*The above picture was drawn of me by a congregant while I was preaching the sermon below at Trinity Presbyterian in Denton, Texas on November 22, 2015.
I start all sermons that I give at the beginning. Progressive Christians struggle with the beginning. It’s as if we’ve ceded that space to the Fundamentalists and their crusades for literal interpretations of the creation myth. We don’t know how to believe that there is still tremendous power in these stories even when we don’t take them literally. I have often wondered what it would look like if we stopped fighting the fundamentalists on all this creation stuff and just started to champion our own creative liberation centered interpretations.
There are some big questions that pop up in the beginning. Who is God? What is God? In the beginning was God…but what was there in the beginning. We have spent all of our time trying to anthropomorphize God. We have tried to make God into our image instead of remembering that we are made in the image of God. That is a big disconnect. When we go astray… When we don’t fight for justice like we should… When we don’t love our neighbors like we should… When we spend years talking about inclusion… it’s because we have forgotten that all are created in the image of God. What does that image reflect?
I am a big fan of Paul Tillich. I consider his book The Courage to Be to be one of the most formative books of my theological journey. He talks about the importance of being to the spiritual life. Think about it…God is. God’s being is enough. To ask the question… What is God? is to constrict God or at least constrict our ability to engage with God. What is God? God is. We think, hope and dream about a God that is beyond our wildest imaginations and yet we are always trying to bring God down to easy explanations. We believe in the God that is beyond God. We seek the God that is indescribable and uncontainable. That majesty. We get too used to singing all these songs. Many of our songs and hymns talk about God in this way…they talk about a God beyond category and restriction.
Think about the word…queer. The word describes that which is different and beyond description…that which is not normative…that which is other…that which is outside of our categories. You see…God has always been queer. God has always been beyond our categories. God has always been beyond our ability to describe. We’ve been arguing for many years about including queer people in the life of the church or not. What we are really arguing about is whether we are going to include God in the life of the church or not. The question of inclusion is actually one of exclusion. The way we engage the question matters. We have convinced ourselves that if we do enough we will become something…we forgot our being. We are created in the very image of God. We have all that we need. We were made to be something holy…something queer…from the very beginning. Why do we spend so much time on definitions, categories and exclusions that take away from our being? We are rejecting our creation. We are rejecting our birthright. We are rejecting our being. We are enough.
What happened that made everything fall apart? How did we loose our queerness? Do y’all remember that old snake in Eden? That old snake slithered up and changed everything. What does the snake say? The snake says, “If you eat of the tree, you will be made like God.” The first sin is always forgetting that we were made like God in the first place.
Now you know I am a Baptist preacher…so I’m going to run on real quick to Jesus. I’ve also already been told that y’all don’t like long sermons. Thank about the possibilities, John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Queer, the Queer was with God and the Queer was God.” When we talk about difference…you have to remember that difference is the only thing that has ever made a difference. Queerness…pushing against lines and borders…Jesus shows us what it looks like to be queer. The further that Jesus pushes into queerness…pushes into this border and boundary busting…the more Jesus is reviled and shunned. Jesus was prepared to meet the woman caught in adultery by another woman.
Do y’all remember the Syrophoenician woman? That woman that Jesus called a dog…and if you have an imagination you can imagine a more colorful modern translation. Because she was of a different race, Jesus called that woman a dog. Jesus sinned. Jesus was a racist y’all. I’m glad that we can overcome our worst moments. I’m thankful for that Syrophoenician woman…for if it hadn’t been for her…I don’t know if Jesus’ heart wouldn’t have been formed to deal with the least of the least. She reminds me of many of the Black Lives Matter activists who have taken to the streets around our nation. These folks have the courage to be different in order to make a difference. They are queer in the most beautiful senses of the word. These activists are interrupting our lives to help us grow…to help us be queerer…to be more like Jesus. I thank God for them. By the time that Jesus got to the woman caught in adultery, he was prepared for the moment…he was ready to be queer.
Everyone loves to run to the end of the story of the adulterous woman. People love that old command, “You who are without sin cast the first stone!” We love it. That just makes us feel so good don’t it. We can just imagine all those people looking at us with their stones and being able to look at them to proclaim, “You who are without sin cast the first stone!” We also love that moment where Jesus is writing in the dirt. We like to imagine that Jesus is writing the names of all the people that the Pharisees are fooling around with. Unfortunately, in our rush to get to the good ending of the story…we leave out the best part.
Before we get to that best part, I do have to add a couple of pieces that always get left out. First, how long where the Pharisees looking when they caught the woman in the act of adultery? Second, what happened to the man when they pulled her out of that bed? These questions always run around in my mind when I think about this story. Do you know what I’m saying? Nevertheless, this woman is slung in the dirt at the feet of Jesus. In that moment, Jesus has a decision to make. Jesus could have stayed standing and tried to convince the Pharisees not to throw those stones…but he didn’t. This is the best part of the story. Jesus places his very body into the dirt with the woman. If the stones had started flying…Jesus would’ve been dead. Jesus was not dumb. Jesus was prepared to die with this woman. There is a difference between doing the work of justice and embodying the work of justice. I know this is a congregation that does much doing…you are well known for all of your doing…but I want to make sure you don’t lose your being in the process. We think that being comes from doing. This is not necessarily true. Being comes from claiming who God created you to be in the first place. Being comes from being prepared to give your life so that others might have life. Being comes from being queer.
Jesus is there. There is nothing queerer than being prepared to give your life for those that society has said are worthless. There is nothing queerer than to give your life for those that society has called out of bounds. Jesus travels on from the dirt with the adulterous woman and commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Do y’all know that great theologian RuPaul? I love that great question she often asks, “How the hell you going to love somebody when you can’t love yourself?” That Syrophoenician woman taught Jesus how to love his neighbor as himself. Jesus was able to get in the dirt with the woman caught in adultery because of that Syrophoenician woman. In this moment, Jesus teaches us what love in action looks like…Jesus teaches us what it looks like to give your body to the conversation….to grow queer enough that we can give our self away. Loving yourself is the key to following Jesus. We can’t be queer without believing that God’s queer creation in us is and will forever be enough. This is how you change the world…believing that you were created queer so that you can make the world queerer.
Do y’all remember when Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be born again? Y’all probably don’t talk about getting born again much here…but I wanted to give you another way of thinking about it. I invite you this morning to be born again. I invite you this morning to go back to the beginning…to the queer that you were made to be. I invite you to embrace that you were created in the image of a God that is queer beyond our wildest imaginations. Follow the God who consistently dies with those who we marginalize and oppress…for there is nothing queerer. Be born again…grow queerer my friends…and in that space your being will create the doing that can actually change the world.