Hidden Treasure: A Farewell Letter from Pastor Lucy
August 24th 2014
Today I write you a love letter before I leave. It may be the only way I am able to hold my tears back long enough to say goodbye. You know by now I’m a crier. Isn’t odd that it often takes these times of letting go, these transitional moments, the feeling of grief or loss, the task of remembering and looking back, moments of goodbye to bring us into our most honest reflections. Each time I face goodbyes, whether because of a move, or a death, or a broken relationship, I find the process of leaving to be instructive.
People say goodbyes differently; I am methodical about them (surprise, surprise). I like to know the last time I will be with you in worship, the last time I will be with staff in a meeting, the last time I will go to Northstar Café, or visit Jeni’s ice cream, or walk through Weinland Park, or see each person I know – so I can savor the moment, the relationship and before I let go until next time. And so in this moment, this last time to worship with you (until I visit as an excited and hopefully generous Alumni), I want to tell you just a few things. A few things, that like with any close relationship, I should say more than I do, I should have said more often than I did. The first is that I’ve loved you since the beginning. I love you. So, let me tell you just how much before I go.
As I prepare to begin another call to ministry in Memphis, I find myself not only looking ahead, but turning behind to see what has brought me here. As a native Michigander I boldly entered these Ohio church doors that said Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors, skeptical of whether your openness could include a Michigander who is not so enthusiastic about Buckeye football. What I found was miraculous. Treasure hidden in plain sight. For what I found was nothing less than the Kin-dom of God.
Most of us search long and hard for the promise God has given us. We look for the promise of life and joy and grace because we have heard that there is one who loves us so deeply that it has already been granted. But sometimes we miscalculate what that means or what that looks like, we think that if our family is in conflict, or our church isn’t growing, that the kingdom is far off. But my brothers and sisters, you – you have taught me otherwise.
Each time I watched people gather in this space to meet God, to meet each other, to seek justice, to celebrate, to grieve, to question I saw the kin-dom. When the child, the elder, the activist, atheist and Jew, the student, the pilgrim, the pastor, teacher, mother, or unemployed, the grandfather, the gay, the straight, the gender-variant, the one struggling with mental health, addiction, or physical affliction, the former prisoner, the undocumented, and dare I say even the conservative – they display together the kin-dom. Whether they use the same language to describe it, are we not all looking for the same thing, the kin-dom? For a place of belonging in which the great community of God’s children, gathered as one, yet each has dignity, each shares grief and joy, each is seen and heard, each has need and each one is able to give. People of Summit, I have seen it happen here! Could it be that this kingdom has already come?
Please don’t think I’m crazy when I say the kin-dom has already come. How could it have come in a world:
Where Ebola is spreading rapidly and killing thousands on the forgotten continent?
Where religious groups continue to use war and violence, even beheading as a means of achieving their dream?
Where young men are killed on our streets or in Wal-mart because they were caught walking while black.
Where children are killed on the sacred shores of the holy land, in the name of a holy war
Where lives are being kidnapped and locked up in our country’s prison system that is nothing less than a New Jim Crow.
Where government and church limit what love can look like and trans-bodies are subject to violence they “deserve”
Where children suffer because good education has been bound in a straight jacket by a testing culture and falsified records.
Where undocumented people are being deported because they are nothing more than illegal aliens.
Where our own hearts are aching from heartache and sorrow and loneliness and depression.
Where our own bodies are hurting from illness and disease and injury.
Please, please don’t think I am crazy when I say the kin-dom has already come.
I sit in this in-between space – the space where I see the kingdom – and the absence of it. I sit in this in-between space where I think about the church that has been my community these last years and the one that will be my next home.
I sit in this in-between space and my lens gets pulled wider as I think about the “big C church” – the whole church – all of those beloved people who seek to follow the person of Jesus. And I realize that whether you are in Columbus or Memphis or St. Louis, in the United States or in Gaza or in West Africa, in spite of the suffering, the violence, the racism, the apathy, and the terror, the radical claim of the gospel is that indeed the Kin-dom has come.
Sharon sang and the musician Iris DeMent wrote the words to the song we heard this morning merging the sacredness of the kingdom with the mundane images of our everyday – the kingdom is revealed she says -“out in front of a row of run down shacks, [where] they had that fire hydrant uncapped, baptizing their bodies right there in the street.” Just behind the veil, right behind our ear, sitting underneath our noses, buried under the pile of papers on our desk, just behind the frown of our child, beyond the tears of sorrow, after the rage, the kin-dom sits, hidden among us, waiting to be picked up, discovered, treasured, realized.
Our churches (all of them) would do well to remember this gift. Instead of tirelessly working to manufacture something that only pretends to be kin-dom, instead we build the tower of Babel, we create scaffolding around tradition and doctrine and church government – no-let us go about the work of revealing what is already before us. May our holy task be to unveil the works of God already our midst. May the magic of our ministry be to expose the grace already present before us.
I love my husband and his family deeply, but I do not love the church tradition from which they come. I think long and hard before I say something like this, but there is a theology out there that has us so sick, so blinded that we are contributing to our own peril. The church he grew up in sings a song about a vision of the kingdom that if we live by this picture, we will forever be unsatisfied. The poor or the poor in spirit sing out with misguided hope saying, “I’ve got a mansion, just over the hilltop, in that bright land where we will never grow old, and someday yonder, we will never more wander, but walk on streets that are purest gold.” The danger of this picture is that our theology has separated the kingdom from this world. That our vision of God’s perfection, of God’s grace, and the gift of full life can only be imagined in another land, another life. And worse – the way we imagine that perfection includes a massive house, so much wealth we wasted it on paving the streets with gold, and we view aging as something to avoid at all costs.
Thanks be to God, you do not cling to this vision of the kin-dom. Thanks be to God you understand that the kingdom can be seen and felt and shared right here, today. You have given me that gift, you have taught me again and again that the kin-dom is now.
When we connect the sacred and the secular as one, it is then that I see visions of God’s Spirit at work in the rhythms of my own daily life. When Bob Marley’s song One Love accompanies our breaking of bread, or Michael’s Jackson’s Man in the Mirror challenges us to look at ourselves and be spiritually transformed in the struggle of racism, or the Les Miz score used on Ash Wednesday to invite us into the season of Lent to consider the struggle of faith, these things bring our every day life, the radio hear and the movies we watch are suddenly reframed by the gospel by which we live! The sacred and the secular are merged and our life here and now is no longer one we must escape for relief. Our life here and now is blessed, and full of grace.
For God. Is. In. Our. Midst. The incarnation is revealed on 93.3 when we hear that song played again, Emmanuel, God with us, is viscerally felt and remembered when the music and stories of our every day lives are connected to that gospel narrative.
When we serve pancakes at 3:00 in the bloody morning just because we love students that much and want to show radical hospitality, when we bless bodies on high street with our rainbow bathtub at Pride, when we hear the sound of the harmonica accompanying our sacred hymns, when we teach children to love reading, and chant on the steps of the statehouse, and pull weeds together in the garden out front - could it be that the kingdom has already come?
Please don’t think I’m crazy when I say, the kingdom has already come. Please remember the incredible gifts you have right behind your ear. For they have instructed my life, and shown me the beauty of the kingdom. And on the days when you have trouble remembering God is with you, in the weeks where the kin-dom feels distant, remember that there is a hidden treasure among you. As our sisters and brothers at OSA remind us daily, we got the power. The power of the kin-dom comes when we uncover the life and love that already exists, when we set aside anger and hatred and violence and control, when we give up unilateral power, even that of the church, for a shared power, a power rooted only in gospel love, a power concerned only with bringing love, dignity and grace to the people of the world. Could it be that the kingdom has already come?
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. For you have shown me the kingdom, you have taught me patience and given me wisdom for the road ahead, and you have reminded me to be bold and to have courage to pull up the veil and reveal the grandeur of this vision we all come seeking.
I leave you with words from one of my favorite children’s books – I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my brothers and sisters you’ll be.
With enduring love and deep gratitude,
From your servant, your pastor, your companion in this journey of faith,