Chris preached the following sermon with us for our special service on Sunday, June 19th celebrating Pride month and honoring the victims of the Orlando massacre…
“When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you. Amen.”
– God, in the Book of Isaiah
Carrie and I had friends visiting from Los Angeles last week who have two boys, ages 6 and 4. Both boys have autism and their parents are bold and brave advocates for them. Their boys have been aided by available resource to give them the best possible chance to understand and be understood by the culture and realities that surround them – to love and be loved. Their father has a tattoo on his forearm, right on the inside, big enough to be seen by others, but placed to be a constant reminder of his commitment to them. It includes the colorful puzzle pieces that are recognized as the symbol for autism, the Roman numerals of his sons’ birthdays, and the writing ‘I will fight your fight.’
I have been thinking about that tattoo a lot this week in the wake of our country’s worst gun violence massacre in our history. When 49 mostly gay Latinos are killed; when in the first six months of 2016, fourteen transgendered people, almost all of color, have been murdered; when nine African Americans were shot and killed by a young white man during a prayer circle in Charleston, South Carolina; after 20 children and six adults were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School; after hearing that since the Orlando shooting one week ago, 125 others have been killed by guns, including five mass shootings; I have wondered, I have prayed, what it will take for us to look into the eyes of another, to wake up every day and say, I will fight your fight.
I have always heard the gospel story from Luke as the story of a community that struggles to embrace someone who they had a far easier time demonizing than accepting once he had been healed or made clean by Jesus. This community has crafted their own sense of normal in opposition or in stark contrast to the man who runs naked and wild in the tombs. I had assumed as it is plainly heard in the story that many demons occupied this man’s self. This is how I heard the story. Until James gave me the courage to read it again. This is what I heard when I read it again:
When I was in college at UC San Diego, I came out as being gay. One would have assumed I could have come out years before. I had been fortunate in my life. Growing up in Oakland, California to liberal and supportive parents – surrounded by brave and bold prophets who made the world I grew up in more accepting. I wasn’t bullied. I thrived as a young athlete. I was confident and happy. It wasn’t until I found myself outside that protective cocoon that I truly realized I was outside the cultural norm. My sophomore year I cut off my hair. It was the first time since I was in grade school that I didn’t have long, dark brown big wavy hair that was ritually pulled back in a pony-tail. I was 19 and I had short, bleached blonde hair. I wore baggy shorts and oversized t-shirts, which was not far from how I had always dressed. Nothing had changed about how I perceived myself, but something changed in the way I was being seen. It is remarkable how quickly one’s confidence and happiness can fall away when you are not seen as who you feel you are. It is remarkable how quickly shame fills its places. I was harassed, ridiculed, and run out of public women’s restrooms all over campus. But you know what the worst part was about it? When confronted, I would meekly apologize – as if I was in the wrong restroom – and I would run out. I began to hide. I would put a hood over my head and keep my face down when entering restrooms – if I was desperate enough to go in and not wait until I was home.
From this place, I heard the story of the demonic man not as a story of a man possessed by evil spirits, but driven out and possessed by the fear and judgments of the world around him. For me, Jesus didn’t restore him to his ‘right mind’ as though he has been sick – but restored him to the knowledge that he is loved. Like the woman who sat at the feet of Jesus and let the shaming and taunting of others fall away, this man was renewed by the love of God who sailed across tumultuous seas to find him. This gospel story is Jesus crossing boundaries, pushing limits, searching for the ones that needed to hear, I will fight your fight.
This community is poised to take this message out into the world. There are people who need to hear it. Even me. I have been afraid. I have been afraid that it was too much to ask -that as your openly gay Rector, I shouldn’t lean on the community I lead to fight my fight. But last Sunday after the 9:00 am service, members of our St. Brigid’s Guild prayer team asked to pray for me. As per my usual first response to being prayed for, I said no thank you. But as I am growing, I quickly changed my answer and accepted the warm embrace of the prayerful healing hands of the guild. Penny Hummel was on my left, holding my hand. As members went around the circle offering their prayers, I felt tears from Penny’s eyes fall on my hand. In those tears I felt the words, I will fight your fight.
And so we march. Amen.