Sanctuary (A sermon on Orlando)

**Originally preached at the 8, 9:30, and 11 am services at Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago, on June 19, 2016**

Bulletin cover quote: “love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love, cannot be killed or swept aside” – Lin-Manuel Miranda

1 Kings 19:9-15

9At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 10He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’

11 He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 14He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’ 15Then the Lord said to him, ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus

—–

Galatians 3: 23-29

23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

 

There is a poem that goes like this: “Before I die, I want to be somebody’s favorite hiding place, the place they can put everything they know they need to survive, every secret, every solitude, every nervous prayer, and be absolutely certain I will keep it safe.  I will keep it safe.” (Bone Burying – Andrea Gibson)

Sanctuary. What does it mean to you?

Is it vaulted ceilings and stained glass and beautiful organs that make a sanctuary? Or prayer and communion and preaching? Or is it something else?

Is sanctuary a place where you feel claimed and known and home? A place where you can breathe deeply in the affirmation of your own belovedness? Where you can let your guard down and just be? Is sanctuary a place where, no matter what hard or awful thing is happening in your life or in this world, you feel safe?

Perhaps sanctuary is what you’ve come looking for this morning. If so, I’m glad you are here. We call this very space a sanctuary so certainly there is some assumed connection between sanctuaries and churches.

In our Galatians text for this morning, Paul describes the kind of perfect community—an ideal world—that Christ’s love creates. In this ideal that Paul describes, faith and belonging are what hold us all together rather than rigid boundaries and rules of law. The world transformed by Christ is one where there is “no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, no longer male and female.” It describes unity not only for Christians or for Jews, but for all children of Abraham—all children of God.

It’s worth noting that the unity Paul describes here isn’t a unity devoid of differences. In fact, throughout his writings Paul celebrates differences in story and background—emphasizing over and over that Gentiles, that is non-Jews, need not become Jews to join with them in faith. What changes—what is erased and eradicated—is the “or”—the divisiveness and the hierarchy that oppresses one group to preserve the privilege of another. What is absent is judgment that deems one person or group less valuable, less valid, less worthy of love and embrace, less human. In the world defined by Christ’s love, we are all beloved children of God, and in God and one another we find belonging, home, affirmation, and safety.

Sanctuary.

This is the promise that the church is called to embody with every fiber of its being. I hope you’ve known that feeling in the church. I have. My church growing up was one of the first places I felt that kind of belonging and safety—my deepest sense of home and belovedness. That experience has brought all the way here. To this pulpit. To this community. To a life of ministry.

But the angry, tragic truth of our broken world is that many have not found sanctuary in churches. Many have experienced exactly the opposite of the kind of community that Paul describes in Galatians—instead of belonging and unity, they’ve experienced expulsion, rejection, and judgment. So many of the people who have encountered church in this painful and damaging way are the people who need love and belonging and sanctuary the most. As a bisexual woman, I have known that experience of church too.

I have seen and resonated with a lot of pieces written this week in the wake of Orlando’s brutal tragedy which seek to explain to those who are not lesbian, bisexual, transgender, gay, or queer how LGBTQ spaces—centers and bars and nightclubs like Pulse in Orlando—operate as sanctuaries for LGBTQ people, many of whom have been rejected by their churches and even their families.

These queer spaces allow LGBTQ people like me opportunity to be in community together where we are affirmed and embraced and allowed to be fully who we are—who God created us to be. Even as I love and serve the church, I know how crucial such spaces are.

The poem I quoted at the beginning of this sermon is by a queer poet named Andrea Gibson who I see perform every chance I get. Andrea’s shows are a profoundly queer experience where myriad variety of bisexual, transgender, gay, lesbian, and queer person come together and cry and laugh and celebrate the truth of our identities and our belovedness reflected in Andrea’s poems.  Even though Andrea is not religious, there is so much God-love and gospel truth in those poems. I often tell people that Andrea Gibson is a queer experience of church.

But I went to an Andrea Gibson show on Tuesday night—just days after a man walked into a gay bar in Orlando and killed 49 mostly latinx LGBTQ people, and at this show, everything felt different. Security was heightened and so was anxiety. I found myself wondering if such LGBTQ safe spaces would ever feel like sanctuaries again.

In Galatians, Paul describes the way the church and the world should be—the truth and promise we know in Jesus Christ—but at times like these, the distance between us and that ideal world seems impossibly, devastatingly far.

In this world, when we remember the violent, racist massacre in a Charleston church that claimed 9 black lives just a year ago… When we remember San Bernadino and Sandy Hook, and the excruciating number of shootings in between—especially in our own city, When we remember Paris and Brussels and countless acts of Islamaphobia in our own country, When we remember Matthew Shephard and the racist and homophobic violence that claimed 50 lives last weekend—we know we don’t live in a world where the barriers and walls of division, hierarchy, and oppression have been torn down—not even close. And we cry out to God wondering where we might find sanctuary from all that is so very broken.

In truth, these days, it feels like we have a lot more in common with Elijah than with Paul. Elijah lives in a deeply broken world, surrounded by violence and abuses of power and injustice. There are no purely good guys in Elijah’s story—including him. But he feels persecuted and isolated and afraid. Things have gotten so bad that he is running for his life—desperate for refuge and God’s help. He is looking for sanctuary. He cries out to God “I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

We hear echoes of his cry as we listen to accounts of Orlando survivors and how they prayed for safety in the midst of their terror. We hear it in the voices of latinx LGBTQ folks as they talk about the intersections of discrimination they face daily as people of color, sexual and gender minorities, and often immigrants. We hear it from so many people in this world today cast into the wilderness of the margins by our systems of injustice and oppression, by racism and sexism and heterosexism, by transphobia and xenophobia.

We are a world where divisions and prejudices leave so many persecuted, isolated and afraid. Paul calls us to a dream but Elijah’s is the experience we resonate with these days.

As Elijah hides in his cave, disastrous events continue to unfold, one after another without ceasing. A great wind, an earthquake, and then a fire. And God does not speak to Elijah in these acts of destruction. But when they over—when the world has quieted down for a time—Elijah gathers himself up and goes out, and God speaks. I have often heard this text interpreted as how God uses silence, but God is not silent. God speaks. God is not passive, and neither is Elijah. Elijah gets up, he leaves the temporary refuge of his cave and goes out to meet God.

And when Elijah tells God of his fears in search of solace and sanctuary, God commands Elijah to venture into the wilderness.

It isn’t the sanctuary Elijah was hoping for. At least not right away. But others join in his work. Elisha takes up his mantle. Bit by bit, inch by inch, Elijah’s world draws closer to the world of God’s promise.

We too will have to leave the temporary refuge of this place and wherever else we go in our lives to hold back the tide of what’s hard and broken all around us. It is tempting to stay. And we should take hold of one another—comfort each other, breathe deep in the solace of community and affirmation of our own belovedness.

But when the loud furor of this latest storm quiets down (and far too soon, it will), we will have a choice. To stay hidden in the silence and in the comfort of our old familiar prayers, or to go out and meet God. And when we cry out to God in our fear and our longing and our pain, God may indeed send us into the wilderness—right into thick of all who are hurting and cast aside—to do the work of justice and seek the world of Paul’s dreaming, the world of God’s imagining, the world of Christ’s promise.

It may feel to us, as it has this past week, like that wilderness is so very wide. Like the distance between us and the world to which we are called is so very far. But we are called to be the church in this world. And the world is crying out for sanctuary, and God is looking at us.

Heart-heavy and unsure as we may be against the tide of all that is broken around us, we know and trust that we don’t go out alone. We go with a promise. That God is here. And God is out there. And God is not silent. God has never been silent.

God sent Christ into this world to transform it. To break down every wall and every barrier that divides us and sets us against one another so that might be held together in one love.  The promise that we are all beloved: gay and bisexual and asexual and straight. Male and female. Transgender and nonbinary. Black and Asian and Latinx and white. Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and all else. We are all held together by the love of God.

Whatever the world looks like today and tomorrow and six months from now—that promise made known to us in Jesus Christ is still true. Already true. Maybe the world has yet to recognize it, but our faith assures us and so we know. And even now—even in the midst of it all—we catch glimpses. There are moments when the truth of who we all are—one beloved family—breaks in.

All week, in Orlando and all over this country, LGTBQ people have gathered in queer spaces and danced in memory and in defiance of hate and fear.

Two years ago today, our national denominational body—the General Assembly, voted to approve marriage equality.

And last night, in the 60th year of our ordaining women to ministry, our Presbyterian denomination elected to be led by two women for the first time. They are different ages, different races, with different stories. But they and our whole denomination have committed to being agents of racial reconciliation, of justice and inclusion for all people, and to being witnesses of Christ’s radically transforming love. And that sort of in-breaking is happening here too.

On Wednesday something amazing happened, and it happened here at Fourth. After a spark of conversation at Tuesday’s staff meeting—in the space of just 24 hours—the request to chime our bells 50 times on Wednesday afternoon in honor the lives lost transformed into an interfaith prayer service and a historic blossom of color and welcome on the outside of our church.

On Wednesday morning, young people from a visiting youth group worked with some of our clergy and other staff to cut hundreds of rainbow colored ribbons and tie them onto our railings along Michigan Avenue. Still others of our clergy staff climbed out onto the roof above our front doors to drape a giant rainbow flag for all to see. And that afternoon we gathered with friends from Chicago Sinai and the Downtown Islamic Center and others, and with the powerful musical gifts of our dear friend Lucy Smith and the jazz quartet. We sang together, we prayed and read sacred texts together. We tolled the bell in silence for every life lost and we read the name of each victim aloud. We stood as one people and cried out for a better world—the world we believe we were made for.

It was not everything. It was not enough to change the world. But it was a beginning. Here on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago, it was a beginning. It is our calling to carry that promise of God’s love out into this world, onto our steps and into the streets. We carry it to each other and to all people. We are called to bear the promise of sanctuary to all who need refuge and safety and home and belonging. And together we work for a day when that promise of sanctuary encompasses the whole world. That is how we make it through the wilderness. That is how we cover the distance between.

All week, I have been thinking about Sanctuary. Not just the concept. I have been thinking about the song. Do you know the song I mean?  [singing]:

Lord, prepare me

            to be a sanctuary

            pure and holy

            tried and true

            with thanksgiving

            I’ll be a living

            sanctuary for you.

 

I’m sure some of you know it. It was a favorite of mine from church camp days – it always felt like a promise and an invitation. It took me years to realize that some of the implicit themes behind—of biblical purity and perfection—were holding people out as much as they felt like they were holding me in.

But this week I have been thinking about this song in a new way. What if we decided it wasn’t about purity or being set apart? What if we understood it instead, as our promise to be a sanctuary to others? To all people and especially to those who are marginalized or hurting? And even and especially to those who have been led to believe the church cannot be safety and home for them?

Let that be our prayer for this day and every day. That God would prepare us to be a sanctuary for everyone who needs it. That we might be pure and unhesitating in our love and holy in our work for justice. That even as we are tried by the horrors and hardness that this world sometimes delivers, we would remain true to the promise that we are all one and all beloved by God. That we would give thanks for God’s steadfast love and for our chance to be a part of it, and that we would always be a living, breathing promise of grace and sanctuary for each other and for all. Let that be the prayer and promise we carry out from this place.

If you know it, will you sing with me? [all singing]:

Lord, prepare me

to be a sanctuary.

Pure and holy,

tried and true.

With thanksgiving,

We’ll be a living,

sanctuary for you.

 

Amen.

vigil

Enough (a sermon)

**Originally preached at Jazz Worship at Fourth Presbyterian Church Chicago on June 5, 2016.

1 Kings 17:8-16

The Widow of Zarephath

8 Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, 9‘Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.’ 10So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, ‘Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.’

11As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, ‘Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.’ 12But she said, ‘As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.’

13Elijah said to her, ‘Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. 14For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.’

15She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. 16The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.

For many years, the church I grew up went on mission trips to Mexico every summer to build houses with an organization called Constructores Para Cristo (CPC). This organization sought to confront the reality of homelessness and poverty in Piedras Negras, Mexico one small house at a time. Every week, when a new church group arrived to begin work, the staff of CPC told them the same story. It’s a common fable, so maybe you’ve heard it before.

The story goes that one day a man saw a his child walking along the beach and stooping over again and again to pick something up and throw it in the water. The man drew closer to the child to investigate, and realized that the beach was covered in starfish as far as the eye could see—brought in with the tide and now stranded. The little girl was picking them up one at a time and throwing them back into the ocean.

Amused, the man asked his daughter, “Why are you doing that?”

And she replied, “If the starfish don’t get back into the ocean, they’ll dry out and die. So I’m putting them back.”

The father laughed and said, “But there are thousands of starfish on the beach, there’s no way you could possibly save them all. Even if you tried to do this all day—it just wouldn’t matter.”

The little girl picked up another starfish and stared down at for a minute. Then she held it up to show her father and said, “It matters to this one.” And she threw it in the water.

The point of the story is simple and clear: even the small things we do matter. Whatever we can do to help makes a difference. The little girl understands this, but the father doesn’t. He’s overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem and what impact he could make doesn’t seem worth the effort or cost. And so, he does nothing.

****

In our scripture passage for today, the scope is smaller, but the stakes are higher. Elijah is a stranger far from home. He has no community to rely on and no resources. And so he asks a woman—a widow with a son—for help.  When he asks for water, she obliges—it seems easy enough to do. But then he asks for food. A morsel of bread.

The woman falters. Elijah is relying on her on the most basic level. Her faith and culture suggest that it is her responsibility to show hospitality—to care for him. But she feels incapable of meeting his needs. She doesn’t have enough—not even for herself and her son—so she can’t give enough. She tells Elijah that she has only enough meal for her and her son to eat and then they will die.

She feels overwhelmed, just like the man in the starfish story. But Elijah encourages her and tells her to trust in her faith in God. And so the woman does what she can. She gives him food and has enough for herself and her son and the meal and oil do not run out so that the 3 of them are fed for many days.

My life does not look like the life of the woman in this story—or Elijah’s life, for that matter. Though I may sometimes stress about my budget or my future, I am not on the verge of death. I am not short on food. I don’t wonder where I will sleep tonight. But I do know what it feels like to be overwhelmed by the scope of someone else’s need—to feel like I don’t have enough to give. Like I can’t do enough.

Maybe you know this feeling too. When we turn on the news in the morning, or scroll through our Facebook feed, or even just walk down the street—we are inundated with all the hard, terrible things happening in our world.

A quick glance at yesterday’s Chicago Tribune revealed 5 dead and 18 wounded in our city just one night into the weekend. It told the story of a young man—a Stanford student—convicted of sexually assaulting a woman at a party and being sentenced to only 6 months in prison. It talked about the professor killed in last week’s shooting on the UCLA campus. And of course it covered the death of Muhammad Ali while remembering the realities of racism he contended with and worked to overthrow in his lifetime.

We rejoice at the good, hopeful stories that find their way to us, but we cannot ignore all that is troubling around us. Countries and regions shredded by war. Ceaseless gun violence in our own streets. The seemingly insurmountable realities of climate change and our hurting planet. Hate and fear, pain and prejudice, illness, poverty, loneliness, and loss. It isn’t hard to see—it’s hard not to see.

As Christians, we believe that we are called to be generous. To work for justice. To care for creation, to serve others and especially to help those who are most vulnerable. But I think this question of enough often gets us stuck. In a world as broken as ours: where do we begin? And perhaps a more troubling question: where do we stop? For surely if we tried to solve every problem and meet every need, we would lose everything—maybe even die—while hardly making a dent in all that’s wrong in this world.

We fear that we don’t have enough to give—not enough to do and give as much as we’re supposed to. And what we can give—isn’t enough for the ones that need it.

This is, on some level, the struggle that overwhelms the father in the starfish story and makes the widow falter before Elijah. It is a struggle that I have known deeply—and personally—for most of my life.

Growing up, my parents were divorced and, over my early years, my father’s financial circumstances deteriorated so that—by the time I was in middle school—he was struggling to keep a roof, any roof, over his own head. Sometimes—there was no roof. Or there was just a shelter, or the broken-down van he’d been given by his church. My dad struggled with alcoholism, with job loss, with mental health issues, and diabetes—all of which impacted his stability and finances.

I learned about income inequality and the complexity of circumstances surrounding homelessness and poverty by watching it happen to my dad from the comfort of my 3-story, suburban house less than 2 miles away from him. I remember sleepless nights spent wondering if he was safe, if he was okay, if he would have a future, and why our lives looked so different. It didn’t seem right or fair. At 10 years old and at 13 and at 20—I was flooded with worry about all that my dad faced, with guilt over my own profoundly different reality, and with my own sense of utter helplessness to fix any of it. I knew that it would take more than a dollar, or a meal. I knew that there was something bigger broken, but I didn’t know what I could do about it.

I’ll confess something to you. I remember this feeling well not just because I felt it so often about my dad growing up, but because I still feel it—sometimes about my dad, but all the time walking through this world and the streets of this city. Every time I pass someone on a street corner asking for food, or change, or work, or help—I see my father. I wonder whose father/mother/child this person is and who might be somewhere worried about them.

Sometimes—I’ll admit—I duck my head and walk quickly—trying to think of something else. Sometimes, I try to calculate how much it would cost if I gave $5 or even just a dollar to every person I passed who asked for help. Sometimes, I think to myself all the reasons why it’s okay that I didn’t stop and engage. Always I feel that same overwhelming flood of helplessness. What can I do, really? If I couldn’t do it for my father, what can I do for all of these? Whatever I have to offer—it is not enough.

These are hard questions. Questions I imagine many of you struggle with too—whether about homelessness and poverty, or violence, and something else. There is some value to recognizing that there is a larger system of brokenness at work that one simple act of generosity or kindness cannot fix.

Another modern fable tells of a river with a village on its shores. One day, a villager notices a baby floating down the river and jumps in to save it. Then more and more babies come down the river and the villager gets a bunch of other people to help her save them all before they drown. Eventually, one woman leaves the group and starts to head upstream along the shore. Someone asks her, “Are you giving up?” And she says, “No, I’m going to find out how to stop these babies from ending up in the river to begin with.”

We need both direct service and love, and deeper work to dismantle systems of injustice. Both are crucial.

As Christians we are called to love one another and to work toward a world that is just for all people. Our faith demands that we act with care and service toward others in all the ways we can, when we can, as much as we can. Too often though, our awareness of the extent of brokenness in this world keeps us from doing anything at all. Knowing that a single act can’t solve the problem and that it is beyond us to fix the whole system—we avert our eyes from the painful realities of other people—we bury ourselves in our own concerns and comfort ourselves with the reassurance that we just can’t do enough—don’t have enough to give.

I don’t believe there is a clear answer to how much we should offer or how or when. There isn’t a prescription in our faith for how much good is enough. But we are told where to begin. Anywhere. And not to stop. We are called to do something, to give something. As much as we think we can spare—and then perhaps a little more. We are called to see each other and not avert our eyes—not surrender to our sense of helplessness, but trust that we are part of the larger work of God. And so are the ones we serve, and so are others serving. No single one of us is called to do everything, but we are called to recognize that we are connected and that only by committing to that connection and loving one another will needs be met and healing happen and good prevail.

It’s significant, but perhaps easy to overlook, what happens next in our scripture today—after the woman shares what little she has.  I don’t mean the miracle where God allows her meal and oil to never run out, so reminiscent of other bible stores. I mean this little detail in the text, verse 15: “she went and did Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days.”

Did you notice what happens? That Elijah is included with them for many days? He was just a stranger on the road—an unknown traveler who—having been denied help or kindness—might easily have gone on his way and remained a stranger. Instead, his fate, his life, his well-being and that of the widow and her son become bound up together. In fact, it is because of this relationship that Elijah is around to help save the widow’s son when he dies.

The widow acts because she believes and trusts that—more important than her fear of scarcity or her sense of helplessness—is her call to relationship and community with Elijah. For her, that relationship is enough to make it worth it.

This is the kind of love and care we are called to. The uncomfortable twist in our gut as we walk by someone struggling or bear witness to the injustices of this world is the Spirit reminding us that we are all one. That we are made family by the God who loves us all. Whatever we do in the face of that discomfort, we cannot ignore it. When we avoid it, rationalize it, ignore it—we fail to see each other. When we act in love—whatever we do—we are reminded that we belong to each other. That our struggle is one struggle. That our story is one story. And that our hope is one hope.

The little girl in the starfish story doesn’t ask whether she has enough to give or can do enough to matter. She just knows that it matters enough for the starfish whom she encounters—and they matter enough to her—to try and keep trying.

What is enough? This is a question our faith compels us to wrestle with, but our faith also tells us that this is not a question that God asks at all. God offers us love and grace—and that love and grace help us to see each other, bind us up together, and empower us to love and serve one another in ways beyond what we imagine possible.

Even when we feel we don’t have enough or can’t do enough, we can trust in God. When it comes to how much of that love and grace God offers—to us and through us—the measure is never just “enough.” The measure is more than enough. Abundant. More than you can ever imagine. The measure of God’s love and grace is “endless.” Thanks be to God. Amen.

The Woman Card (a sermon)

**Originally preached for the jazz service at Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago, on May 1, 2016.**

Acts 16:9-15

16:9 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

16:10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

16:11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis,

16:12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days.

16:13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there.

16:14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.

16:15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

I want to tell you a story—a story I learned when I was young. It’s from a book called Amazing Grace and it’s about a girl named Grace. If Grace were real, she would be delighted to know I’m telling you about her now, because Grace loved stories. She loved stories in books and in movies and from her grandmother’s long memory. And she didn’t just like to listen to the stories—Grace liked to act them out. She was Anansi the spider and Joan of Arc. She sailed the seven seas as a peg-leg pirate and played ancient hero in the Trojan War.

When Grace’s teacher announced that her class would be doing the play Peter Pan, Grace knew right away that she wanted to play Peter. But a boy in her class tells her she can’t be Peter Pan because she’s a girl and Peter Pan is supposed to be a boy. And a girl in her class tells Grace she can’t be Peter Pan because she’s black and Peter Pan is supposed to be white. Grace went home that day sad and self-conscious, but her mother and grandmother encouraged her to ignore the kids telling her what she can’t do. “Those kids don’t know anything,” they assure her.

So Grace practiced all weekend, and when the time came to audition the next week, the whole class agreed that she was the best and should obviously be Peter Pan. And so she was. The play was a huge success, and Grace was amazing. Amazing Grace.

Grace’s classmates tell her she can’t be Peter Pan because they think they know what Peter Pan looks like. They think they know that Peter Pan is white and male and because that’s what they expect, they can’t imagine a world where Peter Pan looks different. But they’re wrong. Peter Pan looks like Grace because Peter Pan is Grace even if they don’t know it until they see it. Without her, their play doesn’t make any sense. It’s incomplete.

This week, I confess, I’ve been thinking about a lot about who is allowed to do what in our society. I’ve been thinking about this thing I heard of this week called, “the woman card.” I’m not interested here in dissecting the particular implications or context of the original statement. But it did compel me to ruminate on what it means to be a woman in this world and in the church—and the challenges and gifts that come with it.

Growing up, it never occurred to me that some people believed that women couldn’t be pastors. After all, every Sunday I showed up to my church and greeted our associate pastor, Shannon Dill. She was what I pictured when I closed my eyes and imagined a pastor—she was kind and faithful and smart.

In fact, it wasn’t until I announced that I was planning to attend seminary myself that I encountered any pushback. There were people—strangers and loved ones alike—who felt that my gender precluded me from being called to ministry. It caught me completely off guard. As far as I was concerned, the leadership of women was just another part of what the church looked like. It wasn’t hard for to me imagine. Of course, I was lucky. Plenty of other people grew up with a different understanding—a different picture of what the church looked like.

But the truth is that women have been a part of leading the church since it began. There was, of course, Mary, the mother of Jesus. And there were the women disciples—Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Martha and the others—the first to encounter the risen Christ and share the good news of Easter. And today we have the story of Lydia.

Lydia is a woman from Thyatira of Macedonia—who sells purple cloth and worships God. Paul and his group encounter Lydia on the Sabbath day—outside the gate by the river where women gathered to pray. And Lydia opens her heart to all that Paul has to say and is baptized then along with her whole household. She opens her home to Paul and those with him—in fact, she doesn’t really take no for answer. And her house becomes the base for a new church in Macedonia and beyond. She and her household keep that new church going, presumably even while Paul is imprisoned.

Lydia is often credited with being the first European convert to Christianity and her encounter with Paul there by the river on that Sabbath day opened up and expanded the church in a whole new way. That is no small part to play.

How easy it would have been for that encounter to have never happened. After all, Lydia wasn’t at all who Paul was looking for. She wasn’t what he expected or what he imagined.

See, Paul had a dream—a vision. And in his dream it was a man from Macedonia who called out to him and begged him to come and help them. Paul takes his vision seriously, he trusts in it, and as soon as he is able, he sets out for Macedonia to find this man and offer help in the name of Christ.

I wonder what might have happened if Paul had only been willing to see that man from his vision. What if he had not been open to another encounter, to someone who he didn’t expect and couldn’t envision? What if he had discounted Lydia because of her “woman card?”

Indeed, Lydia is unexpected—and not just because she was a woman rather than a man. The woman card, so to speak, is not the only card she has. We can surmise from this story that Lydia was an independent woman. She was a businesswoman in her own right who had charge of an entire household of her own. She was a God-worshiper, a God-fearer—which is to say, a Gentile follower of God. And while traditional artistic depictions of Lydia portray her how we might, today, typically interpret the word “European”—that is, as white—some scholars suggest that due to travel and trade routes—there is a high probability that Lydia was a woman of color.

Though Paul knew that women were a crucial part of Jesus’ ministry, this independent Macedonian businesswoman of color was probably well beyond what he could imagine when he thought of the church. But that didn’t stop him from talking to her and it didn’t stop her either. It’s worth noting that this text makes a point of saying that God opens Lydia’s heart to hear Paul’s words. God was at work in her too, already.

Sometimes, we talk about there being both a visible and an invisible church. The visible church is what we picture when we squeeze our eyes shut and try to imagine. It’s the old buildings and the structures and the worship services and the hymns. The invisible church is beyond our own ability to picture and imagine. It’s everywhere God is at work and everyone whom God is at work within.  When we encounter the invisible church in new ways—the visible church takes on new life too.

Lydia is already a God-worshiper. God is already at work in her life just as God is at work in Paul’s life. They both open themselves up to one another. And though we talk about this story as the beginning of the European church, in truth the church was already there—it just hadn’t yet been fully recognized by Paul and the others. When they do recognize Lydia and the invisible church that is already there in Macedonia—new life begins.

All these centuries later, the world and the church look a lot different than they did in the time of Lydia and Paul. And, in some ways, they don’t look so different. It’s not quite as unusual as it was then for a woman to be an independently successful business owner. Certainly we are more in touch with those from other cultures and other places around the world. And the church is expressed, even visibly, in myriad and diverse ways.

On the other hand, we are still a world and a people inhibited by our own expectations of what and who is normal. We still struggle to accept and celebrate those look or live differently than we do. We are still debating—emphatically—in our society today about who can lead: in government, in business, and in churches. Who is entitled to equality and justice. Who is indispensable and who is disposable. We still fall into the trap of believing we know how things are, how they should be, and what (and who) they’re supposed to look like.

The false certainty that this world can and should only ever be the way we picture it when we squeeze our eyes shut—that is a deception of our brokenness. It is the reason why, in a world that is more diverse and more connected than ever—we are still plagued by barriers of distrust and discrimination. We are still bound up by the limits of prejudice: racism, sexism, heterosexism—it goes on. It is costing lives and hope and so much possibility for goodness and healing and growth.

Lydia’s story finds us in the midst of the complicated, messy, brokenness of our own myopic vision and offers us a different view. A reminder that God’s church is bigger and broader than we expect. It is built and served by and serving those we might overlook or discount if we rely only on our own understanding. Whether we are like Paul struggling to follow God’s call past the limits of our own dream or like Lydia—called to serve and speak to a world that does not always fully see us: this story is a promise that the Holy Spirit is alive and at work all over this world and she is not contained by the limits of our humanity or own imagination.

In a world often defined by fear and shored up defenses and privilege and prejudice and injustice—the church is called to be a prophetic witness that something bigger and broader than we can imagine is binding us together. We, as the church, do not go out into the world simply because the world beyond needs us—but because we, the church, need the world beyond. The church is there too—visible to us or not. Beyond the limits of our knowing and our expectation—there are people we are incomplete without.

Lydia was the first. That’s what we say. The first European convert—the follower of God who made her house into a gateway for a broader church. She was the first, and then—God alive in her and made visible—many others followed. Perhaps precisely because she wasn’t what was expected—she was a woman, an independent, faithful woman of color: the understanding of what and where and how the church could be grew and was never the same. There have been other firsts too in the church and beyond. The first person to cross the ocean. The first person to walk on the moon. And others. The first LGBTQ pastor, the first black president, the first woman on an American bill. These first and many others teach us that our knowledge of what can be is not the limit of what should be or will be.

In this Easter season, we remember that our entire faith is built on the unexpected and unimaginable. A God who meets us in humanity—in the form of a tiny child. A God who preaches a world of justice beyond any that had been or has been known. A God who, having met us in human life, dies to meet us in death so that we might know that even there we are never alone. And a God who overcomes death, returns to new life and offers new life to us—with the incredible promise that there is no limit to God’s goodness or love—whether we can imagine it or not.

It is in this promise that we place our faith. It is to this promise we cling on the days that we fear injustice and prejudice might have the last word. In the moments when we squeeze our eyes shut and still cannot picture a world that is not broken—a world that is good and healed and whole. We trust in God to open our hearts so that we can see what God sees.  We trust in Jesus Christ—the one who, above all and always, is first and last and guides us beyond what we know, expect, and understand and into the wonder and boundlessness of grace. Amazing grace. Imagine that.

Amen.

Here’s what happens when you tweet about sexism…

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Last night, I posted a tweet about a guy making comments about my body at McDonald’s. I posted the incident with the hashtag #everydaysexism. I woke up this morning to 37 angry tweets (and counting) from anti-feminist men who basically proved my point for me. I’ve included a few here. I’m lucky, I guess, that none of these tweets use vile expletives or threaten me, but honestly I was a little overwhelmed by the onslaught.

This is an interesting week for it, too. Donald Trump promises to represent sexism and misogyny at the presidential level by accusing Hillary of playing “the woman card.” A viral video makes the rounds revealing the truly awful comments thrown toward female sportswriters. I take part in a conversation about raising girls in this world today and the need to not only teach them how to avoid sexual assault, but how to handle it if it happens to them (because statistics show that it very well might). And I land my first piece for Sojourners, writing about the comments clergy receive about their body–particular female clergy. Oh, and I got into a debate with a guy who suggested men were more at risk of being raped than women and that statistics that say otherwise are all lies. Cause yeah.

Meanwhile, Harriet Tubman finally becomes the first woman granted a place on American money and Beyonce demonstrates, once again, the power of a black woman’s voice. And the scripture text for Sunday is about Lydia, a woman credited as the first European convert to Christianity.

So I share this experience and these tweets, not because they’re the worst thing to happen in the world of sexism this week, but because they’re far from it. It’s everywhere, and it’s not just 37 guys hunkered down in their parents’ basements hating on women cause they got turned down for a date. These are men who wake up and go out into the world everyday as fathers, brothers, sons, and husbands. Sexism is insidious on every level and the little stuff leads to the big stuff.

Call me an angry feminist if you want–you’re absolutely right I’m angry. But I’ll tell you what: my anger and my feminism are not what you should be worried about.

 

 

On Plans, Permission, 30, & What’s Next (a love story)

A couple of weeks ago, I made a big, scary, exciting decision. I’ve waffled about whether to post about it because there’s nothing formalized about it to make it feel real, other than my own conviction. Nevertheless, I am thrilled and invigorated by it and, if you know me at all, you know I can’t keep my mouth shut about that sort of thing. So here it is: I’M MOVING TO DC THIS FALL!

No, I don’t have a job yet, and I may not by the time my residency here in Chicago ends, but I’m planning to go to DC either way. I’ve got some savings and, if I have to, I’ll figure out the rest when I get there. That may mean part time work and volunteering and pulpit supply and who knows what else. We’ll see what the future brings. But I know where I’m headed.

Three years ago, I passed through DC on my way back to Texas from Philly. I hadn’t been there since our safety patrol trip in 6th grade, and I had never really given it much thought. But that night I fell a little bit in love. I’ve been back 4 or 5 times since then, and I’ve fallen a little bit more in love every time. It’s beautiful, and it feels enough like the South to quell some of the homesickness I’ve carried since leaving the Southeast 8 years ago. I love the feel of it, and the history. I love the people I know there, and the happy hours😉. And there are so. many. awesome. Presbyterians. I love it that important things happen there—new history all the time.

DC also seems to resonate, in many ways, with the growing pull I feel to the intersection of theology and justice. I want to apply my faith, theological training, experience, and ordination to the world of advocacy, to the world of policy change. I want to stand in that intersection and help build the sort of world Jesus believed in. Though for now, I feel  led to places other than parish ministry, who knows where this path might take my ministry down the road. All I know is that it will go somewhere and I am wide open.

I’m afraid that people will see this as a move away from my call to ministry, but honestly, this feels more like I’m following my call than anything else I can imagine. For awhile now, I have felt led to DC—in a way that I can’t quite explain. But I’ve decided to give myself permission to just trust without fully understanding, and to go and see what God has in store for me there. I have always wanted to be the sort of person who would just take off on an adventure to a new place without any guarantees, but I have always been too afraid. I am finally learning that risk can lead to great things and failure, when it happens, is rarely fatal (thanks improv).

I turn 30 this summer and I have finally decided that this is how I want to celebrate. By being brave and following my heart and embracing adventure–giving thanks that, at 30, I have the savings, the resume, and the confidence to do so. I’m a little scared, but I’m even more excited. Last fall in an improv class I said that I dreamed of one day letting myself make the “heart choice” instead of always just the smart choice. That led me to dedicate this whole year of my life to LOVE and to letting go. And this move, this choice, is absolutely an act of love—for myself, for God, and for this gift of a life I’ve been given. I suppose something crazy could happen and turn this all on its head, but barring that, I am DC bound.

Here’s how you can help:

  • Connections – especially when the time draws near, I want to connect with as many people I can in DC for friendship and community (and some job leads wouldn’t hurt!). So if you know good people, let me know them too.
  • Prayer – my future is an open question that I’m trusting God will do something with. Prayers for courage and conviction and faith are much appreciated.
  • Encouragement – Even if you think I’m ridiculous, I hope for your love and support.

Love you all! DC, here I come!

DARE.

(My shoes and the Capitol, from that first fateful trip)

Thoughts on the Apology Overture from a Bisexual Pastor

Do you remember how arguments went when we were kids? The offense would happen, shouting would ensue, and when an adult got tired of the noise they’d find out what was going on, assign blame, and make the guilty apologize. These apologies always came in a flat monotone with a side of eye-roll. Nobody believed they were sincere and in my experience, they did little to help. I am not a fan of empty apologies. At best, they’re hollow. At worst, they have the power to smother any real, purposeful reconciliation.

I have not weighed in publicly about 11-05, the overture being sent to our PCUSA General Assembly this summer that proposes a denominational apology for the injustices done to LGBTQ folks by the church (read it here). I’ve talked plenty to friends about my complicated thoughts on the document, but I haven’t been vocal in any public space because it seems clear that I risk being told that I’m a “bad queer” if my view don’t align as they should, and frankly, I’m not sure my views entirely align with anyone’s.

Do I think our denomination has committed grievous injustices to queer and trans people? Absolutely. Do we deserve an apology? Yes. Do I want an apology from our church? Yes. Do I believe that an intentional institutional apology has significant power to heal and reconcile? Most definitely.

But only if we mean it. And here’s the thing: I don’t think we mean it.

I don’t think we mean it because the very same constitutional changes that this overture points to as justification for an apology were literally constructed with loopholes to allow for the continued marginalization of queer people by those whose theology differs. I have personally never promised anyone that they wouldn’t be forced to participate in justice toward LGBTQ people like myself because I don’t think it’s really justice or inclusion until it comes without exception. But our denomination has very clearly split that semantic hair. We did it so that those constitutional changes would pass because we knew the church wasn’t ready for them to pass in any less compromising way.

This is why, when I discuss the recent shifts toward more inclusive ordination standards and marriage definition, I describe them as moves toward justice. I describe them as being more inclusive. We have not arrived at a place where justice for LGBTQ persons is being fully enacted or embodied. It has been a long road, I know, but like or not, we are not at its end.

We are not yet a just or fully inclusive church and not just because there is still clear evidence of persistent sexism or because we’ve only just begun to confront the depths of our institutional racism. We are not yet a just or fully inclusive church even for queer people. There has not been a single denominational move—as far as I know—toward justice and inclusion for bisexual people other than the degree to which our justice and inclusion is assumed into that of gay and lesbian people. We have only begun to name the existence of those who are transgender, let alone recognizing and seeking to dismantle the transphobia emanating from our denominational pores. As the brother/sister language of this overture itself makes clear, we still don’t recognize and include those whose gender identity is nonbinary—that is, falls outside the categories of man or woman (and thank you to the friend and colleague who pointed this out, when my own privilege had allowed me to miss it completely).

The perpetuation of injustice within our denomination is not just the story of our past: it is our ongoing present. And it is not just the problem of a handful of vocal conservatives, or even of the straight church—it is also a problem within the queer church itself. I say that as someone whose queer identity is often met with suspicion and rejection from gay and lesbian siblings in faith and who often feels almost as unsafe in queer spaces as I do in straight spaces. None of this even scratches the surface of the intersecting injustices faced by queer people of color or queer people with disabilities. We all have a lot of work to do.

Look, I love this church. It gives me so much joy and hope even despite the ways it has (and continues to) deeply, deeply hurt me and others I love. And I also care about those in our church who don’t believe I should be allowed to be ordained or married to a partner who is not male—those who believe they have nothing to apologize for. But I am not now, nor have I ever been, willing to circumvent justice in the name of their comfort. I am not opposed to this overture passing because it will make them uncomfortable. But I am concerned that its passing will allow comfort for some others who should also be uncomfortable.

I am angry at how broken our church is and how callously it has rejected and wounded its own children in the name of bigotry and fear and ignorance. I am angry that injustices in our church have gone on for so long—much longer, I realize, than I have had to experience personally. I am overwhelmed that there is still so much work to do.

I absolutely want an apology. And I want us to mean it. But I don’t know how we can when we cannot yet even recognize—let alone repent of—all the injustices we are doing to queer and trans people even now.

I’m glad this overture exists. I’m glad it is making sure that the push for full LGBTQ justice in our church doesn’t go away. I’m glad for the hard but necessary conversations this overture is stirring up. I hope that conversations about the need for the church to recognize and apologize for injustice never go away and that eventually they lead to legitimate action, confession, healing, and reconciliation. But I am not at all convinced that this current overture should be passed by our General Assembly.

We don’t believe in cheap grace. We believe in genuine repentance. Our beloved broken church shouldn’t have projected onto it or get credit for an apology that it isn’t ready to mean or live into. I am not interested in a flat monotone with a side of eye-roll. And I am profoundly worried what injustices will be quietly allowed to persist if that’s the apology we settle for.

I expect more. We deserve more. God calls us to more.

Among the Living (an Easter sermon)

**Originally preached at 4:00 Jazz Worship at Fourth Presbyterian Church Chicago on Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016**

Luke 24:1-12

I have this box. It hasn’t always been a box. It’s looked different over the years. It started out as a folder—or maybe it was an envelope. Right now, it’s a blue and white striped hat box. Inside of it are momentos of my past.

As I get older, more and more of the items in this box represent people I have loved who have died. There are funeral programs from high school classmates and old Sunday school teachers, a poem I wrote for my grandfather, the last sermon my preaching professor graded for me, a cross that belonged to my grandmother.

I’ve moved about 20 times in the last 10 years, and inevitably, some of even these most precious momentos have gotten lost. I often don’t notice the absence right away. After all, my box mostly just gathers dust on a shelf. But when I do notice something missing, the pang of it is sharp. I know that it’s only  a piece of paper or costume jewelry, but it’s also the last thing I have left of a person I loved—the last little bit of them I can touch and feel—and in its absence the grief and loss well up again anew.

Maybe you know what I’m talking about. Maybe you have a box too. We all have our hearts wrapped like fingers around pieces of those we’ve lost—trying to hold on just a little bit longer.

In our text for today, the women rise early, before the sun. Women who loved Jesus and whom Jesus loved and called by name: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary mother of James, and others who we don’t know but whom Jesus surely did. In the eerie quiet of predawn, they gather the materials they need to visit his tomb. To care for his body in death.

The previous hours and days have been long and surreal—like they come from a life and a world that don’t belong to them. The brutal cut of Jesus’ death has carved out a hollowness in each of them. There is nothing in his place except deep, endless uncertainty. Everything about their future is unknown. But this—these rituals of burial and death—these they know. These they understand. These they can still trust.

On their somber journey to his tomb, they are startled to recognize an out of place feeling. Where there should be only anger and sorrow and numbness, they feel within themselves the tiniest spark of—what is it?—relief? Comfort?

They will see his body. They will touch it and care for him as they always have. He is gone and so much has been lost, but at least they have this familiar part of him. At least they have this.

Except they don’t. When they reach the tomb, the stone is rolled away, and Jesus’ body is gone.

The text tells us that the women were first perplexed, and then overcome with fear. I wonder if the text doesn’t have it a little bit backwards. In my imagining, the fear comes first—fear that grows from a grief that no longer has its limit or its mitigating comfort. Now he is truly lost. They have nothing left to hold on to.

This gut-level grief and despair is what roils and churns inside of them when they are encountered by two strangers in dazzling clothes. And dazzling though they may be, the bedside manner of these two messengers… well, it leaves something to be desired. They are not comforting or understanding, they don’t even offer the standard angel salutation of “Do not be afraid!” Instead, one of them asks the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen.”

See, this is where I think the perplexity comes in. Because this is a confusing thing to hear, through the haze of your grief, so newly reignited. This is a perplexing question to be asked at the burial place of your friend, whose absolutely lifeless body you helped lay here just two days earlier. Where else would you come to be with him? Where else should you look? Where did he go?

The messengers explain it to them, then. Perhaps with an exasperated eyeroll. “Don’t you remember what he told you?” they ask. “He said that he would die and be raised on the third day. He told you this would happen.”

And perhaps, through their grief, the words he’d spoken to them over and over did echo in their memory again. But even then, it couldn’t have felt entirely real. After all, resurrection wasn’t something they witnessed regularly or understood. And even though these strange men were telling them Jesus had risen, they haven’t seen it. They haven’t seen life re-enter his body. All they have is absence. And the command to remember, and trust.

The text smoothes over this part. It tells us that the women remembered Jesus’ words and then skips ahead to the part where they have returned to town to tell the 11 and other disciples. But something hugely significant happens inbetween. Before they reach the disciples, first, they have to leave the tomb. I cannot imagine how difficult that would have been. I’m not actually sure I could have done it.

I mean, sure, the tomb isn’t a good place to be. It’s scary and broken and painful. But it’s also the last familiar thing. See, we like to hold on. Even in pain, we grasp firmly onto the familiar. And these women, seemingly, have to leave what they’ve known and loved for something that will surely be totally new and unknown.

The strangers’ question having been dealt with, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”—leaves another question in its place, “If Jesus is not there, in the tomb, where is he? Where does Jesus go to be among the living—among the resurrected?”

The answer is not immediately apparent to the women or the disciples they run off to tell. Their journey from the tomb is not a momentary leap into the waiting arms of easy understanding and new certainty. They tremble in fear and doubt and they wait. But the answer does come. And just like their discovery at the tomb, it is an unimaginable surprise.

The risen Jesus—gone to be among the living—is not in some far off, unfamiliar place that his followers do not know—the risen Jesus appears in their very midst. In their world. He is in their upper room and on their dusty roads, and at their breakfast fire. The resurrected Jesus is among the living—and, as it turns out, they are the living.

Their world is the resurrected one—the one that, through Christ’s conquering of death, is being made new and whole even then. It isn’t something unfamiliar—it is the world they know. They just must learn to see it, and themselves, with new eyes. Resurrection eyes.

Years ago, when I was in third grade, my class used to watch a show every Friday called Reading Rainbow. Among other things, each episode always included a narrated reading of a children’s book, complete with illustrations on the screen. There is one particular book from that time in my life that has always stuck with me. It’s called Round Trip and it was written by a woman named Ann Jonas. It recounts a fairly simple story of a trip to the city and back.

What stuck with me, though, about this book wasn’t the name or the storyline. It was the illustrations. See, the illustrations for this book are done entirely in black and white silhouette. As you read, they reveal tall buildings and crashing waves, and long roads with other cars, and the high view from the top of a skyscraper. And then, you reach the last page and the story just seems to stop. It’s a little anti-climactic, a little disappointing.

Until you realize… the story isn’t over. You just have to turn the book upside down. When you do, the story continues. You read the book in reverse as it recounts the journey home. And all of the very same illustrations you saw before are transformed into new pictures from this new perspective.

Hidden in this simple but cleverly illustrated book is an Easter promise.

On that cold, dark morning, the women came to the tomb to hold on to what they could of a story they believed to be over. But it turns out, it isn’t. What the women and the disciples find when they summon the courage to leave the tomb is that Jesus isn’t gone. The story isn’t over. Jesus has turned the book upside down.

This is the powerful promise of that first Easter dawn—and it is our promise to take hold of this Easter day. A living Jesus who bears resurrection to this world and proclaims us the living too. The risen Jesus is in our midst, right now, this very day and moment. Not lost in death or only raised in some new kingdom beyond our knowing—but in our world. This messy, crowded, dusty, broken world. Jesus has risen and turned this world upside down.

The cornerstone promise of our faith is that one day all those who have died will be resurrected to new life and this world, God’s original creation—will be restored to wholeness. And it is true that that project is not yet complete. But it has begun. It began the moment Jesus left that tomb behind, and when we leave the tomb behind we find that that restoration, that resurrection is ongoing—it is happening even now in our midst. Jesus is among the living—and the living is us.

Some days, this is easier to believe than others. Some days, life and this world can feel like a tomb. As friends hurt, and loved ones die, and communities suffer—as violence erupts in our street and across the world—as lines blur between protectors and those we need protection from—between leaders to trust and tyrants to fear. When global violence becomes so common place that our first reaction at the news of a bombing isn’t horror but resignation, even inconvenience. When the future of our world or just our own lives looks like an abyss of uncertainty. Sometimes, it feels like all we can do is hunker down in the dark and wrap our fingers and hearts tightly around whatever pieces of love we have left to hold onto and watch the world around us shatter.

Sometimes, the most familiar and comforting thing we can think to do is to stay in the tomb. But we don’t belong there forever. We, like Jesus, are not meant to be among the dead—we are the living.

Ours is not a world that is slowly, irrevocably breaking all around us—ours is a broken world that is always already, even now, bit by bit, being made new and whole. And we are not a people called to passively wait for some new day in some far away unknown time and place. We are harbingers of the resurrection. We are the ones who rush from the tomb to bring to this hurting world the good news that Jesus is risen and we are being raised too. Resurrection is afoot. New life is beginning in our very midst. Right now. In this world that we know. On our streets and in our houses and at our tables and even behind our locked doors and in our doubting hearts. We need only open our eyes to see it.

When young queer black women witness the evil of countless careless murders of their own race and begin a movement that dares to proclaim that “black lives matter”—that is not a last feeble gasp of hope against an unstoppable tide of brokenness. That is goodness and life that refuse to surrender to evil and death. That is resurrection. When citizens and businesses alike respond to their state’s hateful legislation with the firm declaration of “we are not this” or at least “we don’t want to be”—that isn’t a futile, empty gesture—it is the gospel of persistent redemption. That is resurrection.

When, in the face of some global tragedy or many, we stand together across races, countries, and faiths v to say that we are stronger than what seeks to destroy us—when we recognize that we are bound up together in love—that is resurrection. And when you are too filled with doubt, with agony, with hopelessness to believe in any good at all—and a friend says “for as long as you need, I will carry that hope and faith for you”—that too is resurrection. It’s everywhere. It is alive in this world right now. And, even if it doesn’t always seem like it—it will win in the end.

Theologian N.T. Wright says, “The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that [we are] now invited to belong to it.”

Our call this Easter day—our call every day as God’s people—is to know that Christ is among us. Christ has given us new life—declared us the living and this world—this very world—a world of resurrection. We are called to trust and participate in all of the ways that God’s justice and love are being done and, whenever we can, to join in the work of making this world new.

And so we leave here this day, summoning our courage and trust, to go be among the living. We leave with the promise that Jesus has turned the book upside down and the story isn’t over. We go to seek out Christ in this world and to see this world with eyes of resurrection and look for how we might participate in that resurrecting work.

This very day, Jesus Christ is risen and among us, and proclaims that we are the living. The story doesn’t stop here—the story continues.

So you tell me: what happens next?