Friday, November 2, 2012

All Saints: A Day for All Families

Last night, over 1,000 people of faith from congregations across Minnesota were joined by clergy and denominational leaders, members of the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus, and a mass choir, to celebrate a service of "All Saints: a Day for All Families." The service was hosted by Minnesotans United for All Families and Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in downtown Minneapolis.

The Rev. Bradley Schmeling, senior pastor at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St. Paul, preached. His sermon referenced the proposed amendment to the Minnesota that would ban same-gender couples from marrying:

"I don’t think the people who are pushing this amendment understand the power of Jesus to call us out. Every time we come out, name our families, invest in life, it’s a response to divine impulse to live. Once you’ve pulled up the drapes, or marched down the aisle, or opened the door, there ain’t no closing it again."  

See below for the full text of this wonderful sermon.

The Rev. Bradley Schmeling
John 11:32-44
"All Families, All Saints "

Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church
November 1, 2012

Sermon by the Rev. Bradley E. Schmeling

I’m humbled by the invitation to be here tonight. It’s a joy to be with you at this important time.  My partner, Darin, and I have only lived in Minnesota since this summer. We moved here from Georgia, a state that already has a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Darin was living in Minneapolis when we met at a conference.  I only knew Minnesota by reputation.  Of course, I knew about the density of Lutherans.  But I also knew Minnesota to be a state with a strong commitment to community life: a place where the safety net was more secure, schools that ranked high, health care that is more accessible, the home of Hubert Humphrey, Paul Wellstone, Ollie and Lena, and that big burly Paul Bunyon. It’s a testimony to the power of love that Darin was willing to move from a state that’s predictably blue, at least on the weather map, to the red clay of Georgia.

It was just after we met that Georgia placed the amendment on the ballot and adopted it with 76 percent of the vote.

Imagine our delight when Jesus called us to come out of Georgia. How ironic that one month after the call was extended, the Minnesota legislature put the proposed amendment on the ballot.

Every time we move, the state proposes an amendment trying to eliminate gay marriage.  States are starting to send us messages.  “Stay where you are!”

Are we really that dangerous?  I mean, really?

Look around this room.  This is the group that signals the downfall of American values?  I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but you don’t really look that dangerous.  You’re here with your families.  You’re worried that the service will go too long and your children will get to bed too late.  You’re here with your grandparents, your mothers and sisters, your brothers and your fathers.  You’re here with members of your church.  You’re here with your clergy.

A constitutional amendment is required to keep this gathering in check?  An amendment to keep us from making promises “until death do us part?”  An amendment to keep us from building the emotional and social structures that will take care of our children and prepare them to take their place in a next generation? An amendment to keep us from taking care of each other in joys and sorrows, in plenty and in want?  An amendment to make sure we do not take our place along with everyone else in a free society?


It’s not just sad; it’s outrageous.  It’s infuriating to have to fight for recognition, to spend such money to protect a basic freedom.  I have to admit that moving to Minnesota when this amendment is on the ballot just makes me mad.  All we wanted to do was move to a state with a great social history, settle down into our new jobs, hang some drapes, and bicker about the placement of the knickknacks.

When Jesus arrives at the tomb of Lazarus, too late to heal him, the text says that he was deeply disturbed, and he wept.  Later in the story, when people are critical of his delay, it says again that he’s deeply disturbed.  This little section of the story is often used to demonstrate the humanity of Jesus; how much he loved his friend, how compassionate he was.  One of my teachers at Emory, Gail O’Day says that the problem with the translation in the NRSV is that it doesn’t capture the full meaning of the Greek.  It’s not that Jesus is greatly disturbed.  He’s not sad or grieving.  He’s mad.   (You know how I’d rather say that, right?  But it’s All Families night.)  He’s outraged.[1]

It changes the story, doesn’t it?  It gives it another layer, an edge. The emotional background of the raising of Lazarus isn’t so much sorrow as it is anger.

Is he stirred up and agitated at death?  Angry at it’s power to roll stones over graves or to slam shut closet doors?  Angry that so many in the crowd stand back and just watch it all happen? Maybe he’s angry at the grumpy people in the back row who are so sure they know the trajectory of the future?  Maybe he’s angry that suffering and oppression interrupt life again and again, life that God intends to be joyful and abundant?  Maybe he’s just fed up with the smallness of their imagination? Maybe he’s angry at what fear can do to a community?

It seems powerful that, rather than lash out or fling judgment at their unbelief, Jesus practices resurrection.  Anger draws him to act, not to limit, not close, but to open, to set Lazarus free.

Roll the stone away!  Open the door!

Lutheran pastor and writer Walter Wangerin tells the story of a 90-year old woman that he came to know when he was young and assisting a pastor with ministry.  She invited him to her home because she knew he was a writer.  And she told him that she was a writer, too; that she would be his mentor, if he wished. 

Emily Dichter had been compelled to write, but in the last decade of the nineteenth century, it was not seemly for the wife of the school principal to engage in such pursuits.  Her duty was to marriage and family.  But she wrote, anyway, when the children were sleeping, in the afternoons when her husband was away, behind drawn drapes where no one could see her. 

She began helplessly, devoutly to write a biography of Katherine Luther.  When it was finished, she mailed it to the only publisher she knew, a Lutheran press.

The publisher answered.

“Emily Dichter waited until she was alone.  And then she took the letter into her dining room, slit the envelope, unfolded the single sheet of paper, and devoured three lines of print, “Congratulations….”  She told him, “I laughed aloud.  I twirled me around the dining room like any child.  My skirts ballooned, my arms went up, my hair flew backward.  I cried for joy to God in heaven—and I danced.  I danced.  Oh, how I danced that day.”

“But before she danced her joy, Emily Dichter went to the window and shut the drapes.  The community must not see such vanity.  The community would despise the sin in her.  Therefore, Emily Dichter, writer, splendor, God’s bright eye—she danced in the dark.  Alone.[2]

O Minnesota, Is that what you would have us do?  To have each of us pull down the shades before we pick up our children and twirl them around, giggling in delight?  To make promises and build lives outside the view of everyone else?  To sneak into hospital rooms, pretending we’re a good friend?  To interpret our commitments, our promises, our our families as sin?

I don’t think the people who are pushing this amendment understand the power of Jesus to call us out.  Every time we come out, name our families, invest in life, it’s a response to divine impulse to live.  Once you’ve pulled up the drapes, or marched down the aisle, or opened the door, there ain’t no closing it again.  It’s like baptism.  Once you’ve baptized a child, named her as child of God, marked her with resurrection spirit, it’s too late.  The shades are up.  The stone is rolled away.  Lazarus is out.

This is what God does; what God is determined to do; and will do, no matter what happens on Tuesday.  Not only is Lazarus raised from the dead.  Jesus is alive.  And we’re going to get married if we want to, because love always wins.

Now, love always has some backlash.  It was the raising of Lazarus that set into motion the plot to crucify him.  That wouldn’t work either.  That would only open the door once and for all, for everyone, to come out into life.  The backlash may create setbacks and require additional strategy, but it cannot win the day.

People raised from the dead are not easily controlled.  When you’ve brushed up against the love of God, you’ve got a story to tell. They’re going to witness to the power of love.  They’re going to point to the narrowness of old, limited ways.

And they’re going to vote.  You might call the raising of Lazarus “Jesus’ radical get-out-the-vote strategy.”  Of course, someone’s going to say, “Was that a dead man voting?  We’re going to need to start requiring identification for that!”  They would run ads that ended, “I’m Pontius Pilate, and I approve this ad.”

What’s most powerful in this text is that, while Jesus calls new life into being, he gives it to the community to make concrete:  “Unbind him, and let him go.”

The task of resurrection, the liberation of the captives, the healing of the nations, is given to community that has gathered around Lazarus; the community that is gathered around Jesus.  Lazarus will only be as free as they help him to be.  The power of Easter itself is placed within our hands, within our families, within this gathering of saints.

I don’t know how next Tuesday will go.  I pray that the constitution will not be used to bind our freedom.  But, either way, we will be left with the mission to unbind those who yet struggle to come alive fully.  The vote next week will not change the laws that prohibit same sex marriage.  That is a stone yet to be rolled away.  There will still be children who need a voice of love to come out.  There will still be many in our community who dance with their beloved behind drawn shades.  There will be those who have been deeply wounded by the rhetoric and outrageousness of this campaign.  There will be many who believe that the church stands on the side of oppression.  There will still be a need to meet, understand, and love those who are mysteriously afraid of us. 

There is much unbinding to be done.  Our society is still wrapped in grave clothes.

But, let us be clear, at least for this hour with the saints, that we carry the power of Christ’s resurrection, the power of God’s life in our very hands, power to speak with the authority of love:

Roll that stone away.

Come out.

Let my people go.

[1] Gail O’Day, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX, Luke and John, Abingdon Press, 1995, p. 691.
[2] Walter Wangerin, Jr. “The Manger is Empty:  Stories in Time,” Harper and Row, 1989, p. 97.


  1. Thank you so much. This sermon made me cry and made me remember why at age 28 I had water poured over my head and joined this community. Because life without G*d and without this unending love is a desert, fruitless and empty. And with G*d, it flows with mercies and blessings.
    Christine Howlett

  2. This was SUCH a moving sermon to hear in person on Thursday night. Thanks for providing it here!

    T. Todd Masman


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