Monday, October 19, 2015

Servant not Sensation

Sermon notes for Proper 24B, the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time (10/18/2015)
(I rarely write my sermons completely so I don’t have a precise script of what I said during my homily. What I offer here are “Sermon Notes,” recollections of what I said, wanted to say, or should have said, all in retrospect.)

When I was a kid, my family would sometimes go to the local homeless shelter to serve lunch to the men, women and children who would come. One Sunday as we were leaving church (I was maybe eight or nine years old) my mother and father stopped to chat with some friends. Their friends asked if our family would like to join them for breakfast at Pop’s. Since we were on our way to the homeless shelter, my mother politely declined. Excitedly, I jumped in, “We are on our way to the…” Almost immediately, I felt a squeeze on my shoulder. It was my father giving me one those “Dad Squeezes.” You might know that squeeze. It was used in public to gently indicate that I should stop whatever it was that I was doing. In this case, my father wanted me to stop talking.

When we got in the car, my dad turned to my brother I in the back seat – not in the least bit angry or concerned or embarrassed, but in that serious mode of him wanting to teach us something. "Boys, there’s no need to tell others that we go to the homeless shelter. We go there to be of service, not to be a sensation."

The story told through today’s Gospel lesson is quite a remarkable contrast between service and sensation. We hear James and John request from Jesus positions of power and prominence when Jesus is in his glory. Now, James and John are two brothers who have been with Jesus from the beginning of Jesus ministry. Called by Jesus as they were mending their nets, they "left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him" (Mark 1:10b). How could two who had been with Jesus so long, who had been so close to the Teacher, have missed the boat so completely?

Jesus responds to the two brothers but not with indignation or even a hearty rebuke; bu, rather, it is with loving concern. Jesus asks them a simple question. Ah, beware of the simple question from Jesus! If you look back at the Gospel lessons from the past few weeks, we have been hearing narratives from the tenth chapter of Mark. In each of the narratives Jesus asks what appears to be a simple question but each question turns into a larger teaching on the nature of discipleship.

The first narrative starts with Jesus confronted by some Pharisees about the question of divorce (Mark 10:2-12). Leaving marriage and divorce for another sermon, what is striking in the scene is that Jesus asks the Pharisees a question to which he must assume they already know the standard answer. But Jesus turns it around saying, “Because of your hardness of heart….” The people couldn’t accept the story as it was originally given, in which people (husband and wife in this case) lived the covenant life in harmony and love. So the story (i.e. the law) had to be re-written. The idea of “softening” one’s heart to the story of God is made more clear in the very next scene when Jesus welcomes the little children (Mark 10:13-16). On one level, it is fitting that the story of the children should follow the teaching on marriage/divorce, since women and children were especially vulnerable in first-century Palestinian society. On another level, the story of children is in direct response to the hardness of heart the Pharisees. In other words, as disciples we should approach the story of God and the life and love of God with open, contrite hearts.

The second narrative begins when a man approaches Jesus and inquires, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17-22). Again Jesus responds with a question, but clearly one that requires no response, “Why do you call me good?” And Jesus proceeds to recall the commandments which the man claims to have kept “since [his] youth.” So, as with the Pharisees above, the encounter turns when Jesus says, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ “Come, follow me.” An invitation much like the one offered to Peter and Andrew, and James and John. But something is holding the rich man back and Jesus recognizes what it is so he tells the man to first “go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor…” But this was too hard for the man who “went away grieving.” The episode of the rich man is followed by two more episodes (10:23-27 and 10:28-31) that are joined together with the first episode in a teaching narrative on wealth as an obstacle to discipleship, God’s preferential treatment of the poor, and the rewards for voluntary poverty in the service to the mission of God. The basic principles of Mark’s narratives on poverty and riches must continue to provide a challenge to all who dare call themselves Christians and especially those who do so in the “rich nations” of the world today.

And now we have the third narrative, the one we just heard today. James and John asked Jesus a rather impertinent question. Perhaps they were afraid after what Jesus had just told them about what was going to happen to him in Jerusalem. In any event, like the episodes before, Jesus asks a question, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” Personally, I think the question was rhetorical and didn’t really require an answer. James and John answer, however, that are able. Jesus assures them that they will be drink the cup that he drinks and they will be baptized with the same baptism but that the places they ask for are not his to give. Then, in the midst of the other disciples’ jealous anger, Jesus takes the opportunity to contrast earthly greatness with divine greatness. The Gentile rulers lord their power over others, acting as tyrants. But among Jesus’ disciples, those desiring greatness must “servant…and slave of all.”

There are a many examples of those who desire worldly greatness in our midst today. Take a look at the news: the financial barons of Wall Street, the energy moguls, and the arms dealers who prize financial gain over life, creation, and the common good. Consider, as well, the jockeying and power hungry attitudes found in the presidential primary. But they should not be our model so we will leave them be.

There are a great many examples of those who seek divine greatness, who seek to serve and not to be served. Indeed, a great cloud of witnesses testifies and gives example. Consider, Francis and Clare who forsook their wealth to care for the poor. Consider John Vianney, known for his compassionate proclamation of divine mercy. Consider Marin de Porres who founded an orphanage and children’s hospital and worked tirelessly among the mulatto of Peru. Consider William Wilberforce whose faith led him to use his power in England as Member of Parliament not to line his own pockets but to help abolish the slave trade. Consider Desmond Tutu who, as Archbishop of Cape Town, didn’t puff himself up but rather puffed up the people of South Africa, leading them to change.

To be great in God’s kingdom is to be a servant modeled after Jesus’ own life of service not to be a sensation only after self-fulfillment. As hearers of the Gospel today, the story of James and John is disconcerting because if James and John couldn’t incorporate his teachings into their lives, how on earth are we to do so?

So how do we become better servants? This is, of course, the long journey of the Christian life so let me share three thoughts with you today.

First, we can become better servants by checking our motivation. Thomas Secker, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1758 until his death in 1768, once said,
"God has three sorts of servants in the world: some are slaves, and serve Him from fear; others are hirelings, and serve for wages; and the last are sons [and daughters], who serve because they love." (Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited {Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1988} 452).
In the week ahead, as you seek to serve God, check your motivation. Divine servanthood is always motivated by love – a loved “because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). I was listening to music as I was praying the homily this week and as I was reading again the passage from Mark a great old classic came on:
Come, thou font of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing thy grace!
Streams of mercy never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! Oh, fix me on it,
Mount of God’s unchanging love.
Hear that: God’s unchanging love. God loves us, each one of us with an unchanging love. Yes, even in our sin God loves us. That is the love that should be our motivation to serve others in Jesus’ name.

Second, we become better servants by being mindful of the one who calls us. We should remember that in all things we serve because Jesus has beckoned us.

Moreover, we should remember that we serve God in all things. When we serve our beloved spouses, we serve God. When we serve our beloved children, we serve God. When we serve the poor, the disenfranchised, the lonely, the sick, the orphans, and the widows, we serve God.
"Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me."
"Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?"

"Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." (Matthew 25:34-40)
As we become more aware of God’s presence in everyday life and as we become more able to see Jesus in our neighbor, we can strive to understand that all we do is somehow of God and toward God. With this approach, even the most mundane tasks that might not usually be associated with our spiritual lives can be viewed as service.

Third, we can become better servants by ensuring that this church is a “Servant Church.” Karl Barth discusses churches dedicated to the mission of the Gospel, describes the living church as one that:
“...proclaims the Gospel to every creature. The Church runs like a herald to deliver the message. It is not a snail that carries its little house on its back and is so well off in it that only now and then it sticks out its feelers and then thinks that the claim of publicity has been satisfied. No, the Church lives by its commission as herald. Where the Church is living, it must ask itself whether it is serving this commission or whether it is a purpose in itself.” (Barth, Dogmatics in Outline {New York: Harper, 1959} 147).
Is our congregation a living servant church? Do we have a clear understanding that we exist in service to Jesus and in service to the proclamation by word and example the good news? Do our actions stem from Jesus’ commission to proclaim the gospel?

Does worship ….
Does outreach…
Does common life….
Does our stewardship, our meetings, and even our disagreements….
….have the possibility to transform those they touch?

If not, perhaps it is time to begin a conversation about focusing more clearly on Jesus’ call to us as disciples and on our purpose as a congregation.

As hearers of the Gospel today, the story of James and John is disconcerting because even the most pious listeners can see a bit of themselves in the story. How many of us are able to truly base our lives and actions on the divine definition of greatness – servanthood?

Fortunately, the story closes with a message of hope and wonder. Jesus proclaims that the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus promises us that although we will all fall short, through his death we are redeemed.

And that is the Good News, indeed.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Ending Gun Violence IS a Gospel Value

Reflection on Gun Violence (10/14/2015)
This is a version of the opening remarks that I gave at our recent discussion, A Christian and Community Response to Gun Violence. They are somewhat expanded from the original.

Gun violence in America has reached astonishing levels, reaching 32,251 deaths in 2011 (the last year for which the CDC has data). While we are shocked by these numbers, the tragedies the afflict our cities, schools, and neighborhoods unfortunately no longer seem to surprise us. Once romanticized in western and gangster movies, lively shoot-outs have infected places once deemed inoculated by such violence: sanctuaries, school cafeterias, malls, community centers, campuses, playgrounds, and our suburban homes. Geography is no longer a buffer from the violence. Everyone is at risk. There are currently an estimated 112 guns per 100 people in America – that’s more guns than people! We are, as a country, armed and dangerous.

The Episcopal Church has for thirty years been concerned about this growing and frightening phenomenon, as have our sisters and brothers in a vast array of faith traditions. At the 1976 General Convention in Minneapolis the church took its first stance on guns, urging congress to adopt effective measures on hand gun control legislation (see here for the full text of Resolution 1976-C052). Since the 1976 General Convention ten more resolutions directly related to gun violence have been passed. Two were passed at the most recent General Convention in Salt Lake City in July of this year (2015-B008 and 2015-C005). While these newest resolutions don’t ask for any more than what has asked for in the past, it seems clear that the church recognized that our voices have not been persuasive enough and our actions too limited.

There are, it seems, to many places in America where it is difficult to hear the gospel over the resounding retort of gunfire. Nevertheless, we need to remain stalwart, convinced that God calls us to protect the lives of all within the human community, each a precious light in the eyes of the Creator. Moreover, in order to fulfill our baptism covenant to seek “peace among all people” we must persevere and find new and active ways of bringing change. We can no longer tolerate our self-imposed and truly preventable exile from God’s shalom, the kingdom of peace.

Christian Gospel values challenge gun violence in order to protect human life from unnecessary tragedy. The most recent approaches to gun violence, whether from the perspective of law enforcement, public health, or public safety, have all centered on individual offenders and owners of illegal firearms. While certainly an important approach, it might not be enough. We might need to plow a new field, harvesting for future education and policy that approaches the issue from the point of view of society and the common good. The Episcopal Church’s emphasis on legislation, policy, and education is clear in its current and past resolutions. A social need is clear and will require social action.

Should the church be involved in social action? Does the church have a duty or a responsibility to engage in the public policy discussion? Does the church even have a right to do so?

The vision presented in Isaiah 65 of “new heavens and a new earth….where the wolf and the lamb shall feed together” has lost its power amid the sanitized idealization of the Christmas card. The people of God must continue to hold fast to the sacred visions of our Sacred Story, the scriptures which recall the intentions of the Creator for humanity. It is this vision, where humanity lives in radical peace with all of creation, that ought be our driving force when we confront Empire, the evil oppressor.

“For I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy….no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,” continues Isaiah 65, “No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime.” This is the idyllic vision of the Creator’s intention. This is a vision where parents don’t have to worry about sending their children to school or to play in the neighborhood. This is a vision where adults don’t have to fear walking down the street or going to the movies or shopping in the mall. As we recall this vision – as Isaiah reminds us of this vision we longing is stirred for a different way and different kind of society. Not one built on fear and terror but one built on solidarity where the other is “alas, bone of my bone…a suitable helpmate.”

This vision is, moreover, one that should hold for those who profess Christ and for those who do not. It is for those inside the community of faith and for those not. Those of within the Anglican tradition continue to be informed by the great cloud of witnesses who have preceded us. From the start, the prophets of Israel and Judah – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Micah, Hosea, and so many others – challenged those in authority to create places of justice and peace. They challenged the leaders of government and religion to change institutions and policies so as to protect the poor. Many among the early Christians challenged Roman treatment of the early Church. Saint so the middle ages, most notably Francis of Assisi, challenged the economic systems of the feudal city-states. In the 16th century, Luther, Calvin, and the other reformers challenged the Church and State to change their corrupt ways. And using their faith as a catalyst, William Wilberforce, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, and countless other saints helped to change the structures and institutions of the modern world.

It is not only the church that is knit together, one body out of many parts. Our Anglican tradition (read the Caroline Divines) affirms that the whole human community ought to reflect the image of the triune God. Government and public structures, then, are most fittingly used when they defend the lives of our neighbors, build community, promote tranquility, and protect our citizens. As a church, we must recapture the voice of the prophets challenging government policy and the interests aligned with the status quo. Indeed, despite rhetoric to the contrary by the likes of the Tea Party, Government is not evil and law are not inherently bad. Good government and sound laws can, indeed, by guides to people of faith and help structure the burdens of social life.

It is time that people of faith advocate a government role that protects its citizens and raises the standards of responsible gun ownership, with careful protections for all.

While Episcopalians and other communities of faith were issuing statements of against gun violence, the violence continued with an estimated 620,000 dead in the last two decades and another 1.4 million injured. It is time, therefore, for the church to not just pay attention to the rightness of our words but also to heed the size and efficacy of our actions. It is time to regard the effectiveness of our actions in stopping preventable suffering and death of so many of our daughters and sons, mothers and fathers, friends and neighbor.

It is time to effect and enact God’s “NO.”

So, if we are to be effective, we need to be intentional and smart. From the start, the church must recognize its role in creating the atmosphere of spiritual awakening that leads to social movement, the broader search to change laws and cultural norms. Social scientists have long noticed five coexisting needs for social movements to flourish. All five are present if we but heed the call.

A Clear Grievance
Consider that 90 people die every day from guns – that’s 32,000 every year. Approximately 3,000 children are killed each year by guns – that’s nine every day.
“A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
She refuses to be comforted for her children because they are no more.”
If the deaths of so many are not enough of a grievance, consider also the spiritual, moral, and emotional malaise created by the widespread fear in our culture. The depiction and use of violence is constant in our cultural milieu. The malaise has given rise to notion of redemptive violence, a myth that has insisted on the need for assault rifles, semi-automatics, and handgun arsenals that go far beyond the needs of self-defense, much less hunting and sport shooting.

Consider the facts: Countries (with a few exceptions where organized crime is the de facto law of the land) where fewer households are armed have fewer gun related homicides and suicides. States that require more intense background checks, licensing, and registration have fewer gun related homicides and suicides than states that do not.

Consider that in 2015 it is expected that gun deaths will outnumber automobile deaths for the first time. 95% of American households own automobiles whereas estimates ranged between 25% and 50% on gun ownership. We know automobile rates and have curbed automobile deaths because cars are required to be registered and drivers licensed. Very few states require universal background checks, licensing, or registration of guns.

The statistics are staggering, too numerous to list them all here. The point is that there is a clear grievance!

A Moral Argument
Jesus named the idols that became the foundation of the unrepentant society. He reprimanded Peter for grabbing a sword in his defense, “for all who live by the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:25). If firearms become the mode of our social relationships, they will kill us. I fear that in many quarters and in many ways (some unknown because one never knows who has one) guns are indeed becoming an important factor in social relationships. American social life is perhaps a reflection of American diplomacy as well. Upon Reagan’s invasion of Grenada in 1983, the British Ambassador to the United States was rumored to have remarked, “It’s no surprise. Invasion is in the American comfort zone.” Have guns become our go-to comfort zone.

If preserving you guns has become more important than the lives and safety of thousands of other human being, then your guns have become your idol. And this is in diametric opposition to the vision of a city of joy, where children and old people live out their years.

But it is not enough to just have a social critique. As the author of the first letter of John challenges us, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3:18). We must struggle now with how to implement the vision. This is not a call to arms but to community. There is a direct connection, as we know well, between God’s intentions, the prophetic vision, the teaching of Jesus, and the implications for our actions. Moreover, if God commands that we not kill and that we work for a future where former enemies work as friends, the injunction must extend beyond our individual choices into the public sphere. We are compelled to work towards policies that order society, defending and promoting tranquility and removing harm. The most effective way to love the stranger is to create a world in which all are safe.

A Paradigm Shift
On January 20, 2009, I was in Alexandria, Virginia, when Barack Obama was inaugurated as president, swept into office on a wave of hope and change. The stunning victory seemed to be a expression of a public frustration that would no longer accept the trends of war and violence, among other things, as pre-determined trajectories. While the policy implications were unclear at the time, there was a consensus that change was needed.

Perhaps related to this, 2009 also saw a new war of fear, highlighted by a number of gun-related murders – a doctor who had performed abortions shot while at Sunday worship, the killing of a protester in front of an abortion clinic, the massacre of the staff of an immigration center, and the murder of police officers in Pittsburgh and Oakland, among too many others. Tragedies like these become moments when we stop, lamenting bitterly and weeping like Rachel. Tragedies like these also become moments when we stop, shouting like the prophets, “NO MORE!”

The paradigm shift is here. Poll numbers demonstrate that a vast majority of the American people support background checks and licensing, as well as banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines. If guns were less accessible and more carefully monitored as they are in European nations….if policies for carefully following disturbed and threatening individuals were in place….if the ATF and other law enforcement were allowed to do their job, then the lives of so many might be spared. So we must pay careful attention to what is happening and take hold of the paradigm shift before is slips away.

A Focus on Resources
Significant social change is only possible with resources. Financial resources are of course important to make advocacy work. The pro-gun advocates and gun-manufacturer lobbying agents like the NRA have deep pockets and will influence change. It is a hard task but we must not let the excuse of money keep us from moving forward. Capital comes in many forms, after all. There is our moral capital – never count out the power of goodness and justice. There is spiritual capital where prayer and worship can be a strong voice to the suffering caused by gun violence. There is social and cultural capital of the church which brings a powerfully connected system and larger ecumenical, interfaith, and multi-faith community. We have space for meeting, forums for discussion, and congregations for rallying.

A Sense of Viability
Together with a clear grievance, a moral outrage, a paradigm shift and resources, we also have a deep sense of hope that change is, indeed, possible. For Anglican Christians, as well as for Reformed, Catholic, and Orthodox, we claim that the hope of God is active in the world. There is hope in the world that God’s glory can be manifest and God’s kingdom built. As sinful people, the Good News is that God never gives up. Transformation is always possible when we live into the story of peace and joy, life and love that God has set before us.

God’s work in the world through the people of faith is lifted up. We must repent of our lack of trust, nurture our hope, and perfect our love.

God has provided us with what we need to be agents of change in the world. The change needs to comprehensive, addressing the idolatry of guns, the violence the permeates our society, and our obsession with rights over responsibility. We must keep the goal ever before us. Enough blood has been spilt. We will affirm that having been animated by the Holy Spirit with a passion for justice and peace that comes from being the people of God, gun violence can be dramatically reduced in our nation.

May our church dedicate itself to this task.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Make me a channel of your peace

Sermon notes for Proper 22B, on the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi (10/4/2015)
(I rarely write my sermons completely so I don’t have a precise script of what I said during my homily. What I offer here are “Sermon Notes,” recollections of what I said, wanted to say, or should have said, all in retrospect.)

Today was our Faith, Faily, Food Sunday, a family-focused, child centered worship celebrated on the first Sunday of each month (next month's will, however, be celebrated on the second Sunday, November 8). As part of the liturgy, I prepared a special homily for the children. 

After the children's sermon, I read a prepared statement reflecting on the recent shootings in Roseburg, Oregon.  

I began my homily for the children by telling them about Saint Francies, whose feast day is October 4. I then told the story of Francis's encounter with the wolf and the townspeople of Gubbio. While there are many versions of the story, most seem to include the lesson that we should forgive as Jesus forgave and that we should love even our enemies.

Rather than recounting the story in this space, you can find a useful version of the story here. During my telling, I tried my best to amplify what I consider some key points to the story:
  • The wolf had been left behind by his pack because he was injured and couldn’t keep up. In other words, the wolf was lonely, in need, and hungry. I asked the kids if they new anyone like this, that maybe was in need of a friend or was hungry or was thirsty.
  • Francis went to the wolf in peace under the grace of the Lord. He called out, "Come Brother Wolf, I will not hurt you. Let us talk in peace." How might we go to others, especially those that are lonely, hurt, and in need, in peace? How can we be agents of God's love?
  • Finally, the townspeople found compassion for the wolf."  What does it take for us to get along with one another? How can we have compassion for those that we might consider enemies - those that are mean to us, that don't like us, that don't share?
I finished my time with the children by telling the story of Francis and the Birds. In the story, Francis happens across a large flock of birds of all kinds. Francis then preaches to them, encouraging them to "praise your Creator and always love him." The intention of the the story was to get the children to think of how God cares for and loves each of them, just as they are. You can find a version of the story here

In Jeremiah 31, the prophet has broken into a lyrical account of the afflictions of the northern kingdom, personified by Rachel, mother of Joseph and Benjamin.
"A voice is heard in Ramah,
Lamentation and bitter weeping.Rachel is weeping for her children;
She refuses to be comforted for her children,
Because they are no more." (Jeremiah 31:15) 
Our nation once again mourns the victims of a mass shooting. Once again, the shooting was at a school, a place of personal and communal learning and growth. Once again, this time in Roseburg, Oregon, we weep at the senseless death ravaged by the violence of our gun culture.

Once again...but I hope we are not lulled into a spiritual lethargy, a religious weariness, a torpor in the wake of what has become an endemic part of American life.

I heard the news and, admittedly, I groaned, "Not again!" But then my first instinct was to shut the news out. At first I skipped over those headlines, thumbing past them on phone. But then I realized that I could not let myself become complacent. I could not skip the story because I didn't want to deal with it. I could not skip the story and hope that it goes away. I could not skip that story because it is the story - the tragic story of fellow human souls on the same journey I am on. I could not skip that story because that story is my story. And I must live into the story if I am to rewrite the story.

So once again, we find ourselves praying for the victims:
Lucero Alcaraz, Treven Taylor Anspach, Rebecka Ann Carnes, Quin Glen Cooper, Kim Saltmarsh Dietz, Lucas Eibel, Jason Dale Johnson, Lawrence Levine, Sarena Dawn Moore
requiem in pacem.

Once again, we find ourselves praying for the shooter (unlike the Oregon sheriff, I will offer his name and his eternal rest to God):
Chris Harper Mercer
requiem in pacem.

Once again, we find ourselves praying for families, first responders, and whole communities who suffer from gun violence. 

And rightly should we pray for them. But let me suggest that is also time (or, rather, well past the time) that we should pray for the vision and courage to try to prevent these occurrences in the first place. At General Convention 2015, more than 1500 people walked through the streets of Salt Lake City in a prayerful vigil, urging "people of faith to seek common ground in efforts to curtail gun violence." Additionally, a number of resolution were passed that call for the dioceses of the Episcopal Church advocate, including:
These join several other resolutions from previous General Conventions, including:
  • 1991-D089 Encouraging Understanding Mental Illness
  • 1997-C035 Urging Restrictions on Sale, Ownership, and Use of Firearms 
  • 2000-B007 Requesting the Removal of  Handguns ad Assault Weapons
Note that the goal is reducing gun violence which is a goal that people of faith no matter the political stripe should be able to agree on. 

So, in our prayers, we pray that the Spirit of Peace might pierce the numbness and apathy with sharp grief for the dead and equally sharp empathy for those who mourn in Roseburg, Oregon and around this nation. And in our actions, may the Prince of Peace lead us to the courage of Jesus who challenged domination and empire and violence, not with more violence but with death-destroying and life-empowering love, fulfilled as it was on the cross.

Baptized members of the risen Body of Christ, we are called to resist the temptation of allowing evil and the actions of distorted souls to make us more violent. Christians who advocate violence, who advocate taking up more weapons, who advocate hatred in reaction to these acts betray the Gospel and betray the meaning of our triumph over death in baptism. The fear which drives this type of advocacy is borne out of fear which is decidedly not a Christian virtue. Yet, tragically, we cower before those who wish to equate unlimited accessibility to guns with freedom, peace, security, and the way of Jesus. Pray that God will lead us through our wounds and make us whole, bringing us to a place of deeper trust in God and violence and the proliferation of yet more deadly weapons.

The rate of gun violence in our nation is vastly higher than that of any other nation in the world. Why is that? I maintain that this is a Christian question, a spiritual question that demands our contemplation. 

That is why I urge you now, as we grieve over this latest tragedy, to reflect on ways  that you as an individual and we as a congregation might be agent of change. We prayed in Sequence Hymn today, "Lord, make me a channel of your peace...." How can we help to bring peace by bringing an end to gun violence?

No doubt, we will hear the same things again. One side will talk about gun control and the other about gun rights. Our president has boldly spoken of change. The NRA has already gotten defensive. Many letters have already been written and many more will come. Will we continue to talk past each other so that nothing will change? Will we just wait and expect the breaking news that in another place more have died needlessly? Will Rachel will weep again and we will join her? Aurora. Sandy Hook. Santa Barbara. The Navy Yard, Santa Monica. Charleston. Roseburg.

As followers of the Prince of Peace, supported by the Spirit of Peace, we are called to persevere, to be relentless in our call for change and renewal in our communities. We continue in prayer. We continue in advocacy. We must not lose heart.

Today, I am inviting you all to a special parish and community discussion on gun violence. This will be an open discussion where we should try our best to not be too attached to our ideologies. This will be a discussion where all voices can be heard. REST ASSURED THAT THIS DISCUSSION WILL ALSO LEAD TO ACTION.

Wednesday, October 14
6 pm in the evening
dinner will be served