Bear with me folks, this post is liable to get a mite sticky.
I grew up in the South, and in a Fundamentalist-inspired church. I’ve talked about the upbringing and my call to service in this sermon, so go read it if you want the background.
During the Easter weekend, I (virtually) sat the vigil with my friend and colleague Sean for the first time in twenty-plus years. I held the promise of Easter weekend in my heart – right next to the pain that created the need for it. When the sun went down on Good Friday, when that single word was spoken: “Tetelestai”, I was not the same person I was on Holy Thursday.
I am not ashamed to say that the vigil forced me to take a hard look at my Christian upbringing and put it in context with a resurrected call to ministerial service. I cannot deny my Christian past – it is who I was. I cannot deny that the teachings of my youth still frame my interactions with the Divine.
The more I sit with my Christian origins, the more I come to see the good and the promise held within the story of Jesus, Son of Joseph. I simply believe that there is far more to that story than can only be found in the New Testament.
For instance, this is the Coptic text from the Gospel of Thomas’ Saying 77b, followed by Layton’s translation:
Jesus said, “It is I who am the light (that presides) over all. It is I who am the entirety: it is from me that the entirety has come, and to me that the entirety goes. Split a piece of wood: I am there. Lift a stone, and you will find me there.“
“Split a piece of wood: I am there. Life a stone, and you will find me there.” This verse echoes the canonical idea that the Kingdom of God is not outside us, it is within us. (Luke 17:21). Chasing a theology of man in search of a theology of the Divine is a fool’s errand. No one religion, no one denomination or sect, no one philosophy holds all the answers. The only absolute security in faith (or the absence of faith) is to question everything, and I mean everything.
So I did, and by questioning everything, I came to understand that living the Kingdom of God means recognizing and confronting the problems of Paul’s theology. It means not being afraid to pray, to worship, to praise, and to celebrate the wonder of all the Universe around us. It means knowing that not every answer is found in a book, and it means I must be present. It means I must be active in word and in deed.
Modern Christianity is built around the concept of passivity. If you walk into a Christian church in America, you will hear a familiar refrain – give us this, give us that. The original church was built around being active, around being in the world and changing it in the name of Love and Justice. Living the kingdom of God means being in the world, but not of the world – but in a way most Christians would not recognize.
The first step in reconciling my past to my future was to sacrifice my ego on the same altar of transformational grace that once held me close. I reached that altar somewhere in Colorado, and I sat shiva with what was left. Eight days later, I sat next to my wife in the memorial garden of Faith Presbyterian, staring at the ground where my grandparents lie at rest. My grief and my mourning reminded me that I yet live – and that there is much work yet to be done.
I reconciled my Christian upbringing with the understanding that it is not the words we say, it is the actions we take that prove our hearts before God. That is being the kingdom of God – fighting for love, for justice, for equality, for truth. Just like Christ commanded us to do.
There is much to be done, and many hands make short work. Come one, come all – let’s change the world.