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Sermon given by the Rev. Kate Sefton
Sunday, November 14, 2021
Proper 28

In today’s Gospel story, we hear that

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

This was no lightweight prediction, nor was it particularly a wise thing to say…but we know Jesus didn’t bother much with socially adept or wise conversation. Threatening enough was the prediction of the temple falling, but then Jesus tells them that upheaval will continue “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.”

This kind of thing is partly why Jesus was killed – because he insisted on saying things like everything is about to change! Not what people living comfortable and understandable lives want to hear. 

Samuel Cruz, Associate Professor of Church and Society at Union Theological Seminary says about this passage:

We must keep in mind that when Jesus was asked: “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” and he answers, “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” He had already said in the previous passages that this wondrous building had been built off the sweat and exploitation of widows and the poor. Therefore, the destruction of this magnificent edifice might be troubling for those who maintained their power and prestige in its survival, but not so for the common faithful widow.

Jesus is suggesting that there is “sin” in our world and that a complete apocalyptic transformation is therefore required…for Jesus “sin” is very contextual — it means oppression, exploitation, abuse of the widow, orphan, migrant, transgender people. Therefore, the system that has been built from evil must be destroyed and made anew.

Cruz goes on to say:

Perhaps the fear that people experienced was not intended for all, as the destruction of buildings, cities and the society, would mostly affect the power brokers of the given society. This radical restructuring perhaps was meant to bring encouragement to the marginalized then and now and hope that the oppressive structures of society would be destroyed.”

That the idea of large-scale destruction can make people shudder explains the myriad times in history that revolutionaries have been suppressed and even killed for suggesting taking down oppression. This brings us back to the Collect for today, which starts off: Subversive God, deconstructing temples of power in which we would keep you trapped and tamed…

I’m reminded of the way I felt as I participated in the Sacred Ground Circle. Sacred Ground is a film-based dialogue series on Race and Faith, and is meant to create space for difficult but respectful and transformative dialogue on race and racism.

As I watched the films and did the reading about history in what is now the United States, I came to a deep realization that all that I know/believe/live by in this country is built on a history of oppression, racism, slavery and division.

 

There. I said it. We have the life we have due in part to our ancestor’s theft and cruelty. This is a hard and painful thing to realize…and pushes me to try to decipher what I am meant to do.

So…asking people, including myself, to deconstruct the temples of power, to push against racism and oppression means considering dismantling all that which holds up society and the world and the systems as I know them. That’s unnerving. Dismantling, taking down the stones upon which our world is built means my comfort and understanding and ease will be/would be changed forever.

Not only that, but maybe my lifestyle and habits could be taken away from me and replaced with those of folks I don’t see as like me…or even folks that I don’t…see.

Our way of life, the mostly middle class, white and binary life – that’s the background against which we see, and judge other’s lives.

Though we may be glad that we accept people who are gay and persons of color, for most of us this still happens against a backdrop of our reality, our color, our sexual and political orientation. Being pushed to see that persons of color, and nonbinary folks, and homeless people, and those who are ill…seeing that those people have the same needs as we do and should already have the same rights – that can shake us up. A lot.

Jesus shook people up because he didn’t stick to keeping folks comfortable – he told the truth and reflected shortcomings and failures. He was arrested and killed because he refused to see or speak of people as if some were better than others. This was dangerous and it was the essential message of his life. He treated everyone as if they were as worthy as the next person.

Our catechism reflects this as well: all people are worthy of respect and honor, because all are created in the image of God, and all can respond to the love of God.

This brings me to reflect on something Reverend Cameron Partridge, American Episcopal priest, chaplain, and a transgender activist, has said about this season:

This is a strange, liminal time in the liturgical year, when signs of endings are, as the hymn puts it, all around us, even as we look forward to the harbinger of hope and new birth soon to be announced in Advent. 

For those of us in the trans community, this is a liminal time in another way—a time when we actively remember and face the ongoing reality of our vulnerability to violence and death, particularly for trans women of color. And it is a time when we seek to galvanize ourselves and our allies, to take our horror, grief, and outrage and harness it for change. To that end, November 20th marks International Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR).

By living as their authentic selves in a world not designed for them, gender-variant and transgender people are at risk; life is even harder for trans people who are Black or Native or people of color. We owe it to ourselves and all of God’s children to acknowledge this.

Part of Transgender Day/Week of Remembrance is naming and knowing just a little about the people whose lives were cut short simply because they would not lie about how they felt, about who they were. I have a partial list of those killed just this year:

Samuel Edmund Damián Valentín someone who spoke out against violence in Puerto Rico. He was the seventh transgender person killed there within the past year.

Bianca “Muffin” Bankz, a Black transgender woman

Tyianna Alexander, a 28-year-old transgender woman.

Dominique Jackson, a 30-year-old activist and co-founder of Break-Out, an LGBTQ+ youth organization

Alexus Braxton, a 45-year-old Black trans woman and hairstylist

Chyna Carrillo, a 24-year-old transgender woman

Siblings Jeffrey “JJ” Bright, a 16-year-old trans boy, and Jasmine Cannady, a 22-year-old nonbinary person, both from Ambridge, Pennsylvania, were killed Feb. 22 by their mother.

Jenna Franks, a 34-year-old white transgender woman experiencing homelessness

Diamond Kyree Sanders, a 23-year-old Black transgender woman

Rayanna Pardo, a 26-year-old Latina trans woman

Jaida Peterson, a 29-year-old Black trans woman who was always smiling and cracking jokes

Dominique Lucious, a 26-year-old Black transgender woman

Remy Fennell, a Black transgender woman in her 20s who had started her own business in cosmetology

Tiara Banks, a 24-year-old Black transgender woman, was killed while she was sitting alone in her Ford Fusion.

Natalia Smut, a 24-year-old Black and Puerto Rican transgender woman, was stabbed to death in Milpitas

Iris Santos, a 22-year-old Latinx transgender woman

Tiffany Thomas, a 38-year-old Black transgender woman, was killed in Dallas at a car wash April 24

Keri Washington, a 49-year-old Black transgender woman

Jahaira DeAlto, a 42-year-old transgender woman, stabbed to death, was was a founder of Berkshire Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Whispering Wind Bear Spirit, a 41-year-old nonbinary person who was Shawnee by birth and Potawatomi by relationship

Sophie Vásquez, a 36-year-old Latinx transgender woman.

Danika “Danny” Henson, a 31-year-old Black transgender woman, was shot and killed in Baltimore

Serenity Hollis, a 24-year-old Black transgender woman

Oliver “Ollie” Taylor, a 17-year-old white trans boy, and a member of the Future Farmers of America, was kidnapped and shot in Gervais, Oregon

Thomas Hardin, who according to friends identified as a woman and used both feminine and masculine pronouns, was killed in York, South Carolina

Poe Black  a 21-year-old nonbinary transgender man who was an artist

EJ Boykin, a 23-year-old Black transgender man was the parent of a young child, who may have been present at the scene of the shooting.

I know this is heavy going. This is just a partial list for this year, and it can seem overwhelming. I remind myself that if it feels catastrophic and painful to me…well, then it must be unbearable to those who identify as non-binary and transgender.

And I know I must do something, say something.

Part of my resistance to really feeling this pain can be summed up in two questions:

What can I do? How can I effect any change?

Well, there is something. Using someone’s correct and preferred personal pronouns is a way to respect them and create an inclusive environment, just as using a person’s name can be a way to respect them.

Relatively easy for me, very meaningful for them. If I have trouble remembering or if I make a mistake, I have to remind myself that my momentary embarrassment or discomfort can’t hold a candle to what that person may experience daily. But…if my faltering effort is seen as supportive and loving, that is incredibly powerful.

I have begun to gather my social courage and ask. Just ask…what pronouns do you prefer? Or…if I am more hesitant, tell that person “I go by she/her…how about you?” Just asking is still offering a gift of acceptance. Even awkward and faltering acceptance and respect is loving.

I regularly forget or make mistakes, but I’m told I don’t have to make a big deal out of a mistake or draw a lot of attention to it. We mostly need to fix it.

What if showing that respect and living up to our inclusive hopes could not only impact someone’s self-esteem, but could change how someone else saw that person?

Education leads to understanding, so we can learn. We can then use our voices to create change. Listen to the stories of others, learn from others stories, advocate for justice. Remember and acknowledge the beautiful and vibrant individuals that have been lost due to anti-transgender violence. In doing this, we work toward a welcoming and safe future for everyone. (from MyPronouns.org)

Reverend Cameron Partridge asks us to pray for those in the transgender community this week. I would like to end with this prayer:

Gracious and loving God, you made all of humankind in your image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: On this International Transgender Day of Remembrance, we remember those who were killed because of their all-encompassing humanity; help us to overcome our anger and our fear of those whose lives move beyond our binary definitions; draw us closer to the mystery and complexity of your infinite creativity and creation; teach us to look upon all of God’s children with love and compassion, that we may all live in safety and in peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.