Sunday, August 25, 2013

History belongs to the intercessors, who believe the future into being.

History Belongs to the Intercessors
Sunday, August 25, 2013 | Susan Russell | All Saints Church, Pasadena


Twenty years ago this month

I went on a transformational journey.


My family packed up and moved – lock, stock and canines –

from the Central Coast to the Inland Empire

for me to embark on a vocational adventure called

“journey to priesthood.”


We leased our home, rented a townhouse,

moved my boys … then 12 and 9 … into new schools

and I prepared to enter the Claremont School of Theology

as a thirtysomething seminarian.

There was, needless to say, a lot riding on me,

on the bishop and on the commission on ministry

having gotten it right on this

“called to ordained ministry” thing.


Oh, I looked good on paper.

My undergrad transcripts were strong,

my recommendations were solid

and the psychologist had signed off on me.

But it had been 17 years since I’d taken my brain out for a walk

and I was hoping I could still cut the academic mustard

after my multi-year soccer mom sojourn.


My first day was a jam packed blur of

Introduction to Old Testament,

History of Christianity

and Major Christian Doctrines.

By the time I got to my third class – the doctrines class –

my head was swimming

with words like “ontological” and “hermeneutic” and “sacerdotal”

but I was hanging in there.


And then – after spending 90 minutes

with my head barely managing

to brush up against the bottom of the words

of the professor’s introductory lecture –

he got to the part where he said

he didn’t need to bother to explain the Aristotelian theory of Causality

because we wouldn’t be in the class

if we hadn’t passed the philosophy pre-requisite.

And I kinda lost it.


I held it together getting to the car to head for home.

But then at the red light at Foothill and Indian Hill I started to cry –

not the subtle, sniffing,

tears-leaking-gracefully down your cheeks kind –

but the gasping for breath, wracking sobs kind

that makes you miss the light turning green

and has impatient drivers honking at you.

What if I couldn’t do it?

What if everyone was wrong?

What if it was all a big, horrible cosmic mistake?


It was, to say the least, not an auspicious start.


And once I got over myself I did fine. I actually did more than fine.


At Claremont between 1993 and 1996

I studied Hebrew Scriptures with Jim Sanders,

New Testament with Marcus Borg,

Feminist Theology with Rosemary Radford Reuther

and Anglican polity with … Gary Hall.

I had the privilege of a truly extraordinary seminary education

in a broadly diverse, ecumenical community

with gifted scholars, prophetic preachers and creative liturgists.

And I read … a lot. And I remembered … some.

And so when I left seminary

I took with me not just a degree to hang on the wall

but I carried with me the internalized voices

of a whole host of what Ed Bacon calls “balcony people”

I’d never actually met —

but whose work and witness informed

both my studies as a seminarian

and my ministry as priest and pastor.


Fredrica Harris Thompsett –

who taught me that

“the reason we back up to learn from our history

is to get a running start on our future.”


Rabbi Abraham Heschel –

who taught me that

we don’t just pray with the words we use from the prayer book …

we pray with the feet we use to march for justice.


And Walter Wink –

who taught me that

“History belongs to the intercessors, who believe the future into being.”


That, my brothers and sisters,

is the business we are about here at All Saints Church –

whether we’re gathering in church on Sunday morning for worship

or gathering on the steps of City Hall on Monday afternoon for a press conference.


When we knit prayer shawls

to comfort those suffering from loss or illness

and when we knit justice coalitions

to confront those causing suffering

for the oppressed and the marginalized.

It is all the same work.

It is all the same high calling.


It is all part and parcel of making God’s love tangible 24/7

as we believe into being a future

where our human race finally becomes

the human family it was created to be;

our nation finally becomes

the nation with liberty and justice for all

it was conceived to be;

and when our churches finally become

the vehicles for God’s love and grace –

for absolutely everybody –

that they are meant to be.


Eleven years ago this month

I went on another transformational journey.

On August 1, 2002 I left a great job

as Associate Rector and Day School Chaplain at St. Peter’s, San Pedro

and moved into the corner cubicle in the “temporary trailer”

here at All Saints Church

to start the work of a new initiative we called “Claiming the Blessing.”


Our stated goal was

“abolishing prejudice and oppression,

and healing the rift between sexuality and spirituality in the Church.”


Our initial commitment

was obtaining approval of a liturgical blessing

of the faithful, monogamous relationship between two adults of any gender.


And when one of our founding members –

a guy named Gene Robinson –

maybe you’ve heard of him –

was elected by the Diocese of New Hampshire to be their 9th bishop,

our agenda expanded to include securing consents to his election.

Remember that in 2003

marriage equality had not yet come to Massachusetts –

much less anywhere else;

“Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” was still in force in the military,

the White House was supporting a “Federal Marriage Amendment”

that would write discrimination into our Constitution …

and “Modern Family” wasn’t even on the drawing board yet.


And that was just in the civic arena.

In the church,

the schismatics were marshaling their forces

to turn the fuller inclusion of LGBT people in the Episcopal Church

into the wedge they’d been looking for to split the church

they’d failed to rent asunder over the ordination of women

when they tried to in the 70’s.


It was quite arguably a hot mess.


And yet, there were intercessors who dared to believe a future into being.

A future set free from the bondage

of homophobia, bigotry and discrimination

as surely as Jesus set free

the woman from the bondage of her illness in this morning’s gospel.

A future of the full inclusion of all the baptized

in all the sacraments in our Church,

of equality for LGBT people in our country

and of the healing of the homophobia that infects our human family.


They learned their history

in order to get a running start on their future –

like Fredrica Harris Thompsett taught them to do.


They prayed with their feet,

up and down the convention center halls

and in and out of legislative committee meetings –

like Abraham Heschel challenged them to do. 


They believed the future into being

as Walter Wink challenged them to do.


And in 2003

against a lot of odds and in face of organized opposition

Gene Robinson became the Bishop of New Hampshire

and the Episcopal Church

took another step toward the blessing of same-sex unions.

And a decade later the journey is not over

and the work is not yet done

but on Friday evening

when I presided at the marriage of Jack and John

who have been together for 37 years

and who flew here from Georgia

with the blessing of their parish priest

to be married in the sight of God

and by the power vested in me by the State of California

I had a glimpse of the kingdom come

as we stood there in the Silverlake garden

on the shoulders of the intercessors

who had believed that moment into being.

And that – my brothers and sisters – is something to

rejoice and be glad in. 


And because there is still much work to be done, I invite you to hear with me these words from our brother Walter Wink from his book “The Powers that Be:”*


History belongs to the intercessors who believe the future into being.

This is not simply a religious statement.

It is also true of capitalists or anarchists.

The future belongs to whoever can envision a new and desirable possibility, which faith then fixes upon as inevitable.

This is the politics of hope.

Hope envisages its future

and then acts as if that future is now irresistible,

thus helping to create the reality for which it longs.

The future is not closed.

Even a small number of people,

firmly committed to the new inevitability

on which they have fixed their imaginations,

can decisively affect the shape the future takes.


These shapers of the future are the intercessors,

who call out of the future the longed-for new present.

In the New Testament,

the name and texture and aura of that future

is God’s domination-free order, the reign of God.


When we pray we are not sending a letter

to a celestial White House,

where it is sorted among piles of others.

We are engaged, rather,

in an act of co-creation,

in which one little sector of the universe

rises up and becomes translucent, incandescent,

a vibratory centre of power that radiates the power of the universe.


History belongs to the intercessors, who believe the future into being.

If this is so, then intercession,

far from being an escape from action,

is a means of focusing for action and of creating action.

By means of our intercessions

we veritably cast fire upon the earth and trumpet the future into being.” [“The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium” by Walter Wink]


Fifty years ago this week,

over two hundred thousand intercessors gathered in Washington DC

to “cast fire upon the earth and trumpet the future into being”

in an act of co-creation

a vibratory centre of the power of love, justice and compassion

engaged to triumph over bigotry, racism and oppression

calling out of the future

a longed for new present

of jobs and freedom for all Americans.


We hear again this morning

the words from Martin Luther King’s historic “I Have A Dream” speech

reminding us that the holy work of believing the future into being

will never be done until there are no strangers left at the gate,

until no member of the human family

is placed outside the embrace of love, justice and compassion,

and every hill shall be exalted and every mountain shall be made low,

the rough places will be made plains

and the crooked places will be made straight

and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed

and all flesh – ALL flesh -- shall see it together.


The moral arc of the universe

is about the transformation of that which "is"

to that which "can and must be."

That includes the redemption of every single life,

transformed with the vision of a more just and equal world;

a vision that Dr. King dreamed of and preached about 50 years ago this week.

The most dangerous mistake we can make

is to be blind to the continued injustice

or assume that the moral arc of the universe moves towards justice on its own and that we are not a part of the bending.**

Dr. King famously declared that, as a people,

we are bound up into a "single garment of destiny.”

That single garment of destiny means

there is no rest for any of us until there is freedom and equality for all of us.


The single garment of destiny means

the struggle for civil rights, the struggle for LGBT equality,

the struggle for reproductive rights, the struggle for immigration reform,

the struggle for economic justice, the struggle to end gun violence …

whatever struggle challenges any member of the human family

challenges the whole human family.


And as intercessors who believe the future into being,

we will not rest until “we shall overcome” has become “we have overcome.”


Together we are all on a transformational journey

to turn “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”

from a prayer we pray

to a reality we live. 


In a moment we will gather at this table

we will receive the bread and wine made holy

to give us strength for the journey

as we go out into the world in desperate need

of the good news of God’s love and justice and compassion.


History belongs to the intercessors,

who believe the future into being.

We are the intercessors

and may God give us grace

to claim that high calling in our generation

as those who have gone before us

have claimed in it in theirs.


Let us pray.


"Holy God, you promised Abraham and Sarah that you would bless them so that their descendants would be a blessing to all humankind.  As Jacob wrestled with you throughout the night, refusing to let you go until you blessed him, grant each of us the courage to claim your blessing as our birthright. And then open our ears so that we can hear what your Holy Spirit is saying as we move forward into your future as vehicles of your love, justice and compassion – blessed in order to be a blessing to your whole human family.  Amen."***
* Walter Wink, "The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennieum
** adapted from Paul Raushenbauch, Huffington Post
*** adapted from Collect for Claiming the Blessing, by John Clinton Bradley




Gene Robinson said...

While you were "Claiming the blessing" for all of us, you WERE a blessing to all of us -- before, during and after! You still inspire me to be my best self every day. And I still intercede for you and for us every day. What a profound honor if is to walk beside you, trust you and call you colleague and friend. +Gene Robinson

val said...

A gift for you....truth.
Our heavenly Father will NOT put any child of his into a hell fire no matter what their sins, whether they repent or not. Sin doesn't scare God! He created it Isa 45:7 to teach us all the knowledge of good and evil Gen 3:22 for our eternal placement in his coming kingdom. Throwing a child of his into a hell fire has never entered the heart or mind of God to ever do such a thing Jer7:31, Jer 19:5. Anyone preaching a hell fire for any child of God has been deceived into teaching lies. The whole world has been believing in a god of hate murder and revenge (The devil Rev 12:9). The true word of God John 1:1 is now delivered Rev 12:5 here

God chose a woman Rev 12 to be the prophet like unto Moses Num 12:3 and Elijah Matt 17:3, Acts 3:21-23, Luke 1:17. Those professing themselves to be Christians would be wise to hear all Acts 3:23 BEFORE making any judgment. The proof of what I tell you is in the hearing.
The true Gospel is now delivered to you from the wilderness Rev 12:6 as a witness Matt 24:14. Prove ALL things 1 Thes 5:21. Satan has deceived the whole world Rev 12:9 until now. Turn your heart to the children of God for a better placement in God's world Rev 21, Ezek 37:26. Now you can know the true God.