Pride and Sacrifice

Pride and Sacrifice

“Pride is cancelled.” In big block letters, the cardboard ridges were depressed under the weight of a heavy marker, each letter thick. The words were almost carved into the sign: “Pride is Cancelled,” and then underneath, in a more cursive lilting font, “Until Black Trans Lives Matter.” I saw the sign at a recent demonstration that started just a couple of blocks from my house, in Tower Grove Park. The march made its way up past the Botanic Garden, up to the Trans Memorial Garden. Pride is cancelled, until Black trans lives matter.

The sign echoed the sentiment of the whole march, and I wanted to find the organizers to congratulate them. They had successfully accomplished one of the central works of people of faith. The organizers had reinterpreted Pride’s cancellation. Months ago, it was decided that Pride would be postponed. Early in the pandemic, early in the closures, the LGBTQ+ community postponed or cancelled Pridefests all around the country. The LGBTQ+ community has experience with a pandemic. We didn’t wait.

Our church is usually pretty empty the last weekend in June, because we gather downtown, we join the parade. But first we pray with people of all sorts of faith. I love Pride, and I especially love celebrating it with my church. So I was sad when Pride was cancelled by the pandemic, but when I saw that sign, “Pride is Cancelled, until Black Trans lives Matter” I thought, well that is a powerful reinterpretation.

My text for this morning’s short sermon is one of the texts we often reinterpret. Genesis 22 tells the story of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac. In early Christianity, the binding of Isaac was re-read as a prototype of the crucifixion. The Father, willing to sacrifice the Son, was seen as an echo of what happened on Good Friday.

If we are meant to hear echoes of Isaac and Abraham in the story of Jesus’ Crucifixion, I need to point out a key difference. Isaac is saved. Jesus dies.

The difference in the stories, I would argue is in who is the judge, who decides who lives and dies.

In the story of the crucifixion, human beings are given chance after chance to prevent the death. The religious authorities, the civil authorities, even the crowd itself is given the chance to stop the machinations. But we shout “crucify him!” On Good Friday.

I agree with prophet Isaiah, whose words are often quoted to describe the crucifixion: “By a perversion of justice he was taken away.” In the Gospels we watch the mockery of a trial that occurs. Jesus was condemned to die by human authority. We, human beings, killed God’s child, and called it justice.

When perfect love came down, when God’s Word became incarnate, our sinful world couldn’t handle what was happening. By a perversion of justice, we did away with perfect Love.

So let’s put all of that in the background. And let’s come back to this startling text. In the story of Genesis 22, Isaac carries the wood on which he will be sacrificed. For 12 days Abraham’s sad party make their way to the mountain. Remember, this is the child who was promised. This is the one for whom Abraham and Sarah had waited. This is the beloved son, the text tells us. And somehow, Abraham has gotten it into his head that Isaac must be sacrificed.

In the Hebrew scriptures, there seems to be a concern that God might demand our firstborn children. It’s a worry. And to me, this story is the definitive answer. God says, “do not stretch out your hand.” God doesn’t demand us to sacrifice our children.

That may seem obvious, it may seem like the worry of an ancient people. Surely, no modern religion is so barbaric, right?

I have to confess, this is the first time I have read this text on Pride weekend. I’ve often been out of church, down at the festival. It is powerful to read these words from God on Pride weekend. It leads me to another reinterpretation.

You see, I know too many parents who believed they needed to sacrifice their kids in the name of religion. I know too many LGBTQ+ people who lost their family when they came out, because their family believed that’s what God required.

And so today’s story comes as Good News. OUR GOD ISN’T THAT KIND OF GOD. Our God is NOT that Kind of God. We believe in a God whose best name is Love. We believe in a God who wants us to love, who wants us to know ourselves, who wants us to be fully known. We believe in a God who can bless more than one kind of marriage. We believe in a God who stops parents from sacrificing their kids in the name of the religion.

Holding the binding of Isaac up against the crucifixion of Jesus is a two thousand year tradition for Christians. When you do, you see a stark contrast. When God is the judge, God’s children are safe.

When people are the judge, the outcome isn’t guaranteed.

Our world is hurting. It is. You’ve heard it from this pulpit for several weeks now. Our world needs to hear the words Black Lives Matter. Our world needs to hear the words: Black Trans Lives matter. Because every time one of God’s children are murdered, every time that happens on the snap judgement of a government official, that is a perversion of justice. When the mayor of St. Louis tries to punish protestors by releasing their names and contact information on a public broadcast, exposing them to hate mail and intimidation, that is a perversion of justice.

I have to say, as a gay man, it is satisfying to stand in the pulpit and use the word “perversion” for an elected official. Especially on Pride weekend. It turns out, in the Bible, that word is about a lot more than sex. It is a perversion to treat anyone as less than God’s beloved child. Calling injustice “justice,” that’s perversion.

The irony about the sign that was held up on the march near my house a couple of weeks ago. It may have said, “Pride is cancelled,” but that protest was one of the better Pride month celebrations I have ever seen. There was laughter. There was joy. You get a bunch of Transfolk of color and LGBTQ+ activists together, there is bound to be laughter, there is bound to be joy. I was jealous of some of the beautiful masks that were worn, and the wigs. There were some fantastic outfits. You can keep the big corporate Pride, and the floats for Home Depot and Wells Fargo. If that’s what cancelled, keep it.

That march down Tower Grove Avenue was one of the best Pride marches I’ve seen, because of the joy. It was a sort of Easter joy, a defiant joy. There is a certain joy to be found when you know something to be true that the world has so far failed to realize. Black Lives Matter. Black Trans Lives matter. They do. God does not need us to scapegoat anybody. God does not need us to exclude anybody. In fact, I believe, God leads the way on the march. God has known this truth all along. God has loved folks all along. And, the message of Christians is that God will redeem even the most difficult stories.

That is the other key difference in the stories. When Jesus died, the human authorities thought they had won, but they didn’t have the last word. God had the last word. The resurrection is a witness to the power of God’s love even over the machinations of death. Even when the world is loveless, even when the world would sacrifice some of our siblings, God will conquer. God will have the last word.

As people who follow the loving, liberating, life giving God, it is our work to take the knives out of the hands of those who think they are enacting justice. And God takes pride when we keep on marching.

Published by Mike Angell

The Rev. Mike Angell is rector of The Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in St. Louis.

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