Sermon for Gay Pride at Bridgeport UCC (June 16th, 2013)

Following the social upheaval of World War II, many people in the United States felt a fervent desire to “restore the prewar social order and hold off the forces of change,” according to historian Barry Adam.

Spurred by the national emphasis on anti-communism, Senator Joseph McCarthy conducted hearings searching for communists in the U.S. government, the U.S. Army, and other government-funded agencies and institutions, leading to a national paranoia.

Anarchists, communists, and other people deemed un-American and subversive were considered security risks. Homosexuals were included in this list by the U.S. State Department in 1950, on the theory that they were prone to blackmail. Under Secretary of State James E. Webb noted in a report, “It is generally believed that those who engage in overt acts of perversion lack the emotional stability of normal persons.”

Up until the night of the police raid there was never any trouble there,” she said. “The homosexuals minded their own business and never bothered a soul. There were never any fights or hollering, or anything like that. They just wanted to be left alone. I don’t know what they did inside, but that’s their business. I was never in there myself. It was just awful when the police came. It was like a swarm of hornets attacking a bunch of butterflies.

-Shirley Evans, neighbor to the Stonewall Inn

Homosexuality is, in fact, a mental illness which has reached epidemiological proportions.

-Charles Socarides, noted educator and author regarding “homosexual behavior.”

We really did it, but we were going to pay.

-bystander to Stonewall Riots

Sometimes, pride is hard. Gathering pride hurts. Gathering pride hurts because the pieces you’re trying to quilt are small and fraying. Sometimes, it seems like pride is gone. And that is when we come to you, O God. When our pride is broken, our spirits are weak, and our bodies are weighted with fatigue.

If you’ve been keeping up with me on Facebook, you know that last night at about 9:00 I posted a status update:

Why did I agree to preach Gay Pride Sunday? I don’t know anything about gay people!

Now, we all know that’s not true, but how in the world do you condense “Gay Pride” into one sermon? We’re headed for the parade as soon as church is over and this is like a three hour endeavor all by itself!

As I was telling Martina last night, preaching “Gay Pride Sunday” is kind of like being asked to do a sermon on The Bible. Are there any parameters here? Can I buy a vowel? It reminds me of the associate pastor who gets up in front of the congregation for his first sermon. It’s great! They laugh, they cry, they take up offering. Preacher is on top of the world because his first sermon is such a raging success. Monday morning, the associate preacher takes his Bible to the senior pastor and says, “that was great! Got any other books?”

Gay Pride is too big for one sermon.

I also joked with everyone that I was going to come out dressed as Boy George. I said Boy George specifically because my dad is straight as an arrow, and in the 80s, he told his MYF group (Kristan, what does it stand for?) that he had booked him.

So my dad goes on for weeks and weeks about how Boy George is going to come and visit the youth group at our church. It is at this point, ladies and gentlemen, that I began to completely fall apart laughing while I was writing this.

So, the night arrives, right? The kids are waiting. They’re out of their minds excited when BOY GEORGE starts coming down the stairs into the fellowship hall. My mother has done exquisite makeup. Flawless. My father’s face is completely powdered white. He has black liquid eyeliner perfectly drawn and dried so there are no lumps. His mascara is perfect.

My sister used to have this puffy doll face with long, long braids made out of yarn so she’d have a place to put all her barrettes, right? So, picture this.

My dad has taken the puffy doll face and laid it flat upon his head so that the yarn braids with all the multicolored plastic kiddie barrettes are falling to his shoulders. He puts on a Boy George style hat and wears one of our family quilts whose majority color is pink draped over his shoulder.

The kids are laughing so hard they can barely breathe because this is the associate pastor of the church in drag and they’ve rarely seen him in anything but a suit and tie, or in his robes during worship.

So if you’ve ever seen the movie …But I’m a Cheerleader, congregation, That. Is. My. Root.

I love that joke. I could only make it in front of a GLBT audience and have them start rolling on the floor. Thank you, thank you for feeding my ego. As a cook, I work with people younger than some pairs of my pants. It’s important to me that, on days like this, you all are here to remind me that I’m only 10 or 15 years older than your average line cook, and for me, pride is being able to tell these jokes without you reacting as if I am Methuselah. Because I’m not. Dana is.

No, seriously. All kidding aside, my dad is one of the first people to ever teach me about pride, even though he didn’t know I was gay at the time (or did he?). Pride, he taught me, is the systematic willingness to be yourself.

I think that’s worth a second look.

Pride is the systematic willingness to be yourself.

  • Pride is knowing that you have to be yourself whether the law wants you to be or not.
  • Pride is knowing that your mind and your heart bring something to the world that no one else ever can or ever will.
  • Pride is knowing that the Gospels of Christ are meant for you in the same way that they are meant for everyone else.
  • Pride is knowing that the Gospels of Christ are still meant for you even when someone else tells you they’re not.

It is interesting that today’s Epistle to the Galatians we talk about the law in just this respect. At issue in the new church is whether Gentile Christians must keep certain Jewish practices to remain Christian. It is a bit like what the Jews and Muslims of Spain experienced during the 15th century, as Muslim Spain gave way to Catholic Spain. Those who remained often “converted” to save their lives, but didn’t give up their original faith.

Paul says this isn’t right. He is a Jew, but righteousness doesn’t come by way of keeping the Law – for Jews or Gentiles. Instead, it comes by way of the faithfulness of Jesus, who lives with us and works through us. Before Christ freed us with his own covenant, there was no pride in spirituality. Spirituality was by the book. Spirituality was “27 8×10 color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence” (If you get that reference, you’re allowed to react like I’m Methuselah, because obviously we are professional colleagues).

It is here that we can do a little bit of rabbinical exegesis, which is a cool phrase for “we’re going to study this in-depth for a second.”

There’s this new Internet video going around that I will absolutely not show you in church because it’s filthy called “Samesies.” The premise for the skit is that it’s an early tribe of people (most probably Biblical, but not necessarily) who have no idea what sex is or really, what it does. What they have noticed, however, is that when they do “samesies,” no people come out.

It is an hilarious demonstration of Talmudic law. The leader of the tribe decides that they will do “opposites” so that they can grow the tribe, which is what binds Gay Pride with our Scripture for this morning… as absolutely freaking unlikely as that sounds.

Talmudic law prohibits every kind of sex that does not try to further the life of the tribe. Any sex that does not lead to procreation is forbidden. However, with Seven BILLION people on the planet, our need to “further the tribe” is not as dire as it once was. It is a law that is no longer useful to us as a society, but I do not base my response on science alone.

Paul tells the Galatians that this upholding of these type laws isn’t right. He is a Jew, but righteousness doesn’t come by way of keeping the Law – for Jews or Gentiles.

Instead, it comes by way of the faithfulness of Jesus.

The faithfulness of Jesus?

What does that mean?

How are those two things different, the laws and the faith of Jesus?

When you were a baby queer (and I apologize if that word offends you- I am only trying to be absolutely inclusive), were there rules?

Come on. Stay with me. You know what I mean- you have worn that place on your skin; there are rules to being gay. What are they?

  • You can’t be fat if you’re male
    • Magazines tell our men that they are not skinny enough, that the bodies they have are less than perfect even when the scale doesn’t lie and neither does the mirror. Everything is in the right place and nearly flawless but you believe the article that says you only need three or four hundred calories a day to function.
  • You can’t be too femme if you’re female
    • Well, technically, you can be as femme as you want if you’re in a relationship. I have never seen a woman successfully pull off the blonde cheerleader look with any success while single, though, because no one will actually think you’re a lesbian in that kind of outfit.
  • You can’t be poor
    • Gay culture tells us that spending money on toys, clothes, and cars is your ticket to being fabulous. Your house has to be a beautiful memory picture. You max out your credit trying to understand the rules of being up and coming, fashion forward, and whatever else the industry tells you to make raging debt look attractive.
  • You can’t be sober
    • We all know it and we cannot avoid this truth. Our culture started in bars. Going to the bars was a rule of being gay.

Lucky for us, this last one is changing as gay becomes mainstream and the need for utmost secrecy has dissipated. In very few places do we literally have to look over our shoulders for gay bashers. Never let us forget, though, that when we had no place to meet, no place to be ourselves in public, bar owners took us in and gave us shelter. Very few of them were even gay. Some of them were even run by the mafia. I don’t say this to scare you, just to impress upon you how awful a situation it must have been to be gay in the ’50s and ’60s if running to the mafia was the safest choice.

Even advancing in time, there are just so many rules.

As for myself, I carried a picture of the woman I loved in my math book, and I had a very strict schedule as to how I would look at it. I think I only allowed myself 2 peeks a day, and actually felt very angry with myself if I cheated. My rules were important to me because I thought they were helping me to hide the fact that I am gay. I have always been gay and it takes hindsight to see just how ridiculous it sounds. But I had rules, and I followed them.

We give our rules away when we realize we are carrying them around for the sake of “that’s how it’s always been done” and not because they are helping us to achieve any particular goal. It’s deciding when they aren’t useful anymore and getting rid of them that’s the hard part.

As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5, the old is passed away, the new has come. It is a call for reconciliation so that Jews and Gentiles might live together as one body, both reconciled through Christ. Ultimately, this is a call to participate in Christ’s own faithfulness, by allowing him to live in and through us. It is also an invitation to throw out the rules, and live in the love- apart from sexuality or any other constraint that takes the focus off our humanness.

As Carolynne Hitter Brown puts it:

All work toward social justice, then, is based on the principle that Christ lives in us. As we strive for reform, we do so in a manner that loves and respects others, believing all people are called to covenant with God through God’s grace. So throw out the rules.

We’ve all heard of those churches where there’s no dancing, there’s no music, there’s no laughter… no pride. We’ve all heard of those churches where hiding your light under a bushel was the safest option at the time… even if the church itself is completely safe and it’s your own mind stirring up trouble.

When I was 12 years old, I saw someone for the first time… at my church. If you’ve ever had a romantic feeling ever in your life, you know what I mean. She was the one for whom time stood still, the only one in color in a room full of gray. She was so stunningly gorgeous that, at first, I forgot to notice that she was female. In fact, I forgot to notice she was female until I realized that I wanted my lips to touch hers… and that girls didn’t do that with other girls.

It was a trap. I knew that my lips were supposed to kiss girl lips. I also knew that since I was female, this might be considered, well, a problem. For starters, this girl was on my radar. There wasn’t a way that we wouldn’t run into each other. I had to find a way to ration out feelings, because to leak out too much was to “show.”

I didn’t want to love my girl because I thought I would “show.”

No pride that day.

When I was fourteen years old, I told a girl in my class that I liked her. She took me into a practice room in the instrumental music department and yelled at me until her voice was hoarse. Then, her friend came up to me and said that the girl I liked was now throwing up in the bathroom because I’d told her I liked her and she was straight.

No pride that day.

When I was fourteen years old, the girl I liked in the instrumental music department told everyone in my entire grade that I was gay. When the bell rang at lunch, several people with Bibles marched over to my table at lunch and started a dramatic reading of all the Scripture that would damn me to hell.

No pride that day.

When I was 18 years old, my girlfriend and I kissed in the dark, arms around each other, windows steaming… until she had to go and meet the boy her parents thought she was dating.

No pride that day.

We all have these moments. We all have these flaws and insecurities that pop up all day, every day, and we listen to them. We listen to the moments in which our minds tell us that it’s ok not to be proud of ourselves. It’s ok to treat ourselves like crap, because hey! Everybody else is doing it.

If we wait long enough, the domino reaction is that everyone’s brokenness collides. Pain meets pain and pride meets pride so that pieces of both are inextricably interrelated, scattered on the floor in no particular order… just as are we,
gentle souls, flung to the corners of the earth, complete pictures of pride and pain walking upright on solid ground. You are the complete picture of pride and pain, flung to the four corners of the earth. You are the reconciliation of the laws of the old testament and the loving Christ of the new. You are what God holds in God’s own hand and calls you perfect by name. Rejection of the law and acceptance of Christ to heal all the ills of the world.

And may we all say it together:

We’ve all got pride today.


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