Contemporary American Fiction
Da Vinci and X Men

Clothed With Power

Clothed With Power
Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:44-53
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City
Ascension Sunday
28 May 2006

In 1993 Sarah McLachlan recorded a song with these lyrics:

All the fear has left me now
I’m not frightened anymore.
It’s my heart that pounds beneath my flesh
it’s my mouth that pushes out this breath

and if I shed a tear
I won’t cage it.
I won’t fear love
and if I feel a rage
I won’t deny it
I won’t fear love

Companions to my demons
they will dance
and we will play

Peace in the struggle to find peace
Comfort on the way to comfort

if I shed a tear
I won’t cage it.
I won’t fear love
and if I feel a rage
I won’t deny it
I won’t fear love

The title of this song is “Fumbling Toward Ecstasy.” To me, this song conveys two basic truths -- our desire for the ecstasy found in genuine intimacy with another, and the fact that we fumble and stumble along trying to fulfill this desire.

We humans have long had the feeling that we aren’t complete unless we are bound to another. We tell stories about it. Isaac needs Rebekah to pull him out of his funk. Cinderella needs her prince to rescue her. Jerry Maguire isn’t complete without his wife. Jack Twist can’t quit Ennis Del Mar.

In the Western world we developed a romantic myth, its basic premise was that each person is bound to one other person, that we must each find our soul mate. The idea actually originates from one of the speeches in Plato’s Symposium. Aristophanes tells a story that at the dawn of time there were three types of humans -- male, female, and those that were half male and half female. Humans became a threat to the Olympian gods, so Zeus cut all of them in two, therefore we now spend our lives looking for our other half from which we were separated. Most people don’t realize the pagan and, in fact, queer origin of this idea. Nowadays you are more inclined to hear a conservative Christian claim that God has one person fated for him or her. I’d like to tell them where the idea originally came from.

I don’t think we have soul mates. I don’t think we are fated to find one person. This Western romantic myth is false and often destructive.

But there is part of it that expresses a truth, that is, we really do seek to find union with another and when that is accomplished we feel an unparalleled ecstasy.

Lately I’ve been using the poems of Jalal-addin Rumi to illustrate sermons and prayers. Rumi wrote many love poems for his lover Shams of Tabriz. One of his poems, entitled “Water From Your Spring” conveys this sense of unparalleled ecstasy:

What was in that candle’s light
that opened and consumed me so quickly?

Come back, my friend! The form of our love
is not a created form.

Nothing can help me but that beauty.
There was a dawn I remember

when my soul heard something
from your soul. I drank water

from your spring and felt
the current take me.

Genuine intimacy transforms us, it changes who we are and how we perceive the world. We are drawn out of ourselves and must be concerned for someone else, either as deeply or more deeply than we are concerned for ourselves. Hear this poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning:

The face of all the world is changed, I think,
Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul
Move still, oh, still, beside me, as they stole
Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink
Of obvious death, where I, who thought to sink,
Was caught up into love, and taught the whole
Of life in a new rhythm. The cup of dole
God gave for baptism, I am fain to drink,
And praise its sweetness, Sweet, with thee anear.
The names of country, heaven, are changed away
For where thou art or shall be, there or here;
And this . . . this lute and song . . . loved yesterday,
(The singing angels know) are only dear,
Because thy name moves right in what they say.

Of course some of this is the hyperbole and silliness that is known only to adolescents or those in the first stages of infatuation. But there’s something wonderful and pure about the giddy phase. Don Wilson had the unfortunate luck to call me when I was typing this paragraph. I mentioned what I was writing about, and he just laughed and said how much he enjoys that early infatuation phase. He told me that when he first met Bill he was goofy and ridiculous, that Bill was all he could talk about, and that his friends got all annoyed and kept asking if there was anything else that Don could possibly talk about other than Bill Powell.

Even if that giddy, infatuation phase goes away, as it must, otherwise we’d drive everyone else around us completely nuts, if you do find a genuine connection with that person, even in the more settled phases of love we are still “taught the whole of life in a new rhythm” as Browning says.

Our desire for an ecstatic union with a beloved is just the tip of the iceberg. We humans seek union, connection, community with others. Marlin will cast everything aside to find Nemo. The orphan Harry Potter longs for friends, who become his real family, as Mary Frances reminded us last week in that beautiful sermon on friendship.

We even have this deep, powerful desire for relationship with God. This desire is often expressed in the language of ecstatic union. That’s how the mystics have long spoken about their relationship with God. It’s represented in the Bernini sculpture of St. Theresa that shows her in the moment of ecstatic rapture. It’s also in my favorite poem by John Donne:

Batter my heart, three person’d God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee,’and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to’another due,
Labour to’admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearely’I love you,’and would be loved faine,
But am betroth’d unto your enemie:
Divorce mee,’untie, or breake that knot againe,
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you’enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

Oh, I love that last line.

The true test of our personal enlightenment is if we finally see that we must be connected to everything else around us. Walt Whitman sings the Song of Myself, but that song is a detailed list of every sort of person, every race, gender, creed, occupation, region, age, etc.

And these tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them,
And such as it is to be of these more or less I am,
And of these one and all I weave the song of myself.

This is part of the great wisdom of all the great sages and prophets. The world desires true communion; this is the ecstasy for which creation longs.

The goal of creation is reconciliation, genuine ecstatic fellowship, as has been God’s will from the dawn of time. And the church is God’s agent to bring about that connection. At Christ’s ascension he proclaimed that we would be “clothed with power from on high.” Christ is announcing that the Holy Spirit is about to come upon the church and that if the church is faithful to the leading of the Holy Spirit then we will be Christ’s witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The church is to bring about true fellowship in this world.

Now, you are probably thinking. Wait a minute. But the Christian church has been an agent for division, destruction, harm, and violence as much or even more than it has been an agent of healing, reconciliation, and fellowship. We have recently been reminded of that by all the publicity surrounding the Da Vinci Code. That story says that Christianity has often been a negative force, blocking the more life-affirming and ecstatic elements of spirituality.

It’s true, we haven’t been very good ambassadors of reconciliation. We have more often perverted this call to mission and used it to destroy people instead of seeking the ecstatic connection of genuine fellowship. And in doing so we have not been fulfilling the mission of God’s Holy Spirit. Rather, we have been grieving the Spirit.

James McClendon, the baptist theologian, writes that “The fellowship of the Holy Spirit is participation in nearness to God with others in whom the same Spirit works.” As I’ve tried to illustrate in the previous sermons in this series, we must think broadly and inclusively when we consider who all is a part of that Spirit work. The Christ works in various cultures in various settings to bring about the reign of God. We need to be witnesses who listen and discern where Christ is working and then join in.

All too often what we Christians have done is to rob ourselves of the very thing we are seeking. Out of fear, out of self-protection, out of selfishness, out of a desire for personal power, we have missed finding true power, true glory, true ecstasy. We will fulfill our deepest human desires, draw closer to God, and be transformed into who we really are only when we learn to find fellowship with one another. I read all those love poems and songs because they use a language that is more like how we should view one another. Our relationships with each other in this room, with the stranger on the street, with the suffering people of Darfur, with the agents of Christian fundamentalism, and even with the terrorists should be more like our relationship with our beloved than they are different from it.

I must confess that this is a challenging word for me. It is challenging because I am so far from being able to live this way.

You see, I’m still struggling with learning how to get along with people I know and care about. I’ve been working at my relationship with my mother for over 32 years now, and you think it would be better than it is. And how often do we in this room end up quarrelling with each other. The very thought depresses me, because it means that we are so far away from God’s true vision for us.

That’s why I’m glad there’s grace. God loves us so much that God accepts us just the way we are. Sure, God wants us to grow and change and become more like Christ, God really does expect stuff from us. But, at the same time, God loves and accepts us just the way we are whether we change and grow or not.

The truth is, we don’t have the ability to do this on our own. To even try would be unhealthy and mistaken. Jesus knew that we can’t do it on our own. Jesus knew that the disciples couldn’t do it on their own. We are fumbling toward ecstasy.

Folks, we are dealing with a grand vision for the culmination of all creation. We are doing well if we just keep fumbling in the right direction.

Or as Bono sang,

I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colours will bleed into one
But yes I’m still running
You broke the bonds
You loosed the chains
You carried the cross
And my shame
And my shame
You know I believe it
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.

Let us pray:

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down and set your Spirit loose upon the world that we might be consumed with your power and your glory. Restore us, O God, let your face shine, that we may be saved. Amen.


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You have no idea how much I needed to read/hear something like this.

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