The Open Church Service in Amsterdam took place in the Oude Lutherse Kerk on Saturday May 19, 2012. We read from the bible in different languages and listened to three voices from different parts of Europe. Based on this rev. Wielie Elhorst held his sermon.
The text for this sermon is Galatians 3: 28-29 (New Revised Standard Version - Anglicized Edition 1995)
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
We have heard three different stories from our continent. It is very clear that there are big differences in the way the different identities and orientations of people are valued. In the one country the attitude within the churches towards lesbian women or even women in general still seems massively oppressive, in the other country ministers are taking part in a Gay Pride Canal Parade singing Händel’s Hallelujah Chorus and in a third country the inhibitions of a local church community towards the presence of a transgender are slowly breaking down. Leah, Monika en Anton, thank you very much for your stories, for sharing with us what is dear to you.
In any of these situations it is quite clear how dependent we are of the reaction of others. It is very hard to get even one small step ahead in the process of emancipation and participation in the ordinary world without the affirmative reaction of other people. Remember your own coming out. When did everything fall into place? When others affirmed your newly, that is: publicly chosen identity and orientation. When you feel and know you are affirmed, when you experience you are being accepted, you once again come to life and find your place in ordinary life again. You regain self worth and self esteem. All of that is essential to every human being.
What in this perspective is the message that speaks to us from the words of the Letter of Paul to the Galatians? I think Paul’s words radicalize everything we know and feel is appropriate when it comes to accepting each other. In most cases, even though we qualify the act and the process of acceptance as positive or even as healing and atoning, LGBT people are an object. They are the object of the process of acceptance. Of course, people accept LGBT men and women as they are, but what are they accepted into? On whose terms is this process of acceptance realized? Are we really being accepted as we are, or are we actually normalized, are we made to blend in with the rest?
The Letter to the Galatians is written very emotionally. Paul is furiously mad of those people in the Christian communities of Galatia who say that the so called pagan Christians should obey the old Jewish laws as do the Christians that are from a Jewish descent. In other words: the new Christians with a pagan background are being accepted, as long as they adjust to the rules and the lifestyle of the Christians with a Jewish background. In the perspective of his time Paul is very radical and progressive when he says: there is no Jew or Greek, there is no free man or slave, there is no man or woman. We are one in Christ. What Paul means to say is: when people are becoming a part of the Christian community there can be no dominance of one group over another: Jews will not dominate the Greeks, free men will not dominate the slaves, men will not dominate women. The fact that we are accepted by God in the name of Jesus Christ who identified with all people without distinction, ends domination of one group over another.
Being one in Jesus Christ does not mean we all become the same: the Jew is still a Jew, the Greek is still a Greek, the woman is still a woman and the man is still a man. Instead of being the object of acceptance by other people, however important that also is, we become and are the subject of the acceptance we have found and still find in Jesus Christ as God’s own face on earth. This means we can be a part of the Christian community without having to adjust, or to live up to the expectations of the dominant groups. Being the subject of the acceptance we find in Christ, means we can take up our very own part in what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be part of the Christian community. We are not accepted into the Christian community by other Christians to be integrated and normalized. We are accepted into the Christian community by Christ Himself to change His community and to change the world. We are nothing better than other people, but this is our calling as LGBT people.
And we are, I think, already doing that. Our mere presence changes the sometimes all too mediocre community of the church. We change the Church of Jesus Christ for the better by playfully taking part in the Gay Pride Canal Parade, by criticizing what a man or a woman is supposed to be and by shaming men in important places by telling them they act opposite to what the place of women in the church should really be. The questions for all of us, not only the LGBT people here is: do we live up to that high calling? Do we allow God, do we allow the Godman Jesus Christ, do we allow the power of the Holy Spirit to lead us beyond acceptance and for ever change the face of the Church and of Society?
I thank God for the European Forum and for all her member groups that show us we are already on that playful, exciting and inspiring road.