Life and Death

First Sunday in Lent

First Presbyterian Church of Hightstown

Genesis 9: 8-17 and Mark 1: 9-15

I regret bringing a child into this world. It may not be everyday, but some days I am just not certain where even a glimmer of hope resides. The only thing I can do to make it through those days is to go through the motions until I wake up the next day, yearning to feel differently.

It’s the reality that people feel compelled to flee their homelands and everything that is familiar for an uncertain future; individuals or families who travel miles over land and sea toward a place that they have never seen because that place is better than what they know day to day.

As the child of an immigrant, I carry worry on my shoulders for all of the families that may be torn apart as their homes are raided and loved ones taken away as they watch. Or for all the people who look like me, who will perpetually look like foreigners in our own homeland…asked, “No, where are you really from?” or given the compliment, “You speak English so well.”

I listen to the radio and watch television only to bathe in the fear and divisiveness taking over our nation…and that’s just the stories that make it to the news. We fear those who look different than us. Our differences have become liabilities rather than strengths within our communities. And if we are really honest with ourselves, all of this division is inside of our church walls as much as it is outside of them.

And then, on Ash Wednesday, another school shooting. The most captivating photograph for me was a woman with dark, black ashes on her forehead in the figure of a cross holding an inconsolable teenager in her arms. Marked by the ashen cross that said, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” she walked right t the doorway of death. Stories of teens who captured the chaos on video with their phones and Sarah Crescitelli who text messaged her parents while sitting in a bathroom for two hours in the school, saying, “If I don’t make it I love you and I appreciated everything you did for me.”

I drop off my son at his elementary school each day and worry, if even just for a brief moment, that he might not be safe. I worry that my phone will ring, alerting me that a shooter has made their way into the school. Did Jonathan duck fast enough? Did his teacher make it to the door to lock it? What will he have witnessed? What will he have felt? Will he even be alive so that I can ask him these questions?

I’ve brought Jonathan into a world that makes me question if we can live as a beloved, diverse body of Christ where there is no “other”…an actual place where we can live together.

Honestly, I want to start over. And that’s exactly what we get in today’s reading from Genesis. Don’t forget today’s reading was the result of divine anger and desire for justice. The world had become so sinful and broken that God saw no other way but to flood it with death. The cheery nursery wallpaper or up-beat tunes from children’s choirs proclaiming animals entering the ark two by two. But it was forty days surrounding by the rushing waters of death for Noah and his family. They were the only human beings left; one family to reclaim the vision for Creation once the vessel hit dry land. We know how the story ended, with a dove delivering a sprig of olive branch that illustrated a world reborn, but at that time, the encouragement to build an ark because of a holy foreshadowing of death followed by forty days on it must have been a terror-filled nightmare for Noah and his family; I don’t doubt that at least one night included dreams death rather than the unappealing smelly cabin of an tightly packed, animal filled ark surrounded by choppy waters.

The flood was death and resurrection for so that God’s justice could reign. Perhaps we are so forgone that we need this kind of life and death scenario so that Creation can be reborn again.

And yet, verses 13-16 of Genesis tell us of a different story this morning: “I have set my bow in the clouds and it shall be a sign between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant…”

Right here, in this very first covenant in all of Scripture, God gives up divine power and commits to the flesh of all Creation. This was as radical a theological claim for the Hebrews as it is for us today. God surrenders any ability to allow anger to demand justice, replacing these inclinations with mercy and love. And, unlike any of the other covenants in Scripture, this is one sided. God promises not to flood the earth despite whatever humankind or any living being does to destroy the heavenly potential of what has been created. Look in the text again and you will see that the bow reminds God of the covenant. The arch of the bow points away from the earth in a testimony that violence will not offer a solution, no matter how far we have strayed from God’s vision.

God commits to a different answer to sin than violence.

The covenant to be on the side of flesh and blood deepens from the moment that Christ takes his first breath as a baby and now here he is, depicted by Mark’s gospel at the beginning of his ministry. The temptation story is always the reading for the first Sunday in Lent but we don’t get much from this narrative. There certainly isn’t a list of the specifics of what unfolding while he was there. Instead we just know that Jesus was baptized, claimed by God as a son and beloved, before the Spirit “drives him out into the wilderness.” (v. 12)

But a few things stand out for me in this passage. First, the word in the original Greek that we translate as “wild beasts” is actually more accurately read as “dangerous beings.” Implied in here is the confrontation that Jesus must face during his time on earth; the danger and conflict begins here, soon to escalate as he challenges the assumptions of what it means to be a person of faith. Secondly, the verb from “the angels waited on him” is better understood as “the angels served him.” Nine chapters from now, Jesus will say that he came to serve, not to be served (10:45). Service in the midst of fear, threats, and wilderness moments is all exactly what will shape his ministry. Finally, in the midst of this whole wilderness struggle, Jesus is sent out with everything that he needs. The waters of baptism claim and prepare him to be sent into the wilderness for forty days on his own. Once the torrential waters of the flood in Genesis, the same element becomes the covenant that bathed over Christ so that he might fulfill his mission.

From the beginning of Mark’s gospel we see that Jesus cannot escape his incarnation, the flesh and blood that God embodied for even this brief time on earth. And if he cannot escape his incarnation, neither can we flee from our existence or distance ourselves from what is happening “out there,” no matter how broken the world is before us.

Mark’s gospel doesn’t give Jesus time to recover from his forty days in the wilderness because he emerges to learn that John the Baptist was arrested. His cousin who proclaimed the way ahead was taken in shackles and left with an uncertain future (though we know what happened).

But here’s the thing: the narrative ends, “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the Good news of God and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’” (v. 14-15)

The good news still exists in a world that arrests people who testify to Christ’s salvation through repentance and new life.

The good news lives through the actions of our youth like Hannah who see the divisiveness of their school cafeteria and demand a safe space for all students.

It lives in the work of our Mission Committee who desires this church to be a place where all visitors are welcomed into the body of Christ, not left to feel unknown and unnamed on a Sunday morning.

It’s in the work of the deacons who prepared this past Ash Wednesday service and, through Scripture, prayer and song, reminded those present that our lives mark us for service even if we are here for the briefest of times.

The good news is in the rainbow flag that hangs on the door of this church as a testimony to the LGBTQAI community that they are a part of our community too, that no danger or judgment will come to them if they worship here in this place.

It’s in the countless children, families, and individuals who walk through our doors during the week to be fed physically and spiritually.

The good news is within each one of you here today. You are a living testimony to God’s covenant of mercy and love.

Often Lent becomes a season of self-reflection on the sin and brokenness that keeps us from God. But recently I can’t stop myself from thinking that this year could be different. If we give something up for Lent (chocolate, social media, television, or any number of things), we get to put them right back into our lives after this forty day journey. We take the opportunity to pick right back up where we left off at the beginning of Lent…and we base them on these small stumbling blocks rather than the wilderness experience of living in a world that is violent, divided, and broken in ways that seem irreparable.

But what if we hung our temptations up in the same way that God placed the bow in the sky, as a reminder that we would not fall captive to the pressures and sinfulness of this world again; because if we did this, our feelings at the end of this Lenten journey are not relief that we made it but, instead, a proclamation of what we believe now more deeply than we ever did before. We would testify that, even in this wilderness that we can life, God can still proclaim the good news in and through each one of us.

As this Lenten journey commences, may you deeply explore the love of God that transforms mere life and death into resurrection hope.

Dear fellow Presbyterians

Dear friends and colleagues,

You have seen the facts: we’ve had more mass shootings this year than there are days, we are 5% of the world population and account for 1/3 of its mass shootings, and that there was not one but two shootings in our country on December 2 (and that’s what made the news).

I spent much of last night posting overtures and reports from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). I didn’t do this just because I am the vice moderator and feel as though I need to inform others about the resources that our at our fingertips. Each Sunday when I opened the bulletin of my church, I would read, “We are all ministers of the church.” I didn’t really think that much about the statement growing up. There is not a hierarchy. There isn’t a boss who demands certain actions. We are all ministers doing the work we are called to on this earth.

We are a denomination of words. We’re great at policy making and debate. Some would even say experts! But as I watched the news unfold yesterday and today, I am reminded that we are all ministers.

It’s time for us stand up and demand more, both of ourselves and others. We have the policies and words to back us up. We know what the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) states about gun violence. It’s now up to us to do something about it. We can no longer avoid the tough conversations with our neighbors in the pews, leave the messaging to the preacher in the pulpit, rely on our pastors to do the leg work in our communities or believe that a statement from the denomination will be enough.

We are all ministers. We are all the Church.

We’ve engaged in a churchwide conversation about the identity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). I want us to continue to engage in policy and statement making because it’s a way that we have a voice in the national conversation. But I also hope that our identity involves the local congregations to presbyteries to synods to the national leadership doing the hard, tough work of educating/engaging one another and our politicians in demanding changes to address gun violence. I want to be a part of a denomination that recognizes the historical reality of America that racializes others when faced with fear and decides to respond with love; we need to look no further than the Japanese internment, a black teenager wearing a hoodie, a Sikh man questioned about his Muslim beliefs, or news outlets that yesterday said the shooters names sounded, “foreign.” I want us to remember the photographs of Aylan Kurdi washing up on the Turkish beach and we open our doors to welcome more Syrian refugees because others pull back in suspicion.

Let’s not just talk about who we are as a denomination…let’s live it.

Gun Violence Prevention from 221st General Assembly (2014)

Gun Violence Policy from 219th General Assembly

Resource created for congregations based on the policy from 219th General Assembly

“Trigger” (A film created by David Barnhardt based on the policy from 219th General Assembly. It includes 4 lesson discussion guide if you purchase from PDS)

Who’s Next?!

ananisas-graves

Closing Worship of ASC, MCL and GACOR: October 11, 2015

Psalm 130 and Acts 5: 1-11

“Who’s Next?!”

We all have at least one Annias or Sapphira in our lives, don’t we?

Those people who come to the microphone during a presbytery meeting and there’s a collective eye roll. Commissioners sit back in their pews, arms crossed, getting comfortable for the flood of words that is about to come from the sound system. It’s the mixture of anger, frustration, criticism, and Robert’s Rules that rolls off their tongues so easily…the finger that points to a problem but hands that are rarely a part of doing the repair work.

Or what about those churches who give just enough? Those congregations that have decided to withhold their per capita in defiance of the denomination but still hold the blue and red seal on their signs and “Presbyterian” in their names. Communities that rarely send teaching or ruling elders, but when you start to see their faces regularly, you wonder what they might want from the presbytery.

And it goes without saying as we near the season of overtures and preparations for General Assembly, those who plan conspire and plan together. The masters of strategy who lay out the ways that support can be garnered for their position…because of course, we don’t mean that it’s bad for those who agree with us to strategize! How else would we be sure to approve the measures that matter to us?!

I’m going to give you a moment to just imagine your own Ananias and Sapphira. Now imagine them pop, out of the picture!

What a breath of fresh air! New space created from what one of my good friends calls, “Energy vampires.”

In February I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I have gone through round after round of chemo in the spring and surgery this past summer. Recently I went to see my oncologist who placed me on a medication saying, “Most women experience hot flashes. There is also an increased risk of cervical cancer, cataracts and liver cancer.”

I laughed. I let our giggles that could not be stopped. It just all seemed funny to me that one drug that could both prevent reoccurrence of my cancer, but also put me at risk of others.

I just happened to have an eye doctor’s appointment the same week and when I told the doctor what medicine I was on he said, “Did your oncologist tell you about the side effects.”

“Why yes, she said cataracts.”

“Oh, cataracts are the least of your worries!” he responded. “It can also effect the blood vessels in your eyes and increase your chances of other damage.”

Innocently, I asked, “So if my vision becomes blurry or I see spots, should I come in.”

“If you see any of those things…it’s too late.”

Everything about cancer treatment is all about measured risk, putting chemicals at just enough of our concentration into our bodies to kill the exact cells that give other people life. It includes obsessive hand washing, tapped energy levels, and losing hair for a new style that many of us would have not tried otherwise.

You see, for me, the hardest part about facing cancer wasn’t taking the drugs that could kill me, either now or in the future. It’s all about learning how to live into hope when I know what could be on the horizon, even if it is years or decades away.

You see, no one told me that I would have to navigate what it meant for me to live without cancer. In my head, I was sure that I should be celebrating that the surgeons were able to get clean margins around the tumor and that my lymph nodes showed that the cancer hadn’t spread. I should have been living as though I have gotten a second chance at life! The people around me were certainly celebrating. But inside, I just couldn’t jump up and cheer.

For the first time since my diagnosis, I felt unsettled.

Here was the problem: No one told me that I would have to figure out how to live while I was afraid of dying. No one told me that I would have to make memories that, years from now, I could possibly look back on with a smile that I had done that because I needed something to sustain me through the next crisis. I didn’t know how to live again.

All of Acts before our passage for this morning is about the radical movement of the Holy Spirit. This is a community that is literally on fire! We have the Spirit moving on Pentecost that sends those of unified mind out into the surrounding neighborhood to evangelize in tongues once unfamiliar to them. Leaders are confidently defending their trust in the teachings of Jesus and baptisms are happening like crazy.

The community has fully committed to this movement, living with everything in common. Only a few verses before this morning’s passage we are told that no one lacked. People were selling all of their property and giving everything that they earned to the community. Even a Levite man named Barnabas sold his land and placed all of the money at the apostles’ feet.

Most commentaries on this passage focus on the honest stewardship of Barnabas and the emptiness of Ananias and Sapphira. Not only did they lie to the apostles about their gift, but they conspired together to do it. They created their own partnership, trusting in what they could provide to one another over the community that was attempting to live with full reliance on one another.

But here’s the thing about Ananias and Sapphira: I think the community failed them, too. The apostles were sending the signal to the ever growing and changing community that they were to share everything in common. Maybe they were even encouraging people to sell their land and everything they possessed to lay the money at their feet. They were giving the big stewardship message that we are all told today NOT to give.

But what was missing in the message that Ananias and Sapphira couldn’t fully trust the community? I wonder if they thought…

This all sounds like a great deal, but what happens when the furvor is gone? What happens when the crowds leave, the conversions decrease, and we’re hungry for more than promises?

Do you think that they looked around at the society and culture around them, one that was full of deities and excess, and wondered if the ideals of this faith could be sustained? Where would their cushion be if it wasn’t? How could they return back to their status if they needed to?

What if they looked around and saw their neighbor’s slaves, the widow, those physically disabled, individuals facing illness…the marginalized… and wondered…what were they going to give? Why were they to give everything they owned to share with people who wouldn’t have to give anything near what they were asked to sacrifice? (I’d love to preach a sermon about the power and privilege steeped in these comments, but that’s for another time.)

No one told them how to live for their faith when they were asked to let everything that they had once valued.

No matter what led to their decision, Ananias and Sapphira die on the spot. The passage concludes, “Trepidation and dread seized the whole church and all who heard what had happened.”

The community became cautious and worried. I imagine they were asking, “Who’s next?” or even, “What did I sign up for?”

Here’s the thing: This is the first time that the community is actually called “church,” ekklesia in the Greek. In the midst of sadness and fear, they are gathered together as the people of God.

We’ve been talking over and over again about the necessity to have this conversation about what it means to be the Church today.

  • Heath’s call to the Church, Next Church, COGA’s invitation to talk about identity, the Fellowship’s exploration of the call to be together in difference…I could go on.
  • But I want to remind us that we are called to explore this together and I find my own call at this unique time and place to be sure that we are lifting up the voices of the full body of our denomination.
    • We have to have a conversation about the processes that many of us love, that some of us feel make us uniquely Presbyterian, and the ways that they favor those who possess power and privilege.
    • Puerto Rico à Who gets to decide what is an essential document for their community?
    • We need to explore who we are…that advocacy and justice work isn’t just a response to our call as people of faith, but a reflection of what it means to be the full body of Christ.
    • It’s the reason I have worked with Valerie Small to adjust her workshop for tomorrow morning to reflect on the conversation about what it means to be the Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA), inclusive of the voices that are so often marginalized.

If you want to know what it means to face death, to give up everything for what you believe and the community that you love, you need to go no further than look at this table. This was the last meal of a death row inmate. And each time that we partake of this bread and this cup, we proclaim that it is our meal. We shout throughout all of Creation that his last meal is the same food that will feed us in our call to ministry.

A Pastoral Letter to Members and Friends of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

NOTE: Full resources from the Office of the General Assembly can be found HERE.

Dear members and friends of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.):

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Presbyteries have been engaged in conversation, discernment, and prayer concerning the recommendations from the 221st General Assembly (2014) in the nine months since Detroit, Michigan. On March 17, 2015, Amendment 14F (On Amending W-4.9000 Marriage) received the required majority from the presbyteries.

The approved amendment to the Book of Order lifts up the sanctity of marriage and the commitment of loving couples within the church. It also allows teaching elders to exercise their pastoral discretion in officiating weddings and in doing so “… the teaching elder may seek the counsel of the session, which has authority to permit or deny the use of church property for a marriage service.”

Though we know that this amendment received the necessary majority for approval, we encourage the congregations, presbyteries, and synods of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to continue to be in conversation about marriage and family. We hope that such “up/down” voting does not mark the end, but the continuation of our desire to live in community; a partnership that requires prayer, the study of Scripture, listening to and with one another, and a dedication to partnership in the midst of our diversity of opinion.

We trust that God whose Word brought Creation into being is also the same Word that speaks to us today. With confidence, we believe that God calls the Church into living as a transformative community that embraces the call to be God’s beloved community in the world.

 

 

Ruling Elder Heath K. Rada

Moderator, 221st General Assembly (2014)

 

 

The Reverend Larissa Kwong Abazia

Vice Moderator, 221st General Assembly (2014)

What We Need To Hear

imagesIn my nine months serving as the vice moderator of the 221st General Assembly of the PC(USA), I’ve been talking a lot about the Syrophoenician woman.  Here’s a link to the sermon I gave at Princeton Theological Seminary and a written version from a visit to the Presbytery of Wabash Valley.

I’m not letting her go because I don’t think that she has anything to say to the Church.  I’m letting go because she and I have been journeying together for a year now, wrestling and grappling with what it means to be a driven person of faith in a world that would rather cast off challenges and embrace the easier path.  I think there are new places to walk toward.  But before I let her go, I want to lift up a few reminders of what she stands for:

1. We have got to get out of our own way.  I know there are to-do lists that grow each day and we are daunted that our membership numbers are dwindling, but the solution isn’t just in us.  We can’t forget the covenant that God has made…and that covenant might be growing, expanding, and reaching out farther than we ever imagined!  We’ve got to take the hands and feet that we keep in constant motion and remember to lift them up to God.

2. We can’t miss the big picture.  There will always be another fire to put out, a vote to cast, a division to be created in the Church.  These range from allowing pastors to officiate at same-gender weddings to being annoyed that the three year old in the pew next to you is being distracting in worship again.  If only the church weren’t made up of people!  However, the minute we let issues define who we are, then we have lost our mission as the whole body of the Church.

3. When we turn the page or wake up to a new day, we still have to figure out how to be the Church together.  The decently and in order way that we, Presbyterians, love to do our work does not mean that we know how to live together or that a vote will mean that we can automatically move on.  The harder road is to wake up each new day committed to reaching across the table and loving those who are our “enemies” or the ones we deem as “other.”  It’s coming back to the Table if things didn’t go our way (OR if they did!) and sharing a meal together because we value the whole body.

4. Like Jesus, we can get so steeped in what we think needs to be done that we miss out on the needs right in front of our eyes.  Yes, buildings need tending and that Bible study is faltering, but there is a whole world outside of our doors too.  The world may be kneeling right at our feet but we’re missing it because we’re focused on what needs to get done first.  It’s not about putting our houses in order before we reach out to others…that’s giving others the scraps from the Table.

5. Women understand what it means to be pushed from the Table, underestimated, undervalued, and silenced…but we still came/come over and over again for our seat.  Women are still paid less, judged against stereotypes, and criticized for “wanting to have it all.”  We’re told to lean in or lean back, judged for speaking up, criticized for what we wear to work, and called a _____ if we’re too assertive.  I am so thankful for every single woman who has gone before me, those who walk alongside me, and those who are discerning who God has called them to be.  We not only pull up a seat for ourselves, but we remember to pull up a seat for others.

Keeping the Movement

If you want a break, you can’t have it.  If you want to deny that there are broken systems at play that favor some over others, you cannot do that any more.  If you want to catch a breath, you’re reminded that Eric Garner said, “I can’t breathe.”

This continues to be a movement and our churches must not be silent.  I’m collecting sermons, blog posts, reflections and articles from Christian circles as we continue to address systemic racism and social bias that frames our lives.  I hope that these will continue to be nourishment for the journey ahead.

Sermons, Prayers and Worship

Randy Bush, Pastoral Prayer for Ferguson; Saturday, November 30, 2014.

Mark Elsdon, Lament during worship at Pres House; Sunday, December 1, 2014.

Frances Wattman Rosenau, Sermon on Psalm 80; Sunday, December 1, 2014.

Louis Knowles, Rubble; Sunday, December 1, 2014.

Derrick McQueen, Beatitude of Gratitude and Order of Worship; December 1, 2014.

Joann Lee, Still Waiting; December 1, 2014.

Ted Hickman, Duryea Presbyterian Church, December 1, 2014: Covered by NPR HERE and HERE

Larissa Kwong Abazia, From the Wilderness; December 7, 2014.

Sabrina Slater, What Shall I Cry?; December 7, 2014.

Chris Shelton, Longing for Home, December 7, 2014.

Articles

Mark Koenig, Always Broken; December 3, 2014.

Rev. Dr. Robert Foltz Morrison (EP of NYC Presbytery) and National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, Message to NYC Presbytery and Council Response.

Cynthia Holder Rich, Ecclesio Series on Incarnation; December 8, 2014.

Advocacy Committee on Racial Ethnic Concerns, Presbyterian Church (USA)

Posts

Faith Leaders Stage Die-In at NYC City Hall

A Pastoral Letter from Concerned Faith Leaders in the City of New York to the Mayor and City Council

 

The Things that Make for Peace

My congregation and I have been spending the time between September 7- October 5, 2014 observing the Season for Peace.  It seemed appropriate after a summer watching headlines from Gaza, Syria, Ferguson, and countless other challenges both near and far.  But when we speak of peace, so often our minds immediately go to images of violence and war.  People should be able to live in places where the sounds of gun fire aren’t commonplace and daily life isn’t filled with decisions about how to stay alive just to get groceries or go to school.  If we value human life, then we must value such a life for all people.  There’s no question about that.  But last week when I attended the International Day of Peace at the Church Center for the United Nations, I was reminded of the interconnected web that creates peace.

Church Center for the United Nations marking the International Day of Peace

The chapel at the Church Center for the United Nations as we sang and rang bells for peace.

The Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations was a co-sponsor of the day that focused on these statements: “There is no peace without development.  There is no development without peace.  What do you think makes for peace?”  The chapel of the Church Center for the United Nations filled up with people from different religious backgrounds and organizational involvement.  The energy was palpable…we were committed to set aside the daily grind to focus on the call for peace.

The opening plenary included presentations by Helen Clark (UNDP Administrator), Bill McKibben (350.org), Cora Weiss (UN Representative, International Peace Bureau) and Otilia Luz de Coti (Director of the International Indigenous Women’s Forum).  From women’s rights to climate change to mobilizing communities and nations, each speaker brought their own unique voice and challenge to the Table.

Victor See Yen and Ron McBee of Heritage O.P. drumming for peace.

Victor See Yen and Ron McBee of Heritage O.P. drumming for peace.

Following the opening plenary and worship, participants broke up into three different workshops: water, food and health.  Notice that none of the workshops were about violence outright, but without access to these basic resources, each can lead to unsettling environments or circumstances.  For example, I attended the water workshop and learned about the issues around this basic building block of life.  Countries (including ours) make water into a marketable resource, risking the health and wellbeing of many people.  Without access to water, people do not have access to peace in their daily lives.  They are fighting for something that comes out of many of our faucets without even a second thought.  So, because we can access fresh, clean water, can we truly be at peace when so many others cannot?!

At the closing meal and discussion, I found myself sitting with an intern from one of the organizations in the building.  This was her first time at an event that was predominately made up of religious communities and she was soaking it all in.  She seemed impressed that so many people cared about the variety of issues discussed during the day.  It was almost as if she was surprised that we weren’t talking inside of our worshipping communities, but proudly sitting across the street from the United Nations with our own demands for change.

2014-09-19 09.03.46

Church Center of the United Nations

The day concluded with an open forum to reflect on the discussions from each workshop.  People shared the passions that drew them to New York City that weekend and the hopes they had for the future, witnessing to justice work right before their eyes.  There weren’t any “Pollyanna” statements because everyone knew that the road to change would be hard.  The goal was to renew us for this work, taking in the numerous reminders of our call to be peacemakers seriously.

Even if you’re not practicing the Season of Peace, there is still time to lift up this theme as we come to World Communion Sunday on October 5.  This is also the World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel (September 21-27).  You can find resources at the Presbyterian UN’s blog.

I leave you with the words of Cora Weiss, who said during the event, “Prevent depression: make your own list for the things that make for peace.”  Make your list and, when you need encouragement along the journey, be inspired by this video of Suheir Hammad’s “What I Will.”

 

Thank you to Mark Koenig (mark.koenig@pcusa.org) and Ryan Smith (ryan.smith@pcusa.org) of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations for making this day possible!  If you’re looking for a way to get your congregation to look outside of its walls or educational opportunities about needs around the world, get in contact with their office.  It’s an amazing resource of our denomination!