Sunday, June 28, 2015

[sermon] on activism, shame, power, and pride

Sermon for the people of St. Mark Hope and Peace 2015-06-28

Primary Preaching Text: Mark 5:21-43
Secondary Text: 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27

I fully intended to talk about David today.

If you're my friend on Facebook you might have seen that weeks ago I posted excitedly about this text being appointed for this day, the eve of the 46th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. The love of David and Jonathan, and particularly this text from Second Samuel is beloved in many lgbtq Christian and Jewish spaces because we can so easily claim David as one of our own -- especially for gay and bisexual men, this is a story that we can look to and say unabashedly, David is one of ours. Rev. Nancy Wilson, current moderator of the Metropolitan Community Church, says, exuberantly and with exclamation points, that David is the most clearly bisexual figure in the whole Bible.1

I was planning to preach about David until yesterday afternoon, when I finally noticed the woman who'd been tugging at my sleeve all week. My plans to talk about David, central to the institutions of both church and state, and what Rev. Wilson calls, a bit anachronistically, his "same-sex, lifelong relationship" with Jonathan, were disrupted and interrupted by a person on the very fringes of society, a person in desperate need who demanded -- and demands to be seen and heard and healed.

In this complicated moment in our nation, when joyous news from the Supreme Court and tragic news from Charleston compete for our emotions, the woman with a flow of blood speaks more fully to my identity as a queer person and our identity as a Reconciling in Christ church than does King David with all his power.

The woman with the flow of blood is the filling in a sandwich story about the healing of Jairus's daughter. Jairus is a person of power and influence, a leader in the synagogue. He summons Jesus to heal his sick daughter, and Jesus goes with him, and on their way, they're interrupted by a woman who has suffered in many ways for the way her body is made.

There are physical torments of her constant hemorrhaging, and the ungentle and unsuccessful cures she's endured from a stream of doctors, and then there is the cultural torment of being perpetually unclean. She is excluded from her society, rendered untouchable by the flow of blood she can't control.

She has nothing to lose. She's spent all her money on ineffective doctors and she had no social capital to begin with. Her physical condition has deteriorated, and she constantly endures rejection. Everything in her culture has taught her that bodies like hers, and her body in particular, are shameful.

So she reaches the point beyond shame, beyond propriety, beyond fear, where her need for healing is greater than any force that would constrain her.

Forty-six years ago, the patrons of Stonewall reached this point. The police raided a gay bar, as the police did. And that night, when tempers were hot, when activism was in the air -- Vietnam, civil rights, women's liberation -- that night drag queens and trans women, bulldykes and sex workers, homeless youth, most of them people of color, all of them people who had nothing to lose and so nothing to fear -- that night those patrons of Stonewall Inn refused to comply.

A few years earlier, transgender and transsexual patrons of Compton's Cafeteria reached that point, and they threw first coffee, and then dishes and furniture at police in protest of harassment and mistreatment.

The nineteen-eighties and nineties were full of those moments, and ACT UP, (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) picketed and protested to draw attention to the AIDS crisis, to demand access to medical intervention, to share accurate information about HIV transmission and safer sex. A people dying of AIDS screamed that "SILENCE=DEATH" and refused to be silent.

This past Wednesday, Jennicet GutiƩrrez, an undocumented trans Latina activist, reached this point at the White House LGBT Pride Month Reception. She interrupted President Obama's speech to shout, "Release all GLBTQ immigrants from detention and stop all deportations!" She later wrote, "In the tradition of how Pride started, I interrupted his speech because it is time for our issues and struggles to be heard."2


In the tradition of Pride, and in a tradition older than Pride. In the tradition of Jesus, who announced in the Nazareth synagogue that he had been sent to proclaim release to the captives, and in the tradition of Isaiah, whom Jesus was quoting.

And in the tradition of a nameless woman with a hemorrhage, who had endured all that she could endure.

She didn't ask.

She took.

When we remember the activism of the previous century, we sometimes sugarcoat it. Last fall we saw many white lgbtq people deride the protests in Ferguson, crying, "Remember Stonewall! Peaceful protest is totally possible!"

Oh yes. Remember Stonewall, with thrown pennies, thrown bottles, thrown shoes. Remember the patrons who thought to set the bar on fire.

We don't need to condone violence to remember that it's part of our history.

The path that led to the Supreme Court decision this week that legalized same-sex marriage across the country was not always peaceful and it was not always nice. It did involve middle-class gay men and women asking nicely if they could please have their rights now, if it's not too much of a bother.

And it involved thrown shoes and burning police cars and groups called Lesbian Avengers and Queer Nation and Transexual Menace. It involved shouting and crying and name-calling.

There are couples who have waited patiently for decades to get married, and we rejoice with them this week.

And there are couples who got married decades ago who fudged applications for marriage licenses, people who changed their names to more gender neutral alternatives.3 Further back in time, there are people who didn't ask, but simply lived as members of their true genders, butches and trans men who married women and were their husbands.

There are Lutheran pastors who waited patiently for ELCA policy to change. And there are Lutheran pastors who were ordained extraordinarily years before the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.

There are people like Jairus, people with power and with a lot to lose, who got on their knees and begged.

And there are people like the woman with a flow of blood, people with no institutional power and nothing at all to lose, who reached out and claimed power, demanded healing.

Violence is still not God's will for God's people. God still doesn't want us to harm each other; God doesn't want us to take what's not ours. God has made that perfectly clear. We can and should feel conflicted about those parts of our history. Reaching out and touching a person in a crowd -- on purpose and without permission -- is a blatant violation of bodily autonomy, and that is also not okay.

But it's understandable.

Activism is not pretty, because it arises from the mess we've made of the world.

There is a point of desperation where everything falls away but the need for healing.

From the outside, it's a stillframe, a single moment in time of explosive rage, or uncontrollable weeping, or a woman reaching out her hand.

But inside, it's year upon year of oppression and pain.

It's the experience of an African-American woman, a single mother working two minimum wage jobs, whose body bears the aches of standing all day every day, of working through illness, of walking the long mile from work to the bus stop, the half mile from the bus stop to day care, from tensing whenever she sees a police officer. Whose face aches from smiling at customers and wishing them a nice day. Whose heart aches from the death of her husband to gang violence, the incarceration of her brother, and the endless, endless news stories about anti-black violence, and the stories her friends tell that don't make the news.

It's the experience of a transgender woman whose body aches with an undiagnosed condition because she can't access a health care provider who will treat her with dignity, whose muscles are tense from cringing whenever she walks alone after dark, who spends day after day warding off crude sexual advances but who can't find a partner who loves her for herself.

It's the experience of an African-American man, perhaps the most powerful man in the world, whose body aches from sleepless nights, whose head aches from recalcitrant congresspersons, and mostly, whose heart aches with the death of his siblings in the place that was their sanctuary. It's the experience of President Obama, whose wisdom and education and credentials and deep faith are invisible to those who, still, after eight years, see only the color of his skin.

It's the experience of the heroines and heroes of Stonewall, women like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha Johnson, who sold sex and took drugs and sometimes lived on the streets and felt themselves excluded from the movement they'd started, pushed to the side for the sake of the politics of respectability.

It's the experience of a woman whose body is despised by her society, who's been abused by the medical establishment, and who lives in poverty, alone and outcast.

Let me be clear, these experiences, all of them, are only part of the story of people's lives. There are moments too of transcendent joy, moments of beauty and love and laughter.

But in this time of grief, in Ferguson and Charleston and all the places in between-- this is a moment that's poured onto people already hurting from year after year of violence and fear.

This is a moment of pain, but also a moment of possibility, a moment of promise.

Those moments in scripture, those moments in history, this moment now --

The moment when survival is more important than manners, when the only words that will give voice to anguish are not polite words, when power that's been stolen from people and hoarded by institutions must be reclaimed --

that moment when with thrown rocks and raised voices and a hand lifted up to touch the fringes of power

that moment of desperate hope reaching up from anguish

it's that moment when God's power flows like lightening into the hands of God's people.

God can transform a bleeding woman's desperate faith into healing and restoration. God can transform angry arson and vandalism into the rainbow people who rejoiced on Friday. God transforms debt into jubilee, slavery into freedom, death into life.

The world fills us with shame -- for the shape of our bodies and the depth of our grief, for our passions and our pleasures, for the places we live and the clothes we wear, for the color of our skin and the fluency of our language, for who we love and for who we are.

Activism is the moment when people who have been made ashamed become shameless, because we have nothing left to lose and no other recourse left.

And grace is the moment when shame and shamelessness alike are transformed into pride.


1Wilson, Nancy L. Our Tribe: Queer Folks, God, Jesus, and the Bible. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995. Print. 146.

2GuttiƩrez, Jennicet. "I Interrupted Obama Because We Need to Be Heard." Washington Blade. Brown, Naff, Pitts Omnimedia, Inc, 25 June 2015. Web. 28 June 2015.

3Eckholm, Erik. "The Same-Sex Couple Who Got a Marriage License in 1971." The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 16 May 2015. Web. 28 June 2015.

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