The cartoon is one of many from the nakedpastor.com blog - which, if you’re not aware of, I warmly commend. For the nakedpastor author, David Hayward, shines a telling light on churches, power misuse and hypocrisy. Not least, his satire exposes the widespread queer-phobia which he shows to sit so dramatically against Christ’ life and teaching. Sheep too, which we reflect upon in today’s Gospel, are a major theme of nakedpastor. As a pathway both to the Gospel and to celebrating Pride, this is therefore a more than helpful image.
The particular cartoon I am thinking about is called the Transgender Female Lamb – although nakedpastor also has gender variants of this, in the Transgender Male Lamb, and Non-Binary Lamb. In this re-telling of one of today’s parables, a group of white sheep are gathered together, whilst a Jesus figure carries over their shoulder a lamb, who appears in the colours of the transgender flag. One of the white sheep objects to Jesus, ‘Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!’, they say, ‘Hold it right there! He wasn’t lost. We kicked him out.’ ‘I know’, replies Jesus, ‘and I found her.’ This the reality of queer lives of faith, isn’t it?! God’s queer sheep shine fresh light on the Gospel of Christ: challenging Christians today not to be like the Pharisees against whom Jesus tells today’s parables. Instead, God’s queer sheep are not only not to be kicked out. Their/our true, and full, identities are to be valued as treasures of God, and with great rejoicing.
Now I don’t know how much we all know about sheep - but are we aware that there are more than 1000 distinct sheep breeds in the world? That’s amazing diversity, isn’t it?! – rather like the diversity of human sexual and gender identities. How crazy it would then be to treat all sheep as if there were only two authentic types, as some still try to do with human sexual and gender identities. If we’re to honour the Bible’s frequent use of sheep related metaphors, we therefore certainly need to look beyond simplistic interpretations. Rather, as Jesus’ first parable today challenges us, if God is like a loving shepherd, we are called to fresh ways of relating to one another. The so-called parable of the lost sheep is about turning our preconceptions upside down. Like the cartoon of the Gender Diverse Lamb, it calls us to recognise how exclusion works and to value God’s diversity. It is those who think they are found who are actually lost. The lost sheep is actually the one who is truly found at the heart of God.
God as a cleaning woman
In a similar manner, the parable of the lost coin is also about turning pharisaic preconceptions upside down. For Jesus provides us with a striking image of God as a woman, cleaning her house. That’s not an image we hear much about, is it? King, Lord, Father – yes - even Shepherd: but a cleaning woman? Like the denial of queer images of divinity, biblical portrayals of God as female are so often ignored. Yet to highlight the parable of the lost sheep without that of the lost coin is to lose the huge significance of this gender balance. For, in Jesus eyes, if God is shepherd, they are just as much a cleaning woman.
The gender re-valuing story of the lost coin offers us much more however, if we have fresh eyes and ears. For, like the lost sheep story, it challenges us to re-value all that is lost through human preconceptions: whether these be sexist, racist, homo-bi-trans-phobic, or any other. It is the so-called ‘lost’ which, again, is so at the heart of God that God will do all in God’s power to find them, and then rejoice.
rainbow marriage, lives and repentance
Three particular features of the parable of the woman and the lost coin are thus significant for us in this month of Brisbane Pride. Firstly, as some scholars suggest, it is likely that the coin which was lost was part of the woman’s dowry. In other words, God, in her female form, is seeking to reclaim that which is essential to her marriage. For God, Jesus is saying, is married to the lost, not just those who regard themselves as found. God cannot bear her marriage relationship to be confined to nine coins. She, and her marriage, must include them all.
Secondly, in the context of rainbow lives today, we might fruitfully reflect on the significance of the one in ten coins. That, if I calculate right, is ten percent of the whole: which is roughly the size of the Australian LGBTIQA+ population, according to official federal Human Rights Commission estimates (probably 11 in 100). So, if God, as female in the parable, does all she possibly can to seek out and rejoice over her lost ten percent as infinitely valuable, why aren’t our churches doing all they can to value and rejoice over God’s rainbow children too?
Thirdly, the parable of divine female love, like that of the loving shepherd, calls us to see biblical repentance in fresh ways. Traditionally, the repentance attached to the lost coin story, like that of the lost sheep, has often been seen as a return from the breaking of moral and religious law. Yet, is it really? If we view these parables through ‘queer eyes’, we see something quite different. Is the return of the lost really about returning to others’ morality and religion, or is it actually about returning to love and pride? For, if we understand biblical repentance rightly as ‘turning around’ to living in love - and thus growing in the fruits of the Spirit - then the queer sheep, at least, is making this kind of a home-coming. For ‘turning around’ for a rainbow person is not typically about self-denial and letting go of self-concern. My God, haven’t rainbow people tragically been forced into so much of that which is destructive?!
No, rainbow repentance, or ‘turning round’, is more like ‘coming out’: a recognition of one’s true self and one’s infinite value. Yes, God challenges false pride and self-concern. These however are typically found among the sheep who live in black and white, not in rainbow colours. The woman’s joy at being reunited with her lost coin is thus like God’s joy when a rainbow person comes home to their self and out to others. No wonder she throws a party!
In today’s Gospel, Jesus thus turns expectations upside down. Those who believe themselves found are actually the lost. The supposedly lost are the ones who are actually found, as they find themselves as infinitely loved, just as they are, in eternal love. The real challenge of continuing repentance is thus thrown back on those who demand false repentance from others. Isn’t that the reality of today, for so many rainbow people and those who would condemn them/us?
three 'R's of Pride
How then, in the context of Brisbane Pride, are we to respond to this good news of Jesus which we hear today? Well, it’s ‘three R’s’ isn’t it? - revalue, repent, and rejoice…
Firstly, let’s revalue what we’ve often been taught is lost. For rainbow people this includes fully valuing, and having pride in, all that God has made us to be: all those things which bad religion and cruel ‘morality’ has tried to teach us are wrong. For all of us, it means revaluing the so-called ‘lost’: the poor, the marginalised, the ‘little ones’ whom God most loves, and whose Love seeks high and low to be reunited.
Secondly, let’s repent in Jesus’ sense: let’s turn around to the fullness of God’s all-embracing love. For rainbow people that may involve letting go of shame and pain, rather than self as such. For all of us it means letting go of all in church and wider life which denies full loving affirmation of one another.
And, thirdly – and most of all – let’s rejoice. Let’s be full of joy for every one of us – gay or straight, trans or cis-gender, female or male or non-binary, black, or white, person of religious faith or otherwise – all who are loved by God, now and always. For if God takes pride in each of us, who are we not to take pride in ourselves and each other?
In the love of the true shepherd, the woman who rejoices in restoration of her dowry, and the source of all true pride: in Christ’s name, Amen.
Josephine Inkpin: sermon for Pride Mass, at Holy Trinity Fortitude Valley, 15 September 2019