Sermon by The Rev. Robert K. Gieselmann
June 19, 2016
“This is what I want to say to you today…as Christians, shouldn’t we say ‘I too am gay?’ Shouldn’t we say, ‘this week I’m gay!’ Shouldn’t we say, ‘This week, of all weeks, I stand proud not as a matter of sexuality, and certainly not of politics, but side by side my brothers and sisters who continue to suffer because of their sexuality.’ As Christians, we are always called upon to stand in solidarity with that person forced by society to live at the margins, to uphold the dignity of every human being, especially those at whom others spit words of hate, or worse, bullets. Like I said, the issue is not one of sexuality, it never was. The issue is one of fear.”
Jesus said, “Those who live by the sword, will die by the sword.” Elijah lived by the sword. He had just finished killing the prophets of Baal – all of them; himself, by the sword. In response, King Ahab and his wife Jezebel put out a contract on Elijah’s head – This scared Elijah; he became afraid. “Kill me now,” he cried out to God, “before Jezebel catches me.” Only God didn’t answer Elijah, at least not directly. It’s almost impossible for God to speak – or at least for you to hear – when your primary emotional response is fear. Fear cripples the soul and binds God’s hands. And I have to wonder, whether fear is why Elijah could not perceive God in the fierce storm? In the crippling earthquake or raging fire? Whether Elijah found God only when his fear abated, when all became quiet, both on earth and in his soul. The silence of the soul. I, too, have experienced God in silence of the soul. ‘Be still and know that I am God,’ the Psalmist wrote.
I have turned off my i-phone, the television, computer and radio, and walked into wilderness of the earth and climbed the holy mountains, and found God there, in the silence. I’m sure you have, too. But don’t you know: not all silence is alike. Not all silence transmits the peace of God.
One week ago, today, the parents of the youngest victim in the Orlando/Pulse shooting – she was 18 years old, and had just graduated from high school – her parents waited ten hours in silence to learn that their daughter had died. From 2 in the morning until noon. There was silence. I can assure you, theirs was not the silence of God; and they felt so alone. Likewise, you will be hard-pressed to find God in the silence of the homes and apartments of the 49 victims. The silence within those walls must be haunting. Now, I have to be honest: I do not fully understand Elijah, and his retaliation against a religion he did not appreciate – it only makes sense if the prophets of Baal engaged something egregious, like child sacrifice. That Elijah was trying to stop the murder of children. Perhaps, but you have to project this motivation onto Scripture; it isn’t in the text.
Which is why, I really do not understand Elijah. Anymore than I understand those in our day who kill people in the name of God. And the Orlando murderer – I’d rather not use his name – claimed to act in the name of God. But his claim is dubious; and his motives were complex. He was a violent man. He had a long pattern of addressing problems in his life with violence. Add that to the apparent fact that was afraid of his own sexuality. He’d visited gay clubs before – only, both his family and strict Islam forbid homosexuality. Did he murder 49 people to silence his own sexuality? To silence self-loathing? To silence his own Legion of demons? In the name of God?
When we were about to go into Iraq, following 9-11, I preached a provocative sermon asking the congregation, to consider Jesus would have supported war at all? Wasn’t Jesus a pacifist? I asked plainly. Naturally, that question offended a few people, in particular one woman whose husband was a respected professional who had served honorably during WWII. This man never attended church, so I’m guessing this woman went home and told him that the preacher is a pacifist – which, of course, is not what I said. Several weeks later, he was admitted to in the hospital with bone cancer. I visited him, and as soon as he realized I was the preacher who talked about pacifism, he tried to bait me.
“You know what I’d do right now if I had a gun?” he asked. “I’d go into that hall and I’d shoot that nurse.”
“In fact,” he added, “I’d shoot everybody out there.”
I ignored him and changed the subject.
“I’d shoot you, too.” he said, when I wouldn’t take his bait.
Again, I ignored him. So he changed tactics.
“You’re a queer.” He spat at me.
“Not really.” I answered.
“Yes you are, you’re a queer.” he continued.
Again, I didn’t take his bait, only this time, he looked me in the eye, and finally asked what he really wanted to know:
“Don’t you care what I think about you?”
I chortled, and said, “Why would I possibly care what you think about me?”
From that point on – once he could see that I wasn’t going to retaliate against him, no matter what – he welcomed me. And over the coming months, I walked with him as he died of bone cancer. Looking back, I wonder, what would have happened had I responded out of fear? What would have happened had I been afraid of myself, of my own personhood, my own sexuality, and become defensive? Here’s the thing – and it now seems obvious: the men and women killed a week ago at Pulse in Orlando were targeted for either being gay or identifying with those who are gay. The shooter picked the gay nightclub on purpose. Like I said, it seems as though he wanted to kill his own demons.
And this is what I want to say to you – out loud – today – with the backdrop of this targeted violence: As Christians, shouldn’t we say, “I, too, am gay.” Shouldn’t we say, this week, “I am gay? This week, of all weeks, I stand proud, not as a matter of sexuality, and certainly not politics, but side by side with my brothers and sisters who continue to suffer because of their sexuality?” As Christians, we are always called to stand in solidarity with the person forced by society to live at the margins. To uphold the dignity of every human being. Especially those at whom others spit words of hate at them, or, worse, bullets.
But like I said, the issue is not sexuality – it never was. It is fear. It is the same fear Elijah experienced – it bound him. It is the same fear Jesus cast out of the man with the Legion of demons. Fear, and I wonder, why are people so afraid? But you and I are people of faith. People of hope. And people most of all of love. Faith, hope and love, compelling us to stand proudly alongside our gay brothers and sisters for as long as it takes, until the violence stops, and until the hate stops.
Don’t you care what I think of you? the architect wanted to know? Why would I care what people think, when we’re talking about 49 lives innocently lost.
Didn’t you hear Paul? We are all the same to God: There is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, man nor woman, east nor west, gay nor straight. In God’s eyes, there is no distinction. Which is why today, God’s eyes are bloodshot – with tears, from weeping.