St. Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church

3800 East Third Street

Bloomington, Indiana 47401

(812) 332-5252


Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (June 19, 2016)

Liturgical Color: Green

Reverend Doctor Lyle E. McKee


No Longer

Grace to you and peace from our creator God, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The readings this morning from Galatians and Luke carry profound meaning for us today. They resonate with gospel words that very much need to be heard, that offer comfort, and that suggest action in the context of the tragic and shaking events of last Sunday in Orlando, Florida.

If, for whatever reason, you are unfamiliar with what happened: There was a mass murder at a night club that caters to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Some 49 patrons were murdered, and the perpetrator was killed by police. What we have learned of the gunman remains somewhat confused, but there are several salient facts. He was a U.S. citizen. He claimed allegiance to ISIS. And he had been set off in part by being offended at seeing two men kiss some time earlier.

And so, we grieve as a nation, as Christians, and as people who are horrified by senseless killing in the name of religion or in the name of hatred or with the intent of instilling terror.

One of the survivors of the Orlando shooting helps us enter into the horror. She says she went from having the time of her life with her friends to the worst night of her life in a matter of minutes. Twenty-year-old Patience Carter read a poem to reporters about her survival that she penned as she lay recovering in the hospital on Monday night.

"The guilt of feeling grateful to be alive is heavy. Wanting to smile about surviving but not sure if the people around you are ready, as the world mourns the victims killed and viciously slain, I feel guilty about screaming about my legs and pain...Because I could feel nothing. Like the other 49, who weren't so lucky to feel this pain of mine. I never thought in a million years that this could happen. I never thought in a million years that my eyes could witness something so tragic. Looking at the souls leaving the bodies of individuals. Looking at the killer's machine gun throughout my right peripheral. Looking at the blood and debris covered on everyone's faces. Looking at the gunman's feet under the stall as he paces. The guilt of feeling lucky to be alive is heavy, it's like the weight of the ocean's walls crushing uncontrolled by levees. It's like being drug through the grass with a shattered leg and thrown in the back of a Chevy. Being rushed to the hospital and told you're going to make it, when you laid beside individuals whose lives were brutally taken. The guilt of being alive is heavy."[The Telegraph (London), 15 June 2016]

We grieve. We wonder. We pray. And today we read from scripture these amazing words: "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."

More often than I consider simply coincidental, the readings for a given Sunday speak well to what is on my heart. Today is certainly no exception. While we grieve over an act of phenomenal violence, we also grieve at the suspected motivations. Prejudice against people with particular sexual orientation or gender identification was clearly a significant part of this tragedy. Protest against political actions on the part of our government, understood as action against a particular faith, is another.

And we read the gospel as penned by St. Paul, "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female..." And our hearts break that this beautiful expression of the centrality of tolerance to faith is so widely disregarded or misunderstood or unrecognized as having any authority. Yes, Omar Mateen seems to have claimed a different set of scriptures. But his actions betray even those. And the poignancy of our grief over his acts aid us in realizing that far too many of the prejudices and angers that motivated him are considered acceptable in their less virulent and violent forms. For the conversations that have surrounded the current presidential race, and the statements of many of our leaders, and the conversations in all too many places take similar tacks. We can all too easily revel in the thought, however subtly we may let it seep into our consciousness, that we are somehow better or more righteous or more acceptable that someone else—or that we belong to a group with those more laudable characteristics.

If we claim to be Christian, Paul's words catch us up short: "There is neither... nor...for all are one in Christ Jesus."

I prayed about this sermon more perhaps than most. And I pray for the families and friends and party companions in Orlando. And I pray for people like Omar Mateen who are moved to violence against people simply because of who they are. I pray for the people I know who are stirred to hatred or revulsion or some other offensive feeling because of their being confronted with the love of others that they find disturbing. And I pray that my words may be heard here in a way that moves to compassion and action rather than serving to create more anger or resentment.

These things I pray because I would like to read another poem this morning. It seems to me an honest work that seeks to bring understanding, though I know that some of what the author says may give offense. It may move to tears. It may inspire. But I believe that it may help us to move more deeply into the gospel according to St. Paul. It may help us know more deeply that the love of others need not be a motivation for fear or anger or hatred or violence. Rather, love that grows between responsible adults is a thing to be celebrated and honored and encouraged, not reviled, judged, repressed, or killed.

The poem was penned on the day of the massacre by poet Jameson Fitzpatrick, a New York University lecturer, as an act of hope. He says, "I wanted to do something that felt empowering, to say that love is big and inextinguishable." I am editing it for length and to remove some of the more pointed political content.

A Poem for Pulse

Last night, I went to a gay bar

with a man I love a little.

After dinner, we had a drink.

We sat in the far-back of the big backyard

and he asked, What will we do when this place closes?

I don't think it's going anywhere any time soon, I said,

though the crowd was slow for a Saturday,

and he said—Yes, but one day. Where will we go?

He walked me the half-block home

and kissed me goodnight on my stoop—

properly: not too quick, close enough

our stomachs pressed together

in a second sort of kiss...

As I kissed this man I was aware of (people) watching

and of myself wondering whether or not they were just

people. But I didn't let myself feel scared, I kissed him

exactly as I wanted to, as I would have without an audience,

because I decided many years ago to refuse this fear—

an act of resistance. I left

the idea of hate out on the stoop and went inside,

to sleep, early and drunk and happy.

While I slept, a man went to a gay club

with two guns and killed fifty people. At least.

Today in an interview, his father said he had been disturbed

by the sight of two men kissing recently.

What a strange power to be cursed with,

for the proof of our desire to move men to violence.

What's a single kiss? I've had kisses

no one has ever known about, so many

kisses without consequence—

but there is a place you can't outrun,

whoever you are.

There will be a time when.

It might be a bullet, suddenly.

The sound of it. Many.

One man, two guns, fifty dead—

Two men kissing. Last night

is what I can't get away from, imagining it, them,

the people there to dance and laugh and drink,

who didn't believe they'd die, who couldn't have.

How else can you have a good time?

How else can you live?...

Now we have a president who loves Us,

the big and imperfectly lettered Us, and here we are

getting kissed on stoops, getting married some of Us,

some of Us getting killed.

We must love one another whether or not we die.

Love can't block a bullet

but it can't be destroyed by one either,

and love is, for the most part, what makes Us Us—

We will be everywhere, always;

Anywhere you run in this world, love will be there to greet you.

Let me share the words of "No Longer," which are based on Paul's dictum today. (suggested tune: "The God of Abraham Praise")

No longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free —

In you, O Christ, we're given wondrous unity.

Here in your church we learn that nothing can divide;

Here men and women, called by God, serve side by side.

No longer in your church should there be rich or poor —

You taught us kingdom values worth our struggling for.

Here some have wealth to give, and some, great faith to share.

The life we live together is an answered prayer.

No longer left or right, defending our own case —

O God, we're sinners in your sight, in need of grace.

The common bond we know is Christ who sets us free;

In Christ we live and love and grow in unity.

O God, we look around and know (each one) our guilt;

By your own Spirit, now break down the walls we've built.

When we were all baptized, we died to our old ways;

A church diverse, yet one in Christ, we give you praise.

The composer notes in her comments on this hymn: "One of the problems with divisiveness and conflict in the church is that while we are trying to solve it, the world goes right on by. We lose opportunities for reaching out to children, youth and young adults. We overlook evangelism needs. We make mission a lower priority than it should be. On the other hand, when we work as one body of Christ, "the life we live together is an answered prayer." [Songs of Grace: New Hymns for God and Neighbor by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette (Upper Room Books, 2009)].

Oh, how much we and all in our world need to hear the radically loving and accepting words of St. Paul. Let there be no longer--no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, no longer male or female or intersexual, no longer gay or straight, no longer Christian or Muslim, no longer Black or White, no longer Republican or Democrat, no longer privileged or poor. No longer... Amen.

 

 

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