Harrowing Of Hell
June 7, 2020

The Coming of the Kingdom of God

The Rev. Ruth Anne Garcia

Good morning Christians, seekers, and friends:

On this Trinity Sunday, I want to just say that I love you and I miss you—but that although we are apart, the Church has never been closed. The Church arose out of what should have been the end—the death of Jesus Christ but the Spirit came to the people of God when Jesus ascended into heaven. The Church did not close in the fractured world after the fall of the Roman Empire or during the Middle Ages. And the church has not and will not close during this Age we are in now. The Church does not close because the Church is us. The church is us. And the Holy Spirit has chosen to dwell in her Church—amongst and between us and to do her mighty work in the world using our bodies and our souls and our hands and our feet.  And whenever I feel weary – bone tired–or sad or angry, I think about you all and I think of the world filled with the children of God and I feel a glimmer of hope rising up with the knowledge that the Spirit of God is working amongst us.  And if God doesn’t seem to be working as fast as I would like, I need to acknowledge that I, and every other child of God, has an important role to play in the work of God. So, if we want justice and peace on earth, we got to get to work! God has given me the freedom and choice—the privilege– to use my body, my soul, my hands and my feet to do God’s work in the world. While we may be talking a lot about majority privilege lately, THIS is the privilege we should be zeroing in on. The privilege of our honored and necessary position in the collective work of the Holy Trinity which is being done in us and around us and through us…that is the privilege that we celebrate today. Because it is through our active role in Jesus’ commission that Christianity has been spread throughout the ages. It is our responsibility to live God’s love. And we look at that as our privilege as well. In today’s gospel from Mark we read the resurrected Christ giving this commission to his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In this time, I take great solace in the fact that Jesus not only clearly tells us what to do, but that he reminds us that when we get to the doing of it, he will be with us –always – even to the end of the age.  We are in a strange time now. Aren’t we? It feels like an “end of an age.” We live in  a country in which the majority has prided itself as being a “city on a hill”, a heroic country making the world safe for democracy and freedom. And yet now we are watching that illusion – one that has never truly reflected the experience of all her citizens—shatter into a million pieces. We seem to be becoming a cautionary tale for the rest of the world. Even our long-time ‘enemies’ of the Cold War era, Russia and China, whom we have long panned as countries inimical to the rights of their citizens, have voiced concerns about example after example of human rights abuses and injustices against black, indigenous and other people of color in the United States. The deaths we know about, and far too many others, have finally brought the lived experiences of fear and injustice and suffering that many Americans live with every day to the attention of us all. Yes, it may rightly feel like the end of an age – an unraveling, a dystopian dream that we’ve just awakened to….

Yet with that unraveling, we are awakened to remembering what the person of Jesus has taught us and commissioned us to do. On this Trinity Sunday when we remember the Holy Spirit, the breath of God, my heart breaks when I remember some of the last words spoken by  men at their unjust deaths were “I can’t breathe.” And the words of the baptismal prayer come to my mind. “Breathe on your your holy and life-giving Spirit. My mind also goes to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. What if someone would have, like the Samaritan, interceded on their behalf? I imagine someone going to them and helping them get up or finding a comfortable position, putting a cool cloth across their forehead and doing whatever they can to make them comfortable. I imagine someone in the crowd carefully wiping off and offering their inhaler until the paramedics come. I can envision a woman, someone like my mother, singing to them softly like my mother used to do when we were little and struggling to breathe. “ooh—ooh Child things are gonna get easier….oooh child things ‘ll be brighter.”

Imagining how different things might be if we more closely followed the teachings of Jesus and the promptings of the Spirit, while it cannot change the past, is important for us now.  Because if there is anything worse that continuing to believe the old myth of the United States as the “light on the hill,” it is the sin of receiving God’s grace in vain  — in refusing to believe that with  Jesus ,who holds all the authority and power of heaven and earth, working on our behalf there is no way that we can hope to change things. As dual citizens of the Kingdom of God and this world, we can become beacons of light which change systemic and de-humanizing systems and practices which go against the vows we made at our baptisms.  

In our baptism, we promise with God’s help to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. We promised to seek and serve Christ in all persons loving our neighbors as ourselves. We promised to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being. Because the truth is my siblings in Christ, no child of God needs wait for us to become heroes to ‘save them’ —Jesus did that. What is needed of us is sharing our true love, compassion, and freedom. What is needed is our voices which sing together of our inherent equality and our interconnectedness and unity through the power of the Spirit. 

The change we seek cannot be carried out by super heroes, by presidents, by governments or countries… The change begins with each and every one of us picking up our special, unique part of God’s work and sharing that gift in and amongst the whole body of Christ. I find strength in the words of Maya Angelou. Imagine these words in her rich melodious voice reminding us “You develop a little courage, so that if you decide, “I will not stay in rooms where women are belittled; I will not stay in company where races, no matter who they are, are belittled; I will not take it; I will not sit around  and accept dehumanizing other human beings – if you decide to do that in small ways, and you continue to do it—finally you realize you’ve got so much courage that people want to be around you. They get a feeling that they will be protected in your company.”

So what do we do with the privilege of our lives dear Christians? We are given the privilege of handing on our faith to the next generation and while our lives may leave only a mark. It is our choice if our story shines like with light of Christ or ends in darkness.  During these last weeks we have may have felt as if we are living in the end of an age. And maybe we are….but imagine if what we are leaving behind is hatred, racism and hardness of heart… and what we are walking toward is the new world of Kingdom of God– a new world, God’s world; a world of love and equality and justice, as God designed it.”

In the midst of all the difficult news, there have also been innumerable acts of kindness and goodness. One such moment of hope that was captured on video was a white police officer who is standing behind a group of protesters. One young man of color 12 or 13 was overwhelmed with emotion and was sobbing. The police officer left his line. He walked forward. He spoke softly to young man, saying “It’s okay son, we are all in this together. As the young boy continued to cry, the officer put his arms out and the young man hugged him. These men – on opposite sides of many lines—stood still in the midst of the crowd while the young man sobbed.  In that moment I knew for sure God was there….Ooh oh child things are going to get easier….ooh child things’ll be brighter.

Our lives, our actions are important. What if, after the kindness of this officer, we were to able to one after the other form a chain of helping hands and loving, encouraging words for this young man – this child of God and each other.  What if we were to surround that young man and each other with so much love and so much care that he, that we, never again would fear—wouldn’t even think about the possibility that the police or his neighbors would harm him? As Christians we do not live for nothing. We go forth in the name of Christ. And Jesus shows us the way. Listen to the words of Mark: The resurrected Lord says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  This Pentecost , let us accept the privilege of our work as Christians and embody fully our role as the Church – Christ’s body in this world… As St. Ignatius would say, let us  “Go forth and set the world on fire! “ And we will; with our bodies and our souls and or hands and our feet.