Transforming Tragedy June 19, 2016

Text:  1 Corinthians 15: 50-58

Prayer:    O Lord, help us to be still and know your loving presence.  May we know you as our God and we as your children, whom you deeply love.  In Christ’s name we pray.  Amen.

The news last Sunday morning was shocking, confusing, and unspeakably tragic . Yet another horrific slaughter joins the list alongside Virginia Tech., Aurora Theater, Sandy Hook Elementary, San Bernardino and many others.  What in God’s name is happening?  There is so much pain.

I don’t need to review the details of what took place in this night club shooting.  We’ve heard so much and will hear more as the investigation into this case continues.  But what can we draw from our faith to help us deal with it?  What can we learn or do that will make a difference in our lives and our community?

Let’s look first at our faith. When we look at the life of Jesus, there are some overarching themes that continually established who he is and who he hopes we will be. A lot of times, as believers, we find ourselves arguing about what Jesus was really about — but at the end of the day, there are some bottom lines that we agree on.  Most of these are found in the Sermon on the Mount: a how-to guide for life that is free from hypocrisy, full of love and grace, full of wisdom and discernment.

It’s about loving enemies, not killing people, valuing life, not seeking revenge, looking out for the people who are in need. In short, loving all people, period, nothing more —  nothing less. As a pastor once said, “You’ve never locked eyes with anyone who doesn’t matter deeply to God.”

In the sermon on the mount, which is the distillation of Jesus’ teaching  as well as in the entire canon of his life, Jesus goes painfully out of his way to make sure everyone knows that every person, every life, every soul —  matters.

Yet when these truths were stirring in my heart this Sunday morning, I wondered — will the church in America heed the words of Jesus in the same way? I don’t know. Because wrapped up in this mass murder, there is an ideological minefield. Pastors are going to be conflicted because of their views on homosexuality, assault rifles, ISIS, politics, and the list evolves…

Yet I fear the church in America will forget that it’s not really about any of those things. It’s about loving God’s people.

So church, throw open your doors! Mourn with those who mourn — without even the slightest hint of agenda. Offer your funeral services, for free, for every single person killed in this attack. Cook, and bring food to those getting out of the hospital — now. Load everyone in the church van and donate blood. In short, do what it is you do best — be the hands and feet of Jesus.

There is no justification in Jesus’ words for such tragedy, and there is no justification for the church to be anything other than the most loving, warm, and welcoming place in all of Orlando, or Stanwood and Camano Island.

The second point I want to ask, how will we respond?  I weep with those who have had a loved one killed or injured.   And please do not erase the fact that the shooter targeted people for death because they were lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.

Lamenting only gun violence or terrorism but not the homophobic hatred that fueled them dishonors the courage that each of the victims displayed in living their lives openly in a society where that can still be a death sentence.

When Christians are beheaded by ISIS in the Middle East, it would be offensive and wrong not to say why they were murdered, because of their Christian faith. The same is true when LGBT people are massacred in America. When people are targeted for who they are, you must name who they were to truly honor them.

What we need to hear is this: God loves lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people unconditionally. God loves all of us and so we are committed to making the church the inclusive community it always should have been.

There have been many early responses over the past week since the lives of 49 people were taken and 53 more people were left injured and bleeding in the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando early in the morning on Sunday, June 12th. Some responses have been predictable, because — unfortunately —  by now in our national life, they are all too familiar.

In some ways, as The Tonight Show host, Stephen Colbert, observed, “It’s as if there’s a national script that we have learned. And I think by accepting the script, we tacitly accept that the script will end the same way every time, with nothing changing.”

Indeed, nothing can change when people are drawn into a cycle of violence that leads to fear and scapegoating that leads to more violence, fear and scapegoating.  And to respond with hate is like using a hammer to fix cracks in a precious ceramic bowl. Violence only further breaks what we would repair.  The only force that can bring healing, to a world, a nation, a community, a family, a person, or even a cracked bowl is a mind motivated by love.

As Lin-Manuel Miranda summarized in an original sonnet he shared with our nation at the annual Tony Awards on last Sunday night after the shooting:

“We rise and fall and light from dying embers,

Remembrances that hope and love last longer

And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love

cannot be killed or swept aside.”

I believe that this is the summary of Christian faith for our day. The fact that this sonnet proclaims the Gospel comes from an inspired American (born in the northern Manhattan) and of Puerto Rican heritage causes me to hear the echo of the voices of those who died in Orlando within the violated sanctuary of Pulse Nightclub.  They were mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, somebody’s children, friends, committed partners, lovers, dreamers, and artists. At least three same-gender couples died together, and one of these couples will be buried together in death (Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22, and his 32-year-old boyfriend, Christopher “Drew” Leinonen), because they were not able to be married in life.

And of course we respond by praying for them.  But as many have said, prayer alone is not sufficient for the work we must do together. Jessy Briton Hamilton, a school teacher, and advocate within LGBTQ community, is also a member of The Episcopal Church.  He writes, “I believe very strongly in prayer, but the point of prayer is not to persuade God to grant our wishes, but to move us to action.

Prayer’s power is in its ability to move us to change; to transform us. And if you’re waiting for God to stop gun violence, terrorism, or homophobia, then you’ll be waiting awhile. You’ll be waiting until you wake up to realize that you are the only hands and feet and voices God has in this world. So keep praying, but don’t expect anything to change until we all come together to DO SOMETHING.”

The American Muslim community has reacted with an outpouring of love and support in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. The support came in the form of fund raisers, blood donations,and public statements that firmly condemned the violence.

Hassan Shibly, chief executive director of CAIR-Florida [Center for American-Islamic Relations], called for unity in a Facebook video, saying that it was important not to allow politicians to use this attack to “promote fear, division and hate” within America. “America is one of the best places in the world to be a practicing Muslim,” said Shibly, “to be Jewish, to be Christian, to be atheist, to be whoever you want to be, it offers us more freedom to practice our religion than almost anywhere else.”

Indeed, in the wake of the shooting in Orlando, many people — from many communities, ethnicities, faiths, and orientations of love, from both sides of the political aisle and across the economic spectrum are taking collective action.

President Obama, who has been confronted with addressing our nation no less than on 18 occasions of mass shootings prior to Orlando, shared the reminder that, “Regardless of race, religion, faith or sexual orientation, we’re all Americans, and we need to be looking after each other and protecting each other at all times in the face of this kind of terrible act.”

But the solutions to the complex set of interrelated issues that contribute to mass shootings in America will not be easy to achieve. The challenges involve several issues — such as mental health care funding and provision, immigration policies, gun legislation and regulation, discriminatory laws that reinforce old social patterns of prejudice and privilege, racist attitudes and beliefs towards immigrant populations and LGBTQ peoples, and fear-based assertions about the Muslim faith — just to name a few.  But we can make changes!  We can offer a new hope!

This morning’s scripture is a message of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians.  Who like most first century Christians suffered because of who they were as followers of Jesus.

As members  of  the early  Church,  they  were  part  of  a  minority  movement too, persecuted  by  both  Jewish  and Roman authorities.  As such, they faced many if not all of the adversities Paul mentions.

But this text is about the birth of a new world order — the Kingdom of God.  It’s about a new era that God is already working to bring into existence and will continue to until its final realization.  God is transforming death and destruction, sin and death and giving us victory in Jesus Christ.

And so he concludes, “So then, my dear friends, stand firm and steady. Keep busy always in your work for the Lord, since you know that nothing you do in the Lord’s service is ever useless.”

Paul holds out the assurance that with God they will overcome adversity, they will  ultimately  prevail.    And so Paul writes, “In  all  these  things, we  are  more  than conquerors through him who loved us.”

I want to conclude this morning with the concluding words of Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins:

“Love  is  what  God  is,  love  is  why  Jesus  came,  and  love  is  why  he  continues  to  come, year  after  year  to  person  after  person…. May  you  experience  this  vast, expansive, infinite,  indestructible  love  that  has  been  yours  all  along.    May  you  discover  that  this love  is  as  wide  as  the  sky  and  as  small  as  the  cracks  in  your  heart  no  one  else  knows about.  And may you know, deep in your bones, that love wins.”  Amen.

Prayer:  Merciful God in heaven: Grant, we ask you, peace and rest to those whose lives were taken in the mass shooting in Orlando, and comfort those who mourn them. Give strength and courage to those who were injured, and bless those who minister to them. Grant our nation the resolve to carry on living our lives with faith and dignity, that we may bear witness to your salvation, and may come eventually to know the joys of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.




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