After reminding the church folks in Corinth that our sermons, rules, and knowledge are partial, incomplete, and as clear as a foggy mirror, Paul points us to the enduring, eternal, unchanging, everlasting, victorious values. Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love. 1Cor.13:13
The Apostle Paul asks us in Romans 8, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or gun violence? (Paul then acknowledges our communal losses) As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long…’ No, in all these (at times so terrible) things we are more than victorious through Christ who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God.”
I am Pastor Paul Purdue of Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee; my pronouns are he and him. I am humbled to speak tonight, and I apologize for the harm so many misguided churches have done to the LGTBQI community.
Tonight we come to our city’s public square to express our lament over the terrible violence and loss of life at Club Q,. We come lamenting the sense of loss of sanctuary for queer people, not just in one once safe space in Colorado but the generalized sense of uneasiness that every terrorist hopes to sow into the world. And we come to rebuke every demonizing dehumanizing force of judgment, hatred, and violence. And we come to light a candle and remind the world that love always wins. (1 Corinthians 13) Love, acceptance, and community must win, for anything less than love is a loss for everyone. We come to lift high the light of love, illumination, and inclusion.
We must all lament to be whole, to be human, to be healed. In John 11, Jesus weeps over the loss of not just his friend Lazarus, but God weeps with the grief of Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha, and God weeps with the community’s collective grief. And so tonight, we grieve, remember and honor:
- Raymond Green Vance (he/him)
- Kelly Loving (she/her)
- Daniel Aston (he/him)
- Derrick Rump (he/him)
- Ashley Paugh (she/ her)
As we say these names, we remember all victims of violence, judgment, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and other systems and acts of hatred and violence. Lord, bring comfort and help us treasure the beauty and sacred worth of their lives, for they were and are children created in the image of God – beloved, beautiful, and blessed.
We come to our public square to collectively mourn the loss of the sense of sanctuary that arises when hate temporarily disrupts a place of community and acceptance. We come to lament all who this day feel less safe. The Gospels tell us that Jesus weeps over Jerusalem lamenting, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who murder the prophets! If only you knew the things that lead to peace, but your eyes are closed.” (Matthew 23; Luke 19) Jesus weeps for the kind of systemic violence that we lament today. Jesus, like a mother, longs to gather up all people clutching them to his breast like a mother hen spreads out her wings to shelter and warm her chicks as predators lurk and winter winds blow. (Matthew 23; Luke 13) Lord, hear our prayer and lament for our sense of loss of safety and community; save us from the forces that divide, dehumanize, and demonize our God-given differences; renew our courage to be who you created us to be; help us to stand up, rise up, and lift our voices in joyous celebration of everyone’s belovedness, humanity, and dignity.
But it is not enough to pray, mourn, or to retreat in fear. The prophets always call us to lift up our voices to address injustice. Jesus flipped over tables in protest. If we love our neighbors as ourselves, then we must raise our voices against the evils of hatred, intolerance, injustice, and oppression. We must act and sometimes act up to break the cycles of exclusion, demonization, and dehumanization. This is an act of solidarity with those lost to violence and hate, as God says to the first murderer, “Your sibling’s blood cries out from the ground to God,” crying out for justice, reconciliation, and restoration. (Genesis 4) So we must say to preachers, politicians, and media personalities who try to fill pews, ballot boxes, or followers by weaponizing differences: You are doing real harm either by hardhearted ignorance or evil design. We must also call out our idolization of guns over lives. Our words matter. You cannot target trans people or demonize the queer children of God with your voice and escape responsibility when deeply troubled people add specific action to the hatred you spoke into the world. Stop judging. Speak peace. Learn to light candles that shine love and illuminate the beauty of each person.
Tonight, we lament the loss of our friends’ lights to this world. We light a candle and lift up their God-given beauty. Tonight, we lament the effect of every hardhearted word uttered by those afraid of differences and unable to access enough self-love to love and welcome others. Tonight, we light the light of Love; we shine a light of hope, faith in God, in one another, and love. Look around… there are people here who love you. Tonight, we remember that Love wins, that we are loved; each of us is beloved and beautiful. Tonight, we light a candle, holding it high and proclaiming the dignity, shared humanity, and beauty of every life. We vow to allow love to win in our lives and to work so that loving-kindness and welcome might become a reality in our laws, legislature, churches, clubs, schools, and social media. Let us keep remembering, keep singing, keep working so that everyone might know the liberty of being exactly who they are- created in God’s image as beloved people with sacred worth. We are made by love and for love. Let us love one another and work at love until love wins.