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The Struggle to Be Human

August 1, 2018

A Sermon preached by The Rev. Jeffrey A. Geary at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, July 29, 2018

Psalm 67         Mark 2:1-12

I have set myself two goals as we read our way through the Gospel of Mark this year in worship. The first is to try each week to hear something of the whole story of the gospel rather than the singular Sunday stories we are given by the lectionary. The second goal is  to lift up aspects of the story that are less commonly preached on. Now, it so happens that the lectionary takes a break from this gospel for the next four weeks, which conveniently, are the four weeks of my vacation. So we will use today to look back at a story the lectionary passed over earlier this year due to the timing of Easter.[i]

When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” —he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

We are familiar with the basic narrative. Jesus is preaching the word in a house. This is the second time in Mark’s story that Jesus has taught in a house. The house is crowded, so crowded no one could get in through the door. There is a paralyzed man who has four faithful friends who want to bring him to Jesus. They cannot get in, on account of the crowd, but they will not wait, so they climb to the roof and open it up. They literally dig through it. I try to imagine the scene: the pounding on the roof, the thuds and echoes inside, and then the falling mud, stick, straw; the chaos and confusion; the press of bodies against one another as they push against the walls in an attempt to get out of the way. And I think of the noise: the sounds of confusion, the angry shouts and the panicked cries. And then down through the roof, as if from the sky, a human figure descends in their midst. And we are told that Jesus sees their faith. The plural is important. He did not see the faith of the paralytic, but the faith of the four friends.

What did Jesus see? What does this faith look like?

Faith in the Gospel of Mark looks like persistence, impatience, and pushiness, even shamelessness. It involves risk-taking, the defying of conventions, refusing to be denied. It is insistent.

Think of the leper who bounded up to Jesus and said, “If you choose, you can make me well”; or Jairus, the leader of the village assembly, kneeling before Jesus; or the Syro-Phoenician woman who convinced Jesus that immigrant deserve the same treatment as citizens; or the man with the withered arm who was unafraid to display his disability before a crowd. Think of Blind Bartimaeus, willing to be as loud as he needed to be in order to ask Jesus for what he wanted. And on, and on.

This is what Jesus sees. This is what faith looks like. This is what heals.

Over and over, in story after story, Jesus does not so much heal people as he acts as the catalyst for God’s power in people’s lives. And he encourages others to do the same for one another.

That’s right! One of the big points of the Gospel of Mark is that we can, we should, we must help one another realize the power of God in our lives. That is what is means to be fully human. One of the early church theologians, Irenaeus, famously said, “The Glory of God is a human being fully alive.” That is not something we can take for granted. We are to struggle to be human, to be fully alive, as God intends. It is not too much to say that Jesus wants us to achieve or live up to our human potential as Children of God.

Ironically, our Monday Evening Bible Study, which has been studying the Gospel of Mark for ten months now, has discovered that deep within so many of us is a belief that Jesus asks too much of us; of more than we are capable of. We have been trained in this belief, of course, – to expect little of ourselves, of our humanity. “To err is human,” we think, and “What can you expect, we’re only human,” we say, which are both ready excuses, a mindset, a worldview, that asks too little and expects less of human nature.[ii]

But the Apostle Paul says that we must “grow into the fullness of the Children of God” and that even as we do, “we do not yet know what we will become.” We must struggle to be human, to become that for which “all creation groans and waits in eager expectation to be revealed”: humanity fully alive as God intends, taking our proper place within creation. (Romans 8:18ff)

Jesus says we will be able to do all that he did, and more.

walter-wink

Anticipating my upcoming vacation, I recently picked up the final book by New Testament scholar Walter Wink, from whom I have learned so much in classes and workshops. Walter died in 2012 from complication related to dementia, and this final book, called Just Jesus, is a memoir written with the help of many friends during his final year. In the preface, his wife June reflects on the process used by these faithful friends to help Walter summarize a life’s work of relationships, scholarship, and non-violent activism that he calls “my struggle to become human.” They would read to Walter from his writings, or Walter would remind them of stories which they would compose together as Walter was able – he narrating when he could, and when he could not speak he would nod affirmation or rejection as they told the stories, he changing words here and there to get them right. Again and again I have found myself weeping while reading these poignant episodes of failure and growth as Walter tried to become more human.[iii]

Walter Wink had spent the last decade of his life researching the enigmatic phrase, “the son of man” that appears in our scripture reading this morning. “Scarcely any topic in all research has received more attention with less result,” he has written. He published his findings in a book called The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of Man.

Here are some of the facts with which Professor Wink defines the problem.

“Son of man” (without definite articles) appears one hundred and eight times in the Hebrew Scriptures, ninety-three of them in Ezekiel. Curiously, God refuses to call Ezekiel by his given name, but addresses him on as “son of man.” No one else calls Ezekiel “son of man,” only God. A similar expression appears in the New Testament some eighty-seven times, all but three in the Gospels, and curiously eighty–four times on the lips of Jesus and no one else….

Herein lies the puzzle: Jesus apparently avoided designation as messiah [Christ], son of God, or God, though these titles were given to him after his death by his disciples. But Jesus is repeatedly depicted as using the obscure expression “the son of man” as virtually his only form of self-reference. Yet, his disciples, after his death, almost completely ignore the expression. Paul never once used it, nor any of the writers of the epistles. It appears only a few times in the writings of the Apostolic [authors]. So far as we know, no one worshipped “the son of man” or made that figure the one addressed in prayer….

Yet once the early church began talking about Jesus as “fully God” and “fully human,” the phrase “son of man” was taken to be a humble shorthand or oblique reference for “son of God.” It was often taken as a title and represented with capital letters as in Son of Man. Nothing could be further from Jesus purpose.

So, see if you can follow this:

“Son of” is simply a Semitic idiom meaning ‘pertaining to the following genus or species.’ Thus ‘son of the quiver’ is an arrow (Lam. 3:13), a ‘son of the herd’ is a calf (Gen. 18:7), and a ‘son of the night’ refers to something one night old (Jon. 4:10). Joshua and Zerubbabel are ‘sons of oil,’ that is, anointed ones (Zech. 4:14), and a ‘son of wisdom’ is a wise person (Isa. 19:11). Hence ‘son of man’ simply means ‘man’ or ‘human being.’ [iv]

Translators of Hebrew Scripture have now caught up with this. Thus, in our NRSV pew bibles, Ezekiel 2:1 has God address Ezekiel with the phrase “Hear, O mortal…” where older translations had “Hear, O son of man.” At the same time, New Testament translators continue to treat “son of man” as a title, capital letters and all, as you see in your pew Bibles this morning. But in Ezekiel and Daniel, “the son of man” is not a title or messianic office but refers to an archetype of humanity – he is the one who puts us in touch with our humanity. The Human One, Human Being, or simply Humanity are Professor Wink’s preferred translations. It is an inclusive image, as well. Perhaps my favorite example of this kind of use is in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia in which all of Narnia, captive to the Snow Queen who keeps the world “always winter and never Christmas,” longs for the arrival of the Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve to set things right.

Now let’s return to the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus sees the faith of four friends who bring a paralyzed man to Jesus. And what does Jesus say? Get up and walk? No, he says, “You are forgiven.” In particularly, “your debts are forgiven.”

Imagine, “You don’t owe anyone anything…

  • for your physical condition;
  • for your care, the care given to you, the years of caregiving;
  • for your needs, or neediness (if that is the case);
  • and quite literally, your financial debts are forgiven. Your medical bills, back-rent, and even the bill for the repair of the roof, are taken care of.

Can we hear Jesus say, “You don’t owe me anything, either.” How liberating that must have been!

And the scribes freak out. They think, “Who can forgive but God alone?”

Really?? Only God??

Think again about the phrase I used earlier “To err is human…” Do you know how to finish it?

“To err is human… to forgive is divine” (Alexander Pope, 1688-1744) which simply repeats the scribes error of expecting too little of human beings and leaving forgiveness to God.

The point of Jesus’ encounter here is that when we act like human beings, rather than something less than human… when we act as mortals can, as we should, then we

  • forgive one another,
  • extend grace,
  • release one another from burdensome obligations,
  • let go of hurts,
  • heal one another,
  • hold one another,
  • care for one another.

“So that you may know that human beings can do this,” Jesus says to the paralytic, “Get up [Rise up]. Take your mat, and walk.”

What Jesus asks of us, what God needs of us, is for us to be the human beings we were made to be, to struggle to be human in an inhuman world, to let Jesus direct us toward the power of God, available to us, at work within us, already, for the healing our lives and our world.

Let us take a moment to reflect, before God, what this means for each of us, and then let us sing our struggle and seek the aid we need, as we sing hymn 445, “God, How Can We Forgive”… (Ruth Duck, 1994).

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[i] Richard Horsley, Hearing the Whole Story: The Politics of Plot in Mark’s Gospel. (WJK, 2011).

[ii] Part of this is what Desmond Tutu has called “surplus powerlessness,” a learned passivity before the powers that control us. This would have been another direction to develop this sermon. Another part of is the teaching of “cheap grace” of which Dietrich Bonhoeffer was so critical, which would have been another direction to develop this. Instead I follow the apocalyptic humanism found in Daniel 7 and developed by the anti-imperial theologians like St. Paul.

[iii] Walter Wink, Just Jesus: My Struggle to Become Human, A Memoir. (Image, 2014). Walter writes poignantly about his work to recover an emotional life he had shut down in response to early trauma.

[iv] Walter Wink, The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of Man. (Augsburg, 2001). These paragraphs are reprinted in Just Jesus (see above). Jesus term of self-reference is actually the awkward “the son of the man,” rather than “the son of man,” but that was more information than needed to make the points needed in this sermon.

 

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Like Sheep Without a Shepherd

July 23, 2018

A Sermon preached by The Rev. Jeffrey A. Geary at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, July 22, 2018

Psalm 23           Mark 6:30-44

Multiplication mosaic, Tabgha, Israel

I have been preaching straight through the Gospel of Mark this year, which has freed me up from manuscripts. What follows is not a text from yesterday, but some of the points I made while preaching. The photo above is of the mosaic on the floor at the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha, Galilee.

I began by introducing the idea of a literary sandwich – one story inserted between the beginning and ending of another story (like burger inserted between two halves of a bun), such that each story helps interpret the other (and makes a complete sandwich). Mark is full of ‘sandwiches.’ Since the Gospel of Mark was originally composed through oral storytelling long before being given written form, stories became linked by mutually illumining one another. For example, four weeks ago we had the story of a twelve-year-old girl who appeared to be dying interrupted by the story of a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years (Mark 5:21-43). Only when this second woman’s faith heals her does Jesus invite the twelve-year-old girl to ‘rise up.’. Together, these two stories illustrate how faith itself is healing and how such faith can bring us back to life. The reference to ‘twelve’ suggests the rebirth of the entire people rather than the healing of individuals. (And so, so much more here; but we get the idea).

Over the last two weeks we have also been exploring a sandwich whose theme has been hospitality – the kind of welcome we owe to one another in the Kingdom of God.

  • FAILURE IN NAZARETH: Two weeks ago, we explored Jesus’ failure to perform ‘deeds of power’ in Nazareth when Nazareth failed to demonstrate hospitality to God’s prophet. On the one hand, they failed to perceive the prophet, seeing only the familiar ‘carpenter’s son.’ But on the other hand, their failure to perceive was reinforced by a legitimate fear that if he were a prophet he would be dangerous. The violent depopulation of nearby Sepphoris, the remains of which could have been seen from Nazareth, would have only been the most recent example of where talk of God’s kingdom could lead. Having been treated like a stranger in his own town, Jesus then sends his disciples out to heal, free, and share the good news of God’s kingdom in the homes of strangers, completely dependent on the hospitality of others.
  • ANTIPAS – THE WOULD BE KING: Last Sunday, the story of the disciples’ mission was interrupted by the story of a dinner party in Tiberius. Herod Antipas shows hospitality to government officials, military leaders and his wealthy patrons in a lavish birthday celebration. This party, the fruit of his colonizing of Galilee, brings not life, but death, as John the Baptist is killed for a foolish promise, a perverted sense of honor, and a very different sense of fear (of the prophet’s criticism of Antipas). All of this reminds us that the fear of prophets in Nazareth is well founded.
  • SUCCESS IN GALILEAN VILLAGES: As we pick up the story today, we learn that the disciples, now called apostles, have been successful in the Galilean villages they visited. They have healed, and freed, and shared good news, and they have experience the hospitality of God’s people. They have not brought God’s kingdom to the villages so much as found it there as they were welcomed. Now, completely tired out, Jesus invites them to Sabbath rest.
  • TO GIVE EVEN AS WE HAVE RECEIVED: But there seems to be one more lesson for these disciples/apostles – a large crowd from the villages has now come out to Jesus and his colleagues. We are told that Jesus has compassion on them, so he teaches by the seaside for the rest of the day. When the hour grows late, the disciples want to send the hungry people away to purchase food, but Jesus tells his disciples, “you feed them” We smack our heads as the twelve, who have learned so much about hospitality, fail to demonstrate it themselves. They must now learn to give even as they have received. With echoes of God’s feeding Israel in the wilderness, and of Elijah’s provision of food, Jesus shows them how.

One way to look at these stories in the sixth chapter of Mark is as a large sandwich about hospitality:

  • The failure to practice hospitality in Nazareth because of fear and their focus on the familiar;
  • The perversion of hospitality in Tiberius as Antipas uses it to consolidate and celebrate power;
  • The success of hospitality in the villages of Galilee as the disciples share news of the kingdom;
  • The demonstration of hospitality in a desert place as Jesus leads his disciples in feeding people.

Much else was said in this portion of the sermon, and I suggested there is much more to explore, but I only wanted to make one further point about political leadership.

The Gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus had compassion on the people because they were ‘like sheep without a shepherd.” This might seem like a pastoral image, even sentimental, (as our reading of the 23rd Palm today might suggest to our ears) but it is in fact political, even military.

  • The metaphor appears in the commissioning of Joshua by Moses, ‘lest the people be sheep without a shepherd.’ (Numbers 27:17). Joshua is to lead the people into Canaan to secure land on which they can live safely and securely.
  • Jeremiah speaks of the people as sheep without a shepherd (Jeremiah 27:6) and promises God will raise up shepherds who will feed them (Jeremiah 23:4). To feed the people means to deliver justice. Shepherds here are kings, like David (the literal shepherd king) who will execute justice.
  • Ezekiel also promises a shepherd king who will feed them (Ezekiel 34:23) and protect them so that they may live securely in the land (34:35). The shepherd will also break the yoke of imperial slavery (34:27).
  • Isaiah alludes to the Exodus story where God brought the shepherds of God’s people through the sea (Isaiah 63:10-14).[i]

And this is just a sampling of this tradition. When Jesus says that the people are ‘like sheep without a shepherd,’ he is indicting the current political leadership who we have just seen gathered at Herod’s table and who have witnessed the death of the prophet John. I can just imagine him saying, to Herod:

You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they [are] scattered, because there [is] no shepherd. (Ezekiel 34:4-5)

Instead, it is Jesus we have seen doing these things, and it is now Jesus we see feeding the people and reconstituting them as the people of God. He is gathering up the fragments of the people, like the fragments of bread, and renewing their commitments and capacity for community from below through practices of hospitality, mutual care, and grace.

I ended by saying that we live in a time when political leaders have failed and are failing in their basic responsibilities. But thank God we live in a time when renewed commitment from below can both foster a different future and hold us together in difficult times. Congregations like ours practice welcome, hospitality, placemaking, mutual care, generosity and grace. If Jesus is to be found today, he is to be found calling out failed leaders and in offering alternatives, and in places like this sanctuary.

 

 

[i] Among many good summaries of this tradition, I have here paraphrased Ted Jennings from Theodore W. Jennings, Jr., The Insurrection of the Crucified: The ‘Gospel of Mark’ as Theological Manifesto. (Exploration Press, 2003).

Herod Antipas: The Would-Be King

July 16, 2018

A Sermon preached by the Rev. Jeffrey A. Geary at the White Plains Presbyterian Church
on the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 15, 2018

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Psalm 85:8-13           Mark 6:14-29

This is not the sermon I preached yesterday, but a remembrance of topics I covered…

After Jesus sends out the twelve out to heal and cast out spirits and teach about the realm of God, and before they return to report on their success, the Gospel of Mark relates the drama surrounding the death of John the Baptist. It is a historical aside, meant to cast light on the stories around it (which we will talk about in the sermon next week) and to foreshadow the resistance Jesus’ ministry is about to encounter and the death he himself will experience in Jerusalem.

I framed the sermon with an account of the recent public misuse of scripture by Mark Harris, Jeff Sessions, Franklin Graham, and Mike Pence, with full anticipation that we will hear more of the same as the Senate moves toward confirmation hearings for a Supreme Court Justice. It is our responsibility, as people who hold these texts to be sacred and as scripture to speak up and speak truth, or they will cease to be scripture – God’s liberating word – and will simply function as a tool of expediency, authority, and club with which to beat people. I then deconstructed Mark Harris ideology by exposing his biblical ignorance.[i]

As Carmen Gray is fond of saying, “I just don’t think they’re reading the same Bible we are.”

I then suggested that Herod Antipas is a good example of a supposed leader playing fast and loose with people’s sacred traditions to advance his own purposes and consolidate his own power. The story of Herod Antipas, the ambitious would-be king, is crucial for understanding the Baptism Movement that John was leading as well as the Kingdom Movement that Jesus was leading. Here are the basic points I made (at some length):

  • ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT UNDER HEROD THE GREAT – Herod the Great (the great polygamist, oppressor, real estate developer, tyrant, strong man) conquered and pacified Israel on behalf of Caesar Augustus during the Roman Civil Wars. He did so by ousting the Hasmonean family who had led Judea (with aspirations of leading Galilee) for nearly 100 years. For this he was given the titles ‘King of the Jews’ and ‘Friend of the Romans.’ To consolidate power, he led a program that biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan has described as Romanization through Urbanization for Commercialization. Essentially, he integrated Judea into the Roman Empire by building cities in order to make money and solidify his reputation. These cities (Caesarea, a port city on the Mediterranean; Sabastia, a military fortress and theater in the heart of Samaria; and Caesarea Philipi far in the north) brought in trade, taxes and tourists by offering new markets, revenue collection centers, and a sparkling new reputation for Palestine. At the center of this strategy was the expanded Temple in Jerusalem with its Gentile Court for tourists and pilgrims, aspiring to make it one of the wonders of the world. This program was successful, co opting the priesthood into accommodation, but was also accompanied by regular and stiff resistance by the people. Herod’s economic program had skipped over Galilee, however. The process of Romanization through Urbanization for Commercialization was left to his sixth son, Herod Antipas, to carry out during the lifetimes of John and Jesus.[ii]
  • ANTIPAS: THE WOULD-BE KING – Herod Antipas dearly wanted to be king like his father, but Caesar Augustus refused to grant him the title. Upon Herod’s death, the Emperor gave Judea (half the kingdom) to Herod’s oldest son Archelaus with the title ethnarch (leader of people). He was fairly incompetent and was quickly replaced by direct Roman rule in the form of Pontius Pilate. The Emperor gave half of what remained (parts of contemporary Syria and Lebanon) to his son Philip, and the remaining quarter, Galilee and Perea, to Antipas, giving each of theme the title tetrarch (leader of quarters). Though the reign of Antipas (4 BCE – 29 CE) would be the first time a ruler of Galilee lived in Galilee, this was a great disappointment to the would-be monarch, so Antipas began what would be a life-long campaign to become king.
  • THE EXPLOITATION OF GALILEE – Drawing on the scholarship of Richard Horsley and the quotable summaries of Dom Crossan, I outlined Antipas’ building program, first of his capitol city of Sepphoris as a military fortress, market and tax center in the heart of Galilee, and then of Tiberius as a new capitol on the shore of the Sea of Galilee to draw pilgrims, tourists and traders traveling the Spice Road across the water to Galilee. He renamed his first capitol after Emperor Augustus, and the second capitol after the new Emperor. To build these cities, however, he had to heavily tax the people and conscript labor, deeply disrupting community and village life, and he violated all forms of religious sensibilities by depopulating villages and (in the case of Tiberius) digging up a cemetery. I emphasized that much of the poverty, illness, and feeling of being possessed that John and Jesus encountered in their role as prophets came from this process of internal colonization carried out by the Herods, and it is interesting that John drew people away from these cities, and Jesus refused to visit them. And still, Emperor Tiberius refused Antipas the title of King.[iii]
  • A MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE – Returning to the framing theme of the sermon – the cynical use of ‘religion’ to consolidate power and manipulate the sacred for political purposes – I noted that our gospel story emerges from Herod’s attempt to shore up his religious credentials. The Emperor had previously married Antipas to a Nabatean princess, the daughter of King Aretas IV. Aretas was at that time growing fabulously wealthy from the Spice Trade passing through his kingdom and his capitol/capital in Petra (now Jordan). This is the same trade Antipas wanted to draw across what he now called Lake Tiberius into Galilee). This was a smart political marriage because of helped keep peace on Rome’s borders, but Antipas secretly divorced his Nabatean wife and instead married Herodias (who was married to Antipas’s brother Philip, the other tetrarch). Herodias was a close as you get to Jewish Royalty, being of the Hasmonean family and a descendant of the High Priest John Hyrcanus. The divorce and remarriage (and incest – Herodias was also Antipas’s niece, the daughter of another brother) were political moves to bolster his religious cred. The first problem is that King Aretas was highly offended when his daughter was sent packing. This led to a brief war between Galilee and Nabataea, during which Antipas suffered a humiliating defeat. The second problem was that John the Baptist, a strong opponent of Antipas’s aspirations, called out his hypocrisy.’ Manipulating the people’s hopes and religious sensibilities (regarding the Hasmonean family) did not work for Antipas because prophets like John and Jesus called him out. For this John was arrested, and then killed, and Jesus was placed under surveillance. (The Jewish historian Josephus, a contemporary of Mark, fleshes this out in more detail).[iv]
  • THE END OF ANTIPAS – I briefly pointed out that Antipas’ life campaign to be king ended in disappointment and exile. After the death of Tiberius, the new emperor, Caligula, gave Galilee to another of Antipas’s brothers (Herod Agrippa) and sent Antipas and Herodias into exile in France where they ultimately died.

I ended by saying that there will always be tyrants, or those who aspire to be tyrants: this is how the world currently works. But there is also a prophetic script of speaking truth to power regardless of the consequences and of resisting oppression by rebuilding communities all in the firm conviction that the solidarity of the cross and the resurrection of the martyrs is assuredly the way of Jesus. Herod will be haunted by the thought that Jesus himself is John risen from the dead, or Elijah come back to call Antipas a modern Ahab and Herodias and contemporary Jezebel (this seems to be Mark’s perspective), or at the very least a prophet like the prophets of old. Any one of these options should have caused Antipas to question his abuse of Galilee, but they did not.

It is also sobering that John is killed on the whims of a scheme, a misguided promise, and a dance. Even the presence of Jesus, in the flesh and on the earth, cannot prevent his murder, but Jesus can take up the task. Jesus, too, would call Herod ‘that fox,’ warn people against the ‘leaven of Herod’ and refer to him as ‘a reed shaking in the wind’ and mock his ‘fine clothes’ and the luxury of his ‘palace. While John opposed his local ruler and his Roman sponsor and was (most likely) killed for it in Galilee, Jesus would oppose the leadership in Judea and their Roman sponsors and will be killed in Jerusalem.

Finally, in each case, of John and Jesus, we see what faithfulness looks like – steadfast loyalty to a higher purpose, what Jesus will call the kingdom or realm of God – a different economic, social, religious and political order, on earth as it is in heaven.

Such, I said, was the true ‘core calling’ of all of us – men, women, and children.

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Herod_(Hérode)_-_James_Tissot_-_overall

Herod (Hérode), by French painter and Bible illustrator James Tissot, in the Brooklyn Museum

[i] On Mark Harris, see for example http://www.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2018/07/gop-congressional-candidate-god-says-women-are-helpers-only/

[ii] See Peter Richardson, Herod: King of the Jews and Friend of the Romans. (South Carolina, 1996).

[iii] A highly readable summary of Antipas’ ambition, from which I have obviously drawn, can be found in chapter three of John Dominic Crossan, God & Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now. (HarperCollins, 2007). More detailed analysis of the economic program the effects on village communities can be found spread throughout the work of Richard A. Horsley, but particularly “The Roman Imperial Economy in Jesus’ Time” in Covenant Economics: A Biblical Vision of Justice for All. (WJK, 2009).

[iv] Zora Neal Hurston captures the complicated family relations in her short story, told from the perspective of an elderly Herodias, in “The Seventh Veil” in The Complete Short Stories (HarperCollins, 1995). Hurston dramatizes the relationship of Antipas and Herodias as a love story. For the politics of this marriage, and the fallout with King Aretas, see Richard A. Horsley and Neil Asher Silberman, The Message and the Kingdom: How Jesus and Paul Ignited a Revolution and Transformed the Ancient World. (Grossat/Putnam, 1997).

What Went Wrong in Nazareth?

July 10, 2018

WHAT WENT WRONG IN NAZARETH?
AND HOW TO DO IT RIGHT!

A Sermon preached by The Rev. Jeffrey A. Geary during an outdoor worship service at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 8, 2018

 Psalm 146          Mark 6:1-13

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In our Gospel reading today,
part of our continuous reading
of the Gospel According to Mark,
Jesus visits his hometown of Nazareth,
walking there all the way from the Sea of Galilee.

This journey is exactly the opposite
of the one I took back in the spring of this year,
walking from Nazareth back toward the waters.

But our questions today
will be about Jesus’ journey
and his experience of failure
in Nazareth
where he is treated
like a stranger in his own home –
after which he will send his disciples out
to the homes of strangers
instructing them to bring the good news of God’s kingdom
elsewhere
and accept the hospitality of strangers
or none at all.

How did we get here
in Nazareth
at this point in Jesus’ public life?
Let’s make a quick review…

At the same time his mentor,
John the Baptist,
was arrested,
Jesus appeared
out of the wilderness
proclaiming the kingdom of God
    the reign of God
    a way of life that acknowledges God alone
and not Roman Authority,
    with it legions and legates
or the Imperial Temple-State
    with its scribes, priests, and religious reformers
but God alone:
    as sovereign
    good shepherd,
    judge and justice and the ultimate joy
    of God’s people.
God alone.

To the poor and the peasant
(which was nearly everyone)
Jesus announced,
and offered,
and proffered
the good news:
    this kingdom is at hand
    this realm is here
    this reign is now
Trust
Believe
Taste and see
Be healed
Be whole
Be free.

Trusting this God
whose realm they could touch
entailed
renewing the ancient practices
and ways of life
handed down from generation to generation
practices of hospitality, generosity
mutual care and Jubilee justice
not only with commitments to family and village
but with new ‘tribal’ associations
of village with village
and community with community
that renewed the WHOLE people
and not just individual people
and not just Israel, but ALL people
all nations
(a bridge too far for some).

And Jesus began to cast out the spirits
the principalities and powers
    that occupied the peoples’ hearts and minds
    with idols and lies
that wracked their lives
    with fear and with violence,
and burdened their bodies,
    with pain and distress.

He healed their bodies
of the common afflictions
    of occupation
and the ordinary ailments
    of oppression.

He fed the poor
    overtaxed and overworked
    and exhausted from their efforts
    to make ends meet
with five loaves and two fish
or with seven loaves that were on hand
with whatever number was available for daily bread
he made do.

He forgave not only sin but also debt
insisting that the authority to forgive sin
and the right to release another’s debt
was NOT God’s alone,
nor was it the proprietary practice
    of God’s representatives in Jerusalem
but was the responsibility of each human being
toward another –
grace as a way of life.

He demonstrated that Sabbath rest
is an opportunity to do good,
rather than a restrictive rule calling for conformity.

And he taught the people in parables
that these actions were not
    his alone
    but could be performed by everyone;
they were not miracles to amaze
but the simple result of trusting God,
    God’s present rule, God’s coming realm
and acting on that trust
for one’s self
one’s neighbor
and one’s neighborhood.

“Your trust has made you well,” he said
but we translate this trust as faith,
which makes it sound
like something peculiarly religious
when what Jesus asks
what the kingdom requires
    of us
    to be effective
what Jesus actually says
is simply trust –
something more akin to
the way we entrust
our hearts to those we love
our bodies to those able to care for them
our loved ones to God’s love
and our future to grace.

Or maybe simply the way we trust our friends
to catch us
when we fall backward
off a picnic table
in one of those inevitable youth group
group building activities.

It takes two
or three
or four
or more
to make trust effective
because it is about relating
it is about relationships
and new ways of relating
new relationships, in fact,
for a new kind of people
made God’s people
through mutual trust
and ultimate trust
in God’s sovereignty.

All these things Jesus did
in Capernaum on the shores
    of Lake Tiberius
and in the other fishing towns
    beside the sea
and in all the villages of Galilee.

Everywhere he went
he met this hope
for God’s compelling, coming reign –
producing trust enough
that he could act,

to heal, and liberate
and to engender further trust.

And all were amazed!
not at the wonders, which were common enough,
but at the rebirth
and resurrection
of God’s people
which meant
indeed
the kingdom of God
was at hand.

[Pause]

Immediately after a woman is healed
by this kind of trust
    from a twelve-year hemorrhage
    by the shore of the sea,
and after Jesus asks a little girl to rise up,
    as if from death
    in a coastal down
    and have something to eat
Jesus decides to visit his hometown
    for the first time
    since going out to join John at the Jordan.

It was a forty-mile journey
a leisurely three days walk
longer if he wanted to visit other villages
    along the way
    as he was wont to do,
or as little as two days
    if he were determined to make it home
    in time for dinner.

Ancient Nazareth.
Jesus’ hometown.
In the first century,
the entire population
of between 400 and 500 souls,
would have fit within our sanctuary
comfortably.
Or there may have been as few as 150,
archaeologists are not sure,
nearly all of them related to Jesus
in one way or another.
They knew him
    this carpenter’s son
They had grown up with him,
    or had watched him grow up,
aunts, uncles,
cousins, all of them
And mom.[i]

But the intense trust in God’s reign
that Jesus had catalyzed among God’s people
elsewhere
did not catch on
in Nazareth.
The healing did not take
and the demonic spirits
    of limited vision
    and cramped expectation
    and apathetic accommodation
    to the way things are, and have always been
simply would not leave
and though Jesus did still heal a few
    individuals
and liberate a few
    souls
no one understood his larger purpose
or perceived the reign of God
the renewal of God’s people
this new way, and new future,
which he offered
to his family, his friends and neighbors.

Who is this guy?
Is he the same one
who left
not long ago?
He has come back different
he is changed.
and we do not recognize him.

Once,
you may remember,
out of compassion,
(or was it concern)
his mother
and his brothers and his sisters
went to Capernaum to bring him home
worried about the direction
of his ministry
and the danger
he was courting.
But we are told they did not enter the house
where he was preaching
    to hear him
    to understand him
    or even to try
but instead sent messengers inside
to bring him out
as if he were the captive
and they the ones who came to set free
and they waited outside
to waylay him and bring him home.

Inside the house,
the messengers said to him,
“Your family is outside,”
but he replied
“Who is my family?
Only those who understand and act
on the will of God?”
“And who is a true neighbor,”
he asked another,
on another occasion,
“but the one who
trusts God enough
to bind up wounds
and raise up the dead, or half-dead, or left for dead,
which is all the same thing,
and to commit oneself to another
for the long haul
until both are healed;
And if one has more than one needs,
to divest oneself of possessions
and give to the poor.
That one is a true neighbor.”
he said.[ii]

Such faith, such trust,
such hopeful action
on behalf of another
is merely human –
a new kind of human, perhaps –
but merely the act of a good human
not a miracle
without other explanation.
But it does look like the kingdom of God
if one has eyes to see.

But they did not see
not in Nazareth
not that day
instead
they only saw a kid they knew
full of big ideas
the son of a carpenter
whose family were right here
nothing special
a young man
grown up to become
a dangerous visionary
like that would-be prophet
Judah the Galilean
from nearby Sepphoris
not three miles away

(or was it four)
whose religious ideas
and political leadership
about the same year Jesus was born
had caught the eyes of the Judeans and the Romans
the same way Jesus’ ideas and leadership
were beginning to catch the eyes of the Judeans and Romans.
But back then

the attention of the Judeans and the Romans
led to the arrest and execution of Judah
and the punishment of the entire population of Sepphoris
just three miles away
(or was it four):
all able-bodied men crucified
bearing their crosses
and every other man, the woman and children
sold as slaves
into foreign lands.
Parents separated from children, forever,
In the ultimate expression of state power[iii]
and the city of Sepphoris

reduced to rubble
not a stone left upon stone.
all
gone
yes
that’s what comes when prophets promote big ideas
and young men have visions
old men dream dangerous dreams.[iv]

No, nope no!
We (the good citizens of Nazareth)
we see only a neighbor
we only want to see
a hometown boy
a young man
a harmless …
(oh God please let him be harmless)
wonder-worker
but certainly not
    an agent of God’s realm
    a catalyst for renewed trust
    that God has heard our cry
    and has come to save us
for then we would have to believe
that God
has come
    to work something new
    and that those made whole
    and put back in their right mind
    are but the first fruits
    of a greater hope.
Such a dangerous vision.

No. Nazareth says no!
So this time
instead of the crowds
like those in Galilee
who were ready to respond
to such good news
who always stood amazed
at what could happen in their midst
    when they trusted God –
it is Jesus’ turn to be amazed:
amazed at the unbelief
or refusal to acknowledge
the unwillingness to trust
in the face of great fear
and obvious danger
the inability to accept
God’s reign
which they said
they hoped and prayed for.

[Pause]

I have said before
my friends
citing Saint Paul
that faith, hope, and love
are a matter of perception
of having the eyes to see
and ears to hear
and minds to comprehend
what is the height and depth
and length and breadth
of God’s love
for us
and the ability to see this
being made manifest
all around us
you, me, friend, stranger
even enemy
as God’s beloved.
Wayward? Yes.
Often lost? Yes.
But called, claimed, beloved
the subjects and objects
of God’s great hope for our world
the next ones
the NOW ones
to make real God’s kingdom
on earth as it is in heaven.

Can you hear
the voice of creation
groaning for the arrival of
the children of God?
waiting for us to take our rightful place
in creation
to heal
and make whole
and restore to life
that which has been damaged
or destroyed
or been taking captive
by lust, or greed
and other demonic powers?[v]

Can you comprehend
can you even take in
that this whole world
    of rocks and trees
    and skies and seas
the nature that around us sings
is but a theater of God’s glory,
displaying wonder upon wonder
so that,
seeing, hearing and understanding
filled with gratitude
and with cups running over
we can turn around
and be saved?[vi]

Today we baptize a child
Thomas —
son of — and —
who has grown up around us
and among us
as one of us.
with his older sisters as mentors
    in church school and youth group
    and at the Emmaus table
and this community as models
    of Christ-like care
he is learning, will be learning
in worship
the sounds of praise
and the expressions of love
and experiencing the passing of that deep peace
    that passes understanding
    but is resilient in the face of tough times,
he is learning
and will be learning
here
how to
trust God.

His parents will make promises
of course
to help him learn
and keep him connected
with the church
so that he can grow
in trust.
You, his sponsors and congregation,
you will make promises
to love him
and care for him
no matter what,
important promises.
I will pray
and splash water on his head.
and invoke the promises of God.
Human actions
of human beings,
it is true,
    caring human beings
    expressing our deepest hopes,
    if we are generous
But God is here
as well
if we but have eyes to see
and we but trust what we say.
God is here
today
calling, claiming, and loving Thomas
into a kingdom
a reign and realm
of love and of light
of peace and of promise
of healing
and wholeness
and ultimate joy.

Not a miracle
or magic
just the realm of God
come close
as close to us as the air we breathe
invisible but for the eyes of faith
trusting eyes
that can claim a kingdom
and a dangerous vision
and our deepest hopes
for a better future.
for Thomas and for all.

Can you see it?

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[i] Richard Horsley, Archeology, History and Society in Galilee: The Social Context of Jesus and the Rabbis. (T&T Clark, 1996.)

[ii] Mark 3:20, 31-35; also Mark 10:17-22 (which Luke expands into the Parable of the Good Samaritan).

[iii]What Mandela Lost: The South African freedom fighter’s letters from prison remind us that the separation of families is the ultimate expression of state power.” New York Times, Sunday, July 8, 2018.

[iv] On a realistic fear and caution of where movements like Jesus’ could lead, with the events of Sepphoris in mind, see the speech of Rabbi Gamaliel in Acts 7:33-39. See also the work of Richard Horsley, Particularly Richard Horsley and John S. Hanson, Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs: Popular Movements at the Time of Jesus. (HarperCollins, 1985).

[v] Romans 8:19-25.

[vi] The phrase ‘theater of God’s glory” is John Calvin’s. See Belden L. Lane, Ravished by Beauty: The Surprising Legacy of Reformed Spirituality. (Oxford, 2011).

The WP Historic Preservation Cycling Loop

July 4, 2018

So, this was fun. 

I had lunch today with a sixth descendant of Jacob and Abigail Purdy. Jacob and Abigail were members of the White Plains Presbyterian Church, the church I currently serve; are buried in our cemetery; and their home, which served as George Washington’s headquarters during the Battle of White Plains, still stands. 

Feeling inspired, and with new tubes in the tires of my bike, I decided a good way to spend my Fourth of July would be to to cycle a large figure eight around the city and visit all the monuments, houses, and cemeteries that have been designed local landmarks by the White Plains Historic Preservation Commission. A partial list with information about the landmarks is available on the City’s website. I other words, I created the first ever Historic Preservation Cycling Loop in White Plains. 🙂 

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I made a 12.5 mile loop with only 200 feet of doubling back. I began in Tibbets Park at Main and Broadway, near the Civil War Memorial. Main and Broadway – you can’t find a more central starting point. This statue is not yet a landmark, but is a reminder that there are potential landmarks that can be spotted all along the route I designed, including the Battle of White Plains Cannon on N. Broadway, the 1898 War Memorial on Park, the Horton Mill (now a residence) on lake Street, the Daniel Hatfield home (also on Lake), Merritt Hill Battleground, The Presbyterian Rest (now YWCA) on Park and Broadway, and numerous parks and neighborhoods. Ok. head North on North Broadway. All actual landmarks are pictured and appear in bold face below.

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The first stop is at the north end of Tibbits Park, the Statue of Christopher Columbus, which seems fitting as he began this tragic project of settler colonialism that became the United States. The statue was erected as a matter of pride and a mark of social acceptance by the Italian-America community early in the twentieth century. 

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Next stop is The Presbyterian Cemetery, or the Presbyterian Burying Ground. Forty-two revolutionary war soldiers (and one unnamed British soldier) are buried here. Jacob and Abigail Purdy are in the Northeast corner. Turn left on Rockledge, quick right on Dusenbury (also buried in the cemetery) and a left on Park Ave. In two block you will pass the monument to those from White Plains who fought and died in the Cuban struggle for independence in 1898 (and whose participation made turned the independence struggle into another colonial project, usurping it as the Spanish-America War. At the top of the hole you come to …

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The Jacob Purdy House, home of the White Plains Historical Society. This is the top of Purdy Hill, the first of three hill covered on this ride, thought the house originally sat at the foot of the hill. In order not the double back, follow Park Circle around to Parkview Court, which will bring you back to Park Ave. Turn left for the only 200 feet of this ride that you traverse twice and descend to N. Broadway. On your left is the YWCA, rear Tudor portion of which was the 19th century Presbyterian Rest, a retreat for convelescence opened in 1893. In front of you, across N. Broadway is…

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The former campus of Good Counsel Convent and Academy. The campus has been sold, but the site and nine contributing building have been designated a historic district. Follow Broadway north. In a few block you will see a cannon (on the left side of the road) buried after the battle of White Plain. Cross the bridge over 287 to Orchard Avenue (the White Plains Rural Cemetery is on NW corner) and turn right. Follow this road all the way into Westminster Ridge and begin climbing Garretson Road past the beach to Lakeview Drive, and Lakeview to Hall Avenue. Turn left and keep climbing Hatfield Hill (your second hill on this ride). Though you need to know where these are to see them, at the highest point of the hill stood the Gilbert Hatfield House (now gone) and a natural landmark (now hidden) known as Mucklestone Rock.  Keep going toward…

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The Foster-Buckout Cemetery, a family cemetery on what was once the Pine Tree Farm, the last operating farm in White Plains. Further on (and crossing over into the town of Harrison is the Stony Hill Cemetery, an African-American cemetery of great significance and well worth a visit itself. Follow what is now known as Buckout Road all the way back down to Lake Street. As you descend you will pass over Merritt Hill where there is another cannon marking the site of a Battle during the early part of the Revolutionary War. Descend into downtown Harrison, pass the sports fields and lake and continue on toward White Plains. A Couple hundred yards past the lake is a private residence built into and around the eighteenth century Horton Mill (a mill stone from this mill forms part of the Reuben Wright Mill Monument in North Castle, and the Daniel Hatfield House, now connected to a deli called La Puebla. When you reach N. Broadway, wave at the Columbus Statue as you fly by, turning left toward S. Broadway. In two blocks you will come to Armory Place and …

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The D.A.R. Monument marking the site of the original County Courthouse where the Declaration of Independence was read aloud for the first time on July 9, 1776. The Fourth Provincial Congress of New York (Colony), meeting inside, adopted the Declaration and the State of New York was born. The White Plains Presbyterian Church keeps this history alive by worshipping outdoors on the Sunday nearest the Fourth of July and reading aloud portions of the Declaration and other documents of expanding freedom. Cross the street toward the Galleria Mall and take Westchester Ave to Bloomingdale Avenue. Turn right. At the corner where Whole Foods Market and Dicks Sporting Good dominates your view, you are riding beside the beautifully preserved campus of New York Presbyterian Hospital, formerly known as the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum. Keep going (the road becomes Mamaroneck) all the way to Gedney Way and turn right. Kitty-corner to Sam’s of Gedney Way is the well marked entrance to …

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The Jack Harrington Greenway. This walking path follows the right of way of the former New York, Westchester & Boston railway line, which operated from 1912-1937 and greatly influenced the development of White Plains. You cannot cycle through here, though you can walk your bike, as I did. I got off the trail when it crossed Ridgeway and turned right toward Old Mamaroneck Ave. and Soundview Ave. If you want to keep riding, simply go the end of the block, turn left on Old Mamaroneck and ride down hill past the middle school to Soundview Avenue. At Soundview, turn right and at the top of the hill you will come to …

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283 Soundview Avenue. This was the first property designated a landmark by the Historic Preservation Commission, as it was in imminent danger of being being destroyed. Admire the house, but respect the no trespassing signs erected by the owner. Soundview was named because from the roof of this home, and others like it, one could see (before there were trees here) all the way to the Long Island Sound. Keep following Soundview Avenue past numerous grand historic homes. Just past the elementary school, turn right on W. Post Road. Two block past the hospital turn right on Cromwell Place to find …

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The Percy Grainger Home and Studio. This home, built in 1892 by a local banker named David Cronwell, became in 1921 the residence of Australian born musician/composer Percy Grainger. It is now home of the International Percy Grainger Society, and is open to the public by appointment. In order not to double back, go to the end of the block, turn left and descend toward Mamaroneck Ave. Cross the street to the fire house. On the corner you will find …

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The Firefighters Memorial remembering those who died while protecting lives and property. The story of these firefighters are now thankfully preserved in the minutes of the Historic Preservation Commission. 

Head north on Mamaroneck Ave through a block of pubs and bars (including the one where I had lunch today before starting my ride). Turn right on E. Post Road. Wave at the D.A.R. Monument as you speed down the hill (this time heading north on the divided road) toward where Westchester Avenue becomes N. Broadway (or, as I did, cut through the southern portion of Tibbits Park in the same direction). When you reach Main Street you will have returned to the Civil War Memorial, or in my case, home.   

So, that was a fun way to spend my Fourth of July and revisit three years of work by the Historic Preservation Commission of the City of White Plains. I’ll be curious what ammendations the next three years of work will require of this route. 

 

A Contemplative Ride on a Hot Day

July 1, 2018

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When I was in fourth grade at Western Avenue Elementary School in Flossmoor, Il, I started playing clarinet. My mother had been in marching band in high school and had passed down to me the clarinet she had learned to play on. This was the clarinet handed down to her by her father, my grandfather, which he had carried with him in the army during the second world war. I loved this instrument, and through it my connection to may family; but it was hard to play. I did my best, for years, thinking the difficulty I had in playing was all mine. Then, in junior high, my parents bought me my own clarinet. Wow. How easy everything suddenly became with a new instrument. Where I had struggled to produce every note with my grandfather’s instrument, suddenly I could play.  It was like I was playing for the first time.

I never aspired to more than high school band, and practiced accordingly. But I also never forgot the lesson: you can only go so far without the right equipment.

On Friday I took out, and tuned up, my road bike for the first time in years. I had trained for my cycling trip in Palestine on my wife’s mountain bike and on stationary bikes at Planet Fitness. In Palestine we rode cyclocross; I was sold and ordered myself one yesterday! But taking out my Fuji road bike was like taking out a real bike for the first time. Wow. I did 30 miles on my Sabbath Day without even thinking, and wanted more.

So, despite the extreme heat today (though not as high as predicted; it was only 93 degrees with a real feel of 106), I went out again. I drank a lot of water,  put another 1.5 liters on my back, put the Grateful Dead (12.27.1990) in my ears, and set out. I did 28 miles through seven municipalities (White Plains, Harrison, Armonk, North Castle, Valhalla, Thornwood, and North White Plains), skimmed along the NY/CT border, and did a complete circuit around New York City’s drinking water in the Kensico Reservoir.

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Here’s my photo reel:

Leaving my home, I headed east on Lake Street toward the Westchester County Airport where I stopped for this photo of my bike beside this jet.

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I continued north on 120 beside Rye Lake to the north reach of Kensico Lake in Armonk. This was the 6.5 mile mark.

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Turning back around, I hugged the east shore of the reservoir on Mt. Kisco Road (22) past Cranberry Lake Preserve and toward the Kensico Dam. I crossed over the top of the dam, looking back to where I had come from, and then down into the valley below.

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From here, one can just make out White Plains in the distance.

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At this point I decided to make a full circuit of the reservoir (that had not been my plan), cycling through Valhalla and Thornwood on quiet, shady roads, with the water never too far from sight. The long, fast ride down Nanny Hagen Road was a blast of freedom. All downhill, speed and curves as fast as I was willing to go.

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Returning to where I began at the north end of the water (it is nearly 12 miles around the reservoir) I headed south again though North Castle toward Kensico. Along the way I stopped to contemplate the easily missed monument to Reuben Wright’s Mill, just south of the Rye Lake Bridge. Here is a nice description of the history and significance of the site. The image below, of the monument’s dedication, can be found in the online archives of the Westchester County Historical Society. The millstone attached to this monument came from the old Grist Mill that belonged to John Horton in 1776, later called Deutermann Mill, , located on Lake Street in White Plains (and riden past during my first four minutes of this ride). [See reference]

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I took a video of my cycle across the Rye Lake Bridge this time, which I have posted on Facebook (I cannot include it here). I’m looking for suggestions on how to take video of bike rides other than the obviously dangerous way I did.  

This time around the dam, however, I dropped down onto the plaza. Kesnico Dam was built in 1915 by Italian immigrants using stone from the nearby quarry in what is now Cranberry Lake preserve. Some of these protestant Italians formed a Presbyterian mission congregation called Church of the Savior, sponsored by the congregation I now serve. Kensico Dam was the last hand hewn dam of this design before the advent of poured concrete. It is always a marvel to behold.

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The plaza is also the start of the Bronx River Parkway and Parkway Trail, which I followed back into White Plains. Right beside the train station I stopped to check out, and pick up dinner at, The Dog Den, a novel new spot serving all beef hot dogs with fifty combinations of toppings. It would be really helpful if the menu were online – the possibilities on endless and impossible to digest while standing in line. Everything sounds good. Check it out.

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One more mile and I was home, my Memphis Blues Brothers dog (chile and cole slaw) and my Bacon Black & Blue (bacon, crumbled blue cheese and sautéed onions) in hand. These and a large water were my not-very-healthy dinner. But I had done 28 miles, felt great, deserved my long shower and beer, and am (now) looking forward to an early bedtime. 

As I send this blog off to the cloud, there is a book of poetry by the late Donald Hall, and a biography of Jane Jacobs, waiting on my bedside table. How many pages … will I … read before I … fall … a … sleep….

?

Sabbath Day – Cross County Cycle

June 29, 2018

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I enjoyed my Sabbath Day on Friday this week because I had multiple, unavoidable commitments on Thursday. It was pouring rain all day on Thursday anyway. I’m grateful Friday was clear enough, both with my schedule and the weather, for me to spend it outside. I spent it well.

I began the day with delivering my son to lacrosse camp, and then delivering ten bags of food to the local food pantry, food collected by faithful members of the congregation I serve. 

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I then took out my road bike for the first time this year, made sure it everything was working and well oiled, and took it out for spin. I headed over the the high school field to watch August scrimmage for a while. While there I decided to really make a ride out of my morning. I continued southeast on North street, ultimately riding all the way to Rye and the Knapp House, home of the Rye Historical Society. From there I followed the coast down to Mamaroneck and Harbor Island Park where I stopped at the beach. This is the Long Island Sound (almost)! It was a lovely day for swimming.

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From Harbor Island Park I headed straight back for White Plains via Mamaroneck Ave, though downtown Mamaroneck and along Saxon Woods Park. This loop around White Plains – Rye – Mamaroneck clocked in at a little more than 18 miles.

Back home I took a nap, read a book, and worked on my sermon for Sunday. After picking August up from camp we went to Greenburgh Nature Center to care for the sheep and the goats, the chickens, pheasant and turkey, and the we went to look at new bikes at the Danny’s Cycles on Scarsdale. Though I was having a great time on my Fuji road bike today, I’m looking for a new cyclocross for riding roads and trails in Westchester. And we are looking, of course, for a full size bike for August. A promising start. 

By dinner time I was itching to get back on the bike, so my family agreed to let me ride to Pierson Park on the Hudson River to see the sunset. It was an easy nine miles along Tarrytown Road (100), and I had plenty of time after arriving at the river to put in a few more miles along the Hudson River Walk. Satisfied, I reclined on a rock to watch the last fifteen minutes of sun and counted geese as they flew South in majestic Vs.

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Noelle and August met me just as the sun was setting, and together we enjoyed the stunning colors of midsummer on the river. August, getting in to things, spent the evening riding my bike up and down the riverwalk.

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All in all, I clocked about 30 miles today, my longest ride since returning from Palestine, and a very satisfying ride for having ridden from my home in the heart of Westchester County to the Long Island Sound and then crossing back all the way across the county to the Hudson River. Google Maps tells me this was an elevation gain of about 800 feet and a descent of about 1000. Yep, that last run into Tarrytown was fast, free and fun.

Happy Sabbath.