Preached by Bonnie Kline Smeltzer
July 1, 2016
Annual Conference Greensboro, NC
Months ago when I was invited to preach at this worship service the focus of the service was to be the 40th Anniversary of BMC. Of course I was thinking Biblically like a good Brethren pastor and found myself torn between two wilderness stories. I was either going to focus on wandering in the wilderness for 40 years and now having sights on the promised land, or draw some parallels between Jesus temptations during his 40 days in the wilderness and being ministered to by angels. Both stories had great possibilities
But then Orlando happened and everything changed. This worship service could not be held without some recognition, some remembrance, some ritual that would address the worse mass shooting in our country and the fact that it was a hate crime against the queer community and allies. We could not gather and worship without coming together before God with our pain, our grief, our anger, our fears, and yes, our hope.
It was then that I knew why I was to be the preacher at this service. For if there is anything that I’ve learned in recent years, it is this one thing - grief breaks your heart, there’s no way around it, – grief just breaks your heart. It is not a new learning for me. As a pastor I’ve had the privilege of accompanying many people on their journeys of grief. It is a long, difficult, and sacred pilgrimage. What has been different is that in recent years I’ve been the one with the broken heart learning first hand what that means instead of compassionately trying to feel what it means for someone else.
So when the news of Orlando reached me I remembered….
At first grief messes with your body. You can’t breathe, and then you can’t sleep or eat. You find yourself waking up in the middle of the night, or walking somewhere in your home or workplace trying to remember what you’re doing and why you’re there.
Grief then expands its reach and messes with your brain and emotions. Grief fog sets in and you don’t think clearly or remember well. Your emotions are heightened and you find that you have little patience for others, for their small talk, petty complaints or worries. And sometimes you’re just hopping mad! No explanation, no provocation, anger pours out of you.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in recent years it is that grief breaks your heart, grief has a myriad of faces and emotions, and grief will have its way with you.
Almost three weeks ago now the families of those we’ve named today had their hearts broken. Most of them are still in shock, still not believing what has happened. Still wondering how they will go on without their son, daughter, mother, father, sister, brother, husband, wife, lover, or friend.
Their grief is raw and it will be for some time. And so is ours. For when we let ourselves stop and think about the terror of that horrific night and the hatred that launched such violence, we shudder in pain. We shed tears of anguish. We cry out in anger or withdrawal in fear. Our hearts are broken.
When we think of something that’s broken it usually doesn’t work anymore, or if it does, it doesn’t work like it used to or like it is supposed to. Not so with grieving hearts. They keep on beating. They keep pumping blood through veins and arteries keeping us alive. We just don’t feel like ourselves any more. Life is not the same. Life will never be the same. And yet at some point – whether it’s weeks or months or years down the road, we begin to sense that there is hope - hope beyond our sorrow. And I would venture to say there is even hope within our sorrow.
Sometimes you only believe this because someone who has walked this journey tells you it is so. Sometimes you hold on in faith that it will be so. And sometimes you feel your heart has been broken open and you have a choice to let hope or fear, anger or bitterness grow there.
So we who are gathered here in remembrance and solidarity for the LGBTQ community in Orlando have to ask ourselves what we want to grow in our hearts. Is there hope beyond our sorrow?
Krista Tippett, writer and host of [the] faith and culture podcast On Being, had this to say [about] hope in contrast to optimism:
“For me ... optimism sounds like kind of wishful thinking ... hope as a force, as a resource, is reality-based. It sees the darkness; it takes that seriously. It sees the possibility for good and redemption, and takes that seriously, and it’s a choice ... it’s an action. It’s something you put into practice.”
I believe that kind of hope - as choice, action and practice is at the heart of the great religious and social movements throughout history. Every movement in my lifetime – civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ, Black Lives Matter, even climate change rise out of the suffering and broken hearts of injustice. And the passion for the struggle and the light for the journey is HOPE. HOPE that is chosen, embodied, and practiced.
It reminds me of the story of a Salvadoran refugee camp in Honduras where a refugee asked a church worker from Indiana why she always looked so sad and burdened. The worker talked about the grief she felt over all the suffering she was witnessing and her commitment to give all of herself to the struggle of the refugees. The woman gently confronted her: “Only people who expect to go back to North America in a year [think] the way you do. You cannot be serious about our struggle unless you play and celebrate and do those things that make it possible to give a lifetime to it.”
[So] every time the refugees were displaced and had to build a new camp, they immediately formed three committees: a construction committee, an education committee, and the comite de alegria – “the committee of joy.” Celebration was as basic to the life of the refugees as digging latrines and teaching their children to read.
Today as we remember and stand in solidarity with Orlando, we are also called to remember the long journey of suffering BMC has made over the last 40 years.
In many ways BMC and the queer community of the Church of the Brethren have been refugees building new camps every time they/we were displaced, rejected, refused, bullied, dismissed and denied full participation in the life of the church.
And I use they/we language intentionally because it has been the queer community that has endured far greater suffering than we allies.
They have been the direct targets of hateful exclusion, of shaming judgment, of flippant or automatic dismissal, and yes, we must not forget, even the threat of death in our ‘beloved’ denomination. They have suffered and stayed, they have suffered and left, they have suffered and hoped all the while allies through our straight privilege could choose when and where we would stand with them.
It’s only recently that we’ve seen a change in this as allies have also become targets and now are experiencing some denominational target practice and just a bit of the suffering queer folk have long endured alone.
Today we’ve come together in our suffering about Orlando, and about our denomination and the business of this conference. We’ve come to worship because our hearts are broken open. And I believe we’ve come together to practice hope.
Together we see the darkness and take it seriously.
For 40 years BMC has been the sanctuary for the queer folk among us, their families, and allies. BMC has been the Pulse nightclub and shelter where its construction committee has been building community and providing safety so that stories can be told and heard and held and cherished.
For 40 years BMC has been building a community where together we see and experience Jesus standing among us with open arms – arms offering love and healing and respite from the struggle.
And I have to say for 40 years BMC has even learned to build a latrine or two to handle all of the excrement that it has encountered.
We see the darkness, we know the darkness and still we come together to practice hope - hope that sees the possibilities for good and redemption and takes that seriously.
For 40 years BMC has been an education committee for the Church of the Brethren, teaching us about the belovedness of all of God’s children, about the the destructive use of scripture, about the systemic and structural violence we have chosen to practice and the ways it destroys the church we love and the people we love.
For 40 years BMC has been teaching the church about walls, and about dancing at the foot of them, and around them, and now about dismantling them altogether.
For 40 years BMC has been teaching us that there is another way of living, a way that offers the welcoming love of Jesus.
For 40 years BMC has practiced hope and provided joy for the long, painful journey of grief that we’ve shared. BMC has been that committee of joy among us, that place of refuge where we could laugh freely, where we could dance away our sorrow and pain, where we could gather in retreats and remember whose we are, and where we could come together to worship the living, loving God of justice and mercy and peace.
Friends it has been a long journey, and it will continue.
Pain and suffering will continue.
Hearts are still broken and will be broken again.
And in the midst of our suffering we will practice hope – the hope that God gives us to carry into all the world. Amen.
Sisters and brothers, arise!
Arise to life! Arise to love!
Arise to hope.
Hope beyond our sorrow.
Hope beyond our fear.
Hope beyond our anger.
Hope that breaks the chains of injustice.
Hope that builds inclusive communities.
Hope that continues the work of Jesus with both courage and compassion. Amen.
Scriptures on Hope
Proverbs 24:14 Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, there will be a future, and your hope will not be cut off.
Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer
Isaiah 40:31 But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Ephesians 4:4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called.
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Romans 5:5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. NIV
Romans 8:18-26 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
I am sure that what we are suffering now cannot compare with the glory that will be shown to us. 19 In fact, all creation is eagerly waiting for God to show who his children are. Meanwhile, creation is confused, but not because it wants to be confused. God made it this way in the hope that creation would be set free from decay and would share in the glorious freedom of his children. We know that all creation is still groaning and is in pain, like a woman about to give birth.
The Spirit makes us sure about what we will be in the future. But now we groan silently, while we wait for God to show that we are his children.[a] This means that our bodies will also be set free. And this hope is what saves us. But if we already have what we hope for, there is no need to keep on hoping. However, we hope for something we have not yet seen, and we patiently wait for it.
1 Timothy 6:17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
 Joyce Hollyday, Clothed with the Sun: Biblical Women, Social Justice, and Us (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), p. 225.