Retinal hemorrhage

Gaudete Sunday at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Staunton, Va., 16 December 2012.

Today, my friends, is Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday in Advent on which we are called to rejoice in the Lord.

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The Prophet Zephaniah tells us to rejoice and exult with all our hearts, for the Lord has taken away the judgments against us.

The Prophet Isaiah tells us to ring out our joy, for surely it is God who saves us … to sing the praises of the Lord for he has done great things, and this is known in all the world.

The Apostle Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice, for the Lord is near, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

And yet …

We come to church this morning, on Gaudete Sunday, with heavy hearts, scared, grieving, and crying out, “How long, O Lord, how long … before all the killing stops?”

We come to church this morning, on Rejoicing Sunday, not knowing how to rejoice, because we are still weeping.

I tell you, the only way we can rejoice this day is if we listen to John the Baptist, who tells us exactly what we need to do to move from fear to courage, from sadness to joy, from weeping to laughter.

John, who has just accused all those who come to him for baptism of being a brood of vipers, tells the people: “You want to make the world a better place? It’s not rocket science!” (OK, he didn’t say just like that) “In fact, it’s pretty darned easy. Share what you have … don’t be greedy … don’t be mean.”

In fact, if you fast forward 2,000 years, you hear the exact same advice from Robert Fulghum, who wrote the seminal book, All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Do you know that book?

His lessons are simple:

•Share your cookies.

•Hold hands crossing the street.

•Be kind to little old ladies.

As I said, it is not rocket science.

And yet, this morning, it is hard, isn’t is?

Because on Tuesday, we had shootings in Oregon.

On Thursday, we had a young man threaten to shoot his fellow students and blow up a school in Oklahoma – thankfully, a fellow student told the school counselor, and on Friday, that boy with a murderous rage was arrested before he could act.

Sandy Hook Elementary School evacuation. (c) Shannon Hicks, Newtown Bee.

On Friday, we had the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School – with 20 children, six teachers and school administrators, the shooter’s mother and the shooter himself killed.

Last night in Newport Beach, California, we had a man fire 50 shots at a mall – thankfully, only into the air and down into the ground. No one was injured, thanks be to God. But the man, who apparently was seeking attention, got the full attention of the police and is now in custody.

And that is just this week.

As we mourn for Newtown, Connecticut, we also mourn for the victims of other shootings we remember:  Columbine; Kentucky; Scotland; the Netherlands; Kansas; Virginia Tech; California; Germany; Minnesota; Florida; Illinois; Texas; Brazil; Alabama; Indiana; Ohio; Iowa; Richmond; Georgia; Arkansas;[1] … alas, the list goes on and on …

We mourn those whose lives were lost, those who lost loved ones; those who were injured; those who have been traumatized …

And we wonder, “What will it take to stop this madness?”

The Sufi tell a story:

Past the seeker, as he prayed, came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten. And seeing them, the holy one went down into deep prayer and cried, “Great God, how is it that a loving creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?”

And out of the long silence, God said, “I did do something about them. I made you.”[2]

And that, my friends, is exactly what we need to hear this morning. For we are the ones who can make the madness stop. We, who were created in the very image of God, over whom God rejoiced after creating us, proclaiming that at last, creation was very good, we who have been given dominion over the earth (better understood as “stewardship” of creation), we are the ones who are called to be partners with God in caring for God’s creation.

We are the ones upon whom God depends to care for those in need, to love, to create peace and live peace …

Because the Sufis are right: God did do something about all the evil in the world. God created us.

Pakistanis children - many of whom live in fear of violence in their own lives - hold a candlelight vigil for the victims in Newtown.

So … on this Gaudete Sunday, when the prophets reiterate God’s promises to us, and assure us that God saves us, when the Apostle tells us to rejoice …. this is the day we need to make the commitment to do whatever it takes to model God’s love, to live God’s love, every moment of our lives.

We live in a country, my friends, in which there are more places to buy guns than there are Starbucks. We live in a country with 311 million people and a reported 281 million registered guns.[3] 281 million registered guns. We live in a country in which it is easier for me to buy a gun than it is for me to buy a car. Or get a driver’s license. Or buy a house.

I don’t know what kind of conversation we need to have in this country, but the time is now — it is NOW — for us to stand up and say, “Enough! We have had enough!” We cannot afford to wait until all the mourning is done – for it will never be done. We should not wait until all the memorial services and funerals are over – for they never end for the families and loved ones.

Now is the time for us to listen to John the Baptist, who tells us to share what we have, to not be greedy, to be satisfied with our honest wages, to not be mean.

Now is the time for us to listen to Robert Fulghum, who tells us to share our cookies, to hold hands while crossing the street, to be kind to little old ladies.

We are in Advent. We are waiting for the Second Coming of Christ

I can tell you: I do not believe the Risen Lord will come again as long as we refuse to live as God created us to live, in love and community. I do not believe that as long as we celebrate our individual rights to the point that our communities are ravaged by violence and death, that God is willing to come back again.

Yes, there is suffering in the world.

But God created us to do something about it!

We can rejoice – as long as we are willing to do the things that need to be done. To love – and live – kindness. To do justice. And to walk humbly with our God.

Now is the time for us to step up and do our part …

This is not someone else’s job …

It is ours.

So perhaps as we move through these last nine days of Advent, perhaps we can figure out – and begin doing – what it is that God has called us to do.

• • •

Charlotte Bacon, 6

Daniel Barden, 7

Olivia Engel, 6

Josephine Gay, 7

Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6

Dylan Hockley, 6

Madeleine F. Hsu, 6

Catherine V. Hubbard, 6

Chase Kowalski, 7

Jesse Lewis, 6

James Mattioli, 6

Grace McDonnell, 7

Emilie Parker, 6

Jack Pinto, 6

Noah Pozner, 6

Caroline Previdi, 6

Jessica Rekos, 6

Avielle Richman, 6

Benjamin Wheeler, 6

Allison N. Wyatt, 6

Rachel DaVino, 29

Dawn Hochsprung, 47

Anne Marie Murphy, 52

Lauren Rosseau, 30

Mary Sherlach, 56

Victoria Soto, 27

Nancy Lanza, 47

Adam Lanza, 20

Now is the time … as faith-filled lovers of God … to say, “Enough. Is. Enough.” And to act to make that come true.

Those children? Those teachers? That principal?

They are counting on us.

Just as God is counting on us …

to do something.

We can start by sharing our cookies, holding hands while crossing the street, being kind to little old ladies.

It is not rocket science.

It is what we were created to do.

Amen.

Sermon preached on the Third Sunday of Advent, Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Staunton, Va., 16 December 2012, in the aftermath of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Conn.


[1] http://left.wikia.com/wiki/School_Shooting_Timeline

[2] Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning (New York: Bantam Books, 1993, Kindle edition), Kindle location 1549.

[3] NBC News reports, Friday, 14 December 2012.

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Boldly and provocatively proclaiming God

A sermon preached on 2 Epiphany, Martin Luther King weekend, at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Heathsville, Va.:

“Look, here is the Lamb of God.”

John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets, who has been preaching and teaching, calling the world to repent, to turn back to God … John, who baptized Jesus in the River Jordan and saw the Spirit descend like a dove … John the Baptist now boldly proclaims exactly who Jesus is, and exactly what Jesus is: The Lamb of God, the Son of God

This is John’s Epiphany proclamation, celebrating what Diana Butler Bass calls “God made manifest to the whole world.”[1]

And it was because John made this statement – not once, but twice, because sometimes, we all know, once is not enough – that Andrew and another of John’s disciples went off to spend time with Jesus, so that they, too, could see God made manifest in this world.

But first, Andrew, being Andrew — you know, the disciple who never quite understands what he is supposed to do, so he specializes in bringing others to Jesus? – first Andrew went to his brother Simon and made the same bold proclamation that John had made:

“We have found the Messiah.”

John had an epiphany – an aha! moment – and he boldly proclaimed that epiphany to the world.

The Spirit pointed him to Jesus, and he in turn pointed others to Jesus.

Andrew had an epiphany – an aha! moment – and he boldly proclaimed that epiphany to his brother.

The Spirit, through John, pointed Andrew to Jesus, and he in turn pointed Simon to Jesus.

That’s what Epiphany – the season of Epiphany – is all about, my friends.

God made manifest in the world is pointed out to us, and in turn, we point out God to others.

First we are told – and then we tell others – that, as Ms. Butler Bass says, “God (is) no longer a distant God or only the God of the ancient Israelites – but that God is, indeed, visible to all who open their eyes.”[2]

How have our eyes been opened?

And how are we opening the eyes of others?

• • •

Last Friday, I listened to a segment on NPR that focused on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we celebrate this weekend. The discussion centered on Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech of August 28, 1963, delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. That speech, according to civil rights leader Julian Bond, was an eye-opener – it was an epiphany — for many Americans at that time, because, Mr. Bond said, it answered the question of why a civil rights movement was needed.

For many of us now, that question may seem like a no-brainer: Of course the civil rights movement         was necessary. In 1963, people of color were still treated as only five-eighths human in many parts of     this country! But, as Mr. Bond pointed out, most people in this country at that time were unaware of       just how bad life was for people of color. Dr. King’s speech, he said, was an epiphany for those who       were listening, because for many of them, it was the first time they heard the truth spoken, the first         time they learned that this nation needed fixing.

You know that what Mr. Bond says is true. You lived through those years. You remember what it was     like. And after Dr. King’s speech, which opened your eyes along with the eyes of many others, your         generation responded. I know this, because you have told me it. My generation says thank you. Thank   you for hearing and responding to Dr. King’s truth.

Speaking the truth – boldly, provocatively declaring that truth for all to hear … this is our call in the world today.

Just as John had to point out to his own disciples that the Messiah of whom they dreamed was already in their midst …

Just as Dr. King had to point out to his own countrymen that there were still dreams to be accomplished in this land …

… So we are called to point out to this broken world that God’s dreams can still be accomplished in this world.

This is our call in the world today: To make God manifest to all whom we encounter, to all who have ears to hear and eyes to see.

We are the ones who, like Andrew, are to call others to God, to show God to everyone, by our words and by our deeds.

Boldly and provocatively.

In all that we do and all that we say.

And right now, my friends, the world especially needs us.

Because right now, my friends, the world needs to see the light – it needs to bathe in the light that is God made manifest.

We all know about the tragic events that took place in Tucson eight days ago. We all know about the six people who were killed and the 14 others who were wounded.

And unless we’ve had our heads completely buried in the sand, we all know that within hours of the shootings, a vitriolic debate broke out in this country as to who was responsible, as to who and what caused a mentally ill young man to lose touch with reality – to lose touch with God’s reality of love – and to do great physical harm to innocent people standing outside a grocery store, and great psychological damage to the world.

Fingers were pointed, and blame was assessed.

Most of that blame centered on the tone of our public debate, and how it has become so caustic, so pain-filled, so damaging to our souls.

But that is not what lies behind the attack. The shooter himself is a mentally ill young man, suffering from his own delusions and in serious need of help.

What makes these tragic events an epiphany moment for us is that our eyes and our ears have been opened to the fact that somehow, somewhere, we have lost the ability to proclaim love in this country.

To know this is true, all you have to do is turn on your radio and listen to the screaming matches that masquerade as “talk shows.” Or switch on your TV and watch as people denigrate and attack each other, all in the name of “commentary.” Or, if you’re brave enough – which I am not, I must tell you – you can look at Twitter. But be forewarned: If you do so, you will need to bathe afterward, because Twitter is filled with filth.

Or take a look at Facebook: Just last week, on one of those days when 49 of the 50 states had snow in them, a woman on facebook proclaimed that she wanted to “castrate” public school officials for canceling school before a single snowflake had fallen. She wanted to castrate someone because he had inconvenienced her!? I have to tell you, my first thoughts were, Do you even know what you are saying? Do you know how to do this? Have you ever done this?!?!?

The tragedy in Tucson is our epiphany, our great Aha! moment, showing us that all of us – all of us – have participated in some way in harming each other’s souls with damaging, derisive, deragatory words.

Oh, we may not have said anything awful … I pray that not one of us here has ever said anything awful. … But … I also know we all drive on the roads around here! And we all sometimes say things that damage not only our souls, but the souls of others.

Even when we refrain from saying bad things, from making damaging comments, we still have allowed others to say those things – and to get away with them.

We haven’t stood up against the evil that all this represents. We haven’t called out those who spew hatred, we haven’t tried to turn those people to love.

But now, because of those shootings in Tucson, many of us are re-examining our lives, we are re-examining God’s call to us in our lives, and we are saying, “Enough! Basta! No more! This is not what God calls us to say or do!”

We have had our Epiphany.

Jesus has been pointed out to us again – because sometimes, you know, once really is not enough.

And now we are called to point out Jesus to others.

It is time for us to do as John the Baptist did, to proclaim, boldly and provocatively: “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

We are the ones who are called to go out into the world – again and again – and proclaim, by word and deed, that the Lamb of God is in our midst.

We are the ones who are to proclaim God made manifest not just in our midst, but in the midst of all the world.

It’s Epiphany, people!

It’s time for us to make proclamations!

Bold ones!

Provocative ones!

We have to be like John the Baptist.

We have to be like Dr. King.

If we want to change the tenor of the debate in this country – and by God, we should want to do that – then we have to be the ones who do it! With our own lips first. With our own lives first.

But we can’t stop there.

We have to call others on their comments, when their comments go too far, when their statements serve only to divide and denigrate.

Whenever our souls are damaged, you had better believe the souls of others are being damaged as well.

And it is up to us to keep that from happening.

The love of God has been manifest in our lives.

How are we making God’s love manifest in the lives of others?

How are we proclaiming, boldly and provocatively, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”?

Amen.


[1] Diana Butler Bass, “Gabby opened her eyes, may we also open ours,” http://blog.beliefnet.com/christianityfortherestofus/2011/01/gabby-opened-her-eyes-may-we-also.html#ixzz1B1prID7o, 14 January 2011

[2] Ibid.

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Who said anything about ‘gentle’?

I woke up this morning with Advent on my mind.

I was replaying in my head messages from friends and various Advent resources calling this moment in our lives a time of “gentle waiting.”

“Gentle waiting!” I thought. “Why are we engaged in gentle waiting?!?”

I’m fear that we are trying to tame Advent when we make this call. And I don’t think Jesus wants us to do that.

We need to give them clean water.

I mean, what’s gentle about the Gospel lessons we hear in this season? Jesus tells us to keep awake, therefore, for we do not know on what day our Lord is coming. (Do we really imagine that the owner of the house was waiting gently for the thief to come in the night?)

Paul says now is the time for us to awake from sleep, for salvation is nearer to us than before, and commends us to put on the armor of light. (Who puts on armor and then sits gently?)

John the Baptist bellows, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (How can we prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight if we aren’t doing something?)

Nowhere in those statements do I hear anything about gentleness.

Advent’s  a wakeup call, all right. But it’s an urgent one. It’s a rough shaking of the shoulder to get us out of bed to do something. This is not your mother leaning over you and gently saying, “Wake up, my love ….” This is Jesus calling, and he’s grabbing you and shaking you and throwing back the sheets and yelling, “GET UP!!!! We have things to do!”

And looking at the world around us, we know that is true. We DO have things to do.

There’s the DREAM Act to be passed. And Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to be repealed. Unemployment benefits need to be extended.

The people in Sudan need our prayers and our advocacy, to prevent yet another war.

The people in Haiti need our help to fight cholera and build a nation devastated by the earthquake.

Those who are sick need our help.

There are hungry people everywhere whom we need to feed, thirsty people who need clean water from us, ailing people who need our medicine and our care. There are children who need our love. The blind desire to see, the deaf want to hear, the mute yearn to sing with joy.

None of these things will be accomplished by gently waiting for someone else to step up. We are the ones who are to make the paths straight.

Advent for me is a time for action. It’s a time for us to look at the world around us and ask, “Is this really what we want to give to Jesus as a birthday gift? A world where so many have so little and we allow that?”

I woke up this morning with Advent on my mind, all right.

The call I heard was crystal clear: “Get cracking! Do the work you’ve been given to do – now! There’s no time to wait for someone else to do the work. Hurry! It’s Advent! Do something!”

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