Out at Greenbelt
You will have seen on our social media that we were at Greenbelt 2019 this weekend! Our Executive Director chaired a panel called Lived Out Love exploring being LGBT+ in the church, our Chair, Peter Leonard presided at the OUT at Greenbelt communion service and another of our Trustees, Mark Rowland preached at the same service. A copy of what he said is below.
Out at Greenbelt Eucharist
Saturday 24 August 2019
When I was at Primary School, we had a trip to a nearby Arts Centre to make things out of clay. I’m blessed with various gifts but the artistic one of making, drawing and so on is not one of them. But what I love about clay is that there is so much scope to change, correct and even begin again. On that day, I made a clay model of a hump-back bridge. It certainly wouldn’t win any prizes but I count it one of my few artistic triumphs. I think it’s still in my parents’ house somewhere.
In the beginning, God formed us from the dust of the ground as Genesis poetically puts it. Each us formed intimately and intricately to the last detail by the wisdom – and perhaps sometimes even the wit – of God. One of the things I always find frustrating in artistic attempts is the difference between what I can imagine and what I can produce. It looks wonderful in my head but on paper or in clay, it’s not quite the same… God has no such limits; God’s creative handiwork realises the fullness of God’s intention.
It’s a theme that echoes through scripture and is found most vividly for me in Psalm 139, speaking of the God who searches us and knows us, by whom we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Bernadette Farrell’s paraphrase, “For the wonder of who I am I praise you” gets to the heart of it for me, and was significant in my own journey of coming to terms with my identity as a gay man. This psalm speaks to us of the divine work of creativity in me and all humanity, and indeed all creation.
Jeremiah’s prophetic challenge to the House of Israel is to a people who had taken their place for granted. A people who had forgotten that they owed their place to God in the beginning. And God says, in a message that the Church needs to hear in every generation, “I can always do something new. I create from dust and clay and from with wit and wisdom but I can rework, restart, reform… I made you, I love you, I long for you, but you cannot limit me.”
John the Baptist speaking much later has a similar challenge reminding some of those who came to be baptised that God could raise children of Abraham from the stones of the ground.
God is always ready to do a new thing.
And all too often the Church isn’t really ready for God to do a new thing… but amazingly enough, God keeps doing them… whatever the Methodist Conference or the General Synod or anyone else has to say about it.
In the queer saints of the ages, in the LGBT+ community today and in countless other people God is doing new things if only we’re ready to notice and to join in. God calls each of us to join in the wit and wisdom of God’s creativity. But when we do, it changes everything. All the old certainties are swept away. Jesus’ words on this are so sharp and so hard to hear - “Whoever does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even life itself… cannot be my disciple.”
Leaving aside what that might mean for those who talk a lot about “Christian family values,” I think what these challenging words say to us is that God wants nothing less than all of us, because every last bit of us is God’s creative work. When we respond to God’s call, we respond as whole people:
- Not just the Sunday bit
- Not just the respectable, straight-acting bit
- Not just the bit that fits in church
- Not just what we can manage around everything else
God asks and desires and loves nothing less than our whole selves, sexuality and gender most emphatically included. Your very self, who you are, is an outpouring of God’s creativity. You are a gift to us, and a gift, if they will receive it, to the Church and to the world. God calls you to be part of a new creative work, because God is always doing a new thing.
I’m not sure St John Henry Newman would have ever expected to be quoted in a context like this but these words of his sum up for me what I have been saying. They are true for each and everyone of us here this afternoon. I have avoided using gendered pronouns for God in this sermon but I quote this in the original:
God has created me to do him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission […] He has not created me for naught.