Definitely Not a Doubting Thomas Sermon

Family of Christ PC(USA), Greeley, Colorado

April 8, 2018

1 John 1:1-2:2

(HFASS folks will recognize some recycled content. Shhh, don't tell anyone.)

I wonder if this text sounds weird for the Sunday after Easter. I mean, when Corny asked me to preach on what is sometimes known as "Low Sunday" I immediately knew that the Gospel text was going to be one of two things. It was either going to be The Road to Emmaus, or it was going
to be Doubting Thomas. I mean those are the things you talk about on the Sunday after
Easter, right? Over and over again, year after year, Road to Emmaus or Doubting Thomas, 
Doubting Thomas or Road to Emmaus, and on and on, right? For the record, this year it's
Doubting Thomas.

Supply preachers like me often get asked to preach on the second Sunday of Easter, because all
the installed pastors are fried from Holy Week and many of them are on vacation, so this for
this Sunday you either get a guest preacher or something else that gives the pastor a break like
Youth Sunday or something. 

So, if somebody did a study, it would probably turn out that supply preachers work on these
texts more than the installed pastors do.

I have a Doubting Thomas sermon in my files that I know none of you have heard, and I could
probably have pulled it out, dusted it off, updated a few things and y'all would have never

But, yeah, that's not happening this week.

This year on Low Sunday we're doing something else.

Let's see what there is to do with this text.

There's a big temptation with this text to use it to point at those guys over there.

It's particularly tempting with the current political climate.

It's particularly tempting with the divide between liberals and conservatives in the church

And it's double plus tempting when the people on the other side of the divide seem to spend a lot of their time pointing at you.

As a transwoman, I am very much aware that there are people over there who spend a lot of
time talking about how horrible I am, whether it's the president saying that people like me are
not fit to serve in the military or organizations like the "Center for Biblical Manhood and
Womanhood" who last year published what they called "The Nashville Statement" which said, 
among other things:

"WE AFFIRM that self-conception as male or female should be defined by God's holy purposes
in creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture. WE DENY that adopting a homosexual or
transgender self-conception is consistent with God's holy purposes in creation and


"WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ enables sinners to forsake transgender
self-conceptions and by divine forbearance to accept the God-ordained link between one's
biological sex and one's self-conception as male or female. WE DENY that the grace of God in
Christ sanctions self-conceptions that are at odds with God's revealed will."

Fortunately, when I'm confronted with things like that, I have a wonderful group of friends around
me to support me. Some of those friends gathered in a coffee shop on Colfax the day
the Nashville Statement came out and wrote "The Denver Statement" responding with:

"WE AFFIRM that there is no longer male or female but all are one in Christ Jesus our Lord.
WE DENY any self-conception that presumes one is capable of knowing God's holy purposes for
other people, and that such self-conceptions can be consistent with the Gospel of grace, love, 
and mercy as demonstrated in holy scripture."


"WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ enables sinners to forsake prejudice and see such
prejudice as our own and not as God's.
WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ sanctions self-righteous assertions of absolute
knowledge of God's will."

It would feel great to give a pulpit thumping, haranguing sermon about how those guys over
there are such hypocrites calling me a sinner for being transgender while ignoring their own sin.

Damn, would that feel great.

But I don't think that Family of Christ needs to hear that sermon. And I don't think I'm ever
going to be invited to preach at the kind of churches that do need to hear it.

So, I can't indulge myself. 

There's got to be a different way to go.

I think the other way to go is to think about our own sin rather than thinking about others.

Because, of course, it's always fun to think about our sins.

Sins are those things that other people use to make us feel bad about ourselves.

And to be honest, for a lot of us, sins are the things that we use to make us feel bad about

I know I have a part of myself whose job is to keep track of all the bad things, real or imagined
that I have ever done and to remind me of them, usually when I'm awake in the night, or when
I'm already feeling bad about other things that are going on.

I bet some of you have that part too.

We have these very intricate and detailed lists of what's sin and what's not and we check things
off, both about ourselves and about others, tallying up the good things and bad things.

It's amazing the very specific nits that we pick at over and over again. 

We want there to be a clear list of what's a sin and what's not, so we can know how we're

But I can't help but notice that the writer of this epistle says that if we say we haven't sinned
the truth is not in us and we make a liar out of God.

But what he doesn't do is specify sins, unlike us, he seems to be completely uninterested in the checklists that we're so fond of. 

Because the specifics of our sins are not important. It isn't about what we have done. 

It's about, I think, how God wants to forgive us, to be in fellowship with us and walk in the light
with us.

And we get in the way.

We struggle to accept God's care and love for us, not because it's hard to attain, but because
we just can't accept that it's right there laid out for us.

That struggle to accept what's freely there for our taking is something that's come up several
times in my life recently.

In her sermon on Maundy Thursday last week, Nadia Bolz-Weber spoke about Christ's last commandment to his disciples, that they should love one another. She pointed out that for many
of us the hardest part of that commandment is not loving other people, but in allowing ourselves
to be loved by others. So, often, when someone tries to love us, we push away, we hide. In the Maundy Thursday text, it happens almost immediately as we see Peter pushing himself back and refusing initially refusing to allow Jesus to wash his feet. Because he couldn't accept the idea that he was deserving of the gift and love that Jesus was trying to give him.

Then, Saturday night at my church's Easter Vigil I took part in one of the series of readings that
we do during the initial portion of the service each year. It's similar to a service of Lessons and
Carols except for two things. One, we sing hymns, not Christmas carols between the readings, 
and, two, we invite people to not just literally read the text, but rather to tell the story
creatively in their own way.

This year that included two original songs, a karaoke version of a third, the children leading us
in "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands", and a video telling the story of the flood from the
perspective of the dinosaurs, as portrayed by three members of the congregation in inflatable
T-Rex costumes.

I ended up picking for my piece, a portion of Isaiah 61 where the prophet speaks about how "I
will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me
with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe or righteousness, as a
bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with jewels."

And God says that he will, "give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of
mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit."

I spoke about my "complicated" relationship with clothes.

For most of my life, I've been a cross-dresser. By that I mean, on a day to day basis, I have worn
clothes that I knew didn't fit with the gender, with the person, I knew myself to be.

Now, I want to say, that, in and of itself, there's nothing wrong with cross-dressing. If it makes
you happy, knock yourself out.

The problems arise when it doesn't bring you happiness, but shame and fear. Or when it ceases
to be about expressing who you are and rather is about hiding who you are, masking your true

For 49 years of my life, I was a cross-dresser, and not just in one direction, but two.

For 40 years I would have sworn to you that I was a straight cis-man. A straight cis-man who
just happened to have a large collection of women's clothes hidden away, to take out only in
the strictest privacy, when I knew no-one else would be able to see. I felt so much shame and
fear that it kept me from experiencing many of the joys of life.

That's my first story of cross-dressing.

Then, about 13 years ago, I learned some new words for myself. James Edward Foote, that
straight cis-man was no more and Meghan Jennifer Foote, the trans ace woman emerged like a
butterfly from a chrysalis, and all was wonderful.

Well, no. What it meant at that point was just that I had become a different kind of cross-
dresser, I had moved from wearing the clothes that I thought fit my identity and hiding the ones
that I thought didn't, to wearing the clothes that hid what I knew to be my identity.

I was happier, I was in a better place, but I still wasn't where I needed to be.

It wasn't until four years ago that I found a way past that self-destructive cycle. I found a church
I loved, filled with people I felt I could trust and I wore a skirt in public for the first time. And it
was wonderful, it has lead me to the very best parts of my whole life

But no, the fear and shame, the depression and anxiety did not disappear in an instant like the
sun appearing from behind the clouds. I still require anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds just
to face the day, I'm still nervous about going to the bathroom in a strange place.

It wasn't until I started thinking about this text that I realized that I am yet a third type of cross-
dresser, and that most, if not all of us here tonight are too.

The thing is, I refuse, I fail to put on the garments of salvation and robes of righteousness that
God has laid out for me. 

The hardest part about this text is believing that those garlands and jewels are the way that
God wants us to be dressed.

But it would be so good if, once and while, we were able to stop our theological cross-dressing
and put aside the ashes for a garland, stop mourning for a minute and accept the oil of
gladness. Put aside our poor spirit and don the mantle of praise.

I pray that all of you will, even for one minute, be able to set aside the falsehood that tells you
that you don't deserve those things and show the world and yourselves who God has truly
made you to be.

In today's text the hard part we face is believing that it is so easy for us to set aside the things
that keep us from God, to lay down our checklist of things that we have decided mean that we
don't deserve to walk in the light, in fellowship with our loving God.

All through the Bible, in the new testament and the old, God wants to love us, God wants to
dress us in the robes of salvation, God wants to walk with us in the light. And God weeps for us
when we can't or won't accept those gifts.

And the reason we don't is not because, as some in the church would have you believe, that
God is angry with us, or vengeful, it's because we put up roadblocks, we refuse to let ourselves
accept what God is trying so hard to give us.

Today's text tells us, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not
in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us
from all unrighteousness."

Through the centuries the church in it's various parts has built up elaborate structures around
the act of confession and absolution. From the Catholic church's sacrament of personal
confession to the prayer of confession we recited together earlier in this service.

But this text isn't asking that we go through any of those actions, just that we acknowledge the
obvious fact that we screw up, that we're going to continue to screw up and that we can't help
screwing up. 

I don't think that any of us can argue that those things aren't true, it's just so hard for us to
believe that all we need to do is let go of our lists of screw-ups, it's so hard for us to believe that
just acknowledging that they are true is enough without any further action for God to let those
things go and to walk with us in the light.

We don't need to say Hail Marys, or whip ourselves over these things, we don't need a priest or
a minister to tell us that we are forgiven.

We need to let God love us, we need to put on the garments of salvation and the robes of
righteousness that God has laid out for us, and to say, "yep, I'm a screw up." 

The writer of our text today promises us that's all we need:

"My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does
sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning
sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world."