ST JOHN’S, TOLPUDDLE
SUNDAY 4TH NOVEMBER 2018
Isaiah 25.6-9; John 11.32-44
I wonder if you noticed what words it was that Jesus spoke to Lazarus when he was hidden away in the tomb.
It’s a phrase that we use in a completely different context today. (Not that any of us would try to wake those we’d already buried or cremated.) Today the phrase is used by those who were once hidden away, too ashamed or shy to share their identity with the world, which had seen them in purely negative terms, as not really human beings at all.
The phrase “come out” is these days normally used by people in the gay or transgender communities, when they make the decision to declare their sexuality or gender identity in the public space.
For them it’s a phrase that marks that they will no longer live with that part of their identity closed off and hidden, but will reveal it to the world.
What does it mean in that context to come out?
For many, it involves courage, because they know that they will be condemned by another section of society.
It involves others’ stereotyping.
For some it marks the beginning of a new relationship, no longer seeing themselves as alone but redefined as someone’s partner.
Many will say that it means living openly as who they are, rather than trying to hide that away.
Many will gravitate towards spending time with new groups of people, people like them who will support, provide friendship, share experiences and so on.
They may become more vocal about standing up for their rights, speaking more freely against discrimination, holding others to account for what they see as perceived slights.
And many also discover that when they do come out, it’s often not a total surprise to those around them, who have worked it out for themselves already.
The phrase “out and proud” is one that they have made their own.
I wonder how we Christians compare in terms of our faith. Are we out and proud about being a Christian? Are we hiding in our equivalent of Lazarus’s tomb, or are we hearing Jesus’s call: “Come out.”
Jesus’s call to Lazarus was a call to life from death, a call to freedom from being bound by the grave, a call to follow not stay in one place. The call to Lazarus is a call to each one of us.
We can choose to live our lives as Christians hidden away but feeling safe and secure because we never risk leaving our comfort zone. Or we can hear Christ’s call out to come out and face all sorts of opportunities that we would otherwise miss.
In the words “come out”, there is an understanding that takes courage, a voice that speaks out, a pair of feet that walk forward.
The saints, old and new, are those who heard that call to “Come Out”. They were those who lived their lives as Christians openly. In many cases it led to trouble and hardship, but they knew it was worth it.
If we think about what is important to a saint, we have to start with the fact that they were people who heard God’s call. That was their starting-point. And then they moved forward taking risks but always knowing that they were held by the love of God.
Oscar Romero was recently canonised by Pope Francis. He was a man whose faith transformed his life. He was a man that heard Jesus’s call to come out of the darkness of being an institutional Christian, one in the graveyard of the establishment.
When he was first appointed they thought he would be another socially conservative establishment figure. How wrong they were!
Less than a month after his appointment, his friend Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit priest, was killed. He had given his life to working with people living in poverty.
This act of murder changed Romero deep down in his heart. He has been quoted as saying: “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, 'If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path.’”
And walk that same path, he did.
He began to speak out against poverty and social injustice. He railed against the torture and assassinations that were part of the government-of-the-times’s mode of holding onto power. He became outspoken for the sake of the Gospel. He condemned publicly the attacks on those who spoke out against the government and in favour of the people.
He himself was also assassinated – only three years after his friend had been murdered. In those three years, Romero achieved far more than in his earlier days, because he had made a decision to come out, to live fully in the light of what God called him to.
What is a saint?
A saint is someone whose heart is centred on following Christ.
A saint is not perfect, but someone who knows their failings and acknowledges them readily. A saint is someone who responds to the love of God by following Jesus Christ.
A saint is someone who desires to live a pure and holy life, whose faith is grounded in relationship with God and centred on prayer. A saint celebrates joyfully with the blessed and weeps mournfully with the oppressed and persecuted.
A saint is someone who models their life on the life of Jesus.
In their desire to follow the two great commandments, their lives begin and end with God, and as God transforms them they begin to see the world with God’s eyes.
What does that mean? To see with God’s eyes. It means viewing others with love and compassion before all else. It means seeking out the good in people and situations. It means drawing attention to the love of God in the world. It means not allowing ourselves to be cowed by fear or timidity in proclaiming our faith.
It means hearing the call of Jesus that our faith is not a private thing to be kept hidden but a living thing to be proclaimed.
It means viewing the many demands to help the poor and needy not as something extra to life but central to enacting the generosity of the God we follow.
It means always coming down on the side of justice and peace.
It means taking that step out of the tomb of security and safety and into the unbounded landscape of life and hope.
But the saints, of course, are not only those called to great things that we know and hear about. In the Bible the use of the word saint is applied all Christian people. You and I are, in that sense, the saints. How do we live up to the pattern that has set for us?
How do we look with compassion on the world with the eyes of God? It all starts on the inside looking outwards.
When we can live our lives so fully centred on God that nothing else come up even half as good, we know we’re getting it right.
All Saints’-tide unites life and death together. Death is always a difficult thing to face. But God calls us from death to life again. The call to come out offers us a way to light and hope and peace of such quality that only God can give it.
The day we look to is the day of liberation - the day that fulfils the promises we heard earlier in Isaiah, when God will call us all to the life-giving feast he has prepared, the day when the death shroud is finally vanquished for ever.
Before that time let us heed the call of God whose frequent cry is: do not be afraid. Do not be afraid for the Lord is with you wherever you go. Do not be afraid for God’s life is greater than anything the world can throw at you.
Do not be afraid, come out and live God’s life to the full.
We know of the saints of the past; we are united with them through the love of Christ.
Let us respond to the call to come out and be the saints of the present risking all for the love of Christ because we know that death is not the end but a call to new life. Amen.