Delivered at Ames UCC
on October 29, 2017
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie
This service of worship was unusual, for several reasons. First, I broke with my rigid adherence to liturgical tradition in order to wear an Easter white stole that celebrates the rainbow of God’s people. Second, during the sermon I invited the congregation to have conversations in small groups. Third, much of my preaching went off-script in response to those conversations. And, fourth and finally, we ended the service by standing in a circle to sing “Blessed be the Ties that Bind.” In moments of crisis, I am both grateful for and awed by the gifts our tradition provides, the tools we have ready-made to help us understand our world and to remain faithful to God. —Pr. Eileen Gebbie
THE ARK OF THE COVENANT
The Ark of the Covenant makes its first appearance in Exodus 25. The freed Hebrew slaves are in the desert. God gives Moses instruction for how to build a tabernacle—that word in Hebrew is abode—that the people could carry with them on their journey. As part of that portable worship space, God describes the construction of the Ark, including the cherubim from today’s reading but also a lot of gold:
11You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside you shall overlay it, and you shall make a moulding of gold upon it all round. 12You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on one side of it, and two rings on the other side. 13You shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. 17Then you shall make a mercy-seat of pure gold; two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its width. 18You shall make two cherubim of gold; you shall make them of hammered work, at the two ends of the mercy-seat. 21You shall put the mercy-seat on the top of the ark; and in the ark you shall put the covenant that I shall give you.
When everything is complete, the story goes, the Ark is then hidden behind a curtain and a cloud comes over everything, with God’s glory filling the tabernacle. From then on, the people only continue their travels when the cloud clears; they stay put when it does not. Although we have reason to chuckle at the freed Hebrews taking 40 years to make an 11-day walk, it seems that God played a part in their pace.
Later on, once the people had found the promised land (or colonized it, depending on your perspective) the Israelites try to use the ark for their own purposes. In 1 Samuel we learn that the Israelites are at war against the Philistines. It isn’t going well so the leaders bring out the ark, hoping it will save them.
It doesn’t. The Philistines win and the Ark is taken as a prize.
But the Ark isn’t totally inert or powerless: Once placed in a temple with the god of the Philistines, it begins to wreak havoc. First, the statue of the Philistine god falls apart and the people become infested with tumors, hemorrhoids, or the bubonic plague, depending on which translation you read. The Philistines return it with offerings of gold shaped as tumors, hemorrhoids, or buboes.
ABOMINATIONS AND APOSTATES
You may now be thinking to yourself, “Well now, that is all very interesting, but what about the hate mail?” Let’s talk about that now.
As most of you likely know by now, a blogger who describes herself as Christian and uses a punching fist as her logo sicced her hundreds of thousands of online followers on our church.
Why? Because of our Halloween party. This party, planned by our youth, parents of our youth, our youth director, and myself, was designed to reach out especially to other youth who are LGBTQIA as an extension of our presence at Ames Pride. One of the parents came up with the name Drag-O-Ween as a signifier that we have genuine connections with the gay community, that we wouldn’t pull a bait and switch.
The blogger’s followers went after us hard. Here is the sampling of over 1,000 comments, e-mails, and phone calls that we are still receiving:
Michael Kamya When the devil made his way into Church, sin became normal. May the Lord deal with such perverted church leaders, be it ever so severely.
Kim Reynolds Sharp Denying a triune God by saying the Bible is a precious book of “stories”. The Bible is Spirit breathed… HOLY SPIRIT breathed. He is the 3rd person of the Trinity. Why was I not surprised to see this “reverand” is a woman? That’s ANOTHER lie the church has bought.
Renei Hundley-Pearson How dare you! Blasphemy at its finest. You are not a church you are Satan and everything he amplifies! you are deceiving people and you are manipulating scripture and you are damming people to hell. There is nothing Christ like about your organization , And it is my prayer that people will wake up to the wickedness that you are preaching and leave your establishment. May the true God of heaven and earth have mercy on you
Bill Holleran The UCC is and has been an abomination, blasphemous church for 30 plus years. They having been losing members for that time. They are not a Christian church. They ordain witches as ministers.
Steven P. Williams Off to Hell in hand basket they will go and ANYONE else who thinks with the futility of their minds that head knowledge will get you into heaven!
What a wicked horde they are!
Tim Smith Figures it’s a woman pastor, so let me bully you little girl or should I say child of hasatan, you will be judged, you will hear these words from the King, YESHUA MESSIAH. “DEPART FROM ME, I NEVER KNEW YOU”.
Natassha Kimberley Vivier Rev Eileen I hope you are ready to stand before God and his judgement for leading these people astray and deceiving them, you know exactly what you are doing, makes me wonder how much you sold your soul for
Larry Lamb reviewed Ames United Church of Christ —You by Calling yourself a Church of CHRIST should know that this festival is an Abomination before the Lord. It is wrong in every way. You are the wolves in sheeps clothing. You are NOT by any stretch of the imagination a Gospel Preaching church. This is APOSTASY in its LOWEST form. Please turn to the Cross and Jesus Christ and STOP this act of Satan .
If Wednesday morning’s Bible study is any measure, these comments are upsetting, angering, baffling, and laughable to hear, all at the same time. It is a bursting of the bubble of love, the sanctuary of redemption, we and our forebears have spent over 100 years building and maintaining here in downtown Ames.
Some of that is because we have been protected by our whiteness and our straightness. This congregation is just now experiencing what my queer siblings and people of color experience on an ongoing basis.
So, at the suggestion of that Bible study group, I would like to give all of us a chance to talk with each other about this experience. But not just reactions. Let’s talk about it in relation to today’s scripture.
In today’s story, we hear about Solomon building a permanent resting place for the Ark of the Covenant. Despite their many failings to live up to its invitations, the Israelites still love God’s gift of covenant. They build containers and spaces to reflect its importance and its beauty. They want to shelter God’s gift while at the same time praising the life that comes from living it out.
So here is my invitation to you. Take five minutes in a small group to reflect on what we shelter and praise here at Ames UCC. Consider, too, how our temple increases shelter and praise. Both questions are in your bulletin. Please gather as best you are able.
During the pause a little girl came running up the center aisle. It was her first day in worship but she’d already eagerly participated in the Children’s Celebration. I squatted down. “Are we taking a break?,” she asked me. “Not exactly,” I replied, “I’ve asked the grown ups to do some talking and then I’ll talk some more and then we will sing.” She smiled and ran back to the toy area with a bright, “OK!”
After five minutes, the groups shared their reflections: We treasure welcome, we take seriously the vows of baptism that call on us to protect our children. One parent of a child who is transgender talked about what it meant for him to be at a church like ours, having previously been rejected. She also expressed worry for the LGBTQIA children in the families of those sending hate mail.
What I am hearing is a lot of covenant, a lot of loving God, not killing, not violating right relationship. And I’m hearing the Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22):
36‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ 37He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
We do have to be wary of over-congratulating ourselves. We may have moments of genuine covenant living and commandment obeying, but we are no less likely than the Hebrews of falling short of the commandments, no less likely than the Israelites of trying to use God’s Word for our own purposes, rather than God’s.
But we’ve had enough reminders of that risk—albeit for the wrong reasons—for one week.
STAY IN THE LOVE
The freed Hebrew slaves did struggle to get to the promised land because it took them a very long time to say yes to God’s covenant of love, to learn to let God’s love be their guide.
So, let’s stay in love today.
Let’s stay in the love of God that served as the foundation for this simple Halloween party and for our work on affordable housing and for our food ministries with Food at First and Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church.
Let’s stay in the love of God that pushed us to become a Just Peace congregation, an Open and Affirming one, and one that publicly displays solidarity with our Muslim neighbors.
Let’s stay in the divine love that we feel when we come to this house of prayer for all people to study scripture and sing songs, to raise our children and to bury our dead.
Divine love is always offered, always ours to accept, but intentionally accept it we must.
So, say yes today and every day. Learn about the mercy that is like a seat between cherubs. Guild your life with the gold of prayer. And, most importantly of all, visibly act on the love of God among the people of God—who are all people—because God’s love is a treasure that does not need our protection but our trust and our celebration.