Celebrate 50 Years of Pride: sermon

June is Pride month; a month set aside to both celebrate how far we have come and advocate for all those who have not and do not enjoy the freedom to express fully who they are regardless of who they love. But this is a June like no other. We are living in the midst of a world-wide pandemic and whether we are out and proud or still in the closet, all of us queer or straight, we have all been locked down for the better part of the last three months. Closeted away in our respective homes, our fear of COVID-19 has been matched by the horror of the even more insidious infection of racism, a disease which has for centuries infected the hearts and minds of white privileged people and robbed Black, Indigenous and People of Colour of their liberty, dignity, and all too often their very lives. So, as June 28th, the 50th anniversary of the very first Pride Parade drew closer and closer, I wondered how we can celebrate Pride in the midst of so much suffering. Forget the fact that we can’t celebrate with a party, let alone a parade. How do we say, “Happy Pride!” on a day like today.

I must confess that I was sorely tempted to skip any mention of Pride celebrations this year. That is until, I was struck by an ear-worm.  You know those annoying ear-worms, pieces of songs that pop into your heard, over and over again. This particular ear-worm is a song from my misbegotten youth; a popular song which is actually based upon a piece of scripture. Rather than sing my earworm to you, let me share it with you: …..

there you have Psalm 137,  adapted and interpreted, but Psalm 137 indeed. “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, Yeah we wept, when we remembered Zion. When the wicked carried us away in captivity Required of us a song Now how shall we sing the LORD’s son in a strange land.”

I know that this is not Babylon, and we haven’t been carried away into captivity by our enemies. But who among us can doubt that so much of what we have taken for granted has changed and right now we are living in a very strange place indeed? So how can we celebrate today of all days, when so many people are suffering?

Perhaps we should go down by the river, or the lake and just sit and weep. Alas, here where I live, the beaches remain closed, because we are afraid of what might happen should too many people rush to the shore. So, how do we celebrate Pride in these strange times? I’m not sure that we can begin our celebrations without weeping. The duelling pandemics of the virus and racism have caused so very much pain. Strange thing about weeping, as we weep, we remember. Weeping can be such a catharsis. As we weep for the victims of the pandemic and for the ravages of racism, memories of other pains often join our tears. 

Memory is a marvellous, miraculous gift which can bring with it pain even while it sooths our pain. As I weep, I can’t help but marvel at how very much has changed since I first began to become aware of who I am. I was only ten years old in 1967, when Pierre Trudeau declared that, “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” I was too young to understand the news in 1968, when Canada decriminalized homosexual acts. I don’t remember being aware of the Stonewall riots which erupted in 1969. As a teen-ager in the 1970’s, what went on between consenting adults was something seldom talked about. It wasn’t until the early 80’s when the reality of the AID’s epidemic drove conversations about homosexuality into the public square, that I began to pay attention to the cause of gay rights. Living in Vancouver and working in the travel industry, I lost friends, good friends, to a disease which devastated the gay community.

Later as I began to allow myself to understand who I am, I remember trying and failing to find the courage to march in Vancouver’s Gay Pride parade. I don’t know what frightened me more, being seen at the parade or seeing myself for who I am. Fear is a long, long way, from pride. So, it took me longer than I care to admit, to summon up the courage to participate in the pride parade in 1986.

Later as I was preparing myself to become a pastor, I had the very good fortune to fall in love. Falling in LOVE is a very empowering experience. But falling in LOVE in 1997, when your church says things like “love the sinner, hate the sin”, well let’s just say, that when I was called here to Holy Cross in 1999, it wasn’t just fear that kept Carol and I quiet on the subject of our relationship, it was the reality that if I said anything at all, I wouldn’t survive as a pastor for very long.  “Don’t ask don’t tell,” was the unofficial policy of the ELCIC. So, you didn’t ask, and I didn’t tell. 

Newmarket, I was told was a conservative town. Well a lot has changed over the years. Many of us worked for a very long time at considerable cost to change the policies of our government and of our church. The benefits of equal marriage in Canada, and full inclusion in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada are life changing and I confess that there are days when I still feel like pinching myself. “Can it actually be true? Can I actually be married to the woman I love and still be a pastor?”

The relief and the joy of being who I am without fear of persecution, makes me proud not only of who I am, but of who you are as a church, who we are as a community and who we are as a country. My pride runs deep and so it is a joy to see how very far we have come. This week as I continued to wonder how to celebrate in these strange times, I couldn’t help but marvel at the courage of so many people who paved the way for us. As I recall their stories filled with struggle and pain, my tears give way to resolve. Today, my question has become:  How can we NOT celebrate? So many people struggled for so very long. Surely, they deserve our thanks and praise as we celebrate how far we have come, even as we contemplate how much farther we still need to go? 

Today, I dry my tears and I give thanks to all those brave folks who marched these past 50 years.  Today, I celebrate all the brave pride-goers who risked so much, so that we can be all that we are created to be without fear. It has been a long and difficult struggle, and our pride celebrations inspire such joy. So, we sing, we dance, we make noise and yeah, we flaunt our sexuality when we can in public!  As the saying goes, “Next year in Jerusalem.” or “Next year in the promised land!” But for now, let us celebrate, how we can, where we can.  Next year in public! Because we know that the gay rights movement has liberated more than just the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, pansexual, two-spirit, androgynous, and asexual communities. I know that our straight sisters and brothers have learned a great deal about who they are. I’m pretty sure that liberation and freedom from sexual repression is indeed a blessing that more than just a few of us are grateful for.

The reality that we a wonderfully and beautifully made creatures of mysterious and sublime wonder is a blessing of unfathomable joy. So today, we celebrate who we are! But with each and every utterance of, the words “Happy Pride!” we cannot forget that our joy is tinged with sadness for all our sisters and brothers around the world who continue to live and die in fear. The Pride movement is still in its infancy. We have come a long way. We are blessed to live in a place where we can be who we are and love one another without fear of the state. Sadly, there are still places here where some of us are afraid to hold hands. There are places where some of us fear to go. We will need to do a whole lot more marching. We will also need to make a great deal of noise so that our communities become safe havens for all people, regardless of how they identify themselves or how they are identified by others because of the colour of their skin. We will need to make a great deal more noise so that the lives of Black, Indigenous. and People of Colour MATTER.

Those of us who remain in the Church must continue to make a whole lot of noise so that our institutions repent of the abuses of our past and stop the abuses which continue to be perpetrated in the name of Jesus.  We have been richly blessed.  We follow ONE who continues to teach us the importance of offering and receiving even what seems the smallest of kindnesses.  So, let our celebrations refresh us and let us offer welcome refreshment in the LOVE we share with our neighbours. 

Happy Pride EVERYONE! May this time of celebration feel like a cool drink of water, which refreshes you, so that you can refresh all who are thirsty for the freedom to love and to be loved. May the LOVE which is DIVINITY continue to empower all of us to be all that we are created to be. Sing LOVE’s song in these strange times! Happy Pride EVERYONE!

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