Caitlyn Jenner and the Family of God

+ A sermon preached for Pentecost 2B at Lake View Lutheran Church, Chicago, IL on June 7, 2015 +

Texts: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1, Mark 3:20-35

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

I would like to thank you all for welcoming me to worship with you this morning. I’m grateful for this opportunity to share this word with you all. It has been an honor to be among you today and I look forward to meeting more of you after worship.

The Internet exploded this week as the world was introduced to Caitlyn Jenner for the first time. The story of her new name and Vanity Fair photo shoot was plastered all over TV, the news, and social media. Everyone seemed to have an opinion on this story. For many this may have been the first time they had heard the word “transgender”. While there was certainly some predictable backlash, I was actually pleasantly surprised that most of the reactions seemed to be fairly positive. No matter your personal opinions on Caitlyn Jenner or her family, it’s certainly true that the story of her transformation and new name has brought new attention and prominence to the stories of the trans* community.

Unfortunately, many Christian voices were less than enthusiastic about the new Caitlyn. By misgendering her, misnaming her, and denying her witness, they labeled Caitlyn as perverse and rejected her story. Tragically, this seems to be the more common experience for transgender people. Dismissal. Distain. Rejection. While Caitlyn was mostly welcomed by the world, so many people in the trans* community are rejected by family members, friends, society, and the church. According to a recent study, 57% of transgender respondents had families who would not spend time with them or talk to them. A staggering 41% said that they had attempted suicide; this compared to 4.6% of the general population. Last year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance memorialized the 226 reported murders of trans* people in the previous 12 months. On the same day as Caitlyn Jenner’s introduction, a transgender woman was pushed onto the tracks of a New York City subway station in an apparent hate crime. Rejection is far too real for far too many transgender people.

We witness rejection in Mark’s gospel today. Jesus returns to his hometown and faces rejection from his family who attempt to restrain his teaching. The religious authorities dismiss the ministry of Jesus as work of the devil. Earlier in the chapter, the Pharisees conspired on the best way to kill Jesus. And what was it that Jesus had done to merit the ire and distain of his family and the authorities? This is only the third chapter of Mark after all. What could he possibly have done so quickly to face such rejection and hatred?

A quick recap of Mark’s gospel to this point: Jesus proclaims that the kingdom of God is at hand. He then goes out and heals people, including a woman, a leper, a paralytic, and people considered unclean. He eats with tax collectors and sinners. Basically, Jesus has spent most of his young ministry among those whom society has rejected. Jesus proclaims that the kingdom of God rests among those people who have been forced onto the margins. For this, he is attacked and criticized by those in power and his own family.

When his family attempts to confront Jesus, he gives us a radical new model for what it means to be family. ‘Here, the people around me, are my family,’ he said. “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” The people around Jesus, his disciples and followers, those helping his ministry to the marginalized and revealing the kingdom of God; these are the people Jesus calls his family. Rather than relying on biology alone, Jesus expands the definition of family to the people working with him to do God’s will in the world. This challenge to the prevailing cultural structure would likely have been welcomed as good news to the early audience of Mark’s gospel. Many of these early Christians were probably outcast from their families due to their new faith. Cut off from the ones they loved, they would have been looking for comfort in their church group. This idea of a community as family and support structure allows for a new definition of what family means for a people who needed love and support but had suffered rejection.

Personally, I see clear parallels between Jesus’ redefinition of family and the new families formed in the queer community in modern contexts. Especially around the time of the AIDS epidemic, people who were rejected by their biological family and churches formed new familial units who supported and loved each other and gathered around each other’s deathbeds. Like the early Markan community, these people needed to find new non-biological families to support each other. Similarly, many transgender people today find themselves rejected by their families and faith communities and search for new communities of love and support. Today’s reading from Mark clearly shows Jesus’ intentions for that new community to be the church.

Siblings in Christ, we Christians are called to be the ones who expand the definition of family to those who are working together for the radically inclusive will of God. We are called to be the welcoming community, preaching the love and acceptance of God to those rejected by the world. We, the church of Jesus Christ, are called to welcome these people and proclaim them to be our fellow siblings in Christ and children of God. As the Apostle Paul said in today’s second lesson, we are called to do this, “so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” At the beginning of this month that commemorates the struggle and pride of the LGBTQ community, may we, the church of Christ, redouble our efforts to welcome and love all of God’s beloved children, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Just as we have been welcomed into God’s family, may we welcome those who have been rejected by the world into the loving embrace of Christ.


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