by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
First United Methodist Church
20 November 2023
Thank you for the invitation to speak tonight. This opportunity is both an honor and a privilege. Over the years I’ve attended some of these services and always felt it important, as a cisgender gay man, to be present and to listen. I did not feel it was my place to speak.
TJ invited me to speak this year, and I accepted her invitation, and am honored.
On this Transgender Day of Remembrance and Resilience, I want to frame my words with the 35th Psalm, which opens:
Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me!
Take hold of shield and buckler, and rise up to help me!
Draw the spear and javelin against my pursuers; say to my soul, “I am your salvation.”
Let them be put to shame and dishonor who seek after my life. Let them be turned back and confounded who devise evil against me.
This psalm is what we in the business call an “imprecatory psalm.” Imprecatory psalms are ones that implore God to deliver us from evil. And these psalms do that by calling down curses upon our enemies. Asking God to give them what they deserve.
One of the greatest features of the psalms is that they contain every single human emotion and a poem or song to fit it. There are plenty of psalms for when we are happy and joyful and celebrating. There are lament psalms for when we are sad and grieving. There are psalms to sing and pray when we are offering forgiveness and reconciling with those who have hurt us. But there are also Psalms to sing and pray when we are angry at the injustices of those who have opposed us and hurt us.
Let them be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the Lord driving them on.
Let their way be dark and slippery, with the angel of the Lord pursuing them.
For without cause they hid their net for me; without cause they dug a pit for my life.
Let ruin come on them unawares. And let the net that they hid ensnare them; let them fall in it—to their ruin.
Then my soul shall rejoice in the Lord, exulting in God’s deliverance.
I was a university student in Oklahoma back in 1995 when the federal building in Oklahoma City was bombed. The next day, as we gathered for our class on the Old Testament prophets, we all were overwhelmed with so many emotions. My professor, Dr. Kevin Hall, used the occasion to teach us about imprecatory psalms. These psalms are full of emotional and spiritual value. We need to pray them when we are hurt and angry. Expressing these emotions and thoughts is powerful and healing. Our faith and spirituality are big enough to hold space for our hurt and anger. God is listening.
All my bones shall say, “O Lord, who is like you? You deliver the weak from those too strong for them, the weak and needy from those who despoil them.”
Malicious witnesses rise up; they ask me about things I do not know.
They repay me evil for good; my soul is forlorn.
But as for me, when they were sick, I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting. I prayed with head bowed on my bosom,
as though I grieved for a friend or a brother; I went about as one who laments for a mother, bowed down and in mourning.
But at my stumbling they gathered in glee, they gathered together against me; ruffians whom I did not know tore at me without ceasing;
they impiously mocked more and more, gnashing at me with their teeth.
Sadly, the lesson that I learned that day after the Oklahoma City bombing, I’ve had plenty of occasions since to put into practice. When violence has been visited upon the communities I’ve lived in and am a part of. How many times have we gathered for vigils after a hate crime? After a trans woman was beaten or killed? After a drag queen was attacked? After one of our clubs has been invaded and our siblings massacred? Many years ago, after having attended and hosted so many, having sung We Shall Overcome and lit candles, I was just too drained. I was tired of vigils and felt I had no more words to say. And, yet, the evil doesn’t stop, and neither do we. We must continue to remember and resist, for that is the source of our hope, the power of our deliverance.
How long, O Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their ravages, my life from the lions!
Then I will thank you in the great congregation; in the mighty throng I will praise you.
Do not let my treacherous enemies rejoice over me, or those who hate me without cause wink the eye.
For they do not speak peace, but they conceive deceitful words against those who are quiet in the land.
They open wide their mouths against me; they say, “Aha, Aha, our eyes have seen it.”
You have seen, O Lord; do not be silent! O Lord, do not be far from me!
Wake up! Bestir yourself for my defense, for my cause, my God and my Lord!
Last May I found myself reading and praying this psalm often. It was on repeat in my consciousness. Our state legislature had failed in its responsibilities to its citizens and enacted a cruel and inhumane law against trans children and adolescents.
Just like the psalm says, lies were told about us. We were mocked and ridiculed. In public we were called horrible things and had too many times to sit there quietly and endure the insults because that’s the protocol. Then our governor called us minions of Lucifer.
We demand to be rescued from these lies and deceptions. We insist upon our vindication.
Vindicate me, O Lord, my God, according to your righteousness, and do not let them rejoice over me.
Do not let them say to themselves, “Aha, we have our heart’s desire.” Do not let them say, “We have swallowed you up.”
Let all those who rejoice at my calamity be put to shame and confusion; let those who exalt themselves against me be clothed with shame and dishonor.
After the vote last spring, I sent notes to the senators I had personally lobbied who ended up voting against us. I used the notecards with our church printed on the cover, and then hand wrote inside them these words from this psalm, “Let them be put to shame and dishonor who seek after my life. Let them be turned back and confounded who devise evil against me.” I forcefully underlined the word “shame.” That felt really good.
And we will be vindicated. Because we know that truth and right are on our side.
We don’t know when or how, but we have faith that our deliverance will come. We will be rescued. Justice will be done. We will receive the honor and respect that we deserve. Violence and hate crimes will no longer be visited upon our trans heroes. Trans kids and adolescents will receive the care they are entitled. Care! We have to fight so hard for other people to be caring.
And the reason we know we will be vindicated is precisely because we won’t quit fighting. Each and every day we will remember, and we will resist. Together, organized, powerful, unstoppable, we will not quit until justice is done and right is restored.
For God is with us, on our side, as the very power of hope that drives us.
And so this psalm closes:
Let those who desire my vindication shout for joy and be glad, and say evermore, “Great is the Lord, who delights in the welfare of God’s servant.”
Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness and of your praise all day long.