The first is the tragedy in Orlando. As you probably all know, last week a man fired an automatic weapon into a dance club, killing or injuring over a hundred people. The man was Muslim. The people in the dance club were mostly gay Latinos.
Whenever something like this happens, we naturally distance ourselves from the people involved.
We wonder what was wrong with the perpetrator. Was the problem radical Islam? Was it homophobia? Was it mental illness?
We also tend to distance ourselves from the victims. We want to think that we are different enough from the victims that this kind of violence could not happen to us. So we think to ourselves, I am not young, or gay, or Latino. I don’t go to dance clubs.
In the wake of a tragedy like this one, it is natural to emphasize our differences from the shooter and from the victims, and the differences may be real enough.
But there is a danger in focusing entirely on what makes other people different from us. Focusing only on what makes others different, when taken to an extreme, limits our compassion and defines our identity too narrowly.
Our faith points us in a different direction, a more expansive direction. Our faith reminds us that, despite our very real differences, we are one in God’s eyes, that we are brothers and sisters under God, that we are called to love each other.
The attack happened last Saturday night. Just a few hours later, here at Saint David’s, we gathered to celebrate a pair of baptisms. Most of us were still unaware of what had happened in Orlando. But this is how we began that service: “There is one Body and one Spirit; There is one hope in God’s call to us; one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; one God and Father of all.” In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, we spoke of oneness, of unity.
Obviously the divisions among people are real. What happened in Orlando was, in part, a product of those divisions. But our vision is of a deeper unity in God, a unity that God is bringing about in God’s own time. That is our faith, and that is our hope.
In our reading for this morning, the apostle Paul expresses that faith and hope in a Christ-centered unity transcending all our divisions.
Paul says, “In Christ Jesus, you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Paul is not describing the world we live in. Paul is describing God’s vision of a world united in the love of God and neighbor, a world characterized by justice and peace.
Our calling as Christians is to embrace God’s vision, even, or rather especially, when we are most tempted to see our divisions.
Thankfully, even in the midst of tragedy, we can catch glimpses of God’s vision.
So here is a second story, a Father/Son story.
When we first moved to Northampton, my boys played together on a baseball team coached by a man named Jim Durfer. One of their teammates was Jim’s son, Jimmy.
Jimmy has Asperger Syndrome, which is a form of autism. Children with Aspergers have a difficult time with team sports. They can be uncoordinated, and they often have trouble relating to their teammates.
After two years on Jim’s teams, my boys went in a different direction, and we lost touch with the Durfer family. But we heard from common friends that Jim had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease seven years ago.
Time passed. Jim declined. Jimmy took up lacrosse, which is a particularly fast-paced game and therefore particularly difficult for a kid with Aspergers. Encouraged by his father, Jimmy worked hard. This year—his senior year in high school—Jimmy made the varsity lacrosse team.
It was not obvious that high school athletes would accept an autistic teammate, but they did. And in the final game of the season, Jimmy’s teammates wanted Jimmy to score his first-ever goal.
The game went well for Jimmy’s team. But with less than a minute to go, the opposing team had the ball, and Jimmy had not scored. It seemed like the dream was dead. Out of the blue, a defender on Jimmy’s team intercepted the ball, quickly moved it forward, and passed it to Jimmy. Jimmy turned and fired the ball into the goal, scoring with fewer than ten seconds left on the clock.
Jimmy’s team went crazy. And his father Jim was there, sitting in his wheelchair, and cheering in his own way.
I love everything about this story.
I love that Jim was able to communicate his love of sports to his son, despite the challenges he and his son both faced. I love that Jim has lived long enough to be able to celebrate what will surely be his son’s greatest athletic moment.
I love that Jimmy’s parents encouraged their son to participate in sports even though it was hard for him. I love that Jimmy made good and loyal friends who were determined to help him succeed, despite the fact that he was a little different.
But most of all, I love what Jim had to say about children with Asbergers. “The beauty behind the syndrome is [that kids with it] love structure and rules. Find the silver lining in their skill set and exploit it. Work on this one skill until perfected and only ask them to do that. His/her teammates will understand and count on their consistency. This way they aren’t just being thrown in, but are adding value to the whole team, which allows the patience to tolerate quirky behavior and socialization.”
Jim may not know it, but that is a profoundly Christian vision.
In every community, from a high school sports team, to a Church, to a city, people struggle to work together effectively. We all have quirks and sensitivities that make cooperation difficult. It is easy to focus on what divides us.
But we all also have gifts hidden among our weaknesses. At our best, we look to each other for that hidden silver lining Jim talked about, for that hidden skill set that can be honed and exploited.
And when we find that gift, and when we share our gifts, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and we are a little more able to be patient with each other, and even the least among us sometimes score a goal right at the end of the game.
Both these stories are important.
We will continue to grieve what happened in Orlando last week, and we should. It was a crucifixion moment.
But we are resurrection people. We look for God’s grace at work in the world around us, and we see it in families like the Durfers. That grace sustains our faith and our hope, despite the crucifixion moments in our lives. That grace sustains our commitment to God’s vision of a world united in peace and justice and love, despite the crucifixion moments in places like Orlando.
And so, on this Father’s Day, I give thanks to God. I thank God for Jimmy’s goal, for God’s grace, and for our enduring hope for a better world. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
 See Matt Vautour, “One Perfect Night,” Daily Hampshire Gazette, May 27, 2016.