On October 23, 2018, MDiv candidate Amy Weston gave the following sermon during the Tuesday morning Ecumenical Eucharist in Andover Chapel.
Remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. (Ephesians 2: 12-22)
Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. (Luke 12: 35-38)
You’ve probably seen the New York Times article that was on the front page of Monday’s paper, about what the current administration intends to do with regards to transgender people, essentially regulating us out of existence. To sum up the main thrust of it: “The Department of Health and Human Services’ proposed definition would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with.” Male or female, unchangeable, determined at birth. It’s the latest chapter in what has been two years of constant attacks, gradual erosion of the rights of transgender people, and an endless stream of misinformation and hatred. It has eaten away at our hearts and our spirits. It has broken our backs. It punctures our hands with needle and thread, tugging at us without end, until we know nothing but trembling.
I’m trembling. I don’t want to preach a sermon. A sermon is supposed to be a dialogue, a conversation—with you all, with the text, with God. But I don’t want to have a dialogue, I want to scream at God and wrestle with angels. I am tired and angry and my tears are big and hot. God went out to the wedding feast and we’re here at home, and God told us to stay awake and stay alert until he gets back. I’m tired of waiting though. The house is in disarray, and an oppressor abides in the throne. Why hasn’t God come home?
Yesterday, a friend said to me, “I feel like faith is a good thing to have during these hard times.” And I would agree, were it not for the fact that this is, indeed, a time that tries my faith. I ask, where is God in all this? And an answer is not forthcoming. The best Jesus has to offer us in this passage is a parable about patience.
I don’t have time to be patient, God!
We don’t have the time.
The thunder crashes outside, the wind rattles the windows. The animals are silent. We huddle together with them around a single, guttering flame. Worried about thieves, the master of the house told us to stay awake, and to stay alert, but it is not the thieves that frighten us. The floodwaters rise and hailstones crash against the roof.
Where is our Lord? When will we be saved? When will we be fed?
At what point do we have to stop waiting, turn our collar up against the storm, go out into the tempest, and call with all our might to bring God back to this place?
I wish this reading started a few verses earlier: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” There is reassurance there. And my heart is put more at ease by being compared to a flock than by being compared to a slave.
It is a shocking turn for us then, to be put in the place of slaves, serving God. It would have been shocking for a citizen of the Roman Empire—a crushing and merciless society built on the back of a robust system of slavery. A society that aggressively persecuted outsiders and anyone perceived to be different. An empire that demanded loyalty and service, yet disenfranchised large segments of its population from being able to give that loyalty or that service.
If it sounds like I am describing the United States, I would remind you that the Roman republic served as the model for this one. From the tax codes to the senate to the architecture of the capital city.
If we are thus the modern incarnations of the Roman people, what message, what wisdom does Jesus have for us? We have a culture that demands loyalty to the flag. That pulls our attention away from caring and from loving, snatches at every little ounce we have to give. Kennedy’s famous words—ask what you can do for your country—begin to take on an ominous ringing...
Jesus gives us a demand in tension with this one. Enslaved to empire, we can never be acceptable in the eyes of our ruler. We try and try to find a place. We ache and grasp and cry and plead. And as much as we try to say “we are just like you, we are your family and your friends, we are harmless,” we are nonetheless subjected to a machine of othering. Jesus gives a choice: break our spirits serving empire, or serve God. Attentively and patiently.
If we do this, Jesus promises that we will be fed.
But the thunder is crashing and the centurions are at the door. How can we find this patience? How can we know that God will help us in our hour of need? The author of this epistle puts her finger on what we might be feeling: “remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” No hope, and without God in the world. But God found a way forward for us! In Jesus we have access to God. In his words and his mystery and his incarnation we can find that hope and manifest God in the world.
As we are bent over this flickering light, starting at the shadows that move in the windows, cowering at the sound of the thunder, weeping in terror as the agents of empire pound on the door, there is a rabbi with us—their face barely visible in the lamplight. They tell us to be patient. They tell us that they are frightened too. That they died alone, forsaken by friends and with a heavy spirit. Perhaps this incarnation of Christ looks like a black trans woman, perhaps they are an immigrant nonbinary person, maybe she is a sexual abuse survivor. This is a Jesus who has suffered with us, a person who knows intimately our anxieties and sees the ways that the world works to crush us.
“Wait,” she says, “Focus. The storm may make it hard to hear, the way the soldiers pound on the door may confuse and frighten you. But if you stay alert, and if you know well whom you serve, you will hear a different knock, and it will be God at the door. And God will enter, and sit, and you will be fed. Until then, be attentive, and make ready. Set the table and keep the lanterns lit. Build a kingdom that will welcome God in all Their Glory. Find strength. Lift each other and place the foundations of the throne of Grace, laid on justice, community, love, and faith. Then, surely, you will be people who know and recognize the presence of God in your midst.” Let us never drive out God from our midst. Amen.