Responsive Call to Worship
Time goes by.
Like a river it flows by—
through a landscape it is itself creating—
moving toward what it fears and what it’s anticipating.
its own banks and path shifting—rearranging—
its current circling, swirling, stalling,
quickening, running, and falling—
on the surface—through the deep,
only the promise of movement will it faithfully keep.
Through the landscape meandering ever to the sea,
not just life sustaining, but also life enhancing and stirring, don’t you see?
Yet, even carried along, as we wait to arrive,
there’s part of us that’s somehow alive,
planted alongside the river—
outside time by the grace of the Giver—
still, calm, tranquil, serene, unmoving—
proving the quiet is us behooving.
Worship’s part of what gives us eyes to see
past what usually, adequately, seems to be
into the vaster truth that’s there’s more than the river—
the mystery that makes us quake and makes us shiver—
that nonetheless embraces us in spite of it all
with the Love that faces us and makes right in it all,
and claims as far as we yet have to go,
the truth of the end, we already know.
Witness of the Closed Canon, i.
So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the fighting force with him,
all the mighty warriors. The Lord said to Joshua,
‘Do not fear them, for I have handed them over to you;
not one of them shall stand before you.’
So Joshua came upon them suddenly,
having marched up all night from Gilgal.
And the Lord threw them into a panic before Israel,
who inflicted a great slaughter on them at Gibeon,
chased them by the way of the ascent of Beth-horon,
and struck them down as far as Azekah and Makkedah.
As they fled before Israel,
while they were going down the slope of Beth-horon,
the Lord threw down huge stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah,
and they died; there were more who died
because of the hailstones than the Israelites killed with the sword.
On the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the Israelites,
Joshua spoke to the Lord; and he said in the sight of Israel,
‘Sun, stand still at Gibeon,
and Moon, in the valley of Aijalon.’
And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,
until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.
Is this not written in the Book of Jashar?
The sun stopped in mid-heaven,
and did not hurry to set for about a whole day.
There has been no day like it before or since,
when the Lord heeded a human voice; for the Lord fought for Israel.
Then Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal.
Witness of the Living Word, ii.
Tomorrow is the summer solstice—
the word solstice comes from two Latin words.
the noun for sun (sol), and the verb sistere (to stand still).
It’s our earthly bow to the sun—
when we are most inclined to the light we orbit—
when the sun is at its highest position in the sky from the North Pole—
when the sun rises to the north of east
and sets to the north of west—
when it seems to stop in the sky before moving south—
all of which makes for the longest day of the year.
It’s a day set aside from days of old.
The great stones of Stonehenge, thousands of years ago,
were so very carefully aligned
to the sunset of the winter solstice
and the sunrise of the summer solstice.
And if, tomorrow, you were to be standing amidst those ancient pillars,
looking to the northeast through that magnificent frame of stone,
you would be looking at the so-called Heel Stone
over which the summer solstice sun rises.
It’s astronomically important, you see, to note the longest day—
even when—maybe even especially when,
it’s not astronomy we’re talking about.
If there’s something you’re immensely scared of—
or something you’re incredibly excited about,
time elongates—stretches—slows down.
This past week in the county public schools,
led up to the last day of school on Friday.
Which meant there were four days of not doing very much at all—
four long days—even the half day on Thursday—
(Not really. They’re all over now, and it’s summer vacation!)
I remember as a kid—how many of you do?
thinking I’d never get to sleep Christmas Eve—
that this night would never end.
(It always did, eventually.)
When you’re waiting for the rest results—the diagnosis,
And you’re afraid.
And you’re hopeful.
But you’re also afraid to be hopeful.
More frequently and more significantly
than orbits and angles and rotations,
expectation and anticipation and hope and fear
all effect time in a different kind of theory of relativity.
Over the past years, this truth has made
one particular scripture verse much more significant to me—
and much more poignant.
Paul’s words to the Romans:
all creation eagerly awaits
the revealing of the children of God (Romans 8:19).
To consider how long creation’s been waiting,
and yet, that creation is still waiting.
And it’s heartbreaking,
and yet still hopeful—
as time elongates—stretches—slows down,
and hope continues to survive.
Last week, moments stretched—
at a dance club in Orlando,
and for too many, hope died.
Time stretched into forever
for people at Pulse—
for people whose loved ones were there.
Time warped in an horrific hate crime
by someone who may have hated himself
for what he did not understand or could not accept about himself—
whose anger may have been stoked by bad theology—
by angry, violent rhetoric.
We don’t know.
All we know is that time ran out for a better story.
In the aftermath of the horror,
and then through all the additional ugliness
of subsequent blaming and name calling,
you may have found yourself reading a lot about what happened,
and maybe been struck, as I was,
by the descriptions of gay bars and dance clubs
as sanctuaries—as havens—
safe places of refuge—
places in which people can just be who they are—
just as they are.
Remarkably similar to the way I would describe church.
Probably not the way most of the people who were at Pulse would though.
And, if we’re honest, we confess, church, all too often,
is where we sing “Just As I Am,”
silently adding the implicit next line,
but not you just as you are.
Author Jeramey Kraatz tweeted this past week,
“If you can’t wrap your head around a bar or club as a sanctuary,
you’ve probably never been afraid to hold someone’s hand in public.”
A friend of mine, Maria, this past week posted this:
“Yesterday afternoon, as Sally and I were downtown, I said,
‘I need to kiss you in public right now, so I won’t be afraid today.’
Every time we do that, it’s a conscious decision,” she went on.
“Every time, whether we name it or not, the lingering fear surfaces.
If you think for a second that’s just paranoia, you ain’t woke.”
Maybe it makes you uncomfortable—
to see people of the same sex expressing physical affection for each other—
physical love—sexual love—
maybe because it’s unfamiliar to you—
foreign to your experience—to your feelings and inclinations—
maybe because of the way you were raised—
because of what you were taught growing up
by your family—by your peers—by your church—
by the assumptions of our past.
Maybe it’s time—or past time—to question those assumptions.
For the past year and a half, we have fairly intentionally
been questioning those assumptions here—
studying the biblical texts—
raising contextual questions—hermeneutical questions—
and suggesting there’s nothing we can do (or should do)
more important than loving people—
and, as we keep reiterating,
loving them in a way that feels like love to them.
The question that turned things around for me was this:
if God is love, and it’s love I see here,
how is God not—how can God not be a part of it?
And if it’s love, don’t we celebrate it?
Aren’t we called to?
Whether it’s a familiar and comfortable expression of it for us or not?
And then, doesn’t it break your heart
that someone would be afraid to show—to share—their love?—
to make manifest God?
And doesn’t it make you feel—odd,
to think maybe we’re embarrassed by the presence of God?
God created a world
bigger than the one known to me—
familiar and comfortable to me,
and my world can either be expanded
by welcoming different and other and more into it—
by learning and growing,
or it can shrink
to the parameters of my perspective and comfort levels
which may not be capable of grasping the idea—
the possibility—the beauty—the reality
of gay bars and night clubs offering sanctuary.
I think I remember reading that the owner of Pulse
established it after her brother died of AIDs.
That makes her a kind of missionary, right?
In remembrance of love, I want to create sanctuary—
a place for people to feel safe—to feel like they belong
just as they are.
Ruth Coker Pitts was 24 years old in 1984
in Little Rock, Arkansas.
A young mother at the hospital caring for a friend with cancer
she noticed a hospital room door with a red bag over the handle,
a room that even the nurses seemed to avoid.
“Whether because of curiosity or—as she believes today—
some higher power moving her, Burks eventually disregarded
the warnings on the red door and snuck into the room.
In the bed was a skeletal young man, wasted to less than 100 pounds.
He told her he wanted to see his mother before he died.”
“I walked out and [the nurses] said, ‘You didn’t go in that room, did you?’
Burks recalled. “I said, ‘Well, yeah. He wants his mother.’
They laughed. They said, ‘Honey, his mother’s not coming.
He’s been here six weeks. Nobody’s coming. Nobody’s been here,
and nobody’s coming.’ ”
Well she got the home number (this long before HIPPA!)
and called only to hear the woman—the mother say:
“[h]er son was a sinner .… She didn’t know what was wrong with him
and didn’t care. She wouldn’t come, as he was already dead to her
as far as she was concerned. She said she wouldn’t even claim his body
when he died. It was a curse Burks would hear again and again
over the next decade: sure judgment and yawning hellfire,
abandonment on a platter of scripture.”
Oh, that’s a deep hurt,
but not one I can so easily claim for myself,
when it’s inflicted on so many in my name.
“Burks hung up the phone, trying to decide
what she should tell the dying man.
‘I didn’t know what to tell him other than, “Your mom’s not coming.
She won’t even answer the phone,” ’ she said.
There was nothing to tell him but the truth.
“I went back in his room,” she said, “and when I walked in,
he said, ‘Oh, momma. I knew you’d come,’
and then he lifted his hand. And what was I going to do?
What was I going to do? So I took his hand.
I said, ‘I’m here, honey. I’m here.’ ”
“Burks said it was probably the first time he’d been touched
by a person not wearing two pairs of gloves
since he arrived at the hospital. She pulled a chair to his bedside,
and talked to him, and held his hand.
She bathed his face with a cloth, and told him she was there.
‘I stayed with him for 13 hours
while he took his last breath on earth,’ she said.”
Then she buried him. Because no one else came.
“Burks said the financial help given to patients—
from burial expenses to medications to rent for those unable to work—
couldn’t have happened without the support of the gay clubs
around the state, particularly Little Rock’s Discovery.
‘They would twirl up a drag show on Saturday night
and here’d come the money,’ she said.
‘That’s how we’d buy medicine, that’s how we’d pay rent.
If it hadn’t been for the drag queens, I don’t know what we would have done.’”
“While Burks got to see the worst of people, she said,
she was also privileged to see people at their best,
caring for their partners and friends with selflessness,
dignity, and grace…. ‘I watched these men take care
of their companions and watch them die,’ she said.
‘I’ve seen them go in and hold them up in the shower.
They would hold them while I washed them.
They would carry them back to bed. We would dry them off
and put lotion on them. They did that until the very end,
knowing that they were going to be that person before long.
Now, you tell me that’s not love and devotion.’”
Tell me that’s not God.
“‘Someday,’ she said, ‘I’d love to get a monument that says:
This is what happened. In 1984, it started.
They just kept coming and coming.
And they knew they would be remembered,
loved, and taken care of, and that someone would say a kind word
over them when they died.’”
All creation is eagerly awaiting the revealing of the children of God—
the children of love—the children of grace.
For the church (with a capital C)—the church as a whole
has too much been complicit
in looking at love and wonder and instilling fear—
and I’m sorry,
I can’t see that as other than looking at God
Creation is still waiting
We have a wonderful story to tell—
the best I know.
But sometimes it’s not ours to tell—
when the church was not the church,
but the gay bars were,
and Jesus was a drag queen—
or Jesus was a gay man caring and grieving his partner,
awaiting his own death without a partner to care for him—
or Jesus was a woman who touched sick people
everyone else was afraid just to be around—
touched them deeper than anyone can possibly know
by loving them.
Sometimes we need to hear our own story
as one we’ve abandoned,
that is still and now lived
in the most unexpected ways and places.
For when the church does not love—
does not risk love,
it is no longer the church.
And then, by the grace of God
(and this is good news—it is such good news!),
by the grace of God, the truth and grace that ought to be church
sneak into a gay bar or a nightclub,
and Jesus isn’t politely and ritually breaking bread
and pouring wine in a suit,
but sharing grace and love
over peanuts and bar food
in flamboyant clothes
to loud music with a heavy beat
and mixed drinks and what’s on tap
and conversation and blessing and love.
Do this. Do this!
Because Jesus isn’t identified as who we’re comfortable with,
but as who someone dying is comfortable with—
someone who’s hurting—
someone who’s rejected and alone and scared.
And if that makes us uncomfortable,
well, it’s not Jesus who needs to change.
I’ve started reading a mystery series by Craig Johnson.
it’s a series centered around a sheriff in Wyoming named Walt Longmire.
Netflix made a TV show of the series—which I haven’t seen.
at the end of the third novel in the series,
Walt is in the hospital reading to his daughter,
who’s just come out of a coma—
reading from a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales—
from which he read to her as a child.
looking at the worn book, he reflects:
“Like a lot of things in my life, I’d just about worn it out,
but it was worn out with love, and that’s the best kind of worn out there is.
Maybe we’re like all those used cars, broken hand tools,
articles of old clothing, scratched record albums, and dog-eared books.
Maybe there really isn’t any such thing as mortality;
that life simply wears us out with love”
(Craig Johnson, Kindness Goes Unpunished
[New York: Penguin, 2007] 287).
That’s our job—our very straight-forward calling—
our awesome responsibility and our rather queer privilege—
to wear out creation with love.
I fear we—the church with a capital “C”—
we’re too much wearing the world out
when we’re just supposed to wear creation out with love.
And frankly, if it comes right down to it,
I’d rather be wrong about everything else and right about love—
because it’s wrong to think we have more important things to do than love—
wrong to have to justify why what we call love doesn’t feel like it to others—
wrong to try and justify limits on grace and inclusiveness and blessing.
Last Sunday were the Tony awards.
The responsive call to worship, by the way,
was a whimsical tip of the hat to Hamilton’s hip hop rhymes!
I sometimes—how many of y’all imagine accepting an award—
a Tony, an Oscar, a Grammy? depending on what was just on, right?
So Monday, walking the dog,
I gave my acceptance speech which went something like this:
(and I’m holding the Tony here in this hand—
have the leash in the other),
“As you might imagine,
there are a lot of people to thank,
but I think all of them will understand if I don’t,
and rather, take this time and opportunity
to say, as a christian—as a baptist minister,
I am so sorry.
So sorry for the ways christians and baptists
have fallen so far short of the story we claim
that we do not allow it to claim us—
that we have restricted the love and grace offered so freely—
that we have made so many of you feel less than beloved—
less than created in the beautiful image of God—
that we allowed the fear to win—
fear of what’s different—
fear of what’s beyond our experience and comfort—
fear of what is and what is not institutionally viable—
fear of a love so much bigger than we’ve managed to extend.
I’ve often maintained we are less responsible
for unreached people groups—
people who have never heard the story of God,
and more responsible for people who have been turned off God—
turned away from God—
by the church.
I pray the truth of our story sneaks in—
sneaks in to other stories
through other places (for you and for us).
I pray we haven’t ruined it for all the people
who have only known it (or not known it) through the Church.
I pray it sneaks in—
the beauty and grace and wonder of it—
the witness of lives of holiness and godliness
characterized by love—
in which repentance is the only appropriate response to not having loved—
and righteousness is not about who we love
but about how we love.
Now I hope you don’t hear this in any way
as rejection of my own story—
of my identity as a christian and a baptist—
the God story is the best story I know.
I hope you don’t hear it as just a downer—
as heartbreaking condemnation,
for today is also a day full of opportunity
to be reclaimed by the story I claim—
to practice wearing out creation with love—
and so to go out with joy and to be led forth in peace.
There is yet time for our better story.
So thank you for this—
with the deepest of apologies …
and yet still with hope—
and so with joy.”
Witness of the Open Canon, ii.
Stephen Colbert, “Despair is a Victory for Hate”
Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
2 Peter 3:3-13
First of all you must understand this,
that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing
and indulging their own lusts and saying,
‘Where is the promise of his coming?
For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue
as they were from the beginning of creation!’
They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God
heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water
and by means of water, through which the world of that time
was deluged with water and perished.
But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved
for fire, being kept until the day of judgement and destruction of the godless.
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved,
that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years,
and a thousand years are like one day.
The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness,
but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish,
but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief,
and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise,
and the elements will be dissolved with fire,
and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.
Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way,
what sort of people ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness,
waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God,
because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved,
and the elements will melt with fire?
But, in accordance with his promise, we wait
for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.