Sermon: Body of Christ, Body of Earth

Body of Christ, Body of Earth

A Sermon for the Plymouth Church of Framingham, UCC
April 28, 2019

Rev. Reebee Girash



John 20:19-31

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews [Jewish authorities]*, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.


*Historically more accurate and appropriate than “the Jews,” see note from Mary Luti used in Holy Week bulletins.






The moment I saw the text for today and connected it with our Earth Day theme,

I knew I’d preach on the visible wounds of Christ,

metaphorically relating to the visible wounds the earth is suffering in climate change.

For surely the wounds of the earth are deep, and critical.


I thought I’d preach on how some of us still don’t believe in climate change,

how Millenials have believed in it since they were in grade school;

how we must all believe.


But it turns out, with few exceptions,

we, old and young, rich and poor, North American, Central American, European, African,

we believe in the wounds of the earth,

suffered from climate change,

caused by human beings burning fossil fuels.


We believe because we have seen:

Cyclone Idai created an inland ocean in Mozambique a few weeks ago,
and now we are seeing Cyclone Kenneth, in the same region. (

Hurricanes Maria, Michael, Harvey, Irene, Sandy, Florence, we are running out of names.

The Coral Reefs are bleaching,
Greenland’s ice is melting,
California keeps burning,
and the refugees and asylum seekers at our southern border flee not just gangs but devastated farmland. (


So it is not that we don’t believe

he was wounded –

The earth is wounded

He was crucified

The earth is being crucified.


We believe.  We have no doubt. We have seen the wounds with our own eyes.


Here is what some of us don’t believe.


We don’t believe he could come back from that.

We don’t believe the earth can survive these wounds.

We don’t believe in the possibility of the resurrection

Of Christ

Of the Earth

Some of us have begun to despair.


I have been in this climate action movement for over a decade, but a couple of years ago I dialed back a lot. Not completely, but my attention was drawn away by other social action causes, and my spirit was impacted by the constant barrage of discouraging climate news.  One of the hardest facts out there is this: UN climate scientists tell us we have just under a dozen years to radically reduce fossil fuel use in order to avert climate catastrophe. ( ) And given the lack of global action on climate, it’s hard to believe we could pull together that fast.


It’s hard to believe.


Which is why the prophetic work of the next generation of climate leaders is so profound and so important.


Because they believe.


They operate from the belief that we can avert the worst catastrophes.

They cast a vision of a humanity that will mitigate, repair and adapt.

They can imagine a just transition for all workers; a society that is equitable and sustainable and fair.

They can see before them a wounded, scarred, and resurrected earth.


Kiran Oommen is one of this next generation of prophets. In his early 20s, he’s a musician and sociologist, a gardener and an organizer.  His mother is a UCC pastor, so you know he was raised right. He is a plaintiff in Juliana vs. the United States – otherwise known as the Our Children’s Trust lawsuit. Standing in the traditions of civil and human rights, these next generation folks from 11 to 22 years old are calling our government to be accountable and our country to believe it is possible for the current generation to leave an inhabitable world for the next seven generations. Kiran’s mother Rev. Melanie Oommen asks, “What does it look like to live hope when the very fate of our planet is at stake?  How do we enflesh the Easter Christ who triumphed over death itself in such a time as this?…Our God abides. In the enduring hope of those young plaintiffs, our God abides.” ( )


Melody Zhang is one of this next generation of believers.  She testified before Congress this month, as a representative of Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, drawing deeply from her Christian faith to call for action. I want to share some of her words:

“As a Christian, I believe God calls us to a total and radical re-imagination and transformation of our relationship with others and the earth…It takes courage, and the creativity, energy, and moral leadership of young people like us. Congress, I invite you to dream beyond this deep-rooted history of partisanship into co-creating a world of wholeness together. To my fellow believers in the room, we live in the era of the resurrected Christ. So then. Let us practice resurrection.” (


Greta Thunberg is one of this next generation of prophets. This 16 year old from Sweden is perhaps the most prophetic voice on climate in the world, calling us to determined action and leading thousands of teens –  including Framingham High students – to strike for climate action. She told the UN: “We can’t solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis…We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not.” ( )


I could speak, by the way, as much about activist retirees as about activist teens – for example my friend Grady is a co-founder of Elders Climate Action and he operates with the same sense of urgency and defiant hope.


They can see before them a wounded, scarred, and resurrected earth.


Can you see it, too?


Can you imagine?


Or do you doubt?


Doubting resurrection is understandable in the face of crucifixion. Doubting that we can hold to two degrees celsius temperature change is understandable given that we are past one degree already. Needing to see him, needing to hear him say, Peace, needing to feel his breath in a repeating of God’s own breath across the waters of creation, needing to touch the wounds, it’s understandable.


He came to them in a locked room. To a group gathered in grief and fear, he offered peace. He offered them the Spirit. He breathed upon them. In the beginning, and in the end, the word and breath of God; the word made flesh; the peace which surpasses all understanding, the wounded and risen Word came to them, through locked doors.


But Thomas wasn’t there.


So he doubted. We can understand why.


We see the news reports. We collect relief buckets for Church World Service, knowing the next disaster is coming.


Friends, there are believers and prophets in front of us, casting a vision of a world – not where climate change is miraculously reversed but a world renewed and healed, a world still living and livable, even with wounds and scars. They know the world isn’t going back – but they are pushing us forward, in defiant and active hope. ( Defiant Hope – a phrase often used by Jim Antal; Active Hope – a phrase coined by Joanna Macy. )


And this is our work, as Easter people. We must choose to practice resurrection.  Hope is the blessing our faith brings to the world.  We know, as Easter people, that the worst thing is never the last thing. It’s hard to believe. It’s easy to doubt. But we do not have to look far to see prophets and believers who have called us to join them.


Our call, I fervently believe, is to join these prophets and believers, even when we doubt, because the time is now, to begin to heal the wounds of the earth; to practice resurrection.


Jim Antal, UCC minister and climate activist, wrote a book last year called Climate Church, Climate World.  Within its pages he gave an invitation:


“For hope to take hold, the church must cultivate moral imagination….We need to believe that the transition to a world free of fossil fuel is possible.” He goes on to quote Desmond Tutu: ‘It is possible to have a new kind of world, a world where there will be more compassion, more gentleness, more caring, more laughter, more joy for all of God’s creation, because that is God’s dream. And God says, ‘Help me, help me, help me realize my dream.’” ( Climate Church, Climate World by Jim Antal, page 168 ) 



Sermon: Whose Procession Are You In?

A Sermon for the Plymouth Church of Framingham, UCC

Palm Sunday

April 14, 2019

Rev. Reebee Kavich Girash


Video available here:


Text:  Luke 19:28- 40

28After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.29When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”34They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” 39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”






Chester was a Heifer Project ambassador.  He spent almost 25 years caring for a flock of sheep, greeting children in his gentle way, pausing for photos, meandering around somewhat at random.  


Every spring, for many years Chester went on a roadtrip.  All the way to Somerville and he traveled, just to be with church people for their Palm Sunday parades. In Davis Square, he’d start in Powderhouse Circle and in the midst of the crowd, plod down College Ave, nodding to confused people on the sidewalks, listening to a great ecumenical choir singing their way down the block, waving palm branches.  In Arlington, he’d join the Episcopalians first, and then the Methodists, and finally the UCC, where the older children were in charge of meeting him halfway between. He would be pretty tired out by then, so they were instructed to be particularly solicitous of Chester while getting him settled on the church lawn before the final parade of the day.  Then the younger children would do just what children visiting Heifer did – run out toward Chester in glee, pose with him, pet him, and feed him apples or carrots.


Chester, of course, was a donkey.  


Now, once your church has a real donkey visiting annually, you get used to the idea.  It’s hard to give up.


So when the news came one winter that Chester had gone to glory, and that there would not be a successor Heifer Donkey, there was a fair panic amongst clergy and parents in the general vicinity.  That is, until Guapo was found, rented from a party company. Not a few of us said, wait, a Heifer Project ambassador rescue donkey is one thing, but a party rental donkey? Is there an animal rights question here?  Tradition, however, prevailed, and the sublimely ridiculous countercultural donkey parade through the streets of Somerville continued. Guapo was perhaps less amenable to the entire process, having a somewhat nervous digestive system and not really seeming happy about being petted but at least he was willing to nod and bray when posing for photos.


A couple of years later the Facebook post went out, Rest in Peace, Guapo, the Donkey, gone to glory.  Line break. So, anybody have a line on our next donkey?


The next one was rather tall for a donkey, and walked on his hind legs.  His plush polyester costume came in two parts, and animal welfare activists sighed in relief.  But this donkey was also a rental, and so you can imagine the relief in store for the people of Somerville this very morning.  First Church Somerville has purchased a donkey costume.


And so, this very morning:  a protest/parade dutifully depicting the peasants and pilgrims in Jerusalem waving and shouting Hosanna!  There are kazoos. Passersby who have no idea what is going on unknowingly enter into the reenactment as the unknown questioners in Jerusalem, “the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?””


Today’s parade will be as different from Jesus’ entry in to Jerusalem, as Jesus’s procession was different from Pilate’s parade.


 Let’s go back to Jerusalem, the City of Peace that knows no peace.  Let’s go back to the Pax Romana. Let’s go back to a spring day in the early decades of the Common Era, a day of two parades.


In the city that day, there were:


Pilate and his soldiers

The chief priests, elders, and temple leaders

The peasants and pilgrims come for the Passover

The zealots and rabble rousers

And Jesus, with his friends and followers.


Jerusalem was the center of Judaism, home of a re-built / soon to be destroyed temple.  Home of the temple priests who were also Roman appointees. The place where liberation was remembered and liberation was longed for.  The city of peace, the city that knew no peace. And every spring, preparations for the Passover evoked it all.


Pilate led the first parade that day, “from the west, the Roman governor coming into the city to keep order, during the Passover, the Jewish high holy day celebrating Israel’s long-ago release from captivity in the Egyptian empire…Imagine the imperial procession’s arrival in the city…A visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses (horses were only used for war), foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold..the marching of feet…the beating of drums.”” (Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem)  Rome had power over the people, and a theology of power that said the emperor was the son of God, and every governor, every soldier, every war horse was sent in God’s name to maintain God’s power over the empire.  If they’d carried a banner, it would have said: We are the strongest and the greatest. Only we can save you. You are a conquered people, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.


There were also in Jerusalem that day, chief priests, temple elders, perhaps watching from the center of the city as Pilate marched in.  The Romans had given them just a touch of power. The governors gave power to the priests so there would be “Jewish” religious legitimacy for Rome’s control.   Lead your people, the Romans said, keep them safe by keeping them controlled, passive, and out of our way. If you do this, we will give you land – taken from peasants who couldn’t pay their Roman tax – we will give you power and wealth.  Pilate’s parade kept the priests in line.


There were also in the city that day, peasants including farmers who grew the food that went to the city, that went to the priests, that went to the soldiers; by the toil of their hands they created the wealth which fueled the Pax Romana but they did not keep it.  Landholders who could not make ends meet and lost their land to empire and temple. Rural peasants were ninety percent of the population around Jerusalem and they came, near the Passover, to the city of their ancestor David, to Jerusalem the city of peace that gave them no peace.


There were also in the city of peace that day, zealots and rabble rousers who sought to overthrow empire and take power.  


And then there was Jesus.


He came from the east, on a humble farm animal, with no horses or swords, no drums, no soldiers, no prestige, no intimidation, no might.  No symbols of power over. Just people, peasants, pilgrims, disciples, calling out, Hosanna, Hosanna. Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Save us!


In spite of every sermon he preached on peace, every mile he walked humbly next to them, the people expected him to take worldly political power. For so many of his followers, his entry was the entrance of a new king.




Human beings cling to systems that we understand, frameworks and structures that we are used to, even when they don’t make sense.


Even when they don’t make sense anymore.


It is is so much easier to tweak an existing system, than to set an entire system aside.


It is so much easier to transfer power than it is to transform what power means.  


Rome in the first century, and the United States and most of the world in 2019, are built on power-over.  Power is a possession and those who have it win. Fear is intrinsic to this model, because power is used to control.  But there is another concept of power, power-with – a collaborative model of power. “Power-with is not a property or a possession.  It arises from what we do rather than what we have.”   (Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re In Without Going Crazy) Jesus, I propose to you, came in to Jerusalem to declare the realm of God, which looked like no kingdom ever before seen by human eyes.  Jesus came in to Jerusalem not to take power but to preach an entirely different concept of power.


When we describe Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as a protest against the oppression of the  Pax Romana, or as a rejection of the chief priests’ collaboration with Pilate, we are not thinking radically enough to see what Jesus was really up to.  When we say, his parade echoed Pilate’s, we’re missing the point. When we say, well the donkey was a symbol of humility in contrast to Pilate’s warhorses – we are staying too close to the framework set up by Rome.  Jesus was not just protesting the oppression of Rome – he was mocking the notion of earthly power. He was not just claiming power for the powerless, he was redefining power. He was not just allying himself with the peasants in contrast to the priestly class and the Roman occupiers (although let me say clearly Jesus was always on the side of the poor and the oppressed). Jesus was calling all of them away from the power structures that human beings so consistently cling to, calling them toward the power of love.

The people cried out, Save us, Hosanna, Save us, blessed is the king, blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord, give us the power.  For some folks there is comfort, in a system that you know and understand even when it is a system that hurts you. Because, you think, if I could just switch places. If I could just take power.


 But in response, Jesus proclaimed:   The system is broken. “We do not find our collective salvation in a political system.  We find it in the radical gospel of love.” (The Rev. Amy Butler, The Riverside Church (NYC), Palm Sunday Sermon 2016.)  Jesus said, “the kingdom of God is at hand.”


And is it any wonder, that in a system built on power over, leaders who used power to control, would want to kill this radical vision?  Wouldn’t it go down this same way today?


Perhaps it only seems possible to change the players – Chester to Guapo to donkey-person. King David to King Jesus.  Pilate to Jesus. Perhaps it seems impossible to change the system itself. Well, we’re moving toward Easter, a day when nothing is deemed impossible. So maybe we need to write the story of the power of love overcoming the love of power, and believe that it could be.


Here’s the question I invite you to walk through Holy Week pondering.  What is the power that would save you right now? What is the power that would save our world right now?  What is the story of the coming kin-dom of God in this moment? And whose procession are you walking in? Amen.


Sermon: We Want Our Children To Know (for Transgender Day of Visibility)

We Want Our Children to Know
A Sermon for The Plymouth Church of Framingham, UCC
March 31, 2019

Sermon Video available on Vimeo.

Audio File:


Scripture Reading:

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3So he told them this parable:

“There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.25“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”


God, creator of all people, whose image we all beautifully reflect,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together,
Make visible the beauty and dignity of all our siblings, especially today, our transgender siblings.



On the walls of the traditional church sanctuary of Middle Collegiate Church in New York City I saw the most extraordinary set of contemporary paintings. They are part of the Queer Icons collection by visual artist Gabriel Garcia Roman – beautiful, glorious paintings of queer folks of color. The artist describes the folks portrayed as  multi-dimensional, powerful and proud – and includes their own narrative in gold calligraphy on the icons. Many of the folks portrayed identify and transgender or gender non-binary. The icons have been displayed in museums around the country – and in Middle Church’s sanctuary.


Think of what it means for the children of a congregation to walk into the center of their church home, and see in their sacred space paintings that make visible the beauty, strength, and courage of a spectrum of folks whose dignity is underrepresented in our culture.  The child who wonders about their own gender expression and the child who asks, will I be welcome and supported no matter what my gender expression is – knows they are welcome, beloved and supported because that promise has been made visible to them.


Today is Transgender Day of Visibility.  As an Open and Affirming Congregation your deacons and settled pastors chose months ago to mark this occasion in worship. And I am so glad you did.  Selfishly I am glad because it meant I got to sit with a crew of seven of you to talk about how in the world we might celebrate this day and how we might connect the scripture this morning with this theme.  And I want to tell you, the Spirit showed up, in the copy room downstairs.


As you heard from Joyce, we talked about where the usual interpretation of this scripture does not match up with the message of transgender visibility – we are not going to talk about sinful folks repenting and being forgiven, because it is not sinful to be transgender. (Say amen.) The full gender identity spectrum is part of God’s diverse and amazing creation. (Say amen.)


But we kept going and this part spoke to us:


The father watched the horizon for the son because he wanted the younger son to know he was loved and welcomed home.  He ran out to meet his son.


Then we knew what today’s theme would be.


We want every child in this congregation to know they are loved and welcomed.  


We want our children to know.


We want to make it plain.  We want to make it visible. We want to continue to make it public. Because even for an Open and Affirming church it is worth making plain. Because even in 2019 it does not go without saying.  It is not clear unless we make it clear. It is not current unless we have repeated it recently. On this Transgender Day of Visibility, we proclaim: we will run out to meet you, we will throw a party for you.  Our transgender children and our cisgender children and our children who haven’t discerned yet, we want you to know, you are loved, you are seen, and there will always be a seat for you, for every one of you, at our banquet table.


Friends, let me tell you something I have come to understand about this congregation’s story.


There have been multiple children who have grown up at Plymouth Church being affirmed and welcomed always – who have been able to claim a new name and write a new nametag and tell this community their gender identity.  There have been transgender children who have grown up knowing this community loves them.


That means, there have also been children here, whose friends have struggled over gender identity and not known who would support them.  Our children have been able to be good friends.


That means, there have been parents and grandparents here, who have found support in their work to love their children through the transition of their gender identity.


That means, there have been pastors and Sunday School teachers, and choir members, and lay leaders, and youth group mentors, and greeters who have found support in our offerings of love, even when we stumble, even when we’re confused, even when we use the wrong words.


Thank God.  Thank God for the ways this community has supported our kin. Thank God for the party that this community throws, to which everyone gets an invitation.




This parable is as much about the father as it is about the son.


It’s about a father who cannot stand that his family is separated, that his beloved child has gone away. It’s about a father who starts to wonder if he could have said something, could have done something, to make it right.  It’s about the father who watches the horizon, hoping and praying the son will make his way home, so the father can do something to make things better, to restore their relationship.


Amy-Jill Levine, a Jewish scholar of Jesus’ parables, suggests we might rename this text, “The father who lost his sons.” (Short Stories by Jesus, page 34) Of course, she writes, of course the father would run out to meet the son. We would, too: “we search, desperately, [if] our family is not whole.” (Short Stories by Jesus, page 69)


If the father in this story is God, it tells us that God will always coming running to meet us.  That God will search high and low for us. That God will throw a party where all of us are invited.  God yearns for wholeness.


But if the father is the church, there’s a bit of a different message.  We are responsible for the sheep, the coins, and all our children. If they get lost, we bear some of the responsibility.  If they feel unable to come home, we are part of that. This is our deep work, as the church, to make clear the welcome, the love, the grace, the support – throughout our children’s lives.


Erin Wiebe’s family figured this out this deep work. It took them a while but they figured it out. Her story and her parents’ story is in a Mennonite booklet on transgender concerns. (  Trans101: A Brief Guide by the Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests.  Downloaded at )

“Erin says she wore a metaphorical mask, hiding her true identity and projecting a false self that was more socially acceptable in her community, for the better part of her life. In fact, she didn’t tell anyone about her struggle until she was nearly 40. “I made the decision to forever lock that part of me away because there was nothing I could do about it,” she says. “I was ashamed.”….


When she was 38, she came out to her parents.  And the lovely ending to this story is their response.  Not perfect, but filled with love: Erin’s parents, Art and Alma, who are members of Bethel Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, say they didn’t have any idea that she was suffering from a gender-identity crisis. It was a complete shock when she came out to them when she was 38. “I had no idea how they were going to respond,” Erin says. “My mom said, ‘You mean you’re a woman trapped in a man’s body? . . . What can we do to support you?’”    Her mom says, “I often think of Erin as a butterfly… Erin is a beautiful butterfly, testing her wings in what sometimes seems to be an unforgiving world.”Throughout the process, Art and Alma attended Bethel Mennonite Church and participated in its Pilgrim Group, a support group for lesbian/gay/bisexual/ transgender/queer (LGBTQ) people and their families and friends. In turn, they found the strength to support their daughter through her transition process of taking off a proverbial mask.”


I share this story as an example of courage – Erin’s courage to become her true self – and grace – her parents’ ability to change, to try so hard to understand Erin and love her. Truly, these parents have run out toward their daughter to publicly and joyfully welcome her home.  

Imagine the parties at Erin’s house, these days.

Erin’s story is also a good reminder that our welcome is important not only for the children among us, and not only for those we know well – but also for the grownups and the new folks. Taj Smith told Sojourners Magazine how a church welcomed him as a young adult.  Some of you know Taj as the Faith Director of Yes on 3, last fall’s campaign for transgender rights in Massachusetts. Taj is also a friend and former student of mine at HDS, and this story of his shows what it means when a church community gets it:

“The first Sunday I went back to my church after I came out as trans, I just remember standing in front of the name tags and staring at mine and thinking, ‘I can’t put that on,’” Smith explained. The name on the tag no longer reflected who he really was.

“One of the greeters came up to me, and she says, ‘You need help finding your name tag?’ And she laughed, and I laughed, and I said, ‘No, I think I need a new one. I need a new one, like, forever.’ And she went, ‘Okay!’ And she got me a new tag, and she said, ‘Why don’t you write your name on this one and we’ll have a new permanent one for you next week!’ And she handed me an order of service and I went inside and thought, ‘That was the easiest thing ever!’ That church became a safe haven for me.” (   – article by Austen Hartke, sharing Taj Smith’s story )

Thanks be to God for parents who might not get it right every time, but are moving toward love and understanding.  Thanks be to God for churches, like ours, who might not be perfect but are faithfully and joyfully preparing a banquet, who are faithfully and joyfully running out to meet our transgender siblings.  Thanks be to God for every one of God’s beautiful, beloved children, who reflect God’s own image. Amen.