Rev. Laura Mayo, Covenant Church
November 12, 2017
We read from Isaiah this morning. Beautiful promises of a time when weapons of violence will be turned into tools for farming; a time when nations will gather together; a time when we will no longer learn war. We read promises from Isaiah last week, too. Promises that God’s steadfast love will never be removed from us, that even when we are afflicted, storm-tossed, and not comforted, God’s covenant of peace remains (Isaiah 54:10-14). Last week, while we were reading words of love and peace, a man was slaughtering 26 people in another Baptist church 200 miles west of here.
The massacre in Sutherland Springs is now the deadliest shooting at a house of worship in modern American history. Fourteen fatal shootings have taken place at houses of worship since 2012, including the devastating murders at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
Three of the five deadliest shootings in modern American history have taken place in the last 17 months. Two of the five occurred in the last 35 days. Every day, guns kill 93 Americans and injure 200 more. Mass shootings are no longer rare; they cannot be imagined as infrequent or isolated events. Columbine is no longer in the top ten of deadliest mass shootings in America. Twenty-six people died last Sunday. 26 – that’s the number of people, 20 of them first graders, who were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School five years ago.
We are here - gathered in this place together. We have faced whatever fears we experienced in coming here today just as we face the fears of going to a concert after Las Vegas, the fears we experienced going to a movie theater after Aurora, of taking our children and leaving them at school after Sandy Hook, of going to college after the mass shootings at so many colleges, of going dancing after Orlando. We are here. We have decided that we will not let fear keep us locked away, keep us silent, keep us powerless.
We are here and we are together. We are facing difficult days and we do not face them alone.
The words of Isaiah are a comfort to me, hope, a prayer that I intend not only to speak but to walk and act and vote – a prayer I intend to live. We can turn our weapons of violence into what will make for peace, we can come together, we can cease to learn war – we can turn our sights on peace.
In the stories of Jesus’ birth in Matthew, we find more of Isaiah’s promises:
‘Look, the young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us’ (Mthw 1:23)
Emmanuel: God-with-us. We do not go alone. Jesus is born into a time of extreme violence he flees with his parents a refugee hidden away in Egypt saving his life while Herod orders the slaughter of innocent children. “Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt . . . When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under . . . 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18 ‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more’ (Mthw 2:14-18)
“Jesus is born into a world in which children are killed, and continue to be killed, to protect the power of tyrants" (Stanley Hauerwas in Matthew; Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible, 2006). “Jesus is born into a world in which children are killed, and continue to be killed, to protect the power of tyrants." What tyrants are we protecting? Why did the shooter have access to military grade weapons of war - an assault rifle, the same weapon used by the murderers in Aurora, Orlando, Las Vegas, Santa Monica Community College, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Umpqua Community College, and in San Bernardino? How many more innocent Americans must die before our lawmakers gather the necessary courage to stand up to the gun industry and the NRA and pass common-sense gun safety laws? The answers to these questions go far beyond empty calls for thoughts and prayers; they require action. We read in James 2:14, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Leviticus 19:16 instructs us, “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.” What tyrants are we protecting? How long? How many?
A voice goes up in Ramah, Rachel weeping for her children.
We do not live in a peaceful Kingdom; we live in a country where children and adults are slaughtered by guns—not just occasionally, but every day. We live in a country where the oppressed suffer and the oppressors get more guns.
Jesus was born into a time of violence; he knew from his earliest days what it was to fear for his life, to flee for his safety - carried off in the night, running from a tyrant. And then a lifetime of saying what he thought needed to be said and doing what he thought needed to be done to bring the realm of God’s love here to earth and in so doing angering religious and political authorities.
Jesus knows what it is to face a violent world and to know that each life including his own is one act of violence away from being snuffed out. But he doesn’t let this knowledge stop him. He does the work that must be done - work to bring about God’s realm of justice and peace. And so as we follow Jesus, we cannot let fear or apathy win. If there is an active shooter, no matter where you are, you run. If you cannot run, you hide; if you cannot hide, you get as low to the ground as you can. This is the advice we are being given. This is the plan: run, hide. It’s not enough. We must demand that gun violence in our country stop. We must demand that it stop with our voices as we call our elected officials and even if we feel like it’s not doing any good we say that we will not tolerate assault rifles in the hands of civilians; that we will not tolerate the lack of background checks and waiting periods; that we are not willing to live with mass shootings as any sort of norm. We demand sensible gun laws with our votes because if the elected officials are not going listen to us then we need to put different people in office. The choice is before us, the threshold is ready for us to cross – we will follow Jesus’ way of peace, we will beat the weapons of violence into tools for life; we will we refuse to learn or to teach war.
For change to happen we are going to have to move from apathy to action. Please God, we cannot wait until we all know someone who has been shot. In a few days, the news cycle will change and life will go on. And in the meantime, with a mass shooting every day in America, the death toll will keep rising. This will keep happening until it becomes personal. Can we make it personal now? Right now. One of the children who died last Sunday was the preacher’s daughter. I brought my boys to church this morning. It’s personal. One of the people who died last Sunday was a mother. You are a mother. It’s personal. One of the people who died last Sunday was a son. It’s personal. One of the people died last Sunday was a friend. It’s personal. All the people who died last Sunday were in a Baptist Church in Texas worshiping God. It is personal.
We can follow the example of Harvey Milk and come out. By talking about gun violence and what can be done to stop it, we can help this public health crisis to become personal for others, as well. So talk about it. Write about it. Demand over and over and over that we pass universal background checks. Demand that we close the private sale loophole. Demand that we reinstate the ban on the purchase and sale of assault weapons.
Three thousand seven hundred and ninety-nine children and teens died from gunfire in the United States last year. This year’s numbers are already higher. The overwhelming majority of those children would have been saved with effective gun control. We know that this is so, because, in societies that have effective gun control, children rarely, rarely, rarely die of gunshots.
Our mental health problems are not worse. Our country is not more violent. We have more guns. We have moved into a place where it is beyond simple to buy guns, to stockpile guns and ammunition. The more guns there are in a country, the more gun murders and massacres of children there will be. The states with strong gun laws have fewer gun murders (and suicides and accidental killings) than states with lax laws.
We cannot listen to those who, as the death toll mounts, say that this is an impossibly hard, or even particularly complex, problem. It’s a very easy one. Summoning the political will to make it happen may be hard. But there’s no doubt or ambiguity about what needs to be done, nor that, if it is done, it will work. Summoning the political will to make automobiles safe was difficult; so was summoning the political will to limit and then effectively ban cigarettes from public places. We can and we must make the changes that will make us all safer. (see The Simple Truth About Gun Control by Adam Gopnik).
Jesus is born into a violent world. His birth does not stop an evil, murdering, tyrant. His birth does not create instant peace on earth. But his life, his life is an example of how to live our prayers for peace, how to do the work of justice, how to bring into being the realm of God’s justice, love, and peace.
You are invited to come this morning to this table. You are invited as you are to dip this bread in wine or water – to eat and drink. As we eat and drink may we remember a God with us, calling us to create a reign of peace. May the bread and cup inspire us to hope and may our hope inspire us to work.
See the following for more information:
- Why Americans don't give a damn about mass shootings - CNN
- Everytown for Gun Safety: What We Can Do - everytown.org
- Active Shooter/ Workplace Violence | Emergencies - What to Do?! | Department of Public Safety
- Gun Violence by the Numbers- everytownresearch.org
- Deadliest Mass Shootings in US History Fast Facts - CNN
- Gun Violence Archive - www.gunviolencearchive.org
- “Gun reform: Speaking Truth to Bullshit, Practicing Civility, Affecting Change” by Brene Brown
- “We Can Prevent Gun Violence in Texas - Now” by Gina Hinojosa
- “How to Reduce Shootings” by Nicholas Kristof
- “What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer” by Max Fisher and Josh Keller
Possible talking points when contacting elected officials:
- Oppose expanded concealed carry reciprocity legislation, which seeks to turn our houses of worship into congregations armed with guns and weaponry.
- Establish universal background checks and close the private sale loophole.
- Repeal the Dickey Amendment and restore funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for research on gun violence.
- Close the Charleston loophole, which permits federally licensed dealers to sell guns if three business days pass without a verdict from the FBI.
- Ban the purchase and sale of assault weapons.
- Enact a gun violence restraining order law, which would temporarily prohibit an individual from purchasing or possessing firearms when deemed by a judge to pose a danger to self or others.
- Ban the purchase and sale of high capacity ammunition magazines.
- Oppose legislative efforts to deregulate the purchase and sale of gun silencers.
- Close the boyfriend loophole, which allows convicted abusers and stalkers to buy and own firearms.