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?

(discussion)

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.

But as soon as we’re in that empowered place, the call is to begin to think again about serving, about giving away power, taking up our cross again, lest we become trapped by the power we have. This is the cycle we are called to. Death and resurrection. It’s messy. It’s situational. We’ll get it wrong sometimes. It’s ok.


Many of us only associate communion with the cross, and yes, it IS about Jesus giving his body to be broken, his blood to be shed. But Jesus also calls himself the bread of life, manna from heaven, nourishing us with strength for the journey. He also said, “I will not drink this wine again until I do so with you in my Father’s kingdom.” And he continued to break bread with them after his resurrection.

So communion is not only about death – this is also a celebratory meal, an empowering meal, a meal about an empty tomb, pointing forward to our own resurrection. It’s both a memorial and a love feast. This is a meal about the cycle of Gospel living.

This meal is a paradox. It’s a “both/and.” It’s a truth that’s doing somersaults. It’s about Jesus’ divinity and Jesus’ humanity. It’s about powerful metaphor and real, actual presence. It’s about death AND life. This meal reminds us that Christ holding everything together, like Wendy preached about last year. In Christ, all things, all “both/ands,” hold together.

This weekend, we’ve focused a lot on how we’re called to die, How we’re called to check our privilege out of love, so people more marginalized than us will be afforded greater dignity, safety and honor. This has been good and very necessary. I hope these conversations continue through the year in our groups.

But I want to close our time together by talking about how we’re also called to rise. How we’re called to not only suffer with Christ, but to enjoy life to the full with him.

In these last three years I’ve spent with you all, I have been privileged to witness the lives of some incredible human beings. I have seen how lovely you folks are, at the very core of who you are. I have watched some of you absolutely come to life. I have witnessed pain transformed into beauty. We saw some of this last night in the courageous vulnerability of that open mic, in the pure unadulterated joy of that dance party, where people who I know are going through a lot of s*** in their lives still tenaciously (and fabulously) practiced resurrection on the dance floor.

But friends, I think there’s even more for us. There’s more life, there’s a broader purpose for us beyond this GS community. So as we prepare for communion, I want to do some good old-fashioned resurrection power exhortation. Is that ok? You don’t even have to fully believe in the resurrection to be encouraged.

I want to do this because there are some people here who have been told, sometimes repeatedly, that their sexuality disqualifies them from full participation in the love of God, from the kingdom of God. There’s some people here who have been told their gender identity disqualifies them. There’s some people here who have been told that their support of their LGBTQ+ loved ones disqualifies them. Those are lies from the pit of hell.

But because of those lies, there are some people here who have stepped out of closets but haven’t yet stepped out of the tomb.

I believe that today, God is saying to you: “Come out.  It’s time. Rise. You have shared in my sufferings, you have become like me in my death, now taste the resurrection. Live out your calling in the body of Christ.”

——–

You who have made the risky choice to tell the truth about yourselves to at least a few others, and in some cases, to everyone you know,

you who have chosen authenticity over safety, you who chose to endure the pain of potential and actual rejection and loss of privilege because you had faith God would somehow hold you together and make a way for you to survive if you could just pry open the door and brave the harsh air and blinding light outside your closets…

You truth-tellers…. RISE! The church needs you. The world needs you.

How much more equipped are you now as evangelists, as people who can share not only your LGBTQ selves, but your Jesus-loving selves, in open, non-manipulative ways, without pressure or pretense, with humility and a listening spirit, sensitive to how people are responding, to what stereotypes need challenging, but also when to let go of control and let the Spirit do her work?


Your vulnerability will unlock truths in others, and you will see people released from shame on all sides.

Eat the bread, drink the wine, and may the power of the resurrection lift and propel you.

——————

You who have been forced to listen and pay attention to your bodies, to the subtleties of your gender identity and sexuality, you who have had to carve a way through thick layers of self-hatred, fear and shame, and learn to passionately love the unique human being you are…

You fleshy ones, RISE! The church needs you. The world needs you.

How much more equipped are you to teach the church about the importance of embodiment, the beauty of creation, when God called these bodies very good, the power of the incarnation, when Jesus took on flesh and redeemed it?

Christian culture is mostly too ashamed to talk about fleshiness. Might you be the ones to help the church overcome its body denial, to help the world overcome its body indulgence and spirit denial, so both can discover how electric sexuality and spirituality become when they’re in conversation, when they dance, how they carry each other deeper and broader?

Eat the bread, drink the wine, and may the power of the resurrection lift and propel you.

————

You who understand what it’s like to be rejected, excluded, ignored, pushed to the teetering edges of your churches and families for what you believe, or for whom you love, or how you express your gender, or how you choose to continue showing love to your LGBTQ+ child or sibling or friend… pushed to the edges, only to fall into the waiting arms of God…

You rejects, RISE! The church needs you. The world needs you.

How much more equipped are you to notice the camouflaged crowds in the other dark corners of our faith communities and neighborhoods who are likewise rejected, excluded, ignored, pushed to the edges?

You understand the dynamics of privilege and marginalization from the inside out. You can empathize. You don’t want anyone else to feel the kind of exclusion you felt, not black people, not First Nations people, not disabled people, not refugees or immigrants, not the elderly, not low-income people, not people with mental illnesses.

Now that you’ve pried open the door, There’s no way you’ll close it in the face of someone else. You have the keys of the kingdom; you will unlock so many more ways in.

Eat the bread, drink the wine, and may the power of the resurrection lift and propel you. —————–

You who scandalize other people, you who make other people uncomfortable by your mere presence and the don’t-ask-don’t-tell silences you shatter and the questions you raise, you who have tested and shed light on your church’s unspoken criteria for acceptance and inclusion…

You public embarrassments, RISE! The church needs you. The world needs you.

How much more equipped are you to understand what Jesus felt like, this Jesus whom Peter calls “the stone that causes people to stumble.” this Jesus who went on to become the cornerstone, who for the joy set before him endured the shame and scandal of the cross?

Eat the bread, drink the wine, and may the power of the resurrection lift and propel you.

——————-

You who have lost family, friends, and churches because of who you are, you who know what it feels like to have no one who understands, to be isolated and so very alone,


You orphans, RISE! The church needs you. The world needs you.

How much more equipped are you to understand the family of God, which is based not on bloodlines but on unseen identities and changes of allegiance, which grows not mainly through childbirth but through constant adoption, adoption into a new diverse intersectional community woven together with threads of God’s unconditional love?

How much more equipped are you to show hospitality to the lonely shivering ones who land on your doorstep? To entertain angels?

Eat the bread, drink the wine, and may the power of the resurrection lift and propel you. ————-

You who have been forced to wrestle deeply with your faith, like Jacob with the angel, you who have stared down the barrel of your own doubt, who have come within inches of losing the very anchoring centre of your lives, or in some cases, have lost it completely, only to find it again in an unexpected place, you who have painfully deconstructed your faith and are finding a better foundation, a better blueprint for something to be rebuilt,

You who can never again be lukewarm Christians, can never be fairweather believers, because you’ve had to sacrifice too much to get where you are,

You angel-wrestlers, RISE! The church needs you. The world needs you.

How much more equipped are you to be safe spaces for others who are questioning, who are hiding out in church pews, feeling like imposters, unable to admit they don’t believe anything the guy in the pulpit is saying, afraid of losing everything down a slippery slope?

You who know that there is no honest relationship with God without doubt, and that questions are not the end, but the beginning of faith, that in the wrestling, even though God may leave us with a bit of a limp, God will not leave us without blessing us…

Limp to the table. Eat the bread, drink the wine, and may the power of the resurrection lift and propel you.

————-

You who have had to read and interpret Scripture like your lives depended on it, you who have been forced to dig into the Word as a theology of survival, to do exegesis, hermeneutics, even to learn a few Greek and Hebrew words (who thought that would ever happen?) and who, even now, aren’t sure what to think, aren’t sure how to make sense of the messy library of books we call the Bible,

You Scripture-deconstructors, RISE! The church needs you. The world needs you.


Eat the bread, drink the wine, and may the power of the resurrection lift and propel you.

—————

You whose very bodies have become bridges between what seem to be very distant worlds, between two identities that many people think are mutually exclusive, you who have bridged the span between LGBTQ+ and Christian, you living oxymorons, you who are audaciously indivisible, you who are viewed with suspicion and sometimes walked upon by people coming at you from both sides, you who feel the pull and the tension but relentlessly and daily EXIST.

You trampled ones, RISE! The church needs you. The world needs you. 

How much more equipped are you to be avenues of reconciliation for others, to usher people into generous space, to bring the peace of Christ into divided communities, to show that full agreement is not necessary for unity, to teach the hard-learned lessons of forgiveness, grace, and the ability to see the best in each other, to demonstrate that you can build an incredibly strong bridge with nothing but the weak force of love.

Eat the bread, drink the wine, and may the power of the resurrection lift and propel you.

———–

You are by no means disqualified. You are people of the resurrection.

You might say, “My church won’t accept me, so I can’t do these things.” But the fact is, you don’t need the church’s approval to do this. If they won’t let you sing in church, sing in the street. If they won’t let you preach in church, preach to your queer friends, and see who else listens in. If they won’t let you be on the hospitality team, then engage in the high and holy ministry of hosting dance parties in your home.

We don’t need permission to leave the tomb, to rise up with resurrection power.

Peter Maurin called folks to “build a new society in the shell of the old.” I think we are called to build a new church in the cracked shell of the old, to take a tight, constricted place and open it up with generous space.

And I don’t know for sure, but I have a hunch that LGBTQ+ people and their friends, and other groups that the church-builders have thrown away like useless stones, might just be the very people to breathe new life into dry church bones, might just be like seeds that are trampled on, pressed and buried deep underground, but bursting with new life and hope and freshness.

I think that’s our calling, friends. And that’s not meant to feel like pressure. I know lots of us here are at the end of this retreat saying, “I still haven’t figured this all out. I don’t know what God wants me to do with my body, with my relationships. I don’t know if I can believe God is even there, or if God’s there, I don’t know if I can believe that God’s trustworthy.”

It’s ok. God works best when we’re weakest.  I’m proof of that this morning. All we need to be is hungry and thirsty for God.


If you sense Jesus is calling you to follow down the path to Golgotha, calling you to relinquish power, to check privilege, to be last, then come to this table.

If, this morning, you sense Jesus is calling you to follow him out of the tomb into new life, calling you to exercise your gifts, to shine, to be empowered to serve, then come to this table.

If Jesus is calling you to all of the above, to “both/and,” then come to the table.

Find the “both/and” of death and resurrection waiting for you, whether you fully believe it or not. Come anyway. Come see what God might do if you take that step.

You’re not alone. We’re doing this together. We all have a place at this paradoxical table. Really, this is just an appetizer. This is practice, it’s practice in dying and rising together.

Because one day, you and I will indeed rise, and we will feast together at a table that is long, a table that is wide, wide enough for all our friends and all our enemies, and drink new wine from the new wineskins of the kingdom in the physical presence of the one who holds every “both/and” together. Amen.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Check out our other Generous Space Retreat 2017 blog reflections HERE!

#OGSR #QueerSermons #GenerousSpaceRetreat2017 #GenerousSpaceRetreat #BethCarlsonMalena

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