Monday, July 18, 2011

City Of Refuge 7/17/2011. Praise GOD.

I am still buzzing from today's City Of Refuge worship service.

The sermon was delivered by the fabulous Ann Jefferson who, in addition to her role as COR's Associate Pastor, is the coordinator of the ministry certificate program at my seminary. The sermon alone was a monumental experience... this amazing woman of God connected her recent experience with altitude sickness while at the Presbyterian Conference Center up near Zephyr Cove NV (southeast shore of Lake Tahoe, just a few miles beyond Stateline along US 50), to the synoptics' story of Jesus, Elijah, and Moses shown to Peter, James, and John on the Mount Of Transfiguration. But she didn't just make a nice metaphorical connection; she delivered the kind of sermon that reminds me of precisely why I am a Christian, why I believe so strongly in a radical-deconstructionist Protestant reclamation of liberation theology, and why I am in exactly the place God wants for me, doing the exact work God wants me to do. I have the ability to write Biblically-based sermons of this caliber and I thank God for that blessing; I only ask that God give me the powerful voice to deliver such a sermon to others who deserve to know the peace I have found after so many years.

But, that said, this entry is about something else.

Upon arriving at the COR building and sitting down for the beginning of the service, my friend Lee and I both noticed this absolutely radiant slightly older woman; she had a long royal-purple head-wrap and was just... cool. I am sure that most of us can relate: you walk into a room where you do not know many people, you meet eyes with some folks who you remember from an earlier time, and then you find yourself just awed by the spiritual presence of one particular person? Well, that's what I experienced. Oh, but wait: there's more to this story. So much more.

During the service we noticed this wonderful sister looking back toward the entryway; some folks arrive on fashionably-late time so I figured that perhaps she was looking for a specific person. Sure enough, she looked back and started to beckon someone... again, I didn't give it much thought. Then this wonderful sister actually got up and walked back behind us, presumably to help the other person. There are many people with mobility challenges in this congregation; again, I didn't give it too much thought.

Then I saw her return with the person whom she had beckoned.

Now, I do not know who this other woman was to her. Maybe they've known each other for years. Or maybe they just met on the street. Or, maybe the Spirit was moving through them, guiding a person who needed to feel love at that moment. I do not know. I do know that, as they walked past us in the aisle, it suddenly became clear to me that the second woman was either homeless, or at-risk, or had some internal conflict... and that she was afraid to step forward into the Living Word. The Holy Spirit moved through the room and gave strength to the first woman, who convinced the second woman not only to enter the seating area but to walk up with her and sit next to her approximately three rows back from the front. Almost immediately, I sensed that this second woman's spirit was encountering the Holy Spirit in her midst, and her entire body-language shifted toward peace and love. And toward safety. I saw the Holy Spirit grip a person who had been tossed aside by society and let that person know, with no uncertainty, that she is safe, that God loves her, that Jesus died for her, and that the Holy Spirit is with her.

I saw a miracle, with my own two eyes.

Not a millisecond after that thought came to me, my entire body did the electric "zing thing" and it was like a dam burst across my tear ducts. I looked over at my friend, and realized -- to my amazement -- that his eyes were also leaking. "Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth concerning anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in Heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:19-20) At that moment, two things screamed into my consciousness. There is irony here, because I take the underlying theological lessons of these two things to be self-evident. But, clearly, God wanted to remind me of some basic things...

First, God gave my friend and me a blessing by allowing us to witness the Holy Spirit alighting on this woman; it serves as yet another proof that Salvation spread outward from that moment in time, 2000 years ago on a hill in the Middle East, and It is still working its magic in us in the manner of the Holy Spirit which has not ceased flowing across the Earth since the Day Of Pentecost.

Second, we are all equal in Salvation because Jesus died for all of us. Not just for those with access to the Federal Student Loan Program. And that brings me to my take-home point: those of us with access to multiple Bibles, who have a steady roof over our heads, who have a stocked cupboard from which to choose our next week's meals, have been given privilege. But such a privilege does not come without a price: to those whom fortune smiles, service beckons.

Or to put it another way, if we profess to fashion our lives after the model of Jesus, but we do not first-and-foremost devote ourselves to serving those in need, then of what use are we? All of us who accept the deposit of the Holy Spirit are saved; this we know. But if the Holy Spirit demands that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves, then how can we serve God and not offer service to those who are in need? If we claim to have received the Holy Spirit but we do not let it take over our actions in service of equalizing the world for all of God's children, then have we really accepted the Spirit?

And there was a cloud that overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying "THIS IS MY BELOVED SON: HEAR HIM!" And suddenly when they had looked round about, they saw no man anymore, save Jesus with them. (Mark 9:7-8)


  1. Yeah. It was truly amazing. And the presence of Christly love for trans folk is... palpable. Truly a holy place. There's this one woman there who comes from the Pentecostal dancing-in-the-aisles tradition; she is *so* full of the Spirit, it's beautiful to watch... I mentioned to her that I love it b/c I can't dance like that since my back injury, and without hesitating she said "oh honey, I dance for *EVERYONE* for that reason." Just... wow.

  2. And then there was the man who asked one of the ministers to pray for him in his struggle to remain sober. Both Lee and I were *bawling* in witness to that. The line from the Kevin Smith film Dogma kept running through my brain... "you don't celebrate your faith, you MOURN it." That's *exactly* why I wish the COR experience on everyone; we serve a *living* Spirit, not a statue yaknow?