In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for the Kin-dom of God to become manifest on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus taught that the Kin-dom is a way of being in loving and just relationship with God and other people at all levels of community. That way of life together is marked by surprising joy, sacrificial love and care, honesty and humility, solidarity with the poor and vulnerable, peace with justice, and profound meaning and purpose. What if we didn’t have to wait for the fullness of the vision to arrive, but simply started living as if we are already in it? What if the dream for our lives, church, city, nation, and world began to take shape even in the midst of uncertainty and pandemic? Join us through June and July to explore what this might look like and how, by the grace of God, we can live our desired future…today!
From Beginning to End
A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli for Foundry UMC June 7, 2020, Trinity Sunday. “Living As If…” series.
Text: Genesis 1:1-2, Matthew 28:16-20
In the beginning…to the end of the age. These are the first and last phrases in our two assigned texts for this day. And as we come together on this Sunday following the events of this past week I want to highlight what these words hold. They hold the promise of God’s presence in this world, God’s abiding presence with the whole of creation, God’s steadfast, tender presence with you and with me in the depths of our suffering and the soaring heights of our triumphs—from beginning to end, God is with us. God’s creating and re-creating love was and is and is to come. In the beginning, God created and Spirit blew across the waters, bringing life and flourishing out of formless void and chaos. And at the end, Jesus says, “I will be with you.” Between the beginning and the end, we are commissioned by Jesus to do the work that he himself does—to proclaim the good news of God’s reign, to heal, liberate, and usher in new life (Mt 10:7-8), to baptize, to teach others “to obey everything he commanded,” and to do it all “in the name” of the God whom Jesus reveals most fully. Just as Jesus was the presence of God in flesh, so now we are given power to be Christ’s presence in the world.
The so-called “Treat Commission” we heard today may hang some of us up on certain words that drag around a lot of baggage, words like “authority” or “obey” or “commandment” or even the phrase “make disciples.” These things can conjure images of exclusion, authoritarianism, cultural theft, colonialism, forced “conversion,” and intellectual and physical violence done for the sake of making people conform to “our way.” And all this is due to the fact that the language and teachings of the Bible have been twisted and used to do violence in myriad ways over the centuries.
But I refuse to let the language and life-giving promise of our book be held hostage forever by such abuses. These verses from Matthew provide guidance for the living of these days. So let’s be clear right up front that in this text, the one with authority didn’t take authority away from anyone but has been given that authority from God, our Mother/Father who released him into the world and through the power of Holy Spirit who anoints and fills him. Jesus never used divine authority to manipulate or do violence. To “make disciples” is not to frighten or bludgeon people into some thin profession, but to help people know of God’s liberating love and how to practice the way of life Jesus taught. What we’re asked to teach others to obey are the commandments of Jesus, including the powerful and challenging teachings in the sermon on the mount, like the beatitudes, loving your enemies, and praying for those who persecute you. The parables and teachings of Jesus require careful, prayerful thinking and interpretation—not mindless box-checking. And the greatest commandment in the law according to Jesus is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and your neighbor as yourself. (Mt 22) That, he said, is the heart of it all, the central teaching of our faith. All the law and prophets only make sense when interpreted through the law of love.
This is the “one beautiful law”—this and none other—that governs the lives of those who seek to share in God’s life. The law of love is upheld not primarily through warm feelings. It is not upheld through good intentions. It is not enacted through violence, control, manipulation, or showing off. The law of love is upheld through doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. (Micah 6:8)
From beginning to end God has been with us, is with us, will be with us to help us to live and to serve, to pray and work for the Kin-dom to be ever more manifest on earth as it is in heaven with the law of love at the center.
See how God has shown up in the past: God was with the prophet Miriam as she sang and danced her people’s march from slavery to freedom (Ex 20:20ff). God was with the people as they received the challenge from Moses and then Joshua to choose either life or death (Deut 30:15) and whether to serve the God of liberation or the idols of empire (Josh 24:15). God was with Esther as she defied the law of the land and challenged the king to advocate for the lives of her people (Esther 4:14-16). God was with David as he faced Goliath, with young prophet Jeremiah, with pitiful, tantrum-throwing Jonah, with Ruth and Naomi who had to get creative just to survive, with the women of Bethlehem wailing for their children slain by Herod (Mt 2:16-18). God was with the people who lined the streets as Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem, hailing him as the one who comes in the name of the Lord. God was with those who have organized workers to advocate for equity and safety, with those who have fought in the courts for true justice for their neighbors, with the ones who’ve met in church basements and congregation halls for decades, training, praying, and mobilizing to care for the creation, the impoverished, the disenfranchised, and oppressed, with those who have preached and marched and sat in or sat down, who walked out or broke through for the sake of justice. God has been with brilliant scholars who provide critique and vision and with young leaders in the Black Lives Matter and other movements for change across our country, those whose blood, sweat, and tears have helped bring us to the moment we are witnessing now. Jesus was present with every victim of a lynching or murderous hate crime, knowing full well what it feels like to be so abused. See…….God has been with us from the beginning.
And God is with us as we march, as we choose, as we struggle, as we try to release our idols and resist empire. God is with us as we advocate for change that will protect the lives of black and brown people, as we stand up to aggressors and oppressors. God is with us as we cry out in lament and solidarity with all those victimized by racial violence and by injustice in our land. God is with us as we line our streets and kneel for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to honor the life of George Floyd and to honor all lives lost and to proclaim our commitment to create a world that values human lives more than property, economic gain, or growth in the markets.
God is with us in our bold acts of courage and sacrifice, and in every little act of love, tenderness, mutuality, or care. God is with us in the places where we get hung up, afraid, defensive, angry, or anxious. God is with us in the beautiful, complicated mix of human experience where—did you know?—we can hold many different realities, concerns, and ideas together at the same time! Human life doesn’t exist in either/or categories for is always both/and/and/and… For just one example, you can love and support friends and family who are in the military or police force AND advocate for change—even full-blown overhaul—in those institutions. God is with us in this beautiful mix where today, at one and the same time, we can be proudly celebrating our graduates AND deeply grieving or raging at the systemic racism that plagues our land AND being distracted or distressed by personal issues AND feeling hopeful and inspired by the ways that people in our city and across the nation and world are rising up to say that racist violence must end. God is with us.
And God will be with us in whatever happens next. God will be with us as we not only show up to share in public protest, but show up at the ballot box, respond to calls to organize and build public power for change, and participate in public actions that advocate for new priorities and policies that serve our most vulnerable neighbors and the common good. God will be with us as we pray with and for one another, deepen our awareness of the things that sustain white supremacy in our lives and organizations, (complete our Journey to Racial Justice survey), address the brokenness in our personal lives and relationships, do our part to dismantle unjust systems and to build a society truly founded upon the law of love.
God will be with us when we hurt each other in the process of building a better world. God will be with us as we make mistakes. God will be with us as we struggle to know what to do. God will be with us as we keep trying.
In God’s ongoing re-creation of the world, all the gifts of the people of God are needed: good thinking, deep praying, generous giving, wise visioning, strong leadership, loving agitation, thoughtful parenting, careful administration, strategic organization, inspired artistic expression, smart lawyering, spiritual and physical healing, patient teaching, loyal friendship, and every other gift we have to offer. God will be with us.
I want to say to beloved black and brown members of our family, I see you and have been praying for you and for wisdom to serve and to lead in ways that encourage, strengthen, and honor you as we continue to build beloved community in Foundry and beyond. Now is the time for me and others to not only imagine or dream or pray for a world where you are truly safe, free, celebrated, and honored but to ask for forgiveness for the ways I/we have failed, to listen deeply, humbly do our own work to become anti-racist, discern where we can make the most difference in the cause, and then get busy making it happen. This is my commitment and one I invite other white members of Foundry to affirm. //
As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be: God creates, breathes Spirit into matter and calls it good, creating one beautifully diverse human family. God strengthens weak knees and binds up the wounds of the brokenhearted, is compassionate and merciful, scooping us up from the pit to save us. God continues to lift up and anoint every sort of person to participate in the ongoing work of making the world more gentle, more just, more whole, more in the flow of God’s amazing grace. May we be daily baptized into that flow, immersed in that grace, anointed by Spirit, to receive and invite others to share in God’s liberating life and love and to pour out our own lives in humble, loving service after the way of Jesus Christ. And may we do that as steadfastly as our God is with us: namely, from beginning to end.