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Preached at St.

John's Cathedral, Brisbane 29th September 2019

If you are writing a piece of fantasy fiction and you are short of an interesting

protagonist, then you could always introduce an angel into the mix. That way you are

guaranteed to generate the mystery surrounding these ancient beings along with some of

the power that they apparently wield - flaming swords are not carried by normal people

in the Bible or in life! Look at the realms of imagination that angels inhabit. The

recently adapted Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaimann book, Good Omens, for example,

includes numerous angels, not least in the lead character of Aziraphale. Similarly, the

series Lucifer features not only the eponymous fallen angel himself but also his half-

brother Amenadiel, and there are many more to be found in such works such as

Nevermore, Constantine, Highway to Heaven and Paradise Lost. But, in traditional

imagery such as painting and sculpture, they are rarely portrayed as anything other than

cute, comfortable baby-like cherubs. However, the real truth is that angels are not

comfortable.

Naturally they feature in the Bible though are rarely actually named. In the Old

Testament there are 107 mentions of the word angel, and, on occasions, said angels are

referred to by name. In this evening's first reading, from the prophet Daniel, Michael is

clearly an angelic warrior assisting in the battle against the prince of Persia, however

there are other examples peppered throughout the Old Testament. It's an angel with a

drawn sword that terrifies Balaam's ass; an angel causes fire to spring from a rock in

front of Gideon, and in the first book of Chronicles it is an angel who is sent to destroy

Jerusalem.

It doesn't get any better in the New Testament either. In the book of Revelation we

have, not only the angelic herald and the "myriads of myriads" of angels in the heavenly

choir, but angels holding back the winds, blowing trumpets to cause plague, pestilence,

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Preached at St. John's Cathedral, Brisbane 29th September 2019

fire and brimstone along with Michael battling (once again), but this time with the beast

itself! In addition, angels are not only messengers (often of news that humans would

rather not hear such as "you're unmarried and pregnant") but are also beings imbued

with power designed to strike terror into the hearts of those with whom they come into

conflict. Who would honestly want to meet one? They are a long way from being the

sources of delight and comfort as cherubs are usually portrayed.

Angels are direct players in the struggle between good and evil; it's a struggle that you

see taking place in your workplace, in your neighbourhood, in the Church and on the

international stage. These conflicts all matter because they are all part of the cosmic

struggle between good and evil.

Now, the difficulty in talking about good and evil is that we polarize them. We look at

them as black and white – something is right or it is wrong. The problem is that the

threads of good and evil are frequently entangled, so that some actions may actually be

partly good and partly evil. The battle is between things that are not so much black and

white, but more a greyish colour. No one is completely good or completely bad.

However, there really is a distinction between good and evil – we need to choose which

side we are on. Our choices do matter. No matter what your role in life – you may only

be a Hobbit in the Shire or Captain America; it is your little decisions that can have

long-term consequences. When you look back on your life, you may be able to say, “On

such and such a day, I made this decision which changed my life. I didn’t know it at the

time, but now I can see why it mattered.”

But take all of those small, seemingly unimportant decisions and add them up and the

history of the world is changed. Their effects are multiplied, until we can see that we too

have a part to play in the cosmic struggle between good and evil. So whether you

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Preached at St. John's Cathedral, Brisbane 29th September 2019

believe stories about angels in the Bible to be fact or fiction, to read that the archangel

Michael defeated the Devil shows us that, even in seemingly trivial cases, choosing the

good, rather than the comfortable, is important. It's not so much whether or not angels

exist, but rather that the Devil can be defeated that counts.

But it's still not comfortable. The whole notion that there is a heavenly realm at war

with the legions of darkness is exceedingly un-comfortable, And that is a problem

because some people look to the Church simply for comfort. At times of loss, such as

bereavement, for example, it's quite usual to seek solace in the promises of the Gospel.

Or in times of crisis such as being faced by areas of our country plagued by drought or

fires, the church can often be seen as a place of comfort and refuge, as well as of

charitable relief.

But how many seek comfort in a church or cathedral like this one which is flying the

rainbow flag? Because the truth is that no matter what, you are welcome here! You are!

However, you may not be comfortable here.

For example, if you believe that gay people are an abomination and are in direct

opposition to your particular reading of Holy Scripture, you will not feel comfortable

here. If you believe that immigrants are ruining this country, you probably won’t feel

comfortable here either. If you are of the opinion that reconciliation between First

Nation peoples and the rest of us is a waste of time, you might have the desire to leave

right now.

And that is okay. Honestly! Actually, it is good. Comfort feels good but discomfort is

also good. In celebrating Pride we are forced to realise that we cannot be all things to all

people. It is also a reminder that discomfort is not the same as disenfranchisement.

Being offended is not the same thing as being oppressed.

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Preached at St. John's Cathedral, Brisbane 29th September 2019

I say this because there are many who will take offence to the fact that any Christian

church is holding a Pride Sunday – even more-so when it is a cathedral. I'm sure the

scribes of various blogs and anti-pride literature will tonight be in overdrive. We've seen

and read them before. Some say “Gay pride has nothing to do with church”. Others will

have, “it’s appalling and it’s sacrilege!”. Or even, (best of all), “Celebrating gay pride

during a worship service is so, offensive.” And to that we need to say, "okay, be

offended". Because that is in no way as painful or soul-destroying as being oppressed.

Progressive Christians are often handicapped by the fear of offending others. That's not

a bad thing because we understand that many directly affected by the causes we fight

for have been mistreated and even dehumanized by church people. So we don’t set out

to do that to others.

But, when we stand up for goodness and justice and equality, people will feel offended.

People will claim that they are being oppressed by our struggle for full humanity. Well,

when you’ve been brought up in a society in which you’ve always had the power and

the privilege, even a little bit of equality feels oppressive. When you’ve been lead to

believe that you are more holy because of your normalized sexual orientation, you’re

going to feel mighty offended when those LGBTQI+ lot start claiming they are just as

holy as you are.

Equality is offensive to those who have the upper hand. And it's so easy to get it wrong.

For example, churches might allow lesbians in their pews but deny them the pulpit. Or

they may say all are welcome, but only display heteronormative examples of family.

Clergy might call for equality but refuse to show up at a Pride event.

Some progressive churches are afraid to be branded as "the gay church", because that

might be offensive to others. They ask, “why do we have to explicitly say that we accept

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Preached at St. John's Cathedral, Brisbane 29th September 2019

LGBTQI+ people? Everyone knows we’re welcoming! They just need to come and

see." Or "why should we make a statement about gay people being welcome but not

other people? What if people think we only care about gay rights? What if people think

we’re a gay church?”

Well, what's wrong if people do think that? The rainbow community has been the group

most loudly ostracised by conservative Christianity. The religious right rests its

institution upon the purported sinfulness of those who identify as LGBTQI+. That’s

why we need to explicitly tell LGBTQI+ people that they are welcome and cherished.

Some churches don’t want to explicitly support Pride because it might offend others.

Well, Jesus was probably the most offensive person who ever lived - just look at his

interactions with the scribes and pharissees! Jesus didn’t talk in generalities. He

constantly, specifically, told stories and performed miracles and challenged systems in

order to lift up the marginalized and oppressed.

He said, “blessed are the poor” - not "blessed are everyone". Jesus did not say “love

everyone,” but, specifically, “love your enemies”. Jesus continually badgers us to love

those we would normally condemn. Jesus doesn’t play nice – he never did with the

religious authorities and he doesn't with us today.

Jesus knew that it was important to be specific. He loved everyone, but he took special

care to focus his efforts toward those who desperately needed to hear that their lives

mattered; the widows and orphans and adulterers and illegal immigrants – they all knew

that they were fully human and fully loved.

Jesus threw a pride festival for the most despised in his community. And for this, he

was despised by the religious and political elite.

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Preached at St. John's Cathedral, Brisbane 29th September 2019

I know that, for some, this idea of Jesus at a Pride festival might be disorienting.

Celebrating Pride during a church service might feel awkward and misplaced, and for

those who have been moulded in the Christian tradition, the idea of celebrating Pride at

all can be problematic. Followers of Jesus are supposed to be meek and humble, not

proud. How is it okay for people to celebrate how awesome they are?

Well, as long as LGBTQI+ youth are attempting suicide at alarming rates, it is a

religious imperative to help make them proud of their sexuality and gender identity.

As long as transgender women of colour are the most likely victims of a violent attack,

it is a religious imperative to help make them proud of their gender identity and the

colour of their skin.

People within the LGBTQI+ community are being shamed, fired from jobs, beat up,

bullied, turned away and murdered and yet we question if Pride has a place in church.

And we’re scared of being branded a gay church?

No more!

Sitting comfortably in our own cocoons of privilege and loving everyone who joins us

inside is not enough. Like Jesus, we are called to be visible. We are called to be present

on the margins. We are called to be utterly specific about our pride. Phrases like "all are

welcome" or "all have a place here" or even "all lives matter"; those phrases carry no

weight. Lives depend on specificity.

We must challenge our own privilege, our own fears of being judged or fears of

offending those with the power or the money or the respect. Offending power for the

sake of justice is not merely okay, it’s a Biblical and moral imperative.

Reflect. Be visible. Be proud, specifically! And do everything in your power to make

sure every marginalized and oppressed child of God knows how deeply they are loved.

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And remember what love looks like. Religious intolerance cannot be disguised as love.

Refusing to nurture another due to our beliefs is not love. We don’t love others by

simply tossing up prayers for them, we love others by getting in the trenches with them

and staring them in the face and saying to them, "you will not do this alone".

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