Sermon–Jesus and Orlando Shooting–June 19, 2016


5 Pentecost–Proper 7-C

June 19, 2016

William Bradbury

1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a,  Psalm 42 and 43, Galatians 3:23-29, Luke 8:26-39

I first learned of the tragedy at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando as I drove from All Saints last Sunday on my way to my son’s house in Connecticut. 49 dead and more than 50 wounded.  My daughter-in-law who is from Orlando, said she and her friends liked dancing at the gay nightclubs since they were spared being hit. One of her friends living in Orlando received 56 text messages from friends on Sunday morning wanting to know if she was safe. 

Now of course no one feels safe: certainly the LGBT community doesn’t feel safe, when it is so easy for someone who is possessed by homophobia and other demons to buy a military-grade assault weapon.

Certainly, the Latino community doesn’t feel safe when there is an anti-immigrant hysteria being sown by those who believe America needs to return to the days of “Leave It to Beaver”, “Ozzie and Harriet”, and “Father Knows Best” when straight white men were in control, and everyone else was at best second-class.

The whole point of mass killings, beyond giving a feeling of importance to the one possessed by a spirit of nothingness, is to make everyone share the killer’s tormented existence of fear and hatred. After San Bernardino, Paris, and now Orlando everyone feels unsafe on some level.

And when we feel unsafe we become afraid and when we are afraid we regress emotionally and spiritually becoming like scared children who view every stranger as a threat and who turn to violence as a first resort.

We regress when we’re afraid unless we’re grounded in a reality much bigger and stronger than ourselves, a reality that can hold us when we can’t hold ourselves.

Jesus is confronted in today’s gospel by a man who is possessed by this same power of nothingness that afflicted the Orlando shooter. Theologian Karl Barth wrote that demons in the New Testament are concretions of the chaos and “the evil in the background and foreground of human existence…. [and these evil spirits are] the true enemies of God and His kingdom.”  But in the presence of Jesus the demon who inspires fear in others is now itself afraid. Church Dogmatics IV, 2, 230f.

This story once again makes clear that Jesus has a much bigger agenda than simply getting us to follow the rules and be good little boys and girls who will not rock the status quo. Rather he is sent by the fierce love of Father to free our species from the power of nothingness that infects us all. This evil power causes us to worship idols that divide the world up into categories of sacred and profane, good and bad, thus justifying our murderous rage against those we judge to be bad. There is no end to this because after enough killing has gone on, everyone has “proof” that the other is in fact evil and worthy of death.

There is no solution to this cycle of violence to be found within the cycle of violence itself. All we have is the illusion that we can free ourselves by killing all the bad people. This solution is exactly what the evil wants us to do.   There is no solution to be found within the human realm as we’ve well proven by our countless wars, genocides, oppression, and terrorist killings.

The solution can only come from beyond us, from a higher power outside us and above us, who can lift us out of ourselves and into a new creation. Jesus Christ is the solution sent by the Father. Jesus is God’s beachhead of the New Creation. In today’s gospel he steps off the boat onto a literal beach and is confronted by a man possessed. This man’s symptoms were of the self-destructive type, but that may only be because he didn’t have a military-grade assault weapon. That would have changed the power dynamics and he might well have sought relief from his psychic pain by killing those whom he blamed for his broken life.

But the power of nothingness, chaos, and evil that possesses him is no match for the power of the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us in the depths of our brokenness. So the demons ask only to be allowed to inhabit unclean pigs, but since demons can only be destructive they drive the pigs off the cliff into the sea, thus consigning themselves to the abyss from which they came.

The man is now free, clothed and in his right mind, something he could have never achieved on his own. He wants to join the disciples but Jesus sends him back to his home as a witness to “how much God has done for you”, so he returns to his home proclaiming how much Jesus has done for him.”

If we want to talk about what God is doing all we have to do is describe what Jesus is doing.

Jesus fills the church with his Spirit so it can be said that the church, even All Saints, Chelmsford, is empowered to be a beachhead of New Creation. We do this by proclaiming in word and action what Jesus is doing for us and by standing up to the powers that are enslaving our sisters and brothers.

In 1933 Ernst Kasemann, a prominent German Biblical scholar, refused to join the German Evangelical church in supporting Hitler and the Nazis Party. In 1937 he was put in prison for preaching a sermon. The text of his sermon was Isaiah 26:13 which reads: “O Lord our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us, but we acknowledge your name alone.”

In his memoir Kasemann writes: “Discipleship of the Crucified leads necessarily to resistance to idolatry on every front. This resistance is and must be the most important mark of Christian freedom.”

What idols are still being worshiped today both inside and outside the church: homophobia, racism, sexism, classism, and any other “isms” that seek to control the world by dividing it up.  And of course let’s not forget the idolatry of money which divides the world up between rich and poor.

But Paul today reminds us of the vision of the New Creation: that for those clothed with Christ through baptism, “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.”

This vision of New Creation is not just a vision of equality, but even more, it is a vision of unity: all are one in Christ. What the powers want to divide God is reuniting through Jesus his Son, who “though he is in the form of God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

All Saints is called to be a beachhead of the New Creation. To do so we follow the Crucified One in his solidarity with those being oppressed by this present darkness.

In Christ we stand with the LGBT community; we stand with the Latino and other immigrant communities; we stand with the poor and dispossessed, the sick and the suffering. We seek not to annihilate those possessed by the demons of hatred, fear, and violence, but to work and pray for their healing.   We stand with each other because we have been made one in Christ and that is our deepest witness to the New Creation of Triune God.