"A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more."
It has been a trying month. Our Christmas preparations were shattered by the realization that peace on earth is not a reality – not yet. This gospel lesson that we heard today, the gospel lesson for Holy Innocents is more that the fulfillment of prophecy. It is a statement of the depravity to which the lust for power and wealth can drive human beings and the reality that our world is far from the Dream of God and of the pain and suffering that depravity causes.
From Colunbine to Sandy Hook we have come face to face with the loss of innocence. A USA TODAY examination found mass killings, shootings of 4 or more people, target Americans once every two weeks on average, in attacks that range from robberies to horrific public shooting sprees like the massacre in Newtown, Conn.,
One Saturday afternoon in 1979 I was working at St Dominic’s hospital in Jackson MS. My code beeper went off and I headed to the ER. There I saw a 5 year old little boy named Peter, paralyzed from a bullet that had severed his spinal cord at C3. His 8 year old brother had reached under the seat of the car and found a handgun owned by the husband of their nanny. In one horrific moment the brother swung around, inches from Peter’s neck and say “bam” as he pulled the trigger. I have often watched as folks have died, and there is always a sadness about it, but there is nothing more heart-wrenching than when tragedy strikes a child.
That we have a huge problem in America is pretty obvious. In December here in our small part of the world it has been devastating. I mean this part of the country has the most restrictive gun laws in America with the possible exception of California. We have the best educated populace in America. We have the most expansive system of healthcare, hospice care, mental health care for those who can pay and for those who cannot pay. By most accounts we should be living in the safest place in America. And yet Haverhill made the headlines as the town where the week after the horror of Sandy Hook, someone chose to fire a BB gun into a schoolbus. What on earth were they thinking? Well they were not thinking at all! I mean how ignorant can you get?
And there are other forms of violence against innocents… According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.
It is enough to cripple even the most optimistic person…. But here we are in the midst of the Christmas season, longing for Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All. I am in awe of the teachers in Sandy Hook whose preparation for emergency had taught them to lock the doors from the inside and hide the children and I am humbled by the sacrifice of the women who lost their lives trying to stop the violence.
At Christmas we always get that soaring reading from the first chapter of the Gospel of John – “In the beginning was the Word”. The lectionary moves us out of the stable to consider the Christmas miracle of God with us on a much more expansive scale. God separated the sky from the earth and the land from the seas - and before it all was the Word. The Word that would become flesh and dwell among us. Kind of knocks your socks off when you think about it. I am in awe of the Creator incarnated, the infinite confined in human form just as I am, the invincible made vulnerable in order to live the hurts, to share the pains. Madeline L’Engle writes:
The Creator demonstrated that behind the majesty, there’s the power of love, that driving force behind the willingness to stoop, to be made vulnerable, to be stripped naked, be born a babe. Utterly unfathomable. At one point in human history, God entered and lived among all of this horror – miracle enough!! But that is not the end of the miracle of Christmas, because God dwells in us too. In each one of us is the kernel of goodness of our Creator waiting for us to open our hearts to be the bearers of God’s truth in the world. That is perhaps the most profound miracle of Christmas – that God dwells in each one of us with the potential to be agents of the Dream of God…. We are both the vessels and the beacons of God’s love in this world.
More than anything else this Christmas I have felt a call to listen God’s word as a clarion call to do something about the violence that seems so pervasive in our society and so today I want to begin a conversation that I hope will ground every single meeting and gathering we have here at Trinity in the coming year. We have an opportunity to think about and to prepare for the ways we can become more resilient ourselves and better able to help others confront violence.
Each Sunday we welcome our children with the words Shalom my friends, Shalom. God’s Shalom implies liberation, salvation and the ability to thrive in life. It is the consequence of justice and righteousness, not of violence and bloodshed. It is the end of coercion and fragmentation. Whereas violence begets more violence, Shalom is a time 'when all God's creation eases up on hostility and destruction and finds another way of relating.' (paraphrased from Walter Brueggemann)
A new way of relating might include the words we use in worship, the shape of our prayer, the decisions we make about what programming we have, what community celebrations we observe and how, the hospitality and commitment we show to community groups working on violence related issues. Individually it might mean choosing to read a book or article that educates on the political issues around violence. We may not all reach the same conclusions but we can all be a better informed electorate. What this is really about is turning away from indifference and turning instead to compassion and love.
So I want to invite you to consider a couple of things.
First consider signing a pledge at Annual meeting.
As an Episcopalian committed in baptism to seeking justice and peace and promoting the dignity of every human being, I commit to being part of the solution to the violence in our culture that claimed the lives of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School and that claims the lives of 2000 innocent children through gun crimes each year. I commit to the pursuit of laws that keep guns out of the hands of criminals, prioritize the needs of at-risk children, provide care for mental illness, and address the many ways in which our culture both celebrates and trivializes violence. I commit to holding my lawmakers, my community, and my own household accountable. I commit to accomplishing these things in 2013. I commit to being the change we need
Secondly, take the time to learn about the issues being considered by lawmakers. Changing the cycle of violence will involve substantial creativity and commitment in our communities, the commitment of our congregation to stay the course, and a commitment to examining our own behaviors. How about signing up to attend Team Haverhill’s Possible Dreams meeting on January 27. It will take three hours of your time, but will provide an opportunity for you to talk with others about your hopes and dreams for our city – perhaps even God’s hopes and dreams for us.
Lastly, I ask that you not let despair or anger poison your hope for you and for your children. Christ’s Peace that we offer each time we share the Eucharist is about freedom from the fear, hatred, and oppression that limits our love and our life. God’s shalom is bigger than that. God’s Shalom opens the way for all to be free to love and to live. It opens the way for Peace on Earth and goodwill for all. Include in your prayer each and every day a petition that God will give you the strength and courage to persist.
Our Presiding Bishop closed her Christmas message with this:
“Alleluia alleluia let us Go and look – and discover the love of God poured into our world in human form. Hope reigns abroad, in the cosmos and in human hearts. And rejoice, for a child of the light is born in our midst!”
Let the church say…… Amen