Present Through the Promise Podcast

“From the fig tree learn this lesson: as soon as its branches become tender and starts putting out leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see certain signs taking place, you know that the Son of Man is near, at the very gates…”  Mark 13: 28-29

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Preached November 30, 2014 by K Karpen

’Twas the day after Thanksgiving, and it was time to drive my mom back home to Long Island.  So I got the car at the garage, in order to head back to my house and pick her up. Continue reading

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Therefore be perfect…

“I’m practically perfect, not slightly soiled,
running like an engine that’s just been
  freshly oiled,
I’m so practically perfect in every way…”

By Rev. K Karpen from the May 2014 SPSA Newsletter the Update(pdf)

Thus sang Mary Poppins, the practically-perfect nanny of stage and screen.  And of a slightly creepy children’s book series.

If it’s true, Ms. Poppins comes a lot closer to the ideal than most of us. The goal of perfection is not only intimidating, it’s downright discouraging.  And too difficult (and too boring?) to contemplate, as well.

Still, scripture tells us that  perfection is not only possible, it’s practical. Why?  Because it’s about what God can do with us, and not about what we can do on our own.  It’s not about how great we can be; it’s about how great God is.  And, most of all, it’s not about an end product, it’s about a process. A process of love.

John Wesley latched onto Christian perfection as a lynchpin of the theology that undergirded the 18th Century Methodist revival.  He took a lot of heat for it.  He himself speaks of perfection as potentially offensive:

The word perfect is what many cannot bear. The very sound of it is an abomination to them. And whosoever preaches perfection  (as the phrase is) that is, asserts that it is attainable in this life, runs great hazard of being accounted by them worse than a heathen man or a publican.

It’s easy to see why!  Just the phrase, ‘Christian perfection’ conjures up images of self-righteous, annoyingly-arrogant,   religiously-correct believers who would make Jesus himself uncomfortable to be around.  And who would probably be uncomfortable to hang around with Jesus!

The students I teach in the Methodist History and Doctrine classes at Union Seminary find the concept of perfection equally challenging.  One of them remarked, “It’s weird, it’s confusing, it’s annoying.” What exactly does Wesley mean by it?

Wesley knew that people don’t come in ‘perfect.’  We will never be perfect in knowledge, we will never be free of mistakes, we will never be free of temptations.  But Wesley also knew that God can do amazing things with us, given half a chance.

To Wesley, the process of perfection means just one thing: to grow more perfect in the way we love. To get better at love is the goal of the Christian life.

Growing closer to God leaves us more steeped in love.  Love for God, and love for our neighbors, both the ones in the apartment next door, and the ones half a world away. It’s a practical kind of love,  that needs practice, practice, practice.  After all, practice makes perfect.

“Therefore be perfect, even as God in heaven is perfect.” ~Matthew 5:48

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Green Abundance

Rosina Pohlmann preached Sermon, August 4th, 2013

Scripture: Luke 12:13-21

Abundance is one of those words whose sound mimics its meaning. It is a ripe word with forward motion that rises and fills with sound as you say it. Abundance. It is satisfying to say, also because its meaning is so cheerful. A great quantity of something. A great or plentiful amount. Full to overflowing. All these definitions add up to mean that there is more than enough, and, considering that there often isn’t enough, abundance is usually cause for celebration. Of course there are many types of abundance:  abundant food, abundant water, abundant harvest, abundant money, abundant life, abundant love. There are other qualities of abundance as well, such as whether it is the abundance of the many or the few, and whether it has come at the expense of another. As Jesus points out in this scripture of Luke, not all types of abundance are created equal. In response to a man hoping to settle his family inheritance he says, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Continue reading

Getting Down to Jericho

Siobhan Sermon  Podcast

Luke 10:25-37

Friday night Alison and I went to Brooklyn to play one of our favorite board games with a few friends.  Some of you may know it. It’s called Settlers of Catan.

  Players assume the roles of settlers, each attempting to build and develop holdings while trading and acquiring resources. Players are then rewarded points as their settlements grow; the first to reach a set number of points is the winner!

 Now it’s a little bit more complicated than that. It requires a keen mind, an understanding of probability and negotiating and diplomatic skills. Along with just a taste of ruthlessness. I struggle with the ruthlessness part. Well, actually no I don’t. I often don’t like to admit this, but I can be a bit competitive.

That drive to win takes over and, though I’ve learned to keep it under check, it flares up from time to time—from game to game—from argument to argument.

There’s a card game Laura Joy & I play on Youth Retreats called Hong Kong. I’ve even taught a few women at our women’s retreat this past April how to play. It’s fast, furious, and it’s competitive. So, they’ve all seen that side of me. And I know Alison for sure has seen that side of me. Gloating when I win, pouting when I lose. Alison says I get this look in my eyes, like I’m out for blood. I don’t doubt it. Games can get a little contentious in our household if we’re not careful.

This drive to win, this taste of ruthlessness reminds me of our lawyer.

 

Now we’re not exactly sure where this guy comes from, he may have been in the crowd following Jesus for a long time. Perhaps he was even waiting for just the right moment to jump out. Our text says “just then a lawyer stood up.” It’s as if he wanted to surprise Jesus, catch him off guard, put him on the defense.

What we do know is this guy has been trained in the Law of Moses, and probably serves as a secretary or advisor to elders and priests. So it’s expected when he quotes two different passages of the law in his first reply to Jesus “Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.”

It’s even expected then when Jesus agrees with his answer. But, what we also know is he wants to test Jesus. “Luke characterizes the question with the greek word ‘ekpeirazon’, meaning ‘testing’ or ‘tempting.’ The lawyer’s question has an edge to it, at the least he is pushing Jesus and at worst he’s trying to trip him up.” He’s trying to make Jesus look bad, so he can look good.

And when he doesn’t get Jesus the first time, he goes back for more,“who is my neighbor?” he asks.

This desire to win, to be right, persists. He wants to be the one at the end of the day who’s on top. Who’s got it all figured out. In many respects I feel for our Lawyer.

And it’s not just because of my competitive streak, though I clearly have one. I know that feeling of wanting to justify myself. Wanting to prove I’m right to the point where everyone else is wrong. Isn’t it the start to most arguments? Rather than sharing points of view, we have to convince the other that our point of view is the correct one. We have to make them see the way we see. Where our law, our views, our perceptions, our beliefs, our actions are the Gospel truth. Where our definition of the world, is the right one and our way is the right and only way. As a result, we have a much harder time listening, a much harder time communicating anything other than “I’m right and you’re wrong.”

We do this. The more obvious—

 

Yankee fans vs. Red Sox fans.  I won’t say which one I am.

But even more than baseball teams. There’s also: Republicans vs. Democrats;

Evangelical Conservative Christians vs. Progressive Christians.

The point is, we all think our team is the better team, our way is the right way, our political views are the right views and Our religious beliefs are the right beliefs.

 

It’s a tragic piece of our human nature. We’ve seen its consequences throughout history. Our Church’s past is colored with the blood of Martyrs for the pursuit of correct and right belief at all cost, even war and persecution.

 

Time and time again we’ve found ways to avert our eyes from the real work of restoring life God calls us to and instead we find ourselves destroying it in small and big ways.

 

 

When WE answer the lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor”

what seems to happen more often than not—

Our neighbor becomes those who think like us, look like us, act like us.

Our neighbor becomes those who believe and define the world the way we define it.

 

And anyone who is not my neighbor is just wrong, just not worth it, is maybe even my enemy, is fare game for my criticism, rejection or worse discrimination, and abuse.

 

In the here and now, we see the ways this attitude effects and desecrates our world.

Not only the recent verdict of the Zimmerman case which points to so many problems embedded with this attitude and relationship to the world around us, but even the way our children treat other children.

 

I watched the documentary Bully last month. Bully is a 2011 documentary film about bullying in U.S. schools. The film follows the lives of five students who face bullying on a daily basis.

 

The very real and tragic fact is that every year, over 13 million American kids will be bullied at school, online, on the bus, at home, through their cell phones and on the streets of their towns—because they are perceived to look, think, and act —

just a little differently.

 

It is the most common form of violence young people in this country experience and it stems from the notion and belief that different is bad-

Different is wrong.

Different is scary, strange and needs to be stamped out.

And most certainly, different is not Neighbor.

 

The film was heart wrenching. As I watched the bullying, the name calling, the hitting and kicking, the day to day torture of these kids being picked on, I saw that man in Jesus’ story that fell at the hands of robbers. Who was beaten, stripped of all his clothes and left to die on the side of that road to Jericho.

 

But Jesus gives us something different. What Jesus offer’s in response to the Lawyer’s question is not an answer but a story.

Not an answer, but a challenge.

 

What he challenges us to do is put away all those things that we use to separate us, to divide and define us—so that what’s left

So that WHO is left, is the one who shows mercy.

So that what is left, is life and not death.

 

Because discipleship is not marked by knowing the good from the evil, it’s not marked by knowing at all but is marked by living into the love of God that’s for all people.

 

Let me say that again, it’s marked by living into the love of God, that’s for everyone. No matter how we identify ourselves, at the end of the day, discipleship is about identifying with mercy, with love, with hope.

 

So the question becomes not “who is my neighbor”, but “how are you a neighbor”. How are we showing mercy?

And even further than that, how can we continually practice, and then practice some more this kind of mercy and love and care.

So that again, what’s left is a life lived as A Neighbor not trying to figure out who or what is our neighbor.

 

And the hard truth is this, every truly moral act, every bit of love, compassion and tender care presupposes an astonishing store of meditation and preparation and practice.

 

As Julie mentioned in the children’s message and as Paul speaks to the Colossians. Bearing fruit takes time.

 

And it doesn’t just happen by chance. It happens through hard work, dedication and intention. Through practice. And through our failure.

 

 

A few weekends ago, Alison and I went up to Beacon, New York, just north of Cold Springs, to celebrate the fact that we’ve been dating now for 2 years.

 

We decided to commemorate our 2 year journey with a little hike up Beacon Mtn, and then around the nearby Beacon Reservoir and along the Scofield Ridge.

 

Even with the threat of possible thunderstorms and a slightly cloudy sky, we packed a few essentials and set out for what we hoped would be a great trail.

And the day did turn out to be beautiful.

There were no thunderstorms. We made it to all the scenic views-

We not only climbed to the top of Mount Beacon but we even found the fire-tower near the Scofield Ridge.

 

The Fire-Tower was really one of the most memorable points of the hike. We were so high up you could see for miles and miles in every direction.

We were even looking down on a couple of hawks that were soaring and flying in the sky. When you’re up there like that, high with your eyes looking out over the beautiful vision set before you, you forget what it’s like to come back down.

 

I’ve heard people say, that coming down was always harder than going up, but that never really made any sense to me until now. Sure we’ve done strenuous hikes before but when you spend 3 hours descending it takes a toll on you and on your body.  My struggle this hike didn’t come from the climb up but instead the descent down.

My ankles and knees and body began to get really tired and that’s when the real work began. My reflexes weren’t as quick so I HAD to slow down. I HAD to take each step with tender care. I couldn’t barrel down this mountain as I had barreled up it.

 

My posture, my attitude, my effort had to shift. It was a humbling experience. And maybe that’s the point.

 

This journey down to Jericho has to look a little different. We have to walk it a little differently, a little more carefully.

 

The Parable of the ‘Good’ Samaritan is one of the most well-known of all Jesus parables. It’s a story we’ve heard told time and time again in a myriad of ways. From art, to tv, to film. To those adorably animated vegatables in one of my personal favorites, the Veggie Tales movie entitled “Are you my neighbor?”

 

It’s a story we commonly recognize as leaving us with a message to help others. And this is a very important piece to remember and carry with us in our hearts. But after my own personal trek down that mountain and coming off the high of that fire tower, for me this is also a story of humility and descent—A story about a lawyer who was high on being right, only to realize where he had gone wrong.

 

And I believe it is here that we as a Church can find our lesson and grow, because every now and again we need to come off that mountain and embrace a posture of humility. We need to humble ourselves, in order to get down to Jericho and be where Jesus is, as the one who shows us mercy.

 

And that trek isn’t an easy one. It can be hard on your joints, on your body, taxing to your mind and soul. It’s hard to recognize, hard to swallow when we’re wrong, and then even harder still are the careful and humble steps towards change that follow.

 

The Young Adults have been reading Adam Hamilton’s book When Christian’s Get it Wrong. In it, Hamilton cites research conducted by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons that details the perceptions of non-Christian Young Adults have regarding those who identify as Christians.

 

So what they found is the stereotype forming in our country about Christians.

 

Among their findings

  • 87% felt Christians were judgmental
  • 85% felt Christians were hypocritical &
  • 70% thought Christians were insensitive.

 

I had two thoughts about this.

To be honest with you, my first thought after reading this, was that’s not who we are. We as a community, St. Paul and St. Andrew, work very hard at living into the love of Christ. We work hard to debunk those perceptions. But then I started questioning my need to justify, my need to separate myself from those other “Christians” who I may think are judgmental, are hypocritical, and are insensitive to the needs of the world.

 

I asked myself, isn’t this how it gets started? The hypocrisy, the judgment, the insensitivity?

 

That was my first thought.

 

My second thought. Sad. It made me sad to think that we, however we define ourselves as Christians,-we who go by the name of the “one who shows mercy” seem to hold, at times, very little mercy, compassion, and grace for others.

And coming down off my mountain hurt a little. I grieve those perceptions.

 

I’m not sure what we do with them, but I can say this:

I believe it is only when we come down from our mountains, whatever they may be, whatever they may look like, whatever form they may take, no matter how scary, or hard. It is only then that we can begin to really see the mercy of God that surrounds us.

 

And truly it is here that our work begins, where we have to move a little slower, where we have to take each step with care and humility.

 

I think from our story today what we learn is sometimes we have to stumble, we have to admit when we’re wrong like our lawyer, to ever have a chance of seeing how the real work of love lodges itself so deep within our hearts, our minds, our souls, our bodies that we can truly restore life and live into the love God has called us to.

Where like the lawyer we can say with humility, through every up and down!

“It is the one who showed mercy.”

 

And then maybe in the face of every danger, we can follow Jesus command to “Go and do likewise,” getting down to Jericho to spread that same hope, compassion and mercy. And that’s a life worth living.

 

I’m amazed by the witness of such hope and grace and mercy in the speech given by Malala Yousafzai to the U.N. this past Friday afternoon. On her 16th birthday Malala, in her speech calls on world leaders to provide “free, compulsory education” for every child. Malala, the girl who wanted to learn, to stand out, to be different and grow into the person she is going to become, only to be terrorized and shot by the Taliban.

What I’m amazed by, is even though she was left to die on the side of that road, she is able to speak out on her terms. In terms of forgiveness and mercy to those who were her abusers. To those who bullied her to the brink of death.

And not only that, but she is also a beacon of light and love and determination to be a restorer of life and an embodiment of mercy and grace.

 

So I want to end on her words this morning and pray that they guide you off every mountain and into the heart of God. To a life that’s everlasting and worth living.

 “They thought that the bullets would silence us but they failed.”

And then, out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born. I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same.”

July 14th, 2013

 Siobhan Sargent

 

Faith Like That

By K Karpen  Church of St Paul and St Andrew
New York CityJune 2, 2013

Audio – mp3. Download or listen!

   Luke 7:1-10 “After Jesus had finished all these sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum.  A centurion there had a servant whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death.  When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent some of the Jewish elders to Jesus, asking him to come and heal his servant.

 When they came to Jesus they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.

 And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you.  But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For like you I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, Go, and he goes, and to another, Come, and he comes, and to my servant Do this, and the servant does it.”

 When Jesus heard him say this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found faith like that.”

When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant in good health.”     Luke 7:1-10

“Not even in Israel have I found faith like that.”

The other day a fifteen year old person who lives in my house asked me, “Do you believe in God?” I stopped for a few seconds before saying anything.

I hesitated for a lot of reasons, I think.  First, believing in God isn’t something I think about very much, it’s just something I do.  Second, I thought, this person who lives with me sees me every day; don’t I act like I believe in God?  Third, I’m a preacher.  I get paid to believe in God.  Fourth, given all of the above, I didn’t want to give an automatic or thoughtless answer to what I took to be a very serious question.

So after a moment I said, “Yes.”  a one word answer that was better in my mind than a lot of extra words that might offer more explanation but less clarity.

And then she responded with a one word follow-up question: “Why?”

A one word answer, was the first thing that came to my mind, “Experience,” I said.  So far we’re having a very short conversation! But before she could hit me with another query, I added, “I don’t know what I would think or believe, if I didn’t ever experience God.”

 

And that’s true.  I’ve read the Bible, I’ve read a lot of books, I’ve had a lot of conversations, but I without experiences, some strange, some probably typical, I doubt any of that would matter too much.

I don’t think any words about God would make me care about God in the absence of a relationship, without the give and take of prayer, without random moments of inspiration (which literally means feeling ‘filled with spirit’).  I doubt I would want to spend much time in worship if the experience of worship didn’t so often take me deeper into a feeling of relatedness and connectedness with God and God’s people.

But I have those experiences, not always all the time, but ‘here and there, now and then’, as Frederick Buechner puts it. I get glimpses of who God is for me.  And you have had those experiences too, I think, sometimes realized, sometimes maybe not.

So all that, I suppose, is the Why of my belief in God, but I think a more interesting question is How do we believe in God.  And that gets to the matter of faith.

Belief may be part of faith, but it’s only a small part, and it’s not the most interesting part.  I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, which I do, but it doesn’t change my life very much.

Some of you believe in stranger things than that.  Like the Mets; which ok, got a little easier this past week.  But believing in the Mets may not change your life very much.

Belief involves more than simply assenting to a set of suppositions.  But faith is much more than that, much more than merely belief.  It’s a way of living, in relationship with God and God’s people.

A belief may be something you think.  Faith is something you do.

John Wesley puts it like this, “Faith that does no work is an idle, barren, dead faith.  It is no faith at all.”  Faith is what you do.  Faith is how you live.  In trust and confidence in God, not just belief in some Godlike abstraction.  Faith is what you do in love.

Which brings us to today’s story.  Just before this, Jesus has come down from a high hill where he’s gone to pray, and in the level place below, he finds a big crowd waiting for him.  And he teaches them a lot of different things.

In today’s story, Jesus leaves that place and goes to the village of Capernaum, which is as much of a home base as he has.  And he is barely in the village when this centurion sends a group of Jewish elders to contact Jesus.

This is an unusual centurion.  A centurion in Roman military tradition is a commander of a group of 100 soldiers.  And, as symbols of the occupying Roman army, they were not well loved.  But this one was, and you can see it right away.

First, he has a servant, literally a slave, who he cares about a great deal.  Second, he cares about the people he’s living with, to the extent of building them a house of worship, though they worship a God he doesn’t.

You could maybe picture a Christian American marine captain in Afghanistan with enough sensitivity to agonize over the local person who cleans the barracks, or paying to build a mosque for the village the captain is stationed in.  But that might be a very unusual person.

But there are two more unusual things about this Roman centurion. The first is his humility, which combines with his sensitivity and leads him to send people to plead with Jesus to not come to him, saying “I am not worthy to have you come to my house.”  Roman centurions had many interesting characteristics, but I can’t imagine that humility was a very common one.

But the amazing thing to Jesus about this centurion is his faith.  His message to Jesus is this, “Like you, I am a person under authority, and I have people serving under me.  And I say Go and they go, and I say Come and they come.  And I tell a servant Do this, and it’s done.  Just say the word and my servant will be well.”

And when he hears that, Jesus is amazed.

Not that many things amaze Jesus.  But faith like that amazes Jesus.  To rely utterly.  To trust completely.  And to act accordingly.

This man, who was of some other religion or no religion, has more faith than anyone Jesus has ever met.  Somehow, some way, somewhere, he had learned to rely on God, and that reliance leads him to know he can rely on Jesus.

How it would be to have faith like that!

To rely utterly.  To trust completely.  And to act accordingly.

Our faith is a journey.  It more a verb than a noun.  It is not something we can possess; it is a way we can live.

Faith does not cause religious practice, although religious practice can lead to faith.  It is an openness to the reality of God.  Not believing in some fantasy but being open to something fantastic.  Faith is the willingness to experience the reality of God through our relationship with God and people who love God.  To trust that God completely, utterly, and unceasingly. And to act accordingly.

How it would be to have faith like that.

Pray with me.  “Come, spirit come.  Fill our souls with a faithful yearning for you.  Let who you are stir our whole being and lead us to a life of love.  Give us a faith that has nothing to prove.  Bring us the confidence that can say to a mountain, move, and it will move.  Come, spirit, come. Amen.”

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