Rise! (A sermon from the Ontario GS Retreat)

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]We just returned from our 5th annual Ontario Generous Space Retreat.  It was a very significant event, packed full of hope-filled and challenging conversations, with much to process and reflect on.  I am sure there will be many subsequent blog posts unpacking more of what happened there.  For now, I want to share the sermon I preached on Sunday morning.  If you watch the YouTube video, you’ll see me pausing several times, letting my tears flow, partly out of sheer exhaustion from the retreat, partly because I was anticipating leaving this part of the GS community as Danice and I move back to Vancouver, but mostly because I felt the weighty privilege of speaking life-giving words to a community I have grown to love and admire so much during my three years of work as Director of Community for Generous Space.

As I said in my sermon introduction, I owe many of these thoughts and ideas to four highly-recommended sources:

  1. The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb by Eric Law

  2. Queer Virtue by Elizabeth Edman

  3. Christena Cleveland’s teaching about privilege

  4. the inspiring lives and ideas of the LGBTQ+ members of our GS community

– Beth[/vc_column_text][vc_separator color=”black” border_width=”3″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link=”https://vimeo.com/300878478/8f916d0286″ align=”center” title=”“Rise“ – video of Beth’s sermon”][vc_column_text]We’ve spent a lot of time talking about privilege this weekend. I’m going to continue that conversation, but I want to look at privilege in relation to this communion meal, in relation to Jesus.

Here’s a question for you. Was Jesus a privileged person?


Jesus was “both/and.” He was a bastard child from a backwater town called Nazareth. He was also a male rabbi, and he is the incarnate son of God.

There were some aspects of Jesus’ identity that gave him power and privilege. These things Jesus had to subvert and die to and defect from. But there were also some aspects of Jesus’ identity that marginalized him. These were things Jesus had to step up, claim, and live into. Jesus took both the downward path, and Jesus took the upward path.

When Jesus was baptized, a voice from heaven confirmed his core identity as beloved son of God. Immediately after that, he headed straight out to the wilderness. He took the downward path of suffering and fasting. Satan tempted him to flex his power and privilege as Son of God. He refused, demonstrating that he was free from needing to earn status.

Instead of sucking up to the other rabbis and powerful people, playing their games, he called them whitewashed tombs. Vipers. He called them to give up their pretenses, their need to be first and best. Jesus was a race traitor, a gender traitor.

Jesus hung out with and listened to the wrong people.

When the crowds thought Jesus might overthrow Rome, they welcomed him triumphally, but he subverted their expectations by riding in not on a strong horse but on a humble donkey. And subverted them further by being crucified, by putting up no fight, by coming across as a weak pushover, a failure. And then subverted that act of death by rising again to life in power.

Sometimes Jesus was downwardly mobile, sometimes he was upwardly mobile. He chose suffering, and he also chose resurrection life. You can see this pattern, this cycle of death and rising, which Eric Law calls the “cycle of Gospel living.” I believe it’s something we’re called to step into, too.

A while back, some of us watched a simulcast of a Richard Rohr conference together, and Christena Cleveland was teaching about privilege. She told a story about how straight, white, middle-to-upper-class men would often say to her, “I’m beginning to realize that I’m super privileged, but what am I supposed to do about it?”

Christena, who’s an African American social psychologist, could have told them to work on leveling the playing field. But she had seen studies proving that even when groups of unequal people try their hardest to operate in an equal way, the more privileged members eventually end up taking control, because they are used to being in control. It’s what they know. So she did not tell these men to try to equalize things.

Instead, Christena told these people of privilege, “You have a very important place in the Kingdom of God. It’s necessary, noble and beautiful. That place is last. Your job is to be last.

In the ways and situations in which you are privileged, your job is to be last.

If we’re headed toward a kingdom where wolves lie down with lambs, where predators and prey co-exist peacefully, then what we need is not equality but reversal. Inversion. The last becoming first, and the first becoming last. The upwardly mobile heading down, and the downwardly mobile heading up. We had might as well begin now. The world is about to turn.

In the situations where we’re afforded power and privilege, Jesus’ call is to become like him in his death, to follow him to the cross, to choose a downwardly mobile path, a foolish path of vulnerability and and failure, which feels like death. To realize we are whitewashed tombs and vipers, and to hear that not as condemnation but as the most loving thing Jesus could have said. This is how we will be rescued from our power, from our allegiance to sinful systems and structures.

But in situations where we’re the ones who are powerless or underprivileged, that same call to crucifixion rings hollow, since we’re already suffering. Instead, our call is to follow Jesus upward, in resurrection, to step up, to claim the hope and empowerment of the empty tomb. This is how we will be rescued from our powerlessness, from our victim mentality, our resentment & bitterness, our tendency to perpetuate cycles of vengeance and violence.

Paul hints at these things in this passage from Philippians 3:7-11 – he says “Whatever gains I had – I count them as loss because of Christ. I want to know Christ. I want to share his sufferings and become like him in his death.”

How do we be last? How do we die? How do we count our gains as loss? We give away our money. We step out of our comfort zones. We listen, we pass the microphone. We name our privilege often. We show up early and do lots of unsexy, behind-the-scenes things. We take criticism as a learning opportunity instead of being defensive. We educate ourselves. We teach other privileged people how to be last. We ask Jesus to show us how to die to ourselves.

Paul also says, “I want to know the power of Christ’s resurrection.”

In the places where we’re NOT privileged, How do we go from last to first? How do we experience Jesus’ resurrection power? Even though it sounds triumphant, it’s not always a bed of roses. Resurrection involves throwing out the negative, shame-filled mental scripts that bind us like graveclothes, and instead clothing ourselves with reminders of our belovedness. It’s about the long, difficult work of forgiveness, the process of no longer giving our oppressors power over our emotional wellbeing. It’s about stepping up, finding our voice, our true selves, and sharing the unique gifts of our identity with the world, even if the world does not gratefully receive them. It’s about watching our pain become transformed into a power to love that can unleash healing on others.