Remembering Orlando — June 12, 2016

A response to the mass shooting at Pulse in Orlando. This Sermon was delivered by the Very Rev. Tracey Lind on June 12, 2016. 

“Remembering Orlando”
The Very Rev. Tracey Lind
Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland
Sunday, June 19, 2016
Proper 7C
1 Kings 19:1-15 – Luke 8:26-39

One year ago this week, we grieved the loss of nine innocent lives gunned down as they gathered for bible study at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  From this pulpit, I acknowledged that this atrocity – an act of terror and violence – while carried out by one man, was the result of racism in America: a demon we created and a social system in which we are complicit.

Today, we grieve the loss of 49 more innocent lives and the injury of 53 others who were gunned down as they gathered to celebrate life at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  Once again, this act, though carried out by one deranged, angry and fearful man, is the direct result of homophobia – a demon we created and a bias we still tolerate.

We have grieved the loss of lives due to mass shootings too many times in recent years.  According to the Daily Beast, “Since the Pulse nightclub mass shooting early [last] Sunday, at least 125 people have died in shootings and 269 were injured by guns.  Five of those incidents were mass shootings, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit tracking America’s gun violence.” We are witnessing an escalating crisis of gun violence in America exacerbated by the tremendous power of the gun lobby in our nation. 

However, both the mass killings at Mother Emmanuel AME Church and the Pulse Nightclub have more in common than gun violence. They are hate crimes. 

Both Mother Emmanuel AME Church and The Pulse were sanctuaries: one an historic house of prayer, service and solidarity for the African American community; and the other a place of acceptance, celebration and solidarity for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgendered, questioning, and queer folk.

Not unlike the church’s role in the black community, gay bars have long been welcoming places for LGBTQ men and women to come together to dance, sing, celebrate, and meet potential friends and life partners.  In spite of periodic police raids, gay bars have been safe places where we have turned for comfort and solace, affirmation and renewal, acceptance and love when so many other places in society – including our churches, schools, jobs and families, have rejected, condemned, discriminated against and even hated us.  Gay bars also have been gathering places where we have not only played, but where we have organized for our civil rights – remember Stonewall.   Gay bars have been holy places where many of us, including me, got the courage to come out and claim our God-given identity and then change the world for the better.  And now once again, the sanctity of one of our refuges has been violated.

The man who carried out this atrocity was a Muslim, but we cannot make this tragedy about radical Islamic terrorism.  Omar Mateen was an angry and hate-filled man, born and raised in the U.S.  He himself described being a part of two competing groups with totally different objectives, neither of whom have claimed responsibility for his actions.  As Sandye Wilson, my fellow Church Pension Fund Trustee, reminded us in her homily preached at our Board meeting Eucharist:

Yes, the man who killed 49 and injured 53 in Orlando was a Muslim.  But the man who killed the men and women in a Charleston, SC Church was not.  The man responsible for the mass shooting in the Aurora, CO movie theater was not.  The young men who killed their classmates at Columbine High School in Colorado were not.   The man who killed children and teachers in Newtown was not.  Let us not turn this horrible attack into one more reason to make Muslim and Terrorist coterminous.  The man responsible for the Orlando massacre was an angry, abusive man filled with hate.  Hate is hate no matter who perpetrates it.  Remember also that though the man was a Muslim, there was a Baptist preacher who said it was unfortunate he was not able to kill all of them because they all deserved to be lined up and executed by being shot to death.

Thus, we can’t use this tragedy as an excuse to vilify our Muslim neighbors, or ban Muslims from our country.  Nor, can we make it about organized terrorism.  No, we have to name the tragedy at the Pulse Nightclub, for what it is – a hate crime against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, most of young and many of them Hispanic.

On Tuesday, I called two of our parishioners who are lesbian Puerto Ricans to see how they were doing as I assumed this particular incident of violence might have hit close to home.  A few days later, I received an email reply with permission to share a portion of it with you this morning. 

“How we’re doing?  We are grieving… sons… and… daughters – People like us got killed and injured.  They are us, we are them – we are seeing our humanity in theirs.  So this massacre feels personal…

We “know” these sons and daughters; we “understand” the hopes and dreams that brought them to Orlando; we “get” how the waters were disturbed and to what extent the space to be, the right of self, the right to live and feel free and pursue happiness were desecrated around 2:00 a.m. on June 12 at that club.  We feel this loss…

It also occurred to us how much like Job are the families immediately and directly impacted by this massacre…getting one set of calamitous news after the other, culminating with the most grievous [message] of all:  “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house…when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them, and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

…How many times must the national house be struck by a mighty wind, collapse and fall into the next group of “7 sons and 3 daughters” for us to accept these acts affects us all…

Yes, we need to take action and organize our collective efforts.  But first, we must grieve. Then, perhaps, we’ll have the courage to set out like Jesus “who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him…”

So what would Jesus have us do?  What is the good he wants us to do? Jesus calls us to grieve as we listen to the stories of those who died, those who were injured, those who witnessed this atrocity, those who lost loved ones, and those who are afraid that it might happen again.  We have to listen to their stories, tell our own stories, and grieve.

But then what?  What comes after the grief and story telling?  How do we stop this madness?   We need to become the power of love, not revenge. 

I know that this is hard for some to hear.  As Alfred Hitchcock once said:  “Revenge is sweet and not fattening.”  However, there is an old Chinese proverb that says, “When you begin a journey of revenge, dig two graves, one for your enemy and one for yourself.”  In the end, revenge becomes a vicious cycle for which all of us pay the price.

The prophet Elijah, whose story we heard in today’s portion of the Hebrew Scriptures, is a great example of revenge running afoul.  The prophet had been very zealous for God – too zealous.  He craved retaliation and revenge in the name of the Lord for those who had forsaken the Lord’s commandments and followed the way of foreign gods and goddesses.

Elijah encouraged the people of Israel to seize the prophets of Baal and not let them escape so that he could kill them.  God didn’t order this revenge.  God didn’t tell Elijah to kill the prophets of Baal.  God didn’t tell Elijah to gather all the people and put the prophets to any test. Elijah’s task simply was to declare an end to the drought. But, Elijah got carried away. And then Elijah had to run away.

All by himself in the wilderness, Elijah prayed, “O Lord, take away my life.”   Thankfully, God was not vengeful. Rather, as the psalmist reminds us,  “God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”  God didn’t retaliate; but in sheer and utter silence, God forgave him.

This is a really important lesson for this morning.  First, we must grieve this incredible hate crime against innocent young men and women.  Then we have to resolve and recommit ourselves to love – even our enemies. 

As hard as it is to do, Jesus wants us to forgive – forgive the one who committed this atrocity, those who encouraged him, and those bystanders who in their complacency or outright actions, affirm his perverted deed.  How many times must we forgive?  At least seven times seventy says Jesus, (that’s times for each person killed at the Pulse) because until we are able to forgive, we will be imprisoned by our pain, anger, fear and grief. 

And then, we need commit ourselves to work for change: change in our nation’s gun laws; change in our nation’s attitudes towards and protection of the LGBTQ community; change in our misperceptions and misunderstandings of Islam; change in our posture toward immigrants and people of color; change in our political behavior – no matter on what side of the aisle we stand; and most especially, change in our hearts.

A year ago we celebrated the passage of marriage equality in this country.  Our work is not yet done.  We still need to pass non-discrimination legislation for the LBGT community: to ensure that people can’t be denied employment, housing, or accommodations because of sexual or gender identity. We also need to protect the LGBT community with appropriate hate crime legislation.

Two weeks ago, I spoke of our need to pass gun safety legislation in this nation.  We have to encourage our legislators, on both sides of the aisle, to not fear that third rail; but rather, have the conviction and fortitude to ban assault weapons and strengthen background check requirements for gun purchases.  It’s time to get brave and determined about gun control.

For years, we’ve been talking about race relations in this country.  If we’re ever going to heal the deep and abiding wounds of African slavery and racial segregation in our history, we must get honest about racism and work towards equity and inclusion. 

And finally, we must speak out for those whose lives and liberties are at risk.  To paraphrase the words of the 20th century German Lutheran Pastor Martin Neimoller:

We evicted Native Americans from their land,

But I didn’t speak out because I was not a Native American.

We enslaved African Americans,

But I didn’t speak out because I was not an African American.

We imprisoned Japanese Americans,

But I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t Japanese.

We restricted Jewish Americans,

But I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

We demonized Muslim Americans,

But I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Muslim.

We deported immigrant Americans,

But I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t an immigrant.

We condemned GLBTQ Americans,

But I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or queer.

Then we came after me,

But there was nobody left to speak out.

It’s time to grieve.  But it’s also time for all of us to speak and act in the name of love.  Amen.

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