What Is Love (take action)

Sermon for Jubilee Baptist Church

August 30, 2020

HL Holder-Brown

Texts: Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

Romans 12:9-21:

12:9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;

12:10 Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.

12:11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.

12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.

12:13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

12:16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.

12:17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.

12:18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

12:19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

12:20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”

12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Matthew 16:21-28:

16:21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

16:22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”

16:23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

16:25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

16:26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

16:27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.

16:28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Sermon:

(If you want to listen to the sermon you can do that here)8294A5A2-C304-4A87-B02E-02A72A1DB219

What is Love (This one is for Jakob Blake)

So…Peter. God bless Peter but he really does have those moments where he has to stick his foot in his mouth. He says what’s on his mind–without any hesitation even when he should keep his mouth shut.

But, Jesus always seems to know how to put him back in his place. This time, he even calls him Satan. Now, here Satan doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesus is calling Peter the devil. Satan in the Greek just means adversary. Peter and Jesus have different goals in mind for Jesus’ life and Jesus wants Peter to shut up and let him do what he’s going to do.

Naturally, Peter goes from proclaiming that Jesus is Lord one minute to getting called Satan.

Peter didn’t want Jesus to die. Of course not! No one wants their dearest friend to die and especially not Jesus–the very one he just called Lord. But Peter also missed the point of what Jesus was doing. Peter is a rock but he’s also the rock that definitely doesn’t think before he speaks. And sometimes, he acts without thinking. (Please see that one time he pulled a sword on a dude and chopped his ear off)

So, what does it mean to take up your cross and follow Jesus? Because Jesus is in essence saying that his followers should be willing to take up an instrument of death and follow him. Jesus, defier of the Roman government, was about to be murdered by the state in one of the most painful ways possible and he asks his followers to be willing to do the same. 

Jesus: What if we healed the sick, provided homes for the homeless, freed slaves, and helped the poor!

Roman Empire/Religious Leaders: This is a threat to our power; crucify him.

If that doesn’t sound familiar to where we are today. When I say, take up your cross, this is the vision of Jesus I picture. 

When three trans women of color can get attacked in the streets without anyone doing something about it, when a Black man can get shot 7 times in the back by a police officer, THIS is what I mean when I say take up your cross, and follow Jesus. 

The Empire doesn’t like it when you challenge their power or try to reallocate that power so that others have a fighting chance. I do not mean to suggest here what many evangelical pastors would, that you have to be willing to proclaim Jesus and convert everyone to Christianity even if it kills you. 

Death doesn’t have the final say here. Jesus knows there’s hope beyond this in Resurrection and restoration of the world as it currently is. There is hope here.

Dr. James Cone, in his classic work The Cross and the Lynching Tree compares the cross to another symbol of death, “the lynching tree”  in the Jim Crow era when he notes: “In that era, the lynching tree joined the cross as the most emotionally charged symbols in the African American community–symbols that represented both death and the promise of redemption, judgment and the offer of mercy, suffering and the power of hope.”

What I think is going on here is that Jesus is asking people to live life in a radically different way than they have before. The world doesn’t have to be this way! It can change.

Cone continues by added that, “Both the cross and the lynching tree represented the worst in human beings and at the same time ‘an unquenchable ontological thirst’ for the life that refuses to let the worst determine our final meaning.” (Cone, 3)

Last time you heard from me, I talked a lot about what the kin-dom of God looks like. We concluded that it looks a lot like Love–the kind of love that is liberating and radical, kind, and world-changing.

In chapter 12 of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul is following up on this and even quotes Jesus’ words on how to treat our enemies. Paul expounds on Jesus’ words about enemies by reminding his audience that if your enemy is hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.

If love is to be liberating, it means feeding the hungry even when the ones who are hungry wouldn’t do the same for us. It means that liberation is coming for everyone and especially for those who desperately need it the most. 

Romans 12 is almost a sermon unto itself. “Let love be genuine…hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.” Let your love be real. Hate evil. Hold onto what is good in life. Take care of each other. There are lots of action verbs in this passage. “LOVE one another.” “Bless those who persecute you” “Live in harmony with one another.” It’s anything but passive and requires something of us.

***this is a rant***

It literally costs you nothing to say the bare minimum of “right things” that make you sound radical and social justicey. Love looks like changing the world and living in solidarity with folks who have less privilege. 

What have you used your privilege for today that can change the world for those of us with less privilege tomorrow?

Leverage your privilege so that you’re using it for good. If you’re just saying words and not enacting change, then your words are clanging cymbals. I demand more than words. So much more. 

I demand this of you and of myself that we are doing more than posting on social media (although that certainly has its place too)

This makes me reflect back on Hunter’s sermon a couple weeks ago about Jesus and the woman he called a dog. Because when you preach about how people deserve more than crumbs, you can’t just give them crumbs in your own life by not actually doing anything about the world we live in.

It requires not only making a seat at the table for everyone. Sometimes, it requires building a whole new table altogether and imagining a world that is infinitely better. Where you don’t have to add chairs and make people sit together when some at the table have all the power and others have none. As Kaitlin Curtice suggests in her book Native, sometimes what we need is to build the table outside, where there’s so much more room for everyone.

Sometimes, also like Jesus, you have to flip those tables over because religious leaders are exploiting folks who have come to worship. Or protesting police brutality and standing in solidarity with Black people, with trans people, against state sanctioned violence. And sometimes, that shit can get you killed. 

This is getting into what John Lewis called “good trouble” by resisting the way things are and refusing to accept anything less than justice. It looks like putting your body on the line in front of those who would cause harm.

I have to wonder if preaching about this is enough sometimes. If my words and the words of others will motivate you to action (if you aren’t already involved) or not. In the words of Brenè Brown, “I’m not here to be right; I’m here to get it right.”

Whatever you do, taking up your cross requires action. It is anything but being a passive bystander as injustice is perpetuated. Don’t be like the “white moderates” Dr. King referred to in his Letter from Birmingham Jail. 

As Dr. James Cone says, “It is one thing to teach theology (like Niebuhr, Barth, Tillich, and most theologians) in the safe environs of a classroom and quite another to live one’s theology in a situation that entails the risk of one’s life.” (Cone, 70)

Taking up one’s cross to liberate others is messy, hard, and holy work. I believe it is required of those of us who truly say we are in solidarity with the poor, with workers, with Black and Indigenous people of color, with queer people, with the disabled. 

The kin-dom of God looks like love. It looks like taking up your cross and following Jesus to the middle of the fight, and that love looks like solidarity and justice for the oppressed. May we all begin doing or continue doing that holy work together. May we strive for resurrection and the restoration of a world where we all can gather at the table. Amen.

Benediction:

I dwell in Possibility – (466)

BY EMILY DICKINSON

I dwell in Possibility –

A fairer House than Prose –

More numerous of Windows –

Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –

Impregnable of eye –

And for an everlasting Roof

The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –

For Occupation – This –

The spreading wide my narrow Hands

To gather Paradise –

this is me trying

“They told me all of my cages were mental so I got wasted like all my potential. I just wanted you to know that this is me trying. I just wanted you to know that this is me trying.”  ~ This is Me Trying, Taylor Swift

“Keep your helmet, keep your life, son. Just a flesh wound, here’s your rifle. Crawling up the beaches now “Sir, I think he’s bleeding out”
And some things you just can’t speak about.” ~ Epiphany, Taylor Swift

Sometimes the only words I can think of are someone else’s words. Right now, I mostly have Taylor Swift lyrics in my head. It could always be worse. Once upon a time, I was supposed to be writing a sermon, but I came here instead. 

This week I’ve gotten my blood drawn to check my hormone levels, had a therapy session with a skeleton in the background, and had a haircut. And my wife and I have had some interesting conversations about gender, bottom dysphoria, and packers, etc. 

Also, the group chats I’m apart of for queer folx and trans/non binary folx have been very active this week. Perhaps it is because of Leo season, I don’t know. 

This stream of consciousness livejournal I’ve been keeping this summer has been fun. As long as I keep writing, it is successful. If I fall behind, I just catch up again. 2020 is all about giving ourselves a break and showing one another grace in impossible and difficult times no one could have imagined. 

“Don’t call me kid. Don’t call me baby. Look at this god forsaken mess that you’ve made me.” ~ Illicit Affairs, Taylor Swift

Really, I came here because a few photos came up in my memories today. And, well, I’ll let them speak for themselves.

Four years ago, I was in the process of coming out as queer and not in a safe home environment. I was living with my parents after graduating college and desperately needing to get out.

Three years ago, I DID get out but it took a long time for me to feel ok and safe. Sometimes I still don’t feel safe but I know I am. Three years ago, I look back and the me then feels haunted. Haunted and sad. Like, if I didn’t make it out of that alive, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. My parents begged me to stay after attempts to force me into conversations with their pastor and a “biblical counselor” of their own choosing failed.

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To three years in the past me:

I just want you to know that you will be ok. You will find love and safety and family. You will find all of those things in abundance and in ways you never thought possible. Keep going, dear heart. You will make it out of this alive and you will fucking shine. 

All that to say, surviving hell and abusive situations is possible. But it’s surviving hell, and hell doesn’t leave you unscathed. But you will be ok. You might even start smiling again–but for real this time.

Sincerely,

2020 me

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let love be messy

Sermon preached via Zoom at Jubilee Baptist Church, July 26, 2020

Texts:

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

13:31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field;

13:32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

13:33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

13:45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls;

13:46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

13:47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind;

13:48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad…

13:49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous

13:50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

13:51 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.”

13:52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Romans 8:35-39 (NRSV)

8:35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

8:36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

8:37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

8:38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,

8:39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sermon: We Belong Together (Thanks Pat Benatar) aka Let Love Be Messy

Picking up where Heather left off last week, we’re looking at another set of parables that Jesus told to his audience and his disciples. Parables aren’t meant to have one singular meaning but can have many meanings and interpretations. Which makes things a little easier but also feels like Jesus is using some sort of secret code and is leaving it up to us to decipher it.

That being said, there can be many truths found in the parables not just one moral to the whole story. Father Richard Rohr is known for saying that God is in everything. Many indigenous people believe similarly that God can be found in nature, in water, in the Earth, and all around us. 

For example, if we take this just a little literally, I’m curious how many of you have seen a mustard seed? Jesus refers to it as the “smallest of the seeds.”  

The Message translation of this passage refers to the seed as a pine nut: 

“God’s kingdom is like a pine nut that a farmer plants. It is quite small as seeds go, but in the course of years it grows into a huge pine tree, and eagles build nests in it.”

The closest comparison I have to this is bonsai seeds. Recently, I planted some seeds that are meant to grow into tiny trees. Bonsai is Japanese for tray planting and is an art form in Japan and China. The seeds don’t necessarily grow into small trees on their own–they have to be cultivated this way. When planted in the right containers and the right environment, these trees, though small, are just as beautiful.

Next, let’s talk about yeast. Yeast is actually a microorganism. It’s also considered a fungus and does some really cool stuff. I guess you could call it small but mighty. Most of us are familiar with it as a way to make bread dough rise, it’s used in starters for bread, and it’s pretty important in making Beer and other alcoholic beverages. 

In case anyone’s wondering how I’ve been spending my time during Covid, it hasn’t been through baking bread (YET) but I have learned some pretty cool things about yeast. For instance, did you know you can make your own yeast? Well, not quite like that, I guess.

 One article I read about the sourdough craze notes: “What you’ll actually be doing is capturing wild yeast and bacteria that’s already present in the air or in the flour to make a “sourdough starter.” This is what bakers have relied on for generations before commercial yeast became available less than 100 years ago.”

Rev. Melissa Florer-Bixler, pastor of Raleigh Mennonite Church writes about these parables by describing the world Jesus’ audience is living in:

The world of the disciples is one of domination and violence. Their world is one in which the wealthy and powerful rule over the weak, take advantage of that weakness, crush it under the boot, and lash it with the whip. It is a world in which Caesar is both king and god, a cruel, irrational tyrant who takes vengeance against his enemies.”

So, instead of referring to the “kingdom” theologians like Asa Maria Isasi-Diaz, mother of mujerista theology, have offered up kin-dom as an alternative. 

Melissa adds, “Kin-dom became the language she used to describe God’s libertad, the liberation of God at work among people, the good news for those who suffer at the hands of kings. Isasi-Díaz dedicated her life to the work of mujerista theology, where the center of theological study is borne from the experience of Latinas…Liberation is found not in hope deferred to another world, to life after death, but what can be created now.”

So, if the kin-dom is liberating and God is all around us, I’d like to offer up this interpretation of the parables we’ve read:

Ultimately, it seems Jesus is comparing the “kingdom of heaven” (referred to henceforth as kin-dom) to seemingly insignificant things that can become hard to miss. You may not notice mustard seed. Or yeast. But, you do notice what they produce. It’s hard to miss trees! Or bread–especially when it’s baking. The smell permeates everything. Jesus tells us in agricultural and baking terms what the kin-dom looks like.

The kin-dom looks like finding priceless treasure, like catching so much fish that you have more than enough to provide for everyone’s needs. 

When you least expect it and where you least expect it, the kin-dom of God is there. The kin-dom of heaven is what we make of it–it’s not something we have to wait for. 

The kin-dom of heaven is here on earth right now.

The kin-dom of heaven looks like going to the local Mcdonald’s early in the morning when the queer latinx worker greets you and has a full face of make-up and beautiful nails. Which is to say, the kin-dom of God is queer as hell.

The kin-dom of heaven seeks justice for Black and Indigenous people of color and sees the beauty in diversity.

The kin-dom of heaven sees disabled people and their need for accessibility and gives it to them.

The kin-dom of God looks like everyone has enough. Enough food, enough money, enough love. Everyone is taken care of. 

The kin-dom of God looks like wearing a mask in public to prevent the spread of a pandemic that is disproportionately affecting the elderly, disabled, people of color, and the poor.

The kin-dom of God looks like White people marching in solidarity with Black and brown people for equality, ending systemic racism and police brutality, and abolishing prisons and systems that are destroying them.

Finally, I strongly believe the kin-dom of God–the kin-dom of heaven–looks like Love. Not a love that excuses bad behavior or a love that’s superficial. But Love that is radical, affirming, solidarity with our neighbors. Love that changes and shapes the world as we know it. Amen. 

Benediction:

From Rev. M. Barclay, Enfleshed

Let Love Be Messy

Love isn’t just one thing;

It’s fierce and soft,

Intimate and collective,

Wild and sincere and deliberate

And just.

Love can be more chaos than order.

Love can be tension.

Love can be conflict.

It’s complicated.

It’s multifaceted.

Love is hard work and so easy.

Love always leads to Life.

Love is an ever-unfolding thing

We are all still figuring out.

Let love be messy.

Amen.

the story of tonight

“I may not live to see our glory, but I will gladly join the fight…Raise a glass to freedom, something they can never take away, no matter what they tell you.” ~ The Story of Tonight, Hamilton

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No one should have to be made a martyr for others to obtain justice.

“I can’t breathe.”

8 minutes and 46 seconds. George Floyd’s life was ended tragically by a police officer kneeling on his neck, suffocating him for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

And Elijah McClain. An autistic Black kid with a running mask on, was tackled and then drugged by police and later died.

His life is gone too soon in a similar fashion. “I can’t breathe.”

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Breonna Taylor, in her home, asleep. Was shot eight times when police stormed her house (the WRONG house) without announcing themselves. She was shot. Eight. Times. By police who have yet to be brought to justice. You can sign the petition here.

“I can’t breathe.” 

Centuries of trauma in that one phrase. Government endorsed murder.

Do you know what it’s like to struggle to breathe because a knee or someone’s arms are around your neck. Do you know what it’s like to be held down so that you can’t breathe?

Simply because you exist. Because your existence poses a threat and someone else has the power to take that existence away from you?

“I can’t breathe.”

When I was a child, I had an older male cousin who enjoyed dunking my head underwater while we played in the pool. Once, he held my head down until I came up, gasping for breath. This same cousin was known for exerting his male dominance over my younger sisters and was the closest thing to a bully I can remember. I had the bruises to prove it.

Another memory I have is of my father holding my head under water while we were “playing” in the pool. Again, I came up gasping for breathe as my father held a perverse grin on his face. Both of these stories involve men/boys exerting their power over myself and others they perceived as weaker or Other. It wasn’t the last time.

“I can’t breathe.”

I can feel my chest tightening. I tell those stories because the difference between my childhood abuse and the story of George Floyd and so many others is that I am alive. George Floyd is not. He should still be here. So many others should still be here.

If you want to know why protests are still happening, why we are screaming about abolishing the police and prisons, it’s because of this.

Because as long as Black people are being attacked and murdered by the police, White Supremacists, or dog walkers in parks, as long as Black people can be pulled over by the police for speeding and end up dead, we’re not done yet.

Not until the world looks drastically different than it does now. Not until we see that a different world is possible and we fight like hell together, in solidarity with one another for it.

P.S. Shana Tucker, a musician friend of mine wrote this Requiem for Elijah McClain that I can’t stop thinking about.

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Pulse: 4th Year Anniversary

Four years ago, at 2:02 am, Omar Mateen shot and killed 49 people at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Forty-nine people were beautifully queer and were in what, up until then, was a safe and sacred place.

I tell this story every year because I think it’s important to remember and honor the lives lost. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and checking Twitter. And then, feeling nauseous and panicked. I held my breath, like I’m doing now writing this. I watched update after update.

As a closeted person at the time, it didn’t feel like there was a physical space where I could publicly grieve. So, I grieved online with (mostly) complete strangers on Twitter. Many of those same strangers then are some of my closest friends now. ❤

Every year since, my body remembers this day as if I was there. PTSD is a strange and complicated thing. Like many queer folx, I feel the weight of this day but also remember how the queer community grieved together and held each other up.

Today, I’m not only out, but I’ve been married to my wife for a little over two years. Four years ago, I don’t think I could have fathomed the life I have now. Today I’ve also been on low dose testosterone for four months.

I wish I could say things were better and safer for queer folks today than it was four years ago. But just this week, more Black trans women were murdered. There’s still so much work to do.

For today, it’s enough to raise awareness that the fight is far from over. And for now, i’m going to keep breathing.

 

To the End of the Age

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(The Trinity by Kelly Lattimore)

Sermon for Trinity Sunday, June 7, 2020

HL Holder-Brown

Jubilee Baptist Church

Genesis 1:1-28

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.

God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”

So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so.

The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so.

God made the two great lights–the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night–and the stars.

God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.

And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.”

So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so.

God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in their image, in the image of God they created them; male and female he created them.

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

Matthew 28:16-20

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Sermon:

“To the End of the Age”

Decolonizing the Great Commission and the Creation Story

First of all, happy pride! If you’re here, and you’re queer, I am so thankful for you. The reason we celebrate pride in this month is because of the Stonewall riots that happened in New York in 1969. Because of the police who kept raiding the gay bars, drag queens and trans women of color said enough was enough and started throwing bricks. We specifically have Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Miss Major and so many other trans women of color to thank for that. 

The past few weeks, our country has been protesting the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and so many other Black people who have been murdered by the police and by White Supremacy, by hatred and racism woven into the fabric of our country that does not see everyone as full human beings. If this is your first time being enraged by what’s going on, welcome to the fight. We have a lot of work to do. 

(I’m going to mostly focus on the Great commission passage and interweave some thoughts about the Creation Narrative so hang with me as I connect these two stories.)

The creation story in Genesis has often been misunderstood by evangelicals as a way of explaining how Everything that now exists got here. It’s a commissioning, if you will, of the world and all that exists. This story is also one we have to reclaim. We are not here to use the Earth/Creation. We are here to work together with the Earth both human and non-human. The question is, how is this commissioning of the Earth and the humans taking care of the Earth allowing us to heal and move forward.

Moving on to “The Great Commission” in our Gospel passage:

This passage has been consistently used as an excuse to evangelize the nations for Jesus, which, in reality, means colonizing for Jesus. I’m going to go out a limb here and suggest strongly that this probably isn’t what Jesus, a Jewish person of color living under occupation in the Roman Empire had in mind. I’m going to attempt to reclaim and redeem this passage as a way to focus on Justice and Liberation.

I’m also aware as a White American living in a country that was founded by colonizing Indigenous people and enslaving black people that we have a lot of work to do to acknowledge our privilege and deconstruct how we think about the Church and the Gospel in order to change the world we live in. And coming from a religious tradition that split from a Denomination created because of their stance on Slavery (yes, I mean the Southern Baptists), I’m not going to shy away from that history. We have a lot to overcome before we are ready to live in a society that is Just and Good for all people.

In the Creation narrative in Genesis, God creates the earth and tells human beings to take care of it. Unlike how I was raised to believe, I don’t think the author/authors of Genesis wanted us to colonize the earth and “have dominion over it” by commodifying the Earth and the Earth’s inhabitants.

In a world where human beings so often use and oppress one another, let us remember how we are all connected to one another–The animals, the trees, the plants, the mushrooms, even the yeast in all your sourdough bread–all the people on every continent. We belong to each other and we are responsible for one another’s liberation. 

In the words of Kaitlin Curtice author of Native, “Indigenous Bodies are bodies that remember. We carry stories inside us–not just stories of oppression but stories of liberation, of renewal, of survival. The sacred thing about being human is that no matter how hard we try to get rid of them, our stories are our stories. They are carried inside us; they hover over us; they are the tools we use to explain ourselves to one another, to connect. We cannot take away the experiences of others, but we can learn from them. We can take them and say, What’s next to make the world better? What’s the next step in recognizing the sacredness of this place we’ve been given.” (Curtice 2020, 5 The Land and Water)

Curtice shares her own heritage as a Potowatami woman throughout her book and gives us a different telling of the Creation Story.  The beginning of the story goes like this:

“Before there was everything,

There was nothing. 

But before there was nothing,

There was Something.

Something Other,

Unbound,

Beyond,

Above–

Mystery.

No one could grasp it then,

And no one can grasp it now,

Not even with these realities

Coming among us

And creating

Something new

Day in

And day out,

Despite

Our dry and weary bones.

Because before us,

There was everything,

And before everything

Nothing was Something,

And Something was

The Beginning,

And we are

Just dust

From Its

Long,

Flowing

robe.”

As someone who exists in a world that has used this text in other ways, like to say, only certain genders exist in the world, I want to reclaim this Creation Story. As one where we belong and cannot obtain the Earth as a commodity or the Earth’s inhabitants–both human and non human, both male and female, other than male and female, and beyond.

Jesus told the disciples he would be with them until the “end of the age.”

I believe that there’s an end to this age and that Jesus’ message and presence will be with us as we do this work. This age of oppression, White Supremacy, Racism, and policing/murder of Black and Brown people. But the end of this age doesn’t come if we don’t fight for it. IF we are to “love as if a different world is possible…” we have to fight for a better world than the one we live in currently. In the words of Angela Davis, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.” 

If we are to make disciples of all nations, let them be disciples who follow the way of Jesus who liberates the captives and abolishes laws and systems that do not bring life to everyone. If we are to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, it cannot look like it has in the past. 

The end of this age is coming, but we must work for it, knowing that Jesus is with us in this age and in the age to come. I know it’s hard to imagine a world where police and the military don’t have to exist because our communities take care of one another so well and we love our neighbors to the point of seeking justice for them. But it’s a start. We have so much work to do.

We are not here to recolonize, evangelize, or sanitize the state of the world we live in. We are here to create a world where equality and equity are for all people–not just White people. But we cannot do it alone. We have to do it together, because as Audre Lorde said: “The master’s tools cannot dismantle the master’s house.” We have to follow the lead of Black and Indigenous people of color in order to create a world where we are all free. We are not free until all are free…

To quote another activist named Lilla Watson from Queensland, Australia that has stuck with me: “If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Amen.

(This popular quote was crafted by a group of Aboriginal rights activists from Queensland, Australia in the 1970s. It is often attributed to Lila Watson, a member of the group, who insists that it was a collective endeavor.)

Lila Watson: https://www.rlmartstudio.com/product/liberation/

Benediction:

Lucille Clifton: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/50974/wont-you-celebrate-with-me

Won’t you celebrate with me

won’t you celebrate with me

what i have shaped into

a kind of life? i had no model.

born in babylon

both nonwhite and woman

what did i see to be except myself?

i made it up

here on this bridge between

starshine and clay,

my one hand holding tight

my other hand; come celebrate

with me that everyday

something has tried to kill me

and has failed.

Amen.

 

500 (ish) words

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I don’t feel like I have much to say right now other than that I thought I’d write so much more while under quarantine. But, turns out, everything is just a little boring when you’re staying at home and helping stop the spread of a virus. I walk a lot. I play with my dog. I read a lot and watch Netflix. I tend to my plants. I hug my wife and we put together Legos and puzzles. I mean, I guess there’s grad school. I have plenty to do at least for the next two weeks until I really will need to find something to do to occupy my time. 

It’s not all that exciting right now because we’re doing what we’re supposed to do. No one is sick in this house and we’re not spreading a virus to anyone else. That means what we’re doing is working. What we’re doing is working. In the words of Dr. Derek Shepherd from Grey’s Anatomy, “It’s a beautiful day to save lives.” So, we keep doing what we’re doing. 

Being bored is a privilege and a minor inconvenience. It is not an infringement on my human rights. I refuse to bow to people who are willing to sacrifice human life for the economy and their comfort. I won’t do it. That doesn’t make me morally superior; that just means I’m listening/doing my part. It’s really not so very hard to do that. 

Oh hey, I wrote something! That feels nice. I don’t feel like I have anything important to say. It IS nice to churn out some devotions and sermons so I’ve been doing that, I guess. Just not much book writing. I don’t feel like telling stories from the past when the present is so darned suffocating. Even though right now I have all the time in the world to do so, I just. I don’t want to. I want to write this book but I don’t want to have to sit down and write.

How frustrating that is.

Every writer goes through that at some point. We get stuck in a rut and we can’t seem to get past it. I think that’s where I am at. Feeling a little stuck in the monotony of life. I would love to write like it’s my job. Maybe that’s what’s next for me once I finish this quarter out. I’ll spend the summer finishing this book. I’m writing in my book about writing my book. That’s like breaking some sort of fourth wall. Take that, Deadpool. 

I also have a paper to finish writing and I’m ignoring that so I can do this. What fun. Procrastinating at its finest. Writers are damn good at it. We complain about writing more than we actually write. And just like that, if I keep writing, I’ll get my 500 word count in for the day like I was supposed to be doing all along. Complaining about writing turns into writing. Who knew? What other writing secrets might I stumble upon when I’m attempting to avoid writing, I wonder? Only time will tell…

500 words. That’s roughly a page a day. It can be done if one simply sits down and does the thing. But no one wants to actually do the thing. I’d rather make lists about all the things instead of going and doing them. This whole page…it ought to go in the book so maybe SOMEONE can learn from my mistakes.

500 words

I would write 500 words…and I would write 500 more…

It’s like I need to get loosened up before I get going. Sort of like running. I’m in pain and it’s torture for about 3 miles and then, things really start to move better (ie my legs, feet, the things that help you run). Of course, I don’t run like that anymore, but I should. I should run more, and I should write more. I want to run and write more without feeling like I have to do either. I want to do it because I enjoy it. And I do! I enjoy writing. The running–not so much. We’re getting there. One thing at a time. I’ve been writing consistently since I was seven years old. It was one of my first loves. Sometimes I don’t believe I’m actually good at it. But here we are! Writing words on a page. I ought to publish this to the blog just for shits and giggles. I’m definitely going to do that. Maybe some COVID-19 writing will amuse folks. If you’re here, I hope you’re amused. Until the next 500 or so words, I’m out.

P.S. Don’t forget! I do have a patreon so if you’ve come this far, might as well check it out.

Outside of Time and Space

Sermon: Outside of Time and Space: Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey

HL Holder-Brown

May 17, 2020  for Jubilee Baptist Church via Zoom

Today’s Scripture Reading comes from the book of Acts. To help us orient ourselves to today’s story, I’m going to read it first in The Message translation and second in the New Revised Standard Version:

The first Reading: 

Acts 17:22-31 (MSG)

22-23 So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, to the god nobody knows. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you’re dealing with.

24-29 “The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, doesn’t live in custom-made shrines or need the human race to run errands for him, as if he couldn’t take care of himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him. Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him! One of your poets said it well: ‘We’re the God-created.’ Well, if we are the God-created, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to think we could hire a sculptor to chisel a god out of stone for us, does it?

30-31 “God overlooks it as long as you don’t know any better—but that time is past. The unknown is now known, and he’s calling for a radical life-change. He has set a day when the entire human race will be judged and everything set right. And he has already appointed the judge, confirming him before everyone by raising him from the dead.”

The second reading:

Acts 17:22-31 (NRSV)

22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor[i] he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God[j] and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,

‘For we too are his offspring.’

29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

The Word of God for the People of God

Sermon:

Now that you’ve heard the text in a few different ways, allow me to further set the scene for this story:

So what was The Areopagus? The areopagus where the Apostle Paul spoke was a place where court was held sometimes and also where philosophers got together to argue and debate one another. Really, it was just a big rock where people had important conversations. The philosophers and religious thinkers in Athens at the time seem particularly interested in Paul’s argument for what he calls “The Unknown God” based on the altar to the “unknown God” in Athens:

Altar to the unknown God: “There is an altar dedicated to the unknown God found in 1820 on the Palatine Hill of Rome. It contains an inscription in Latin that says:

SEI·DEO·SEI·DEIVAE·SAC

G·SEXTIVS·C·F·CALVINVSPR

DE·SENATI·SENTENTIA

RESTITVIT

Which could be translated into English as: “Either for a god or a sacred goddess, Caius Sextius Calvinus, son of Gaius, praetor by order of the Senate restored this.” 

( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unknown_God ) ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Areopagus )

Paul’s argument on the Areopagus Hill? 

Who is this Unknown God? Well, for starters, the unknown God can’t be contained and this unknown God is fully revealed through the person Jesus, who lived on the earth as “God with us.” “God with us.” You can’t put this God in a box or in a temple or a shrine. You can’t put people in a box either. Now, Paul’s goal here is to get people to agree to what he’s saying. The Athenians aren’t necessarily buying in because their belief in gods is a little different. But we can still learn from this.

If God cannot be contained within the four walls of a church, or a temple, why do we think that we, the offspring of God and like God could be contained either. Father Richard Rohr would remind us that God is in everything and that God is in us. What I’m saying is, God is not a church building. And this God with us, came to show love to those on the margins, those that society and the religious leaders at the time (and in our time) deemed unworthy of love.

We’ve been gathering together online since Palm Sunday and I know that’s been hard and different. There are other churches and pastors who have defied stay-at-home orders and have been willing to sacrifice the health of their parishioners instead of showing love and care by helping stop the spread of COVID-19. 

Like most people I know, this year hasn’t turned out the way we thought it would. When I planned out my year in January 2020, I didn’t see myself living through a pandemic, losing my job, or being at home most of my time. 

 

And yet, here I am trying to plan and dream again with two more weeks of class left in my spring quarter. Because what can we be certain of if it isn’t hope of a better world in the future? Our lives are currently dictated by CDC recommendations and stay-at-home orders, face masks, and social distancing/six feet markers in stores. 

 

Meanwhile, there’s a national government and a conservative Christian movement saying that our religious freedoms and our economy are suffering because we’ve chosen to promote the wellbeing of human lives over these things. We’ve been told it isn’t safe to be around one another. Let me tell you a secret: It is not infringing on your rights to be willing to sacrifice your comfort for someone else’s physical safety. You are not losing any rights of personhood. 

 

I know we aren’t supposed to compare ourselves to other churches, but I can’t help but think of these protests to reopen the state as selfish and reckless. And privileged. To ask folks to go back to work and risk their health and lives for your comfort is selfish. Sure, it’s more comfortable and “normal” to meet in a church building But…there’s something more beautiful in what Paul talks about.  

Let me tell you something about the words safety and freedom:

Safety. I’ve spent most of my life just trying to be and feel safe. By doing that, I had to make myself small–shrinking into tight spaces that were not meant for me but I sacrificed myself for the sake of safety. I live with several panic disorders because I’ve not always been safe to be who I am.

 

Freedom. I sacrificed my freedom for safety. Not the kind of freedom that proud White Nationalist Americans talk about but the freedom to be myself without restraint. I’ve spent so much of my life restraining myself and locking my true self away in an attic like the crazy wife in Jane Eyre. I am not the crazy wife in Jane Eyre. And I am not crazy. 

 

I’ve spent so much time trying to be safe. Just trying to survive. Which meant running from anything that looked even vaguely threatening. But I confused safety with complacency. I am finally safe. I do not have to run anymore. And I couldn’t stop running because living has started to look scary. I’ve confused it with being unsafe. Living is not unsafe. It is hard. But it is not unsafe. 

 

WE, are the church–a gathering of people–but that gathering doesn’t have to happen in person. We are a community even when we are a part and no one is preventing us from worshipping God in new and creative ways. A church near where we live has a banner that says, “Socially distant, spiritually present.” It’s cheesy but it also has a point.

Glennon Doyle, author of the book Untamed says we try to put people into glasses like we’re water that can be contained, but really, we’re the sea. We are the sea; people and their many identities and categories can’t be summed up with binaries like male or female, gay or straight, etc. The same is true of our faith community and God. God cannot be contained or prevented from being with us in Spirit just like we are spiritually present with one another. This is to the unknown God we worship who cannot be contained. May we continue to be present together in whatever ways are possible and safe right now just as God is present with us. Amen.

Benediction: Litany for Becoming from enfleshed.com 

One:

To become is a life long process.

Nothing is constant,

not even the self.

We evolve in the midst of narratives meant only for some

and ways of being made narrow by fear and power.

We must, then, have the courage to listen to the truth of our own lives,

to the wisdom that comes from within –

responding without resistance or need to control,

but with welcome and curiosity.

This is what ensures our becoming is an unfolding

of our truest self.

This lifelong labor cannot be carried out alone. It requires help

from friends, and lovers, family, and creaturely companions

who bear witness to what makes us come alive.

And say to us, “Listen. Look. Feel. Pay attention to that.”

Many: This is loving and being loved.

One:

There is no me without you.

We shape one another.

The Sacred that birthed us

weaves our lives together

so that we can only find ourselves through shared becoming.

For my journey and all its winding ways.

For yours.

For all the saints who labored for what is,

all the kin whose lives made ours possible.

For all those yet to come for whom

living our truths today will mean breaking possibilities open for them tomorrow:

We pause. We give thanks. We acknowledge.

Many: This is loving and being loved

Into the Unknown

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Scripture and Meditation            

HL Holder-Brown

Sermon Given via Zoom for Jubilee Baptist Church

Lectio Divina: Close your eyes for a moment while I read this passage. I want you to try putting yourself into the story and use your senses. 

Luke 24:13-35

The Walk to Emmaus

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[f] from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.[g] 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth,[h] who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.[i] Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah[j] should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us[k] while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The Word of God for the people of God

Thanks be to God

Sermon:

Into the Unknown

“These are unprecedented times…” – literally everyone.

How many times have you heard that sentence or something similar over the past few months and weeks? If you’re like me, you’re either tired of that phrase or terrified because everything changes from day to day and it’s scary. Change is scary. Grief is scary. These are the emotions I feel when I read this passage. 

Today in our story these disciples of Jesus are traveling to Emmaus from Jerusalem. This in-between place is where they call home. There were several towns called Emmaus in this part of the world so scholars aren’t exactly sure where This Emmaus is located. Our only clue is that it’s near Jerusalem.

The city of Emmaus is an in-between place. It’s not the final destination. It’s sort of the middle of nowhere on the way to where you really want to go. Imagine again with me. All your friends are hiding, isolating themselves in grief and afraid for their lives. But you–you choose to process it in your own way. You’ve gone to Jerusalem and heard stories that the friend you’ve lost might be alive. 

And then…Jesus appears to grieving people walking home. It’s like a scene out of Lord of the Rings almost. You know, the one where Gandalf appears to Hobbits and brings them comfort when he was previously presumed to be dead. Jesus shows up on the road to Emmaus but he isn’t recognized. I guess you could say death and resurrection change a person? Jesus also asks Cleopas what has been going on and why they look so sad? It’s not every day you rise from the dead and get to talk to your friends about it.

So, there’s a series of episodes of Grey’s Anatomy where they deal with losing their friend and fellow Doctor, George O’Malley dies tragically. The doctors were treating their friend who was unrecognizable because of his injuries and finally, someone recognizes him even though he doesn’t look like himself and can’t talk.

In these few episodes, all the main characters walk us through their stages of grief. The theory of the Five Stages of Grief comes from an American-Swiss psychiatrist namedDr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. 

The thing about these Stages of grief  is that they aren’t linear; they’re cyclical and you can be experiencing more than one at a time. Also, you don’t experience them in order. 

Maybe you’re experiencing

Denial or…

Anger

Depression

Bargaining 

Acceptance

Maybe you’re experiencing all of these at once.

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I know we’re in a season of Easter where we should be celebrating hope! And Resurrection. I want to draw our attention to those things too. But I also don’t want us to miss this experience Jesus has with his grieving disciples. He gives them time to process what has just happened and THEN he provides them with comfort. It isn’t until he is breaking bread with them that they recognize him. 

I’ve heard so many sermons on this passage pondering what it was that made Cleopas and the other disciple recognize Jesus. One theory is that they recognized Jesus in the breaking of bread because they had so many meals with him before. They KNEW him. He was their friend and this was something they missed doing with their friend. Much like today, where we are separated from one another and miss sharing meals and stories together in person. Even though we’re not grieving the loss of a friend, like these disciples, we’re certainly grieving time together and that is a process. 

Unlike the story of Thomas and the other disciples, they don’t get a chance to really talk to Jesus before he disappears! He gets whisked away as if by some magic and then reappears when they’ve met up with friends again in Jerusalem to talk about their experience.

So, what’s the point? I could tell you that because Jesus conquered death through rising from the dead that we should be comforted because sickness and death don’t have the final say. I could tell you we’re all going to get through this together! But the realist and the cynic in me tells me that’s not what you want to hear right now. I could say, one day this will all be over and we will be together again. And that’s true. I also know we’ve lost so many lives tragically and I want to acknowledge that. So now what. I don’t have any warm fuzzies from this passage other than I look forward to reuniting with all of you and I miss you. We will be together again soon. Amen.

Show Me the Scars

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[Image of Mary Magdalene telling the disciples Christ was risen while they stand apart from her in silence.]

John 20:24-29

Reflections on the Resurrection at midnight on Easter because I have insomnia

When I was six years old, I got my first scar. My first grade class was lining up to go back inside from recess. I remember what jacket I was wearing–it was a pink and teal windbreaker because it was cold. And because it was the 90s. I had a red turtleneck and jeans. I remember that it was really cold that day.

As I ran to line up, my foot caught a crack in the sidewalk and I fell head first into a brick wall, leaving a gash on my head right above my right eye. My teacher Mrs. Bray freaked out and called my mother to come get me. As we held ice over my eye once I got home, my mom called my dad who took me to the emergency room where I got seven stitches. I still have a scar across my right eyebrow almost 23 years later. Scars have memories. We all have stories of how we got them and why. 

Coincidentally, also in 1st grade, The Lion King was my favorite movie and my family still calls me Scar every now and then. 

There was also this guy named Thomas who followed Jesus around. He was a little obsessed with scars too. When his friend Jesus died and all the disciples said he came back from the dead, Thomas naturally demanded proof it was really him: “Show me the scars.”

Scars are also a memory of trauma the body has endured. Jesus’ body had endured one of the worst deaths imaginable and he had the scars to prove it. The trauma didn’t go away just because he was alive again. Scars bear witness. 

When a trans person undergoes gender affirming surgery, they are proud of their scars. The scars bear witness of the lengths they have gone to in order to be themselves. I plan on having surgery to remove my breasts and have a flat chest. I can’t wait to have two horizontal lines across my chest that symbolize the journey I’ve been on. Scars show us who we are. 

[Image Description: The new Image {on the right} by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin is of three people leaning in to look at the chest of a fourth person holding open their shirt. They are looking down at their chest which reveals scars from top surgery. The finger of one of the other people is pointing to/just touching the scars on the chest. This is a play off of the old “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” painting wherein three men leaning in to look at the bare chest of Jesus post-resurrection. “Doubting Thomas” has his finger inside the wound on Jesus’ chest from a spear.] Originally seen on https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fenfleshedword%2Fposts%2F2534776473418721&width=500“>Facebook on enfleshed.

Thomas said he wouldn’t believe Jesus was really back unless he could put his hands on the scars Jesus had from being crucified. Jesus’ scars were still fresh–he was three days dead and newly resurrected scars don’t heal quite that fast, I’m assuming. But scars show us we are real. That our bodies can bear pain and survive it. 

The resurrection reminds us that the impossible can happen and that there is hope. It doesn’t take the trauma, pain, or scars away. I used to think the hope of the resurrection was that death is not the end. And it is. It gives us something to hope for but it sounds impossible. I think what we learn from Jesus’ scarred body is that the resurrection shows us that death still happens but it doesn’t destroy us. 

For every queer/trans person who’s ever drowned in a sea of doubt, who has ever left scars on their own body because they weren’t sure they could be loved for who they were, this story is for you. Jesus said “This is my body broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” We remember the scars that show us who we are and we remember that we are more than what has broken us. Amen.