May 8, 2016 sermon
Acts 16:16-34/ John 17:20-26
Family of God
Have you ever heard of the African-American movie director, Spike Lee? In 1989, he made a movie called Do the Right Thing and attracted a lot of attention due to his provocative insight on race relation. On a hot summer day in Brooklyn New York, the conflict between different ethnic groups become gradually worse, and when an African-American man was killed while the police was trying to break up a fight, the other African-Americans in the neighborhood start a riot. During the day, African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Caucasian-Americans, and a Korean couple who runs a corner store all show contempt for each other; but when the tragedy occurs, all people of color unite to protest. After the storm is over, the next morning, the local radio DJ concludes the movie by urging his listeners to vote. Positive change requires active participation. What usually remains in our minds after watching this movie is a rap song called Fight the Power. It’s very powerful and catchy. As you can guess from the title, it urges us to participate in changing the world. I had this song stuck in my head before, during, and after writing this sermon.
In John chapter 17, Jesus prays for the unity of God’s chosen people, a.k.a., the followers of Jesus. As I have mentioned before, the Gospel of John is anti-Jerusalem Church and anti-authority in general. Being a small sect, John’s community depended on the unity of its members for survival. That is why Jesus in John’s gospel teaches his disciples to love one another, serve one another, and prays to God that they may be one. This is John’s version of kingdom of God, although John’s gospel doesn’t mention the term kingdom of God or kingdom of heaven like in the other three gospels. Being anti-authority, the community of God that John’s gospel teaches is an egalitarian community. This egalitarian community of Jesus is counter-cultural to the hierarchical society in which they lived. They are against the society’s power relations. The gospel of Jesus is subversive.
The story we read in the Acts of the Apostles today is also an example of breaking the normal social pattern of power relations. Paul and Silas were imprisoned because the slave owners were not happy that they “cured” their slave girl who used to make them money. When they broke free and the jailer tried to kill himself for losing his prisoners, which he didn’t actually, it was his prisoners Paul and Silas who took care of him and preached to him. It’s the subversion of the social power structure, like when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet.
To be counter-cultural and realize an egalitarian community, it is necessary to empower the powerless and limit the power of the powerful. This community of God is based on justice; no one has power over others. We are family in this community. Speaking of family, today is Mother’s Day. Now that we are talking about family in the context of social justice, I feel like I need to address the issue of gender identity.
So there it is; gender identity and sexual orientation 101! Gender identity and sexual orientation are two separate things. Gender identity is about with which gender one identifies, and sexual orientation is about to which gender one is attracted.
First, gender identity; one can identify as male, female, both or neither. Those who don’t feel like either a man or a woman are generally called gender queers. They might feel they are neither or both. I have a friend who identifies as “bi-gender” since “she” sometimes feels like a woman and sometimes like a man. Gender identity has nothing to do with to which gender we are attracted. One can be homosexual and be exclusively attracted to the same gender, heterosexual and be exclusively attracted to the opposite gender, or bisexual and be attracted to either gender. Simple enough so far? Now it gets a little more complicated. Notice that I used the word “gender” instead of “sex”. That’s because gender and sex are two different things, although a lot of people use them interchangeably. Sex is defined by the body parts with which we are born. Gender is how we feel inside no matter what body parts we have. If our sex and gender match, we are called cis-gender. If not, transgender. Okay, let’s take a breath now. There are more, but I’m stopping right now to spare you further confusion. You’re welcome!
We have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day here in North America. In Korea, we have Parents’ Day so the children don’t have to buy gifts twice. But more importantly, the separation of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day alienates a certain groups of people because not everyone identifies themselves as a man or a woman. I am definitely a woman, so although I don’t have any children, I consider myself a mother in some ways; I have “mothered” several hundred children in my teaching career, for starters. So I only feel a little bit alienated by Mother’s Day, not a lot. Same with men, whether they have biological children or not. But these holidays completely alienate people who don’t identify themselves as either man or woman. So as we celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, we should be sensitive to the marginalized groups of people. Some gender queer people are parents too, so what shall we call them? Although we don’t have a solution right now, we should think about it.
Today is not only Mother’s Day, but we are celebrating as Christian Family Sunday. Traditionally it is celebrated on the second Sunday of May in the United Church of Canada; but I chose to celebrate it today since it’s Mother’s Day (and also I didn’t want to interrupt the fire of the Holy Spirit with a family talk next Sunday, which is Pentecost). I mentioned God’s family is an egalitarian community based on justice. If our family of God is an egalitarian community, there should not be a division of gender or power relations. Who cares if our brother is a brother or a sister? We are family and we are connected with the love of God; that’s all!
We are the family of God. We are an egalitarian family where no one has power over others. This egalitarian family also needs gender justice; gender is fluid, so no one should be alienated for not being a part of the binary gender system. So on this Mother’s Day, as we give thanks to our mothers and the mother figures in our lives, let us remember our transgender and gender queer brothers and sisters. On this Christian Family Sunday, let us remember that God’s family, the reign of God is an egalitarian community that rejects power relations. As the family of God and disciples of Jesus, let us “Do the Right Thing” and “Fight the Power” to realize an egalitarian kingdom of God in our society.
Rev. Sunny Kim