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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
May 29 2022
Let’s start with prayer:
Holy God, we have been brought to our knees too many times. The innocent still suffer, teachers still risk their lives, families still grieve, and we are sold the fantasy that nothing can be done. Help us to know what to feel – rage, grief, sorrow. And help us to know what to do – advocate, protest, lament. Blessed are we who let reality in, and who ask and wait, and ask again for the courage to change our culture. God, give us hope that seems hard to find. Amen.
This prayer was written by Kate Bowler, a theologian and mother of young children. Its official title is A Blessing for Collective Grief (when thoughts and prayers are not enough). And she wrote it last Wednesday in response to the school shooting in Uvalde.
If you’re on social media at all, you likely saw comments that ran the gamut of emotion. Gun violence and racist violence are two issues that deeply divide people in our nation. And I’m wrapping the events of Buffalo, Dallas, and Laguna Woods into this sermon because we need to remember them, too.
When it comes to gun violence and racist violence, there doesn’t tend to be much in the way of middle ground, people are either on one side or the other. And finding a place of commonality to begin the healing process is difficult.
As Christians, our starting point is Jesus’ love for us. And any prayers we pray are rooted in his love. So it’s fitting that our assigned gospel reading today is part of the prayer Jesus prayed on the night before he died.
We read part of this prayer on the last Sunday of Easter each year. It’s split out into three sections: in the first, Jesus prays for himself; in the second, he prays for the disciples who are seated at the table with him; and in the third, which we read today, he prays for all who will come to believe in him. In other words, he prays for us.
And when he prays, he prays for unity. Not uniformity – but unity. Jesus prays that we would be in relationship with one another in the same way that he is in relationship with God. A relationship that’s rooted in Jesus’ love for the world.
Since Advent, the last Sunday of November 2021, our readings have highlighted God’s love for the world. They started with the prophecies of the Messiah, and the good news of Jesus’ birth.
In Epiphany, God’s love broke open even further to reveal that Jesus wasn’t sent for a particular group of people, but for everyone. During Lent, we focused on our relationship with God and the way that shapes who we are and how we live.
And in these last several weeks of Easter, we’ve heard the stories of the impact Christ’s resurrection had on the early church and the communities that came from it, and continue to come from it today. God has always had the whole world in mind when forming a people who reflect God’s promise – regardless of place or time.
And we know the world didn’t mysteriously become perfect after Jesus was resurrected, or even after he ascended.
[But] this broken world is the world God loves. God sees beyond [its] brokenness to the wholeness and beauty underneath it, to its original dignity and goodness. And God seeks to restore that, and so as God sent Jesus into the world for the love of the world, Jesus sends us, the church, to be that love in the world.
After an event like a school shooting, or any mass shooting, the tendency is to want to lock ourselves inside and hide away, to find places of safety where no one can harm us. And that’s completely normal. It’s normal to be worn out, to be at your limit, and to just shut the world out. I get it.
Every school shooting – every mass shooting – is a tragedy, but the one at Robb Elementary in Uvalde last week seems to be affecting people on a level that hasn’t been felt since Sandy Hook. And it hurts my heart to say that because we shouldn’t ever have to make that kind of a comparison. And when we put that together with the shootings in Buffalo, Dallas, and Laguna Woods – with those last three being prompted by racism – it’s a lot.
People are wondering when things will get better – or even if they can get better. I believe that things will and can get better, but the truth is, it won’t happen unless we act. We absolutely start with prayer rooted in Christ’s love, that’s what grounds us and guides us.
But we have been praying for decades that racist ideologies and mass shootings become a thing of the past. And one of my seminary professors taught us, “Never pray a prayer that you are not willing to be the answer to.”
The level of change we pray for is a cultural shift, and that means playing the long game. There are things we can do, actions we can take, but they aren’t one-offs.
It isn’t enough to send an email or make a phone call to a legislator; it requires a long-term commitment so that our collective voices are heard and acknowledged. And then it requires a commitment to ensure accountability and transparency.
It isn’t enough to make one donation to an organization; it requires making that organization known in the community and advocating for it. Publicly supporting the work that they do, putting your name on it.
It isn’t enough to rely on professionals to detect the early warning signs in a person that might lead them to carry out an act of mass violence. It requires each of us learning what those signs are, it requires listening to one another, paying attention to who is here and who isn’t. It requires building community with one another. It requires making sure there are enough resources available to provide help when help is needed.
And if you aren’t in a position to be able to take actions like these, your responsibility is to encourage those of us who are able – to have our backs, and to make sure that we make good on our commitments.
These are all actions that require consistence and intention and community. One person can’t do it all, and it won’t happen in an instant because the system that is currently in place will hope that we wear out before we change it – and it will wait us out. It counts on us becoming tired or distracted by the next thing.
But we are the ones with the power to make it happen. Are we willing to be the answer to the prayers we’re praying?
On his last night, Jesus prayed for us because he knew what the world is like – the hostility that others can hold toward people who live according to his way of love. But he didn’t only pray for our individual faith lives, he prayed for the communities we would create and become a part of. Because we need each other – especially in times like these.
As a Christian community, every action that we take is rooted in Jesus’ love for us and for the world. It’s his love that guides our actions, that we live in response to. It’s the foundation of the unity Jesus prayed we would have with one another.
Because the ongoing story is that Jesus loves people, and the salvation he brought is the restoration of the wholeness of humanity, individually and collectively. This restoration is visible in our being known for loving one another, and for our unity in bringing that love to the world. Alleluia! Amen.
 A Blessing for Collective Grief (when thoughts and prayers are not enough), Kate C. Bowler. Adapted by Rev Lara Forbes. Accessed online May 25, 2022.
 Rev. Dr. Mark Bangert, LSTC