To Be Seen

August 20, 2017

House for All Sinners and Saints


To Be Seen

All this week I had an image from earlier in my life that kept returning to me, I guess it started 

in therapy Wednesday night and then I’ve kept coming back to it as I’ve thought about this text.

It could have been any Saturday in 1995 or 96, I was working at the Alabama Shakespeare 

Festival and living on my own. At the time I wasn’t going to church, so it wouldn’t be unusual 

for me to leave work on Friday and not speak to anyone besides maybe the cashier at Burger 

King until I got back to work on Monday.

I would have made my way to the mall, just to see other people. This was long before I had 

come out, where my desire to dress as and be a woman was still a cause for great shame and 

something that I knew I needed to hide from everyone.

I’d walk through the mall, head up, smiling, trying to make eye contact, and I could see and feel 

people’s eyes sliding off of me, not seeing me. There’s nothing in the world so invisible as a fat, 

unattractive white cis man in a mall in the deep south. 

There was a part inside of me that was just screaming, “You’re not seeing me! I know what I 

look like, but that’s not me, there’s something so different, something so amazing on the inside 

that you can’t see and I can’t tell you.”

I used to feel such envy of people who were visibly different. People covered in tattoos, goths, 

anybody who really stood out visually as different. I used to always imagine, knowing it wasn’t 

true even as was doing it that they must be so happy because people could see who they really 

were. They weren’t invisible, people could see them, see them for who they were. 

Today I still have that drive, and now I have the courage to do things, big and small, just to be 

seen. And, at times, I still feel invisible.

I’ve wanted to preach this sermon for at least nine years. The texts that we use in worship 

come from a thing known as the Revised Common Lectionary. It provides readings for each 

Sunday of the year in a three-year rotation, years A, B, and C. Today is the 20th Sunday in 

Ordinary Time, Year A. 

And the texts we heard today are the texts we heard three years ago on the 20th Sunday in 

Ordinary Time, I remember Nadia was still on sabbatical, so Brian preached. And nine years ago, 

and 12 years ago, somebody somewhere was preaching on these texts.

I’ve wanted to preach on the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time for two reasons.

1) Because I love, love, love, the Old Testament text. I identifiy with the beginning of Isaiah 

56 in a very personal way, it’s a text that speaks specifically to me and people like me in 

a very direct way naming us and promising us a place and a name in God’s house for all 


2) I’ve also wanted to preach on this text so badly that I asked Reagan a year ago if I could 

preach this Sunday, because I hate, hate, hate what the Lectionary has done to the text.

Many Trans people, myself included, identify with the biblical depiction of eunuchs, both 

metaphorically, and for some like me literally.

Any of you remember the part about eunuchs in today’s readings? There was something about 

foreigners and something about a Canaanite woman and something about dogs, but eunuchs?

Yeah, I didn’t hear it either. 

As the lectionary has evolved, the exact shape of the texts has evolved as well, sometimes parts 

of them are left out because the readings are just too long, sometimes it’s for clarity or to 

remove things that are seen as irrelevant. A reference librarian at my seminary and I have been 

looking all summer for a record of how those decisions are made, but there doesn’t seem to be 

one, they just have happened.

Today’s first reading has been so shortened, for some reason it has gone through the process 

that seminary students refer to “comma-ing out” 

When you look at the citation for today’s first reading in the lectionary, it doesn’t say Isaiah 

56:1-8. What it says is Isaiah 56:1, 6-8. For me that comma is huge.

So, what wasn’t there? Hear the Word of the Lord from Isaiah 56:2-5:

2 Happy is the mortal who does this,

   the one who holds it fast,

who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it,

   and refrains from doing any evil. 

3 Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,

   ‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’;

and do not let the eunuch say,

   ‘I am just a dry tree.’ 

4 For thus says the Lord:

To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,

   who choose the things that please me

   and hold fast my covenant, 

5 I will give, in my house and within my walls,

   a monument and a name

   better than sons and daughters;

I will give them an everlasting name

   that shall not be cut off.


Listen to that blessing, “A monument and a name greater than sons and daughters, an 

everlasting name that shall not be cut off.”

Shall not be cut off, except maybe by the compilers of the lectionary who don’t want to waste 

their time on eunuchs like me.

I can't tell you when, where, or by whom those verses were removed, but I can tell you how 

that omission makes me feel: invisible. There’s that word again.

When I read about the Canaanite woman in the gospel lesson, it’s not hard for me to relate to 

her in some ways. She was even more invisible than I was in that mall in Montgomery Alabama. 

In that culture, in that time, women were just not supposed to be seen, and they certainly 

weren’t supposed to be making nuisances of themselves. Add to that that she was a gentile, not 

even a Jew, and here she is pestering Jesus and his very Jewish disciples. 

You know they tried to ignore her, to look right past her. “Just keep moving nothing to see 

here.” And they tried very hard to make sure that she didn’t bother Jesus with her ranting. They 

wanted to keep her invisible.

But to her great credit, she had something I never did, she had the courage to stand up and 

shout and not let them not see her. I don’t know how my life would be different if I had that 

courage back in those days of being invisibly in plain sight, but I do admire the Canaanite 

woman for not being willing to do that. How easy would it be for her to just stop yelling and just 

walk away, as invisible as I was in the mall, as invisible as her society said she was supposed to 


But she keeps on, and she finally overwhelms the disciples with her tenacity and they appeal to 

Jesus to send her away. 

And here we get an example of a rare, but not non-existent, phenomenon in the Gospels, Jesus 

the Jerk. 

Last week when Nadia preached so eloquently on the walking on water text, she managed to 

leave out the part where Jesus calls Peter a loser for only being able to walk on water for two or 

three steps. Dude, really?

This week we get him telling this desperate woman, “I can’t help you, you’re not one of the 

people I came to help.”

And the woman still refuses to be invisible, but unlike what many of us would do in the 

circumstance, yelling at Jesus about what a dick he’s being, she just drops to her knees and 

makes one last plea for his help.

And still he refuses. He tells her that helping her would not be fair to the people he was sent to, 

it would be like taking the food from their mouths. He gives her one more chance to just 

disappear, as everyone would expect her to do.

But she responds, turning his own words back on him, that even dogs get the scraps that fall off 

the table. Abasing herself, calling herself a dog.

Then in a moment that should reassure many of us, Jesus shows us that God does in fact like 

smart asses, he grants her request and heals her daughter. 

She is invisible no more, because she did not allow herself to be invisible.

For whatever reason, the compilers of the lectionary want me to be invisible.

They don’t want to talk about eunuchs in church, probably don’t want to imagine that they 

have eunuchs in their churches. And so, they take it upon themselves to hide God’s great 

blessing to them.

Ten years after that scene in the mall, I was in seminary, studying theology, and the scriptures 

and I was brought to the place where I could come out, where I could begin the process of 

never being invisible again. A process that has been wonderful and which has led me into the 

best times of my life

The Canaanite woman refuses to be invisible, and when she is seen, she is granted that which 

she desires most, the healing of her daughter.

God knows us and sees us but God also wants us to be seen.

There’s two ways for that to happen.

 The first way is internal, I wasn’t able to be seen, to be known until I reached the point that the 

Canaanite woman reached, where I was willing, and more than willing, but had actually reached 

the point here it hurt too much to do anything else, that I was able to expose myself to the 

world, no matter what the world my think.

I was invisible at the mall, because I let myself be, because I accepted what the culture told me 

about myself, and I let myself not be seen.  

I used to be angry at the compilers of the lectionary because of the way they made people like 

me disappear, but the truth is, they can’t do that. We can only make ourselves invisible. And 

God’s promise to me remains, no matter whether it’s read in church every three years or not.

But there’s another way to approach gods desire that we be seen. And that’s for each and all of 

us to make the effort to see the people around us.

How different would the story of the Canaanite woman be if the disciples had seen her for who 

she was, had seen her need and instead of asking Jesus to drive her away, had taken her to him 

and said, “Can you help this woman?”

How different would this sermon have been if the compilers of the lectionary had kept the 

promise to the eunuchs in the reading for this week.

And I can’t help asking, looking at the events in Charlottesville and the aftermath and in looking 

the struggles of immigrants, who am I not seeing? Where is it that instead of helping the people 

around me, I’m going to God and saying “Hey can you get rid of these people, they’re really 

bugging me?” 

Who’s narratives am I “comma-ing out” of my life, just because they make me uncomfortable?

God sees us as we are, god loves us as we are, but it is our choice to let the rest of the world 

see that love, see that acceptance.

And it is also our choice to see God’s love and concern in others.

We can listen to those who would tell us to go away, to disappear, to just leave them alone. Or 

we can trust God and let everyone else see who god knows us to be.

And we can, at the same time, look around and see the invisible among us, really see them.

For too many years I listened to the those voices that told me to hide, I let them make me invisible.

Let yourself be seen, and see those around you, for the God who sees all things as they are.