Easter Tide

1 John 3:18-24
Lauren J. McFeaters
April 29, 2018
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Before coming to Nassau, I served the First Presbyterian Church of Ewing. There are at Ewing, a number of members who are deaf – couples, individuals, moms, dads, kids. When I led worship, an interpreter for the deaf was right there beside me. During Session meetings, Vacation Bible School, committees, church school, fellowship — an interpreter for the deaf was right there. It was a wonderful amalgam of language and faith.

And it was a tough transition when I came here, in that the local deaf community worships in other places and I kept looking for my interpreter. She was nowhere to be found. I had become so accustomed to that partnership, between an interpreter and the church, because together we communicated as a congregation through the beat of sign language.

Let me give you an example. There were many times when I would be preaching and all I had to do was look over at Rayna, the interpreter, and we would have a conversation:

  • While signing, she’d say aloud: “Did you mean Holy Spirit or human spirit?”
  • “Holy Spirit,” I’d answer.
  • She’d say “OK,” sign Holy Spirit, and we’d go on; the congregation never missed a beat.
  • It was the Holy Spirit loud and clear.

But it wasn’t until I heard an interview with the President of Gallaudet University, Dr. I. King Jordan, that I began to understand the power of Holy Spirit in this exchange of human languages. Gallaudet University is the foremost university in the world for the deaf. When asked to explain the workings of sign language, Dr. Jordan says sign language is:

  • multidimensional,
  • takes place in quadrants,
  • each quadrant builds layers of meaning one upon another,
  • all at the same time;
  • one layer here, another there.[i]
  • And, like a silent cacophony full to brimming with tune and harmony, it’s language embodied and free.

As Easter Tide rolls over us from grave to resurrection life, we experience a cacophony full to brimming — in a language embodied and free.

“Little children,” says John, “let us love,
not in old word or speech,
but in new truth and action.
By this we know God abides in us:
by the Spirit God has given us.”

A new language of truth and action birthed through our Resurrected Lord. It’s sacred not secular, holy not profane. It’s multidimensional, in different places all at the same time, building layers one upon another, embodied, bold, driven, and free.

“Christians,” John says, “let’s not just talk and ramble, and sputter; let’s not just chatter about love; let’s sign it, let’s put our bodies to it, practice it. Check your Spiritual Fitbit and make it 10,000 steps toward love each day, and go 11,000 tomorrow.”

And why? Why? Because it’s very, very pleasing to God.

There is nothing in all the world more wondrous than pleasing God. It’s not any more complicated than small and simple acts of kindness, our everyday compassion. Pleasing God is something you feel down deep in your bones. It happens when we set ourselves aside and act with goodness and mercy. When in full obedience, we surrender our wills, for God’s use. And we are free to please the One who is our pleasure.

How many of you had the chance to see McCarter Theater’s production of Crowns? Before it became the play written by Regina Taylor and first produced by McCarter in 2003, it was a book project by Michael Cunningham, a photographer, and Craig Marberry, a journalist. They wrote a book called Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats.

Cunningham and Marberry say there is no greater pleasure for God than when bold, confidant, and daring, African American Women put on their hats for church. And it was James Baldwin who inspired their project, when he said of the church:

“Our crowns have already been bought and paid for.
All we have to do is wear them.”

What you learn by seeing the play, is witnessing firsthand what John would have us know about truth and action. It’s a Multidimensional experience of the life of faith expressed in layers of stories; stories of Resurrection Witnesses; built layer upon layer; meaning upon meaning; and through the Spirit, a cacophony of truth is set free.

The message is that for countless black women a church hat is no mere fashion accessory; it’s a powerful statement, pleasing to God, and embodied with boundless passion across every denomination.

My favorite interview in the book is with Janet Oliver, a social work supervisor, who’s a member of the Church of God in Christ. In her portrait she’s dressed in her finest church clothes along with a gorgeous wide-brimmed felt hat, arrayed with bands of satin ribbon, crisscrossing here and there.

Janet Oliver says Church of God in Christ women love their hats, and they love pleasing our God, especially when they attend our annual convention in Memphis. It’s a Godly hat-fest. But if you want to talk about a lady who knows how to wear hats; you’d have to talk about Mother Shaw. She didn’t wear the flashy where-in-the-world-did-she-find-it style of hat. Her hats always matched the fabric of her suit just perfectly. She was as stately as England’s Queen Mother, but Mother Shaw could have given the Queen Mother a tip or two on how to wear a hat.

For years Mother Shaw officiated at a favorite part of the convention:  The Morning Prayer service. It’s one of the smaller services. Only about 4000 people attend. Mother Shaw would lead the prayer. She had a denominational title. She was called National Prayer Warrior of the Church of God in Christ, because nobody could invite the Spirit in like Mother Shaw.

She’d say “The Holy Spirit is here; open up and receive. Just let the Spirit have the Spirit’s way, Saints. Just let the Spirit have the Spirit’s way.” Cause it’s so pleasing to God.

Church members would say, “Mother Shaw, I want to be just like you!” And she said, “No, baby. You want to be just like Jesus.” [ii]

John wants this for us too:
that through our acts of love,
we’d be free to please the One who is our pleasure.

My friends,
your crowns have already been bought and paid for.
All you have to do is wear them.

[i] Dr. I. King Jordan, President of Gallaudet University, in an interview with Kojo Nnamdi on American University Radio WAMU 88.5 FM, May 29, 2002, 13:06.

[ii] Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry. Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats. New York: Doubleday, 2000, 4, 136-139.

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