Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall: Come Out Again

The following is a sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall at a Taizé service at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Baltimore, MD, on the Feast of St. Mark, Thursday, April 25th, 2013.  Dr. Hall is currently touring the Northeast to spend time with Integrity members and congregations.

The leaders of the Jewish people were trying to push Jesus into a damning admission which would give them the opportunity to accuse him of a major crime. They wanted him to declare that he was the Messiah so that they could shout treason and get rid of him. Not only was Jesus was a threat to their authority among the Jews, but his ideas might make trouble for them with the Roman authorities. They didn’t want the boat rocked.

Cathedral of the Incarnation
Cathedral Church of the Incarnation, Baltimore
Photo credit: Monument City
Yet in typical fashion, Jesus does not give them the answer they want. He says instead “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me.” It’s a familiar idea in Jesus’ teaching – don’t just listen to what people say but look at what they do, at how they live their lives – are they becoming more holy, more just, more compassionate or not? Jesus’ flock are the ones who are listening - those who are taking his teaching and his example and are using them to make the reign of God a reality in their lives and in the lives of the community around them.

Each one of us is called to be part of the flock. Each one of us is called to testify to the power of Jesus’ love in our lives by the way that we live. And we are being watched. Just as Jesus was watched, so we his followers are watched.

I think that’s especially true for those of us who are lesbian, gay transgender or bisexual, or those who are under thirty-five. It used to be that it was really hard to come out in the church – now for many of us it’s harder to come out to our friends and acquaintances outside the church. We are all being watched – and more often than not, the church is being found wanting.

People say they don’t want to be part of institutional religion because of the hypocrisy – and there is plenty of that. I understand that Edward Peters, a Catholic leader, recently said that Catholics who support same-gender marriage should not try to receive communion and if they do so, it should be denied them. This is just one more example of the kind of behavior that is getting a lot of media attention and is driving people away from our churches. We know that’s not what Episcopalians think, but most folk don’t make distinctions between one church and another but lump us all together in their minds.

Which means that we have to be even more aware of doing works which “testify to the Father.” The things we do are probably not going to be things that land us on the front page of the Washington Post, they’re more likely to be quiet actions of love and kindness, which grow out of a deep spiritual connection with our Abba. They’re more likely to be things which don’t stand out but which contribute to the deep well-being of our world.

And in the strange world of our God they’ll prove to be more important than the bold statements that make the headlines. God did not choose to incarnate in Rome, at the center of the Empire. God did not choose to incarnate in a wealthy, prominent family. No, God chose to incarnate in a small nation which has always been at the center of international trouble, to a small unconventional family in a small town huddled in a barn. God did not choose a flashy well-understood act to redeem the world, but instead allowed Godself to get killed in an ignominious way which no-one really understands, even to this day. And when Jesus was resurrected it wasn’t in front of crowds of people, it wasn’t in the Sanhedrin or Pilate’s palace, rather he appeared to his disciples in ones and twos and small groups.

So never let us imagine that small things don’t make a difference. In God’s kingdom it’s the small things that have the greatest impact. Sometimes we can see that they do, but more often their results are hidden.

Fifteen years ago the idea that gay or lesbian couples could ever be legally married was almost laughable. But today it’s becoming almost commonplace. We have just seen France legalize gay marriage; there’s a bill in the British Parliament as we speak; Rhode Island is on its way to becoming the 10th state to legalize gay marriage and the Supreme Court is considering the question. Moreover, the majority of Americans now think it’s ok. How far we have come in just a short time. There are many things that fed into that astonishingly rapid change, but the most important is the quiet witness of gay and lesbian people coming out to their friends, and coming out in their workplaces, and coming out in their churches.

We still need to come out today. But this time we’re not coming out as gay but coming out as Christian. Just as we had to battle public prejudice when we came out as gay, today we have to battle public prejudice as we admit that we too are Christian. And just as we had to tell people that we’re gay so we need to tell people that we follow the God who loves all people equally, even the homophobes – it’s not enough to hope that they’ll pick up the hints, that they’ll follow the clues and draw the right conclusions – we have to take our courage in our hands and testify to the Father.

What has made the difference for gays, lesbians and transgender people is that as we have come out the fantasy of the evil homosexual who is out to take your children and your marriage away has had to abate. It’s not gone altogether but it is less and less possible to maintain as more and more people know gay or lesbian people and know that they like and respect them.

It’s time now for all of us who hear Jesus and follow him to do the same thing for the image of the Christian as judgmental and limiting. It’s time for us to be seen to live lives that are joyful and generously open-hearted. It’s time for us to make sure that in everything we do we are glorifying God. It’s time for us to testify to the Father by our lives but no less by our words.
Each one of us influences a small group of people a lot and a lot of people a little, just like Jesus influenced the disciples a lot and the Jewish people a little. It’s time to use the influence that we have. It’s time to show that we belong to Jesus’ flock by testifying to the Father in our conversations as well as our lives.

It’s time for us, gay straight or neither to dare to come out as Christian!

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