Freed to Be | A Sermon for Pride Month
St. Philip Lutheran Church
6 June 2021 + Lectionary 10B (Pent. 2)
Rev. Josh Evans, preaching
I remember it like it was yesterday.
It was the summer of 2011 … almost 10 years ago to the day. I had just graduated from college earlier that spring, with my highly honorable -- and practically useless -- liberal arts bachelor’s degree in English. I had also just started attending a new church community in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. Oh, and somewhere in the middle of all of that, I had also just recently started the process of coming out as gay.
In the midst of my last semester of college, coming to terms with who I was, I found Urban Village Church by the pure luck of a Google search for “gay-friendly churches in Chicago.” After years of growing up in a denomination that actively excluded LGBTQIA+ people, both in the pews and in the pulpit, I didn’t think such a place existed … let alone so many of them, as I would come to discover. And I certainly had no idea what this “Reconciling in Christ” thing was.
So there I was … not only at my first-ever Pride Parade, but marching in it! With my church! And not just my church but with the over 80 faith communities that make up the Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches from across denominations and traditions.
I remember it like it was yesterday: Standing in the middle of Broadway on the north side of Chicago on a hot summer Sunday afternoon, getting ready for the parade to step off … and looking out over a sea of poster board signs, each bearing the rainbow logo of the Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches and the name of a different faith community from the city and the surrounding suburbs. Only months before, I could have hardly dreamed such a sight was possible … and yet there I was.
This Sunday, as we stand at the beginning of another Pride Month, I’m reminded of that welcome I received at Urban Village, now ten years ago. It was an experience that freed me to be fully myself … fully who God created me to be.
At the same time, this Sunday, I’m also acutely aware that not everybody experiences that welcome, certainly not in the church. It’s no secret that the church as a whole has been a source of pain and trauma for the LGBTQIA+ community, and only about 10% of the 8,900 congregations of the ELCA are Reconciling in Christ. For as long as exclusion exists, there is still work to be done.
But this is a sermon … so there’s good news in here somewhere, right?
This week for me the good news came from an unlikely place. It’s no secret either that the apostle Paul, responsible for much of what we call the New Testament, hasn’t been much of a friend to certain marginalized communities within the history of Christianity. Paul’s writings have been used to justify slavery, to bar women from being ordained as pastors, and to exclude and harm LGBTQIA+ persons in the church.
And yet, Paul writes: “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor. 4.16)
In a world marred by brokenness and division, there is so much that wastes away at our outer nature and our outer selves … so much that degrades who we are in our bodies and how we live and move in the world as the people God created us to be.
“He has gone out of his mind!” Jesus’s own family tries to restrain him … to hold him back from being fully himself and from doing the work he was called to do - to cure the sick, to feed the hungry, to befriend the lonely, to preach good news to the poor and the oppressed. He’s out of his mind! This is embarrassing! It’s too much, too fast! It’s causing a scene!
Even though our outer nature is wasting away… Forces beyond our control seem to try their hardest to hold us back sometimes, don’t they? The voice that says you’re “too much” or “out of your mind” or “not ___ enough.” There is so much that wastes away at us.
But our inner nature is being renewed day by day. It’s not that the outer nature -- our embodied lives -- doesn’t matter to Paul. But rather, it’s an encouragement to an early church community … an encouragement to us even now … we who live in an “in-between” place where our lives are still “wounded by sin...even while Christ’s Spirit sustains and renews [us]” (Working Preacher).
Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. The inner nature that God has made and called very good. Not “regardless” of who we are, as a colleague of mine pointed out this week, but because of who we are. The inner nature that God claims and names as beloved in the waters of baptism -- the waters into which we are immersed and from which we rise renewed every day … renewed for the work of God’s reign of love.
This is about resurrection! Christ’s resurrection and victory over death means that the powers and the forces that waste away at us, that alienate us from God and from each other, have been defeated, try as they might to continue to assail us.
God frees us to be who we are now -- our full selves -- whether we march with rainbow flags during Pride Month or simply exist in our ordinary, everyday lives in our neighborhoods and communities in Glenview.
God frees us to be who we are, so that grace, Paul writes, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
God frees us to be who we are, so that grace may abound!