A Sermon preached by The Reverend Beth Lind Foote for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, June 30, 2019
Happy Pride Weekend! This morning I came over the Bay Bridge and looked for the Pink Triangle. There was too much fog, but I knew it was there.
One evening last week I crossed Waller Street to talk to our neighbors who were painting a banner for the Pride parade. It was for the Harvey Milk Democrats, and it said Stonewall 1969. They are young; Stonewall was a historical event to them. It prompted me to reflect this week on Pride, and how it’s affected the world for good. Pride celebrates courage and authenticity, love, and acceptance, and creating a new world that brings those values into reality. I wonder how these values of PRIDE shine a light on our readings for today, and for us at All Saints?
Elijah is one of the most prominent characters in the Old Testament; people of Jesus’ time thought that he might be Elijah returned. Elijah had a showdown with 400 idolatrous priests of Baal, and called down fire upon them, and confronted the powerful Queen Jezebel and King Ahab. In last week’s reading, we saw him taken care of by angels in the wilderness. Today we see Elijah rolling up his mantle and using it to part the Jordan River, in much the same way as Moses parted the Red Sea. Elijah is at the end of his life. He has been mentoring Elisha to take on his powerful mantle of prophecy.
Elijah knows that he will soon be taken up into heaven, and he asks the younger Elisha “what may I do for you, before I am taken from you?” Elisha says, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” Elijah says, “You have asked for a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.”
As Elijah is swept up by the whirlwind, Elisha sees the chariot of fire, and he receives the double portion of Elijah’s spirit. He takes on the mantle of Elijah as prophet, and when he reaches the Jordan, he is able to use the mantle to part it like Elijah did.
We are most familiar with the image of the chariot of fire in this passage, but the heart of the Elijah story today is the transition between the two prophets, Elijah and Elisha. Elijah has completed his ministry, and is passing on the mantle (literally) to Elisha. I see a lot of hope in this story for us at All Saints, and for our wider society.
Like Elisha, we are here today at All Saints because of those who came before us, built this beautiful place, and created a spirit of inclusion, generosity, and service, that are hallmarks of this community. One of our tasks in the Interim period is to ask, how we can be Elijah to Elisha? How can we pass on our mantle of ministry? In a neighborhood that has embraced many of the things we have nurtured, like LGBTQ rights, how do we as a church renew and pass on our ministry in today’s changed world?
In our Gospel passage we see another kind of mentorship: between Jesus and his followers, including us. Jesus’ close disciples, James and John, have been with him for a long time, yet when a Samaritan village ignores Jesus, these two brothers live up to their fiery reputation as “the sons of thunder.” They ask Jesus, “Do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”
Jesus rebukes them because raining fire on people is about the most un-Christ like thing they could do. But I think this episode shows us how easy it is for people to break into factions, and how quick we are to label another group “the other.” Substitute any ethnicity, religious group, or sexual orientation you would like in the place of “Samaritan “and you can see how not much has changed in the world since Jesus’ time.
But Jesus pushes against that natural human response. He challenges his followers, and us, to grow in courage and love, and see all people as members of the human family. In our world where immigrants and refugees have been turned into the “Other”, Jesus’ teaching of love, which is also the teaching of Pride, speaks profoundly this morning.
I had a very interesting experience this weekend being “the other” myself, and it was instructive because I am not often in that position. Our oldest niece was married in the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City. Her parents are high up in the Mormon Church, and she and all of her siblings are devoutly Mormon. My husband and I and my brother-in-law and sister-in-law were about the only “gentiles” in attendance.
Of course, we could not attend the marriage sealing in the Salt Lake Temple, only Mormons in good standing can do that, but we cheered with the larger family when the couple emerged from the Temple and we danced at the reception with our many our nieces and nephews, without champagne.
Three years ago our very Mormon sister and brother-in-law came to our daughter’s same sex wedding. I realized that must have seemed as just as different to them, and they might have felt like “the other.” Though there are theological and cultural differences between us, we love each other dearly. Over the weekend, I heard anew Jesus’ challenge to love as he has loved us.
We also hear in this passage that Jesus has “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” He knows he must give himself as an offering of love.
Jesus is about to push the boundaries; he knows that’s what it takes to move the world forward. He says in our reading today, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Jesus challenges us to take up his mantle and do the work we are given to do in his name.
There’s an article in the New York Times this week about the first Pride Parade in 1970 in New York, a year after the first anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. The first Pride Parade was a protest march of LGBTQ people walking through the streets of Manhattan simply owning who they were. Those who marched set their faces to go to Jerusalem. They could have lost their jobs, or been disowned by family for being there, but they marched. And as they proceeded up the street, more people stepped off the sidewalk and joined in. They marched for their own authenticity and they marched in the name of love.
Our reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians speaks directly to how we need to live into this kind of transformational approach.
Paul writes, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters…For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Paul translated the Gospel to the Gentile culture of his time. He talks about the flesh as if everything about it is corrupt. This, of course, led to centuries of Christian dualistic theology that the body was bad and the spirit was pure. He says, “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit let us also be guided by the Spirit.”
I’m going to call out St. Paul this morning. Paul equates Christ Jesus’ crucifixion as a dismissal of the body in favor of the spirit but the Incarnation is a deeper truth than Paul’s teaching.
One of the gifts of Pride is a celebration of the body. Our bodies are good, and, as Christians, we believe we are created in God’s image and redeemed by Christ who came to live in a body like one of us. The body, including our “passions and desires” are holy because Christ became human.
Paul celebrates the “fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” I find these fruits of the spirit most evident when we do not punish our body, but accept and honor who we are as body and spirit together, as a beloved creation of God.
I don’t often step off the lectionary, but this morning I am inspired to go back to last week’s lesson from St. Paul’s letter to the Galations: “There 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.”