The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

The October Surprise—A Sermon on Being Known, Seen, and Heard

Some of this sermon may seem familiar, if you read the previous one, preached on a different day to different people. This is from the same lectionary week, but to my students.

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Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always.

Starting the school year at the end of September can make the transition from summer to fall feel very sudden! We had that weird rain yesterday, and the forecast has temperatures dropping significantly in the coming days. October feels like real fall, with the pumpkins and the leaves falling and the postseason baseball and the spookiness. October is also LGBTQ+ History Month, AIDS Awareness Month, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Disability Employment Awareness Month, and National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

In addition to the celebration of changing seasons and Halloween, several of October’s commemorative months invite us to consider people on the margins of our society. Historically, LGBTQ folks, people with chronic illnesses, women, and people with disabilities have not been treated as fully human members of our society. Organizers and activists work around the clock to fight for legal protections for vulnerable people. All of these commemorations are important for us to acknowledge, especially because they remind us that—if these are not identities we carry—we spend the other 11 months focusing on other things. National Domestic Violence Awareness Month is of particular concern to me, because it is likely to affect more of us. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will face physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime.

Situations of domestic violence, intimate partner violence, and gender-based violence are some of most dangerous secrets that our families and friends keep. You may be a little surprised to hear me get right to the point on this, but it’s that serious. People of every age, gender, race, class, religion, level of education—you name it—can be suffering from domestic violence.

You are a beloved child of God, and no one who actually loves you will actively cause you physical, emotional, or spiritual harm. You are a beloved child of God, and you therefore must not cause physical, emotional, or spiritual harm to someone you love.

If someone you know is in a relationship that you see as controlling, or weird, or potentially dangerous in any way, there is a lot you can do to help. CARE, the Center for Advocacy, Resources, and Education on campus is an important place to start. I am also a place you can start. I want you to know that you can trust me, and your friends can trust me. In Christian community, this is part of what we mean when we say we love our neighbors. We support one another, pray for one another, and tell each other the truth.

Our scripture from James tonight is a reminder of this. “Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord” and, later, “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed” (James 5:13-14, 16). Confessing when we have caused someone harm is the first step toward repairing that breach. I do not mean to say that praying is the only solution to problems—especially problems of violence. But praying for one another can contribute to our healing process. Throughout your time at the Belfry, let me know how I can be praying for you. It is my responsibility and my delight as your pastor to carry your sorrows and your joys alongside you.

It is also my responsibility and my delight as your pastor to encourage you to tell the truth—to yourself, to this community, and to God. And to accompany you as you navigate what it looks like to live in our world as a Christian. It can be hard.

One of the ways we support each other in our life together is by talking to each other. It sounds very simple! But talking about God in public may not seem like your idea of a good time. If it doesn’t, I invite you in particular to come chat with us at Public Theology. In partnership with Lutheran Church of the Incarnation, we are gathering at Three Mile Brewing a handful of Thursday nights this quarter to talk about issues and ideas that impact our lives, from the perspective of our faith. We had our first one last Thursday, and the next one is next Thursday. When we were planning, Pastor Dan Smith and I chose a topic for the first meeting: “What is truth?” we asked. We wondered about what our scripture says about truth and what our public intellectuals, poets, authors, and politicians say about truth.

We wondered about this at 8:00 on Thursday night, after a very long day. You may have watched in horror, as I did, as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford bravely testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee about Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh. You may have witnessed her courage, her voice shaking as she read her prepared opening statement. As she swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Dr. Blasey Ford told the story of the worst day of her life in front of a panel of US Senators on live, national television. She did this because a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land requires a thorough background check and interview process, and she had information that she thought the Senate should include as they made their decision. Dr. Blasey Ford testified in the interest of truth, fairness, and justice. Her testimony was largely disregarded by the committee, and they voted down party lines 11-10 on Friday to send Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination forward to the whole Senate. They’re in a holding pattern this week as the FBI investigates some of the claims against Judge Kavanaugh.

According to the scripture we read tonight, the 11 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee by whose votes Kavanaugh’s nomination process continues should be a little nervous. Jesus says, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42). Jesus rarely minces words.

These men have placed a stumbling block before every American who has survived violence like Dr. Blasey Ford has and has not been believed. Millions of Americans listened to the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh, and then listened as those allegations were dismissed. Millions of Americans have heard truths told that sound just like the truths of their own lives, and have heard their leaders dismiss those truths as lies. Millions of Americans have stumbled over this this week, unsure of their value to their country and perhaps even their value to their God. Maybe you stumbled over this this week.

The women speaking up about the way Judge Kavanaugh mistreated them have told their truths at great personal risk, and have been rewarded by our nation’s leaders with vitriol meant to shame them into hiding. Wielding power to make others feel powerless is not Christian.

And, conversely, have you yourself  placed a stumbling block in front of someone else? Have you used your power to limit someone else’s freedom? Then, remember, “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” Now is the time, my dearest siblings in Christ, to slough off what has been weighing you down. If you have never before been an outspoken defender of the truth, there is no time like the present. If your own past makes it hard for you to feel justified in speaking out, do what you need to do to put it right.

Just as Jesus so graphically puts it, “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; ….And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out” (Mark 9:43-46). It is better for you to go boldly into this world newly absolved, newly liberated, than to relegate yourself to an unexamined life. “Whoever is not against us is for us”, Jesus says. We are all in this together.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he spoke to and on behalf of marginalized communities—women, people with chronic illnesses, widows, orphans, children, people with disabilities, the poor and the oppressed. When those without power in his society told the truth about their lives, Jesus believed them. Jesus believed them, and then empowered them to keep telling their truths until they were believed by those in their communities who had the power to do something about it.

In our own lives, when we experience great trauma and tragedy, God knows and sees and hears us. When we feel like we are screaming into the void, God knows and sees and hears us. When we feel like we might go blind with rage, God knows and sees and hears us.

As the body of Christ in the world, as the Church on earth, we, too, have the power to know and to see and to hear the truth when it is spoken to us. We have the power to speak the truth, even when our voices shake. We have the power to say, “I believe you” to someone who fears the worst. And we have the power to denounce the powers and principalities that would say otherwise.

You may be surprised to hear me talk about these things from the pulpit, because preachers are often very careful about who in their communities might be offended by quote-unquote politics. But this is not about politics. This is about your wholeness and your value to this community.

As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, it is my duty and my joy to use my power to empower you. It is my duty and my joy to ensure that any one of you who has felt hopeless, who has felt fearful—especially of what our nation’s leaders have done and continue to do—know that you, too, have power. You, beloved children of God, can tell the truth. In your baptism, you were liberated from the poverty of sin and death, set free to claim your wholeness and live your truth!

You are a beloved child of God, and under no circumstances should you suffer through ill treatment. You do not deserve to be treated with physical, verbal, emotional, or spiritual violence. You deserve to be safe and loved, known, seen, and heard.

Be a Good Ancestor—A Sermon on Wealth in Community

What is Truth?—A Sermon on Power and Courage