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Belonging Beyond

Updated: Feb 9, 2023

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost

Text: Colossians 3:1-11

Rev. Cameron Partridge

July 31, 2022

Good morning, St. Aidan’s friends. Welcome to the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, to the last Sunday of July, and to a combined service, bringing together our 8 and 10 AM communities.

Sometime in 2007, likely in June, I was invited by a progressive Roman Catholic community in the Boston area to come and do what’s sometimes called a Trans 101. I’ve led one here before, as well: it’s a space of learning how a congregation can fully embrace and empower the presence and leadership of the trans and non-binary community, whether they’re already part of the congregation or may yet be in the future. The Boston folks were warm and welcoming to me, and after our time came to a close, someone approached me with a question. Did I know that there were trans clergy in the Church of England as well as in the Episcopal church? Yes, I said, I’d read a story in the news along the way, but I didn’t know any personally. Well he did, he said: a dear friend of his had transitioned years before—would I like to be connected? Yes please, I said! With the week he had connected us via email. It turned out that my new friend, the Reverend Dr. Christina Beardsley, who was on the board of the LGBTIQ advocacy group Changing Attitude UK,[1] was organizing a panel called “Listening to Transgender People” that was to take place at the edges of the Lambeth Conference, the meeting of bishops from around the Anglican Communion that takes place once every ten years (and is now unfolding). She advocated for me to come and be included on this panel, and so about a year later in late July / early August, 2008 I joined a collection of people from around the Anglican Communion who bore witness to the reality of LGBTIQ lives and leadership not just in the Episcopal Church but in the UK, in Nigeria, in South Africa, in various provinces of Canada, and more. The experience was intense, as I wrote about in this week’s Flame.[2] Yet what struck me most about it was how God was so palpably present in the midst of it all. The experience felt like a revelation of the body of Christ in all its relational mystery.

This story came into my mind as I sat with our readings this morning, particularly our passage from the letter to the Colossians, written in the name of the Apostle Paul and centered in our collective, baptismal identity. In earliest Christianity the baptized would be fully immersed in living water, a river or ocean. In later years to maintain this immersive quality churches would include large fonts in special, small buildings called baptisteries, often located next to a larger, main sanctuary. Fonts located in single church buildings would intentionally be located near the entrance so as to mark the liminal quality of this sacramental action. Baptism was a ritual crossing of a threshold, incorporation into the mystery of the collective body of Christ. In that collective joining, baptizands were becoming part of a larger whole founded upon, made possible by, the Paschal Mystery itself, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus had joined us in what Bishop Marc often refers to as his “radiant life,” had joined us by his own fully immersive baptism in the Jordan River, by his solidarity with all who have been cast out, by his healing of our deep wounds, his bridging of the profound gaps we have widened between ourselves and all creation, between ourselves and the God who created us – now we in our baptism were uniting with Christ’s own joining. In our immersion into the living waters, we were being buried with him in his death (as our passage from Colossians referenced last week) so that we might join in his rising. Our lives were to become a sign of that mystery, lived in gratitude for Christ’s gathering of us into God’s own heart, manifesting Christ’s risen reality in our everyday actions, revealing and honoring our holy interconnection. We remind ourselves of this interconnection each time we renew our Baptismal Covenant, reactivating our promises to resist evil; to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves; to strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being, and indeed of creation itself.

I love how the opening of our Colossians passage today moves from this collective, relational belonging, rooted in baptism, to a pattern of revelation from hiddenness. Our lives are in a fundamental way “hidden with Christ in God,” we hear referencing, again, the idea that in baptism we have been buried with Christ, joining his death in a mysterious way (Col 3:3). There is something about the full mystery of our humanity that is caught up in God, not fully visible to our limited powers of perception. But then, the letter continues, “When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory” (Col 3:4). Who we are, the wondrous, fearful ways we have been made, the unique human beings we are now and are also still in the process of becoming, is bound up with Christ himself. Colossians uses profoundly baptismal language of “old” and “new” self (Col 3:9 & 10) – the Greek here is anthropos, human, person – to mark the fundamental significance of this process. We put on a new anthropos in Christ, a self that is Christ, this wildly unruly, beautiful, mysterious collective body, a belonging beyond our individual lives to and with one another. And this new human is constantly called into transformation, renewal in the knowledge of the One who made us, an ongoing, sharpening reflection of the very image of God in which we were made (Col 3:10). We reflect that image together, in relationship. This collectivity, this relational connection, is Christ – hidden to our limited ability to see and understand fully, yet also revealed more and more in its mysterious glory.

Friends, Christ calls us to manifest this revelation, to radiate our belonging to one another, a one another that is a work in progress, constantly being expanded, a “we” that extends beyond the boundaries we know. We come to manifest this in part by stopping and really looking and listening, opening our hearts to our transformative growth: who we have been, who we know ourselves to be now, and who we are in the process of becoming. This morning after our service we will be participating in a process called a Timeline event, as part of our participation in the Vital + Thriving program.[3] We will be invited to share an example of red, blue, and green letter days – days of inspiration, difficulty, and hope here at St. Aidan’s. We do this to answer this call to listen, to embrace our becoming. We do this to answer the call to manifest our lives hidden with Christ in God here at St. Aidan’s.

I look forward to joining this activity today as I prepare to head into several months of a long-planned sabbatical. I come into it with such gratitude for you and the ways you reveal Christ to me. I look forward to a space of restoration, learning, and writing, and to returning to you in November with new energy for the exciting work we have ahead of us. We are members, St. Aidan’s, of this beautiful, mysterious body of Christ. We are connected far beyond these walls to a wider church and world that cannot be contained by the binaries our Colossians passage reiterates from Paul’s writings (Col 3:11): in our deep and beautiful connection, created and called into new life, we are to be transformed transformers, revealing the beauty of the God who profoundly loves us and calls us ever deeper into that love.

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