Sermon for Pentecost 7 2015

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19

One of the most interesting parts of my sabbatical has been visiting other churches. And there’s nothing quite like visiting other churches to appreciate how good your own is! Most of the time I have been ignored. Oh perhaps I got a smile at the door as I was handed pew sheets and a hymn-book – but not always. At the Peace people did indeed shake my hand, or limply touch my fingertips without even looking me in the eye, but you could tell they were just being polite before they could have a natter and a real smile for their friend in front of you. And then at the end I handed my books in and mostly nobody even noticed. Only once was I invited back for coffee.

In churches where I was known it was very different of course. There it was smiles and welcome-backs and catching up on news. So it was very tempting to keep going back to those ones.

And then there was the worship itself… Oh jings, but some of it was dreary. Hymn singing that you could hardly hear; (and you know, if you’re going to insist on only singing hymns written before 1900 at least sing them joyfully);
dull, dull, dull sermons straight out of a biblical commentary;
and Eucharistic prayers recited as if it was the phone book.
How great are we, I kept thinking? And we are great! And I really missed you!

But when I was reading today’s lessons the Old Testament reading reminded me of one church I visited where things were completely different. Let me remind you of those verses from the 2nd book of Samuel:

‘David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals… and David danced before the Lord with all his might.’
Dancing and joyful songs and musical instruments – surely not in worship? Surely not in Scotland? No indeed, this was New York.

St Mark’s in the Bowery to be precise. A church tucked away in the East Village, nothing much to look at outside, in a rather poor neighbourhood.  But oh what a welcome! And of course you’re thinking ‘those Americans are a bit over the top when it comes to welcome and worship’ and you could be right. But you know, before the service people really cared that I was there and asked where I was from. “Scotland?! Oh wow! My grandmother came from Scotland.”  “Scotland? Wow! What brings you here?”  “Scotland? Wow! How lovely that you’re visiting us!”

Let me read you the welcome on their pew sheet:
St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery works hard to be a welcoming place. What that means here is that you are welcome, as you are, to participate in any of our worship services. We believe people encounter the holy here, and we want that for you.
We know that church might be something you have wanted to do for a while; a dream come true; kind of scary; possibly awful; or really exciting for you. We won’t assume.
We would like you to know that all kinds of people come into St. Mark’s week to week. You might find yourself next to a life long member, a new-ish one, or someone who has walked in for the first time. Don’t worry that you have to do what they are doing.
We love children. We are delighted to have them in our services. If you are worried that your child is distracting others, please do what you need to do to be comfortable, but don’t worry that we are worried. If you find it difficult or distracting to be near a child who is making noise, feel free to move. We want children to remember the church as a place that reflects God’s love for them. If you feel that you have been approached in an inappropriate or unhelpful way during your time at St. Mark’s, we would like to know. If you feel that something about how we do things causes you to feel unwelcome, we would like to know. Please talk to an usher, a priest, or email or call the office.

The service was relaxed, the music was mostly modern (quite a few Iona hymns actually) but we also sang The Lord’s my Shepherd to the Scottish tune Peter and Hazel had on their wedding day: Brother James’ Air. And the people really, really enjoyed singing them. There was even some swaying along to the music too. I couldn’t see an organ so they used a piano and if you felt like singing in the choir all you had to do was turn up half an hour before the service and join in the practice.

The sermon was funny in bits and serious in bits and there was a story (and you know how I love a story) and gave us all something to think about when we went home.

We sat in rows in a circle round the altar in the middle and when it came to the eucharist we stood in one big circle round it. “Come along!” they said. “Come and join us!” And Winnie, the priest, really meant that Eucharistic prayer, she believed it, you could tell. Then we passed the bread and wine along the circle from one person to another.

And you know that big AMEN at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer? That one that I’ve told you has to be said loudly and affirmed? Well they sang it and clapped it and swayed to it and someone even produced a tambourine for it.

So when I read this morning’s reading about David rejoicing and dancing in the temple, St Mark’s in the Bowery is what I thought of. I remembered the joy they had for all their worship. A joy that showed on their faces. A jazzy, gospel, blues kind of joy. A bit too cringey for you?  For us in Scotland? Well perhaps. But what a sense of enjoyment I got there, of loving the Lord with all their heart and soul – and bodies too.

And afterwards when I was sitting in the sun in a nearby park jotting down my memories of that service, I saw the people from the church coming round with a big shopping trolley handing out food and drinks to the homeless folk there. Just like David who, when he had finished offering the sacrifice, blessed the people and distributed food among all the people – to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. (And I have some Hershey’s Kisses for you when you leave today.)

Now we may not be up for the dancing and singing but we can support the homeless by bringing food along for the Salvation Army. Do what you can in your own neighbourhood.

And perhaps in time, you’ll be so inspired and excited about coming to church that you’ll go out of here singing and dancing. You’ll know you’ve welcomed the stranger in your midst, made them feel at home in your little Temple of the Lord here in Falkirk. You might even want to go home and write it down so you never forget the welcome you got and how wonderful you feel. You might even believe that you are loved by God and you want to show it.

You might.

man dancing in kilt

In which Ruth goes to America in search of art (part 2)

Day 6

And then it was Sunday. Church. Which Church? So many to choose from. On the advice of Fr Kelvin, I went to St Mark’s in the Bowry where they are doing exactly what I’d love to do if I had a big enough space and a courageous congregation. Altar in the middle of the church with chairs in circles around it. Really mixed age congregation and lots of Wild Goose music along with some modern inclusive stuff. Kind of jazzy, folky, soul feel to it. Notices at the Peace and I was welcomed and applauded. Some went up to be prayed for because it was birthday, anniversary or someone they knew was sick – just like us at The Pig!  We brought our gifts to the plate on the altar and then stayed standing around the altar for Eucharist. Glorious AMEN sung at the end, gospel style. Relaxed, prayerful, catholic, musical, inclusive, glorious.

G had gone off for a wander while I was at church and met me after and we went to sit in a wee park he’d found where some guys were playing basketball. I sat and wrote pages of my thoughts on the service. A church came by to hand out food to the homeless in the park. One of the homeless women said she had a Glock in her pocket so we took that as our cue to leave. Visited the New Museum which took modern art to the nth degree. G took part in an interactive thing where you put on goggles and you could imagine you were in a rain forest.

Then we crawled to the South St Seaport and sat in a waterfront bar for grub and a drink. The sun was out but it was cold in the shade. Then on to the Water Taxi for a birl round the island again before limping home. Sore foot is improving. Legs are not. Rush hour traffic on a Sunday seems weird. This city really never sleeps.

Sun Basketball Sun New Museum

Day 7

Lazy morning then brunch at our favourite diner. Omelette this time. Really trying to find non-carbs today. Went to the Guggenheim for more culture – $25 worth, in fact. Lovely building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and that’s about all I can say really. (No photos allowed.) 4 floors of dates on card and numbers on bits of paper and postcards all saying ‘I’m still alive’. Finally found some paintings in a side room and discovered a Picasso that I loved (Woman Ironing). Outside a busker was singing Stevie Wonder songs so we sat and listening for a while. He was the best thing about our visit.

Wandered along 5th Avenue looking at the posh shops and had an expensive coffee. Back to 42nd St and found John’s Pizza place which was recommended in all the guide books. Well worth it. Massive place, massive pizzas, massive drinks. Lots of local people and a great buzz. Then home to pack for tomorrow we leave for Philadelphia.

Heard on the news that the rabid coyote had been caught by the police. Feel kind of sad for the wee critter.

Mon Guggenheim (1) Mon pizza at John's

Day 8

Greyhound bus to Philadelphia which was quiet and took just over an hour. Our house in Dickinson St is in the southside and was lovely inside, very modern with a small roof terrace. Still no kettle. Becoming experts now with strange showers and plugs. Weather has changed and it is now hot and sunny so we decided to just wander through the neighbourhood and find out what’s going on. Bad idea. One street nice, next street scary. No way of knowing which is which. Finally found a main road and grabbed a taxi into town. Lots of graffiti on buildings which is really quite beautiful. Got my nails done by a Chinese girl in a face mask who spoke rarely but communicated by pointing and we got on fine.

Wandered round the shops and then had the obligatory Philly Cheesesteak which seems to be mince on a roll with cheese. Nice.

Tue Philly graffiti Tue Philly house Tue Philly nails (1) Tue Philly nails (2)

Day 9

Did the Hop on Hop off Tour bus round Philly. Smaller than NY but some grand buildings and a great sense of history. One road had flags from all the nations that they have a good relationship with – saw the Union Jack as well as Scottish Saltire and Welsh flag. Lunch in the hippy area, sitting out in the sun and leaving half a plateful again. Why, o why?

In the evening we had been invited to Fr Gordon Reid’s for cocktails so jumped in a taxi uptown. Really chatty taxi driver who sang God Bless America for us and on being told he had a great voice, confessed he used to sing with the Delfonics – the Philly Soul group in the 60s/70s. Then he put on his new CD and we all sang along! Now that’s what I call a taxi ride.

Fr G has recently retired as priest at St Clement’s there and once upon a time was Rector of St Michael & All Saints, although I’d never met him because he left before I joined. We have since become Facebook friends so it was good to meet him in the flesh. He has a most beautiful loft apartment in the heart of the city and had some great friends for us to meet. Even G, who had been a tad reluctant to spend the evening with ‘churchy’ folk, met some interesting people. Probably drank too much gin and ate too much smoked salmon but had a wonderful evening.

Wed Philly Chinese gate Wed Philly dragon wed Philly Graffiti Wed Philly Hard rock cafe Wed Philly Liberty bell (1) Wed Philly Scot flag

Day 10

More pancakes. Just to check Philly ones were the same as NY ones, you understand. They are.

A morning in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and found the Tanner Annunciation which I love and love even more now I’ve seen it. The photo of course doesn’t do it justice. Discovered lots of American art which was new to me, as well as a host of Monets (how many paintings did he do?!), Renoir, Cezanne etc. Came out at the top of the Rocky steps and joined everyone in having my photo taken like Sylvester Stallone. No I didn’t run up them first. Really.

On to the Franklin Institute for the Art of the Brick exhibition for G. It was an incredible selection of pieces of art made from Lego. Each one even had how many bricks it had taken to make – tens of thousands in most cases. Fought our way through the thousands of teenagers in school parties too. That was fun.

Wandered back into town to find helicopters hovering around. There was recently a death of a black guy while in police custody in nearby Baltimore and Philly were holding a peaceful protest we found out. One after another police cars arrived and blocked all the streets out of town. We jumped in a taxi, cowards that we are, and couldn’t find a road that wasn’t blocked off. Looked like we were never going to get home but eventually we managed a detour and were happy to pay $13 for his trouble!

Thu lego Ascension Thu Lego Girl Pearl E Thu lego skulls Thu Rocky steps (1) Thu Tanner Annunciation Thu woman dressing

To be continued