We woke up this morning to the news that 50 people or more have been murdered in Orlando – shot to death in a nightclub. Fifty-two or more have been wounded. This is the most deadly mass shooting in America since December 29, 1890 when over 300 people were slaughtered at Wounded Knee.
All over our country, people like us are waking up to find out that family members, or friends, are gone, or are suffering. There is no way to ‘make sense’ of such an event, no way to understand what has happened – and for us, who have not experienced anything like it, there is no way to gather our minds around what the people who were there went through.
One thing is clear. The man who murdered so many did this because he was “offended” by gay people. The shooter’s father has said that his son did not do this because of religion. Instead, he says his son “got mad because he saw two men kissing” a couple of months before.
For two months, the shooter prepared himself to murder gay people. For two months, he nurtured his own hatred toward people he didn’t even know, working up the nerve and gathering the tools to kill, and kill, and kill.
We like to divide between acts like this and religion. I know I do. It is so very painful for me to acknowledge that people who say they know God can do things like this, and say that it was God’s will. The God I know would NEVER – NEVER – desire such a thing, nor condone it. NEVER. And yet, these horrors are often blamed on God, and killers claim that God ‘told them to do it.’
Let me just say this, while we are here. If you ever hear someone saying that gay people have ‘brought God’s judgment on themselves,’ or that they in any way ‘deserve this,’ I hope you will tell them: “I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that about gay people, and I don’t believe that about God. And what’s more, neither do any of the other people at my church, and neither does my pastor.”
I hope you will talk to them about the God of love and mercy who we meet here at church each Sunday, who we read about in the Scriptures, who we see in Jesus Christ. I hope you will tell them, grace is not grace unless it is for everyone – if you or I expect to receive God’s grace, we must expect that for every person. For EVERY person. I hope you will say to them, “None of us has the right to declare God’s judgment against another person for being human, much less for being the person God made them to be.”
Scripture tells us, over and over again, God will judge our actions and our hearts – therefore, God can in no way condemn people who are simply living their lives, and loving each other. Please, please, let our faith NEVER be our excuse to even dismiss another person, much less hate them.
My friends have been posting news stories this morning. First, 20 people killed. Then more. I don’t know where the death count will end.
Then information about the shooter. Then a message from his father.
Now reactions. One dear friend wrote, “I feel afraid. Again.”
I think she has every reason to feel afraid. She is bisexual, one of the people that the Orlando killer seems to have hated. But he was not the only one. Hours after the shooting hit the news, Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick sent out a tweet: ‘Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.’ This is from the Bible. It is a quote from Galatians 6:7. Apparently, Dan Patrick, an elected official in the Texas state government, thinks it is appropriate to pass his particular judgment against 50 dead, and 52 wounded people he has never met, and claim that what they have suffered is their own doing, and that God approves. Dan Patrick will not be the only one.
If we, as Christians, don’t speak up, this is the only voice people will hear. The voice of hatred and condemnation. And they will assume it is the voice of Christ.
Please speak up. Until our religions ALL teach that God loves EVERY person, broken minds will use their religion(s) as weapons to destroy those they do not know.
And what do we do with our own hearts? If we have any compassion, our hearts will also grieve. What answers do we find in our faith? How does the Bible speak to us?
For those whose loved ones were killed or injured, we read Psalm 88. This Psalm speaks to the kind of desperation and wild sorrow the families and friends of those murdered may be feeling. The Psalm is filled with pain, and yet there is a message in it for us, for in the midst of hopelessness, the psalmist is still speaking to God. Though it seems there will be no end to the pain, the psalmist is still speaking to God. When God seems most distant and uncaring, the psalmist is still speaking to God.
In a little while we may want the words of Psalm 3. Here, we meet King David as he flees from his own son, Absalom, who is trying to kill him and take the kingdom David has so recently stitched together. Here David is calling on God for strength, for protection, for a safe place to stand. Perhaps there will come a day when those whose faith has been torn from them by a bullet will be able to begin to trust God again, at least enough to call out for God’s shelter.
And we pray that the day may come when Psalm 86 might speak for the survivors, for it asks God to lead them into hope. This kind of healing takes years, and even then it may never come. Perhaps, just perhaps, with the loving support of others – doctors, nurses, parents, sisters, brothers, friends – the broken and broken-hearted may one day again come to call on God for that healing that allows them to see a future, and to know God’s love has never left them through all the pain and grief.
We pray these prayers with all who have gone before us in faith. We pray them with our own loved ones when they suffer. Today, we pray them for strangers who may not be able to, or may not want to, pray them for themselves. The prayer settles our hearts and helps us to remember: God does not abandon us, even in the worst of times.
Let our prayers strengthen us to face the violence that seems to plague our nation, and to do something about it. Let them lift our hearts so we have the courage to stand up to bigotry and hatred. Let them give voice to our common humanity, so we may gather in all who have known this terror, and let them know that they are loved. Amen.
Rev. Lorelei Kay