Cathedral Church of St. Luke/Instagram
Bishop Gregory Brewer preached this sermon at a Prayers for Healing and Hope vigil held June 19 at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Orlando. TLC publishes the sermon here with his permission.
By Gregory Brewer
Let us pray: Gracious Lord, as we are gathered here in your midst, in your presence, open our hearts to you, to your grace, to your mercy, to your forgiveness, to your loving kindness, the love that is stronger than death. Open our hearts to you, that we might know your companionship and your great promise, that nothing can separate us from you. And it is in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord that we pray, Amen.
Last Sunday, I got the news of the attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. I was sitting in the airport in Louisville, Kentucky. It was all over the news. My Twitter feed exploding.
That afternoon I wrote this:
I had to work to take it in. My natural reaction was to keep the horror of this event at a distance, keeping my heart safe from grief and outrage, but slowly, and as an answer to prayer, sadness, the weariness, the empty silence of mourning poured in. Someone said, “The deeper the grief, the fewer the words.”
That’s how I feel. Words of condolences have little value in the face of this carnage. For right now, all we can do is grieve, pray, and support the family and friends of those who have died as best we can.
I will leave it to others to look for someone to blame. Instead, right now, all I want to do is stand aside, pray, and love as best I can. There will be time later to raise questions about security, gun violence, and homophobic rage. There is no justification for this atrocity. I categorically condemn what has happened. Better solutions must be found.
What I do believe is that love is stronger than death. The promise of resurrection brings courage. And the promise of a new heaven and a new earth should fuel all of God’s people to help build a better world. After all, what Christians pray is “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Since then, words of prayer and encouragement have come from all over the world. Just in my office alone, I’ve received words from Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, took the time to write a handwritten note and then send it as a .pdf email. Abp. Josiah Fearon, the General Secretary of the Anglican Communion offered his prayers. I have heard from friends abroad in Egypt, the Congo, Korea, Canada, Pakistan, Honduras, Nigeria, and France. People are holding us up in great love and in prayer, including countless vigils all across the planet.
As I step into this vigil I compare two different stories which came to me this week. One was from the editor of a newspaper in [Marietta], Georgia, by the name of Jon Gillooly. Jon Gillooly grew up here in Orlando. He wrote this in his column. He said:
“Orlanda,” as my grandparents pronounced it, is a magical place for a child. Not just because it’s home to the happiest place on earth, Disney, but because it’s a city of lakes and orange trees and families who believe in their community. Consequently, the feelings that accompany the hometown being attacked by a terrorist [are] altogether different from when a terrorist attacks elsewhere. The assault on my feelings and love for my city and its people deflate me like a flat tire.
And yet I hear extraordinary reports of kindness and heroism. Consider the many residents who lined up to donate muchneeded blood, or the Marine who worked as a bouncer at the Pulse club. Recognizing the sound of gunfire, he found a way to help 60 to 70 people escape. Or the mother who literally got on top of her son to protect him. She died, and he lived. Or the emergencyroom doctors. (And no one can forget the story of Dr. Joshua Corsa, whose bloodsoaked tennis shoes became an icon of the suffering that has happened within his city). Their heroism, as well as those of first responders, and all of the people who served at Orlando Regional Medical Center will hopefully never be forgotten.
(So he says) In spite of this horror, the magic is not gone from my city. That magic is alive and well. Not in the form of a fantasy theme park, but because people came together during a terrorist attack to help their brothers and sisters. (He said) This gives me such pride in my hometown, a city that has been terribly assaulted, but will never be defeated.
And then another story and something of a contrast. He told a story of growing up and being forced to come out of the closet as a gay man in high school because, after confiding in a friend, that friend began to spread the story. He said it didn’t go well. “I was physically assaulted throughout my sophomore year of high school. My shoulder was dislocated and my nose was broken.”
This is someone who is now a college student, so it wasn’t all that long ago. He wrote, “I didn’t want to talk about where my injuries came from. I wound up joining the football team just to cover my injuries as sportrelated accidents. I did not want to tell my parents how it happened, because I knew I would only sadden them, and cause them to walk in the fear that I already knew.”
The story, sadly, indicates that while the Pulse attack was horrific and outoftheordinary, there is something that happens when you’re gay, that you almost fear when the next incident will happen, and when you will be rejected next. We have a long way to go before “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
But we gather here, as Dean Kidd rightly said, we gather under the extended hands of Jesus, who says with tremendous passion and timeless relevance, “Come to me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Here where we are, under the foot of the cross,, is the great leveler. No matter who you are, no matter how many times you want to point the finger at a “them” rather than a “you,” we come here, and we find all kinds of people gathered here: friends, neighbors, enemies, people with whom we are theologically in disagreement, people who would oppose some of the things that
we say and believe. And yet it is here we gather, because it is here that in the presence of the God who made the whole earth, that all of our own stories, experiences, are brought into alignment, and that is only something that God himself can do. Without that kind of community as well as the presence of God, all you have left is yourself.
Why walk in such aloneness?
I can take solace from others who will certainly stand with me. But no human presence answers the void inside, not entirely. Because they are temporal, just like I am. They are broken, just like I am. They have their faults and their gifts and their graces, just like I do. And while it is always a miracle when two broken people can finally find a way to align together into that relationship that bonds us together, the fact of the matter is is that outside of this Great Presence called God, who fills us and shows us love, which is what we see in the face of Jesus, even the best of our relationships never entirely take care of the Hunger that will not let us go.
Because this is a hunger that God put in our hearts for eternity: for something larger than we are. There is a hunger inside of all of us, to know something more than we presently know. And it is that curiosity, often playful, sometimes demanding, that is inviting us into a presence bigger than we are.
And that’s why we’re here. To hope beyond hope that what was read to us tonight from Revelation: the place where there is no pain or grief, the place where God wipes away every tear from every eye, can in fact be true; and that I, by the mercy of God (not because I deserve it) can know a foretaste of that kind of love — now. Because that’s what we see in the face of Jesus Christ.
So we gather together, to commend to God those whom we love, to offer to God all that is in our hearts, because his love is stronger than anything that we would bring into his presence, regardless how beautiful or regardless of how vile and ugly. All of humanity, all of us, all those who have died, including the shooter, can gather underneath the cross of Jesus Christ and know his forgiveness, and his mercy, and his great, great love.
So I would ask, open your heart to him, to that God, that as we go forth from these days, we will have what it takes to build this better world, because that love is stronger than death. And that love will give us the fuel that we need to both know mercy inside of us, and extend that mercy out there, in the world,, too.
Because that’s what God has given us. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less. Because that’s what Love does. It extends. It gives Mercy. Amen.