Homily: Yr B, Proper 26, Sept 27 2015
Readings: Esther 7.1-6, 9-10, 9.20.22; Ps 124; James 5.13-20; Mk 9.38-50
On the occasion of a Baptism, and the Re-Naming of a Transgendered Person
There is power in a name. In the gospel we just heard, there is a man who is doing powerful things in the name of Jesus, casting out demons. This is a man who knows the power of Jesus’ name, who is doing good deeds in Jesus’ name. But there seems to be a problem. He’s not one of us.
“Teacher we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
Today we will celebrate a naming. And we will celebrate a re-naming.
Davis is being baptized today. And he wanted lots of water, so after we are done here we will be heading to Mooney’s Bay for his baptism.
Davis, from this day on, you will bear the name of Christ, which literally means ‘the anointed one’. We are going to go to the river, submerge you in the waters and bring you out again. It will be a symbol and sacrament of your baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ, and of your new birth and new life. You will be anointed with oil, and you will bear the name of Christ, the anointed one, child of God. And as one who bears the name of Christ, you will from this day on act in the name of Jesus, and do mighty deeds in Jesus’ name.
There is power in a name.
Eliot, you too will be anointed today, just as you were anointed at your own baptism many years ago. You continue to bear the name of Christ, the anointed one, beloved child of God. We re-affirm that today. That has not changed. But some things do change. Often our faith journeys can take twists and turns as we live and grow into the people that God created us to be. Today you take on a new name as a testimony to the person you have become and as a testimony to the God who welcomes us as his children, loves us through all the twists and turns of our life journeys, and promises to make all things new.
There is power in a name.
There will be some who will wonder why it is that we are celebrating a Liturgy for the Re-Naming of a Transgendered Person at St. Albans today. There might be some who would wish to stop us, who think that this is not something that the church should be doing.
“Jesus, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he was not following us.”
“Because he was not following us.” Did you notice the “us” in that complaint? The problem wasn’t that the man wasn’t following Jesus, the problem was that the man wasn’t following us. He wasn’t one of us, he wasn’t doing things our way. One of the realities of our human condition is that we tend to think in terms of ‘us vs them’. We are part of a group, or many groups. Those groups can be family groups, ethnic groups, religious groups, social groups, whatever. And we tend to draw our identity from the groups to which we belong. And sometimes we strengthen our individual identities by strengthening our group identity, drawing boundaries around our groups which allow us to know who is in and who is out. And if an outsider wants to be part of our group, well, they will just have to play by our rules.
People who are queer and transgendered in our society and in our church understand this dynamic only too well. They know first-hand the barriers and boundaries that we set up to define who is in and who is out.
“Jesus, we tried to stop him because he was not following us.”
And Jesus replies, “Do not stop him.”
There is a fundamental generosity in Jesus’ response, a generosity that transcends all of our ‘us vs. them’ boundaries and barriers. It is a generosity which is gracious, a generosity which is inclusive, a generosity which is compassionate, a generosity that offers a cup of water to drink to all who bear the name of Christ, to all who were made in the image of God, to all for whom Jesus was sent, to all who are God’s children.
Some people resist that generosity. Sometimes it’s because they are afraid that it means that “anything goes”. But of course it doesn’t. Clearly that’s not what Jesus means, certainly not in today’s gospel. He goes on to say that if anyone puts a stumbling block in the way of someone who believes in him, it would be better to put a millstone around his neck and throw him in the sea. He goes on to say that if your foot causes you to stumble, better to cut it off and enter life lame than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. That certainly doesn’t sound like anything goes to me. How we live matters, and there are right ways and wrong ways to go about it and there are right ways and wrong ways to treat each other. Discipleship, the call to follow Jesus, is a demanding call, it is a call to take up your cross, to love God and to love you neighbour.
But discipleship is also most certainly a call to a fundamental generosity and graciousness which transcends the human boundaries and barriers that we ourselves have created with our ‘us vs. them’ mentality. The scriptures attest to this. We find again and again that the moments when God’s grace surprises and confounds humanity are the very moments when that grace is more generous than we could have imagined and crosses boundaries that we thought could not be crossed. Jesus eats with outcasts and sinners, confounding the rule-makers of his time. He is convinced by the Syro-Phoenician woman to extend his ministry to foreigners, not just the Jewish people. The early church, in a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit, breaks with tradition so that Gentiles may be fully included in the body of Christ.
To borrow a phrase from The Report of the Commission on the Marriage Canon of the Anglican Church of Canada, which was released this week and which I strongly commend to you, in all these moments in scripture,
“there is a recognition that God’s grace is broader than we had assumed, and that those who had been excluded are now being invited in.”
And so to those who would ask why we are celebrating a Liturgy of Re-Naming for Transgendered Persons today, I would humbly dare to answer that it is because Jesus wants us to show a generosity to all God’s children which transcends and breaks down the ‘us vs. them’ boundaries and barriers which exist in our church and in our society.
Also, it’s because we love you Eliot.
The truth is, I may never be able to understand what it’s like to be a non-binary gendered trans person. I don’t even know if I said that right. But, at least in our better moments, by the grace of God, we are able to be generous by offering our support to a fellow traveller who bears the name of Christ on their faith journey.
Soon, we will turn to Davis and we will pledge to do all in our power to support him in his life in Christ.
Then not long after that we will turn to Eliot and pledge as follows:
“Eliot, we will walk with you.”