Last, and In-Between”
United Methodist Church, Schenectady, NY
Pritchett, Executive Director, Methodist Federation for Social Action
bring greetings today from the board of directors of the Methodist
Federation for Social Action and from our staff and interns in our
Washington, DC office. I’m so thankful for the witness of this
congregation, for those who have been part of the Troy, and now Upper
New York Chapter, and for giving us your former pastor to lead our
coalitional work toward General Conference.
also bring greetings from my home congregation, Dumbarton United
Methodist Church in Washington, DC. For 27 years, Dumbarton has been
a reconciling congregation, welcoming persons of all sexual
orientations and gender identities into the life and leadership of
am blessed to be in this sanctuary today. In a lot of way, I think of
First Church and Dumbarton as kindred spirits. Over the past three
years as the executive director of the Methodist Federation for
Social Action, I have come to know many such congregations. Although
it may seem like it, I am here to say, “You are not alone!”
are not alone” seems to be a good place to start from today’s
Gospel lesson. As found in the Gospel attributed to Mark, this
passage of Scripture is part of a larger story. Jesus and Peter and
James and John had left the glory of the transfiguration on the top
of the mountain and found their way, with the other disciples, in the
valley, with their faces turned toward Jerusalem.
is where Jesus began his teaching ministry. Those who had heard of
Jesus’ ability to perform miracles gathered around him and asked
him questions. Some asked him trick questions and Jesus replied with
trick answers…I mean parables. And so today, we find Jesus asked
by a rich young man, “What Must I Do To Inherit Eternal Life?”
replied, telling the man, “you know the commandments,” and then,
as a good rabbi would do, added instruction: “you lack one thing:
go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will
have treasure in heaven, then come and follow me.”
must not have had his coffee that morning.
is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for
someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus guy pulls no punches.
the disciples got scared: “Then who can be saved?” they asked.
disciples and the rich man were asking the same question. They were
concerned with what they needed to do – how must we behave, what
can we do. Peter even says it with a little snippiness: “Look, we
have left everything and followed you.”
the good guys. We’re the ones who left our families and belongings.
We’re the ones facing ridicule for your sake. Surely, we’re going
to be blessed! We have to be blessed! We’re going to be blessed,
assured them that now and it the age to come their goodness would be
noted. But then he threw in a zinger:
first will be last…and the last will be first.”
mean, come on – is it any wonder Judas betrayed him and Peter
coming to the Methodist Federation for Social Action, I spent more
than 7 years as a manager for Cokesbury, the United Methodist
bookstore. While there, I got to meet seminarians and clergy and lay
people who were hungry to share their faith with others. One of the
most curious books I came across during those years was a children’s
book with plastic relief faces on the cover. The title was “Jesus
and the 12 Dudes Who Did.” I can’t remember what the book
actually said, but I remember the cover and the title with great
clarity. “Jesus and the 12 Dudes Who Did.” Placed alongside
today’s Gospel reading, I think the author got the title exactly
right. The Disciples saw themselves as do-ers, part of the in-crowd,
doing stuff, doing things, because they were going to be front and
center on the right side of history.
when Jesus says “the first will be last…and the last will be
first” – he’s making a bold theological statement.
Jesus says “the first will be last…and the last will be first”
he’s saying that good works are fine, but they aren’t the be-all
and end-all of God’s message.
Jesus says “the first will be last and the last will be first,”
he’s stating that it’s not about the ACT of selling your
possessions and leaving all you have that will help you gain eternal
life. It’s about the transformation, the re-orientation, the
newness that comes when your life is turned toward God more fully.
It’s about loving God with all your heart and mind and soul.
Jesus says “the first will be last and the last will be first,”
he’s making the most basic theological statement: “God’s grace
is available to all.”
is an interesting conundrum for those of us progressive,
socially-aware, engaged United Methodists.
Protestant work ethic did a number on most of us. We work hard to
make the world a better place and provide for those who go without
and challenge the powers that be. We put in hundreds of volunteer
hours, we give money to organizations working to change the world
(thank you). And if Jesus came back, he’d say, that’s all well
and good – BUT…
are already good enough.
all well and good – BUT…
already loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it.
here’s the scandalous part of Jesus’ parable. God loves everyone
annoying colleague at work. God loves them.
oblivious, unaware neighbor who always parks too close to your
driveway. God loves them.
racist, homophobic cousin. God loves them.
there’s nothing you can do about it, except welcome them as they
are. And show a little love.
the reality, friends, is that we are, as Martin Luther once wrote,
at all times, we are somewhere in-between saints and sinners– in
the same body, at the same time. We never fully embody godliness,
and sometimes – OK, a lot of times – we are as oblivious as those
see, the human condition, is not, as pure Calvinists would say, one
of total depravity.
it is one of always being in-between.
reminds us of this again and again.
in-between birth and death.
in-between fear and safety.
in-between chaos and community.
in-between joy and sorrow.
in-between what has been and what could be.
many of us, we know that it means to live in-between.
of us live in-between as exiles – either forced upon or chosen.
of us live in-between because the culture that formed us is different
from the culture in which we reside.
of us live in-between because it’s how we must balance our
overlapping and multiple identities.
grew up along the Ohio River in a town that was in-between
Pittsburgh, PA and Columbus,OH and Charleston, WV. In Appalachia, we
always seemed to be in-between one place or another.
a mountain and valley.
a pay day.
illness, or a mining accident, or a chemical spill.
I came out of the closet as a gay man in 1995, no one would have
expected a United Methodist-related college in the middle of small
town West Virginia to be a place of acceptance and welcome. For many
of my friends who grew up as good Methodists, my coming out forced
them to think about sexual orientation in a new way. And for my
friends who are LGBTQ, my faith has forced them to think about
religion in a new way. Being queer and Christian is an in-between
place I have learned to inhabit – and could only do so, not by any
acts of good works, but by God’s grace. Grace, which on this
National Coming Out Day, allows me to say boldly to those struggling
to reconcile their faith with their sexual orientation or gender
identity, “You are not alone!”
that’s what I do every day at the Methodist Federation for Social
Action. But not just for the LGBTQ communities, but for United
Methodists across our connection who are seeking ways to live into
their baptismal vows “to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in
whatever forms they present themselves.”
way we do this is through our involvement with the Love Your Neighbor
Coalition, the work of 12 United Methodist caucuses spanning
racial/ethnic, progressive, and LGBTQ caucuses within The United
Methodist Church. I’ll be talking a little bit more about our work
after this service, but I want to encourage everyone here to go to
I’ll give you time to write it down and repeat slowly. Check out
our vision for The United Methodist Church and add your name as a
this work isn’t done for extra jewels in our crown, it’s not done
to show Jesus how much we love him. We do this work because we know
the importance of lifting up the voices of those who find themselves
in-between: in-between the powers that be and loving our neighbors;
in-between justice and injustice; in-between hope (and fear) for the
work of the Church must be to continue sharing the message of God’s
love and grace for all people.
that simple. And yet, you and I know, it’s that difficult, too. I
call it “Living in the Land of Maybe.”
just like the rich young man, and just like the disciples, and just
like the faithful saints and sinners who have composed the Church for
almost two thousand years. Sometimes we get it wrong. And sometimes,
just sometimes, we get it right and we get a glimpse of the world as
it is and can be. A world that is chaotic, and messy, and downright
beautiful, and loved by God, not because of what you or I have done,
but because we have decided to participate in God’s world.
feminist theologian, Ivona Gebara, imagines God’s hope for the
world in this way:
and women will dwell in their houses; men and women will eat the same
bread, drink the same wine, and dance together in the brightly lit
square, celebrating the bonds uniting all humanity.”1
is no works righteousness folks, but this is to say that we can
partake in the presence of grace and love in the world.
every now and then, we get to join in the dance where we can proclaim
together “you are not alone,” to a world in-between injustice and
righteousness, in-between fear and hope, in-between saints and
you join me in the dance?
Gebara, Ivone. “Women Doing Theology in Latin America,” in
Feminist Theology from the Third World, Ursula King, editor,
Orbis Books: Maryknoll, NY, 1994, 59.