Like so many people around the world I am physically sickened by the news of the massacre in Orlando. It seems to me there are two principal factors that contributed towards this horrible event.
The first is the ongoing ease of access to guns in the United States which makes such massacres a regular headline on our news cycle.
The second, and the one in which I feel somewhat complicit is the ongoing failure of Christian churches including my own Church of Ireland to be totally unambiguous in its welcome of people of all sexuality to participate fully in the life, witness and leadership of our church.
Yes it was a Muslim extremist that carried out this appalling crime but it could just as easily have been a Christian. The scale of this atrocity is perhaps unprecedented but there are no shortage of gay people who have been murdered by so called Christians in the name of God. And if we consider the tens if not hundreds of thousands of people who have committed suicide because of the rejection of their sexuality by their churches then we are talking about a genocide and one which is certainly not confined to foreign shores.
This is a problem for all of us who call ourselves religious - The Orlando massacre may have been an act of terrorism but there is little doubt that the choice of target was in no small part due to the ongoing and historic negative and pejorative portrayal of those who are gay by people of religious faith
For too long and at incalculable cost we religious have hidden behind misguided legislation that protects our right to discriminate against people on grounds of their sexuality.
We have also attempted to fool ourselves by insisting that we 'love the sinner and hate the sin' while ignoring the fact that what we perceive to be sin and thus licensed to hate is something that those who we talk about but not to, see as integral to their identity and their humanity. Our dishonest semantics if anything add to the impact of this hate.
Some within my own Christian tradition will argue that this is a matter of principle and indeed of Gospel principle which they must stand for. To stand up for ones principles is indeed a worthy thing and even more so to be prepared to die for ones principles but when others die because of our principles we need to reconsider those principles!
I as a Christian priest who longs for the day when my church is fully inclusive find it hard to contemplate that God would wish us to defend our personal religious principles at the expense of the life of another child of God. For me the Gospel message is life-giving and liberative and anything that gives people an excuse to hate and hurt another human being is not of God.
Being a Christian does not absolve us from difficult choices - We in the Christian churches have a choice to make and it is one between life and death. We can no longer afford the luxury of principles that allow us to perpetuate the culture of them and us and as long as we do we will be complicit in the hatred and fear that leads however indirectly to events like the massacre in Orlando. It is time to stand up and be counted not only for our principles but for the lives of those that are taken in our name.
Friday, 1 April 2016
I don't need to tell you that the hour changed last night - The fact you are here means that either you changed your clocks or alternatively you were so eager to come to church today that you came an hour early to make sure you got a seat!
I used to get confused as to which way the clocks went until I heard the little memory jogging phrase – spring forward and fall back (Fall as in the American word for the Autumn).
It seems to me that that is not only a useful reminder as to which way the clocks go but also a pointer towards the meaning of Easter – It is a time when we can spring forward in our faith because of the wonderful event that we celebrate at this time. After the pain and suffering of Holy week, now in the light of the Resurrection we have a new hope and a new sense of purpose which allows us to go out with a spring in our step, or at least it should do.....
Very often however we find it hard to do this – perhaps the drudgery of the past has taken its toll and sapped our energy and taken away our self-confidence. Perhaps rather than springing forward we feel like falling back (I know I did when the alarm went off this morning for the dawn ecumenical service in Castletown)! Falling back or retreating is something that we do when the future is too difficult to face.
There are a lot of people who find the future a difficult place - I am sure like me you are still thinking of the McGrotty family involved in the Buncrana drowning tragedy and that little baby and her mother (Louise Daniels) who has to come to terms with a future without her children, her husband, her sister and her mother - She would be forgiven for feeling like falling back and retreating.
Or indeed the families of those murdered last week in the Brussels bombings and those who will carry lifelong and life altering injuries - they too must feel like falling back and retreating.
During a visit to
a few years ago
I came upon an unusual sign mounted on the wall of a Church. It read ‘Fallout
Shelter’ and was a legacy of the Cold war days when certain buildings were
identified throughout the New York as appropriate places to seek safety
in case of nuclear war. On one level it was quite consistent with the role of
church buildings through the ages where they have been used as sanctuaries for
those fleeing persecution and danger of various kinds. However it did strike me
that even in times of no overt persecution or danger we Christians are far too
comfortable sheltering inside our church buildings. What was once meant to be a
base from which to go out into the world has become a very comfortable home in
which we all have our favourite seats, a place in which to fall back United
After Easter we will find the disciples also sheltering in their ‘fallout shelter’ as they come to terms with the traumatic events of Holy Week and Easter. However it is only a temporary shelter as when Pentecost comes they go out into the world, filled with the Spirit and respond to the call to make disciples of all nations.
I wonder sometimes are we in the institutional churches, like spiritual couch potatoes, stuck in our fallout shelters in that space between Easter and Pentecost?
It is alright to fall back for a time to replenish our energy and to take stock but the message of Easter is that we should now be preparing to Spring Forward again – We are a Church with a
means Motion! The Apostolic commission talks about GOING OUT, not falling back
but reaching out into our world and sharing God's love and compassion and healing
with everyone we meet. Mission
There will be times of retreat, times to fall back and recharge the batteries but we need a balance. If all we do is fall back then our clocks will soon be so far behind that we will find ourselves totally out of step with Gods purpose for our lives.
God knows that we struggle – God knows that sometimes we do need to fall back for a while but God in Christ has come to tell us that we have a sure ground for hope – for moving forward – for sharing the Good News – Let us this Easter overcome all that is holding us back and enter the future prepared for us with a spring in our step.......
I could end the sermon there - perhaps you thought I was about to but that would be too easy and tidy and life isn't like that. Things get in the way and sometimes even though we know what the right thing to do is we find ourselves unable to act - unable to spring forward - It is as if we are in chains!
And sometimes the Church doesn't help - sometimes the Church is part of the problem! There is a mistaken impression which we in the Church do not do enough to dispel that to come close to God and to be a follower of Jesus we have to jump through lots of hoops and live lives that are righteous and pure.
John Hill Aughey, a clergyman who fought against slavery and was imprisoned for his beliefs twice during the American Civil war knew better when he wrote these words:
'The church is not a select circle of the immaculate, but a home where the outcast may come in. It is not a palace with gate attendants and challenging sentinels along the entrance-ways holding off at arm's-length the stranger, but rather a hospital where the broken-hearted may be healed, and where all the weary and troubled may find rest and take counsel together."
In the Resurrection Jesus broke the chains of death and offered us a new Hope and a new future. He is inviting us all to partake in this new reality but to do so we must bring not just us all, but all of us to the Table, not just the good bits, the attractive bits but the bad and the broken and the hurt for it is here in his fellowship that we can find that healing and hope for the future.
And there is good news - we don't have to do it by ourselves - Jesus has gone ahead and shines his resurrection light back into the darkness that sometimes overwhelms us - That light comes to us in many forms and invites us to share in the Resurrection - For Louise Daniels it came in the form of a young man who saved her infant child from certain death and gave her something to hold onto - a cause for hope and the possibility of new life and for those caught up in the Brussels atrocity it came in the form of total strangers who helped the wounded to safety without considering the possibility of further explosions or attack.
The power and meaning of the Resurrection comes from its ability to transform our darkness into light. It comes from the historical reality of the Crucifixion in which God in Jesus entered into the darkest place of all: Death - and in his Resurrection transformed the reality of death and made for us to a life beyond, a new dawn, a new Hope, a new life with God, a reason to Spring Forward!