09 May 2008

European Forum for Lesbian and Gay Christians - Sermon: “What Are We Waiting For?” - Rev. Nancy Wilson

Mark 16: 5-20

Acts 1: 1-11

I am humbled and honored to be invited to preach to this 26th annual gathering of the European Forum. All of you do such amazing work in your countries and churches, often very isolated and without much support. I know how important this gathering is – how you yearn for community and the experience of being with others who are engaged in the same struggles in their contexts. I salute you, and think of myself as one of you, even though I am not European. – but, we are part of the same, global movement!

I loved June’s version of the Hosea reading!! And, even though it is Ascension weekend, and we are a week away from Pentecost, doesn’t it feel like Pentecost in this room tonight? To hear all the languages, and dialects, and the sense of unity in diversity – it is as if Pentecost is just waiting to burst in on us!

Mark’s gospel tells of us the disciples who were looking for Jesus in all the wrong places. They were looking for him in an “empty tomb,” and were told by angels he was not there. In the Book of Acts, the first chapter, we read, in Eugene Peterson’s The Message, that angels told the discplines not to look for Jesus in the “empty sky.” Empty tomb and empty sky! Instead, the angels told them, move on, get going, fulfill that mission of going to the ends of the earth. They were to be witnesses, to heal and preach and turn the world upside down. They call it the Book of Acts, because they were to act! Not to think, or debate, or ponder, but to act!

It was as if the angels were re-directing them from empty tombs and empty skies – stop looking for Jesus in dead places, stop staring into heaven – that not wehre Jesus is! Get busy, get out into the world . ..

Our movement – can I call it that? Our movement of LGBTQ and allied Christians is a very small global movement as of yet – and, we have had an amazing impact. I do think that we still need angels to re-direct us, today, in the 21st century.

I have a story to share – that I have told all around MCC, and for me, it is emblematic.

In late 2005, when I was still the new Moderator of MCC, I read in the New York Times about a gay man in Jamaica, Steve Harvey, who was murdered for being an Aids activist and a gay activists. I read about the Human Rights Watch report, “Hated to Death” that described years of murders, threats, rapes and beatings of gay men and lesbians, much of which was not addressed by the police. There were no allies in Jamaica – no one standing up, in the church, the government, in the universities, saying that this violence is wrong, that it has to stop.

I called Human Rights Watch, and asked if MCC could help. They put me in contact with Gareth, who was 27 years old. We met in Florida, and he told me his story – of dozens of friends murdered, of beatings, of fear and pain and despair. I was so impressed with his courage and commitment. So overwhelmed by what he and his friends faced every single day.

When I asked him what they needed the most, he said, “spiritual community.” This, I knew, MCC could help with! He knew that they needed a spiritual base, from which their activism could flow and be supported.

So, we began to build a relationship, to visit Jamaica, to enlist MCC leaders in helping to support a spiritual community in Jamaica.

And, we learned a lot. That Jamaica’s homophobia is as lethal as it is because of the legacy of colonialism, colonial religion (fundamentalism), slavery, sexism and the racialization of sexuality that undergirds it. Jamaica is not unique in this regard, as poverty, violence and desperation have exacerbated homophobia.

As the church has grown, efforts to create allies, religious and political, have increased. There is a human rights movement with new intensity now in Jamaica, supported by allies from around the world. February 14th of this year, MCC lead a day of “witness” at Jamaican embassies in several locations. We flooded officials with emails and letters. So much so, that last week Prime Minister Bruce Golding felt compelled to say that even though he was receiving “enormous international pressure,” he was not going to support repeal of the sodomy laws. Imagine that! “Enormous international pressure!” That was me and you and MCC and other small organizations – how amazing – we are capable of creating “enormous international pressure!” This is great news! Sometimes the opposition has to tell us who we are . . .and, we are not giving up. The laws will be repealed, and the violence will be stopped.

Next weekend, on May 9th, we are having a march, a “pilgrimage” -- the first ever, public event for human rights for lgbt folks in Jamaica. We are hoping that many allies will join us. It will be the first time many lgbt folks will be “on camera,” in Jamaica. We need your prayers and support as we support these incredible young activists.

I think they are angels – helping to re-direct our movement in the 21st century, to where Jesus would have us be – in the margins, and with people who have no hope. Believe me, Jamaica was not necessarily in our plans for starting a new church – but it was in the Holy Spirit’s plan.

I think our journey with Jamaicans has challenged us in ways that are important for our organization and for the European Forum:

1) The Center of Gravity in the world is changing – from the North and West to the South and East. The North and West is aging rapidly, and the South and East are getting younger and younger. Our crises with food, capital, resources, fuel, racism, war and market forces are all being acted out on this stage of shifting world power. We have to come to terms with how it will impact us, and what our role will be.

2) Christianity is changing – the center of Christianity in the 21st century will be the “global South..” Places like Nigeria will lead the way and become more influential. And, in the south, Christianity will continue to be more conservative – especially about gender and sexuality, at least for the time being. The North and West will become more secular, and the South more Christian, with Islam growing in both places. The traditional Protestant Churches of Europe and the “mainstream Churches” of the US will continue in precipitous decline. What does this mean for our mission, our future as progressive Christians?

3) Religion will either become more of a force for justice and peace, or more of a force for intolerance, or both. More than ecumenical work, it is our inter-religious work that is going to have the most impact. Creating space for inter-religious understanding, communication and action around common values is what is needed. Can the European Forum lead the way? Can MCC and similar organizations?

4) Young people are the key – if we are to have an impact in the next 20 to 30 years, we must care about what they care about: planetary survival, the environment, justice, peace. Gender and sexual orientation will look so different, 10 and 20 years from now – there will be more blurring and blending, more fluidity. People will change gender more than once in their lifetimes. Labels and categories will be vastly different, in ways we cannot conceive. All this will be ordinary to young people. How does that challenge us? How can we listen and learn from young people, and invite them into leadership in our organizations?

5) A Virtual World – young people in Jamaica have several cell phones on which they text constantly. They create community virtually, all the time, every day. Near is far and far is near in the virtual world. The very nature of “reality” will be called into question in a virtual world. But, to resist it is to resist the next generation, and the one after that. The speed of change is increasing every day. We must act, and risk and stop looking in the dead places and to an empty sky for answers. Jesus is on the move, ahead of us.

We can’t wait – changes are upon us, and we must follow Jesus into a new Pentecost. May the Holy Spirit bless our movement, may angels re-direct us and give us the courage to answer our calling to the ends of the earth. So much depends on it.


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