Pride Sunday: In God's Image
All my life I’ve missed the point of this Gospel story. I thought it was just one of those “here’s what happened today with Jesus.”
But now, after having lived some life, after spending some quality time with Jesus and trying to follow this One that is love incarnate, I think there’s so much more to this Gospel story than: Remember that one boat ride with the Messiah?
The story starts like this: When evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.”
Let us go across to the other side. I don’t think Jesus is talking about the lake or the sea or a river. Jesus is talking about the other side…..moving from darkness to light, from death to life, from this world’s Kingdom to God’s kingdom…….Let us go across to the other side.
And then Jesus just settles down…..gets comfy….and falls asleep. Because for Jesus, it ain’t no big thing….or maybe Jesus knew it was going to get rocky….. whatever the reason, Jesus is definitely calm, cool, and collected.
But for those disciples……crossing over to the other side was a whole different story. It was risky. There was wind and lots of waves, their boat was getting swamped…..it was rocky and nauseating and they thought they were going to die.
Friends, for me this is a pretty accurate description of any time my worldview, my way of seeing and understanding things, has been uprooted and challenged….any time I have had to make major changes or I have had one of those personal growth experiences…..any time I have been confronted with my own ignorance or my own pettiness, my own darkness and brokenness….it feels like a storm a’brewin’ and just like these disciples…..I don't like it; I become fearful, often nauseated, and I want it to stop!
Crossing over to the other side might be nap time for Jesus, but it is hard, risky, life-challenging work for the rest of us.
This is true for the Church as well. Whenever the Gospel has demanded that the Church re-learn its truth, whenever the Church has had to own up and confess its own brokenness, it is some messy business.
In my life in the Church, I’ve experienced this a few times---most especially with women’s ordination and same-sex marriage. As I’ve lived through these issues, as a priest’s kid, as a faithful person in the church, as a mother raising kids, as a youth minister leading young folks, and as a priest finding her way and figuring out what it means to be a pastor, I have felt the wind in my face and have seen the waves swamping the boat.
Let me share two small stories with you when I’ve felt the storm shake my security. I went to my high school Prom with one of my good friends. We went to junior high together in Eau Claire, but then my family moved away, but I continued to return to Eau Claire regularly and see my good friends, so when Prom time came, one of the guys in our friend circle asked me to come to the Prom with him in Eau Claire. I said yes. It was fun, but not romantic. We had a serious, Prom-night conversation and decided we were just friends. And we continued to be good friends when I came to college in Eau Claire a few years later.
And then one night, my friend shared with me that he was gay. He talked about how hard it was for him to tell his brother and his family. He talked about how he often felt alone.
After our conversation, I really wondered about the church’s belief that homosexuality was a sin. I knew my friend; he is a good, loving person. He is kind and gentle, caring and compassionate. I wanted him to be loved, the same way I wanted to be loved by someone. I didn’t know what to do with what I had been taught, what I had believed my whole life, and the truth of who my friend is.
Several years later, I was serving as a youth minister and one of our youth was a foster child of a family in the church. She was a fragile young woman with several emotional issues. She and I had connected pretty well, and one day she asked to come in for a conversation. She shared with me that one of her very close friends believed she was gay.
She asked me if I thought this meant her friend was going to hell, if her homosexuality was a sin. I hesitated. I told her my truth at the time: I don’t know. I really don’t know. Because, you see, I had never really wrestled with the issue properly and completely. The chasm that had opened up between what I had been taught and my lived experience and truth of my friend was something I had just left gaping….I didn’t know how to close it up so I just didn’t walk too close to the edge. Then this young woman asked me if the Church thought homosexuality was a sin. I told her there was struggle and conversation in the Church about it, trying to hedge my bets, and then she said, yeah, but what does the Church really say…like, officially, about it?
Sighing, I said: That it is a sin.
That moment is etched in my memory. I know the pain those words brought to this young woman who was already so tender. I wanted to erase them, sponge them out; all I could do was love this young woman. And to tell her that she and her friend were loved by me, loved by God….that much I knew. That much was true.
Both of these experiences were the waves swamping my boat and the wind stirring up the water----I didn’t know it then, but I was crossing over to the other side…..and Jesus was in my boat whispering: Have faith; don’t be afraid.
Beloved: Humanity makes God into our own image; it is part of our brokenness. In our understandings and descriptions, God ends up looking and acting quite a bit like us; after all, we like calm seas. The voice and leadership of Western Christianity has been predominately male, white, privileged, and educated.** Therefore, our images of God have been predominately male, white, privileged and educated.** But here’s the thing: God isn’t male or female. God isn’t white or black, Asian or native. God isn’t cis-gendered or transgendered, heterosexual, homosexual, pansexual or bisexual. God isn’t any one of those things. God is all of those things. Why do I say this? How can I believe this? The Bible tells me so: Genesis, chapter 1, verse 25: Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us…
Humanity is made in the image of God, not the other way around. And humanity is female and male; humanity is white, black, Asian, Latinx, Middle-Eastern, and indigenous; humanity is transgendered and cis-gendered, gay, straight, bi, pan, and hetero. Humanity is all of these things, and so is God. If I want to know God—deeply and broadly---faithfully and as fully as I can—then I must come to know the width, depth and breadth of humanity, for it is in the full rainbow spectrum of humanity that God dwells, that God lives and breathes. It is the entirety of humanity that reveals God’s image and truth. The Bible tells me so.
My name is Jane Johnson. I am a heterosexual, cis-gendered female and my pronouns are she, her, and hers. I believe in the Holy, Beloved Trinity of God, who is no gender, and yet all genders and all the spaces in-between. God’s pronouns are they, them and theirs.
When evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.”
**Upon reflection: I should have added: straight and cis-gendered to this description.
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Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.