Twitch Transformation, Pastor Kinsey
She got permission from Jeremy to tell his story – Callie Plunket-Brewton – a Hebrew Bible instructor at UNA (the University of North Alabama), and candidate for ordination in the Episcopal Church.
She sees him most times when she serves at the local homeless shelter. And, in their very first meeting, Callie found out he has two names. Jeremy is his given name. But Twitch is the nick-name he got when he was using drugs, and when he ended up in prison. So Callie’s first reaction was to call him Jeremy. She was assuming he wouldn’t want to be associated with his past. But no – he insisted she use Twitch, which is what he told all his friends to call him now. He wants people to know, and he wants it “to be clear to the people who had known him before, that he’s a transformed man, now.” And so as Callie tells it, “He was afraid that if he started to go by Jeremy, people might not realize that he was the same Twitch who’d been in incarcerated with them, the same Twitch who ‘used’ with them.”
Can you imagine that, walking around with a kind of big scarlet letter on all the time – and proud of it! But Twitch didn’t want to pretend that he didn’t have a past, however nasty people perceived it to be. He wanted to use the past to prove his transformation. He was a living witness to what God had done in his life. And that was the point. He could help others see God’s transformative power in their lives. God broke through the heavens to reach down into Twitch’s life – God can, and does, open the heavens to descend down, on our lives!
“…the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts,” says Luke. They wondered if that powerful preacher and baptizer, John might be the one to break into their lives and the lives of their fellow citizens, to save them from their imprisonment. But John insisted that someone more powerful than I is coming.
So John continues to baptize all the people coming from Jerusalem and Galilee, until there is a pregnant pause, if you will, the proper moment, like in all our favorite sitcoms, films and novels, and right on que in Luke’s gospel too – in walks Jesus!
He continues, “Now [after] all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.”
The heavenly skies were opened, sounds so quaint now, but even in this space-age we live in, we can still acknowledge how God metaphorically breaks through to us, like an “intrusion,” – but just as real – because our God is a God who is unable to be separate from the chosen people, God loves. Whether we like it or not! There is everything real! about the radical image of God pulling apart the boundaries between us, the boundaries that we ourselves so often set-up to keep our distance from God, and deny God -- that make epiphanies, and baptism, as vital as ever. In a word we call it, Grace, the unmerited love of God! (Karoline Lewis, Working Preacher)
Twitch felt it in his life, God reaching down into the depths of his despair and despondency, his hopeless and carelessness, intruding in on his life, of running away, and was caught up in God’s radical underserved grace.
Are we able to name it and claim it? What is the moment, or the day, or the sin, that kept us pushing God away – the reason we took off in the other direction, thought we had life by the tail and didn’t need any help finding the answer and good things we desired? Do we name and claim our baptism as a moment of salvation? Do we wake up every day thankful for another chance, thankful that God brought us through the night in safety, as Luther’s Prayer reminds us? Are we willing to be called by our new name, our Twitch name, that witnesses to the world that we have a past, and our present and future is only possible, by the grace of God?
And what about the community and culture we live in? Are we able to name and claim the power of God’s “intrusions,” on our world, and our responsibility for our neighbor? As great as it is that Twitch was redeemed by God, what about the way we treated him as a society? For decades now, we have implemented more stringent and unforgiving drug laws, filling our prisons with non-violent offenders, devastating poor and minority communities, while at the same time defunding treatment programs, the very support that can bring God’s powerful intervention to bear on lives in need of a new start. Right now, for every 10 addicts ready to enter treatment, there’s only 1 opening. But, Praise be to God, that this is turning around, and once stone-hearted laws and legislators have repented and begun to turn around in a new direction, for the lives of so many in need.
Then, “the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”
Baptism is a naming moment – for Jesus, and for each of us. We are named and claimed at baptism. And it doesn’t just happen at the font, as infants and babes in arms, but when we are adults too: When we have failed miserably, when we thought we’ve done everything right, and yet someone from our family gets in a car accident, or has a cancer diagnosis, when we struggle to find work and face so many temptations, when we blame the victim and deny the possibility of repentance and turning around in a new direction for them. “Wherever we are on our spiritual journey,” God in Christ Jesus is ready to - and already has - broken through to our world, offering support and a path toward health and new life, peace and justice.
Are we ready to take on and accept our new name? Christian? John Christian? Mary Christian? The new name we are given in baptism! Are we ready to let Jesus in, to accept such an “intrusion” into our world?
“But now thus says the Lord, ..who created and formed you,” Isaiah prophecied. “…Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Isaiah did not always find such hopeful and loving words to prophecy to the people, a people being punished for the sins of their 1% leaders, who languished in exile for more than a generation. So, these words must have been cherished. “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
Languishing in exile, fearing that the worst will never pass for us, and the salvation and healing we so desperately long for, will never come, can be a burden too great to bear. And really only is addressed by the God who has, and continues to break into our world bodily, sending the Son, Jesus.
We are that bodily witness too, representing a powerful God who has rescued us – the God who changed Jeremy into Twitch, with all his scars visible, in his handshake and his smile, and more deeply imprinted on his ego and his memory, who witnesses gladly for you and I.
And we can do it too, as much as we open ourselves to the in-breaking, intrusion of God in our lives, the God who has interrupted our world, and given it hope, by the powerful witness of justice and peace we know in Christ Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord. And, the beloved.