Reading for All Saints Day: John 11:32-45
Jesus received a message that Lazarus was sick. Jesus did not leave immediately to see Lazarus. He waited for two days before going to see Lazarus. By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days. This is where we will pick up the story in the Word.
Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled. And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!
And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died? Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.
Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.
And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.
And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go. Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him.
(John 11:32-45 KJV)
Many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identified people echo Mary’s cry, “Lord, if thou hadst been with me, this would not have happened. I would not have been born queer.” And the response of the Son of God is the same as it was when His friend died. And Jesus groans in the spirit.
You may be hearing God’s call to be more open, to step out of the closet. Timing is important. Jesus planned the timing of this miracle. Lazarus was given new life at the right time. You can plan the timing of the miracle of coming out. Only step out of the closet when it is safe.
This is Pride Week. During Pride Week, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identified people celebrate themselves. Pride is a time when we tell our queer family members, friends, colleagues, church members, and acquaintances, “We are proud of you, and we are glad you are part of our lives.” Pride Week to me is far more than a celebration of God’s queer children. For me, Pride is a time when we celebrate the presence in our lives of all people who have closets in their lives. During Pride, we affirm the worth and value as children of God all people who have closets in their lives or have stepped free from the restrictions of closets.
Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identified people often live in closets of shame, fear, and isolation. They may be terrified of sharing they are with even their closest friends. Fear of rejection by God, by God’s people, and even self-rejection make it difficult to even form the word gay, the word lesbian, the word bisexual, or the word transgender.
Much emotional energy is spent trying to hide a secret identity. Just so straight people can get a sense of what that is like, if you straight stop for a moment and use your imagination. Pretend for a few moments that being straight, that having a straight partner, and that having children or grandchildren is considered immoral. You cannot let anybody know you have a partner, children, or grandchildren. None of your friends can know. Nobody at work can know. And there is absolutely no way people in church can every find out. How long do you think you can keep that secret? How hard would it be to go for a day without ever mentioning your partner, your children, or your grandchildren? Imagine trying to do that for a month. Some queer people have lived with that level of secrecy in their lives for years.
The rental cost for closets is high. In the long-run, real estate outside of a closet is less expensive. David Scasta, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Temple University, writes, “Gay people who are able to affirmatively acknowledge their sexual orientation to self and others tend to be happier, healthier, and better able to bond and develop a social network than their closeted counterparts.”1
Trying to develop a comprehensive list of groups of people who might be in a closet is difficult. The list could get long. Just a few people who may have lived in closets include those who have:
- Physical or mental illnesses
- Mentally or physically challenges
- Behavioral disorders
- Diseases and medical conditions
- An inability to read
- Learning disabilities
- Attention deficit
- Lived through war or natural disaster
- Experienced physical, emotional, or spiritual violence
- Dysfunctional families
- Recently changed religions
Lazarus was in the closet of death. God the Son called Lazarus out of the closet of death. And Lazarus came out to experience new life, life with an intensity and depth he’d probably never experienced before.
Today, the Messiah stands at the closet of your life. And the Son’s tears mix with your tears, your tears of loneliness, isolation, self-hate, anger, and pain. Then the Savior calls, “Come out!” And you step out of the closet, still bound by the cloth bindings of the closet. At the Son’s request, the clothes that bind you are removed. You step forward, free to live life as you have never lived life before.
As you come out, you notice some people are afraid, a few people are angry, and some people are ready to embrace you. Suddenly, you realize you are not alone. Other people have come out of the same closet. The people who used to live in the same closet are cheering as you are freed to live. And they anxiously crowd around, hugging you, congratulating you. You are offered the love, support, and encouragement you were denied in the closet.
Shame and embarrassment gradually disappear. As you look around, you are amazed to see how many people are just like you. You realize there was no need for shame.
You are baptized by immersion in God’s love. And just like at Jesus’ baptism, the voice of God can be heard affirming you. “This is my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.”2 The Spirit descends as a dove, and you experience shalom like you’ve never experienced peace in your life.
When you look at yourself, you realized you’ve been transformed. Through each wound, through each scar, light is shining. The crucified and risen Christ can be seen in each wound and scar. The healing force that changed each painful wound into a magnifying glass showing God’s love is starting to touch lives.
The challenge of Pride is to be open and transparent, so the glory of God can be seen in our lives. As the glory of God is seen shining through our transparent lives, the world is changed, one life at a time.
1. David Scasta. “Issues in Helping People Come Out.” Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy. Vol 2 (4), 87.
2. Matthew 3:16-17 KJV
A lifelong counselor, teacher and educator, having worked in elementary and secondary education for 25 years, Gary Simpson is a member of the Canadian Counseling and Psychotherapy Association and has spoken and led workshops on gay-straight alliances, bullying, spiritual self-defense, gay Christian identity, and the needs of GLBT youth and young adults.
Currently studying at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, Calif., he holds a B.Ed. from Union College in Lincoln, Neb., an M.A. in Guidance and Counseling and Ed.S. in Educational Psychology from Loma Linda University in Riverside, Calif., a Master’s in Religious Education from Newman Theological College in Edmonton, Alberta, and a Certificate in Sexuality and Religion from Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif.