The Pastor’s Pen: December 30, 2018

The rock band, Chicago, recorded the song, “One Little Candle” that ends with, “…and if everyone lit just one little candle, what a bright world this would be.” Advent, the season leading up to Christmas, when we commemorate the coming of Christ, has ended. It is now the season of Christmas. The Light we had expectantly waited, is now here. “Joy to the world, the Lord has come, let earth receive her King!” Even though Christmas acknowledges that the baby born in a manger is the light of the world, the shadows all around are as unyielding as ever. With the Federal government in a political stalemate over the funding of a southern border wall, 800,000 people won’t receive regularly scheduled paychecks, which will cause many to struggle to make ends meet. This shadow of darkness now hangs over two-thirds of furloughed employees who do not support the project. In the face of commemorating and celebrating the Advent season and the coming Light, darkness yet remains during the Christmas season in 2018. 

In the economic realm of our society, fluctuations in the stock market continue to wreak havoc on 401Ks and retirement incomes, yet many wonder why the most powerful nation in the history of the world has such difficulty in honoring the hard work of ordinary citizens who believed the government would never fail them. Closely related is this nation’s problem with health care. How is it possible that a nation chooses to spend billions of dollars on defense (54% of the Federal budget) but cannot guarantee affordable health care (6%) for its citizens?  The percent difference between the two is alarming! Add to these challenges: the illegal trafficking of drugs, the skyrocketing costs of so-called legal drugs, the lack of safety on our streets, and the racial and ethnic divides that are more acute than almost any time in our history. In spite of the birth of our Lord, the shades and shadows of evil are more prevalent and impenetrable than ever.

I make the case that darkness remains as impenetrable as ever because we, as the church of the living God, have not done our part. The instruction from our Savior is to let our lights shine. All too often, shining our light is just a talking point and not something that many take seriously. Yet, if we shine light on small areas of darkness, we can dramatically have impact and illuminate large ones. We can shine our light by bringing Jesus’ life-giving messages to all the corners, cracks and crevices of our lives. Shining the light in the educational arena would mean promoting fair wages for classroom instructors, aides and administrators, and providing updated textbooks so that committed teachers could do a better job. We can shine our light on voluntary services. Rather than throwing up our hands and yielding to the belief that things will never get better between police and Black and Brown people, we can establish relationships with our police and see law enforcement personnel and citizens as two sides of the same coin.  We can bring light to our world by simply smiling and being friendly with everyone we meet. The other day I encountered a salesperson who was not only helpful but exceptionally friendly. As a salesperson, I can only assume that her compensation was barely more than minimum wage. I surmised that she wasn’t pleasant because she was paid to be pleasant, but because she has something inside her that genuinely bubbles over revealing her marvelous light. The result for me was her light made my day brighter. “…If everyone lit just one little candle, what a bright world this would be.”


The Pastor’s Pen: December 23, 2018

This, the 4th Sunday of Advent, is the last Sunday before Christmas. Each Sunday we have lit a candle in the Advent wreath to symbolize the light that the birth of the Savior has brought to a dark world.

This year, the political realities have turned the world into a frightening place as the shadows of lies, deceit, and misinformation have lengthened. At the time of this writing, a government shutdown continued to loom. In the last few days, the President announced a precipitous withdrawal from our military intervention in Syria, a move that clearly has delighted Vladimir Putin. The Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis has resigned over the Syria decision, the acting Attorney General Whittaker, and the nominated Attorney General Barr, have both said publicly that the Mueller investigation is unfounded and should not continue, and the beat goes on.

When Jesus was born, political upheaval in Palestine ran like rivulets of blood on the defenseless nation of Israel. Since 587 BC, this tiny country in the midst of big international powers had been run over by the political instincts of power and domination. Because we are people of the Bible, we often have a sense of Israel being a much larger actor in Palestinian domination than it was. Then, just as now, the driving motif for the conquests of that region were economic. To control that myopic strip of land, at 270 miles long, no longer than the distance from Washington to New York conquerors had as their objective control over the rich trade routes from India to Europe. Although they owned much desired land, Israel was never a military or economic power. Its power was spiritual not physical. From the time of its foundation as God’s holy nation, its calling was to bring light to a dark and deeply sinful world. Yet, as they yielded to the influence of their political neighbors, they moved further and further from what God had called them to be, a light to the world.

When they refused to be what God called them to be, God moved to plan “B” and sent His Son as had been predicted by Isaiah in Isaiah 49:6, “To be a light to the Gentiles”.  But Jesus coming, we now know, had a much larger purpose: to be the light of the world. In Luke 2:35, an elder named Simeon had been waiting in the Temple for the time when the Messiah would come. When Mary and Joseph took the baby Jesus to the Temple 40 days after His birth for dedication, Simeon saw the baby, took him in his arms and said this, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

As during the first Century, the 21st Century has witnessed a deep moral and spiritual darkness. The joy of Christmas is, in spite of all this, Jesus is the light of the world.

The Pastor’s Pen: December 16, 2018

The Senior Choir’s outstanding rendering of Handel’s Messiah last Sunday was an example of the excellence it has exhibited in presenting this oratorio over the years. For 80 uninterrupted years, the Senior Choir, through Handel’s Messiah, has led the Washington metropolitan area in preparing for Christmas. For sure, the singing of the Messiah is the beginning of Christmas here at Shiloh.  Again, we salute our Senior Choir for their hard work and dedication to excellence in their presentation of God’s message through this sacred masterpiece. To God be the glory!

We also commend our Gospel Choir and Wallace Charles Smith Ensemble for their spirit-filled rendering of excerpts from Quincy Jones’ Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration at our 10:55 worship service on Messiah Sunday. The worship service was overflowing with joy and celebration, that helped to create a memorable Messiah Sunday. May God continue to bless and keep our beloved and outstanding singing units of Shiloh.

This Sunday, we observe the fourth Sunday of Advent. As we have said for the last several weeks, Advent is the season of light that guides us through the darkness of a fallen world. God, through the birth of His Son, Jesus Christ, provided us with the Holy Light of Advent. That Light is desperately needed in these dark political and moral times we presently experience. Our federal government has abdicated all semblance of integrity and decency. The sentencing of Michael Cohen, the president’s former lawyer and counsel, is an indication of the philosophical bankruptcy that we as a nation are now witnessing. Cohen pled guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison for violating campaign finance laws, and in a statement before the court, he said, “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office,” meaning Trump, “for the principal purpose of influencing the election for president in 2016.” Cohen also pled guilty to lying to the Senate about knowledge he had about the construction of the Trump Tower in Moscow, and for lying to Congress about a proposed real-estate deal in Russia by the Trump organization. The Book of Hebrews is replete with Scriptures that encourage moral men and women to speak out and not be silent when political powers are unapologetic in their moral repugnance.

Elijah was in a tough position politically when he took on the sins of King Ahab and his Queen Jezebel. However, Elijah never shied from “speaking truth to power.” He risked his life to call the nation of Israel to a clear understanding of the evils of the king and queen in ignoring God’s Word and capitulating to the worship of Baal, a total affront to God’s leadership of the people of Israel. After all, it was not Baal who emancipated Israel from Egyptian bondage, it was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; that same God who watched over the people of Israel as they navigated the fierce challenges of the wilderness and encountered, fought and beat the formidable armies of the Canaanite people when they crossed the Jordan River. God was, has been, and will always be the only sovereign we as God’s people can rely on and depend upon.

A bipartisan group of 44 former Senators published the following statement in the Washington Post last week: “As former members of the U.S. Senate, Democrats and Republicans, it is our shared view that we are entering a dangerous period, and we feel an obligation to speak up about serious challenges to the rule of law, the Constitution, our governing institutions and our national security.” Our responsibility as the church of the living God is clear; we cannot and must not remain silent. In this dreadful season of darkness, the churchs message must ring out and proclaim that political and all forms of darkness can be overcome by embracing the light of Jesus Christ and fearlessly facing threats and recriminations that the darkness will attempt to bring upon us.

The Pastor’s Pen: December 9, 2018

On this the second Sunday of Advent, let me take this opportunity to thank our Senior Choir for sharing Christmas cheer at Union Station last Saturday, and its appearance on ABC7 Tuesday Morning Show, in a prelude to the Messiah. Our Senior Choir continues to make us proud of their dedication to excellence in presenting the Gospel in song.

I especially want to acknowledge and thank the leadership and members of the Senior Choir for their tireless preparation and dedication to rendering George Frideric Handel’s timeless oratorio, Messiah year-after-year.  Accordingly, the Senior Choir has presented this great work for 80 uninterrupted years — the only church choir (African American or otherwise) in the DMV that can make this claim. At the end of the performance each year, I look forward to proclaiming as pastor that “Christmas has begun at Shiloh with the singing of Messiah.”  

In addition to the choristers, directors, musicians, interpreters, ushers, communications and stagehands work in concert to ensure a presentation of incomparable beauty and quality.  Thank you, Senior Choir!  May God bless you for your commitment to this great legacy, and for all you’ve done today in anticipation for this afternoon’s 80threndering of Messiah.  To God be the glory!

On a special note, we know that as the end of the calendar year approaches, people consider making donations to their favorite causes. Here at Shiloh, we have been so blessed to be able to do great work for our various ministries and for our neighborhood, city, and global communities. There have been some bumps and challenges along the way, but we have been able to weather all of them with the Grace of God and with your generosity and faithfulness. We want to thank each and every one of you for your sacrificial giving throughout the year; every contribution – big or small – means the world to us. As you may be considering where to give your final financial gifts of 2018, please consider Shiloh. God has been SO good to all of us; to God be ALL of the glory for the things He has done!

The Pastor’s Pen: December 2, 2018

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. I want to thank Paula Dorasti for providing the beautiful Advent wreath that contains the candles that we will light each Sunday leading up to Christmas. As Christians around the world will focus on presents and gifts, Advent reminds us of the expectation and hope that lead us to the birth of our Savior, Advent is the season when we, with candles and light, remind ourselves that Jesus is the light of the world.

Following is a description of how Advent observances are conducted around the world

Advent is the season during which Christians of various denominations spiritually prepare to celebrate Christmas. For the majority of Christians, Advent takes place yearly from the fourth Sunday before Christmas through December 24. Advent may start as early as November 27 or as late as December 3.

The term “Advent” derives from the Latin “adventus,” meaning “coming.” It is meant to be a time of fasting, prayer and quiet reflection on the incarnation of Christ.

The historical origin of the celebration of Advent remains unclear. The first mention of a need to spiritually prepare for Christmas was written in 380 during a synod at Saragossa.

Advent is observed by Catholics of Western Rites, as well as the Moravian, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Methodist churches. A similar liturgical season known as Nativity Fast is celebrated by Eastern Orthodox Christians, Oriental Orthodox Christians and Catholics who attend Eastern Rite masses.

Many popularly held Advent traditions exist. Many Catholic households maintain an Advent wreath, a circular candle holder with four slots. A purple candle is lit on each Sunday of Advent, except the third, when a rose-colored candle is lit instead. Another popular tradition, originating with German Lutherans, is the Advent calendar. Advent calendars are small boxes with 24 separate openings, one for each day of December until Christmas. Each door contains a short prayer or Bible verse to help families reflect and prepare for Christmas. Advent calendars may also hide a small treats for children, such as toys or pieces of chocolate.