“Birthdays” by The Rev. Stephanie Kendell

October 11th,2018 Categories: Stephanie Kendell Letters, Weekly Letter

Beloved Church,

I am so happy to spend another week with you. Here in New York, it is finally starting to cool off and feel like fall. It is perfect walking-through-Central Park weather, so I hope to see you all worshipping with us either in the seats or online. After worship everyone is invited to join our YASS group for some food and drinks. Also mark your calendar for our Budget Hearing (10/28 at 12:30pm) and Congregational Meeting (11/11 at 10:30am). Both will be incredibly informative about the wonderful ministries we are doing here at The Park.

This week, on October 10, we celebrated the 208 birthday of the church. Well, not THE church, but our church, Park Avenue Christian Church. To put into context just how long ago that was, here are some things that happened in 1810: Beethoven wrote “Für Elise,” Chile declared independence from Spain, Madison was president, women and people of color had no legal rights, and the tin can was invented. We have come a long way, and we definitely should be much further along, but there are definitive ways in which we can say we have changed. And yet, after reading this text, I am also reminded that some things are built to stay the same. Let’s read this week’s scripture from the Gospel of Mark.

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, someone came running up and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to share in everlasting life?”
Jesus answered, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: No killing. No committing adultery. No stealing. No bearing false witness. No defrauding. Honor your mother and your father.”
The other replied, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my childhood.”
Then Jesus looked at the person with love and said, “There is one thing more that you must do. Go and sell what you have and give it to those in need; you will then have treasure in heaven. After that, come and follow me.”
At these words, the inquirer, who owned much property, became crestfallen and went away sadly.
Jesus looked around and said to the disciples, “How hard it is for rich people to enter the kindom of God!”
The disciples could only marvel at these words.
So, Jesus repeated what he had said: “My children, how hard it is to enter the realm of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the Needle’s Eye gate than for a rich person to enter the kindom of God!
“The disciples were amazed at this and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible—but not for God. With God all things are possible.”

I was reading an article the other day about a man who stole $5 worth of food to feed his family but ended up in jail. This is not a surprising story unfortunately. It is one that most of us are familiar with, and whether we want to admit it or not, it is one that is set up in part by misinterpreting the gospel. We hear in the story that we must remember the commandments, which were only written because those things were happening. “Do Not Commit Murder” is only applicable in a world where people are murdering. The commandments were written because the community as a whole had already decided that their own comfort and care outweighed that of their neighbor. And while I would like to say that where we are now as a society is more in line with the ultimate commandment of loving your neighbor as yourself, the reality is, we are still the same society that needs the commandments. Which is why they have not changed.

We are a society that needs the reminder to not take life from others. But more than that, we are a society that needs to recognize and value each other fully so that we support each other in building a community where the commandments aren’t needed. A society where people are believed when they tell their stories. A society that doesn’t murder unarmed young black men or steal people’s children. A community that doesn’t punish the poor but instead finds ways to help out. The article I read was on the surface about stealing food, but really it was about how there are people in this world who are hungry and forced to steal to survive and instead of feeding them, we imprison them. A literal jail sentence and systemic one. The commandments haven’t changed and neither have the structures that make them necessary in the first place.

However, we are also not exactly the same either. We are celebrating the 208th year of The Park with a black woman in the pulpit, a bilingual worship, and a congregation that is committed to seeking justice and equality for all God’s children. So, while we celebrate being around for 208 years, I also want to lift up that we made it 208 years because we look forward and not back. We are 208 years old because we don’t see God as the past, but experience the divine in our present, and planning our future. We serve a creating and creative God who has done some incredible things with this community and still I know, the best is yet to come.

Friends, as our scripture says, “With God all things are possible.” And what that means is that there is change in the future. God is using each and every one of us to build a kindom that loves so boldly and passionately, that our human deeds are indistinguishable from God’s. It is an impossible task by ourselves, but with God it is possible.

With God, every moment that seems impossible is given hope.
Every task that seems too big, is given help.
Every person that seems too lost, is held in care.

Friends, may we celebrate our 208th year by loving each other so deeply, that our 308th year see’s God at work in all we do.

Shalom Y’all.
Rev. Stephanie