A sermon preached on the fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Year C, RCL)
at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Del Mar
In the sound of music the Von Trapp children are taught that the true display of love is obedience. Neat and tidy, acting perfectly on command. A whistle from father, a clap of his hand is all that is needed for the children to snap into line and into the father’s perceived circle of love. What kind of love was that? I’m sure the children did love their father but under such strict and tight control was the pure, complete and faithful love of the children really allowed to grow?
God is not like Baron Von Trapp. I dare say that God is wiser. For he knows that true love can only be received when it is completely given out of free choice without any coercion and only when it is given deep from within the heart. But we are human, we are tempted by the world, by the promise of power, of status or the fantasy of any of a million of other temptations. God has given us free choice, so that we are truly free to choose and to love him. But far too often we use that freedom of choice unwisely.
In order to experience true love you must be prepared to be hurt by the consequences arising from the freedom to choose. And when that happens true love must bear the pain. Today God is weeping. As the funerals for the victims of last Sunday’s mascara at the Latin night in the pulse gay nightclub in Orlando begin to take place God is weeping and we weep with him.
Sometime in my training during the last three years someone said to me that as I got more experienced as a preacher that I would build up a library of sermons and at times I would be able to pull out an old sermon and recycle it for a new time. I’m sure that he meant a sermon on the trinity, one of our most favorite topics to preach on, but this week I was horrified when I was preparing the message for today. I remembered that I preached a year ago this weekend at St. Paul’s Manor. The Sunday after the shooting in the Charleston AM and E church. The reality that a week after my ordination I already had a stock sermon on mass shootings was devastating.
There has been too many shootings, too many times that we have been horrified, whether it be little children at Sandy Hook, youngsters at the movies in Colorado, worshipers a church in Charleston, or a young gay couple dancing in what should have been a safe place in Orlando, Florida.
As I got home from church last Sunday I saw an interview with a mother, Christine, desperate to find news of her son. Christopher Leinonen had been dancing at the nightclub with his boyfriend Juan Guerrero and was missing. His terrified and heartbroken mum pleaded for information and begged, for an end to deaths by assault weapons, for an end to hatred, for an end to violence. Both Christopher and Juan were later confirmed as victims of the shooting. Both were killed out of hatred. That hated has no place in our faith. Today, more than ever before we need to love deep enough and freely enough to stand and be counted. There is no room in our faith for hatred of others.
Paul writing to the Galatians in our epistle today says “for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 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. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” And that promise lives on today. There is no longer black or white, young or old, republican or democrat, gay or straight. For all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
One of the things that I love so much about St. Peter’s is our prayer life. We are a parish that is active in prayer. God hears our prayer, but that is not enough. We need to understand and be open to be transformed through prayer. In prayer we invite the incarnate Christ into our lives and once he enters into our lives we are called to follow him. And every time we pray we are inviting anew Christ to be active in our lives. Prayer without action is incomplete. We offer our prayers to God, he hears and he calls us to action. In our free choice we can respond to that call to action or we can choose not to. Today I challenge us all, each and every one of us to choose action.
In our Gospel reading, a man is possessed by demons. So often when we read this story we look to the man, possessed by demons, as someone else. As the other. But maybe that possessed man is you or me. We don’t like to use the demon word. It reminds us of spirits, of things unknown, of evil. But when we think and study more about demons we realize that they all have some common characteristics. They take a person over, they drive that person away from society and away from those who love them, they cause a person to do things that they would not normally do. We have many modern day demons. Addiction, greed, self-promotion, hatred of others, selfishness, the list goes on. I would guess that if we honestly examine ourselves we all have demons that control us, that drive us away, that break our relationship with God.
But let’s remember the rest of today’s Gospel. Those demons recognized Jesus as God. Jesus did not shy away from talking to the demons. He took action and drove the demons out of the man. And through Christ, because of prayer we are called to action, we are called to face up to the demons in our life and in our world.
We are that demon possessed man. We have as much need to shout out to the Lord as he did. And when we engage with the Lord we can overcome our demons. It may not be instant, as was the case in the gospel reading, and it may not resolve itself in the way that we expected or even wanted, but we must place our trust in God.
Our society is also that demon possessed man, and the world in which we live in has need to also shout out to the Lord.
Are you ready, to bow down in prayer to the Lord, and being transformed by prayer, to take action?
What would Jesus do? Did Jesus just pray for the man possessed by demons? No, I’m sure he prayed but then he was moved to action.
God is weeping, the Holy Spirit is weeping and Jesus is weeping. The Holy Trinity is standing united as one with Orlando.
As people of faith, I pray that we offer our unconditional and free love to God. That we weep with him, that we fall down on our knees and pray. But in the giving of free love we will be transformed and called to action.
I pray that we recognize the demons in our own lives, not least the demons that hate others or stand silently by as others hate the world.
What would Jesus do? I don’t have an absolute guarantee of an answer, but from every example he taught us during his life here on earth he would not just stand by and let hatred rule the day.
Today we weep with God. Today we continue to deeply pray. Let us give our love freely to God, and in doing so be transformed by the power of his incarnation in the world and in ourselves and take action. Then we will be closer to making that mothers plea, for an end to gun violence and to an end to hatred, a reality in a world that is begging for love.
Christopher, Juan and 47 others died because of hatred. At this very moment people on this earth are living in fear, are being persecuted and are being killed as a result of hatred and violence. Hatred of the color of their skin, of their sex, of their origin, of their faith and of because of who they love. There is no room in our faith for hatred or violence. There is room for prayer. But in that prayer we are transformed and we are called to act.
Weep with God, pray to God, act for God.