Looking for the Face of God: A Sermon in Response to the Murders at Pulse NightClub
This was a hard sermon to write. It was difficult to find the right balance of anger and hope, comfort and motivation, confession and affirmation. This is one ally's attempt to respond to what the Spirit was trying to say. It was gratifying to hear all the creative ideas that people started throwing out after the service. To quote legendary graffiti artist Freedom, "We have just begun to move."
Matthew 13:24-33; Matthew 13:44-46
One week ago, as we were celebrating Pride Sunday, we were just beginning to hear about yet another act of violence, another mass shooting, another act of terrorism, this time in Orlando. By the end of worship we knew it was even more – a hate crime, an attack on the Pride celebrations of the LGBTQ community, an attack on the Latinx community, and the largest mass shooting in modern American history – 50 dead, even more injured.
All week long I’ve been praying for a word of comfort to share with all of you. And it hasn’t been easy to find those words. There are no words to erase the violence that was done in Orlando. I have no words to smooth over the pain. I feel as though God is asking me to wrestle alongside all of you – as honestly as I know how – with these terrible murders.
To begin, here are some of the words that must be said this morning from this pulpit and from every Christian pulpit: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer people are God’s children. And those who lost their lives in Orlando – mostly young gay Latinos – were created by God in all their beauty and loved by God in life just as they were – as queer, as brown-skinned, as gay men, as Spanish-speaking, as same gender loving, as immigrant.
Being lesbian, gay, bi, trans, or queer is not now and has never been a sin. Loving or desiring a person of the same sex or gender and mutually, consensually acting on that love and desire is not now and has never been a sin. Coming out of the closet, getting married, or starting a family – these actions of love, brave actions of spiritual growth, actions that bear witness to the power and goodness of God and what God has made – are not sins.
“You will know them by their fruits,” said Jesus. The job of faith is to discern what is good and what is evil by its results in the world – the fruit it bears, says Jesus. By Jesus’ standard, could anything be better in God’s eyes than to be beautifully gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer? The fruit borne by LGBTQ identity and community is love, sex, marriages, pleasure, families, joy, community, and a compassionate, well-forged, profoundly aware identity that is deeply and genuinely concerned for the people who Jesus was most in love with – everyone who has been marginalized and abused by the dominant culture. What greater gift could God have given to us than queerness and gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people?
A world, a country, and a Church full of queer people, queer love and sex, queer families, and queer communities is a far better world than a world, country, Church without them. And anyone who would try to push on you the belief that being LGBTQ is less than the best thing, less than beloved by God, that being and acting gay are sins that will ideally disappear by the gun or by praying the gay away – that person is pushing rotten, poisonous, and sinful fruit – the kind of fruit that leads to murder, and mass murder, and worse.
Especially in a country that offers easy access to guns designed for murder, designed for mass murder, and worse. The Second Amendment gives us the right to bear arms – very well. But it is not the second amendment that is standing in the way of sensible gun reform in this country. We lack the political will to get the deed done because those of us who are outraged haven’t yet gotten organized enough to go up against the morally bankrupt firearms industry and the NRA. Beloved, now is the time to begin to see the gun violence issue as an issue pointed at the core of who we are as people of faith. Now is the time to respond to the blood of so many innocents cut down by weapons designed for soldiers on battlefields being wielded by murderers in children’s schools, movie theaters, black churches, and gay night clubs. Now is the time to reevaluate our relationship to guns in this country and to once and for all see the fruit that guns bear in our culture, to see the terror and the murder and the sin, and to see the blood that is on our hands as a people who have failed to act in defense of the innocents.
There is a word that describes the kind of belief systems – belief systems held by all different kinds of people – belief systems that refuse to do the faithful work of discernment. That word is: Fundamentalism. Fundamentalists of all stripes use the fact that we can’t look directly upon the face of God to their advantage. Fundamentalism is really very easy to understand. Just like Moses, we’re all stuffed inside the dark cleft of a rock, staring out hopefully. We get the merest glimpse of God’s backside and in that indirect, covered, hidden peek God declares as loud as thunder and as insistently as silence that we humans are NOT GOD and that we DO NOT KNOW.
And though the day may come when we will dissect the multiverse down to its very last subatomic hyperdimensional vibration; and when we will balance out all the equations of consciousness, and experience, and existence itself; and when even the very last inscrutabilities of quantum uncertainty are mapped out on a spreadsheet, we will recognize on that day that we haven’t yet seen anything more than God’s shadow passing by. And in the face of such a terrible realization, we will tremble.
And in that moment, as it has in so many others like it, fundamentalism will slither up from behind, whispering from further back in the cleft of the rock – PssssT – tempting us with dogmatic certainty, apocalyptic simplicity, and self-righteousness: “You’ll never see the face of God by looking out there,” fundamentalism will hiss in our ear. “Don’t give your faith to that mysterious, wishy-washy God. Give it to us. Give it to our rules. Join our militia! Deify your hatred!”
And even on that far future day, some of us – or some parts of each of us – might still turn around, give up looking for God, and crawl back further into the rock. Because fundamentalism – whether it be biblical or constitutional – is simply easier than faith and discernment – less risky, less disciplined, less compassionate, less vulnerable. Fundamentalism, unable to see the face of God and offended by the complexity of creation, the plurality of humanity, changing times and circumstances, and the uncertainty of faith, creates an idol of its own ideology and false history and worships itself. This is a human tendency, part of our shared human condition, and we’re all at risk of this trick of the Enemy.
I know, I know, “enemy” is kind of a loaded and fundamentalist-sounding word itself. The word that’s been translated from the original Greek as “enemy” in our parable reading this morning could literally, etymologically be translated as “the hater.” We’re all at risk of the lures of fundamentalism because some Hater has sown their weeds in every field.
Fundamentalists may have tried to convince you that YOU are the weeds, that THEY are the wheat, and that they are headed to the heavenly barn. You and I are headed for the fire because we are not fundamentalists like them and therefore we’re bound for hell. This interpretation is so prevalent and so EASY, and it’s been used to attack so many of us and the people we love, that it’s difficult for us to hear this parable of the wheat and the weeds and not to think of heaven and hell, us and them, the saved and the damned. But a spiritually abusive, overly simplistic allegory about how you are going to hell because you are a weed is NOT a parable. A parable, remember, is an opportunity from Jesus to draw from the depths – to dwell for a time in the mystery of God and to be delighted by the experience of God’s Wisdom.
Parables imagine the Realm of God, because we can’t see it directly. Even Moses can’t see God’s face directly without his brain melting and his head exploding. Understand – even God cannot show you Her True Face, Her True Realm, and keep you in one piece while doing it – it would be like trying to power a lightbulb with lightning strikes. And so Jesus tells us parables about the Realm of God comparing it to things that are hidden, lost, small, mixed up, and obscured.
Seeing the Face of God, experiencing the Realm of God, says Jesus, is like being a woman who hides a tiny bit of yeast in a large amount of flour and mixes it all up, until it’s all transformed.
It’s like finding a hidden treasure in a field, and instead of taking the treasure home with you, you cover the treasure back up, mixing it into the field and then you go and sell your house and everything in it so you can buy that field.
It’s like being a pearl merchant in a marketplace full of tiny, white pearls and finding the ONE hidden most valuable pearl mixed up in all the others and then bankrupting your pearl business to buy that ONE PEARL.
It’s like being a farmer with a field of wheat and weeds – all mixed up together, obscuring one another, growing up together. The farmer has to discern how to protect the wheat and weed out the weeds, and decides to wait until the day of harvest, when the wheat is wheatiest and the weeds are weediest.
An allegory about how you are going to hell is NOT a parable, it’s a fundamentalist weed – and, beloved, I think we can safely say that it’s harvest time. Because we’ve seen the rotten fruits of this overly-simplistic, antichrist, antigospel, antirevelatory, us-versus-them theology. Racism, homophobia, misogyny, transphobia, Islamophobia – we have plumbed the depths of their simplicity and there is nothing but hate there. They are the weediest weeds, so it’s past time for us as a people, certainly as Christians, and I would pray, even as a nation, to clear the fields.
The firearms industry and NRA have money. But if we can begin to imagine the Realm of God, if we can discern the true fruit of assault weapons and guns in our communities, then we can make the moral and ethical case for a transformation in our gun culture that chooses life over profit, honor over fear, love over hate.
Perhaps, we as a people have not yet found the faith and the creativity to believe that just a little bit of yeast can transform large measures of flour. And so we don’t bother trying to mix it in. We’ve seen the treasure in the field, and we’ve covered it over again, and we’ve gone home to bed and let ourselves despair, instead of sacrificing the house, the bed, and everything else we have to buy that field. We haven’t been able to afford the one great pearl because we’ve been unwilling to sell off the lesser pearls of our comforts and privilege. It’s time to let go of our unfettered access to guns so that we can possess something greater – and that something greater is love for our neighbors.
In a world full of racism and homophobia, much of which has been perpetuated by the Church throughout history, we must demonstrate our faithful love for Queer People of Color by doing our best work to disarm the Haters intent on doing them harm. Ask Jesus in your prayers today, "Lord, what is more important – the lives of your children or the guns designed to slaughter your children?" We have looked out at a field choked with the weeds of homophobia, racism, gun violence, and many of us have been unwilling to do the hard work of harvesting and separating the good grain from the bad weeds. Those weeds are choking out our vision, our imagination, and our experience of the Realm of God. It is time to act.
I would ask you, as a church, to begin to faithfully, prayerfully discern and imagine how it is we might act together. What can we do? I imagine that we can do something. What we must recognize, beloved, is that the status quo – a gun in the hands of every disaffected, angry, lost young man hell-bent on murdering our neighbors – cannot be acceptable to us as Christians and peacemakers. Let’s find a way to come together to disarm hate. Let’s separate the weeds from the wheat, let’s burn our hatred and our phobias and our fundamentalist tendencies as an act of contrition, and let’s store up the good grain that will nourish us toward bravery, faith, and action.
Beloved, in life, none of us can ever see the true face of God. But look at the cover of your bulletin this morning. There are 49 faces there. Look at them and don’t look away. I see a little bit of God mixed up in every one of those beautiful brown faces. And I am praying this morning that we find a way to honor them:
Stanley Almodovar III
Oscar A Aracena-Montero
Antonio Davon Brown
Darryl Roman Burt II
Angel L. Candelario-Padro
Luis Daniel Conde
Cory James Connell
Tevin Eugene Crosby
Deonka Deidra Drayton
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez
Leroy Valentin Fernandez
Mercedez Marisol Flores
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz
Juan Ramon Guerrero
Paul Terrell Henry
Miguel Angel Honorato
Jason Benjamin Josaphat
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla
Christopher Andrew Leinonen
Alejandro Barrios Martinez
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez
Akyra Monet Murray
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo
Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera
Joel Rayon Paniagua
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez
Enrique L. Rios, Jr.
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz
Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan
Edward Sotomayor Jr.
Shane Evan Tomlinson
Martin Benitez Torres
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez
Luis S. Vielma
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon
Jerald Arthur Wright
Jesus the Imagination
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