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Save the Last Psalm for Me: Pride Sunday

Speaker: Jake Joseph

June 21, 2020

Click here for the full service bulletin for June 21, 2020.

The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph
Pride Sunday June 21, 2020
The First Church of Guilford, Connecticut
Save The Last Psalm for Me: Pride 2020

[Rev. Jake sings:]
When I was just a little [boy]
I asked my mother, what will I be
Will I be pretty will I be rich?
Here's what she said to me:
Que sera sera
Whatever will be will be
The future's not ours to see
Que sera sera…[1] 

This is a song that I remember sung to as lullaby for me when I was young, but I doubt either of my parents expected (que sera sera) I would be an out and proud gay man, longtime married to a Venezuelan-American, and an ordained minister serving a nearly 400-year-old church with box pews no less in Connecticut by the time I was turning 32. 

Parents, fair warning, choose the lullabies you sing with caution, for they turn into prophesies in young hearts. Whatever will be will be… the future is not ours to see… 

My birthday is next week. Today, on this Fathers’ Day in particular, I remember coming out to my family and my dad, on Father’s Day 2004. I was 16 years old. Today is my gay half-life where I have now been out for half of my life. Somewhere on the River Road between Essex and Deep River, Connecticut, sixteen years ago I spoke a truth that would shatter a life (que sera sera) of predictability and henceforth build a life of authenticity. A year ago, today, you voted to call me as your Minister of Faith Formation after I preached about building a foundation of trust here on this pink granite shoreline. Connecticut, where I was born again as an out, authentic person, called me home. 

Today is an auspicious day…que sera… sera… whatever will be will be, the future is not ours to see… indeed!

After hearing a psalm like Psalm 150, the last word, the final of the Psalms; I just couldn’t keep from singing! This famous song is also a psalm for the gay community. Whatever Will Be Will Be, was sung by Doris Day who became an unlikely but important gay icon and HIV/ AIDS[2] activist after the death of her friend Rock Hudson. She found herself in a moment with friends who needed her support. Doris Day didn’t train as an activist—but an oppressed people and a pandemic forced her into a new unforeseen role later in life. 

Today, this song is an important anthem—a secular psalm for today—our Pride Sunday in a year of the unexpected. It is a year of transformative protest for racial justice and anti-racist commitment as well as a year of pandemic. “The future is not ours to see.” Does that ever resonate as true today, but it is ours to co-create with God! As Saint Doris Day did, we must show-up when our friends need us…whatever will be. 

Likewise, our Scripture, Psalm 150 today is the unexpected conclusion of the psalter—a vast collection of hymns and poetry spanning the human psyche and range of emotions. The Psalms are a kaleidoscope of emotional whip-lash.

Right now, like my recent ancestors in the LGBTQ community who lived through pain and the political awakening of the HIV/ AIDS epidemic and acted-up for change and justice, we too are living through a time of awakening paired with pain. Whiplash from lament to praise, from hope to despair—this happens day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute, or even in the short span of time it takes for a screen to refresh! We are living in psalmist-whip-lash times of sudden contrast.

Learning that LGBTQ protections in healthcare, especially for transgender members of the community, have been stripped from law by the administration—a most sinful act one day—to the very next day hearing that, at very long last, we can no longer be fired because of being LGBTQ people a most joyful announcement is whiplash. From our hope for intersectional justice to be in true, full, and real authentic solidarity and meaningful change with Black Lives Matter (diverse rallies of hope for change), to hearing of more deaths and murders results in a sudden change in emotion. From hearing of friends struck with Covid-19 symptoms or job losses or chronic new anxieties to celebrating the community efforts we have seen make a difference in Connecticut and the courage of our healthcare workers or the high school graduation car parade, we are living a Psalmist roller coaster of emotions.

[Pause]

We are living in a time when we need to know that the last word, the last dance, the final Psalm (#150) isn’t an accident. Whatever will be will be, the future is not ours to see, but as Christians we remember our theology that in the end God’s final realm of justice and hope will prevail.

Psalm 150, the great conclusion of the Psalms is a love song. It is a love song, a dance, a parade and a protest! Whatever Psalm (lament or praise) we are going through in this moment, we know that at the end of the universe, somewhere over the rainbow, the final song, the last dance will be love and inclusion. 

One Catholic scholar, Prof. John Kselman in his Oxford Bible Commentary writes in Psalm 150, “A loud cacophony of praise is described; each verse slightly longer than the previous one, indicating increasing praise.”

It is this call to increasing praise, to hope, and to knowing that at the end of it all, at the end of the universe is love, is joy, and is praise. This is what Pride feels like and sounds like—throw in all the signs of diversity and joy—tambourines, harps, feathers, boas, glitter, and protest!

When I hear this psalm, and I think of what stirs me to give God praise in this way, what brings my heart to the exponential end of words of praise to God’s surpassing greatness, I think of my husband and the love he inspires in me. Gerhard is my Psalm 150 inspiration. What or who is it in your life (living or passed on… person, place, movement, idea) inspires you to cry out with these words? What entity on earth gives you that glimpse of heaven?

Hallelujah!
Praise God in the sanctuary; praise God from the mighty firmament!
Praise God’s mighty deeds; praise God according to God’s surpassing greatness!
Praise God with trumpet sound; praise God with lute and harp!
Praise God with tambourine and dance, praise God with strings and pipe!
Praise God with clanging cymbals, praise God with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise God! Hallelujah!

When we say “love is love” or say that we are fighting for justice or we hope to eliminate racism, it is because we are Psalm 150 people—living into the promise of God’s hope with all we have—harp, tambourine, rainbows, feathers, boas, and heart! 

This is the call of Psalm 150, with textually increasing urgency in the original Hebrew and modern English, to do what one scholar would call praising God for God’s “impossible possibility”. Late Yale Professor and member of First Church, Dr. Letty Russell, in Just Hospitality: God’s Welcome in a World of Difference, a book edited by First Church’s Shannon Clarkson and Kate Ott, is about the intersection of justice and hospitality. She ends by writing, “To live out God’s Welcome in our worship, our church, our lives is no easy task. That is why I continue to reiterate the concept of impossible possibility; we are called beyond what we believe our limitations are to live into greater possibility… [she later continues] …Our calling to welcome others as Christ is no easy task. It is an impossible possibility! Just hospitality will not make us safe, but it will lead us to risk joining in the work of mending creation without requiring those who are different to become like us…we know that the future that awaits is surely as chaotic as the past—a future open to the work of those who choose to join in God’s intention to restore creation’s rainbow of difference!”[3]

Psalm 150, true Pride for all of God’s creation, is an impossible possibility—and that is a good and hope-filled thing—a future open to the work of those who choose to join in God’s intention to restore creation’s rainbow of difference!”

But it isn’t always so easy! The Rev. Dr. Robert Goss, in his book, Jesus Acted Up: A Gay and Lesbian Manifesto (1993), wrote what was then a shockingly honest and utterly fabulous account of LGBTQ love and hope. It is an extension of the branch of theology called Liberation Theology that emerged from South American Catholicism and has expanded into a wide range of hermeneutics or theological interpretive lenses. For Goss and for myself as LGBTQ people—we cannot help but read the Bible with the perspective of Queer Liberation. He wrote, “[LGBTQ communities] create a social space that refuses to be assimilated into heterosexist social space…The battle for truth is not a polite practice; it is a discursive practice that challenges the sacred deployments of homophobic/ heterosexist [I would add racist] ecclesial power with the power of queer truth…” He continues, “Christianity aspires to be meaningful for all people, at all times. Christian theology, however, is the product of people with power and privilege, influence and wealth. This gives their theology a partisan bias that renders it meaningful to only a limited audience…This partisan bias must be unmasked. The theology of Jesus the Christ must expand to include the reality of [LGBTQ and all forms of] oppression.”[4]

Psalm 150 is the last word in the Psalms. After all of the lament, all of the pain, all of the death, all of the grief, after all… there is Pride and there is Love and there is God.

After all, yes, God’s realm does lean deeply into wholeness, into justice, and into renewal. Our religion is nothing if not about the work of hope—and we will always find song, dance, feathers, glitter, wigs, stilettos, and signs of hope and life.

Pride Month for me is not only my own coming out anniversary and my birthday and a time of annual rebirth, but it is a time of remembrance of the acting up of the past (Jesus, the Civil Rights Movement, the Act-Up HIV/ AIDS activists) as well as a recommitment (a vow renewal) for the acting up still needed from us today. 

At its best, Pride is an ambitious and audacious call to action for the abundance of the future—there will be feathers, there will be glitter, and there will be dancing! For the Psalmist, for God, for Jesus the Christ call us out of the closets of oppression and into the acting-up needed for today. 

While “Que Sera Sera” might well be Doris Day’s most famous song, and her friendship and compassion for Rock Hudson made her one of the first true public (if unlikely) allies of LGBTQ people during a devastating pandemic, there is another song she sang that I would like to end with. “Secret Love”[5] from the 1953 film Calamity Jane became an anthem—a Psalm 150 for many in need of hope, of Gospel, of love who no longer had access to institutional religion because of coming out or acting up. Here in this grand church with an out gay minister in Connecticut, it is important to remember that many still need to appropriate secular culture as a source of the sacred… because the church and family have become inaccessible and hostile. From our comfort, we should never forget this source of Sacred Text and Sainthood.

Doris Day sings this Gospel, “Once I had a secret love that lived within the heart of me. All too soon my secret love became impatient to be free. Now I shout it from the highest hills. Even told the golden daffodils. At last my heart’s an open door, and my secret love is no secret anymore.”[6]

Impatient to be free and grounded in the Biblical Truth of Psalm 150—dancing, singing, and grounded in God’s realm of just hospitality are the final refrain of this song. Happy Pride, 2020. Amen.

[1] Whatever Will Be, Will Be, Doris Day.

[2] https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-doris-day-rock-hudson-aids-retrospective-20190513-story.html

[3] Letty Russell, Just Hospitality: God’s Welcome in a World of Difference (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 118, 123-124. 

[4] Robert Goss, Jesus Acted Up: A Gay and Lesbian Manifesto (San Francisco, California: Harper Collins, 1993), 59, 61.

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fU8tQpCZEzg

[6] https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2019/05/13/doris-day-dead-gay-icon/

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