An Inescapable Network of Mutuality – PRIDE Service – June 4, 2017

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Sermon Preached by the Reverend Peter Thompson
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
Annual PRIDE Service
June 4, 2017

Let us pray.
Come, Holy Spirit and kindle in us the fire of your love.
Take our minds and think through them.
Take our lips and speak through them,
Take our souls and set them on fire. Amen.

Good afternoon and Happy Pride!

Today and for the rest of this month we celebrate an ever-shifting and ever-growing acronym that has taken on new forms as our understanding of human diversity has enlarged and expanded. Many years ago, a gathering like this—if it even happened in a church—would have been called a Gay Pride celebration. Over time, the term Lesbian was included to highlight the fact that same-sex love could be both female and male, and later the inclusion of bi and trans folks became more explicit through the use of four-letter acronym LGBT. In more recent years, an awareness has grown of the overlapping but distinct classification of queer, hence the addition of a Q at the end of the acronym. But there are still others who don’t feel any of these terms describes them well and yet who belong in this celebration of the fabulous diversity of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

It can be exhausting to keep up, even for those of us who have the best of intentions. Part of the reason for this is that change of any kind is hard, especially for those who have to re-learn terminology that once held different meanings for them. For some, an aversion to the word queer originates from its past use as a derisive epithet, while others may mistakenly use the term transvestite without understanding why doing so could be wrong. It can take a while for individuals and institutions to catch up with the always moving landscape. In planning the service for today, I looked for hymns that fit the character of the occasion, but even many of the most progressive hymns in our tradition contain outdated and perhaps even problematic material. For example, even twenty years ago, naming women in a hymn as specific group was a bold and radical statement because it was still controversial for women to be fully included in all areas of Church life. But a hymn that explicitly names both women and men today runs the risk of excluding non gender conforming people who feel that neither male nor female language captures who they are.

The problem is not just that we are slow to change, however. It is also that we can often be reluctant to change if the direct beneficiaries are not ourselves. When I was a young gay teenager, it took me a lot of strength and courage to come out at my traditional, all-boys prep school, but once I received the acceptance of others I compensated by constantly assuring my friends that I wasn’t one of those radical, politically correct gay people that would always bother them with whining and complaints. In the years since, I’ve heard what gay men say about women in gay clubs and I’ve witnessed biphobia and transphobia and racism alive and well in largely white gay male communities. It becomes all too easy to casually accept or even perpetuate the exclusion of others when you yourself are already included.

Today our celebration of pride coincides with the Christian feast of Pentecost. Pentecost recognizes the day following Jesus’ ascension into heaven on which the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus’ disciples and gave them the ability to speak in all of the languages of the world so that they could reach everyone with God’s Good News. Pentecost proclaims that God’s reach is long and God’s embrace is wide and all-encompassing. There should be no real outsiders after the feast of Pentecost. If the disciples gain the ability to speak practically every language of the world, then we as the disciples’ descendants are responsible for the care and inclusion of all people everywhere, and no group or set of people is unworthy of being welcomed and incorporated into God’s family.

For all us gathered here for Pride, I think one of the messages of Pentecost is that God’s wide embrace will continue to transform and expand, perhaps in ways we can’t now even imagine or comprehend. Pentecost challenges us to refrain from limiting God’s love, from stopping the acronym and the explanations and the conversations just because we get exhausted or puzzled. Some of the new ways in which God shows up will stretch us and confuse us—but that is precisely the point of reaching out to others and including everyone. I think Pentecost also reminds us that we do not have the luxury of working only within the narrow silos of sexual orientation or gender identity. Academics and activists have been increasingly reminding us of the importance of intersectionality—the reality that oppression against any group of people cannot be untangled from oppression against any other group of people. Pentecost confirms that unless a community contains everyone at equal levels, it is not yet complete, and Pentecost requires us to commit to confronting the problems that face all of society, not just the problems that are important to our own personal comfort and security.

One of the ways in which we are trying to do this at St. Paul’s is through a Race and Social Justice discussion group that takes place here every Wednesday evening. Over the past few months, a diverse group from across the parish community and outside of it has been examining the pressing issue of race in this country from a variety of different perspectives, and the group has benefited from a number of rich and meaningful conversations that we hope will truly make a difference in how we act in the world. More than once, members of our group have expressed astonishment at how relevant the words and deeds of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. remain, despite all that has happened in the fifty years since his death. This afternoon, I’d like to call to your attention this famous section, from his Letter from a Birmingham Jail: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly…anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” And if I could further extend King’s thoughts to relate to some of the contemporary issues we currently face, I might add, “Anyone who lives inside the world can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” It seems as if intersectionality was on the tip of King’s tongue.

May this Pride celebration be a joyful one, in which we celebrate the glorious diversity in which God has made us, and may this Pride celebration also be a challenging one, in which we are compelled to consider the wellbeing of all those God loves, to honor all of the languages—literal and metaphorical—spoken across the globe. The inescapable network of mutuality that surrounds us has the potential to provide real care and support to all who are vulnerable or oppressed, but it is also fragile, tied in a single garment of destiny, and needs us to contribute to it and hold it up. We may rely rightly on the Holy Spirit to give us inspiration, but it is, in the end, up to us to spread the Good News to everyone on earth, to love our neighbor—our black neighbor, our white neighbor, our trans neighbor, our queer neighbor, our immigrant neighbor, our poor neighbor and everyone else—with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul and all our strength.

Categories: Sermons