United in love: Being Wesleyan means coming together
In the early morning hours of Sunday, June 12, 2016, a gunman entered Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and committed the worst mass shooting in the history of the United States. Fifty people, including the gunman, were killed. Fifty-three more wounded. Hundreds who witnessed the attack, and/or lost a loved one, have had their lives forever altered. Thousands, maybe millions, woke in shock to news that challenged their ideas of safety and security.
As the people of The United Methodist Church, we want to respond. We seek understanding. We consider answers. We posit rationales and solutions. In the end, deep questions remain.
In the midst of our lack of understanding, we do what we can. We come together. As United Methodists, we are united against violence, united in prayer, united with Orlando, and united in love.
United against violence
While our opinions may differ about motives, we unite against the root cause, the sin of violence.
We live in a broken world, where people commit horrible acts of violence toward one another, including the taking of a life. This is not the divine plan for humanity, and we grieve the evil forces at work in our world.
We unite against divisions created within our human family, separating people into us-versus-them—other religions, other nationalities, other sexual identities, other political parties. We grieve any barrier that allows one group to dehumanize those who are not like “us.”
We long for the day when those divisions will cease and we reunite as a single, human family, when swords will be made into plows, when nation shall not rise up against nation. We long for the day when the peace of Christ will rule in every heart.
United in prayer
The best posture with which to approach tragedy is on our knees in prayer.
We come before God, not with answers of our own, but seeking God’s wisdom.
We cry out in the tradition of the psalms, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?” (Psalm 13:1-2a NRSV).
We cry out and question, knowing that prayer itself is a statement of hope and faith. So we turn to God in prayer, even in the midst of our lack of understanding, and we do so together.
We unite in prayer for families in grief and for victims in the hospital. Together we remember those in shock from what they saw. We lift up others who have been targets of hate. We pray for one another in our sorrow and grief.
Prayer unites us to Christ and one another, then calls us to be agents of God’s love, mercy, and peace in the world around us.
We pray, Come, Lord Jesus. Come to us today.
United with Orlando
We stand united with the people of Orlando and of the LGBTQ community in their grief and sorrow.
One day while entering the city of Nain, Jesus, along with his disciples and a large crowd, met a funeral procession (Luke 7:11-17). A family was coming the other way, carrying out of the city the body of a man who had recently died.
Jesus’ initial response is compassion for the man’s mom, a widow. The NIV reads, “his heart went out to her and he said, ‘Don’t cry.’”
When Jesus saw this grieving mom, he met her in the pain. The Bible doesn’t expressly say this, but it is easy to imagine Jesus taking the woman’s hand or putting his arm on her shoulder as he said, “Don’t cry.”
Jesus offers no sermon, no teaching, no parable. He speaks only two words, leaving space for whatever this mom is feeling.
We do not claim to have the perfect words to bring peace in the midst of sorrow. Instead, we stand beside the grieving in silence as our hearts go out to them.
When we consider that 50 funerals will happen in and around Orlando in the coming days, our hearts break. We are overwhelmed to think of the hundreds of people who are grieving the loss of friends, siblings, children, brothers and sisters in Christ. Like Jesus, we are moved with compassion toward those in deep pain.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, taught us that our spiritual lives are not to be lived in isolation. “The gospel of Christ knows of no religion but social; no holiness but social [corporate] holiness.” In other words, our faith in Jesus Christ unites us and in times like these, we should not suffer alone.
Instead, we come together in our grief as families, congregations, a denomination, and as communities, to support the people of Orlando and one another.
United in love
We live in divisive times. Plenty of politicians, pundits, and pastors have weighed in on the Orlando shooting, trying to win points for their side of an argument or issue.
Jesus didn’t approach tragedy this way.
It is noteworthy that Jesus never asks about the circumstances that caused this man’s death. It doesn’t seem to matter to him. What is important, however, is the brokenness and pain, and Jesus enters into the pain as an agent of healing and wholeness.
Like us, Wesley lived in a time of religious division. The issues were different, but the parties equally passionate.
Wesley addressed the atmosphere of disunion in the church with a sermon called “Catholic Spirit” – catholic meaning “all encompassing, universal.” Throughout the sermon, Wesley focuses not on what divides the church, but instead on what unites us.
In the end he encourages all Christians to be united in love “toward all [hu]mankind…neighbors and strangers, friends and enemies.”
Today, we of The United Methodist Church remain united in love of God and all people, “neighbors and strangers, friends and enemies.”
In the gospel, Jesus does something for the widow that we cannot do. He brings the dead man back to life. While we do not have the power to undo what has been done in Orlando, we can choose to be agents of healing like Jesus.
In the midst of our grief we come together to heal, united against violence, united in prayer, united for Orlando, and united in love.