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

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“Easy to Pray” by The Rev. Stephanie Kendell

Beloved Church,

What a wonderful Sunday we shared last week. I am continually grateful for the ways we grow and support each other and our diverse passions. This community truly is a blessing. Keep an eye on The Park’s Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook pages to see what we are up to this week. We hope you will join us.

Each week I take a look at our text, I pray with it, use it to inspire my week, and then hopefully offer an insightful word that helps you in your life. That being said, some texts are exceptionally easier to work with than others. This week’s scripture is one of those easy texts for me and I hope it will be for you too.

But why is this text an easy one to pray for?

My answer is simple: this text is an honest reflection of our world today, and our world needs prayer. This text has been used for hundreds of years to justify the mistreatment of women. It has been used to uphold misogynistic ideologies and help to deeply embed sexist notions into our social relationship with God. It is a story of the divide of God’s people and casts women as a subordinate within her world and intimate partner relationships. As a woman, as a strong woman, as a woman called by God to lead and support God’s people. I can tell you in my experience, this story rings true on a daily basis. See if anything rings true for you as you read this story from Genesis.

8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” 14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
cursed are you among all animals
and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
Samuel teaches us how to listen and really hear what is being said. Listening to others is a part of life, but really hearing people is a key piece of community. Samuel listened to God but couldn’t really hear God, he couldn’t really understand the message God was telling him, until Eli shed light on God’s word for Samuel. Listening to God is only possible when we also listen to each other. Without each other we don’t get the whole part of God’s story, and it becomes harder to know the good news of God’s encompassing love and grace.

Did any of these relationships ring true for you? Eve is the obvious choice for many of us, but the surprising place I resonated with in the story, was with Adam. There have been times in my life when I have not been nice to women, and this deeply includes myself. As a young girl who was into sports and described herself as “just one of the boys,” I turned my back on the diversity of my sisters. And I don’t just mean cis-ters. We have elected leaders that treat women as less-than and use derogatory language toward people that is centered in the female body and experience. And I have been complicit in those actions at times in my life.

So, for me, this scripture is one that I find easy to use as a tool of prayer.

I pray for the women in this world. Women who have been the victims of shame, blame, and oppression for simply existing. I pray for the women in this world who are seen as less than in their jobs, their marriages and intimate partners relationships, and their family structures. I pray for the women who see themselves as less than. I pray that they know a God that loves them fully and completely and before anything else.

I pray for the men of this world. How they have systemically lifted Eve to the branch of the proverbial fruit, encouraged her to pick it, ate of the fruit as well, and then placed sole blame on her. I pray they know a God of justice, equality, and equity. I pray they follow Jesus’s example of deconstructing privilege and lifting up those that communities and societies have deemed less-than. I pray that they hold themselves and others accountable for their actions and participation in the oppression of women.

And I pray for all those who see it from both sides. Those whom God created so special that they encompass a space of identity well beyond the binaries of society. Those who have a special vision for creation and how we can move forward together.

Friends, this is a story that calls for prayer. This is a story that calls for justice. This is a story that we want to say does not resonate with us because we know a God that loves everyone equally. And God does. But we as God’s people do not. At least not yet. And in that “not yet,” is where I place my prayers for the community-to-come. A community that says without exception, “Eve, I see you. I hear you. I believe you. I love you.”

Shalom Y’all.
Rev. Stephanie

Street Closures

Please note that this Sunday there will be road closures due to the Puerto Rican Parade. Please plan for additional travel time.  Check http://maps.nyc.gov/streetclosure/

Update from Rev. Francesca Fortunato, Children and Youth Ministry Leader

On Sunday, June 3rd, The Park Sunday School children read Mark 2:13-17. We discussed the criticism (and even downright hostility) that Jesus endured, for being friends with “tax collectors and sinners.” We thought about the ways that people in our own time and place can still face pressure to avoid making friends with people who are different from themselves, and the tendency to consider some people “in” and others “out.” For our creative response, we made collages, using pictures of people cut from magazines, to illustrate the people that Jesus would choose as friends today (short answer: “everyone!”)

On Sunday June 10th, we will read 1 Samuel 3:1-20. We will discuss the idea that children, as well as adults, can receive callings from God. The children will be invited to think about those things that God might be calling them to do. In response, we will write short poems or stories (whichever form each child prefers) about answering God’s call in our own lives.

Blessings and joy!
Rev. Francesca

June Birthdays

“Playing Telephone” by The Rev. Stephanie Kendell

Beloved Church,

What a blessing to have such an active community of faith. There is so much going on this week: Soulfood Fellowship, YASS Movie Event, Worship, and the Bilingual Prayer call are just a few of the wonderful ways that you can stay involved with this community throughout the week. I hope you will join us!

This week Pastor Kaji and I went to Albany. It was my first time to our state’s capital and after my experience I can assure you that I will be going back. We went as part of “Concerned Clergy for Choice,” to offer our voice and presence as a counter narrative to those who use religion as a source of oppression towards female bodily autonomy. I talked to people and listened to stories. Then I listened to how other people heard those exact same stories, and then repeated them to other people. Often the stories were pretty much the same, with a word or two mixed up or left out. But the intention of the narrative was the same and interpreted as I had understood it. Like a game of telephone.

But what happens when you are that one person in the game of telephone that doesn’t quite hear what is being said? Do you get a second chance to hear it? Or what if you heard it but don’t want to repeat what it said? Authentically hearing and be able to justly share what you heard is a huge part of what we ask lobbyists and politicians to do. It is also what the Bible asks us to do to. Scripture gives us many examples of how to listen to each other such as our text from this week from the book of 1 Samuel chapter 3.

1 Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3 the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!”[a] and he said, “Here I am!” 5 and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. 6 The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8 The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 11 Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. 12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”

15 Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16 But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” 17 Eli said, “What was it that the Lord told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that was told to you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let God do what seems good.” (1Sam 3:1-18 NRSV)

Samuel teaches us how to listen and really hear what is being said. Listening to others is a part of life, but really hearing people is a key piece of community. Samuel listened to God but couldn’t really hear God, he couldn’t really understand the message God was telling him, until Eli shed light on God’s word for Samuel. Listening to God is only possible when we also listen to each other. Without each other we don’t get the whole part of God’s story, and it becomes harder to know the good news of God’s encompassing love and grace.

But it is hard work to build these communities. Communities that hear rather than listen. Communities that take responsibility for their actions. Communities that are sharing stories of justice and peace, fear and sadness, hope and joy. And then can share the intention of those stories, this holy gospel message with others. Communities like the one we are building here at The Park.

Friends, as we think about what God continues to tell us, and what we are willing to listen to, may we remember the Elis in our life that make it possible for us to deeply hear the word of God. In this game of telephone, if you are only listening to your neighbor, invite God into the conversation, and hopefully you will be able to really hear the messages of each other which are the holy words of God.

May we as a community truly hear the stories of each other and all those that may join us on our journey.

Shalom Y’all.
Rev. Stephanie

StillSpeaking Devotional “Not HIM!” by The Rev. Kaji Douša

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” – Mark 2:17

Why would you ever talk to them?

There are lots of those folks. The writer of Mark calls them “tax collectors.” I have other names for them. You do, too.

Just imagine the very worst person you can think of. The person whom, if you saw him on the street and felt a certain kind of courage that day, you’d spit at his feet, like they do in period films.

Maybe this person is someone who has done something awful to you, personally. But a better image would probably be someone who is doing something horrible to everyone around you. This is the revilement appropriately analogous to the tax collector. The guy who was part of a mechanism of financing of the state, who took a cut and squeezed everyone in his jurisdiction for every penny he could get.

You walk up to the place you know you’ll find him, at the booth where he publicly carries out his lechery. Imagine how you feel as you anticipate seeing him.

Then imagine that you see Jesus. What would you expect from him?

If we accept Christ’s divinity we need to allow him to embrace our enemies.

God is not just ours.

And this is good news. Mark calls them “tax collectors and sinners.” We miss the point if we forget that the sinners include:



God, if we are going to get past the sins of the world, we will all need your embrace. Sigh. Amen.

The “StillSpeaking Daily Devotional” series is produced by The United Church of Christ. The original article is here http://www.ucc.org/daily_devotional_not_him

Update from Rev. Francesca Fortunato, Children and Youth Ministry Leader

On Sunday May 27th, we read Isaiah 6: 1-8. We talked about what it meant for Isaiah to “see God,” and the idea that we might be able to see God, in our own time and place, reflected in the created world.  Our creative response was to make watercolor paintings of the things we see in the world, which make us think about God.

On Sunday June 3rd, we will read Mark 2: 13-17, and discuss possible reasons why Jesus chose those specific people as friends and companions. Then, thinking about people Jesus might want to hang out with today, we will make collages, using pictures of people cut from magazines, to represent Jesus with present day friends and disciples.

Blessings and joy!
Rev. Francesca

“Send Me…Follow Me” by The Rev. Stephanie Kendell

Photo: Ashanti Spears performed this amazing spoken word piece at the Topeka, Kansas Mass Meeting of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival on August 21, 2017. (https://art.poorpeoplescampaign.org)

Beloved Church,

It was such a pleasure to share last Sunday with you as we talked about the courage that it takes to be ready for God’s call in your life to follow Jesus. This week we move from asking God to “send us,” to who God calls to “follow” Jesus. Join us this Sunday as Pastor Kaji preaches about who Jesus talks to and why? In a world of hyper-connectivity and miscommunications who we talk to and how is a vital part of our faith. I hope you will join us for an incredible Sunday of worship.

I spend a lot of my time with other people. They come from all different journeys and are each made in the image of God in their own unique way. And I have truly come to love and value every person that I meet. However, this has been something that I have had to work on in my own life. Being aware of my privileges has helped me be a better friend, pastor, and neighbor to everyone I meet. Which is why I like this week’s scripture so much. Jesus helps us to check our privilege and see all of God’s children as worthy of the grace of God and the love of neighbor.  The Jesus in Mark is humble and willing to create new relationships and build bridges where others are quick to let the chasm of differences continue to divide. Where do you see your growing edge reflected in this story?

13 Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. 14 As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

15 And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. 16 When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Mark 2:13-17 ILB)

When reflecting on the people in this passage I often see myself as the Disciples. Caught between truly following Jesus and the social constructions of the questioning scribes. Which is why this week’s scripture is so timely. So many of our church and broader community members have picked up the torch of leadership and service, brushed off the questioning scribes, and committed themselves to the Poor People’s Campaign and following Jesus. I am so thankful for the leadership and commitment to this cause from Rev. Sydney, Rev. Peter, Rev. Luis-Alfredo, and so many others who are lifting the voices of those living within the oppressive structures of institutional sin. Much like Jesus from this week’s gospel according to Mark.

Like Jesus, sitting with the tax collectors and other people that society has pushed aside, the Poor People’s Campaign builds community with intentional relationships. Their commitment to partnering and empowering those that are affected by institutional sins directly relates to this lesson from Jesus. We cannot build the kin-dom of God nor live into God’s call of loving your neighbor, if we don’t sit with, listen to, lift up, and love those that society thinks Jesus’s love and God’s grace isn’t for.

Church, this week’s message is simple. Who do you not want to spend time with and what might you learn about your relationship with God by seeking them out. Last week we said, “Here we are Lord, send us” but this week let us open our hearts and to hear Jesus’s call to “Follow me,” in spirit and action.

Shalom Y’all.
Rev. Stephanie