This is my 2nd sermon that I have given in Beyond the Walls. You can watch the recording of it here.
Introduction; Support and Safety
2020 was a harrowing year for all of us. Many of us lost jobs, homes, and our sense of safety. My 2020 was a year of highs and lows. My wife and I got married at the end of February in a beautiful ceremony surrounded by many of our friends and family. It was like a fairy tale and a day I will never forget. However, just a couple of weeks later we moved in with my mother-in-law who was dying of cancer. Together, the 3 of us watched as the world fell apart while our own personal worlds also fell apart.
During this time I was so stressed out, and had very few places where I could express how I was feeling and have people help me through it. It was overwhelming. However, there were a couple of places that I was able to find that sanctuary that I desperately needed. Twice a month the “Forward With Community” congregation hosted zoom meet ups, and we were able to talk about what was going on in our lives. It was lovely being able to talk to the same folks week-after-week and forge friendships with them. I talked about what was going on in my life and what was going on in theirs. I also found that the Beyond The Walls congregation was eager to start meetups like this as well, and so I committed to running a discussion group every Thursday.
In Doctrine and Covenants section 163 verse 8 we are counseled to become a sanctuary and a spiritual home for all nations, ethnicities, and life circumstances. We are to embody Christ’s peace by helping facilitate healing, reconciliation, peace, strengthening of faith, and learning. The people that I have met at these meetups have taken this counsel to heart. I was given support and love through that emotionally strenuous time in my life, and I have now and the privilege of helping others through similar experiences.
After my experiences over the last 2 years, I am now a firm believer in the benefits of preparing sanctuaries – communities – like the ones we have been building.
Community building has become such an important aspect of my life, that I wanted to try and express some of the benefits that being a part of one brings. I could speak for hours about each benefit, but I have been told that I only have a couple minutes to speak to you today, so I would like to touch on a total of 4 topics:
- Support and safety, which was the first benefit that I experienced and already talked to you about
- Influence and learning
- Sharing and caring
- Love and Acceptance
Influence and Learning
Communities are usually built around common interests, but are often far from homogeneous. There is an eastern parable that I love to tell, and I would like to relate it again to you today. It is called “The Blind Men and the Elephant”
A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: “We must inspect and understand it by touching it”. So, they sought it out and touched it.
The first man touched the trunk and said, “An elephant is like a thick snake”.
The second man touched its ear and said “An elephant is like a fan”.
The third man touched the leg and said “An elephant is like a tree truck”
The fourth man touched the side and said “An elephant is like a wall”
The fifth man touched the tusk and said, “An elephant is like a spear”.
This parable then has 2 endings:
In the first ending, the blind men are distrusting of each other and they all suspect the other of lying about their experiences. They argue amongst themselves until they end up in a fist fight over their different understandings.
In the second ending, the blind men stop talking and start listening to each other. They come to understand that all of them had a unique perspective on the same thing, and none of them were lying when they gave very different descriptions. Through this, they are able to piece together the information that they had and have a clearer understanding of something that they only knew a part of before.
Our communities often work in the same way. In Community of Christ, we celebrate “Unity in Diversity”. We recognize that there is a diversity of thought – we all have our hand touching different parts of the elephant. In our community we have decided that we would rather learn from one another’s understanding instead imposing our own onto others.
This simple yet enduring principle creates communities which encourages people to be exactly the divine and valuable being that God created them to be. This then brings us to the next benefit:
Sharing and Caring
Simply, sharing and caring. There are a couple of different kinds of sharing that I’d like to talk about: wants and needs. I have a couple of examples of how members of my community have given both of these to me.
For those who know me, I am a huge fan of the history of the Restoration. I love learning about all the cousin sects, but especially have fallen in love with learning about the history of Community of Christ. As I dug further and further into history, I came to a point where I started reading the source code of our history, which are old Herald articles and Resolutions that we’ve written – sometimes over 150 years ago. Whenever I ran into a dead end in my historical research, I could ALWAYS count on 2 people to help me find the answer: Twila Rider and Rachel Killebrew. These women are unparalleled in leaving no stone unturned in regards to Community of Christ history, and I am thankful that they are willing to help look for the information that I want whenever I ask them.
Additionally, a community is willing to share to fulfill your needs. My estranged father passed away this past February. I held his hand as he took his last breath, and not even an hour later my community moved heaven and earth to take me to lunch. They shared their time and money with me to support me and let me grieve in one of the most harrowing moments of my life. I desperately needed the support that they were eager to give me. Additionally, John and Leandro from the Beyond the Walls congregation listened to me vent for hours to them that week. I am so thankful for all the care that my community gave to me in my time of need.
Love and Acceptance
The last benefit I would like to touch on today is love and acceptance.
Christ, the man that we call God, had an odd way of doing things. People were expecting the messiah to be a militaristic king, but instead we got a poor working class man. People were expecting only the most well-respected and pious to be His chosen, but instead He associated Himself with the outcast and marginalized. People were expecting someone who would convict, but instead He forgave. In short, Christ’s ministry was marked by unconditional love and acceptance to everyone who needed it.
Today we face many of the same challenges that Christ’s time did. Today, would Christ want our religious leaders to be presidents and prime ministers, or school teachers and retail workers? Today, would Christ be sitting in pews and bragging about how great His church is, or would He be supporting a transgender woman who was alienated by that church? Today, would Christ condemn you for your shortcomings, or forgive you and encourage you to learn and grow from them? I believe that Christ would embody acceptance today, just as He did then.
Yet, as 1st Corinthians chapter 12 says, we are all a part of the body of Christ. We are called to be His hands and feet. Embodying this love and acceptance is a lofty responsibility, but it’s one that many of us have already committed to strive towards.
However, All is not well in Zion. Doctrine and Covenants Section 163 verse 3B through 3C counsels and warns us:
“Above all else, strive to be faithful to Christ’s vision of the peaceable Kingdom of God on earth. Courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God. Pursue peace.
There are subtle, yet powerful, influences in the world, some even claiming to represent Christ, that seek to divide people and nations to accomplish their destructive aims. That which seeks to harden one human heart against another by constructing walls of fear and prejudice is not of God. Be especially alert to these influences, lest they divide you or divert you from the mission to which you are called.”
Because of this, as a member of the body of Christ, I need to take a moment and challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that I have seen in my life. The past several years have been extraordinarily difficult for the transgender community. In politics, many states have passed transphobic laws which are fundamentally humiliating and dehumanizing. Many religious circles stoke hatred and fear and spread misunderstanding.
Transphobia is completely incompatible with the teachings of Christ. Those who distort the Peaceful One to become the “hateful one” have truly made God in their own image, and they need to put away this false idol.
If you are transgender, then you are a creation of the Divine, and thus are sacred. You are worthy of love, acceptance, and full inclusion in our communities and sanctuaries for being exactly who you are. Not only this – you have a unique and valuable insight which only enriches our diversity and understanding. I am thankful that you are here with us not only today in this service, but also with us in our human family.
The benefits that these meaningful and inclusive sanctuaries can bring are self-evident. They encourage you to grow while also accepting you for who you are. We are able to support each other through the hard times and celebrate with each other during the good times.
As we begin a new week, I encourage you to reach out to someone in your community that you haven’t talked to in a while, and see how they are doing and if there is anything that you can do for them. Communities which take care of people like this are life-saving sanctuaries. We are called to prepare these sanctuaries for all nations, ethnicities, and life circumstances. We are to embody Christ’s peace by helping facilitate healing, reconciliation, peace, strengthening of faith, and learning.
Thank you for listening, my family and friends.