“What is Your Name?” A sermon preached after the Orlando Massacre

The Rev. C. Melissa Hall, Rector

June 19, 2016
​Saint James
The Reverend C. Melissa Hall. Rector
Luke 8:26 Post Orlando Florida

“What Is Your Name?”

Last Sunday, while we sat and prayed in this sanctuary listening to the beauty of the choir voices and the organ,  a 1000 miles south of here in Orlando, Florida, there was music of another sort filling the air. It was at the site of yet another national devastation.

The sound was the tinkling of bells from cell phones, coming from a crowd on the dance floor who could no longer dance.

At least 50 phones, their ringing plaintive and mournful, were pleading for someone to answer and tell the loved ones on the other end of the line that the unthinkable hadn’t happened and all was well.

That wasn’t possible, because all was not well, and it would never be again. Those young people dancing into the night, having the time of their lives, without a care in the world but the joy of being together, had become one entity, the largest mass shooting in our country.

And their message back to all of us came across loud and clear: that violence and hatred have become our business as usual.

In scripture this morning, Jesus confronts evil and asks the Demon, “What is your name?” And the answer comes, “I am Legion. I am everywhere and I am everyone!”

In Orlando, Legion arrived  and carried with it hate, bigotry, insanity,  evil and terror at its very core. 

Legion taught us that we are terrorized by terror. It is random and vile and unpredictable.

Violent acts are calculated and they serve to separate us from one another by murder and death.

Like that demoniac in the Lukan Gospel who was separated from his community because they feared him, violence also accomplishes the same end in our present day.

It Isolates, vilifies and ultimately demonizes the innocent.

The evil of violence seems to be everywhere in our world and it  is understandable that it makes us mindful  and suspicious of the strangers in our midst.

 Last Sunday, in between services when it was clear that the attack in Orlando had occurred in a Gay Bar, my anxiety level rocketed.

As I processed into this Sanctuary, a place I love second only to my own home, Legion had come to rest in my heart. I was acutely aware of strangers in our congregation and I was not gladdened to see them as I usually am.

I was afraid. That was not because I tend towards the neurotic, but because my family and I have lived under the threat of potential violence in church simply because my partner, Fran, and I are Gay.

In my last curacy, my family was placed under the safety of the FBI and the Morristown Police Department. You see, we had received ugly and hate-filled letters that were threatening to us because we are Gay.

It is easy to want to put up a safety fence when you’re  threatened, to seek the security of your own kind and to keep the stranger at bay because you can’t see their humanity beyond the toxic cloud of  your own fear.

 That’s what happened in Orlando even before the sun was up. The news was full of it and everyone was quick to blame: Let’s identify the villain; Let’s point fingers; Let’s isolate the demons that perpetrated this crime and then let’s punish them by acts of ridicule, violence, ostracism, and banishment.

And who were those identified villains? Well, the usual suspects:

It must be Isis. It must be the Muslims. It must be the terrorists. It must be the homophobes. It must be the internet that allows radicalization. It must be the wife that encouraged him. It must be the Gays. It must be the gun nuts. It must be his Afghani parents, It must be the mentally ill. It must be the religious fanatics. It must be the Democrats. It must be the Republicans. It must be the President. It definitely must be Hilary and Donald. It must be the capitalists. It must be the Middle East. Israel certainly holds responsibility. And then there are the Arab Nations who are supporting this. And of course it must be the Islamic faithful who are not speaking out.

Shall I go on?

And then after we began placing  blame there was a call to action.

My clergy colleagues asked, “Shouldn’t we do something after Orlando?”  

The suggestions were to hold a prayer vigil, and then call out the names of the dead, and  then we would all wear orange to express our solidarity against Gun Violence .

Well, I did things like this after Columbine,  and after Virginia Tech,  and after Sandy Hook, and after South Carolina, and after Paris,  and after Charlie Hebdo,  and after Brussels and after San Bernadino.  I must say, those public rituals did serve to make me feel better.

They allowed me to gather in the comfort of shared grief with others, and then once  the candles were  out and the  last strains of  “We Shall Over Come” had been sung, I could walk away .

And I did walk away!

But Orlando has finally tipped me!

I will not participate in these rituals anymore.  Those are empty gestures, and I think it offensive to those who have been harmed and killed.

I have allowed myself to let my feelings of helplessness in these violent events provide an excuse to return to the details of my life as if nothing has changed.

That is because nothing did change.

Yes, I will always pray. That is a powerful witness of my faith. But from now on I will do that alone, on my knees in my church, begging for God’s forgiveness for my failure to act.

Holy Scripture demands more of me.  It pulls me up short as I hear God’s voice bellowing in my ear, asking the question that was asked of Elijah hiding on Mount Horeb: What are you doing?

What are we doing?

This past week the clergy of the Diocese have been furiously writing back and forth, positing, “How do we tell our children about the violence in Orlando?”

I have one suggestion.  We must stop lying to our children when we insist that they behave like the grown ups and use their words instead of their bodies when they are  angry with their friends.

The events of Orlando put a rest to that lie. We adults don’t use our words when we are at odds ends with each other. In fact we have embraced a culture where words don’t have a space or a possibility of being spoken in the milliseconds between thousands of rounds of automatic gunfire.

I am smart enough to know that guns will never stop being a part of our culture because it is a constitutional right to bear arms.  And I do know that most gun owners are responsible and sane in their care and use of them. But I do not understand why we fail to embrace even the simplest of safety practices in the purchase and acquiring of automatic assault weapons. That smacks of laziness, and narcissism and entitlement and greed. This nonsense has to stop!

We are offending our loving God.

God weeps at what we have done to one another, and God is calling out of the whirlwind, “What have you done?”

Let us not answer with a shrug of our shoulders!

It is one week later and the story of Orlando is fresh in our hearts.  But already I can see the shift back into business as usual with this exception:

It is an election year and the rhetoric of blame and calls for religious, cultural and ethnic intolerance, fueled by our fears of the stranger, are gathering in this country.

This is dangerous business. This intolerance is becoming our excuse to allow reasonable gun safety to be considered  merely the folly of liberals.

I implore you, In the months ahead to remember Paul’s words, “That  in Christ Jesus you are all children of God.  There is no longer Jew nor Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one...  ”

So let us bear witness that there is no God except the one God.

There is no God except the one God.

There is no God except the one God!

Let us love without condition as Jesus did, and let us be one nation  united, one nation indivisible under the God that commands us, as citizens of the world, to do justice and to love, with a commitment to  respect the dignity of all our neighbors no matter who they may be!

On this morning, one week later, let that be our first act to honor the lost souls of Orlando!