Irrevocably claimed

Where do I begin? Do I begin by telling you how sad I am? How much I will miss working with Hope and Greg? Do I tell you how we met over twenty years ago because of this congregation and the kind of witness and ministry it offers in this city?

Or do I begin by talking about how you’re feeling? It’s been over twenty years for me, so for some of you that’s for as long as you have been alive. Some of you have told me how sad you are, how angry, how you wish there had been another way. Others among you, I imagine, haven’t even begun to name the weight that’s pressing down on your shoulders or the heaviness at the bottom of your stomach. Where do we begin?

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are,” we read in First John. Gathering in worship, hearing the witness of scripture, and affirming our faith we claim our true identity as children of God.

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” This is the language of astonishment, wonder, and praise: children of God is what we’re properly called, and that is what we actually are, because of the love that has claimed us as God’s own. This is where we begin. We remember who and whose we are – with astonishment, wonder, and praise. We know our brokenness; we each feel the weight of the twisted self-images offered by our culture; many of us also carry layers of betrayal, abuse, and lies – but our true identity has been written on our skin and in our bones: child of God. Remember who and whose you are.

Desmond Tutu is the retired Archbishop of Cape Town and one of the great souls who help us remember. He was talking with Krista Tippett, and recalling three hundred years of colonial oppression in South Africa and the decades of struggle against apartheid, he mentioned the Bible. He talked about the discovery how the Bible could be such dynamite. Dynamite, he said, and he said it with an explosion of laughter, beautiful, infectious, full-of-Easter laughter. “If these white people had intended keeping us under they shouldn’t have given us the Bible.” Colonial rule and apartheid sought to mislead people into believing that the dignity of a human being was dependent on ethnicity or skin-color. But on the very first page the Bible declares that we are created in the image of God, and that has revolutionary consequences for any system of oppression.

Bishop Tutu talked about a small parish he served in Soweto while working for the South African Council of Churches. Most of the parishioners were domestic workers in the big homes of white families in Johannesburg. It was common for the white employers never to use a black worker’s name, even though they worked in their home every day. Their names, these employers said, were too difficult. And so women would be called “Annie” and most black men would be called “boy.” You know that nobody calls a grown man boy because his name is too difficult. And you know that nobody denies a woman her own name except to remind her that who she is is not up to her to detemine but to those who call her by whatever name they please. But in that small parish in Soweto they helped each other remember who and whose they were: We are God-carriers. We are God’s partners. We are created in the image of God. See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.

The bishop remembered seeing those dear old ladies as they walked out of church as if they were on cloud nine. “You know,” he said, “they walked with their backs slightly straighter … it was amazing.”[1]

This is the dynamite that blows away the layers of lies. See what love the Father has given us to break the chains of sin and death, and set us free.

Where do we begin? We remember who and whose we are, and we walk with our backs slightly straighter on the road to the day when all God’s children dance in glory.

On Easter morning, Kyla, Duke, and Calin were baptized, and as they emerged from the water Dan, Hope, and Greg called them each by name and by the family name we share. Kyla, child of God; Calin, child of God; Duke, child of God: you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and marked as Christ’s own forever. We come from different places, each with our own story. We come with complex and colorful personalities, with the experiences that have shaped us and our expectations. We come with the lies we have come to believe and the truths we have forgotten – and streams of mercy wash away all that could keep us from being who and whose we really are. In baptism we bathe in the divine assurance that in Christ we have been adopted into one family as children of God. Our true identity is God-given from the beginning and affirmed anew in the sin-conquering, life-healing love of God, revealed to us in Christ. We are irrevocably claimed as God’s own.

“Beloved, we are God’s children now,” we read in First John; ”what we will be has not yet been revealed.” What we will be has not yet been revealed. We begin with who and whose we are, and we let that shape how we move into an unknown future. We trust that we have indeed been irrevocably claimed as God’s own, as children of God and as partners in Christ’s service, both individually and as a community.

What we will be has not yet been revealed, and it would be easy to get bogged down in the what-if’s and the what-might-be’s and other worries. And so we make plans, the best plans we know how to make. And we develop strategies to help us adjust to the changing contexts for our life and ministry. But it’s not our plans and strategies we rely on; it’s the faithfulness of God. And it’s not merely adjustment to changing contexts we seek, as though the contexts determined who we are and what we do. What we must continue to seek is what Dr. King liked to call “creative maladjustment.” “Maladjusted,” he said on more than one occasion, “is the ringing cry to modern child psychology. Certainly, we all want to avoid the maladjusted life. In order to have real adjustment within our personalities, we all want the welladjusted life … But I say to you, my friends, … there are certain things in our nation and in the world [to] which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all [people] of goodwill will be maladjusted until the good society is realized. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism [and the] selfdefeating effects of physical violence… In other words, I’m about convinced now that there is need for a new organization in our world. The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment men and women who will be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”[2]

Men and women who will be as maladjusted as Jesus, because they have found their true identity in being his brothers and sisters, and therefore each other’s brothers and sisters in the one family of God.

“Beloved,” we read in First John, “we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”

In love God has created and redeemed us, and irrevocably claimed us as God’s own; that is who we are. And what will we be? We will be fully what we already are as children of God. We will be called, embraced and sent by the same love. We will be restored, fulfilled and made whole. And we will see the day when we will all be like him who is forever alive with God. What we will be has not yet been revealed, but we move forward with hope.

At the conclusion of this service, you are invited to join a listening circle to share your response to the news that Greg and Hope will offer their gifts for ministry elsewhere after June 3rd. Various leaders will start a circle by holding up a sign, and we ask that you simply flock to them — not all of you to the same two three. We want to keep the circles to no more than 8-10 people to give all ample opportunity to talk and ask questions.

We call them listening circles for a reason; please make room for each other, surround each other with care, and hear each other out. And not just today. In the coming weeks and months we will begin to notice just how much good work Hope and Greg haven been doing, because some of it won’t get done or will only get done with a lot of extra attention and time by others. So the next few weeks will not only give us occasions to say thank you and good bye to two fine ministers, they will also offer us many opportunities to step up, lend a hand, and help us keep the course through these uncharted waters, opportunities to claim anew ministry as the work of the people.

You will soon hear from the Board leadership about plans for a search committee to find an Associate Minister and the details of that process, but not today. It will take time for the full extent of our loss to sink in. Some of us will feel it more than others; every soul moves at its own pace. So be gentle and kind to yourselves and to each other; the work of advancing creative maladjustment in our time is hard, and we need to pace ourselves – emotionally, spiritually, and physically. We need to draw water from the deep wells of God and drink, not just occasionally, but daily, continually.

We need to remember who and whose we are, and take it from there. All that we need for our witness and ministry has been given to us. There is no need to wait until there are more members, or more resources, or more of whatever we might believe is necessary to be church. See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. Already. Today. Now. This is where we begin.[3]

 

[1] http://being.publicradio.org/programs/2012/tutu-god-of-surprises/transcript.shtml

[2] Excerpt from a speech at Western Michigan University on Dec 18, 1963. Dr. King frequently repeated the theme of “creative maladjustment” in speeches and sermons.

[3] With thanks to Audrey West http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3474

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