Those familiar with my ministry know my appreciation for words. I am fascinated with words – especially the history of words. A great sadness of mine is what I call (and this is the right word) the “bastardization” of words within a culture. By that I mean when the present usage of a word is totally illegitimate in relation to its original meaning. Erne Baxter, a great Bible teacher and word smith, used to refer to a needed redemption of words and language. I totally agree.
I just read an article in our local paper dealing with this very issue. One writer argued that words should be used only within the context of current definition and usage and without reference to history and background. The other argued that any disconnect from history is a dangerous thing and that nowhere is it more dangerous than in the arena of words and language. You may be thinking – What’s all the fuss? – a word is a word, is a word, is a word. The fuss is this: words define us, and when the meaning of words is purely subjective there is a loss of heritage and stability. This results in a growing uncertainty within a culture and society.
Against this brief background and with some reluctance I now come to the theme of this message: ‘A Queer Christianity’. If you are overly religiously sensitive or into political correctness you may already be offended, but if you will track with me I think you will find a positive truth in this.
Introduction: John Doe, Disciple – PG.94 (Rough Justice)
Obviously that novel was written long before the word queer was narrowed in its definition to what it presently is. So we need to begin by clearly defining this word.
The word “queer” reaches back to the year 1508 and for all these years it carried a very rich and significant meaning. But in just a few decades that entire history of rich meaning was lost to a single application – namely homosexuality. It became the derogatory label used against that community. However, in the last twenty years or so it has become a designation of pride within younger homosexuals. It looks like this: ‘I am proud to be queer.’
I want to take this word – that has become so narrowly defined in our culture – and use its true meaning in relation to the Christian experience of faith. In doing so I hope to establish that the community to which this word really applies should be the Christian community.
Dealing with the definition of this word is going to take some time because I want to address it in its fullness. In moving through this definition I ask that you apply it to your personal experience of Christian faith; perhaps with the following question: Does this describe my experience of faith?
Definition:1) differing from the ordinary in a way that causes curiosity or suspicion; 2)differing in some odd/strange way from what is usual or normal; 3) noticeably different from what is generally found or experienced; 4) absorbed or interested to an extreme or unreasonable degree. Does any or all of that describe your personal experience of faith?
More Definition: Here is a list of synonyms and related words: extraordinary, peculiar, rare, singular, strange, unaccustomed, uncommon, unique, abnormal, exceptional, irregular, newsworthy, notable, noteworthy, noticeable, remarkable, special. Question: Does this sound like your faith?
More Related Words: absorbed, concerned, distracted, engaged, engrossed, full, involved, knee-deep, occupied, preoccupied, fervent, impassioned, and passionate.Question: Do these words describe your faith?
Antonyms (the opposite of queer):common, ordinary, plain, usual, average, commonplace, everyday, normal, routine, run-of-the-mill, standard, typical, unexceptional, unremarkable, conformist, conservative, conventional, expected, familiar, predictable, customary, frequent, habitual, apathetic, casual, cool, detached, disinterested, dispassionate, indifferent, unconcerned, unenthusiastic, uninterested, uninvolved, status-quo and mediocrity.Question: Do these words describe your faith experience?
Now that we understand the rich background of meaning, the rich history and heritage of the definition of the word ‘queer’ perhaps we can appreciate the enormous loss that occurs when we reduce it to a narrowed application in relation to a tiny minority group within society.
In the Titus and Peter references there is a particular word used in the old KJV translation that applies to people of true Christian faith: ‘peculiar’. These two scriptures tell us much more than this but fundamentally they establish two vital or core realities concerning us. First, we are told what makes us peculiar. What we discover is that it has absolutely nothing to do with anything we have done, are presently doing or could hope to do in the future. The thing that makes us truly peculiar – the thing that (in that sense) makes us truly queer – is nothing we have done for ourselves but entirely what God has done for us. God, through the atoning work of His own Son, Jesus Christ, has redeemed unto Himself a people, a community, composed of every tribe, tongue, nation, skin colour and ethnicity. By His sovereign choice He has made this redeemed community His own unique possession.
In fact here is some of the idea of the word used in those two texts: a costly possession or special treasure; that which is one’s own – uniquely and fully belonging to one’s possessions; a people selected out by God – a people which constitutes the crown jewel of God, the pearl in His possession. This is what makes the church the community in the earth that is truly different, unique, strange and peculiar; this is the reality that explains the true “queerness”of who we are.
The second thing these two texts address is the issue of present responsibility. As God’sunique, costly and special treasure – as His selected out people, His crown jewels or pearl of great price, how are we to live in this present culture? This is where I believe the true meaning of the word queer needs to fully apply to us.
There is a particular phrase that comes to mind here: “out of step”. Take that back to the“Acts Church” and ask the question: How out of step was that church with the culture? I read it to you this morning. They were so out of step with both the secular culture of Rome and the religious culture of Judaism that the world referred to them as ‘these men who have turned the world upside down.’ You do not turn the world upside down by being in step with it.
And that is the tragedy of where the western church is right now. We teach our children how vital it is to be in step – in step with clothing styles, musical tastes, what is taught as valid education – in step with movies and literature, cultural values and social norms. We teach our children how not to be different.
No matter how hard the world and the church may try to make Christ just another ordinary man the truth remains He was far from ordinary. In fact He was out of step with the ordinary, the status-quo and mediocrity. He was out of step with the religious attitudes and social values of His culture. Christ was a curiosity to all who truly saw Him. Can I be a true disciple of His without being out of step with all that He was out of step with?
And yet the true queerness of real Christianity reaches far beyond mere behaviour. There are many religions in our world that both teach and produce an impeccable code of behaviour. But like Phariseeism there is something lacking. And what is lacking is presence – the presence of a Person. In the end it is the presence of Christ emanating from our hearts through our behaviour that makes us a real curiosity to an unbelieving world.
Let me finish with this: Some of you may be familiar with the name Henry Thoreau. He was a very strong individualist who lived in New England in the nineteenth century. He refused to pay his poll tax to a state which supported slavery. For this he went to jail. While in jail he wrote his now globally renowned essay “Civil Disobedience”.
Thoreau’s good friend was a man whose name most are familiar with – Ralph Waldo Emerson.Emerson hurried to visit his friend in jail, and peering through the bars exclaimed: “Why, Henry, what are you doing in there?”Thoreau responded: “Nay, Ralph, the question is, what are you doing out there?” The whole difference between the positions of the two men was that one was out of step while the other was in step with the social conventions of the time.
It was Thoreau who wrote that his great concern with life was that he should come to the time of death and discover that he had never really lived. He also wrote this: ‘If a man does not keep pace with his companions perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.’ From another of Thoreau’swritings you find this admonition: ‘Let him step to the music which he hears’ – what a statement. But to do so, means you will be out of step with those around you. This will make you a true curiosity – truly different, strange and queer. But now that we understand the true meaning of the word queer we might consider it a compliment to be designated as such because of our faith.
When the tide in the American Civil War had turned and it was obvious that the South could not withstand the war machine of the industrialised North, many of Lincoln’s advisers such asStephens, Phillips and Beecher urged Lincoln to (and I quote): “Crush the South….” “Stamp out the whole slave-holding aristocracy….. Make them pay to the last acre of land, the last vestige of power, and the last drop of blood.”
Lincoln, however, rising to a higher standard and marching to a Different Drummer would say this: ‘With malice toward none, with charity for all, let us strive to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds…. to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.’ Whose words are remembered today – Lincoln’s or those of his advisers?
Can we truly make a difference without the willingness to be different?The Bible makes it clear that ‘the fear of man brings a snare.’ Jesus would tell us – “Woe unto you, when all men speak well of you…” He would also pose the question: “How on earth can you believe while you are forever looking for each other’s approval and not for the glory that comes from the one God?”
The jury is in, the verdict is inescapable – to be in step with Christ is to be out of step with the false values of the culture around us. True Christian discipleship makes us an inevitablecuriosity to the unbelieving world. And in keeping with the true definition of the word ‘queer’, the theme of this message is right and correct – Christianity is a queer business, and the community in the earth to which the word should apply is the church.
It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words; now that you’ve heard the thousand words, here is a few pictures: (SHOW NEXT 5 SLIDES).