This past Sunday, I was assigned to be the preacher. I had done my research and preparation, I had incorporated the theme from our stewardship campaign which would be culminating on Sunday, and I had finished the sermon by Saturday morning. By that evening though, I found out there had been another mass shooting, this time at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. This one was particularly heart-wrenching because it was at a place of worship, committed by someone who explicitly wanted to persecute people from the Jewish faith – my brothers and sisters. So, on Saturday night, I had the age-old question of a preacher: do I need to change my sermon?
Ultimately, I decided to mark the event liturgically with our prayers, but not address the incident in my sermon. I could not preach about it because I was not ready. Something about this incident hit me differently, but I could not yet articulate it. And one of my homiletics professors always told me if you are going to preach something pastorally sensitive, make sure you have carefully constructed your sermons to pastorally address the issue. And I just wasn’t there.
But in the days since the massacre, and after having a few conversations with parishioners about their frustration that I didn’t mention it, I am finally beginning to be able to articulate why this particular mass shooting is so upsetting. The problem for me with this shooting was not that it occurred in a place of worship. Despite the fact that I think those places are sacred places, gunmen and those with bombs have long desecrated houses of worship. The problem for me was not that the shooting was anti-Semitically motivated. Christians have long been complicit in anti-Semitism and if we are going to get upset about a shooter, we need to be equally upset about our own culpability in not rooting out that sin. The problem for me is that this mass shooting was the final straw in helping me see that we as a country, and more importantly, we as a Church, have become complicit with the devaluing of all life – that same very life we claim to be made in God’s image, and created in goodness.
That accusation may feel harsh for you, as you are not likely a person who has ever committed violence with firearms on another person. But until we as a society, and we as Church, decide that human life is sacred, these incidents will never stop. The Oklahoma City Bombing happened weeks before I graduated from high school. The Columbine High School massacre happened weeks before I graduated from college. Essentially, for my entire adulthood, our country and our Church has not been willing to definitely say, “No, this is not who we will be. We will make concrete changes so that this doesn’t happen again.” And so it keeps happening. At colleges, in schools, at workplaces, in homes, and in houses of worship. To African-Americans, to immigrants, to the LGBTQ community, to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. To teachers protecting students, to police officers protecting innocents, to mothers protecting children. Yes, I am outraged that eleven beautiful children of YHWH were murdered senselessly in their most sacred place of worship. But I am also outraged that we as a people are unwilling to do something about it. We are so scared of losing, of sacrificing, of giving up something that we do nothing. We become complicit, unable to hear from a mother who lost her kindergartener and say, “This will not happen again.” And so it does. Again, and again, and again. Because this is who we are. In our unwillingness to change, we have become a country who does not value life, who does not stand up for what is sacred, who does not see God in every human being.
My dear readers, I implore you, please take this day or this week or this month to do better. I know it is hard, and compromise is nearly impossible in our current political climate, and you deserve certain rights. But when the Lord our God created us in God’s image, God said that it was very good. Our job while on this earth is to protect that goodness – even if it means not winning, sacrificing, and giving up some things. Because until we are willing to make a change – any change – this is our reality. This is our America. This is our norm. I don’t want that. And I suspect you don’t either. So, crawl with me. Creep with me. Scratch with me to make our way back to that blessed place where we hold life as sacred, where we stand in the light with all our brothers and sisters and see the holy in each one of them, where we can look at another person, no matter what political views they have, and say, “it is very good.” And then help us to live into that goodness.