Shut Doors and Open Wounds

 

A Sermon by Professor Cynthia Gilliatt mailto:gilliaca@jmu.edu

Preached on April 13th at St. George's, Fredericksburg VA

 

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

 

            Thank you, St. George’s, thank you Charles – for your open doors and your willingness to help heal wounds.

Today’s Gospel is a story about shut doors and open wounds. These are things many of us here today know about all too well.

            Many of us, and I am one, have lived behind shut doors, closed doors – closet doors – for fear of discovery, for fear of our friends’ and family’s rejection, for fear of losing our jobs, for fear of our church shaming and rejecting us, and for fear of violence.

            Many of us, and I am one, have lived with open wounds of our own, wounds of rejection, wounds of shame, wounds of depression, wounds of anger, wounds of loneliness.

            We have lived this fear and these wounds as gay and lesbian people, as bisexual and transgender people, and just as much as parents and friends and allies of gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender people.

            Sadly, those are fears of realities, of open wounds that really do hurt and sometimes kill.

            I come from Harrisonburg, and live about half an hour from the Skyline Drive.  In 1996, two hikers, two women, two Lesbians, were murdered north of me in the Park, savagely killed as they slept. Just this past week, at long last, the federal government has brought charges against the man whom they believe killed Jullianne Williams and Lollie Winans. He is currently serving a jail term for another assault on a woman.  If he is guilty of these crimes, and is brought to trial and convicted, justice will have been served, and that is a good thing, and the best we can expect in this life – but still it will not bring back Julianne and Lollie to life, to each other in this life, or to their families.

            So I will not minimize the fears that often keep some of us behind shut, closed, closet doors.  I will not gloss over the ugliness of the open wounds that some of us bear.

            But there is hope, there is good news in this story of shut doors and open wounds, because it is also a story that calls each of us, as Christians, each of us, as members of the Body of Christ which is the church, to ministry involving shut doors and open wounds.

            The hope and the good news is that the shut doors, the closed doors, the closet doors, are no barrier to Jesus.  The hope and good news are that in Jesus’ open wounds there is healing for our wounds.

In the narrative, shut doors are no barrier to the resurrected Jesus, the risen Lord. Jesus, whose victory over death is the victory of love.  The power of Christ’s transforming love brings love and hope into the locked room, and into the hearts of those fearful disciples. 

The power of Christ’s transforming love can burst open the shut, locked doors of the closets some of us have lived in.  The power of Christ’s transforming love can rid us of fear and shame. 

It is one of the ministries of each of us by our baptismal vows, to us as members of the Body of Christ, to bring this good news to members of our community who live behind doors shut for fear of … those very real threats.  God in Christ, God in the risen Christ for whom closed and locked doors are no barrier, loves absolutely everyone.  Closed and locked doors, even when those are, shamefully, church doors, are no barrier to Christ’s transforming love. This is the ministry of opening closed doors, that belongs to each of us as Christians, the Body of Christ.  It is the ministry of saying, hey, how are you?  It is the ministry of saying, hey, come to church with me.  It is the ministry of saying Jesus loves you, who you are and where you are – just as he loves me, who I am, where I am.

This is our ministry to those behind closed doors – a ministry of coaxing, of welcome, of, dare I say it? Evangelism.     

And that brings us to the other part of this story – and the other ministry of ours as Christians, as members of the Body of Christ – the ministry of open wounds.

Jesus’ open wounds, which he shows to the disciples, and which he invites Thomas to touch, must have been ugly.  Jesus really did die on that cross, and the marks of the nails and the spear’s wound would not have been improved by three days in the grave.  And they were and are ugly in another way too, for they are the marks of rejection, of hatred, of violence.  They are the antithesis of the transforming love that ignores shut doors and break through barriers.

But for Thomas, they authenticate Jesus’ identity, not merely as ‘the person I followed in life who was crucified,’ but Jesus who is “My Lord and my God!”   Those wounds have healing and transforming power.  They bring Thomas to faith.  As Christians, we believe that those wounds are signs of God’s transforming love, which turns hurt to healing, death to life.

We are called, as Christians, as members of the Body of Christ, to a ministry of wounds.  The church is the Body of Christ, and the church too has its ugly wounds, marks of rejection, of hatred, of violence.

For many of us, the church itself, the Body of Christ, has been a place of rejection, of hatred, and even, in extreme cases, of violence or the incitement to violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. 

Sometimes the rejection is unintended and unthinking, when in church publications and programs, family is defined always as a heterosexual couple with children, and all single persons are defined as heterosexuals who are no longer married or who are looking to be married.

Sometimes the rejection is clothed in the language, but not the spirit, of Christian love: “We hate the sin, but love the sinner.”  Sometimes the rejection is clothed in the language of concern and healing: “Come to our reparative ministry, and we will cure you of your sexuality.”

And sadly, sometimes the rejection is couched in words of hatred that can lead to violence, as with Fred Phelps and his so-called church.

These are wounds – ugly ones – on the Body of Christ.  And we are called to heal them, to transform them, so that all of God’s children will be and feel welcome in the church.

It is a hard calling, because institutions, in their earthly manifestation, resist change, and change slowly.  Sometimes it’s like something else from my part of the world – it’s like stalactites and stalagmites forming – drip drip drip.

It is a hard calling, and were we called to heal the church on our own, we would be daunted indeed.

But Christ who breaks through doors, and whose wounds heal, is with us.  He is with us in our witness to the church, He is with us in our witness to this Diocese, He is with those allies in the church who support us, He is with those who are intentionally welcoming, He is with those who invite Integrity on the road – He is with us in this place on this day. 

Jesus who breaks down shut doors, whose wounds heal, is with us today in Word and Sacrament, and He is with us in all that we do to open doors and heal wounds. He is our challenger and our sustainer in this call.  Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

              

           

             

           


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