“These words always come back to me,” said the Rev. Emma Jordan-Simpson at the 9:15 a.m. Monday, July 25, morning ecumenical worship service in the Amphitheater. “The women — Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the others — told the apostles what happened, and the apostles treated the message as idle gossip. Then, Peter went to the tomb and saw the linen clothes and went home amazed.”
Jordan-Simpson’s sermon title was “Intercepted by Love,” and the Scripture reading was Luke 24:8-12.
Black historian and scholar Vincent Harding was the founder of Veterans of Hope Project. The group compiled the stories of veterans of social justice and change movements.
“He saw the wisdom of the elders as resources for the next generations. He thought the world needed to be perpetually inspired,” Jordan-Simpson said. “He was one of the most hope-filled people, and wherever he was, he encouraged people to pull up a seat. He was intercepted by hope.”
Every encounter Harding had with people who were finding their voice, he found them as compatriots in their shared struggles.
“God’s hope was chasing and intercepting him,” Jordan-Simpson said.
Never a football fan, when Jordan-Simpson married she thought that she would sit with her husband on Saturdays and watch his favorite team, the Ohio State University Buckeyes.
“I would join in the cheering, but I almost said something once that could have jeopardized our marriage,” she said. “I still don’t understand the point of the game, and I don’t know what those commentators are talking about. It was a new lexicon that I still don’t understand.”
During one game, Ohio State’s ball was intercepted, and her husband’s reaction was to be a little upset.
“I thought, why can’t they just share and take turns,” Jordan-Simpson said.
She continued, “Harding had a very different understanding of intercepted. Every time he was intercepted, it was a good thing. People want to be intercepted by, grounded in, the hope of God. These are the people who head to the river.”
There is a wide gap between what the world is and what it can be, Jordan-Simpson said.
“Democracy is a movement and not an established fact,” she said. “Democracy is the place we are headed to unless we are intercepted by greed, hate and smallness. It has to be God who chases us and helps us imagine a society fit for all of us.”
Auburn Theological Seminary Senior Fellow Lisa Sharon Harper is the founder of FreedomRoad.us, and served as chaplain of the week at Chautauqua in 2021. She is the author of The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right and Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World — and How to Repair It All.
Harper is part of a podcast called “The Four Podcast” with the Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews, a Chautauqua chaplain in 2018 and 2022; the Rev. Jacqui Lewis, an Interfaith Lecturer in 2017; and the Rev. Otis Moss III, a favorite Chautauqua preacher and lecturer.
“She has an authentic voice of hope and vulnerability. She lets us in on what she is learning,” Jordan-Simpson said of Harper.
In The Very Good Gospel, Harper wrote that despite our divisions, God’s vision of wholeness and peace for the hurting soul remains.
“Shalom is what the kingdom of God looks like,” Jordan-Simpson said. “People have enough to eat, families are healed, people’s dignity is protected and we recognize every one as human. Who would have a problem with that spirit?”
Harper once got a call from a teacher at a K-12 Christian school. The teacher had used Harper’s The Very Good Gospel in a social studies class. The person complained because Harper does not have a doctorate.
“This is an authentic voice of vision and hope, and you can’t use her book because she doesn’t have a Ph.D.?” Jordan-Simpson said. “Of course, there are other things underneath that (criticism).”
She continued, “The reason our tomorrows all look like yesterday is because we dismiss the voice of hope and truth as too old or too young, too Black, too white, too straight, too gay. After we have filed all our exemptions we have missed the gift of newness, to be transformed by the gift God is sending.”
Whenever the Holy is involved, people experience newness and transformation.
“We can’t manage God,” Jordan-Simpson said. “God conscripts the most unlikely people to share the good news.”
The stinky shepherds were in the field watching their flocks when God sent angels to them to share the news that a baby was born; he did send them to the important people, the kings and potentates.
“God gathers the unlikely to share the good news and be hope-bearers,” she said.
Jordan-Simpson then referenced the women who approached Jesus’ tomb after his crucifixion.
“A group of women expected to meet death, but found the completion of the death ritual was not needed,” Jordan-Simpson said. “These women, whose names we never get right, were rejected as bringing a hysterical rant rather than a message of good news. They were rejected, but we still talk about them today.”
God specializes in what we think is impossible.
“We should aim higher to get in formation with God,” she said.
Jordan-Simpson asked the congregation, “Does everyone in the books, radio, TV, newspaper who says something you like, look like you? Does everyone who says something you have a problem with look different?”
She continued, “Why are we not participating with God in the miracle? We should stand hopeful, stand ready to be intercepted. We should intercept the immigrant neighbor finding a voice, laws that prevent full political participation. Don’t just wait. Participate with God in miracle working.”
Jordan-Simpson told the congregation they would find salvation in that work; they would find hope in the effort to draw the circle wider.
“Maybe there will be an angel in the story who stands in places of death to encourage new generosity to unlikely people who run with the faith that another world can be possible. Arundhati Roy said, ‘I can hear her breathing.’ Another world is possible,” Jordan-Simpson said.
The Rev. Natalie Hanson, Chautauqua’s interim senior pastor, presided. Deacon Ray Defendorf, co-host of the Catholic House of Chautauqua, read the Scripture. Nicholas Stigall, organ scholar, played for the prelude, “Her Children Rise Up and Call Her Blessed,” by Margaret Sandresky, on the Massey Memorial Organ. The anthem sung by the Motet Choir was “When Mary Thro’ the Garden Went,” music by Charles Villiers Stanford and words by Mary E. Coleridge. The choir was directed by Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and holder of the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist. The postlude was “Sortie,” from Pièces posthumes by Cèsar Franck, played by Stafford on the Massey Memorial Organ. Support for this week’s services is provided by the Alison and Craig Marthinsen Endowment for the Department of Religion.