Via Transformativa: From Glory to Glory
From Staying to Going

By: Candace Chellew-Hodge

Preached on Easter Sunday, April 22, 2012 at Jubilee! Circle, Columbia, SC

Readings:
Psalm 4: "O that we might see some good!"
Luke 24:13-35: "... their eyes were opened."
  Hear this sermon at the Jubilee! Circle Web site.

Our first song comes from the British punk band The Clash. Formed in 1976, they released their first album a year later and hit the big time in America in 1979. Rolling Stone listed them as number 28 on their list of the 100 greatest artists of all time. This song is actually the band's only number one hit on the U.K. singles chart. The song has been covered by everyone from Ice Cube, to Maroon 5, to the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. "Should I Stay or Should I Go" came out in 1982 on the band's album "Combat Rock."

Darling you gotta let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine
I'll be here 'til the end of time So you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

When I was in my early 20s, I broke up with God. Our relationship had been a rocky one for a long time, but by the time I ended our engagement, it had become unbearable. I heard rumors that God didn't really like me that much anymore, especially not "that way." There was some talk that She had even written some bad things about me in this book everyone seemed to be reading. Things like how I was an abomination, a sexual deviant, and deserving of death.

This was a shock to me. Early in our relationship I was taught that God loved me unconditionally. There were even romantic songs I liked to sing like, "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so." Well, it seems that love affair was pretty hollow - and that Jesus couldn't love me at all as long as I loved other women.

I struggled before the breakup, wondering, "Should I stay or should I go?" I knew if I stayed there would be trouble - and if I went, it would be double. I was right.

So, we agreed to go our separate ways - or so I thought. I packed up and moved out, lost God's number, and heaven forbid that I ever set foot in his house - on a Sunday or any other day. It was over. Afterward, my life fell apart. I lost jobs, I lost homes, I lost relationships, and nearly lost my mind.

Then, something strange happened. God started sending me love notes - just little stuff at first - and they came anonymously. I didn't really know who they were from, I just knew they were sweet. They made me feel loved - they made me feel cherished. They made me feel safe.

I didn't realize that God had sent all those love notes until the day my first girlfriend decided she wanted to pay God a visit at her house. "Are you nuts?" I asked. "God and I haven't spoken in years and you're crazy if you think I'm crawling back and asking for forgiveness. I didn't do anything wrong. He rejected me first."

Imagine my surprise - that first day back in my ex's house - I broke into tears as a man in a clerical collar stood in the pulpit and welcomed me back - as a fully known child of God. Apparently, God knew I was a lesbian all along, and loved me anyway. Those people who told me God hated me had told lies about God. Somewhere in their own lives, they were threatened by the thought of people like me being welcomed not only in God's house, but in God's heart and eternal realm.

In that moment, I was home. In that moment, I realized that though I had left God - the Holy had never left me. As I looked back on all those years that I had lived without God, I began to see the fingerprints of the Holy all over my life. When jobs were lost, others were right there to replace them. When homes were lost, another one was right there to replace it. When relationships were broken, there were friends and family there to comfort me and help heal my wounds. I was never left alone - God had been there all along, even though I never once recognized Her. She journeyed with me, never asking once whether He should stay or go. The Holy stayed, because the Holy always stays - even when we insist on being blind to Her presence.

This is the story of our Holy journey, Jubilants. This is how we go from the glory of staying to the glory of going.

Whichever glory we find ourselves in at the moment - whether we're wondering whether to stay or to go - the Holy is here, providing guidance and strength for the journey.

It's always tease tease tease
You're happy when I'm on my knees
One day is fine and next it's black
So if you want me off your back
Well come on and let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

CHORUS: Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go, there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know

Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
You gave me room when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.
How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame?
How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?
But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.

Holy One, you've got to let me know, should I stay or should I go?

I think the Clash have captured the exact tone of many of the most famous Psalms. The song reads, to me, just like a psalm - there is a feeling of despair, of impending abandonment, a fear of being left open to the insults and snares of this world. The song asks for direction - for help in solving this very human dilemma.

Holy One, it's always tease, tease, tease
You're happy when I'm on my knees
One day is fine and next its black
So, if you want me off your back
You've got to let me know, should I stay or should I go?

It's very much a modern psalm about the very old question that even our Hebrew ancestors asked - where should we be? Should we be staying put, or should we be on our way? Staying put offers some manner of security.

I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.

But, as any nomadic desert dweller can tell you, sometimes staying put isn't the safest option. Sometimes, the secret to a long life is knowing when it's time to go. Whether we're staying or going, however, what we seek the most is that safety - that security that no matter where we are, we can lie down and sleep in peace.

Sometimes staying feels safe, sometimes going feels safe, but if we get stuck in one place because we think it's safe, then we are hindered in our journey from glory to glory. We may find security in our bed, but can we find security on the road? This is the eternal question of the psalms - where can we be secure - and should we stay, or should we go?

The good news is - staying is a glory, and so is going. No matter which one we choose, we are blessed, we are given peace. When we are unsure, whether to move from one glory to the next - to stop camping out and begin a new journey - the psalmist offers this advice:

When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent.

Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.

Should I stay or should I go? It's a good question to ponder, to pray on, to meditate on, to sacrifice any mindset of confusion, and put your trust in the Holy to guide you. Because the fact is, whether you stay, or whether you go - you're always on the journey. Staying or going, going or staying - it's all part of how we walk through this life and the key is this - do we walk with our eyes set on the Holy, or on our own insecurities? Would even recognize the Holy if She walked with us on this journey? Are we sure?

Breathe deeply.

This indecision's bugging me
If you don't want me, set me free
Exactly whom I'm supposed to be
Don't you know which clothes even fit me?
Come on and let me know
Should I cool it or should I blow

Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go, there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know
[Ending 1] Should I cool it or should I blow (repeat)
[Ending 2] Should I stay or should I go?

You can go on excursion, you can go on an adventure, you can join a caravan, or an expedition. You can take a hike, ride a bike or hitchhike with a dyke on a bike. You can roam, if you want to. You can go on a jaunt, a junket, a march or take Homer on an odyssey.

You can go an alternate route, saunter down the lane, make a pilgrimage, take a stroll, go on tour, transmigrate, become a vagabond and go on a voyage - but unless you know how to skillfully go on your wayfaring journey, you'll miss ten million miles of road you should have seen.

A lot of people don't even know how to walk, much less take the deep, spiritual journey that the Holy calls us to be on. Watch people on the street out walking. Most of them have their phone to their ear, or they're reading messages on their phone or Facebooking while they're walking. They walk into things and people - they lose their way - and they miss everything going on around them.

Walking is a holy practice, Jubilants, and as with all holy practices, it must be done with great attention - and with great intention. Labyrinths have been around for ages and provides a way for us to ritualize our walk with the Holy. They are a microcosm of the larger journey we are all one. Labyrinths work because the path goes nowhere. Sure, there's a center, but it won't physically get you anywhere. The labyrinth is not about the destination. It's about the journey - it's about embracing the road you're on and recognizing that the Holy walks with you every step of the way - even when you don't recognize Her.

Breathe deeply.

Our second song comes from country singer Willie Nelson. He came to prominence in the early 1970s and today's song was made famous in a 1980 movie called "Honeysuckle Rose." "One the Road Again" is Nelson's 9th #1 hit. Let's try it:

On the road again
Just can't wait to get on the road again
The life I love is making music with my friends
And I can't wait to get on the road again

On the road again
Goin' places that I've never been
Seein' things that I may never see again
And I can't wait to get on the road again

In our Jesus story, we find our guy on the road again. Walking is something he did a lot in his lifetime. Jesus could have chosen to ride. He had his disciples fetch a donkey for him that one time - and I'm sure some of his followers would have gladly donated a nice horse to their teacher and mentor. But, Jesus preferred to feel the ground with his feet, to deal with the dust and the occasional stone in his sandal. It kept him connected to the earth, connected to the Holy, and connected to everyone around him. It kept him going at a slower pace - a pace that allowed him to see things, like the beggar beside the road, or the leper beside the fountain, the sparrows, the trees, the plants, and perhaps even a glimpse of the Holy itself.

If he had chosen to ride - the world around him would just be a blur. He'd be above it all - lording his power over people, and that's not how Jesus lived, and it's not how he encourages us to live. Instead, he challenges us. Instead of asking, should I stay or should I go - Jesus says whichever you choose - savor it, be part of it - don't ride above anyone in this world or get distracted by unimportant things like your own worries or fears. Instead, saunter slowly through your life, enjoy each moment of the journey, and notice the Holy moving in, through and around you at every moment.

Ah, but like those disciples on the road to Emmaus, we forget this lesson. They may not have had cell phones and Facebook apps to distract them from their walk, but they sure had a lot on their minds. Their leader, Jesus, had been arrested, tried and executed just days earlier. They had heard the tale that the women told of an empty tomb, and now they were on the road, making a journey to another town. We're not told why - perhaps they just needed to get away, to think, to be somewhere that didn't hold such painful memories. And so they walked.

A stranger came and walked alongside them, the scriptures tell us - and they tell him about Jesus and his wonderful works and about his death and the empty tomb. And all the while, they don't realize, the man they're talking about is journeying with them.

This is how our own cares and concerns can blind us to the presence of the Holy, walking right beside us in each moment. We're so wrapped up in what's going on around us - the latest gossip of the day, the concerns over our own health, or wealth, or livelihood. We walk, but we don't see. We travel, but we do it blindly. We move forward, but we never take time to see the scenery - or the Holy, walking right beside us.

Jesus invites us to open our eyes, Jubilants - because the Holy journeys beside us all the time. We're all on a journey - every single one of us. Some of us, like the disciples in our reading, are on journeys of despair. Some of us are journeying in joy. Some of us are journeying in confusion. Some of us are journeying in boredom. No matter what your current journey, Jubilants, the Holy walks with you - often in disguise, opening up the world to you, giving you new insights, new ideas, new ways of being and living in this world, if only you'll pay close attention.

When a stranger draws beside you in your journey, and your heart burns within you as you travel - bow down, Jubilants, because you are in the presence of the Holy. And if your hearts don't burn with awe and amazement at every step because of the beauty of this world around you, then you're not paying attention to your journey - because every stranger you meet, every tree you see, every stone in your shoe, is the presence of the Holy.

Breathe deeply.

On the road again
Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway
We're the best of friends
Insisting that the world keep turning our way and our way

On the road again
Just can't wait to get on the road again
The life I love is making music with my friends
And I can't wait to get on the road again

When those disciples reached Emmaus they invited the stranger to come and have dinner with them. They were so enamored with their guest they could not fathom parting with him when they reached their destination. Jesus agreed and when he broke bread with them, they suddenly recognized him.

Isn't that always the way? It's so easy to see the holy in rituals like breaking bread together. Whether it's a formal communion celebration or just friends and family sharing a meal, it's easy to see and feel the Holy in those moments of laughter, those moments of conversation around the table.

Often the Holy seems hidden, obscured, or disguised when we are away from those obviously Holy moments. But, Jesus challenges us to see the Holy in every step of the journey whether we're lost in the wilderness or sleeping safely in our own beds. The Holy invites us to open our eyes and experience the awe and wonder of each step of our journey. Instead of traveling so fast that it all becomes a blur, Jesus invites us to slow down - to forget the destination, and make the journey itself a Holy encounter.

But, the story isn't over. Just as the disciples recognized Jesus at the table, he vanishes. Poof! Like a magician, he's gone, vanished into thin air.

Isn't that always the way? Whenever we get to see the Holy in its full form, it seems to vanish just as we recognize it. Whenever we experience that profound oneness with God and this world, it vanishes. We cannot hold on to those sacred experiences, and this is the wisdom of the Holy. If we could capture those sacred moments, and put them under glass, or in a case, or up on an altar, we would worship them. We would venerate them and honor them. We would seek to own the Holy, and defend it against anyone else who would want a piece of it.

This is our problem along the journey - we want the Holy to stay put, to be static, predictable, and above all, ours and ours alone. We want to deify it, show it off, evoke envy in our friends and family and use it as weapon against others. Staying in one place, remaining static, can be a glory - because we have much to learn in this state. But, neither we, nor the Holy, can stay in one place. The Holy is always on a journey, always walking this earth, and always inviting us along.

On this journey, we will only catch glimpses of the Holy, if we're lucky, because if we ever encounter it head on - it will vanish right before our eyes. It is those glimpses of the Holy that set our hearts on fire - that keep us going on this journey, hungering for more and more of those brushes with the Holy.

Where are you on your journey today, Jubilants? Are you staying or going? Either way, you're in glory - and you're in the presence of the Holy. We are always on the road to Emmaus, always journeying with Jesus in disguise. One day Jesus may be a homeless person teaching us compassion, or a child teaching us patience, or a dying friend, teaching us about our own fragile time here on earth. One day it may be a stranger, teaching you about hospitality, or it may be a bad driver, teaching you to slow down, be careful, and take in the world around you as it blurs past you. One day it may be a brilliant red cardinal or an unexpected flower on the path reminding you of the breathtaking beauty of the blue boat we call home. One day it might be the breeze blowing through your hair reminding you to take a refreshing break. It might be that irritating boss reminding you that you still have a lot to learn about yourself.

There's a reason the early Christians were known as "People of the Way." They knew they were on a journey - they were following the way. They knew, and they have shown us, that the Holy Spirit leads us daily on a journey to God. A journey in which disappointed hopes are interrupted by the recognition that the Holy walks by our side. And when we recognize Her companionship on the way, we allow him to breathe life into our despair and frame our aimless, anxious journeys in his Way. Now we know, Jubilants, who it is who travels with us, and it's good to be on the road again.

On the road again
Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway
We're the best of friends
Insisting that the world keep turning our way and our way

On the road again
Just can't wait to get on the road again
The life I love is making music with my friends
And I can't wait to get on the road again

Oh, Yeah!

Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians. Her first book, Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass is now available at http://www.bulletproofbook.com. She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches. She can be reached by email at editor-at-whosoever.org or by using the suggestion box.

Copyright by the author All Rights Reserved

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Endorsed by such religious leaders as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Bishop John Shelby Spong and named one of the Best Spiritual Books of 2008, Whosoever founder Candace Chellew-Hodge's first book Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians is making an impact in the lives of LGBT Christians.

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