Too often the Bible has been used to clobber people in the LGBTQIA+ community, so today I offer scripture and theology as a balm on #transdayofvisibility, and I pray there is healing for all who need it.
Just in case there’s any doubt, I’m preaching here. No tl;dr, just dwi. 🙂
Today is international Transgender Day of Visibility.
It’s also Good Friday.
There’s something about this co-incidence that’s fitting because Good Friday is at some deep level about recognizing the release one can experience when they give up all pretenses and live fully into who they are. I say this because in all four Gospels the ministry of Jesus began with hiding his identity to some extent. In Mark, this is often called the Messianic Secret. In the Gospel of John this is accomplished with some form of the phrase, “My time has not yet come” (for example, John 2 at the wedding in Cana; John 7:6 & 30).
But there’s a turning point in John 12, which I believe to be the narrative climax of John. Chapter 12 begins six days after Passover, and continues the theme of “Jesus says things that leave the disciples scratching their heads”. If this were a movie, I imagine John 12 opens with a dramatic back and forth “training” montage between the competitors: Jesus with the disciples; the Chief Priests with their folks. In the Jesus footage, Mary anointed Jesus’s feet with her hair, both a symbolic royal anointment as one would do for a king, and also symbolic of the ritual cleansing of a dead body. The Chief Priests and their team were plotting to murder Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead just a short while before.
So the theme of the first half of Chapter 12 is the time leading up to and including Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday). At this point it looks like the theme will be a grand victory over the overwhelming forces that oppress them, the type of people and nations like to tell over and over, like the Battle of the Bulge, or storming the beaches at Normandy.
Finally, God’s gonna whoop some Roman booty! It’s about time.
But then another theme emerges, one that John uses time and time again: outsiders come seeking Jesus because they’ve heard of the things he’s done, and we discover through them that those on the outside actually understand something about Jesus that the insiders haven’t quite come to understand. In this case, they come saying “Sir, we come to see Jesus”.
By this point the disciples had set up a system for how people get to see Jesus because the danger had been growing as Jesus’ notoriety spread, and they passed the word up the chain of command until it reached Jesus. It’s at this point we see the rise of the climactic moment when he replies, “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified”.
Up to this point, one of the persistent struggles in the Gospel of John was Jesus trying to figure out what to do with his unique identity, how to disclose it, and what it would cost to live into it. It’s true that he’d disclosed some of this to those closest to him in quiet ways, but knowing what would happen when he finally said it all out loud, he’d been playing it close to the vest. Even though he’d been telling his disciples already with increasingly candid clarity what this deeper identity is and what it means for him, they still didn’t really get it and tried to argue against him when they heard it.
People who were insiders had so much trouble accepting the truth of Jesus. People who insiders would call “those people” are still the ones who see and accept Jesus for who he is most quickly and completely.
We too often focus the part of the struggle that has eschatological import — the part that involves how Jesus’ identity as both fully human and fully Divine and the way this identity connects him and us to the saving work accomplished in his death and resurrection.
This morning I’m focused on this moment (John 12:20-33) at John’s climax, because it’s the precise moment in John when Jesus realizes he can no longer keep this identity quiet. He has to say something or it’s going to prevent him from being who he’s called and incarnate to be. Jesus’ time has come to reveal to everyone just who he is and what he’s here to do, and what that means for him, for the people in not only the Greater Metropolitan Jerusalem Area (I made that up, I think), but for the whole of creation.
Jesus recognizes that there comes a moment when the truth is spoken and it can no longer be denied.
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
“Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
“Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor’.” (John 12:23-26)
There we have it, the penultimate rising action in the Gospel in which Jesus speaks a short parable about a grain of wheat and that only in death can one find life. Only in setting aside pretense, illusion, play acting to fit in, and damning the consequences imposed upon us by people whose hearts are too cold and barren to love us for who we are — only by finding life by dying to the masquerade can we truly live our life.
People who deny the truth of who they are and who they’re created to be can find it to be devastating and smothering. I’ve heard time and time again what a hellish thing it is for my trans siblings to remain bound in what others want to be their truth.
And I’ve heard time and time again, that in speaking their truth and dying to the old ways — with new hair, new clothes, new reconstructions and reconfigurations, and NEW NAMES in many cases that reveal about them what has always been true of them. I hear over and over that the moment of revelation in which they finally say it out loud, dying to their old selves and being resurrected to the life to which they feel truly called to live is a moment that feels vibrant, healing, and stunningly whole because it’s not about being honest with other people, it’s about being honest with oneself. At some point you have to tell yourself the truth and trust that the people who really matter will join you in your truest truth because that’s what Love does.
Following Jesus, as described above, is living with an unyielding personal integrity about who we are regardless of the consequences. Following Jesus is choosing the suffering that comes from courageous living that makes no apologies or excuses for who we’re being created to be.
This continues in John 12:27, immediately following the last quote, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—’Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
What’s happened here is the deep emotional response to living our own truth when it’s been bottled up for such a long time. It’s not just about saying it one day, but it’s about living it every day and learning the resilience, thick skin, and strength required to live one’s truth. This is what it means when the Father’s name is glorified in this moment, that the secret is out and the hour has come and there’s no going back.
After the previous quote, people who heard the voice argued about what it was and where it came from, and “Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw ***all people*** to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.”
This is the voice of conviction for those of us around our trans siblings, who are called to respond when those around us reveal to us their true identity. This voice is for our sakes, that God is glorified in the honesty and integrity of those who are around us, and more, in our integrity and honesty, even as we sometimes internally struggle, to respond in love that has no preconditions or caveats.
The love that loves us completely demands that we love completely.
This love lifts Jesus from the earth to the cross, from the cross to the grave, from the grave to new life.
This love draws and drags ***all people*** to the foot of the cross, where we bring it all with us to dwell as our complete selves. The foot of the cross, where all of us rejoice, and heal, and weep both bitterly and sweetly. The foot of the cross, where God sees us for who we are and declares the love that will not die even though we must.
Being LGBTQIA+ is not a sin.
Living in loving relationships with ourselves and others by living our truth and loving according to our truth is not a sin.
The lie is the sin. The self-delusion is the sin. The choosing to remain wounded because we’re afraid of the truth and what it will take for our healing to occur for us is the sin. This isn’t a sin about sex or gender, it’s a sin of the human spirit.
Forcing others to live the lie because their truth makes us uncomfortable is a mortal sin.
At the foot of the cross, where the old rulers and measures that bind us to the myths about ourselves that we tell and allow others to tell about us are finally and fully tossed out. Even though this is painful, those old familiar shackles brought us nothing but pain and death anyway.
At the foot of the cross, because the convenient lie is destroyed, we can *be* simply and finally, joyfully and painfully, who we are.
And even when it causes us distress, looking in the mirror to see our true selves is healing. In this healing, we get to know the truth that God, who always sees us for who we truly are, has always seen this truth and has always loved us for who we truly are.
Whoever you are, God sees your truth and loves you.
God will never stop loving us.
Live. Your. Truth.