How to Preach Orlando

How to Preach Orlando

Pentecost V – Proper 7 – June 19, 2016

Psalm 42

A sermon preached by The Rev. Wayne Nicholson at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.


In the name of the One, holy and living God, Amen.

First, I’d like to express my thanks to Mthr. Dianne for her kind invitation to preach today. In case we haven’t meant, I’m Wayne Nicholson, Rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. Yes, Michigan. That state you fly over between the coasts. And I just happen to be gay, faithfully married to my husband, Harry.

These are not normal circumstances, this has not been a normal week. Not for me, not for the United States of America, not for any of us. And these are not normal circumstances, certainly, for the people of Orlando, Florida. For the men, women, and children who grieve the deaths of their brothers, sisters, lovers, spouses, friends, children, and at least two mothers.

“Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul, and why are you so disquieted within me?” *

Martin Benitez Torres, 33. Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, 25. Cory James Connell, 21. Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31.

You all know that last Sunday morning at 2:00 a.m. a twenty-nine year-old man entered Pulse, a popular and crowded gay nightclub in Orlando. He killed forty-nine men and women with an AK-15 assault rifle, and wounded fifty-three others. Forty-nine people who were lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and friends and family. Forty-nine innocent lives gone. Like that. Snuffed out because of who the murderer thought they were.

Amanda Alvear, 25. Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37. Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24. Edward Sotomayor, Jr., 34. Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20. Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26. Deonka Deiora Drayton, 32. Kimberly KJ Morris, 37.

Three weeks ago I was in my own pulpit. Somewhere along the middle of my sermon a man entered the doors at the rear of the church, probably about twenty feet farther than the door back there. I didn’t recognize him. For some very odd reason, right there in the middle of preaching the Gospel my mind flashed: “Who is that? Why is he late? Why is he reaching in his pocket? Does he have a gun? Is this my time?” It was an oh, so brief, moment of fear. And then, just as quickly, my heart sang out, “All shall be well.”

But I remember that fear, and it was rekindled last Sunday.
“Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul, and why are you so disquieted within me?” *


Antonio Davon Brown, 29. Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22. Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28. Jason Benjamin

Josaphat, 19. Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49, out for the evening with her son.

If you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, my heart is broken with yours. These were our people.

But if you are heterosexual, you must understand: We who are not experience at least a touch of fear every day of our lives. Every. Day. “Who is that over there and why is he looking at me? Can I touch my husband’s hand here in the grocery store? Why are those two looking at us?” Every. Day.


And so some of us go to a bar where we can feel, at least for a moment, free. Free from judgment, free from ridicule, free from slurs and epithets, free from danger. We can, at least for an hour or two, be with other people who get us. Who understand the pain and the liberation of coming out because they’ve been through it themselves. We can laugh and sing and dance because we are with family.

Some of us enter – or re-enter – the church, where we can feel, at least for a moment, loved, cherished, where we can feel, perhaps for an hour, the dignity promised in our Baptismal Covenant.

Two years ago, right here in this very church, my husband and I were married in the presence of God and in the welcome embrace of this parish. We were in a safe place – I didn’t even question it. Safe in God’s foolish love, safe, perhaps, in your foolish response. When Harry and I offer Morning and Evening Prayer we always pray for our parishes, St. John’s and St. Paul’s.

But some of us are foolish enough to believe that just because Jesus told his followers to love one another, that doesn’t always apply to people who attend church on Sundays. Some of us are crushed by Biblical literalists who tell us we are disordered, abomination. Some of us are crushed by others who simply shun us, or who demand conversion therapy for us… or who say, in all sincerity, “I will pray for you.” And who believe, in all sincerity, that we are going to hell. At least one of the dead has been denied a funeral by his church, a church which welcomed his voice on Sunday mornings but, because of his “lifestyle,” will not celebrate his life nor mourn his death.

Oscar Aracena-Montero, 26. Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35. Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35. Darryl Roman Burt II, 29. Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36. Jean C. Nieves Rodriguez, 27.

“Why are you so heavy, O my soul, and why are you so disquieted within me?” *

As I have thought and prayed over the carnage of Orlando – about my own fears, the fear I have for my husband and me, the fear I have for the young guys having a beer and some dancing at another gay club, about the women accosted or beaten on the street by thugs – I’ve also been seeing connections.

Connections between the tragic shooting in Charleston – the murder of innocent black men and women one year ago – and the horrendous shooting in Orlando. By men perverted by extremist religious fanaticism taking lives for the greater glory of some sadistic god. Lives lost for ever, spirits silenced. Because of who they were.

Connections between the fear I might feel in a grocery store or on the street, and the fear a black mother has every time her teenager leaves the house in a hoodie. Or… any time her teenaged son leaves the house.


And that odd connection: It was Latin night at the nightclub, and so many of the people weren’t only LGBTQ and friends, they were Latino. More brown people dead.
I heard an interesting set of questions the other day:
First question: When you heard forty-nine people had been shot at a club in Orland, how did you feel?

Second question: When you heard it was a gay club, did you feel differently?
And I might pose a third: When you heard that most of the dead were Latino, did you feel differently?

Frank Hernandez, 27. Eddie Jamodroy Justice, 30. Miguel Angel Honorato, 30. Luis Daniel Conde, 39. Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33. Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37. Jerald Arthur Wright, 31. Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24.

I Googled “How to preach Orlando” and some of the top hits, or the resources that first pop up on the screen, were disturbing – and some were frightening and some were downright depraved versions of the Christianity I love, distorted images of the God I love, mean-spirited and inflammatory versions of the Christ I worship. It is truly no wonder many gay men and women avoid Christianity. Perhaps this is an opportunity to speak less and listen more, to fear less and love more. But the image of who we are, perpetrated and perpetuated by fear-mongers and so-called “Bible thumpers,” is out there. I suggest to you that it is up to you, my heterosexual friends, to change that image. Do it intentionally, do it quickly.

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40. Akyra Murray, 18. Franky Jimmy DeJesus Velasquez, 50. Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22. Lero Valentin Fernandez, 25. Stanley Almodovar III, 23. Joel Rayon Paniagua, 31.

“Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul, and why are you so disquieted within me?” *

I have been truly saddened – and, I must admit, downright angry – that many of our political leaders, and most of our religious leaders, have shied away from calling Pulse a gay club. They’ve referred to terrorism, to a deranged killer, to Islamist fanaticism; my own liberal friends have justly decried the easy access to weapons like an AK-15, but they’ve been so oddly out of touch with where the killings happened. They happened at a gay club. Not a young people’s nightclub, not just any old club, but a gay club. It is only by naming the club that the crime can be named: A hate crime. A crime based on nothing but hate for people who don’t conform.

I offer humble thanks to our President, and, for one, to the gentle Bishop of West Tennessee, who called that club what it is. Or what it was.

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25. Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25. Christopher Andron Leinonen, 32. Luis S. Vielma, 22. Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25. Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24. Paul Terrell Henry, 41.

“As the deer longs for the water brook, so my soul longs for you, O God.” **

I think there is silence in heaven. St. John assures us that in heaven there are mourning and tears no more, but I think that God weeps for his fallen children. I know that God is with the broken-hearted. I know that those who died have been embraced by our most loving, most gentle Creator. I know that all shall be well.


But no matter how many times I hear Jesus say, “Be not afraid,” right now I am anxious, feeling vulnerable and hurt.

And so, for now, I must be in this community of faith, my safe place, and I shall have to trust that you can pray with and for me. I know we have work to do, and I pray that God will make it all right.

And for now, that is faith enough.

Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24. Juan Chavez-Martinez, 24. Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33. Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25. Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21.



* Psalm 42:5, BCP **Psalm 42:1, BCP