The Metropolitan Congregation

- serving and celebrating the LGBT communities of Manchester and the North West

Sermon - 26th August 2018

Do not be afraid (Pride Sunday)

Scripture - Deuteronomy 31:6; Psalm 23:3-4; Psalm 27:1; Isaiah 43:1-2; John 14:27; John 10:10

Walt Johnson

[An audio version of this sermon, in mp3 format, is available via the link at our Spirituality > Audio and Video page.]

The song we have just heard is from the group Erasure released on their 1987 album “The Circus”. The song is called “Hideaway” and is a coming-out story told in music. Andy Bell is a gay man, and even though it has never been confirmed, the song is said to be his experience of coming-out.

For many of us, no matter whether we are LGB or T, our own experiences – my own included – will have found voice in the words of this song: the feeling within that we can no longer remain silent about who we are; the rejection that we experienced, coming from those who had previously loved us; the estrangement, the leaving home and the pain.

Yet, the song also speaks of a new life and hope: finding identity and being able to express love in the way that we were created. Nevertheless, the song reminds us in each chorus of the pain back in the family home. Whether that pain comes from denial in having to live a secret life until family have died, or never being able to return and live in asylum, these are our lives.

And when that separation from love and rejection comes from the church, as is the experience of many here, and demonstrated literally by the so-called Christian protestors on Peter Street yesterday, the brokenness and separation is all the more tragic.

Gene Ruyle, an American writer and philosopher wrote: “A half-truth is much worse than a whole lie because it makes it even harder to tell the difference between the two.”

Yesterday, while waiting for the Pride march to begin, I had two conversations with people I had never met before which exemplify this thought. Firstly, a lesbian who attends an evangelical church. When she announced her engagement, her church gave her a present… a book on living a celibate life!

Secondly, Sam and I were speaking to a trans-woman, and she was asking about our church and she wanted to know how often we have an “open table”, to which I replied “every week”. She was simply stunned. But the question does ask itself: while some churches hold a monthly “open table”, what happens on the other 40 Sundays of the year?

When I arrived home yesterday late afternoon, after the parade, this was the headline in the Manchester Evening News – “This is why we still need Manchester Pride”. While there have massive improvements in LGBT rights and acceptance, that acceptance is not universal, and it is heart-breaking to see that the rejection comes from so-called Christians whose bigotry, callous hard-heartedness, blinkered and ignorant Biblical scholarship pollute the message of love and universal acceptance which God offers to all the rainbow-diverse creation that is humankind.

In the First Letter of John (4:18), the writer tells us that: “There is no fear in love; perfect love drives out all fear.” Most, if not all of us here, will have experienced fear on differing levels because of our sexual orientation or gender identity, and that fear will also have been about how our relationship with God would be negatively affected by who we are and how we love.

When we read the Bible, there are a very small number of verses, which when taken out of the cultural context of the time they were written and sought to be applied in today’s 21st century world, do cause LGBT people consternation. Yet, this is more important to hear: the Bible is full from start to finish of messages of hope, love and call to return to a real relationship with God, our Creator. The messages of hate, fear and rejection come from other humans and their twisted interpretation of the Bible, not from God.

We are now going to hear read to us just six of the many hundreds of messages in the Bible that seek to drive out the fear within us and to accept anew God’s unconditional love and acceptance.

(Readings: Deuteronomy 31:6; Psalm 23:3-4; Psalm 27:1; Isaiah 43:1-2; John 14:27; John 10:10)

Fear is an emotion: it is like a biological fire alarm, alerting us to danger. It heightens our senses, triggering our primitive fight-or-flight response. When we become afraid in front of others to be who we are as LGBT, we are less likely to fight; instead, we flee… we escape inwards and live secret lives, or we escape literally and move to live elsewhere, unable to return out of fear.

The last of those six short readings speaks to us of “life in all its fulness”. If we allow our fears to overshadow us, we deny ourselves the fulness of life. Like the child which has recently fallen off their bicycle and been injured, when they get back on the bike, out of fear of a recurrence they might ride cautiously for a time. We also have a saying, “once burned, twice shy”.

The Pride parades (previous called Pride marches) are an opportunity for the LGBT community to come together to face the fears, and in a way, ‘fight’ for rights and to re-establish for ourselves in the fulness of our humanity and live a full, fear-free life.

As our group ‘Christians Walking With Pride’ walked past the so-called Christians protesting with their messages of hate, the response from the crowds was a cheer, a cheer that was noticeably louder, drowning out the tinny speaker of the protester’s preacher.

Many years ago, during a time in my own life when my life was filled with the fear of rejection for who I am as a gay man, I spent time at the Taizé monastery in France, where I learned this simple prayer and chant. It has been and continues to be source of comfort:

Jésus le Christ, lumière intérieure,
Ne laisse pas mes ténèbres me parler.
Jésus le Christ, lumière intérieure,
Donne moi d'accueillir ton amour.

Jesus Christ, light inside of me,
Do not let my darkness speak to me.
Jesus Christ, light inside of me,
Allow me to welcome your love.


(Walt Johnson)

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