Sunday Morning Prayer Group / Grupo de oración dominical 10.50 am
Sunday Worship Celebration with / Culto de adoración dominical con Jonathan Soto 11:00 am
The Words We Live By
This coming Sunday is an exciting one! First it is Pentecost so make sure to wear your red and maybe even try a new language in worship! Second, we have Jonathan Soto preaching this Sunday. A new voice in our pulpit is always a treat and he is an incredible gift to this community. Check out his bio in the latter part of the newsletter. Finally, who is ready to party? We are having LatinX party celebrating the one year of bilingual ministry that we have done together. It will be a Sunday filled with warmth and love, energy and joy. ¡Ven! Come! We hope you will join us.
A few weeks ago, I took myself on a movie date. I don’t usually like to do things by myself, but I have found that the balance of my introverted-extroverted nature is fulfilled if I go to the movies on my own. Just enough people, but also just me. It helps me renew myself and take a break, which if you know me is always a challenge. However, if you also know me, you know that I like Chris Evans movies…well who am I kidding, I like Chris Evans everything. Now, unless you have been under a rock, you know that the new Avengers movies, “Avengers: Infinity War,” is playing in theaters, and my beloved Chris is reprising his role as “Cap” aka Captain America. So, I went, not really knowing what an Avenger was nor why they were in an infinite war. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it.
Part way through the movie, there is a conversation about language and whether or not a place is real because the name may be made up. That is when the line “all words are made up,” strikes through the conversation to give the audience some post-modern realness. I was 5000% here for it! It also very much reminded me of the life of the church. How in multiple places in our scriptures, we see language being created and in turn creating new ways for God to show up in the lives of God’s people. We find two of those instances in our scriptures for this week, Gen 11:1-9 and Acts 2:1-8.
“God Turned Their Language into ‘Babble’”
11 1-2 At one time, the whole Earth spoke the same language. It so happened that as they moved out of the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled down.
3 They said to one another, “Come, let’s make bricks and fire them well.” They used brick for stone and tar for mortar.
4 Then they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower that reaches Heaven. Let’s make ourselves famous so we won’t be scattered here and there across the Earth.”
5 Godcame down to look over the city and the tower those people had built.
6-9 Godtook one look and said, “One people, one language; why, this is only a first step. No telling what they’ll come up with next—they’ll stop at nothing! Come, we’ll go down and garble their speech so they won’t understand each other.” ThenGodscattered them from there all over the world. And they had to quit building the city. That’s how it came to be called Babel, because thereGodturned their language into “babble.” From thereGodscattered them all over the world.
A Sound Like a Strong Wind
2 1-4 When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.
5-11 There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?
Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene; Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes; Even Cretans and Arabs!
We are a people that were created unique to share our gifts with each other, and when we go against that call and try to conform, our mighty God spreads us out to diversify again like leaves in the wind. When we spread out we force ourselves to confront that which makes us uncomfortable, and we also recognize our innate ability to adapt and connect. They did it in Genesis. Then again in the tower of babel. And we are doing it here each week at The Park.
Each week as we stretch our language muscles in our bilingual (and sometimes multilingual) worship, we sub/consciously disrupt human nature’s attempt to uniform the masses and create new bold spaces for God’s word and work to flourish. Creating something new, new worship, new friends, new words, new love helps us to make room for the Holy Spirit to roar within us and not only have faith in the church but be the church. Because although we celebrate the birth of the church at Pentecost each year, God is actually calling us to be reborn with and in the church every hour of every minute. But it isn’t an easy task. This is why we have to build communities that journey with us and support our growth. People don’t want to grow and change, but God does, God call’s us to newness, and God knows we can do it.
Church, we are a people of newness and renewal. May we feel the spirit to make up new words, create new visions of church, and boldly seek Gods love, mercy, and justice in new life-giving ways.
About Jonathan Soto
Associate Vice-President of Strategic Initiatives
Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York firstname.lastname@example.org
Jonathan Soto is a community organizer and social justice activist with over a decade of experience building coalitions and organizations within government, academic and grassroots spaces. Soto currently serves as the Associate Vice-President of Strategic Initiatives at Union Theological Seminary. Union is the country’s oldest independent seminary and shares an affiliation with neighboring Columbia University.
In 2015, Mayor de Blasio appointed Soto to serve as the Senior Community Liaison for the first-ever Mayor’s Clergy Advisory Council, which engages communities of faith in the formation of City policy and administration of public services. In 2017, Soto created the City’s Center for Faith and Community Partnerships (CFCP) and served as its Executive Director. The CFCP empowers neighborhoods and forges partnerships with community and faith leaders by building capacity to spur civic action and deliver City services. At the Mayor’s Office, Soto mobilized thousands of community-based organizations and houses of worship to serve New Yorkers impacted by issues of mental health, homelessness, immigration, domestic violence, and domestic workers’ rights. Soto worked with City agencies to create programming that supported the creation of affordable housing and small business development. After Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, Soto was on the leadership team that deployed 150 NYC employees to provide technical assistance to municipalities and the central government of Puerto Rico. Soto advised City Hall on the creation of NYC’s Hurricane Evacuee Center that provided services to people displaced by hurricanes Maria and Harvey.
In 2012, after Superstorm Sandy made landfall in NYC, Soto formed the Bronx Long Term Recovery Group (BLTRG) and served as its Chair. The BLTRG was dedicated to the physical and economic restoration of communities affected by the storm, and Soto launched a city-wide community resilience initiative alongside the the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
In 2011, Soto served as Policy Director for the Bronx Clergy Roundtable, where he crafted policy agendas for coalitions of faith leaders and advocacy groups. Soto’s work led to the creation of anti-recidivism programs and grassroots mobilization for living wages and fair scheduling within the fast food industry.
Soto received his B.A. from Fordham University and J.D. from Brooklyn Law School.
Children and Youth Ministry
from Rev. Francesca Fortunato, Children and Youth Ministry Leader
On May 13th, we read Luke 24:44-53. This was the story of the ascension, and Jesus asking the disciples to share the stories and teachings that they had received from Jesus. We talked about the disciples as teachers and story-tellers, carrying the teachings of, and stories about, Jesus, into the world. We then wrote our own story about Jesus and the first disciples, imagining what they would do and say, if they visited us at school. (In the story that emerged, Jesus and the disciples comforted children who were sad because they were lonely, or had lost a game. They also showed bullies how to stop hurting other children, make peace, and be friends).
On May 20th, Pentecost Sunday, we will read Acts 2, and discuss the gifts that were given to the communities of Jesus’ followers on that day (especially the gift of tongues, which made it possible for people with many different languages to understand each other and pray together). We will also talk about the tradition of viewing Pentecost as “the birthday of the church,” and why it’s so wonderful to celebrate the fact that we are church. For our creative response, we will make necklaces and bracelets using beads and string in the Pentecost flame colors, to wear, and to give to others, as an expression of joy in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Saturday, May 12th, was an extraordinary day for those who participate in SoulFood Fellowship, as we read and discussed Danielle McGuire’s At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance — A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power. Inspired by Romans 12:1-2, the discussion brought into focus the many ways women who seem to be without power have resisted empire, patriarchy and racism, and made it clear that being cognizant of and eradicating racist acts in our own interpersonal interactions is important, but that the real and hardest work is in dismantling systemic, institutional racism. We will continue to press on as we pursue God’s will in dismantling empire, patriarchy, systemic racism, and sexism/violence against women, and we look forward to seeing you at the next SoulFood Fellowship on June 9!
Peace and blessings,
The Rev. Sydney Avent and The Rev. Richard Sturm