Truth Telling: The Spirit of Pentecost, the moment of Possession, the experience of the Holy Spirit and the embrace of the Divine
“Black Power, in short, is an attitude, an inward affirmation of the essential worth of blackness. It means that the black man will not be poisoned by the stereotypes that others have of him, but will affirm from the depth of his soul : "Get used to me, I am not getting used to anyone." And "if the white man challenges my humanity, I will impose my whole weight as a man on his life and show him that I am not that `sho good eatin' that he persists in imagining” Dr. James Cone, Ancestor
There’s been a lot of vulnerability that has erupted because perhaps there is a paradigm shift. Or maybe perhaps the anger, frustration, suffering and oppression that many of humanity have experienced in our lifetime. Or even, because we realize of the responsibility that our Ancestors have placed upon us and we can no longer afford to shrug it off, expecting someone else to pick it up. We realize that what the Risen Christ said to us about “loving one’s neighbor” means beyond the surface; it means going deeper and actually making an effort to put our bodies physically on the line for those as advocates, allies and co-conspirators.
by Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings
Here we have one of my favorite prayers: the passive aggressive prayer. The pray that is said to God both for God and for the sake of those overhearing the prayer. Fortunately, this prayer is more instructive and constructive than those occasionally spoken aloud during worship and in small groups (you know the kind, the prayers of thanksgiving for the altar guild, and may everyone learn to respect and appreciate their efforts).
There is a certain segment of American Christianity that feels deeply persecuted. If your congregation has some of these folk, this could be a good opportunity to talk a little about what persecution *actually* looks like. Jesus begins chapter 16 informing the disciples that, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.” There is no mincing of words here -- it’s not those who *might* kill you, it is those who *will* kill you. Jesus is telling the disciples that he is going to be lynched and, after he is gone, the same fate is awaiting them. We know what happened to the early Christians (persecution, it should be noted, they enacted on others as soon as they gained power). They were jailed, tortured and killed. They were forced to worship in secret. Perspective is everything.
Knowing that this is what awaits his disciples (and those who come after them), he prays for them, that they might be protected. But the question here is protected from what? He knows they are going to face oppression and death, and he is not asking they may be protected or delivered from that. In fact, this is the path of the Christian -- we are called to walk towards the cross. No, Jesus is not asking that their lives or bodies might be protected. He is asking God that their faith might be protected. When he says, “While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled,” Jesus is praying (both to God and AT the disciples) that they might stay in the fold, that they might be tempted by the evil one.
And how might the evil one tempt them? Perhaps with safety? With the knowledge that, if they stop witnessing the good news, if they stop sharing Jesus’s message that the kingdom is open to all who repent, if they stop retelling the story of the sheep and the goats, speaking the ridiculous nature of the beatitudes, if the do the bidding of the state and just quiet down, they can save their lives (but as we know from scripture, this is not the path to eternal life).
For too long now, Christians have implicitly and explicitly received the message that God desires to keep us safe, that being a Christian is about being safe. That being Christian is about power and dominance and cultural relevance all engineered so that Christians might live free from threat. This couldn’t be further from the truth. These words from Jesus show that God’s concern is that when the world around us is unsafe for those that preach the gospel we stay the course. Jesus prays that those that follow him might have the strength to stick around when the world makes it difficult to preach the word, when our lives are threatened for that very thing. This is an important word both for those who are convinced that the life of a Christian is to be a comfy, safe life at the top of the power pyramid AND those who find themselves threatened because the word they preach is threatening to the world. Keep faith, friends. Keep faith.
by Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings
Why does it seem as though some weeks in the RCL finding something to preach on seems impossible, and other weeks every reading gives us at least one juicy direction for preaching. This week, there’s just so much good stuff. I’ll give you a few possibilities and one way (I think) it can all get tied together, if you are into that sort of thing.
We continue our readings in Acts with the story of the Ethiopian eunuch. If ever there were a time to reach out to your congregations about loving our non-gender conforming siblings in Christ, dear preachers, this is it. Do not back down. Lives depend on it. Literally.
Eunuchs were in a weird position in the ancient world. They were considered highly trustworthy, often serving as guards of important things or officials over important matters. They were also prohibited from being fully a part of the community of the people of Israel, as is stated in Deuteronomy 23 1-2. After a lot of research, I found that this either means eunuchs weren’t allowed to marry Jewish women *or* weren’t allowed to be in the temple itself *or* weren’t allowed to be in leadership. Regardless of the exact kind of prohibition, there were limitations on how eunuchs were to be included in community and they were allowed high trust and also limited in their roles in society. This man would have been considered only partially a man by his contemporaries and, indeed, by many people today. Not considered fully male or female, this man would have lived in a gender and sexual limbo as far as society was concerned.
We are living in a time in which we are re-recognizing that gender is not binary (I say re-recognizing because Judaism had/had 6-8 genders depending on who you ask, and many other cultures throughout history have had space for more than two genders). For many this realization has led to a new found freedom and ability to be oneself. For many others, this reorientation around gender is scary and that fear all too often turns into anger, hate and violence. And for far too many people who find themselves outside of the gender binary, there is a space where this freedom and fear clash that ends up in depression, suicide, rape and murder. 45% of transgender people have attempted suicide. Forty Five percent. Transgender women are four times as likely to be victims of violence than cisgender women. Trans women have a one in twelve chance of being murdered; trans women of color have a 1 in 8 chance of being murdered.
I have trans and gender non binary friends who -- here in liberal Seattle -- are harassed on the daily. Friends who some days don’t feel like going outside at all. More than once I have found a transgender youth on the doorsteps of our ministry looking for help because they had been kicked out of their home.
It seems as though we do not have room for people in our society who do not fit into the gender binary western society at some point decided on as fact (science also disputes this “fact”). At best, we push them to the margins and do whatever we can to keep transgender and gender non conforming people out of the public sphere (like, for example, not letting them pee in public spaces or refusing to use the pronouns they request be used). At worst, their lives are taken through physical and/or emotional violence.
And yet here in Acts we have a story that tells us that God’s kingdom is big enough for those who do not fit into the gender binary. Philip does not tell the eunuch that he must change in order to be baptized. He shares the good news of Jesus Christ, the eunuch claims HIS right to baptism right then and there and Philip is like, “Let’s do this.”
The story of scripture is a story in which God’s love is continually opening to more and more people. Jesus consistently breaks boundaries and invites people into communion with him that were considered other by those around him. The apostles continue this work in their travels and with whom they share the message of Christ. Philip was instructed to do this. He was straight up told by God to go get in the cab with that dude who was a man but had no testicles, tell him about Jesus and get him baptized.
In a time when trans people are both more visible and more at risk than ever, this is an important word to preach. Be brave. You can totally tie this into the call in 1 John to love one another. Throw in a little bit of this: “20Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”
An additional direction that I want to write about briefly is the idea of abiding in God. I have been thinking a lot lately about the difference between abiding and believing, particularly with the way some of us western Christians do belief. For far too many of us (and our parishoners) belief is an intellectual exercise, an assent to the existence of Jesus as God and agreement with (most) of the creeds. So long as we say the yes we’re good, right?
But the author of John, both in his gospel and letters, speaks of abiding in Christ. It is through abiding in Christ that we bear good fruit, according to today’s reading from John. What does it mean to abide in Christ? How does the world look if we see the world through Christ’s eyes, and love the world through Christ’s heart? How would we be different? Might we, perhaps, be able to see people as the beloved children of God they really are? To feel the pain of those we hurt and to love them more deeply? Would our fear and hate and suspicion melt away? How does this help us read the story about the Ethiopian eunuch? How does it help us view the world?
Be brave, preacher friends. There are quite literally lives at stake.
Definitions and more information on LGBTQIA+ issues: http://queergrace.com/encyclopedia/
References on gender in Judaism: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/37225
Statistics on violence, depression and non-binary genders:
by Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings
It turns out it is hard to write for this week because of the variety of the readings and because some people do Palm Sunday, some do Passion Sunday, some combine the two. So here are some thought on this week written as I sit on a break from a border immersion experience in El Paso/Juarez with students from The Sanctuary, the campus ministry I co-lead.
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The beginning of the end... before the beginning.
Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin
March 11, 2018
Let’s name it. Sin is an uncomfortable topic. In church we seem to either be consumed with each other’s sins or we avoid “dwelling” on sin because “we are forgiven”. Rarely to I have conversations with folks willing to engage in naming, confessing, repenting. It’s a shame, because when I have had those conversations with people, it’s amazing how much joy comes from them. It downright liberating. And every time I witness that liberation, I wonder, why don’t we do this more?
“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” - Jeremiah 31:33
Lent is a time in which we face the reality of our own mortal frailty. We begin the season off by reminding one another that we are made of dust, and that one day we will die and our bodies will return back to the ground. In this earthy, gritty reality we are recalling the images we know from the Genesis 1 creation story - God takes a little bit of earth and infuses it with God’s own spirit, breathing humankind into life. Human beings are both earth/body/flesh, and also soul/spirit/breath.
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles...
To answer Paul’s question this week: the debater of this age is a young bisexual Latinx woman who attends Parkland HS.
by Ray Gentry
Mark 8:31-38 & Psalm 22:23-31
This week’s commentary isn’t going to be that long. Part of that reason is because it’s less of a commentary on the text than it is an explanation, and perhaps plea, of what the text evokes in me when I read it. I know a lot of pastors despite not being one myself. It’s partially because I love theology and if you want to talk theology, pastors are a great place to start. It’s also because I’ve been involved in ministry. We were a large enough congregation, when I worked in Brookings, that I was involved in ministries that pastors took on in different settings.
by Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings
What if Noah had chosen not to act?
What if Noah had heard the voice of God speaking to him, telling him to build the ark, to gather the animals, and he chose to do nothing?
After all, building an ark is hard.
People probably thought he was super weird. Crazy, even.
I can’t even imagine how much work was involved in gathering all of the animals, all of the birds, the crawling things. The goats. Have you ever tried to get a goat to do anything? I have. Her name was Elvira and she existed to do whatever I didn’t want her to do.
What was it like for him to convince his family to go along with this whole thing? I mean, he had to have given up his day job to build the ark. He couldn’t have been bringing home any money. How did the family get by?
What if Noah had just assumed God would actually build the ark for him? Or gather all of the animals for him?
What if Noah, once on the boat, having followed God’s instructions, had decided he didn’t need to care for the animals. What if he just prayed to God to care for the animals, and worked under the assumption that God would, in fact, care for the animals? I mean, he asked for God to do it, right? So it would be done. God would take care of it.
What if Jesus had decided to just stay in the desert praying. What if he had just sat there and prayed for the salvation of the world, prayed for God’s kingdom to come, prayed that people would learn how to love one another, prayed that someone would spread his message? What if he sat there and, with his considerable power, he sent his #thoughtsandprayers to God that the people might know him?
What if Peter and Paul had just prayed that God would guide and support the churches in Asia Minor, Ephesus, Rome… What if they wrote letters that said, “Hey, I know y’all are having a hard time, but my #thoughtsandprayers are with you?”
Where would we be?
What would our story look like?
Would we even be here to have a story at all?
Every time there is a larger mass shooting (if I did it for every mass shooting, defined as 4 or more people, I would do this almost every day), every time our politicians start tweeting our their #thoughtsandprayers, I share these words by Dr. King from his sermon, “The answer to a perplexing question” (which you can find in its entirety here). The perplexing question is how we eradicate evil. Read the whole thing. Hell, read it all for your sermon on Sunday.
Note from Disrupt: we have been taken down by the flu and other life events. Please pardon our lack of timeliness -- and don’t get this flu. It’s awful.
CW: graphic depictions of atrocities of war and genocide.
by Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings
Focus: Mark 9:1-9
When I was 23, I was fortunate to be given the gift of a lifetime -- I got to spend 10 weeks traveling and learning in Guatemala after I graduated from college. In fact, I got to spend my 23rd birthday in a hot springs in a cloud forest drinking Gallo beer and eating papas. But I digress.
Before my travels, I was very weirded out by images of Christ on the cross. Growing up a protestant in a largely Catholic town, the images of (white) Jesus hanging on the cross were ubiquitous -- except for in my congregation. To quote George Carlin’s Cardinal from the movie Dogma, “It’s just so… depressing.” I wanted nothing to do with Christ crucified. I wanted Christ resurrected. I didn’t understand the point of focusing on God’s suffering when he was resurrected and, after all, wasn’t that what Christianity was about? Resurrection?
Then I spent two weeks with Witness for Peace in Guatemala learning about the long civil war. I heard horrifying stories of torture, of mass murder, of armies trained (by the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, GA, to be exact) to do things like cut babies out of pregnant women and kill them before they killed the mother, march women and children up a hill to slaughter them while they corralled the men in a church and set it ablaze or shot it up. I went to the reclamation project, which was basically a house filled with boxes and boxes of bones and clothes, victims of genocide buried in mass graves waiting to be identified.
I visited a town of people who had been displaced from their land on the Rio Negro. Those left were survivors of genocide. Because the community refused to give up their land for the building of the Chixoy Dam, the military came in and murdered most of the residents. Those who survived were moved to a small patch of land right across the street the military base housing from the very men who killed their families. In order to force the military to see each and every day what they had done, the survivors built monuments. On these monuments were images of the various ways their families were slaughtered and, in the center of one, the three crosses we know so well from the tale of the crucifixion of Christ. This time, there were children hanging from the crosses and a Guatemala Christ crucified in the middle.
Over and over again I saw these images -- every town that I went to had some kind of crucifix with a Guatemalan Jesus in local traje (the beautiful woven patterns many indigenous Guatemalans wear, each pattern signifying where a person is from) crucified.
It was then I understood.
I understood the importance of the suffering Christ. The importance of the crucifixion. The importance of the knowledge that Jesus suffered, as well as the importance of the knowledge that Jesus stands with the suffering.
As a privileged, wealthy, white kid just out of college, I hadn’t experienced much pain at all much less anything close to what these Guatemalans I was meeting has lived through. I wanted shiny happy Jesus. I didn’t want to experience the discomfort that comes along with contemplating the cross. I didn’t want Friday. I just wanted Sunday.
Those of us who live in relative comfort and privilege have the option of leaning into Sunday. We can dabble in Christ crucified on Good Friday. We can think briefly about what it means to pick up our cross and follow Christ when the lectionary asks us to. But we prefer not to. We prefer to check out when the gospel gets difficult, or to make excuses when the words of Christ call us out and ask us to look inside of our hearts and at our lives and stand convicted.
The disciples are right there with us. Right before we hear the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus fed a lot of people, healed some people (both of these were cool with the disciples, and we are fans of this too), and then he told the disciples that he was going to have to suffer and die and then be raised again. Peter is not having it and pulls Jesus aside to rebuke him (seriously, can you imagine the brass on this guy?) and Jesus is not having it. He calls Peter satan and then goes on to tell the disciples that this journey is going to be very hard and he is going to suffer and they are going to be suffer and they need to get on board with that. At least in the gospel of Mark, Jesus is not in it for the glory. He doesn’t refer to himself as the Son of God, rather the Son of Man. He doesn’t want people to know he does these healings. He wants people to hear his message, to understand that God asks for sacrifice, that following God isn’t easy and will involve radical, uncomfortable change to individuals and to our social structures.
And yet, he knows he’s gotta give them (read: Peter) something. Something glorious to hold on to because, well, we prefer glory to sacrifice. So he tells them some of them are going to see some pretty amazing stuff and then takes a few up the mountain (which is where all of the cool stuff happens). There they are given sparkly Jesus along with Moses and Elijah and their response is to try to stay there. Stay with the glory. Stay on the mountain top. Stay away from the problems of the world. Stay away from the work of following Jesus. Bask in the glory.
But no. That is not the job of a follower of Christ. They descend the mountain, not allowed to tell anyone what they had seen until Christ is risen.
Jesus gave a precious few a glance into who Jesus really was/is. He allowed them to see him in all of this shiny, Twilight-themed glory alongside two of the major players in the Hebrew tests AND to hear God’s voice declare Jesus God’s son. I think he knew they needed a little something to keep them going, a little dash of proof. I also think he wanted God to tell them what’s up.
Listen to him.
Listen to him.
Listen to him.
As we enter into Lent, it does us well to both remember that most of us, need to push our people to come off of the mountain. Most of us need to drag our people down and into the muck of life, to remind them that we are called to give up what we have and follow Jesus and that’s not a metaphor. Most of us need to remind our people that the path to Christ goes through death. Most of us need to find ways to talk to our people about God’s presence with those on the margins and our call to be in community with those on the margins (ideally decentering our narratives, needs and very lives so that those on the margins have space in the center).
Some of us are in spaces where people are tired and are losing hope, and we need to balance the call to come down off of the mountain with reminders that the mountain is there, that there is a reason to hope. We might need to give our people a little shiny Jesus amidst the calls to repentance and reminders of death.
And some of us minister to/with/in communities that know the cross all too well. That know that Christ crucified is Christ in solidarity with their suffering and pain. And your communities are why we do this work.
As we enter into Lent, it is our difficult job as pastors/preachers/ministers to call our people into a time of repentance and self reflection that challenges them in ways that they can grow without being broken. And just before we begin, we are given a glimpse of glory as we are called to listen to Jesus and get off the mountain.
You’ve got this.
Let’s get our Lent on.