Luke 3:7-18; Zephaniah 3:14-20
For Central St. Matthew UCC, New Orleans, LA
I confess: I had a hard time with this one.
I had a sermon — it was about the hoops we jump through instead of living out hope — but then, 20 little children were killed in their school, along with six of their teachers and administrators on Friday, so Thursday’s sermon idea is not going to preach today.
I don’t claim to know, but I wonder how news of a mass shooting in a school affects this congregation.
Many of you are teachers, retired teachers, administrators, associated with children and youth in learning situations.
And then, there’s Katrina, a devastation that happened about the time that those 20 precious children at Sandy Hook were born. Are you thinking: We know the names and ages of each of these children and we know that there were 20 of them. It is unknown how many people lost their lives in Katrina, so who knows how many were children? Dozens? Hundreds?
You all know all too well the despair of a tragedy unfolding that cannot be contained or stopped no matter how loud the screams.
You know that those who initially get hit — who make the news the first day — the first week — they are just the first ones affected — the circle of pain and sorrow spreads out from there, in ever-widening circles.
You know that when someone says that things will never be the same after this, that is true.
You know the despair and grief that is PARTICULAR to tragedies that could have been prevented, if only … someone … had … done what could have been done.
So, as your pastor at this time, I wonder how you are doing? Not only how are you doing with this week’s news, but how are you doing seven years since tragedy came to New Orleans.
It’s OK to admit that it’s not all OK. It’s OK to say that it’s not fixed — that restoration is not complete — whether of buildings or people or relationships.
You might imagine the road ahead for the parents of the children who were killed. A child’s death is a heavy heavy stress on the parents’ marriage. What about the grief of siblings and classmates?
At what point will this CT community be most tempted to give up? When will it be most difficult for them to know “God with us” and to make sense of how a loving God can co-exist with life-robbing evil and hearts breaking? You all might have some idea of how this will go.
You may also have an idea of where hope is when things looks scariest.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.“
You know all about the helpers. You are the helpers. You host and feed the helpers. Helpers show us hope, blooming.
“What then should WE do?” today . . .
It’s an old story It’s the story that prepares the way for “God With Us.” In a certain desert, when John the Baptist finally got his curiosity-seeking “congregation” to see a picture of how messed up their world is, and how messed up they are — when they finally saw the futility of their usual approaches and strategies — when they were ready to repent — change their minds — change their direction — finally take some kind of ACTION, it all came down to one question:
“What then should we do?” now . . .
The answer (a lot like Mr. Rogers):
“Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
“What then should we do?”
Simply put (you know this! You do this!): Do acts of justice and compassion and kindness. We don’t ask “What would Jesus do?” because, from this side of the manger, we know what Jesus DID. And where the Jesus way becomes our way, hope shall bloom.
Each of us has something we can do in response to this tragedy. For someone, it might be sending a card to that school or to our UCC church in Newtown. For someone else, it might be writing letters to Congress. Someone else might make a new or renewed commitment to a local school or to neighborhood children.
Whatever else we do, we simply must — finally — address the big picture. “We must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.” That was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King — in 1963 — after the killing of four innocent young girls in a church bombing. Almost 50 years ago, a prophet of our time called it, named it, showed us where hope COULD bloom: “We must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.”
It will go on. An average of 8 children and teenagers are killed by gunfire in the U.S. every day. Who will they be today? Who will they be tomorrow?
It’s time to get serious about all the conditions
that make the U.S. the leading nation — by far — in gun violence.
If we can’t agree on how to control access to guns,
can we find common ground in providing better access to mental health care?
Twenty little children didn’t come home on Friday to play outside, to watch cartoons on Saturday, to go to Sunday School today. Six adult teachers and administrators lost their lives.
See what we have become. Hear the cries of mothers everywhere, grieving for children we have lost and for children we don’t want to lose to a world gone mad.
Their cries remind us that God loved THIS VERY WORLD so much to send his own child into this world. The mother who placed him in the manger also saw him die on the cross.
Christmas Eve is not the end of the story, but neither does the story end with “the massacre of the innocents.” We are Easter people. “In the end neither Herod, or Pilate, or even the Devil himself was able to stop God’s plan. We are not helpless before the powers of this world. No matter what power evil and sadness has in the world – and — [know this] — it’s a temporary and dying power – it cannot stop God’s goodness, and love, and forgiveness, and redemption … [God’s realm — our home — is where hope blooms, where joy is born, where love grows, where peace is waged] whatever sorrows or loneliness or memories or illness befall us, during this season or any season. Whatever your circumstance at Christmas, Christ was born for you.”
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- Grateful for the concluding words I was looking for, the last two paragraphs were adapted from and quoted from Pastor Joelle Coville-Hanson, a UCC pastor and one of my RevGalBlogPals from Ridgeway Iowa.
- This sermon was also strongly influenced by sermons by Amy Peden Haynie (about what we can do) and Rev Dr Mom (the MLK quote), also two of my RevGal sisters.
- I got to host, and be nourished by, two RevGal 11th Hour Preacher Parties that kept us going this weekend, one on Friday and one on Saturday. Thanks to all of you!