Thursday, March 05, 2015

Passing Down the Mantle

I’ve been thinking a bit about this concept of passing the mantle as I have been saddened over the last couple of years as the church universal has lost some of its greatest leaders. Gordon Cosby, who pastored Church of the Savior in Washington, DC, modeling a different way of being church.  Walter Wink, who gave the church new words to talk about power and evil.  Marcus Borg, who gave the church new ways to talk about old words like salvation and redemption.

Closer to home, George Edwards, who wrote a book about the liberation of gays and lesbians before it had occurred to most heterosexuals that anyone even needed liberating.  And I’ve wondered more than once over the last few years, who is going to be able to fill these shoes?  Truly even as Jesus was transfigured before the disciples’ eyes, there are people who have transfigured the church, and we’ve seen it happen...

But while we are thinking of those through whom God’s glory is shown, while we are thinking about those transfigurers of our world, guess what, there is someone somewhere who is thinking of us. Of you. Because it’s not just the ancient prophets, it’s not just the preachers and the scholars who show God’s glory, who transfigure the world around us, it’s you, and it’s me.

All of us are Elijah, all of us are Moses, all of us are Jesus, to someone.  All of us are passing down the mantle in some sense, passing the mantle of love and grace to someone.

Sometimes when I am in a situation and I’m not sure what I should do, or maybe I know what I should do, but I don’t really want to do it, I think this:  What would our own Anne do?  And I am steeled, I am nerved to do what I need to do. 

Anne, when she was a child, as she has told us, lived in a home with a father who was abusive.  Her life, and thus our lives, would have been very different had it not been for a little church she went to along the way. Because that little church took little Anne under their wings, and when she would run away from home because she was scared, the members would take her in and care for her. 

Once Anne and I were talking about churches with theater seats, you know, the kind that fold down and have arms, and she very passionately said, “I hate those seats. Those seats don’t belong in church. If a child comes in and wants to lay down her head on someone’s lap, she can’t.”  Church, for Anne, is a place where a child can lay down his or her head, can be loved and nurtured. Those folks who did that for Anne passed down the mantle of grace and love to a little girl who in turn passes it on to us.

I visited with Gwen this week. She and her family, as many of you know, decided to become foster parents several years back, and now they’ve adopted two children and they’ve taken in several more through the years. 

They take these babies in, not knowing how long they will be able to keep them, having no control over where they will return. But while they are with them, they keep them safe, and are teaching their children that that’s their job, too.

They give them a sense of grounded-ness and order, they hold them and love them.  These babies will never know what these strong amazing parents have given to them. Their lives, though, will have been forever changed by the time, however brief, that they share with this family. They are passing down the mantle of stability and love...

And there is someone in your life who looks to you:  maybe it’s your old neighbor who is watching to see when you drive up, who is longing to have a chat, even it’s just a little one, with you, longing to be listened to, to be clucked over for even just a short time.

Maybe it’s that kid at school, and maybe they don’t show it, but maybe they are counting on you everyday, more than you could ever imagine, to smile at them and to call them by name.

Ellen Bass, in her poem, If You Knew, reminds us of how precious every one of our encounters can be:

What if you knew you'd be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets,
for example, at the theater,
tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line's crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport,
when the car in front of me doesn't signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy won't say Thank you,
I don't remember they're going to die.

A friend told me she'd been with her aunt.
They'd just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee,
kissed her aunt's powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked a half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.

How close does the dragon's spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?

Every now and then, the crack in heaven splits, and we see, we know, how precious, how beloved we are.  Our beloved-ness.  It is the mantle that Christ passes down to us.  It is the mantle that we give to others.

~Excerpted from a recent sermon by Cindy