Monday, January 16, 2012

All things are lawful but not all things are beneficial

The day starts off well enough. It’s cold, but bright and sunny. Rafael greets me at the door. It was a calm and peaceful night. People seemd to buy into the rules and agreements. Teddy greets me too. He had to take a few days off.   Inside, things look good. Like no one was there.
As I’m beginning to prepare fo rthe service, I look across and realize the cover for the baptismal font is missing. This concerns  me. 
As the service begins, once again, we are joined by occupiers.  Amy is not here. Andre is not here. I will have to handle music by myself.  We begin by singing Morning has broken. Not easy. Well, I don’t sing like Cat Stevens, and neither do you, I say. And there is laughter. 
For the sermon, I’ve decided to wade into Paul’s tough 1 Corinthians passage, (6: 12-20), but begin with a brief look at 1 Samuel 3: 1-10. The part about  a day when “the word of the Lord was rare” and ”visions not widespread”. I aslk if that sound slike today. An don eo fthe occupiers agrees.  I say it remindd me of the last days of the Bush administration. Then came the Obama campaign with its promises, how it raised hope again. People all around me who had never had a pokitial thought got eexcited, engaged, involved. But then it all vanished in the wind. Until people all over the world began ot rise up. And so today we come to the weekend that celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. ...a with a dream, one with a vision...
There are lots of “Here I am’s” in Samuel. Someitmes you don’t get it at first. Sometimes you have to keep listening unitl you get where the voice is oming from. And then are you ready to answer? So hopefully something we hear today will make “our ears tingle...”
! Corintians 6 is  usually a passage I would run from. There are wors here I would rather not touch with a ten foot pole. But maybe that’s why I had to go there. It really came alive for me last Wednesday in my clergy study group....check this out...
Paul says,"All things are lawful for me," but not all things are beneficial.  All right then..."All things are lawful for me," but I will not be dominated by anything. Say that with me...
As we go forward,  this  is where I started to get troubled....
 The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, "The two shall be one flesh." 17 But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.
This is what I want to say. This is not about sex...What it’s about is integrity...what do you unite yourself with? What do you become one with?
And then... Shun fornication! 
I’d love to go all Southern Baptist on that ...but just as we were ready to move on last Wednesdy in our study group,  I asked, what exactly  does that mean? (not that I was looking for loopholes). The greek word is porneian.  What does that sound like? Right, porn. But in the Greek, it has the sense of to sell... or to practice act the we’re getting somewhere...It’s about not selling yourself that? not selling each other out...not consuming each other...It’s about destroying the fabric of community..The question is who... and what...are we choosing to be in solidarity with?
Sometimes Paul is all over the place, an argument here, assertion there. But this is one of his best developed arguments...and here he brings it home...
 20 For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.
And now I am going to use very traditional Christian  language. if Jesus has bought you with his blood, with his sacrifice, how in God’s name can you sell yoursef for anything less? How can you sell each other? It’s about seeing the other person for who they truly are and being who you truly are....and calling out the best from the other. 
But don’t forget the personal, never, ever, ever sell yourself  short....
As we pass the offering plate, we sing, I’m gonna  live so God can use me..then we gather in our circle and sing We shall overcome and nosotros venceremos...
And then we begin the search for the basin and the cover for the baptismal font. In the font itself is water that had been in the basin. Someone has deliberately done this.  I feel a sense of shock. Luis finds the basin in the session room.  In a corner. I see the look of pain in his eyes. The last two children baptised  from that basin were his grandchildren.  And before that five generations of his family. I let teh occupiers know that I want that cover back now. 
Go for a swim and find myself moving for shock to anger. 
I go back at 8 to open up for the group, but I get a message that they are all at the MLK candlelight vigil at Riverside Church.  That will give me time to orient Caherine, a chaplain volunteer from Union where she is a student in the MAR proram. I’m excited to find that she spent a year as a volunteer at Stony Point and had just worked in an Arts and Resistance program seminar there. And was a protest chaplain at Zucotti Park .She’ll be with us for the night. People are arriving already. I let Jeff and Jason and Ravi know that the crowd is already ariving. They are not anxious to leave Riverside. 
I have to spend a half hour with Noel, the 55 year old rastaman,  with him trying to persuade me as to why he should be  able to smoke marijuana, ganja, wherever he wants. The whole herb, nature, slave master, Babylon, Bob Marley, natural, do I eat meat? What animals do which ones don’t, all the boys in prison for no reason,  bad vs. good, all that rap. 
I tell him it’s not about right or wrong, good and bad. Hell, under the right circumstances, I might even join him, but not here, not now, not in this neighborhodd. It’s logitical, tactical, and simply the way it is. Already I am tired. 
When Jeff and Ravi arrive, they are putting Rafael’s security system into action. But I am angry. So when the group gathers at 10:30 PM, I ask Jeff to let me speak. This is what I said:
We have been glad to welcome you here. You are in a place that is sacred. Sacred because you are here but even more for the generations who have come here to worship. And those who came before you and from these balconies organized the march against nuclear proliferation that drew a million people to New York City. We welcome you here as part of our tradition, as part of who we are.

We invited you here to be part of our
community of communiteess, not just to sleep here, but to collaborate, to work side by side with. But something is not right.When my laptop got stolen, I said OK, I’m an urban pastor, I get it. You can replace the hardware. (But not the information.) I took that and we ordered locks. 
But what happened now is diferent. Today I found pieces of our baptismal font missing. We found the basin in a corner of the room next door.  On the floor. Let me tell you about the man who found it. The last two children baptised in that basin were his grandchildren. Five generations of his family were baptised in that font. They were the first Puerto Ricans, neoricans, at this church. He’s a union man. When he was your age, he was a squatter. Half of his family have lost their jobs. That basin isn’t about religion, it’s about family, story, heritage. Do you get it? He’s 99%. This whole church is 99%. The only person in this church who is a true professional showed up at Zucotti at 6 am to volunteer to be part of a human chain to protect you the first time you were goig to be evicted. The look of pain on his face was like a knife in my heart. 
Check this out, even in  tbe ’80’s, at the peak of the crack epidemic, when knife wielding crackheads came in here to rob and steal, even they did not disrpect our story, our history, the way that has happened this week. Not in 100 years. You have to think about that. To mess with something like our font is to mess with our lives, to put it bluntly, to piss on the 99%. I cannot allow that. I am resonsible to my people and all who came before. 
You say you want a better world, that it’s possible. That does not include using, abusing, taking advantage  of. I cannot allow you to do that to my people, to do that to me. To disrespect yourselves. I do not believe in collective guilt, collective punishment,but I do believe in collective accountability, responsibilty. So here’s where we are: by tomorrow night after spokes, I need a coherent response from your  community. I want that cover back. Or how you’re going to deal with it. Or it’s all over. That’ s it. That simple.
And then I go home.

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