I have a fantasy that one day I will write a perfectly “safe” sermon. By “safe sermon,” I mean one that ruffles no feathers, makes everybody feel good and happy, and perhaps most importantly, makes me popular. Even preachers want to be popular!
I thought for a time that today might be the day. Fr. Richard asked me to preach on this date, I said “sure,” and shortly thereafter checked the Gospel lesson, as is my custom. Right away, I thought, “Cool! I get to preach again about the baptism of Jesus.”
So my plan was to remind you that I had preached on our Lord’s baptism just a few weeks ago, then announce a pop quiz over that sermon… as an appropriate Lent One discipline, of course. After teasing you with that for a moment, I would relent and simply review that handy mnemonic of our baptismal covenant I included in that sermon.
1. Go to church.
2. Be good.
3. Tell others.
4. Love everybody.
5. Seek justice.
Then, after that review, and with our baptismal covenant in mind, I would turn to the question that came up at Theology on Tuesdays this month. For those of you who were not there: We had an interesting, wide-ranging discussion following up on Fr. Micheal’s annual meeting sermons about why we are here, what we come to Grace for, and what kind of healing force we want Grace to be in our community.
That discussion culminated in someone—I don’t remember who—but someone asked, “So what can we do?”
This deacon’s heart just about went into orbit.
So I was going to use today’s sermon to give you a list—a partial list to be sure, but a list nevertheless—of ministries… Well.., make that a list of ways God is already at work in this community that you could become a part of.
Habitat for Humanity would be high on the list. I am delighted that the director of Habitat is coming next Sunday to speak to you, and sorry I won’t be here to hear him.
I was going to tell you about a wonderful ministry that transforms the lives of girls and young women who struggle with unplanned pregnancy, addiction, eating disorders, sex trafficking…. You name it, they struggle with it. It’s called Mercy Multiplied and I will put some info about how you can check it out in Grace Notes for next Sunday.
I was going to talk about what I do in my not-so-spare time, the ministry that called me to the diaconate: the work of Northern & Central Louisiana Interfaith. But you and I can talk one-on-one or in small groups about that anytime.
So I had this fun, informative sermon planned for today.
Then Wednesday happened. You know, 17 dead teenagers. In a school. In Florida. Not that far from here. Not that far from the Pulse night club massacre. Not that far in time or space from blood in the streets of Las Vegas. Or Sandy Hook. Or Columbine, for that matter.
I still thought for a while I would write that other sermon. And then, along about Friday evening when I got serious about writing, I re-learned something I’ve actually known for some time: If I can’t write, I’m trying to write the wrong thing.
Try as I might, I could not write that sermon. Or, as we might say in Louisiana, that dog just would not hunt.
So now I am left with saying what is on my heart and my mind as I survey the carnage of gun-violence victims before us.. and behind us.. and all around us.
But before I do, I am compelled to declare—and this feels incredibly peculiar, but for some reason it seems important to say: I am a gun owner. I know how to use the guns I own. I have used every one of them.. to shoot targets, to shoot trap, and to hunt and kill game of various kinds. I intend to continue to own those guns.
So what I am about to say in no way conflicts with gun ownership and the safe, sensible use of guns for entertainment and hunting by mentally competent, upstanding citizens.
But my days of silence in the face of specious, politically driven arguments about how we can’t fix this problem because of our “rights” are over.
So do not tell me that “guns don’t kill people, people do,” because you know as well as I do that people with guns kill people—and more of them in a shorter period of time at a greater distance than virtually any other way. And if they have an assault rifle, make that quantumly more, faster, easier.
Don’t tell me how Timothy McVay did it with fertilizer… unless you want to be reminded that today, you can’t walk into a fertilizer store and purchase large quantities of that fertilizer without equal quantities of documentation–who you are and why you need it–because somehow, miraculously, we knew how to fix that.
Don’t tell me about shoe bombs on airplanes because today we all line up at the security check point and dutifully take off our shoes… because of one shoe bomb taken onto an airplane.. that turned out to be a dud.
Don’t talk to me about how we must interpret the 2nd Amendment in the broadest, most absolutist way possible. We don’t treat any other amendment to our constitution in that way. We cherish the 1st Amendment as well, but... when was the last time you saw a cigarette ad on television?
Don’t talk to me about how the first regulation is a slippery slope to taking away everyone’s guns. Nonsense! We have a long and proud history in this country of debate between pro-regulators and anti-regulators, and what comes out of it is a slightly meandering but mostly middle-of-the-road path that makes nobody completely happy but keeps us out of the trenches on both sides. We do it with driving. We do it with hunting. We do it with television and business practices and meat products in our grocery stores. We can do it with guns.
How about the argument that no law or regulation will keep guns out of the hands of criminals? That no matter what laws or regulations we enact, the wrong people will still get their hands on guns? Sure. That’s true. But that’s an argument for having no laws of any kind. Because no laws are perfect. No laws are perfect preventers of the crimes they address.
And what if, with reasonable, thoughtful laws and regulations, we cut the number of gun deaths… by half? Maybe by only a quarter? Maybe by ONE? Jesus said he would go to the ends of the earth for one of us! Is that not worth it?
Maybe before we answer, we ought to go face-to-face with the screaming mother of a dead teenager. Maybe we ought to look at our own children and grandchildren before we answer.
And, finally, don’t tell me the problem is mental illness. Every other country in the world has mental illness at about the same rate we do. No other country in the world tolerates the level of gun-wrought carnage that we do.
Some time in the last 48 hours, Bishop Jake published his words on this issue, and one thing he said spoke especially powerfully to me. He said, “My prayers are hollow, even false, if I do not act.”
I don’t know if you needed to hear this sermon today. I know I needed to preach it. Certainly, I know none of you contributes to or promotes gun violence. But as Fr. Michael preached two weeks ago, we’re either hurting or we’re healing. There’s no neutral ground on this issue.
We must demand change. Our legislators are too beholden to powerful, moneyed interests to do this on our own. We must demand it. And if we don’t, we are complicit. The blood of future victims will be on our hands.
Please pray with me: God forgive our past inaction. God help us find the courage to act, to hold ourselves and our leaders accountable. In your Holy Name…