Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sermon on Matthew 18.21-35

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
September 17, 2017
St. Joseph-St. John, Tacoma
Pentecost+15; Proper 19, A
Matthew 18.21-35

When I was 21 or so,
            I had a disagreement with my youngest brother
                        over some chores Mom had asked us to do.
We went to our mother for adjudication,
            as children are wont to do.
My brother is six years my junior,
            and in the course of presenting our cases —
                        the 21-year-old and the fifteen-year-old —
                                    Andrew said,
                                                “Well, he’ll just go to the mall
and make me cut the grass.”
Andrew has never been known
for his segues in conversation
            but he was referencing something specific.
Some time when I was 17 and had needed to run errands
            I directed him to cut the grass
                        a task that usually fell to me.
Four years later he
was bringing it up in another disagreement.
This was not the first time.
I looked at him and said what my mother had said to him before
            and what she’d said to me countless times
                        and what she’d said to her teachers when she was a principal:
                                    Take a deep breath….and let it go.

For the second week in a row,
            we have a passage from Matthew’s Gospel
                        where Jesus is telling his followers
                                    how to act in community,
                                                how to act as church.
I hope that as we begin our new time together as community
            we remember Jesus’ teachings
                        both last week and this.
Last week, if you remember,
            Jesus told us to confront those who wrong us.
If they don’t repent and seek reconciliation,
            Jesus tells us to take members of the church with us
                        and explain our hurt again.
If they still don’t repent and seek reconciliation,
            Jesus tells us to take not just members of the whole church with us
                        but to bring the issue to the entire church.
If they still don’t repent and seek reconciliation,
            Jesus told us that parting ways,
                        breaking relationship,
                                    would sometimes be necessary.

This week Jesus forces us to deal with
            the fact that sometimes
                        hurts last a long time.
Peter asks how many times
            he has to forgive someone.
Peter doesn’t ask about how many times
hurtful people should apologize
but rather how many times he should
let the feelings of hurt go
            after the apology.
Peter thinks he’s being generous by suggesting seven.
Jesus says that’s not even close.

Jesus expects Peter — and us —
to forgive those who hurt us 77 times.
            You may remember it as “70 times seven.”
Peter is looking for a rule,
            something to check off as a box
                        and be finished.
Jesus expects there to be no limits to our forgiveness,
            no boundaries on how many times
                        we’re willing to let go of the hurt.
Jesus expects us to always be open to reconciliation,
            and tells us there will be set number of times
                        before we’re finished forgiving.
He knows that we may feel those stabs of pain
from past wrongs
over and over again.
Jesus know that pains from wrongs linger.
He expects us to acknowledge the pain,
to notice it,
to take a deep breath….
            and let it go.
He expects this teaching
to stick around for a while, too.
Specifically, forever, and to be a core part
of living the Christian life:
            abundant, limitless forgiveness.
That’s what the story about
            the forgiving master — God
                        and the unforgiving servant — us
                                    is about.
Our actions of forgiveness
            or refusing to let go of hurt
                        have impacts on us forever.

Some of you have been making church here
            for decades.
Some of you have been making church here
            for just a few weeks.
Brandon and I are new here.
There’s been a lot of time
            to celebrate growth
or new calls
or new births
or new marriages.
There’s been a lot of time
            for hurts to build and fester
                        even after people have apologized.
There’s been a lot of time
            for hurts to build and fester
                        when people haven’t apologized,
perhaps because they don’t know
how they’ve wronged someone else.
There’s a lot of time
            for hurts to build and fester
                        because I’m new here.
I don’t know everything there is to know.
I will make mistakes.
You will make mistakes.

We’ll all make mistakes,
            and hopefully we’ll all
keep coming back to this Table.
We’ll all make mistakes,
            and I hope we can learn together
                        how to be St. Joseph-St. John
                                    in new incarnations.
We’ll all make mistakes,
            and I promise that I will seek your forgiveness,
                        offer you mine,
                                    and assure you of God’s forgives
                                    and God’s love.

As we begin our time together as church and community,
            I bid you to evaluate your hurts,
                        think on giving and receiving forgiveness,
                                    and look forward to what’s new.
I’ll be using the words of the Exhortation
            found on Page 316
of the Book of Common Prayer.
Re-read it in the silence before the General Confession.   

Beloved in the Lord:
Our Savior Christ, on the night before he suffered,
instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood
as a sign and pledge of his love,
for the continual remembrance of the sacrifice of his death,
and for a spiritual sharing in his risen life.
For in these holy Mysteries
we are made one with Christ,
and Christ with us;
we are made one body in him,
and members one of another.
Having in mind, therefore, his great love for us,
and in obedience to his command,
his Church renders to Almighty God our heavenly Father
never-ending thanks for the creation of the world,
for his continual providence over us,
for his love for all [humanity],
and for the redemption of the world by our Savior Christ,
who took upon himself our flesh,
and humbled himself even to death on the cross,
that he might make us the children of God
by the power of the Holy Spirit,
and exalt us to everlasting life.
But if we are to share rightly in the celebration
of those holy Mysteries, and be nourished by that spiritual Food,
we must remember the dignity of that holy Sacrament.
I therefore call upon you to consider how Saint Paul
exhorts all persons to prepare themselves carefully
before eating of that Bread and drinking of that Cup.
For, as the benefit is great,
if with penitent hearts and living faith
we receive the holy Sacrament,
so is the danger great, if we receive it improperly,
not recognizing the Lord’s Body.
Judge yourselves, therefore, lest you be judged by the Lord.
Examine your lives and conduct
by the rule of God’s commandments,
that you may perceive wherein you have offended
in what you have done or left undone,
whether in thought, word, or deed.
And acknowledge your sins before Almighty God,
with full purpose of amendment of life,
being ready to make restitution
for all injuries and wrongs done by you to others;
and also being ready to forgive those who have offended you,
in order that you yourselves may be forgiven.
And then, being reconciled with one another,
come to the banquet of that most heavenly Food.
And if, in your preparation, you need help and counsel,
then go and open your grief
to a discreet and understanding priest,
and confess your sins,
that you may receive the benefit of absolution,
and spiritual counsel and advice;
to the removal of scruple and doubt,
the assurance of pardon,
and the strengthening of your faith.
To Christ our Lord who loves us,
and washed us in his own blood,
and made us a kingdom of priests to serve his God and Father,
to him be glory in the Church evermore.
Through him let us offer continually the sacrifice of praise,
which is our bounden duty and service,
and, with faith in him, come boldly before the throne of grace.

I am here to make Church with you,

            and I look forward to all the ways we will live in community together.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Pride — or Not letting the bastards get me down

In the fifth grade, I was taunted by sixth graders for having "tight pants." It was a very thinly veiled suggestion that I was a faggot. I cried myself to sleep sometimes over it. I distinctly remember how kind John David was, despite his classmates' meanness — and our friendship continues to this day.

Some time before my mother remarried, I remember I was cutting the grass and reflecting on something I'd heard on the Rush Limbaugh show. Maybe it was just after my first trip to DC, a trip that coincided with DC Pride, a trip where my group ever-so-briefly encounter the Pride parade. I remember cutting the grass and thinking, "What they are is disgusting. What do they have to be proud of?"

In the seventh grade I started identifying — secretly, in online chat rooms — as "curious." I was "curious," but I knew that I couldn't be gay; I was a Christian.

In the ninth grade — on a band trip to Orlando — I wondered aloud to some friends if perhaps homophobic taunting early in childhood actually led to one being gay: did the tormenters speak the truth into existence? I also read CS Lewis' Surprised by joy where he comments about same-sex relationships in his boarding school simply by saying, "I will not indulge in futile philippics against enemies I never met in battle." In the ninth grade I also reconnected with Trey, a childhood idol who in the course of our friendship told me he was gay.

In the tenth grade I prayed crying on my face on the floor that my gay feelings would go away, and that my friend's would too. I hadn't prayed like that since the height of my parents' fighting, praying that they would stop the fighting without getting a divorce. Part of my hoping for my feelings to go away was some indiscretion in what I shared, and my being outed to the band — but no farther, and with need for deep protestation on my part. I met my first out peer at the end of sophomore year — he was the first of my peers to tell me he's HIV+.

In the eleventh grade I started dating Trey, if only for a few months and with basically two states between us. My mom found out, I broke up with him, and started identifying as ex-gay. I never did camps or counseling, but read the material and tried to internalize it. I let friends know that queerness wasn't a choice and gave them just enough to trust me without arguing. I also referred them to Lewis when they decided they needed to get on a soap box.

The summer after eleventh grade I went to a summer study program at a private university in Virginia. When walking back to my dorm in a costume (less clothing than more — I was 16), some undergraduate men who happened to drive by shouted "Faggot!" at me.

In twelfth grade I threw myself into work and school, doing my best to get out of the South for college, eventually failing. I didn't deal with my self, loved the easy answers of John Eldredge and Wild at heart, and my psychological health suffered.


My first week of college John asked me out — but refused to date me secretly. I was torn between what I felt and wanted, how I understood Scripture, and the explicit words of the Book of Discipline. I met my now husband in a Yahoo! chat room, had people close to me in my spiritual life come out to me, and started to know queer people of faith. As a freshman I was the co-founding president of a Gay-Straight Alliance, identifying as straight at the time...and causing friction among my immediate family. I fell in love with a man for the first time, but I just thought we were really good friends. He broke my heart when he moved on.

Sophomore year everything changed. I encountered future United Methodist leaders who supported queer inclusion — even thought I wasn't yet being honest with myself, I knew I wouldn't be alone. At long last, I realized that I had a crush. I didn't just want to be his close friend — I wanted whoever had written "What a hottie!" on my rear windshield to be Jake. I had come out to myself, for real, with much less shame, and no expectation of changing or even trying. I read Scripture without foregone conclusions of what it said, and let the Spirit speak.

The summer after sophomore year I dated Mark for a few weeks. I came out to God and had an epiphanic moment. Rather than the resurrected Christ appearing to me like on the road to Damascus, God the Creator basically thumped me on the head as I prayed and said, "Duh. That's how I fearfully and wonderfully you, knitting you together in your mother's womb." That summer my mother asked me if I was gay and I told her no, unwilling and unready to deal with the impending fall out.

The summer after sophomore year I broke up with Mark because I realized I was (and am!) in love with Brandon.

My junior year I bought For the Bible Tells Me So and watched it at least fifteen times: usually with people who hadn't seen it and were looking to reconcile their faith and sexuality...or at least were desperate for a different voice. Junior year I joined The Episcopal Church, even though I hid my sexuality from those in my process until after I'd been ordained. I saw Milk and started to learn the stories of my people. At the end of my junior year I came out to my mother, and it did not go well.

I don't remember specifics like all of that about senior year. I came out on Facebook (a big deal in 2008) on October 11, National Coming Out Day. I started answering Facebook messages from people I hadn't heard from in years asking about God and the Gay. I shouldered intensive emails from people who'd never met but were critical of my working for the Wesley Foundation.

College also included RENT and Brokeback Mountain. It was that James Corden Carpool Karaoke with Broadway stars. I misstepped at my graduation torn between my boyfriend and my mother, just wanting everyone to get along, not fight or completely ignore one another. I read Susan Russell and Elizabeth Kaeton. I went to the Integrity Eucharist at the 2009 General Convention.


In the way that sophomore year changed everything, so did moving to New York and going to seminary. I found out that someone had said, "If he thinks he's gay now, just wait until he gets to Chelsea." For the first time I didn't have to worry what might get back to my Board of Ordained Ministry or Commission on Ministry. I'd long since promised to not lie if someone asked me if I was gay, but I stopped worrying that someone would suspect or find out without my having told them.

I stopped worrying about controlling the narrative through silence and instead let the narrative unfold around me as I lived my life. I had found what there was to be proud of.

I met gay men, studying to be priests like me, who ranged from my age to their 60s completely comfortable who they were. I watched the old PBS documentaries Before Stonewall and After Stonewall. I saw Paris is Burning. I had a support network tell me about throwing all their things in their cars when their parents reacted negatively to their coming out, getting on I65, and just driving north. I had a support network tell me about coming out late in life because they just couldn't stay quiet anymore. I had a support network tell me about their three different commitment services, each getting more Christian and less neopagan.

I ran into friends from my neighborhood at Stonewall Inn the way I'd run into people in my home town at the grocery store. I made friends with queerfolk associated with the church and not. I marched in the Paris Pride Parade the same day that the New York legislature passed marriage equality. I closed down bars in Hells Kitchen and the West Village, and made it to chapel on time — mostly. I got engaged.

In seminary in New York I learned a lot about God: in church history, as God has revealed Godself through scriptures, God made incarnate in the person of Jesus, and God in whose image we are all created. In seminary in New York I answered cutting-the-grass-me's question.


What am I, what are we proud of? Being ourselves — not being scared or ashamed of who we are, not being afraid in the face and wake of systems that have told us and tell us we should be afraid, we cannot be ourselves, and we should be out of sigh, out of mind, and in the closet. We can be who we are because Harvey Milk recruited us to break down the myths and distortions for our sakes and everyone else's sakes — and he took a bullet for it. We can be who we are because trans* people of color stood up to police harassment.

The attack in Orlando yesterday morning is jarring. Someone who appears to have had accounts on gay networks killed 49 people at a gay club. This is especially jarring a year after marriage equality went into effect nationwide, and in June — Pride month. There have been posts noting how this attack was a violation of sanctuary. I'm consistently finding myself fewer and fewer degrees from people who died in the attack or lost friends in the attack.

We all grieve in different ways, and we all react to shocking tragedy in different ways. Yesterday I went to church then went to two soccer games before watching the Tonys. I actively avoided the 24-hour news cycle because new theories every 5-15 minutes don't give me information, and because I can't do anything about what happened there other than to join in lamentation.

What I can and will do, however — particularly if two men kissing is what got the gunman all riled up to begin with — is not let the bastards get me down, not be afraid, and be as proud as I can. I stand on shoulders of people who haven't been afraid, and I stand in the shadow of people who taught me not to be afraid.

I can work to expose hypocrisy of Christian politicians who enable homophobia through their legislative actions and then blame Islam for yesterday's attack. I can lobby and advocate for better gun laws and invite others to do the same. I can work so that it's not easier to get a gun than it is for same-sex spouses and partners to donate blood to their loved ones in need. I can work for reconciliation between me and my neighbors and let people know that granting real forgiveness takes time — and that that's okay.

What I think I can do that is most effective, though, is just continuing to be me: To keep showing pride, to keep watching the Tonys with gay friends, to keep closing down bars dancing from time to time, and to not be afraid.

Yesterday's shooting was a tragedy. We have 49 more names to add to the list of those who have died for being who they are, from Harvey Milk to Papi Edwards, Lamie Beard, and Ty Underwood. Time and again they try to scare us back into the close and back into our place...and time and again I and we refuse.

Be proud. Don't let the bastards get you down. Keep working for justice — and not for just us. We've come this far, but have so much farther to go.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Midday Sermon for June 22, 2015

I don't usually write manuscripts for my midday homilies at Grace Cathedral, but to get my words closer to where they needed to be, I did today. Here it is.

Matthew 5.1-7

For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?

Very often part of this gospel passage is quoted as a way to encourage having grace. I support that.

Sometimes this passage is quoted as a way for not having to do an evaluation, a measuring of actions compared to values. I do not in the least support that.

Note that Jesus doesn’t only say not to judge. No, he says to first and foremost start by judging ourselves, to wonder what we’re doing well and what we’re failing to do.

By now we’ve probably already heard about the white supremacist, terrorist massacre that took place in an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC last week.

By now we may’ve already heard a sermon about the event, read some articles about it.

By now we may be wish that we could just move on, could get over it, could stop talking about it.

Do we, beloved, notice the logs in our own eyes?

On June 18, the day after the murders, Charles Pierce, writing for Esquire said,

“We should speak of it often. We should speak of it loudly. We should speak of it as terrorism, which is what it was…It is not an isolated incident, not if you consider history as something alive…Think about what happened. Think about why it happened. Talk about what happened. Talk about why it happened…The country must resist the temptation present in anesthetic innocence…

“If people do not want to speak of it, or think about it, it’s because they do not want to follow the story where it inevitably leads. It’s because hey do not want to follow this crime all the way back to the mother of all American crimes, the one that Denmark Vesey gave his life to avenge [slavery].”

We may be tempted to say — as I know many close friends and family are — “I didn’t own slaves. I had nothing to do with that,” but that is to ignore the status quo of how black people are treated in the United States.

On twitter, @LeftSentThis offers this list of rules for Black people: No hoodies. No toy guns. No breathing. No listening to music at a gas station. No asking for help after a car accident. No praying at church.

Those are all actions and behaviors that have led to Black people being killed by agents of the state, vigilantes, and people who just don’t like Black people. We are here, gathered around Word and Sacrament, not fearing for our lives because of the color of our skin. Dylan Roof violated the safe place of Church, a specific church that inspired and gave hope to Black people freed from slavery and still under the thumb of white oppressors in the 19th Century.

Jesus the Christ directs us to not judge others for we will be judged according to the standard we use — and then he challenges us to use a standard for ourselves. As Episcopalians we have vowed to strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being. Today, every day, and especially in light of one more attack against Black people based on the color of their skins.

Jesus is nudging, pushing, shouting for me to ask myself, “Why have I marched at Pride, and picketed at immigration court, but only tweeted that black lives matter? Why haven’t I taken to the streets for my sisters and brothers with darker skin?”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

But our silences and our wonderings and our inactions are not the end of our stories beloved. I exhort you, as Paul exhorted those he wrote to not lose heart or feel this is too much, that we cannot make a difference individually, that death — particularly senseless deaths of Black people — is the status quo, to never change.

We have come through Christ’s death, and we have been joined to his resurrection in the font where we promised not only to strive for justice and peace, but to continue in the breaking of the bread. We came through the water and come to the table not only for solace, but also for strength; not just for renewal, but for pardon of our sin.

When we leave this place, we’ll go out to do the work we’ve been given to do, and we’ve got a lot of work to do. God will not hold us guiltless for our silence and inaction, but the Spirit empowers us to do the work that Jesus the Christ calls us to do.

Let us not judge others, lest we be judged, but let us look for the planks in our own eyes, our own actions and inactions that blind us.