Today is a day of remembrance. We commemorate the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, gathering to remember those who have been brutally murdered due to transphobia, anti-transgender hatred, or prejudice.
Most trace the beginning of the Transgender Day of Remembrance back to a night in late November, 1998. The murder of Rita Hester on November 28th of that year in Boston shook the local community. The resulting walk through the streets and candlelight vigil outside her apartment are often considered the inspiration for what has become an international act of remembrance for those who were killed in acts of anti-transgender violence. The following year, a candlelight vigil was held in San Francisco, and each year the remembrance has grown, from very local beginnings to an international audience. In some places, the week leading up to or following the Day of Remembrance has been a time of extensive awareness building and advocacy. We want to be part of that. We want to educate people about transgender issues, the struggle that transgender people face, and to change laws and change the society we live in.
It is important to know that not everyone remembered self-identified as transgender, though each was a victim of violence based on bias against transgender and gender variant people. Some are friends, lovers and allies, who were killed while they were with someone who was transgender. Others may not have identified as such, but were perceived to be somehow gender variant by their attackers.
The Transgender Day of Remembrance is more than just a memorial. It raises public awareness of the hatred and violence against those in our transgender community which often, the media suppresses. It publicly mourns and honors the lives of those who might otherwise be forgotten, giving their silenced lives new voice. It is an opportunity to meet hatred and indifference with love and respect. The Day of Remembrance does just that. It remembers the forgotten. Those who were part of our communities. Those we have an opportunity to stand together in solidarity and say no more.
65 persons were killed between 20 Nov 2012 to today because of anti-transgender violence. This is data that activists have collected from reports that are publicly available. Many others have gone unreported.
While we take time to remember and call to mind these 65 individuals in a moment of silence – we cannot ignore the tragedy that has struck Philippines. So in our moment of silence – may we also remember those who lost their lives in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.
May I invite you to join me in a moment of silence.
Today’s lectionary reading from the Old Testament reading is from The Book of Isaiah 65:17-25
65:17 For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
65:18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.
65:19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.
65:20 No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
65:21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
65:22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
65:23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD-- and their descendants as well.
65:24 Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.
65:25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent--its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.
I would like to first welcome our transgender friends who are here today. Our guests – welcome home. We have heard some of your stories. We cannot imagine what you have gone through in your lives, and the courage you have shown in facing the challenges in your lives. We hope that in our friendship with you, we offer support and solidarity. We hope we can celebrate, mourn, weep, laugh and cry with you. We want to help to change things in different ways.
Last Friday, the Article 12 campaign for LGBT workplace equality was launched.
This parallels what happened in the US last week on 7 November 2013, the Senate approved ENDA (employment non-discrimination Act) by a vote of 64-32. Whether it passes the House is another matter. This is the second attempt to pass this Act. The first time, they threw transgender people under the bus – they only advocated for gays and lesbians.
I am glad that the Article 12 campaign included transgender in their wording. I hope they pay attention to that because transgender people face significantly more discrimination when it comes to employment. Don’t talk about discrimination in the workplace – they don’t even get into the workplace. We need to understand the complexities and realities they face. We cannot just add the “T” because it is politically correct. We need to look beyond our own people. It is not just about us, but also others who are different from us. That is the idea of One Commonwealth.
This week, I couldn’t help thinking over and over about what happened in the Philippines. I am sure all of you would have read about, and seen pictures of the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. They are not easy to look at. And these are sanitized pictures. I don’t think anyone has published pictures of the dead bodies left lying around. They said 10,000 people died. I don’t even see one picture of a dead person in CNN, on the news. There is one picture that is etched in my mind. It should a mother and a child – a woman and a child – and they were walking through the debris and utter destruction around them. They were wearing scarves around their faces. I can only imagine the stench from the decomposing bodies. I can only imagine from rotting corpses who were their friends, their families, their neighbours. People they know. I cannot imagine.
There was an article in CNN titled “Looking for God in the Disaster.” It is a modern story of Job.
Father Edwin Bacaltos stepped out of the compound of the Church of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in central Tacloban and began his work.
The scene was one of unspeakable horror. Dead bodies were strewn all over the place. The debris of shattered buildings and their contents filled the street.
Father Bacaltos' self-appointed task that day was to bless the bodies that lay scattered around his parish.
He crossed the road to the hospital opposite the church compound, tending to each of the corpses in its grounds. He then moved onto other areas that weren't blocked off by walls of wreckage.
His day of work took a heavy mental toll.
"It was difficult for me," he said. "It was a really emotional experience."
The next day, he said, "When I celebrated the Eucharist, I broke down because of all the suffering I had seen."
Hundreds of survivors were taking refuge in the church compound, much of which withstood Super Typhoon Haiyan's ferocious winds and destructive storm surge.
His response, he said, was to tell them that "God is not the cause of the suffering. God cannot prevent this. This is the work of nature."
But why it had to happen to Tacloban and its more than 200,000 residents, Father Bacaltos acknowledged, is "difficult to explain."
As the people who remain in this broken city attempt to come to terms with the catastrophe that engulfed them a week ago, religion is offering a degree of solace for some of those who have suffered incalculable losses.
It's also providing basic elements of community and support to residents of an area where local government ceased to fully function for several days and is still only slowly sputtering back into action.
In Santo Nino Church -- situated a few blocks north of Father Bacaltos' compound -- Joan Norcio, 26, sat on one of the wooden pews near the back, waiting for Mass to begin.
Her home has been destroyed, she said, and three members of her family are still missing. She's received no food from authorities, relying on the charity of her neighbors instead.
Attending Mass at Santo Nino has been "a big help" during this time, she said, sitting solemnly next to a motherly neighbor and the neighbor's young son.
The storm ripped off most of the roof of the church. A large pool of dirty water sits in the center of the floor. And the adoration chapel is filled with brown sludge and broken chairs.
But the altar is still largely intact. Masses resumed the day after the typhoon and are now being held two or three times a day, said Father Isagani Petilos, one of the two senior pastors at the church.
Father Petilos, who also blessed the bodies in the area surrounding his church soon after the storm, said he didn't know if religion was helping the survivors endure the aftermath.
"Only God knows," he said. "Only these people know. We are all victims. There are whole families lost."
I cannot imagine the loss, the suffering, the pain, the mourning. It is not over yet.
How do we proclaim Isaiah’s message of “new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind?” How can we say that people “be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight?” How can we tell the people of Tacloban, the transgender people who face the threat of violence every day, who are rejected for who they are, who cannot find employment. How can we say to them that they “will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress?”
Tell them that they are not the chosen ones? Is that the kind of God we believe in? I don’t think so. We believe in an inclusive God that loves all people. We believe that everyone is equal – First Realize Everyone’s Equal – FREE. This is in FCC’s DNA. That God loves us all equally and we are free in that love.
These words about new heavens and a new earth sound hollow – and we would be like Job’s friends who offered hollow words in the midst of his suffering.
I think that Job’s friends did at least one thing right.
“When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. 12 When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him;they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. 13 Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”
They wept with him. They sat in silence with him, and accompanied him in his mourning, grief and pain.
This service of remembrance is our way of weeping with, mourning, and sitting with suffering.
We are invited by God to participate in this creation of new heavens and a new earth.
Where we moving to – One Commonwealth – is significant. Like what Rev Yap preached earlier this year – it is God’s calling to us at FCC. What we are called to be as a church.
Perhaps we are invited to participate in this new creation as One Commonwealth – to recognize that our lives are intricately linked to others who are radically different from us, but share in our common humanity.
One Commonwealth – as we are called to share in the well-being of all people - your flourishing is my flourishing and your suffering, my suffering. An injustice done to you, is an injustice done to me.
One commonwealth, however, is not limited to just the LGBT community. We should look beyond ourselves.
One group of people often left out are those who are economically challenged. I know of people who are not able to come on Sundays to church because they work – they have to make a living. Some of you have sacrificed working on Sunday to be here.
How many of you receive payslips at work?
This week's reading from Isaiah 65:17-25 resonated so much with me as i read news that the move to have employers issue compulsory payslips have been deferred indefinitely. Yes, our acting Minister has not given any time frame to roll this out.
Many NGOs, including HOME and TWC2, have pushed for compulsory payslips as one of the solutions to make sure workers - especially migrant workers - are paid promptly and fairly.
i read with not only disappointment but anger - anger at all the excuses we have been given. Issuing receipts and invoices are part and parcel of doing business. Issuing payslips should be the same. After all, all businesses have to keep proper accounts of their finances. We are not in the days where everything is manual - we are in 2013. Payslips can easily be computerised.
Not issuing payslips allow errant employers to continue to exploit their workers.
The prophet Isaiah imagines a time where God creates a new heaven and a new earth - a time where there will be justice, peace and joy.
"They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands." Isaiah 65:21-22
The exploitation, the oppression, and denial of justice needs to end. This is sin.
Deuteronomy 24:14-15 ESV
“You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns. You shall give him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets (for he is poor and counts on it), lest he cry against you to the Lord, and you be guilty of sin.
Leviticus 19:13 ESV
“You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning.
James 5:4 ESV
Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
Jeremiah 22:13 ESV
“Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice, who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing and does not give him his wages,
Malachi 3:5 ESV
“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.
“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent--its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.”
What does this new heavens and new earth look like to you?
Can you imagine the wolf and lamb feeding together? Is it even possible?
The lion and the ox?
The predator and prey?
Can you imagine the rich and the poor eating together at the same table?
The employer and the employee?
The powerful and the powerless?
The lion eating straw like the ox
The rich eating like the poor?
That I think is the commonwealth of God. One commonwealth. The One commonwealth that FCC is called to be.
We have big shoes to fill.
Isaiah proclaims that God said - Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.
Do we hear the call to work with God to co-create this bring the Commonwealth of God to this Earth and be part of the creation of new heavens and a new earth?
Will you join me and offer your lives as a blessing to others as an act of worship and discipleship?
Will you take up your cross and follow Jesus?