June 30, 2019
Pr. Craig Mueller
Join the Movement
They had no idea where the movement would lead. Fifty years ago, LGBTQ people stood up to the police. Drag queens, homeless teens, transgender women of color lesbians, gay men and allies. This diverse community had fought back before, but this “no” captured the attention of the world. From then on, their uprising was simply referred to as “Stonewall.”
The mantle was passed on. Many of us here today became part of this movement. There have been triumphs and setbacks, tears and rejoicing, heartbreak and great gratitude. There have been court cases won and lost. AIDS and the Pulse massacre. Public opinion changed so quickly in the past decade alone, it is hard, even now, to take it all in.
I could never in my wildest dreams imagined that my denomination would have passed a resolution ten years ago allowing partnered gay clergy to serve as pastors. Or that I would have a wedding ring on my finger—recognized by church and state—and have a clergy husband known and loved by you. And though I have been fortunate to receive acceptance by family, friends and church communities, some of you were never able to tell your parents the truth of who you are. Or family members rejected you. They either refused to talk about who you love and how you identify, or they simply cut you out of their life.
This church has been part of the movement: welcoming and acknowledging all people as children of God—all races, ethnicities, genders, religions, spiritualities, personalities, political, economic, or social contexts. Being part of this movement is hard work. It is ongoing and seems to never end. Though we’ve come so far by having a black president, women in positions of leadership, and several gay bishops in our denomination, there have been setbacks. For every step forward, there seems to be new waves of hatred and bias. And so, the movement continues.
When Jesus called his first followers, they had no idea where the movement would lead. Jesus challenged these disciples to be “all in” and to make the kingdom of God their priority above else. When someone asked Jesus whether he could go and bury his father, Jesus told him to let the dead bury their dead. Hard to take that one in. But if you think about it, sometimes we become part of something that transcends previous commitments. New communities are formed and become family to us.
And so, the mantle is passed on. The Elijah story comes to a dramatic conclusion in today’s reading. When it is time for Elijah’s leave-taking, there is a tender scene between Elijah and his mentee and successor, Elisha. Maybe there are times you have not wanted to let go. You hold on tightly to a parent, a teacher, or friend. It isn’t just a long hug. You wonder if you have the strength to be on your own. Three times Elisha says to Elijah, “I will not leave you.” He knows he is stepping into big shoes.
Elijah is one of only two people in the Hebrew scriptures taken up to heaven without dying. As a sign of divine power, Elijah ascends to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha asks Elijah for a double share of his spirit. Maybe he says something like: “make mine a double!” And that is what he receives. The mantle falls from Elijah to Elisha. As Elisha watches Elijah ascend, he cries out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen.” Elisha will never forget the sight. It means everything to his own calling.
The prophetic movement continues with Elisha. Elisha will need to remember what he learned from his mentor. Like Moses, Elisha is strikes water and moves through on dry ground. Movement forward.
The dramatic chariot of fire and mantle falling is pictured on the bulletin cover. Which leads to the spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Amid their bondage, slaves considered Elijah’s ascent into heaven and imagined how death was their entrance into Jordan.
The origin of the text is uncertain. Some thought it was sung by slaves and that “Jordan” was a code name for Canada. And “chariot” would often be switched to “Harriet,” referring to the famed escaped slave Harriet Tubman who led others to freedom. You wonder how the slaves heard St. Paul’s words in our reading today: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
In the following decades many would join this freedom movement, seeking civil rights for African Americans. And other movements arose. Today diverse social movements are linked together and referred to as intersectionality. To my surprise, a report this week noted how the movement that followed Stonewall was intersectional from the beginning.
There will be movement this afternoon at the pride parade. People moving and marching. Remembering, celebrating, protesting, hoping, praying, singing, and joining together in a common purpose. Like the fire in our readings today, there will be flame there, so to speak. I saw a tee-shirt that said, “I’m letting my flame shine.” A nice riff on our baptismal calling to let our light shine!
Though some of the original singers of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” may have imagined the “sweet by and by” as their true home, we hope that all people will be able to find a home on this good earth, a home among a family that loves them, and most importantly a home deep within themselves.
You’re part of the movement now. The mantle is passed to you. So pray, march, sing. Swing low, sweet chariot. Swing low and pick up all who struggle to be loved and accepted. Swing low and pick up all hated by their families. Swing low and pick up immigrant children separated from their parents. Swing low and pick up those homeless or hopeless. And swing low and pick up even those gripped by fear and hate.
Join Elisha as you pass through the waters. Eat the bread of freedom. Drink the cup of salvation. Let your baptismal flame burn brightly.
Swing low, sweet chariot, carry us by grace. Swing low, carry us all to freedom. Swing low, carry us home.