There are two tendencies that do not seem balanced to me. Some spiritual leaders have focused strongly on the torturous nature of Christ’s death at Calvary. Listening to their sermons is about as graphic as watching some crime scene investigation movie. The focus on the intricate details of Christ’s death actually distract from, the theme of Christ’s atonement at Calvary. I think their motive is to use guilt to make people reach out to God. While the desire to see people developing a close bond with God is good, this approach has come back to haunt churches. Guilt is a not good long-term motivator. Using guilt as a foundation for a quality, long-term relationship, is about like building a $1 million home on quicksand. Other pastors neglect the passion of Christ. One reason for trying to side-step talking about Calvary is to try to step away from guilt-oriented and guilt-motivated religion. We can discuss the passion of Christ without being consumed by guilt. The epistle reading from Philippians talks about the passion of Christ, without a heavy emphasis on the revolting details of His death. Paul seems to place things in better perspective than many of our contemporary pastors. In the Liturgical cycle, this is Passion Sunday. Lent ends with Passion Sunday. Lent can help us respond better to God’s call. During Lent, some people give up things in which they find delight, as they feel that frees them to respond to God. They may give up things like chocolate, fine wine, or an especially enjoyable leisure activity. I like to see people give up things for Lent that involve far more sacrifice, the kind of sacrifice that is life changing. And I am not convinced giving up a few things we enjoy for the season of Lent is as life changing as it is to give up some of the unhealthy things around which we’ve built our lives. I recall challenging a group of queer Christians to give up some of the following things for Lent:
- Shoulding on yourself. This means during Lent you attempt to stop beating yourself up for all of the things you feel you should have, ought to have done, or must have done. You let past regrets die a death of loneliness, while you move on in life.
- Must thinking. There are very few things we really must do in life. Death and paying taxes are two of those things. Beyond that, the list is really very small. The list of musts does not include “must be straight.” So during Lent you could give up telling yourself how you must think, look, act, or be to please your family, to please yourself, and to please God. And for the period of Lent you enjoy being you, just as you are.
- Buying things you cannot afford. By this, I do not mean buying a Porsche, a penthouse luxury condo, or a time-share condo in the Bahamas. You stop trying to buy the love of family, friends, yourself, and your God. You can also give up on the impossible dream of making the straight world love you. Many people have clung to that dream so tightly that they gave up on wonderful experiences they could have had in the queer community.
- Self-hate and self-loathing. This might be the most important thing you can give up for God during Lent. You are God’s precious creation. When you stop hating yourself, you stop hating God’s creation, and God is delighted in that gift.
- Internalized homophobia, transphobia or queerphobia. When you give up the burden of hating yourself, a burden society gave you, there is freedom. And that freedom will let you be free to hear and to respond to God’s call.
Changing your world view, changing how you see yourself and others is hard work. You need guts to change the picture you have of yourself and others. Justin Trudeau is the son of the former Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau. Recently, Justin Trudeau spoke at a public forum about leadership in uncertain times. While Justin was not talking about sacrificing things at Lent, I think one comment he made in his speech can be applied to having the courage to sacrifice the very things that have caused us to be less than we can be, less than God created us to be. In his speech, Justin said, ” . . . we either go forward or remain helpless, paralyzed by fear.” Perhaps you did not make the personal sacrifice it takes to be able to really change your life. That is not a problem. While Lent is over, at any time of the year, God will gladly accept an offering where you dump all of your should or must thinking, your attempts to buy what cannot be purchased, your self-hate, and your internalized fears and anger. I cannot think of a better time to let go of those things than during the Easter season, a time when we celebrate life emerging from gloom and death, good triumphing over evil. Knowing good triumphs over evil gives us the courage to change things that really hold us back. April 1 is commonly known as April Fools’ Day. This year Passion Sunday falls on April Fools. One commentator notes that April first was considered New Year’s Day in many parts of the world. April 1 was New Year’s Day, because in the northern hemisphere it marked the new life spring brings. Larry Gillick is with Creighton University’s Center for Ignatian Spirituality. He comments some on the April 1 being Passion Sunday. He mentions that “Jesus’ life can be seen as an act of foolishness.” He continues by comparing love and foolishness. He notes, “Love is foolish at times and does strange things and goes beyond the usual, the socially acceptable.” The Trinitarian perspective holds that Jesus is God the Son. Within the Trinitarian perspective Creator, Redeemer, and Comforter are all God. What this means is that God was prepared to look foolish, to give up all of the perks a powerful God has to show you that you are loved. Part of the text in this week’s liturgical reading really makes my point better than I can. Reading about Jesus Christ from Today’s New International Version in Philippians 2:6-8. Being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death-even death on a cross! Looking at this text, we can see two things. One is the love of God. The other is a vibrant example of how to have the Passion of April Fools. We can hear God say, “You are worthy of love to the uttermost depth of your queer soul, to the your little straight soul. I love you this much.” Once we understand how much we are loved, we are able to have the courage to love foolishly, to love beyond what is socially acceptable, to love until lives are not just touched, but changed by God’s love flowing through us. I have not used many of Larry Gillick’s thoughts in this sermon, but I want to conclude this sermon with his concluding prayer. “Thank You, foolish Lover of us all.”
A lifelong counselor, teacher and educator, having worked in elementary and secondary education for 25 years, Gary Simpson is a member of the Canadian Counseling and Psychotherapy Association and has spoken and led workshops on gay-straight alliances, bullying, spiritual self-defense, gay Christian identity, and the needs of GLBT youth and young adults.
Currently studying at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, Calif., he holds a B.Ed. from Union College in Lincoln, Neb., an M.A. in Guidance and Counseling and Ed.S. in Educational Psychology from Loma Linda University in Riverside, Calif., a Master’s in Religious Education from Newman Theological College in Edmonton, Alberta, and a Certificate in Sexuality and Religion from Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif.