Empire Baptized: How the Church Embraced What Jesus Rejected 2nd-5th Centuries by Wes Howard-Brook


Matthew 16:24-28

Memories flood our minds like a rainbow of colors.

People are always curious about why I do the ministry I do, why I live a life that seems so “different”( in reality I am no different than anyone else.) Those questions often put me on the defensive, but the past few days memories I have forgotten about have come to  press in on me, to enfold me in a dark depression, they overwhelm me, and I know it is the Spirit pressing them forward.

Through out my life there has been this Presence, that overwhelms me, that presses on  me in dark times, as well as the times of light, but always a Presence, whom I call Jesus.   And that is why I embrace the pain that often comes with the memories. That is why I  walk into the pain, walk into the dark places where others fear to go. I am not alone. I run away, but always turn around and run into the Light that one finds in the darkness. There is no fear on the streets, there is no fear in the face of pain and death because that is where Jesus is most visible.

I remember back to when I was 13, and my mom caught me and another boy fooling around. She grounded me, gave me books on the evils of homosexuality, and at the same time a sixteen year old friend of mine was murdered because of being with a boy. Those events shut me down, I enclosed myself into a closet of lies and deceit for 12 years, and I am still growing out of that closet of a 13 year old. I am still wrestling with those years of lies and deceit, those years of darkness and pain, and still struggle with my own goodness, my own acceptance. And the events that I stumble into, always push me. This ministry grows out of that struggle. I see that in certain events.

I remember my second year in seminary there was a a hugh party held out in the country every Saturday night, where I served a church. I was close to the kids and went to the party. And eventually what I observed were both the girls and boys being used for prostitutes, and other activities that were simply evil, beyond the normal use of alcohol and drugs. I talked to a few of the local pastors about going with me to the police and they clammed up saying “it is outside of our town.” So I went to the police and set up a sting operation. The result was the busting of a child trafficking and prostitution ring, and the anger of many, and the turning away of my ministerial colleagues out of fear; I shut down, with the rejection, tried to become the “perfect preacher boy.” But that never works for me–I never stay in any closet–I bust out–

My first full time church out of seminary was in a small town in northern Missouri. The second week I was on the job there was a murder of a man known  as the “town bully”, a drug dealer and who knows what else. The funeral home called and asked me to do the funeral–because no other minister in the area would even see the family, let along do the funeral, and so I performed the funeral and ministered to the young wife and four kids.  And for the next two years I was hated, threatened, until I moved. Again I became the perfect “preacher boy”, and as always it did not work.

Staying in the closet never works it destroys us.  People label me “gay, bi, and every other name”, but I have had sex with both men and women, love both, so am I “bi” or “straight” or now that I am celibate  am I a “eunuch”.  Labels are destructive–so I label myself “queer” which one can look at in many ways. Labeling destroys relationships.

The church often goes in the closet behind the Bible. And you can never hide from Jesus–we have to face our memories–

Only in facing our memories can we find our true selves. Wes Howard Brook  in his book Empire Baptized: How the Church Embraced What Jesus Rejected 2nd-5th Centuries sums up that the tradition Jesus taught was opposite  of the tradition formed through the Empire and political ambitions of its leaders, that the tradition of Jesus are not concerned with “the right words” but with the “right practice” which is the love of God and neighbor. Jesus never was concerned with “saving souls”, but loving people in all walks of life, but in particular the poor and the oppressed.

Henri Nouwen tells us that

“Often we are preoccupied with the question, “How can we be witnesses in the Name of Jesus?  What are we supposed to say or do to make people accept the love that God offers them?”  These questions are expressions more of our fear than of our love.  Jesus shows us the way of being witnesses.  He was so full of God’s love, so connected with God’s will, so burning with the zeal for God’s Kingdom, that he couldn’t do other than witness. Wherever he went and whomever he met, a power went out from him that healed everyone who touched him. (See Luke 6:19.)

If we want to be witnesses like Jesus, our only concern should be to be as alive with the love of God as Jesus was.”

My  memories are like a rainbow of colors that are bright, dark, painful, and full of resurrection.   My memories shine into the presence and bring me to see simply Jesus in his love of people, and his care for others.

Our lectionary reading from Matthew tells us: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives will find them.”

For me the words of St. Mary Mackallop describes the purpose of our creation: ‘Find happiness in making others happy.”

I do not do a very good job, but I try with all of my mind, soul and strength to love God and my neighbor, and I hope others will try as well.

+Fr. River Damien Sims sfw, D.Min.

P.O. Box 642656

San Francisco, CA 94164


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