"You have heard that it is said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you..."
The words are difficult to hear.
"You have heard that it is said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you..."
As it turns out, they're difficult to preach, too.
Difficult, always. But perhaps even more difficult when wounds are still fresh and pain is still billowing like smoke from the hearts troubled and grieving by the brokenness of the world.
Yet those were the words that were listed on a worship bulletin that had been prepared and printed several days before the tragic massacre at the Pulse Nightclub early Sunday morning. Those were the words this young preacher had been wrestling with and trying to understand and to believe. And despite the difficulty in even getting through those holy and sacred words, due to a lump in my throat growing larger by the second, for better or worse they were the words the Spirit had for all of us gathered in the safety of our sanctuary to hear.
For the past several weeks, Matt and I have been preaching selected portions of Jesus' famous Sermon on the Mount after an epic telling shared by an intergenerational group of 22 members and friends of St. Giles last month.
In its original context, Jesus' words in this sermon - his first teachings recorded in Matthew's gospel - were hard to hear, because he was painting a vision that was far from the people's present reality. "Blessed are the poor in spirit?" "Blessed are the merciful?" "Blessed are those who are persecuted?" Seriously?
Shortly after those "blessed" statements we now call The Beatitudes, Jesus launched into a series of "antitheses" that sought to reframe the common wisdom of the age with a new vision: that of the coming Kingdom of God.
Where the world was creating a system built upon punishment and retribution, even in the midst of great oppression, Jesus exhorted his followers to refuse to participate in that system at all.
Where the world was preaching the acceptability and normalcy of despising that which was "different" or "other" by characterizing one's "enemy" by their most objectionable qualities alone, Jesus chose instead to preach a message of love.
"Anyone can love the people who are most like themselves," He's saying. "You, as disciples, are called to a higher standard of love."
Love is not safe. But love is from God. And God is love.
So in a sermon on a day when no other words could be found, Jesus' message of radical love and acceptance was proclaimed with the only words I know. Words that I think could stand to be shared in every church far more often than they are.
"You are a child of God. You are loved by God. You are created in God's image."
Words we could all stand to hear a little more often. Words which far too many of us have never genuinely been told.
You are a child of God.
In the aftermath of yet another bloody massacre, we are all understandably feeling a degree of fear and anxiety. The LGBTQ community is unfortunately especially well-versed in such feelings, having long been the target of violence, discrimination, and dehumanization - much of it disgustingly perpetuated in the name of religion. (In that sense, the LGBTQ community and American Muslims seem to have an awful lot in common). And while the sheer magnitude of this event has naturally caused it to dominate headlines, thousands of LGBTQ people die every year in attacks and by suicide, and usually without their stories or faces ever making the evening news.
And yet, even in the face of all this fear, our God is a God of love. Our God is a God for whom the use of dehumanizing tactics - particularly when in God's name - is antithetical to the very foundation of the message and teachings of Christ, who is the Prince of Peace, the Light of the World, and Love Personified.
So in the name of Love Personified - and because we didn't know what else to do - Megan and I joined over a hundred other folks in Falls Park last night for a candlelight vigil sponsored by Upstate Pride and Gender Benders.
In the name of Love Personified - and because we didn't know what else to do - we recommitted to live our lives in such a way that we can continue to cling to the hope and the promise that Love has the power to conquer hate because Love will always be the stronger force.
In the name of Love Personified - and because we didn't know what else to do - we held our candles high, remembering the promise of Jesus the Christ to be a Light that shines so brightly that no amount of darkness could ever overcome it.
Hold your light high. Don't let anyone snuff it out. You (yes, you) are a child of God. You are created in God's image. You are loved by God. You are worthy. Let your light shine.
50 LGBTQ brothers and sisters have lost their lives in a tragic act of hatred. But we can't afford to let hatred have the final word. So as bearers of Light, let's continue to act against dehumanization and oppression and anti-LGBTQ violence by whatever non-violent and peacemaking means we have available to us. Let's start by remembering their names. By seeing their faces. And, in our pain and brokenness, by seeing the face of Christ on these faces whose lives were taken from us. Let us not forget these beautiful, loved children of God.
Click to see their faces and hear their stories. Remember them. Be Light-bearers for them.
I'm a husband, a father, a news junkie, a theatre enthusiast, an amateur foodie, a wannabe barista, and an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
This blog is maintained personally by me and does not necessarily represent the views of any congregation I have served. Every effort is made to give proper attribution for quotations, images, and other media used on this page.