Rev. Gevurtz’s Ordination Sermon

Aish tamid tukad al hamizbayach; lo tichbeh (sung)

I think there is a beautiful synergy for us to arrive at this moment of ordination, on this particular weekend, at the start of a week which is holy to so many.  Today is Shabbat HaGadol, The Great Sabbath before Passover and tomorrow is Palm Sunday.  On this day Jews read of the installation of Aaron, as the High Priest of the Israelites. And tomorrow, Christians remember the jubilant arrival of the rabbi Yehoshuah into the Holy City. What does it mean for me, as I am ordained today, to be instructed as Aaron was:

אֵ֗שׁ תָּמִ֛יד תּוּקַ֥ד עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֖חַ לֹ֥א תִכְבֶּֽה 
A continuous fire shall burn upon the altar; it shall not go out

What is the fire which I need to keep burning, as I step into my Calling? What is the flame that I commit to carrying into this next phase of life’s journey?

I received an important lesson during the AIDS epidemic – when my friend Tim said “Don’t treat me like I am dying from AIDS – I am living WITH it! You could be hit by a truck leaving this apartment.  I just know I am going to die; but in the meantime, I am LIVING.”  I learned about the fire which is the passion for life, from Tim and others, whose flames burned too short a time – and I commit to tending that flame in all those I serve; may we cherish each moment we are given.

One spark of my fire, (that I almost let burn out), was my creative spirit.  Just as arthritis and fibromyalgia have limited my body, I allowed the workaday world to limit my spirit; and over time I allowed many of my passions –  acting, singing, crafting – to be extinguished.  My time here at ChI, in Arts for Awakening particularly, has breathed new life into the fire that once flowed through my creative spirit.  I commit to kindle that spark of creativity, that it might inspire me and others, as we co-create the world we want.

And finally, in journeying through life with a trans husband and gender fluid child, I have learned that none of us are either/or but Both/AND; our flames dance in multiple hues.  The divine light and luminous dark of holy fire, that which we name Wonder and Awe, calls us to be our truest selves.  But it also calls us to witness the pain and brokenness within many who our lives touch.  I commit to shining my light on the ways our society is missing the mark; and to nurture the luminous dark, which calls each of us to embrace our deepest and highest selves.

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Rev. Gevurtz’s Graduation Speech

Tonight begins the 27th day of counting the Omer, in the Jewish Tradition; Yesod sh’b’Netzach. Yesod is the quality of the Divine, experienced as a firm foundation, and Netzach is the quality of endurance; the ability to overcome obstacles.  It feels like a fitting moment, since Heaven knows, it has definitely taken endurance to finally achieve this milestone, just after my 60th birthday!  It’s been a long circuitous path!

When I started this seminary journey, I thought my activist days in social justice were behind me.  That I was going to slow down, and enjoy an idyllic and contemplative life of spiritual practice and chaplaincy.  Certainly, it was to be a coming of full circle, (since my journey into ministry first started in an AIDS hospice, more than 30 years ago), but it was time for this old war horse to go to pasture.

If I have learned anything in these 60 years, it is that Mother Divine has a sense of humor!  I guess she isn’t done with me quite yet.  Because she guided me to a school which has its yesod – it’s foundation – in Educating to Counter Oppression.  In my first term, the Holy One began guiding me to my future ministry, when I took Lindi’s Bending the Arc class.  Before I started (in both this class and in our foundational ECO course), I went in feeling like my life experience (with over 30 years of justice work) would make these courses more review than new insights.  I was wrong!  I remember thinking “How is it, with all my experience, I didn’t know this?!” – on more than one occasion!

My final project that first term, was to address the topic of queer youth experiencing homelessness.  That project put me back in dialogue with an organization for which I had served on their board, in the early 2000’s; The Community of Welcoming Congregations.  This in turn led to doing my field work practicum, with CWC.  But it also “accidently” led me down a path that has further refined my sense of calling, when I recognized the deep level of religious wounding that still exists within the LGBTQ community.

I remember a conversation I had at one point with a classmate, where I posited the idea that the trauma experienced by queer youth and the trauma being experienced by Mother Earth, likely have the same root cause, and that if we could identify that, then maybe, wisdom could lead us to healing many wounds.  This same theme resurfaced in numerous courses over the past 3 years; certainly, in Hugo’s Queer Studies class, but also as Chris Fry guided my memoir; all the way down to Faryn’s wonderful exploration of Jewish Liberation Theology.  I have come to believe that all of the social justice issues we struggle with: racism, misogyny, capitalism, queer & transphobia, anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia and the fevered destruction of our planet are indeed symptoms of the religious wounding caused by the hegemony inherited from Christo-colonizers; as they began exporting fear and hate as tools for controlling the masses.

No one person can take it all in, let alone take it all on.  We are each called, to serve in unique ways, to heal the soul of humanity.  But like Nachshon, (who was the first to step into the Red Sea, so the waters could part), it is only for us to step into the work, for miracles to happen. 

For my part, where The Divine has called me to step, came as such an unexpected miracle.  I am (as of 2 months ago) the new executive director of The Community of Welcoming Congregations, serving all of Oregon and SW Washington.  I am blessed that the board and our 100 congregations want to follow the work of that early vision; to create sanctuary for queer youth experiencing homelessness, and to begin to heal queer and straight congregants from the trauma of religious wounding. We have been given a firm foundation, here at Starr King.  And God gives us the endurance to Bend the Arc, toward justice. ot;:[&

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