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.


Danielle said...

This is really beautiful, Jane. Thank you so much for sharing.

Jane R said...

You're welcome, Danielle. Good to hear from you. This reminds me I haven't visited your blog in a while! Must do.

Dennis said...

Thanks for posting. Thanks. - Dennis

Joanne said...

Thank you, Jane, I used this for my meditation this evening. - Joanne

Scoop (Leslie Scoopmire) said...

Lovely. I was not ready to read this at the time, but now I am-- with a huge lump in my throat....

Daisy Debs said...

I came apon this that you had written a few years ago now is 5 November 2015 . Soon it will be Advent again and I was looking for inspirational words I suppose ... and a fresh way to do and meditate on Advent . What you have written really touched my heart . I looked for more ; but it seems maybe that you have stopped posting for a while . I hope the Holy Spirit inspires you to write again soon . God Bless you . :)