Saturday, October 15, 2016

Send Us Anywhere You Would Have Us Go

I meant to post this earlier but the week got away from me. Here's my sermon from Sunday, October 9 ... with thanks to Liz Habecker, Jack Spong, Jan Nunley and Delonte Gholston. I was totally preaching to myself ... and a week later, still am.

October 9, 2016 | All Saints Church, Pasadena

Send us anywhere you would have us go,
only go there with us.
 Place upon us any burden you desire,          
only stand by us to sustain us.
 Break any tie that binds us,
except the tie that binds us to you.

A week ago Friday I sat on my porch and wrote these words:

On what is for me a Sabbath day I am embracing gratitude for health, friends and family; for a new chapter beginning at All Saints; for the gifts of romping dogs and baseball -- especially this weekend the gift of Vin Scully. For music, theater and art that expresses what words alone cannot -- and for the pulse of love, justice and compassion beating at the heart of the universe.

And I am acknowledging this morning the toll that the deep ache of grief and sadness which saturates the very fabric of our beautiful and broken world is taking on my soul. The ugliness and polarization of this election cycle pointing a spotlight on systemic racism, sexism and ignorance that contaminate our nation.

The constantly growing list of hashtags that has become a numbing litany of the heartbreaking reality that black lives do NOT matter as much as white lives in our country. The scourge of gun violence that infects our nation -- taking the lives of children in our streets and police officers in the line of duty. And the very real fear of what impact the marshaling of forces and resources to preserve white privilege and patriarchy will have -- not only on all those on the margins but on what's left of the American Dream.

I can't embrace the gratitude without acknowledging the grief -- and at the same time I can't acquiesce to despair because of the gratitude. And so I sit on this Sabbath day in the both/and vortex ... until the dryer buzzes and it's time to fold laundry.

Shared on my Facebook page,
the comments in response told me I was not alone
in naming both the challenges and opportunities
of living in this moment in our history –
and that I am most certainly not alone
in the struggle to balance grief, gratitude
and a whole boatload of other feelings as well.

One place I go to for wisdom in seeking that balance
is back to the words I began with this morning –
the words of the blessing I inherited
from the priest who mentored me through my ordination process 20 years ago – words she inherited from her bishop Jack Spong 20 years earlier.

Send us anywhere you would have us go,
 only go there with us.

The very definition of being Christians – followers of Jesus – is to be sent.
Indeed, the definition of the word “apostle” in Greek is “one who is sent away.”

So as wonderful as it is to gather here on Sunday morning
in this awesome space with these fabulous people
and these gorgeous flowers with this beautiful music
the point of our being here is not our being here.
The point of our being here is going there.
Of being sent.
Of going out from here as beacons of God’s love, justice and compassion
in order to make a difference in the world.
In order to build the kingdom.
In other words the point of the church is not what happens in the church.
The point of the church is what happens in the world because of the church.

If you’ve spent more than two or three Sundays
in the pews here at All Saints Church none of that will come as news you.
But I remember when it was news to me.

Born at Good Samaritan Hospital and baptized at the Old Cathedral
I never remember not being part of the church.
But I do remember the first time I ever heard that going to church
was not the point of going to church.

It was 1980-something and I was a young mother at Saint Paul’s in Ventura.
There was a Wednesday night soup and study series during Lent –
and I signed up to go … partly because it was Lent
and I wanted to do something to deepen my spiritual life
and partly because there was child care
and I could talk to adults for a couple of hours once a week.

 One Wednesday night we had a visiting priest from South India
and his subject was “building the kingdom of God.”
And he used this example that I’ve never forgotten.

 He asked us to picture a big, tall, beautiful building under construction.
And then he asked to picture the scaffolding that surrounded the building
while it was under construction … supporting it and framing it
as it rose into the sky until it was ready to stand on its own.

He told us to think of the building as the Kingdom of God
we’ve been called to build here on earth as it is in heaven …
the kingdom we pray about every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.
And then he told us to think of the scaffolding surrounding the building
as the church.

 And this is the part where he rocked my world.
“The point of the church is not the church
in the same way the point of the scaffolding is not the scaffolding,” he said.
“The point of the church is to build the kingdom.
And when the church gets it wrong
is when it spends so much time polishing, preserving and fussing
with the scaffolding that it forgets to build the building –
forgets to build the kingdom.”

 It was in that moment in that parish hall on that Wednesday in Lent
I realized for the first time WHY it is we need the church –
and not just as a place to go once a week to talk to adults!
I realized that the church is not an end in itself –
but that it is essential to our work of building the kingdom of God.
And that was a learning that I took with me – eventually into seminary –
and have carried with me through 20 years of ordained ministry.

Through those years I’ve had plenty of opportunities to remember
that when the church becomes an end in itself
rather than a means to build the kingdom
it needs to be reminded of what its purpose is – what its role is
– what its mission is.

The church – meant to be a deliver system for the liberating love of God –
needs to be challenged to take that message out into the world
just as Jeremiah challenged the exiles in Babylon
to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” to which they had been sent.
Just so we are called to take the Good News of God’s love, justice and compassion into the city … into the streets … into our politics.

Yes, our politics. As my brilliant friend Jan Nunley explains:
“Politics is the art and science relating to citizens
making decisions in community about their community.
Politics can be done well or badly, by crooks or honest people,
but in the end, the business of government is not to turn a profit for some,
but to order society, as nearly as possible, for the good of all.”

To order society, as nearly as possible, for the good of all.
Not the good of some.
Not the good of just those who look like us, worship like us, or even vote like us.
The good of all

And that brings me to part two of the prayer and blessing we began with this morning:

Place upon us any burden you desire
 only stand by us to sustain us.

Today is October 9. A month from today – November 9 –
the longest election cycle in the history of voting will be over.
And no matter who gets elected to what by which margin on November 9th
we will wake up with the burden of moving forward together as a nation
which – whether we’re all acting like it or not at the moment –
was conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition
that all people are created equal.

The burden that has been placed upon us
is the burden of having seen what we cannot unsee –
and our response must be to trust
that the God who promises to stand by us to sustain us
will sustain us as we move forward on November 9
to make a way where it looks like there is no way.

For we have seen the ugliness and polarization of this election cycle.
We have seen the systemic racism, sexism and ignorance
that contaminate our nation.
We have seen the political system –
intended to “order society, as nearly as possible, for the good of all”
fail to live up to that high calling
descending instead into bickering, bias and partisan gridlock.
We have seen the constantly growing list of hashtags
that has become a numbing litany of the heartbreaking reality
that black lives do NOT matter as much as white lives in our country.

And we are reminded that the reason we continue to say BlackLivesMatter
is BECAUSE all lives matter --
and until we become a nation where we ACT like all lives matter -- equally --
saying BlackLivesMatter reminds us to be the change we want to see.

The burden that has been placed upon us –
the burden of seeing what we might otherwise have ignored –
is also the opportunity to be that change we want to see
as we are healed of our blindness
as surely as Jesus healed the ten lepers in this morning’s Gospel. 

Healed of our blindness to the polarization, alienation and ignorance
that afflicts our nation we can be liberated
to be sent back out with antidotes of love, justice and compassion –
tools to build that kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

Break any tie that binds us
except the tie that binds us to you

Break any tie that binds us except the tie that binds us
to the God who not only loved us enough to become one of us
but who is the very source of the love that is stronger even than death.

As resurrection people we celebrate the triumph of love over death
not just on Easter Sunday but every day we draw breath in this realm –
every time we choose love over fear –
every time we step up and step out in the name of the Jesus
who is the incarnation of all that is loving, liberating and life-giving.

In the words of an old favorite quote:
“The great Easter truth is not that we will be born again someday
but that we are to be alive here and now by the power of the resurrection.”

The great Good News of God in Christ Jesus is not about salvation someday
but about liberation from the fear of death today – here – now.
And liberated from the fear of death
we are freed to risk stepping up and speaking out
in the service of dismantling all that stands in the way
of our human race becoming the human family it was created to be –
even when it means breaking ties of dogma, doctrine and denomination
that have everything to do with the church-as-scaffolding
and nothing to do with the Kingdom of God.
I want to close with a story of a moment from last week
when I had the privilege of actually seeing that kingdom building in action
here in Pasadena.
It happened last Tuesday at an early morning meeting of Pasadena faith leaders convened in a conference room at Fuller Seminary
in response to the death of JR Thomas –
a conference room that became very holy ground.
It was a glimpse of what can happen when the Spirit sends us and stands with us – of what the church looks like when it is building the kingdom.
Hear the words of Pastor Delonte Gholston:
“The church in Pasadena will not stand on the sidelines in the wake of yet another hashtag. As the church always has, we will comfort those who mourn. As the church always has, we will honor the image of God in the hurting and the marginalized. As the church always has, we will lead our brothers and sisters who are "not there yet" into a place of deeper knowing and understanding toward communities that are hurting. We will hold this family, this community, this city, and this country in the light of Christ.  Even in the midst of chaos, anguish and confusion, we will hold the light of Christ. JR Thomas was a child of God, made in the image of God and we will hold the light of Christ to stand for justice, even as we mourn and grieve that his light was snuffed out, even as he and his family cried out for help. The Spirit of God is hovering over the deep and saying, "let there be light."

Let there be light.
Let there be love.
Let there be liberation.
And then send us anywhere you would have us go.

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