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

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