Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A gift. Passing on the mantle. The religious Stonewall


On the way to church, I  get a text from Stephen. He and Cara will be late to church. So I will be on my own to set up. Depressing.

But when I arrive, I find Sergeant Keith and los Rodriguez and the lost boy all still there. There seems to have been some kind of rapprochement between Keith and the others. So we talk. 

I learn my lost boy’s name is Rob. He wants help to get it together. They all join in to help me get it together for this morning. Keith and Joe help roll the heavy baptismal font to the center of the sanctuary. Rob sweeps the steps and takes out the garbage. Soon we’ll be ready for worship. 

I learn that Keith believes either Dick Cheyney or Texas governor Rick Perry should be President. Well, all right, then. I understand where’s he’s coming from. He talks to me bout the appropriate display of the American flag in the sanctuary. 

Sheryl Jaffe
My congregants are beginning to arrive. And soon Sheryl arrives as well. She has come down from Massachusetts with a very special gift. A new cover for our baptismal font that went missing during the peek of the #OWS days. OWS promised it’s replacement. Sheryl, an #OWS mom, made it happen. Almost a year and a half later. 
on the wheel

We begin with Desmond Tutu’s Goodness is stronger than evil, kindness is stronger than honor of Nelson Mandela.

After we read the story  of  the Elijah being carried away, we sing Swing  Low, Sweet Chariot. 
And today we do our Psalm 77 People’s mic style as we recall #OWS.

ready for glazing
As my sermon begins, I note that there’s lots to talk about today:
*We are ordaining and installing officers
* It's LGBT pride Sunday
  • And we are receiving a gift that brings an end to a story

To help us reflect on these things, what do our scriptures tell us?

First we have Elijah (2 Kings 2: 1-2, 6-14) passing on the mantle ( that's where that expression comes from) And he's carried away by chariots....without really being dead. Which is why in the Jewish tradition, he always  still seems to be around. Or just around the corner. There’s always an empty chair for him. At a bris. (Circumcision celebration.) Or at Passover. And he seems to appear at moments and bring small miracles. 

When we ordain and  install new people, we are passing on the mantle. Just like when Elijah passed it on to Elisha who  struck the Jordan and parted the waters. Perhaps the best biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., was Parting the Waters, not referring to the parting of the Red Sea by Moses,
Moses parting the water by Angelo Romano
but to this parting of the Jordan by means of Elijah’s mantle. King picking u the mantle of Moses, the mantle of Elijah and parting the waters.  And now  the mantle is being passed on. To us. 

Today we join our  hearts with the people of South Africa...and all around the world... as they pray for Nelson Mandela. We celebrate his life and witness among us.  A beacon of a tireless fight for justice and peace and relentless in the pursuit of reconciliation.

In Luke (9: 51-62), we find Jesus setting his  face to Jerusalem. Being clear and single minded as to where he was going and why. He asks those near him to follow me, and many respond, I will follow you without really understanding what that means. We need to know exactly what that means before making promises. 

His comments about the birds of the air and foxes gives  us an image  of a homeless savior. One whose  home is the journey itself. 

The key here is a single minded focus. There can be no distractions. When one asked to follow asks to first bury his father,sounds reasonable but Jesus responds that the dead should bury the dead. On reflection, it’s not really clear just how long the father would comes down to let me wait until...I get my new job, I get my degree, my children are raised .There is no waiting until...if you want to follow, you must follow now. What’s dead must be left for dead...what was is not what will be. ideas, theologies, forms, all....let the dead bury the dead. 
No, it  must be now.
We just can’t say we 'll wait until our deal is done...we need to do it now.

As we ordain and install new leaders today, we are passing  on the mantle. And to symbolize that, we will use these More Light stoles. They were originally symbols of resistance. Originally stoles were only for ordained clergy. But during the years when ordination was denied to LGBTQ elders and deacons as well, people from the More Light movement from across the country knitted stoles for use at General Assemblies (Presbyterian legislative meetings) to symbolize those whose ministries were denied. Finally, in July 2011, 33 years later, the ban was lifted. Now these stoles symbolize welcome, acceptance, the power of the ordination of elders and deacons. The power of the people. To those who are being ordained today, this mantle is passed to you....

                                              Whoopi Goldberg sings I Will Follow Him

As we pass our collection plates, I play I will follow him from Sister Act. (And does anyone remember Little Peggy March?)

And then I invite Sheryl to come forward to explain her offering, her gift. Her son Dan was one of the  first Occupiers to come  to West-Park. His time here was not always easy. in fact, sometimes deeply troubled. But Dan’s inherent goodness was always evident, even at the most difficult  moments.And he persevered. And we all rejoiced when he went home, set his face to his own Jerusalem and wound up a chef again. We celebrate the fact that he is now a chef in Colorado. 

Stephen, Sheryl and Bob
Sheryl shows the cover it took months to create. The size itself was a challenge. Then a crack appeared and she had to reglaze and seal it. But I thought, she said, that’s what you do,  fix the cracks in the world, the cracked lives...Sheryl has brought an end to a story. Her new creation joined to the florid late Victoriana of the original Tiffany font. She even echoed its water lily/lotus theme, a symbol that transcends Christianity for rebirth. In the inside of her cover, the words for peace from many languages are transcribed. And in tiny letters, right under Shalom, OWS 2012 is inscribed. The time that OWS lived here will always be remembered. Sadly this part of the story will not spread through Murdochland and beyond  the way the disappearance did.

Stephen responds that it was the church’s response to that incident that drew him close. The compassion. Clear speaking, but compassion. The vision of a permanent reminder of #OWS presence. How that led to a journey to his ordination today. And of Marsha thanking OWS the morning amends were made. Money for the missing computer paid back. You took responsibility, even though you didn’t have to, she said.  The people who wrecked the economy never did. You paid us back. The banks never did. We thank you...  
And so as we receive the cover, we give thanks, sing our doxology. Remember as Breuggeman said, resistance begins in doxology.
OWS 2012

Soon it is the moment to ordain and install our new officers. I explain how in our tradition, all ordinations are equal. As Stephen and Don are ordained to be ruling elders, so I serve as a teaching elder. And John is ordained to a ministry of compassion, justice and service. More Light stoles are placed on the shoulders of each. Passing on the mantle. 

Following the ancient tradition, all the way back to Elijah and the  company of prophets, all in the congregation who are ordained lay their hands on our new ordinands. And the the mantle is passed on. 

Ordained deacons and elders
After in singing Siyahamba, a song of South African resistance that became an important song for the More Light Movement, 
We are marching in the light of God, we are marching in the light of God..we go to the chapel.

There we gather to refine the language of the our resolution to sell our manse. To build a sense of stability. It has been a good day together. Much to give thanks for. To celebrate.
More Light Stoles


                                                               * * * * 

I’m getting ready to leave to head downtown with Presbyterian Welcome,  to serve water at the Evelyn Davidson Memorial Water Table, named for the wife of Bob, the former pastor of West-Park. Her give a cup of cool water in Jesus’ name to hot marchers in the Pride parade.  But I hear Pastor Jane say the word Lot, and I realize she’s preaching about Sodom and Gomorrah. So I look in. She sees me and says isn’t that right pastor  Bob? And I say yes.

Many of her Sanctuary NYC people have chosen to be here instead of at the Pride parade. Rainbow colored balloons mark the day. She’s preaching about how the sin at Sodom wasn’t about same sex love but abuse of the stranger.The crowd’s desire to rape the strangers (angels) has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with domination, she says.  She goes on to bring out the often forgotten part when  Lot offers up his virgin daughters to the crowd instead. (No, I don’t get it either...)

She speaks of the importance of acknowledging your shadow, naming it, incorporating its power. How that applies to some of the more outre displays and activities of pride weekend. Taking that part of you that wants to remain hidden and transforming it, using its power to be who you are called to be. At the conclusion of her sermon, she asks me to photograph them in a Pride Sunday portrait. After all have named  their personal quality  to be claimed and transformed. 

And then I speak. How I was on my way out when I heard a word and had to stay. I remembered my friend Howard Warren.Founder of Presbyterian ACT UP. How he stood up to the Presbyterian power elite and accused the the executive director, and thereby the whole Church, of the sin of sodomy. That is refusing to welcome, accept and honor the stranger.  And then I explained  how this very place was the birthplace of the  More Light movement. A movement that  has spread across the country and across all denominations. How this place was, in reality, the religious Stonewall. So it’s good to be here on Pride Sunday. It all began here.

I join them for their final songs. Glad I stayed. Proud to have passed on the mantle of the religious Stonewall prophets.

                                        * * * * 

Finishing up work. Late at night. Marc says it’s time to get the garbage out. Can’t the people  who live here do it? I remind him that no one lives here anymore.  And so we go down together Take the garbage out together. The day is over. 

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