‘Knowing Who We Are’ Sermon

And Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.”   Mark 1: 10-11

Download the mp3 audio of the sermon or click below to listen.

Yesterday I took Jessie and Cameron to a meeting for the upcoming Youth Ambassadors Mission Trip. They are going to Antigua, in the Caribbean, poor things.  The meeting was held at the Conference Center in White Plains and involved kids, parents and leaders from about 20 different churches. Continue reading

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Therefore be perfect…

“I’m practically perfect, not slightly soiled,
running like an engine that’s just been
  freshly oiled,
I’m so practically perfect in every way…”

By Rev. K Karpen from the May 2014 SPSA Newsletter the Update(pdf)

Thus sang Mary Poppins, the practically-perfect nanny of stage and screen.  And of a slightly creepy children’s book series.

If it’s true, Ms. Poppins comes a lot closer to the ideal than most of us. The goal of perfection is not only intimidating, it’s downright discouraging.  And too difficult (and too boring?) to contemplate, as well. Continue reading

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Falling In Love In Lent

“As Lent is the time for greater love, listen to Jesus’ thirst…’Repent and believe’ Jesus tells us. What are we to repent? Our indifference, our hardness of heart. What are we to believe? Jesus thirsts even now, in your heart and in the lives of the poor — He knows your weakness. He wants only your love, wants only the chance to love you.”
– Teresa of Calcutta

Lent is a time to fall in love with God.

By K. Karpen

Sure we think of Lent in lots of different ways.  A time to try fasting.  A time to get serious about prayer.  A time to give up something we like (at least for the first few weeks!). Lent is a time to think about the life and death of Jesus.  It’s a time to think about our own lives, and perhaps our own death as well.

This year I want to spend my Lent falling in love with God, all over again.  Of course, to know God is to love God.  But how do we get to know God?

A wise person once decided she wanted to know God.  So she climbed the highest hill she could find, and she sat at the top, thinking and praying.  She was up there all day.  And then all the next day, and the next, and the day after that, waiting for God.  A worried friend finally came looking for her.

What are you doing up here?” the friend asked the wise person.

I want to know God,” she answered.   I’m just waiting for God to show up.”

Her friend sighed, and sat, and kept her company.  When evening came she gave her the bread she had brought with her.  When it grew chilly she wrapped her coat around the wise person’s shoulders. She got up to leave, saying, Well, I hope you get to know God.”

Her wise friend stood  and prepared to leave with her.  I think I just did,” she said.

I wish you a Lent of love: of knowing God in the love of other people; a Lent of falling in love with God all over again.

See our calendar of all our lent events and services.

This was the lead article in our March, 2014 Update, our monthly newsletter.

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Faith Like That

By K Karpen  Church of St Paul and St Andrew
New York CityJune 2, 2013

Audio – mp3. Download or listen!

   Luke 7:1-10 After Jesus had finished all these sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum.  A centurion there had a servant whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death.  When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent some of the Jewish elders to Jesus, asking him to come and heal his servant.

 When they came to Jesus they appealed to him earnestly, saying, He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.

 And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you.  But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For like you I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, Go, and he goes, and to another, Come, and he comes, and to my servant Do this, and the servant does it.”

 When Jesus heard him say this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, I tell you, not even in Israel have I found faith like that.”

When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant in good health.”     Luke 7:1-10

Not even in Israel have I found faith like that.”

The other day a fifteen year old person who lives in my house asked me, Do you believe in God?” I stopped for a few seconds before saying anything.

I hesitated for a lot of reasons, I think.  First, believing in God isn’t something I think about very much, it’s just something I do.  Second, I thought, this person who lives with me sees me every day; don’t I act like I believe in God?  Third, I’m a preacher.  I get paid to believe in God.  Fourth, given all of the above, I didn’t want to give an automatic or thoughtless answer to what I took to be a very serious question.

So after a moment I said, Yes.”  a one word answer that was better in my mind than a lot of extra words that might offer more explanation but less clarity.

And then she responded with a one word follow-up question: Why?”

A one word answer, was the first thing that came to my mind, Experience,” I said.  So far we’re having a very short conversation! But before she could hit me with another query, I added, I don’t know what I would think or believe, if I didn’t ever experience God.”


And that’s true.  I’ve read the Bible, I’ve read a lot of books, I’ve had a lot of conversations, but I without experiences, some strange, some probably typical, I doubt any of that would matter too much.

I don’t think any words about God would make me care about God in the absence of a relationship, without the give and take of prayer, without random moments of inspiration (which literally means feeling ‘filled with spirit’).  I doubt I would want to spend much time in worship if the experience of worship didn’t so often take me deeper into a feeling of relatedness and connectedness with God and God’s people.

But I have those experiences, not always all the time, but ‘here and there, now and then’, as Frederick Buechner puts it. I get glimpses of who God is for me.  And you have had those experiences too, I think, sometimes realized, sometimes maybe not.

So all that, I suppose, is the Why of my belief in God, but I think a more interesting question is How do we believe in God.  And that gets to the matter of faith.

Belief may be part of faith, but it’s only a small part, and it’s not the most interesting part.  I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, which I do, but it doesn’t change my life very much.

Some of you believe in stranger things than that.  Like the Mets; which ok, got a little easier this past week.  But believing in the Mets may not change your life very much.

Belief involves more than simply assenting to a set of suppositions.  But faith is much more than that, much more than merely belief.  It’s a way of living, in relationship with God and God’s people.

A belief may be something you think.  Faith is something you do.

John Wesley puts it like this, Faith that does no work is an idle, barren, dead faith.  It is no faith at all.”  Faith is what you do.  Faith is how you live.  In trust and confidence in God, not just belief in some Godlike abstraction.  Faith is what you do in love.

Which brings us to today’s story.  Just before this, Jesus has come down from a high hill where he’s gone to pray, and in the level place below, he finds a big crowd waiting for him.  And he teaches them a lot of different things.

In today’s story, Jesus leaves that place and goes to the village of Capernaum, which is as much of a home base as he has.  And he is barely in the village when this centurion sends a group of Jewish elders to contact Jesus.

This is an unusual centurion.  A centurion in Roman military tradition is a commander of a group of 100 soldiers.  And, as symbols of the occupying Roman army, they were not well loved.  But this one was, and you can see it right away.

First, he has a servant, literally a slave, who he cares about a great deal.  Second, he cares about the people he’s living with, to the extent of building them a house of worship, though they worship a God he doesn’t.

You could maybe picture a Christian American marine captain in Afghanistan with enough sensitivity to agonize over the local person who cleans the barracks, or paying to build a mosque for the village the captain is stationed in.  But that might be a very unusual person.

But there are two more unusual things about this Roman centurion. The first is his humility, which combines with his sensitivity and leads him to send people to plead with Jesus to not come to him, saying I am not worthy to have you come to my house.”  Roman centurions had many interesting characteristics, but I can’t imagine that humility was a very common one.

But the amazing thing to Jesus about this centurion is his faith.  His message to Jesus is this, Like you, I am a person under authority, and I have people serving under me.  And I say Go and they go, and I say Come and they come.  And I tell a servant Do this, and it’s done.  Just say the word and my servant will be well.”

And when he hears that, Jesus is amazed.

Not that many things amaze Jesus.  But faith like that amazes Jesus.  To rely utterly.  To trust completely.  And to act accordingly.

This man, who was of some other religion or no religion, has more faith than anyone Jesus has ever met.  Somehow, some way, somewhere, he had learned to rely on God, and that reliance leads him to know he can rely on Jesus.

How it would be to have faith like that!

To rely utterly.  To trust completely.  And to act accordingly.

Our faith is a journey.  It more a verb than a noun.  It is not something we can possess; it is a way we can live.

Faith does not cause religious practice, although religious practice can lead to faith.  It is an openness to the reality of God.  Not believing in some fantasy but being open to something fantastic.  Faith is the willingness to experience the reality of God through our relationship with God and people who love God.  To trust that God completely, utterly, and unceasingly. And to act accordingly.

How it would be to have faith like that.

Pray with me.  Come, spirit come.  Fill our souls with a faithful yearning for you.  Let who you are stir our whole being and lead us to a life of love.  Give us a faith that has nothing to prove.  Bring us the confidence that can say to a mountain, move, and it will move.  Come, spirit, come. Amen.”

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Out of Service? April 28th podcast and text

By K Karpen  Church of St Paul and St Andrew  New York City

Download or listent to the podcast of K’s Sermon 4-28-13

    John 113

“When Judas had left the table and gone out, Jesus said… Little children, I am with you only a little longer.  You will look for me, but where I am going you cannot come. So I am giving you a new commandment, and here it is:  Love each other!  The way I have been loving you, that’s the way you should now love each other.  And by this, everyone will know that you are my followers, if you have love for each other.”  John 13:31-35

Charlene and I were coming home from South Street Seaport the other day, so we caught the #3 express train at Fulton Street and figured we’d make it home in plenty of time before our son Harry got home from school.  Everything was fine until we pulled into Penn Station/34th Street.  We sat there a minute, and then we heard those seven last words of the MTA, This train is going out of service.” Continue reading

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