Beloved By God – A Sermon ©
September 24, 2016
The Spirit of God made me, and the breath of God gives me life.
Good morning good people of God! I am so humbled and so honored to be with you all today. This is my very first visit to the Twin Cities and as a first-timer I would have been grateful enough to be with some of you, as I was on Friday night at the opening of the Healing Justice Conference. The great work Rebecca Voelkel is doing through the Center for Sustainable Justice is what embodying the Gospel witness is all about as far as I can tell. Struggling for racial, economic and ecological justice with a spirit of joy and plenty! Yeah, that’s God-With-Us Alright! And so to have been a part of that grand evening was surely a gift, and a more than worthy introduction to your town.
But I must say my gratitude is doubled this morning for the opportunity only a Sunday morning can provide. For it is on a Sunday morning that we Christian folk get a chance to “do our thing” together. And by “our thing,” I don’t mean we get to sing hymns, take communion, or attend church school – although those activities are certainly worthy of our gathering time. No, what I mean is that it is on a Sunday morning we get a chance to proclaim the good things God has done for us.
For this is what I have come to believe a significant part of Christian worship is all about. It is about the community’s collective expression of the particular experience each of us can proclaim, of the very good things God has done for us. It is at once our opportunity and our obligation to remind ourselves, and bear witness to others that, as this morning’s scripture says, “the spirit of God has made us, and the breath of God gives us life.”
Now I realize the audacity of this claim. Given the spotty history of the church; its too easy alliance with empire; its penchant for turning the God of love and justice into a weapon of mass destruction directed at the bodies, minds and spirits of the weakest among us; in short given the mountains of harm the church has perpetuated against so many people, for so many centuries it can be “more than a notion” to assume that Sunday morning is really about bearing witness to our experience of the good things God has done for us.
I realize the challenge. I acknowledge the complexity. But here is what I also want to acknowledge. It is exactly because Christian tradition has been so fraught that we must recall our stories of an alternative witness to one another. Indeed part of what it means to stand up to the principalities and powers of this age is to be unafraid to bear witness to the concrete, real world ways in which the power of God actually works to upend the failings of the faith.
This is an especially important task for us progressive Christian types as our incisive powers of deconstructive analysis, our commitment to the worthy business of intersectional organizing and even our stance for social justice so frequently outstrips our capacity to simply and freely share our various personal good news stories, that one would think we don’t have any.
But of course nothing could be further from the truth. So in the spirit of upending the failure of the faith in favor of proclaiming the power of God to do good things for us in the intimate and small spaces of our lives regardless; let me tell you just a little bit about the very good thing God has done for me. And as I do so, begin to ponder in your own hearts some of the very good things God has done for you as well.
For most of the first 18 years of my life, this poor, black queer girl standing before you, grew up in Camden, New Jersey. For those of you who don’t know anything about Camden it is a city that has long held the dubious distinction of being ranked one of the poorest, most crime-ridden places in the United States. And so growing up in that context, was only supposed to guarantee me about four things in life: an experience of uninterrupted poverty; a lack of educational opportunity; a perpetual battle with low self-esteem; and a crappy job.
But what it was not supposed to not even allow me to imagine, let alone embrace, was that there might be something blessed, and beautiful, something BELOVED about my embodiment. And yet, by the time I was eight years old, God had already begun to sing a new song in my ear. It was a liberation song, and it went something like this.
“You are my beloved daughter in whom I am well pleased. YOUR NAME IS LISA. You will not pass through this life unheard or unloved. Instead I will always cause you to remember that I exhale my belovedness onto you — in all of your black, queer splendor — as I do to everything that I have made. And because I have caused you to know this, I call you to dedicate your life to proclaim the very same to every creature I put in your path.”
Now, you need to know that I came to Christianity in a somewhat unlikely way given who I am. The liberation song I first heard in Camden, New Jersey, came to me via the airwaves of a white conservative radio station: WKDN, the Sound of New Life. I used to listen to it on a tiny portable transistor radio while I was held up in my bedroom. I used to lock myself away in that room because I didn’t’ feel right in my flesh. Besides being black and queer, I also had a physical disability, and I was just so sure because of these identities that this pile of me was unworthy.
And yet behind those closed doors God sang to me. God breathed on me. And God did so through messengers that I would later critique for the privatized “Jesus saves” perspective that would fuel the rhetoric of the Christian Right.
But for reasons that I can only attribute to the grace of God, my poor, black, queer, disabled self began to experience God as an aching, yearning Presence that longed for ME through those messages.
Imagine that! Imagine a God so determined to liberate me from the principalities and powers of this world’s racist, homophobic, misogynist, classist wickedness, that She would mount a “By Any Means Necessary” campaign to call me out — to call me beloved. Sometimes I still have to pinch myself.
What I learned from that experience, and why I have decided to share it with you this morning, is that I know I am not alone. My story is not unique. There is a whole world of us out there – progressive Christian folk with some powerful good news stories to share. And don’t’ tell me the church does not need us bearing this kind of witness in order to be the church, because I know better. Don’t tell me that doing so is not a vital part of our work for a multifaith movement for intersectional justice because I don’t believe it.
Well, I could continue in this vein for a long time but in closing I just want to pull out the essence of what I am trying to communicate in a way that you might be able to use going forward. So I have distilled my remarks into what I am calling the
The TOP 6 tips for the Justice Loving Christian ready to bring the spirit.
- Don’t be afraid to proclaim your testimony. It is the story of what God has done for you. It is the space where your liberation shines. And we progressive Christians need to tell these stories to each other and to the world. Because the same God that liberates me, liberates each and every one of us. God is ONE, and we are MANY in God’s ONENESS. So sing your particular LIBERATION SONG.
- GROUND YOUR IDENTITY IN GOD first, last and always and work for the kind of justice that makes space for every other creature of God to do the same. For me this is the spirituality that must undergird intersectional engagement, organizing and analysis. We NEED the God content, or else we die on the vine.
- REFUSE to “laundry list” your PERSONHOOD – One of my biggest struggles around identity-focused work folks like us do is that it can be objectifying and limiting. We can fall into the trap of reducing ourselves and our experiences to this check off list of categories that put a chokehold on our imaginations. DON’T do it. Don’t run the list unless you are ready to tell a deeper truth.
- INVEST IN SOME FOLKS THAT YOU CAN LOVE, and then love them HARD! – Everyday in my job at Auburn Seminary I get to run a program that I created called the Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle. And dig this, my job is to love black women for a living, by helping them figure out how to love themselves and their communities. I get to create a context for them to hear and to sing their liberation song. Don’t tell me that’s not beloved community formation at the intersections. So I say FIND YOUR FOLK even if they don’t look like you and then fall in love with each other.
- BE FIERCELY, FABULOUSLY AND UNAPOLGETICALLY JOYFUL – or as black gay boyfriends say to me all the time “Do You Boo.” This is not a call to be a Pollyanna. But a call to be passionately prophetic authentic. Whenever I speak, invariably someone asks me about the nature of the spiritual practice that allows me to do my work. And let me tell, I go to church sometimes. I mediate even more than that. But what I really do is sweat. I am fierce in the gym. I feel myself there. I take up space. I AM loud. And from that I am powerful. I feel alive AND THIS fuels my connection to God and my activism. So go get you some fabulous.
- Embrace self-care as a mandate for prophetic witness. In others words don’t believe one of the biggest lies out there – namely that self-care is behavior unbefitting “REAL ACTIVISTS.”
For didn’t Jesus say, I came that you would have life and have it abundantly.” And didn’t Audre Lorde have his back 2000 years later when she proclaimed “self-care is an act of political revolution.”
Two people of color telling the truth, and bringing a sense of what the formation of beloved community might mean for us all. That’s what, I’m talking about.
Let the church say, AMEN.