Second Presbyterian Church
P.O. Box 715 Elizabeth, NJ 07207
May 19, 2021
Greetings. Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you!
I hope you are safe and well. It has been fourteen months since we worshipped together in person. God is with us, nevertheless, and is a very present help in trouble.
We remember with gratitude those who have died in the past year, including Richard Keat, Lillian Ortiz, Grace McLain, and Carl Matyas (Alberta’s husband). “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, says the Spirit, they rest from their labors and their works shall follow them.”
Here are some updates on our life together:
In February we executed the sale of our building under the extreme conditions of break ins and Covid-19. Since then, we paid our bills and met regularly to pray and make plans for September.
-Linwood Bagby is retiring from the Elizabeth Schools on June 30. He will become our new young adult minister (part-time) beginning August 15. We are thankful for Linwood’s call and his gifted ministry with young people. Young adults will be the focus of our new worshipping community and outreach.
-Linda Blank is our new bookkeeper who will be managing the church’s finances. She works with several other Presbyterian churches, included Connecticut Farms.
-Our worship will begin again in person on Sunday morning, September 12, at Hillside-Millenium Church on Salem Avenue in Hillside. It’s a few blocks down Salem Ave. from Third-Westminster Church. We plan to organize a good group to launch our new worshipping community. Please put it on your calendar and pray for us going forward.
-We continue to have Sunday morning sermon, music, and liturgy posted on our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/mgranzen We also have daily inspirational words.
-Second still accepts tithes, offering and gifts to help sustain our ministry and work. Please send your donations to our new mailing address: Second Presbyterian Church, P.O. Box 715 Elizabeth, NJ 07207
Going forward, let us persevere with faith and love in Christ, “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and work to God’s good pleasure.” Phil. 2:12
Godspeed and Grace,
Rev. Michael Granzen, Ph.D.
God's grace is personal yet has communal, societal and global. We the people of Second Presbyterian Church strive to be an anchor of faith and social witness in the city of Elizabeth and metropolitan New York and New Jersey. Our congregation lives out its call through the gifts of faith, hope, and love in praxis with the community. We serve the living God as a diverse and inclusive congregation.
Through Jesus Christ we press on to love our neighbor as ourselves on the road to the City of God.
Join us for worship and beloved community at 10:30 am on Sunday on our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/mgranzen/
Christmas Letter, 2020
Second Presbyterian Church
1161 E. Jersey St.
Elizabeth, NJ 07201
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:9-11
December 16, 2020
I hope you are well. In this season of intense darkness and light, and new beginnings, it is essential to be open to the living One. No matter what the circumstance, God's saving nearness brings hope.
Philip Yancey, in his book, Where is God When it Hurts, wrote this about hope: “Hope means simply the belief that something good lies ahead. It is not the same as optimism or wishful thinking, for these imply a denial of reality…True hope is honest. It allows a person to believe that even when they fall down and the worst has happened, they have not reached the end of the road. They can stand up and continue by the grace of God.”
God is with us and helps us on the journey, even through the darkest valley, and will bring us through by grace to a whole new way of living and forgiving. This is our quiet confidence and living hope. For God is faithful.
It’s been eight months since we worshipped together in person in Elizabeth. Under very challenging conditions, we have continued to reach out to one another by phone, worship and pray through our Facebook page, care for the sick and hungry, and sustain our church building. We pray that we are almost through this marathon by God’s grace.
We know you have been a faithful steward to Second Presbyterian Church. We thank you in advance for your faithfulness and generosity.
Stay safe, stay strong in Christ.
Merry Christmas and Blessed New Year,
Rev. Michael Granzen and Session
Update on Covid-19, March, 2020
Dear Second Church Members and Friends, Because of the recent health concerns regarding the Corona virus, Session has recommended that all church services be temporarily suspended. We have many members that fall within the age range that could be affected by the virus. This action has been recommended by our Presbytery. In the interim, we will be checking in by phone, and posting prayers, scripture, meditations on this page (here under, About Us) and on our Facebook page. Godspeed and Grace to you and your family.
Rev. Michael Granzen, Ph.D. Moderator of Session Second Presbyterian Church
SERVICE FOR THE LORD’S DAY
March 15, 2020
PRAYER of PREPARATION
God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage the change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
CALL TO WORSHIP
Leader: The world belongs to God
People: The earth and all its people.
Leader: How good and how lovely it is
People: To live together in unity.
Leader: Love and faith come together.
People: Justice and peace join hands.
Leader: If the Lord’s disciples keep silent,
People: These stones would shout aloud.
Leader: Lord, open our lips,
People: And our mouths shall proclaim your praise.
HYMN 559, We Gather Together
PRAYER of CONFESSION
Servant Lord, God of Glory, we are before you this morning as broken men and women in need of forgiveness--having come from anguished moments in the night, and betrayals in the day; having said cutting words or no words.
Often bewildered by the obvious or subtle suffering that we see--or that is our own--we have been uncertain. We have concentrated on defense of ourselves, and have found the condemnation of others easy. We have not received others simply as they are, nor met them as ourselves.
Hear our various inward cries. Forgive us and heal us. Alone we cannot be healed. Therefore, lead us to the discovery of others; free us from our several bondages; cleanse our hearts with honesty; give us courage to accompany our fears. And bring us even to faith, and hope, and love. Amen.
Moment of Silence
ASSURANCE of PARDON
Leader: The dwelling of God is with people. The One who creates us has promised saying, "Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name. You are precious in my sight and honored, and I love you." Therefore, lift up your hearts!
People: We lift them up to the Lord!
PRAYER FOR OUR COMMUNITY
Gracious and Merciful God, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world.
[Please add your specific prayers.] . . .
Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in the grace and name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
Old Testament: Exodus 17:1-7
From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
New Testament: Romans 5:1-11
Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person-- though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Gospel: John 4:5-42
Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
MEDITATION: On the Gift of Hope in Suffering
Jesus our Lord...was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.
Paul the Apostle often puts things—how should we say?—“compactly.” And I want to spend a few minutes trying to break open those verses from Romans we have just heard read:
“Jesus our Lord was put to death for our trespasses”—
for our false steps Paul means;
because we have missed the mark with our lives;
because together, we human beings have cut ourselves off from the source and fulfillment of our real life;
and cut ourselves off from others,
and from ourselves.
Jesus “was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification”: God finds glory in making all things new for us.
Jesus has been raised to establish, without qualification and without hindrance, our right to be. Jesus has been raised to establish
to establish our freedom to be ourselves—without apology
Jesus has been raised to establish in our heart of hearts—and in the presence of all the world—enduring knowledge of our own worth;
an enduring sense of self-worth;
and thereby establish in us, even as for the first time, the power to worship—to declare in our words and in our lives, the worth of God; to begin to forget ourselves, to begin to lay ourselves aside, and to love the One who sets us free; the One who establishes us in the face of the world, the flesh and the devil, who give us a place and a life that cannot be taken away.
“Therefore,” Paul continues, “since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.”
It is as though there were—as often there is according to our perceptions or our feelings—an angry crowd of accusers who say, “you can’t come forward to this table, or come forward to anything else. You are to be ashamed of who you are. You are worthless. You should go off. You should go off and hide yourself. Indeed, if really you knew you should go off—and die.”
It is as though—indeed, it is the fact that Christ rebukes our accusers, those within and without, whether they speak truly or falsely and then opens a way through them, takes away the power and authority of those who condemn us (the voices without and the voices within, conscious and subconscious), clears the way, makes room, gives us a place to stand; to be; and lets us rejoice—rejoice in our hope: rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
“More than that,” Paul goes on, “now we rejoice” even “in our sufferings,” knowing that suffering—
suffering produces endurance when our lives have been justified;
suffering produces endurance when our worth has been established;
suffering produces endurance when a place has been opened for us and a place given us to stand; and such “endurance produces character,” and such “character”—in us, and before others—“produces hope.”
That is, character, which comes when we suffer and endure no longer ashamed of ourselves, no longer believing ourselves worthless, no longer having to answer to our accusers—within or without no matter how right they may be; but, instead, confident that we are meant to be, confident that we have right to be: such character participates in producing hope. For God is its source.
And this hope—this “hope does not disappoint us.” Because something has happened. Something has happened. “God’s love has been poured into our” dry hard “hearts.”
To have God’s love poured into our hearts is not to have some special feeling—though it may transform our feelings about everything. Paul uses the image of something being “poured” into us to make this point: something has happened which is not of our doing—any more than our being born is of our doing.
Hope which endures, which does not disappoint us, is not something we produce out of our own hearts. This gift, I should point out, comes often in unexpected ways. It may seem, for example, like an attack upon us. Something happens, and we lose confidence in our ability to control our lives, to have life on our own terms.
But then we may begin to understand Paul’s image of God’s love being “poured” into our hearts. It is an image for the help that is not of our own making, that comes to us through another.
To feel the image a little—let me play for a moment: think of your mouth on a hot summer day—if you can—dry and thirsty your mouth and your whole body, and poured into it a cold beer or an iced lemonade;
or think of your mouth—better again, your whole body on a cold, windy winter night when your feet hurt with it and your back shivers with it, after a long, unexpected walk—and poured into you, softly, gently, but fully, a hot cider or rum or chocolate.
The point is that it’s not something we produce out of ourselves: any more than that beer or lemonade in summer, or that hot drink in winter, comes out of ourselves. It comes into us. “God’s love” is “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit”—not through our spirit but through the Spirit who helps us in our weakness, the Spirit who intercedes for us: the Spirit “which has been given to us”—simply given to us.
Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts; because we have been given space, a place to stand; because Jesus died for us while we were isolated, cut off, and has been raised to establish our sense of our worth, to give us unity and real life, we begin to worship, to rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And that hope does not disappoint us.
Selection from, “Our Hearts Are Restless Till They Rest in Thee: Prophetic Wisdom in a Time of Anguish; Selected Writings of Coleman Brown,” Edited by Michael Granzen and Lisa Masotta [Forthcoming from Cascade Books, May, 2020]
HYMN 554, Let All Things Now Living
CHARGE AND BENEDICTION
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive
And it's in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it's in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
On Being Stewards of Hope
Merry Christmas and Blessed New Year!
It says in 1 Peter, “Aways be prepared to given an account of the hope that is in you.”
As we approach 2020, the 200th anniversary of Second Presbyterian Church, we give thanks for the seeds of hope God is planting in us and in our community. Just since the year 2000, the dawn of the new millennium, we can glimpse at least twelve living seeds of hope, twelves gifts of Christ-mas, so to speak, to lift up in gratitude:
1) Resurrecting from the ashes of fire-- a new $1.2 million gym with classrooms for children and youth from the community, which now hosts multiple ministries and events.
2) Sustaining partnership with Restore Ministries and Camp Johnsonburg, vital mentoring, after-school and VBS ministries to hundreds of children.
3) Developing and administering new levels of PRISM funding for diverse ministries in greater Elizabeth.
4) Envisioning, birthing and chartering a thriving new Brazilian congregation (Hillside-Millenium).
5) Exposing police violence, including a neo-fascist group in the EPD (front page NYT article), and hosting basketball games in our gym with EPD.
6) Partnering with the Malagasy fellowship, which included a presidential visit in 2009.
7) Participating in nominating dozens of leaders to Presbytery, Synod and General Assembly, including several excellent ones from our own congregation.
8) Supporting excellence in teaching at the graduate level seminarians in Christian ethics, bio-medical ethics, public theology, and prophetic urban ministry at NBTS, Princeton, and Drew.
9) Partnering with Westminster Choir College and Rutgers faculty and students for special weekly music and holiday concerts.
10) Starting new prison teaching and re-entry ministries in Union, Rahway and Clinton prisons
11) Ordaining Chris Hedges to Associate Pastor of Prison Ministry and Social Witness, who co-wrote and organized the play,“Caged,” which was performed at the Passage Theatre.
12) Initiating new vision and models for organic sustainability with diverse community partners, which includes IRC refugee assistance, St. Joseph’s coalition for the homeless, Princeton Theological Seminary, New Brunswick Theological Seminary, Drew University tutoring, Make the Road NJ, Faith In New Jersey, community churches, advocacy, athletic and non-profit groups.
Let us give thanks for these seeds of hope—and pray for more. 'For the One who began a good work in you, shall bring it to completion.'
There is still time to contribute to Second Presbyterian church by the end of the tax year on December 31 (you can donate online through PayPal or by check). A gift of any amount makes an impact on the lives of the vulnerable in our city (Matthew 25), and to the whole Second Church community. Your support allows us to continue our tradition of excellence in faith and love, as we shape the leaders and wounded healers of tomorrow.
In Christ’s hope,
"I discovered later, and I'm still discovering right up to this moment, that is it only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world. That, I think, is faith.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
THE IONA PARADOX
Several years ago I spent the winter on a small (one by three mile) rocky island in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Scotland-- Iona. St. Columba first brought Christianity from Ireland in the 560's, which he then used as his base to evangelize Scotland and Scandanavia. Since then various monastic communities, crofters, fisherman, seagulls and presbyterians have inhabited this bleak but beautiful isle. About fifty residents and guests lived, worked and worshipped at the retreat center when I was there.
IONA contains some of the oldest black surface rock on the earth, and some of the worst weather. Huge storms with gale force winds would blow in from the north Atlantic and rage for days. I learned to walk bent over to compensate for the 50 mph gusts. Occasionally the driving sleet, snow and rain would stop and there'd be a brief period of calm and "brightness." We'd run outside to savor the weak horizontal light. Sometimes amidst our "sun dance" there were even wee glimpses of rainbow. But mostly it was absolutely the worst weather I have ever seen.
During one five day storm the ferry from the island of Mull was cancelled for the week, and we had to live off food stocks: endless tea, oatmeal (with salt not sugar), thick stale bread and old yellow pudding. When I grew weary of caffeinated tea and asked for the herbal variety the locals laughed, "The Yank wants Herb tea!" Later in the month when I came down with the inevitable flu and was bedridden, friends somehow found and brought me fresh green salad with a slice of tomato-- a miracle!
TWICE daily we trudged though the darkness and cold and gathered to worship in the abbey. There was no heat and only candlelight (my job was to light the candles, so I better not be late). There was no organ, just the sound of the wind howling outside. I remember singing with that small company, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel, to ransom captive Israel, who mourns in lonely exile here... Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel."
Strangely the severity of weather and life seemed to contribute to the warmth of the Spirit and community. Acknowledging the existential darkness, allowed the Light to truly shine. Why is that?
I believe the Iona Paradox can be stated as follows: the more we acknowledge our hurt and darkness the more we may receive the divine-human light. And the inverse is equally true: the less we acknowledge our hurt and darkness (and project it on to others), the less we are open to the true light of forgiveness and hope. In the very things that we ignore, reject and even despise as dirty and strange, God's incarnate light and presence is shining deep in the flesh.
IN other words, God is in the wound. The prophet was right, "The people who walked in deep darkness have seen a great light; those who have lived in a land of deep darkness-- on them light has shined."
To paraphrase a poet, if I were a gazelle I'd run, if I were a nightingale I'd sing, because I am a human being I praise God. It is in our nature to transparently affirm the worth-ship of the Power by which we are. True worship is healing and, according to Paul, it is transforming. It brings us out of ourselves and our self-preoccupation. True worship is the end of our dead ends and the beginning of new possibilities.
“I appeal to you therefore, beloved, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be ye transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
Let us grow together in the discipleship and worship of our Triune God.
In God’s Peace,
Rev. Michael Granzen
On Being a Skeptic of the Myths of Our Day
H. Richard Niebuhr is right when he says: This is "the great overarching myth ...the almost unconquerable picture in the mind"--the mind that reaches into us all, that we all share with our culture to some degree: in the "past forgotten, dead generations." And there is an "image of myself" and all society "coming to that future when there is no more future." Niebuhr calls this, in all its forms, our "mythology of death."
Because we have been overwhelmed by the myth of death; because our culture holds death to be THE END, the everlasting, eternal end, we cannot, many of us, sing, tenderly and vulnerably with tears streaming down our faces about the everlasting arms; we cannot sing "leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms"; we cannot sing with Martin Luther King, Jr., "Precious Lord, take my hand"; we cannot sing, "This is my story, This is my song..."
And so the church must become the skeptic--we must become the skeptics-- skeptical of the powerful myths of our day which often are at the bottom of both our beer commercials and our methods of literary criticism, our politics and our very views of human well being.
Segregating life and death--and living in a culture that holds to the myth of death as the last word--we segregate joy and sorrow. And we segregate them desperately... trying to keep the vision of nothingness out of our days and ways; trying to keep sorrow out of our joy.
Reflection on a Transforming Moment
...The most moving thing that happened was when, following one of her lectures, there was a question and answer period during the course of which a man stood and said, "Ms. Angelou, tell us something about racism. Do you find it better than it was or worse? Are you more aware of it on the East Coast than on the West Coast?"
She said, "Let me tell you a story."
The story she told was this. She had been in the San Francisco area ten or fifteen years earlier for the purpose of putting on a Public Television show on African art. Before the show was to go on, she had a call from a stranger who said that he happened to have a collection of African statues of some kind which he thought might be very useful to her on this program and perhaps she would like to see them and maybe use them. Of course, she accepted the offer and saw them. They were indeed just what she wanted. He lent them to her and she used them in her program in very artful ways which were appealing to the man who lent them.
As a result of that, they started a friendship. She got to know the man and his wife. They had dinner together a number of times and got to be really good pals. When the Public Television thing was over, she went back to the East Coast.
A few years later, she returned to the Bay Area and remembering this friendship, she called up the man and said, "It is Maya Angelou. I'm back again. I would love to pick up our friendship where we left it off. I enjoyed you so much before."
He said, "Terrific. Let me tell you a little bit about what I have been doing during the interval." He had been in Europe working with the problems of the American troops stationed over there.
She said, "How did it go?"
He said, "The black troops have a particularly hard time because they are black and there aren't many blacks around. But our boys, also..."
She said, "What did you say?"
He said, "The black troops have a particularly difficult time for various reasons but our boys, also..."
She said, "What did you say?"
A third time she went through it. All of a sudden, as she described it, he, himself, heard what he said and said in effect, "This is the most awful thing I have ever done. I can't continue the conversation. I have got to hang up, to have said such a thing to you, Maya Angelou, 'the black boys, our boys.'"
She said, "No. This is just why we must talk because that is what racial prejudice is. Beneath the superficial liberal utterance, there is the deep, ingrained sense of 'black boys, our boys.'" Nonetheless, they continued the conversation and agreed to meet.
What happened then was she tried a number of times to get hold of them, to meet him and see him and his wife. Again and again, the calls didn't go through. She left messages which weren't answered and finally the whole thing just fizzled out. So that was, in a way, her answer to the question, "How about racism?"
It moved her and upset her and that was the last question she took that day.
The next day, the second set of lectures we were to give, she returned to the podium and said, "I'm sure you noticed that I was moved by what I told you yesterday in answer to your question about racism." Then she said, "A remarkable thing happened as I was leaving the hall. A man in the audience stood up and said, 'Here I am.'"
It was the man she had been talking about. As she said that, the man himself again rose up, a small, white, Episcopal clergyman as it turned out. He walked up to the platform and threw his arms around Maya Angelou and she around him. They embraced one another and they wept. It was one of the most moving moments I have ever been part of in many, many ways.
What makes it so moving? I think that what we saw was not only racial barriers but so many different kinds of barriers that separate us as human beings -- fear, mistrust, misunderstanding, anger, loneliness, the inability to communicate with each other, even those we love the most and are closest to. In so many ways, we move through our lives like lepers, the untouchable ones, the unclean ones, afraid to touch other people's lives and let our lives be touched by other people, ashamed of our own uncleanness, suspicious of other people.
What was so moving was that when that large, black woman and that small, white man embraced, we saw that no one is untouchable, not even ourselves. We saw that as Maya Angelou said, "We all do have the same story when you get right down to what life is really all about." We saw that the kingdom of God, as Jesus said, is really among us, potentially, always, as the capacity we have, as those two people at that time had, to love and to forgive and to allow one's self to be loved and to be forgiven.
When you and I fail to embody what happened at that moment in the church when Maya Angelou and the white man embraced each other, when the church fails to embody that moment, all that we do in church becomes sort of empty, a kind of ecclesiastical vaudeville and the laughter is bitter laughter.
When the church does not embody that kind of forgiveness and love, it becomes in so many ways like a dysfunctional family which consists of sort of a superficial togetherness and yet a kind of inner-loneliness, hidden agendas, ministers who are out to hide their humanness behind their sermons and parishioners who are out to hide their humanness from their ministers.
Where the church does embody what happened in that moment of grace that I have been describing to you, when it does embody that, then the laughter and the laughter room is, of all laughter, I think, the holiest, because we have not only the "good news" but in a sense we have become the good news. Like lepers, we are cleansed by the love of God working among us and within us. That is what healing is about and what wholeness is about and what the church and the kingdom of God are all about. Fred Buechner
On Advent Prayer
This Advent we do well to remember the deep words of wisdom: “tell me how you seek and I'll tell you what you are seeking.”
Prayer is the best way to seek God in new and unexpected places. Prayer is discovering the cry of Christ’s Spirit within us which freely seeks the Creator. Prayer is accepting in the depths of our being that God has freely chosen and loved us from all eternity--that we really are God's children.
God's will is that you personally discover--in your everyday life and struggle--this truth: God knows you and loves you, with a love that lasts forever!
The Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you,
Dr. Michael Granzen
Improvisation on Romans 8:35, 38-39
What will separate us from the birth of Christ?
Will holiday blues or travel stress? … No.
Will overeating cookies and candy canes
trees, houses and neighborhoods
with puff-up Santas and sleighs? … No.
Will the heartbreak of family distance,
the pain of child, sister or brother estranged,
the sword of loss,
the empty place at the table or the pew? … No.
For I am convinced that
neither the craziness of Black Friday,
and Cyber Monday,
nor the trivializing of precious stories –
Scrooge and Amahl and St. Nicholas,
Polar Express and Grinch –
nor angels hanging from the ceilings
of big box stores,
nor credit card debt,
nor greeting card lists,
nor early dark, nor cold winds and snow …
nor anything we choose to do,
can’t find time to do,
anything we forget or regret or neglect –
will ever be able to separate us from
God’s love in a manger long ago
and right now, right here.