On Saturday, I went to my first diocesan event in Central New York.
Here’s the thing with diocesan events: I consider them a win if they are unremarkable and contain one or two pieces of information I can use. Occasionally, diocesan events descend to the point where they test my continuing belief in my vocation, which is worrying, but mostly, they sort of float along unnoticed. I go, I talk to people I don’t usually get to see, and life moves on.
Happily, Dr. Catherine Meeks was invited to be the keynote speaker at this particular event. And Dr. Catherine Meeks is a freaking genius-person who can bring the gospel with the best of them. Listening to her speak was a true highlight. (If you haven’t read her book Living into God’s Dream, then you should do that. Go read her book.). One of the things she said was that hatred, prejudice, bigotry, etc resulted from our own inability to do our own work. When people were unable to process their own insecurities and their own damage, they projected the elements in themselves they were uncomfortable with onto the Other–whoever that might be–and that projected image became what we saw when we engage with the other person. It’s fear, but not fear of difference in the other, as much as it is fear of difference in oneself.
For me, this melted my brain a bit. I’ve heard all sorts of explanations for racism and sexism over the years: economic anxiety, lack of exposure to difference, ignorance, etc. None of them quite fit for me–because there is always the person who grew up around difference, knows perfectly well the consequences of what they say and do–and just does not care. I’m related to people like that, and just calling it cognitive dissonance doesn’t explain it fully.
I adore learning something that explains some of the world to me. So I have, since Saturday, walked around marveling in my head how wonderful and brilliant this idea is. How much it explains. How useful it might be to explain yet more of the big world.
Dr. Meeks also made mention of God’s role in all of this; how God asks us to fully engage in the process of making justice and peace a reality, even as we would much rather wander around with our faces toward the sky, asking for someone else to do it for us. That part, I used in my sermon on Sunday. Here it is.
Rev. Megan L. Castellan
May 13, 2018
Ascension/Easter 7/ Frances Perkins shout-out?
Luke 24: 44-53
My fiancé and I have noted that when someone’s name appears floating through our social media, our first thought is “Oh no, I hope he’s not dead.” Then, our second thought is usually “Oh no: what horrible thing has he been accused of?”
It’s only been a year since the article was published that exposed Harvey Weinstein’s repeated crimes against women, and in that time, the #metoo movement has done much to shed light into some of the darkest spaces of our society. By elevating women’s voices, and by using social pressure against those who harass and abuse the vulnerable, the movement has started to shift how we address these issues as a society. (Started to.)
And one of the side-effects of that shift is that there has been more than one fallen idol in all this. Louis CK seemed so affable and funny, until the stories about him came out, and suddenly it all looked different. Bill Cosby was hilarious, and harmless, until he really, really wasn’t. Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Garrison Keillor, in Missouri, the governor, Eric Greitens, and this week, the Attorney General of New York.
As I was reading about the latest case (which was really awful, and you should prepare yourselves) what struck me was the women who urged the victims not to come forward. “He is what we need against Trump,” they argued. “He’s such a key player. He’s done so much good. We can’t do this without him.”
What horrible calculus is that. Don’t get me wrong; I understand the logic. I understand why the victim of assault would not want to come forward, especially against a public figure. But the thinking that one person, one person alone!, can save us. The idea that any hope for change rests on One Magic Person being perfect is bound to end badly. It’s a very dangerous thing, trying to make an idol out of anyone, much less a human. But we try it all the time. We do it in ways large and small. Oh, how we would love for someone, ANYONE, to save us so we don’t have to.
Think about this burning human need for a savior, in the back of your mind, when you reread the Ascension story. Because, on several levels, the Ascension story is WEIRD. It’s a bit…unnecessary? Even? Jesus has lived, he’s died, he rose again, and now? He just lifts on off the ground, and for what? I’m sure the disciples were really put out with this turn of events—they had just gotten the guy back 40 days prior, and here he is leaving again. This was perhaps not the most helpful to the disciples. They have all these expectations, all these things they want Jesus to do now that he’s new, Resurrected Jesus: “Lord is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Because surely now that he’s back, he’s going to get on with making the world perfect, with doing all the things he promised while he was alive.
But nope! No sooner had they begun to get their minds around the resurrection than Jesus leaves again, and NOW what state of being is he in? They expected Jesus to fix everything now that he was resurrected, but instead, he leaves. Again. And they are left staring at the sky.
But two angels appear, and ask them what they’re doing “Men of Galilee, why are you staring at the sky?”
Now that Jesus has departed, the disciples are a bit baffled, and more than usual. Who will save them now? Who will do all those things that Jesus said they should do? How will anything get better? Who will save the world now?
The disciples want Jesus, of course, to be the person to do all the heavy lifting—to be the one person who does all the work. And of course, Jesus, during his ministry on earth, does an incredible amount of healing and teaching and preaching.
But in the end, when Jesus departs for the heavenly realms, the disciples must pick up the torch of that ministry. They must go out and do themselves what Jesus had previously done. Peter must grow into the Rock Jesus declared him to be. James and John must grow beyond their quarreling and bickering, and work together. Thomas must venture beyond his cynicism and journey forward in faith. Mary Magdalene must embrace a new life. All of which wouldn’t have really been possible if Jesus had stayed with them. But now that he’s gone, these gathered people grow from a lost band of confused individuals to the seed of the church.
It’s only after the Ascension, after all, that we see Peter beginning to get a clue, and start preaching dynamic sermons in Acts. It’s only after the Ascension that we see James and John band together and build up the church in Jerusalem. It’s only after the Ascension that, according to legend, Thomas goes to India to preach the gospel and Mary Magdalene goes all the way to Rome to tell the emperor of the Risen Christ. All of a sudden, it’s as if the Ascension spurs the disciples to grow into the people they were intended to be all along.
In theological terms, we say that Christ doesn’t depart in the Ascension—or rather, he does, but only so that he can be more fully present with all of Creation. While he was incarnate on earth, he was bound in time and space, but after the ascension, he was no longer so limited, and so could be present to all people in the same instant. The spirit of Christ could accompany Peter as he taught, Thomas as he traveled, Mary as she preached—everyone all at once. And us, as we gather here.
Instead of relying on an external Christ to magically save them, the Ascension pushed the disciples to rely on the spirit of Christ aiding them internally for guidance and strength. It pushed them to do the work that Christ had been preparing them for during his ministry, and to realize all they were capable of. To claim their roles as co-laborers with God in this world.
Because really, we can’t rely on idols. Idols, as the Psalms are always telling us, will disappoint us every time. No matter what. Idols won’t save us—no matter how well-intentioned. If we want the world to be a more just place, we have to change. If we want oppression to cease, we need to work on that. If we want to see more love, more mercy, more forgiveness in our world, we need to start cultivating these within our own lives.
The Holy Spirit, present in our midst, empowers us to seek and do the will of God, even when its difficult, even when we aren’t sure how to begin. It is the Holy Spirit that shifts us from gazing longly at the sky, wishing for another idol to rest our hopes on, to moving forward, ready to embrace the life and work that Christ calls us to.