Worship with us Sundays at 11 - Venga a adorar con nosotros los domingos a las 11

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“What is in a Life?” by The Rev. Stephanie Kendell

Beloved Church,

This coming Sunday will be incredibly special. Not only do we get to hear an incredible word from our beloved Pastor Kaji, and experience week two of “Examining Your Wallet” with Rev. Mieke, but we also get to gather after our worship service at 2 pm this week to share and remember the life of our beloved brother in Christ, Frank Tyson. It is going to be a week filled with love and support and I hope to see you there.

There was an article this week on Buzzfeed that examined the life of a community of people in a place called “Slab City” in California.  Slab City is a place where people truly live “off the grid,” from society. As you wander the area, it pulls at everything in our consumer society that says, “this is not how someone should live.” Yet, this place exists as community in its truest form. There is love, dependency, and support from those living in Slab City because it is the only way a community like this can work. And I am not pulling from the article at this point, for I actually visited Slab City in 2009 while on a trip with my friends to the Salton Sea, Slab City, and Salvation Mountain. It was a place that I felt comfortably-uncomfortable. The energy of this sacred space felt strange yet still familiar. I tried not to stare, yet when I did, I was met with smiles and “hello’s.” I heard stories, laughter, and tears. People spoke openly of their journeys with culture, family, and God.  I was reminded of this community when I read this week’s scripture from 1 John, that calls us to remember our covenant as created people building a community in Christ’s name.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ died for us. And we, too, ought to lay down our lives for our sisters and brothers. If you have more than enough material possessions and see your neighbors in need, yet close your hearts to them, how can the love of God be living in you? My children, our love must not be simply words or mere talk-it must be true love, which shows itself in action and truth. This, then, is how we’ll know we belong to the truth; this is how we’ll be confident in God’s presence, even if our consciences condemn us. We know that God is greater than our consciences and that God knows everything. And if our consciences do not condemn us, my friends, then we have the confidence before God, and we will receive whatever we ask from God’s hand-because we keep the commandments and do what is pleasing in God’s site. The Commandments are these: that we believe in the name of God’s own Jesus Christ, and that’s what we love one another as we were told to do. Those who keep these Commandments live in God and God lives in them. We know that God lives in us by the spirit given to us.
(1 John 3:16-24 ILB)

Loving one another is hard y’all. It’s not that we can’t love, it’s that loving like Christ – profoundly unconditional – is a real challenge. The most challenging part is that through my own gaze as a white woman, I have been conditioned in this world to see things a certain way. I see need where others see stability. I see hope where others see fear. A community like Slab City, brought my gaze into focus. It made me see God where I saw the disenfranchised. It made me see home where I used to see only shelter. Our own gaze limits our ability to see the expansive nature of God. But this text gives us a God gaze. And with a God gaze we experience through the people we meet and the places we go, a God is bigger than anything we can imagine. And a God at work in the places we think are forgotten. God is at work beyond life and death, beyond love and despair. Faith in this knowledge helps open ourselves up, to truly living a life that keeps the commandment to love our neighbor. Because living in community, living amongst the created beauty gifted to us by our God, is what turns living… into life.

Church, we have been gifted the grace of God’s love and guidance in unimaginable ways. My hope for you this week is that you breathe deep in the knowledge that God is at work, and may your feet be firmly planted in a life that deconstructs your own gaze to see everyone in the image of God.

Shalom Y’all.
Rev. Stephanie

April’s SoulFood Fellowship is on April 29 instead of April 22

“Things We Can See” by The Rev. Stephanie Kendell

Beloved Church,

This week we embark on a journey with a good friend to The Park, The Rev. Mieke Vandersall. Mieke is sharing her incredible gifts with us in two complimentary ways. We will get to hear her prophetic witness this Sunday in worship, and she is also starting a three-week workshop called, “Examining Your Wallet: An Exploration of Money Matters from a Practical and Theological Perspective.” Mieke’s work is such a gift to our community and I hope you will join us on Thursday and Sunday!

This week, is tax week. People from around the nation will collect their receipts, think about their past year, and file their taxes. Taxes are one of those taboo things that people aren’t supposed to talk about in church. For some they can bring up feelings of anxiety and unease. For others, they are a helpful and necessary part of building community. It can be a challenge to joyfully support something that we don’t always see the fruits of immediately. It is always easier to believe in something once you actually see it. Which is why this week’s passage is so helpful, and a wonderful reminder that things are at work in the world, even when we can’t immediately see them.

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?  Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:36b-48 NRSV)

What would it take to be a community that invests beyond our anxieties and in more than what we can immediately or physically see? When Jesus is right in front of us, how often do we see him and step over him, or even worse, not believe it when we do see him. To see the risen Christ in our neighbor do we need to gain something, or experience something before we fully believe he is there? Jesus is walking amongst us, talking to us, asking us for food, and we are still scared.

Friends, a life in faith is not meant to be easy but knowing that we journey with the Risen Christ brings comfort and hope for our lives to come. This week, lets invest in ministries and visions of the church that we may not see but know they are in the sight of our Lord ready to bloom. Let’s prayerfully believe in the good news that we see and have faith in that which we don’t see yet. Because our God is here, among us, working with us, using us to build the kin-dom in real time with the gifts given to each of us.

I give thanks for the God at work who brought us all together and continues to love and support us each day of our life and beyond.

Shalom Y’all.
Rev. Stephanie

Children and Youth Ministry Update from Rev. Francesca Fortunato

On April 8th the Sunday school children read Acts 4: 32-35, about the radical sharing that was practiced in early church communities. We discussed ways to be mindful about sharing, in our own lives as followers of Jesus, and how sharing helps us to be happier in our time together. Our response activity was a play experiment. The children were given a box with a limited number of toys, and were asked to figure out how to share them in ways that would be fun for everyone, and be fair, in terms of taking turns. I was particularly pleased to see older children being patient and helpful with younger ones.

On April 15th, we will read Luke 24: 36-48. The focus will be on the ways that people in the early church shared the teachings of Jesus with others. We will discuss what some of those teachings are, and how we can share them. Our response activity will be a dramatic play experience, with children taking turns in the role of Teacher, and sharing the teachings of Jesus with the class.

Children and Youth Ministry Update from Rev. Francesca Fortunato

The Park Sunday school children had a very happy Easter Sunday (April 1st). After reading the Easter story (Mark 16:1-8) I asked the children to think about what the connection might be, between the story of Jesus’ resurrection, and the hiding and hunting of Easter eggs. It was a lively discussion, and many, imaginative and original ideas were expressed, but the one that stood  out most, for me, came from one of our visitors: “Jesus was hidden inside the tomb, just like the eggs are hidden. Then Jesus was alive, and people could see him again. We find the eggs, like the disciples found Jesus.” (Yes, there are more traditional theological explanations, but Sunday school is about children thinking, for themselves, about these questions, and this answer seemed particularly creative). Everyone had a great time with the Easter egg hunt that followed, and enjoyed playing with the small toys that were hidden inside the plastic eggs. It was delightful to welcome so many visitors, too!

On Sunday April 8th, the children will read Acts 4:32-35, which is, among other things, about the ways that the early followers of Jesus practiced sharing and mutual support.  We will discuss why sharing is a Christian value, and the ways that sharing benefits those who give (or lend) as well as those who receive. Our response activity will be a game, using toys from our Children’s Ministry play area. We will have a limited number of toys out (intentionally smaller than the number of children present) and will ask the children to play with them together, finding ways to make sure that everyone has a chance to use the toys they like best, and that all of the children have fun together, in friendly; peaceful ways. And so, we begin to build a children’s Christian community…

“Resurrection Resolutions” by The Rev. Stephanie Kendell

Beloved Church,

Last Sunday was such a wonderful gathering of our community and it reminded me how thankful I am that Christ has brought me on this journey. I hope that you are continuing to live in the light of the resurrected Christ and have been sharing that light abundantly.

I am not one that does New Year resolutions. I have never been able to hold onto them. No matter how many times I tried to convince myself to eat better, or work out more, or learn the violin I cannot seem to keep up resolutions that I make at the New Year. (Just ask the violin that is collecting years of dust in my closet). I think they don’t work for me because there is no accountability or follow up for me. New Year resolutions have always been for me, meaning I am the one who has to hold myself accountable to my promises. However, that is not how I work best, and it is not how we are called to be our best selves. Just see this week’s scripture from the book of Acts.

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.
With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.
They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:32-35)

About four years ago, I stopped making New Year resolutions and came up with something that I found actually worked: Resurrection Resolutions. Every Easter, I make a resolution to better myself and my community in light of the newly risen and resurrected Christ. I find that these resolutions work better because as Acts reminds us, the gifts that we have been given in this life, are best when shared. Our resolutions are meant to make us better people and the best parts of us are meant to be shared with each other. When we commit to doing this, we are no longer just accountable to ourselves, but we are accountable to the whole of God’s creation. We are accountable to God. So, I make resolutions that come into focus after I have journeyed through Lent and experienced the risen Christ. Lent helps make fuzzy visions come into focus, and Easter makes small dreams feel expansive. I always want to make my Resurrection Resolutions in the wake of the expansive love of Christ. And in doing so, keep me accountable to not only me, but to Jesus.

This year my Resurrection Resolutions are to spend 30 minutes a day writing, taking a walk every day, and spending 15 minutes more in prayer each morning. These three promises not only help me be a better version of the person that God has created me to be, and by doing so, help me be a more attentive pastor to our community. It is my way of using the great power given to be in the love of Christ and how I use it to give testimony to the good news. I hope you will prayerfully consider your own Resurrection Resolution.

Church, in this week post Easter, may you be inspired by the renewing energy of the risen Christ and utilize the power of your testimony and the gifts of your unique self – made in the image of God – to build up the kin-dom. The kin-dom built in god’s image and through the eternal grace of the risen Christ.

Shalom Y’all.
Rev. Stephanie

From Disciples News Service: New York church expands programs for young adults

April 22: SoulFood Fellowship

RSVP to swilson@parkavenuechristian.com

Children and Youth Ministry Update from Rev. Francesca Fortunato

Dear Park People,

It’s exciting to prepare for my first Easter with The Park. Our Sunday school children are anticipating the celebration with great joy; I hope and pray that it will be a wonderful experience for them, and will do all within my power to make it so.

In March, we walked the Lenten path together, focusing on ways to be of service in our church community and the world, inspired by the example of Jesus and the first disciples. Striving to make sacred space, in our hearts as well as our physical environment, we created gifts for loved ones and symbolic decorations for our Children’s Ministry area. I introduced the song “Simple Gifts,” which seems, to me, particularly appropriate for Lent, as we find freedom in simplicity and, “by turning and turning” (repentance) we “come ‘round right.” We also started the process of increasing children’s visible presence in the sanctuary liturgy, by having them join in the Palm Sunday procession. There will be more of that happening in the future, as children continue to process, do readings, and bring the offerings, on coming Sundays.

After our festive Easter Sunday (with an indoor Easter egg hunt for the children) we will spend April thinking about various kinds of sacred sharing (our material goods, our stories, our time; our thoughts and ideas). We will be socializing together with intention, engaging in dramatic play, doing creative writing and crafts; all in expression of what we are learning together, as a caring and sharing faith community.

As I write this, I am remembering the inspiring experience that I had last Saturday, while participating in the March For Our Lives; so many children and teenagers, standing up for themselves and their future; leading the way to a more peaceful and hopeful world. As an adult working with children and youth, in these tumultuous times, I am aware of being very privileged. It is my desire to be a supportive mentor and source of encouragement in their lives, as they find their own paths, faith expressions, and vocations. I am an “older” person in this work. Old enough to be a grandparent to most of the children in The Park Sunday school. I am striving to bring the gifts of my experience and time on this planet to our young ones, while nurturing my own inner child, practicing constant resurrection, and learning with them, even as I also teach.

Blessings, well-wishes and high hopes for all of us!
Rev. Francesca

“Being Present” by The Rev. Stephanie Kendell

Beloved Church,

I hope this week is finding you well and filled with the many emotions that accompany Holy Week. While this time in our faith lives is joyous, getting to Easter can be hard so I invite you to journey with The Park all week at our Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday services.

I love the ballet. It is a form of art that has always spoken to me. When I used to be a singer I would always choreograph exquisite ballets in my head to the songs I was singing. I think I like ballet in part because it is a ministry of presence. You can know exactly what is happening, how they feel, what was expected, all by the way they show up on stage. This week as I read our texts for Easter, my mind went into my beloved habit of choreographing dance to this text. See where your mind takes you as you read the account of the resurrection as found in the Gospel according to John.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So, she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look[a] into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,[b] “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to Abba. But go to my sisters and brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Abba and your Abba, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20:1-18, NRSV)

This is THE story, friends. This is the reason we are all here. The mystery and the love of Christ that transcends norms and expectations. And yet, had the women not offered their ministry of presence, had the women not been at the tomb, what a different story this might have been. This part of Jesus’s story, of our story, reminds us that we need to show up. The ministry of presence is about showing up when life is hard. The ministry of presence is about showing up when it is inconvenient. The ministry of presence is about showing up to celebrate. The ministry of presence is the women showing up for Jesus and then Christ showing up for them… and for us.

Church, as we continue on this last week of Lent, and we experience the pain of Maundy Thursday and the loss of Good Friday may we continue our commitment to a ministry and a church of presence. Let us show up for each other in church and in life this week, in the same life changing ways we will show up for each other at Easter. And may the story of the risen Christ inspire your heart, mind, and spirit in new ministries and ways to love and support each other.

Shalom Y’all.
Rev. Stephanie