(Note: I preached from notes today, so the audio text will be expanded from the notes below)
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En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.
Intro: the preacher thanks the intercessor who added the intention of the Orlando shooting to our prayers last Sunday. We had no idea the scope of this tragedy as it would unfold throughout the days to come.
As we drove home from her, I got a call from my mother. She was panicked to know that my daughter (who is a lesbian) was OK. My daughter lives hundreds of miles from Orlando, but it wasn’t a rational fear my mother was experiencing. She was touching the fear every LGBTQAI (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Questioning/Queer, Asexual, Intersex) sisters and brothers experience everyday: the fear of being hurt or killed because of their sexual identity.
Share Rev. Wayne Nicholson’s (St. John’s, Mt. Pleasant, MI) letter (See below). This is the time for their voice, not ours. We, who are allies, must listen to them and what they need.
…We had awoken, of course, to the horrific news from Orlando: Forty-nine people shot dead at a gay bar by a murderer with an AK-15 assault rifle, 53 others seriously wounded.
To my GLBTQ community, I am with you with a broken heart, I share your anger, your fear, your love.
To my heterosexual community, I am with you also, but you must understand: This was not just an attack on Americans, this was not just the act of an Islamist lone-wolf terrorists, this was the murder of forty-nine people because he assumed they were gay. This was the murder of men and women, straight and gay, brothers, lovers, friends, uncles, sons, daughters, and at least one mom. Because they were in a gay bar. Not a "youth club" or any other sort of nightclub, a gay bar. (I'll not rant my disappointment at public leaders, including leaders of our own Church, who have avoided saying "gay" club... And I send my thanks to the Lt. Governor of Utah, of all people, and the Bishop of West Tennessee, who have not shied away from the acronym LGBT nor the word "gay.")
You must understand, also, that GLBTQ people, no matter how "out," no matter how confidently visible, live in constant, constant anxiety: "Why is that person looking at me? Am I safe? Can I touch my husband's hand here at Ric's?" We check our surroundings, we look over our shoulders, we avoid any public display of affection that you would take for granted because we never know who might take offense, who might be outraged, who might be dangerous. This is our life. Every. Damn. Day.
And now for some of us that anxiety has returned. Three weeks ago I was in the pulpit. Midway through the sermon a man entered the back of the church, a man I didn't recognize. He was taking the back pew, eyes forward toward the Altar (or me), reaching in his pocket. For some reason I had this moment of fear: "Who is he? Why is he late? Why is he reaching in his pocket? Does he have a gun? Is my time up?" And then, by grace, my fear abated with the thought and prayer, "All shall be well."
Homegrown terrorism is a fact. Accessibility to weapons created to kill large numbers of people is a fact. Right-wing extremism is a fact. Denunciation of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people is a fact. And it is reprehensible and un-Christian. And it contributes to terrorism. I believe that companies which sell AK-15 rifles, people who espouse fanaticism of any sort, and so-called Christian leaders who tell me I am intrinsically disordered, who say the people in the bar got what they deserved, who shun me because of who I love, are complicit in the tragedy of Orlando. They all have blood on their hands.
But I must return to the thought and prayer, "All shall be well." And I must heed the words of St. Paul that "faith without works is dead." Prayer is good. But prayer isn't enough. I must speak out, I must name the crime for what it was.
And I must love, and I must have hope.
Wayne is right: prayer isn’t enough. We must also act in solidarity with our LGBTQAI family – listening to them as they tell us, their allies, what they need from us – and in our gospel today, Jesus demonstrates for us exactly how to do that. It’s a spiritual habit any of us, in fact, all of us, can and should cultivate.
Before we get to that, let’s review a few things in this story.
1. NAMES (last week): “magnify the name of God.” The 8th chapter of Luke begins by naming the women following Jesus, which was the conclusion of our lectionary reading last Sunday. The issue of naming was very important in the culture of Jesus’ time.
• (Hebraic) how you are known… details and feelings that one experiences upon hearing the name. E.g.: Francis of Assisi. Watch any victim of violence respond to hearing the name of their perpetrator.
2. DEMONS (Today): Anyone who speaks of demons is considered unsophisticated, superstitious, unscientific.
• E.g.” Legion” would be listed in the DSM 5 as Multiple Personality Disorder (at least on the first axis)
• “Not in their right mind” is a phrase we still use today, but we hear it as someone who would benefit from therapy, medication, or medical intervention (elderly person with an UTI)
All that may be true, but as one commentator put it: would therapy have stopped Hitler? Would medication have changed the murderous way Stalin or Pol Pot or Idi Amin?
There’s more to this concept of demons than science can manage.
Luke describes Mary Magdalene as one from whom 7 demons had gone out.
• In ancient Biblical understanding, the number seven:spiritual perfection, completeness, and the work or action of God.
• Demons – devils: general divine agency/a higher power. Later it was used to refer to destructive power, esp. morally.
I’ve heard many refer to addiction as a demon - destructive power. My experience with the chronic repetition of destructive lifestyle of some abuse victims affirms this too.
The demoniac, however he is understood, is possessed by a destructive force. How Jesus acts in this story is remarkable:
1) Jesus went to the demoniac (everyone else ran away in fear) and began a relationship with him where he was, as he was.
2) Jesus asked him his name.
3) Jesus listened to him and gave him what he asked for.
The symbolism in this story is so rich. Let’s listen to some of them in spiritual – not literal – terms:
• a Gentile (a despised outsider) living among the dead
• naked (unclothed by the spirit of Christ), wild (spiritually undisciplined), and bound with chains (sin)
• Legion: a Roman army of about 6,000 soldiers. It symbolized “the occupying forces whose power was overwhelming and whose presence meant the loss of control over every dimension of their society.” (Source: Keith F. Nickel, Preaching the Gospel in Luke, 120)
• the abyss (bottomless pit of nothingness, powerlessness)
• the pigs (unclean, despised by Jews)
• the drowning
• the rebirth of the man
• the fear of the onlookers
So, what’s the spiritual habit I mentioned we need to cultivate as followers of Christ? It was in our Collect: perpetual love. We need to walk into relationship with the demoniacs we encounter. We can be willing to walk into their darkness confident of the light of Christ we bear. It takes practice and there are parameters to follow:
1. Walk to them.
2. Don’t judge them or try to fix them. Just love them.
3. Listen to them as a prayer (meaning behind the words).
4. Stand still while God works.
5. Recognize that most people are afraid of change.
6. Remember a divine seed is being planted.
Jesus sent the man home with instruction to tell everyone the great things God had done for him. This was a seed of divine love planted by Jesus and harvested later by St. Paul in his ministry to the Gentiles.
The lesson for us as members of the body of Christ is: Detach from outcomes. Sometimes we are asked to simply to plant a seed, not to reap a harvest.
As we did with “seeing” one another last week, I pray you will practice and build this new spiritual habit of perpetual love here, with one another, then take it out there to the world – magnifying the name of God in the world.
Close with prayer/poem by St. John of the Cross as a response to the Orlando shooting.
It’s called: "If you love"
You might quiet the whole world for a second
if you pray.
And if you love, if you
our guns will wilt. (Source: Daniel Ladinsky, trans., Love Poems from God, Penguin Compass, 2002, p. 317)