This message was shared on Sunday June 25th at 10 a.m. during Urban Sanctuary at 80 S. 5th Street San Jose
Crystal Griner and Kevin Bailey were the two Capitol Hill Police Officers credited with saving the life of Congressional Representative Steve Scalise.
Scalise was shot at baseball practice by an armed man intent on harming anyone with the label Republican. The scene could have been much worse and it felt like yet another manifestation of our current fragmentation and division. Difference taken to extremes. Another terrible distortion of what it means to disagree.
I am always looking for signs of the Sacred, even in the mess, even when it seems like God is nowhere to be found. Because whatever God is, I believe It is a Presence that seeks to bring us together, to transcend fragmentation and bring healing to all of our woundedness, which is why I was stopped in my tracks when I read that Crystal Griner, one of the Capitol Hill Police Heroes, is not just black, but a lesbian.
This matters because in this moment where tribalism and authoritarianism and white supremacy seems to be winning, in a period in our history where Black Lives Matter sounds hollow when there is no punishment for taking the life of an innocent black person like Philando Castile. Into this moment, fraught with anxiety and fear, our God, this force that is a Spirit of Love, this Power among us brings Congressperson Scalise an angel. Scalise with ties to David Duke, Scalise, who voted in favor of bills that harm poor people and African Americans disproportionately and who was actively engaged in denying LGBTQ rights, this same man, is saved by two angels, one of them a queer, black, woman named Crystal Griner.
A Spirit of Gentleness is among us… I keep thinking about Mr. Scalise and what he must be experiencing. I am deeply grateful that he is likely to recover fully and I wonder what story he will tell about how his prayers were answered and where God was for him in this. Will he still vote against his hero having the same rights that he enjoys?
Will he see his role as an agent of love in a different way?
What will he do with his pain?
That is one of the core questions Jesus puts at the center of our lives- Especially if we have said yes to the spiritual journey, if we have said yes to the path of radical love, the question for us is what do we do with our pain? Where will we put the hurt that comes to us?
In one of his most powerful and multi-dimensional sermons, Jesus drills down to the heart of the spiritual journey and I think he speaks the truth without thrills: Those who lose their life for my sake will find it. Lose and you will find.
This has been terribly misinterpreted, used to abuse those who suffer as if certain kinds of pain can give God glory.
Instead I think what Jesus means is that losing is part of the equation, in fact a very important part. The etymology of the work in Greek for lose, is to perish. Being willing to keep going amid the million little deaths, deaths to our egos, deaths to our way of thinking, death to our need to win, our need to have more, or to have a certain status, or the need to be right- the path of Jesus of Nazareth is one that asks us to take suffering and pain and transform it… to lose our “little” lives to find It.
In spite of how Western Christianity resembles the consumer civic religion, the path Jesus sets out, as Lance Pape writes, is “more controversial and subversive than conventional kindness.” And this subversive path of Jesus will at some point lead us to a place of tension.
I am only just beginning to learn what this means, but I was raised with the idea that being a Christian was about following the rules and about being nice, so this truth goes against my deep need to stay in line. And yet here Jesus is telling us that being faithful should be less about staying on track as it is about getting off of it. He says this is a path where pain and loss cannot be avoided, but they can in fact be transformed into something else, as part of our expanding Universe.
If we take seriously what Jesus is saying here, we notice a pattern. Jesus says that the disciple should be like the teacher, the disempowered should be empowered, the covered will be uncovered, what happens in the dark will be given light, whispers will move to proclamations…on housetops. There is a progression in the pattern, a movement toward more openness, more universality, more inclusion, more outward. But with that more expansive view comes pain.
This pushing out has consequences. The world cannot always handle leaders and revealers and unveilers and proclaimers.
Jesus says that doing what he is doing will set “Man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”
That sounds like a description of political conversation at Thanksgiving!
But the truth is that being faithful should be less about staying on track as it is about getting off of it. This is a path where pain and loss cannot be avoided, but they can in fact be transformed into something else. Expansion and tension are partners.
When I shared on social media this week the irony of a queer woman saving the life of a homophobic member of Congress, I was attacked by some from my hometown, saying I was being one sided and unChristian. I truly hate being so unpopular…
I think maybe Jesus’ sermon in the Gospels is reminding us that if we say yes to this life for real, yes to the work of pushing back on this culture as part of our spiritual work, we must not expect it to be smooth and easy. As one commentator noted, Jesus cared more about Kingdom values than family values. He put justice before being liked by those who loved him. He knew first hand what it felt like to challenge the behavior of his own tribe. Expansion and tension are partners.
If we never experience tension because of what we believe, perhaps it is time to examine which path we are on. Because if we keep tapping into all of the dimensions of life and love, if we remain committed to growing, push back is sure to find us. Proclaiming peace, demanding justice, healing all, makes those in power get out their swords, perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Whenever we demand that people matter more than profits, weapons of all kinds will be drawn. Whenever we sing out that the circle should be wider, swords will point our way.
The path of Jesus is sure to expand us, but the world won’t always expand with us. Pushing out has consequences. What will we do with our pain? Where will we put the hurt that comes to us?
To join that Force that leads, reveals, unveils and proclaims, to follow in this path Jesus lays out, to live with abundance and in sync with that Greater Force of the heartbeat of life, means we won’t avoid pain and push back.
Being willing to keep going amid the million little deaths, deaths to our egos, deaths to our way of thinking, death to our need to win, our need to have more, our need to be right, our need to be liked- the path of Jesus of Nazareth is one that asks us to take suffering and pain and transform it…
Into this moment, fraught with anxiety and fear, our God, this force that is a Spirit of Love, this Power among us brings love and reminds us that with expansion comes tension. Let us not be afraid, let us lose our life to find it…and do it together. May it be so.
After some singing and silence, we talked in small groups around these questions:
- Have you experienced tension because your faith expanded you faster than the world around you?
- How have you lost to find?