Let us begin with a moment of silence, bringing to mind the 49 people we lost at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando Florida. May they live on in our gathering here today. May their lives lead to our liberation and so their deaths will not have been in vain. The Pulse 49, Presente!
I have the honor and the challenge this week to share a message with the church at a time when I have been at a loss for words. The murder of these 49 people, ripped from this earth in moments of laughter, dance, embrace and connection– it’s been almost too much to bear. We don’t know what to say. We are disoriented. We are confused, angry, terrified.
This violation is a heart-wrenching reminder of the violence LGBTQ people of color face in this country day in and day out. And it is unnerving, to say the least. I have spent much of this week in what I can only describe as a state of shock.
In the midst of this unrelenting grief, I have seen love and care ripple through our communities in ways that I can’t even begin to adequately describe. Emails, texts, calls across the country– the community reaching out into itself, with folks gathering however and wherever they can to mourn together, to hold one another, to cry, laugh, sing– to heal. Refusing the temptation to collapse inward and away from one another, we’ve chosen this moment as an opportunity to extend, to open, and to reach out.
So in the midst of this horrific violence, we will continue to proclaim Queer Liberation at New Day Church. We will not collapse, we will not cower, we will not implode. We will see this an invitation to unleash our true selves, even more ferociously, and in so doing call forth a new world into being.
Because that is the way of Jesus. That is the way of liberation from the chains of empire. That is the way and power of the resurrection.
We are Christian faith community, which means we are followers of the way of Jesus– and Jesus has much to show us about unleashing our true selves in the face of violence. A man born with the boot of the Roman Empire at his neck, to a people seen as worthless, by an empire that was not shy about violence if you dared step out of line. A man born to a world that made it very clear his life was to be of no consequence.
Jesus would say: The world keeps telling me that I am nothing, but I have discovered that I am sacred. I am like the first born, only child of a proud father who loves me. I am chosen. Anointed. And God has given me a message for all of you: You are children of God, too.
This morning, I want to invite us to imagine: What would it look like for us to see ourselves as holy, to claim our inheritance as Children of God - with Jesus? To identify our true self, our deepest self, as Christ (the anointed one), and unleash it?
I want to suggest that we do this in three ways:
- Awakening to our true selves as sacred
- Building a community of practice, and
- Living our lives as scripture
1. Awakening to Our True Selves
Four years ago on a day much like this, we held our first Queer Liberation service in this cafeteria. I stood right over there and sang I Am Not Forgotten with you all.
I had been coming to the church for only a few months at this time, and on that first Sunday of our first Queer Liberation month, I came out to this church. Not as queer–you all already knew that– but that morning I let down a wall and let myself be seen. I revealed a tender truth about myself that I hadn’t allowed you all to see. I shared what it had been like for me growing up, living my life in the closet. The fear, the pain and isolation, my struggles with addiction– all of it. I revealed how I had felt locked out of spiritual community, and the healing that came into my life when I was welcomed into a space that truly and actually wanted me here, whole. That coming out Sunday, I came before you all and sang. And we sang together: “I am not forgotten / I am not forgotten / I am not forgotten / God knows my name.”
That morning, friends, something broke open in me. All those years growing up believing there was something wrong with me; that the way I loved made me broken; the low-grade angst that God was going to punish me for being who I was; the soul-crushing loneliness; the fear that I would never amount to anything; that I had to hide who I was in order to be loved; that I wasn’t enough; that no matter what I did, I would always and forever be on the outside. That morning, I burst into tears in the recognition that I was not forgotten– God knows my name.
It didn’t matter what the preachers had said, it didn’t matter what the boys at school had said, it didn’t matter that the world had me believing I was nothing– I am a child of God, and God loves me.
That moment changed me, and it changed our church. Here we are, our 4th Annual Queer Liberation service, inviting one another to unleash our true selves. Claiming our truth in spiritual community, and living into possibilities that were unimaginable then. For New Day Church, proclaiming Queer Liberation has been a bold step in living in the way of Jesus.
We actually know very little about Jesus, for all the talking about him that we do. What we do know is that he was born a little over 2,000 years ago in a place most people saw as a dump in the middle of nowhere, that he lived to be a few years older than I am now, and the he changed the course of history. 2016, halfway across the world, in a cafeteria within the northwest Bronx, his life is being retold, remembered and resurrected among us. Jesus is presente!
Most of what we know of his story comes to us in the four gospel narratives: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. All four claim to be the definite story of Jesus, and yet they are wildly different. These texts weave together history, testimony, and metaphor, were written at different moments in time, and were collected together to tell the story of this event of supreme significance for our spiritual ancestors – one that we continue to hold sacred to this day.
Two of them have these wild birth stories, which is a topic for another day, but when we get to Jesus’ adult life, all four gospels start with this one story we read this morning, the moment that sets everything into motion. Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, and he has a moment of recognition. The language in the scriptures is that the skies open up and the spirit descends upon him like a dove, and he hears the voice of God saying “you are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
Whoever Jesus was before this moment, it all falls away in this recognition: that HE is God’s child, the beloved son of a God who CREATED him, who SUSTAINS him, and who is CALLING HIM to GREATNESS.
The rest of the gospels, everything Jesus goes on to do, is a manifestation of what a life can look like for a person who truly believes themselves to be sacred. God is not just out there, to be prayed to, other-ed, perfect, unreachable. God is also “Emmanuel"– God with us, within us, closer to us than our very breath. Jesus has this epiphany, and then his life becomes about living into this truth, and sharing it with us, opening our eyes to the truth: That forget everything you’ve been told about who you are– YOU are SACRED children of God.
I’m not sure that Jesus had any intrinsic holiness beyond what any of us have that set him apart from the rest of humanity. But what I am sure about is that after this moment, when Jesus woke up to his divinity, the extent to which he lived that out was extraordinary. He UNLEASHED his true self.
The language of skies opening up and spirit descending can be very mystified and hard to access, but family: When was the last time you felt fully whole and accepted in a space just as you are? When you felt, in the depth of your soul, that you were meant to be here, that you have something to offer, that who you are is good? A simple moment of recognition– This is how God breaks through to free us from the veil of thinking that we are anything less than divine.
Because living under the lie that we are anything less than that, we attack ourselves; we fail to see the sacredness in each other; we use one another as objects; project our shame, our anger, our fear onto whoever we label as OTHER; we lose touch with our own and each others' humanity, until we become capable of the type of violence we have just witnessed in Orlando.
This shooting at Pulse nightclub didn’t happen because of one man’s hate. It certainly didn’t happen because of radical Islam, though the media is now in overdrive trying to sell that lie. This shooting in Orlando happened because we live in a society that thrives on blinding us to our sacredness, and on dehumanizing and desecrating the lives of Queer people, people of color, women, immigrants, and poor people.
We’ll see the face and hear the (Arab sounding) name of the shooter over and over again, while no one will name the true culprits of homophobia: white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism.
The state may not have pulled the trigger in Pulse that night, but that gun was loaded every time Donald Trump was given air time to spew his anti-immigrant rhetoric, every time a queer person was deemed incompatible with Christian teaching, every time corporations were allowed to extract wealth from the US colony of Puerto Rico. The sickness at the heart of our nation has been exposed at Pulse nightclub in Orlando Florida, and this, friends, is an invitation to wake up.
We have to begin to pull back the veil of lies, and claim our true self with these moments of recognition.
2. Building a Community of Practice
I shared one moment of recognition that I had in this space at our first Queer Liberation month, but we have all had these moments of recognition at one point or another. These moments where we suddenly see ourselves and each other with new eyes. These awakenings come as grace: We cannot will them, we cannot control them, we can’t buy them, sell them– we certainly cannot force them on others. That recognition that maybe we’re not who we’ve been told we are– those awakenings come on God’s time, like a dove descending from the heavens.
But we can create conditions that might be conducive to that happening– we can carve out sacred spaces, like this one, where we hold up a mirror to each other and say, “mira! see yourself!” Spaces where we can be in process; where can let others love us until we can learn to love ourselves.
Queer people have too often been denied our sacred spaces, especially queer people of color. Those spaces that are meant to be sacred, become dangerous. Places of fear. Places of harm. Pushed out of spiritual community, pushed out of our families of birth, pushed out of our schools, pushed out of our public spaces, we carve out and create our own sacred spaces. The gay club is a sacred space for Queer people of color, a space where you don’t have to have yourself all figured out. Where you can be safe to explore the edges of your identity, safe to reach out and touch someone, caress a hand, a body, a face without having to be afraid of violence. Where you can go on Friday night and let go of the stresses of constantly having your humanity questioned, your love invalidated, your body made both invisible and hyper-visible. Behind the walls of the club, you can be FREE. Many of us were baptized in dark of the gay club, coming up out of the waters suddenly clear: "This is who I am. You all are my family. We are going to be alright."
Like many of you, I have been blessed to find sacred space here at New Day Church. I came here broken, lost, addicted, not even conscious of how much self hate I had internalized from the things I’d experienced in my life– and you held up a mirror to me and showed me I was a child of God. And I believed you.
I’ve been able to explore new facets of who I am in this place, and have discovered a voice, passion, gifts, and strength beyond what I knew I had. Awakening to my true self as sacred.
But I have to tell you, I have struggled with getting up here and saying that to you all. I have written and re-written this sermon more times than I care to admit, especially in the wake of what happened in Orlando. Every time I’ve gone to share this with the Community of the Word, I’ve been paralyzed with voices that stir up from the deep: “Who do you think you are?” “I’m not equipped.” “I’m going to say the wrong thing." “What I have to say is not enough." “What could possibly be enough at a moment like this?”
Friends, what comes up for you to hear me say: “You are sacred;” “You are so much bigger than you’ve been lead to believe you are;” “YOU are a divine child of God!”
If we’re honest, the first thing that little voice in our heads says is, "No. I can’t believe that. Who am I?"
How many of us haven’t had moments of recognition, breakthrough moments, and in a couple days we’re right back where we were before: stuck, small, afraid, and back behind the veil.
Jesus’ moment of recognition is a sudden revelation, but I think for the rest of us we get them in bits and pieces, fits and starts. We remember and we forget. We remember… and we forget. We remember and we forget, and, if we’re lucky, we can build a community around remembering.
When the world tries to cover over our sacredness with shame, stigma, violence– when we take that in and forget who we are– we can remind each other of who we TRULY are, reflect our sacredness to one another– call each other back if we’ve gone astray– and practice ACTING our way into a new way of THINKING.
In the face of my doubt this week, the practice was just to show up and let myself be seen, to not front, to not hide, to not forget. The world wants us to forget who we are, and we cannot allow ourselves to do so. So, we build practices into our lives to help sustain those moments of awakening that come as grace.
Prayer and meditation, connection, service, healing, confronting injustice: All these elements of faith community help us to move out of the ways we’ve been conditioned to live, and take on new ways of being in line with who we’ve discovered we truly are.
We practice. In good times, and in the face of tragedy. We practice in moments of joy, and in moments of fear, collapse, in moments of despair. Because we will need to remember our sacredness and our strength when moments like Orlando happen.
This week, it was all I could do to be present with the pain and sorrow in my body, to reach out and be in connection with the people I love and who love me, to seek spaces of comfort and healing, to cry through feelings of powerlessness, to scream in moments of rage, to pray, to let myself be held, to mourn. Mourning is faith practice. If we are to claim our healing, we have to be willing to face our pain– and grieve.
So we practice in the face of crisis, so that when moments like these happen, we can be resilient. It will become instinct to remind ourselves that we are sacred, that we are strong, that we are more than enough– even it when it feels impossible to believe that.
Friends, the world wants us to forget who we are, and we cannot allow ourselves to do so.
3. Living our lives as scripture.
After his moment of recognition, Jesus saw with new eyes - “the kingdom of God is at hand, right now, stop buying into the lies of empire, and believe in the good news of your sacredness.” He starts gathering followers, enrolling people in a vision that powerful transformation was possible for them and for the world. And they saw miracles, healing, the full violence of the state crashing down on them to crush their movement - and RESURRECTION. What becomes possible when we really start to live our lives from the truth of our divinity?
If we are sacred, children of God with Jesus, anointed with gifts of the spirit like those we read about in the scriptures, who’s to say our lives can’t also be the very material of scripture - full of wonder and grace, miracles, possibility beyond what we can ask or imagine. Word become flesh - the outpouring of the living God into this world.
We start to pay attention to our lives in a different way, looking for God’s movement in our very mundane and human moments, in these very situations that make up our lives. When we do, our lives become living scripture.
Much of the biblical text is written in the wake of tragedy, and community trauma.
This moment we’re in is not unlike what may have driven the psalmist to sing, “I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me. I am so troubled that I cannot speak. Has God forgotten to be gracious?” How will our descendants look back at this moment in the wake of the Pulse massacre? They might say:
The people wept, they prayed, they cried out in despair, they got still, slowed down, and cared for one another. The world sought to divide them, and your Spirit brought them together. Like Moses, every one of them said “Who am I to do something about this”, I am not equipped. I don’t know what to say. It’s too big. It hurts too much. I am so afraid… And YOU, God, were WITH them. You showed them who they really are, you used even this tragedy, to bring about their liberation. The ones the world rejected, became the very ones to glorify your spirit.
Friends, Queer Liberation cannot be stopped. We are unleashing our true selves, our true families, building new communities, reclaiming our sacred spaces, revealing Queer ways of knowing God and the Spirit - A vision of God that is more expansive, more complex, that has room for contradiction. Queer Liberation is upon us.
Living our lives as scripture we tap into faith that is bold enough to believe we can take down empire, and crush any system of domination that inflicts violence on our people, no matter the size of their guns, the might of the armies, or the money in their vaults. Faith the size of a mustard see will allow us to move mountains.
Imagine a day in the not too distant future, where our children and their children look back upon our lives, when they will retell and remember the stories of the of the people of the Bronx in 2016… They will say:
Remember when we were afraid to hold each other’s hands in public? Remember when they let our communities burn? Remember when we worked so hard and got so little?
Who would have imagined that the spirit of Queer Liberation would spread through the Bronx like wildfire – that the streets, dance floors and kitchen tables would become our temples - queer people are prophets. Hallelujah. Who could have imagined we would take back the resources that were stolen from us and share in the abundance of Gods bounty? Haleluyah. Who could have imagined that we would stand in the face of gentrification, unite across boundaries to fight for our homes – saying WE WILL NOT BE MOVED! Helelujah. Who could imagined that THE BRONX, a place so many discounted and devalued, would be the very place where the Spirit CAME UNLEASHED, and your children changed the world? Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah!
Friends, we serve a living God, and God is revealing herself to us, through us, and among us through our very lives. We are healing. And the spirits of the Pulse 49 will live on in OUR struggle, in OUR love, in our COURAGE to proclaim Queer Liberation.
Let us unleash our true selves, knowing that in doing so, we unleash the power of God’s creation into this world. Forget what the world says, who does God say that you are? Who could you become? What is waiting inside you to be unleashed?