What Keeps Us Together

 

-- A Pride Sermon from the Laity --

By Patrick Hunt

 

Christ Episcopal Church Ridgewood, NJ

 

June 24, 2001

 

Good morning:

 

Today's second reading (Galatians 3:23-29) is an affirmation of our belonging together. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ. The individuality and differences that we each bring to this community, while important and identifying, are not what brings us together, what keeps us together. Our faith in Christ and our belief in his teachings support and guide us in our lives of faith, family, love and work.

 

It is this faith, sometimes elusive and fleeting, sometimes strong, that ties us together in a common experience of learning, understanding and worship. To believe in a religion does not mean agreeing with it as fact. Rather, to believe means to allow the imagery to work on us, letting these mythically rich thoughts be the things we think about. It is wonderful, for instance, to associate events in our life especially the painful ones with the gentle touch of a benevolent, loving Father. That does not mean there has to actually exist a personal god who has feelings like a human father. The benevolence is a metaphor about the proper attitude to hold toward all of life.

 

At this moment, there are hundreds of thousands of gays and lesbians gathering in New York to celebrate Gay Pride Day. Tonight on the 6 oclock news we will invariably see a brief film clip of outrageously dressed men and women dancing in the streets. To many, this is their only impression of Gay Life. There is, of course, so much more. How do we incorporate this dichotomy into our faith and our understanding of Christs words?

 

In Matthew 22:34, Christ gave us the two most important Commandments; You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. When we add the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have them do to you, there is a framework for understanding.

 

Clearly, there are behaviors that are bad. They hurt other people. They result in strife and disharmony in society. Few of us have any problem recognizing that we should not murder, we should not steal, and we should not cause other people pain and suffering. These are all obvious when you apply the Golden Rule. And we can apply the Golden Rule without ever making anybody else wrong. The Golden Rule does not call for judgement, though it might call you to admonish someone for their error but out of love and support, not judgement. The Golden Rule is not about right and wrong, but it does give us a mechanism for determining our behavior without projecting anything onto other people.

 

Indeed, the Golden Rule is about introjecting others experience, feeling their feelings, realizing our oneness with them. On the other hand, obedience to rules of propriety and cleanliness, for example, stirs up feelings of wrong-making, causes internalization of negative judgement, and consequently encourages projection of ill will toward others.

 

What got Jesus in trouble with the Temple officials and the political authorities was his teaching that the Golden Rule should pre-empt the Law, that love was the one commandment that prevailed over the multitude of rules that religion promulgates. This same teaching is what is at the heart of the countercultural values from which gay liberation arose. And it is this teaching that keeps gay culture at odds with the religious establishment. We look to our present experience and our sensibilities to tell us what is right and wrong. They look to rules written down 3,000 years ago.

 

Poor Jesus! One time he managed to stop people from stoning a hapless woman caught in adultery by reminding them of their own sinfulness. But ever since, believing that his death on the cross has taken away their sins, his followers have brandished their stones proudly. Turning Jesus admonition upside down, every born-again Christian now seems to believe he has authorization to cast his stone first. And so, out of love of Jesus and the admirable desire to be sinless, born-again Christians throw their stones at their own shadows. Unfortunately, the rocks hit us, the homosexuals hidden in those shadows.

 

Acts (5:38-39) gives advice about how the gay rights movement should be treated. Soon after the death of Jesus, the Temple elders were discussing what to do about the Christian heresy that was growing in Jerusalem. Some wanted to slay all the disciples of Jesus and end Christianity before it caused any more trouble. A wise Elder named Gamaliel, the teacher of St. Paul, proposed leaving it up to God. Let these men alone, he said, if their work is of man, it will be overthrown. But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow it, and you will find yourselves fighting against God.

 

This church or any community is a dead and nonresurrected body without us. For lesbians and gay men to return to and live within the church without declaring, celebrating and sharing their affectional identities would make as little sense as reading and remembering the Exodus story and omitting any reference to slavery.

 

The Exodus and Jesus events represent a similar combination of experience, meaning, and outlook that we share, commit to, invest in, and because of which we grow, change and struggle. As with our friends, we cannot take the relationship lightly, nor will we give it up quickly; and as with our friends, we criticize and take it to account for its homophobia. Although it homophobic statements sting and condemn us, we counter that those statements are themselves condemned by its own Exodus and Jesus events. Just as we have said to our friends, How can you express love and be a justice-seeking person and not work to overcome the oppression of lesbians and gay men?, in our dialogue with the Bible we should ask, How can you be based on two events that are about transforming pain, suffering, and death in to life, liberation and healing, and yet call for the misery and death of lesbians and gay men?

 

 

Our being openly lesbian and gay is important not only because it helps us and others to understand who we are, but also why we are here, and what in our experience is vital and valuable for the church to know, in its mission of transforming pain and suffering. In some ways lesbians and gay men know what no others know, just as others know what we do not, but need to know. Without us, the church is partial. Together we can get on with the business of building community and making justice and peace.

 

And no matter how supportive you may feel here and now, let me assure you that within this very village those thoughts are not shared. Two of our newest members, learning last year there was a church in Ridgewood that flew a rainbow flag, but not knowing which church, began to call churches listed in the Yellow Pages. The responses were shocking in some instances. Fear, distrust and prejudice are alive and well in our village churches.

 

To the Parents in this congregation, one of the most important thoughts I would like to leave with you is this. Talk with your children about these issues. The suicide rate among gay and lesbian teenagers is three times that of other groups. We must break down this cycle of fear and prejudice. Whether your son or daughter is straight or gay, the message of Love your neighbor as yourself and do unto others, as you would have them do to you, is critical. The words that Christ gave us are disarmingly simple and sometimes so very difficult to achieve. We cannot leave our beliefs behind when we enter this building, nor should we leave our faith behind when we depart.

 

If there is a single Christian duty, task or project, it is not to give to others, but to create and be in community, in which people can give, contribute and feel valuable. We understand Christian ministry to be the building of community in which people are encouraged to participate and contribute, to share and develop themselves, to be taken seriously, to take others seriously, to recognize and be recognized. In using Pauls metaphor of the body of Christ for community, this ministry would be considered resurrectional ministry that is, the continual making, expanding, and enriching of community, the raising up of community through the ongoing task of including and empowering its members. In Exodus terms, it would be a ministry of moving out of the bondage, alienation and separation, into the freedom of whole community, into the freedom of being who we are and can be, with and because of others.

 

This is not a one way ministry, either from the affluent to the needy, from the experts to the ill-informed, from the top to the bottom, or from the bottom to the top; it is instead ministry among people, an interactive ministry in which each life has the potential to impact and change another. It is not a ministry to people, but a ministry by, with, and among people. Acknowledging that they have something to teach or give some suggestion, insight, plan, experience, or knowledge that can change us, change the church, transform pain and suffering.

 

So, where will this all end? If you take Jesus prediction in Matthew 25:45 seriously, at the Last Judgement, the Judge is going to have to say to the Fundamentalists:

 

Behold, when I was thrown out of the military or was fired from my job or evicted from my apartment, you didnt care. When I was sick, you did not visit me or lobby Congress for research funds. When I wanted to sacramentalize my relationship, you passed laws to prevent me. When I needed civil rights, you vilified me and misrepresented my claims. When I complained about injustice and demonstrated politically, you sensationalized my cause as a fundraising tactic to gather more wealth into your coffers. When I died, you picketed my funeral. Behold, what you did not do for the least of these, my lesbian and gay sisters and brothers, you did not do for me. Because you were not hospitable to these strangers in your midst, heaven holds no hospitality for you. Get thee into everlasting damnation.

 

Perhaps the reason spiritually oriented gay people have to work for the transformation of religion is to save the Christians from their own hell-fire!

 

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

 

Thank you.

 

 

Patrick A. Hunt

 

 

With reference and thanks to:

 

Gay Spirituality Toby Johnson

Gay Theology without Apology Gary Comstock

 

For significant exerpts used in today's presentation.

 

 


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