Against the Gentrification of Grace
A Sermon on Jerimiah 23: 1-6 NRSV
Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary - Evanston, IL
I want to recognize that my presence as a Drag Preacher may be jarring for a few. Even in this radically inclusive place of Gospel Worship, it may stir something within you. You may have questions or even concerns that you have not yet encountered in your life before. That is okay. I want to invite you, at this moment, to lean ever so slightly into those questions. Let the Holy One move within you. Questioning and engaging your ideology is holy, holy work. For, the further discernment of self leads to the acceptance of our most inner and shadowed parts: parts that are meant to shine brilliantly with the Light of Everflowing Love.
These same parts, teaming with the Life of Divinity, are that which have been boxed away, cast aside by a society that only values our identities when they are deemed profitable within Pride month marketing. These same parts anointed by the Revolutionary Joy of Christ are that which legislators seem to only ever address when their polls are lacking. These same parts, bursting with the Rambunctious Spirit of Holy Wisdom, are the same parts that are all too often beaten and bloodied by Church Leaders, Bishops and Cardinals, DCOM’s and BOOM’s, Pastors and Priests.
Today here in this place, we say no more. As Theologian Paulo Friere writes in his The Pedagogy of the Oppressed,
“No matter where the oppressed are found, the act of love is a commitment to their cause--the cause of liberation.”
Today, here in this place we uplift, honor, and celebrate the legacy of liberation and the future of hope. For we, we are the collective temple of the Kin-dom of God. We are named and known, as heavenly queer couture, sawn together by the Divine Seamstress of creation.
No longer may we sit idly by in wooden pews of fallen trees from lands that were stolen. No longer may we listen unshaken to the words of those dispersed seeking refuge from Church-appointed supremacy and pseudo-sanctified nationalism. No longer may we allow the tears of our ancestors to be that of a well of sorrow. Today, we turn them into a raging river of defiant joy and resilient action.
In the scripture of today, it is said, “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!”
Reading modernity into this scripture, we see what can be described as a Gentrification not just of economic measures, not just of displacement, but a Gentrification of Grace itself.
The privileged elite has enacted the social reality of generations of oppression and injustice, redlining and wealth-caping… all leading to the destabilization and displacement from the one place the oppressed sought refuge, their home.
The Shepards have done what so many in this City feel in their daily lives. The Shepards have made what those in the margins have known to be theirs, known to be their stability, known to be their spirituality, known to be their livelihoods: unaffordable. The Shepards have wrongly and unjustly scattered the members of the flock out of God’s Kin-dom pasture.
And God, god says, Shame. Shame upon those Shepards who wield doctrines of attrition. Shame upon those traditions that afflict wounds of insecurity. Shame upon the Church and Societal leaders whose judgment and personal interest in financial gain and spiritual exclusivity have caused people understandably turned away from religion.
Divinity Declares “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number.”
Jeremiah writes of hope.
As Sister Amiee Semple McPherson, jokingly called Our Lady of the Loud Speaker, described to her congregation,
"Oh Hope! Oh dazzling, radiant Hope! What a change thou bringest to the hopeless; brightening the darkened paths, and cheering the lonely way.”
You see it is my belief, that the God of Transcendent Love, the Spirit of Queer Wisdom, the Sustainer of Marginalized Hope, dwells here and now among us.
The Kin-dom of God is not a glitzy, golden-gated community of an exclusive afterlife. The Kin-dom of God is present: existing between us. It is the space between atoms, the embrace between friends, the links between arms of those who march in protest of injustice.
If God dwells among us, the Word made flesh through humanity, then it is our job, our duty, our ancestral calling to undo the havoc and harm of a Gentrified Grace.
For Grace, like affordable housing, accessible healthcare, and the ability to live truthfully, Grace is a human right.
Grace is of God and of no other.
There is no authority on earth that has the right to take it away, diminish its value, or place restraints upon it.
Grace can not be traded in bailed out Wallstreet rooms. It can not be packaged at inhumane Amazon Facilities. It can not be negotiated at politicized General Conferences.
You see, Divinity speaks of hope and of grace but also of joy, in Verse 4 it is said that God, “will place shepherds over [the sheep] who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,”
As Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart, the Faith Work Director of the National LGBTQ Taskforce says, “Even when the world is on fire, through my ancestors I’ve inherited something on the inside that helps me still experience joy.”
Divinity speaks to the power of ancestral revolutionary joy and life. No longer will folks feel afraid to exist within the religious order, because their ancestors will have instilled within them the truth of their bodily joy. That is to say, our task as members of humanity, in this place, is to build up a system that causes our descendants to never have to question their worth nor their place nor God’s Grace within them.
It is our task as a conscious society to use our privilege to raise up a generation of leaders and thinkers, modern-day shepherds, born of the outskirts of society who know of solutions because those solutions are not theoretical case studies or emotionless queries, those solutions are how they have survived for so long.
Divinity calls us to not just dwell with others… to not just listen to others... Divinity calls us to go beyond and to redistribute the wealth of privilege to the other.
This is an act antithetical to capitalism. It is an act antithetical to the false prosperity gospel and it is undoubtedly an act antithetical to so much of the society which we have inherited.
But it is not antithetical to Christ.
For in Luke 18 Christ speaks to the rulers and says, “Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”
What if we look deeper than the surface-level literal truth of Christ’s words? In order for the Kin-dom of God to be built here on earth, between the atoms and hearts and bonds of us all, we must first act outside of the constraints of the corrupt shepherds of capitalism. We must utilize our privilege to deconstruct the system which allows us to hold privilege in the first place. The system which gentrifies grace marginalizes our communities and subdues the revolutionary joy of God.
Every act we take to do so cascades like water, first quenching the dry bones of harm, then nourishing the desert of oppression and only then, raining down like a river of justice whipping away the system, and creating a pasture in which all of the sheep, the members of god’s creation, can thrive… the promise of peace… of joy… of grace… and of love….
Before I leave you, I wish to share a few final words from Howard Thurman. He was the Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University, a prophetic civil rights activist, a prolific theologian, a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr., and an inspiration for so many more.