Preached on June 13, 2016, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Seattle, following the mass shooting in Orlando,
“My grief is this: the right hand of the Most High has lost its power.” —Psalm 77:10
Human beings are so beautiful.
The gentle slope and sudden, jutting angle of a shoulder. The gleam of a smiling brown eye. The sound of laughter and the sound of song, the might of muscle and the warmth of a parent’s lap. The power and the glory and the majesty of a reconciling hug, a hug that says “It’s going to be okay, we are friends again, I am sorry and I love you.” Her thick braid of silver hair, and the delicate stamp of crow’s feet around his eyes. The elusive art of dancing: whenever dance is captured and released inside the body of a human being, the whole earth grows young again.
Human beings are so beautiful.
Early Sunday morning, the first day of the week, some three hundred and twenty beautiful human beings were dancing youth into the old earth, dancing with gladness in a nightclub called Pulse, in Orlando, a sanctuary that celebrates the glory of human beings fully alive, exultant, glad and gay. Not long ago at all, in December 2012, twenty children and six adults were also celebrating the glory and beauty of the human being, but in a different way: they were in an elementary school, where little beautiful human beings go to begin their rise into wisdom and strength.
That was one thousand mass shootings ago.
At least one thousand, one hundred forty dead people, dead beautiful human beings, just in the last three and a half years. And at least three thousand, nine hundred forty-two wounded people, their lives changed forever.
We tear beautiful human beings apart. We shatter their flesh, cut them open instantly with torrents of bullets. We do that: we human beings, so filled with beauty and grace, but also filled with a dreadful demon.
“Why could we not cast the demon out??” the disciples asked Jesus. They took him aside, wanting to ask their question in private. Maybe they were embarrassed. Or they were frustrated and frightened. Maybe their shame was mixed with anger, or even a resentful recognition that they could hardly exorcise a demon from someone else if it is raging inside themselves.
Why could we not cast it out?
We hold out little hope that anyone will be able to stop another mass shooting. Little six year olds died years ago, and nothing changed. And if we somehow do find a way to cast this demon out, that won’t bring back our beloved dead. That won’t dry the tears or still the racking sobs of so many hundreds and thousands of people.
But we must take steps, however halting and small. And one step we can take here tonight is listen to one particular beautiful human being express his anger about the demon, and his anger about how that demon rages so unopposed inside us all. In his beautiful anger Jesus rants, “"You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me."
As astonishing as our beauty is—and that astonishing beauty is borne on every single human body on this earth—as astonishing as our beauty is, we are also, every one of us, faithless and perverse. We feel frustration with our neighbor, and we then feel a violent impulse to silence or destroy that neighbor. For some of us, that impulse is quiet and rare, seemingly benign.
But the demon is inside all of us.
I want to destroy the crazed gunmen. I don’t always want this, but I have felt it. I feel the rage build when I see their mug shots.
I sometimes want to destroy the hapless politicians, and the docile voters who elect them, the populace caught in the thrall of psychopathology masquerading as our rule of law, writing off these atrocities as necessary evils of our cultural heritage, authorizing peanuts for mental-illness treatment and then hanging responsibility for all this death on the most vulnerable beautiful human beings among us.
But my demon is usually destructive in other ways. For many of us—and I am one of these people—the demon inspires apathy, numbness, unconsciousness. I don’t drink anymore, but I can still check out, give myself a pass, write a homily of pretty words and call it good.
And amid all this rage and frustration and unconsciousness and paralyzing grief, we wonder where God is. Why doesn’t God save every single beautiful human being? Why is God—whom we Christians recognize in the person Jesus—why is God just as frustrated as we are, having had it up to here with this faithless and perverse generation?
“My grief is this: the right hand of the Most High has lost its power.”
That is sometimes our song, our lament.
As Christians who follow Jesus of Nazareth, we, like the disciples, ask him, “Why could we not cast the demon out?” But we need to keep following him, because it wasn’t enough that Jesus was able to cleanse his companions of their wretchedness. That didn’t turn the tide, and even today we flail in our attempt to tame the violence within us. He had to keep going.
Jesus went on to become nothing less than a casualty of human violence. He allowed his beautiful body to be shattered. He lies in the morgue, his torso ripped apart by an assault rifle.
If there is to be a resurrection, if that word is to have any meaning at all, then we must recognize the death and destruction inside each of us, and how at times it overpowers even God.
*** Psalm 77 Matthew 17:14-21 Source for casualty data: http://www.vox.com/a/mass-shootings...