Called Queer, Sacred & Defiant: Matthew 22:1-14 by Emily Papke-Larson
This sermon was preached at LCM|Canterbury on October 11, 2020. Unfortunately due to technical difficulties, there is no recording.
I want to start by saying Happy Coming Out day, y'all. It’s a gift that this celebration lands on a Sunday this year. There are a number of churches that I know who are worshipping together and preaching and teaching and thinking about what it means to be an LGBTQIA+ follower of Christ and exploring how their identities and stories are a gift to their communities – like a joy, a foundational part of who we all are together as the community of faithful. Centered, not sidelined. Thanks be to God.
Please, join me in prayer…
God who is creator, Jesus who is redeemer, Holy Spirit who is sustainer- empower us to live in hope of the gospel,
declare your truth with our words,
and embody that truth through our actions.
Give us love for you and love for one another. Amen.
I want to share with you today a way of looking at this gospel story from Matthew that changed my perspective. That doesn’t always happen. Even for someone who spends a lot of time with this church stuff, a lot of time thinking about bible passages. Sometimes I get to a story and depending on what’s going on in my life and in the world around me – the best I can do is just read the words as they are without taking a deep dive into the history, the meaning – and lots of times that’s more than enough.
The world is spinning fast, yes? Less than a month to the most important presidential election of our time. Pandemic has changed and ended the lives of people I know and love – you too, likely. Awakening for a lot of Americans to the evil of racism that has always existed in our institutions and systems – from the top to bottom – and that brings with it shame and fear that are hard to face. The words “climate change” are nowhere near enough to encompass THAT issue. There is a likelihood that already established cases involving women’s healthcare and the rights of LGBTQIA+ people will find their way back in front of the supreme court. Ya’ll, that’s just what’s swirling around us. That doesn’t even begin to touch the day to day – real life – all the things that we navigate on the regular. Relationships, living situations, classes, work. I don’t know about you but my mental health has needed a lot more attention.
When I was reading from Isaiah for today – and the 23rd psalm – I was like, moved to tears. On National Coming Out day – we would hear God is a refuge to us when we’re in distress. God is a shelter in the storm, shade in the heat. God will cast away death forever, wipe away tears from our faces, invite us to share a feast – I felt relief.
To me it was like - you know the feeling you have after you’ve cried, and cried. You’re out of tears. And then your parent, your close friend, your lover, someone who knows you, puts their hand on your cheek and reminds you just to breathe.
God anoints our heads with oil. God invites us to pull a chair up to the feast. In Philippians, God urges us to rejoice. Give our worries to God in the practice of prayer. Continue to do, feel, see, be in the ways God teaches us and the God of peace will be with us. AMEN. God hold me now because the world is spinning fast and I need to feel your hand on my cheek and my head anointed.
And then we get to Matthew. The parable of the wedding banquet. Which let me tell you – ends not in a way that an easy reading will comfortably allow. All of my desire to share with you today about the God of anointing and feasts and peace and breath hits a wall when I read this parable for the first time.
The kingdom of God may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet. The king becomes enraged when his first invited guests won’t come. He burns down the city in response. Then the king tries again – he invites a second round of guests that he has “gathered” from the streets in front of the palace. And when the king finds one of his second round of guests wearing the wrong clothing at his banquet, he has the guest bound and cast into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.
Excuse me, what. I was offended that the gospel story on national Coming Out Day was about someone being cast to outer darkness on any level until I remembered that these readings are part of the 3 year lectionary cycle and it wasn’t on purpose. But still.
In what way does this gospel story embody the attributes of God that I, and we, need to hear right now? Anointing, feasting, peace, breath. They don’t seem to be present in the character of the king. Surely, surely the kingdom of God isn’t like a wedding that includes randomly throwing guests who don’t fit in - into the abyss. Otherwise – none of us are safe.
So I began to wonder… Who makes up the people – who have been invited to this wedding banquet anyway? Especially the second round of invitees – the people gathered from the street, both good and bad. Sounds like us. Sounds like more than us – a whole group of people who are probably all over the glorious map. People on their way to work. People sneaking home after a night out dancing. People with scowls and friendly smiles. People who are just trying to find a good meal. Queer people. Political refugees. Constitutionalists. People walking their dogs. People who have been hurt by the king’s rule. People who hate that the king can burn down an entire community whenever he wants for rejecting his invitations. This second group probably includes a few people who were excited for a fancy wedding banquet but mostly – I think it was full of people who showed up because they had to – following the king’s FALSE promises of safety and inclusion.
And who was the guest singled out without a wedding robe. The person defying the king who is cast into outer darkness? Where do they fit in this parable? If God is the king, is this guest supposed to be us – are we the one who offends God, and get in trouble for it?
Perhaps God in the story is not found in the power of the king at all. Maybe the kingdom of heaven reveals itself in places unexpected. This is when I felt my perspective shift.
What if the guest without a wedding robe’s choice of attire is not a random fashion faux pas but an intentional act of defiance? What if they attend the wedding, perhaps, with an idea, a hope, and a response to the king’s unchecked power? The simple AND open defiance of the abusive rule of the king, refusing to wear a wedding robe, pulls back the curtain and makes it obvious that this wedding is nothing more than an empty display of power and control. All of a sudden, you realize, even within the confines of the story, there is another possible way.
In this parable the guest without a wedding robe chooses a path like the one Jesus will walk – one of witness to God in a world where the people feel powerless – one that gives the people gathered around him a glimpse of hope in the midst of a seriously corrupt and violent empire - one that will not be seduced by a world or wedding banquet built on fear and oppression and power that serves only itself.
The guest without a wedding robe reminds me of the early pioneers in the LGBTQ+ movement. Last year was the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots and the bravery of those people who understood that intentional acts of defiance AGAINST unjust police oppression COULD spark a movement to change the lives of gay and straight people alike.
That wedding hall was filled with people, just like the streets of New York were 50 years ago. I know there were a few of those people gathered at the wedding who saw something sacred in their defiance. Caught a glimpse of the possibility that God calls us into. Believed WITH them that there was more life and abundance available for them than crumbs from the king's table.
Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “they tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds.” It’s attributed most often to poems written by Zapatistas in the 1990s, but it was first written by a Greek writer named Dinos Christianopolus – He was a non-conformist, a brilliant poet, and a gay man whose life circumstances didn’t allow him to claim that identity publicly before his death this year.
Perhaps the question, the seed, lying beneath the surface of this story is God asking us to consider when and where sacredness might be embedded in defiance – especially when we find ourselves called to stand in the face of a huge amount of political, social, and cultural pressure? Especially if we face the repercussion of violence? What does it mean for us to witness, in ourselves and in others, the kingdom of God?
These are questions that we, in the LGBTQ+ community, know something about. It’s not always an easy or safe thing, even today, to be queer in a world that often considers your identity an aside. One of the things that you learn quickly if you come out in any way is that “coming out” is always a journey. You do it over and over again – all through your life. When I read this gospel I saw reflected in the defiant wedding guest a glimpse of my own story as a queer person and a Christian.
Our queer family, the Black trans women who lead the way at Stonewall, the butches who refused to confine themselves to dresses and skirts, the men who found their first taste of freedom in clubs off the main drag, the femme preachers who did not sit down and shut up, the non-conforming folks who would not dress themselves in the same robes as everyone else – like Jesus, their defiance is the reason so many of us are still here today. The reason many of us can and have and will and hope and plan to come out today and every day. For me, that is a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven. And it is glorious.
For so many folks in the LGBTQ community, being fully ourselves, as fully as God called us to be, has required incredible strength, bravery, and hope. We are seeds that find roots in the soil meant to bury us – we are the ones who stand defiant in our identities, even when it might be easier to hide in the crowd. God is with us on our coming out journeys – whether in front of a group gathered for a wedding banquet or in the quiet of our own hearts – the first time and the 1000th time.
Today’s scripture reminds us of the God of anointing, feasts, peace and breath, who is there for us when things are spinning too fast. But this parable from the gospel of Matthew – as told by Jesus – and heard by us on national Coming Out Day - invites us into a deeper reading. God sides not with the king or ruler and empire and power and violence unchecked, but with us – we who choose sacred defiance. With our words, our actions, our prayers, or our very beings. We who, thanks to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, have an idea, a hope, in response to the crumbs of a meager life and false promises of safety and inclusion. Our bravery has made the world a better place. Our identities and stories are gifts–our lives are essential in the community of the faithful. Like the guest without a wedding robe we see ourselves already dressed in the image of God, we lack nothing. Thanks be to God. Amen.
On top of being Allie's sister, Emily Papke-Larson (she/her) is awaiting a first call as a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She is curious and passionate about seeking the places queer, anarchist, and eco-feminist identities intersect with Christian faith. In the last four years she has joyfully served God in both the Lutheran and Episcopal churches and currently calls the northwoods of Minnesota her home.