Tuesday, October 30, 2018

We Mourn With the Jewish Community

My heart still aches after the brutal shooting of our Jewish siblings that were worshiping on Shabbat at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Who would have had imagined that in a house of worship, where they go to find peace, healing and solace, where they go to pray to Hashem and greet each other with "Shabbat Shalom" --may your sabbath be full of peace, they would end up finding violence, hatred and eleven, a brutal death, others injured, yet all terrified, by the hands of a disturbed person, fueled by the rhetoric of the day.

My heart still aches, because no house of worship should have to hire security guards to be able to worship in peace. Guns will never bring peace! Making the victims responsible for their safety and security is not right! We have to look at a broken system, that's allowing this to continue to happen in our country and chooses to look the other way.

My heart still aches for the Black folks that were killed in the grocery store this pass week. Why is this country going backwards? Why is hatred advancing to the point were acts of violence are openly increasing towards minorities? Are we going to live in fear? Absolutely not! It is human to feel fearful. Pain is real. Fear is real, but so is hope! God is seeing our pain, our tears, and our losses.

Let us light our candles of hope. Let our lights shine for hope. Let's unite in hope, all together in solidarity, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Blacks, Latinx, Immigrants, people with disabilities, Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transgenders, Queers, the poor, Native Americans, all the disenfranchised, all of those who do not feel safe living in this country anymore... and say we will not be defeated, for God is with us! Join us! Pray with us! Lament with us! And also act with us! Let's change this world and make it better.

-Rev. Dámaris Enid Ortega, Minister
United Church of Christ Congregational
Plainfield, New Jersey
October 30, 2018

Sunday, October 21, 2018

"Who Do You Think You Are?" [Sermon October 21, 2018 / Proper 24 / Year B] Rev. Dámaris E. Ortega

Mark 10:35-45

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They replied, "We are able." Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Helen Keller said "Happiness cannot come from without. It must come from within. It is not what we see and touch or that which others do for us which makes us happy; it is that which we think and feel and do, first for the other fellow and then for ourselves.” 
This is quite a hard lesson to learn. Many people think that things will make them happy, that a relationship will make them happy, that status will make them happy, that degrees will make them happy, that power will make them happy. This is what we are seeing with James and John in the Gospel of Mark 10: 35-45. Wow! They have some nerves! Who do they think they are?

It seems like the disciples did not learned the lesson when just in the chapter before they were arguing with one another about who was the greatest, and Jesus gave them the lesson that “Whoever wants to be first, must be last of all and servant of all.” But here they’re again… 

Why are they so obsessed with being in power? The question they asked is in the context of knowing that someday Jesus would come as a judge. Jewish tradition is that in a judgement there are three judges. James and John want to be up there. High up, in power. They want to have their place secured. And so they cornered Jesus, to advocate for that job in the future to come. But this request did not come out of a desire to serve. It was not motivated by a sense of vocation, or responsibility, or call to be next to Jesus. It was motivated only to be next to Jesus in a moment of glory, power and standing. 

When they ask, Jesus tells them:  "You do not know what you are asking. (What they were asking for, had some serious responsibility and requirements. They surely, had no clue what they were asking for).  Are you able to drink the cup that I drink “Are you able to go through the passion, the suffering, the crucifixion?” or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” “Are you able to proudly be identified with me… to be identified as a follower of Christ, and his movement of justice and peace and Good news of Hope for the oppressed and poor?” Well, we all know that they didn’t even last in the garden of Gethsemane for prayer, yet eventually, years later, these two died as martyrs of the Christian faith. They took the cup of Christ, but later. 

Power is the imposition of a few over many or over one with some resources over another lacking those resources. We see power imposed over so many marginalized by society because they don’t make the cut for so many social constructions. Over time we have seen, and we still see that race, gender, place of origin, class, status, gender orientation, religious affiliation, and money, among others, are used to have power over others.

Politicians use there power to control the people as much as they can. (We are lucky, if we have good ones.) Everyone exercises to position themselves in a place where at least they can have a little bit of power. No one wants to be at the bottom of the pyramid.  Yet the Lord is telling us the opposite. Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

This passage is an invitation to re-define power and to explore it from Jesus’ perspective.

But let’s be very careful. All of us, starting with myself, have a profound lesson to learn from this passage. It could be very easy for us to say, “who do they think they are?” but… don’t we do that too? Don’t we enjoy attention and status? Don’t we like to know over not knowing? Don’t we want to have control over information? Don’t we want to think that happiness comes from outside, instead of from within? As long as human beings have been on the face of the earth, hunger for power have existed. Wasn’t that how Eve fell with the apple story? She was offered power and she took it!

Let us give up power up to God, and exercise faith. I know it’s not easy. But it’s possible. Living knowing that God will take care of us is what’s expected of us! God will never leave us. Never! 

And "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Mahatma Gandhi. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Prayer Labyrinth - Good Friday - March 30, 2018

The prayer labyrinth is an ancient pattern for prayer, meditation, and contemplation. It has been used for centuries to facilitate prayer and meditation. The most famous prayer labyrinth today is probably the one in the Chartres Cathedral. There are several typical designs: the “classical” design of seven rings, and the “medieval” design of 11 circuits in four quadrants.

We invite you to come and pray the labyrinth at your own time during the hours of 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm on Good Friday. Labyrinth will have the Stations of the Cross. 

Here are four ways to get you started:

1) Ask God a question as you enter the path. Then, as you walk slowly through the twists and turns, listen for an answer. Let your steps and your silence invite the presence and guidance of God.

2) Start your journey to the center with confession (you may want to visualize your sins being left behind with every step you take). When you reach the center, journey out with affirmation (perhaps visualizing yourself picking things up or putting things on–like the righteousness of Christ, the smile of the Father, the purity of the Holy Spirit, etc.). Pause at the exit and give thanks for your cleansing journey.

3) Recite a breath prayer as you navigate the labyrinth, perhaps praying a different prayer on each leg or quadrant of your journey.

4) Lay down your burdens as you walk to the center of the labyrinth (perhaps laying down pebbles along the way as symbols of your worries or cares). In the center, pause to thank God for taking your burdens on himself (1 Peter 5:7). Then count your blessings and give thanks on the journey to the exit.

There are, of course, many more ways to pray in a labyrinth, but these are offered to get you started.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Help Us Help Puerto Rico

After hurricane Maria, the people of Puerto Rico are struggling getting their basic needs met. Some have lost their homes and find themselves now homeless. People  don't have drinking water nor power. Groceries stores are a real mess to get in, and when you finally get in, there is little food to buy. It is a real chaotic situation. It is a humanitarian crisis!!!

I am a Puerto Rican minister living in Plainfield, New Jersey, with family living in the island. My heart aches for them, and for the whole people of Puerto Rico. Ever since the hurricane passed through, I've been wanting to do something, and now I've come with a concrete idea.

With your help, we will raised money to make boxes of food that will be send by mail through the US Postal Service down to Puerto Rico. These boxes will be individual boxes given to families, by far, much better than the ones some are receiving (if they are lucky)
by FEMA. The food in these boxes will be more nutritious and will last more days.

With the help of my sister Waleska (Wally) Williams, we will buy the food and ensemble the boxes, and send them off to Puerto Rico.

Down in the island these boxes will be received my sister Aida Ortega and her family. She has identified families in need with the help of her daughters Karem and Carmen. They are both teachers of public schools, in very poor neighbors and most of their students have lost their homes. They will be donating these boxes to identified families and pictures will be provided for us to see where our donations are going.

With your help, we can give water and food to families in need. Please, give whatever you can. Give with a grateful heart for the many blessings you have. Give with compassion, and give out of joy. Help us help others. We will appreciate all your help.

Thank you!

With a grateful heart,

Rev. Dámaris E. Ortega, Waleska Williams
& Aida Ortega

Waleska (Wally) Williams

Aida Ortega