Uplifted by Rev Dr Robert Griffin – 10:30am

On May 13, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Ascension Sunday/Mother’s Day May 13, 2018 Uplifted Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin It’s Ascension Sunday, when we remember the story of Jesus bidding farewell to his friends. Farewells can seem so final. Farewells can be difficult. Farewells can also be the beginning to something new and exciting. – When I left home to join the Navy, […]

Ascension Sunday/Mother’s Day
May 13, 2018
Uplifted
Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin

It’s Ascension Sunday, when we remember the story of Jesus bidding farewell to his friends.

Farewells can seem so final. Farewells can be difficult. Farewells can also be the beginning to something new and exciting.
- When I left home to join the Navy, it was a bitter sweet farewell, but that farewell led to new adventures.

- When I was reassigned to various military bases, it was hard saying farewell to friends. Those farewells led to meeting more and more people.

- When I left the Baptist church of my youth that was a farewell that wasn’t easy, but it led to a much broader religious experience and wonderful new ministry opportunities.

- When I left the church I had founded in Maryland to return to graduate school and further my education, it was very hard to say goodbye. From Sunday services to performing weddings, baptisms, funerals and eating more fried chicken and other food with grease than one could image, that farewell led to a life in academic circles that I could not have imagined in my younger life.

- Theological education helped me say farewell to a lot of old assumptions. It was a little uncomfortable to learn new ways of being faithful, to question some things that I thought I could take for granted, and to encounter people whose faith was as nourishing as my own though radically different in its presentation. To enjoy such diversity meant saying farewell to some previously held beliefs.

- And now here I am at Sunshine Cathedral…12 years and going strong with no plans to leave any time soon – and yet, because Sunshine Cathedral is a living, vibrant community, it isn’t static. We are constantly exposed to new ideas, new kinds of people, new challenges, new opportunities…Even when staying in one place, we are still encouraged to say farewell to some of what we’ve known so that we can embrace the possibilities that still exist.

In 1762, John Fawcett, an English Baptist minister, who after spending his entire ministerial career at a church near Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire was preparing to leave. Now when Rev John wrote and preached his sermons, most them were followed by a hymn. It is said that on his last Sunday, that when he preached his final sermon and was preparing to leave for London, bags packed, and wagon loaded. Following that last sermon, he started to sing his final farewell song, “Best Be the Tie That Binds”.

We sang this often in my childhood Baptist church:
Blest be the tie the binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.

It was such an emotional song and farewell that Rev John changed his mind and stayed — we can say that this was something like the day that we are observing today. Jesus says farewell, but also stays in and as the work of the church.

Ascension causes me to think not only of Rev. John’s song, but also of a movie about three women who changed NASA, and maybe the world.

The movie, Hidden Figures, is about three women who lifted up a lot of people by standing up for dignity and justice. The movie is based on the lives of Katherine Coleman, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson.

The story is set in the Jim Crow south (Virginia, early ‘60s) at a key NASA research center and shows the discriminatory practices that were common at that time.

As you may recall from the movie, each of the 3 black women encounters a “particular conflict, a particular focus in the struggle for equality.”

First there is Mary – Mary’s challenge is that she is must petition the Virginia court to allow her to attend night classes at a segregated school. She needs courses that are only taught at the segregated school and she has to fight for access to that education.

Mary’s husband, who is a civil-rights activist, is not a fan of her pursuit of more education. He would rather her be the dutiful wife, home taking care of the kids and cooking. Her husband says to her, “You can’t apply for freedom…It’s got to be demanded, taken.”

Yet in the end, using her own style, she is heard, she prevails; she is lifted. In her own way, she basically said, even if you make it hard for me, I WILL find a way.

Next there is Dorothy – Dorothys’ challenge is trying to get a formal promotion to the level of a supervisor’s position. This also takes place against the backdrop of Jim Crow where there are no black supervisors much less a black woman supervisor.

Later in the movie , Dorothy learns that her entire department of human women computers, as they are called, are to be replaced by an IBM mainframe. Dorothy, with her sons, take a city bus (where they sit in the back) to a library in search of a book on the IBM mainframe.

Dorothy finds the book and soon afterwards she and her sons are escorted out of the library (because it wasn’t a “colored” library). Dorothy says to her children, “separate and equal aren’t the same thing,” and adds, “If you act right, you are right.”

In the end, Dorothy is promoted, she prevails and endures, and she is lifted. In her own way, she basically said, you can knock me down but you can’t keep me down.

Lastly there is Katherine – Katherine too must take her stand for her dignity and for opportunities. Katherine’s moment comes when in front of the entire, all white male staff, she has to break down and explain for them why she is often not at her desk. It is because she has to walk across the entire campus just to use the bathroom since there were no ”colored” bathrooms (as they were called) in the building where she was working; moreover, she takes the opportunity to reinstruct them about the use of segregated coffee pots.

Because she stood up and spoke out, the Director takes it upon himself to remove the colored signs.

Katherine takes a stand for dignity, for inclusion, for justice, and she prevails and endures, and she is lifted. In her own way, she basically said, ”you can treat me badly, but I will not thank you for it nor will I remain silent about it.”

These courageous, brilliant women stood up for themselves and for women everywhere, and for people of color everywhere, and for people everywhere who have been kept down.

It’s never enough to just stand up for ourselves, or for our community, for people like us…we have to care about all who are denied equal protection and equal opportunity.

Yet the sad reality is that we are still having to address some of these same issues today.

Racism is still with us. In some ways, it is uglier, deadlier, and more obvious than any time since the gains of the civil rights movement.

Bathrooms are still used as weapons against people’s dignity as states try to deny simple access to transgender people.

Some states and churches still want to refuse to hire or do business with certain classes and communities of people.

Education and healthcare are still made difficult for far too many people to receive.

Hatred and bigotry are in fashion again, and it’s literally killing people and destroying families and poisoning the souls of a nation.

I am a 50 year old, educated, professional man, but because I am a Black man I must live in constant fear that someone will one day call the police on me because my existence makes them uncomfortable.

Coffee shops, Waffle Houses, college dorms, city parks, family backyards…we live in a time when we dare not assume any place is safe to be Black.

I have long felt that the Civil Rights Movements, the LGBTQ Movement, Black Lives Matter Movement, and even what is being launched today, the Poor People’s Campaign all have something in common. These movements have all been about lifting people up.

Justice Movements are our way of speaking up for those who are not able to speak for themselves.
Justice Movements are our way of calling attention to unfair situations.
Justice Movements are our way of saying to those in power, something has got to change for the betterment of all.

Remember, Christianity started out as a movement, and when it’s working as Jesus modeled, the Christian faith is still a movement – a movement to lift people up.

Ascension isn’t just a story, it’s our calling…to always be rising to higher levels, and to help lift up others as well.

Today is Mother’s Day, and while it is a sentimental day for some and a painful day for others, I am reminded that it’s founding was to honor a Mrs. Jarvis who cared for the wounded of both sides of the civil war. She resisted militarism by offering equal care to all victims of military conflict. She tried to lift up those who had been wounded. Isn’t that what the Church should still be doing?

I believe that we are living in a time where we must focus our attention on lifting each other up rather than tearing each other down.

I believe that we are living in a time where we must focus our attention on those who are being oppressed and lift them up.

Silence breads contempt. To lift people up we will have to speak up. There is too much happening right now for us to remain silent.

We watch Hidden Figures,
we hear stories of Jim Crow era lynchings,
we see photos of businesses with signs saying No Jews, No Japs, No Colored and we think, “what a terrible time.”
But guess what my friends, that day is not just in the past. It’s trying to make a come back and with terrifying success so far.

This is a time to lift people up and if we want to lift people up we must speak up.

The Ascension inspires us to answer the gospel call to do the work of empowering the powerless.

The Ascension tells us that we cannot yield one second of our time to any injustice.

Let us lift up the Good News/Gospel that we are all the children of God who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and we cannot yield ourselves to anyone or anything for less than that.

May we do the work of justice until all who need to be are uplifted.

Amen.

God’s grace lifts me up.
And I am compelled to lift up others.
May I see all people as the children of God.
Amen.

 

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