Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The fifth Sunday in Easter: a bag of white asparagus

Chris is there as I arrive, like a watchman. When I go inside, Rachelle is there. Her hat would have been very appropriate at yesterday’s Kentucky Derby. She’s got an ovestuffed shopping cart with her. I look at Chris with a wordless question. She just wanted to keep it here for awhile. It’s all going out right now, he says.

She looks at me, I have recieved so many donations. There is one man with cancer I am helping....People are so kind... Her cart looks like the SUV carts the homeless people around here have and I am beginning to believe that the donations and charitable works stories are ways of maintaining dignity.
There’s enough people here so I  begin the service  right at 11. No Amy. No Andre. An old favorite, Praise ye the lord the almighty the king of creation...Today’s psalm of praise is the end of 22. I talk about the fact that the beginning is My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me? the words of Jesus on the cross. Which ends with may your hearts live forever and ....a people yet unborn...and then next is the beautiful 23rd, ...the Lord is my shepeherd...., we had last week. 
So as always, lots going on. Last night was Cinco de mayo. Not such a big day in Mexico, but like St. Patrick’s Day, a national day of pride for Mexicans in the US. And it was Pete Seeger’s birthday. Talk about hearts that live forever... And Friday was the 42nd Anniversary of Kent State. That’s an important date. When my dream of peace and love can change eveything met reality. My young occupier friends need to know about this. It’s about what happens when the guns come out. I remember playing at a rally in the little Ohio town where I went to school. Looking up at the roofs and seeing national guardsmen with guns and knowing they were there for me. And my friend who came back that night. He’d dropped out of our private school and gone back home to go to Kent State. He looked across the line and saw classmates, friends with guns. The National guardsmen, just scared kids like himself. He wanted to write it as a Shakespearean tragedy. You have to know about that. 
The Acts passage inspired one on my favorite sermons, that is, one of mine. I usually don’t give them names, but this one i called  Waking Up At Azotus. That always sounded  like one of those Jersey towns, like somewhere between Paramus and Bogota..
It’s a classic story of inclusion..Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. The guy, even though he was a highly placed servant, had three strikes agianst him. First, he was black, then he was a gentile. And then he was a eunuch. But he was interested in the God of Israel.  (There is a long tradition of Ethiopian Judaism and Christianity. The Ark of the covneant is rumored to be there. Goes back to Solomon and Sheba..) Philip knows the eunuch was ineligible, unclean, etc....
But the Holy Spirit put Philip there.And when the Ethopian heard all that Philip had to say and saw water, he asked, what is to prevent me from being baptized?  And Philip has his More Light moment...learns, grows, does something he would neer have expected...and he baptizes the man.
Then, he’s snatched up by the holy spirit and wakes up somehow  in Azotus...that’s what happens when you go to  some new and unexpected place....
I thought maybe I wouldn’t have to go there. That the lgbt inclusion analogy was so overdone, that we were past all that. But last week the Methodists voted again to friend Pastor K said that because of all the iternational delegates it was not likely to change soon. We have to accept the fact that there is sometimes a  conflict between global sensitivity, multiculturalism and inclusion and progressive Chrisitanity...
Are there other eunuchs today being excluded? And the congregation speaks up...the homeless, undocumented workers, the mentally ill, people who struggle with chemical dependency...we’re still trying to wake up in Azotus. 
The epistle, 1 John,  is also about inclusion:  everyone who loves is born of God and knows God...Once when I was a young associate pastor in Tulsa, I asked an older colleague about interfaith marriage. About marrying a Jewish woman. And his answer was this passage. She loves, he said, she knows God...And my heart told me this is true....
God is love and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them...
There’s not a whole lot more to say about’s the bottom line. 
But I have to talk about this...Perfect love casts out fear.....but the opposite is equally true. Fear can cast out even pefect love.  Fear is behind most of the hurts we cause one another. I read recently about how someone in Queens tried to start a Yugoslav restaurant and bar. But all the old memories came back, of how neghbors turned away from each other. teachers turned on students. Others looked the other way. Like people turned away from their Jewish neighbors during World War II. When the flashing of partisan hand signals and salutes began to be commonplace, it was time to close the bar.
Fear keeps us from giving and recieving the love we deserve, the love we need. One of my daily prayers is God grant me love strong enough to conquer my fears and big enough to share...
There is a final word today:  Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters...
That’s it.
When the time comes for Eucharist, I have Arcadia read the gospel in Spanish, the one where Jesus talks about vines and branches, and I say that anyone who loves is welcome to this table.  And one by one they come.
As I look around our closing circle, the woman from Sydney, Australia is back and has brought a friend. There’s a young man from Alabama. I wonder what he thought of my sermon. It later turns out he had come to Don’s Disenchanted...  and when I tell him Don’s a congregant, he lights up and says his partner works with Don. And my sermon made him feel welcome. As did Anna and Puppy.
Happy Birthday Jamie
Chris and Runi
Around the table
Teddy, Nirka, Marsha
We gather in the Session room. We sing Happy Birthday to Jamie M.  This is our last chance to sit with our friends from the coop. Talk about what this experience has been like. Arcadia has brought cake. Little Chris stays for cake but leaves beforehe has to speak. This is very hard on him. Runi doesn’t say much, but I remember our Occupyopoly conversation. For Jason, this has been his church home. Raised in the south, he tithes. Henry found a home. Chris found a way to believe in other people again, and to believe in himself. He’d come for a day and couldn’t leave. And called for Runi to join him. Steve remembers hearing me speak to the  OWS spokes council that night with passion and compassion, anger and love and decided he had to be here, to try and make it work. The hardest work he’d ever done. And most rewarding. And frustratng.But in the end, worth it. And Teddy talks about finding his way back to church again, feeling welcomed and part of the community, those great times when everybody worked together.
For the West-Park folks, Arcadia talks about how warm it made her feel to find people makimg meals here, welcoming each other back at end of every day. A feeling of home. That people had made this their home. And Marsha says plainly and clearly, we couldn’t have made it without you.  And for me, they taught me to look at my own prejudices. And they helped me. Some were like children. And some true friends. Part of who we are. Part of us. 

I tell them that we bless them on their travels and wherever they will go. And that they will always be welcome here.
The Session meets to review the strategies that emerged from Wednesday and Thursday nights. Our backs are gainst the wall. But there is hope. 
On the table we find a mysterious  bag filled with boxes of white asparagus. No one know knows where it came from.

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