Pride, Prejudice and Pentecost
Readings: The Pentecost Story – The Lion Storyteller Bible
John 16:12-15; 20:19-23 (Ray)
When John Robinson said to the Pilgrim Fathers, ‘The Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from his word’, he was no doubt thinking of the Bible. But we believe God’s Word is not entirely contained in the Bible. The Bible itself talks of Jesus as the Word of God made flesh. We read the Bible in the light of the teaching and character of Jesus. We also draw on the knowledge and experience of our own time. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would lead his disciples into all truth and show them things they were not yet ready for.
The month of June is celebrated in Britain and in other countries as Pride Month – a time when we celebrate the variety of human gender and sexuality and express our support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people. Previous generations of Christians would certainly not have thought of celebrating in this way and many Christians today do not approve of it. There are passages in the Bible that seem to say that any sex outside marriage between a man and a woman is sinful. Texts in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy say that it is an abomination to the Lord for a man to lie with a man as with a woman. In the New Testament the Apostle Paul lists the numerous sins and vices of the people of his time, and among them is what he calls the ‘unnatural’ relationships between men and men and between women and women.
Many Christians take these passages as a definite condemnation of any kind of homosexuality. But we have to ask what the Bible writers were really talking about. In the world of the Bible, sex between males was almost always tied up with aggression and inequality. A conquering army would rape the soldiers of the defeated army. In a culture where women were believed to be inferior, treating a man like a woman was a way of humiliating and degrading him. In the Roman Empire, rich and powerful men would use their slaves as sexual partners; often the slaves were young boys: it was not consensual and not always loving.
The Bible doesn’t actually say anything about truly loving relationships between people who are naturally attracted to the same sex. This is an aspect of life that most people have only come to understand in quite recent times, and we feel it is one of the ways the Spirit is leading us into truth that previous generations were not ready for. The new truth the Spirit leads us into is the spirit of Jesus, and it must always be consistent with his teaching and his character. Jesus taught and lived the gospel of love. He constantly made a point of befriending the very people who were most rejected and excluded.
When we see the how many gay people have been rejected, condemned to lives of loneliness, fear and misery, and often driven to suicide, we must surely see that Jesus would not want that to be happening.
This church has taken a stand for openness and inclusion. We offer a welcome to everybody whatever their sexuality or their gender. Whatever other Christians may think, we are proud of the stand we take.
But is this enough? I remember when I was a student training for the ministry some friends of mine decided they would try a different church one Sunday morning. When we asked them what it was like, they said, ‘The notice on the door said “All are welcome”, but we noticed there was no “d” on the end of it!’ Being an open and inclusive church is not just a matter of being on the right side. The church is meant to be a warm, loving, embracing community. We say that everybody is welcome, but is everybody welcomed?
In many ways we have not yet been really tested. For example, how many of us would extend a special welcome to someone coming in wearing a badge or some other sign to declare that he was gay? Would we feel at all comfortable if a man came in wearing women’s clothes? If a man in our congregation was telling us how happy he was with his new girlfriend, and another was talking excitedly about his boyfriend, would there be a difference in the way we reacted to them? If a young person came into our congregation telling us they had been thrown out by their family because of being gay, how much effort would we put into welcoming them into our homes and being an alternative family for them?
Perhaps even more important: how willing are we to talk with people about their sexuality or about our own? Sometimes we don’t like to ask questions in case it seems inquisitive, but that can sometimes give the impression that we are embarrassed about raising the subject. I know, as a gay man myself, I am hesitant to talk a lot about it in case of boring people, but if people ask me questions I’m very glad of the opportunity to talk. Surely the Christian Church should be a family in which we can all share our joys and our troubles, and be ourselves.
Today we are celebrating the day of Pentecost. In the Bible story of that day, the disciples who had been hiding in a locked room because of their fear suddenly found the courage to talk openly about their experience of Jesus and what they believed about him. The Spirit sets us free to talk. As they spoke, all the different kinds of people who were there could understand them. I don’t know what it was that really happened or how historically true that story is, but it certainly conveys the message that the Spirit gives the gift of understanding. We so badly need that gift in the world today. This is surely part of what the Christian church should be showing.
Prayers of Intercession
God of Loving Diversity, we give you thanks for the Kaleidoscopic outpouring of your gifts at Pentecost.
We come with gratitude, Creator God, for all the ways you make yourself known to us, and all the ways you confound our understanding.
We thank you God, both Mother and Father, to us all for the many ways with which love finds us. We know that each of us is made in your image; you know us all by name; you love each one of us, and nothing we can do changes that.
We call to mind all the trailblazers in our own lives and our larger story, who fought, suffered and showed us wisdom and compassion, in order to show us how wide and inclusive Love’s welcome is.
But we know that throughout the world, and indeed, in our own country, the LGBTQI+ community are still being persecuted and outcast for living authentically.
We pray at the beginning of Pride Month that Your Spirit of Pentecost will enter these dark places, and show them and us, that your love is for all.
Be with our friends, and all the refugees in the Kakuma Refugee camp who are discriminated against, because of gender and sexuality, as we pray for justice and freedom for themselves and others.
May we keep striving to make a world where all people may know dignity, and can enjoy a life of love, health and equal rights.
We also think, this time, of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebrations, that are being held throughout the country. We give thanks for the long years of service, which she has given to our country, and her faithfulness to the promises that she made to you, at her Coronation. Be with her, and Bless her for the remaining days of her reign.
We also celebrate the Jubilee of the United Reformed Church, and we give thanks for all that has been achieved during that time. We ask that these celebrations, bring to our mind, the fact that we follow a God who brings freedom and justice for all – a time of rest and restoration, and a time of debts forgiven. We
pray that we may bring this celebration to bear in our own lives.
We pray for the work of Christian Aid, and all other agencies, which strive to ease the suffering of others.
You have given us a Beautiful World, which contains sufficient food, to feed all of your people, yet through
war, climate change, and the greed for power and possessions, we have tipped the Balance. Help us to examine ourselves, that we may live in such a way, that our own lives do not rob others of what they need to live.
We pray for the countries of Ukraine, Afghanistan, Yemen, South Sudan and countless others, which are suffering destruction and warfare. We see the courage of their people – we see their suffering and their grief, but we feel helpless in the face of it. So we Pray
That Your Spirit will enter the hearts of governments and leaders, that borders and barriers will be broken down; that power and greed will end, and that one day, all your creation will live in peace.
And now, we pray for our friends, families and our church family, especially those known to us, who need our special prayers, at this time.
We think, and pray for Stephen, and all the family of Cerys, for whom a light has gone out of their lives. We ask that you will be with them, as they, and we prepare to say goodbye to her, in this place. We also pray for the family of Val, and those whose grief is still raw, after months, or years of their loss.
We pray for the sick, housebound and those in nursing homes. Let them not feel forgotten, but give them the comfort of knowing that you are surrounding and comforting them in these days,
And for ourselves;
Let us spend time in that still place inside, where your spirit dwells, and let your spirit make us new.
With love – not laws, With love – not exclusion With love – not judgement
Let us go into the world as your children, and as the Body of Christ, to help build your kingdom in this place, and in this world.