October 13, 2019
Proper 23, Year C
The 18th Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday after National Coming Out Day

Luke 17:11-19 (the Gospel text)

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.

Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Sermon

I am a transgender woman and a lesbian. I am a daughter, a sister, a mother, and a wife. And  I am a sister in the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans.

I am here before this sexual-orientation and gender inclusive congregation, welcomed by you on this celebration of the 31st National Coming Out Day. Thank you!

Last Sunday you had the Blessing of the Animals to celebrate the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi, which was on October 4th, the day I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church 49 years ago.

Back in the 13th century, 800 years ago, Francis and Clare of Assisi founded the Franciscan Order. It began in the Western Latin Church, but Franciscans have long been at home in the Episcopal Church.

When I was a child, our parish used to go on retreats at Little Portion, the Episcopal friary on Long Island’s North Shore. The friars would come to our parish too to help us put together our civil rights and antiwar protests. And as a teenager I used to organize retreats with my friends up at Little Portion.

Only last month, in the City, I rushed to gather with my fellow Franciscans at St. Luke in the Fields only to walk in on Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preaching at the centennial celebration of the Anglican Society of Saint Francis.

35 years ago, a handful of people had gone through the formation process in the Episcopal Third Order Society of Saint Francis. They were ready to take vows of profession, but couldn’t — because they weren’t Episcopalian. That was when the Society of Saint Francis and the Third Order Society decided to help them form the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans, the OEF.

I began formation in the OEF over twenty years ago, some time in the mid 90s. I professed in 2001, eighteen years ago. That means I took lifelong vows, like we do at baptism and marriage.

So, what is a “religious order”? It’s a community of people, whether they live together or not, who live by certain vows and principles and usually by a Rule. In other words, it’s a community of people who vow to uphold certain values and to support each other in their way of life. I think of it — like baptism or marriage — as a marvelous and wonderful commitment.

A Religious Order within the Christian Church is a commitment to a particular expression of Christianity that’s supposed to express the original inspiration of the founders.

This is an important point — because the papacy had a history of taking over religious orders for its own purposes. But the original inspiration, once we separate it from other interests, belongs not to any ecclesial institution but to the living body of Christ, to the entire Christian family.

What then was the original inspiration of the Franciscan movement? It was an experience of the Divine that ruptured binaries. It was a vision of Christianity — as an expression of an organic life — that, in other words, “queers” reality, that recognizes that Christianity — at its core— is queer and that Jesus was in the business of queering all kinds of things.

Now Francis and Clare did not use this kind of terminology; they couldn’t have. They lived 800 years ago. Francis’ formal education ended when he was ten, and, while Clare was better educated, neither of them were scholars. But the queerness of the call of Jesus is exactly what they heard.

Rev. Liz Edman, an Episcopal priest and theologian, in her book, Queer Virtue, uses the word “queer” in this way. “Queering” is to transgress or disrupt or bust binaries, and to deconstruct them where they’ve been artificially imposed.

Dr. Carol Lee Flinders points out that binary thinking is one of the main traits of patriarchal culture. She traces it back to the use of the plow, the beginning of agriculture, which allowed men to dominate nature, women, and each other.

Binary thinking, she says, divides everything in two where one element is always superior to the other: God and creation, humans and nature, male and female, free and slave, white and everyone else, clergy and laity, and so on.

When you disrupt these binaries, when you reverse their order, or when you see a circle or spectrum where before there was only two, that’s “queering.”  And Franciscans think Clare and Francis did this all the time.

Take Francis the animal lover, for example. In our world, humans and animals are a binary. Exploitation dictates that only humans are conscious. (Which is not by any means obvious!) But Francis treated animals as siblings; to him they were conscious, could communicate, and were morally responsible. He treated them as if they were on a par with humans. In other words, foreshadowing Deep Ecology, he queered the binary.

He dated his conversion to when he embraced and kissed a leper. What was bitter, he said, became sweet to him. Even though people assumed leprosy was the result of sexual sin, Francis and Clare both ministered to lepers as if they were Christ, busting the binary of us versus them, the well versus the sick, the holy versus the sinful.

Clare insisted that women not be held to a different standard than men, and she was received into Francis’ brotherhood as if she were one of them. She fought pope after pope on this, and till the day she died, she insisted that it was so. To the extent she could, she refused to accept the binary of men and women.

Both Francis and Clare insisted that Jesus and even God the Father was their mother, another example of queering.

They both insisted that the poor were rich and the rich poor.

They both rejected the binary of monastery and world, insisting that their Order be in the world.

And they both queered authority. Francis tried hard to invert it and make all the brothers each others’ servants. Clare refused to be called abbess, and rejected hierarchical arrangements, insisting that her sisters govern themselves together in mutuality.

These are some examples of how Francis and Clare followed Jesus by queering different binaries.

The OEF welcomed lesbian, gay and bisexual people from the beginning. Inclusiveness was written into their principles from the start. I came out to them as transgender in 2014, in a northeast regional gathering. They were the first group I dared to come out to. I trusted them, but I wasn’t sure what to expect since there were no other transgender people at that time in the Order. But they were unanimously affirming. Everyone, one by one, said it was a big improvement over the way I was.

Today several transgender and nonbinary people have professed, and this year a nonbinary transgender sibling became a member of our council.

Let me come to the Gospel Reading. The Jesus we meet in the Gospel is the one we eat and drink in the Eucharist, so the sermon is an important bridge between Gospel and Table.

Today’s Gospel Reading is the last in a series of stories that began in ch. 14. In these 3½ chapters all the stories are about the marginalized — the poor, crippled, lame, and blind, tax collectors and sinners, the lost and prodigal — and why Jesus focuses on them instead of on the mainstream. When the marginalized come to him, they enter into his messianic community, and thus are reintegrated into the community of Israel “in him.”

In this final story of the series, Jesus heals ten lepers and sends them off to find a priest to have their healing certified so that others — their communities — will take them back as members.

But one of them was not only ostracized for being a leper, but also for being a Samaritan,
which to the Jews was an ethnic stigma, and also meant he was a heretic. (So we have some intersectionality going on here!)

All ten were healed, and all of them integrated back into their communities. But the one who was still marginalized because he was a heretic was the only one who came back to give God praise.

All these binaries are in play. But there’s one binary we overlooked. Jesus says,

“Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

The other binary is the one between humans and God. In this story, even though God is the healer, God is marginalized by invisibility. No one returns to give glory to God — literally, to shine a light on God — except the one who is still marginalized. Hmm.

It’s almost as if God has been marginalized by the binary thinking of patriarchy. God is marginalized by us when we marginalize others with our binaries.

In the “Canticle of the Creatures” Francis says to the Divine, “no human is worthy to mention your name,” but the Divine praises still ring out through the sun and moon and stars, the air, water, fire, and earth, and even sister death; for the Divine praises itself, through each of them — when and because they are being themselves. But this praise cannot be heard through human beings — because of sin. The only exception is the one who makes reconciliation “for your love.”

Patriarchal humans are unable to praise the Divine. Creating the binaries of God over man, and humans over nature, and some people over other people, humans have unwittingly marginalized the Divine. And the Divine hides in the closet of the world.

For Francis and Clare, the Divine is only unmarginalized. and “comes out,” among the marginalized. Perhaps others can only reintegrate the Divine into their community when they welcome the marginalized, when in fact no one is marginalized.

Perhaps the church will only be fully itself when it comes out to itself — as queer.

One thought on “Sermon at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Maplewood, New Jersey

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