Build With Joy

Thank you for joining me on this journey as we work to create a world of justice, inclusion, and family. This may seem like a daunting task when we so often feel occupied by hate, division, and othering. It often seems like we need some superheroes to step in and save us from ourselves. We may not be fighting against supervillains bent on world domination in the comic book sense, yet it often feels like working to combat the fear and hate so prevalent in our society isn’t much easier. I’ve always been a fan of superhero stories. While I wasn’t a comic book nerd as a kid, I grew up watching Superman, Batman, and all of the other DC Comics heroes through film and television. Growing up, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman was probably my favorite. Today, it’s a tie between Arrow, Flash, and Supergirl. I love the thrill of adventure of fighting the evil in the world so tangible in these stories. Now that we’re about a decade into Disney’s acquisition of Marvel, I’m finally growing into my appreciation of that universe of heroes.

Sometimes I find our fascination with superheroes a bit curious. There’s something particular to this type of fantasy that captivates us in a way that is different from dragons, wizards, the world of magical creatures, and other types of fiction. Maybe it’s that they feel a little less supernatural and are more plausible? A science experiment gone wrong creates so many of our superheroes while others are ordinary people with high-tech gadgets. Of course, sometimes they are extra terrestrial visitors to our planet. Whatever their origin story, superheroes are often just like us with struggles and limits to their power. I think we want to believe that we will always win in the end.

This isn’t so different from the scene Jesus was born into. We’ll go more into that over the weeks leading up to Christmas, but there were some very strong expectations of the long-awaited Messiah who would come as a king to save the people from oppression and occupation by whatever Empire currently besieged God’s people. They wanted their own version of a superhero to save them. We see it as Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday when crowds shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” Quite literally they are asking for Jesus to save them. He wouldn’t quite live up to that expectation, not in the way they hoped. They would still be oppressed by the Roman Empire when his ministry on earth was complete. Nonetheless, in ways that are so much deeper than the work of any earthly king, Jesus overcame the evil in this world and even death changing everything.

This past Sunday, we celebrated Reign of Christ Sunday albeit a week early. With our Mission Sunday next week, we won’t be gathering for our usual time of worship, so I moved it up a week early to close out the Christian year which begins with Advent and ends with the Reign of Christ, appropriate I think. The text from the Gospel is Jesus’ crucifixion where he is accused to be the “king of the Jews.” As he suffers alongside the two other convicted criminals, one recognizes him for who he is, and asks, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replies, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.” Now the crucifixion in and of itself does not exactly instill joy in us; it’s the resurrection—Easter—which brings us the gift of new life and great joy. Yet, I find myself thinking of these Kingdom implications.

My time on the more progressive side of the Christian theological spectrum is still relatively short when calculated looking at my entire faith experience and I often see things from an outside perspective. Twenty-six years in Texas will do that to you if you move to California. One of the things that surprised me is frequent struggle with talking about Jesus as King—an idea quite prevalent in evangelical worship music. I understand and support not wanting to gender the person of God we know as Parent and Creator, but I don’t think it serves us well to remove the entire idea of sovereignty. The flaws in the way our language genders things make it difficult to talk about these ideas in a more inclusive way sometimes. I also understand there is some pushback from those heavily influenced by the modernist movement. The ideology of modernism often rejects the need for a Savior, the idea of not being able to overcome our own sin, and almost all uses of Kingdom language preferring talk of kin-dom instead. While I am all for celebrating our oneness as a people, I can’t help look at the world around us and see a great need for intervention of a scale far beyond what we can do on our own. We need the Kingdom of God.

One of my favorite songs we sing at Sacred Place is “Build Your Kingdom Here” by Rend Collective. The song really is a prayer of healing and that God might move among us in transformative ways. For me, it goes even further reminding us to seek how we can join the work of Kingdom building. Now what I mean by that might be significantly different from what is talked about in evangelical circles. What the Kingdom of God looks like strongly influences one’s interpretation of that phrase. So often, in our reclaiming of language, we have to be intentional about explaining what we mean. Kingdom-building for us at Sacred Place means building with our friends, the marginalized, the passionate, and the blessed as we weave our stories together to bring undeniable joy. That’s what our series, “Build With” has been all about—living out our mission of building a Sacred Place known as a place of justice, inclusion, and family. To answer that call, we must look at what we have to offer, what we bring to the table. What we bring to the table is ourselves—the way God has blessed us, challenged us, built us up, transformed us. The way we share ourselves is through our stories. That’s why I believe so strongly in the art of storytelling.

This time of year in many churches is focused around finances and planned giving. Giving to support the ministries of the church with our dollars is vital without a doubt. We must remind ourselves that we are more than our wallets. The work of building Sacred Places can’t be done by simply writing a check. We must give of our whole selves. We must share our stories. We must speak louder than the voices of hate and division. We must proclaim a Kingdom where there is room for everyone at the Table and the Love of God reigns supreme. Our work has only begun, but we will build it together, for this is your Sacred Place.

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