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Reflection I: God, A Dwelling Place on the Move

Ron L. Buford
Oct 23 2011


Terry Gross is one of my two favorite interviewers; she always seems to get to the heart of matters. Terry says that whenever she has someone who is guarded and will not open up, she asks them to recall a time they were near death and that it usually causes the person to open up.

What if Terry Gross could interview Moses and ask that same question this morning? This morning’s text might be his answer . . . and given recent moves of my own I feel this text deep in my soul this morning:

God has been our dwelling place in all generations . . .

No, Golden calves won’t do . . . not even God’s Presence in some mountain won’t do. These are mere props and metaphors due to the limits of our human understanding. Their purpose all along was to remind us . . . God has been our dwelling place . . . in all generations.

Old South Church came into being because 28 members said restrictions on baptism were unacceptable and that was just the beginning of a journey toward expanding understanding of a functional God – a dwelling place! Open and Affirming is merely one of the latest legs on a journey that continues forever.

I once witnessed a children’s sermon at one of our churches that was about to install an elevator into its 19th century building. When the children were asked why the church was doing this, one kid replied, “Because we’re “Open and Affirming” . . . Duhh!

Expanding! (The kids got it, though this is not typically a part of Open and Affirming.)

I met a physicist on the train from London to Paris. I asked him a question I always ask scientists, “What recent discovery excited you most?”

Without hesitation he said, “We’ve discovered that the universe is expanding at a rate that is faster than the laws of physics as we understand them can explain. That, he said, drives me into the lab to figure out the reason.”

As soon as he said this, I thought much this is like the history of Old South Church and The United Church of Christ. Various church groups and spiritual paths have various gifts that help us all, but because of our congregational polity or structure, ours is that we are often early adopters and experimenters, a sort of spiritual and theological research and development (R&D), not only in the macro, but in the micro.

When I came to the United Church of Christ at age 20-something, as a young gay man, (it wasn’t that long.) I felt I’d finally found a spiritual home. But one thing troubled me on this journey: Infant Baptism. You see, I had grown up in a faith tradition that made a big deal about “those baby baptizers” and I just couldn’t shake it.

Plus my mom kept after me saying, “I don’t know why you’d want to go join that dead, dry, White church.” (The speaker is of African-American heritage.) But, it was my journey and I kept coming, though the baptism issue held me back from joining.

And then one baptism Sunday, Robert Clarke, one of the pastors and an ethicist preached a sermon that reflected his personal journey and struggle in coming to terms with his own son’s gayness.

The sermon was titled, “Baptized into What?”

Bob argued that when we baptize our children, we baptize them into . . . community . . . into our Dwelling Place with God. He reminded us that in true congregational tradition, a covenant, is not merely a promise, but a promise made between two or more people or parties . . . before God – that when we baptize in this tradition, the entire congregation stands and promises our love, support, and care before God . . . without condition, without exception, without a doubt . . . He said that to later refuse people based upon their sexual orientation is to renege on our promise to God and each other.

At that moment, I fell in love with infant baptism and all baptisms . . . and it was reflecting on these words and others that later enerated the phrase in the God is still speaking, Campaign, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, You are welcome here!”

Why? Because God has been our dwelling place in all generations and also because in the United Church of Christ that’s a promise we can keep. Thanks be to God!

Before Queen Dorothy died, she told me “I’ll tell you one thing about you since you joined that dead, dry White Church . . . You’re a whole lot nicer than you used to be . . . And I’ll tell you something else, If I wasn’t so old now I’d go there with you.”

The day after momma’s funeral, surrounded by loving friends and church family from both traditions – even those who could not fully embrace me -- due to a pastoral emergency, mom’s pastor, though loving and supportive, could not go with us to the cemetery the next day. As a result, my United Church of Christ pastor interred Queen Dorothy in his place . . . Smiling, I thought . . . . “God has been our dwelling place in all generations.”

And as Queen Dorothy would say, “Who wouldn’t serve a God like that?”