Summit Presbyterian Church
June 19, 2016
Luke 6:27-36; 22: 47-53
No More of This!
Last Sunday, the night after the Orlando shootings, the musical “Hamilton” won eleven Tony awards. Now some of you know my secret: that I stopped listening to musicals when I became an adult. Until Alvina Ransaw did an intervention a couple of years ago I had never even heard - to my knowledge - any songs from Phantom or Les Mis or the Lion King. But after seeing a clip of the opening from Hamilton, I ordered the Original Broadway Soundtrack. To say I’m obsessed is putting it too strongly - captivated is a better word. For those of you who haven’t heard, Hamilton’s a musical about Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, founder of the national bank, chief staff aide to George Washington during the war, defender of the constitution. I’m not going to tell his story, but the play is based on a popular but respected biography and for musical, there’s not much poetic license. The history is fairly conventional: it’s about those white men we call the founding fathers. It’s sympathetic to them and their cause. Women are included - they have great songs — but they’re secondary; Africans and slavery get only passing if pointed references. What makes it different from a high school history class is that it’s told primarily by African American and Latino actors; the music is mostly hip hop. It’s powerful to see the telling of history turned upside down. For until recently, it was white men who told other people’s stories — at least the official versions — or chose not to tell them. And the play is brilliant, and brainy, and heartbreaking and the music is totally convincing — you can really imagine Thomas Jefferson rapping at a cabinet meeting.
When I listened to it for the first time what struck me most was how gun violence was so central to Hamilton’s story, and to the story of our country from the very beginning. I’m not just talking about the violence of slavery at the point of a gun. Or about the violence of a revolutionary war fought with guns. Or about the violence that comes from using guns to take territory from people with less lethal weapons. I’m talking about the personal I’m going to shoot you because you disrespected me kind of gun violence that we may think of as more contemporary - or urban to use code. I’m talking about the gun violence of angry men trying to preserve their honor. Of angry men taking revenge or trying to be heroes. For Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel. He was killed by Aaron Burr, the vice-president of the United States at the time, who was never prosecuted for the crime, although his reputation and career suffered. Burr and Hamilton were long-time personal and political foes. They had insulted each other many times, until Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel, and he accepted. Historians aren’t clear on exactly what happened, but Burr shot Hamilton dead. And this duel was not an isolated incident; Hamilton’s 19 year old son was killed in a duel, defending his father’s honor. Hamilton and Burr had both participated in other duels, although they had not shot before. Now, I learned in the number “Ten Dual Commandments” that there was a protocol for duels. You sent your second, also called your lieutenant into negotiations and most disputes ended without anyone being shot. But the negotiations were done under the threat of the gun. Because nasty and vehement political debates, and they were even nastier back then - — weren’t enough. Because bitter, hard fought battles for President or Governor couldn’t just end when the winner was declared. Honor demanded satisfaction. Satisfaction demanded violence. Not from everyone all the time, but enough to establish that those wealthy white men who wore funny wigs and frilly shirts could shoot to kill. And they did.
Some folks think of those early years as the time we were a truly Christian nation. And in some ways, perhaps, we were. But this model of honor is very un-Christlike. Gun violence — or sword violence - is very un-Christlike. When we look at Jesus in all four gospels he never throws a stone, or draws a sword, or even throws a punch. His words could be harsh towards his opponents, even insulting— at least as his followers remembered them. But he never gets in a duel, he never defends his honor or demands satisfaction. Instead, he heals. He heals people of sickness and expels their demons. The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk. He welcomes outsiders and eats with those who are shunned, tax collectors and sinners. He feeds the hungry, he speaks with women. He has words of foreboding about God’s judgement, but he never calls his followers to violence: He tells them to proclaim the good news of the kingdom, to visit those in prison, and to feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty. And when he’s betrayed — when a so-called friend delivers him to the enemy with a kiss, he doesn’t try and defend his life or his honor. His followers are ready to do so — they ask can they please take up their swords — but he says no. And when one of them takes his up anyway, and slices off the ear of a servant of the High Priest, Jesus says, “No more of this!” and touches his ear and heals him. Jesus didn’t seek martyrdom, but he also refused to answer violence with violence, or terror with terror. He loved his enemies, he didn’t shoot them.
It’s a week since the shooting in Orlando, and the pain of those who were hurt, the grief of the family and friends of those who were killed, is still raw and intense. Many of us are still reeling. There are so many layers of evil to the crime. Many places where we may look for cause and lay blame. There’s the hateful rhetoric and the destructive violence of ISIS that Omar Mateen adopted, even though it seems he had no concrete connection with any terror group. There are the conditions that gave birth to ISIS, which are very complex with many responsible parties. There’s the internet culture, where people can immerse themselves in all kinds of hateful propaganda and fantasy worlds, without the reality check that comes when you’re interacting face to face. There’s homophobia and the denigration of women: two closely connected, cross-cultural, cross-faith phenomena. American life and church teaching still has plenty of both, especially in certain quarters. There’s the idea, taught explicitly and primarily to boys but girls also pick up on it — that brandishing a gun is honorable and satisfying. Many fantasies grow out of this idea. There’s the fantasy of being a hero, defending women and children against the next crazed gunman who walks into a classroom, or a theatre or a nightclub. There’s the fantasy of defending one’s honor, of defending one’s manhood by answering an insult with a shot. There’s the fantasy of taking out those evil Christians or Americans or Muslims or women or gays or Latinos that you’ve learned are responsible for all that’s wrong in the world and all that’s wrong in your life. We don’t know much about Omar Matteen, we may never understand his motivations, but we do know he was angry and troubled since childhood and it was easy for him to get his gun.
Now, you may be thinking, wait a second, is Cheryl comparing the Burr-Hamilton duel with the Orlando mass shooting? — and I guess I am. Of course they’re different. Neither Burr nor Hamilton went out shooting scores of people they didn’t know. They didn’t abuse their wives, they weren’t frustrated out of control loners, and they also didn’t have access to AK-15s, because machine guns hadn’t been invented. They both did much good in life, especially Hamilton. But there is a common thread. A thread which I believe underlies not only the gun violence we see in this country, but a reluctance among so many folks to put any restrictions on anyone obtaining any kind of gun. It’s idolatry of guns. It’s idolatry of violence and it can take ahold of even peaceable people who would never place the first shot.
As Christians, we have to say, “No More of This!” “No More of This!” We need to let go of our national romance with guns which keeps us from passing even the mildest legislation to regulate them. We need to live honorably without turning honor into something that must be defended to the death — usually someone else’s death. We need to point to the one who asked God to forgive those who hung him on the cross, rather than plotting his revenge at the final judgement. We need to look to the one who invited to dinner those who were shunned — tax collectors and so-called sinners - but who ate with Pharisees, too. We need to look to the one who touched to heal and to serve — never to hurt.
It’s not easy. Jesus said it would be hard when he spoke in his sermon on the plain, telling his followers to love their enemies, to bless those who curse them, to pray for those who abuse them. It’s hard because we want to hurt those who hurt us, we don’t want to love them or pray for them. It’s also hard because although Jesus said pray for those who abuse you he wants no one to be abused, so we have to learn to love without accepting harm to us or giving in. In Hamilton one of the refrains is “winning is easy, governing’s harder.” Also, “dying is easy, living is harder.” We could also add “shooting is easy, healing’s harder.” and “hating is easy, loving is harder.” Hard but not impossible, for nothing is impossible with God. Nothing is impossible when we believe and trust in the love of Christ. When we trust in that love we don’t need honor from others. We can rest in the knowledge that we are loved and honored by the one who came for us and the whole world. The one who died for us, the one who rose for us, and the one who prays for us, now and forevermore.