Sermon by Skyler Keiter
Psalm 139:1-3, 13-18
Do you have a passage of scripture that makes you feel as if God is speaking directly to you? Or maybe it’s not scripture, but a poem, song, or place that fills you with such awe that you cannot help but gasp in wonder at the divine beauty and miracle of creation? For me, it’s Paul Winter’s Earth Mass, a view of the Andes mountains, or this here, today’s passage from Psalm 139.
I keep a copy of this Psalm on my desk at all times. It is in my view whenever I am writing a paper, drafting emails, or even watching Netflix, and every time my gaze shifts to focus on these holy words I find myself pausing whatever menial task I am engaged in to read and absorb this powerful message of love and grace. “Oh Lord you have searched me and known me”; I can barely get through the first verse before I start weeping. It is comfort, it is light, it is a reminder that I – Yes, I, with all of my flaws and mistakes and trauma and perceived shortcomings – am beloved, beautiful, and precious in God’s sight.
It was in this church that I first realized that I was transgender. I was a senior in high school and attending a meeting sponsored by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network in Wright Pavilion. We were a group of high school students coming together to work on projects that would make Maine’s high schools safer for LGBTQ youth. It was our first meeting of the school year, and we began with a round of introductions of names and our personal pronouns.
“Hi, my name is Sarah and I use she/her pronouns”
“Hi, I’m Eric, he/him/his pronouns for me, please.”
Until finally, “My name is AJ and I use they/them/theirs for my pronouns”.
Wait, what? I had never heard of someone using neutral pronouns before! What did that mean? I had met transgender people before and had friends who had switched from feminine pronouns to masculine ones and vice versa, but this was a new experience for me.
At the end of the meeting, I went up to AJ and asked them about their pronouns and what they meant. AJ explained that they were nonbinary, a transgender identity outside of the male/female dichotomy, and therefore felt that neutral pronouns fit them best.
All of a sudden, a lightbulb seemed to go off in my brain – there were gender identities beyond male and female? I didn’t have to choose one or the other when neither felt comfortable to me? Memories swirled around my head; years of never feeling like I quite fit in with either the girls or the boys at school, putting on a dress and the sensation of my stomach twisting because something didn’t feel quite right, or the constant creeping thought that I was more similar to my brother than the girls I was friends with. The puzzle pieces were finally coming together, and in the span of just a few minutes so much of my life began to make sense. I was never a girl and never a boy; I was always something else entirely, but never knew that that even existed.
I was free, I felt lighter than I could ever remember, but then the realization of what being transgender meant came crashing down upon me and I was suddenly filled with fear. I remembered the anxiety of deciding to come out as gay a little over a year previously, the painful conversations, the mental health challenges, and the increased bullying at school – would coming out as nonbinary be even worse, especially if I asked people to start using a different name and pronouns for me?
And what about the church – this church, my second home and community in which I grew up? I had amazing gay and lesbian role models in the church and had constantly been told that God had created all sexualities equally. I was convinced that God and the church loved me completely no matter my sexual orientation, but there were no other transgender people at church that I knew of and I hadn’t heard the theology of gender identity be discussed in the same way that sexual orientation was. Did the church’s Open and Affirming covenant even extend to transgender people?
I wrestled with these questions and more for a long time before finally finding peace with my God-given identity. Starting a new life in college and attending a church that spoke about transgender issues often helped, but more than anything it was reading and rereading Psalm 139 over and over to myself until I finally started to believe the words I was saying.
“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” – fearful, in this case, meaning awe and amazement – Are you in awe of me, God? Am I truly wonderful in your sight? “You formed my inward parts … my frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.”
It is a song of intentional creation, of God before anything else, of a light that is burning before a breath of life is taken. Who am I to stand in the way? Who am I to hide that light and try to force myself to be someone or something that I’m not intended to be?
And the good news is that this is not just a Psalm for me, or for you, but for all. The beloved life-light and love-light of creation has been placed in every human being that has ever walked this earth and all who are yet to come into the world. God’s light is in me, the quirky nonbinary anthropologist, and God’s light is in you, however you identify, because you are exactly as God intended you to be.
Can you feel it burning?
And not just us either. God’s light is in the transgender sex worker struggling to make ends meet, God’s light is in the genderqueer teenager trying to make a difference in their school while facing an unsupportive family, God’s light is in the HIV+ transgender woman of color fighting to receive the healthcare she deserves, God’s light is in the outcast and the marginalized, in you and in me. Holy and broken we have been knit together in light and love.
Isn’t it … amazing?
So, stand up. Shout out. Shine brightly as the self you were always meant to be,
(sung) Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.