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Long Haul

Updated: Jul 31, 2022

3rd Sunday After Pentecost

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Luke 9:51-62

The Rev. Cameron Partridge

June 26, 2022

Good morning, St. Aidan’s, and welcome to the 3rd Sunday After Pentecost. Welcome as well to Pride weekend here in San Francisco. That it is the first fully in-person Pride celebration since 2019 points to what a journey we’ve been on these last three years. So, so much has unfolded. Coming into our readings this morning, the twists and turns of our journey, its difficulty and its ongoingness, rise strongly to the fore. I know that many of you who are part of the LGBTIQ and allied community have participated in Pride weekends, and in the liberation movement underlying them, for far longer than I have. And that longevity, that defiant setting of our faces to the work that remains before us, strikes me as especially important to uplift and claim this weekend. Long ago we set our faces toward the Jerusalem of liberation for women, of justice for people of all genders and sexualities, of refuge and respect for the love that makes families of all sorts and splendors. This vision is a reflection of God’s own dream for humanity and for all creation, as the theologian Verna Dozier underscored, drawing on the work of Howard Thurman.[1] It is the not yet that we are called to help make real in the already. This is a call from which we cannot and will not turn back.

I attended my first Pride parade in Philadelphia in the summer of 1993. I had finally come out earlier that year when Kateri and I got together, but it was a long time coming. As my friend, the theologian Kathleen Talvacchia, has emphasized, coming out is an act of spiritual discernment. It is a process of coming to awareness with the help of God’s grace, illumining the movement of one’s heart. In an essay for a volume called Queer Christianities, Kathy has described the process of coming out to herself in the 1980s through the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises.[2] While I cannot claim a process nearly as spiritually intentional in my own process, reading, reflection, and communal grounding played key roles for me. In late high school and early college, my mind was opened by feminist theory – especially the writings of the poet and essayist Adrienne Rich – as well as by memoirs and histories, including learning about the journey toward the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. Communal spaces of conversation and reflection, including on music and film, on life, were especially impactful. I loved hearing about and witnessing the delightfully defiant actions of my friends, including Kateri: months before we got together, I remember her telling me how she was participating in something called “the lesbian visibility project” in which she and other women walked around a mall daring to actually hold hands in public (!), paying for their purchases with dollar bills stamped “lesbian money.” At Philly Pride that summer, a tiny affair compared to San Francisco, I remember being especially moved by PFLAG – parents and friends of LGBTQ people – as queer families walked down the street with strollers and balloons. All of this was such a sacred expression of life in its abundance, life in its complexity and authenticity. The Spirit felt so clearly present in the midst of all of this, kicking up holy social and ecclesial dust. Pride as it has been most authentically witnessed by the beloveds in my life has always been about claiming and celebrating justice and liberation, understood as an ongoing project, a collective journey.

Jesus is very much on a journey in our gospel passage this morning. In fact, the longer section of Luke’s gospel that begins with our passage is often referred to as Luke’s “travel narrative,” marked by the turning of Jesus’ face toward Jerusalem.[3] Here Jerusalem is shorthand for his arrest, execution, resurrection and ascension—a series of events that had been referenced with the term “exodus” by Jesus, Moses, and Elijah in an unearthly conversation they had just had together on the Transfiguration mount just before our passage (Luke 9:31). Jesus is clear that this journey, this exodus, would be filled with challenge not only for him but for all who journeyed along with him. His language is sobering: "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Humanity has nowhere to lay his head,” he says to one who declared he would follow Jesus wherever he went (9:58). Not everywhere they traveled would welcome them. And indeed, there was no true time to take care of even the most significant earthly things—the burial of a loved one and the saying goodbye to family members being intentionally extreme examples. “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God,” Jesus concludes our passage (9:62). We put our hands to the plough again and again—this is the deeply challenging, holy work at the heart of Jesus’ call to discipleship. We are to keep our eyes on the proverbial prize.

Yet here I will also confess that I find myself pushing back against Jesus to an extent, to answer a call to grief. I find myself saying to him, O Christ, sometimes I need to pause and turn and look back, to grieve. And when I do that, I do not mean to refuse the call forward. But sometimes, my God, things happen that cause us, even call us, to pause, to say what on earth has just happened? How did that happen? Sometimes I do need to stop and turn, to look back, to grieve, even to rage, and as best as I can, to understand. And if perhaps I am not “fit” in those moments for God’s Kingdom, fair enough. I would not claim otherwise. My looking back can stand as a sign of being very much a work-in-progress on the road toward the realization of God’s dream.

Yet even if our gospel passage does not explicitly make space for the “turning back” of grief, our first reading surely does. I referenced this passage in the context of the Ascension toward the end of the Great Fifty Days not long ago.[4] As I shared then, this is a story that I love for how it shows grief drawing one chapter of a journey to an end even as a new one begins to open. In our story, the life of Elijah the great prophet, is drawing to a close. His mentee and fellow prophet Elisha accompanies him on the several stretches of his final journey. This accompaniment shines through the story in the form of two-ness. “The two of them” make their way from Gilgal to Bethel, to Jericho, to the Jordan. All along the way, people ask Elisha, “do you know the Lord will take your master away from you?” (2 Kings 2:3, 5). Notice, they say not that Elijahwas going, but “your master” – emphasizing their connection. And notice that they didn’t say Elijah would leave or ascend, but that God would take him away. And even Elijah, when it came down to the process of his departure, his exodus, let Elisha know that he could only receive the inheritance that a firstborn son would, a “double portion” of his spirit (again, notice the twoness), if he attended closely to the process of his loss.[5]Elisha did so, tearing his clothing – again, in two – in his grief when he could no longer see his mentor. Picking up Elijah’s fallen mantle, he struck the waters of the Jordan, crying out, “where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” (2 Kings 2:14). In that moment of grief, the waters part – once again – in two, in an echo of exodus, the journey into a new wilderness chapter.

Friends, for me and many of you this Pride weekend began in grief and anger on Friday at news of the overturning of Roe vs. Wade.[6] I wrote about my own anger at this decision in the Flame on Friday, and I am grateful to have had a chance to march that evening, in a life-giving, spirited convergence of rallies on Market Street.[7] I continue to carry great grief at the loss this decision represents in the hard-fought movement for women’s liberation and justice, a movement that has long been connected intersectionally to the movements combatting poverty, racism, homophobia and transphobia. The right to bodily autonomy, to access reproductive healthcare, is a matter of honoring the sacred discernment and dignity of human beings, created in the image of God. The Episcopal Church has supported such a stance since at least 1967.[8] As we recognize that a long journey lies ahead to reclaim what has been lost, it is right and good to grieve, as you feel so called. In so doing, grief does not finally turn us away from the plough. The journey is and will continue to be a long haul, as the Bay Area based, feminist activist and singer-songwriter Margie Adam names it in a song I have turned to multiple times this weekend. Music can be such a balm for the soul in moments such as these. In closing, I would like to share that song with you now.[9]

[1] Verna Dozier, The Dream of God: A Call To Return (New York: NY: Seabury Classics, 1991, 2006) [2] Kathleen Talvacchia, “Disrupting the Theory-Practice Binary” in eds. Talvacchia, Pettinger, and Larrimore, Queer Christianities: Lived Religion in Transgressive Form (New York: New York University Press, 2015), 184-194. [3] Fred Craddock, “Luke” in The HarperCollins Bible Commentary (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000), 941. [4] [5] Richard D. Nelson, “1 and 2 Kings” in The HarperCollins Bible Commentary (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000), 296. [6] [7] [8] See the multiple nuanced resolutions passed by the General Convention of The Episcopal Church over the years, as summarized and linked in this article from the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations: [9] Margie Adam, “The Long Haul” in Another Place (Pleiades Records, 1993)

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