Smiling faces draped scores of rainbow-beaded necklaces around the necks of over eighty members of this large, metropolitan United Methodist Church. Two young boys sat in a wagon pulled by one boy’s mother— one of the church’s pastors— and the other boy’s dads. A proud father handed his collection of beads to his mentally and physically disabled daughter so she could pass them out as he began to push her wheelchair down the street. Amid a sea of booty shorts and voluptuous drag queens, an elderly woman and teenage boy held up signs that said, “Our family values are your family values,” and a retired UMC pastor chatted lovingly with a struggling young gay man. A spirit of love and compassion, joviality and excitement permeated the people of God that morning. They stood on the cusp of this church’s most evangelistic endeavor. To be sure, in the streets of this Midwestern city, we endeavored to live out the traditional, liturgical benediction and sending forth. And so, on my sixth day as a summer, seminary intern, I joined this diverse group as we showed God’s love and walked down crowded streets filled with onlookers celebrating the annual Gay Pride Parade.
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy, Weak and
wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you, Full of pity, love and power.
We walked what I thought to be a relatively long parade route. I wondered which road we were walking. Would our excitement buoy us as we trekked along the via Delarosa where the shame and distrust the church heaped upon the LGBTQ community suddenly shifted to being heaped upon us? Would we be as Jesus was on the road to Emmaus wherein we are treated as commonplace and possibly recognized as Christ’s ambassadors? Rather, we would be like Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem greeted with shouts and acclimation and welcomed as representatives of those ushering in Christ’s kingdom.
Come, ye thirsty, come, and
welcome, God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance, Every grace that brings you nigh.
The faces of parade goers often flooded with surprise, excitement, and gratitude when they saw the people of this prophetic church leading an ad hoc delegation of reconciling, affirming, and open Indiana churches. It was a Palm Sunday journey. Maybe we scandalized the folks we encountered along the route by the message we dared to preach that day. On that day, we claimed that what is radical about the Gospel is not who it keeps out but who the Gospel ushers into the kingdom of God. We passed out our rainbow necklaces with fervor and love. Indeed, just as on Sunday morning, as a forgiven and reconciled people, we exchange signs—in this case necklaces—of God’s peace under the warm sun in the heart of the city. The beads that had been placed over our heads as if they represented the Holy Spirit anointing us for our missionary journey we now dispersed into the crowds. We visibly saw Christ’s love go out and the Spirit take flight each time we flung beads into an elated mass. We greeted God’s children in the name of God and shining as a beacon, proclaimed room in the kingdom of God for all.
I wonder if the faces of those we met that day reflect the faces of the prostitutes and tax collectors that Jesus met and welcomed into the kingdom. Part of me thinks that on that early June day that is exactly what I saw.
Come, ye weary, heavy laden, Lost and ruined by
If you tarry till you’re better, You will never come at all.
We reached the end of the route standing beneath another church building. People had cheered for us. Over the course of the parade, indeed over the course of our triumphal entry into our Jerusalem, the hundreds of beaded necklaces that anointed our departure upon this brief missiological voyage found themselves in the hands of the enthusiastic crowds. The Spirit that sent us now resided with those whom we met along our journey.
will arise and go to Jesus, He will
embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior, O there are ten thousand charms.
With the parade over, we stood together for a picture. Together we had lived our liturgy, embodied our Scriptures, and vivified a Spirit-filled experience. My face glowed with the kiss of the morning sun, but I wondered if that kiss did not instead resemble the glowing of Moses’ face after he had seen God. Had I seen God in this moment of ministry? I believe I had. Although weak and wounded, sick and sore, poor and heavy laden, together our church arose and went with Jesus and encouraged others to join us on this journey. And, Jesus embraced us.
And so in the wake of this spirit-filled experience, I find myself with so many questions. For me, I wonder how people can reject these brothers and sisters. As a semi-closeted gay seminarian, I wonder why the church continues to reject me and churches like the one that has welcomed me this summer are not more standard. I wonder when Protestants reconciled the concept of the Church being the arbiter of salvation and wrenched the power from the hands of the Almighty. I wonder why my LGBTQ brothers and sisters remain United Methodists when the Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Disciples (of Christ), and members of the United Church of Christ churches continue to swing wide their doors. I wonder what bars us from serving the church and why I have to hide my opinions of and connections with this community in order to have a streamlined ordination experience. At times, these questions have driven me to the point of leaving the church or at least my own denomination, but my summer home reminds me that there is a way to be faithful and utter the name of Jesus without sacrificing my identity.
Smiling faces draped Spirit-laden rainbow-beaded necklaces around the necks of God’s people and those faithful servants enjoyed a triumphal entry and shone as a beacon. They arose and went to Jesus, and Jesus embraced them in his arms. Thanks be to God!
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