Calmly Plotting the Resurrection

April 9, 2023, First Church UCC, Middletown, CT

Scripture:                                                                                                              John 20:1-18 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

Christians the world over are engaged in a lifelong disagreement about the meaning and purpose of Easter.

Some think Easter is primarily about what happened back then, about the literal truth of the story.  For them, if the story is not literally true, it has no value at all.  They are primarily focused on a better life after death, and the literal truth of the story is the guarantee that Heaven is real and that there is a place for them there.  

Some think that Easter is primarily about the self-offering love of Jesus Christ; that it is a call to love and serve the world.  For us, the literal, historic truth of the event  is not essential; for us, it’s the enduring effect of the story, the way we are changed by it, that is its power.

Dean Greg Sterling, of the Yale Divinity School, said what I believe is most true about Easter, when he wrote:  “Easter is not only the transit from death to life, but from injustice to forgiveness and from despair to hope.”  

How resurrection happened, and all that stuff, is intellectual fun, but it’s like spending the whole meal eating dessert and then wondering why we’re falling asleep.  Those discussions don’t have much nutritive value, not in the long run.

If we spend our Easter celebration discussing about the science of resurrection, we’ve lost sight of what’s really going on, because the week from Palm Sunday to Easter changed everything.  

Christmas is a festival of potential, but Easter is a festival of new beginnings, of things coming to fruition.  Christmas is a festival of dreams; Easter is a festival of realities.

This is the time when we celebrate the ability to make a difference even as we’re in the midst of all the mixed up stuff of life.  

You’ve heard now that Tim Behl died last week.  Those of you who knew Tim knew that his life was hatch-marked by challenges and limitations, that it was far from a joyous journey from high spot to high spot.  I know you all know more than I will ever know about the challenges he faced.  But what I remember is that in the midst of COVID, when we struggled to begin the process of improving our online service, Tim was one of the volunteers who gave of his time and skills to help us all worship together.  That’s living an Easter life.

We are called to always remember the Resurrection story in the context of all the events of the past week.  Because you know, this week gives us in miniature, a picture of real life – great highs, actual successes, brave attempts, disaster, betrayal, failure, death – and then new life beginning.  That’s the story of Easter.  It’s not boxed into a picture of bunnies and flowers and heavenly admission tickets.  It’s broad, and deep, and terribly real.

Easter is the story which tells us how to outlive hate.  It’s the story which pulls us into a life based on love, a life oriented towards justice, a life lived for mercy, for one and for all.

In my files, I have a cartoon – you can see it now on the church’s Facebook page, but right now just imagine a chemistry lab, complete with bench, Bunsen burner, flask and retort.  The flask is filled with ignorance, and  it is being heated with hot, burning fear.  Out of that ignorance, the setup distills pure, thick hatred.  That’s our world today.

It is as if we are stuck at Good Friday, stuck in a place where the best we can do is blame someone else for everything we hate about ourselves.  We’re stuck filled with anger, stuck attacking those who cannot defend themselves.  It’s Good Friday, and hatred walks our streets.

Here we are, in a beautiful room. It’s been lovingly decorated and blessed by gracious music…. What place does hate have in this room, in this company?

On such a beautiful day, can’t we just once ignore the slime of hatred oozing into our world?  But there is no safety, no beauty in ignoring what’s going on right outside our doors.

The power and joy of Easter is that Jesus Christ came just for days and times such as these, to give us a way to live in the worst of times. 

When we hear hatred voiced, we know there is a better way. 

When we hear worries and concerns met with callous disregard, we know there is one who calls us to a path of love.

When we recognize the negligent disregard of racism, we know there is a way to live in perfect equality, one with another.

We know this because, in the worst of times, Jesus Christ came to be in this world.  He came to teach us to measure our world against the standards of generosity, justice, righteousness and love.  We know this because after he died in pain and shame, on the third day, he rose from the dead.

It’s easy to say that this Resurrection, this central act of our faith, makes no sense.  Of course, it doesn’t.  Resurrection makes no sense at all.  It’s not sensible; it’s not logical; it’s not scientifically reproducible, like a chemistry experiment.

It’s the sheer irrationality of the event that testifies to its essential truth.  Because, you see, this isn’t about science, isn’t about rationality or historical fact.  It’s about light shining in the darkness.

Easter began, not at sunrise this morning, but in the darkest events of Thursday and Friday, in the despair of Saturday.   Easter began with betrayal.  It deepened with desertion, abandonment.  It continued with a trial, condemnation, and execution.  

Buried in haste, his body was gone when the women came to the tomb. Nothing about this made any sense, not in that long-ago time, and not today.  And out of that senselessness, new life came.  Out of confusion and fear, courage bloomed, lives were changed. 

The despair and terror of Jesus’ followers is our despair and terror when we face an unknown future.  Their joy when they realize they are not alone, is our joy as well. 

This story, this resurrection isn’t about science experiments; it’s about real life.  It’s about life where things just don’t go right.  It’s about those times of quiet desperation when you just can’t see any way forward. 

It’s hard to remember our need for God when all is going well.  We humans like to take good times and good weather for granted.  We may well expect everything to always turn out well, but we’re doomed to disappointment.  It’s a fact of life, and not plain pessimism to point out that good does not continue in perpetuity.

Now some will argue that the blessings of our lives come because we’re better than those who suffer.  We’re smarter, we’re more generous, we have louder voices and are better at pushing our way to the front of the line and we thus get the best rewards.  This is the “everyone gets what they deserve” school of life.

And others will say that we get what we work for, and so all we have to do is work hard and rewards will appear.   That’s kinda the “I went to Wesleyan, so my life will be great” school of life.

Both run thin when we face a cat-scan filled with signs of cancer.  Neither has any comfort or strength when the factory closes and we’re out of a job at the age of 59.  And neither has any explanation for school shootings, or laws to restrict the medical options of kids in pain.  Neither works for the kinds of evil we see every day in our news feed. 

Christianity is faith for the tough times.  It’s not an “always sunny weather” way of living.  It anticipates challenges, knows we’ll face ethical dilemmas, personal disasters.  It knows that at the end of all, we will die – the ultimate failure in American life. 

Through all that, it helps us understand the value of our lives.  It shows us that life isn’t about toys, or job success, but about the grace with which we live. 

And today it reminds us that hatred leads to death.  Only love leads to life. 

Because we serve a risen Savior, we will not incite riots.  

Because we follow the way of Christ, we will not stand for condemnation of the poor.  

Because we carry on the love of Jesus,  we will not join in the disenfranchisement of the downtrodden.   

We are Christians; we will condemn hatred and practice mercy.  

Today is the spring of souls, the beginning of a new year of following God’s way.

When we sing Christ the Lord is Risen Today we proclaim that death is not the end of things.  Hope rises up out of despair, creates justice, proclaims mercy, practices love.

Today, we are a resurrection people, born anew out of a culture riddled with hate, born to be messengers of God’s love, to all the world.

Christ the Lord is Risen!  Hatred will not win the struggle.


© 2023, Virginia H. Child

Gratitude: The Purpose of Life

A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown, Ct on February 26, 2023

Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, 
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, 
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, 

‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ”

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him. 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

The story says the devil is asking Jesus, “are you really who you say you are?”  It’s as if he’s saying, show me – show me your power, show me your influence, show me your magic tricks.  If you’re the Son of God, show me.  And Jesus says, that’s not how it works.

Like a lot of things in the gospels, the story is presented in a way that – to the original readers – would have just reeked of authenticity.  Because of the way it’s constructed, its literary style, it’s quite likely that the earliest church put this together, like a word portrait, to portray real events in mythical language.  

This story reflects what those earliest members believed about Jesus.  They thought he was the Son of God, and so they told the story in ways that made that belief clear.  It also speaks to common accusations about Jesus in those times – some people said he was nothing but a magician, so one of the lines has him refusing to do parlor trick magic.  Some folks were still accusing him of being a rebel against Roman rule; the story thus says he had no interest in earthly power.

Today, the story can seem really bizarre.  We need to get under the words, to see what they would have meant back then, and from that see what that story means to us today.  It was a story about falling prey to the temptations of that world.  Our temptations may look different, but they have the same effect – they can still separate us from God’s love.  

Today, for most of us, the temptations are going to be about whether or not we lose ourselves in the world’s priorities – or whether we’re able to resist that pull and follow our understanding of right and loving living.

There’s no doubt that today, we who follow Christ have chosen to live with a different set of priorities than much of the world.  Around us are people for whom educational credentials are the be-all and end-all.  There are people for whom amassing possessions which show their wealth.  And we all know people for whom having and exerting power is more important than anything.  We believe that it is loving and building community which matters most.

That means that, for us, the story of these temptations speaks most clearly about the challenges of being people who are different.  It’s for us that retired Presbyterian pastor Roy Howard writes:   

I finding a renewed sense of the counter-cultural oddness of a season set apart for reflection and letting go all the ways that separate us from neighbor, self and God. How remarkable to walk – and stumble – through these days with companions on the Way, . . . aware of our mortality and yearning for the fullness of the new creation coming into being. 

There are few, if any, cultural supports for such practices that guard our hearts and guide our lives into greater mercy, compassion and love. I’m grateful for odd practices that help us walk against the grain toward a life revealed in the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

For us, today, this lesson says first off,  there are more important things than material goodies.  That’s a hard saying.  Doing God’s will, living in God’s way, is more important than life itself.

Second, easy answers don’t really solve things, and cheap miracles are just that – cheap.

Finally, there are more important,, much more important, things than being in charge.

What about being different has to do with today’s subject, with gratitude?

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the sage of Concord, Massachusetts, the rabble-rouser of his era, who made is name by shocking Harvard with new ideas wrote:  

The purpose of life is not to be happy, it is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived, and lived well.  He was writing to a world where, as happens generation after generation, people had succumbed to the temptation to go for money, to work for power, to think their education made them better than others.  They were wrong, and Emerson said so in a memorable way.

Life is not about having all the creature comforts possible; it’s not about being able to make a great life for yourself, taking advantage of every benefit of privilege; it’s not about greedily grasping at power for its own sake, or to aggrandize yourself. 

Life is about being useful, good, generous, welcoming, loving.  

And surely that’s worth our gratitude.  We have purpose to our lives, and that purpose is more than just our individual circumstances.  

Whether we struggle to feed the family or are well set financially, it’s this purpose that matters in God’s eyes. 

When I was in high school, I lived on the farm my father managed in Broward County, Florida (between Fort Lauderdale and Miami) – it was a dairy farm with a 1000 cow milking herd.  It took eight straight hours to get all those cows milked, even with modern milking machines.  

I learned two things the first year I lived there…. to my surprise, I learned that the cows didn’t care when they were milked, so long as it happened twice a day, about 12 hours apart.  We milked in two shifts, one starting at noon, and the other at midnight, and the cows were happy campers.  

More seriously, I discovered that the men who worked on the farm, who lived in a little colony of farm-provided houses down the street, had had to quit school at the end of the first grade to go to work to support their families.  That’s right, first grade.  When they were seven, they were working full days picking peanuts, not far from Jimmy Carter’s part of Georgia.

They were really pleased to be milking cows, because for them it was good work.  The herdsman, the man who was my father’s chief assistant, had made it through third grade before he had to go to work.  

I learned from them then that lack of formal education had nothing to do with whether people were good.  I learned that lack of money had nothing to do with kindness.  I saw that lack of power did not mean they were worth less

We can work as hard as possible and get the world’s greatest education, so that people believe we are truly smart, but it is the way we live our lives that makes us good.

We can work as hard as possible, and make more money than anyone else in our high school class, but it is the way we live our lives that makes us good.

We can work as hard as possible to become the most powerful person in our world, but it is the way we live our lives that makes us good.

It is the goodness of our actions which gives our lives value.  Today let us be grateful for the gift God has given us, the ability to be good – no matter the circumstances of our lives.


© 2023, Virginia H. Child

Gratitude: Welcoming Home

A sermon preached on March 5, 2023 at First Church UCC, Middletown, CT

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 (The Message)

So, how do we fit what we know of Abraham, our first father in the faith, into this new way of looking at things? If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story. What we read in Scripture is, “Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own.”

If you’re a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don’t call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust [God] to do it—you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked—well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift.

That famous promise God gave Abraham—that he and his children would possess the earth—was not given because of something Abraham did or would do. It was based on God’s decision to put everything together for him, which Abraham then entered when he believed. If those who get what God gives them only get it by doing everything they are told to do and filling out all the right forms properly signed, that eliminates personal trust completely and turns the promise into an iron-clad contract! That’s not a holy promise; that’s a business deal. A contract drawn up by a hard-nosed lawyer and with plenty of fine print only makes sure that you will never be able to collect. But if there is no contract in the first place, simply a promise—and God’s promise at that—you can’t break it.  . . . .

This is why the fulfillment of God’s promise depends entirely on trusting God and [God’s] way, and then simply embracing [God] and what [God] does. God’s promise arrives as pure gift. That’s the only way everyone can be sure to get in on it, those who keep the religious traditions and those who have never heard of them. For Abraham is father of us all. He is not our [literal] father—that’s reading the story backward. He is our faith father.   

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

One of my favorite childhood books was “The Boxcar Children” by Gertrude Chandler Warner – the story of four children, essentially homeless, and how they first make a home for themselves, and then find a family they’d thought completely lost.  

When I was 10, it was my favorite book.  Today, many years from my delighted first reading, I’m still impressed by the book, and not just for the enduring story.  You see, over the years, I learned quite a bit about Miss Warner, including the fact that no one called her Gertie.  She lived in Putnam, up in northeast Connecticut, taught school in the public school system there, and for years was the clerk of the Congregational Church which I later pastored.  

Even today, Putnam inhabitants mostly came here from Europe.  There are some Black families, some Native families, but not many.  It’s a poorer town than it’s neighbors, a former mill town – the last mill, a Belding Corticelli thread mill closed while I was there.  Today, it’s a great place to visit if you like antiques. 

But that’s not why I’m telling you this.  Putnam, you see, was one of those places new immigrants ended up.  There were lots of French Canadians – even twenty years ago, the Roman Catholic priest had to learn a Canadian version of Breton French in order to minister to his congregants.  In that little town of maybe 6000 people, there were also Latvians, Swedes, Finns and Norwegians, along with smaller numbers of immigrants from other non-English speaking countries.

Miss Warner, seeing the struggle that immigrant children were having in her classroom, wrote The Boxcar Children with an extremely limited vocabulary so that those kids could have the experience of reading something interesting as they learned to read.  She wanted those kids to feel at home in her classroom, at home in that community.

Some years ago, I used that same book when helping to teach immigrant kids from Santo Domingo how to read and they were equally thrilled to be able to read a good story.

I’m grateful today for the way Miss Warner worked to make home for those people.

Today’s lesson, from the Letter to the Romans, talks about another kind of home.  Of course, Paul’s not talking about houses or human families.  He’s talking about the foundation on which all good home is built, something like the ideal home.  He says that the home with God that Abraham had was God’s free gift to Abraham.  Abraham didn’t earn it, didn’t get enough green stamps to buy it.  God gave him a home, and through Abraham, gave that home to all humanity.  

I’ve been a pastor for quite a while.  I know as well as any of you that not all homes are places where we feel loved, safe, and welcome, just as I know that not all families are perfect.  This story is not about the imperfections of real life.  It is about the Godly dream, the hope, the goal and aim of our humanity. 

We were called, out of our brokenness, to the work of creating a new and better home, a haven of peace and a place of blessing – not just for each one of us, but for all of us, together.  

At the end of the month, we’re hosting, sponsoring, a meeting about refugee resettlement.  You heard an invitation to help put the meeting on at the beginning of today’s service.  But did you realize that we’re not just planning a meeting, and hoping to help a refugee family…. but that we’re reaching out to extend God’s home to people who, right now, feel homeless?  

Welcoming a refugee is not just about that one (or more than one) family.  It’s also about being and becoming the sort of community which welcomes new people.  It’s about extended the warm acceptance we give our friends and fellow worshippers to people we’ve never met before.

The work of home-making to which we are called takes place primarily outside the doors of this room.  Really, if we were only good to one another, we wouldn’t be building a home, we’d be creating a club for insiders.  That’s why we have to reach out beyond who we know, who we’re comfortable with, to get to know strangers and allow the relationships you build to change you and us, so that we become a deeper and richer home for all.

In the words of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, we have been given a great gift – a home for us, a home for the world… a home that welcomes all, no matter who we are, what we have done – or not done – a home that can build peace among all the world.

Today, I am grateful for the call God has given us to make the world a home for all.


© 2023, Virginia H. Child

What’s This Cross Stuff?

First Church UCC, Middletown, CT, April 2, 2023

First Reading:                                                                                                Matthew 21: 1-17 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 

“Tell the daughter of Zion,  Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” 

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them;they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 

The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, 

“Hosanna to the Son of David!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” 

Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written, 

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’;

but you are making it a den of robbers.”

The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 

But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,  ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?”

He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there. 

Second Reading:                                                                                          Matthew 26:36-46

 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.” 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

On Friday evening, I often watch the Shabbat Service from Central Synagogue in NYC.  I expect that if I were a Jew, this worship space would feel like my “home congregation”.  In this time when I can’t attend my own church, it’s often been the space where I could simply be a worshipper.  

This Friday, there was a naming ceremony.  A young trans man, a high-school junior or senior,  was receiving a more appropriate Hebrew name, marking his journey.  In the middle of the blessing, the officiating rabbi’s voice broke.  He’d known the young man all his life, had celebrated his growth into his Jewish faith and also this passage into his deepest identity.  

And yes, on the Trans Day of Visibility, that rabbi, the young man, and indeed everyone watching, knew just how dangerous that young man’s journey is in our world today.  Surrounded by a loving faith community, surrounded by three generations of his family, Cooper Hartog is known now as who he is, and he’s safer in himself.   But living truly as a trans person today is not safe, never safe.

Jesus came into Jerusalem two thousand years ago, surrounded by those who knew him, followed, him, loved him, called him their rabbi, their leader.  They laid on him all their expectations – that he would heal the sick and raise the dead… that he would drive out the despised Romans and reinstitute the beloved rule of the descendants of David.  Some of his followers were already planning their new homes, paid for with the money they’d make in this new day.  On that Palm Sunday, anyone in Jerusalem would have said that surely no one was safer than Jesus of Nazareth.

Five days later, he was dead, executed by the Roman authorities.

Jesus wasn’t executed because he was trans.  But like trans people, his existence challenged every one … not just the folks with whom he disagreed, but even the people who loved and supported him.  His existence challenged them because he called into question their deepest assumptions about right and wrong and ways to be.  And so I want us to understand just how it is that the triumphal entry of Sunday could turn into the execution on Friday.  

People who hate trans folks can come up with, have come up with their reasons, their explanations but I think that one major reason, one they’ll not acknowledge, is exactly the same reason Jesus was arrested.

They challenge, as he challenged, everything. 

Jesus challenged the assumptions of his world.  He challenged the assumption that safety was better than honesty…. that it was better to go along to get along than it was to wash your hands of evil.  He challenged the universal assumption that it’s better to have money and power…. and yes, it is better than starving on the street corner, but he suggested that was a false dichotomy – that it was NOT better to have more than enough than it was to have enough.  He said it was not true that the powerful, the rulers, were better human beings than the poor people who scratched out a living on their teeny-weeny farms.  In fact, he said that God blessed the poor more than the rich.  In Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, he said 

. . . it’s trouble ahead if you think you have it made.

What you have is all you’ll ever get.

And it’s trouble ahead if you’re satisfied with yourself.

Your  self will not satisfy you for long.

And it’s trouble ahead if you think life’s all fun and games.

There’s suffering to be met, and you’re going to meet it

Trans people challenge all our assumptions about gender identity and what it means to be a woman or a man.  They challenge conservative assumptions about the limitations within which women are to live.  Their existence tells us that there is no longer one right way to be, to be male or female, husband, wife… and that scares the stuffing out of people.

Here’s the thing.  The danger that trans people live in?  It’s our danger,  the danger we all live in when we choose to follow God.  The danger that Jesus lived in?  That’s our danger too.  Because following Christ is dangerous stuff.  It’s not just that your friends will scoff when you admit you go to church, though they may.  When I say dangerous, I mean dangerous.

A year or so ago, Shawn Fiedler, who was then one of the pastors on the staff of the Old South Church in Boston, started posting funny videos on Tik-Tok, videos that promoted the welcome of the UCC.  The videos made it clear we welcomed gay people, that we believed in using our minds, that, gasp, we had women as pastors… and people responded.  A lot of folks liked what he was saying.  A lot didn’t.  People used the internet to not just find out where he worked, but where he lived.  He started getting threatening messages.  His family, which does not live in the northeast, started getting threatening messages.  His husband got harassing messages at his job.  Eventually, Shawn shut down his TikTok account.  I don’t know if it’s connected, but he’s now working in fund-raising, for a big church in Chicago.  Maybe he’ll do ministry again; I hope so, he’s one of the most gifted leaders I know.  But standing up for Jesus… it put him, and his family, in danger.  It made him sick.  It made him stop.

Churches are being attacked for sponsoring drag gospel breakfasts and drag library events.  The Loomis Basin UCC in California is being attacked for their support of LGBTQetc people.  They’ve had to stop having in-person worship because it wasn’t safe to be on their property.  

It’s not safe to follow Jesus.  But it’s a good thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.  

One of the questions I’ve been asked the most often throughout my years as a minister is “why does God allow these things to happen?”  You can major in this in seminary – in the study of evil, why it exists, and all that. 

Personally, I’m no big fan of the philosophical answer – that if there were no evil, there would be no good; the theory is something like this:  you need contrast in order to recognize good, better, worse, and so on.  I don’t think the logic of the answer deals adequately with the pain of the reality of evil.  And I am not going to say that the evil of killing trans people exists only so that we can appreciate the good of our world.  

And saying that, well, stuff happens, that can sound like I’ve given up.  Jesus died, well, what did you expect?  The Romans did that sort of thing.  That’s a path that makes it “just one of those things” and robs the life affected of any meaning at all.

Maybe my answer is too simplistic as well, but here’s where I end up – the world was created with the capacity to choose.  That’s it.  That’s the challenge God has placed before us.  God didn’t make it so we had to choose evil.  God made it so we could choose to be good.  

We tell that story in Genesis, framing it as Adam and Eve’s choice to eat an apple…. and then we worry about what kind of apple it was, or if it was an apple at all – when the story is really about the freedom to choose.

Sometimes the choices God places before us seem innocuous – but that’s rarely true.  Sure, some choices are ethically meaningless – shall I have this kind of apple or that kind of apple.  But God’s choices are never ethically meaningless, even as they can be very dangerous.

Do you know these names?  James Chaney?  Andrew Goodman?  Michael Schwermer?  Do you know Jonathan Myrick Daniels?   Eric Liddell?  Dietrich Bonhoeffer?  

Each and every one of those people made choices which put their lives in danger, ethical choices, not always because of their faith, but always because they had a clear vision of what was right and what was not.  They chose to step into danger because it was the right thing to do; they chose to stand up against evil.  They chose to stand up for good.  And each of them died because of their choice.

Cheney, Goodman and Schwermer were murdered in Philadelphia, MS, while working for racial integration. And Jonathan Myrick Daniels was a Episcopal seminarian who died in 1965 protecting Ruby Sales, from a shotgun attack by a county deputy in Alabama,  

Eric Liddell, the runner about whom the movie Chariots of Fire was made, died in a Japanese internment camp during World War 2.  He had chosen to remain in China when the war came, knowing the danger.  Of him, the theologian Langdon Gilkey, who was in the camp with Liddell, wrote: “Often in an evening I would see him bent over a chessboard or a model boat, or directing some sort of square dance – absorbed, weary and interested, pouring all of himself into this effort to capture the imagination of these penned-up youths. He was overflowing with good humor and love for life, and with enthusiasm and charm. It is rare indeed that a person has the good fortune to meet a saint, but he came as close to it as anyone I have ever known.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer made the choice to fight Hitler, chose between being a traitor to his country or a traitor to his God, and was executed by the Nazis on April 9, 1945, just days before the liberation of his prison camp.  

Jesus stood up for what seemed right, and on that Palm Sunday, it was all fun and games, loud cheers and probably, a feast… but during that week, the reality of the choices Jesus had made, changed the atmosphere.  It’s way easier to cheer someone you think is going to smack down your enemies, especially if you think it might mean you’ll have more money, more power, more prestige. 

We’ll see, as we follow the events of the week, especially on Thursday evening at our Maundy Thursday service, how that worked out.  A lot of Jesus’ followers disappeared during that week

So, what can we take from all this?  Nasty stuff happens.  And how we respond matters.  If you’d been there, in Jerusalem, during that last week, how would you or I have responded?  If someone makes a nasty crack about trans people, where will you be?  The right wing is saying that the Nashville killer was trans and that’s why they killed… trying to whip up fear of trans-people as potential murderers.  Will we stand with Jesus on this, or will we turn away, pretend we didn’t hear the slur, figure we don’t know anyone…. but, of course, we do.

The week starts with joy… but it ends with choices.  What will we choose?  Where do we stand?


© 2023, Virginia H. Child