Easter Sermon 2019


“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


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