Sermon 24 September 2023
Prayers from 24 September 2023
Jonah 3:10 – 4:11 / They and Inclusion and Transgender / Jonah’s Anger at the Lord’s Compassion
They. They? Them? He/him/his. She/her/hers. They/them/their. They IS.
What is your pronoun? What do you identify as? Of course I identify as…Latino. What you don’t see it? Give it some time. Would a holy man lie to you?
They say that there is a war raging. A culture war of defining transgender rights, a war in which many people feel cost the last First Minister her job in the end. One of the most able in her generation of Scottish politicians.
- A trans killer who identifies as a baby and demands infant food and dummies has been moved to an all-male jail after several years at a women’s prison. Sophie Eastwood – who was born Daniel – is serving a life sentence after strangling cellmate Paul Algie, 22, with shoelaces at Dumfries Young Offenders Institute in Scotland.
- Lia Catherine Thomas (born 1999) as William Thomas is an American swimmer. She competed on the women’s swim team at the University of Pennsylvania from 2021 to 2022 and became the first openly transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I national championship with her victory in the 2022 500-yard freestyle event.
Are there challenges? Most definitely. Big challenges and these are nuanced conversations we need to have. For example, there is no doubt that men transitioning into women sports has directly challenged the very core of women’s rights. For example, what are the real implication of, say, a UFC fight (Ultimate Fighting Championship). The all-out beat down? These are questions we must ask, to be sure.
Having acknowledged these massive challenges, let me state here on record that I use the gender one claims as their/her/his own for at least 2 reasons.
FIRST, I think it is discourteous to do otherwise. One must mind one’s manners. Why go out of your way to be a jerk? My father believes that manners have a civilizing nature for a man to fight off his worst impulses.
SECOND, and to be clear. It is not a form of pandering or humouring another’s “wild fantasies” of self-identity that I do so. No. I do so because to go to the very heart of this new development is to step into the universal human condition.
It goes to the very heart of what Jesus Christ says: that we can love completely without complete understanding. And I confess, that at 46 I do not understand these young people. But I can try to love them. Because I am a servant of Christ. Also because I too was a teenager once, so they tell me, although I am convinced I was born into this world as a middle aged man. That is to say I came into the world as an already perfectly formed Tory. My first words were Margaret Thatcher. Kidding. We are having some fun here.
Who here really knew who they were in their teenage years? I think it was a confusing time for all of us. Coming into being, as it were. Trying to figure things out. Who we wanted to be. Trying to find our voice. Trying to find our place in this world. That quest was sometimes defined by the sort of music we listened to. May be that was the season you discovered Leonard Cohen or Deacon Blue or Del Amitri or the Beatles.
We were RIDDLED with doubt. Even the very popular ones or the athletes. Especially they. You must believe me when I say this to you. They had far more insecurities than the mere mortal because they had so much more to lose and because they sensed that theirs had a shelf life being IT girl or IT boy would all come crashing to an END when high school ended..
Peaked in high school. How do I know? Because you and I have seen it. It is really a pity to see a life that has peaked so early. It does not turn out well usually because those who have peaked in high school did not cultivate and develop other parts of their selves.
But if it is not a gross impertinence, I can partially understand the present situation through the prism of my own existence. My 2 passports say USA and UK. Dual Citizen. But I am Korean by ethnicity. But the Koreans do not want me because I am too much Anglo-American. The Americans do not want me because I am too British. The British do not want me because I am too much of a Yankee. You see how that works?
I need to be wanted. I want to be accepted. How about you?
The task set before the minister is to think with the heart and feel with the head. Actually that is our shared task.
So all those out there who have claimed a certain identity, I want to say: You be You and I’ll be me. Incidentally lyrics from James Bay’s touching song Let It Go.
Koluo. The gospel writers love that word. Especially Luke and Mark. Koluo. It’s the Greek word for HINDER.
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
Koluo. Don’t Koluo. Don’t Hinder.
There is a story about a prophet who was VERY angry who was sent to Nineveh, that ancient and grand and glorious and idolatrous and violent capitol of Assyria. God was angry at Nineveh but God cared for Nineveh too. God’s love is like that. It knows no limits. So he looked around for a prophet to go and speak to Nineveh and found the son of Amittai, Jonah, an Israelite. And God said to Jonah ” Let the Ninevites come to me, and do not HINDER them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. And Jonah said, “The heck you say. God, how high are you right now? These Ninevites have been attacking and pillaging and murdering your servants the Israelites for centuries. They are the OTHER. They are our enemies.
You do remember Jonah don’t you? I know. You don’t have to tell me. We all have our limits. So I get where Jonah is coming from.
But who was Jonah to Koluo God?
And so from the Tigris he went down to the great sea and he went to the port of Joppa, paid his fare as Herman Melville (the author of the other book about the Big whale) says, “with slouched hat and guilty he skulked on board.”
But who are we to hinder God?
After his own whale episode Jonah preached there on the bank of Tigris, 200 miles north of Baghdad. He preached, not expecting anybody to listen, but they did and there was a national repenting. The city was in sack cloth and ashes and praying to God and even the cattle repented. And there was a great reformation and God repented (yes, that is the Hebrew word in the Old Testament repented) and said, “I will not destroy the city.”
Jonah was angry as heck. Jonah did not plan it this way and he said to God, “Now do you see why I didn’t want to come here in the first place? I knew you were a God of tremendous mercy, abounding love, steadfast grace, and willing to repent from punishment, I knew you would do this.” Now, what’s the matter with Jonah?
Lest you think this story is just a quaint story from ancient Israel, let me remind you how Luke in the New Testament loves the character Jonah. Luke tells us the story about a man named Simon, Simon Peter Bar Jonah. Translated, Simon Peter Son of John. In Matthew 16:17 Jesus says to Peter “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!”, meaning Simon son of Jonah. John and Jonah are both derived from the Hebrew name Yohanan. But the name means one thing: God is gracious.
It says in the Bible that reluctantly, with reluctance of the first Jonah, Simon Bar-Jonah left his Joppa residence and went to Caesarea and in the house of an Italian military man (once known as the Romans), as foreign and unforgiveable as you can get, having persecuted, extorted, murdered, crucified the Israelites on their own land. But there the Holy Spirit fell.
Simon Bar-Jonah looked around and said, “Well, looks like God accepts and forgives these tyrants!” And then he said, “Can anybody here hinder these people being baptised?” And there was silence and they were baptised. Can anyone hinder it? Can anyone here koluo? asked Simon Peter Bar-Jonah and nobody spoke up. Not a word. No Koluo. And they baptised these Italian military people at Caesarea.
Can anyone hinder? The mothers were bringing their children and they were listening to Jesus but apparently the children were a disturbance so the 12 Apostles came in and said, “Get these kids out of here. We’re trying to have some Kingdom time, Can’t you see.”
And Jesus said, “Permit the children to come and don’t koluo the children, for of such is the kingdom.” They said, “What? They can’t even take care of themselves, they can’t sing in the choir, they can’t teach, they can’t serve the tea and coffee, they can’t participate in the liturgy. They’re a burden. You mean to say that people like that belong in the kingdom?” And Jesus said, “Yes.” NO KOLUO.
Can anyone hinder?
Maybe we are seeing here the great difference between God and ourselves. We all have our limits. I know. We all have our limits. God knows, we all have our limits.
We can attempt to separate ourselves from God, but Jesus implies here God does not separate from us. We can come to the limits of our ability to love and to persevere in love with others. But God does not come to the same limits.
No, no, no I can’t come to church. I am too ashamed about who I am. I keep messing up. It would not be right to keep on asking for forgiveness. I do not deserve forgiveness. How can I keep on asking for God’s forgiveness when I know I will screw up again.
The Church does not accept people like me. They are ANTI-THEY
Perhaps you have been there. At the very limits of yourself, your life and what you can endure. But God does not have limits. In spite of himself God sends us the Son. Who are we to Koluo God. Who are we to hinder?
Let me say it one more time: There is nothing, nothing we can do in our lives or have done in our lives that can ever separate us from God’s great love because failure is an event, never a person. Notice the difference between what happens when a man says to himself, “I have failed three times,” and what happens when he says, “I am a failure.” Guilt is what we feel as a result of what we have done. But shame is what we think we “are”. But it says in the Good Book, “For there is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus. “
God’s love never runs out. There is always enough for everybody. FOR EVERYBODY. FOR ALL IDENTITIES. For Them. They is loved too. It sounds too good to be TRUE. It sounds utterly INSANE, but who am I to koluo God?
It is a lifelong task to say why you follow Christ. HE/HIM/HIS. They IS. I want to be wanted. How about you?
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God.
Rev Sang Yoon Cha
24 September 2023
Prayer of Approach
Liberating God, we worship you. We praise you for delivering your people of old from enslavement in Egypt by opening up a new and unexpected future before them. They experienced your grace and mercy in awesome and life-sustaining ways which must have been like an impossible dream coming true. Through these acts you showed your compassion for the weak and powerless of this world.
We praise and adore you for opening up a new future for us when your love and compassion, your mercy and grace became enfleshed in Jesus Christ. He delivered us from the bondage of evil and sin through his death on the cross. The impossible once more became reality when love defeated evil once and for all.
We pray that this time of worship will be a true offering of our wonder and praise that you should care for us so deeply and so faithfully.
Prayer of Confession
As we stand before God, we think of all the ways we bicker with others, all those times we have not shown mercy and grace to those around us. Let us bow our hearts and confess our sin to God. It is never easy for us to confess but deep down inside, we know that we have trouble being grace-full to others; we are eager to judge and punish all who hurt us; we find ways to put restrictions on people we fear.
Forgive us, Servant God. You show mercy more often than we deserve; you pardon us more times than we can count.
And why? Because we are the Lord’s.
God’s hand of mercy is stretched out to us, making a NEW PATH through all that threatens us- to touch us with grace and hope.
We stand before our God, singing praise to the One who turns our despair into joy, our fears into faith. Your sins are forgiven.
Let us now pray the family prayer that the Lord taught us…
The Lord’s Prayer
Our father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name; Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done. On earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors; And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, And the power, And the glory, Forever. Amen.
Prayers of Intercession
Let us pray to our merciful God that we his people who have experienced his forgiveness may bring the joy of reconciliation to the world.
– For the Church, the people set free by the blood of Christ, that we may not be divided in factions but live together in tolerance and peace.
– For all Christian Churches, long divided by grudges and pride, that we may be brought together in the unity of one gospel and one love of Christ
– For those who are committed to causes of justice and human liberation, that they may not only accuse and protest but also recognize and uproot sin in their own hearts
– For married couples who live side by side without much love and without communicating, that they may come to forgive, to understand and to appreciate one another again.
– And for us gathered here, people with our failures and foibles, that we may learn from the Lord to be merciful as he has been to us, that we may forgive one another from the heart.
Lord, you are so good that all our evil becomes like nothing. Let us, little and frail people, speak to each other your words and deeds of forgiving love, on account of Jesus Christ our Lord.