Remembering Orlando

Vigil Pamphlet

The following remarks were delivered at the Ivyland Borough Vigil held on Tuesday, June 14th for the Victims of the Orlando Massacre:

On Sunday morning, we woke up to yet another reminder that we still live in a culture of violence.

Perhaps, like me, you woke up early expecting another day of worship when you first heard the news of the carnage in Orlando. As a person of faith I asked myself—what does it mean to worship God on a day like this? As mothers and fathers, sisters and friends and loved ones mourn the dead and the wounded? As EMTs and hospital staff and police and fire men and women gather the bodies and tend to the wounded?

Perhaps you woke up expecting to spend the day outside, or at the beach, or at brunch with friends, and your carefree day was interrupted by the news that yet again, another troubled soul had inflicted rage and violence and terror on a vulnerable community in the very place where they felt safe and known and welcomed.

Perhaps you went to sleep feeling safe, feeling welcome, and woke up to the awful reminder that for some, being brown or being queer can put you on the barrel end of an angry man’s trigger. That they can come and find you in the places you feel safest. While you are dancing and singing and rejoicing, hate can burst through the walls. And so we do not feel safe. And all the “thoughts and prayers” of politicians and pastors and well-meaning people cannot still our frantic hearts, cannot put to rest our sense that there is too much that is wrong in a world where an angry person can buy a guy and mow down young men and women in a dance club.

If you are Christian like me, perhaps it is tempting to look to Scripture at times like this for answers. To ask, “What would Jesus Do?” And when I look at the witness of Scripture, when I turn to my God seeking answers, what I see is righteous anger. What I see is a God who will not be silent in the face of violence, in the face of hatred, particularly when it is directed at those whom our society has too often ignored and silenced.

The God I know in Christ wasn’t satisfied with a system that oppresses the poor and the vulnerable. To those who would crush the vulnerable, he had this to say:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be filled

Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude and revile you, and reject you on account of the Son of Man.

Such is the Kingdom of God. It is not like this world, but rather it is a place where the poor, the hungry, the weeping, the hated—are embraced. Are welcomed. Are loved. Because they are God’s children. WE are God’s children. But here’s the kicker—the Kingdom of God isn’t up in the clouds. It is within us. It is AT HAND. Which means that we have a responsibility to one another. A responsibility to love and care for and protect and uphold one another. Because we are all God’s creation.

So as we gather tonight, let us not stop with prayers, but let us commit to stand with the poor, with the hungry, with the weeping, with the hated. Let us embrace our gay and Latino neighbors who are reeling from this trauma. Let us embrace our Muslim American neighbors who are afraid that this one act of violence will brand them too. Let us speak the names of the dead because they are our brothers and sisters. They are our mothers and fathers. They are our neighbors and our fellow citizens. There is no us and them. There is only We. And we are bound together, as neighbors, as citizens, as Americans. E Plurbis Unum—out of many, one.

So let us pray. But let us also remember that it’s not enough. It’s not enough. Prayer did not stop Orlando. It did not stop Sandy Hook. It did not stop Aurora. It did not stop San Bernardino. Clearly, more is called for from us.

And so we must weep, but we must also act. We who remain cannot let our outrage end with a vigil flame—we must turn and go back into our community and work for peace. Whether we do it because Christ calls us, or our faith compels us, or because we are simply good, decent, moral American people, we cannot let this tragedy be one more statistic. It is up to US to speak truth to power, and to say—enough. Enough violence. Enough bloodshed. Let us try another way. Let us create a world in which all are safe, in which we find sanctuary in our common brotherhood. Let us aspire to better.

Love Is A Relationship

1 John 4:7-21

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world.18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19We love because he first loved us. 20Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

Gospel of John 15:1-8

1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

When is the last time you felt truly and completely loved?

Odds are that you weren’t loved by an institution, or an object. You were loved by a person. You were loved in relationship.

That is the truth that we come face to face with in our scripture this morning. That love isn’t done in the abstract. Love, according to 1 John, is lived out between people, who choose to be in relationship with one another, to abide with one another, to know one another rather than to pass each other by.

Now I don’t have to tell you all that if you know somebody long enough, you can probably come up with plenty of reasons why NOT to love them.  Time together exposes our humanity, our brokenness, and shatters the myth that we can do no wrong to one another, or that love will be easy.

Which means that perhaps the challenge of our time is getting to know one another. We are so busy, it is often easier to pass one another by, to wave from the front seat of the car at our neighbor, but never truly get to know them, to love them, to abide with them.

I say all of this because I have heard a rumor lately around our little borough.  From more than a few corners of our little town, I have heard that we aren’t all that friendly. Rumor has it that we talk about one another more than towards one another. That we are quick to report one another, and slow to knock on one another’s door and say hello.

You can think what you will about how true or not this is, but there it is.  Some of our own neighbors have experienced this town that you love as a place that is lacking in the relationship department. And you may agree or disagree with them, but either way, here’s what I think. I think that this says less about the people who live here, and more about the reality that perhaps we haven’t taken the time to know one another. There has been so much change in the community of our borough in the last ten years or so, and at the same time, our lives have gotten busier, and busier, and busier. We don’t have as much time to build relationships, and so we don’t. We settle for superficial ones, we know one another’s names but not each other’s hearts. The consequence being that many of us are lonelier in the crowd than ever before.

One of the things that people in this church often say about themselves is that they see this community as a family. They find love and acceptance in these walls. They feel known. Which makes me wonder whether we are perhaps in a unique position to minister to our own community. Perhaps our calling right now is to choose to love, by taking the time to know our neighbors as individuals and as beloved children of God, loved first in Christ.

We live in a world right now that is crying out in violence, and mistrust, and brokenness.  And so much of the pain that we see on the television, as close as Baltimore and as far from us as distant continents, has its roots in broken relationships. In people who no longer trust one another, nor believe the best in one another, because there is so much evidence to the contrary. And when people do not know and trust each other, they are less likely to respect them, more likely to see the worst rather than the best of intentions in every little action.

Celeste Fremon saw this first hand when she lived and worked amongst the Mexican gangs of Los Angeles. She is a writer who was interested in the work of Father Greg Boyle. Over many years embedded in the projects with Father Boyle, she came to know the gang bangers as complex people, began to love them, to care about them. She became the sort of person she never could have imagined—someone who would run towards gunfire, because it meant someone she loved might be hurt. And she came to see firsthand how the breakdown of relationship—in the family, in the community, in policing—is at the heart of the problem. And how real relationship, real love and affection, can begin to heal young men and women who for most of their lives have felt expendable and worthless.

Do you see where I am going here? Relationship becomes the cord that holds us together, or the one that tears us apart. It is the life blood of our community, the heart and soul of our life together.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

When we choose to love one another, when we go out of our way to build real and honest relationships with one another, then we find ourselves close to the true vine, to Jesus. We draw near to God, and abide in God as God abides in us. We bear the fruit of healing and healthy community that reflects the love of God back upon one another and to the world.

We draw near to God as well in this community whenever we come to the table. For at the table, we put aside the things that keep us apart from one another, and we remember that we are inextricably linked to God and one another. At the table, we renew our baptismal promise and affirm our oneness in Christ as we find nourishment and encouragement in the elements of bread and cup.

So here’s my suggestion for this week. Get out in your front yard, and get to know that neighbor you always wave at but rarely speak to. Invite them to dinner. Go for a walk. Find out what they are passionate about, and see if you don’t plant the seeds of relationship and community when you do. Be the sort of neighbor that you wish you had, and see if in doing so you don’t create the kind of community that we all need.

Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. Amen.