Pride Interfaith Blessing - Pastor April's Sermon

Good morning. It is an honor to be present with you this morning in such a sacred space.

Thank you for being here, for taking a chance on such a gathering as this – we are honored to be hosting this celebration…

How many of you here remember your years in Junior High and Middle School?

For some of us that’s been more recent than others.

Middle School was such a difficult and challenging time

And it wasn’t the awkward body changes that I was experiencing, though that wasn’t much fun.

And it wasn’t the challenges of exploring sexuality and what that meant, though that wasn’t easy either.

It wasn’t even the fact that I grew up in the 80’s and was peer pressured into tight rolling my jeans and making my bangs stick up 2 inches into the air every morning.

What was hardest for me about middle school is that the only thing anyone ever seemed to see about me was what was on the outside.

Everything about how I was treated by friends, by members of the opposite sex, by people in the community, and even by many of my teachers.

It all had to do with what I looked like, what I was wearing, how I talked, how skinny I was, and who I could be found associated with.

My identity was being judged at every moment by what people could see

And that was the hardest part.

Because even though I was only 12 years old when I started middle school, something deep down in my spirit, something deep down in my soul knew that I was more than just my clothes, that I was more than the music I listened to or the person I was dating, or how scrawny my legs were.

I hope your middle school experience was different than mine, but my hunch is that it wasn’t.

And if we’re all honest, the feeling of being judged and sized up – it doesn’t stop at middle school.

Part of the very reason we need to have a PRIDE celebration on the massive scale that we do in this city – is that it still happens.

We still experience this feeling of being judged by what people can see and for some of us, we’ve experienced it for so long that – we’ve started to believe what the people say.

And we find ourselves operating as a community as if we are still stuck in middle school.

We read a passage of Christian Scripture today from the book of Romans, it’s a letter written by a man named Paul and he is inviting people to be “led by the Spirit.”

He begins this part of the letter by saying that we are under no obligation to live according to our human nature – some translations say – our lower nature.

I think a better translation might be – “We are no longer under any obligation to live as if we are stuck in middle school.”

Instead, Paul suggests that we be led by the spirit.

This word Spirit is one found in a lot of faith traditions -

The Greek word for Spirit is pneuma – in the Hebrew – the word is Ruha.

Like a lot of Greek words, pneuma had layers of meaning -

There was a belief that each person had a pneuma – a spirit, and that it was the vital principal by which the body is animated – the spirit is what gives us the power to feel, to think, to decide, the spirit is the soul of a person.

And the pneuma was in them, but also bigger than them -

a simple essence, A life giving spirit,  that possessed the power of knowing, desiring, deciding, and acting

And the term Spirit or pneuma – was also the word for breath.  The thing that brought life to every human being.

In the book of Genesis, when the first person was created, it says that God breathed the breath of life into him.

God breathed ruha into the first human.

And so there is this idea in many faith traditions that our breath, our very way of being created is deeply connected to the spiritual life.

That this concept of spirit is already something that is in us from the moment that we’re born.

And Paul goes even further to say that the spirit that is in us cries out – ABBA.

In the Greco-Roman time, the term Abba, was an expression used in many different circles to express connection and closeness.

Paul is suggesting that in the very fabric of our design is a spirit that dwells within us that cries out for deep, real, intimate connection with the divine.

And then he makes the most bold statement of all -

that what we find when we pay attention to that spirit, when we listen to that spirit … is the assurance and the confidence that we are God’s children.

We hear the spirit telling us

that we do not have to be afraid – we do not have to fear what others say or think or do – because we know.

We know

That we are God’s children.

And that we ought to have great PRIDE in who we are.  Each and every one of us.

I stand here as a United Methodist clergywoman, an ally, and an imperfect human being.  I am a part of a larger church and a faith that has failed to communicate that message to people.  And for that, I am deeply sorry.

Many of our faith traditions have been places of pain and hurt, instead of places that reminded you to be proud.

But where communities of faith have often failed to communicate this message of love, of inclusion, of the fact that we are all God’s children – where our faith leaders have failed to lead the way - other prophetic and creative voices have spoken in their absence –

First of all,our friends at Stonewall - for over 30 years - thank you for paving the way for inclusion and love in this city for all people.

and, it's been a big year for our country - our brothers and sisters in the military are now free to celebrate and openly express their sexuality thanks to the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

And for the first time in the history of our country, our president and vice-president have openly voiced their support for equal rights for same-sex marriage.

The spirit that has been speaking to the hearts of people around the world – creating more spaces and places and opportunities for full inclusion.

And in such a time, creative voices and artists have given us beautiful music to remind us about what is true and real about each one of us.

Lady Gaga

I'm beautiful in my way

'Cause God makes no mistakes

I'm on the right track, baby I was born this way

Don't hide yourself in regret,

Just love yourself and you're set

I'm on the right track, baby I was born this way, yeah

There’s a reason why that song was played 18,000 times at PRIDE last year.

Because it communicated in a very real way – the exact message that we are speaking about today –That we don’t need to live in a spirit of fear, that we can trust that we were created in ways that are good and beautiful – and we can trust that spirit that is in us that spirit that reminds us that we are all God’s children.

But this message -

it is a great comfort and encouragement to us

But it is also a challenge –

For if we are to be a people who are led by the Spirit.  Then it means we are a people who have left our middle school days behind.

It means that we are a people who seek to look behind the surface of what we see in others – and seek to find the spirit, the pneuma, the ruha – the life-giving force that defines who we really are.

And it means that we are willing to do that with people that we don’t understand and with people we don’t agree with and even with people who are not willing to return the favor and view us with love.

Because a life in the spirit – is not a life of fear – it’s not a life where we avoid people and separate ourselves from one another.

 

Life in the spirit is about proclaiming that we are all god’s children, and builds bridges in ways that make it possible for this to actually be true for others as well.

We are blessed.

We are blessed to be a blessing.

As the words of the poem that Balpreet read this morning so aptly put –

Your surplus belongs to anyone who may need it.

 

And my hope and prayer is that the spirit of love and inclusion that infuses this place will pour out into the streets of Columbus – that people who were not present today will experience a blessing by their encounter with each of you, that people who know nothing about PRIDE, who don’t understand what it’s all about – will find their time with you to be a gift, that awakens the spirit in them – reminding them that they are, like you, God’s children.

And that’s exactly what the love feast is all about.

Sile is about to start off this feast with the first few verses of the book of Genesis –

Words that speak to the beginning and the creation of light into the world, out of darkness.

 

They are appropriate words to begin our time of feast together, because we leave this place and find ourselves headed into places of darkness, places that are desperately in need of light, and truth and love.

And it is important to remember the fundamental truth that the divine spirit in us and in the world is seeking to bring light out of darkness – to bring love out of hate.

To bring healing out of pain.

And as a response to that reality – we will then move into a time of feast and a time of blessing.  Scattered around the room will be bread – bread from different traditions, and served to you by representatives from a variety of faiths.

You may come and receive a blessing of love – that you might go out into the world and be a blessing of light and love for others in this city – sharing this joy of inclusion, hope and love to all you meet.