Things that I thought I knew:
Children are supposed to be safe at school.
The shooting in Newtown, Connecticut would be the beginning of the end of the fight against licensing restrictions on firearms.
I thought I knew that the solution to poor dating prospects generally does not lie in ramping up one’s antisocial behavior. I thought ‘day of retribution’ referred to a dusty, archaic Biblical prophecy…or maybe a new video game…not a YouTube clip full of threats against women.
Speaking of ancient history, I thought I knew that we were done with Wild West showdowns over grazing rights. I thought past due grazing fees in the amount of one million dollars was a pretty good reason for not being able to graze your cattle on federal land. I was pretty sure that it didn’t meet the definition of tyranny to pay a 20-year-past-due tax bill.
I thought I knew that it was a reasonable expectation to go shopping at a Target (no double-entendre intended) or eat at Chili’s without seeing someone carrying long guns. That there was no plausible reason one would need them while buying a grande-nonfat-caramel-ribbon-crunch Frappuccino.
I did not think, when I completed seminary, that I would have developed an entire sermon series on violence and terror – most of it gun violence – in less than five years of ministry.
I checked. I went back and counted. My ninth sermon to this congregation was on the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others in Arizona, January 9, 2011.
Then, March 24, 2012, following Trayvon Martin’s killing.
I somehow missed the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting in July 2012. I think I was away from the congregation that weekend. The same summer, the Sikh temple right here in Wisconsin. I was away for that one, too. No sermon.
I did preach on December 16, 2012, following Newtown.
April 21, 2013, following the bombings in Boston.
July 14, 2013, in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict.
And today. In the wake of the UC-Santa Barbara shooting, in the wake of Tuesday’s shooting in the state of Oregon, a foiled plan for a high school mass shooting in Tennessee and countless others that I didn’t have time to read in my news search.
“How long, O Lord!”
Seventy-two incidents of gun violence in schools since Sandy Hook. Forty-one deaths in 62 documented incidents in US schools. Eighty-six people die from bullets in the US on an average day.
Hear these words from the prophet Joel:
Hear this, O elders, give ear, all inhabitants of the land!
Has such a thing happened in your days,
or in the days of your ancestors?
Tell your children of it,
and let your children tell their children,
and their children another generation.
What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten.
What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten,
and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten.
Wake up, you drunkards, and weep; and wail, all you wine-drinkers… (Joel 1:2-5a, NRSV)
Joseph says, “far, far away, someone was weeping, but the world was sleeping…
To this sleeping world, the prophet Joel says, “Wake up!”
The shooting in Oregon last Tuesday was the thirty first firearms attack in a US School since the start of the year. Where are we – not even halfway through the year? That’s more than one incident a week.
We close our eyes, and we draw the curtain on our national sickness. We treat vulnerable bodies a human shields, arraying them between us and what we do not wish to see, what we do not wish to confront: that our worship of the right to keep and bear arms, the lifting up of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution as a false idol, has led directly to a culture of death.
The prophet Joel, again:
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near— (Joel 2:1, NRSV)
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly;
gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged;
gather the children, even infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy.
Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” (Joel 2:15-17, NRSV)
One mass killing a week. I could be preaching one of these gun violence sermons EVERY WEEK. What if I did? What if all of us did? What if the seventeen percent of the United States that attends to church refused to close its eyes, refused to sleep through this problem? What if we refused to admit defeat? What if we refused to make of our heritage a mockery?
What if we stood on the side of the Risen Christ, the visionary Spirit, the Great Creator who is the source of Life and not Death? What if we didn’t just stand, but spoke, and acted, and insisted– held our government accountable for these deaths, for its failure to act?
What we have had, to date, is a lack of vision.
Remember who we are. We are followers of a visionary who dared to act and speak as if money and military might were not power. We are followers of a visionary – and we walk in footsteps of visionaries – who gave everything for the sake of the work of God.
Remember who you are: You are dust and ashes, and you have the breath of God within you! You have seen death and you have risen. You have seen apparent defeat, and yet here you are, walking and talking and singing Alleluia! Community of Christ, how dare we act as if we had no power?
Peter’s first sermon -- after the arrival of the Holy Spirit set the church aflame -- used this text from Joel as its anchor. Hear it again:
“I will pour out my Spirit
on every kind of people:
Your sons will prophesy,
also your daughters.
Your old ones will dream,
your young ones will see visions.
I’ll even pour out my Spirit on the servants,
men and women both.
I’ll set wonders in the sky above
and signs on the earth below:
Blood and fire and billowing smoke,
the sun turning black and the moon blood-red,
Before the Judgment Day of God,
the Day tremendous and awesome.
Whoever calls, ‘Help, God!’
On Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
there will be a great rescue—just as God said.
Included in the survivors
are those that God calls.” (Joel 2:28-32, The Message, adapted for inclusive language)
Community of Christ, you are those whom God calls.
There will be a great rescue. This a great and holy work. The world is waiting.