Tuesday, November 27, 2007


This week at CWM, the text we read for "Christ the King" Sunday was an alternative lectionary suggestion (Luke 1: 76-79). On the surface, out of context, it seems like just another hymn to Christ’s kingly, sovereign power to redeem and rescue humanity in ultimate triumph.

Yet, we must not jump too quickly to this conclusion. Contrary to what we might assume, this text is not about Jesus at all. It’s about John the Baptist. So why, in the world, on Christ the King Sunday, the last day of the liturgical season, the day when we are supposed to be celebrating the Christ would we be reading about John the Baptist? After all, he is just Jesus’ sidekick, right?

Think about it. John is like Robin to Jesus’ Batman, Tonto to the Lone Ranger, Gleek to the Wonder Twins. All great epics need sidekicks after all, you know those characters who act accompany heroes on their journeys, offering them assistance and support.

Which sidekicks do you remember?

The sidekick has the literary function of playing against the hero, often contrasting in skill, asking the questions the reader would ask, performing auxiliary functions and/or preparing the way for the heroes’ own wondrous feats.

John the Baptist can be read in this same fashion, can’t he? A cousin to the Christ, John shares in some of Jesus’ supernatural mystique. He, like Jesus, was divinely conceived, a child of a woman who had long ceased menstruating. Like Jesus, he too preached an edgy message, calling people out of the comfort of their homes to the margins of society that they might seek salvation.

Yet, John’s own power and significance is both inferior to and wholly dependent on Jesus. He is often called the forerunner to the Christ, the one who points to Jesus, who prepares the way. John himself declares, “I am not worthy to untie the thong of Jesus’ sandal!” His presence in the gospels is not to proclaim the message, but to announce the messenger. John functions as a sidekick playing against the hero, Jesus, in order to spotlight the true Messiah, the real Christ. Clothed in a camel hair cloak and a connoisseur of locusts, he even had his own sidekick costume and quirky characteristics. Who needs Robin’s tights when you have camel hair and a leather belt?

Yet, this identity as side kick does not seem to do justice to the prophecy we read Sunday proclaimed by John’s father, Zechariah.

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before our God to prepare the ways, to give knowledge of salvation to God’s people by the forgiveness of their sins.”

John is at the center of this prophecy, not Jesus. John is the one who leads to salvation through the forgiveness of sins, not Jesus. While we might be tempted to fit this prophecy into an easy interpretation of sidekick, with John playing the foil to Jesus’ Most High, it is clear that John’s role is much more significant than traditional understandings of literary sidekicks. Without John’s preparation and prophecy, would Jesus’ ministry have been at all possible?

Perhaps the problem lies in our overly simplistic understanding of sidekicks as nothing more than lesser heroes. In the 2005 film, Sky High, sidekicks take on a new role moving out from the shadow of heroes into their own light. The story follows a group of teenagers at Sky High, the first and only high school for kids with super-human powers, going through crime-fighting puberty. At Sky High, the student body throws flames with their footballs, studies Villainy with their Chemistry and is divided into "Heroes" and "Sidekicks" instead of jocks and geeks. It is this division between heroes and sidekicks that fuels the plot and provides a larger metaphor for our own human experience of being in or being out.

Each year new students to Sky High are subjected to an entrance exam administered by Coach Boomer during which they must demonstrate their super-powers. Those with cool powers such as super-strength, super-speed, or super-intelligence are made heroes, while those with lesser skills such as morphing into a guinea pig or glowing are labeled sidekicks. While the heroes go off to world-saving classes, the sidekicks are stuck in “hero support” class where they learn how to assist their heroes from All-American Boy, the one time sidekick to the famed hero, Commander. Now known simply as Mr. Boy, he teaches the art of assisting the hero. The classic rivalry between the cool kids and the nerds gets played out in the fantasy world of superheroes and sidekicks.

The movie follows Will Stronghold, son of the legendary Commander and Jetstream. Yet, upon entering Sky High, Will’s powers fail to materialize and he finds himself a “sidekick.” In a classic scene of coming out, Will has to tell his father about his abnormality…“Dad, here’s a hypothetical question, would you still love me if I were a sidekick?” A question many of us have asked our own parents, one way or another.

As the story progresses, however, it is Will and his fringe friends who end up saving the day. At the close of the film, the “Hero of the Year” award originally intended for Commander and Jetstream, is presented to the rag tag group of guinea pig morphing, liquid oozing, glowing sidekicks.

“But I'm afraid this doesn't belong to us. It belongs to them. The sidekicks. I mean, hero support.”
“Why don't we just call them what they really are? Heroes.”
And with that the final voice over fades in as the credits begin to roll. A little cheesy, a little predictable, perhaps, but a helpful re-imagining of what it means to be a hero.
You see, our easy division of superheroes and sidekicks, of who’s in and who’s out, of who matters and who doesn’t, isn’t really as neat as we would like it to be. Minor characters play major roles, both in fiction and in real life. It seems the old adage our parents taught us…don’t judge a book by its cover…is right after all. Who are we to judge the worth or value of others? We never know who is destined for greatness.
John’s role is after all essential to our Christian faith, isn’t it? Without John preparing the way, would Jesus’ ministry have been possible at all? Would we be here today proclaiming the Christ were it not for John’s role? 

CS Lewis describes it this way, “We keep on assuming that we know the play. We do not know the play. We do not even know whether we are in Act I or Act V. We do not know who are the major and who the minor characters….but we can expect that the Author will have something to say to each of us on the part that each of us has played. The playing it well is what matters infinitely.”

While this metaphor is not perfect, it is helpful in illustrating the cosmic surprises of life that subverts the scripts of the world. You see, it is not really the part we are given, but how we play it that matters. The world gives us various scripts to play based on who we are, what we do, or who we love. Our parts are cast based on race, class, gender, age and ability, labeling us as majors and minors, sidekicks and heroes. Yet, the scripts of the world are meaningless in the end. How we are labeled or perceived by the world makes no difference. What matters most is that we are faithful to the script of the Good News of Jesus Christ that proclaims love over hate, hope over despair, life over death. This is the script we are called to follow…the script of love, peace, justice, mercy, hope and compassion…and in this script there are no boundaries on who gets to play which part, for all the parts matter.

You see, heroes are not forged by ultimate victories, but are molded through life’s daily journeys. We have the opportunities each and every day to make way for the Christ among us, just like John. When we choose actions of love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and hope, we subvert the dominant scripts of the world and prepare the way of the Christ and the Commonwealth of God.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Stand Firm and Hold Fast

Heroes is a drama series about ordinary people who discover they have extraordinary powers. Last season commercials ran almost non-stop advertising the new show…pulsing music and snapshots of scenes were strung together with the tagline, "We are all connected...We each have a purpose. Together we can save (hu)mankind."

As the story unfolds nine ordinary people scattered around the country begin to realize they aren’t so ordinary after all…one can hear people’s thoughts, one has superhuman strength, while another can stop the time-space continuum. As the show progresses the individual stories of these “heroes” begin to intersect through the prophetic art of one of them, Isaac Mendez. His paintings depict violent and disturbing images of the future…death and despair all leading to the destruction of New York City and the world as they know it. Although many of the paintings come to pass, the heroes are not content to let the world simply march on toward its own destruction. As each painting is revealed they band together to save humankind. For, despite the dire predictions of a not so far off apocalypse, they are certain that the future is not yet determined. Their choices, their actions, their lives, can make a difference.

"We are all connected...We each have a purpose. Together we can save (hu)mankind."

Of course, Heroes is not the first show to play on the uncertainties and anxieties about the future that we all have. After all to worry, is human. Hollywood has certainly capitalized on this fear…apocalyptic, futuristic films have painted dystopia after dystopia on the silver screen…Planet of the Apes, Dune, Red Dawn, Aliens, Blade Runner, Jurassic Park, Minority Report, The Matrix, Children of Men. Our imaginations spin with anxiety and worry and fear as we imagine these future-worlds.

Human anxiety about the future though predates Hollywood by millennia….isn’t that what our biblical apocalyptic literature is all about, after all? The Book of Daniel, Jesus’ Second Coming, the Book of Revelations. While we spend millions of dollars making our greatest fears come to life on the big screen, our faith ancestors wrote volumes upon volumes speculating about the future in the midst of dire contemporary situations.

The excerpt of the letter we read today to the church at Thessolonica addresses the community's fear over their future. At the time of writing this second letter, some Thessalonians have become frightened by increasing predictions that the second coming is at hand. In the midst of violent persecutions of Christians, the Thessalonians find their own anxieties heightened and their apocalyptic imaginations run wild…as is typical in times of social and political stress, isn’t it?

Part of my ministry is working with Reconciling United Methodists across the country….from Pennsylvania to Iowa, Ohio to South Carolina and everywhere in between. As I sit with these folks, some from places more culturally distant from our great Commonwealth than geographically, their anxiety about the future of our Church is palpable. As the unjust prohibitions against the full participation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and now even transgender persons, increases in our denomination, so also does the worry and fear grow in the hearts of faithful Methodists.

With each new Judicial Council ruling, with each approaching General Conference, our own fears heighten as we worry about what will become of the Church we love.

Perhaps in times like these, we too need to remember the soothing words written so many years ago to the Thessalonians…

“But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose God called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.”

In the face of their own fears about an uncertain future, the author reassures the community to continue on in faith, hope and love for one another.

God chose you, says the author. God chose you for a purpose…that you might glorify God by your lives. God chose you for a purpose…that be the Body of Christ on earth… God chose you for a purpose…that you might co-create with the Divine God’s beatific vision of peace and justice.

"We are all connected...We each have a purpose. Together we can save (hu)mankind."

Apocalyptic literature, just like contemporary futurist movies and television shows, utilizes dystopic visions of the future, not to lead us down an inevitable path of despair and hopelessness, but rather to provide a different angle of social critique on the contemporary situation. These visions allow us a glimpse not of what will be, but of what could be and in doing so help us to see a new and different way forward. Despite our best predictions, at the end of the day we must confess that future is unknowable, dependent on decisions not yet made, and the interaction of innumerable variables.

Our call is not to worry, but rather to be faithful. “Stand Firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught.” Stand firm and hold fast to the Good News of love and compassion, peace and mercy. Stand firm and hold fast to the Good News of God’s love for all. Stand firm and hold fast to the Good News of God’s promise of liberation, justice and hope.

Don’t worry, be faithful.

Our faithfulness translated into action can and will alter our future. We need no superhuman powers, for unlike the Heroes, we have our help in the power of the Holy Spirit, who by grace comforts and strengthens us in every good work and word.
You see, it is in and through the Holy Spirit working in our lives that we can and do make a difference. Every moment we have the ability to create the future together with the Holy Spirit. God is calling us each and every moment toward the good in life…the choice is ours to make.

Stand firm and hold fast to your traditions.

We, too, are the saints of tomorrow; ordinary people called to do extraordinary things day by day. We are called not to be great in a flash, but rather to cultivate and practice our simple acts of faith. It is in the daily living out of our faith, reaching out, reaching in that we build a foundation for bringing forth God's Commonwealth little by little. Together these simple acts of faith become the momentum of a movement of love, compassion, justice and mercy that will change the world.

Our choices, our actions, our lives will make a difference.

"We are all connected...We each have a purpose. Together with the Holy Spirit we can save the(hu)mankind."

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Coming Out Liturgy

One of the rituals of our queer communities of faith is the rite of coming out. We mark it and celebrate it each year with a special service as we acknowledge who God created us to be. Far from being a rite only for those who identify as transgender, bisexual, lesbian or gay, this ecclesiastical rite is designed to mark for all people, queer and straight, the calling God has given all us of to come out of the shadows the world seeks to place us in and into the light of renewed life in God.

Below is the liturgy we will use today at Cambridge Welcoming Ministries as we celebrate our Coming Out!

The call to worship is original to Cambridge Welcoming Ministries, while the Coming Out litany and Communion liturgy were adapted from Geoffrey Duncan's book, The Courage to Love (pp. 269-270; 279).


Prelude and Silent Meditation

“To be out is divine, to trust and not be afraid.

Coming out is strength and a song to the world.”

– Kittredge Cherry

Welcome and Call to Worship

One: Come into the light!

All: God’s light brings life.

One: It makes weak limbs strong and silent voices loud.

All: It illuminates our inmost being and calls it good!

One: Come out into the light!

All: God’s light brings life.

One: It warms our bodies and kindles the spark of the divine kept deep within our soul.

All: It ignites the fire of truth and sets our lives ablaze with color and

beauty and love.

One: Come out into the light!

All: God’s light brings life.

*Opening Hymn TFWS 2151 “I’m So Glad Jesus Lifted Me”

v. 2 Fear had me bound,
v. 3 When I was ashamed,

Scripture Lesson Psalm 139: 1-14a

Reflection The People of Cambridge Welcoming Ministries

Litany of Coming Out

One: As Eve and Adam came out of the earth, as the people of Israel came out of slavery into freedom,

All: We come out!

One: As the exiled Israelites came out of Babylon back to their home, as the prophets came out of the ordinary to point to the extraordinary,

All: We come out!

One: As Lazarus came out of the tomb to continue his life, as Jesus came out of death into new life,

All: We come out!

One: We come out of our deserts into the garden, out of the darkness of closets of all sorts
into the light of new life,

All: We come out!

One: Out of exile into our homes, out of lies into truth, out of denial into affirmation,

All: We come out!

One: We name ourselves as God’s beloved transgender, bisexual, gay, lesbian and heterosexual children! Each of brought out of ourselves to reveal God’s love to the world as saints of the Church.

All: Blessed be the God who has made us! Blessed be the God who continues to call us further and further out!

Lighting Our Lives

Parishioners are invited to light candles in celebration of their own coming outs, naming aloud or silently their own thanksgivings and praises for this liberation and deliverance by God.

All: Gracious and loving God, we praise you for creating us as we are, fearfully and wonderfully made! We praise you for crafting us in your image as your transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay and heterosexual people! For bringing us out of the closets of our lives in full life, we praise you! Amen! Amen!

Giving Thanks at the Table

Ours is an open table. All persons who desire God are welcome to the feast. Regardless of your denomination, your race, gender, class, sexuality, ability or age, Christ has invited you! Come!

One: Come out into God’s light!

All: God’s light brings life!

One: Open your hearts to God’s illuminating Spirit.

All: We open our hearts and our lives to the Spirit of God.

One: The Spirit of God moved over ancient waters. Light appeared as dancing dazzling rays, that called out from the deep the diversity of Divine Creation.

All: Brood over us, Creative Spirit.

One: The Spirit of God empowered prophetic voices, calling out saints of the church to lead us toward your kin-dom. Light dawned in the lives of the faithful and God’s passion was loosed upon humankind.

All: Disturb us, Vigorous Spirit of God.

One: The Spirit of God stirred in Mary’s womb, calling out Love made flesh. Light quickened a new life, heaven sang of peace and God delighted in human form.

All: Stir within us, Deep Spirit of God.

One: The Spirit of God beat in the heart of Jesus of Nazareth, calling out a new way of living and loving. Light illuminated a path long tread by those who seek to be your faithful followers, giving it a daring new direction led by the Christ.

All: Empower us to follow, Strong Spirit of God.

One: The Spirit of God breathed into disciples, apostles and saints, calling out new leaders. Light brought life to God’s people through the ages and Divine love was made real for world in the church, the Body of Christ.

All: Embolden us to lead, Courageous Spirit of God.

One: Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it.

All: “This is my body dwelling in you.”

One: Jesus took the cup, blessed it and gave it to all.

All: “This is my life, dwelling in you.”

One: Here is God coming to us in bread and cup.

All: The gifts of God, for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

One: Let us join together as the priesthood of all believers in blessing the elements

before us,

All: Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here and on these gifts of bread and the fruit of the vine. Make them be for us the bread of life and the quenching cup of blessing so that we may be the Body of Christ for the world, co-creating God’s vision of peace and justice until all are reconciled and feast together at your table forever. Amen.

Hymn during communion: "Come Out the Wilderness"

Going Forth

Closing Prayer

All this we ask in the name of Jesus: feed us daily, hold us fast, calm our fears and send us forth boldly, joyfully and ever faithful in your spirit. Amen.