I don’t know if you’re like me but in the gospel readings i find it easier to imagine myself siding with Jesus than I do imagining I’m one of Jesus’ old neighbours from Nazareth. The old neighbours do not come off well in the story. They don’t see the big picture that Jesus is the Messiah, sent by God, with a prophetic message of love and grace. If I’m being honest I am more like an old neighbour than I am like Jesus. Wondering why a former next door neighbour thinks he’s so special.
I can imagine a former neighbour thinking, “Great, so Jesus trained to be a carpenter under his father, than go be a carpenter. Why this putting on airs and big speeches? We all know he’s just Mary and Joseph’s kid. He went to the city and now he thinks he’s too good for us. He has to rock the boat and talk about making things better. Who does he think he is? Does he think he’s better than us?” Often in life we have a limited perspective on events.
Thinking about Pride Month Worship, queer folks may be able to identify with Jesus in this reading. Ostracized in churches even today, we are just turning beginning to the turn the corner on full inclusion. Even in the ELCIC, the Lutheran denomination to which we belong, it is an acceptable position for individual congregations overtly to exclude LGBTQIA2S+ folks. It is acceptable position to be anti-trans. In fact such behaviour is even rewarded insofar as we have far more clergy and bishops serving who are straight than we do who are queer. I’m not aware if we’ve had an openly queer bishop serve among Lutherans in Canada.
Even banks have more robust HR policies than we do as the church. If CIBC reprimanded or dismissed an employee for being gay or trans that would be newsworthy. There would be lawsuits. When the church does it, we call it religious freedom. We say it takes time for congregations to evolve. We’re here in 2021 and only a small fraction of ELCIC congregations have become Reconciling in Christ, the Lutheran program for becoming a queer-affirming congregation. And so it’s no surprise a lot of LGBTQIA2S+ folks are weary of participating in church life, having being burned in the past. For that reason alone we need to thank queer folks who are already in our midst and others looking for a church home. Like Jesus, they point towards our better selves, better ways of being church in the world. Jesus’ reception by his neighbours is much like queer folks’ reception in the church. There is at first confusion why all this noise about being different. Why the need to draw attention to themselves and not simply follow the rules as they had been established. And as the prophetic cry grows louder, the increased threat of persecution. In another passage Jesus is nearly thrown off a cliff for proclaiming a gospel of liberation.
Jesus as Saviour & Liberator
As Regina Heater argues, we turn towards the very junior carpenter turned prophet and healer for liberation and salvation. We confess we are the ones of unbelief who reject Jesus, but through the power of the gospel, the Word melts the coldness in our hearts. Jesus is the one promising to set us all free from whatever holds us back including transphobia and poly-phobia.
Consider the power of ritual in worship. We gather around the table every Sunday because ritual is so important. Gathering for the meal of bread and wine matters. Other people might look at it and wonder who does bread and wine think they are? When did this plain bread and wine get off thinking they’re so special? But we say it’s not just bread and wine, but rather the bread and wine are attached to the Word of God. And with the Word of God, it becomes a life-changing sacrament. And life-changing sacraments change our hearts and together we can change the world.
And that’s why marginalized groups turn to ritual. For example queer folks having Pride parades. Why celebrate the same thing every year? Why get dressed up and go through the motions? It’s a public ritual that liberates people. A reminder that queer folks are here and aren’t going anywhere. An act of cleansing the streets of homophobia and transphobia.
LGBTQIA+ March Against Poverty
I think about the recent LGBTQIA+ March Against Poverty held at Centennial Square. We thank the Social Justice Committee for providing funds to help offset hosting this event. Unfortunately the event was held last Monday on perhaps the hottest day ever recorded in Victoria in June. There a mid-size group of mainly queer folks took up public space in public ritual reminding themselves and the public that they’re here, they exist, and they have a demand to have access to basic resources for those with disabilities.
What was striking about the gathering was the coalition building. There were younger folks involved in Fairy Creek blockades, there were young hopeful political candidates, a local community run bookstore, among others. They saw the power in people gathering together as one body. People with very few resources could gather together and uplift one another. Despite many of them suffering from poverty and insufficient support for disabilties, what is striking is the building up of one another. Realizing that we are inter-related and the more we support one another, the stronger we all are.
It is important to support events like this because we know pushback continues to exist. Dozens of posters for the Monday event were defaced, even though they were mainly hung up in downtown and Fernwood locations which are typically home to more progressive communities. Queer folks need us to have their backs quite literally. To stand with and alongside folks and watching for people uttering hate speech and help diffuse the situation.
As Jesus people imagine the capacity we have with ritual action. Ritual action that expands our understanding of a Holy Trinity beyond male identities. Ritual action that professes the holiness of queer bodies. Ritual actions that disentangles us from a purity culture that diminishes human sexuality and beauty of God’s creation.
A story of ritual action. I remember serving as a Lutheran pastor in Virginia. There was a trans person in a queer-affirming community organization we had begun. They said they wanted to contact other queer folks and let them know about the group in more remote corners of the county. I asked them how they planned to do this. They replied they had printed some hand made posters and would visit every library branch, community bulletin board, and just talk to people on the street. I asked if they were concerned for their safety and they said not very scared. They just needed $50 for gas since it would require a lot of driving. And so with a full tank of gas they set out in a beat up car baring holding together and proclaimed a gospel of love.
Their actions remind me of Jesus in the gospel reading who sends out disciples to proclaim the good news with little regard for bringing much with them. I know I struggle with that same gospel reading at times and the vulnerability of being sent into the world with just the Word of God.
Wrapping up, know that queer folks are closer to Jesus given their prophetic identities. Those of us who are closer to the old neighbour, let us reflect upon God’s grace as we build coalitions of justice and love together. Go out and share God’s love for queer neighbours. Amen.