Archive for November, 2022

“The next thing to come,” (Sermon, Christ the King/Transgender Day of Remembrance)

This sermon was preached during a service of baptism for a trans man in our community. He is mentioned by name several times here.

All the way back in 2013, my friend and teacher Omid Safi wrote an article called “Between Good Friday and Easter: A Muslim Meditation on Christ and Resurrection” for The American Muslim. As he reflected on the power of the story of Jesus’s crucifixion, he wrote,

“There is a beautiful teaching of the Prophet Muhammad where a person came up to him and said: “O Messenger of God, I love you.” The Prophet said to him: “Then go put on the battle armor, because surely the next thing to come will be affliction.” The God that I have faith in is not just the God of the sunny days, but the God of every day, including the days of suffering, the days of pain, and the days of loss. I too seek shelter in God in the days of suffering, having faith in the unseen days to come.  Our God is the God of Good Friday as much as the God of Easter, the God of the lowest valley and the loftiest mountain, and the God of the spaces in between—where we dwell most days.”

Today is a strange confluence of days. We have Christ the King Sunday, also known as Reign of Christ Sunday or, “The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe,” if, as the Dude offers, you’re not into the whole brevity thing. It’s not an ancient feast. Christ the King Sunday was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, in response to what he saw as a growing secularism and lack of faith, but also nationalism and fascism. He instituted it to say, “Christ is our King, not the King of Italy, not the state, and certainly not this upstart Mussolini and his thugs.”

Today is also Transgender Day of Remembrance, a vigil observance begun in 1999 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a trans woman murdered in 1998. The vigil commemorates transgender people lost to violence, often by reading the names of those reported murdered across the world. Today, this observance is especially important as we mourn the senseless murder and injury of queer siblings at Club Q in Colorado Springs.

And, it’s the day that our brother KC will be baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, a day long awaited and now finally here, a day where we will pray that he be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power, and prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled him to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.

Today is a day of new life, when we will celebrate KC going down into the waters of baptism, waters that represent chaos and death, and coming up born anew. If it sounds scary, KC, don’t worry – you’ve done it before. You did it the day you chose to live as fully yourself in the world. As a wise prophet once said, “You should be baptizing me.” But let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.

Professor David B. Levenson in his article “Musings on the Messiah” writes, “One major function of the Messiah is to bring about God’s justice by defeating all agents of oppression, human and superhuman[.] However, the focus of [the sacred texts which discuss the Messiah] is less on the messianic figure than on the messianic age, the time when God’s justice, rather than Satan or Empire, would prevail.”

Today is a day where we look ahead to the restoration of those exiled by hate and invisibility and dysphoria and murder, where we look ahead to the end of days when the Anointed One will return to wipe away our tears. We look ahead knowing our King will come, but we all have a part to play in the healing of the world. Without God, we cannot; without us, God will not, for how can the messianic age come without our own healing as a species?

Today is a day where we are called to choose our King: Jesus, or Caesar; a day where are called to stand up to wicked shepherds – and woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter and slander the beloved sheep of God’s pasture. Woe to them, and weep for them, for they have chosen incarceration in a prison of hate and grey ignorance for access to the fleeting and false power that homophobia and transphobia brings.

Today is a day of staking our claim as beloved allies of God’s purpose, a day where in the face of murder and violence we choose life and love; a day where, like the thief, we cry out when silence needs breaking, cry out as witnesses to the unjust suffering all around us, and ask to be remembered despite all we have suffered and all we may have done to hurt.

Even at the very end, when it seems too late, forgiveness is offered.

Today is the day when, with KC, we are being called to say, “Jesus, I love you.”

The next thing to come will be affliction.

But we have known affliction, friends, and we have and shall overcome.

Did you know that, on the barren and rocky moonscape of Ireland’s west coast, plants from both the northern and southern hemisphere grow side by side, as they do nowhere else on earth?

Did you know that life probably began around hydrothermal vents spewing forth toxic chemicals deep in the ocean?

Did you know that after Friday on the cross came Sunday in the Garden?

Eh, I figure you heard that one before. But let’s remember it again anyway.

I’ll close with some words from “Our Precarious Joy,” a poem from nonbinary icon Alok Vaid-Menon:

“feeling is dangerous because
it requires us to dwell in anguish,
rather than anesthetize it
(as if it never happened).

so many fear joy because they fear losing it.

they hate us because we live here — in this precarious joy —
and we have found preciousness, still.

it is far easier to desensitize ourselves to the world.
but what about the romance of living?
the tundra of grief, of striving, of becoming like
every breath is an invitation to another way of being?

what about the dignity of being?
i won’t settle for anything less.

i would rather weep than pretend.
i would rather be hated than be digestible.
i would rather be mirthful than meander around like
happiness is some rare ray of light piercing through my window.”

Sermon starts at 27:43

“By your endurance,” (‘Seed chat,’ November 13 2022)

I don’t tend to preface sermons with content warnings, but I will with this one. I’m gonna be talking briefly about the events preceding the El Salvadoran Civil War, which will include some mentions about state-sanctioned violence. If you’re not in a good place for that, please care for yourself as you need. There’s still coffee and tea back in the narthex if you want to tune out for a bit.

In 2014, I went on a trip to El Salvador with the Student Christian Movement, a radical ecumenical network of Christian youth who engage with social justice through the lens of faith. We stayed with Jose Innocencio “Chencho” Alas, a former priest and personal friend of St. Oscar Romero. He taught us about liberation theology as well as inviting us to help with local reforesting efforts by planting fruit trees and gardens in impoverished mountain villages. I learned a lot from him and his cheeky sense of humour, from appreciative inquiry to radical leftism to how to use a machete.

We visited many places that had been important to St. Oscar Romero, including the chapel at Hospital de la Divina Providencia, where he was assassinated, shot by members of a death squad while he was celebrating Mass on March 24th 1980. That day, he’d given a sermon calling on Salvadoran soldiers to obey God’s higher order and stop perpetrating violence and oppression on behalf of the government. Today, his office is a small museum, and many of his personal effects are behind glass as relics, including the church vestments he was wearing when he was killed, which are covered in dried blood.

When I saw them, I was barely a year away from my diaconal ordination, though I didn’t know it yet, and it hit me: the true meaning of taking up one’s Cross and following. Friends, I got on my knees.

We have a strange juxtaposition between today’s Hebrew Bible reading and today’s Gospel. While Isaiah speaks rhapsodically about the new heavens and the new earth, Luke details a situation that would have been very familiar Archbishop Romero.

Where Isaiah has,

“Be glad and rejoice for ever
   in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
   and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
   and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
   or the cry of distress,”

Luke has,

“You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

The Roman Catholic Church in El Salvador was and is an extremely powerful institution. Oscar Romero didn’t have a reputation as being particularly progressive before becoming archbishop. If he had towed the line, as his colleagues in ministry urged him to do, he might still be alive today. Maybe. Appeasement does not guarantee freedom or safety. Christians do well to remember that much.

But he didn’t tow the line.

How could he, as he looked upon the slain body of his friend, the Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, assassinated by Salvadorean security forces? Rutilio had been working in the liberation theology model, creating self-sustaining “base communities” among the poor, which was of course threatening to a right-wing government on the lookout for leftist groups.

Archbishop Romero later said, “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, ‘If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path.’”

I’m not trying to be alarmist – although one should be aware that no one who wakes up in a functioning democracy expects it to be dissolved, just like no one who wakes up in a city like Vancouver expects a pandemic to shut down the whole country.

These things happen every day, to ordinary people.

Ask my husband’s parents, who lived for several months in Iran back in the ‘70s, where women in miniskirts were still a common sight on the streets.

Ask our friends from Portland, Oregon, who found a fascist warzone had sprung up in their backyards overnight back in the summer of 2020.

Ask Chencho Alas, who woke up on November 16th 1989 to find six of his Jesuit compatriots at the Central American University in San Salvador – plus the caretaker’s wife and her fourteen-year-old daughter – had been murdered overnight, and photographs of their slain bodies decorated the walls of the hallway outside the chapel.

By our endurance we will gain our souls.

We here in Vancouver in 2022 are not in the position that Romero was in, or that Luke’s community was in. But there are many moments where we are called to endure hardship for the sake of life, love, freedom, peace, and the integration of our souls. There are moments where we are called to come out, to shut down a bully, to speak a truth that needs to be spoken, or stand beside someone in support as they speak theirs.

And if you’re anything like me, it’s scary as hell.

But if we don’t, that’s one beautiful seedling that goes un-watered, one perfect spark that winks out in a cold place, denying warmth to the cold or a warm meal to the hungry.

By our endurance we will gain our souls.

What does that mean to you?

Sermon starts 26:25