Following Jesus After Orlando

+ A sermon given for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) – at First Lutheran Church, St. Peter, MN on June 26, 2016 +

Texts: Luke 9:51-62

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

rainbow_window_cross012b-2b6002bpxTwo nights ago, I met up with some friends and went to Twin Cities Pride Festival for a beer tasting event. We were outside on a beautiful sunny evening, with tasty beer and everyone around us was having a great time. After that event ended, we all decided to find a gay club and go dancing. After much discussion and deciding, we found the right club with an ok cover price and went in.

The music was thumping and we were having a great time dancing and laughing and singing and loving life. I met a guy named Eugene who I was chatting with and having a great time. Life was good.

And then, right there on the dance floor, the most unwelcome question hit me. What would I do if someone stormed in and started shooting? Where would I go? Would I see the names of the people around me on a list of victims tomorrow? Would I see Eugene’s name? Would my name be on that list?

That’s what hatred does to Pride. Pride is an annual reminder for LGBTQ folk to proclaim to the world who they are and reclaim their identity as beloved children of God. But this is what Orlando has done to gay nightclubs – shaking former havens for those rejected by society by planting seeds of fear and doubt and hate.

We live in a culture that has been infected with hate. Too often we as a society fear the unknown – and it threatens us. When we feel threatened, we feel the need to lash out with violence rather than reach out in love and compassionate inquiry. We are too busy making people “other” and don’t recognize them as people. In Orlando, it was sexual orientation and ethnicity that “othered” the patrons of Pulse nightclub. Last year in Charleston, it was race that “othered” the people gathered to pray at Mother Emanuel AME Church. And the list goes on and on and on.

And I see this same theme when James and John react to their rejection from a Samaritan village in today’s Gospel reading. “Lord,” they said, “do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Lord, should we destroy this city because they don’t agree with us? Lord, should we kill them, because they’re foreigners, heathens, “others”?

But Jesus turns back and rebukes them. Jesus’ whole ministry has been a rebuke of this type of thinking. Wouldn’t you think that James and John, two of Jesus’ closest disciples, would have understood by now that violence is not Jesus’ mission? Don’t you think they could have gotten it that Jesus works through love – not hate? Didn’t they get that Jesus has set his face to Jerusalem?

You see, this reading is a turning point in Luke’s gospel. Jesus’ ministry before this has been based in Galilee, his home region. Now, he and his disciples are starting their journey to Jerusalem where Jesus will challenge the oppressive powers of this world.
Jerusalem, where the Roman occupiers oppressed the Jewish people.
swords-into-plowsharesHis face was set towards Jerusalem – towards God’s alternative vision of the day where we will beat our swords into plowshares and will not learn the ways of war anymore.
His face was set towards the vision of the day when the lion and the lamb will lie down together and a little child shall lead them.
His face was set towards the vision of the day when all of God’s people will join together at the banquet feast that will not end.
And Jesus was so committed to God’s vision of peace on earth that he had set his face to Jerusalem, determined to challenge the most powerful empire the world had ever known as well the corrupt religious authorities sitting in his temple.
He would challenge their rule of military might, oppression, and hatred with God’s vision for peace, justice, and love.
Jesus has set his face to Jerusalem knowing that his enemies will arrest him, unjustly convict him, and brutally execute him.
But even with the might of the heavenly hosts behind him, Jesus will not fight back – he will not respond to hatred with more hatred, but will testify to the redeeming power of love that overcomes hatred and even death.
Jesus will show us that God is with us in the midst of chaos and fear and will stand with us when we are afraid.
That God will not abandon us when we are surrounded by hate but will give us visions of God’s own peace when the violence will finally end.
And God will embolden us to follow Jesus to bring forth the kingdom of God where hatred will finally be conquered and love will reign.
Even when his closest disciples do not understand, Jesus is determined to get to Jerusalem to show the world that the alternative to violence, fear, and hatred is God’s own peace, compassion, and love.
And when religious leaders today promote hate and oppression in Christ’s name, Jesus rebukes them – just like he did with James and John.

And Jesus calls us, the Church of God, to follow him to Jerusalem. Follow him on this mission of love in a world filled with hate. Follow him to bring an end to violence in the face of fear.

This is not an easy road we are called to walk.
Believe me, I know that it can be hard to act when we are confronted with so much hatred.
It’s so easy to despair and feel like we cannot make a difference.
It would have been easy for Pride Festivals around the country to cancel parades and other events this year out of fear of more violence – but their bold witnesses of love stand in the face of hatred.
And now is the time that out witness as Christ-followers is most needed.

The night after the Orlando shootings, comedian and theologian Stephen Colbert opened his show with a stirring monologue that finished with these words: “Now these people in Orlando were apparently targeted because of who they love. And there have been outpourings of love throughout the country and around the world – love in response to hate. Love does not despair. Love makes us strong. Love gives us the courage to act. Love gives us hope that change is possible…Let’s remember that love is a verb and to love means to do something.”

A new rendering of a rainbow Luther Rose  (© Paul Eldred)

My beloved siblings in Christ, we have to do something.
We have to use the love that we have in Christ Jesus to act in the world around us.
We don’t have the luxury of complacency anymore and Jesus isn’t interested in our excuses.
As followers of Jesus, we must speak out against hatred and violence wherever we see it.
No more can we say it’s ok to disagree on “the gay issue,” because silence makes us complicit in queer-hating theologies.
No more can we say that we will set goals for racial and ethnic diversity in the ELCA without addressing the root causes of racism and division in our churches and in our nation.
No more can we offer thoughts and prayers after horrific mass shootings like Orlando and Charleston without also taking action to make sure these shootings never happen again.
We must act because anything less than a radical welcome and inclusion of all people falls short of the kingdom of God.

We must act – confident that God’s vision of peace will be fulfilled someday.
Confident that we are not alone when we despair and God will lift us up when we feel helpless.
Confident in the knowledge that we are traveling the road with Jesus who has shown us that love will conquer hate and even death will not hold us back.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s