Sunday, December 16, 2012

Guns, Grief, and Gaudete: Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent, after the Newtown Massacre

The Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday), year C                                               
December 16, 2012                                                                                         

St. Mary’s House, Greensboro

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Canticle 9 [from Isaiah 12:2-6]
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

In the name of God
Who creates us,
Who saves us, and
Who remains with us always,

Charlotte Bacon, 6 years old

Daniel Barden, 7 years old

Rachel Davino, 29 years old

Olivia Engel, 6 years old

Josephine Gay, 7 years old

Ana Marquez-Greene, 6 years old

Dylan Hockley, 6 years old

Dawn Hocksprung, 47 years old

Madeline Hsu, 6 years old

Catherine Hubbard, 6 years old

Chase Kowalski, 7 years old

Jesse Lewis, 6 years old

James Mattioli, 6 years old

Grace McDonnell, 7 years old

Anne Marie Murphy, 52 years old

Emilie Parker, 6 years old

Jack Pinto, 6 years old

Noah Pozner, 6 years old

Caroline Previdi, 6 years old

Jessica Rekos, 6 years old

Avielle Richman, 6 years old

Lauren Russeau, 30 years old

Mary Sherlach, 56 years old

Victoria Soto, 27 years old

Benjamin Wheeler, 6 years old

Allison Wyatt, 6 years old

[short silence]

Nancy Lanza, age unknown

Adam Lanza, 20 years old

Let us pray.

O God, who came into the world
as a fragile child
and who lived as one of us,
even unto death;
Risen One,
Mysterious One beyond our understanding,
who created and creates us,
who seeks us out,
and whom we seek;
Comforter and advocate,
our shield and our strength,
hold us in our grief;
Oh Holy One,
in Whose name we gather,

Like most preachers in this country,
I threw away the first draft of my sermon on Friday afternoon.

Advent took on starker colors.
It became more urgent, its prophetic calls more sharp.
At the same time
it went into slow motion
as our world does after trauma.

Twenty-six people shot and killed,
each shot several times, from the medical examiner’s account,
in an elementary school in a quiet, privileged community
in Connecticut.

Most of them children.
More than half of them girls.
Their teachers, all women,
killed trying to protect them.

A young man
not long out of childhood,
killing others and himself,
and before that, killing his own mother.

The rose color of Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of rejoicing,
this third Sunday of Advent,
and the words of our first scripture readings for today,
clash with our reality.

It shouldn’t happen.
The blood,
the guns,
the police,
the media,
the empty children’s rooms
   with weeping parents,
the questions.

I threw away my sermon.

And then I asked myself:
why don’t I throw away that sermon every week?

Where, in our sermons,
in our prayers,
in our community work,
are the names of the children
who die of gun violence
every day?

 In 2008 and 2009
—these figures are from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention— [1]
children and teens
were killed by guns.

Five thousand
seven hundred
and forty.

In two years.

This number would fill more than 229 public school classrooms
of 25 students each.

More than 170 of the children
killed during those two years
were pre-schoolers.

Black children and teens,
who were 15 percent
of the total child population in the US
during those two years,
accounted for 45 percent
of all child and teen gun deaths.

Trayvon Martin.
We remember his name – do we?
But do we know the other names?
Do our news media publish them?
Do we pray them?
Do we remember them?
Do we weep for them?

This shouldn’t happen
in a quiet suburban community.

It shouldn’t happen in a noisy urban community.

It shouldn’t happen to any mother’s child.

Or to any mother.
Or father.
Or human person of any kind.

Columbine High School, Colorado.
Wedgwood Baptist Church, Texas.
Atlanta day trading, Georgia.

            I know you want to put your hands over your ears–
bear with me and with this list for another minute—

Lockheed Martin,  Mississippi.
Living Church of God, Wisconsin.
Red Lake High School and Reservation, Minnesota.
Amish School, Pennsylvania.
Virginia Tech University, Virginia
Northern Illinois University, Illinois.
American Civic Association center, New York state
Fort Hood Army Base, Texas
Tucson congressional constituent meeting, Arizona
Oikos University, California
Seattle café, Washington state
Movie theatre, Colorado
Sikh temple, Wisconsin

I skipped some.

We don’t feel much like rejoicing on this Gaudete Sunday.

And religious platitudes won’t help us.

The voice and visions from today’s scriptures from Zephaniah and Isaiah,
words of justice and joy,
speak to some of us
but fail to reach others among us.

Some of us feel more like the passage from Jeremiah,
the same passage quoted in the gospel of Matthew on the massacre of the innocents:
“...a voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.[2]

When children die,
our God dies.
Our faith is shaken.
Our hope begins to faint.
Our visions and dreams turn to nightmares.

Into this world
this very world
Jesus was born
and is born
and will be born.

In this world,
John the Baptizer
and speaks,
to both rich and poor,
to the occupied and the occupiers,
the conquered and the empire,
the religious and the not so religious,
the violent and the silent.

Last week we encountered John already,
preaching repentance –
-- repentance and forgiveness.
Repentance first.

And did you notice that the author of the gospel of Luke
very carefully named the context, political and economic,
of John’s preaching -- do you remember?

"In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea..." and so on –“the word of God came to John...

We might well say:
In the seventh year of the Roberts Court at the Supreme Court of the United States, the seventeenth year since the founding of the World Trade Organization,[3] the one hundred and twelfth Congress, the fourth year of the presidency of Barack Obama, when Bev Perdue was governor of North Carolina, the word of God came...

This week,
the gospel’s author, and John the Baptizer,
get very practical.
What should we DO?

What should we do?

One of the things we tend to do when a catastrophe happens is to simplify.

We want a cause. We want a reason. We want a simple answer.

We want it theologically
and we want it socially.

We want it theologically:
You know that saying, “Everything happens for a reason”?
What a load of theological hogwash that is. 

As if we could know.
On an emotional and spiritual and theological level,
we don’t know.

We need to sit, in Advent, in the night,
in our not-knowing,
the not-knowing in which faith is forged,
the place where hope will be born
–in this we trust—
in the faint light of the rose and purple candles.

But this will not happen fast
or easily.

And socially, we want a simple answer too.

That is another kind of “everything happens for a reason”
which might be rephrased as 
“everything happens for one reason.”

No; I think
that things generally happen
for several reasons.

In the case of the Connecticut killings,
and of other killings by gun violence in this nation,
the lax gun laws, yes.
Yes. Yes.

the fact that it is easier to get a gun
than to get mental health care.
The lack of good mental health care.
The stigma
that those of us who have suffered from mental illness still bear.

The glorification of violence in our entertainment industry
and the shaping of our desires
through this industry.

The images and models of masculinity in our culture.

Social isolation.

And this country’s particular sin:
We enslaved each other through violence.
We are a country enslaved to violence.


whatever it is
that causes humans to kill each other,
as the ancient story of the brothers Abel and Cain recounts.

We are all entangled with this.

Call it evil, call it sin, call it the way of the world;
call it what you want.
We are, one way or another, a part of it –
- some perhaps more than others, but all of us.

Today’s collect[4]
puts it in old-fashioned language: “we are sorely hindered by our sins.”

We hear this against the backdrop of last week’s gospel:
the reality of repentance
and that of forgiveness.

What should we DO?
Say the people
in today’s gospel.

John the Baptizer,
in the Gospel of Luke,
encounters different audiences
who ask what they should do
to change.

The crowd asks.
The tax collectors ask.
Even the soldiers ask.

John takes these groups of people
where they are.
They are not starting from the same place.

No hoarding, he says to one group.
No skimming, to the other.
No extortion, to the third; no abuse.

It’s not everything.
But it’s a place to start.

In Advent,
we live
between God’s patience
and God’s impatience.

Advent is a time to rediscover
both of these,
God’s patience
and God’s impatience,
and to discern
when and where 
to respond to them
by living in them:

Living God’s patience:
in grieving together,
in holding each other’s hands,
in listening,
in doing the small, daily things
that assure us, after the catastrophe,
that we are still alive.

Living God’s impatience:
in outrage
and action
for justice;
for change.

Dorothee Soelle, the German theologian,
has always been helpful to me.
She grew up during the Shoah [the Holocaust]
and after World War II, she said,
she didn't have much stomach for
“the God who so gloriously reigneth."
For her,
in that period of history,
God was weak
and did not have enough friends.

The God who is with us
in Advent,
and who will be with us at Christmas
as a fragile child,
needs us 
as friends.

Let us pray.

Come, o brother Jesus.
Come, o wounded savior.
Come, weak God who shows us strength where there is none.

Come, challenger of empires
and of the language of empires
and of the weapons of empires.

Come to us and make us your friends.
Come to us who are charged with protecting
your children,
your life.

Come to us who fail;
come to us who struggle;
come to us who need forgiveness.

Come to us
and teach us to work
for life.

Come, Lord Jesus.
Weep with us.
Hold our hands.
Stay in our hearts.

Come, Lord Jesus.
Anger us.
Be our guide.
Teach us to be your friends.
Teach us your hope.


[1] These figures and others are detailed and analyzed in the Children’s Defense Fund report on children and gun violence, "Protect Children Not Guns 2012."
[2] Jeremiah 31:15.
[3] In a shorter, related meditation for an Advent retreat, I also included in this enumeration “in the sixty-eighth year since the establishment of the Bretton Woods Institutions.”  I include these transnational economic institutions (the Bretton Woods institutions –the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund— and the World Trade Organization) because politics and economics, as they were two thousand years ago though in different ways, are deeply connected, and because our lives are affected by economic as well as political institutions. You can replace the names and institutions above at will. Try it.
[4] Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen. Collect for the Third Sunday of Advent, the Book of Common Prayer.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Perseverance, suffering, a word from a Desert Father, a commentary, and a commentary on the commentary

During Lent I read excerpts from a book by David G.R. Keller (an Episcopal priest and scholar)  Desert Banquet: A Year of Wisdom from the Desert Mothers and Fathers (Liturgical Press 2011).

It is now the season of Easter (which lasts for 50 days, remember and celebrate!) but I picked up the book again yesterday. It has a meditation for each day and this was yesterday's. Each meditation is composed of a short saying by a Desert Father or Mother and a paragraph-long commentary by Keller.
Abba John continued, "Do your work in peace. Persevere in keeping vigil, in hunger and third, in cold and nakedness, and in sufferings."
Abba John knew the path to transformation must be single-minded but is not easy. The "work" is not an end in itself and we will have difficulty letting go of control of life and our false self. A decision to commit our lives to God does not automatically mean freedom from temptations or anxieties. We will be distracted from God's voice. The desert elders valued stillness because it helped them do their "work in peace." Their peace was not the absence of inner conflict. It was resting in an openness to God's grace. One example is "keeping vigil," a period, usually at night, where various postures of openness, combined with chanting psalms or expressions of a desire for God's presence, open the heart for God's presence. Fasts from food and water helped keep their focus on God rather than physical satisfaction. The desert nights were cold and their clothes were simple. The self-imposed hardships brought a variety of "sufferings" that would refine the soul's quest. (Meditation for April 26, Keller, p. 78.)
To which I add:
For us and for many around us, the desert is the daily reality: because of poverty, oppression, sorrow, alienating work, the demands of family and other relationships. 
 The question then becomes not so much choosing those sufferings and fasts in the night (and the day) but how to live in a holy manner with the desert fasts and hardships that are imposed on us. The same discipline applies. 
Amid the sufferings that we did not seek, can we keep our focus on God? Can we open our hearts? Can we somehow seek and find stillness and rest in God's grace? Can we decolonize our souls? Can we live in our bodies with hope in the Presence? Can we too, like the desert mothers and fathers, keep vigil?
Cross-posted in slightly different form on Facebook on April 26. 

William Henry Jackson (1843-1942), Granite Rocks Base of Laramie Peak, 1870.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Joseph of Arimathea Speaks: A Meditation on the Fourteenth Station of the Cross

Joseph of Arimathea Speaks

a meditation on the fourteenth station of the cross
"Jesus is laid in the tomb."
St. Mary's House, Greensboro
Good Friday, 2012

I am Joseph. I asked for the body.

I could not let it lie and be desecrated.

Not on the Sabbath.

Not anytime.

I asked for the body.

I asked for it
from the Romans who occupy our land,
the torturers,
who rule us
and tax us
and make sure
that we are afraid,
even the rich citizens
like me.

I asked for it
from Pilate,
the governor,
who would rather see Jesus,
like the other crucified ones,
rot in the sun,
a reminder to all who pass by
–Sabbath or no Sabbath—
that this is what happens
to insurrectionists: to those who revolt.

I asked.
I, a member of the Council,
I asked for the body.

We know.
We all know.
After the stripping,
the shame,
the beating,
the pain,
the thirst,
the agony,
this is what happens:
the body rots in the sun;
the birds come;
and then, after a while,
sometimes a long while
the soldiers
or their slaves
throw the body in a common grave.

I could not let that happen.

I asked for the body.
I am a Jew.
To us death is the great equalizer.
So burial must happen to all
with equal respect
and to none
with more respect than others.
But there must be respect.

I acted fast.
I know why,
But I am not sure how.
I was in shock.
I did not witness the worst,
not like the women.
I still had a voice in my throat.
I asked for the body.

Often it is the women
who wash a body for burial,
in running water if there is any,
and if not, with water poured
from a jug,
making the body clean
after the often messy struggle toward death,
the last struggle.
But I did the washing. 
I did it fast.
I had help, of course.
I could never have done it alone.

I asked for the body.
I was the one who bought the linen,
the same garment I will wear,
the one my sons will buy for me,
later, if God grants me more years.
I bought it for this man younger than I.
I bought it
as I did years ago for my little girl
when she died of a fever,
long before her mother and I
had met Jesus.
I asked for the body
and I washed it
and I wrapped it.

I buried the body.
I buried his body
in my own tomb,
the tomb waiting for me.
It was the least I could do.

Now I am walking home,
I am not even sure how I got this far on the road.
I had my wits about me, enough of them
to act, but I was acting
as if in a dream
or walking through water.
I only know
he is dead and I had to
I had to ask for the body.

The road is ahead of me
and I am walking.

About the rest of life
I do not know.
I do not know.

Though all four gospels record the presence and actions of Joseph of Arimathea, the Gospel according to Mark is the one on which I focused my meditation during the writing and research for this spoken-word piece.

(c) Jane Redmont 2012 

Last year's Good Friday meditation (also from Stations of the Cross at St. Mary's House [Episcopal], Greensboro) is here.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A fragment for Maundy Thursday (from a piece of last year's sermon)

How does Jesus love us?

He doesn’t, at this supper, say “worship me.”

How does Jesus show his love?

Remember, he says.

The meal, the washing of the feet, the commandment to love
are not separate from each other.

What will we remember about Jesus?

Who will help us to remember?

Who will urge us to remember
those with no names in the text
no names on immigration papers
no names and no faces
like so many of the people Jesus fed on the hillside?

What will those whom we leave behind when we die remember about us?

Our friends, our children and descendants if we have any, our co-workers, our communities:
what will the world remember about us?

And while we are still alive
in this brief, precious, and sometimes dangerous life,
what will friends and strangers know about us?

Will they know that we are friends of Jesus?

How will they know?

Illustration: Sadao Watanabe, The Last Supper

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Ethics, anyone?

An excellent resource for both religious and not-so-religious folks in many fields of endeavor, world-wide:, the Global Ethics Network for Applied Ethics. Have a look!

What the network says about itself (from the website):

The aim of is to ensure that people in all regions of the world are empowered to reflect and act on ethical issues. In order to ensure access to knowledge resources in applied ethics, has developed its Library, the leading global digital library on ethics. took this initiative to ensure that persons - especially in Africa, Asia and Latin-America - have access to good quality and up to date knowledge resources. The founding conviction of was that more equal access to knowledge resources in the field of applied ethics will enable persons and institutions from developing and transition economies to become more visible and audible in the global discourse on ethics. There is no cost involved in using the library. Individuals only need to register (free of charge) as participants on the website ( to get access to all the full text journals, encyclopedias, e-books and other resources in the library.

In addition to the library, also offers participants on its website the opportunity to join or form electronic working groups for purposes of networking or collaborative research. The international secretariat, based in Geneva, currently concentrates on three topics of research: Business and Economic Ethics, Methodologies of Interreligious Ethics and Responsible Leadership. The knowledge produced through the working groups and research finds their way into publications that are also made available in the Library. One of the latest fruits of such collaborative work is the book, Overcoming Fundamentalism (edited by Christoph Stückelberger and Heidi Hadsell, 2009, Geneva:

I joined initially because of my interest in the Global Digital Library on Theology and Ecumenism (online theological resources for education and ecumenical dialogue) which is housed at and which you can find here.