raising hell

“If you couldn’t tell, we can always find the trouble. We don’t need no help. Mama raised me well. But I don’t want to go to heaven without raising hell. 

Can I get an amen? This is for the misfits of creation. Take this as your holy validation. You don’t need to hide your celebrating. This is our salvation.” ~ Raising Hell, Kesha

John 2:1-12 (NRSV) 

“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there a few days.”

I often think of Halloween as a sort of coming out experience for myself. I recently got to preach at Life’s Journey UCC on Queer Joy as Resistance for their Pride celebration, so I thought I’d share that here. And also my halloween costume this year seems fitting, too.


Sermon “Queer Joy As Resistance” 

What I love about this story in the gospel of John is that it is Jesus’ first miracle. And it’s a bit of an odd story if you think about it. Jesus and his disciples are invited to a wedding, but as more of an afterthought. The text tells us: “Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding, but the first person mentioned at this wedding is Mary, who is simply identified by her association with her son as “the mother of Jesus.” Mary may not be mentioned by name here, but clearly, she’s calling the shots in this particular story. 

So, when the wine “gave out,” and she tells Jesus “they have no more wine,” he responds in what often rubs folks the wrong way: “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come…” I don’t think Jesus means any disrespect here. Actually, this is a very human response. As in, this isn’t my problem yet, Mom. But also, I’m sure you are all familiar with the phrase: “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”?

And of course, Mary who knows her son so well says: “Do whatever he tells you…”

When Jesus queers the water and turns it into wine, this first recorded miracle in the Gospel of John is one of celebration. Not only does Jesus turn the water into wine, the chief steward at the wedding says “You have kept the good wine until now.” This isn’t just water turned to wine; this is the good stuff. Many queer interpretations of this text view this as Jesus’ way of coming out by performing his first public miracle. 

Queer celebration is often one of both joy and resistance. Resistance against oppression that has often told us that we do not belong in certain spaces–especially churches because our love is seen as a curse instead of a gift that we can bring to the church. 

On the morning of my wedding, I got up early to tell my now-wife, Amy goodbye as she went to run the Tarheel 10 Miler. While she was running, I went back to sleep for another hour and then got up because I needed to finish writing my vows for the ceremony that would occur later that afternoon in our own backyard. We had rented chairs, purchased flowers, and even put together our own arbor from Lowe’s as a sort of DIY wedding because we value simple, beautiful things. And because, while we met at the church we were attending at the time, we were not permitted to get married in the church sanctuary. 

When I look back on that day almost two years later, I think, it couldn’t have gone any more perfectly. We had many of our chosen family there, a dear friend officiated the ceremony, and we got to celebrate later with many friends at our reception where there was a potluck meal, various types of alcohol, and dancing. You see, my wife and I know what it is to celebrate and be joyful but most often, this is because as queer people of faith, we have known pain and rejection instead of celebration. 

When we celebrate Pride, we are not saying that we are celebrating arrogance. But we are celebrating and resisting the things that have caused us death and harm. The first Pride was a protest first and foremost. Before we could celebrate, we had to survive. We are often still just trying to survive.

I think of Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans woman who was one of the first to throw a brick in protest at Stonewall. Marsha was not afraid to celebrate who she was and fight back when she was not accepted. But later, she was murdered and her body dumped in a river because the world was not yet ready to celebrate her in her fullness and beauty. Marsha’s life and influence live on still today as we celebrate Pride each year because of what she and many others fought for.

The words of Lucille Clifton’s poem “Won’t You Celebrate with Me” are very fitting of Marsha’s life:

“won’t you celebrate with me 

what i have shaped into

a kind of life? i had no model.

born in babylon

both nonwhite and woman

what did i see to be except myself?

i made it up

here on this bridge between

starshine and clay,

my one hand holding tight

my other hand; come celebrate

with me that everyday

something has tried to kill me

and has failed.”

When I think of the couple in the first text we read in Song of Solomon, I think of a forbidden love that they are willing to celebrate in spite of being told it’s not allowed. Queer love and sexuality often aren’t recognized. We are often denied celebration of our love. 

There are certain places my wife and I know not to hold hands in public. Or, depending on where we are, if someone asks if we are family, we often answer, ‘Oh we’re just friends’ because any other answer may lead to judgment or violence. This is something most straight couples don’t have to worry about.

Our love frequently will not be recognized in the media or in TV shows whereas heterosexual love is portrayed everywhere. In jewelry commercials, “Every kiss begins with K,” Hallmark movies, you name it, it’s everywhere.

So, when someone says, it’s ok to be gay but do you have to talk about it all the time? I respond: “Forgive me if I don’t shut up about my love for my wife. Because that has often been denied me.”

Our joy and resistance is so profound because of what we’ve had to fight for just to exist. Because, you cannot appreciate queer joy until you can appreciate queer grief. 

  • Not being able to celebrate or grieve publicly for example
  • Being invisible…
  • Having to keep a relationship, your sexuality, or your gender identity a secret for fear of being put in danger. Or because there is so much internalized shame. 
  • Losing so many in our community to suicide, or murder…
  • Or a mass shooting like at the Pulse Nightclub in 2016.
  • This is still a daily struggle for most queer people in public spaces. 
  • We can still be fired in the state of North Carolina for even the suspicion of being queer. 

We are often told in our process of coming out, “It gets better.” But often, it either gets worse before it gets better or for some, it never gets better because of rejection and violence. 

Today, I am so thankful that as a country, we can marry whomever we choose regardless of gender thanks to the marriage equality achieved in 2015. 

But also, I am saddened because some people fought so hard for that, and then stopped fighting. To this I say, we cannot stop fighting. Because trans women of color are still being murdered in the streets. Because I can be happily married to my wife, and don’t know whether it’s safe to talk about that happiness publicly. Because I have to use pronouns and a name that do not fit my gender identity for my own safety when I’m at my day job. 

Queer love is an act of resistance against the powers of this world that say we should not exist and that we should not celebrate who we are. This is a love to be celebrated, to be cherished, to be shouted from the rooftops because we haven’t always had the luxury of loving out loud. Of drinking wine in celebration at a wedding that used to be forbidden.

Pride means so much more to me than it did a few years ago. Some days it feels like we will never overcome all the oppression especially under this current political administration. But, when I see that glimmer of hope within the LGBTQ community, I know we will one day live in a world where we can be fully ourselves. Amen and amen.

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