Our God is a Gathering God

Our God is a Gathering God by David R. Weiss. 

Morning Chapel at Gustavus Adolphus College, October 11, 2011 – National Coming Out Day. The text is Isaiah 56:3-8, a passage where the doors to the community of God’s people are thrown wide open as a divine welcome is proclaimed to persons previously excluded (foreigners and eunuchs) and the promise of a wider welcome yet to come is declared.

Today, October 11, is National Coming Out Day. For 24 years now this day has been lifted up as a day for honoring the courage, the joy, the loss, the sorrow, the hope involved in coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer.

So it’s a good day to remember that we live with a “gathering God” who beckons each of us to step with integrity, authenticity and joy into the fullness of who we are. Yet, still today—especially in communities of faith—coming out as an LGBTQ person requires no small amount of courage.

And as an Ally, I work to extend Isaiah’s words of hope to people today. I “became” an Ally in the early 1980’s when I developed my first real friendships with several gay and lesbian classmates in seminary. As I got to know them as persons with bright minds, warm hearts, and sincerely felt vocations to serve God the social prejudices I’d inherited fell away. Through the quiet witness of their lives I became persuaded of God’s freedom to love, affirm, and include such persons in God’s community.

I was unambiguously an Ally to these persons … in private. In public, however, I was more silent than anything. Never dismissive. Never unsupportive. But as a straight man this wasn’t my issue, not my battle, not my reputation to risk.

In the mid 1990’s that changed. Dramatically. I’ll say more about my journey as an Ally when I speak tonight. This morning I just want to share one particular moment when I dared to make Isaiah’s hope real for others today.

I was teaching Theology at Notre Dame when an anonymous poem, written by a young gay man, appeared in a campus publication. Titled, “Living in Fear,” it recounted his four-year battle for self-acceptance on a campus where it seemed impossible to be both gay and Christian. He described waking up every morning and asking himself if this would be the day he would come out to someone … and going to bed every night admitting that today had NOT been the day. You could feel his hope being suffocated by silence.

His words became the occasion for me to claim my voice as an Ally. I found myself weeping, raging, and writing long into the night, producing a letter of response that I titled “Words offered at the end of the day to an unknown friend living in fear.”

I wrote:

You say, “God knows, but God loves me anyway.” Wait. Let me say it gently but firmly—unequivocally.  God does not love you “anyway”—despite your being gay. God does not need to overlook the way you are to smile at the beauty of your humanity, at the earthy reflection of divine love as you are gaily—and I don’t mean just “happily”—imago Dei.

Do you hear me, my friend? I will be downright strident about this because I see now that if God keeps silent in the face of your anguish, it is only because I wouldn’t lend God the use of my words. Well, here they are.

When Hosea spoke of a day when God would have pity on “Not-pitied” and would say to “Not-my-people,” you are my people—Hosea meant you, and I hope that day is now. When Isaiah welcomed foreigners and eunuchs into the Temple—well, Isaiah meant to welcome you as well. And when Peter was treated to that heavenly picnic of assorted forbidden foods it was to remind him of Isaiah’s same insight, that the church dare not exclude those who come at God’s own call.

When Jesus stopped to speak and sip with the Samaritan woman at the well, perhaps she, too, thought that his fellowship came to her “anyway,” despite her ethnic outcast baggage. But I tell you, my friend, and I am not scared to be flamboyant if need be: Jesus offered her living words and living water because of who she was. He relished her Samaritan beauty; he chose her for the Kingdom, and when he did, he meant for you to feel chosen, too, not despite, but because of your gayness.

Can you hear me, yet, my friend? I am not afraid to be audacious if I have to. When Jesus sent his disciples out two by two, he said to them if any town refused to welcome them in his name, well, on judgment day those towns would fare far worse than Sodom and Gomorrah. And Jesus meant to say as much to all you same-sex couples who, not unlike those disciples, come, two by two, hoping for a bit of hospitality from the church. What irony that we who have so long burdened you with the guilt of Sodom and Gomorrah find that the fire and brimstone are finally aimed our way.

I hope that you have heard, my friend.  I tremble for the silent “no” that closes out—and closets in—each day, the quiet daily unmaking of yourself by fears all too well founded. Against all this that you know so well I can offer only words—but maybe this is precisely what I have not done often enough or loud enough or long enough. So, I hope, my unknown friend, that at the end of this day, and the next, and on and on, that when you crawl beneath your covers of so much more than linen you remember these words I offer in gentle but firm—unequivocal, strident, flamboyant, audacious witness: You are loved by God already now, not “anyway,” but fully because of who and how you are.

And I wait with you for the day when “no” becomes “yes,” and you place yourself truthful in our midst. I wait patiently, because who am I to tell you when to step beyond the fears that we have heaped up in your way? And because who am I to think your fear is not, in part indebted to the comfort of my own silence? And I wait impatiently, because I know at least this much that God is anxious for you to share the joy God takes in the very beauty of who and how you are.

As an Ally on National Coming Out Day, I’m still doing what I can to make the room beyond the closet a little safer when someone decides it’s their moment to come out. And one way I do that is to declare that if and when you do come out, God will be there waiting to welcome you home.

Amen.

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