GUEST POST: Disciples Take Their Faith Public

This past Sunday my congregation was honored to welcome a guest, the Rev. Gloria Yi, into our pulpit to preach.  She was and is a gift to our church, and her powerful words, proclaimed in the aftermath of an incredibly emotional week for so many folks, were well-needed.  As a pastor, I give thanks for voices like Gloria, for she was able to preach a truth that I sincerely needed to hear at a time when I felt ill-equipped to speak myself.  Her words are printed, along with the lectionary for that day, with her permission, below:

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Isaiah 65:17-25

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD-and their descendants as well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent-its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.

The Gospel According to Luke 21:5-19

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Today is described as an ordinary Sunday in our Christian calendar, the 33rd proper ordinary Sunday according to the lectionary… but for us in this nation that has elected our new President, it is anything but ordinary or proper… for some of us, today, marks the first Sunday of a new heaven and new earth. And for other of us, today marks the first Sunday in which nations will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. So you are either super excited and hopeful for what the future holds, or you are utterly shocked and fearful for the imminent doom.

Children have not escaped the divisive rhetoric and some modeled this divisiveness at bus stops, inside the bus, and at schools. And we adults have certainly not helped them mend this divide. The best that we came up with was, when they go low, you go high. And even in trying to bring civility back to rhetoric we created another set of labels: low class and high class. And nodded our heads in accord saying, that it’s just words, and both sides spewed out words that has torn our nation in half.

So I am going to read you this poem that went viral on the internet about two years ago. It’s included in your bulletins: Chanie Gorkin wrote this poem when she was in 11th grade, Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY. I’m not reading the last line, because she wrote this when she was in 11th grade and I think it is much better without the last line.

Worst Day Ever?

Today was the absolute worst day ever

And don’t try to convince me that

There’s something good in every day

Because, when you take a closer look,

This world is a pretty evil place.

Even if

Some goodness does shine through once in a while

Satisfaction and happiness don’t last.

And it’s not true that

It’s all in the mind and heart

Because

True happiness can be attained

Only if one’s surroundings are good

It’s not true that good exists

I’m sure you can agree that

The reality

Creates

My attitude

It’s all beyond my control

And you’ll never in a million years hear me say

Today was a very good day

 

Now read it from bottom to top, the other way,

[You’ll see how I really feel.]

The genius of this poem becomes evident only if you read it top to bottom and then bottom to top. If you read it only from top to bottom, then today is the worst day ever. If you read it only from bottom to top, then today is a very good day. But if you read it both top to bottom and then bottom to top, then the Christian calendar is correct… today is just an ordinary Sunday, not the beginning of a new heaven and new earth nor the beginning of Armageddon. Today is the day of Lord. And the biblical passages that we read today declares that indeed, whether described as utopia or an apocalypse, everyday is the day of the Lord.

So it is no wonder that Isaiah’s description of utopia in chapter 65 finds wolves and lambs feeding together and the promise that ferocious and poisonous animals will not hurt or destroy us, but it is surprising to see that utopia also requires labor: building of houses, planting of vineyards, and literal labor of giving birth. In Luke’s description of the apocalypse we find the expected famine, earthquake and plagues but then surprisingly we also discover the promise that not a hair in your head will perish despite of all the persecution you will endure. And the biblical text insists and persists in declaring that no matter how we label our day, no matter what happens in each day, each day belongs to our Lord. For both in utopia and in Armageddon God is in control. And in both types of days we are asked to continue doing our part, continue working hard, enduring hardship, and trusting and witnessing the fulfillment of the outrageous promises that God makes… we will not be hurt or destroyed to the point that even if all hell breaks loose, not a hair in our head will perish, sorry, George, if you already lost your hair I guess this promise doesn’t apply to you, which actually means that you are never going to experience Armageddon.

And so I can make you laugh a little from this pulpit on this ordinary Sunday, but I was not laughing this whole week since Tuesday night. Fear entered my personal space as I felt that I woke up in a foreign land, in a land that might echo the childhood chant that I heard one too many times, “why don’t you go back to where you came from.” And it would be a lie to say that in this fear I didn’t fostered anger, because I did, particularly anger against white men. And so I sat with my grief, fears and anger. I cried out to God and as I sat there, I remembered a Mr. Roger’s song, “What do you do with the mad that you Feel?”  and the lyrics go on… I can stop when I want to. Can stop when I wish. I can stop, stop, stop any time. And what a good feeling to feel like this. And know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there’s something deep inside. That helps us become what we can. For a girl can be someday a woman. And a boy can be someday a man. And so I stopped and searched youtube for everything related to Mr. Rogers, an old white man who taught me and convinced me through the television screen that he liked me, I would hear him again, “It’s you I like, every part of you, your skin, your eyes, your feelings, whether old or new, I hope you’ll remember, even when you feel blue, it’s you I like, it’s you I like.” And this old white Presbyterian minister who has gone to heaven ahead of us still ministered to me, and reminded me that today is an ordinary, beautiful day in the neighborhood of the United States of America.

I remembered his most moving Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award acceptance speech, I remembered his interview with Charlie Rose in which the self-proclaimed pundit and beloved newscaster slowed down and had moments of confession and reflection on national television as Mr. Rogers answered Charlie’s questions. As Mr. Rogers highlighted the importance of influence that television has and the essential need to capture wonder rather than information, create room for silence in a world filled with noise. Mr. Rogers told Charlie that he had a plaque in his office with the phrase, “What’s essential is invisible to the eye”, an ironical phrase to be found for someone in the business of utilizing a camera lens, and so Charlie Rose asked Mr. Rogers, “What can’t we see about you that is essential?” And Mr. Rogers answered, you can’t see my spiritual life unless you ask me about it, you can’t see my family life, and he went on to tell Charlie, the things that are center stage are rarely the things that are most important.” And then, Mr. Rogers asked Charlie, “What’s essential to you, Charlie?” To have a satisfying life that has a connection to something larger than you and to know I made a difference. Mr. Rogers is the most pastoral person, and he asked, “Have you known anybody who was satisfied and did not make a difference?” And Charlie answered, “They want to be recognized and want something larger than life, and benefit their world, neighborhood, and their world.” And without condemnation but just sheer modeling, Mr. Rogers taught a lesson worth relearning today: He took Charlie’s definition of the essential as satisfaction from doing the most good that benefits others and compared it with his definition of the essential. By Mr. Roger’s definition, the essential is getting a hug from a down syndrome child at the end of a long work day.   And Mr. Rogers unwrapped that by explaining: I want to be the best receiver, graceful receiving is one of the most wonderful gifts we can give anybody.

So what are the essentials that disciples do to make their faith public? They become graceful receivers who eat together. If you are a democrat, you need to gracefully receive a republican neighbor (yes, the one with the Trump/Pence sign still on their lawn) over for dinner, lunch, or at least a cup of coffee—don’t offer them tea, it’s not a tea party! If you are a republican, you need to gracefully receive that democrat co-worker, (yes, the one who openly made fun of Trump and is enraged and in tears, who will wear yoga pants every single day of her life as a protest against men) and take her out to lunch. Let her fume. She’s not so much grieving the loss of Hilary Clinton, but the loss of a possible history making moment of having a woman president (if this doesn’t make sense to you, just keep on chewing your food slowly and be quiet and gracefully receive her venting). When the donkey and the elephant feed together, we gracefully receive one another, we don’t pass up the opportunity to testify that this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. For everyday is the day that the Lord has made. Let’s us learn to receive each day graciously, for our Lord tells us that each of us whites and colored, democrats and republicans are a delight to our Maker, so much so that he sent his one and only Son, Jesus, to die for us, so that in Christ, we may be united on this ordinary day and everyday. Amen.


Gloria Yi is an Associate Pastor at Woodside Presbyterian Church in Yardley, PA. Gloria Yi came to Woodside in 2004 to work with the children and youth with her late husband, Steve Yi. God blessed them with Emmanuella Yi (Ella), and allowed them to shine God’s light in joy and sorrow. Gloria’s favorite group to work with is the junior high age group, believing that critical spiritual decisions can be made by the age of 12, as Jesus was found at the temple discussing with the teachers. She enjoys having the youth group over to her house, going to the beach, having heart-to-heart discussions, and trying any new cuisine.

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The Politics of Pastoring

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One of the most frequent questions that people ask me when they find out that I am a pastor (other than the classic “you look so young to be a pastor!”) is this:

Do you talk about politics when you preach???

The folks who ask this question are varied–they are young and old, rich and poor, but mostly, they are asking the question from outside the church.  They are genuinely curious–is preaching political?

In a recent blog post, Jan Edminston was reflecting on this question and on what it means for a pastor to be political, and for me at least she touched on something that I have noticed: when people ask this question, they are often assuming that the church as a “position” or a “side” to defend.  They assume that the pastor (that’s me) is out to convert the masses to a liberal or conservative interpretation of the bible.  But, as Jan reminds us, “the bible is an equal opportunity offender.”

What does that mean?  Well, for me it means that the Bible defies our own political categories.  I certainly *could* waste precious preaching time defending the platform of the Green Party, or the Libertarian Party, or any other political movement of the moment. But at the end of the day, the bible has a God Platform, and it doesn’t match up with any of the political identities that we have created.

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways,” preaches Isaiah in the fifty-fifth chapter, reminding us that God has priorities and values that often do not line up with our personal and communal motivations.  Which means that part of following God is learning the platform.  Part of following Jesus is paying attention, not just to what God says, but to what God does.

When I pay attention to Jesus (who, let it be said, paid a heck of a lot of attention to the Hebrew Scriptures), what I see is a rabbi who preached resistance to the political and religious empires of the world.  I see someone who was deeply concerned about the wholeness of the community, which meant that the well-being of the marginalized–the poor, the orphan, the widow, the sick, the outsider–could not be ignored.  I see someone who spent more time preaching about the Kingdom of God and money than he ever wasted on worrying about sex or any of the many varied social issues that so often trip our churches up these days.  And I see someone who was willing to walk straight into the jaws of death at the hands of the empire because he believed fiercely and completely that God was with him.

So am I political in the pulpit?  You bet I am.  But not in the way that most people have grown accustomed to interpreting that phrase.  I don’t waste my time telling people who to vote for; instead, I spend my hours fretting over how to help people put down their own agendas so that they can pick up God’s.  To use a metaphor that a preaching professor once taught me, I spend my days examining Scriptures like a jeweler would a diamond, wondering–what sort light is God bending into the world through this text?  What are we called to see that is unexpected, refracted through the lens of time, culture, and the experience of the holy?  What endures, and what has passed away?  What is God’s agenda here?

To use the words of Jesus: “not my will, but Yours.”

 

 

 

Laboring On

I am beginning to think I am being followed by the Laborers in the Vineyard. 

As you may or may not know, this was the NT passage selected for the exegetical exam on the Presbyterian Ords.  So as you can imagine I spent quite a bit of time with the sucker for about 5 days, learning quite a bit about it.  Since then the passage has continued to crop up in my midst; its in the books I read, the churches I visit, blogs and more.  In fact, I am beginning to think that perhaps the exams were more than providential in choosing that passage.  I mean, who knew that I was going to end up saturated in this particular verse?  Certainly not the committee that chose it.  but there it is (I guess you could make the case I just notice it because it was there…. a convincing argument but I doubt it.)

Anyways, today it cropped up in church.  I decided to visit Harvard Memorial Church this morning because Rev. Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor was slated to preach.  If you don’t know who this woman is, she is an adjunct at columbia theological seminary and butman professor at piedmont college.  We were required to read her book, “The Preaching Life,” in my introduction to ministry studies class at HDS.  I enjoyed her sermons quite a bit and was therefore inspired to forego my own church for this one.  

Leaving aside my experience of how Harvard does church, the texts for the day were…. Jonah ch. 4 and the Laborers.  Oh laborers.  It was a great sermon, to be sure.  It was also interesting to hear the laborers juxtaposed with Jonah’s whining in chapter four.  It was a way of looking at the passages and hearing the Jewishness of Matthew that I didn’t expect and certainly hadn’t thought of before.  The message was fairly predictable: God’s graciousness is hard to accept, scandalous in its seeming denial of justice and righteousness, etc etc.  the focus was on our anger and whether it is right to be angry when good things happen to bad people… which is a good question to ask, I think, and a question that has an easy answer unless it is happening to someone who isn’t you, or you feel wronged by God’s grace to another… which totally happens, I believe, more often than we would like to admit.

Anyways, she was great, her sermon threw me back a month to ords, and the music was beautiful (Harvard has an amazing choir that sings good ole’ hymns 15th-17th century style… pretty awesome to just sit and listen in the midst of it all.)

So yea…. still trying to sort out what the laborers might have to teach me next.  I am convinced that they refuse to go away, perhaps in part because I will always have a reason to see myself in them, and I guess I am okay with that.   And I don’t mind being reminded in good sermons, that’s for sure.

…..

In other news… lets see.  The NY Times is back to running pieces on presidential politics in balance with the economic crisis…. so i am back to feeding my habit.  Some really interesting opinion pieces in there today, like here and here and here.  I have to say it is hard to NOT read the myriad of polls and opinions out there… but it definitely is pretty awesome to realize the amount of info there is to be read every day.

Summerville

It’s been an interesting/low-key week.  Since A left on Labor day, i have been busying myself with feeble attempts at reading for my thesis and making contacts with various folks regarding stuff for the school year (aka: thesis advisor, potential field ed, supervisor for work, etc.).  Mostly, however, I find that my comings and goings have been largely uninteresting, to say the least.  Ever since preaching my first outline-based sermon last sunday, life has seemed, well, blah.

 

There have, however, been a few things of note that I suppose I could recount.  I have, for example, acquired a new bike:

In addition, I have moved my persnickity cat from her summer residence with my good friend D to my new digs, which appears thus far to have been largely successful.  The cat is not only comfortable in the house but there has been (fingers crossed) no smelly problems like last time, when she chose to pee/etc on things that I find to be valuable and important, like my bed.  So hopefully that will remain unchanged in the next few days.

I have read a few books-  I am currently reading “Untamed Hospitality” by Elizabeth Newman, which follows up a quick read by Lupton on Christian Development and Urban work.  Lupton was an average read– I am really enjoying Newman, however.  I think it is going to take a while to finish, but the prospects are good.  It is helping me mostly to sort out exactly what I am getting at and moving towards when I grasp at linguistic straws in an attempt to explain my thesis’ trajectory.  Hopefully when i meet with my advisor this afternoon at 2pm (!) I will have sorted that out a bit more.

 

What else?  Watched Palin last night…. she proved to be a good speaker.  I was surprised to find myself empathizing with some of her words… aside from blasting the dems, she was eloquent and even funny.  Didn’t expect that.  Still waiting to see what the News-y folks have to say about her (i have noticed that there is more favorable coverage of her this morning on the NYT page).  We shall see how the dems respond.

Finally, A is coming back today for THIS… whoopee!