A Tribute – The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy

The following eloquent remarks were made by the Rev. Francis X. Pirazzini, pastor of Bethany United Church of Christ, at the community memorial service for the late President John F. Kennedy, at First Evangelical United Brethren Church on Monday. [November 25, 1963] Printed in the Ephrata Review, Thursday Nov. 28, 1963 [Ephrata, PA]

We have gathered in this hour of national tragedy to mourn the death of the 35th president of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

A grieving nation pays tribute to a fallen president.

We still find it hard to believe that this young, courageous and dedicated man is dead.

We still find it hard to accept the fact that such violence as we have witnessed in Dallas, Texas, this weekend past, can occur in America.

The circumstances surrounding the president’s death leave us stunned.

But we are strengthened and sustained by the saving knowledge that though lost to loved ones and the the nation he served so devotedly – as soldier, legislator and chief executive – he is not lost to God the Father and that kingdom which knows no end.

We can be deeply thankful for  this faith, thankful not alone as we remember the late president, but also as we remember all those who have lived and died in the Lord.

Again we find strength and sustenance in the fact that people of nations around the world share in the grief of the people of the United States of America.

The expressions of sympathy come from everywhere upon the earth with a sincerity that brings tears to the eyes.

The cold war has never experienced such an invasion of warmth.

The death of the president has pierced the walls and curtains between America and other nations to the extent that we are momentarily experiencing a oneness with other peoples that can only be described as heavenly.

In Thailand flags fly at half mast.

In West Berlin thousands lined up to affix their signatures to a sympathetic statement.

In the Far East Buddhist leaders call people to prayer in the temples of that faith.

And so throughout the length and breadth of this planet the human family mourns with a oneness rarely experienced.

Let us pray to God that this oneness abides in great measure long after the remains of John F. Kennedy have been laid to rest.

We must also pray that his death makes a contribution toward the efforts for peace and harmony within our own nation.

God forbid that his blood has been spilled in vain.  God forbid that his death and the heartache surrounding it make no contribution toward the removal of the sicknesses and strife in our nation – sicknesses and strife rooted in racism, and in radicalism from the extreme right and the extreme left.

He battled against these three demons and, in a real sense, he died in the fight against them.

This is a time for Americans to recognize that underlying their differences there is a common belief in the equality of all men under God, in the right of freedom for all men under God, and in the democratic process of government.

The world is now witnessing at first hand demonstration of the oneness of the American people in these beliefs as members of both major parties in Congress, representing all parts of this land, profess their desire to support the new president in this critical hour, and refuse to give consideration to partisan concerns.

The world is also witnessing the faith in God which this nation professes.

From President Johnson on down, leader after leader has stated that in such an hour we must pray to God – God who is sovereign, God who is almighty, God who holds in his hands the destinies of men and nations.

Though for many of us this faith has not been clear, and this God more of a subjective than an objective reality, the death of the president has recalled us to the God who came in Jesus Christ some 1900 years ago.

It is significant that President Johnson dated his proclamation for a National Day of Mourning with the words, “in the year of our Lord 1963.”

We may respect the right of non-believers in this nation, respect them to the place where we are willing to remove from certain public institutions the necessity of their acknowledging a faith they do not share, but we do not forget our responsibility to preserve that faith in every way that we can, or this nations shall not endure.

The violence in Dallas this past weekend is indicative of the real sickness and the spiritual poverty which vitiate this nation’s life.

If our profession to be a people “under God” is to become a reality in greater measure, it is not ethical codes that we need but restoration to God through Jesus Christ.

President Kennedy, had he lived, was to close his address on Friday evening with the scriptural truth:  “unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.  Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”

It can be noted, then, that John F. Kennedy was a Christian of the Roman Catholic order.

Gone from the Church militant, he is not severed from the Church triumphant.

Man and nations pass away, but the kingdom of God stands forever.

“Neither death nor life. . . shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

By this faith we live.

By this faith we die.

By this faith we inherit eternity.

May God bless us all.

The Sikh American Community

August 9, 2012

Dear Friends, Colleagues, Neighbors, and Community Leaders

We are humbled by the outpouring of national support for the congregation in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and the Sikh American community. Your support reminds us that we are all part of a common American fabric.

On Sunday, August 12, we ask that your congregation and community join us in a National Moment of Reflection as we honor the memory of the victims.

At the end of every Sikh service, the congregation makes a request of the Divine in a prayer called ardas. This last request is for “sarbat da bhalla”, “May everyone in the world be blessed and may good come to all”. We hope that this National Moment of Reflection at churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, gurdwaras, and community centers across America will send the message of blessings for all, and that we stand united against hate and intolerance and as part of a common humanity.

While the official time of the shootings was at 10:20am CST, we encourage you to choose a time for reflection that will have the most meaning in your community, such as a moment of silence or a prayer during a worship service.

Please share this message with your friends, family, and other communities and congregations. And let us know that your congregation will be participating by leaving your organization’s name and location at www.saldef.org/oakcreek or send an email to info@saldef.org. Individuals can also sign up to participate on Facebook.

Thank you,
The Sikh American Community

Lenten Reflection 4.7.12

Psalm 118 begins:

O give thanks to God, for God is good;
God’s steadfast love endures forever!

Psalm 118 ends:

O give thanks to God, for God is good;
God’s steadfast love endures forever!

On this last day of Lent, referred to as Holy Saturday in some traditions, remembered as the day that Jesus was in the tomb, this psalm reminds us of all that we need to know. At the beginning, at the end, a good and loving God. Whatever our life circumstances, God is good, and God’s love is eternal. Whatever mess we have made of things, God is good and God’s love is eternal. Whatever happens in the world, God is good and God’s love is eternal. Whether we live or die, God is good and God’s love is eternal. Whatever the great mystery beyond death, God is good and God’s love is eternal. This is the grounding of people of faith throughout the centuries, and it was certainly the bedrock of the life of Jesus.

It’s really all we have to remember: God is good, and God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Sometimes we get so caught up in our own drama. We let our lives get self centered instead of God centered. With God at the center, at the beginning and at the end, we have all the assurance we need to face the joys and sorrows of the journey. God is good, and God’s love is eternal. This awareness sustained Jesus through his life and his death. May it sustain us as well. Amen.

Lenten Reflection 4.6.12

This week I read about an 80 year old woman who safely landed a twin-engine Cessna plane when her 81 year old husband had a heart attack and died at the controls. WOW!!! Their son was on the radio giving her direction and she had taken some flying lessons about 30 years ago. Even so, how amazing is that? Just the challenge of a safe landing is a lot to manage, let alone under those circumstances. It is such an unlikely outcome for the situation.

In Psalm 118 the writer tells us:

The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.

This verse refers to an unexpected outcome as well. For Christians, this verse is a way of seeing the ministry of Jesus. We see him as one who was rejected by the leaders and authorities and many others of his day. He was not only cast aside, but put to death in a cruel, humiliating manner. On Good Friday, the day we remember the crucifixion of Jesus, he certainly was rejected. Those responsible for Jesus’ death thought they had put an end to him and his subversive teachings. But there was an unexpected outcome.

The fact that millions of people around the world will commemorate the crucifixion today shows how wrong they were. In fact, Jesus’ death added to his power and drew attention to his claims. By killing him, those who rejected him, added fire and passion to his movement. They inadvertently fanned the flames of the community he had established. They drew attention to his message. As church forebear Tertullian observed in 197 C.E., “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” The stone that the leaders of the day thought they were rejecting became the cornerstone of a tremendous movement which has significantly impacted human history.

This should not surprise us because this is the heart of Jesus’ ministry. He surrounded himself with people that no one thought would amount to much. Yet look what they did. He reached out to those who were considered of little or no value by society, and they became faithful witnesses continuing Jesus’ ministry of healing, comforting, feeding, and forgiving. They were bold in their service and in their invitation to others to find new life in this unlikely fledgling movement.

Many of those who were part of the origins of Christianity were what could be considered “rejects.” And yet they built the church which we have inherited today. And this is still how Christianity works. People who are considered nobodies becoming somebodies through self-giving service to others. That is the heart of the Christian message. Self giving service ennobles the one serving and the one served. It is the one way that each and every person can have access to full humanity and dignity and integrity. Feeling low? Beaten down? Useless? A failure? Do something for someone. Help someone. Volunteer in an organization that is working for good in the community. That is the essence of the Christian movement. That is how the stone that those in power reject becomes the cornerstone of something good, true, purposeful, and lasting.

This day our hearts are heavy as we remember the crucifixion of Jesus. Yet even from that devastating tragedy, good came forth. We are heirs of that legacy. May we continue to work for good in the world whatever our circumstances or however dire the situation, for there is always good that can emerge even where least expected. May we help to build a world where everyone is valued and needed and no one is cast aside. This is the way of Jesus. Amen.

Lenten Reflection 4.5.12

Today is designated as Maundy Thursday in the church. The word Maundy comes from the Latin mandatum which means mandate or command. This refers to the commandment Jesus gives to the disciples the night before he is crucified in the Gospel of John: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” [John 15:12]

Yet when we reflect on the stories of the last days of Jesus’ life, his friends and followers do not exactly fulfill this commandment. There is the story of Peter betraying Jesus three times. There is the story of the disciples falling asleep when Jesus asks them to pray. There is the story of Judas betraying Jesus with a kiss for 30 pieces of silver. The tradition tells us that all but the women fled and deserted Jesus at the end. So much for love one another as I have loved you.

In Psalm 118, we are told again and again of God’s faithfulness. The writer cries out in distress. Guess what? God delivers. Surrounded by enemies, God comes through. “God is on my side to help me,” we are told. “I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but God helped me.” “The right hand of God does valiantly; the right hand of God is exalted.” In every situation imaginable, God comes through. God delivers. That message resounds again and again in the Psalms and throughout scripture.

We may be fickle. Our faith may be weak. We may betray. We may loose heart. We may give up. God? Never. God is always faithful. God cannot be anything but steadfast or God would not be God. On this day as we remember the stories of the desertion and betrayal of Jesus, may we remember that God is always faithful. God cannot betray or desert.

Sometimes in life we may feel God’s distance or absence, but God is there. God cannot betray or desert us. God is always faithful. Steadfast. We may waiver. We may bend on what matters most. We may betray ourselves, God, and others. But God remains faithful which means God is always forgiving. God is always waiting to welcome us back, even when we have been unfaithful. May we trust God’s mercy to redeem us. Amen.