It is less important what people say they believe happened on a Sunday morning 2,000 years ago and much more important whether we are partnering with God to practice resurrection today.
Holy Adventure: Practice Resurrection
The Rev. J. Carl Gregg
24 April 2011
Broadview Church; Chesapeake Beach, Maryland
38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God. (Romans 8:38-39)
This morning is the final part of our seven-week study of Bruce Epperly’s book Holy Adventure, which has carried us through the season of Lent and into Easter. At the conclusion of this study, I would like to take a brief moment to recapitulate the major theme our author has been inviting us to explore. Many of you will recall that the original impetus for the book was to offer a progressive alternative to evangelical mega-church pastor Rick Warren’s bestselling book The Purpose Driven Life:
Warren charts a road map in which God chooses the most important events and encounters of our lives before we are born and without our input. Our personal calling, according to Warren’s vision, is to discover and live out God’s eternal purposes in our daily lives. We can find our true purpose only when we follow the directions and color inside the lines that God has already planned for us. (21)
In contrast, Epperly says,
I believe God’s holy adventure calls us to be creative and innovative right now as we listen for divine inspiration, and then to respond by coloring outside the lines and giving God something new as a result of our own personal artistry….. God calls us to become creative companions in God’s new and surprising creation.
Instead of fear-based, anxiety-inducing theology, Epperly invites us to embrace our free will with creativity and imagination. Rather than conforming to a narrow, pre-ordained path, Epperly’s perspective calls us to a holy adventure in partnership with God. Embracing creativity and imagination seems like a perfect invitation on this day of flowers blooming to life from the dead of winter, of brightly colored Easter eggs, and new suits and dresses.
For this past week, the theme of the book has been “God’s Never-Ending Adventure.” Accordingly, the focal scripture from Romans chapter 8 is an invitation to consider that our Holy Adventure is never ending because, in the words of the apostle Paul, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God.” The consummate symbol of this never-ending love of God in the Christian tradition is Resurrection.
As many of you know, I am a featured blogger for the Mainline Protestant Portal of the religion website Patheos. And periodically I receive an e-mail invitation from my editor at Patheos to participate in one of their “Theoblogger Challenges.” The challenge is always to answer some theological question in 100 words or less. For this past Holy Week, the Theoblogger challenge was to respond to the following two questions in 100-words of less: “Is the Resurrection for Real?” and “In our modern scientific world, does belief in a Resurrection make sense?” My answer — weighing in at precisely 100 words — was as follows:
Clarence Jordan said, “The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples. The crowning evidence that he lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship. Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church.” We should worry less what people say they believe happened 2,000 years ago and more whether we are living as if resurrection still happens. I invite you to google Wendell Berry’s poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” and discern how God is calling you today to “Practice resurrection.”
Since I have a slightly more than 100-word limit for this sermon, please allow me to expand briefly on what I meant in my response.
First, let me tell you a bit more about Clarence Jordan, who is one of my heroes — and arguably one of the great Christian saints of the twentieth century. He was born in Talbotton, Georgia in 1912, the seventh of ten children. The Jordans were active member of the local Southern Baptist church. At church Clarence was taught a vision of racial equality (“Red and yellow, black and white, these are precious in God’s sight…”), but he was increasingly bothered that these lyrics were in stark contrast to the racial discrimination he regularly witnessed.
After graduating high school, Clarence earned a degree in agriculture from the University of Georgia, then a Ph.D. in the Greek New Testament from Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He felt called to take Jesus’ demanding words in the Sermon on the Mount seriously. As his days of formal schooling were ending, plans began to take shape to found a community to be called “Koinonia Farms,” after the Greek word for “fellowship or communion.” He sought to unite his twin passion for agriculture and scripture with his commitment to radical discipleship. It would hopefully be, in Clarence’s words, a “demonstration plot for the kingdom of God.”
In 1942, Clarence, his wife, and another couple purchased 440 acres of land in Sumter County near Americus, Georgia about three hours south of Atlanta, but trouble came almost immediately. From the beginning they had put racial equality into practice by inviting the workers on the farm to eat together — regardless of race. This quickly prompt the local Ku Klux Klan into action. There were many caustic encounters with local racist residents, and one of his favorite questions for those with loyalties to their southern heritage was, “Your choice seems quite clear. It is whether you will follow your granddaddy or Jesus Christ.”
He commanded respect because he was so willing to put his life on the line for what he believed in, and he was famous for his pithy retort to help diffuse tension or to prophetically critique the status quo. One famous example is when a pastor showed him an expensive cross the congregation had just purchased for the steeple, Clarence replied, “You got cheated. Times were Christians could get them for free.”
Koinonia Farms, in time, became Koinonia Partners, which eventually birthed Habitat for Humanity International under the leadership of Millard Fuller, who was deeply inspired by Clarence. Clarence died in 1969 not long after the first Koinonia Partners house was built, but the legacy and challenge of his life live on.
I invite you to listen again to his words: “The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples. The crowning evidence that he lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship. Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church.” And, again, what I take away from this quote is that we should worry less what people say they believe happened 2,000 years ago and more whether we are living as if resurrection still happens — that is, how are we partnering with God today in bringing transforming despair into hope, apathy into compassion, hate into love, and death into new life.
I also mentioned the contemporary prophet Wendell Berry’s challenge to “Practice resurrection.” And the theologian Peter Rollins has a powerful monologue in which he speaks to what it might looks like to practice — or fail to practice — resurrection. Rollins begins with the intentionally shocking assertion that, “Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think.” After a dramatic pause, he continues,
I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system. However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.
Jordan, Berry, and Rollins are all pointing out that it is less important what people say they believe happened on a Sunday morning 2,000 years ago and much more important whether we are partnering with God to practice resurrection today — whether we are following Jesus’ example of caring for the poor and working to build a better world.
But I would be remiss if I only highlighted the theme of “God’s never-ending adventure” as one of working in the present for a better world in some far distance future. Another major theme of our book study has been that the Holy Adventure begins, not in some distant time and place when we are in heaven or achieve “enlightenment.” Instead, a large part of the Holy Adventure is realizing that the fullness of “God’s never-ending adventure” is — in a sense — available to us in each present moment if we open ourselves to the sacredness of the ordinary and the holiness of the seemingly mundane. In this spirit, I can think of no better culmination of our study of the book Holy Adventure than to invite you to listen to a reading of Allen Ginsberg’s famous poem, “Footnote to Howl” — which in the spirit of Holy Adventure invites us to a celebratory, life-affirming, visceral embrace of holiness in all things:
Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and hand holy!
Everything is holy! everybody’s holy! everywhere is holy! everyday is in eternity! Everyman’s an angel!
The bum’s as holy as the seraphim! the madman is holy as you my soul are holy!
The typewriter is holy the poem is holy the voice is holy the hearers are holy the ecstasy is holy! . . .
holy the unknown and suffering beggars holy the hideous human angels! . . .
Holy the sea holy the desert holy the railroad holy the locomotive holy the visions holy the hallucinations holy the miracles holy the eyeball holy the abyss!
Holy forgiveness! mercy! charity! faith! Holy! Ours! bodies! suffering! magnanimity!
Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!
On this Easter Sunday, may you feel God’s call to Holy Adventure. May you feel God inspiring you to new life and renewed love. May you feel God luring you to practice resurrection.
1 In evaluating Rick Warren’s work, Epperly is employing a perspective known as Process Theology. For those who are interested in going deeper into this theological point of view, Bruce has a book that has just been released titled Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed..
2 Clarence Jordan: Essential Writings (Modern Spiritual Masters Series), edited by Joyce Hollyday.
3 P. Joel Snider, The “Cotton Patch” Gospel: The Proclamation of Clarence Jordan (University Press of America: New York), 13.
4 G. McLeod Bryan, Voices in the Wilderness, Twentieth-Century Prophets Speak to the New Millennium, (Mercer University Press: Macon, GA: 1999), 59.
5 Dallas Lee, The Cotton Patch Evidence (Harper and Row: New York, 1971), 35.
6 Clarence Jordan, The Substance of Faith and Other Cotton Patch Sermons, ed. Dallas Lee (Association Press: New York: 1972), 7.
7 G. McCleod Bryan, “Theology in Overalls: The Imprint of Clarence Jordan,” Sojourners 8 (Dec 1979), 9.
8 Millard Fuller and Diane Scott, Love in the Mortar Joints: The Story of Habitat for Humanity (Association Press: Chicago, 1980), 67.
9 “Clarence Jordan and the Cotton Patch Gospels,” 2, Available at
http://www.koinoniapartners.org/Clarence.htm on 1 April 2002.
11 To learn more about Ginsberg, I highly recommend the recent film Howl.