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Vicar Dustin's Page

Page history last edited by Dustin Wright 9 years, 3 months ago Saved with comment

In order to best share my vicarage experience with the people of Saint Peter's and to foster further discussion, I'll be posting my personal reflections, sermon manuscripts and other writings to this page on hopefully a bi-monthly basis.  Please check back periodically and feel free to leave comments.  Thanks so much! - Vicar Dustin

 

August 13th, 2013 | An Unexpected Hour

Dear faithful people of Saint Peter's Church,

 

As this past Sunday was my last at Saint Peter's and many of you are/ were on vacation, I wanted to take this chance to say goodbye to all of you. I had an absolutely amazing year in New York City, filled with lots of learning, fun and personal growth. I went through the year increasingly amazed by the folks at Saint Peter's- its such a mission-oriented place yet couldn't be more grounded in worship, especially the Eucharist... something I find extremely instructive.  Thank you so much for all of your support as I grew into my call to ordain ministry this year!

 

While I'm now getting ready to return for to Philadelphia for my final year of seminary, please feel free to keep in touch. I can be reached either at my blog, my Facebook profile or via email at dustingwright@gmail.com.  Additionally, what follows is a manuscript I preached off of this Sunday at Jazz Vespers on Saint Luke 12:32–40 that also serves as a sort of goodbye letter to the congregation.  Once again, thanks so much for all of you've done for me this year, and may the Spirit continue moving through the dynamic faith community at the intersection of 54th and Lexington!

 

God's peace,

Vicar Dustin

 

--

 

So I’ve been struggling greatly this week folks... I’ve been struggling for one because this is my last day with you all at Saint Peter’s.  It’s certainly been a heck of year and we’ve gone through a lot together... we’ve gone through tragedies like Superstorm Sandy, a horrific school shooting in Connecticut and the Boston marathon bombing.  On a parish level, we’ve gone through difficult financial decisions, the hard work of creating a new mission statement and the beginnings of a new covenant relationship with Sion Luterana Iglesia. We’ve also experienced great joys together... the Supreme Court affirming marriage equality, a historic presidential election where women and minorities rocked the vote like never before, the election of Pope Francis and subsequent new hopes for reform... wow, what a year.  We’ve been through a lot together, and I’ve really been struggling with having to say goodbye.

 

I’ve also been struggling with what to say to y’all tonight.  I mean, at the end of such an amazing year living and working amongst the faithful community of folks at Saint Peter’s, you’ve all sort of left me speechless, in the best possible way.  What could I say to a vibrant, Spirit filled community that could possibly inspire such an already truly inspirational group of people?  What I finally realized at around three this morning is that all I could really do is provide you with a simple observation about the situation find ourselves in, in this time, in this place, in this city.  All I can do is briefly lay out what in my humble opinion is really going on.

 

Simply put, we live in the most unexpected of hours my sisters and brothers, and you as the people of Saint Peter’s have your lamps lit strong and bright.  We live in the most unexpected of hours, and you as the people of Saint Peter’s have your lamps lit strong and bright.  So, you might wonder what I mean by living in the most unexpected of hours?  Well, as one of the more social justice oriented “mainline” Christian traditions, us Lutherans along with Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopals and the like have presided over a near half-century of declining membership in America.  And actually, after decades of strong growth, our more conservative “Evangelical” sisters and brothers in Christ are beginning to experience decline as well.  While it may not be a major conversation in day to day life, it does seem as a sort of given in our contemporary Western culture that the Church, and organized faith communities in general, are decreasing.  Many Christians fear that we’ve entered and will continue to live in a secular, even atheistic age.

 

Yet, as Jesus promises to us in today’s Gospel message, the Son of Man comes at an unexpected hour... and in the face of such adversity, in face of such fearful decline, I humbly observe that we are just now beginning see the first glimmerings of such an unexpected coming.  Ya know, only a year and a half ago, a sitting President of the United States specifically cited his Christian faith as a reason for supporting marriage equality, something that would have been unthinkable even a decade earlier.  In recent months, churches throughout the United States, including many Evangelical groups, have boldly supported comprehensive immigration reform that is in the best tradition of Christian welcome.  We now have a pope who has washed the feet of a Muslim girl, who has thrown off the shackles of opulence by declining to live in the Apostolic Palace and most recently exclaimed that he had no authority to judge folks of different sexual orientations.  My sisters and brothers, the glimmerings of Christ coming, as He always has, at the most unexpected of hours and reforming His Church into a more compassionate body that stands up for the full humanity of all God’s children are clearly visible, and that is profoundly good news.

 

And, in the face of such glimmerings, in the face of the Son of Man coming at the most unexpected of hours, you as the people of Saint Peter’s have your lamps lit strong and bright.  Just look at all the exciting things that have happened here in the last year... despite continued decline across the synod, stewardship and membership here has grown.  More importantly, at a time when most Lutheran churches still can’t figure out how to live as multi-cultural communities, Saint Peter’s is doing it, both through its new covenant relationship with Sion and its longstanding diverse membership.  Saint Peter’s has also strengthened how its acts as a resource for the local community, greatly supporting the arts, a senior center, AA groups and the Momentum project as it has for years.  And just this year, Saint Peter’s embarked on a new ministry of boldly standing up against oppression and accompanying our immigrant community as it advocates for comprehensive immigration reform.  There are of course challenges ahead, and new opportunities, especially for evangelism and outreach should be explored, but wow...  As Christ comes to revive His Church at the most unexpected of hours, the people of Saint Peter’s have their lamps lit strong and bright, ready to respond.

 

And folks, despite the amazing place we find ourselves in as a community of faith, responding to the work of Christ at the most unexpected of hours, that’s not even the best part!  The truly Good News is that the heart of the matter isn’t even how our lamps our lit, bright and strong as they be... the truly Good News is that not only is Christ coming at the most unexpected of hours, but that He promises to continue joining us again, and again, and again no matter what sort of long, oppressive night we find ourselves in.  If you look at today’s Gospel message again my sisters and brothers, we’re not encourage to light our lamps and get dressed in order to prepare for battle... no!  It’s not about what we’re doing at all... we’re supposed to prepare for a party, for a most bountiful of banquets, where God turns the expected order of the universe on its head and serves all Her children... feeding us and in fact freeing us from whatever may seek to oppress us, through the work of Her liberating love in Christ.  Amen.

 

July 30th, 2013 | "UN - I do not want to be poor anymore."

Hi everyone!  Over the last few weeks I've been speaking with a number of folks at Saint Peter's about a major project I've been involved with during my time at the Lutheran Office for World Community entitled "UN - I do not want to be poor anymore."  What follows is a blog post I recently wrote on the subject that will provide you with a little more information.  If you like to participate, visit http://www.worldwewant2015.org/voicesoffaith or email me at dwright@saintpeters.org.  Thanks so much!

 

 


In 2000, world leaders promised to reach eight specific, measurable goals for global development by 2015 called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The most notable of these goals was to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty, as measured by people living on a $1.25 or less. Thanks in part to the strong participation of people of faith, along with many other persons and organizations working together in one massive global effort to fulfill the MDGs, we have made real progress. The number of people living in poverty has fallen to less than half of its 1990 level. Over two billion people gained access to better drinking water. The share of slum dwellers living in cities fell, improving the lives of at least 100 million people!

Yet, we still have work to do. 1.4 billion people remain in extreme poverty. Every four seconds a child dies from preventable causes and over 900 million people, particularly women and young people, suffer from chronic hunger. Climate change threatens to destroy the lives of millions more and undo much of the progress we have made so far. Inequality is growing everywhere and human rights are being undermined, especially in many of the world’s most fragile and conflict affected countries. Even with these great challenges, for the first time in history we have the resources to end extreme poverty while enabling sustainable development. As the 2015 target date for fulfilling the MDGs approaches, a global conversation on these two topics is well underway. Termed the “post‐2015 dialogue,” this conversation has already brought together thousands of government officials, non-profit organizations, business leaders, academics and grassroots activists in order to craft new goals for a global development agenda.

Despite the unprecedented openness and inclusivity of the post‐2015 dialogue, people of faith have yet to fully engage in the conversation. This is unfortunate, because as major players in fulfilling the MDGs, people of faith have much to contribute ‐ they have rich grassroots experiences to share and their members and neighbors have a major stake in what happens after 2015. For instance, the ELCA’s well-known “Make Malaria History” campaign directly relates the MDG 6, “Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases,” and thus Lutherans should be very concerned about what global development goals follow the MDGs.

Even more importantly, faith communities are often the only grassroots networks that directly reach people living in poverty and other underrepresented global citizens. Thus, as people of faith, and specifically as Lutherans, we need to do our part in amplifying the voices of those who most need a strong set of new development goals – people living in poverty and communities and organizations who accompany them. We must practice what we preach, what we teach. It's about directly accompanying people concretely, not merely multiplying words. If we, as people of faith, do not confront "the scandal of poverty," then we are part of the problem.

People living in poverty and those who accompany them have unique gifts to share with the global community as it prepares a Post‐2015 Development Agenda. After countless consultations, reports, meetings and debates, we largely know what needs to be done and that we have the necessary resources to end extreme poverty. What we do not yet have at the United Nations is the political will to make it happen. In late June, during yet another meeting at UN headquarters in New York, a man from Latin America stood up, and in one startling statement got everyone’s attention. He simply said, “UN – I do not want to be poor anymore.” It is such dignified, hopeful people, people living in poverty and those who directly accompany them, from whom we need to hear more in the post‐2015 dialogue, for only they can build the political will to end poverty in our time while enabling sustainable development.

Inspired by that startling example of speaking truth to power, the New York offices to the United Nations of Caritas Internationalis and The Lutheran World Federation recently launched a new conversation on the World We Want platform entitled “UN ‐ I do not want to be poor anymore: a collection of faith‐inspired voices of people living in poverty.” If you're someone who has served in a soup-kitchen, if you’re someone who has gone on a mission trip, if you’re someone who worships with people living in poverty and especially if you have experienced poverty yourself (however you define "poverty" in your local context) please contribute to this conversation by going to http://www.worldwewant2015.org/voicesoffaith. By creating a user profile and answering four simple questions, you’ll make your voice heard by leaders at the United Nations and greatly contribute towards ending extreme poverty while sustainably growing our world!

If you have any additional questions, feel free to email me at dustin.wright@elca.org.  Thanks so much for reading, and we hope you can participate with other people of faith around the world in this important global endeavor!

 

June 11th, 2013 | What I've Been Up to For the Last Six Months
Well, much like what often happens on these sort of things, the last six months got pretty busy, and I've thus had "Update the Vicar's Page" as an item on my to-do list for almost that long.  My hope is that over the final two months of my internship at Saint Peter's and the Lutheran Office for World Community, (my last Sunday is August 11th) I'll have the opportunity to add to this page a little more frequently.

 

That said, the last six months, while quite busy, have been filled with absolutely amazing experiences at both internship sites, so I figured I could go through a quick exercise of filling in folks on what I've been up to.  After a great break over Christmas and New Years, I served as chaplain at a retreat at Camp Calumet Lutheran in New Hampshire.  Working with a rowdy group of teenage campers reuniting from the previous summer, we had a bunch of great talks on faith, service and global mission - and had a bunch of fun as well.  We "live-tweeted" the entire retreat on Twitter, and for more information you can check out my personal blog here or read the summer I wrote for the week below.

 

After getting back from my time in New England, things we really started to pick up.  A major aspect of my internship at the United Nations is doing communications work for Ecumenical Women, a coalition of church denominations and ecumenical organizations working to advance the rights of girls and women, especially at the annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).  As the 57th session of CSW was taking place at the beginning of March, I spent a great deal of time this winter blogging, posting videos and managing online registration for various Ecumenical Women events during CSW.  I believe our work at CSW57 turned out to be a huge success... outside of getting strong agreed conclusions we had more traffic at the EW website than ever before with over four thousand views and many great stories shared during the month of March.  In addition to working with Ecumenical Women this winter, I spent time following the Security Council and Food & Hunger issues at the UN.  Perhaps most notably, I've also been working to increase faith-based participation in the World We Want 2015, a web platform where global citizens can give their input for what should follow the Millenium Development Goals in 2015.  If you have no idea what the Millenium Development Goals are, no problem!  Check out an Ecumenical Women post I wrote here giving a basic overview of the whole thing.

 

While it was sometimes difficult, I tried to balance my work at the UN with my responsibilities and opportunities for ministry at Saint Peter's as well.  Outside of preaching frequently at our Jazz Vespers service, I spent a great deal of time working with our immigration advocacy group this winter, primarily to organize an Immigration Advocacy Workshop, which after being snowed out in early February was held on March 16th.  Roughly twenty-five folks from Saint Peter's, Sion Iglesia Luterana and the local community worshiped together and learned about immigration advocacy on a Saturday afternoon.  For a copy of the bi-lingual liturgy we used for worship, click here.  We also attended New Sanctuary NYC's weekly Jericho Walk for immigration reform a number of times.  I also attended an amazing conference at Union Theological Seminary in February entitled Digital Church: Theology and New Media.  While there I heard a number of clergy and lay leaders discuss how they've used social media to strengthen their ministries.  A number of folks also identified a number of theological issues brought about by the new digital context we find ourselves in.  Another great success was leading an adult forum at Saint Peter's entitled "Ask the Vicar," where folks could ask me questions on my internship experience thus far, my background, etc.

 

After a brief trip to visit friends at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia where I'm working towards my Master's of Divinity, my focus shifted almost exclusively toward work at Saint Peter's during Holy Week.  I preached during one noontime Mass and assisted with the daily liturgies.  I was also absolutely blown away by how powerful many of the worship services were during Holy Week at Saint Peter's, especially the Easter Vigil.  After Holy Week I traveled to Washington D.C. twice in one week, first for Ecumenical Advocacy Days (a conference that this year focused on food and hunger) and then for a rally for immigration reform with two members of Saint Peter's.  Both experiences were great, especially the many opportunities I had to meet with our elected officials (or at least their staff).

 

Following my busy week of travel the Lutheran office at the UN hosted a number of seminarians for the Nolde Seminar on Faith and Human Rights, which provided me with a great opportunity to catch up with friends from seminary and learn a great deal as well.  Perhaps one of the most moving days of my internship took place in early May when a number of Saint Peter's members showed up to accompany another member to his hearing for refugee status.  To me, that day couldn't have been a more powerful expression of what "doing Church" is supposed to be like.

 

Since mid-May things have slowed down a little bit.  I've been preaching more frequently, especially at Jazz Vespers, continuing to work on communications for Ecumenical Women, working on faith-based participation with the World We Want and number of other issues at the UN.  I also attended a powerful anti-hate crime march in response to the killing of Marc Carson in the Village.  For a bit more on my experience you can check out a blog post here.  Another great success was Saint Peter's Parish Council voting in favor of a resolution official endorsing our immigration advocacy group, now called Nuestro Refugio (Our Refuge).  We've also been working on strengthening the partnership between Nuestro Refugio, Sion Iglesia Luterana and New Sanctuary NYC, as well as ensuring there will be leadership in group once my vicarage ends in August.

 

Well that's about it.  Check back here frequently, and please contact me if you have any questions.

 

God's peace,

Vicar Dustin

 

January 31st, 2013 | Three Views on Christianity

What follows is a rough manuscript the sermon in preached on January 27th at Jazz Vespers.   It reflects on all three lectionary readings for the day, Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-101 Corinthians 12:12-31 and Saint Luke 4: 14 - 21.

 

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately, and especially over the past week, thinking about what it means it to be a Christian, particularly in the rapidly changing, sometimes exciting, but often discouraging, times we live in. And I’ve been dwelling on this question for two main reasons: First, upon hearing that Saint Peter’s was cited for its strong post-Superstorm Sandy relief efforts in the most recent issue of The Lutheran, I decided to pick up a copy. While I was happy to see Saint Peter’s mentioned in the storm-relief article, I was pretty bummed after the reading another article, entitled “The Shrinking Church,” which discussed the rapid decline of Lutheran churches all over the country. I’ve also been thinking about what it means to be Christian recently because of Barack Obama’s inaugural address. In the address, he not only boldly supports preserving the planet and advancing gay rights, but also cites faith in God as reason for doing so. In a time where many Americans, especially younger ones, have come to identify Christianity with irrelevance at best and bigotry at worst, the President’s words couldn’t have been more encouraging. To sum it up, stuck between fear of decline and hope for the future, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a Christian.

 

And it was amidst such thinking this past Wednesday night while reading the three possible Bible passages for this Sunday’s sermon that I realized we needed to read all three of the passages tonight. We needed to include all three, and the Saint Peter’s staff needed to graciously include all three in the bulletin at the last minute (thank you!), because when juxtaposed with one another, each Bible passage illustrates one of the three ways most folks, I think, view their Christian faith in our contemporary world. To demonstrate what I mean, I’m going to need three volunteers to hold up one of these signs [EACH WITH A BIBLE VERSE], in order to sort of help organize what we’re talking about.

 

Thank you all very much for volunteering, and please know that what I’m about to say by no means represents the holder of each sign… So first we have the Nehemiah 8 folks, and by that I mean those whose view of faith is based off an easy to make misinterpretation of the passage. In Nehemiah 8 Ezra reintroduces the Torah to the post-exilic Jewish community rebuilding Jerusalem… and everyone promptly gets upset about having all these new rules. Ezra, along with Nehemiah, then begins to explain while the Torah is an amazing gift from God. Nehemiah 8 contains some profound lessons, but it’s easily misread to mean that the most central aspect of being a person of faith is following the rules, not sinning, or something like that. Now, sin is very a real thing, and the Bible definitely has some good advice about how to live our lives, but there’s a problem with the view of what it means to be Christian.

 

First, since the Bible was written over many hundreds of years for many different types of communities, many of the “rules” in are somewhat ambiguous, if not outright contradictory. And since it’s not possible to perfectly make sense of everything in the Bible, we can’t help but making up our own interpretation at times. And then, if we think we’re doing a great job of following whatever rules we make up, we in turn can’t help but look down on others who don’t follow those rules and thus we end up just sort of being downright mean to others. On the other hand, we might end up thinking we’re horrible at following the rules, and we end up living a life of despair that God hates us, or that we’re wholly bad people or that we’re going to hell, to use a predominately post-Biblical term. Looking at it from a different angle, this view of what it means to be a Christian only leads us to worship ourselves, and maybe the Bible, rather than God Herself.

 

So, now we’ll move onto the second popular view of what it means to be a Christian, the one reflecting a misinterpretation of 1 Corinthians 12. In this passage, Saint Paul writes to a diverse, urban congregation in Corinth that’s experiencing a great deal of conflict, telling them that we’re all one body in Christ, despite us all being different parts of that body. It’s a really good and powerful message, but can also easily be misread to mean that the central aspect of being Christian is to just be nice to everyone and to sort of stick up for the little guy in whatever you do. Now, this on the surface sounds a whole lot better than what the Nehemiah 8 folks over there are doing, but let’s dig a bit deeper. On the one hand, if we think we’re succeeding at being nice to people all the time, perfectly welcoming folks into our communities, its really easy to get cocky and really difficult to take a critical look at what were doing, and in turn its really easy to make some very big mistakes. On the other hand, we might think we’re failing all the time because we’re not helping others enough, only to end up downtrodden and hopeless. In the end, the second view of what it means to be Christian ends up looking a whole lot like the first… we only end up worshipping ourselves, rather than God. 

 

Now much of the time, all of us either end up holding view number one or view number two… it’s profoundly in our DNA as people to fixate on what we’re doing… we simply can’t help it. Luckily though, we have a third view about what it means to be a Christian, a view that clearly shines through our Gospel reading today from Saint Luke, a view that reminds us that it’s not about us at all, a view which is very, very good news. Returning to his hometown, Jesus goes to the synagogue, picks up the scroll of Isaiah, and reads the following: [ASK VOLUNTEER #3 TO READ].

 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And then, giving the first sermon of his ministry, Jesus simply states, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Much like what follows this Gospel story, the good news might not always make folks happy, it might stir things up, it might startle people, but that’s what the good news is: the profound notion that it’s not about what we’re doing at all, but rather about all the amazing things God is doing through Christ. And just think about how good that news is… it means that we don’t need to be perfect, it means that we are loved, and it means that we are forgiven, no matter what.

 

So, when thinking about what it means to be Christian in this place, in this city, in this most exciting but discouraging of times, while we can’t help but standing up and caring for our neighbors because of how much God loves us, know that it’s not really about what we’re doing at all… it’s about a God that loves us, a God that cares for us, and God liberates us all from whatever may oppresses us, through Christ.

 

January 28th, 2013 | Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

While there's been a bunch of amazing things I've encountered thus far during my year-long vicarage at Saint Peter's, one of the greatest of those encounters has been moving through the Christian liturgical year on a deeper level than I'd previously experienced.  One aspect of the liturgical year I never knew about before this year was the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which at least in the Northern Hemisphere is celebrated from 18 January - 25 January.  First celebrated in 1908, the week is also celebrated in many churches, especially those in the Southern Hemisphere near Pentecost.

As Saint Peter's was hosting a monthly gathering of nearby Lutheran vicars and their supervisors last Thursday (right near the end of the week of prayer) it struck Pastor Derr and I that a Mass for Christian Unity might be a great way to spend our worship time together.  At first I thought I was only going to write a prayer or two, but once I discovered an an annual collection of resources co-created and published by the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, I realized that the entire Mass needed to reflect the absolutely amazing work done in the resource.

This year's text, entitled What Does God Require of Us?, is meant to be modified to fit the needs of  individual congregations.  The text is created in a different part of the world each year, and as this year's was created in India, it includes resources for a Liturgy of the Word and daily prayer for Christian unity through the lens of Dalit liberation theology.  Check out the power languages of one of the intercessions included and it's response:

 

Walking in celebration, we come to see that the unity we share within
our communities is a profound witness to the gospel of faith and hope.
As we celebrate that unity, let us also rejoice in our rich diversities that
reflect the life of the Trinity.
May we celebrate the wonderful diversity in human life, born from
the struggles for dignity and survival amid oppression, and see in
it a sign of your abiding faithfulness to your people.

 

I believe the Mass for Christian Unity went exceptionally well, particularly our great homily conversation about the difficulty of feeling unity with our much more conservative sisters and brothers in Christ.

 

For a copy of the worship guide we used at Saint Peter's, click here.

What were your experiences of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity?  Please leave a comment... I'd love to hear from you!

God's peace,
Dustin 

 

January 11th, 2013 | A Rowdy Faith in a Rowdy God

What follow's is a rough manuscript of a sermon I preached on Epiphany at Camp Calumet Lutheran in Freedom, New Hampshire during a reunion retreat weekend for the previous summer's teenage campers.  There's a few inside jokes throughout the text, but hopefully they won't be too distracting.  For a full Twitterfeed from the event, click here.  For more info about our curriculum for the weekend, click here.  I'd love to here what you think!

 

So, you may have heard at some point that we’ve been live tweeting throughout the Yellows 2012 Reunion. There were some pretty good tweets out on the tweetosphere this weekend… on one end of the spectrum we had some about exploring our faith. On the other, we had some about the smellyness of our farts… all of these were good tweets. That said, my favorite tweet of the weekend was one of the first… it was written by Rachael. She was probably heading back to her cabin Friday night when she wrote something along the lines of “that was a rowdy devos.” A rowdy devos… a rowdy devotionals… who would have thought!  Those two words don’t usually go together, but Rachael was definitely right… while we were learning about each other’s faith and playing people bingo and singing a bunch of camp songs, things got pretty rowdy.

 

[ROWDY SONG INTERRUPTION]

 

Ya know, sitting by the fire last night, thinking about the weekend and going over the Bible texts for today, I eventually realized why I liked Rachael’s tweet so much… it was filled with really, really good news. And that good news is that we have a faith that can make things get a little rowdy… we have a rowdy faith. In fact, God Herself was getting a little rowdy in today’s gospel story. It’s a pretty well known one… three wise men, or sometimes we call them the three kings, came from the east, or from basically really far away, and told King Herod they came to worship the baby Jesus because they were led by a star in the sky. Herod wasn’t a big fan of baby Jesus, so he tried to use the wise men to find Jesus and kill him, but luckily, Herod’s plan didn’t work… Instead, the wise men followed the star all to Bethlehem; they knelt down and worshiped Jesus, and eventually, they went back home by a different road.

 

Now, I imagine you’re wondering, how was God getting so rowdy in the story? The answer begins with the fact that God didn’t put that star in the sky for some priests in Jerusalem or for King Herod… She put that star in the sky for three wise men from far away, which means three folks that were far outside God’s old covenant with Israel. By putting that star in the sky for the three wise men, God proclaimed the good news that all are welcomed, that all are saved and that all are loved through Christ. You see, for all the religious authorities and King Herod, this news would have been completely unexpected… they thought the Messiah was only coming for Israel… by shaking things up, God was getting pretty rowdy.

 

[ROWDY SONG INTERRUPTION]

 

You see my friends, we have a rowdy God, and we have a rowdy faith, and that is amazingly good news. And you know what, we learned a bit this weekend that at least in some ways, we have a rowdy church too… As Lutherans we have the largest charitable organization in the United States, Lutheran Social Services, shaking things up and helping folks out… that’s pretty rowdy. Through it's Young Adults in Global Mission Program, the ELCA is sending about fifty young adults, some just a couple years older than you all, abroad ever year to shake things up and help folks out… that’s pretty rowdy too.  We also have offices at the international, national and state levels advocating for a more just society.  Of course, our church needs to do more… the world is changing really, really fast, and as faith communities we’ve got to change too. In our world, in this time and place, the church can’t look like it used to. We talked a lot this weekend about what Calumet means to us as well, and for me at least, by providing such a powerful model of serving others, of loving others and of worshiping God in fun and life giving ways, Camp Calumet is one place that represents the change we need to make as a church… it’s a place shaking things up with a rowdy faith in a rowdy God. 

 

The good news of the rowdy things God is doing through Christ… that’s what today’s gospel message is all about and it’s the same good news that Christians all over the world are celebrating today. You see, today’s a very special church holiday called Epiphany… in many Spanish-speaking congregations it’s actually a bigger celebration than Christmas. On Epiphany, the reason we read the story of the wise men is that when God put that star up in the sky, guiding folks from far away to the newborn Jesus in Bethlehem, the good news that through Christ, God loves, accepts and cares for all us was proclaimed. So my friends, as you go home on this Epiphany Sunday, celebrate and share the good news of our rowdy faith in a rowdy God… a God that loves you and you and you… a rowdy God that loves all of us, whether we’re young or old, gay or straight, black or white, rich or poor, whether we’re outgoing or shy or even a weird kid that loves cats, fireworks and margarine. In short my friends, celebrate God’s good news, and get rowdy.

 

[LOUD, ROWDY ENDING SONG ABOUT GOD’S LOVE]

 

January 11th, 2013 | Freed Into God's Song

What follows is a manuscript of a sermon in preached back on December 23rd at Jazz Vespers.  It's on the week's gospel text, Luke 1: 39 - 56.

 

To put it quite frankly, it’s been one heck of a year. In addition to whatever’s been going on in our own lives and the lives of our families and friends, we’ve collectively been hit by crisis after crisis… the threat of Eurozone debt spiraling out of control and our own “fiscal cliff” turning us back from a fragile economic recovery toward another deep recession… ongoing unrest, violence and civil war in the wake of the Arab Spring, as well as in countries like Mali and the Congo… the uncertainty and stress of a critical and seemingly close presidential election season… firm red lines with Iran and fighting in the Gaza Strip… destruction, death and ongoing suffering following Hurricane Sandy. A few weeks ago after Thanksgiving I remember talking with folks, some right here at Saint Peter’s, about how it finally felt like things were starting to get back to normal… and then of course, in the midst of the holiday season, a time we’re told is supposed to be filled with peace and light, we heard the horrific news of twenty first graders and six of their teachers killed by a young man with a high-powered rifle in Newtown, CT. President Obama put it best, I think, when trying to hold back the tears, he said that our hearts are broken. Indeed, our hearts are broken, and burned out from exhaustion, beaten down by the storms gathered round us, we claw for shelter, wondering what we can do in the face of such adversity… we wonder what we can do.

 

My sisters and brothers, tonight, and in fact at every Jazz Vespers, we are provided with a very powerful model of what can be done in such a situation through the story of two remarkable women, one young and one old. Mary, upon hearing the news of her pregnancy with Jesus, goes with haste to visit Elizabeth, her cousin who is miraculously six months pregnant with John the Baptizer. Mary, in stark contrast to the judgment and distain that was likely to greet her in the coming months as she began to show as an unwed woman, is greeted with joy by Elizabeth, who filled with the Holy Spirit, amazingly exclaims “blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Even more amazingly, Mary, Mother of God responds with one of the most beloved and powerful songs of the Christian canon: the Magnificat, or Mary’s Song… the song we sing during healing at every Jazz Vespers… “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

 

From what I’ve heard, through many other changes, singing the Magnificat has always been a part of Jazz Vespers at Saint Peter’s… and furthermore, it’s been a part of liturgical tradition throughout most of the Church’s history. Since at least the second century, it was sung daily at Evening Prayer, and still is to this day in many of the Western churches. In the Eastern, or what many of us might know as “Orthodox” churches, it’s appointed as part of Morning Prayer. Why though, you might ask, is it sung so frequently… why do we sing it every Sunday… how can it serve as such a powerful model for us, in this place, in this city, in these most troubled of times? The reason, my sisters and brothers, that Mary’s song is so powerful is simply because it’s not really about what she, or any of us, are really doing at all… it’s about what God is doing.


You see, Mary begins her song with a two-line parallelism, a common element of Hebrew prose that provides an important clarification… “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” The Magnificat is not just a song of Mary’s own soul, her own inner self, but also the song of the pneuma, the Holy Spirit, the very Breath of God upon her that gives voice to the amazing things that God has done, is doing, and will continue doing till the end of the age. And listen to what some of those amazing things are… casting the powerful down from their thrones… lifting up the lowly… filling the hungry with wondrous things… and most importantly, fulfilling promises. In preparing for tonight’s sermon I stumbled upon the amazing story of poor peasants in Nicaragua, campesinos, writing out Mary’s song and wearing it as a sort of amulet during the by the US backed violence of the Contras during the 1980s. Interviewed about the meaning of Mary’s words in 1987, one peasant woman states “Mary calls God 'Savior' because she knows that the Son that he has given her is going to bring liberation… She's full of joy. We women are also that way, because in our community the Messiah is born too, the liberator."


What a powerful message… “We are full of joy, because in our community, the Messiah is born too, the liberator.” You see my sisters and brothers, much like Mary, much like the campesinos in Nicaragua, we too are invited into God’s song. Not just at Christmas, and not just when singing the Magnificat, but each time we gather to worship and sing, and to play and dance to the song of God, through bread and wine, through water, through God’s Word and through community with others, Christ, the Messiah, the Liberator, comes into our midst. Christ comes into our midst; liberating us from the powers sin, death and darkness. Yes, Christ liberates us, freeing us to sing God’s song, freeing us to live into the promise of God’s justice whether it is by sheltering to the needy, standing up for marriage equality, or welcoming in all peoples into our community and country, whether or not they have the right piece of paper. Especially after the recent catastrophe in Connecticut, we’re freed to enter into a conversation where we collectively confess as a country that we have to do more to prevent gun violence, especially against our children and freed to bravely confess that such action does not include bringing more guns in our schools, even if they’re in the hands of the “good guys.” But most importantly my sisters and brothers, we’re freed to sing the song of a God that has promised to forgive us, care for us and nurture us and love us no matter what… a God that we know keeps Her promises.

 

December 7th, 2012 | Called to Citizenship

What follows is a piece I recently wrote for Voices for Change, a blog run by the advocacy ministries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  It's an amazing resource that lifts up the voices of Lutheran advocates around the country, so I highly encourage you to check out additional posts here.

 

In one of the most cherished verses of the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Micah exclaims “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8). As Lutherans, we simply cannot help but respond to God’s saving love by doing as Micah encourages. We walk humbly with God through prayer and worship, act in kindness by supporting and welcoming our neighbors, and do justice by advocating for and accompanying those who have little voice in our communities and around the world. While it is not particularly controversial that we should do this, discerning how to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God can often be difficult — especially in the aftermath of a long campaign season, which left many of us exhausted.

 

Looking at such a challenge through the lens of Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon’s theology of vocation can greatly assist us (Melanchthon was a colleague of Luther’s and one of the first Protestant intellectual leaders). Both Luther and Melanchthon believed that all of us, not just pastors, are called to multiple vocations. In a time where the lives of monks and other clergy were deemed more holy than that of the common believer, the reformers argued that even the most mundane ways we serve others were equally important. As Luther states in “The Large Catechism,”

 

Is it not a tremendous honor to know this and to say, “If you do your daily household chores, that is better than the holiness and austere life of all the monks?”… How could you be more blessed or lead a holier life, as far as works are concerned? In God’s sight it is actually faith that make a person holy; it alone serves God, while our works serve people (LC IV.145-146).

 

We can live out a calling to serve through our chosen careers, and we can also serve through other vocations, like being a loving parent or child, a supportive friend, and even an active citizen.

 

Living under our contemporary American system of democracy, it’s easy to see our call to citizenship as fulfilled primarily by voting every year. Although voting is indeed a central aspect of active citizenship, our role as citizens didn’t stop last month. Staying informed, contacting our government officials, and encouraging others to do the same through mutual conversation, blog posts or letters to newspaper editors are other important ways to live out our calling. As an intern at the Lutheran Office for World Community at the United Nations, I can certainly say from experience that public officials uniquely value input from people of faith. They want to hear from us. The advocacy ministries of our church help coordinate these efforts, so when we speak out on an issue, we are doing so with a united and orchestrated voice.

 

Regardless of the specific actions we take, this vocational calling to active citizenship is best carried out when our advocacy efforts reflect both moral deliberation in our faith communities and service to our neighbors near and far. Service efforts often help unify our ELCA congregations, and when service is the basis of Lutheran advocacy, we speak to our public officials with a more cohesive, informed, and faithful voice, urging them to make decisions about laws and resolutions that deeply impact the lives of our neighbors and the vibrancy of God’s creation.

 

December 7th, 2012 | Immigration Advocacy in the Next Administration

As you may know, the people of Iglesia Luterana Sión and Saint Peter's are in the early stages of organizing a congregation-based advocacy group that will begin by predominately working on immigration issues.  While we'll be holding a educational workshop on the topic on Saturday, February 3rd (more details to follow), you can begin learning more about immigration policy in the next Obama administration by watching the video embedded below.  The video is a taping of a panel discussion organized by New York Immigration Coalition this past Monday, which Saint Peter's member Michael McKee was kind enough to let us know about.  Thanks so much for your interest, and please let me know if you have any additional questions or would like to get involved.

 

God's peace,

Vicar Dustin

 

Watch live streaming video from ascoa at livestream.com

 

 

December 3rd, 2012 | WCC Ecumenical Prayer Cycle

This past Sunday at Saint Peter's you may have noticed something a little different in your This Week at Saint Peter's bulletin insert.  Instead of just a short list of countries following the "Together with the churches around the world..." heading, there was the following paragraph on two countries, Liberia and Sierra Leone:

 

Prayers for Liberia and Sierra Leone are particularly important this week as both countries continue to recover after years of conflict. The Sierra Leone Civil War lasted from 1991 to 2002, leaving over 50,000 people dead and 2,000,000 displaced. In Liberia, a 1980 military coup was followed by over two decades of frequent fighting which only ended with the 2005 election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as president of Liberia, the first female president in Africa. Sirleaf was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize along with a Lutheran, Leymah Gbowee, for their non-violent struggle for women's safety and full participation in ending the confict.

 

Of course, Saint Peter's has included a list of countries both in it's intercessions and in This Week at Saint Peter's for quite a while now, but you may not know that our weekly lists come from an absolutely amazing resource published by the World Council of Churches called the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle.  As described on resource's webpage,  "enables us to journey in prayer through every region of the world and through every week of the year affirming our solidarity with Christians all over the world, brothers and sisters living in diverse situations, experiencing diverse problems and sharing diverse gifts."  In addition to listing countries to pray for each week, the webpage also includes additional prayer resources related to both the problems and gifts facing the countries listed.  There's also an option to submit addition liturgical prayers if you're so inclined.

 

As part of my vicarage this year, I'll be writing a paragraph about each week's list of countries in the prayer cycle, in order to provide a bit more context for your intercessions.  Thanks so much, let me know if you have any additional comments or ideas and please be sure to check both This Week at Saint Peter's and News and Notes for more information about each week's group of countries.

 

God's peace,

Vicar Dustin

 

December 3rd, 2012 | A Season of Hope

What follows is the rough text I preached from at this past Sunday's Jazz Vespers.  The lectionary text for the day was Jeremiah 33: 14 - 16.

 

Happy New Year!  That’s right folks, happy New Year!  Some of you may think I either had a bit too much wine at brunch earlier today or perhaps that I simply looked at my calendar wrong, but at least from the perspective of the Western churches, that’s actually what today is… the beginning of a new liturgical year.  Outside of switching to a different set of readings that focus more on the Gospel of Saint Luke instead of the Gospel of Saint Mark, as Saint Peter’s and many other churches were doing over the last year, today also marks the beginning of a new church season… the season of Advent.  Now, outside of knowing about the wreath with four candles and maybe being familiar with one of those Advent calendars that have a little door for children to open up each day before Christmas, it’s sometimes hard to remember what this season is all about… I mean just a quick look outside on Lexington Avenue makes it seem like Christmas time is already here.  All of the stores are decked out in brilliant light displays, wreaths, garlands… the whole works.  I was walking by one store a few days back, on 5th Avenue I think, which was completely wrapped up in a giant lighted red bow.  It being my first year in New York, I attended the Rockefeller Center tree lighting event this past week and wow, let me say that even from a block or two back, Mariah Carey’s performance was nothing short of stunning.

 

Ya know, a lot of folks today and throughout Advent will preach against the ills of materialism, the gluttony of American capitalism that rears its ugly head each December… that sort of thing, and while they’re right of course, I don’t think they’re really getting to the heart of the matter.  While all the lights, music and celebration may urge us to buy more stuff, they also convey an even deeper and often more difficult message to hear… you have to be happy!  This is the time to be happy!  And whether it’s by buying Little Johnny an unnecessary iPhone, by getting great seats at the Rockettes or by working all month to create the perfect Norman Rockwell scene on Christmas morn for your family, you got to be happy!  And if you’re not happy, then you better figure out how to make yourself and those around you feel that way.  Folks, it’s exactly because of that constant pressure to be happy during the holiday season that the central message of Advent is so important.  But what, exactly, is that central message?

 

I’ll try to explain through a story of one of my own Advent experiences, one that coincidently culminates on a regular New Years.  Back in Advent of 2008, I certainly wasn’t happy.  A recent college graduate in the midst of the worst months of the Great Recession, I was about to enter into a job I knew I’d hate.  I was still mourning the loss of a significant relationship and the loss of that youthful sense of invincibility following a close brush with thyroid cancer I had the summer before.  Worst of all though, my mother had cancer… late stage III lung cancer.  After visiting my family for a very somber Thanksgiving that year, it seemed obvious that Mom wasn’t getting better, but I tried to convince myself otherwise while busying myself with all the typical holiday activties.  Amidst the festive decorations and songs of the season, many of the people around me, while well intentioned, also kept up the pressure on me to be happy.  Some folks suggested that I celebrate her life in the little time we had left together; others tried taking me out or inviting me to parties.  Of course, in the misery of my situation, there wasn’t chance I’d feel “the joy of the season,” which in turn made me feel guilty for not being happy, which of course only made matters worse.

 

Four weeks of Advent came and went that year… four weeks of the anxiety, fear and terror of seeing my mother bravely battle metastasized, late stage cancer… four weeks of feeling guilty that no matter what I or others might do, there was no use in trying to cheer me up in a season that society was telling me was supposed to be full of joy.  Eventually Christmas Day came and we all gathered at grandma’s house for the normal meal and exchanged a few gifts, but it was all just sort of going through the motions.  Mom was there but seemed distant the whole time, and when I kissed her goodbye and drove back to my apartment in New Hampshire that night, it was the last time I saw her alive.  She died just a few evenings later, on December 30th.  Upon hearing the news, I rushed back to Connecticut once again, and found myself a night later, on New Year’s Eve, alone in my family’s house after spending a whole day making funeral arrangements.  Instead of celebrating the New Year with friends as I love to do, I felt alone, completely alone, and couldn’t have been deeper in a dark, dire pit of despair.  At some point though that night I got a phone call from a close friend, who ended up telling me exactly what I needed to hear… that I didn’t have to do anything, that it was okay to feel whatever it was that I was feeling and that he was coming down early the next morning to help in any way he could.  The conversation with my friend that night didn’t make everything better, it didn’t cheer me up really, but it did do something that was much more important… it gave me hope.  And hope, my sisters and brothers, is what the season of Advent is all about.  Not the hope necessarily that everything wrong with the world will soon get better, but the hope that no matter what, that through Christ you are not alone, that through Christ you are forgiven and that through Christ you are loved.

 

Hope, a season of hope friends… that’s what Advent is all about, and it’s what today’s text from Jeremiah is all about too.  Two Sundays back I spoke about the destruction of the 2nd Jewish Temple in the Gospel of Mark.  Today’s text relates to round one of that story, to what was perhaps the even more horrific destruction of the 1st Temple built by King Solomon.  The prophet Jeremiah lived in final days of the Davidic Dynasty, preaching against the popular belief that Jerusalem would never be destroyed by a foreign power.  Jeremiah was in fact so critical of Judah that he was greatly persecuted by the priestly elite of his time, who cast him into a well thinking he would starve to death.  Despite these persecutions however, once the destruction that Jeremiah predicts comes to pass, once King Nebuchadnezzar and his troops destroys Jerusalem, carting off much of its population to Babylon, Jeremiah makes an even more startling prediction.  Speaking to an exiled Jewish community, to what is truly a crucified people, Jeremiah makes the bold assertion that God’s work is not yet done, that the days are surely coming when God will fulfill Her promise to the people of Judah and Israel, that the people will be saved and live in safety… in short, Jeremiah proclaims a message of hope.

 

Similarly my sisters and brothers, in this time, in this city, amidst all the hustle and bustle of the season, amidst all the lights and songs and holiday specials on TV, whether you’ve had an absolutely amazing year and are on top of the world or whether you’re in the deepest depths of lonely despair as I was back in 2008, know that it’s okay to feel whatever you need to feel.  And as the days continue to get shorter, as darkness continues to fall, know that through Christ, a light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot, and will not, ever, ever overcome it.  That through Christ, God is still at work in our lives during this Advent season and that no matter what happens, through Christ we are not alone, we are forgiven and we are loved.  In short, through Christ, we have hope.

 

November 20th, 2012 | The Kindom of God is In-Breaking

What follows is the rough text I preached from at last Sunday's Jazz Vespers.  The lectionary text for the day was Saint Mark 13: 1 - 8.

 

I can specifically remember being a vulnerable, nervous little ten-year-old sitting at my grandma’s house and watching TV after dinner, when a program came on about the predictions of Nostradamus, the upcoming Y2K bug, and thus, the apocalypse described in the Bible… the end of the world.  Scared nearly half to death, I quickly ran into the kitchen and offered to do the dishes for my grandmother… since it was 1996 and I only had four years to earn God’s favor and be chosen as one of His elect before the start of the new millennium, I figured I should get to work doing nice things for everyone right away.  Luckily, my grandmother could sense I had something more than just being helpful on my mind, so instead of handing me the sponge and dish soap, she stooped down, wrapped me up in a big hug, and asked me what was wrong.  Although she had never taken a Bible course on Revelation, Daniel, or the ‘little apocalypse’ that today’s text from Saint Mark is a part of, after finding out what I had been watching, she aptly told me not to worry, and that God, as she knew through Jesus, was a loving God.

 

While my grandma definitely helped me feel a bit better that night, for the next four years I was never entirely able to shake my fear of God’s impending judgment as the millennium turned.  I greatly worried that every subsequent military confrontation… think the Kosovo War and expanding the no-fly zone over Iraq… would spiral into nuclear war.  I read Biblical texts like the ‘little apocalypse’ from Mark 13 over and over again.  I learned that Jesus gives similar discourses about the destruction of the temple, the coming of false messiahs and nations rising against nations in Saint Matthew and Saint Luke as well and eventually came to think that even if Jesus wasn’t talking about the new millennium in these texts, it sure sounded like God was a vengeful God, and thus that I needed to appease him with good behavior.  The dawning of the new millennium came and went of course, and after four years I was able to breathe a sigh of relief.

 

With this background in mind you can imagine both my disappointment and laughter when while watching TV at a friend’s house this past summer, I swear the History Channel had cut out the same old footage of a “Bible expert” talking about the apocalypse that I saw back in 1996 and reused it in a similar program about predictions by Nostradamus, a Mayan calendar and other sources that the world would end not in 2000, but 2012.  Of course, a fascination with the end times, as well as the prediction that they’re close at hand, is as old as humanity.  We can’t help but question the eventual fate of our loved ones and ourselves… and much of the time we approach these questions with fear.  We fear whether we’ll end up on God’s good side, whether heaven exists at all and we especially wonder what the “birth pangs” Jesus mentions in today’s text might look like.  Throughout our Christian history, there have of course been many answers to these questions, but they’ve tended to fall into one of three camps.

 

There’s one view primarily based on what I’d consider an overly simplistic reading of texts like today’s “little apocalypse.”  It argues a final day of judgment will be preceded by the removal or rapture of God’s few chosen people from Earth, a time of great chaos and suffering, the reign of an anti-Christ and maybe even an additional thousand year reign of Christ.  All or some of these things may happen in a variety of different orders, depending on whom you talk to, and needless to say, this view has some problems.  It leads us to believe that since God is just going to destroy the world anyway, we might as well take from and abuse her as much as we want, a belief that leads to things like climate change and thus perhaps the destruction wrought on our region by Hurricane Sandy.  It also leads us to wonder whether we’re one of God’s chosen or not and thus we either end up like me as a ten year old, terrified and living in fear of God’s wrath, or instead believing we are the chosen ones and folks different from us are not.

 

Since it’s more common for fundamentalist groups or silly books like the Left Behind series to put forward this first view about the end of the world, more progressive Christians like me and I imagine many of the people here tonight find it easy to push aside such views aside as unenlightened or pessimistic.  A second view however is something folks like us often fall victim to…  it essential argues that through our human action we can build the kingdom of God on Earth.  Once we collectively earn it and all learn how to live with Christian goodwill for each other, Jesus will come down from heaven, hang out with us, and we’ll all have a big party.  It sounds really nice at first, but this view has problems as well.  Over a hundred years ago as Christians optimistically joined together to spread the gospel around the globe through missionary activities, they often ended up supporting oppressive colonial empires and destroying indigenous cultures.   The Second World War especially put a damper on this idea of a Christian utopia, but nowadays… and I’m often guilty of this… it’s easy to think that if we just focus a little more on social justice as the Church, everything will be fine and all the ills of society will be solved.  Although we certainly are called to help our neighbor, critique systems of oppression and improve the lives of everyone, we can’t do it all on our own…  You see, when you boil down the first and second views about the end of the world I’ve discussed so far this evening, they both share an even deeper problem… they’re primarily about what we’re doing, rather than the absolutely amazing things God is doing and will do through Christ.

 

A third view about the end of the world, and I believe the right one, doesn’t fall into that trap.  It’s the view held by Augustine, a view held by many of the sixteenth century church reformers and certainly the view held by my grandmother, who told me as terrified boy clinging to her for comfort, exactly what I needed to hear… that God is a loving god.  I believe this view of the end times is what Saint Mark puts forward as well.  It’s a view that argues while we might not have the details, all that we truly need to know has already been revealed… that through Christ’s death and resurrection, the kindom of God is in-breaking.

 

Mark, as the earliest of the canonical gospels, was written for a community in the midst of great turmoil.  Not just the temple, but in fact much of Jerusalem had recently been leveled by Roman legions.  Civil war had broken out during the Year of Four Emperors.  People were living under a highly oppressive patriarchal system.  No wonder they thought the end of the world was near.  But into this community would come the story of the Son of God who not only healed the sick, fed the hungry and cast out demons, but even more amazingly rose again after being crucified by that very same system of violent oppression.  At the moment Christ breathes his last, the temple curtain that secludes the dwelling place of God is torn in two… God no longer is in just that space, but is with all of us… the kindom of God, while not fully realized, is in breaking.  And through Christ, we already know what that kindom is like, and what it will be.  In Christ’s resurrection we know that the forces of sin, of violence and death can never win, that God will be there again and again and again, to comfort us, to wrap us in a warm embrace, and let us know that we are loved.

 

November 12th, 2012 | Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson's Post-Election Pastoral Message

 

After a number of conversations this past Sunday concerning the outcome of last week's federal elections, I thought posting Presiding Bishop Hanson's post-election message asking the question "now what?" could prove helpful.  Please check out the YouTube video below, and I'd love to hear what you thought about it.

 

God's peace,

Vicar Dustin

 

 

November 8th, 2012 | Mutual Conversation and Consolation in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy

 

The last couple weeks have been a real roller coaster for us folks here in New York.  After days without power, near impossible commutes and horrible loss of property and life courtesy of Hurricane Sandy, we faced the incredible stress of a historic presidential election.  Just as the city was beginning to recover from the destruction wrought by a tropical storm system, we're got blanketed in a thick layer of heavy, wet snow.  I feel exhausted and even a bit disoriented after all the life that's happened over the last couple weeks, but I've also found grounding in the amazing example of Christian community I experienced at Saint Peter's this past Sunday.  The contribution of our Episcopal neighbors at the 11a Mass was uplifting and encouraging, as was the wedding during Sión's Misa and the strong images of God's light during the evening jazz service.

 

The most powerful aspect of Christian community at Saint Peter's this past Sunday however happened both during and in between worship services.  Whether during a sharing of peace or sharing of food over brunch, the Spirit was working to bring the gospel to all of us, through all of us.  In one of my favorite passages of the Book of Concord, Luther reflects this idea of mutual sharing of the gospel in section III.4 of the Smalcald Articles:

 

We now want to return to the gospel, which gives guidance and help against sin in more than one way, because God is extravagantly rich in his grace: first, through the spoken word, in which the forgiveness of sins is preached to the whole world (which is the proper function of the gospel); second, through baptism; third, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar; fourth, through the power of the keys and also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brothers and sisters.  Matthew 18:20: "Where two or three are gathered..."

Similar to Luther's concept of mutual confession and absolution between friends and neighbors, I heard numerous conversations this past Sunday through which the good news of God's saving grace in Christ was shared.  Some of us who were only marginally affected by the storm heard the harrowing tales of others who were isolated for a time by flood waters.  Stories were told about homes or places of work being destroyed, and the folks who shared those stories were supported by others gathered around the brunch table.  The Saint Peter's community recognized that part of its mission was to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy not just now, but in the months and perhaps years to come as well.  Through mutual conversation and consolation, the peace and love of God was shared this past Sunday, and that indeed is good news.

 

God's peace,

Vicar Dustin

 

November 5th, 2012 | Congregation-based Advocacy Discussion on the 18th!

What follows is a invitation to the congregation (soon to be emailed out) about a discussion we'll be holding over brunch on November 18th to discussion congregation-based advocacy, with a specific focus on immigration issues.

 

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

 

In one of the most cherished verses of the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Micah writes “what does the Lord require of you, but do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  During my first weeks here in New York, I’ve been amazed at the how the people of Saint Peter’s are doing just as Micah encourages.  Deeply rooted yet always growing, this community humbly walks with God through prayer and worship.  It acts in loving-kindness through supporting a senior center, caring for persons who are homeless and numerous other ministries.  In terms of doing justice, the people of Saint Peter’s are active as well, creatively shaping life in the city through participation in many civic boards and organizations.

 

However, in conversations with Pastor Derr, Pastor Stahler and others in our community, we determined that while the people of Saint Peter’s are certainly ‘doing justice,’ we could also get more organized and support each other in our advocacy efforts.  Perhaps you’ve been serving a particularly community for years in the city and have been frustrated by how government systems have treated your clients.  Perhaps you want to learn more about how your social justice convictions intersect with your faith.  Perhaps you’re simply looking for a new way to get involved at Saint Peter’s.  If any of the above sounds like you, then getting together with like-minded individuals and figuring out what collective action might be taken could prove a great way to live out your faith.

 

Thus, I propose that we hold an informal meeting over brunch on November 18th, following the 11:00a Mass in order to map out our interest areas, skill sets and how we might want to move forward.  Given both our current political climate and our new partnership with Sion, we believe beginning on issues related to immigration would make the most sense, but also envision the group working on other social justice issues in the future.   If you have any questions, feel free to email me at Dustin.Wright@elca.org.  Thanks so much, and I hope to see you on the 18th

 

God’s peace,

Vicar Dustin

 

November 1st, 2012 | A Subversive Faith

What follows is the sermon manuscript I wrote for last evening's Wednesday Peace Mass, which unfortunately was canceled due to Hurricane Sandy.  Lectionary texts for the day were Ephesians 6:1-9; Psalm 145-10-14; Saint Luke 13:22-30.

 

While I’ve been a vicar at Saint Peter’s for about a month and a half now, even before starting here, I was very excited to start preaching in a real parish, so you can imagine my joy when I was asked me to deliver today’s homily.  Upon looking up the proscribed texts for today however, particularly the Ephesians’ passage, my joy turned to dismay…  “Children, obey your parents in the Lord” doesn’t seem that bad, but what about “slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling…” You heard it right folks, “slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling.”  Boy, it seems pretty tough to find the good news in a line like that, no matter what follows it...  For my very first preaching assignment of the year, I was asked to preach on the household codes.

 

The two hierarchical commands of children to obey their parents and slaves to obey their masters in today’s passage of Ephesians, combined with an additional command in the preceding verses for wives to submit to their husbands, form a set of instructions known to Biblical scholars as the household codes.  These codes are reflected in the Epistle to the Colossians and have similar counterparts in 1 Peter and Titus as well.  Despite being written in the Holy Scriptures, one cannot help but find the household codes heartbreaking, particularly in a country still haunted by a dark past, and in a few cases, a current history of slavery, along with contemporary racism and sexism.  Even more heartbreaking is the way in which these verses have frequently been used throughout history.  Many Civil War-era preachers used the codes to encourage African Americans to remain submissive under the dehumanizing yoke of chattel slavery.  Christians often cited them as a way to encourage wives to stay with battering husbands.  Children have been advised by the Church to obey their parents and remain silent about physical and sexual abuse because of an overly simplistic reading of verses like the household codes.  In many Christian communities, similar abuses of the Scriptures and human dignity continue to this day.

 

My sisters and brothers, perhaps the most heartbreaking thing about the household codes is not just how they’ve been misused throughout history… but how they’ve been misused throughout Christian history… throughout your history and my history… throughout our history.  The oppression and dehumanization wrecked upon the world by the misuse of passages like the household codes prove one of the most rotten spots in the collective story of our faith as Christians... and people know about this part of the story.  This is one of the reasons why many of our churches are shrinking rather than growing.  In my own life this is one of the reasons why many of my friends questioned why I would ever want to be a pastor, and I imagine many of you have been hurt by messages of intolerance inspired by misuse of the Scriptures as well.  The misuse of verses like the household codes is one of the main reasons why many see the Church as an oppressive force in the world, rather than a force of loving-kindness.

 

There is however good news in tonight’s text from Ephesians, at least if read with the proper historical lens in mind.  You see, for the earliest Christian communities, the structure of the household codes would have sounded very familiar.  Aristotle wrote about the very same three pairs of social classes, as did first century philosophers like Josephus and Philo.  This hierarchical pattern of unilateral control with man always at the top was in fact expanded the throughout Greco-Roman social order all the way up to Caesar.  Patriarchy was thus seen by most as the main source of peace and stability, as essential to society as most of us would consider the rule of law today.

 

Most critical scholars would agree that Ephesians was written at a relatively later date than most of the Pauline epistles.  Its audience was thus not focused on Jesus’ immediate return but was instead concerned with how to live out their lives in a world where the kindom of God was, as it is today, in-breaking but not fully realized.  While the household codes would have been familiar throughout Greco-Roman society, they never would have been accompanied by admonitions for husbands to love their wives as their own bodies or for fathers to be kind to their children as they are in Ephesians.  The author is thus critiquing the patriarchy, oppression and empire of the so-called Pax Romana by instructing his audience about God’s in-breaking kindom… a kindom where there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male or female in Christ.  The author is doing so simply under a rubric that wouldn’t have been as suspicious to Roman authorities.

 

The household codes therefore do not support patriarchy and oppression in the name of God but rather provide us with an example of what Christianity truly is… a subversive faith.  Yes, my sisters and brothers, the good news in tonight’s Ephesians text is that in Christ all are free and all are equal.  In Christ we have a faith that subverts oppressive power and that turns any unjust social system that would tell us otherwise upside down.  Christ Himself proclaimed a subversive faith and was killed by human sin and oppression, yet in raising Christ from death God showed that such forces can never triumph over loving-kindness.  While horrible misuse of the household codes is part of our collective Christian history, so are the stories of subversive saints like the writer of Ephesians, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, like Dorothy Day and like the Honduran woman I met last week at the UN, who is organizing rural peasants against an illegitimate administration that is grabbing their land and selling their rivers to trans-national corporations.  Yes, the stories of these and other subversive saints, while instructive, even more importantly demonstrate to us that the kindom of God is indeed in-breaking, and it is a kindom where all are free, all serve one another and all are forgiven. 

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