Homily from service on June 19, 2022 – Second Sunday after Pentecost
by Seminarian, Michael Thompson
Sermon preached by Seminarian, Michael Thompson
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
Let the words of my mouth and the collective meditation of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight. Oh God, our rock and our Redeemer, and set our hearts on fire with your love. Amen.
It’s Pride Month, the month in which members of the queer community like me celebrate who we are in the beautiful diversity in which God created us. So then, in the words of the Psalmist, “Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? / and why are you so disquieted within me?” Because Pride Month typically is accompanied by questions like: “Why do we need Pride? What about straight pride? Why do they have to flaunt their ‘lifestyle’?”
Pride Month and pride marches find their origins in 1969. During the early hours of June 28, 1969, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club and bar in Greenwich Village. This was not unusual. These raids were part of the system. Gay bars and clubs were frequently run by the mob – after all, engaging in any same-sex activity, including holding hands, was illegal – and police raids and payoffs were part of the system.
Something was different in June 1969 in New York. The queer community was fed up and angry. Led by trans people of color, they waited outside the Stonewall – and got angrier. When police turned violent, the queer community threw coins, bottles, rocks, and other objects. Within minutes, riots lasting six days began – complete with chorus lines because we are fabulous even when we protest.
The queer rights movement had started long before Stonewall. Organizations like the Society for Human Rights, the Mattachine Society, and the Daughters of Bilitis were formed in the 1920s and 1950s. Stonewall, though, sparked a revolution to respect the dignity of every human being that continues today.
Pride Month is still needed. Attacks on the queer community persist. In the 1980s and ’90s, governments and societies stood by as queer people in their 20s and 30s died of HIV/AIDS. AIDS was God’s judgment. The message was that queer people should die.
In the early 2000s, I sat in a church in Cambridge in which the pastor, a candidate for bishop in that denomination, preached a sermon condemning, among other things, the “demon of homosexuality.” I left that church and did not return. The message: queer people are not welcome in the Church.
Laws prohibiting sodomy were legal until 2003. Same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts in 2004 and didn’t become the law of the land until 2015. We’re still fighting for trans people to use bathrooms and locker rooms and to serve in the military. The message: queer people belong at the fringes of society.
Violence against queer people persists. In 1998, Matthew Shepard, just 21 years old, was beaten, tortured, and left for dead in Laramie, Wyoming – perhaps for the capital offense of flirting. Our trans and non-binary siblings, the prime leaders in the fight for queer rights, have been ignored and left to die: murdered doing sex work that they needed to survive and murdered just for being. This. Is. Still. Happening. And disproportionately so to trans people of color. Hundreds are murdered each year and we don’t even have accurate numbers because trans people, especially trans people of color, are not valued in our society.
Today’s lessons tell us how we as the Church are to respond to issues affecting the queer community. Step one is for us to feel deeply how Elijah must have felt. Elijah was overwhelmed. Everyone was against him. They wanted him dead. Elijah begins to think that he is better off dead. He sits under a tree and asks God to take him. Too many queer youth know this feeling. They absorb messages from society and the Church that who they are is wrong. They are told directly and indirectly that they would be better off dead. They are denied affirmation of who they are and that God loves them. We drown out God’s message in the sheer silence, “I will tend you, feed you, and empower you,” with screams that God hates them. Our job is to amplify God’s voice and to do God’s work. We are to tend, feed, and empower, our queer siblings, especially the youngest and most vulnerable among us. These are our children. We are called to be allies and champions.
To see this, you need only look over there. We asked the Breakfast Club to paint rocks in response to the question, “What brings you peace and joy?” You will see over there 8 or 9 rocks painted with the words “Pride Rocks.”
That is the calling in the lesson from Luke. This story is in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, so we should pay attention. Jesus arrives, and the first person he meets is a possessed man living on the fringes of society. The community had tried to no avail to restrain him, but they seem to have reached an arrangement. He is okay only if he lives at the literal margins of society, in the tombs among the dead as if he were dead.
Jesus shows up and the possessed man (or the demon) immediately identifies him: the Son of the Most High. Jesus liberates the man, ordering the oppressive force out. Jesus’ first act is love toward someone he just met. But the love does not end there. It gets more radical.
Having learned of this healing, the community is afraid and asks Jesus – whom they have yet to meet properly – to leave. This is unfair! Jesus has restored a man to the community and taken away all impediments to their living together. Jesus resolved what must have been a nuisance to the community, but they reject his healing. Perhaps they had become content with having forgotten about this marginalized man in the tombs. Perhaps they had no patience for Jesus’ upsetting the system they had created. Perhaps they were just too afraid to believe that healing was possible.
In Luke’s and Mark’s versions, the healed man asks to go with Jesus. This man probably knew that the community would not accept him healed, restored, clothed, and in his right mind. Jesus, though, sends the man back to his oppressors with the instruction to tell them of all God has done for him. “So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.” Mark’s version goes further: “And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone was amazed.” Mark has this man going beyond the local community to the Decapolis, meaning “Ten Cities,” to tell of Jesus’ deeds. This parallels the lesson from 1 Kings. God tends, feeds, and accompanies Elijah – and then sends him back to continue his prophetic work. As I said in a sermon several weeks ago: “Love always leaves a significant mark.”
Even in this supposedly progressive time – 2022 – and even in this supposedly progressive place – Massachusetts – we are too comfortable keeping the marginalized and oppressed at the margins. Even in the most accepting churches, being queer is acceptable only with conditions. We accept you: if you don’t flaunt your “lifestyle,” if you adhere to heteronormative relationship styles, if you blend in, if you otherwise appear and act straight and cisgender, if . . . if . . . if. This isn’t acceptance, and it isn’t inclusion. In the same way, the Gerasenes were okay with the man and Jesus if they didn’t disrupt the system that was already in place. That is not good enough.
Jesus leaves behind a mark of God’s love. He leaves the man to tell the people of God’s love. Jesus leaves in their midst a walking, breathing, loud reminder of who God is and what God does. God is love. God loves radically. God heals and restores. God removes all impediments to reconciliation. God’s love is so powerful that no oppressive system can contain it. God’s love enters those systems and breaks it.
If you are queer, be the man Jesus healed. If you are not, be an ally and be the man Jesus healed. Don’t go into the tombs and live among the dead. Shout about what God has done for you. Welcome all people, truly embracing all aspects of who they are. Witness to the power of God’s love.
We the Church have a lot of catch up to do with our queer siblings. For too long, we has been complicit in the message that these people, our siblings, are less than. That they are abomination. That they are not wonderfully made in the very image of God, with the Holy Breath of God filling their nostrils and resting in their lungs, created as God created them and knew them before they were in the womb. We tell them that they must change. No. We must change.
Even if we don’t advance hateful messages, we allow those who do to be louder than us. No. If we say that God is love, then we need to be allies who shout about God’s love through the streets of the Decapolis. If we say that God is love, then we need to witness to that love. We need to declare, not just in the Eucharistic Prayer but out there, our thanks to God “for the goodness and love which [God has] made known to us in [God’s beautiful, diverse, and good] creation.” (BCP 368.) We need to declare how God brought us out of the error of oppression and marginalization into the truth of God’s love, our of the sin of racism, homophobia, and transphobia and into the righteousness of God’s love for all God has made; and out of death in the tombs into life in community and love. (Id.) We all need to see in the faces of our queer siblings the very face of our Lord and God.
To my queer siblings, here the words of this Black, Puerto Rican, gay man, who hopes one day to be a priest: God loves you. Period. Nothing about who you are needs healing, but God does want to heal the hurt inflicted on you because of who you are. That is the truth. You are made in nothing less than the very image of our Creator, who is love.
To my straight and cis siblings, make God’s love for all people known to all people. Be forces through whom God heals the deep pain that has been inflict on God’s queer children. For too many, this is truly a matter of life and death. Remember, “[t]here is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slaver or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of [us] are one in Christ Jesus.”
Happy Pride. “Now, return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” Amen.