I love the month of June—the gateway to summer. And on June 1st, if it’s not up already, I put up my rainbow pride flag to celebrate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Plus Pride Month. So, I was putting out my pride flag on Tuesday and a guy was walking down the street and he said, “I like your flag!” And I said, “Thanks!” He said, “I grew up on this street, and the guy who used to live in your house was a minister, so I don’t think he ever would’ve flown a flag like that!” And I said, “Oh really? Well, I’m a minister.”
And he looked at me with a little bit of shock, and then he laughed, and then he looked at me again, and then he just kept on walking, and I could tell he couldn’t quite decide if I was joking or not. Now, I have no idea if our rainbow flag is the first to ever grace the front of the parsonage or not, but this fella just couldn’t wrap his head around the idea of a minister (or probably any Christian for that matter) in outspoken support of the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
That happens sometimes. We think we know how the world works, we think we’ve got people pegged, we think we’ve got everything figured out and ordered, and then God sends along a little spiritual wind and blows our assumptions all over the place. Sometimes when that happens, we go find the biggest paperweight we can and we drop it right down in the middle of our assumptions so that no wind, holy or otherwise, will be able to budge them and make a swirling mess of our ordered world.
You will remember that two weeks ago on Pentecost Sunday, when the wind came and the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit many in the crowd shouted, “Oh, they’re just drunk.” And this morning we see that the Holy Spirit is at work again. This time the accusation is not drunkenness, but some are saying that Jesus has lost his mind. He’s crazy! Others say he must be possessed. But as we said two weeks ago, the intelligence of the Spirit doesn’t see any essential animosity between wildness and wisdom, between “craziness” and virtue.
All of us have felt dismissed and maligned at some point in our lives. At some point, there was some gift, some joy, some calling, some essential, important, beautiful part of you that you were given that somebody else either by cruelty or by ignorance stepped all over. Maybe they even shattered a few of your dreams—it does happen:
You showed the picture you drew to your teacher, and she told you that the sun is supposed to be yellow not green, and a little bit of your artistic voice got quiet. You tried out for the baseball team and the other kids laughed at you because you were too small to swing the bat, and you never went back out on the field. You got straight A’s in the sciences in high school, and you graduated valedictorian of your class, but no one would send you on to a university because you were just a girl, and some of the joy of your intellectual life turned to dust. You loved God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and came to feel a calling in your life to be a minister, but then somebody told you that because you’re gay, you’re not fit for ordination, and it felt like your spiritual home was pulled out from underneath your feet.
She’s just drunk! He’s just crazy! You’re just a woman! It’s just a phase! Whatever it may be, we all know to a lesser or greater extent how it feels to have this kind of pejorative thinking aimed at us. And we know that when it happens, we are in the best of holy company because Jesus faced the same kind of slander from people who saw the good he was doing and who just couldn’t accept that it was really good. They saw beauty and couldn’t accept it as beautiful. They saw faith and couldn’t accept it as faithful. They saw healing miracles and exorcisms and said, “It’s just by the power of Beelzebul, the ruler of demons, that he commands them.”
Maybe this is what blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is. Part of the reason that people have worried so much about this particular sin—blasphemy against the Holy Spirit—is that Jesus says it’s unforgiveable—which is troubling. The other part of the reason we worry about it so much is because no one can figure out if they’ve done it or not. It’s a little ambiguous. And to be clear, no one really knows what the sin against the Holy Spirit is. It’s all interpretation. Even the Gospel writers can’t agree on exactly when Jesus said this, how he worded it, or what he intended to mean by it.
But maybe it’s just this—dismissing the dreams, the calling, the movement of the Holy Spirit within someone else or maybe even within yourself. Last spring, we planted some seeds at the edge of the yard and the neighbor’s landscaper got confused about where the property line was and just came and weedwhacked their little heads off just as they were lifting their faces to the sun for the first time. Because anything that tries to stick its nose up above the grass, must be “just a weed.” To try to kill God’s new thing, to look at a good thing and to assign it the worst motivations, to become a fundamentalist about the height of the lawn and to mow down anything the Spirit might be raising up—maybe that’s the sin against the Holy Spirit.
This brings me back again to that Rainbow Pride Flag I put up at the beginning of Pride month. It’s seems to me that human sexuality, in all its beauty and diversity, is a good gift of the Spirit. We’re often taught that sexuality dwells at the other end of the moral order of things—that’s it’s low, base, dirty, bestial, shameful, the very opposite of holiness. But this is so deeply pessimistic and dualistic and ultimately spiritually harmful to us. The intelligence of the Spirit sees no necessary animosity between human sexuality and human spirituality, between incarnation and sacredness. In fact, there is between them an intimate connection.
Human sexuality is not just an ailment to be corrected, an urge to be denied, or a distraction to be overcome. Our sexuality is a part of our very soul, a part of the good way God created us, a gift (in part) for reproduction but also for art, for culture, for dance, for pleasure, for beauty, for family, and, obviously, for love. When I say that I am a child of God, and I believe I am, that identity doesn’t erase the gifts that God has given me in my creation, I believe it highlights them. I am child of God! And I am fearfully and wonderfully made—gay, straight, male, female, cisgender, transgender, black, white—these are the marks of the children of God, these too are gifts of the Spirit!
When we pathologize human sexuality in general or when we pick on the consensual, mutual, loving sexuality of some individual person or group of people, we do great harm—a harm that is born out in depressing statistics: a survey by the Trevor project recently reported that 40% of LGBTQ youth seriously contemplated suicide in 2020, as just one example of the pain of being rejected at the soul level.
If blaspheming the Holy Spirit and her gifts and works is an “unforgiveable” sin (and just to be clear, I think Jesus is being hyperbolic when he says “unforgiveable”), but if it is an “unforgiveable” sin, then what is it when we’re silent in face of bigotries and oppressions like homophobia that mow down the precious and developing gifts of God within a human soul?
It’s not enough, in my opinion, for me or for any Christian simply not to participate in the social denigration and spiritual abuse of LGBTQ+ people. We cannot appear neutral. We must raise our voices and raise our flags and raise our children in ways that assures the LGBTQ+ community inside and outside our walls that they too, just as they were created, are the beloved children of God. Silence on this topic is a sort of quiet blasphemy.
There are some individuals and some churches who fear that being outspoken on this point will earn them the scorn of their neighbors. Or they’re afraid if the rainbow flag goes up, what kind of people might show up at the door looking to join the family? What if queer people and queer families really show up and everyone says, “Oh, that church? They’re just the gay church.” How could we live with ourselves if some of our neighbors thought we were all a little queer? At times like this, I think it’s important to remember how queer and strange and crazy people thought Jesus was. He earned himself those badges of honor, in part, by hanging out with those who were considered outcasts and by welcoming them into the family with open arms.
Some people describe Jesus as the defender of conservative Christian family values. Other people say that Jesus fully rejected the tradition of the family. I don’t think either of those positions is quite right. Jesus certainly had family values, but they were odd family values. He appears to have been unmarried and unencumbered by a family—same for his disciples. Jesus encourages the disciples to leave their families behind. James and John abandon their father in the fishing boat to follow Jesus’ call. When another follower’s father dies, Jesus advises him not to go home to attend to the burial—follow me and let the dead bury their own dead, he says. Jesus says that he has come to set family member against family member and to make families into foes. And he says you cannot be a disciple if you do not hate your parents, your siblings, your spouse, and your children.
Certainly, Jesus is challenging allegiance to the family as most of us know and define it. But Jesus isn’t rejecting family. He’s upending it and expanding its boundaries. Who are my mother and brothers and sisters, he asks? You are. We are. Jesus offers us a new definition of family not limited by blood or tradition that offers a home to those who like him, have been misunderstood and rejected by their families of origin. This to me is the ultimate of Jesus’ family values—not the white picket fence, not heteronormative marriage, not the 2.1 children or whatever—but the idea that we as Jesus’ followers are a family by choice, open to all. That’s a wonderful thing! But it comes with a caution as well: Woe to us, if as representatives of Jesus’ chosen family, we try to dismiss, to restrain, to suppress, or to dodge what the Holy Spirit is doing in our community and who she brings to our doors.
As the Sledge Sisters recorded it in lyrics that have inspired chosen families of all kinds for the last 40 years:
We are family!
I got all my sisters with me!
We are family!
Get up everybody and sing!
All of the people around us, they say,
“Can they be that close?”
Just let me state for the record,
We're giving love in a family dose!
We are family (hey, y'all)
I got all my sisters with me!
We are family!
Jesus the Imagination
Thoughts and dreams, musings and meditations