A space to post my thoughts and musings about anything. This includes but is not limited to community, politics, current events, relationships, LGBTQ+ issues, favorite things, and stuff that would make your dead relatives blush. I am not afraid to go there, as some can attest.

November 10, 2018

Transcript of Right Rev. Gene Robinson's Sermon on Matthew Shepard

On October 26, 2018, a service was held as the remains of Matthew Shepard, victim of a deadly attack in 1998 because he was gay, were interred at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.  Right Rev. Gene Robinson, retired Bishop of New Hampshire, delivered the sermon.  As I am unable to find a transcript of what was a very moving sermon, I'm transcribing it here.  Any punctuation is at my discretion.  The original video of the service may be found on YouTube with his sermon starting at 1:12:35

A week from now we will be celebrating All-Saints Day, and in many parts of Latin America on All-Saints Day, there is a custom where people in the congregation are invited to say the names of those who have departed this life, but somehow are still present.  If you close your eyes and open your hearts, Matt is right here.  What the congregation says when the name is called out is presente, present, here, and so I invite you -- Matthew Shepard, presente.

Let me just say at the beginning that I've been crying for a week now.  So I'm pretty apt to cry during this sermon. I just want you to know I'm okay, in fact, I'm way better than okay, and with your help I'll get through it and you'll pardon me for looking at my notes, which I don't really need but it gives me some place to look besides you.

*audience laughter*

Matt was luckier than most young gay men in 1998.  He had parents and a brother who loved him.  He loved his church, the Episcopal Church, and they loved him back, and I have no doubt that Matt is in Heaven.  Despite the fact that we actually know very little about Heaven, it really isn't about pearly gates and gold streets and angels in clouds looking bored. *audience laughter*  It is about being with God and discovering that nothing in all creation can separate us from God's love.

I think the best picture we have of Heaven comes to us in the story of the prodigal son which actually is not about the prodigal son. It's about the prodigal son's father; and after the son goes off into some foreign place and wastes his life and starts feeling like he's just done all the wrong things, he decides to go home, and he's rehearsing his apology to his father and intends to ask to be allowed to serve his father's household, even as a slave.  What he doesn't know is that every day he has been gone, his father has been sitting on the front porch, in a rocking chair, looking down the road, waiting for his sons return.  And when he gets close enough for his father to see him, his father runs to him and puts a cloak on his shoulders and sandals on his feet and a ring on his finger, and calls for a party, because his son has come home.

Matt was loved by God from the very beginning, and nothing, not even death, has separated him from God's love, and I think that Matt was never alone.  After the Lord's Prayer you're going to hear a song sung called "Gently Rest" and parenthetically called "A Deer Lullaby," D-E-E-R lullaby.  Which comes from Reggie Fluty who was the first police officer to arrive where Matt had died; and she reports that as she approached his body, she didn't notice it at first but a deer was lying beside him, and from the looks of things, that deer had been there all night long.  And when the deer saw her the deer looked straight into her eyes and then ran away; and what she said is "That was the good lord, no doubt in my mind," and there's no doubt in my mind either, God has always loved Matt.

They will hate me for saying this but we're not just here to celebrate Matthew.  I'm here partly to celebrate Judy and Dennis Shepard.  You know, they could have so easily gone home and grieved privately, but by the grace of God they decided that they were going to turn this horrendous event into something good.  They did it in big ways and in small ways.  Five years after Matt's death, I was consecrated a Bishop for the Diocese of New Hampshire, and just before I strapped on my bullet-proof vest for my consecration, someone hand-delivered a note from Judy Shepard, which I carried with me, and it said "I know Matthew will be smiling down upon you tomorrow."

Now Judy Shepard is the most unlikely of people to be doing all of this.  I think it's Dennis who says that on a scale of one to ten for introversion, Judy ranks about fifteen. And Judy I don't know if you remember this or not, I've seen her shaking backstage before she speaks and one time in particular I think this was when we were doing the all-star reading of The Laramie Project at the town hall in New York City; and Tipper Gore was there and Tipper and Judy asked me to pray with them.  Which of course I was delighted and honored to do.  But it was a little bit surreal because about ten feet away from us was Cyndi Lauper doing what Cyndi does to get ready to sing, which is blow up balloons. *audience laughter* It must have worked because she sang like an angel.  And I watched Judy Shepard be introduced, and I watched her get taller and taller as she walked toward the podium; and her small voice became strong, and clear, and challenging.  They could have just grieved privately but they shared Matthew with us, and today they are sharing him one last time, with us.  Thank you.

Okay, now to you.  I just want to say to you that if you are here just to pay your respects and to remember Matthew, it's not enough.  If you're not here to be transformed, you've come for the wrong reason.  There's a Greek word, anamnesis, if you take it apart the A-N that begins the word is the A-N in anti-, that is to say the opposite of, and amnesis is the word from which we get amnesia.  So it's "against amnesia," it's against forgetting.  It's about remembering, but in a very special way.  It's the word that we use to talk about the communion service in the Christian faith, and it's what happens when you go to a Seder meal in a Jewish home.  It's to recall a past event so dramatically that you bring it into the present moment and it becomes your event, not just stuck in the past.  That's the kind of remembering I pray for today.  Transforming, remembering.

One of the things I hope you will remember is that, what is it, eleven years after Matt's death the hate crimes bill, the Federal hate crimes bill was passed and it bore not only Matthew's name, but that of James Byrd, the African-American in Texas who was chained and dragged behind a pickup truck until one arm and his head were severed from his body.  And the reason we need to remember that is that the bigger picture here is what we human beings tend to do which is to label someone different from ourselves as "Other", which is code for "Not really human" and then you can do anything to them that you like.  People of Color know that, the LGBTQ community knows that, every marginalized person and group in this country knows that, and we are seeing way too much of that at the moment.

The other thing I want you to remember is that violence takes lots of forms, and right now the Transgender community is the target.  There are forces about who would erase them from America, deny them the right they have to define themselves, and they need us to stand with them.  That's the kind of transformation today makes possible.  That we see this bigger picture of the kind of violence we do to people just because we don't understand them.  So I want you to remember, and then Dennis would want me to say "and then go vote."

*audience laughter and applause*

Okay so I'm a Bishop, indulge me, I wanna say a word about God. *audience laughter*  Now my whole life and ministry I've been warning people to be very leery of those who claim to speak for God, but that is precisely what I'm going to do. *audience laughter*  I usually can resist, but I can't resist today.  The Church, the Synagogue, and the Mosque, often get it wrong, but God never gets it wrong.  I have a magnet on my refrigerator and it says this: "Jesus loves you, but I'm his favorite." *audience laughter*  Okay so here's the miracle, here's the miracle.  Every one of you is God's favorite. Every one of you is God's favorite, I don't know how that can be I just know that it's true, and I don't want any of you to leave here without being reminded that you are loved by the God of all that is.  You are loved beyond your wildest imagining, and nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate you from that love.  So the picture I have of Matthew Shepard right now is of Matt sitting in God's great big lap surrounded by God's great big loving arms and that's all I need to know.  So for you, remember, and vote, and get to work.

To Judy and Dennis and Logan and Marlo, thank you for your generosity in sharing Matt with us.

This'll be the part where I cry.  So I have three things I want to say to Matt.

Gently rest in this place,
you are safe now.
Oh yeah, and Matt, welcome home.

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