Here is the text of the sermon I preached at First Presbyterian Church, Bend, OR on July 22, 2012. The scriptures for the sermon, Mark 2:1-12 and Ephesians 2:11-22. I sat down to write this sermon about who we pray for, who we open our hearts too when we say, Please, God. Who is it that we ask God’s mercy upon? Who’s burdens do we carry? Who do we think about when we pray?
I was ready to talk about my time at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, our biennial meeting that took place in Pittsburgh earlier this month. I was ready to talk about the people that come in on all sides of issues, and they come in with a spirit of confrontation. I experienced them as combative, ready to fight, ready to build a wall around their group preparing ammunition to attack that “other side”.
I was ready to talk about my frustration with the utter meanness of the rhetoric that I hear from parents, from politicians, from church leaders, from the media, and then I woke up on Friday morning to the news that 12 people were killed and 58 injured in Aurora, CO. All in a theater excited to see the new Batman movie.
I want to try to make sense of it, I want to be able to explain it, I want to be able to fix it. But I can’t…I can’t…I can’t help Jessica Ghawi, who narrowly escaped a shooting in a Toronto mall in early June, only to die in a theater in Aurora. I am powerless, I am helpless, I am left to only pray, only to say Please…God, have mercy. Have mercy on the families of the 12 who died by the hands of one man. Have mercy on the individuals and the families of the increasing number of wounded now the count is 70+. Have mercy on James Holmes, the 24 year old, suspected perpetrator of this tragedy. Have mercy on those around the world for whom this kind of violence is a daily occurrence.
I sat at my computer and I just got angrier and angrier! I keep thinking, PLEASE GOD THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING AGAIN!!!!!
I think, if only there were stricter gun laws this type of thing wouldn’t happen! If only, the shooter would have talked to someone, if only…,if only…, they all come up short and shortsighted. They are simply band-aids on a wound so great that only God can heal, a wound that God has healed yet we continue to scratch, to pick, to reopen that wound.
Writer and theologian, Paul Raushenbush, tells us a the faithful response to this kind of tragedy is…
"if we are gentle, and if we are kind, and if we are wise -- we pause there and do not answer too quickly. We stay with the pain and the tears and the terror and in response offer compassion, prayers, thoughts, and demonstrate a willingness to be supportive and loving in any way we can.
The faithful response is to hold a vigil.
The reason why it is so important stay silent and be still in the immediate aftermath of tragedy is that if we respond or answer too soon we do not honor those victims who have died, and those who continue to suffer. Instead, our reactions serve the idols of our own agendas and ideas. Our reactions become about us and our egos, and only serve to distract away from the real work of compassion."
With that in mind, I cautiously, continue to try and make sense of the scriptures and the world today.
In the Ephesians passage today it says, “With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us.” Yet, every single day, I read, I hear, I see finger pointing I see division, I see barriers of hatred being built and rebuilt.
I’m scared…I’m scared for the youth that I work with every day, I’m scared for my children, I’m scared for this community, for this world. While we were in DC we asked the students what their dream was, invited to dream as big as they wanted. Some said, I want to be an actor, I want to be an athlete, but many said, “I want the world to be nicer.”
I think this is indicative, of what is wrong now, what leads to suicide bombs, what leads to people walking into public places and opening fire.
I’m not naïve enough to think that the world is going to be nice. It’s a mean world; people get chewed up and spit out every day. But what I’ve noticed in my life is that the rhetoric, the vitriol, the way we act towards one another is different that it was even when I was a kid.
I want to be able to protect my kids, to protect my family…and because definitions are important…you are my family. But I can’t, I can’t be there all the time. And in this case as the blogger Rebecca Cussey said,
“Real evil interjected itself in the theater. Batman would know how to respond. I’m not talking about cool weapons or fighting skills. I’m talking about recognizing evil, acknowledging that it needs to be stopped, and being willing to put yourself on the line to stop it.”
I know I can’t always stop it, I am only left to pray, pray for my kids, pray for your kids, pray for those with whom I agree with, and pray for those I don’t.
We have forgotten how to hold each other’s burdens; we have forgotten to pick up those around us who are paralyzed from fear, from grief, from whatever it is. We have forgotten how to lift them when they can’t lift themselves. Sure we are great about helping those who we know, who we like, who we agree with, but I’m not sure we are willing to help those on the other side of the aisle. Sure we pray for them, but we…well I pray, that they will come to their senses and be more like me. We’ve forgotten that we can disagree with civility. We have put up so many barriers of hatred, of apathy, of contempt, of ignorance that we have a hard time even liking ourselves.
We live in different places, we wear different clothes, we have different beliefs but there is not them only us! A few years ago, a young man named Matt was asked to dance in front of the camera as his friend filmed him. Four years later, he released his next video in within the first month it has 3.3 million views. I think that is encapsulates, what the scripture are saying to us, there is no barrier Christ has torn it down.
Friends we must remember, that we are ALL children of God. We are ALL more alike than we are different and we ALL deserve to give and receive respect. We have a call from God to lift up each other’s burdens, even when we don’t want to, or it’s inconvenient, we must remember that with out someone who is willing to carry us we will always be paralyzed. Be that someone for those who are paralyzed around you, allow that someone to lower you though the roof so that you may pick up your mat and walk out the door.