Looking for the Light Way

June 19, 2011

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister

Jesus is so often misunderstood. People imagine the great commissioning that we read today as implying a Christian imperialism. First you bring your disciples up to the mountains, you claim all authority on heaven and earth, then you tell them to go out and baptize all the nations. Leave this mountain and pummel people into our point of view. The scene resembles a corporate off site more than anything else. Leader, followers, command to go out and sell as many cars as you can. If we understood Jesus better, we would read it differently. If we knew Jesus, we would understand that his authority was the lightness of invitation itself, not the heaviness of imperialism, with its commands.

And if we understood what Jesus meant by his authority, we would know that he was pointing to the authority of his love. By authority Jesus meant love. Authority is the ability to control yourself, not others. Jesus’ authority is his ability to control himself towards love. He embodies the soft power of love, the fragile drop of grace on a forehead or the full immersion of a body in water that you enter one way and come out another. There is a light way to interpret this text and a heavy way to interpret it. The heavy way sends you out with tracts to convert the neighborhood. The light way keeps you in strong invitational pose. The heavy way leads you straight to Monty Python’s absurd guest, the one who shows up at the party where the intention is to spot the Spanish Inquisition from very far away. We who showed up on Jesus’ mountain did not show up for a sales meeting or an off site. We showed up to be invited to a life long participation in lovingly spotting and exposing inquisitions as early as possible. We even spot our own inquisitions and never condemn one who was not baptized. Imagine: Some have turned the issue of baptism into a guilt. Why?

If the meeting Jesus held on the mountain with his disciples is not a corporate off site or a sales meeting, and if Jesus was not authorizing imperialism but love, shown in water, what kind of event was actually happening up there on the mountain? I think it most resembles the beginning of a play. It most enjoys the contested rituals of changing from one kind of time to another. It is like actors saying to each other, “Break a leg,” which has to be one of the most absurd rituals of all time. Break a leg? Why do people say that? The Italians have a similar curse, “in the mouth or ass of the wolfed,” a curse that once said is designed to keep you safe from what it said. By wishing the worst that fate can bring, it is hoped that the artist will be visited by grace. When the play opens and the dancer dances instead of stumbles, she has survived the curse.

When Jesus commissions his disciples on the mountain, some of them surely thought he meant for them to go out and conquer the world. He did not. He was telling them to break a leg. He was cursing them with the opening of the opening act, that which changes time from one thing to another. It was time for them to take the stage and do something. Ordinary time was over; dramatic time had begun. The curtain was up.

His message was to go out in to the entire world. Go, out are the primary words. I and you have all the authority you need. Love is your authority. Love is the method by which you control your own sneaky imperialism. Let everybody know this is true. Baptize them. Disciple them. Teach them. I’ll be with you. This is a reinterpretation of the great commission that has the very strong possibility of removing the imperialism of it. Go out in the world to give a gift. Leave your hammer behind. Leave your tracts behind. Leave your need to control the world behind and instead learn to love it. Use a ritual, like baptism, if people start to respond. Create a community around love. Be avante garde. Don’t try to sell people something. Instead love them.

There is a joke now circulating about the Dalai Lama who walks into the pizza shop and says, “Make me one with everything.” Jesus could be saying the same thing, even as lightly.

As I come back from my walk across my small worlds, I am very interested in this phrase “Go out.” Ok, I went out. I go out. Then what I am supposed to do? Many activists like myself enjoy as much imperialism as those who feel commissioned to convert the heathen. I’m going to Albany tomorrow to help Cuomo convert the heathen. I can go heavily, with victory and conquering in mind, or I can go lovingly in the name of all who are hurt by exclusion. Since we have been apart, nuclear meltdown in Japan, a congressional ally engages in sexting, a president produces his birth certificate, funding for birth control cut off, Saddam Hussein was killed, the price of gas hit $4.00, more corn was hybridized by outside conquerors in Oaxaca. None of these things could have been imagined. Things happen on our way to recognizing the Spanish Inquisition from a long way off. We end up with a lot of insanity and with guests whose names and agendas we can’t begin to understand. Were we who understand ourselves to be activists to learn the meaning of the commission, we might be lighter as activists. We might be different than imperialists. We might like a lot of different kinds of corn, and religion, and baptisms and not baptisms.

How does Jesus do it? He goes out while letting go of outcomes. He goes out to love someone because that is his only authority. It not a passive love, like something you do if you get around to it, or as a default position, but it is an aggressive love, one with a team and a strategy and a willingness to engage the chaos of the next inquisition.
Here at Judson, we have long understood ourselves a s a “can do” place which also has to be careful not to do too much. Doing too much or even wanting to do much is the true road to imperialism.

For us who have been to the mountain, we come here with gifts. People bring us theater and baked goods and ideas and trouble and we give back a hearty love. People come saying they just can’t find a way to live another day and we say something fragile, like we love you and we want you to live. We don’t prevent suicide so much as love the one who is hurt back into a willingness to live. Preventing suicide is for the corporate off site; the big not for profit, the one whose boots of outcome are heavy on the world. We do not have outcomes. We do not have controls. At our best, we are a place light and alight with love. We are an asset to the extent that we can prioritize love and its lightness here – and we are a deficit every time we go down off the mountain and forget our true authority as love.

Somebody will try to measure our progress. Have we had any effect? At least in the totalitarian interpretation of the great commissioning, you can have effects. How many baptisms did you do, how many souls did you save? Baptisms become notches in your gun belt. Who’s got Turkey? What about China? How are conversions going in Bal Harbour? Those who understand that love is the point of life don’t think that way. We are way too light for so much heaviness. We live outcome free lives intentionally. So if we have a squabble about bathrooms or theater programs or announcements and how long or short they are, our objective is not resolution. Instead we are to lovingly spot the next Spanish Inquisition, stay together in that Lo I am with you always way, even to the end of the world. We are to be not just open to each other but affirming of each other. To do that requires an attitude of open and affirming towards the Spanish inquisition, the corporation, the long winded and all those who have different kinds of Gods. Jesus never said he was the only God. He just said his authority was love. The remarkable thing about his true authority of the ability to control himself towards love is how deeply anti-imperial it is. So strange that it is so seriously misinterpreted as commanding imperialism. But who should be so surprised? There is a certain heaviness to the boot, a pre loving, pre affirming need to control each other as though that was the root to safety or salvation. Such imperialism has fully failed to make people or planet safe. And yet still many try the heavy way. Capturing God in a bottle and them bombing the world with that bottle is not loving, especially when the alternative would be to put water in the bottle and offer people its grace and goodness.

I never like to be sappy about love. Jesus’ love is active. Go, he says, get out of here, go everywhere. Love everywhere. Many of us get as far as the refusal to be enemies with others and do nothing. It takes active power to make friends. I return to open and affirming. The great commission doesn’t say just go out and tolerate the world. It says go out and love, enjoy, adore the world, as it is, which is to say different than you are. The great commission right now is just beginning to understand the queer magnificence of gender bending, which for some is just fender bending. Why would someone who loves you want to force you to be one gender way? Why wouldn’t your difference or my difference be something you could enjoy rather than condemn? Go into all the world and tell them the good news about love. That is the great commission.

Yes, we refuse to be enemies but it takes power to make friends. The power is light. It glides. On Father’s Day, perhaps we could see another gentle and beautiful way of being sent out. Sheila Packa writes a poem about her father, teaching her to ride a bicycle. She says, “that he could hold me was a given, That he could release me was a gift. “. There is a difference between love and control. When you control, you don’t let your daughter ride her own bicycle. When you love, you do.

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