This is a sermon I preached at an LGBTI+ service. It’s also the first time I’ve been open about my sexuality in my professional capacity, so it’s a coming out sermon of sorts.
The passage is Luke 2.22-35
A light to lighten the Gentiles
The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light
The light shines in the darkness – and the darkness did not overcome it
Our faith is a faith of light
Jesus is called the light to the gentiles, but why do the gentiles need a light?
Well the gentiles were those who were not Jews. Those who did not know the Lord and therefore did not know salvation or the right way to live.
The gentiles were those who lived in god-less darkness whilst the Jews lived in the light of revelation…
The light was called to speak to the dark, to illuminate it with their right ways of knowing and living, however they failed…..
The light of the Jews did not speak into the darkness of the Gentiles.
Now was this a fault of the Jews?
Or is it because the darkness of the Gentiles was too strong?
Or maybe it’s because our human understandings of what is light and what is dark aren’t quite as cut and dried as we like to think they are.
To explain this point I’m going to tell a bit of my own story and experience. I don’t usually do this kind of thing but please indulge me for a bit…
I’m from the south (talking about dark places…) and before I became a priest I spent most of my time participating in the heavy metal, goth and punk rock subcultures and their associated worlds.
Metal was my life.
Something about the power and aggression and the politics of these scenes just feeds me you know. I love it. The dark primal sounds of heavy metal just spoke to me as a teen. It drove everything I did.
(In fact it was reading the satanic, anti-Christian lyrics that lead me to study and decide who I truly agreed with. Was it the theologians and church leaders who had been writing for thousands of years or the long haired angry guys in metal bands? The theologians won and so here I am…. Black Sabbath are more responsible for my ordination than any church leader ever was….)
Any way… I loved the music the noise the violence the black t shirts and the leather and the people I met through metal, it was who I was. It was how I identified myself. I was metal.
I belonged to the metal scene I was one of them and through that I started getting involved with other scenes involving music and leather… other scenes that people outside would consider to be “dark”……
I revelled in the fact that the stuff I was interested in was “dark” and mysterious…..
God was calling me. God wanted me to be ordained. And so off I went.
I left behind the metal scene, the bands, the leather and came up north (into the light).
Now when people talk about conversion or sudden realisation they often talk about seeing the light….
And outsiders would have seen my leaving behind the metal scene and entering theological training as being a journey from darkness into light…
However it wasn’t quite like that.
You see I trained in a conservative leaning, evangelical college… and I am not conservative or evangelical…. Far from it.
I am a dirty progressive liberal high churchman….
I’m also Bisexual. (I’ve never said that outloud in public before, so this is me coming out I guess..)
Being a non-straight, non-conservative, non-evangelical made me the prime outsider in college. And it was pretty obvious.
And people made sure I didn’t easily forget it……
I had my salvation publicly doubted in a lecture, I was viewed with suspicion, not invited to things. There was a particularly conservative student who only spoke to me on one occasion, and that was so he could work out if I was possessed by the devil or not.
My friends and I used to hide in my room up on the 4th floor and talk about who it was safe to disclose our secret identities too because we didn’t feel safe being out about our sexualities…..
Leaving the so called dark scenes of my past and going into the supposed light world of Christianity actually resulted in the opposite experience for me.
The time I spent training to serve the Lord of Light, surrounded by other people who also walked in that light was the time when I felt so personally in the dark.
So I went back to the metal scene.
I thought this place of light is actually full of darkness. I’ll go back to “my scene” my people, those who apparently live in darkness according to the Christians. I’ll find acceptance and light there.
Except I didn’t. In going to become a priest I had ostracised myself form the metal scene. I was viewed with suspicion, not believed. I was now an outsider. The place I hoped to find light was now a place of darkness.
So I found myself stuck in the middle.
A Christian in the metal scene and a metalhead in the church. This isn’t even mentioning my queer identity which wasn’t always welcomed in either.
It was then I realised that’s who I was and who God needed me to be. God made me as a bit of a no-body – someone who didn’t quite fit in. God’s little misfit who was always out of place.
Stuck in-between light and dark.
I also realised that as Christians we are called not to find Light in other places but to BE light in those places. As Christians we carry Christ’s light within us. Christ’s Light is not found in places just lying around, it’s brought in by Christians reflecting the light of Christ through their actions and words.
This self realisation also helped me recognise the wonderful colour of grey. That colour between light and dark. Created by taking light into darkness or darkness into light depending on which way you are going.
I felt God’s call on my life change – the only time I’ve felt actual words come from God.
“maybe I need to inhabit dark places with Him”
I realised that I was called to go into the dark places, wherever those dark places where, as me.
I didn’t need to be accepted or conform to what those places wanted me to be. Because I was already conformed as the person God wanted me to be.
I’m now ordained as a queer person who brings all my experience of the darker subcultures that I inhabit into the church. Every time I stand at the alter I am bringing all of my past experiences with me into the light of God’s love.
On the flip side I’m bringing my Christian faith back into the places I used to inhabit. I play guitar in a black metal band, I go to festivals and clubs and I’m fascinated in exploring what Darkenss can tell us about God. When I go to those places I take the light of God with me.
Though when I go to these places with the light of God I am almost always met by the light of God that is already there.
You see many Christians believe that anywhere without God is dark, and therefore any place that is seemingly dark must not have God.
However it is in the darkest of places that God’s light actually shines brightest. And that is where God calls us as Christians to go.
A light to lighten the gentiles.
God calls us to carry Christs light into the dark places wherever they may be.
Be it in our culture, our churches, our places of work or our personal lives. God calls us as followers of Jesus, the light of the world, to be smaller lights that make the darker places a little more grey.
So be encouraged, be who you are, even when you don’t fit in. Be like Simeon and wait for God to show you the light that you need to shine in your darkness.
It will come if you are patient and wait for it.
And when you have your light. Do not let anyone snuff it out.