This sermon, offered by The Rev. Andy Jones at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison Wisconsin, on March 18, 2018 is built on the readings assigned for the Fifth Sunday in Lent in Year B of the Revised Common Lectionary.
It has been a difficult week.
Yesterday we said goodbye to Betsy Greene, a longtime member of St Andrew’s, Betsy was 68 years old and died after a two year struggle with a brain tumor.
On Thursday we said goodbye to Joan Smith, another longtime member of St Andrew’s. Joan’s husband Jack died just about a year ago. They had lived in a memory care unit for about a year and a half prior to Jack’s death and Joan has lived there by herself since he died. Joan was 85.
But on Wednesday, on Wednesday, Mother Dorota and I stood right there, in the gate of the altar rail, at ten o clock in the morning, and we rang the Sanctus Bell seventeen times as we read seventeen names. One sounding of the bell and one name a minute, for seventeen minutes.
A minute is a long time… ring the bell, wait about 15 seconds for the sound to fade, read the name, and spend the next 40 seconds in silence, remembering, or looking forward to, your own kids when they were 14. Fourteen years old. Just like
or when they were 15 like
or 16 like
or 17 like
or 18 like
A minute is a long time to think about their teachers:
and to wonder what you would have done in those horrifying 6 minutes….
We stood here in this space on Wednesday morning, ringing that bell, reading those names, as tens of Thousands of students walked out of over 2,800 schools across this country.
Children! Your children, my children, our children, confronting us with the fact that we have not done enough to protect them and demanding change, demanding that we do something. That we do… something.
It is the season of lent so those seventeen minutes, and the time we spent here later that evening in a service of Lament for our Culture of Gun Violence, were pent of time for us to hear these words…
“We confess that we have sinned against you, in thought word and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves” (BCP page 360).
If we weren’t careful we also found ourselves confronted by the words of the confession from Enriching Our Worship…
“We repent of the evil that enslaves us,
the evil we have done,
and the evil done on our behalf” (Enriching Our Worship 1 page 56).
It is the fifth Sunday in Lent. We have been on this journey for a while now. And the pain of this past week… It’s pretty understandable that we would arrive here this morning exhausted, struggling, seeking some comfort and assurance.
The beginning of the Collect for the Fifth Sunday in Lent begins…
“Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise…” (BCP p. 219).
Deep, deep longing and desire that the world might be changed; that our hearts, that everyone’s heart, might be changed so that we might, as a community, love God’s command and realize a world where God’s dream, that we might all live as one.
And then we hear from the Prophet Jeremiah, speaking for God when the peole of Israel are in exile in Babylon; their nation being dismantles so that they no longer recognize a home in the reports that come to them; their identity as a people being snuffed out; their customs and way of life restricted and denied…
The Prophet Jeremiah promises on God’s behalf
“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33b).
God promises us – I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they will be my people.
And we hope, we long for that day when hearts are opened and god’s desire for us to love our neighbor as ourselves flows into and out of us and we live as one, in peace.
It is perhaps that hope for the realization of God’s dream and vision for all of creation, that gets us through moments like this past Wednesday.
That gets us through moments like this past Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day!
It is perhaps that hope that gets us through the aftermath of tragedies like the ones in
Charleston, South Carolina…
That is a horrifying list… and that only gets us back to June of 2015!
And there it is again. Right there. That sick feeling in the pits of our stomachs that just won’t go away, even when we turn our backs, when we try to pretend it hasn’t happened again…
Our hope might sustain us for a while…
“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
But hope, by itself, isn’t enough….
Because my brothers and sisters… God has already written that law in our hearts!
That’s why we are here. That’s why these stories hit us so hard… Because with God’s law written in our hearts… our failure to act, to protect our children, strike us as sins of commission and omission – things that we have done, and things that we have left undone; as a failure to love God with our whole heart and our neighbors as ourselves.
Here in the season of Lent we cannot but see these events as
the evil that enslaves us,
the evil we have done,
and the evil done on our behalf.
God’s laws, written on our hearts offer us hope, but they also call us to act!
In a Letter to the Diocese of Milwaukee, written four days after the shootings in Parkland Florida Bishop Steven Miller writes:
Lent 2018 will forever be for me marked by this tragedy not only because it occurred on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, but also because one of those killed was a member of our faith community. Her name was Carmen Schentrup a young woman who was a leader in the youth group at St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church. I ask you to join me when you remember all the victims of this tragedy, the living and the dead, the physically and the spiritually wounded, in praying especially for Carmen, her family, and the people of St. Mary Magdalene Church
On Ash Wednesday we prayed these words, “Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty.” Hearing these words in the context of the events of the day is for me a call to action.
Lent is the season in which we prepare to reaffirm our baptismal vows and identity. At baptism, we renounced the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. We will reaffirm that identity at the Great Vigil of Easter.
I believe I cannot be faithful to that promise unless I stand up to the growing gun culture in our society and those who perpetuate it. My baptismal identity requires me to confront those evil powers and ask others to join me in calling them to account. My citizenship in Jesus’ kingdom requires that I make that way of living the model for life here on earth. If God’s will is life, not death, and we desire that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven, how can there be a place for weapons in everyday life? I think the only thing God wants us to be armed with is his word, his righteousness, and his salvation.
Please join me in working to reduce gun violence by working to make it harder to commit.
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Steven Andrew Miller, Bishop of Milwaukee
This Saturday, March 24, all across this country, and abroad, the Bishops of the Episcopal Church will join with our children as they “March For Our Lives.” There will be a march in Washington DC and there will be sister marches in major cities in every state of the union. Bishop Miller will be marching with parishes from this diocese and we will be walking with our brothers and sisters here in Madison.
Right now the march is scheduled to begin on Library Mall at 10 am. We will march to the Capital where we will hear a series of speakers and then we will march around the capital, joining our voices and standing in solidarity with the children, your children, my children, our children, we are begging, wo are demanding, that we do something, something, to protect them and to make us all safe.
I ask you to pray and to consider joining us as we march. We will send out an email to the parish list serv later this week with details about how you can join us as we gather to march as a community, as Jesus’ hands and feet in this world; as we allow the law that God has written on our hearts to move us to action; as we work to bring about God’s will for us; as we choose life over death.