November 20: The Last Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for November 20, 2022 was preached based on the manuscript below as a response to Luke 23.33-43.

Words matter.
As we gathered last night
for Transgender Day of Remembrance
Mother Carla reminded us the importance of names
and people knowing and claiming their names.
We read the names
of 30 trans people killed this year in our country
from January 1 through the end of October.
We remembered their lives
and refused to let them be erased
to be unnamed.
We also remembered
the staggering number of of anti-LGBT+ bills
filed in state houses across the country.
More queer people ran for and were elected to office
than any time before,
but the words against us are out there.
They’re out there
and they’re loud.
Words matter.

A few hours later
coinciding with Transgender Day of Remembrance
and at a drag show
Anderson Lee Aldrich
a 22 year old who was arrested last year
in connection with a bomb threat
walked in to Club Q in Colorado Springs
and opened fire.
Preliminary reports,
from early, early this morning
were five dead and 18 injured from the shooting.
This morning’s press conference
didn’t have updated numbers
but noted more victims
have driven themselves to hospitals
and that some of the injured
are in critical condition.
That was clarified to mean
Following the trend of accusing
gay men of inherently being predatory
and the recent spike in accusations
that queer people are grooming children for abuse
by wanting them to be comfortable with themselves
and safe in their environments
the notorious troll twitter account
libs of Tiktok tweeted this morning
name-checked two Colorado elected officials
and an organization that helps kids play dress up
and learn skills for performing
the art of drag.
Words matter.

As we hear in Luke today
the tiniest excerpt of what we heard on Passion Sunday
words matter – from everyone who speaks.
We didn’t hear the triumphal entry
or hear about the trials
or scourging.
We jump right in today.
We’re at Golgatha,
the place of the skull,
and Jesus as criminals on each side.
He’s the first to speak.
“Father, forgive them;
for they do not know what they are doing,”
Jesus pleads,
continuing the theme of God’s forgiveness
that’s been getting Jesus in trouble
the entire gospel.

Leaders deride him,
challenging his call and claim.
“He saved others;
let him save himself
if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!”
The soldiers mock him,
offering him vinegar to drink
and echoing the temptations we heard
on the First Sunday in Lent.
“If you are the king of the Jews,
save yourself!”
One of his companions on a cross
echoes this taunting.
“Are you not the Messiah?
Save yourself and us!”
The speakers have gone from
ridiculing his claim to save others
to demanding proof of his claims
by saving himself
to wanting a sign of Jesus saving himself
but getting in on the salvation themselves.
Meanwhile the crowds
who have followed him and hung on every word
who are under the thumb of an occupying empire
stand silent and bear witness to the events.
Meanwhile Jesus
doesn’t answer
any of their taunts, ridicules, or derision.
Words – and silence –

An inscription hung over Jesus’ head
“This is the King of the Jews.”
Today’s feast is known by a lot of names
but principally, ecumenically it’s called
Christ the King Sunday.
In this short, direct, stirring passage from Luke
the church gives us not so much a vision
for the Reign of Christ in all its justice
but the love, mercy, and empathy
of Christ the King.
After Jesus is taunted by one criminal,
the other criminal rebukes the first.
“We are getting what we deserve for our deeds,
but this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then he asks Jesus,
from his own place of guilt
to the man who has done nothing wrong,
“Jesus, remember me,
when you come into your kingdom.”
Words matter.

Jesus, who will not save himself,
because he is giving himself up
for the salvation of the cosmos
tells this man,
“Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Just after this,
Jesus dies.
Throughout his earthly ministry
Jesus has had opportunities
to make shows of force
and to claim and win the world around him
as God’s by taking over
and fighting a war.
Instead he’s said
“He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus has said,
“Love your enemies;
do good to those who hate you;
bless those who curse you;
pray for those who mistreat you.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek,
offer the other also,
and from anyone who takes away your coat
do not withhold even your shirt.
Give to everyone who asks of you,
and if anyone takes away what is yours,
do not ask for it back again.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Words matter.

There’s a lot we don’t know yet
about Anderson Lee Aldrich,
but we know the culture that surrounds us
that we’re swimming in
that we breathe in and out.
We know that White Christian Nationalism
is on the rise,
and people are happy to claim that title.
They’re tired of losing
and willing to deride, taunt, and ridicule
their enemies
or those they would paint as their enemies
maybe for the lolz, maybe for the clicks,
and sometimes with and for the violence.
That’s a hard and scary place to be
as we see how Jesus
mocked as “The King of the Jews”
embodies and lives that kingliness.
except to promise salvation.
That’s a hard and scary place to be
as we work in good faith
trying to emulate Jesus
while they claim his name
and act and speak so differently than he did.
Words matter.

The words that we’ll say today
are words of comfort and hope.
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.
Jesus’ coming again
when all things are made well
is not a king coming by force
and taking over as a new empire.
Jesus’ coming again
is love conquering all.
The Reign of Christ –
made possible only
through God’s divine acts
and God’s ultimate goodness –
is Jesus’ love for humanity and creation
ignoring taunts
to offer salvation.
Words matter.

There’s no perfect thing to say today
on the actual Transgender Day of Remembrance
the morning after Club Q was attacked.
The Christian story, however,
is that this is not the end.
The Christian story is
that in Jesus’ death and resurrection
sin, death, and evil have been defeated.
It is right and natural
to grieve and mourn.
It’s important to remember that our story
is one that gives hope.
In the midst of our shock and awe,
our pain and sorrow
we tell the story of Jesus.
Words – and stories – matter. Amen.

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