So how are you doing? How are all of you doing? This has been an emotional week. For all of us. For the people of Orlando. For gay and lesbian communities across the country, and around the world. For all of us Americans – there is a sense of grief – and pain – of loss. Some of us feel numb. Our lives have been violated – again – by hatred. By one man’s act of hatred.
I’m here to tell you today that it doesn’t have to be this way. AND more to the point – I want to say that we do not need to live – and we will not live – our lives in fear. It’s hard, I know. It seems like no place is safe anymore. Schools. Night clubs. Airports.
Movie theaters. Shopping malls. Churches. If you remember, it was one year ago this week when Dylan Roof killed 9 people at Emmanuel African American Episcopal Church in Charleston. SC. But I hope you agree with me, that we will not let these kinds of acts define who we are. No! Let me take that back. We WILL let these acts define who we are. We CAN and we NEED to show our true colors – as disciples of Jesus Christ.
I am reading a book called “The Jesus Creed.” Do you know what the Jesus Creed is? It’s “Love God, Love your neighbor.” That’s it! We’ve been lifting up that slogan – the Jesus Creed – for years. And now that I have a name to give to that slogan – from now on when you hear me use the phrase, “The Jesus Creed,” you’ll know I’m talking about loving God, and loving our neighbor.
So we show our true colors as disciples of Jesus Christ when we put the Jesus Creed into action. And that love your neighbor thing? I think Jesus meant it! Love. Mercy. Compassion. Forgiveness. It’s hard. Especially in the face of the kind of hatred and fear that leads to the kind of violence we saw just one week ago. I don’t know. I suppose that the kind of news that came out of Orlando last week could cause us to feel as though life is as we know it is spinning out of control. Coming apart at the seams. Again, because no place is safe. If it feels that way for you – it doesn’t have to be this way.
And let me tell you why. In one word. Jesus! When life is spinning out of control – when life is coming apart at the seams – what we need is Jesus. Today’s Gospel reading is a great example of what happens when Jesus touches a life that is spinning out of control.
The man in question is known as the Gerasene demoniac. He is a man possessed by demons – and apparently lots of ‘em. Jesus comes into this man’s life – and makes a difference.
Jesus and his disciples have just gotten out of a boat on the Sea of Galilee – when they are met by this demon possessed man. It’s not the most pleasant experience. In fact, it was kind of scary. The man is shouting – screaming at Jesus. If I were one of those disciples with Jesus – I think I would have jumped back into the boat. “Let’s get out of here!”
But Jesus stands his ground. He faces this man with love, mercy, and compassion, and gives the man exactly what he needs. Jesus gives him the healing that he needs – and orders the demons to come out. And they do. The man is now in his right mind. What was once a troubled, chaotic life is now a life where there is calm and peace. All because of Jesus.
While this man was possessed, the townsfolk – and even members of his own family – couldn’t live with him. He lived in the tombs – which literally were caves in those days. They tried chaining him to control him. But nothing worked. They were afraid of him, and with good reason.
But that’s what happens when people live in fear. We isolate ourselves – we cut ourselves off – from people we are afraid of – or those whom we don’t understand. It doesn’t have to be this way. Not when the Jesus Creed calls us to love each other – to be a friend to that other person – to show respect. To want what is best for that other person. I know, it’s hard. But we don’t need to be at war with other people.
But here’s the problem. Sometimes we just don’t like – we just don’t trust – other people – who look different – who act differently – or whose religious or political views we don’t agree with. Yeah, it happens. But hatred – mistrust – fear – these things never work. Do we need to be vigilant? Yes! Do we need to be on our guard? Absolutely! But to color all people – in this case, Muslims – with the same brush because of the actions of a few – is not in the spirit of the Jesus Creed. Because love wins over hate. Every. Single. Time.
Let me share with you a story. A while back a story came out in the news about two men living in Lincoln, Nebraska.
One of them, a man named Larry Trapp, was, you might say, walking in darkness. He was wheel-chair bound, and diagnosed with a fatal disease. The darkness he was in (or that was in him) was not caused by his disease, but was the result of hatred. Larry was a Grand Dragon in the Nebraska Ku Klux Klan.
The unfortunate focus of his hatred, the other man in this story, happened to be a Jewish cantor named Michael Weisser. Larry harassed Michael with threatening phone calls and a barrage of hate mail. His goal was to get him out of the community.
Michael decided to take a bold approach; to confront his tormentor. He decided to call Larry on the telephone.
“I just kept leaving messages on his answering machine,” says Michael, ‘until finally one day, Larry Trapp, in a fit of anger, picked up the phone. “What do you want?” he said. “You're harassing me! My phone's got a tap on it.”
“I was real quiet and calm.” says Michael. “I said I knew he had a hard time getting around and thought he might need a ride to the grocery store.”
Larry just got completely quiet, and all the anger went out of his voice, and he said, “I've got that taken care of, but thanks for asking.”
The remarkable end of the story is that the two men eventually became friends. The Weissers, this Jewish couple, would have Larry, former grand dragon in the KKK, over for dinner. Amazing! Someone who was so full of hate.
Eventually, Larry decided to devote the time he had left to freeing others from the destructive power of hatred and bigotry.
And the people of Lincoln, Nebraska, and other places saw a great light, the light generated by a sudden reversal, a change of heart, which in turn was caused by someone reaching out, not responding in kind. Not responding to hate with hate – but responding to hate with love.
When we are attacked – and make no mistake – what happened a week ago was not just an attack on people in a nightclub – not just an attack on gay and lesbian people – it was not just an attack on the city of Orlando – it was an attack on us – and perhaps on our way of life. Do we need to be vigilant? Yes. Do we need to be on guard? Absolutely!
But what we must not allow is for hate – mistrust – vengeance – to overcome our love for our neighbor – no matter who that neighbor is. Because love wins over hate. Every. Single. Time.
I love the stories that Tony Campolo tells, so let me share with you another Tony Campolo story. Tony tells of a pastor friend who lives in Manhattan. Every morning this pastor would have breakfast at a little downtown diner. And every morning, he would see the same crowd who also started their day at the diner.
One day, the pastor walked into the diner and introduced himself to the crowd, hoping to create a friendlier atmosphere in the place. It worked. Barriers were broken down. People began conversing with strangers. It worked for everyone but the owner. All he would reveal of himself was his name, Harry.
A few weeks passed, and as all the regular customers became friends, the pastor pressured Harry to reveal a little more about himself. [You know, sometimes pastors can be so pushy!] So Harry reluctantly announced that his real name was Hazim, and he was from Baghdad, Iraq. Now, this was when Saddam Hussein was being portrayed as a real threat to world security, especially Israel. A majority of the patrons of the diner were Jewish and tensions between Arabs and Jews were running high, as they still are today. All the customers in the diner froze as Harry announced his national origin.
The next morning, as the pastor was getting ready, he heard a report that the United States had begun bombing Baghdad. The pastor dropped what he was doing and ran to the subway, hoping to reach the diner before Harry opened that morning. He wanted to reassure Harry of his friendship and love. As the pastor rounded the corner, however, he saw something amazing. The whole regular morning crowd was also lining the sidewalk, waiting for Harry. When Harry arrived, all the customers surrounded him with words of encouragement. Then the pastor prayed over all of them – Jews, Christians, and this recent immigrant, a Moslem from Iraq.
I suspect that one reason some people are so filled with hate is that they have never known the unconditional love of their Heavenly Father that comes to us when we have an encounter with the risen Christ.
Listen! Our other reading – the one from the book of Galatians – says that we are “...children of God through faith.” Did you hear that? You are a child – a beloved daughter – a beloved son – of God. That fact alone is enough for us to distinguish between love and hate.
Some of you are familiar with Max Lucado. He is a pastor and author. Listen to what he has to say. “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning . . . Face it, friend. He is crazy about you!”
That’s how much God loves you. And since God loves us that much – and since the Jesus Creed asks us not only to love God back, but to love our neighbor as we love ourselves – then it seems to me that we are called to love even those who hate us.
Let me suggest, therefore, that we pray for those who want to hurt us. Jesus told us we are to do just that, by the way. To pray for our enemies – to pray for those who hate us – for those who want to do us harm. Not easy, I know. But you know that if you’re praying for someone – praying for their well-being – well – you know that you can’t stay angry for long – if you’re praying for that person who hates you – if you’re praying for the person you don’t like.
The world is filled with fear – violence – hatred. It doesn’t have to be this way.
We show our true colors as disciples of Jesus Christ when we put the Jesus Creed into action. Love God. Love your neighbor. Love. Mercy. Compassion. Forgiveness. Why? Because love wins over hate. Every. Single. Time. Amen