Let the Spirit In
Ambassadors of Love
Friends, we are living in-between what was and what will be in the muddy is-ness of now, and we don’t really love in-between-ness. We humans rarely love transition time when we are no longer fully where we were but also not yet where we are going. The feeling of saying goodbye to co-workers and friends and neighbors before a cross-country move but still being in your here home, only not-quite-home because it’s filling with boxes. Still eating at your here favorite restaurants, only aware of last times and what will be lost. Making trips to there home and imagining a life somewhere new but also not there just yet and not really certain of what there will be like because it’s not here.
A child leaving for college in August, but right now it’s June. So family is as-it-should-be is still now, but orientation is soon. And dorm room supplies are being purchased. And more campus visits are being made. The nest isn’t empty just yet. You and your spouse are looking at each other with fear and curiosity, excitement and sadness. All of us becomes just us in all its meanings. But not quite yet.
Pick your in-between and not-quite-yet stories and feel the tension of the moment before the old is gone and the new has come. Some of the stories are part of the ordinary path of life and some are crisis moments when you have cried out to God to either go back to where you were or get to the other side of where you are going but PLEASE be done with the painful middle! Maybe in-between holds promise and energy and excitement just as it can hold fear and dread and grief. Welcome to Pentecost in 2019, my loves. We are living in between times.
Rivers in the Desert
It’s so good to be home after a whirlwind trip to Virginia last weekend. I can’t remember a time when I was more grateful to see Lake Pontchartrain come into view out an airplane window. There is surely nothing more powerful in life than knowing where your people are, knowing where you are loved and held just as you are, knowing you are fully at home in your life. I carried you all with me on my trip to Richmond. I didn’t know what in the world I would say to a divided room of heartbroken and angry and grieving people who are saying goodbye to the seminary they have called home for 30 years. I knew I was called to speak the truth and to speak the truth in love because that’s what we do here at St. Charles. For our almost six years together we have been actively figuring out how we tell the truth about our lives as a community of love.
I don’t say that to suggest anyone who stood in this pulpit before me didn’t value love or truth-telling. I say that as awareness of my unique calling and mindful of this particular moment in which we are being church together. We are called to loving boldness and loving kindness in 2019 in a new and dynamic way. And so when I thought of the 21 students graduating from the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, some already serving as pastors, others looking for new work in churches, and others committed to the greater work of the church in the world, I knew my role was to invite them to join me in this particular moment to this ancient work of love. This is what we are about as people who follow the Way of Christ.
The Wildness of Grazing
President Bridges, Faculty, Staff, Trustees, Alumni, Friends and Families, newly transferred seminarians, and 2019 Graduates, it is an honor to be here with you on this marking day. This morning we celebrate the accomplishments of these 21 students and their commitment to service in the church and in the world. Today we also hold some sacred space for what has been and what will be.
We are all over the map when it comes to our thoughts and feelings today, and I find it’s a whole lot better to name that and make some space for it—set a place at the table for these complexities—than it is to pretend everything is okay. Different than most any other commencement across the country this May, we are standing in the middle of all kinds of transition moments right now. Some of us right here in this room and watching online from a private spot are angry, many are heartsick, others are calmly stating what must be. The pioneers among us want to blaze a new trail and show us all the possibilities of an innovative and vibrant future. I suspect some folks really want to keep holding a road map that might take us back to what was familiar and good for a time. And then there are the ones holding the burial shrouds who are prepared to bless an ending.
We’re sheep this morning. Let’s give into this image with all of its offense and imperfection. Release the connotation of mindlessness. Release the concern about odor. Release the implication of powerlessness. Just be the sheep. We are the sheep being guided from place to place by a wild shepherd who doesn’t follow the rules of polite society. He doesn’t honor property lines or acknowledge land ownership. He’s taking his sheep to the green pasture and guiding them to the still waters because it is what the sheep need and deserve. And we’re sheep, after all, so we don’t know that property lines and land ownership exist, right? We know the shepherd’s voice. We know this pasture is a good one. We’re delighted to find a stream for drinking some water and taking a nap. When we are with the shepherd and our flock, we are safe and at home. Our minds are wherever our bodies are. We are in the moment, in that place, and our thoughts do not wander to the next task or worry about lack. As long as we are tuned into the shepherd’s voice, we have everything we need.
This is God, scripture tells us. The Lord is my shepherd. I would gather you under my wings like a mother hen. I am the Light of the world. The Word was with God and the Word was God. A devouring fire. A fountain of living water. The true vine. The great physician. Cosmic ruler and king of all. Wind. Breath. Hovering Spirit. Can you feel the pace of scripture? Almost running between metaphors. Not frantic and breathless but delighted and soaring like a child chasing a butterfly. God is shepherd! God is king! God is mother! God is Light! God is Wind! God is Vine! Scripture is setting a table before us with a feast of images to satisfy our appetite for more of the Divine.