From the Pulpit
Coming Out of Death into New Life
by the Rev. Lee Shaw
This homily was delivered at "A Celebration of Hope and
Healing," an interfaith Pride service celebrated at the Cathedral Church of St. Mark,
Salt Lake City, Utah, on June 8, 2002. The readings for the service were
Isaiah 43:1a-4a, Doctrine & Covenants 6:32,34-36, John 11:1-6, 17, 32-44.
The Rev. Lee Shaw
It is good to have the "family" gathered together. I remember an evening in October of 1998
when we gathered in this space to mourn the murder of Matthew Shepherd. It thought then how
it would be for gays and lesbians and our friends to be able to gather together to celebrate
and not to mourn, to rejoice with each other and not comfort one another. Tonight is such a
night. I thank the clergy, vestry and people of this historic church for opening the doors
for us. And I welcome our friends who are not gay or lesbian to share this evening with
Tonight we are telling some of our story as a people of God, God's queer tribe. We have
marked these memories and hopes with candles, the offering of light on the altar. What
began as a solitary flame is now a flickering cloud of light, the light of promise this
evening. These candles reminded me of a story told by a friend of mine in California.
It is a story told by her grandfather and comes from her family history in Hungary
generations ago. "It is a story that comes out of the long, bitter period when they were
a subject people who had been conquered by the Ottoman Empire. They were powerless, true,
but far from peaceful as subjects. In one district, the local governor was so uneasy
about the people that he forbid any public assemblies, which means - literally - he
closed up the churches. But even the powerless know how to fight back.
"After darkness had fallen on Sunday, they would come - one at a time, singly and alone,
carrying a candle. And as each one came to the church, they would place the candle on
the steps in front of the locked church doors, say a prayer, and simply melt away again
into the darkness.
"And on Monday morning, in the light of day, when the Turkish governor looked out across
the square, he would see them: hundreds of burnt-out candles in front of the church door.
It was their way of saying, 'You don't see us. You don't know us. But we are here.
God as our witness, we are here.'" (M.R. Ritley)
I think that each of us knows what it is like to be alone with the single candle of our
lives, at times flickering but still burning. Not knowing if anyone is with us, if anyone
cares about us. We know what it is like to walk alone in the darkness of uncertainty and
fear with the light of only our candle as a guide. But tonight, these candles are witness
that we are here together and we are not alone. We are not in hiding. We are not in the
dark. We're here. We're queer. And God is with us!
Earlier this week, Dee Bradshaw and I taped a radio interview on gay and lesbian
spirituality. The interview began with one of those charming passages from Leviticus about
abominations and men lying with each other etc., etc., etc. After that inauspicious
beginning, the interview greatly improved. It was a powerful reminder to me that
churches are not always safe places for us. We know how scripture has been used to
condemn us, to damn us. Years ago a friend of mine sent me a small poster that said:
"The Bible contains 6 admonishments to homosexuals and 362 to heterosexuals. That does not
mean that God doesn't love heterosexuals, they just need more supervision."
But there is good news for us in Scripture. That is one reason I love the story of Lazarus
we heard tonight. How often in scripture do you have God saying to you: "Come out!"
This is a familiar story with many messages for us. On the surface, Jesus does say to
Lazarus, "Come out," come out of the tomb, the cave of death into new life.
I believe God is saying that to us here tonight as well. Come out of the darkness into
my light. Come out of your fears into my love. Come out of hiding into new life. Come
out of your solitary life into a new life with me and my people. Listen to God calling
you by name and inviting you here tonight, "Come out."
But that is not all that Jesus says in this passage. As Lazarus comes out, bound in his
burial clothes Jesus says to those around him, "Unbind him, and let him go." God says
that to us as well. We have a responsibility to help and support one another. We cannot
do it alone. We need others to help unbind us from our fears and doubts. I thank God for
my friends, gay and straight, who helped me come to terms with who I am and who helped
unbind me from my fears and doubts about who God created me to be. Once we have come out
of the darkness into the light, we need to help others as well. We are all called to
help one another, to unbind them and let them go.
For my straight sisters and brothers here: Welcome to our world. Join with us to unbind
others as they come out from the darkness into the light of self acceptance and love. And
"Doubt not; fear not." We need and want you to continue to speak out against discrimination
and bigotry in all forms as we all join together to work for justice, freedom and peace for
all of God's children.
For my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters here tonight: God knows you are here.
God knows you are queer. And God loves you. You are precious and honored and loved.
No one can take that from you. No one can deny, block or stop God's love for you.
Only you can reject it. So, remember, you are precious, and honored and beloved of God.