Can a Trans Person Give Birth? (Romans 8:18-25, Given at Lake Street Church 26 March 2017 – National Weekend of Prayer for Transgender Justice.)

Good Morning! I’m River. My name comes from two Rivers that were present with me during significant life changes. I’m a seminary student in Hyde Park; I was the first out transgender student at that school, and I remain the only out transfeminine student there. It is such a delight to be with you today. This weekend as we pray for Transgender Justice, I want to share with you a bit about my story – and a bit of my own struggle with the question I ask in the title today: Can a Trans Person Give Birth?

Each of us has a gut understanding of what it means to give birth. We’ve each participated in giving birth as a birther, one being birthed, or as someone present to care for those involved in the birthing process.  In humans, the assumption is that only certain people can give birth. That birth happens only in certain ways, and only for certain reasons. Transgender people are frequently excluded from these markers, collectively excluded from the class of individuals who can give birth.

In the text for today, we read the wisdom of Paul, who equates the suffering of life with birthing pains, for a utopian new world. In his context, Paul’s hope was for the newly forming communities of faith who endured government persecution. Today, thinking about these same birthing pains, I reflect on the communities of transgender people that struggle with surviving, thriving and being.

Every week trans people are killed or harassed, or otherwise oppressed because of their transgender status, or because they were trying to live life on their own terms. Their stories are important, so I’ll share with you some of their stories along with some ideas about what transgender justice might look like for them.  And what transgender justice might look like here at Lake Street Church.

Alphonza Watson was killed in Baltimore early Tuesday morning; very little is known about her story, beyond how it ended.  Yet, she was the seventh black transgender woman killed, and the eighth transgender person killed this year – keeping 2017 on track to be the deadliest year yet for transfolx in this country and around the world. Two weeks ago, two black trans women were harassed and beaten when they tried to go to a McDonalds.  Last year, for the parts of the world that there are non-profits to do this tracking, two-hundred-ninety-five transgender people were killed in transphobic hate crimes. In the United States, the third deadliest country for transgender people, nearly ninety percent of transfolx experienced harassment because of their gender identity or perceived gender identity. Transgender Justice looks like a world where transgender people are free to live, to exist free from harassment and threats to safety.

Symone Marie Jones was a young black trans woman who sought out transition-related healthcare.  Because of the cruel intersections of transgender status, community affinity, and poverty she sought out an unlicensed provider for services.  The services ended with complications and death.  Similarly, in a recent blog post, Sam Dylan Finch talked about being held in an inpatient mental health unit for the hope of stabilizing his mental illness without requiring him to stop his medical transition. He speaks of medical providers misgendering and misnaming him. The posting reads like a formal accusation of what mental health care is unable to do for transgender clients.  Sam didn’t die a physical death because of his stay in the mental health unit, but the violence of being misgendered and misnamed sows seeds of doubt and distrust that will last. In the US, over half of transgender people have either had negative experiences in health care or avoid accessing health care for fear of negative experiences. For both Sam and Symone, and for those who are afraid, Transgender Justice looks like accessible, trans-competent healthcare in the places where we live—which is everywhere.

Considering Sam’s story and your place here as a faith community which cares about transgender people, you must face reality: 41% of transgender people have attempted suicide in their lifetime. Transgender Justice looks like a lower rate of suicide attempts among trans people.

Related – Nearly 80% of trans people leave faith communities because they fear or experience rejection. Even when presented with trans-competent and affirming faith communities, those who leave rarely return to their same tradition. Health Justice is important, but so are welcoming, trans-inclusive and competent communities that know how to welcome people like me, like Sam, like Symone, like K, like E, and like S. Transgender Justice includes faith communities – praying for transgender justice and then also engaging the people around them and their communities to make Trans Justice a reality.

When I consider educational and employment justice, there are so many stories that I have heard – most of which would put people at risk if shared, but they usually go something like this: I went to school for years and years with the hope that a job waits at the other side. Yet, here I am unemployed or underemployed.   Transgender people have some of the highest educational accomplishments in our society – with nearly a quarter having some form of graduate education, and 98% completing high school. Yet, trans people are twice as likely to experience poverty and three times as likely to be unemployed as the general population. Transgender Justice includes economic justice and employment non-discrimination.

We as a society like to talk about bathrooms – they are the scary places where transgender people hang out to cause trouble, or so media reports would have us believe. Yet; people like me must take care of nature’s call just like everyone else. In my bio, I mentioned that I was the first out transgender student at my current school, and I remain the first and only out transfeminine student at my school. When I began my gender transition, there were no discussions about bathrooms, until a professor noticed that I would run home during breaks – and asked why. That conversation led to the relabeling of additional single-stall restrooms as All-Gender restrooms – bathrooms for anyone to use. Often for transgender and gender non-conforming people, these restrooms for anyone are life savers: the most recent data suggests that nearly two-thirds of trans people avoided public restrooms because of fear of harassment—and this data comes from 2015 – well before the recent spate of bathroom bills. Nearly 10% avoided public restrooms to the detriment of their own health.  Transgender Justice looks like Bathrooms that we all can use. Transgender Justice looks like trusting Transgender people to know which accommodations are most appropriate for them.

As a society, we are afraid of what is different; and since transgender people are less than half of a percent of the US population – we’re not very common.  Yet, our sacred witnesses call creation Good.  With you, and with all people we are good. Transgender people need justice; we need allies and accomplices to join us in this struggle.  This struggle is part of the birthing pains Paul talks about: transgender people, and we as a society are giving birth to a new world where we are each acknowledged as beloved ones of the Divine Spirit of Love.

The whole creation is crying out for a new world filled with Justice for people of color, for transgender people, for the poor and the outcast. The whole creation is in labor pains. Transgender people are in labor pains – society is on the cusp of something new, and we are all bringing it about in our actions. We are each giving birth to a new, more just reality.

In the hymn, “Midwife Divine Now Calls Us,”  by Jann Aldredge-Clanton, we are reminded of this task:
Midwife Divine Inspires Us/ Through Holy Darkness Deep/ Moving through Realms of Mystery/ To wake all dreams that sleep/ The Loving Plan Unfolds/ As Tenderly She guides us through Pathways New and Bold.

Here at Lake Street Church, you have the opportunity to journey on new and bright pathways that include Transgender Justice in all its forms.  Justice to live, Justice to heal, Justice to learn, Justice to earn, Justice to survive in society.

My call to ministry is rooted in Trans justice. I’m ready for more people to engage both the work for Trans Justice and work for justice more generally. To make choices for a more just world. To participate in the world the way I want it to be with justice for all.

Come.

Join me.

Jesus comes to us in our grief and sits with us. Reign of Christ Year C, with Transgender Day of Remembrance.

This sermon was preached on 20 November 2016, RCL Year C, also commemorating Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Many of you know that today is a special day in the church year: Next week, we start the cycle over again and can celebrate again the anticipated coming of Christ. Today, the church year ends; Today, we celebrate the coming realm of God, and the characteristics of God’s realm that Jesus taught us.

The past few weeks have looked like and reminded me of the times of Jesus.

// Just about two weeks ago, our country went through an election, for president.  People on all sides of our national discourse had placed their hopes and their dreams in their ideal candidate.

When Jesus was born, the empire had just called a census, and when the time came for the religious celebrations of being born, a man at the temple prophesied over Jesus and said “God has raised up a mighty savior for us, and that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.”
How similar it feels: Politicians had the hopes and dreams that people had for Jesus placed upon them. They would be a savior from the status quo, or the ramp of progress into the future.

Today, we read the result of Jesus’ unannounced run for political office in the Judean province of the Empire of Rome.  “When they reached the place called The Skull, they crucified him.” Jesus resisted the political system, by preaching God’s realm coming soon – and the people called out “Crucify Him,” the government honored their wishes, and today we remember that Jesus was crucified – and more than being crucified, Jesus showed us the realm of God brought to earth.

In the US election, There was hope for a Green new deal, a libertarian return to individual sovereignty. Others, were hoping to find a way to make our country great or to celebrate the greatness we already have in the USA.  Once the votes were counted, we realized that something was missing, and I dare say that no one was particularly happy – no matter where you stood coming into the election.   The supporters, voters and citizens were each terrified, heartbroken, and reeling, by the election results, the realization that we are deeply divided as a country, that none of our political saviors were able to save our hopes and our dreams for our country and our future.

Yesterday, some of us gathered here to read and to hear the names of two hundred, forty-five transgender people, each one beloved by God, who were killed by clients, lovers, parents, cousins and strangers in the name of honor, fear and emotions that are incomprehensible.

We gathered to remember the 55 beloveds of God // who in their violent deaths // lost their name.

We remembered those killed by their own hands, because of this cruel world not yet ready for their gifts. These transgender people are those our global society still sacrifices to our god-like ideals of conformity and obedience.

Jesus shows us a different way.  (Pause)

A better way.                                     (Pause)

The realm of God.

In our text, Jesus shows us that while being crucified, it is possible to reach out and show grace to those who act in ignorance.  Jesus shows us that people can change.

Jesus comes to us in our fear and grief and sits with us.

While Jesus was on the cross, the hopes and the dreams of so many people //  that Judea would soon be free from Roman rule died.
While Jesus was on the cross, the hope of so many people that Jesus would make himself the sovereign of an earthly realm died.

As we read the names of transgender people, a few stood out to me, and helped a few of my dreams .. (Well, more likely fantasies) die.

One of these dreams that had to die was that Chicago was universally a safe place for people who, like me, defy the normative narratives of society.  On the 11th of September of this year, T. T. Saffore was killed just a few short miles from here.  She was killed in an incredible violent manner.

Another one of these dreams was that the demographic information for those killed doesn’t match up with mine all that well, and at least I would be safe.  And then this year, 24-year-old Kayden Clarke was shot and killed by people responding to his call for help, because he was suicidal.

And yesterday, God came and sat with us here…….. in our grief.  As we read the names, lit candles, and shed tears, God was here, reminding us of her presence, grace, and love.

In the second half of our reading today, we see Jesus interacting with criminals – who acknowledge that their crucifixions were legitimate, while resisting the legitimacy of Jesus’ death sentence.  When they beg for mercy, Jesus reminds the man on the cross next to him, that the coming realm of God would include him.  Jesus, as he was in deep pain, responded to the cries of the fearful and hurting.

Jesus was being a boundary breaker,

and was living into the realm of God, where we are all siblings together,

the realm of God where we are our kindred’s keeper,

the realm of God where we come together and sit with each other in our grief.

In our national and local political environment,

our grief began to grow so apparent about two weeks ago, and that grief has only grown over that time.

I believe that Jesus’ grieves too, over a country deeply divided against itself. Grieves over those beloved children of God who feel the need to dehumanize and to kill other of God’s beloved

Grieves over those treated differently because of the color of their skin, the gender of their heart, the people they love.

And here, we see that just as Jesus came to earth and was born during a tumultuous political time, we can rest in the assurance that Jesus has been with every one of us as we have mourned the election results. Jesus was with us as we remembered Kayden, T.T., and the other 293 of our transgender siblings who we remember today.

Transgenders

In the Icon on the screen [included above], which uses somewhat dated language, the artist takes the violent, death of Rita Hester in Allston, Massachusetts on November 28, 1998 and compares it to the crucifixion of Jesus. The vigils and memorials following her death gave birth to what we call today Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Today, while Jesus sits with us in a cosmic, spiritual way, the realm of Christ reminds us that we can embody the values of Jesus by sitting with each other in our grief. We can gather around the things that cause our hurt, find and enact our own solutions, and become a community that gathers together, grieves together, and then gets it done and fixed, together.

The Sixth Word: It Is Finished. Multicultural Worship Representing Trans Culture

A sermon prepared for, but not preached at Multicultural Tre Ore service at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on 25 March 2016.

A reading from the Wisdom of Psalm 130, adapted.

Out of the depths have I called you,

O eternal one; hear my voice.

Let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication,
If you were to note what is done amiss, O God, who could stand?

For there is forgiveness with you; therefore you shall be honored.

I wait for the Endless one; my soul waits. In God’s word is my hope.

My soul waits for you, O God; more than watchers for the morning, More

than watchers for the morning.

O Israel, wait for the Eternal one, for with The Sovereign there is mercy;

With God there is plenteous redemption, and God shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

The 6th Word: John 19:30

When Jesus had received the wine, Jesus said, “It is finished.” Then bowed and gave up his spirit.

A reading from the Wisdom of Anonhi


one dove, you’re the one i’ve been waiting for,
through the dark for, the nightmares the lonely nights.
i was born a curling fox in a hole hiding from danger
scared of being alone.

one dove to bring me some peace.
in starlight you came from the other side to offer me mercy, mercy, mercy.

one dove, i’m the one you’ve been waiting for.
through your skin i am born again.
i wasn’t born yesterday.
you were old and hurt. i was longing to be free.
i see the things you were too tired, you were too scared, to see.

one dove to bring me some peace.
in starlight, you came from the other side to offer me mercy, mercy, mercy.

 

Holy Wisdom, Holy Word
Thanks Be To God

 

The word of victory seems quite amiss in today’s world. Among the tragedies Earlier this week, from Brussels to Istanbul, North Carolina quietly called a special session of their state legislature to pass a law, that among a host of other horrible things, criminalized transgender people.
That’s a bold statement, but consider the practical effect of this law – as a transgender person, my transkindred can be forced to provide a birth certificate which lists their gender at birth as the gender which they identify and of the bathroom which they wish to use. In North Carolina, the process to change a birth certificate is currently only available to people who have completed gender confirmation surgery.

In addition to this, Washington, Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina,  Florida, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Kentucky, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri and Illinois are each considering similar anti-transgender legislation – most concerning youth – the most vulnerable among us.

Jesus word on the cross feels so out of place… the promise that God’s reign of peace and love are being born into this world seems wrong. The hope of the day where peace, love and justice reign, bringing each of us into fuller company both of each other, and of God’s reign of peace still lives on, but when does hope end and reality begin? When does the eschaton come – the eszchaton we commemorate today, when for a moment it looked like evil overcame all that was good in this world, won the victory, and the end was near?

Jesus’ promise was that though there would be a moment of stress, in three days, he would rebuild the temple, yet here we are sitting in the darkness, with Jesus on a cross, and here he is, about to die.

The end is here, and it’s nothing like we expected or hoped for.

For persons outside of the straight, cis mainstream, a glimpse of this Eschaton came last year when throughout our country marriage between two people was legalized, regardless of the legal genders of the parties.

A glimpse came when Illinois prohibited insurance companies excluding life-saving hormone replacement therapy and other medical treatments for gender dysphoria.

A glimpse came when anti-bullying legislation was passed in Minnesota, providing safer spaces for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, asexual and other individuals outside of the cisgender straight mainstream who were experiencing bullying.

But today, when we’ve seen glimpses of the victory, where will we find it, as Jesus dies on a cross, and for a moment it looks like the cosmic battle between forces of good and evil would end – yet, today we are gathered here, in anticipation of what is to come.

As dire as our situation looks, there has to be hope. At the twelfth station of the cross, there is an icon.

Transgenders

It says “How many transgenders must die before you get involved?” Although it uses language no longer appropriate to talk about trans folx, the icon boldly connects the cold-blooded murder of Rita Hester, a Black trans woman with the state-sanctioned murder of Jesus of Nazareth. The commemoration of Rita’s death has been carried on now for nearly twenty years as the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Moreover, with the suffering of transgender artist Anohni in the piece we heard, we join with creation crying out under the weight of a world where we are stuck, yet it is not yet ready for us. We listen to the words of Jesus “it is finished.”  We feel the labor pains of our world, bringing about a new Commonwealth of love, justice and peace, and we get involved. We learn about the struggles facing our world. We learn that lives, particularly black lives are not valued in our world, and we get involved, donating to bail funds, marching on the streets, stopping traffic.  We learn that transgender people, particularly transgender women of color are being killed en masse, and we gather to remember and say their names.  We join God in her work, and soon enough we realize that he is making the promised reality present here in the work we do together, in community.

The crucifixion certainly was not the highest point in the movement of Jesus’ followers, it brought them together in a way that allowed the realm of God to begin. Today again we have joined together as the disciples around the cross, to realize the corrupt systems we participate in, to mourn the evil in our world. Today, we join together to protect the most vulnerable and to share in the work of God’s Commonwealth.

Amen

New Clothes for a New Commonwealth

A Reading from the Epistle to the Colossians, the Third Chapter:

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.   And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.   And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of  Jesus, giving thanks to God our Creator through him.

Holy Wisdom, Holy Word

Merry Christmas!

It is indeed a delight to be here together on this first Sunday of Christmas.
Earlier this week, we had a lovely service to celebrate the Nativity of Jesus, and it was a delight to see many of you there. Today, we’ll continue the celebration of the Nativity, by considering the impact of Jesus’ journey to earth.

In the reading today from Colossians, the Author reminds us to clothe ourselves with >“compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”>>>>

In the Gospels,

the spiritual reality of the feast of the Nativity becomes incredibly clear :

God put on human clothes, and experienced the messiness of human existence.  The unsanitary mess of being born in a stable. Causing the discomfort and distress of arriving while his parents itinerant.

This is the wonder of the Christmas message,

God not only appears on the mountain of Sinai, to Moses delivering the law.

God does not only whisper into the ear of the prophets and political advisors, like Isaiah, Ezekiel and Nathan.

God comes to us and puts on human clothes.

God puts on the humility of human poverty and joins us in our human journey.
God is born a baby, in what is, for many of us, unimaginable poverty, this Baby shows humans the ways of God, and how to relate to God, our everlasting parent.

Jesus, appears on earth, and begins the process of giving birth to the Commonwealth of God.

In the reading today from Colossians, we are reminded that clothes are an important part of our existence on this world.  Clothes change how society reads us, and how society treats us.

The person who is unable to wear clothes that fit, or whose clothes betray that they experience homelessness go through life in vastly different ways than the person who wears clothes that fit, and appears clean and well rested.  An Ironed shirt, or freshly washed dress can be the edge up needed to move forward in this world.
God’s story in this season, and in our text, teaches us that while our outer appearances are what those around us see, the character in our heart provides the most important clothing.

For some of us here, the memory of Leelah Alcorn, a white transgender teenager rings fresh in our memory.  Leelah left a graphic and disturbing suicide note describing the ways her parents used professionals and others to prevent her from having community, connections, and places to go.

How her parents prevented her from access to the clothes of her heart.

By the time the letter was posted in a public way, Leelah had ended her life by vehicular impact – in the wee hours of the morning a year ago tomorrow.  Hold on to this for a moment – I’ll be coming back.

The Christmas story reminds us of the alternatives we have.  Jesus reminds us that just as God can put on human clothes, we can put on clothes that bring us closer to the Divine. God reminds us to put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience >>>>> and love.

During the past weeks as I have prepared this sermon, I have seen how I have so much growth to do. Do I get frustrated at the fact I have to wait almost a month from when classes end to see grades? Do I lash-out sometimes at people who with the best intentions make mistakes? Do I place my wants and desires above the needs of those who I oppress? >>>>>> Do I harm my body when sometimes it slows me down? The answer to each of these questions, for me, is yes.

God’s promise in Christmas is that the Commonwealth of God is coming. The Commonwealth of God has been born on earth.  In this commonwealth, God has broken through to each of us, in the Word made flesh, Jesus, and in the Word contained in the sacred text of Scripture.  In this Commonwealth, we are free to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.

By clothing ourselves with the clothes of God,
we join God in Her work of liberation.
We bring about the commonwealth of God
by pointing out the new reality He brings.

By allowing Christ to reign in our hearts, we are attuned to where God has begun working in our midst, and we are free to Join God in that work. Each great work of God begins with seeing God working – be it in the academic discourse of late medival Germany, the longing for spirituality in the gay and lesbian community of San Francisco, or in the birth of God’s own Child.

Remember Leelah, who I mentioned earlier?  She ends her note in the following way – slightly edited: “My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s messed up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.”

Leelah’s death was one of many deaths which lead to the creation of the TransLifeline. Leelah’s plea also lead to the movement to Fix Society, taken on by those working toward transgender liberation. This year has seen the movement for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender liberation make huge strides – including marriage for two people regardless of sex, the great growth in publicity of transgender celebrities, such as Janet Mock, La Verne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner.

Leelah’s wish to fix society, and God’s wish for the already and not yet Commonwealth are fully connected. In God’s Commonwealth, we are each welcomed // and embraced // and celebrated // as beloved children of God. In Leelah’s hope for Society, and God’s Commonwealth, we are invited to wear the clothes of our heart, both the compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience of our hearts, and the dresses, jeans, button downs, belts, skirts and earrings of our bodies.

The Author of Colossians call for us to clothe our hearts is Leelah’s call to Fix Society.  The homeless, the poor, the people who are dying in the streets need God’s liberation, and until we are all free, none of us can be the fullness of who we are created to be in God’s Commonwealth.

Thankfully, the work is not yours alone, nor is it mine alone, but it is ours together. No one person, or even one group of people can bring about this change in our world – It is indeed, the work of God, but together, when we join God in this work, great things can happen, and the commonwealth of God becomes ever more present with us here and now.

Join Me?
Listen for God?
Let’s Make this happen.

Amen.

Ephesians 3:1-13, Epiphany A, Preached 19 November 2015

A Reading from Ephesians, the Third Chapter:

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—

Surely //

you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me //

for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel // the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of God’s power. Although I am less than the least of all the Sovereign’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. God’s intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to God’s eternal purpose accomplished in Christ Jesus our Sovereign. In Christ and through faith in Christ we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

Holy Wisdom, Holy Word.
Thanks Be To God

As I read this text, I was brought back to one of my favorite books of years past:
“Will Grayson, Will Grayson.” I’m going to give away a bit of the plot – so if you’ve not read it yet, there are a few spoilers; it’s been out for almost 5 years, so I’m just going to assume that you’ve read it if you wanted to.

In this text, the two authors switch between the two main characters, each named Will Grayson. One lives in Evanston, and the other in Naperville.
There is one scene in this book, which reminds me of the essence of Epiphany, and the essence of our text today:
Will Grayson and will grayson – who don’t know each other, travel into the city of Chicago, with the hopes of meeting “Isaac” a online friend and potential romantic interest. When they arrive, they meet each other rather than Isaac. In our commemoration today, we remember that day when the Magi came to see the young Jesus, before he fled the massacre of all newborn babies in the region.

Now, these two texts look very different, and feel very different, but hold on with me for a bit. I’ll pull them up and together.
Paul writes to the churches in and around Ephesus to encourage Christian unity among all of the Christ followers there. But even more than encouraging Christian unity, in this passage, Paul points us back to Jesus Christ, and the Epiphany.

The Epiphany celebrates the time when the doors to God’s commonwealth were opened to gentiles, as well as Jews. Even as a child, Jesus opened the doors for the outcast and stranger, revealing himself as God to the nations beyond Israel.
So in today’s text, Paul encourages Christ followers by showing them how particular and special their encounter with God is, including Christ opening the door, to Paul’s particular call as an Apostle to the Gentiles, then to the call, to take this message to the principalities of this world.
Our world is hurting,
As a baseline, we look for people who are not like us,
People to be the Other.
Because, when we have an Other, we can look at ourselves as normal, welcome, and part of the family.
But, God models a different way of being.
In the Epiphany, God takes God’s story,
and opens up the cast of characters to
a whole new class of people excluded for centuries.
God calls us to continue considering the people who are excluded, pushed outside the margins.

 

In the past, this was the welcoming of women to the clergy,
Then it was the welcome of gay and lesbian people in to churches, and then to clergy.
Sometimes, it’s the people of color who have not had a seat at the table.
Sometimes, it’s the person on the street, who is afraid to walk into the church, because of economic conditions.
Sometimes, it’s the person who can’t walk in our front door because of particular mobility challenges.
The question then becomes: Who is on the outside?
Who is God opening doors to?
How can we join God in this work?
This week is filled with people on the outside:
State governors are attempting to prohibit people fleeing war and terror from entering their states.
Transgender people remember their 271 known kindred murdered in the last year.
People whose families have rejected them are pushed farther away by family-centric narratives of Thanksgiving.
People of Color are dying without justice, and are missing from our churches.
What should we do?
Where is God moving?

God calls throughout the Sacred Text for a welcome to the stranger – to those fleeing from harm.
God, who transgresses gender, mourns with those who are killed, and offers cities of refuge for those who live in fear of death.
God, who is called both Mother and Father, is a parent for those who have lost family.
God, who celebrates people, and who mourns with those who mourn sets out a large table for those who have been pushed away.

Friends and Colleagues, where does God set the table for all of God’s people?

In the story of Paul, he had to transform his understanding of Judaism, so he could become a person who intentionally reached out to the Gentiles, and saw the new ways that God was working in the world.
In my first story from Will Grayson, Will Grayson, we see an answer: Both Will Grayson, and will grayson lived in Illinois, in suburban Chicago, but to meet this stranger – to see the uncovering – they left their safety net. They travelled from the suburbs, into the city – to Grand Avenue. They did not meet the person each one was expecting there, but they met each other – and well, I’ll give you the broadest spoiler of them all – that was a very good thing. God keeps speaking to us – to go find the margins, to make our home outside our areas of comfort. Come, join me as we journey to the places God is calling each of us