Our Very Best Impersonation of Christ

In the Gospel this morning Jesus commissions the disciples to go forth into the surrounding countryside and cure the sick and cast out demons and cleanse the lepers and raise the dead and tell the people that the kingdom of heaven has come near. In Church this morning, we will commission and bless anyone who wants to go forth from this place to march in our city’s Pride parade. Surely you already see the connection.

The Second Sunday after Pentecost — June 18th, 2017 — the Rev. James Joiner from Christopher Craun on Vimeo.

It’s Pride! Happy Pride! This is a magical season that comes around every year when we celebrate our liberation from the tyranny of shame and oppressive societal and familial norms of family by taking to the streets in an assortment of cheap plastic rainbow colored costume jewelry. Pride! isn’t for everyone. When I showed up for my freshmen year of college I remember one of my first very deep conversations with my new roommate being about how Pride was actually considered a sin in Christian tradition, so he didn’t get why it would be celebrated. I tried to explain something along the lines of what Paul says in the Epistle reading from this morning. Suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us because of the love that has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. For the story of queer and trans folk suffering, especially suffering under social shame and invisibility has more often produced a resistance, and a resistance to shame and isolation produces jubilant celebration, and the jubilant celebration produces Pride in our people, and Pride does not disappoint us because it means we get to wear cheap plastic rainbow colored costume jewelry in the streets. Other people, understandably, don’t like the party atmosphere, especially if you’re in recovery. Yet for better or for worse parties have historically been how our people endured and persisted. In his book the Cross and the Lynching Tree black liberation theologian James Cone talks about the twin poles of the Saturday night Juke Joint and the Sunday Morning praise service and what they have historically meant for people of color in America, twin poles of solidarity and release, two places where you get to be with your people and breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate, regardless of whether the world feels the need to join you. Bars and parties have been like that for queer and trans people, too, and Pride! is the most exalted party of all. And today you can be a part of that, if you wish. Our marchers will gather together in the courtyard after this service to be blessed and go forth and share the belonging we know with the city, and hopefully from there, with the world.

I got to be a part of it yesterday. Some of you know I volunteer with Eccumenical Ministries of Oregon’s HIV Day Center, I make the Biscuit & Gravy breakfast there on the third Thursday of the month, something which I’m pretty sure benefits me more than anyone else because of the time it affords me with an incredible staff of caring people and a client base which is the walking embodiment of resilience and solidarity and joy. This year we got to set up a booth at the waterfront festival to spread the word about the Day Center’s services and raise some money and hopefully win a few new volunteers. They had asked me if I could volunteer to help staff the booth for a shift on Saturday, and some of the staff at the Day Center also know that I have a flair for the dramatic, and so on Thursday as we were chatting in the kitchen over pans of gravy we had the great idea that it would be a bigger draw for the Day Center booth if I showed up for my volunteer shift in drag. While this offering came as a great sacrifice to me personally I was ultimately willing to make it for the cause. Suddenly, somehow, before I knew it, I found myself at the waterfront festival in broad daylight looking like a cross between a tastefully patinaed Rainbow Brite and a scatter brained Little Bo Peep. I learned some things, yesterday, showing up at the waterfront festival to volunteer in drag. One of them is that it’s very hard to walk through mud and sand in heels. But perhaps more importantly I learned that the kind of people who show up at a Pride! festival looking for something are likely looking for a drag queen. The getup was, in fact, a good draw for our Day Center booth, although I wasn’t the only attraction, I was also competing with a Wonder Woman photo prop cutout; but between those two things we pulled in a lot of people who wanted to have their picture taken with us and hopefully they learned something about our organization along the way. Now, as devastatingly beautiful and camera ready as I am, people weren’t just taking their picture with me because of how pretty I looked. They were taking their picture with me because I looked like the spirit of the place, for a moment I got to be a clear and visible sign of the community, people knew they were at a Pride festival because there were other people walking around looking like gorgeous freaks. People stumble upon drag queens at a Pride festival with an excitement that says, “Look at what we’ve found! We’re here! It’s Pride!” Kind of like how one of the ways you know you’re in Times Square is when you stumble upon people walking around in giant Elmos costumes. Without the queens we would have just been another group of people eating elephant ears and collecting swag from banks in the park.

When Jesus sends the disciples out into the world to heal the sick and cast out demons and cleanse the lepers and raise the dead he is sending them into the world to give people a taste of what they’ve come to see in Jesus. People showed up where Jesus was to get cured. People showed up where Jesus was because they were harassed and listless and didn’t fit in with their communities and in drawing near to Jesus they found that they belonged again. This is the power Jesus equips the disciples with. They are sent out into the world to do their very best Jesus impersonation, to give the people what they’ve come to expect from his presence and way of being in the world. Jesus intended for people to see the disciples and think, “look at what we’ve found! We’re here! Heaven is here!” When people go looking for God in the world now, what do you think they are longing to see? How do they know they’ve shown up at the right spot? What will they see in us that signifies the kingdom of heaven drawn near? Today, they will see Christians marching with Pride!, Christians who have been responsible for so much shame showing up to be a presence for reconciliation and joy. On other days they’ve seen God show up through us at Immigration rallies. On other days they’ve seen God show up through us at rallies for the earth. On other days they’ve seen God show up through us in the way you have treated the poor, in the way you’ve been the one to stop and talk to the person asking something of everyone else who simply passes them by. This is what it looks like to get dressed up in Jesus, this is how people know they’ve shown up in the right place. Forty-eight years ago the crowd at the Stonewall Inn knew that where they had expected to show up at a bar they showed up for a revolution instead because they saw queens like Sylvia Rivera and black trans women like Marsha Johnson embody the resistance they had felt bubbling up within them for years. And here we are at another Pride still doing our very best imitation of their resilience. It is so easy for the imitation to feel cheap. It is so easy for something so grand to feel reduced to less than it’s true glory by plastic rainbow colored costume jewelry, and it is easy for us to feel like our own imitation of Jesus is little more than a pale impersonation when we fail to cure the sick and cast out demons and cleanse the lepers and raise the dead. But that is where God waits for us. In our willingness to go forth with such ridiculous endeavours God will be remembered and reborn. If we show up in all the laughable impossible ways we suspect God is expecting us to, God will do the rest. God will hold us up for one another and the whole world to say, “look at what we’ve found! We’re here.”

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