The Rainbow Revolution Rev. Durrell Watkins, M.A., M.Div., D.Min. Pride Sunday 2011 When I was growing up in church, I never heard much about human intimate relationships except in a shaming way. The logic usually went something like, “Sex is evil, nasty, shameful, and ugly and should be saved for the person you love most.” [...]
The Rainbow Revolution
Rev. Durrell Watkins, M.A., M.Div., D.Min.
Pride Sunday 2011
When I was growing up in church, I never heard much about human intimate relationships except in a shaming way.
The logic usually went something like, “Sex is evil, nasty, shameful, and ugly and should be saved for the person you love most.”
But progress is being made, and once the genie is out of the bottle, there is no putting it back. We are celebrating our wholeness as an act of worship and our lives are better as a result. The Rainbow Revolution is well under way and equality must in the fullness of time be achieved.
The rainbow of course is a natural occurrence. Light refracted and dispersed by water droplets in the atmosphere is all that a Rainbow is. And yet, in sacred literature, it symbolizes something pretty amazing.
In Genesis 9, after a great flood, we see the rainbow as a sign of hope and of connection with our divine source.
The prophet Ezekiel envisioned the glory of God as rainbow in the sky. Many colors, overarching the diversity of creation, an inclusive symbol of light and beauty and hope is how the prophetic imagination of Ezekiel presents the experience of God.
In Revelation, that very imaginative and creative writer saw in his mind the presence of God being surrounded by a rainbow.
And again, that writer imagined an angel of God being wrapped in clouds, with a face like the sun and the angel was surrounded by a rainbow.
The Rainbow image is one we’ve adopted for our community but it’s also one we’ve inherited for our God. The Source and Substance of the universe expresses as light and diversity and hope and beauty and we are made in that God’s image! We are the rainbow people of a Rainbow God!
On the night of June 27 and the early morning of June 28, 1969 in the West Village of New York City, a Rainbow Revolution broke out. I’m amazed at how many people do not know the Stonewall story. It was in this country the LBGT community’s shot heard round the world!
A bar that was not gay owned but that catered to gay people, and the most marginalized of gay people…homeless youth, drag performers, cross dressers, transgendered people, and blue collar gays and lesbians…and this bar was raided by NYC police. Such raids were common, but somehow, this group of people at this bar on this night refused to take the harassment. One legend says that because gay icon Judy Garland had died less than a week earlier, and her huge funeral services had just concluded, that her devotees were just extra raw that night. That can’t be verified, but something happened that night that would change history.
On that fateful night, the police attacked and started to round people up for the paddy wagon, but the unheard of then happened…Queers fought back! They chanted, they screamed, they threw rocks and bottles, they lit garbage on fire, and as police would be dealing with one group of rioters, another group would come up behind them.
The Stonewall troops included trannies and drag queens, and while the police swung their night sticks – wigs, false eyelashes, and Lee press-on nails flew through the air. For our community, it was the rockets’ red glare!
Of course we abhor violence, but how amazing that people dared to stand up for themselves and insist that they had dignity worth fighting for!
Women’s liberation, Civil Rights, Anti-war…so many movements demanding change were happening at the same time. Perhaps the spirit of revolution was just in the air, but in any case, LBGT people were heard and would never again be completely invisible in our society.
Almost a year earlier, another counter-cultural, subversive, world changing event took place. In the Fall of 1968 a Pentecostal minister (of all things) started a church to affirm, celebrate, and empower same-gender loving people. It would of course include allies of the gay community and would soon take up feminist causes and in the following decade would take the lead in caring for people with AIDS, but it all begin with one country preacher from Northern Florida starting a church with 12 people in his living room with a message that God’s love was all-inclusive and unconditional.
Since that courageous beginning of Metropolitan Community Churches, other denominations have made reconciling gestures toward the LBGT community. But I am forever grateful for the courage and the vision of Troy Perry who stood up when almost no one else would and decades before most did to say that same gender loving people are as much as anyone the people of God. Let’s never forget the cutting edge agent of change that MCC has always been and always MUST be. Before Stonewall, there was MCC, and that’s something that MCC can be very proud of.
As far back as the 40s, the Kinsey studies were showing that same-gender love and attraction were normative and simply part of the diversity of human and animal life.
MCC began in 1968
The Stonewall Riots occurred in 1969
The first Gay Pride Parades were held in 1970 to commemorate Stonewall
In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association took homosexuality off its list of disorders.
And yet, all these decades later, there are still people who hide behind religion to say their fear or hatred or ignorance of same-gender loving people is mandated by scripture.
It is not.
That same pathetic argument has been used to justify the subjugation of women, child abuse, slavery, the divine right of kings, and any number of atrocities. Eventually, the leaders of religion are always embarrassed that religion was allowed to be misused so abusively, and religion must repent.
As followers of Jesus, we have a great role model.
When scripture said that men could toss women out in the street as long as they gave them a divorce first, Jesus told men not to divorce women. Not because a bad marriage is sacred at all costs; but in an attempt to protect women from being left destitute. Jesus told men to not divorce their wives; he didn’t tell women not to leave their husbands. He was protecting those whom society would not.
Deuteronomy 20 says that Canaanites are to be completely destroyed, but when a Canaanite woman came to Jesus for help in Matthew 15, Jesus did not follow the letter of the law and destroy her; he did at first try to ignore her, but when she confronted him saying he would treat dogs better than he was treating her, he repented and affirmed her faith and ministered to her and her daughter.
As followers of Jesus, we have a right and an obligation to re-think the oppressive ways that scripture has been interpreted. Jesus valued the human being more than the tradition, the text, or the institution. And so like Jesus, we value people in the name of God rather than give lip service to God at the expense of human dignity.
As Dr. Mel White said in our second reading this morning, there are only about six verses out of the one million verses of scripture that can even be stretched to sound homophobic. And those ancient, brief, isolated condemnations never are about love, mutuality, or respectful unions. Each of those verses condemn rape or temple prostitution, but nowhere in scripture is mutual, loving, respectful unions of any kind condemned.
And anyone who says the bible says that marriage is between one man and one woman has clearly never read the bible. David with his multiple wives and his love affair with Jonathan, Solomon with his 700 wives and 300 concubines, Abraham marrying his half-sister having a child with his concubine, Jacob with his two wives and two concubines apparently didn’t get the memo about one man and one woman! I have neither the nerve nor the energy to emulate biblical family values!
And how ironic that one of the most common phrases heard at heterosexual weddings is, “Whither thou goest I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people will be my people and your God my God”…which is a vow that a woman, Ruth, makes to another woman, Naomi in the first chapter of the Book of Ruth.
Human sexuality is much more diverse in its expression in scripture than it even is in our society, and mutual love is never condemned. It just isn’t!
In our gospel reading today we hear Jesus say, “show kindness to these little ones.” Little ones meant those without status, the so-called “little people” – those who didn’t have the protections of wealth or power or privilege or even citizenship sometimes. The Little Ones were children, and women, and slaves, and the chronically ill, and eunuchs, and the poor…anyone on the margins of society, anyone not part of the dominant, privileged class. Rather than using religion to marginalize people, Jesus wanted spirituality to be used to liberate and empower the marginalized, because in the kin-dom of God, all people have sacred value. Not just the wealthy, not just the powerful, not just the straight…all people.
The spirit of Jesus has been honored lately as Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, the District of Columbia, and NOW New York have made a stand for marriage equality! The little ones have been included…they are little no more in six states and D.C. They are finally equal under the law, as it will one day be in every state…IF we continue to do justice, and love mercy, and live humbly with our God!
Now, that’s a pretty big introduction, for my sermon, which I will now deliver –
Don’t worry, it’s just three little points:
(1)We are more powerful than we realize…we can do amazing things…we can grow the most dynamic and life changing ministry in the Christian world right here at and as the Sunshine Cathedral. We can confront injustice and make a difference, we can heal from the wounds of the past and we can create something new and miraculous…We ARE a special gift, a beautiful part of creation! We have important work to do, and as we stay focused on what matters, we can continue to be a driving force for positive change in society.
(2)Let’s do be grateful for those who have bravely stood with us. There are always those who risk vilification and who even renounce their own privilege for the sake of what is right. Sara McMillian could sing in any church in this town – she has a degree in musical theatre and a beautiful voice, and this heterosexual lover of LBGT people sings with and for us every week! Elena Correia could sing in any church in this town – she has a master’s degree from Juilliard, and this heterosexual wife and mother sings with and for her LBGT friends every Sunday! Teresa Flores with her Master’s degree in music could play drums anywhere, but she plays for us and when she can’t be with us, her husband Felipe plays for us! And Barbara Ramicharitar, a conservatory graduate who has been a professional church organist for decades could play anywhere, but she is another heterosexual hero who chooses to minister to US every single week! Praise God for the allies and may we be as present to others who struggle for equality.
(3)Justice is never for Just Us…Gay marriage, gay ordination, gay rights…those are important issues. Cures for AIDS, for Alzheimer’s, for Cancer, for MS, for all that causes suffering and hardship also must be found. Correcting the damage of institutional racism, challenging sexism in our own communities, protecting the environment, standing up for peace in the world, working for Transgender awareness, caring about victims of abuse, standing up to the anti-intellectual assault that that the Far Right has unleashed on our education system, caring about those who don’t have adequate access to good health care, and being committed to economic justice for all people…there is a lot to do.
We must work for our place at the table, and we must give thanks for those who choose to stand with us, and we must care about more than just ourselves…there are others who must be included as well. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves.” We deserve justice, and we must also remember that justice is never for JUST US.
We are all children of God, made in God’s image, filled with God’s spirit, and we are all part of the creation that God calls very good. Let’s know this and continue to work to make it known. Let’s continue the Rainbow Revolution in the name of our Rainbow God. That is our calling, and this is the Good News. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins
God loves me as I AM.
God’s love is working miracles in my life.
God, through me, is blessing the world.
Great Commission: Our Three-fold Mission Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Trinity Sunday 2011 Before we talk about the scripture passage today, let me say congratulations to the Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida for another successful concert event this weekend, and let me also say to everyone Happy Father’s Day and Happy Juneteenth. Also, if you [...]
Great Commission: Our Three-fold Mission
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Trinity Sunday 2011
Before we talk about the scripture passage today, let me say congratulations to the Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida for another successful concert event this weekend, and let me also say to everyone Happy Father’s Day and Happy Juneteenth. Also, if you are going to Stonewall Pride today, I believe it starts at 4 pm, enjoy yourself but play safely. In addition to Father’s Days and Juneteenth (if you don’t know about Juneteenth you can read about it in the SunBurst), and in addition Pride celebrations that really go on all throughout June, today is also Trinity Sunday.
The idea that the one Ultimate Reality can be expressed in multiple ways isn’t unique to Christianity, and there are ancient traditions such as Hinduism that have triune images for the divine. And even within Christianity, not all Christians embrace Trinitarian theology, and not all Trinitarians explain the trinity in the same way. Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Oneness Pentecostals, Unitarian Christians, Catholics and mainline Protestants all have significantly different understandings of and beliefs about the Trinity. So, in an ecumenical setting like MCC, discussing the topic can be a bit of challenge. Thank God Trinity Sunday comes but once a year!
Christian theologies of the Trinity developed overtime. Remember, the first Christians were Jewish, and there is no Trinity in Jewish Theology. The doctrine of the Trinity wasn’t fully hammered out until two centuries after the latest book of the New Testament was written. Because the doctrine of the Trinity is largely post-biblical and developed over time, it is no surprise that even within Christianity there are multiple understandings of it.
I’m not concerned about the various beliefs, doubts, and questions we may each have about the Trinity, because no understanding, no metaphor, no symbol, no image, no doctrine of God is complete. Our symbols point beyond themselves to deeper realities, and so the Trinity as a symbol for the one, infinite, eternal God is as wonderful as any symbol, but whatever we think the Trinity symbolizes, in the final analysis, God must be even more.
One of my favorite stories of the Trinity is an ancient, post-biblical creation myth that says the Trinity, or three expressions of one infinite Reality, was playful one day. And each aspect of the Trinity embraced the other two aspects of the Trinity and all three modes of being danced and played and frolicked together with such abandon that eventually there was an explosion of joy! And the fall out of that explosion is creation. That suggests that you and I are the product of unfettered, divine joy. Joy is what is most profoundly true of us, even though you can’t tell that from our speech and behavior sometimes. But within us there is the divine stamp of joy, and within us is where it must be found. And when we find and express that inward joy, then we are most like God. Isn’t that Good News?
Our short gospel reading today is one of only a couple times in scripture where Creator, Christ, and holy Spirit are mentioned in the same breath, and even in those extremely rare passages, there is no suggestion of how or if each is related to the other. Trinitarian theologies developed after these scripture texts were written.
So, what do you suppose was Matthew’s purpose in saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them in the name of the Creator, the Christ, and the holy Spirit”?
Let’s look simply at what Matthew really does say, and focus on his intent for this morning. We are each entitled to our various and wonderfully diverse theologies, but I’m guessing Matthew isn’t arguing systematic theology today; Matthew is calling us to practice rather than belief, and to mission rather than ideology.
Go therefore and make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them in the name of the Creator, Christ, and holy Spirit.
The first thing Matthew says is: Go!
That’s a pretty unambiguous action verb. Go out, reach out, do something positive. Matthew imagines Jesus sending us into the world to make a difference in the world. We are not the church to be entertained, though we certainly sing and laugh and enjoy one another’s company; but our purpose is even more than that. We aren’t a club; we are a mission. We are to reach out to be a light to the world…to feed the hungry and comfort the hurting and help people believe in themselves and express their best. The directive isn’t to argue about God, but to do what the first two letters of the word God say…Go. Go out, reach out; make a positive difference.
The second thing Matthew says is: Make disciples of all peoples.
Some translations say “nations” rather than peoples…the word doesn’t mean to tell Buddhist or Hindu countries they need to be Christian. This isn’t about geo-political borders…this is about not excluding any kind of person who wants to claim their spot among us. The Greek word in that passage is “ethnos” which means tribes, or peoples, or groups that share an identity. To make disciples of all peoples is to make room for women and men, people of all nationalities, ethnicities, and races, people whose mutually caring relationships are with persons of the same gender as well as with people of the opposite gender, people whose gender identity doesn’t match the gender society tried to assign to them, people who may not have a lot of money, people who are in interreligious relationships. Make disciples of all peoples means to not exclude any kind of person from the Blessed Community we are trying to build.
And the word disciple is important too…a disciple is a student. We are seekers and students, we say…lifelong learners, disciples. We didn’t learn everything we needed to know in children’s Sunday School. There is always more to learn, and more people to learn from. Go out, reach out and include all kinds of people and learn with them and from them and together commit to a willingness to grow, change, and become more than you’ve been.
The third thing Matthew says is: Baptize them.
For John the Baptizer baptism was a cleansing ritual. Such cleansing rituals were common in antiquity. Baptism symbolized leaving the past in the past and embracing the newness of the moment and the infinite possibilities of the future. In the Christian Church, baptism soon became a ritual of welcoming. One was welcomed into the Blessed community with the ritual of baptism. Still, we welcome babies, and adolescents, and adults into our extended family by blessing them and including with joyous fanfare into the universal church.
We call baptism a sacrament, and a sacrament is an outward sign of inward grace. It is an affirmation of our innate sacred value. We aren’t washing away sins; we are washing away any lie that would prevent us from knowing we are God’s own forever.
Go therefore and make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them…
Reach out and help every kind of person learn that just as they are they are a child of God.
Finally, Matthew ads that puzzling doxology: in the name of the Creator, Christ, and holy Spirit.
In the name of isn’t a set of magic words we use to make God hear us or to make what we want to accomplish come to pass. In the name of means in the nature of, in the way of…what I do in the name of God I do for God, believing it is God in and through and as me doing the work. To baptize in the name of the Creator is to welcome one with the joy a Mother or Father or Grandparent welcomes a newborn to the family. To baptize in the name of the Creator is to welcome enthusiastically and with overflowing joy.
Christ is the perfect Idea, the True Image or True Nature of God’s creation…we see the Christ Nature in Jesus and by following Jesus we discover that same Christ light or principle within ourselves. To baptize in the name of Christ is share with others the good news of Christ in them, the hope of glory.
Holy actually means perfect, complete, or whole. Spirit is the presence, the power, the energy, of God. The holy Spirit represents the Whole Spirit of God, the Power of Wholeness, the divine Presence in and around you and from which you were made. To baptize in the name of the Spirit is to call you into wholeness by affirming your innate goodness.
Go therefore and make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them in the name of the Creator, the Christ, and the holy Spirit means to reach out, include more kinds of people, never stop growing, learning, and evolving, and to joyfully share with others the good news of God’s all-inclusive and unconditional love which is already part of them.
The Great Commission, which is what today’s scripture lesson is often called, isn’t meant to limit or define God, it is meant to outline a Three-fold mission for continuing the work of Jesus in our world. To join the church is to be the church, and to be the church is to serve rather than to be served, to give rather than to receive, to offer rather than to demand, and to become more rather than to ever be satisfied with the way it always was. The Trinitarian mission is to reach more, learn more, and become more! And as we do so, we are sharing the light with the world.
Here the great commission again today, in this new way for our own day: Reach more, learn more, and become more in the name of God, for the cause of Christ, by the power of the holy Spirit! This is a very exciting mission, and that it is ours is the Good News! Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2011
Altar Call AffirmationsIn the name of God,
Through the Christ in me,
By the power of the holy Spirit,
I affirm healing and renewal for my life,
And for every life that mine touches.
Final Word“No names can fully express the omnigendered Trinity of Love, Lover, and Beloved… or Mind, Body, and Spirit. God is madly in love with everybody.” Rev. Kittredge Cherry
A Spirited Movement Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Pentecost Sunday 2011 Luke wrote the book of Acts, and in Luke’s theology, we are the continuation of Jesus’ ministry. We are the return of Christ and the ongoing presence of Christ in the world. We are the continuation of the Christ-story. And that message is as relevant, [...]
A Spirited Movement
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Pentecost Sunday 2011
Luke wrote the book of Acts, and in Luke’s theology, we are the continuation of Jesus’ ministry. We are the return of Christ and the ongoing presence of Christ in the world. We are the continuation of the Christ-story. And that message is as relevant, as progressive, as positive, and as practical today as it was when Luke shared it with his community.
We are always finding ourselves in need of renewal, of becoming new again. The past is gone, and some of our cherished idols have been lost or destroyed; some of our heroes have fallen, and sometimes the difficulties and uncertainties of life weigh so heavily upon us, our hearts cry out for hope or healing or second chances, and Luke tells us that at such times an energy, a power, a spirit of renewal is available to us. We can be made new again, not to relive the past nor to escape the complexities of life, but to face the constant newness of life and to be a part of it and a beneficiary of its many opportunities.
We know from evolution that the species that survives isn’t the fastest or the strongest, but the one that is most adaptive to change. Luke invites his community to be adaptive, to be made new, to evolve and move forward. And he promises that the spirit of Life is with them to make just such a miracle possible.
And that spirit continued to renew and make new, didn’t it? Christianity didn’t remain an exclusively Jewish movement; it reached out into the Gentile world. It adopted and adapted Judaic practices, Greek philosophy, pagan symbols and rituals, and created new texts that came to be called the New Testament.
Primitive Christianity continued to evolve into an institution which split between East and West about 1000 years after the time of Jesus. About half a millennium after that, there was the Protestant Reformation where the Church continued to expand and diversify and allow new expressions and experiences and understandings.
In the late 19th century the New Thought Movement sprung forth in the United States, and in the early 20th century Pentecostalism broke out. And among and alongside and following these various new expressions of the ancient faith, other experiences of newness were born…the Anabaptists, the Quakers, the Mormons, the Transcendentalists, Christian Science, the Wesleyans, Progressive Christianity, Interfaith movements, and more!
And not least among the expressions of the on-going spirit of renewal was Metropolitan Community Churches, born on October 6th, 1968 several months before the Stonewall Riots. Through MCC’s founder, Troy Perry, the spirit of new life made known to the world that same-gender love and attraction are part of the divine diversity of creation, that human bodies are sacred, that sexuality is a gift to be celebrated (even in the context of worship), and that love mutually shared is always holy.
Thank God for the Pentecostal spirit of newness. I now want ask two questions that the Pentecost Narrative brings to mind:
1. What is spirit?
2. What does it mean to speak in new ways?
What is spirit?
Sweet Honey in the Rock, a powerful group of women who use song to lift up causes of justice and spirituality, sings a song called We Are. That song begins,
For each child that’s born a morning star rises and sings to the universe who we are.
We are our grandmothers’ prayers, and we are our grandfathers’ dreamings;
We are the breath of the ancestors, we are the spirit of God.
Spirit is the omnipresent source and substance of our lives, the truth of our existence, the connecting reality of all life.
Spirit isn’t something that made its debut on the day of Pentecost; Spirit is who and what we are.
What does it mean to speak in new ways?
In the narrative, speaking with new tongues, communicating in new ways, is just that…its communicating in a way that allows more people to understand the message, a way that draws more people into the experience of hope and healing, courage and compassion, care and commitment.
And the church continued, and at its best continues still, to offer new ways of communicating Good News.
New songs, new symbols, new technologies, new ideas are all employed to bring in new people and to share with them the empowering and liberating message of Jesus.
Metropolitan Community Churches, MCC, became a new way of communicating divine grace in 1968. MCC affirmed the sacred value of same-gender loving people when no other church would.
MCC went on to ordain women when many other denominations were not doing so yet; and MCC remains one of a very few denominations that have as its top leader a woman.
MCC was a leader in inclusive language, making it the policy of our denomination way back in 1981! It was a new thing for many to hear that God is not a boy’s name and the Y chromosome didn’t make one closer to God.
The Rev. Elder Frieda Smith led the charge to making our language more inclusive, and she was treated abominably for her efforts, but God’s will won out, and the egalitarian language of inclusion became the language of MCC; no more would songs or liturgies privilege ableness or whiteness or maleness. MCC allowed the spirit to empower us to speak in new ways to bring good news to more kinds of people.
And when AIDS struck 30 years ago, and people were dying left and right, and we didn’t even know exactly how you could get it and there were no treatments for it, MCC spoke a new language of hope. MCC dared, had the temerity to say in the worst and scariest moments of the AIDS crisis, “God is bigger than AIDS!”
We kept candles of hope burning on our altars for years.
We visited people in hospitals when no one else would.
We performed funerals for people when no one else would.
We offered healing services when praying for healing seemed naïve, but to not pray seemed to give the virus permission to rage on without resistance, and that was unacceptable. Oh we had a new language, the language of hope, and we spoke that new tongue no matter how ridiculous others thought it might be.
And during that crisis, the language of compassion was also heard, and it was spoken by a specific group of prophets: the women of our denomination. We lost, literally lost a generation of men in MCC during the worst of the AIDS years. And the women of MCC pastored our churches. The women in MCC cared for their dying brothers during those nightmarish days. Women made hospital visits, and women participated in fundraisers, and women held men who were frail and covered in lesions and who had been told they were untouchable, and our sisters held our hands and brought us food and wiped our tears. And too often, we failed to thank them. Too often we repaid their courage and their kindness with ongoing sexism and misogyny. When medicines came out that made our lives much easier, we forgot to say to the women of our churches, “thank you for trying to keep us alive, and for mourning our deaths when we couldn’t fight anymore, and for loving us when so few others would.” I would ask God to forgive us for our insensitivity, but more importantly, I hope the women of our community can forgive their brothers and hear us as we say, “Thank you for loving us when we felt unlovable, and for holding us when we felt untouchable. Thank you for being Christ to us when the larger church refused.”
MCC is a new move of the spirit, a new language of hope and compassion in our world. Homophobia isn’t over; marriage equality isn’t universal. AIDS is still with us, and increasingly it impacts women in our world. Justice and mercy still need a voice in our world, and MCC can be that prophetic voice still. MCC remains a new move of God, and I’m proud that Sunshine Cathedral is part of that move, and part of that new language, and part of the on-going, liberating, healing, ever new presence of Christ in our world.
My commitment to you, my promise to you is that we will continue to speak in NEW ways, and to be something NEW in and for our world, in the name of God and for the cause of Christ, and by the power of the holy Spirit. And this is the Good News. Amen.© Durrell Watkins 2011
I Am spirit-filled.
I Am spirit-led.
I Am a spiritual being on a spiritual mission.
The Spirit is blessing me now;
And the Spirit is blessing others through me.
“This we can all bear witness to, living as we do plagued by unremitting anxiety. It becomes more and more imperative that the life of the spirit be avowed as the only firm basis upon which to establish happiness and peace.” The Dalai Lama
Agents of Change Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin Ascension Sunday 2011 Today, in the Christian church cycle we are observing Ascension Sunday. Ascension Sunday occurs the 40th day of Eastertide (always a Thursday) and is often celebrated the following Sunday. There doesn’t seem to be any documentation of the observance of Ascension before the 5th century. [...]
Agents of Change
Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin
Ascension Sunday 2011
Today, in the Christian church cycle we are observing Ascension Sunday. Ascension Sunday occurs the 40th day of Eastertide (always a Thursday) and is often celebrated the following Sunday.
There doesn’t seem to be any documentation of the observance of Ascension before the 5th century. But St. Augustine believed the observance of Ascension actually originated with the Apostles. The Ascension as a holy day is mentioned by St. John Crystostom and St. Gregory of Nys-sa. So while we can’t know for certain when the observance of the Ascension began it does seem to have been around by the 400s CE and possibly earlier.
The Book of Acts begins with Jesus ascending, then the spirit descending (some have interpreted the Pentecost story as the so-called second coming) and after Pentecost the Church is empowered by the spirit to be more outreaching and growing.
Luke’s formula in Acts is Up/Down/Out. God’s anointed one is lifted up; God’s spirit then comes down; and this leads to God’s people being sent out.
The story of the Ascension comes from a time when the world was thought to be flat. The “up” and “down” symbolism of the story fits with ancient cos·mol·o·gy that was geocentric (presenting the earth as a center) rather than heliocentric (seen from the center of the sun) and that assumed that not only was the earth cosmically central, but it was also flat and “above” it was a celestial/spiritual realm.
In a world that was thought to be flat and situated below a divine city-state, and at a time before gravity was understood, “rising” to a world “above” would not have been as problematic as it might be for contemporary thinkers today.
However, another word for “ascension” used in the New Testament is “exaltation”. The Ascension might be a euphemism for Jesus being exalted in the hearts of his followers and in the shared understanding of the Christian community.
Just as some theologians have equated the Pentecost event with the so-called second coming, some theologians have also equated the Ascension with the Resurrection believing that for at least some people in the primitive Church, Ascension is what was meant by Resurrection. That Jesus lived beyond execution and in fact would live forever in the presence of God and would forever be available to the community through acts of remembrance such as story-telling and the Eucharist was the point of saying Jesus was raised to life. This resurrection was a spiritual ascension (the argument goes) and so for some (such as St. Paul and many of the Gnostics) Resurrection and Ascension may have been synonymous.
When we further deconstruct the Ascension story, we learn that it is not a story about leaving; it is rather a story of empowerment – a releasing of the Divine nature into the world. Thomas Keating claims, “This is the Christ who disappeared in his Ascension beyond the clouds, not into some geographical location, but into the heart of all creation. In particular he has penetrated the very depth of our being, our separate self sense has melted into his divine Person, and now we can act under the direct influence of his Spirit.”
Some artistic images of the Ascension feature the feet of Jesus. The feet are the last things the disciples see. Wendy Wright ponders that feet are the part of the body most connected to the earth and they are also the sign of love and service Jesus leaves for the disciples when he washes their feet at the last supper.
Jesus blesses with his hands and leaves us with the image of his feet. This reminds me of that wonderful prayer from St. Teresa: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes with which Christ looks at the world with compassion. Yours are the feet with which Christ goes about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he blesses us now.”
We do not know with 100% certainty what took place on that mountaintop. However, one thing that I firmly believe is that something changed. The story of Jesus changing represents the fact that his followers somehow changed, becoming more centered, more empowered, more hopeful, more committed. I continue to be more and more convinced that one cannot be in the presence of the Divine, the presence of each other in gatherings such as this and something not change about us and within us for the better.
The true seeker cannot hear the gospel week after week and remained chained to the past or indifferent to injustice or suffering. To follow Jesus is to be changed into people who care about others, who renounce privilege for the sake of community and justice, who give more of themselves, more of their time, their resources, their goodwill to buildup the kin-dom of God. To follow Jesus is to become more like Jesus, and to be like Jesus is to ascend to new heights.
As participants in the liberation movement started by Jesus, centuries ago, something inside of us cannot help but to change when we positively apply the teachings of Jesus to our lives.
When we apply the teachings of Jesus to our own lives, we realize that it is not meant to change anyone else, rather, it is meant to change us for the better, thereby making the world a better place for everyone. The world we see is a reflection of our own inner world, so as we become better, so does our world. It starts with us. Ascension is the power that we find to be raised to new levels of human potential and achievement.
Jesus was a change agent and as commissioned agents of change, we too are called to help lift others up.
As agents of change, we are commissioned to continue to offer hope in a world that is hurting.
As agents of change, we are commissioned to pray for those that would do us harm.
As agents of change, we are commissioned to continue to combat the ISMs of this world.
As agents of change, we are commissioned to continue to break down walls that separate us.
As agents of change, we are commissioned to live our lives out and proud as members of the Body of Christ.
As agents of change, we are commissioned to not let the status quote have the final say.
As agents of change we are meant to be the change we wish to see in the world, and as we answer that calling, we will be changed for the better and so will our world; and this is the good news. Amen.
I follow Jesus and my life is getting better.
Like Jesus, I am an agent of change.
The status quo is not good enough for me.
I am ascending to new heights.
I am ascending to my divine potential.
I am lifted up and I lift up others.
And so it is.
“When Jesus ascended into heaven, he did not leave the earth in the sense that he is no longer here. On the contrary, his ascension brought him closer to us that he could ever have been to his own contemporaries. He left in order that he might be nearer to us all. He was taken away from among us in order that he might come dwell within us.” E.M. Carlson