Easter Sermon 2019

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“Some women went to the tomb, but you were not there.  You were already set loose in the world—spreading a holy type of love. “ (from the Liturgy by Sarah Are – liturgy and image from A Sanctified Art LLC | sanctifiedart.org”)

Dear Flame friends!  A Blessed Easter to each of you! Today is a day when many traditions say responsively –  Christ is Risen – Christ is Risen Indeed – Alleluia!

Today, I’d like us to ponder together – where is God doing a new thing? Where do we see God’s grace and love breaking into the old ways and bringing transformation and a new creation?

Let’s first look at the gospel story from Luke.  When the women went to the tomb, they find two figures in dazzling garments instead of the body of the crucified Jesus.

Here I want to take a moment – to challenge our scriptural imagination.  Often, when we hear this passage, many have pictured these angels as men in shining white robes. I know I have.  I want us to pause, paint the scene in our minds of the women disciples, entering the tomb, to find these figures.  Instead of picturing dazzling white robes, what else can we picture – I am thinking bodies that look like the beautiful night sky – a beautiful dark swirling cosmos – dazzling!  Instead of male angels – how about gender non-conforming, or women?

I also want us to remember to do a quick check of our mental image.  These disciples are not white women. Maybe we picture ourselves with the women – and maybe we are white. Maybe we are not.  At the Flame, we are doing a new thing as part of the Emmaus Collective, and working towards dismantling white supremacy in church.  I want to pause as we dwell in the text – to broaden our mental imagery.

While we are poised in this moment at the tomb – I also want to celebrate that the first witnesses and preachers of the resurrection are women.  Now it is not uncommon today thankfully, in some places, to have women preachers, but the hold of the patriarchy is still tight.  2000 years ago, God was doing a new thing, prying open our concept of who can bear the good news to the world.  A friend posted the hashtag after the gospel text #BelieveBlackWomen. This hashtag resonates with me, especially if we translate the story to the U.S. today

The disciples struggled with believing the women, and thought they were speaking nonsense.  That doesn’t stop God.

God is doing a new thing here with each of us here, and our small but mighty queer and ally church, especially when we seek to lift up the voices from the margins. One of the things we are doing is taking a resolution to the Oregon synod assembly (like a statewide church council meeting) for the Lutherans to sign on as sponsors of the Poor People’s Campaign – the last ministry and organizing effort of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, which has been revived by Rev. Dr. William Barber II and others.  (that is one of the reasons the quote from Dr. King is good for today – it is relevant, and it is a tie to our work here at the Flame).

God is also doing a new thing also when we say “You have a place here.” When we remember that each of us is beloved, and those who are unsure about joining us are beloved. God’s loving embrace is so wide that it may make us uncomfortable, because it includes us… and those who are not like us.

Back at the tomb, the angels ask the women – “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” They had come that morning expecting to find death.

We all experience our faith journeys differently.  For me, I sometimes get stuck looking in the tomb, grieving with a broken heart over the suffering in the world.  I can give you a long list of the ways that God has “failed” me or the world, and dwell in that anger or sadness. I wonder how to celebrate Easter when the world is on fire.

Sometimes, when I do this, I miss the signs of resurrection and new creation all around me.

The Roman empire and religious leaders attempted to crush the radical love and hospitality that Jesus lived and preached.   They crucified him in a public and humiliating execution to silence him and repress his movement.  God raised Jesus from the dead – defeating death, and defying those powers which attempt to suppress life.

When we hear that – God defeated death and the powers which attempt to suppress life – it can be helpful to see the responses of the women at the tomb and the male disciples hiding in fear.  Terrified. Disbelief. Amazement. If we place ourselves back at the scene at the empty tomb or sitting here this morning, what is our response to the news of Jesus rising from the dead – Is this nonsense? Good news?

Rev. Dr. Delmer Chilton tells the story of a pastor who preached the story of Jesus’ resurrection to a group of visitors. One of them told the preacher he had already seen someone raised from the dead.  Rather than go into a discussion or debate about whether this was a coma resuscitation or something else, the preacher asked the man this question.

“What would be good news to you?”  After thinking a moment, he said, “If I knew there was a power greater than the spirits that trouble me.” (Lectionary Lab Live).

Pastor Chilton says the Good News of Easter is that there is a power greater than death, which also symbolizes all those spirits that trouble us. That resonates for me.

God is doing a new thing. There are signs of resurrection around us. Adam reminded us in his Facebook comment… in the same way that we keep looking for work, applying for jobs, knocking on doors… when we are seeking and keeping faith, looking for God and answered prayers, we may need to keep looking and listening. But God is at work.

Can we live in wonder with the empty tomb? Can we join these women in hearing the mysterious words of the dazzling figures, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  Can we look for resurrection and the ways in which there is a power greater than death, greater than grief, greater than shame, greater than fear and conflict, greater than all the other ways we are troubled, greater than all the ways of corruption and repression? Can we look for love, the most durable power of the universe, as Dr. King says?

Where is God doing a new thing?  Where do we see God’s grace and love breaking into the old ways and bringing transformation and a new creation?

The good news for today is that nothing can separate us from God’s love, nothing can stop God from transforming the world, whether we are looking in the tomb or running back to share the good news with those who are afraid, or whether we are somewhere else in the story altogether. May we find joy amidst our grief, trust amidst our fear, hope amidst despair.  Christ is risen.  Christ is Risen indeed.  Alleluia.

sermon by Pastor Leo Bancroft

Reflection at Trans Day of Remembrance 2018

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Good afternoon. I am Pastor Leo Bancroft, from the Flame, a healing community of faith for LGBTQ and ally folks here in Portland. As a transgender man, I am grateful for all of you gathered here, and those who organized this event, and I am humbled to have the opportunity to share today.

On Friday, non-binary trans actor, speaker and author Jeffrey Marsh tweeted “I’m wearing a skirt today and some random on the street was just like “you gotta come to Jesus ok?” and I said “how do you know I’m not Jesus?” They were stunned into silence”

And they are right. I love this tweet on so many levels.

It also seems appropriate for today, as we reflect on the loss of trans folks this year to violence and suicide. We may be looking for God in the midst of these tragedies, or some solace in our grief.  Jeffrey’s words remind me of my faith tradition. The face of our neighbor is the face of Jesus.  God is present in each one of us.  This can be helpful to remember in times of suffering and loss.  God is present with and suffers with those who are in pain. God has a particular care for those cast aside by society.  And God does not leave the side of those who are dying, but embraces them with arms of love and acceptance.

Jeffrey Marsh’s tweet also reminds me that our joyful self-expression and authentic lives are divine.  God is there too.  As we grieve those lost too soon, we remember that they were beloved, and worthy of love.  The world does not shine as brilliantly without them with us.  We also remember that each of us here too is beloved and worthy of love.

At the Flame, we have a tagline, “You have a place here.”

Trans folks – please know that you are beautifully and wonderfully made, Woven in the image of the divine.  You are named, and seen, and known, and loved.

On the day my name change was legal in 2014, I drove out to the beach and met a group of friends.  We had a campfire and gazed at the stars, telling stories of our favorite memories of friendship.  At one point, one my friends and I walked away from the fire, towards the waves lapping on the shore, and he pointed out the constellations, including the constellation for Leo, my name.

Isaiah 40 tells us that God created the stars and names each one. Seeing the Leo constellation on the night the courts recognized my name, I felt named by God too. Named and seen and known and loved. God calls me by my new name.

To those we have lost this year, and in years past …

We lift up your names with candles and song, we remember you in our communities, and in our churches…

We write your names in the stars and on our hearts.  God knows each one and calls them by their authentic chosen names.

To those who still struggle to be seen or exist or be safe…

To those who grieve or are at risk….

We thank you for the gift of your existence, of your beautiful divine self.

We claim with confidence and defiance that God weeps with us, and embraces us, and those we have lost, in compassionate and merciful arms.

God writes in the stars and in the sunset, on the shoreline, in the twirl of a skirt, or an unexpected purple flower, in the turning of a leaf, the hug of a friend, or a confident stride, that you are God’s beloved child, and you are holy.

(this meditation was given at the Transgender Day of Remembrance Interfaith Vigil, on Sunday November 18, 2018.  It was also recorded at KBOO

Re-entering Community

27485106_10212796418358458_1291263742_oHi, my name is Leo Bancroft, and I am the President of our local ReconcilingWorks chapter and the intern Pastor at The Flame, an LGBTQ and ally ministry here in Portland.

I find it so powerful that the Scripture reading for today (well, I guess it’s not that much of a coincidence, we picked it….) 🙂  but anyway,  it is of the Ethiopian Eunuch, a sexual minority and outsider in the church, but trusted leader in other communities, who longed to know God and advocated for himself with Philip, asking to be baptized.

I’m remembering my own story of my renaming service at St. Andrew Lutheran.  I had been in the church all my life growing up as a young woman, blessed by knowing many strong women pastors, and other wonderful and loving folks in church who accepted me.  But I didn’t know that I am a trans guy.  I didn’t find that out until five years ago this March when I was 37.  So for most of my life, I don’t share the experience of the Eunuch.  I hadn’t experienced the life of a minority, though I had plenty of my own experiences of being an outsider, especially in relating to my own body.

But then I came out, and suddenly I was on uncertain ground, not knowing how God felt about me, whether the church, my family, my friends would accept me. I was afraid of getting beaten up.  This new world completely terrified me, and I spent many nights crying myself to sleep and apologizing to God.  Thankfully I had help understanding that I am beloved, and beautifully and wonderfully made, just as I am.

Two things really helped me. 1) my home church, St. Andrew, had voted already to openly welcome and affirm LGBTQ folks (that is, they became RIC), and 2) I had been involved with ReconcilingWorks and had learned language and concepts to explain what it means that I am trans, and that God celebrates this amazing diversity.  I still do these trainings today and did two this month – shout out to St. James brought me in to train, who understands that even though they have been RIC for 27 years, the journey of welcome and education is ongoing.

Anyway –I was still really afraid, and skipped church a lot because I didn’t know if I would be judged.  I resigned as the President of the congregation.  I knew we were welcoming, but didn’t believe it in my bones.  I was too scared to be a part of the community but I also really wanted to be back in the church and the family of God.  The Eunuch would have been barred by religious laws from entering the temple, and I almost let my fear keep me out.

I heard that a trans guy in Colorado, [Asher O’Callaghan], also Lutheran, had done a naming service, a public blessing of his new name and identity as a trans person. I asked my pastors if we could do one for me at St. Andrew. They agreed, and though I was terrified, I rallied my forces, and brought a bunch of friends for my gay posse backup, and we showed up on the day my naming liturgy was going to be a short part of the service, and filled the back two pews.

After the hymn of the day, we went up to the font, where I was renamed, reclaimed, re-affirmed. It was a powerful experience and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house at the end as Pastor Mark put the sign of the cross on my head and said ” Leo, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Bear your new name in the Name of Christ. Share it in the name of mercy. Offer it in the name of justice. Christ is among us making peace right here right now.”

That moment brought be back into the church, and restored me. And far from leaving the church, a few years later, I started a church with a bunch of wonderful folks, some of whom are here, and I hope to be ordained as Pastor Leo on July 14th of this year.  Whoa.  I hope the Ethiopian Eunuch from our scripture had as affirming an experience, and great adventure after his baptism.

My prayer is that each of you finds the strength and the courage to overcome the barriers that may be keeping you outside the doors, or away from the font and table.  May each of you find reminders that you are named, beloved, and claimed as God’s own. Maybe that reminder comes tonight.  May you each have affirming experiences and great adventures.  And may we all rejoice in the good news of God’s abundantly exuberant, wildly reckless love for all.

An Apocalyptic Sunday

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Photo credit: L A K

On Sunday, November 13th, we gathered in a home for our church service. As LGBTQ people and allies, we were all facing various levels and stages of grief and fear over the recent election.  As is our practice at The Flame, we read the gospel assigned to most mainline protestant churches for the day, as well as two other readings. Each week we ensure one or both additional readings comes from a person of color and an LGBTQIA person.

After opening with our welcome statement, and doing a few rounds of ice breaker questions and conversation, J read our first reading from “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen

The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Our second reading contained two quotes from Audre Lorde, “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger,” in Sister Outsider.  K read:

When I live through pain without recognizing it, self-consciously, I rob myself of the power that can come from using that pain, the power to fuel some movement beyond it. I condemn myself to reliving that pain over and over and over whenever something close triggers it. And that is suffering, a seemingly inescapable cycle.

I can afford to look at myself directly, risk the pain of experiencing who I am not, and learn to savor the sweetness of who I am.

L read our gospel, as written in The Inclusive Bible, Luke 21:5-19

Some disciples were speaking of how the Temple was adorned with precious stones and votive offerings. Jesus said, “You see all these things? The day will come when one stone won’t be left on top of another – everything will be torn down.”

They asked, “When will this happen, Rabbi? And what will be the sign that it’s about to happen?”

Jesus said, “Take care not to be misled. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the One’ and ‘The time is at hand.’ Don’t follow them. And don’t be perturbed when you hear of wars and insurrections.  These things must happen first, but the end doesn’t follow immediately.”

Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and empire against empire. There will be great earthquakes, plagues and famines in various places – and in the sky there will be frightening omens and great signs. But before any of this, they will arrest you and persecute you, bringing you to trial before rulers and governors. And it will all be because of my name – this will be your opportunity to give your testimony. So make up your minds not to worry about your defense beforehand, for I’ll give you the words, and a wisdom that none of your adversaries can take exception or contradict. You’ll be betrayed by even your parents, brothers, sisters, relatives, and friends, and some of you will be put to death. Everyone will hate you because of me, yet not a hair of your head will be harmed. By patient endurance, you’ll save your lives.”

After the readings, we had time for silent meditation, and I shared a few thoughts before we discussed them in pairs and then all together.  Here was my reflection:

At first I was torqued off that this is the assigned gospel for this week.  It seemed unfair to have to read a passage that is so scary and gloomy at a time when we are already shaken.  But on reflection, I decided I was ok with it. It felt more real than a reassuring text that everything was sunshine and roses, when I look around and it feels like the world has gone to shit.

This gospel passage is considered “apocalyptic”, meaning it uses this frightening imagery to assure us of God’s faithfulness in horrible times.  These are not predictions of what is to come, but rather descriptions of what has already happened, and the way things are.  The temple written about was already destroyed at the time these verses were written.  This is a very real description of things that happen in our world, especially for marginalized communities.

These passage address that, much as I would like, God doesn’t come in and fix it all, at least not right now, but God is with us, and provides strength, courage, comfort and wisdom.

I chose the other two readings in light of this fact of brokenness in our world, and our need to carry on and “testify before our oppressors”, as the gospel tells us we have an opportunity to do.  The other day I was at the Interfaith Call for Inclusion. It was a gathering held in Pioneer Square for faith leaders to stand with the various communities that are being targeted by the divisive and hateful rhetoric of our times.  We were called and challenged to be love, resistance, and compassion, speaking the truth of God’s Beloved Community against the voices that would oppress and divide us.  We were reminded that there is no retirement for those working for justice.  Our work is not yet done.

Where in the brokenness of this world does the light get in? As we reflect on Leonard Cohen’s writing, how do we start again, and find slivers of grace, joy, and love in the midst of lament?

As we re-read the Audre Lorde quotes, how can we own our own  pain, acknowledge and grieve it, and then rejoice in the gift of our authentic selves as we are embraced by and build the Beloved Community of God?  Let us also be mindful that Lorde was writing about racism, particularly in the feminist movement. I don’t want to co-opt her wisdom and strength without reminding ourselves of this racism she was reflecting on, and our role and responsibility in dismantling it.

Luke’s gospel passage is intended to be a passage of hope, and an encouragement to stay the course. It reminds us that God is with us no matter what, even in the scariest of times. I am so grateful for this reminder, and the wisdom of Cohen and Lorde.  But I do wonder if Jesus needed a better speech writer.

In peace,

Leo Bancroft
Vicar, The Flame

Room For Everyone

On September 11th, we met for our sixth gathering as the group now called “The Flame”. After lighting a candle, we began with the opening that reminds us that everyone is welcome.  It seemed particularly appropriate for this gathering based on the readings we discussed that night.

As a new group, our time together is starting to develop a rhythm. After some ice-breakers and check-ins, we have conversations around the gospel text for the day  (from the revised common lectionary). We add other readings too, seeking to incorporate other voices and poetry, particularly from the experiences of the LGBTQIA community and people of color. Continue reading Room For Everyone

A Start-Up Church?

On our home page, we describe that The Flame is a start-up church and alternative worshiping community.  So just what do we mean?

The Lutherans in Oregon recognized that, even though many churches are welcoming to the LGBTQIA community and church policies are changing to be more affirming, many of us are not interested or comfortable in “traditional churches”.  In order to provide LGBTQIA folks a supportive environment for building community and finding spiritual healing, this group was started. Continue reading A Start-Up Church?