November 9, 2014
Misfit Power, Pastor Fred Kinsey
It’s all too easy to take the welcoming, friendly spirit of the Big Easy for granted! New Orleans is like a small town, hidden in a big city! This was our first time there, and for me, it was the music that drew me in.
One night, when Kim and I were at place called Tipitina’s, some of the locals introduced themselves and treated us just like part of the family. Nothing fancy about Tipitina’s, and yet it gave birth to likes of, The Neville Brothers and Dr. John. Kim and I were there for the Zydeco music, but the locals were there for the two-step dances. As we talked with one couple, and they heard we were planning to go home by public transportation, they were concerned for us tourists, and offered us a ride. ‘I’ll see if I can find someone going your way,’ said the 75 plus old man, who hadn’t missed a dance all night. Though he couldn’t find anyone after a couple more songs, he offered to take us himself, with his wife, they could make room for us, when the dancing was over.
It was truly generous, but way more than we expected or needed. And we didn’t want to stay another hour or two, to the end, and pull them away from their dancing, so we thanked them profusely, and said our good-byes as if we’d been friends forever. Then on the bus, as if the welcoming-dancers had arranged it, we got to know the friendly bus driver, and he took us to a trolley line that went right down Canal Street to our Hotel. People are really welcoming and friendly. And, you could get used to that, and even take it for granted, after a while, I suspect. Apparently, lots of people, hanging out in the French Quarter do just that!
But not at a place called The Spotted Cat, on Frenchmen Street – not the Spotted Cow, but they did serve beer – where this delightful band, ‘Misfit Power,’ was performing. The stage, such as it was, was only big enough for the drummer and bass player. The two singers sat below them on the floor, and a piano player was next to them, pinned to the wall. I couldn’t see him because it was standing room only. But the male singer was so captivating, and in his wide range, his lows were as beautiful as his highs. As we listened, we met two other couples from Chicago there.
The next day, when I picked up a local paper, who was the featured interview with, but none other than our singer, Antoine Reynaldo Diel – a close personal friend of ours, and, “one of the best singers in New Orleans,” the paper claimed! “How did you learn to sing so passionately,” the interviewer asked? “When I was a child there was a situation where I started crying,” said Diel, “and they said, ‘Sing, now, sing.’ It was their way of saying, every time you sing, …there has to be an infusion of your full emotion. Don’t just go through the routine. If you’re going to sing, you’ve got to sing with a purpose.”
(What was I talking about?) The kingdom of heaven will be like this, said Jesus. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. They all waited diligently, but, being human, they all got bored, and then drowsy, and finally, they all fell asleep. But half of them were still ready, when the Bridegroom – Jesus, the one who comes to meet us at what is called, the Second Coming, at the end of this wretched world order we live in now, when the world turns, and God renews creation, and restores justice – when this Bridegroom, comes – half of us, in the parable, are ready. While the other half ‘take it for granted’ that they are entitled to enter the Banquet of the Lord, and instead, they got shut out.
November is always the time, at the end of the long green and growing Season of Pentecost, that we talk about the end times, the Apocalyptic and the Eschatological, the Day of the Lord as Amos says. November 23rd will be the last Sunday of the Church Year, and we can begin to feel that in our readings today. The scriptures paint a picture of the End Times that are, on the one hand, full of Apocalyptic chaos, natural wonders or disasters, wars and destruction, and on the other hand, a wonderful Eschatological wedding banquet of redeeming, fulfilling love and justice. For we know as believers that God is in control of the world, the cosmos, and all things, that God is all in all, that by the power and grace of God, God desires that all of God’s creation be redeemed, as do all the 3 great monotheistic, Abrahamic faiths.
Robert Hamerton-Kelly described The End Times this way just three years ago: “The story the apocalypticists tell, sees the world as a system of stark contrasts: black and white, good and evil, guilty and innocent, in-group and out-group.” In this scenario, “There is no gray middle ground, because the scene is the final judgment, or ‘the day of the Lord,’ … the middle is excluded, there is no third option. “[But] There are several things wrong with this picture,” he says, “not least of which is that the NT, while it does have violent apocalypticism on its fringes, has the non-violent kind at its heart. The first coming of God to judge and to save the world [in the NT], took the form of the birth of a baby, whose refusal to resort to violence, led to his being crucified eventually, and when God comes again his presence will be the same as this first time, gentle, loving and non-violent.”
In my own life, I grew up with so many privileges– upper middle-class family in a rich, white suburban community, with excellent schools, as a white heterosexual male – that I had little to fear, but lots that tempted me to ‘take it all, for granted.’ Luckily, amidst all that privilege, I had parents that didn’t let me get away with much, not at school, not with my friends, and took me to church every Sunday – for it was there, that I heard the counter-cultural message of Eschatological unconditional grace, grounded in Jesus.
As we gather for this first Sunday after election day, it is good to remember that – whether you feel like election night was, the Day of the Lord of Apocalyptic disaster, or the Day of the Lord love-fest of Eschatological redemption, Election Day is actually, never the Day of the Lord!
The same is true for this wonderful little parable of the ten bridesmaids. It’s not about picking which side to be on, wise or foolish, on the Day of the Lord, we can’t do that anyway. It’s not about the comfort of choosing the right Bridesmaid, about ‘getting in,’ or being ‘shut-out,’ being with the ‘in-group’ or the ‘out-group.’ This is a parable about keeping awake at all times. We don’t know the day or the hour, and in this interim time of waiting, well, we have to sleep some nights too! So being ready, is not literally staying awake when drowsy, or carrying extra fuel for your lamp, or gas can in the trunk of your car. It’s about a sense of urgency for our lives now.
Whether we’re wise or foolish, doesn’t necessarily get us into heaven, that would be just another kind of works righteousness. But the kingdom of heaven that is based on the grace of God, may have more to do with, not taking our privilege for granted, but being able in effect to let it all go, to become a ‘servant of all’ (as Luther said), lamps lit, burning all the resources we have for the Bridegroom, our Lord!
In New Orleans, there are some who take the welcome and friendliness of the city for granted, and there are others that look for ways to give back, and make beautiful music for the world to enjoy, like the street band we literally walked into on our last night in New Orleans – a brass band that played their hearts out for the pure joy of it, going on and on, improvising in creative life-giving ways that got the crowd dancing and put a smile on every face!
When our singer friend, Antoine Reynaldo Diel was asked how he came up with the name of his band, “Misfit Power,” he said, actually “I stole it from a friend as we listened to Trombone Shorty, in Lafayette Square. I had just come from Los Angeles because it didn’t feel like home to me there, and my friend said, that’s the thing about New Orleans, there’s this misfit power that calls to you here – a welcoming friendliness – that kinda tells you to come home.”
I kinda feel that here at Unity, that misfit power, here in the people that call Unity home, and I think it’s a good way to describe the kingdom of heaven. It’s what we do when we’re trying not to take our ‘privilege’ for granted. Together, we sharpen our urgency to be ready, our awake-ness, for the coming of the Day of the Lord. We don’t ‘just’ have good worship, which we do, but, like the prophet Amos urged, our misfit power spills over into the rest of the week, where we make justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. And so the welcoming banquet of our Lord, is always a celebration, and a mission, of continuously flowing waters of righteousness, for this new earth God is making.