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
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
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.