.

Last week it was with people turning grief into action. Tuesday night it was in jail. Wednesday night it was in church. Thursday it was at a lunch table. Someday soon it could be at a manger.

Where there is love, help us to find it. Teach us to know that a shadow is only a shadow, because the light of eternal goodness shines behind the object of our fears.

May these days be holy for you.

Candlelighting, Blue Christmas service, November 19, 2018, Christ Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Jersey City.

Remembering still

Seventeen years later, we are still in the business of remembering. And there is so much to remember.

The beautiful clear sky. The terror streaking out of the skies. The death and destruction, the anguished waiting. The bravery and compassion multiplied by thousands and millions as people strove to help their neighbors. And also the way the evil of a few escalated into seventeen years of war with no end in sight.

We remember the ones who died that day. The photo above (taken some years after 2001) shows an altar at St. Paul's Chapel, shining forth the faces of some of those beloved people. Their family and friends still know their loss personally. Like Danny Correa, the 25 year old man looking out from the lower left of the picture. "I dance in the clouds and soak in the haze," he emailed a friend, soon after he started working near the top of the North Tower. He was very happy to get that job, which allowed him to provide for his daughter, complete his bachelor's d…

Psalm 24 - The earth is the Lord’s

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;...
Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.
They will receive blessing from the LORD...
Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory.
Psalm 24 (NRSV)

This had better be a psalm of hope. Who shall stand in God’s holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts.

That may add up to a large number - but is definitely a small proportion. Even on my best days, that is aspirational more than actual.

The religion of ancient Israel understood that in the course of life and through our very nature, we will not always be right and righteous before God. We do and say and sometimes simply encounter things which compromise our…

Psalm 85 – Righteousness and peace will kiss

LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin.
You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.
Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us.
Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for she will speak peace to her people,
to her faithful, to those who turn to her in their hearts.
Surely God’s salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its incr…

Psalm 150 - Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise God in his mighty firmament!
Praise God for her mighty deeds;
praise God according to her surpassing greatness!...
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!

Psalm 150

We do not always know why our ancestors in faith organized the books and chapters of the Bible the way they did, but it seems fitting to end the prayerbook and hymnbook of Psalms with praise.

This psalm does not break any new ground, referring to things we have heard before: God is in the heavens and in the sanctuary, God is mighty, and worthy to be praised with all we've got. The psalm was clearly was intended for singing. Take note: praise songs were not invented yesterday!

It's usually a good idea to end on a high note. We like to leave worship or prayer filled with the goodness of God and overflowing with praise. While the Psalms make plenty of space for other dimensions of human experience, the Psalter concludes with a praise-heavy section (think especia…

Psalm 123 - An end to contempt

To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy upon us.
Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.

Very often it takes us time to get to our real issue. This tiny four-verse psalm starts by looking repeatedly to the Lord, and then asks three times for mercy. Only then do we confess our problem.

Contempt seems to be one of the spirits of this age. We hear it from, and directed against, our highest elected leaders. We hear it directed against, individuals, groups, nations. We all know people who spout venom seemingly without thinking, often without even knowing the people or things they're maligning.

The psalm says that our our soul has had t…

A new creation

1 Corinthians 5:1, 6-17
Fourth Sunday of Pentecost - June 17, 2018
First Reformed Church, Secaucus, NJ

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away. See! Everything has become new.

Sometimes the proclamation rushes on ahead of us. For those of us getting deeper into the aging process, we may not be so eager to see everything old pass away. And we know in our bones that not everything has become new. In fact, we look around us and see some of the same old, same old. Politics in Hudson County and the nation have not been transformed. Most of us have not made dramatic changes for the good in the past days and months.

Perhaps you have been as shocked and distressed, and saddened and angered as I have been at the news of recent weeks, Perhaps you have seen the picture of the two year old girl at the border, and know that thousands of children and their parents have been separated as both children and adults are placed into detention.

It's easy to lo…

Jesus the Healer

Mark 5:21-43
Sixth Sunday of Pentecost - July 1, 2018
St. John Lutheran Church, Union City, NJ

Normally I would just jump right in to talking about this text and the message for the day, but a few years back my home congregation had a pastoral vacancy. We had one supply pastor that would come every few months or so, and each time he would say a word to introduce himself, so he wouldn’t be quite a stranger just hopping into the pulpit. I liked that, I found it extended respect to me and to our congregation. So I’m going to emulate him and say just a brief word about me. I want to thank you and Pastor Paterson for inviting me to share worship and the Word with you this morning. This very warm morning.

I’m Paul Bellan-Boyer, from Jersey City, and I have been a Lutheran almost all my life, certainly since my parents adopted me way back in June 1958 – you do the math! I’m a member at St. Matthew’s in Jersey City, and have been involved in the Lutheran church and the wider church here in Hu…

America the Beautiful

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

The people of this land named America have always been able to agree on its natural beauty. The poem, written in 1893 by a 33 year old English professor, Katharine Lee Bates, has long-evoked this love of our native (or adopted) land. The poem came to her on Pike's Peak, and when later joined to music composed by church organist and choirmaster Samuel A. Ward at Grace Episcopal Church in Newark, New Jersey, has become part of our national library of sacred texts, which we use to define our nation's spirit.

The images speak of more than the natural beauty of the landscape. The amber waves of grain and fruited plains point to our transformation of the land into productive agriculture. The purple mountains have their visual majesty and are also natural resources for extraction of mineral wealth. Three years earlier, the U.S. Census had declared that the frontier no long…

Koko Love

I want to remember someone who gave me joy and hope and inspiration every time I heard her story or saw her. Ambassador, Educator, Artist, Friend to Many, and Lover of Kittens, Koko the Gorilla died Tuesday night in her sleep, aged forty-six, at her home in Woodside, California.

Koko, and her caregivers, did more than anyone else to shatter the notion that non-human animals are capable of very human emotions and behaviors, including speech, play, and creative thought.

There are many articles and videos out there. Time spent with Koko is well worth it. You can see in this grand old gorilla lady the face of humanity and the loving nature of creation.

This post is titled with her most famous quote, which she signed again and again: "Koko love." Koko loved her adopted kittens. Koko loved her lifetime trainer, Dr. Francine “Penny” Patterson. She loved making new friends. And she loved being understood.

She will be missed. But she helped humanity be a little more humane, and that…

Where is America?

I apologize for this picture. It is disturbing to any ordinary human being. And I apologize for the fact that the girl is crying. And I am deeply sorry that she will be hurt still more by state-sponsored child abuse perpetrated by the United States of America. You can see the U.S. (that's us) right there on the door behind the frightened girl.

This American nation has never been a perfect beacon. We have done things far worse than this. Slavery and Jim Crow, the Native American Genocide, the Japanese internment, various unprovoked wars inflicted on other lands, killing hundreds of thousands and millions. In all of these cases, there was a complex interplay of motivations, greed and pride and fear. Always fear.

But this latest sick fantasy of Donald Trunp and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions strikes me as distinctly different. It is just plain cruel.

There is NO REASON to take these children from their parents. We should see this little girl in front of us every single day until this n…

Memorial Day 2018

People enter the United States armed forces for many different reasons. Over the course of our nation's history some have been conscripted. Sometimes young men have been given the alternative of jail or enlistment. Sometimes people see it as a career, and in recent years, educational benefits have played a part. Almost all serve with a deep love of country. But regardless of how people get into the military, they hold one thing in common.

They agree to devote their time, and work, their bodies, and sometimes their lives to their nation, but in a very particular way. "I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..." (from the Oath of Enlistment and Oath of Office.

While people intuitively understand defending their native land or group ("blood and soil"), America asks for and holds its military to a different obligation. The Constitution is the document which holds us together as a nation, the legal emb…

A tough day for mothers

On Mother's Day we celebrate the mothers in our community, and the great gifts they bring to the world and to their children. Yet amidst the flowers and dinners out, not every part of motherhood is lifted up equally. Motherhood may be the hardest vocation in the world.

Unlike fathers, mothers necessarily make room for new life not only in their lives, but in their very bodies. Then, there is no childbirth without pain. Ever since there have been mothers, they have fed their children, sheltered and protected them, taught and nurtured them, and sent them out into the world with prayers that they might be well. Mothers live knowing that their child's safety is not a given, and that their worst fears can be realized when children come to harm.

Over the past years and this week I have spoken with mothers who grieve the death of their children. While I have not taken a poll, I believe that every single one of them would have traded their life for that of their daughter or son. Every…

Prayer for peace

Almighty God, ruler of heaven and earth, all lands are yours. So too, all people are your beloved. We know this night that not all rulers are just. We pray that you protect the innocent. That you guide all people to turn away from destruction. Lead us out of the nightmare of violence, and protect everyone in harm's way. Topple every tyrant, and establish your peace among nations. Though that dream seems far away, it is yours, and may it ever be ours. Amen.

Mid Night waiting-3, by Rajesh98.

Fifty years after King

Fifty years ago this April 4, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered. We have now been without him longer than he walked on earth. His public ministry lasted a mere 14 years. Called as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in 1954, he quickly became a leader of the Montgomery bus boycott. Following its success, his ministry expanded well beyond the call of a tall-steeple pastor.

Since his assassination, Martin King has become an icon of American righteousness, and deployed as a symbol in service of many different agendas. Probably most often, he is used as a heroic symbol of racial progress.

We conveniently forget how much opposition King encountered. We forget how few people and organizations joined with him, even at the height of his success and popularity. We forget how, after having made gains in civil rights in the South, King was fought to his death when he took on civil rights in the North, the evil of the Vietnam War, and economic justice for poor people of all sk…

April Fool!

Hope is dead. Good can never win, evil is just too powerful. Jesus is rotting in the tomb.

April Fool!

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 1 Corinthians 1:25

"The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

"When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it--always."

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to…

Sabbatum Sanctum

Sabbatum Sanctum, Holy Saturday, known also Great Saturday, the Great Sabbath, Black Saturday, Joyous Saturday, or Easter Eve, is that day long deep breath between Christ's death and resurrection.

It doesn't get the same liturgical attention as Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, or Easter Sunday, because, formally speaking, nothing happens.

Epitaphios - Tapestry depicting Christ's burial,
used in the Great Saturday liturgy.

Jesus' friends laid him hurriedly in the tomb Friday in advance of sunset and Sabbath. And then they laid low. The gospels go silent until Sunday morning, about 36 hours later.

Any and all the action is off-stage, buried in the ground, hidden behind the stone, shrouded in the Great Mystery.

Tradition has not been able to be as silent as the gospels and has filled in the blanks with two competing stories. The Matins Canon of Holy and Great Saturday has a tone of watchful expectation, with Jesus observing Sabbath rest.

Saint Patrick

There is probably no way to tease apart the Patrick of history and that of legend. What is certain is that he, with Saint Bridget, was one of the key leaders of the church which established Christianity in Ireland.

One of the more compelling parts of his story is that he was a slave who escaped Ireland, and later returned to spread the gospel of Christ. Patrick's Confessio tells that his time in captivity was critical to his spiritual development and embrace of Christianity. He also tells that while a captive, he worked as a shepherd, prefiguring his later work as bishop. The legend is challenged, and he and his family may have been slave-owners and slaver-traders, something which was prevalent in Ireland at the time, and permitted and regulated by the Church. ("Was St. Patrick really a slave trader and tax collector?" by James O'Shea.) Whatever the truth, the tradition lifts up the hope of freedom.

What is not in dispute, is Patrick's emphasis on the Trinitaria…