Date: March 25, 2018

To: San Lucas United Church of Christ, 2914 W. North Avenue, Chicago, IL

Re: Sankofa: Can I get a Witness

Hebrew Scripture: Isaiah 50: 4-9a

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward.  I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?

Gospel Reading: Mark 14: 43-64

while [Jesus] was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to them, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.” All of them deserted him and fled. A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.

They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” But even on this point their testimony did not agree. Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’”

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death.

Can I get a Witness…

Happy Sunday Church!

On this day, I bring you greetings in the name of my Lord and Savior, Jesucristo. I greet you in the name of our Creator whom I call God. And in the name of God who resides in each of us whom I name Holy Spirit!

My name is Rev. Elivette Mendez Angulo and I serve as Co-Pastor of Manantial de Gracia “Spring of Grace” UCC in West Hartford, CT, alongside The Rev. Dr. Maritza de Gonzalez. Where they have released me to do the work of Public Theology across the US.

I bring greetings on behalf of the national setting of the United Church of Christ, where it is my honor to serve on the Justice and Local Church Ministry Team as National Coordinator of Encuentros de Gracia y Bienvenida. Where I have the gift and responsibility of talking about Authentic Welcome as it relates to the intersection of Sexual Orientation and Latinx Identity and how it is through our faith in Christ that we are held up in order to keep that work going! (social media invite…)

Finally, I have the honor of serving as Project Manager, or as I name myself staff Storyteller, for The Franklinton Center at Bricks in North Carolina where I have learned in a physical way what it means to harvest God’s overflowing bounty. It is in that soil that I daily witness those who are doing the work of training up present and future leaders of justice movements. People who have a steady response to the question: Why do we still need witnesses? They are publicly doing the work…

Did you hear me say Happy Sunday Church!!!! I greet you and thank you for welcoming all of who I am: both the named and the unnamed. Can I Get a Witness?

Have you ever wondered about your calling: as a church and as a people? Have you wondered what would happen if you opened your mouth and dared to proclaim the message of that strange man, that prophet, who dared to speak truth even when death would be the inevitable result? In Mark 14:63 (NRSV) a High Priest is heard to ask: “Why do we still need witnesses?”

A bunch of people had walked with Jesus during his public ministry. Today we might call him a Public Theologian or a Religious Activist or a Social Justice Warrior. And it seemed that everyone who had walked with him had been impacted by their time with him. Now according to the book of Mark, the chief priest and the whole council went hunting for testimony against Jesus that they may finally put him to death; but they could find no one. No one of worth that is, see their stories were not matching up. The stories told by those who would speak against Jesus could not be corroborated by other witnesses. It seemed that their testimonies did not jive with each other…

And so today’s sermon is titled: Can I get a Witness?

I know that we have heard the Gospel of Mark 14: 53-65 read out loud today. But let me help frame it for you…

Mark, seems to consider this a formal trial by the religious athorities with witnesses being questioned and their responses to the questions become the reason for the conclusion that results in Jesus being executed by governmental agencies. But according to CM Tuckett, in the Oxford Bible Commentary, this does not quite make sense. In large part because according to the Markan passage the religious authorities seem to break their own rules:

Holding a trial during the Passover feast; is not allowed.

Not having a statutory second session to confirm the sentence; is not allowed.

And if, in fact, they are not allowed, and they occur then: this is not a FORMAL TRIAL. Some of us are witnessing informal trials on a regular basis…. cops show up weapons drawn before they even ask any questions!

Why does the formality of trial matter? Well, a formal trial gives validity to a thing. It’s witnesses know that their words count. I mean, we know that if there is a court case, the people who speak have to be somewhat valid, in modern times this requires that each side has the chance, the opportunity to evaluate that in fact the witnesses were present during the events they are being questioned about. And so, there is value (equity) in the naming of witnesses. In the “Case of the Court of the High Priests vs Jesus” one would expect that some of the witnesses would include those people who had walked alongside him. I mean (after all, he was often rolling pretty deep).

The synagogue cops are not likely to find him alone… he, Jesus who walked in some precarious circles, aint likely to walk out the house, into rival territory unaccompanied! It is not likely, and in fact, when the cops find him, he is rolling with the homies:

So my question becomes, who shoulda been the witnesses?

Judas: the one who kissed him (signaling that he was the one they were looking for) and took money for the deed. Some of us have people in our lives that seem to cosign on everything we do. Each of our achievements seems to somehow benefit them (sometimes more than it benefits us); Judas sold his friend all the way out, sold his savior, sold his leader for money. And then he disappears from the story (so can this have been a formal hearing without the courts paid informant?

Another person who should have been called up during the trial is that dude who pulled out his sword (who bucked a shot) at a servant before running. I mean, shouldn’t he be on trial right along with Jesus? See there are some people in our lives who have the opportunity to witness truth and will have you thinking that they would jump all the way in and have your back… quick to throw a punch and put the hurt into someone on your behalf, but when you need a witness where are they? Too busy running.

And finally there was a young man who followed along wearing only a linen cloth, and when they caught a hold of him, he ran, leaving the cloth behind. Now, I have heard said that he was naked, that is not actually the case… He was wearing linen and that would have been a material used for an outer garment and so when he ran, and the cops caught a hold of his outter garments, he stepped out of them in the struggle and most likely kept running while in his tightie whitties. How many of us have friends who would rather show their @$$ than speak up on our behalf?

And Jesus, a witness himself to the truth of his ministry, to his anointing, to his divine reality, when he is asked about the witnesses who have testified against him, he has nothing to say. He did not call out to his boys reminding them that they had seen the miracles… he does not ask questions of them, likely because they were not there at this INFORMAL TRIAL FOR HIS LIFE.

It is when he is asked “are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One” that he has something to say, “I am.” And the High Priest, tears his clothes and asks, “Why do we still need witnesses? You heard his blasphemy! What is your decision? All of them condemned him as deserving death.” His ministry, his hard work, his devotion to social justice framed in intersectional understandings of welcome for all… not worth the time of day… how dare he think he could be “the I am of I am.”

I remember a few years ago while in Seminary, a friend was asked what his hopes for his future ministry were and he responded with tears in his eyes, I pray that WHEN I die (not if I die), I die doing what God called me to do. Because if I have lived the ministry that God has sent me to do, death in this black body could come in many forms. Death of this gay body, called to speak against systems of injustice that are stacked against people who look like me and love like me… in this day and age, seem inevitable.

In this time of unrest, when so many of our identities are being attacked sometimes by the police that our own hard earned tax dollars go towards, while we stand in our yards talking on our phones, driving along the highway with our families in our cars, while playing with a toy in a playground. Death seems to be the inevitable result to basic interactions, let alone what could happen when we dare to assert our beliefs by showing up at a demonstration against the injustice of symbols of oppression and hate…

Jesus was radical; he was the most showing up person in the Bible. He did the work, he rallied his people, he gathered them up (Squad up… here in Chicago those words mean we bout to fight, but we can’t fight alone, we need to show up and be present in movement work). Jesus showed up at the gates of the city and people threw palm fronds in his path because they saw his showing up as the radical response of a true king without a need of a worldly throne. And I wonder, who will be his witnesses, what will they say when they are asked?

We have our response. They said, not much or they lied and caused confusion. Jesus said, this is my body broken for you and this is my blood shared for you. And I am a witness to his ministry. My life has been changed because of his stories. But I was not called to testify then.

Friends, when we need a witness, we need the right one. Everyone who looks like you, aint about you. When things need to be said, everyone is not called to be your witness. People who love you and who walk beside you don’t always understand or have your best of intentions at heart. Every friend that you make and every lover you take is not on your team.

But if, you are called to do the work of ministry, if you are called to the ministry of work, if you are called to do something know that (like Jesus) you are likely to have to serve as your own witness. That like for Jesus, the road will be rocky and pebbles may slip into your shoes, and times will get rough. That your friends who you thought had your back and your best of intentions, will forsake and leave you.

That if God who called you by name in fact made you perfect, formed exactly how God intended, then your story and your truths are yours alone to share and if you do the work of welcome, of authentic welcome, of RADICAL WELCOME in our communities you will loose your voice from having to chant at rallies and tell stories. You will loose friends who will grow tired of all your movement work. You will have people who send you inbox messages explaining to you all about why you are wrong and why God in fact does not love f’s or hags or blacks or browns, why bondage and oppression are necessary, that we may love the sinner and not the sin.

You may be left alone, saying to those whose system is set to oppress you that in fact those shackles are not going back on your wrists or your ankles (as a point of clarification, consent is necessary). That if and when you choose to be shackled again it will be for your pleasure and not theirs.

Remember that you are in good company when you are lied on. John the Baptist was beheaded. Moses never saw the promised land. Martin Luther King, Jr was repeatedly arrested. Each suffered consequences for doing what they knew in their hearts needed to be done, for stepping out in faith regardless of the consequences. And some of them had friendships and families and colleagues that could have been problematic, but who instead choose to authentically bear witness on their behalf. John the Baptist was believed by Andrew and so Andrew follows Jesus. A testament to his belief in John’s ability to see who Jesus truly was. Moses had a difficult time speaking and his brother joins his ministry, speaking up on his behalf. When MLK, Jr. was arrested, church people were with him and he was not alone. Witnesses saw and joined. Can I get a witness? Can you get a witness, to speak truth on your behalf?

This week has been a hard week. There are so many ways in which we have been called to be present: Children are marching for their lives…for their rights to systems of safety that are actually safe. Can they get a witness? Trans people are being discriminated against in the hiring processes of the US Military (per the Commander in Chief). Can they get a job and a witness? Immigrants are still suffering and wondering if they will be kicked out of this here Amerikakaka. Can they get a witness? A man was killed in his own backyard while talking on the phone… Parts of Puerto Rico still have no electricity or water. Can they get a witness? And healthcare says a lot in its name and not enough of us can afford it and food. And in recent years past Ujimaa Medics trained children in the Chicago Public Library on how to be emergency first aid responders to shooting victims… AND WE STILL NEED THEM TODAY. Can they get a witness and some change?

Church God has called you, each of you to do some stuff, to say some stuff, to listen and hear to be present and to act. And you might need a witness, and that witness might never come, but my prayer for you is that (like my friend) when you breathe your last breath, you will be able to bear witness on your own behalf, before God who called you and you will be able to say, I died doing or having done the work that you my God called me to do. Amen.