May 22, 2022, Message For A Resurrecting Church, by Pastor David

Revelation 22: 1-5 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb  through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life[ with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 
Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever.

Meditation: For our meditation today, I invite you to reflect on the river of fabric flowing through the middle of our sanctuary - allowing it to refresh and renew you in worship.

May 22, 2022 Message for a Resurrecting Church. There is a River

When we finished the renovations of this sanctuary in the summer of 2014, the river of fabric was the finishing touch. It immediately called to mind for me our reading for this morning from Revelation 22: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb  through the middle of the street of the city.” 

The river and the renovations made this a more wonderful place to worship and I will always value the power of the worship we have had in this place. The river also reminded me of a book I had read connected to my antiracism work. The book is called There is a River by Vincent Harding. Harding was a speechwriter for Martin Luther King and a colleague of Rev. Donna Jones. 

My teacher, Wanda Lofton asked us to read There is a River, subtitled The Black Struggle for Freedom in America, with a question in mind. When do white people join the river of the struggle? We all wanted to say that we helped, but we saw that it was rare that we had done so. That fall we dedicated the new sanctuary in our regular season of creation worship services - dedicated the new wood surfaces in the altar, giving thanks for God’s forests, 

We dedicated the plants and the new floor. Matthew English, our relatively new music minister, brought in bamboo branches which Marisa waved in the altar as we prayed a blessing on this place. I felt inspired and energized for ministry. I wanted us to be part of the river, part of the struggle for freedom in the United States.

That same year we began meeting with Helen Ride, a representative of the Reconciling Congregations movement. She told us there was no hurry to declare ourselves, so we spent a whole year or more talking about what it would mean to really welcome all people. 

Ariel Gonzalez visited the church and inquired about becoming a member. When he learned about the United Methodist statement that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” he decided to join the Presbyterian church across the street. That hurt. Folks here felt like were welcomed everybody so it was confusing until we realized we had to be more public about our disagreement w the policies and reputation of our denomination. Rev. Frank Schaefer had officiated in his son’s marriage to another man and the conference put him on trial. We invited Frank to come and speak to us and he inspired a lot of people with his conviction that God really loves all God’s children as they are, (as we are).

In the meantime other ministries happened - another Children’s Festival at the Zoo A Kathy Taylor award to Marie Bonds for her work in this community. A wedding for Sophie and Eli up at West Point. 
Let me talk about some other things for a minute, while we scroll through some of these memories. Before I was a pastor, I was a community organizer in Philadelphia, working for better housing and more jobs and health care. I went to seminary when I got burned out on that organizing work, but I was hoping I could still do organizing as a pastor. I never thought I would be a pastor in the suburbs, but I have loved helping to celebrate births and commemorate deaths, and being part of the important rituals of people’s lives. 
I also loved connecting the suburbs to the city, and I have found a lot of pastors and rabbis in our community make that part of their mission as well. But organizing was still in my heart, as you know. I loved connecting us with POWER and thinking about how we could work to challenge racism and sexism. Sometimes you have humored me in my particular passion, sometimes you’ve let me do it on my own. I didn’t always figure out how to involve you. and sometimes you have been with me and it has been exciting.  

We have always kept in mind that our first priority is being an Easter people in a broken Good Friday world. One Easter, Matthew had a confetti cannon go off on the last note of the Hallelujah chorus. I was lucky I didn’t get fired for letting that happen.

Being with your children and doing confirmation trips have been some of the most life changing and powerful times. And I have to say, it took us a while, but St. Luke was right on target when the same weekend that the Supreme Court ruled that same sex marriage would be allowed in the United States, the very same weekend, St. Luke voted to become a Reconciling Congregation.  The vote seemed to be unanimous. We are agreeable people. But a couple of people did eventually leave. 

Summer worship in a circle. And we have had a few people come and say that our welcoming stance. has been important to them. We work hard on radical hospitality in this place - to care about everybody’s needs in our community and be there for everybody. We ask you to be part of that ministry, especially during the transition time this summer. The river of life that flows through our sanctuary is symbolic of the river that nourishes all God’s people, including people of a full spectrum of faith tradition. 
OK, listen, I have one other point I want to make about the river of life today.  Every Sunday we have a celebration of worship here and its a joyous time. We celebrate weddings and baptisms, and even funerals are a celebration of life.  And even so, the troubles of the world weigh us down. We try to look at those troubles - in Buffalo with the crazy claims of replacement theory, and the troubles of the climate and a world that seems spinning the wrong direction.

Now we add to that most of our staff leaving in one year, and it can start to feel like too much, like the discouragements in church are as bad as the rest of the world. And it can be easy for some people to fall into cynicism. A friend of mine recently called it “sophisticated resignation,” and I thought, “I seen that, sophisticated resignation.”

And I understand how watching the news and watching people fight with each other and dealing with every hurt in our lives can make it tough. But listen, cynicism is the opposite of faith. It’s lazy, arrogant and the most dangerous posture we can take. Cynicism is all the empires and tyrants need to succeed. They are counting on our cynicism. 

That’s why we practice saying ‘yes’ We practice noticing grace and good news and the fact that God is with us every day, in our work and our play. Cynicism keeps us from noticing the river of life flowing down the middle of our community nourishing and life giving. Cynicism distorts our understanding of God’s power and our own power. Cynicism denies who we are and who’s we are. It is a denial of God’s power to create a new world, God’s resurrection power to bring life out of death God’s resurrection power to bring a new world into our sorrow [Mary Katherine Morn]

Growing in Love for Life is our slogan as a church .

I have left this place almost every Sunday, saying “Well, that was fun!” There not many churches I’ve seen where that’s true Especially not one where we really live in and face the world Where we are taking on other people’s problems as our own. I’m not saying we’re perfect In fact we’re still pretty broken. 
But the river of life flows down the middle of our broken world and our broken lives and God patches us together and sends us out again and again River - May this river of life always nourish you. May it challenge your cynicism and discouragement. When you’re lonely, the river will float you to find someone who needs a friend. When you’re scared, the river will encourage you to give someone comfort. When you are despairing, the river will take you to someone who needs your hope. 
We are a baptized people. We have gathered at the river again and again. It flows through our lives and leads us to a community of joy. 

Responsive Song: 723 Shall We Gather At the River