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I Rise
A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Gale Davis on June 1, 2014, the Sunday after the Ascension

Sunday after the Ascension 2014

Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36; 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11; John 17:1-11

Jesus prayed: “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one” amen.

I learned something from Kit this week that I had not heard before. She said that at General Seminary, students came out with a  preaching “formula”. It may not be what they were taught, but it seems to be what they do in life. It seems, for them, that a good sermon has three points and a Mary Oliver poem. I didn't go to General Seminary (neither did Kit for that matter!), but I am going to borrow from that formula today -- well part of it, anyway -- and then change even that!   

On this Sunday between the Ascension and Pentecost -- the time between when Jesus has risen into the clouds, the disciples told to stay in the city, and the fiery coming of the Holy Spirit to empower them -- is one that I think calls for poetry.  But because this year, it is also the week that Maya Angeleau has died, I thought her poem about rising would be a good way to sum it all up. So that's one change from the formula -- it is Maya’s poetry I offer this morning, not Mary Oliver’s! The second is that I really only have one point...see if you can catch it!

 “I rise up”  by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise. 


Jesus rose and left behind befuddled disciples, a world in a mess, and absolute confidence that if we but listened and followed what he has taught, we would all rise...and we would all be one. Clearly Ms. Angelou’s poetry would have us realize that we have not yet, not quite yet, accomplished the task that Jesus set out for us in this liminal time between being in the bodily presence of Jesus and feeling the power of the Spirit coursing through our beings. Yet, still, the hope that we will accomplish that oneness lives in us and is entrusted to us by Christ. We are charged to rise from the darkness and the confines of history that separates us and causes further divisions. We are to rise into something new. That new place incorporates, includes everyone, and does not allow us to build divisions, any division, those based on the historical boundaries of our past or our inheritance or any we concoct in our own age and time.  I think God would smile if we all “walked like we all got oil wells pumping in my living rooms” and allowed and delighted when we saw each other doing just that!

The vision Jesus had of God’s deepest desire for all of us was and is “oneness”. The Kingdom of God that he gave witness to was one in which all people were in harmony with each other. I am certain that Jesus never thought oneness meant “sameness". Indeed God created us very individually, different one from another, and intended that we, like He no doubt does, would delight in those differences and encourage us to see in the differences a means to know God more fully. For as we embark on knowing each other more fully, the Holy presence of God within each of us will broaden our understanding  and knowledge of God as well as each other. Harmony implies to me that we will sing different notes, but that together the song we make will be beautiful -- far more beautiful than if we all sang the same note all the time. 

Jesus entrusted his friends and acquaintances to create such harmony. We are to make God’s name known, not by forcing our words and language for God onto the rest of the world, rather we are to make God’s name known as Jesus did, by the stories we tell, the traditions we transform, the actions we take, the others we serve, the opportunity we provide for those who have had no opportunity. Making God’s name known in oneness -- in harmony -- means we, who are in this world, are to be reflecting God’s kingdom in all we say and do. Simply stated, I know, but very difficult to do, as history and time attest. We are to be “making God’s name known in oneness -- in harmony -- in all that we say and do.”

When we are baptized, we are consciously making the statement that Jesus made in John’s gospel, ”I came from you God".  By our baptism, by our membership in this community of faith, we too are saying to God “I come from you!” We come from You, God.  It is that family tie that makes us one. Our eyes may be different colors and our skin of varying shades, but our hearts are hewn from the same flesh. We are all one with God and therefore we are all one with each other.

That is sometimes easy to believe when you look around this sanctuary.  Such amazing people we know and love and accept, quirks and all!  But it is much harder to  believe when we get out beyond our doors into the work place, into our schools and shops and certainly the highways and parking lots! There, accepting the oneness of humanity in the eyes of God is harder. And if we are honest, it is nearly impossible for human beings who are by nature myopically self-centered,  to believe that God loves everyone with the same passion that God loves us. Everyone. Oneness is a difficult concept to embrace, let alone actually believe and live.

Yet that is indeed what God desires and Christ lived, and challenges us to live also. Because we know Christ and he knows us, we can overcome our own myopic tendencies toward thinking of ourselves first. Most of us learn to share in kindergarten, or when a sibling enters our world.  Yet somewhere along the line, that concept of sharing is diminished as we learn to “take care of ourselves” or  “make our own way” or “earn what we get” or actually believe the ads we are inundated with by the media and start collecting and hoarding so many “things” at the peril of others. All these cultural tendencies dilute our ability to follow Jesus and truly see and delight in each other. It clouds our ability to recognize all others as members of our same family, as one of God’s own as we are one of God’s own.

May we rise to the oneness God has called us to. May our visions of God’s kingdom be absent division or class or race or idea, and instead filled with the colors of the harmony of a thousand bells chiming -- their melody rising above the clouds -- to accompany the chorus that sings God’s song. May we all rise and be one. Amen.

Last Published: June 10, 2014 11:07 AM