October 8, 2017 — Rev. Paula Norbert
“The heavens are telling the glory of God,” we hear today in Psalm 19. I thought of those words when I stepped outside last Tuesday evening to look up at the beautiful moon and the bright stars on a crisp, autumn night in Maine. Maybe some of you enjoyed the beauty of the moonlight over recent nights. We know that when we gaze up at the stars and the planets in the night, we see only a small part of the majesty of what is out there in the galaxies. I love the beauty of the evening skies, but my heart has been heavy all week and I so longed for deeper understanding and consolation in the wake of this recent tragedy. You, like I, may wonder how to make sense of the ways in which the great drama of our world reflects God’s plan. It is perhaps easier to make sense of natural disasters than to wrap our heads around the cycle of senseless gun violence that has become part of the reality of life in our nation over the last two decades and more. Believe me, I was hoping to speak today of the beauty of nature and following the ways of God, but how could I not talk of the unspeakable sorrow we all feel once again in the wake of such a tragedy. Let us pray, O Holy One, Creator of the stars and moon, your steadfast love is shown to every living thing; your Word calls us to listen; your law invites us to live rightly with one another. We seek your consolation and your wisdom for the path ahead; we need your inspiration so that we may bring a message of peace and harmony, of living rightly, with a world that so desperately needs that. Amen.
This Psalm invites us to think about how things work together for some ultimate purpose. As I thought about it, I kept coming back to the word harmony…a wonderful image in music and in life…when simultaneous tones produce a sound that is pleasing to our ear…or even when the pieces of our lives fall into place in a congruous way as to bring us peace. And the opposite of harmony, I pondered, is it chaos or discord? We know what life feels like when we are not in harmony with our surroundings, with the people we care about. We have seen what happens when our weather systems move to such extremes. We know the upset when we hear of others suffering, and, we have seen the fallout around the world when people do not live with a respect for their mutual interdependence, when there is enmity and violence and a great imbalance of power. Such disasters are taking place even as we gather today.
Psalm 19 invites us to meditate on two important gifts from God…the magnificent beauty of the cosmos and all of nature, and on a much more personal level, the law handed down to us to help guide our lives in community. Our reading from Exodus reminds us that the Torah is not simply a list of the written laws presented to Moses, but an invitation to us, as a people of faith to write them in our hearts…to live them. I thought of those 10 Commandments this week, and I heard repeated in my mind, Thou Shalt not kill. Thou Shalt not kill. To take a human life is unthinkable. These commandments handed by God to Moses to share with the people of Israel contained the guidelines about how to be in a covenantal relationship, a relationship of love with our God and with one another. And I am sure you remember them; they are a list of things we are not to do if we want to live in peace and in harmony with all of creation. Jesus then came to remind people of those rules for living, but he extended the understanding of these and he spoke in a more affirmative way; he came to expand our understanding by sharing the kinds of things we are invited to do if we want to be part of helping build the Kin’dom here on earth. The ultimate law of God, as shared with us through Jesus again and again during his life, was the law of love. The most important commandments, according to Jesus, were to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. Reading through the Gospels, it becomes pretty clear that Jesus was talking about love in action. He invited us to forgive one another, love our enemies, care for the poor and sick and hungry, visit those in prison, all actions that would help make us a better community of love and connection. So how do we live as people who are trying to create a community of peace and inclusivity when we know that there are those who seek to cause tragedy and violence in our midst and in the world?
I recall a wonderful article written by James Carroll who used to write a regular opinion piece for the Boston Globe. This particular reflection was published in the weeks following the Tragedy of 9/11 when nearly everyone was trying to make sense of something so completely senseless. He spoke about the way in which we organize ourselves in communities, in our towns and states, and in our nation. We are governed by a set of laws, but we are also governed by a sense of trust, a trust that others will follow the traffic laws as we drive along the highway, that their safety is wrapped up in our safety in a sense, and that in so many ways, we are interdependent. We depend on others to share our common value of reference for life, our commitment to one another in our common humanity. If someone hijacked a plane, for example, we assumed that the hijacker wanted to actually survive as much as we did, so that our hope was that the plane would land safely. All of that trust went out the window on 9/11, and I would argue that our belief that we could drop our kids at school without worrying about something tragic happening, or attend a movie or a concert in safety, well, sadly, each time these events happen, it erodes this trust and it raises that concern again and again. Even though we are told not to be afraid, somewhere deep down, we are afraid. I can assure you that after Sandy Hook, I have never felt quite the same way about dropping my children off at school.
What then must we do? People have lived through horrible times in the past; we need only read the Bible or study history to know that people lived through endless wars and starvation and all types or hardship. But this is our time, and many of us are afraid, and many of us are heartbroken once again by the loss of innocent lives and the devastation of those who have been wounded. Oh God, we sorely need your presence. Oh God, we need you to inspire us and those in leadership roles to help us find a way forward so that we may once again live in harmony with one another.
In the Gospels, Jesus shared his plan for a world defined by love and mercy, a plan our God has long held for humanity and for all of creation. The commandments which God shared with Moses for the people or Israel were meant to be a guide for how we live in relationship with one another and with God. Many people of faith around the world attempt to live in a similar manner, to love and respect one another, to care for one another and to live in peace.
Last week, I spoke about the way in which God created each of us uniquely. In the fullness of who we are, our best qualities as well as our limitations, God loves us as children of God. And so as we gather today, we do feel all of the human emotions of sorrow and fear, of anger and despair, and we seek the great wisdom of our God, the witness of Jesus and other wonderful spiritual leaders throughout time, to help us find our way to helping build a better future for our children and our grandchildren.
We gather this morning as a people of faith to support one another in our common heartache and to imagine how we might build a better world. I know that there are countless stories that might lift our spirits, of people this past week who risked their lives to save others, who stood in lines for hours to donate blood, and so many other selfless acts of love and generosity…and all of that is of God. But it is hard for me to take that in, because for now, I am standing with the families and friends of those who lost their lives earlier this week, and with those who are scattered in hospitals around Las Vegas, fighting for their lives and trying to recover from unimaginable devastation. I think our God is weeping along with us, standing by the sides of all who feel overwhelmed and lost and angry and fearful and hopeless. God is there with us in the worst of moments and we reach out to one another in our brokenness and pain. It is often said that people most need God in the worst of times; that may be true. We seek God’s wisdom and consolation and we seek answers to how we may move forward in prayer and in thoughtful action to create the community of love and respect that God invited the people of Israel to in a Covenantal relationship and which Jesus reminded us of during his time here among us. I do believe that it is long past time to act; as people of faith, we are not only invited but required to do something to put love into action and to work for social change. We each must decide what that will be, but our God is with us, of that I am certain.