A Sermon for Pentecost 2021
The Holy Spirit of Drag
By: Ms. Penny Cost
First Church Somerville UCC
May the holy spirit swell in the words of this page, may all be unsettled from the comfort of surety, and may divine love be exuded by my mouth, my heart, and my hands.
Now I know what you're thinking, “Ms. Penny, have you always been this fabulously amazing, talented, expressive Drag Queen with rather good taste in wardrobe and aesthetic?!?” and the answer is far from yes. I was raised in a semi-small town in central Illinois where my earliest memories from childhood involve hunting deer and fishing for bass. My first job was on a farm and I owned far more camo than I ever care to admit.
I was deeply steeped in the understanding that masculinity was to be achieved and practiced at all times. As a “man”, or as much of a man as a 10 year old boy could be, I was told that femininity was weak and unacceptable. When I was caught in my mothers heals, I was chastised and belittled by family members. I was raised to think that nothing in this world is worst than divergence from straightness, cis-ness, and heteronormativity.
Even after I came I out as a gay man, I didn’t quiet realize the internalized homophobia and transphobia that I held unconsciously within me. More often than I care to admit, I had the thought, “I may be gay, but at least I’m not a drag queen”. Which was just a rewording of the message I received as a kid. It took me going to my first ever Pride Festival and watching my first ever Drag Show for my eyes to be opened. The Drag Queen inadvertently allowed me to see and experience a Holy moment of ultimate acceptance. So many questions whirled through my head. It was beautifully chaotic and holy.
As I stood there, surrounded by my friends, as the music blasted and cheers erupted around me, I experienced the Flaming Spirit of Divine Queerness.
In a way, it was my own metaphorical moment of Pentecost.
Scripture tells us in Acts chapter 2 verses 1 through 4 :
"When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability."
In this story the apostles, men and women both, were hiding away from authority. Christ had been murdered and they feared for their own lives. They were told that they could not believe what they believed and could not live the way that they had been living. I imagine they fought amongst themselves, they cried, they worried, and they prayed.
On the Jewish Festival day of Shavuot, occurring 50 days after Passover, (aka the day that the figure of Christ was said to have died) something wild and chaotic happened.
The author says that the uninvited and unruly Holy Spirit dwelled among them. It empowered them. Equipping them with the ability to talk in new ways to reach new people to do new things.
I will say that I tend to read scripture as a non literal occurrence, meaning I don’t believe it to have happened word for word. Whether or not actual fire floated through the air, doesn’t quite matter to me.
The power of scripture does not rest in it’s literalness… the power and message dwells within scriptures live-ableness.
Scripture can be read as relatable and transitable.
That state of fear, of worry, and of impending death by the Apostles, lives in the hearts of many on the margins today. For queer folks, a sense of abandonment by god is present. And yet, there is a message of hope in this text written so long ago… The Spirit of God, the Source of Love and of Life, gave them the courage and the language to not only go out into the world, but to come out in the world declaring exactly and fully who they were.
The scripture goes on to say:
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in their own native languages. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?
...in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
A Crowd of people from all over the ancient world suddenly heard people talking to them fluently in their native languages. Something allowed their hearts to connect and be moved.
This scripture sounds an awful like my experience at the Pride Festival! Crowds had gathered in the little city block where the chaotic carnivalesque street performances were happening and all were amazed and astonished.
I was amazed. How could these Drag Queens, who before I had viewed as less than any other, be speaking to my heart in such powerful ways. Speaking of love and acceptance are two things I view as Divine. Sure some folks would say that it was just a bunch of drunken LGBT people having a good time, but for others something more powerful was stirring.
In Methodism we say it was an Aldersgate moment or a moment where “my heart was strangely warmed.” I can not and will not believe that I was the only person changed that day.
The Spirit of Creativity and Truth comes at the most unexpected times, in the most unexpected ways, to reach unexpecting people.
The Holy spirit is not rigid or systematic. It is chaotically sacred. We are all on a continuum of change and growth and I believe that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Pentecost, is what moves us along.
That is why I chose my name to be Ms. Penny Cost. Drag changed my life, redirecting the path that I walk each day. The apostles in Jerusalem spoke in languages they didn’t think they would ever be able to speak. That day, when the flaming Drag Apostles were whirling and twirling in the streets of Bloomington, Illinois, they were unknowingly speaking in my own language… the Holy language of queerness and love. The Holy Language of Drag.
The beauty of this story of Pentecost is not that a singular language or route to the Divine was created. The beauty is that innumerous languages were heard. There are innumerous routes in life we can all take. The Art of Drag is just one of them. What is your language? How do you hear the Divine? How do you connect to those around you? When do you speak in Love and Grace and Mercy and Acceptance? What are your dreams for the church and the world? What are your gifts of creativity and joy?
In Acts Chapter 2 verses 17 and 18 the author writes:
God declares that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your children of all genders shall prophesy, and your young ones shall see visions, and your old ones shall dream dreams. Even upon the oppressed of all genders in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy too
We all can dream and be anything. We all can hope and love everyone. We all can yearn and grow indefinitely. We all can strive and demand for justice. We all are loved and cherished by God, The Creator of Everything. We all are.
I want to leave with an excerpt from a poem by Enfleshed titled “Pentecost is coming”
Pentecost is coming.
It will be an end and a beginning.
It will bewilder and confuse.
Though some will fight it,
the aching world calls it forth with urgency….
Let Her come and fill our mouths with words we didn’t know we could speak.
Let Her come and help us hear in languages we once could not understand.
She is being poured out...
The people will prophesy.
The heavens will draw near.
The chorus of voices-past will join in
and proclaim the truth of God.
Justice will come.
Let courage rise up.
Let passion enflame.
Let love transform.
Let weeping fill the land.
There will be no peace until there is justice.
No healing until wrongs are made right.
Come, Spirit, Come.
And turn the world of evil upside-down.