Greetings! For today’s service we’ll be using the Matins liturgy from the hymnal. The service is led by Shawn Mai, along with music from Chris & Harry Johansen. The readings for today, along with Shawn’s sermon and a recording, are posted below.
John 11: 17-27
Jesus Comforts the Sisters of Lazarus
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles[a] from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
Sermon – Shawn Mai
Several weeks ago Linda preached about women in the Bible. She started the sermon by reminding all of us of how race and racism have gained more awareness this past year after the murder of George Floyd.
Linda did a nice job making connections with how patricarchal systems have had an impact on how we perceive power, gender, sexuality, and female identity. This past year has given me a new understanding of how life limiting my experience of being white is in a white supremacist culture. I’ve come to understand the impact of how much my own power and privelage have benefited me at the expense of other people.
Being more grounded in a faith that sees God as love, literally love, has implications about how I walk through this world. If I believe in the core of Jesus teaching “love your neighbor as yourself”, my life demands I become more conscious about how I love others AND myself….ALL parts of myself. Those I accept, those I don’t yet know, those I judge and try to cut off, and those I value as the best parts of myself.
I chose the raising of Lazarus Gospel story for this morning because of the power of its metaphor. We are born and baptized into our being and we enter into the world in our own unique belovedness. This unique inner self encounters a world that includes violence, disconnection, and fear. But our inner self is resilient and has ways of protecting itself. Our inner self protects itself by developing personas to defend it from annilation.
We experience the trauma of being out of control so we become controlling. We experience the trauma of being shamed for not doing it right so we become perfectionistic. We experience the abusive hurt of others’ woundedness so we learn to be defended to keep us safe.
Eventually, these become our tombs. Today as Jesus invites Lazarus out of the tomb, I invite you to hear those words yourself.
I have come to bring you life.
The death of Lazarus causes suffering. Jesus own tears point to the poignancy. However the story doesn’t end with Lazarus’ death, the story goes beyond just pausing and grieving. It acknowledges a greater truth and meaning.
Jesus pointed us to this truth when after four days of Lazarus being dead in the tomb, Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb to life.
The story of Jesus raising Lazarus is a compelling metaphor about our life’s work. God is “for us” to find freedom and spaciousness, not fear and isolation. The story seemed fitting for a time when we are seeking greater freedom and acceptance through important race and inclusion work.
Jesus said: I am the resurrection and the life! He who dies, yet shall he live.
I like the Greek which translates “yet shall he live as”: will have a life active and vigorous, the absolute fulness of life.
Paradoxically we have this absolute fullness AND we have life patterns that become tombs that we have little awareness of.
Growing up I always had a sense of being different. Somewhere along the way I internalized something that told me I needed to keep something hidden. Before I even put words around sexuality or difference I had a low level shame that kept me on guard for how I acted.
I think I knew for as long as I can remember that I was gay. I worked REALLY hard and intentionally to live a different truth. I didn’t utter a word to anyone about my sexuality until I was 24 years old. That is a goodly amount of time to build a tomb of reinforced brick, mortar, and to shore it up with some steel re-bar.
The external sources of tomb building were a belief system counter to God’s will for my freedom. When I was in junior high, I perused the pastoral care books in my father’s library where it was clear that homosexuality was a sin. The words of the church authors deepened feelings of shame that flooded my heart and mind.
Paradoxically, I loved church. I found community, comfort, and joy in the church while also knowing that certain words in church books rendered me a fundamentally flawed person. Somehow my naïve self was able to hold that paradox. Eventually that paradox would evolve into a complicated call to word and sacrament ministry and a call to an authentic relationship that was gifted into my life.
1992 was a very weird and confusing year. It was the year I was ordained and it was the year that my life-long partnered relationship began. I had to just trust that both calls in my life were truth for me. I didn’t know what else to do but to live into both of those calls. I remember a book by Bruce Bauer called “A Place At the Table” published in 1992 where he said “live your life as though things have changed.”
And that’s what I did, I lived as though things had changed. I took a call to congregational ministry in the city and I drove out evenings to our home in the western suburbs of Minneapolis to be a partner to Chuck and father to Anne and Blake.
Living this paradox took its toll in shame and hiddenness. Finally in the mid-90’s I began my process of coming out with friends and family. It was a step in the right direction but it challenged the tomb I had built for myself around don’t be who you are, be who you perceive what others want you to be.
Fast forward to 2004 I began a journey of certification as a Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor. Along with coming out, my certification process as a CPE supervisor was the hardest and most life-giving journey I have ever embarked on. The process is challenging because it required me to address issues of shame, authority, conflict, and integration.
Integration is demonstrated in hour and a half long committee appearances where the committee looks for a level of theoretical, relational, integrated authenticity. If you haven’t done the work, it doesn’t take long for the shame and hiddenness to show itself.
In my first committee I decompensated. It was horrifying. The committee granted me entrance into the program with one of the committee members framing my having done good enough in this way: “You didn’t run away from the room!” The only reason I didn’t do that was I didn’t think of it as an option.
Eventually I made it far enough in the process to meet my associate committee in Memphis TN. The day before the committee my grandmother died. I also got a call from my presenter that day that my video for the committee presentation didn’t work. Needless to say things did not go well.
I flew back to Minneapolis, drove to Kansas for my grandma’s funeral, got back home in time to go to Urgent Care to be diagnosed with pneumonia and then went to bed for a week. Two weeks later my 16 year old Sheltie died.
You know what’s interesting? I look back at that month as one of the worst and one of the best months of my life.
The universe was telling me I needed to address the confines of my tomb. Therapy helped me to sort out my shame and hiddenness that had been so painfully outed.
My spiritual work was trusting Jesus words: I am the resurrection and the life! You will have a life active and vigorous, the absolute fulness of life.
I needed to step out of my tomb. That meant owning who I was, owning what I felt, and living authentically.
I decided I couldn’t live in the “don’t ask, don’t tell” environment of the church…I needed to go and tell my bishop about my life and ministry. I needed to claim the fullness of my call to both the church and to my many years long relationship that happened to be with a man.
That may not sound like a big deal, but I’m the guy who never challenges authority. I pride myself on being politically astute in the workplace and I’m a master at getting people to like me. Going to the bishop was none of those things.
I will never forget that day. I can still feel the space that opened up in my heart as I risked all that was comfortable to welcome more of myself into the light.
The conversation with the bishop surprised me. My energy ended up not being around coming out, my energy became focused on the grief I felt about the impact of the church’s policies on my children. In the 20 years of helping raise my partner’s daughter and son, they had come to experience the church as irrelevant as it didn’t connect with the truth of their lives.
That day was transformational as I grew the space within me…what others didn’t see and what I didn’t see became seen. That brought me deeper into the Shawn that God called me to be, my belovedness.
Gratefully I experienced the inclusive welcome of my bishop. More importantly the experience opened me up to greater self-inclusivity. I began to honor my thoughts, my feelings, and my identity.
The journey of slavery to freedom in the promised land took the Israelites through the wilderness.
Part of what I love about West Denmark is the setting. Looking out the window, we are close to wild spaces. Writer Anne Sutherland Howard talks about exploring our own wilderness as exploring our wild space.
Wild space is that part in each one of us that doesn’t fit our culture’s definition of the good life. She explains it to work this way: Imagine a circle. Within that circle is the dominant cultural model: white, male, middle-class, heterosexual, educated, able-bodied, Western, young, successful. Now, put your own model of yourself over that circle.
Some parts of you may fit, some parts may not.
The part of us that falls outside the conventional circle is our wild space. The parts that do not fit may be obvious: race or sexual orientation or physical characteristics. Other parts that do not match up with the conventional model may not be so obvious to others: surviving the death of a loved one, a lost job, struggle with addiction or depression, the vague disappointment about not “making it.” Anything that may be a source for feeling ‘not enough’ or causes us to question the definition of success is our wild space.
Our wild space is a source for transformation for both the world and us. Our wild space is an opportunity to see a different vision of life. Our wild space is where we find spaciousness, creativity, and imagination.
Where are those edges for you today? What presses your buttons? What leaves you unsettled? Where are you resisting? Look in those places because there is something there that needs hospitality. Be patient, be kind, be affirming, and hold space.
Faith tells us that God will move us through something huge and our lives will be broken open. In the poetic words of Charles Wesley, we will be changed from glory into glory….lost in wonder, love, and praise. AMEN