You Are Welcome Here! (Restrictions May Apply)

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” [Matthew 10:40]

Jesus speaks these words at the end of a long sermon commissioning the twelve apostles to go out and proclaim the good news, to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Jesus tells them all this and then tells them don’t worry about bringing a bag, or a tunic, or money, or whatever. These apostles would have to depend on the hospitality of strangers in the places they visited. The church from its inception has relied on the kindness of strangers, for those who welcomed the apostles welcomed Jesus. The early church depended on hospitality and it was charged with extending that same hospitality to others, and so today we Christians strive to be a people of welcome and hospitality.

“Welcome” is a hard word for me – because I really want to believe people when they tell me I’m welcome in a space but it’s hard to accept that welcome at face value when their actions tell me differently. Like many of my fellow Millennials, I have been burned by community, hurt by churches and groups and fellowships that said they welcomed me and all that I am, only to be disappointed when that welcome proved to be conditional. I am often welcomed into progressive, liberal spaces because I am a queer brown person with a “prophetic” voice but I am quickly seen as a troublemaker when I ask hard questions and refuse to settle for scraps at the table. Or other times, my friends and I are welcomed and invited to the table if we all dress to the nines and serve you Sunday best church lady realness but not when any of us walk into your church with dyed hair, tattoos, or, Heaven forbid, wearing a t-shirt and shorts. Many places are eager to lay out a welcome mat for people like me, but are not sure what to do with us once we walk through the door.

But, perhaps foolishly, I continue to show up to church, I continue to read and study my Bible with others, I hatch plans to start theology study groups, I continue to do my best to love and welcome the stranger in my midst. I’ve been asked more than once, why I would dare return to Christianity after having experienced so much abuse, so much pain, so much nonsense? I can tell them quite simply that the answer is… Jesus. Shocking, I know. The church’s welcome may sometimes ring hollow, but the love of Jesus, with his arms stretched out on the cross can welcome and envelop all parts of me. Jesus welcomes me in when I’m happy and pleasant, and Jesus welcomes me when I am messy. Jesus invites me in after calling people out on social media, when I’m pissed off, when I burn bridges, when I refuse to be polite. Jesus sets a place for me at the table at all times of the day and Jesus feeds me the bread of heaven even when I want no part of it.

This is the welcome we are called to embody.

Some churches will loudly proclaim that “It doesn’t matter to us who you are – you are welcome here!” But actually, it does matter, because Jesus loves each of us as we are, in the fullness of our identities – and when we say it “doesn’t matter” we’re essentially saying that you’re just another body in the pew, we don’t need to know your life story, just show up! Nobody wants that. In order to truly practice the radical welcome of Jesus Christ we must build relationships. We must foster and nurture connection. We must see people for all of who they are.

One of my good friends once said something that will always stay with me – she said that people have different “textures” – someone you know could be the happiest person in the world one day and then the next be sad, distraught, or pissed the hell off. And so often the temptation is to only see a person in one of those textures, and not the wholeness of who they are. So we must accept people and all of their textures!

If the church has any desire to stay true to what Jesus has commanded us, we must be truly welcoming. We must listen to people’s stories, and build relationships with them. We must welcome people even when we are challenged by them. We must continue extending hospitality to the strangers in our midst, especially in this country, where the government continues to criminalize Black bodies, threatens to kick off millions of people from their healthcare coverage, shut out Muslims from entering this country, and deport millions of undocumented immigrants.

We once depended on other’s kindness hospitality – and now we are called to extend it to others.

On the Road

We can often feel like God is beyond our comprehension and reach – but each and every time we gather together for this meal of bread and wine, God is revealed to us. This meal of body and blood, broken open and poured out for us, restores us all to wholeness by connecting us with That which is forever whole and complete.

Preached on the Third Sunday of Easter. Edited.

Before I begin my sermon today I want to say some words in solidarity with my LGBTQ family in the United Methodist Church. This past week, the Judicial Council of that church ruled that the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto, who was the first openly lesbian bishop in that denomination, violated church law. Even though she was elected and called faithfully by the people she served, her sexual orientation and marriage to a woman deemed her “unfit” to be a bishop – because the UMC declares that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. That same council also affirmed in separate rulings that two different conferences of the UMC must abide by church law and inquire about the sexuality of candidates for ministry.

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Where the Heart Lies

Sermon delivered on Ash Wednesday (3/1/17).

If you were to ask what Lent means to me, like a good recovering Catholic I would tell you that Lent first and foremost is about eating fish on Fridays. As a child, I never looked forward to giving up meat during Lent because I was a picky eater and didn’t care for fish; now that I am older and slightly less picky, when I browse food blogs and see a good recipe for shrimp or tilapia I think, “This would be really good for Lent”.

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Reclaiming and Resisting

I’m not a big fan of the word “unity” these days.

That may sound ridiculous. What’s wrong with unity?
What’s wrong with people coming together?

That’s because, more often than not, folks who say they want unity don’t want the hard work that comes with making it a reality.

Preached on the Third Sunday after Epiphany. Edited.

I’m not a big fan of the word “unity” these days.

That may sound ridiculous. What’s wrong with unity? What’s wrong with people coming together?

That’s because, more often than not, folks who say they want unity don’t want the hard work that comes with making it a reality. We’ve seen, for example, political leaders and private citizens alike from across the country respond to the phrase “Black Lives Matter!” with “All Lives Matter! Why are you dividing people by race? We need to come together! All lives are important!” Yet we know that historically, Black lives have not mattered, so responding with “all lives matter” seeks to simply erase the trauma and historical experiences of Black people.

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Sigamos Bailando (Let’s Keep Dancing)

I delivered this sermon yesterday for the Third Sunday of Advent at my parish.

I love to dance. Specifically I love to dance salsa and merengue. I’ve been dancing for as long as I can remember. It’s a form of self-care and healing for me, and I’ve spent many nights dancing alone in my bedroom, feet moving across the floor. (It’s not as sad it sounds, I swear.)

This love of dance comes from my family. I was always my mother’s dance partner at our family parties, and from a young age, my dad instilled a love of salsa in me, exposing me to the music giants of the salsa genre, like Héctor Lavoe, Willie Colón, and of course, my queen, Celia Cruz. Neither he nor my mom taught me how to ‘properly’ dance salsa, but rather just to move my feet and hips to the music.

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Seeing Over the Crowd

I delivered this sermon yesterday at the parish I am currently interning at. For the readings appointed, including the Gospel reading, click here.

Today’s Gospel reading is one of my favorite stories from the New Testament. The Gospel of Luke tells us that a man named Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, heard Jesus was coming by. He wanted to see Jesus but was unable to do so because he was “short in stature” and couldn’t see over the amount of people surrounding Jesus. I can relate to that a lot because I’m about 5’4” and most people are taller than me. I’m afraid of heights though, so I haven’t tried climbing into a tree to see someone- but  I can relate to the experience of being unable to see Jesus because of a crowd.
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Your Works are Wonderful

Note: I had the pleasure of being a speaker this past Thursday at the most recent installment of Queer Voice in the Worldwhich is a social justice-oriented, TED-talk style program highlighting LGBTQ perspectives, held at the William Way Community Center here in Philadelphia. The theme of this month’s event was “Body”, and so I gave talk on my recent spiritual journey and how it is so intricately and intimately tied to healing the divide between body and spirit in my life. The text of my talk follows. 

I was born and raised as a Roman Catholic, and I loved Jesus. Still do. I was really into church when I was younger. I memorized all the prayers during Mass and would recite them under my breath while the priest was saying them. I’m Puerto Rican, so you know I learned all of that in English and Spanish.

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