What Then Must We Do?

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            My friends, when I first began composing our Sermon for today, it was after the two tragic shootings last week in Buffalo and California.  I thought about how overwhelmed we are all feeling, how traumatized we are and have been from this long onslaught of Covid and Ukraine and climate concerns and other worries and…it goes on an on.  So, as I often do, I thought about what we all might need, what words of consolation or peace that I might offer to you as we look ahead with hope to summer…and then Tuesday happened.  I didn’t learn about the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas until that evening and I was just stunned and heartsick.  I woke up the next morning nearly paralyzed with fear and sadness and despair, yes despair, despair that this endless cycle of gun violence in our nation would ever end.  I couldn’t even pray; I just couldn’t quiet my heart and mind long enough to take a breath.  The night before, we had sent our daughter Emma on her way to Ireland for a two week college course on social issues and she was traveling first to Belfast to visit that city and see firsthand what the people there have been through.  And I thought, I feel less fearful of her being in Belfast than I do of her attending school in our country.  How sad is that?  Let us pray, O Gracious God, we need your wisdom in this time.  We need your love, your presence, your comfort and your inspiration.  Be with us, bless us, grant us peace. Amen.

            My friends, our children are dying.  Our brothers and sisters, black, white, Latino, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Sikkh, young and old every day in our country. When Moses receives the 10 Commandments in the Book of Exodus, chapter 20,  he tells the people what God has commanded, we all know this, we know it deep within our herarts,  Thou Shalt Not Kill.  Our loving Creator did not bring us into the world to cause harm to one another.  That is not what we are called to do. In the book of Deuteronomy 30: 19, in the Hebrew Scriptures, we hear these words from God, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live…” And John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10).  We know this; we know all of this, don’t we?  It should be so easy; it should be self-evident, and yet, we are living in a country that refuses to take the actions necessary to even begin to reduce the levels of gun violence.  This is indeed madness.  My brother sent me a copy of a quote from a former congresswoman in Texas that read, “I’m praying to the version of Jesus that flips over tables tonight.”  As you may well recall, Jesus flipped over the tables in the temple when he saw the money lenders there desecrated that sacred space.  He was angry.  Many of us are angry too.

            When I was a child, the Lutheran minister and his wife and family lived across the street from us.  They were a wonderful family and we enjoyed knowing them.  One day when he was at the hospital visiting one of his members, he met a family whose young son had been shot in the head by accident playing at a neighbors’.  The child had been airlifted from Aroostook county to Maine Med and he survived; however he did experience many challenges.  Our neighbors welcomed this family into their home every time they came to Portland for his treatment.   I remember that little boy wearing a helmet around his head to protect his fragile skull.  We used to play out in the yard and we could tell that he was struggling with physical and likely cognitive challenges.  It left a mark on me and my family.  I thought of him when I heard of the tragic shooting in Wells recently; a fight between two brothers ends in the death of a two-year-old, his niece.  This is madness.  “Choose Life,” says our God.  “I came to bring you life,” says Jesus.  I can only imagine our beloved Creator weeping in the heavens at what we have wrought. 

            This isn’t the Sermon I wanted to preach today.  I wanted and still want to offer words of consolation, of hope, and of love.  I want to tell you to take care of yourselves and to enjoy the summer.  I want to tell you that we all need a rest from the trauma that is stealing our hearts and souls.  I want to offer comfort and solace, because these are all things I desperately need as well!  I do.  We have already been through so much and many, many people are finding that their psyches can no longer process all of this hard, hard news.  So we shut down and we risk becoming desensitized to the suffering of others. 

            And yet, sadly now is not yet the time to rest.  We cannot rest until we do something, anything to prevent this from happening again somewhere in our country.  “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing, wrote Edmund Burke, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King once noted that,

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others.”                                               

            Stopping gun violence in our country should not be a partisan issue.  I know that it has become so, but standing for life, standing against the senseless deaths of so many of our brothers and sisters should be self-evident.  I know it is a complex issue and too many politicians sidestep it by saying that we can never prevent all of these deaths or it is too soon to talk about preventing the next one.  But there are many things that have not been done and we certainly can do better than this.

            A community leader in Boston whom I greatly admired once said, ‘we don’t have the luxury of saying we are too tired or we are too overwhelmed.”  I thought of her words this week when I just wanted to pull the covers over my head and shut out the world.  We have a responsibility to act.  As Christians, we are called to choose life; as members of the human race, we cannot be silent. 

            In the beautiful book of the prophet Jeremiah in the Hebrew Scriptures, we hear these words…”Rachel is weeping for her children.”  Oh yes, mothers and fathers this very day are weeping for their children from far too much senseless gun violence across our country. Ten years ago when the tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary in Newtown, CT happened, our children were 8 and 10.  I didn’t want to tell them what happened; I remember feeling sick to my stomach every time I dropped them off at school.  I was one of millions of parents terrified every day.  And we all thought change would happen then; we thought that we could not tolerate more of the same…and here we are 10 years later, 10 years and the deaths keep piling up and getting worse and our young people are suffering from mental health issues at epidemic levels and parents and grandparents experience the visceral fear and we all continue to be traumatized.  What then must we do?

            I know that it is a complex issue and I know it involves a combination of factors but other countries have people with mental health issues and other nations have experienced the breakdown of families and isolation but there is no other nation in the world that has the gun violence that we do.  Yes, we have to fund mental health resources; yes, we have to be on the lookout for signs of those in trouble; but the common denominator is the guns.  Why should our kids need to go through weeks of drivers’ education and an in-person test to get a license but be able to walk into a gun shop at age 18 and buy an automatic weapon that can destroy the lives of many in a matter of seconds?  Sadly, the majority of gun deaths in our country are suicides.  Gun violence is now the leading cause of death among our children.  As I was researching this, I discovered a map of our nation on the website for the Giffords Center which has been working to address issues of gun safety since Congresswoman Giffords and members of her staff were shot at a public gathering years ago.  They graded each of the states for the legislation which they deem helps with gun safety, and I was sad to discover that  our beautiful state of Maine received an F, an F for gun safety. 

            This is a matter of life and death and no matter how weary we are, now is the time to do whatever we can to protect our children, to protect our black and brown brothers and sisters, to protect one another.  My sister who teaches in Brunswick leads active shooter trainings and was told by a police officer there, ‘it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.’

            And so today, as your Pastor, I am asking you to listen to your hearts, to listen to that deep place within your soul that is crying out to you and insisting that you do something to prevent further suffering. If you haven’t called your state and national reps, now is the time to express your concern.  If you have never marched in a protest, now is the time, my friends.  We owe it to our children and our children’s children.    A majority of Americans, maybe upwards of 90% support common sense gun safety measures.  This should not be hard and yet it is.  If not now, then when?  I think that when we take action, we feel stronger.  When we feel powerless, we feel afraid.  I am encouraging you to learn more about this issue.  I have included the websites of several organizations which are working to address this issue in our bulletin today.  Each of them provides information so that you may be better informed, and then, I invite you to find some way to share your concerns with those who have the power to change this. We are being called to do a hard thing; we are called to be the prophets of our time and to act so that this horror does not continue to haunt us and future generations.  May God have mercy on us.  May God bless us with courage and with strength.  May God provide us with the guidance and inspiration to finally work to stop this madness.  I will close with this quote from Edmund Everett Hale, author and minister,

 “I am only one,

But still I am one.

I cannot do everything,

But still I can do something;

And because I cannot do everything,

I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” Amen.