Sermon for Year C, Advent 4
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
December 16, 2012
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
It is a common hallmark in the life of a preacher that in times of distress, well-chosen words and well-dissected thoughts must be dispensed with. Many a manuscript has been tossed aside at the last minute, and the preacher begun anew, struggling, as always, against time, yet working with time, to try to say something helpful that blesses the name of God and moves the people on ahead.
Sometimes, people need meaning. Sometimes they need comfort. Sometimes, challenge. On a good day, all three. And better than these, they need to know that God is always and everywhere; and deeply loves the creation; and that in Jesus, God comes to us as one well acquainted with suffering.
On Friday something happened that in a sense has already happened before, unfortunately in many times and in many places, on bigger scales and on smaller scales. Simply put, in Connecticut, a man named Adam killed 26 people – 20 children and six adults – before turning his gun on himself.
The priest in me wants to try and make sense of this. The writer in me longs to understand and to help others understand. The counselor in me wants to rush in and somehow fix an unfixable scene. The father of two small children in me can only turn away in disgust and fear. Honestly, right now very little of me is willing to sit with these facts and to let them sink in.
And I know that I am not alone. Denial can be useful, but only for a while. After that, how do we even begin to wrap our minds around such terror against some of the most helpless in our society?
For myself: today I am tired all the way to my bones of taking up the search for meaning within terrible, violent acts. I am as tired of it as I am sure that there will be more occasions to pursue it, and this thought all on its own is beyond exhausting, beyond frightening. For surely such acts are evil, and who wants to stare at evil for very long.
When these things happen, it has become commonplace to ask, Where was God? or, in a more ethical sense, Why would God permit such terrible things to occur? That’s a sensible question, and an honest one, but with respect, I think it may be the wrong one. For God is never not anywhere; God is always and everywhere; God is too big and too far beyond our understanding to be chased out of a school or any other place; and as a sign of God’s graciousness toward the whole of creation, we human beings are given free choice as to how we will behave. Quite a lot of the time we don’t pay much attention to that sense of free choice, and then something like this happens, and we have to face facts. People do murder; people do choose to do evil; clearly, they should be stopped.
So, setting aside for a moment the matter of why, what else might be the question we could be asking? It may just be this: Now that this has happened, what is God asking to us to do about it? Specifically, how are we supposed to be making ourselves useful for God’s purposes even in the midst of terrible tragedy? How can we create genuine community and stand with those who are hurting at this time?
How is God asking us to respond? A few thoughts.
- Pray. Pray for the victims and their families and the people and places affected. Pray for anyone you talk to, that they would know peace. Pray for yourself, for from where else would you gather strength to face your own day?
- Count your blessings. Love the people in your life. Tell them how much you love them. Don’t just assume they know. Find them and tell them.
- Learn and repeat this small prayer from Psalm 90: “Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.”
- If you have children or grandchildren, be honest with them. Give them the amount of information that seems appropriate. If you’re asked a question for which you don’t have an answer, don’t make one up. When a child asks to change the subject or to go off and play, recognize that that’s not an insult; honor it as best you can.
- Recognize that compassion begins within. You can’t be compassionate with others unless you love yourself. Know when it’s time to pull back and gather strength. Ask for help when you need it.
- Work to put a stop to violence wherever you see it, recognizing, as Jesus himself knew, that telling the truth comes with a cost.
In that spirit, I prayerfully offer this thought. The land where I was born and reared was, and is, gun country. A gun was a standard part of farming equipment and for many it provided an essential source of food. I grew up with guns and hunters and marksmen in my family. I was first handed a gun and taught to respect it starting when I was eight – the age my son is now – and I still do the same. When one holds a gun, one is often made aware of the enormous responsibility to protect life and safety. This has been readily apparent to many over the years.
In the hands of those whose will is not aligned with God’s, that fact is overlooked. In the hands of those who are ill or who have a need to express power and control over others, a gun is an instrument of destruction or even death. In this age of ultraviolent culture, it becomes far too easy to violate the sixth commandment.
Christians stand against violence. Christians stand up against murder. Christians work for justice. This is plain and simple.
And so I say seventh and finally, that it’s time to have a forthright conversation about all this. If a moment like this won’t bring all parties to the table for real talk, I’m afraid nothing will, and therefore nothing will change, and the whole thing will have to somehow be turned over in our quest to protect life. The last thought anyone wants to have is that further carnage is inevitable because we were unable to prevent it because we were so intractable in our positions.
Even so – even though we are fearful and exhausted and sad for the present and sad for the future – we are still at the Third Sunday of Advent. We remain a people of hope who believe in our hearts that it’s better to live in hope than in despair. And we look to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, to come among us and to lift our faces and to show us how.
And so we say, Come, Lord Jesus. Come among us, and restore us.