Lost But Loved, Fr. John Bedingfield Sept. 11

September 11, 2016

         Have you ever been lost?  I do not mean lost like when your GPS leads you in a different direction than you know to be right, but you follow it anyway.  When you end up driving along in the middle of the Achafalaya Basin Bridge, and the GPS calmlysays, “In 500 feet, turn right!”  That is not the kind of “lost” I mean.  I am talking about the kind of “lost” that makes your heart beat fast and causes you to break out in nervous sweat.  Have you ever been that kind of lost?

         When I was about five years old, my parents took my older sister and me to a drive-in theater in Austin.  Now for those of you who have no frame of reference, a drive-in was an outdoor movie theater.  Patrons would drive up to a little post, on which hung speakers on long cords.  You would roll down the driver’s window of the car, take the speaker, hang it on the glass, turn up the volume (and listen to it crackle and hiss), and then (if you were lucky) you would hear the movie dialog while you watched through the windshield, as it was projected on a gigantic screen.  In the late fifties and early sixties, it was not uncommon for drive-ins to have small playgrounds near the screen, so that the kids could burn off a little energy before the sun went down and it got dark enough for the movie to start.

         It was at such a playground that my older sister and I played on this particular night at themovies.  When it started to get fairly dark, my sister told me that it was time to go back to the car.  Unfortunately for me, either I was not paying attention and let the eight-year-old get too far ahead of me, OR, she left me in the dust just to mess with her younger brother.  Either way, I did not know where our car was,or how to find it.  I walked up and down the rows of the theater, calling my sister’s name.  Then I called for my parents.  Then I started to cry.  After what felt like hours, but which was probably no more than five minutes, a man came out of one of the cars and tried to comfort me and tell me that they would find my family.  At almost the same time, my dad appeared out of nowhere and found me.  I felt complete and total relief.  He took me back to the car – back to the family – and all was well. But I NEVER forgot the feeling of being lost.  Nor did I ever forget the feeling of being FOUND.

         The parables in today’s Gospel are told, in part, to let us know just how powerful God’s desire for us to be found really is.  Jesus was eating and talking with tax collectors and other sinners, when the religious leaders objected.  They wanted Him to know that He should not consort with these people who were estranged from the community of the faithful.  But Jesus knew just how important each one of His dining companions was in the Kingdom of God.  He recognized the intrinsic value that every human life has in God’s eyes. Unlike the religious leaders, who believed that they could somehow earn their way into God’s good graces, Jesus understood that ALL people ARE in God’s good graces already.

         So Jesus tells the Pharisees and Scribes about shepherding. He says that every time a sheep goes missing, the shepherd goes after that sheep.  Sometimes that means leaving the whole flock for a little while, until the wayward sheep can be found and returned.  Now that may sound like it might turn out bad for the profitability of the business, but it is what the good Shepherd always does.  Meanwhile, that one lost and frightened sheep desperately needs to be brought back into thefold – and the flock will never be complete and whole unless every sheep isback where it belongs.

         The world is made up of lost sheep.  We are not all lost all of the time.  But make no mistake, each of us is lost at one time or another – some for a short while and some for very long periods.  And through it all – all our times of being close to God (being part of the flock) and all our times of being lost, God constantly cares deeply about us.  God’s wants us back because we are God’s own creations, and therefore eminently valuable. And that fact is true, even when we seem the least loveable and the least valuable.

         There is a wonderful story of John Henry Newton, an Anglican priest in the 1700s.  Newton began his work life (before ordination) as a merchant sailor.  He worked ships that were part of the “triangle trade,” running rum from England (or New Englan) to West Africa, slaves from Africa to the Caribbean, and sugar from the West Indies to New England. During one of his voyages, a huge storm hit his ship, causing it to hit a rock, which knocked a hole in the hull. Newton cried out to God for help and suddenly the cargo shifted around covering the hole.  Shortly after that, Newton’s Christian journey began with a study of the Bible and theology.  Although he became kinder and gentler, he continued his work in the slave trade as he studied.  It is important to remember that at that time, the slave trade was respectable to most white people. Newton was later ordained to the priesthood after finally retiring from the slave trade.  It was years later that his faith finally convinced him that slavery was wrong.  He wrote a pamphlet Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade, that was a catalyst for Parliament’s outlawing of slavery.  John Henry Newton’s growing anguish over what had done for a living resulted in his writing of perhaps the best known hymn in the world – and its classic line, “I once was lost, but now I’m found – was blind but now I see.”

         There is not much that could conceivably be worse than being a slave trader.  It is man’s inhumanity to man writ large.  There is no way to be more lost than being a slaver.  But even when a man trafficked in human beings, God did not leave him. God hunted him down and brought him back to the flock.  God found and returned this lost sheep because God LOVED him.  And the great wonder of it all is that God loves every human being just as much as God loved the lost and found John Henry Newton.


Max Lucado, in his book, A Gentle Thunder: Hearing God in the Storm, wrote that there are many reasons that God finds and saves us.

But one of the sweetest reasons God saved you is because he is fond of you.  He likes having you around.  He thinks you are the best thing to come down the pike in quite a while … 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.  Whenever you want to talk, he'll listen.  He can live anywhere in the universe, and he chose your heart.  …

Face it, friend. He's crazy about you!

         No matter how lost you may ever be, God is always there to find you; to return you to the flock; and to keep you in the love of God, forever.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen. 

Psalm 139, God Everywhere, Fr. John Bedingfield, Sept. 4

September 4, 2016

The Reverend Eugene Peterson is aPresbyterian minister, author and theologian. He has written over 30 books.  Buthis most famous is, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language.  Pastor Peterson studied biblical languagesextensively.  And one day, while he wasteaching a Sunday class on the Epistle to the Galatians, he looked around theroom and saw several blank stares.  Asanyone who has ever taught a bible study knows, that is not an altogetheruncommon occurrence.  Pastor Peterson believedthat the community in Galatia probably heard the letter in a much different waythan did his 21st Century audience. He decided that the problem was, people could not get the immediacy orthe depth of what the Bible was saying, because they were not reading it in thelanguages in which it was originally written, including all of the slang andidiom that the people would have used in those original languages and dialects.  So he set out to re-translate the entireBible, from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, not only into English –which had already been done, countless times – but to translate it into themodern American idiom.  Meaning that,instead of using formal English, he used Americanized English, including slangterms.  The result is a very accessibleversion of the Bible, which has naturally caused some scholars to scoff, butwhich has sold very well and has been the basis of successful Bible studyseries of its own.

The Psalm appointed for today is Psalm139.  It is my absolute favoritepsalm.  But in places it can seem a bitunapproachable.  So, I thought that todayI would share with you the way Eugene Peterson translated it.  Here is Psalm 139:1-18.

1 God, investigate my life; get all thefacts firsthand. 2 I'm an open book to you; even from adistance, you know what I'm thinking. 3 You know whenI leave and when I get back; I'm never out of your sight. 4You know everything I'm going to say before I start the first sentence. 5I look behind me and you're there, then up ahead and you're there, too - yourreassuring presence, coming and going. 6 This is too much,too wonderful - I can't take it all in! 7 Is there any placeI can go to avoid your Spirit? to be out of your sight? 8 IfI climb to the sky, you're there! If I go underground, you're there! 9If I flew on morning's wings to the far western horizon, 10You'd find me in a minute - you're already there waiting! 11Then I said to myself, "Oh, he even sees me in the dark! At night I'mimmersed in the light!" 12 It's a fact: darkness isn'tdark to you; night and day, darkness and light, they're all the same to you. 13Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother'swomb. 14 I thank you, High God - you're breathtaking! Bodyand soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration - what a creation! 15You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactlyhow I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. 16Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stagesof my life were spread out before you.  The days of my life all prepared before I'deven lived one day. 17 Your thoughts - how rare, howbeautiful! God, I'll never comprehend them! 18 I couldn'teven begin to count them - any more than I could count the sand of the sea.  Oh, let me rise in the morning and live alwayswith you![1]

As I said, I love this Psalm. But Pastor Peterson’s version helps me see it differently, even afterall of the times that I have read through it. 

         This Psalm isabout the magnificent, awe-inspiring greatness of God.  There is no psalm that touches this one, whenit comes to describing the omniscience and omnipresence of God.  “I’m never out of your sight.”  That line begins an on-going description ofomnipresence.  God is everywhere: “I lookbehind me and you're there, then up ahead and you're there, too …  If I flew on morning's wings to the farwestern horizon, you'd find me in a minute - you're already there waiting!”

         I must admit thatthe first time I read this psalm as an adult, I found God’s complete“everywhere-ness” as concerning as it was comforting.  When I considered all of the varied placesthat I have been in my life, it was a little discomforting to think that Godwas standing right next to me.  Icertainly know that I would rather not have exposed the Creator of the Universeto some of the dives I visited when I was in the service.  But there God was.  And if I found that fact uncomfortable, God’somniscience was downright frightening.

         The psalmistsays: “I’m an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I'm thinking.  …  Youknow everything I'm going to say before I start the first sentence.”  The fact that God knows what I am going to say,before I say it, is bad – but God knowing my every thought isabsolutely cringe-worthy!

         Think about allof those times in the car, when someone cuts you off, or sits through a greenlight, while they talk on the phone.  Godis sitting right beside you, and knows what you are thinking right then!  Or how about the times that that one personwho pushes your buttons the most, corners you and forces you to listen to yet anotherinterminable story?  God is with you andknows what your thoughts are, as you bite your tongue to keep from saying whatyou really think.  Yeah, there is nodoubt that God being both omnipresent and omniscient is a disturbingproposition.  But thankfully that is notthe end of Psalm 139.

         The psalmist goeson to say: “I thank you, High God - you're breathtaking!  Body and soul, I am marvelously made!  I worship in adoration - what a creation!”  These verses are a recognition of the factthat God created each one of us – exactly as we are – and that God lovesus, exactly as we are.  We shouldadore God because of the breathtaking glory of God and because of the equallybreathtaking grace and mercy of God.  Weare marvelously made – and marvelously loved. Thanks be to God for that.

         Today’s readingfrom Jeremiah, tells of a vision the prophet had, in which God, the potter, wascreating a pot that got spoiled.  So thepotter made it into something else, saving it from ruin through the grace andskill that only a master potter could bring to bear.  That is exactly how God works with us – God’sown creations.  God forms us and shapesus.  And occasionally we rebel.  When we do, some of God’s work can bespoiled.  But God never allows thespoiling to be the last act – unless that is how WE want it to end.  When we give God a chance, we will bereshaped – remade – into yet another work of God’s.  And again we will be marvelously made. 

         God knowsall.  God sees all.  God understands all.  And thankfully, God loves all.  Do not try to hide your life from God.  Do not try to run from God.  Instead, stand before the Almighty, just asyou are, knowing that the redemptive power of Jesus’ sacrifice on the crossmade you – once and for all time – worthy of the never failing love of God.

            Inthe name of that same God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[1] Peterson, Eugene H., The Message: The Bible inContemporary Language. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002.  (emphasis added)

Kingdom Values, Fr. John Bedingfield Aug 28th

August 28, 2016

Jesus said to the one who had invited Him to dinner:

"When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.  But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is teaching about the difference between Kingdom of God rules and our earthly rules.  He is talking to a leader of the Pharisees and his other guests.  This was a gathering of the rich and powerful in Jerusalem.  It would be like going to the Governor’s mansion or the White House for a prayer breakfast.  There would have been politically powerful people, wealthy people and people with great religious stature there.  These were people who understood how the world works.  “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”  And, “One hand washes the other.”  They understood that to get ahead in the world – to accumulate wealth and power – you have to make powerful friends, friends for whom you do favors and then expect them to return those favors.  But rather than trying to curry favor with these people, Jesus took the opportunity to teach them how different the Kingdom of God is from the kingdom they had built for themselves. 

         Jesus’ message to his audience at the meal that day was that they should turn away from looking out for their own needs, and the needs of those who could be beneficial to them, and turn their attention toward people who needed help and had no hope of repaying them for that assistance.  He was teaching them an important lesson: in the Kingdom of God we must seek not to advance ourselves, but instead align our wills with the will of God, so that we might do God’s will in helping the helpless, thereby securing God’s blessing.  But He let them know that they should not help people BECAUSE they wanted to secure a blessing.  Instead, they should help people just to help people – because it is God’s will that we help those who are in need.  They should do good because we are supposed to do good, not for a reward.  They should bless other people because they were blessed, not to receive a greater blessing.

         All of those lessons are just as applicable to us as they were to the Pharisee and his guests that day.  Jesus said that we should: feed the poor, clothe the naked, give water to the thirsty, comfort the sick, and visit the shut-in and the prisoners – not because we would gain something economically, increase our power, or be glorified by others – but because it is what Jesus did.  …  It is how the Kingdom of God works.  But here is the amazing part.  When we do these things that Jesus commanded, we DO receive blessings.  When we help people who need help, without any sense of entitlement to repayment, we receive the wonderful blessing of a heart filled with joy and a peaceful sense of having done what the God who created us has asked us to do.  That is a blessing indeed.

         Over the last couple of weeks, in the face of an incredible number of people suddenly and unexpectedly finding themselves in need, people have been reaching out to help – without any thought of receiving repayment.  And through our reaching out to those in need, Lafayette, and St. Barnabas, have become what are known as “thin places,” those places where the Kingdom of God is so close that you can feel its presence.

         Since the waters started to recede, members of our congregation, along with hundreds of others around town, have literally jumped in to the muck and helped people clean out and tear out the flood damage in their homes.  Those who are in great need after the flood, have been receiving the help that they could not do without, from a bunch of people who are expecting absolutely nothing in return.  There is not much in the world that more closely epitomizes what Jesus was talking about, then getting sore and dirty on someone else’s behalf, and expecting no payment for that work.

         And over the last week, we began to distribute needed supplies to people of Lafayette and the surrounding communities.  In four days, we helped over 1,000 people with the: bottled water, diapers, baby formula, cleaning supplies, toiletries, and when FoodNet has sufficient donations, bags of non-perishable groceries, and other items that they desperately needed.  Members of St. Barnabas have given up four or eight hours at a time – some coming back day after day – in order to haul supplies inside the EYC building, sort them, then take them right back outside to peoples’ cars.  And none of these wonderful volunteers expected anything in return for any of the blessings they bestowed on people.  But we have all received blessings in the last couple of weeks.

         Sometimes we are blessed by people’s gratitude.  When you’ve worked all afternoon and into the evening, helping to tear out someone’s floors and sheetrock, and they hug you and tell you how thankful they are for the help, that is a blessing that is beyond belief.  And when we have billed someone’s trunk with the barest of necessities, and they share their story of loss with us – ending that story with a ray of hope, that is better than any payment we could possibly receive.

         I have personally had the opportunity to visit with many of our own parishioners who have suffered losses in the flood.  This congregation has been able to give them some level of financial help – through the generous gifts we have received from our own Outreach Committee (who changed their monthly project and gave our flood relief the money instead), as well as from other congregations (specifically St. George’s in Bossier, and Grace in Monroe), and our Diocese as well as Episcopal Relief and Development.  While we have certainly not been able to erase people’s financial losses, we have certainly been able to be helpful.  And the stories I have been honored to hear, along with people’s open gratitude for your generosity, have been incredibly inspiring to me … and remarkable blessing.

         Jesus’ lesson is clear – God’s Kingdom values should be our values.  And when our values align with Kingdom values, God blesses us.  In other words, when we think about doing God’s will before we think about our own agendas, we find blessings that beyond belief.

         So, if you can squeeze something else into your schedule, contact the church office or email floodrelief@saintbarnabas.us and get involved.  It will do wonders for the people you help.  And amazingly, it will do more good for you.


Reaching Out, Fr. John Bedingfield August 21st

August 22, 2016

In the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I read recently that today’s Gospel is about two people who were bent out of shape.  Sometimes I wish that I was clever enough to come up with something like that.  The woman whom Jesus healed was physically “bent out of shape.”  For eighteen long years, she had not been able to straighten up.  As someone with chronic back problems, I promise you that that is a horrible fate for anyone to suffer.  But then there is the Pharisee who is also incredibly “bent out of shape” by Jesus’ performing of a healing on the Sabbath.  The message for us, though, is not in the two people’s interactions with Jesus as much as it is in Jesus’ response to the Temple leader.  You need to care less about your own rules and regulations than you do about the wellbeing of another child of God.

         As a community, Lafayette and St. Barnabas have again been tested over and over again by situations not of our making.  Eleven years ago, hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit this area with a tough one-two-punch.  Those two storms severely stretched the resources of all of Acadiana.  It was not all that long ago that we had the Grand Theatre shooting.  That tested our spiritual strength and our resilience.  Then we had the bottom drop out of oil prices – the same oil that is pretty much the life blood of our community.  That tested our determination and our ability to sustain our way of life during adversity.  But this test – the flood of 2016 – is a monster of a test.  Over the course of the coming days, weeks and months, we will have our resources stretched, our physical stamina tested, our empathy examined, and our faith tried as never before.  But Jesus has something to tell us about times like these.  His message to us is that we have been called by God at this place and in this time, to care for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are in need, and if we are faithful about that work, that same God will see us through.

         I read a post on Facebook the other day, from a local person, who was complaining about seeing all of the “Pray for Louisiana,” messages that had started to appear.  He said in his post that he didn’t understand why people who believed that God was in charge of such things as floods, would also pray to that same God for help.  He saw a real logical inconsistency there.  I have to say that I too see a problem with that logic.  But here’s the thing: God did NOT send a flood to wreak havoc on South Louisiana.  The flood was caused by a tropical low pressure system that stalled over our area and dumped more rain on us in a short period of time than our drainage systems could handle.  THAT was the cause of this disaster.

         The man who posted his opinion on Facebook reminded me of the Temple leader in today’s Gospel.  I’m pretty sure that the Facebook guy had little or no belief in God, while I’m sure that the Temple leader professed an absolute faith.  But neither of them really understood who God is.  They have no more understanding of the Creator God, the Redeemer Jesus and the Sustainer Holy Spirit than does Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council.  You see, Mr. Perkins has professed that, in the past, God brought floods to parts of this country, based upon God’s dislike of LGBT persons.  Now it appears that Mr. Perkins’ house was caught in the 2016 flood – which creates another of those logical fallacies.  No … God does not flood places to show us that God is angry with us.  How, you may ask, can I be so sure of that?  Simple.  Look at the story of Noah.

         After God caused the flood of all floods, the flood that destroyed the world, God told Noah that God would never do that again. 

God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:  I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds,  I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh….”  (Gen 9:12-15  NRSV)

God does not send disasters to teach us lessons.  Instead, God sent God’s only Son to redeem us from sin and death.  And God sends the Holy Spirit to be with us and give us strength and courage in times of need.  So pray for Louisiana.  Pray for those you know and love who have been effected by this disaster.  Pray for those in our congregation who are struggling with all of the horror that floods bring.  But do not stop at praying.  Reach out to those in need and provide whatever help you can.

         Having had back surgery, my ability to get down and rip or cut sheetrock, take up flooring or rip out cabinets is somewhat limited.  As much as I would love to lead the charge in helping members of our congregation get back on their feet, that part is not my gift.  And it may not be yours either.  If it is, please let us know and we will send you where you are needed.  If not, find some other way to help.

         As of tomorrow morning, we will become a distribution point for United Way services.  That means that at around 8:00am, a truck will come and drop off a bunch of supplies that people are needing.  The United Way will then send people our way when they ask for help.  And we will distribute things such as: diapers; baby food; cleaning supplies; and other necessities.  We will need volunteers to come and man the tables that we will set up to get help to these folks.  Please let Carolyn or me know when you are available and we will set up a roster of volunteers.  Or maybe you are a cook.  All of the people who are beginning rehab on houses need to eat.  Let us know if you are interested and we will give you addresses where you can take meals and drinks to give to volunteers who have the physical skills to be gutting houses.  Or maybe you can give through money or in-kind gifts.  Those too are desparately needed.  In particular, new underwear and socks are still needed, as are duffle bags and/or suitcases – because people in the Red Cross shelters have no place to keep their stuff while living communally.  Finally, the shelters, as well as many of the people who have been displaced to another temporary living space, need people who are willing to do laundry.

         There are ways to help your brothers and sisters in Christ who are currently in need.  Find those ways and reach out.  If you find that you do not have the skill, ability, or resources to do one particular job, find another one to try.  But reach out, just as Jesus reached out to the woman in today’s Gospel reading.  Extend a helping hand and be thankful that our God is a God of mercy and love, rather than a God of vengeance, as some folks misguidedly believe.

            Thanks be to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for all that we have – especially each other.  Amen.

Prayer — It’s all about relationship, Fr. John Bedingfield, July 24

July 24, 2016

In the name of the one to whom all our prayers are offered, God the Father, through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

In this morning’s Gospel reading, Jesus has returned to the Disciples from a time of private prayer.  This habit of going off by himself to pray is something Luke refers to nine times over the course of the Gospel.  Clearly, Luke wanted his readers to understand the importance, the centrality of prayer in Jesus’ life.  

I am sure that if we laid Luke’s Gospel out on a timeline, by the time they got to Chapter 11, the Disciples would have known Jesus pretty well.  They would have seen Him in all kinds of situations by that time.  And they would undoubtedly have seen Him in prayer – and would have known that He went off by himself to be in prayer – many times.  But on this particular time, when He came back, someone asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

Now it’s not that the Disciples did not know anything about prayer.  They did not mean that they literally did not know how to pray.  They were, after all, practicing Jews.  They would have had experience praying, reading Scripture and hearing teachings about God in the local synagogues from the time that they were small.  They would almost certainly have been brought up offering some form of Jewish prayer before meals.  Something like:

Blessed are You, Lord, the almighty One, King of the Universe

who brings forth bread from the earth.

Who creates the fruit of the vine

Who made all things exist through His word (Amen)

And they would have known about the sacrifices on the Temple altar, where the life of an animal was offered up to God and the burning flesh and incense smoke would have carried the prayers of the people up to heaven.  They definitely knew something about prayer.  And yet … they asked Jesus to teach them to pray.

Luke tells us that Jesus said to the Disciples: “When you pray, say, Father, hallowed be your name. “

Commentators have said that the Disciples were probably a little taken aback, if not downright shocked when Jesus told them to address God as “Father.”  While they may, by that time, have gotten used to hearing Jesus refer to God as His Father, or Abba (what we would translate as “Daddy”), that did not mean that they were ready to do so.  Again, these were Jews who used terms such as Adonai (Lord) and Elohim (the all powerful One) to express who God is.  For Jesus to tell them to call God “Dad” must have taken their breath away.  But Jesus wanted to make an important point to His Disciples – one that we need to heed today.  That is … God is our Father (our heavenly dad) and wants relationship – through communication with us.

The Merriam Webster Unabridged Dictionary defines prayer as: “a solemn and humble approach to Divinity in word or thought usually involving beseeching, petition, confession, praise, or thanksgiving ….”  There is no doubt that that definition is accurate, but perhaps not quite complete.  

You see, what Jesus was talking about with the Disciples that day – the thing that He wanted to make sure His followers understood – was that prayer was not the rote recitation of a formula.  Prayer is not simply putting a bunch of words in the right order and making certain that they all get said before you are finished.  No … prayer is conversation.

You might think it strange that an Episcopal priest – liturgical leader of a group of people who are known for their reliance on written prayers – would be telling you that prayer is not about recitation of words.  Well, that is one of the biggest misconceptions about liturgical churches in general and the Episcopal Church in particular.  The prayers in our Book of Common Prayer are not meant to be simply read through in a particular order and with a particular rhythm, so that our duty to pray is fulfilled.  No, the prayers in our prayer book are meant to inspire us with the beauty of their imagery and the eloquence with which they express our needs and desires.  And, as the Rev. Dr. Dennis Maynard puts it in his book, Those Episkopols, our prayer book is meant to save us from both excess and omission – trying to put in everything or forgetting to include something important.

But an important thing about the Book of Common Prayer is what it does not say.  It does not say that it is the only form of prayer we should use.  It is a resource that allows us all to pray together – in common – which is good for us as a community.  And as I have told you before, it is also a wonderful resource in that it can pray for us when we are in those desert times and places in our lives in which we are unable to form the prayers on our own.  

But our Book of Common Prayer, through its flexibility, understands that the Merriam Webster definition of prayer is too limited.  “A solemn and humble approach to Divinity in word or thought ….”  There is no need for solemnity in every prayer.  When we, Episcopalians approach the altar of God, by tradition we do so humbly and reverently.  But that is not the only way.  Little children come forward running, or skipping.  And they smile (and sometimes to the consternation of adults around them, talk or laugh) as they receive communion.  Do you honestly believe that the Jesus who told the Disciples to approach God as little children would disapprove of their unbridled joy?  Or how about those times in which something wonderful has happened to you and the only way to respond that feels “right” is to look heavenward and exclaim, “Thank you Jesus!”  That is neither solemn nor humble.

Sufi mystics whirl around as they pray.  Native American religions often involve dance in prayer.  There are Christian groups, including some in our own denomination who worship through liturgical dance.  Some people say they feel closer to God when they sing than they do at any other time.  Oftentimes I feel most in tune with God when I can be still and silent and listen.  But … there is something special in my prayer life when I can stand behind the altar and experience the actions as well as the words, as we remember and relive our Lord’s Last Supper.  It is all prayer.  But I don’t think Jesus even intended to stop His lesson to the Disciples there.

With all due respect to Merriam Webster, I think prayer is conversation, through thought, word or activity.  I think that is what Jesus knew as well.  I believe that Luke’s telling of this story – in which he pairs the Lord’s Prayer with the parable of the neighbor asking for a favor – is meant to tell us that we should approach God the way we do a true friend – or a beloved Dad: with the love and respect of people who are in relationship; with an expectation that the other person cares about us; and most importantly with the understanding that the conversation is always on-going.  Author Anne Lamott is quoted as saying, “When you pray, you are not starting the conversation from scratch, just remembering to plug back into a conversation that's always in progress.”

Jesus told the Disciples to pray persistently.  I believe by that He meant the same thing that the Apostle Paul meant when he said that we were to “pray without ceasing.”  And because prayer is not just about speech, but also includes thought and movement as well as stillness and quiet, it is possible to pray without ceasing.  There is an old saying that goes, “The only way to pray is to pray, and the way to pray well is pray much.”  

The nineteenth century congregational preacher and author, Henry Ward Beecher put the centrality and the importance of prayer very well.  These are his words:

Prayer covers the whole of man's life.  There is no thought, feeling, yearning, or desire, however low, trifling, or vulgar we may deem it, which if it affects our real interest or happiness, we may not lay before God and be sure of sympathy.  His nature is such that our often coming does not tire him.  The whole burden of the whole life of every man may be rolled on to God and not weary him, though it has wearied man.  

Pray always.  Bring every aspect of your life, the good and the bad, the important and the trivial before God in prayer.  It may not result in your receiving everything you desire, but it will result in the only thing you really need – a deeper relationship with God.


Fear Cast Out By Love, Fr. John Bedingfield, July 10th

July 10, 2016

A lawyer came up to Jesus and engaged Him in a conversation about eternal life.  The man confessed to Jesus that the Law — or the first 5 books of what we now consider the Old Testament, told him that he should love God with all his heart, soul, strength and mind, and love his neighbor as himself.  Jesus agreed with that assessment and told the man that if he could accomplish that, he would live on.  But the man did not understand who the neighbor was whom he was supposed to love.  So Jesus told him a parable.  And that parable is every bit as alive and vital for us today as it was on the day that Jesus told it, almost 2,000 years ago.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the man who was attacked could be anyone.  That is the point of Jesus not identifying him in any way.  He could be a middle-class, white police officer who loves God and his guns.  He could be an African-American man who holds down two low wage jobs so that he can afford to feed and clothe his children.  He could be a Hispanic immigrant whose papers are questionable, but who prays everyday that the American dream can come true for his family, as he works hard and sends money back home.  He might be a gay or transgender man who was going about his business when he was targeted because of who he was.  Or he might be a homeless man, who still has nightmares about the circumstances that caused him to live this way.  He could even be a Muslim-American, who loves America and faithfully observes Ramadan and whose wife wears a hijab when she goes out in public.  AND … he might just be the person whom you hate  and distrust the most.  Jesus’ point was that this man — whoever he is and whatever his background might be — IS your neighbor, and should be loved as such.  

We gather here today in the midst of an ever-growing, ever-strengthening crisis in this country.  No, I am not talking only about the scourge of gun violence.  Nor am I talking simply about the racial/ethnic and/or religious distrust that pervades our country today.  I am talking about all of those things, along with the underlying cause of them all … fear.

All day, every day, the news media — and many of our politicians — trumpet that we should be very afraid of “them;” whoever the “them” may be.  We are routinely told that we cannot trust black men because they are “thugs,” and they all hate white people, especially police.  Unless we are armed to the teeth, they will ultimately kill us.  We hear nearly constantly that gay people are pedophiles and transgender people want to get into women’s restrooms to sexually assault them.  Mexicans are rapists.  Muslims are terrorists.  And the list goes sickeningly on and on.  Be afraid.  Be very afraid, of everyone who is not just like you.

Every one of those messages — without exception — is blasted at us for one reason and one reason only … to incite fear in us.  And the reason that we are constantly told to fear other people is that fearful people tune in to TV to get more fear-inducing information.  And people who are afraid are more easily controlled than are people who live without fear.

Jesus understood fear.  The people to whom He ministered were afraid of starving to death.  They were afraid of being ostracized if they got sick.  They were afraid of the rules that the Pharisees placed them under.  And most of all, they were afraid of Roman power and persecution.  But Jesus brought the antidote to fear … love.  Jesus told the lawyer that he was correct when he said that he was supposed to love his neighbor.  And then He told the man that EVERYONE was his neighbor.

In the last few days, we have been reminded of the racial divide that still exists in this country.  A divide that exists because white people are afraid of black people and black people are afraid of white people.  I know that that sounds like an incredible oversimplification, and in some ways, I guess that it is.  But at its core, it really is as simple as that.  When people of different races get to know each other, they begin to trust each other.  And trust overcomes fear — which opens the door to love.

On the 17th of November in 1957, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stepped into the pulpit of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, in Montgomery, Alabama and preached a sermon called, Love Your Enemies.  Now everyone who knows anything about modern American history, knows that the South in the late 50s, was in the grip of Jim Crow.  And there has seldom been a societal system that has engendered as much distrust and hate as Jim Crow — what was euphemistically known as “separate but equal.”  The establishment of this system during Reconstruction, lit the slow burning fuse on a keg of racial dynamite.  So, in the wake of the Montgomery bus boycott of 1956, Dr. King preached these words about how the black community should deal with their white oppressors.  

[Dr. King said that Jesus preached about loving enemies.  He said of the reason Jesus preached this message]  It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power.  And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals.  Just keep being friendly to that person.  Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long.  Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning.  They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load.  That’s love, you see.  It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love.  There’s something about love that builds up and is creative.  There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive.  So love your enemies.

Throughout the late 50s and through the 60s — up until his death — Dr. King always preached love of neighbors, even when the neighbor swore himself to be your enemy.  His message, which always echoed the message of Jesus Christ, stood in stark contrast to that of Malcolm X — which was retaliation for evil done.  Malcolm’s message was win at all cost, even when the cost was deadly violence; while Dr. King’s message was love of neighbor.  Dr. King’s message won the day in the 60’s.  Non-violent resistance was what changed America and forced the passage of both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, which ultimately led to the downfall of Jim Crow.  

Here we are, 52 year after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, 48 years after Dr. King’s death, and the problems which had become buried over the years, have bubbled to the surface again.  We are again living with simmering hatred between black and white, as well as, brown and white, gay and straight, religion and religion, and Americans and the rest of the world.  But the prescription is still the same.

Jesus said, love your neighbor, regardless of what his color may be.  Love your neighbor, when she has a different religion.  Love your neighbor when he is a policeman and you are a person of color.  Love your neighbor when you are a person of color and he is a police officer.  Love your neighbor — because EVERYONE is your neighbor.

As a closing message from Dr. King — another one that is just as timely today as it was when it was preached:

“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding a deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.  Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only love can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

In the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Faith in Jesus and His Mission, Fr. John Bedingfield 26th June

June 26, 2016

         In one of my favorite films, Cool Hand Luke, Paul Newman does a masterful job of playing Lucas Jackson, a Korean War hero who goes to prison after drunkenly destroying municipal property.  Over the course of his excessively long term on a prison chain gang, Luke repeatedly escapes.  Each time he is brought back and each time the prison authorities teach him a lesson – with an ever-increasing level of brutality after each escape.  Finally, Luke escapes again, but instead of continuing to run, he finds himself in an abandoned church – for the first time in his life, talking with God.  It is in the church that Luke comes to an understanding of the fact that he has reached the end of the road.  The only thing left for him to do is die – thereby living on as a sign of hope in the hearts of his fellow prisoners. 

Into the church comes Luke’s number 1 disciple, his “St. Peter” if you will, a man named Dragline, who tells him that things are all worked out so that Luke can go back to the chain gang and serve out his time, without having to pay any price for this latest escape attempt.  But Luke knows what is about to happen and he tells Dragline off – telling him to leave.   So, with the church surrounded by armed prison guards and police officers, Luke goes to a window and mocks the warden by making fun of the warden’s own words, which he knows will result in immediate retribution.  His words are instantly followed by the sound of a rifle shot and a bullet hole in Luke’s neck.  He knew that he was going to die, but he continued on his mission anyway.  He wouldn’t let anyone’s words keep him from doing what he had to do so that the people whom he loved could benefit from his death.

We hear some tough sayings from Jesus in today’s Gospel reading.  The author of this Gospel tells us that at this point in the story, Jesus had “set his face toward Jerusalem.”  That meant that he and the Disciples were taking their last road trip together.  Jesus was walking steadfastly toward what he already knew would be the end of his earthly ministry.  In other words, Jesus knew that he was headed toward his own death, and he was determined to see his mission of salvation through sacrifice come to its inevitable end.  So perhaps it is no wonder that Jesus was, shall we say – a little testy – with the people in this story.

A man came up to Jesus and said that he was ready to follow Jesus “anywhere.”  But Jesus, whose mind was set on what was to come, responded by saying, in essence, “You have no idea what you are signing on to.  You say that you will go anywhere with me, but you don’t realize that I don’t even have a home to go to.  There is nowhere that I can go that takes me away from doing the will of the Father in Heaven.”  This may sound a bit harsh to us, but in the midst of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, these words are actually quite kind and caring.  Instead of saying, “Get away from me, you are not worthy to follow me in this mission.”  He simply said, “Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.”

But the other two men with whom Jesus conversed are even more troubling for us.  Jesus told them to follow him.  One of these men asked Jesus to be allowed to bury his father before he goes to be a disciple.  The other merely wanted to say goodbye to his family.  And for us – the modern readers of this story – Jesus was downright rude to these two men. 

To the man who wanted to bury his father, Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”  That seems more than a bit harsh to us.  And frankly, biblical scholars disagree on what he could have meant by this saying.  Some say that Jesus was talking about those who were spiritually dead taking care of those who were physically dead.  But I think that the better way to look at it might be that Jesus was so focused upon his mission of getting to Jerusalem to lay down his life, that anything that got in the way of that was to be ignored – just like when Dragline tried to talk Cool Hand Luke into giving himself up and going back to the old life.  Nothing could be allowed to get in the way of the mission.

And the same can be said of the man who told Jesus that he simply wanted to say goodbye to his family.  Jesus told him that anyone who had put their hand to the plow and then turned away was not ready for the kingdom.  This is clearly the same message – that nothing should get in the way of following Jesus on his kingdom of God mission.  When he talked about the plow, he was alluding to the fact when was one plowing a field with yoked animals, if one took a hand off the plow to look backward, the entire row could be messed up by allowing the animals to pull the plow in the wrong direction. 

The words may sound harsh to us, but they are not so much harsh as uncompromising.  Jesus wanted his first hearers to know, just as he wants us to know, that being the disciple of the Son of God, the Savior of the World, can be a hard task.  Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ had no set address; no worldly comforts; no safety and security in his life.  In fact, God’s anointed Son knew, as he walked along the dusty road through Samaria that at the end of the journey he would be: tried by a sham tribunal, turned over to the sworn enemy of his people, mocked for being who he was, spat upon, beaten, nailed to a cross and killed in one of the worst ways ever devised by man.  That is what God’s “Chosen,” was faced with.  And if we choose to be his disciples, we need to understand that the same horrible fate could possibly befall us as well.

I don’t believe that Jesus intended his message to be that we should all live as though we were all going to be martyred.  Martyrdom or physically suffering for the sake of Christ, is not what all of us are called to.  But there are other ways that we may be called to suffer loss on behalf of Jesus.

Almost all clergy people have served in a place that they loved and then, one day been called to another place and had to leave all of their beloved relationships in order to follow Jesus.  (And, before you ask, NO that is not a subtle hint of any kind).  Many of us have lost friends over differences within the Church.  There are myriad ways in which we can suffer loss for the sake of the kingdom message.  But perhaps one of the most personal one is when we are asked to physically sacrifice for the Church.

Our society asks a great deal of us  in the 21st Century.  We all have heavy demands on our time and other resources.  But the Church – the actual Body of Christ in the world – asks that we regularly come to services.  Or more demanding than that, the Church asks that we get involved in the ministries of the Church.  We are asked to give up our precious time on Sundays and then asked further to give up time to serve in other ways.  And … We are asked to give of our earthly wealth.  We are requested to stretch already tight budgets a little tighter in order to financially support the ministries of the Body of Christ. 

But here is the thing.  Jesus never asks us to give up anything without getting something else in return.  Jesus may tell us to walk away from our father’s funeral in order to proclaim the kingdom message.  He may ask us to forego telling our family goodbye before we go off to work in God’s vineyard.  He may demand the very best that we have – thereby leaving someone, or something else with less than our best.  But what we get back is infinitely more valuable.

If you heed Jesus’ call to follow, you will always receive more than you gave.  If you roll out of bed on Sunday and get here for services, you receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ to prepare you for the rest of your week.  You get the spiritual refreshment necessary for your to tackle life’s tough tasks.  If you put yourself out and take on a ministry here – or elsewhere – you will be blessed by the fulfilling feeling of serving in a way that God called you to.  And if you give of your earthly treasure, you will be blessed with the gift of abundance – being able to see how all things work out when you put God first.  All of which will often be experienced as, “the peace which passes all understanding,” in the midst of the storms of life.

Jesus always demands our best.  And sometimes we aren’t able to give our best, because our faith is insufficient to convince us to risk it, or because our head overrules our heart and keeps us from stepping out in faith.  But here is the part that is missing from today’s reading.  God knows when we can’t – or won’t – give our best to God.  And God loves us anyway.  If you are in a place where you are struggling with trying to follow God’s call to you, don’t worry.  God will not relegate you to the “outer darkness,” of hell.  God will always be available and ready to forgive.  But God’s grace is not a reason for us to stop trying to accept and follow the call.

Remember that no matter how demanding Jesus’ call to us may sound, he never asks anything that he would not do himself.  Have faith and courage.  Say yes to God – and watch everything else in your life turn around and become more fulfilling as well.  Faith in Jesus is the answer, no matter what the questions is.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Love, the Response to Hate, Fr. Bedingfield 19 June

June 19, 2016

         Here we are again.  A week after yet another mass shooting event.  But, you know, it would literally be possible for me to say that every week, given the fact that we have already had 182 mass shooting events in 2016.  Think about that for just a minute.  We have had 182 times in the first 6 months of the year, in which at least 4 people were shot in a single event.  Already this year, 188 people are dead at the hands of mass shooters – not to mention the hundreds who have been wounded.  But somehow, the Pulse club in Orlando shooting feels different.

         Perhaps it is because this is the largest number of people who have been killed in a single event by a single shooter.  But maybe there is more to it than that.  I believe that this one contains almost all of the elements that make these events so horrific.  This man apparently had mental health issues.  He definitely planned his crime in order to incite terror.  And he perpetrated his crime against minority individuals.  And not just a single minority – these were people of color who were also LGBT people.

         Last Thursday night we held a Requiem Eucharist service for the victims of the Pulse massacre.  On that night, I preached about the scourges of both gun violence and hatred of gay people and people of color in this country.  And I wondered aloud about what our reaction as a nation might be.  But I have had an additional couple of days to think about it, and here is what I believe.

         I think that this massacre may have been a tipping point.  I believe that things may be beginning to change.  I am no starry-eyed idealist.  So I do not believe that things will improve today or tomorrow.  But over the last few days, I have read and heard about the Senate of the United States agreeing to vote on measures to try to stem the tide of gun violence.  That does not mean that there will actually be a law passed, only that the first of many votes has been agreed upon.  Simply agreeing to vote on a bill may not sound like much, but it is exponentially more than we have had in the last twenty years.  I see hope there.

         I also see hope when I look around this church.  For the most part, this congregation has made the conscious choice to love one another, even when we do not agree with each other.  Within this particular gathering of the Body of Christ, we have African-American, Latino, Asian and Caucasian people.  We have straight and gay, lesbian and bisexual people.  We have people whose background was strict Catholic and Baptist and Pentecostal and Buddhist … as well as a few cradle Episcopalians.  There are people worshipping here who just barely make it from payday to payday, as well as some people whose checkbooks do not care what day of the month it is.  And there are staunch Republicans and ardent Democrats, along some Libertarians in this group.  And we all continue to work, worship and occasionally play together in spite of our differences.  In other words, St. Barnabas represents a gathering of people that understands what St. Paul was talking about in today’s reading from the letter to the Galatians.  Paul told them:

[I]n Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.  As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.

         St. Paul was describing a truth that we should always keep in mind, particularly when we have things happen around us that show us just exactly how divided the world has become.  That truth is that we are all children of the same Creator God.  We were all created in that same God’s image.  We are all, quite literally, sisters and brothers under the skin.  And God loves each one of us as if each of us was God’s only child. 

What that means, especially at times like this, is that we should concentrate all the more on the Great Commandments – loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (in other words, loving our Father in heaven as much as the culture tells us that we should love our earthly fathers); and we should love our neighbors the same way that we love ourselves (meaning that we should cut other people the same slack we allow ourselves, and we should always want the best for others).

         Times are tough right now.  The news media and our social media feeds are bursting at the seams with people telling us to be afraid of other people, because they are after us.  And as sure as the sun comes up in the east, fear always leads to distrust.  And distrust always leads to separation.  And separation always leads to resentment and hate.  And hate always leads to violence.  But as I said before, I see some small cracks beginning to show in this negative worldview. 

         Yesterday I read a story online about a few Marines in California who posted on social media a picture of one of them with an M-4 (the military version of the AR-15), and the caption said, “Coming to a gay bar near you.” Along with another caption, “Too soon?”  At first, the story just depressed me to no end.  But then I thought about the sorts of reactions that are starting to come when these stories show up.  Most people are no longer laughing horrible jokes like that one.  Instead, people are starting to see how hurtful and dehumanizing such sentiments are.  When I was a child in suburban Dallas in the 1960s, it was not uncommon at all to hear racist or homophobic jokes in gatherings of the adults I knew.  But the acceptance of those sorts of things is dying now—at an ever-increasing rate of speed.  And in that, I see hope as well.

         Obviously, things are not perfect – or even close to perfect – yet.  For instance, much has been made in recent months about the people in this election year who are fighting back against “political correctness.”  It is as if that term has, in some circles, become a “dirty word.”  But here’s the thing, my brothers and sisters in Christ.  You cannot say on the one hand, “I will not be politically correct, I’ll say exactly what I want to say.  And people should just get over it,” while on the other hand you are saying that you love your neighbor as yourself.  Because every time you say something that is racially insensitive, every time you say something that degrades the other gender, every time you use a homophobic slur, you are telling another one of God’s children that you are better than that person, that only your feelings matter, not theirs.  My hope is that much of the sentiment behind the use of such language is evolving out of our society.

         Jesus told the Disciples that they should love one another the same way the He loved them.  He said that that was how people would know that they were Jesus’ Disciples … by their love.  In times when there are still so many people around us who are spewing hate and mistrust constantly, it is important for us to keep the hope that I have been talking about alive.  And the way that we nurture that hope, the way that we give it the best chance of blossoming, is through love.

         So go out this week and love other people, especially those who do not agree with you.  When you hear someone speaking unkindly about someone else – or another group of people – speak up for those who have no voice.  You do not have to argue with anyone, or create more animosity, simply point out that they are talking about some of God’s children … children just like you and me.

         It’s Father’s Day today.  Let’s all try to spend the day reflecting the love of our Father in heaven, as we spend times with, or remember our fathers on earth.  Love one another as God loves you.  And before long, the hope of societal change will burst into reality.

         In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Requiem Eucharist Orlando Shooting Victims, June 16, 2016 (Text Only)

June 16, 2016

Homily for Requiem Eucharist – Pulse, Orlando Shooting Victims, June 16, 2016.

         We are gathered here tonight to remember and pray for the repose of the souls of the forty-nine women and men who were massacred last Sunday morning at Pulse – an LGBTQ friendly club in Orlando.  And we are here to support those who were injured in the shooting, as well as to support each other in our grief.

         Since Sunday, the news media spent a great deal of time talking about this event solely as an Islamic terror attack, while occasionally mentioning the fact that Pulse was a “gay club.”  Very seldom over this last week have I heard anyone talk about this attack as a hate crime against either the Latino or LGBT community.  But make no mistake, my brothers and sisters, that is exactly what it was.

         We will likely never know exactly what was in the mind of the gunman when he walked through the door of Pulse.  But now we do know that he visited the club on several other occasions, so he was very aware of what Pulse stood for.  This man walked into a club that was an oasis of peace and acceptance for a community that has consistently been ostracized and demeaned – and he shattered that peace – at least in part because of a hatred for the way that the men and women in that club were made by the Creator God.

Hate crimes are nothing new to the LGBT community.  In a recent article in The Atlantic magazine Emma Green wrote:

In a 2011 analysis of FBI hate-crime statistics, the Southern Poverty Law Center found that “LGBT people are more than twice as likely to be the target of a violent hate-crime than Jews or black people,” [That from] Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the center.  Because the population of LGBT Americans is relatively small, and the number of hate crimes against that group is significant, LGBT individuals face a higher risk than other groups of being the victim of an attack.  …  Sexual orientation motivated roughly 20 percent of hate crimes in 2013, according to the FBI; the only factor that accounted for more was race.[1]

While the Stonewall Riots of 1969 may have started the “Gay Rights Movement,” in this country, they arguably also started a violent backlash that, to one extent or another, lasts today. 

When you Google “LGBT hate crimes,” the list is long and ignominious.  Even if you only include the ones that received a lot of publicity, the list is still horribly long.  Simply as examples, in New Orleans, in 1973, 32 mostly gay men died and over 30 others were injured when an arsonist set fire to the UpStairs Lounge.  The fire was set because of the sexual orientation of the people who frequented the club.  Harvey Milk was assassinated in San Francisco in 1978, simply because he was an outspoken, openly gay politician.  Branden Teena, the subject of the film, Boys Don’t Cry, was raped and murdered in 1993 because his supposed friends found out that he was transgender.  And of course there was the infamous case of 21 year-old Matthew Shepherd, who was viciously beaten, hanged on a fence and left to die in Wyoming in October of 1998.  There was even the case of a gay man, Scott Amedure, being shot to death, because he had to audacity to reveal that he had a crush on a straight man, on an episode of The Jenny Jones Show.  The list goes on and on and on, leading inexorably to the worst mass murder in this country since 9/11, and the worst episode of single-gunman gun violence in our history.  And in a country that has had 126 events in which a lone gunman has killed at least 4 people in the latter half of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century[2], that is saying something.

A group of people who were part of a minority in this country – many of them part of two minorities, since it was Latin Night at the club – being gunned down simply for being who they were.  What do we do with that?

We could get – and likely have already gotten – angry.  But anger with the one who perpetrated this horrible atrocity is useless anger.  Being angry with someone who set out to terrorize a community simply for existing, it seems to me, is anger with no worthwhile outlet.  Righteous anger with those who do nothing to take military grade weapons out of the hands of bad people, is useful anger.  Get politically active.  I am not a “ban the gun” kind of guy, but working toward commonsense gun reform seems to me to be a good outlet for our anger and frustration.  But that alone will not get us farther down the road to healing.

Healing in the aftermath of such a tragedy can only come through love.  Jesus told the Disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.[3]”  He knew that the Disciples would face people in the world who hated them simply for being His disciples.  He knew that they would face persecution for who they associated with.  And His prescription was that they love one another.

At times like this, it is ever so easy to succumb to the siren call of the culture around us.  We hear all the time that we should be afraid.  We should more heavily arm ourselves because “they” (whoever “they” may be) are coming for us.  And then when something like the Pulse shooting happens, we are told that we should seek retribution, or revenge, by increasing bombing on the other side of the world.  But as Mohandas Gandhi famously said, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”

Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. both knew that violence begets violence … every time.  Both of those great men lead non-violent protests against the systems that kept their people enslaved through violence.  They knew that love was the only sure and certain way to defeat hate, and that in the end, you cannot crush violence, you can only love it out of existence.

Loving one another though, is pretty easy.  We can see each other as we are – all children of the one Creator God.  The people in this church tonight, for the most part, do not have a problem with loving the other people in this church.  It is when we go outside these walls and have to face a world that shows hatred for who we are – the “we” being LGBT people and the straight people who love (or at least respect) them. 

When we go back out into the world tonight, we need Jesus and His love more than ever.  We need the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen us for our journeys.  And we need to be God’s hands and feet in the world, holding onto one another when things get tough and taking strength and courage from each other, as well as all of the generations of disciples who have gone before us.

Love one another.  Be strong.  Be brave.  Be together.  And BE the light of Christ’s love to this broken and hurting world.  That is the only real way to effect change.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

[1]   http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/06/the-extraordinarily-common-violence-against-lgbt-people-in-america/486722/

[3]  John 13:34-35 (NRSV)