June 19, 2011

2 Corinthians 4:1-15

”Seeds Set Sail!”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Rev. Allen V. Harris

To Hear This Sermon Podcast, Click Here:  110619SermonPodcast

Twenty years ago last month on Sunday, May 19, 1991 my ordination into Christian ministry was celebrated by some and reviled by others.  The scripture text that I had chosen for the occasion was from the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, the fourth chapter, the first through fifteenth verses.  Park Avenue Christian Church of New York City, the congregation in which I had my membership and of which I was the Associate Pastor, was also the congregation that had both endorsed my candidacy for ordained ministry and had extended me the call to its ministry.  I had asked Allen Foster, then Deacon and Choir member at PACC, to do me the honor of designing the bulletin cover for my service of ordination.

My Ordination Bulletin Cover, designed by Allen Foster

Allen is a quirky fellow, which is why I like him so much.  He is about as quirky as he is talented, and he is very talented!  Having left the artistic interpretation of the text and the occasion completely up to his whim/insight, he came up with a brilliant, though entirely unique and peculiar bulletin cover.  It consisted of three panels.  [ED. NOTE:  Okay folks, my memory is HORRIBLE and I forgot to look at the actual bulletin before I preached… thus, the REAL bulletin doesn’t match the PREACHED bulletin… but you should still get the point!!!!]   The top panel is a hillside of green, with lots of yellow dots covering it.  The middle panel is a single dandelion head burst open with seeds.  The final and bottom panel is a veritable flying circus of dandelion seeds dancing in the wind headed to places unknown.  “Seeds, Set Sail!”

Allen captured what was both the beauty and the pain of my ordination.  On that Sunday, and for months and months leading up to it, the reason there were some who celebrated and some who reviled my entrance into ministry, at least the officially sanctioned kind, was that I had been completely open about my being gay throughout the entire process.  And if my individual audacity weren’t enough, I was serving in a congregation that not only knew I was gay, but celebrated my call to ministry in, through, and all around my being gay.  Just as dandelions are both things of God’s precious beauty, they are also, at least in modern Western society, a thing of derision and shame, which some seek to exterminate.  The dandelion bulletin cover summed up the odd blend of splendor and pathos that was my ordination into a life of service following Christ.

More importantly, Allen envisioned the very essence of Paul’s theological claim, summed up in verse 15: “Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”  Grace, that word that literally echoes throughout my mind, body, and soul, is something that cannot be contained.  It is God’s ultimate intention to extend grace to every single human being, indeed, to all creation, that it “may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”  Just as the parachute-like seeds are almost impossible to manage and control once they have been let loose by the wind, so it is utterly unfeasible to try to direct or limit God’s grace once the Holy Spirit has blown it out into the world.

I just love the Irish rock band U2’s interpretation of grace in their song by that name.  One wonders if they didn’t have the dandelion in mind when it was written!  Bono begins by singing:

Grace

She takes the blame

She covers the shame

Removes the stain

It could be her name

 

Grace

It’s a name for a girl

It’s also a thought that

Changed the world

and ends with the utterly profound:

Because grace makes beauty

Out of ugly things

Grace finds beauty

In everything

Grace finds goodness

In everything  (1)

You see, in both Paul’s theological argument, in Bono’s words, and in the image of the dandelion, God’s grace isn’t about the physical manifestation of this world… and yet it is everything about the physical presence in the world!  Which is to say, God is not at all worried about the details of our physical life, but God is completely and unequivocally committed to working through our physical world.

In reference to my ordination – in much the same way both people of color and women who were the first to be ordained in Christendom – the details about whom we love, whether we have male or female organs, or the specific tone and color of our skin make not a whit of difference to the Divine.  And yet, that we are vibrant, varied, living, breathing bodies is exactly the point of God’s call to ministry!  God doesn’t call blind people or old people to ministry, rather, God calls to ministry fully embodied people who allow God’s grace to shine through their blindness and because of their age!  For “we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us!”

Likewise, God did not need Christ to be born into a physical body.  And it certainly does not matter a single bit what color Jesus’ skin was, his nationality, his sexual orientation, or even if he was married or single!  What mattered was that Jesus was God’s presence IN-BODIED!!!  The form and particularities aren’t what’s important, and yet we spend infinite lifetimes arguing about them!!!  What is important is who and what we see, we know in Jesus Christ: God’s Grace!

For Paul, it doesn’t matter what shape or color or texture or even for what purpose the pot was intended when it was created.  It doesn’t even matter if it is broken into a million pieces!  What matters is that pot knows Who created it and allows the grace of God to shine through it!  For Bono, it doesn’t matter if it’s the name of a girl or a thought that could change the world, as long as grace is making so-called ugly things beautiful and finding beauty and goodness in everything!  For the dandelions that Allen Foster drew on the cover of my ordination bulletin, it doesn’t matter that Scotts Ortho Weed-B-Bon Max has it in for the poor lowly flower/slash/weed, but that the dandelion simply exudes the grace and beauty of God in every single stage of its God-blessed life.

Twenty years ago in New York City… and I pray even today in Cleveland, Ohio… the details of my sexual orientation ought not to matter.  You know already I’m a cracked pot, a broken vessel, a gosh-darned-dandelion.  What matters, and that to which I am held accountable every single moment of every single day of my entire life (and you are, too, by the way!) is whether or not I allow the inestimable power of God to shine through me as grace, “so that it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”

So, I say to you my beloved congregation and dandelion patch: “Seeds, Set Sail!”

May It Be So.

Amen.

(1) http://www.u2.com/discography/lyrics/lyric/song/53

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For Archives of Allen’s sermons, go to our website at: http://www.franklincirclechurch.org/Sermons.htm

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