Sermon for Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C

May 29, 2022

In his prayer for his disciples, Jesus says, “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  Jesus prays that “the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”  It is a prayer that ultimately God’s love for all of humanity may be passed from person to person and experienced by all. 

In the story from Acts, we see the love of Christ being shared by Paul and Silas to the jailer, despite the doors to their jail cells being opened, they do not attempt to escape.  If his prisoners escape, the jailer believes he will be beaten to death.  Seeing that they have not, he falls to the ground and says, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

And, in the book of the Revelation to John, John is told, “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” It is a passage that expresses the promise of Christ’s return will reign on earth. 

          Some Christians focus on the promise of peace and love in the afterlife.  It is the life that is to come that gives them hope.  That has never been my focus.  My focus has been on our call to help bring about God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.  I have seen signs of this and I find hope in the acts of compassion I witness over and over again. 

The events of the world, as they have been unfolding, have challenged my ability to experience hope. In addition to the horror of war in Ukraine, we have been hearing and reading reports of a mass shootings over the past few weeks in a grocery store, a church and now an elementary school.  In Arkansas we had shootings as people left a graduation ceremony in Hot Springs and shots fired outside the North Little Rock School graduation. 

Graduations have long marked the promise of good things to come.  And, as the academic year draws to a close, we look toward the future with anticipation, with hope.  Hope is the hallmark of Christianity.  We place our hope in the promise of new life offered to us through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through Christ, we can experience peace in our hearts and in our lives.  Yet, the gun violence and our inability to work together as a nation to address the problem of gun violence is disheartening, to say the least. 

          When I was in college my psychology professor told us the best advise we can give anyone is, “if what you are doing isn’t working, try doing something else.”  I am not here today to tell you my opinion as to what needs to happen.  Instead, I want to challenge people on both sides of the aisle to stop arguing and take action.  We need to stop blaming, we need to stop demonizing people whose opinions are different from our own and DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT! 

          Rather than blame and defend, I pray that we might come together and work for change.  In a publication I read this week from a group within the Episcopal Church, it says:

“There is no neutral position in this world. To be silent is to be complicit. The church cannot avoid a choice…. Social justice advocacy is core to the church’s mission… [because it] is at the core of the Gospel.” Just as we prioritize the health and safety of our elected church leadership, how will we respond to the Spirit’s call to prioritize the oppressed, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, and the poor?

Last Sunday and the Sunday before I have said that one role of the church is to challenge us.  I have personally been challenged a number of times to be more open and responsive to people in need – and now by the need to call for action. 

          I fully recognize that we, in the Episcopal Church, are not of one mind about much of anything – including how we should respond to gun violence and the rights of people who are marginalized.  The Episcopal Church calls us to be advocates for the oppressed, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, and the poor.  To that end we have taken stands on issues of social justice and St. Paul’s will once again be involved in this year’s PRIDE celebration.  We will have a table and will offer a service on the front lawn of our church at the end of the evening.  And, at a date yet to be determined, we will host a vigil for the victims of the Robb Elementary School shooting, their families, and all of those whose lives were forever changed that day. 

          Tomorrow, on Memorial Day, we are to remember those who gave their lives to defend our freedom.  As we do, I want to challenge each of us to do our part to be worthy of their sacrifice.  As I first listened to the news of the shooting in Texas, I had words with God.  I asked the same question that we have asked each time a mass shooting occurs – why?  This week lots of conflicting opinions have been expressed and people or groups are being blamed.  My prayer is that we will not continue to say what we’ve said in the past and that we will start discussing possible solutions.

Then, I pray that we will not be so entrenched in our solutions that we will be unable to make whatever compromises are needed for us to agree to do something different.  Let us not accept differences of opinion as an excuse for inaction.  Let us not continue to accept failure to take or sustain any action by blaming politicians, the opposing party, or lobbyist. That’s the challenge I will leave you with today – don’t accept the status quo, don’t settle for blaming others, seek the middle ground so that we can do something different and save lives.  Let our senators and representatives know we want change, we want action.

There is work to be done.  In order to do it, though, we need to experience hope and peace in our own lives.  This can be challenging in the midst of all this bad news we hear.  Several people have shared with me this year that they have begun limiting the time they spend listening to the news.  It has helped them.  I limit my time as well.  The twenty-four hours news stations seem to be filled with more opinions than news.  The line between reporting and editorializing has been blurred to the point that people arguing on television has replaced reports and discussions.  This not only diminishes hope, it fosters anger and hatred in our homes and our communities.  Our words matter, and when we are disrespectful of others, we do not bring out the best in people. 

If I am to continue to experience hope, I believe I must be more intentional in my practice of faith.  I must look for the good within others – especially the people I disagree with.  I must choice my words carefully and not define people by their views.  And, I must open my eyes to see God at work. 

This month, on two separate occasions, I witnessed acts of compassion at our community meal.  Someone asked me for gas money and when I said I didn’t have any cash, a homeless person reached into his pocket and pulled out some money for her.  The very next week, I was sitting at a table and asked the person who had given the gas money if he was close to having enough money for a deposit on an apartment.  He said he was, but that he had to sell his car.  Knowing that he was sleeping in it, I asked him where he would sleep.  Another homeless person overheard this, reached in his pocket and gave him some money to repair his car.  This man had just sold some of his belongings in order to pay for a few nights in a hotel. 

There is compassion here and in Uvalde, in Buffalo, in Laguna Woods, in Hot Springs, and everywhere people are suffering.  People are helping others get through the day – and sometimes just the hour or moment after they have lost a loved one in a mass shooting.  This is where we find God and where we find hope.   This is what the men and women who died in service to our country died to preserve.  We owe them a great debt which I believe needs to be repaid by doing what we can to make this a more peaceful nation, one that truly supports and protects one another. 

Let us pray. 

          Lord, we give thanks for your presence in the midst of us and our suffering. We pray for the children and families who have died and been traumatized by the shootings that have occurred. We pray for those in Ukraine and throughout the world who are living in conflict and suffering.  And we pray for those who do not have enough food.  Help them feel your presence and draw strength from you.  Lord, we also give thanks for the men and women who gave their lives in service to our country that we might live in freedom.  Help us to honor their sacrifice by working to create a place we might live together in peace and love, recognizing that we are all your creation.  We offer our prayers in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Amen.