Dear Sisters and Brothers –
Yesterday when the FPCS Administrative Commission/Session (our church leadership board) met, last week’s sermon text from Mark 1 on was still rattling around in my head and heart…
10 And just as [Jesus] was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.
11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
In our preaching we noted that not only does Jesus identify with us sinners in his baptism, but God identifies with Jesus. The divine affirmation is repeated in all three synoptic gospels: Jesus hears the words every kid longs to hear. And in fact we went on to explore that what God says to Jesus in his baptism, God says to all of us in ours: through Jesus Christ we are all dearly loved children of God.
But yesterday at our meeting I shared with the Session some unpreached leftovers that didn’t get said last Sunday, namely, that what God says to us in our baptism, God longs to say to others through us. We become the voice through which God speaks, saying to others, You are dearly loved by God. As a result, barriers come down, and the circle of God’s beloved community expands. (By the way, that was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s preferred term for what God is all about – “the beloved community” – a good reminder as we observe MLK Day this coming Monday.)
Father Gregory Boyle, who wrote “Tattoos on the Heart”, which describes his life-changing work with gangs in Los Angeles through Homeboy Industries, uses a different word to describe the ever expanding beloved community. He calls it kinship, and he often illustrates what that means by telling a stories from his work...
Father Greg does a lot of speaking, and often tries to bring a couple homies with him, guys who have usually never flown, or even travelled, much less spoken publically. On a trip to Gonzaga University, the Catholic University in Spokane (where every freshman was given a copy of Tattoos on the Heart to read) Father Greg brought Bobby and Mario with him. Mario was the most tattooed individual Father Greg had ever seen – all sleeved out, neck blackened with his gang name, his face covered with tattoos. Father Greg had never been out in public with Mario before – and kind of watched in horror as people sidestepped them at the airport, and mothers pulled their kids in close. And yet, Father Greg noted, everyone at Homeboy would agree that Mario was the gentlest of men.
When they got to the event at Gonzaga, Mario and Bobby – voices shaking, beyond nervous – told their stories of violence, terror, and abuse, with people hanging on every word. This was followed by Q & A. One woman stood and directed a question to Mario: “You say you’re a father, that your son and daughter are starting to reach their teenage years. What advice do you give them?” As she sat down, Mario clutched the microphone: “I just…” He started to tear up… “I just…” And then he choked out the words: “I just don’t want my kids to turn out to be like me.”
Then the woman stood up again…now it was her turn to cry: “You are loving…you are kind,” she said. “I hope your kids DO turn out to be like you.” And then the audience to a person stood and began to clap. And all Mario could do was hold his face in his hands.
What just happened? In Father Greg’s words: “A lanky, tattooed gang member [had] revealed [his full humanity], his wounds in front of a thousand strangers, who lost the temptation to despise him and recognized themselves in his brokenness. Suddenly [there it was –] kinship – an exquisite mutuality.” All of God’s children dearly loved, in it together.
Somehow, that’s what we are trying to do most of all here at First Pres. Not just protect our assets or property, or win a legal battle, as critical as that may be. We are here to promote and protect kinship. To be the beloved community. To remember that we are baptized, and be thankful that we belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ and to one another.
At the end of the day yesterday I felt the urgency of this invitation to kinship more than ever. I am compelled to affirm that no one comes from a sh**hole country, that every human being is created in the image of God, that everyone is beloved and needs to hear it. That includes my Haitian God-daughters, who have enriched my life immeasurably. And our dear friends Celestin and Maggui and their family and friends from Congo who are an enormous blessing to our little congregation. As well as our guests experiencing homelessness who are living downstairs in the Shelter and trying to find a sustainable path forward, just to name a few.
This Sunday we’ve got a great text for doing “evangelism – 21st century style”. Check out John 1:43-51, especially Jesus’ interaction with “can anything good come from Nazarath” Nathanael.
Be the church!