This sermon was preached on June 19, and based on Galatians 3:26-29.
Last Sunday, we awoke to an all-too-common headline: Mass Shooting – 50 dead. I tried to call us to prayer about it, but stumbled through. I stumbled because I was shocked and disgusted, mad and sad, confused. I wanted to say something, but didn’t know how – or what. Like the Psalmist, I wanted to shout, “How long, O Lord?” How long will we be submitted to this particular kind of evil? How long will innocent people be slaughtered by people so filled with hate and pain?
This particular crime combines several of the most fear-inducing elements in our society. It pushes several “buttons” that elicit powerful reactions:
- A man, Omar Mateen, of the Muslim faith,
- who pledges allegiance to a terrorist organization (and possibly more than one!)
- Seemingly at random murders 49 people.
- These people were customers of a night club that caters to the gay and lesbian community,
- Of which Mateen might have been a member; reports of deep sexual identity conflicts within his own self have emerged from close friends and an ex-wife.
- He uses a semi-automatic weapon, an “assault rifle.”
- It is, at the same time, an act of terrorism, a hate crime, and a suicide that combines fear of the other, both political “others,” and sexual “others.”
It is a “perfect storm” of evil, hatred, and fear. No wonder we are speechless! When the fear subsides, when we realize we are all still standing, still safe, the rhetoric begins:
- He was a “RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORIST!! CLOSE THE BORDERS!!”
- He used an AR-15 – “BAN THEM!!”
- He killed gay men and lesbians – “STOP THE HATE!!”
The saddest part is that the deaths of 49 innocent men and women have become a “political football” with which competing “teams” try to score a touchdown. It’s not just political opponents, either. Christians are trying to “score points” off this tragedy, too.
- Leave to America’s favorite TV evangelist, Pat Robertson, to say we should just stand aside and let both sides – Muslims and Homosexuals – “kill each other off.”
- A Sacramento, CA, pastor said that the real tragedy is that more didn’t die.
There have been more loving Christian responses:
- “Christianity Today” magazine reminds us: “We Christians also recognize that this is at heart a spiritual battle with what the apostle Paul calls the “principalities and powers.” And that gives us a clue as to what, in addition to our social service as citizens, our unique contribution can be at times like this: prayer.”
- Our own Bishop sent out the prayer we prayed earlier in the service.
Can all us Christians just stop and mourn for a little while?
Can we, like Jesus, weep at the death of a friend? A loved one? An innocent stranger?
Can we cry with the families who lost sons and daughters? Brothers, sisters, partners?
Can we cry over the wasted life, the hatred and fear that drove the shooter?
Can we be sad that someone could not access the best of his faith – whatever that faith is – and seek to live in peace with the world?
It is all too easy for humanity to divide. Too simple to fight over what should have been done? Could have been done? Will be done next time (and, sadly, we know there will be a “next time”)?
It’s easy to fight. It’s easy to hold up “those people” as objects of fear – be they Muslim or Gay. It’s easy to blame. It’s all too easy to hate.
Into all this comes Paul’s letter to the Galatians. I did not choose this passage. It was assigned by the Revised Common Lectionary. I decided to preach from it weeks ago, when I decided to do this series on Galatians. A “holy coincidence“ like this is why I preach from the lectionary. Hear Paul’s word to the divided Galatians as a clarion call to us divided Americans:
26 You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.28 There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 Now if you belong to Christ, then indeed you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29 CEB)
There are some who believe these verses were the main point of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
Paul’s opponents, “The Judaizers,” preached “You must be a Jew first, then a Christian.” This put undue burdens on the Gentiles who were coming to the faith. It also divided people into “us and them,” setting up a dynamic that would foster elitism and exclusivism – a religious “racism” of sorts. Paul reminds his readers that Christ came to do away with all the division. Jesus wanted all people to be part of his family.
Events in Orlando remind us of the danger of neglecting our “family ties” with all people. We get so caught up in “us vs. them” that we forgot to look at all people as brothers and sisters – or potential brothers and sisters.
James C. Howell, pastor at Myers Park UMC in Charlotte, NC recently asked, “What can we do?” Many of us have been asking the same question. here are his answers:
It’s time to talk to God and get a lot of things straight:
- The only category we have for such a tragedy is “sin.” Sin is a condition of the entire fallen world.
- Christians have tolerated, created, and funded a culture obsessed with guns, violence and depravity.
- We have propped up politicians who pander to fear and talk tough.
- It’s time to repent!
It is time to reconcile.
- When we debate issues, we forget that those issues are people. They have names. They are someone’s son or daughter, wife or husband. Someone mother or father!
- “I wonder if hard-fisted judgment in church might just foster a culture in which hatred is not just acceptable, but also holy.”
It’s time to pray.
- Pray fervently. Not just to comfort the grieving, but for God to “turn the world on its axis, to change a nation, to convert hearts, to temper a culture bent of mistrust.”
- Ask God what we can do as individual Christians and as a church – to repent from tolerating violence, and to reconcile with those who should be our brothers and sisters in Christ.
This is an opportunity to show the other-worldly love of Jesus – that knows no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female – the love in which we are all one.
Josh Dafern, in Patheos.com blog “called New Wineskins” says:
- Let’s lay down our condemnation and judgment towards a segment of society that we typically disagree with and mourn with them.
- Don’t be angry at them. Be angry for them.
- Christians have an opportunity to show love and compassion to two groups of people that we have historically alienated and condemned: the LGBTQ and Islamic communities.
- Christians, find a gay friend or an Islamic friend and express your heartfelt sympathy for this act of horror.
- Jesus would have done so.
Jesus would have done so . . . will we?