“Lazarus, come out!” As an openly gay man, I love this sentence of scripture. Because “coming out” has taken on a significant meaning in the LGBTQ community: the moment when you tell the world. You “come out” as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, genderqueer, whatever identity you claim. And you don’t just come out once. Thankfully you usually only have to tell your parents once, but as a queer person you find yourself asking often questions like, “does my barista really need to know? What about my co-worker?” Coming out is a lifelong process. ”Lazarus, come out!” indeed.
I mention this “coming out” this morning, not just to get a chuckle. I mention it because this story of Jesus at the graveside of his good friend resonates. Jesus shows a certain openness. He does not criticize Martha, who is understandably grief stricken. He doesn’t push back when they say “he healed the man born blind, surely he could have saved his friend.” No. Though he seemingly knows what will happen, that Lazarus will rise again, Jesus stands with the mourners and weeps. He is open to their pain. He shares their grief. He is willing to be vulnerable.
Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints and its twin the feast of All Souls. We remember the holy lives, those of the capital S “Saints” and those with the lowercase letter, the saints of our own lives, the mentors, the teachers, the parents and grandparents who went before us.
Today I want to notice a theme in the lives of many “saints” in the lives of many who have taught me what it means to be a Godly person, to be a whole person. The saints who have most affected me, have been characterized by a certain holy openness, like Jesus in the Gospel today, a shared vulnerability.
The famous and the more personal saints, many of them, lived Jesus’ invitation to Lazarus, to “come out.” Sometimes that was to literally come out as a lesbian or genderqueer, and sometimes it was simply to be and share themselves honestly, fully, vulnerably, openly. Something about being themself often allowed others to step out as well, to share their whole and honest selves.
A moment of personal privilege
Before I continue, I need to try and take up this spirit to share something honest with you. Our parish just completed a feasibility study toward a capital campaign, toward a renovation. And as I wrote in this week’s email the results were fantastic. This is a healthy, engaged, and generous congregation. We will be moving forward with a capital campaign and a renovation in the coming months. There will be more details to come. I don’t have plans to show you today, those are coming. But one particular theme came up in the responses, and I need to take a moment of personal privilege to address this theme.
Several folks in their responses to the survey asked their own question: “does a capital campaign mean that the rector is leaving?” The question makes some sense for folks who have been here awhile. The last two rector transitions happened at a time when there was a capital campaign.
I want to say, openly, honestly, I have no plans to leave any time soon. Ellis and I have discerned that we have some work to do right here in St. Louis. Some of that work is professional, and some of it involves discernment about growing our family. We have started a process to become foster parents. We want to do that right here, in this congregation. We don’t plan to go anywhere for several more years. And because the church canons make firing a rector almost impossible, you’re stuck with us. I hope that’s okay. Thank you for letting me take this moment of privilege, to open up a little, be a little vulnerable.
I’ve noticed, When I have been around someone who knows really, deeply, who they are, When I am around someone who had done that discernment. When I have been around someone who is comfortable in their own skin, who is willing to share, to be vulnerable, I also tend to feel I can let down my guard. I’m always trying to learn from those folks, because I know the opposite can be true as well. When I encounter someone who is guarded, or someone who seems to be pretending, my own defenses can come up fast. It makes me a little concerned for our nation today. While there may not be much construction on a literal wall, so many figurative walls seem to be up between people.
The Saints and the Sultan
How can we live more openly? Perhaps we can look to one of the most famous saints. Francis of Assisi lived in the time of the crusades. As a young man, he sought fighting against non-Christians. When he came into his more saintly, more mature, self, he took a different point of view. During the fifth crusade, while his fellow Christians were caught between the city of Damietta and the Egyptian army, Francis went to meet with the sultan Malik Al Kamil.
Francis was not empowered by the Christian leaders to bargain for peace. Instead Francis and Al Kamil talked theology. After two days of spirited conversation, the saint and the sultan grew to respect one another. Frances was not empowered to accept the Al Kamil’s offer to stop the war. As a man of poverty, he also could not accept the gold and silks the sultan offered as gifts. The saint did make one request, he asked to share a meal with the Muslim leader.
How do we cultivate this kind of respectful engagement? How do we encounter other faiths with open hearts? Almost 800 years ago, Francis overcame the attitudes of his day, and his own fear.
Francis wasn’t alone in his openness. Oscar Romero, the most recent of saints witnesses openness to the lives and rights of the poor. Deaconess Anne of St. Louis worked in the city’s Old North caring for children in a rough neighborhood. The lives of the saints are too full of stories to recount them all. So instead this morning, I want to turn to some saints with a lower case “s” folks who may not end up in the official calendar, but who witnessed to God’s love and justice in their open lives. As it turns out, following the old hymn I love, one was a doctor, and one was a queen.
One was a Doctor
As some of the stories of those who were killed last week in Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh came out, I was particularly moved by accounts of Doctor Jerry Rabinowitz. listen to what one patient wrote of his doctor:
In the old days for HIV patients in Pittsburgh he was the one to go to. Basically before there was effective treatment for fighting HIV itself, he was known in the community for keeping us alive the longest. He often held our hands (without rubber gloves) and always always hugged us as we left his office.
Remember, in the early days of HIV, some Episcopal churches were actually using separate communion cups for folks who tested positive. People were afraid to touch, afraid to stand near. Jerry Rabinowitz took off his gloves and gave hugs.
Maybe this faithful Jewish man would feel a little uncomfortable being described as a saint, even if I only spell saint with a lower case letter. But Dr. Rabinowitz openness saved lives, saved dignity, saved souls.
One was a Queen
And what about the queen?
This year we buried Aretha Franklin, the queen of soul. I grew up with Aretha’s music before I knew her name. She was that level of star. I knew she was a feminist icon for singing about R-E-S-P-E-C-T. I remembered being moved at President Obama’s first inauguration when she sang “My Country ’Tis of Thee.” I had a sense of her as a singer, but it wasn’t until her funeral that I knew why she was considered a queen.
In story after story musicians, pastors, and presidents spoke of a life that was at times difficult, but always sought to inspire others. When Dr. King struggled to pay his organizers, she held benefit concerts and covered the payroll. She offered to post bail for Angela Davis. “I know you’ve got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace,” Aretha said. It would have been easy to stay quiet, to make music, but Aretha Franklin, the queen of soul stayed open to the work God was doing, the work of Civil Rights, the work of liberation. She stayed open to her own people, and used her spotlight to shed a light on injustice. Her funeral was fit for a queen.
Mourning with the Saints
All Saints and All Souls can be a difficult feast because it is tinged with mourning. Today, standing outside of his friends grave, Jesus shares the tears of a community in pain. Today we remember those saints who have brought blessing into our lives, who have taught us to be a little more holy and a little more whole. We remember those saints who helped us to be open, to share ourselves because they shared themselves with us.
Outside my office here at the church is a picture of Jerusalem, but if you look closely you will see there are really two Jerusalems. The holy city, painted in gold, is coming down from heaven. As the book of Revelation has it this morning. God will wipe away every tear.
As part of the prayer that consecrates bread and wine, we will sing the verses from Isaiah “Holy Holy Holy.” Just yesterday our Jewish neighbors sang those same verses “Kedush Kedush Kedush.” Each time they repeat the word in synagogue, the Jewish people bounce a little on their feet, reaching upward toward heaven, reaching for the heavenly city.
As we introduce the song, the priest says we join the chorus of saints and angels. The rabbis teach that this song, “Holy Holy Holy” is an echo of the heavens. The earthly city and the heavenly city join in the same song. Those who have gone before us sing with us in a chorus of praise that echoes through eternity. Those we love who have died are not far away. We can still join them in song. We can reach up on our toes and get a little closer as we sing “holy holy holy.”
We remember the saints for their faith. We remember faith that gave saints the courage to see the humanity in others. We remember saints who reached out, who held open space. We remember saints whose faith gave them courage to stand with those of a different orientation, a different religion, a different gender, a different race. We remember saints who believed in the promise of God, to always be with them, who knew that Jesus stood with them to weep in the midst of loss and grief.
In a world that is getting better and better at building walls, God invites us to love radically, following the example of the saints, the doctors, the queens, and all those who came out, who were vulnerable, who embraced others. Today we will baptize Walter Clyde Ludwig, and we will pray that God will open his heart. That God will teach him to love. That God will fill him with the Holy and life-giving Spirit.
We know to pray these prayers because of the saints who have gone before us, the upper case saints and the lowercase ones. We give thanks for the lives of the women, men, and people who famously stood for God and gave us a shining example. We give thanks as well for all those saints who quietly stand with us when we are scared, when we are vulnerable, when our rights need to be defended, those saints who share a little of themselves, and handshake, a hug. They are saints too. Their lives witness to the love of God.
A blessed feast of All Saints and All Souls.