Genesis 15:1-6 Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 Luke 12:32-40
9thSunday after Pentecost
Last Sunday morning, 27 people were injured, and 10 people were killed within 30 seconds in Dayton. The dead included the sister of the shooter, and the shooter himself. I found out about the shooting from a text message that my daughter, Kelly, sent to me.
By the time I was able to search for the details, 22 more people were killed, this time in El Paso at a Wal Mart. 24 more were injured. The death count for that shooting is now at 31. The investigation so far indicates that the shooter hated immigrants, and wanted to get rid of Hispanics and Latinos. This was a hate crime.
Many mass shootings are related to domestic or family violence. In 54% of killing sprees, the perpetrator has a history of violence toward women, and a partner or a family member is among those who are shot. These shootings are acts of revenge or retribution for perceived slights and wrongs. TIME magazine’s most recent issue lists 253 cities in which mass shootings have taken place. Their cover reads, “ENOUGH” and “We are being eaten from within.”
It was about quarter-till-10 in the morning when my daughter Kelly called. That was shortly after a second person had been shot, making it clear that the 7:30 a.m. murder was not an isolated incident. Resident dorms were locked down, andmessages came pouring in saying to stay wherever you were. Information was confused, but urgent. She was scared and crying. It was a Monday, April 16, 2007, and she was a senior at Virginia Tech. Kelly’s lab partner and 3 of her classmates were killed. Aftergraduation, she went to work for Tech in the Department of Recovery and Support. Her job was to engage with those who were injured, and with the mothers and fathers, and sisters and brothers of the dead. She plans remembrances and arranges for worship services. Her work continues to bring both comfort and pain.
The killing of so many is hard to forget, particularly if you have a personal connection. Every time there is another mass shooting, memories and emotions rise up. The ripple effects of these events are innumerable and immeasurable.
Mass killings are well publicized and so frequent. Dayton marked 251 shootings in 216 days. Are we numb yet? Is this too much for us to deal with? Have we lost hope? Where is God in all this?
“Do not be afraid, little flock,” Jesus says. But we are, aren’t we? If you aren’t, then you aren’t paying attention! It’s not just the mass murders. Frequent shootings and public declarations of prejudice and hate permeates the media,and we know that are more than what we are told. We hear of children who comehome from school one day and their parents are gone. Exploitation of land and waters along with climate changethreaten the world’s food supply. We have personal fears, too. What are yours?
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” God’s intention is for allGod created to flourish. The giving of God’s kingdom is God’s promise, rooted in God’s generosity and desires for us. The kingdom of God became flesh among us in and through Jesus. It’s a kingdom that is was, and is, and is yet to come. Yet even though God’s kingdom is breaking in now, it’s hard to see and even harder not to be afraid.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” the author of Hebrews writes. Abraham lived in hope. For ten years, since God first promised, Abraham had been looking up at the stars in thesky, picturing each bright light as his descendant, while Sarah waited and waited for the gift of life from God. The unnamed writer of Hebrews addresses a community caught up in their own challenges,and unable to see a better future. They were looking for hope. That sounds like us, doesn’t it?
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” If hope is made visible, what does it look like? I asked Kelly this question. She said she saw hope in the Blacksburg community coming together in response to tragedy. They worked to heal the injured, to remember those who died. They cried together and dried each other’s tears. They drew sustenance from each other, and recognized that they were connected by their humanity. They were family.
Frederick Buechner says of Christian hope, “…despite the facts that sin and death still rule the world, [Christ] somehow conquered them. The hope that in him and through him all of us stand a chance of somehow conquering them too.”
We place our hope in God, but I think God places God’s hope in us, too. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus says to be dressed for action, with our lamps lit while we wait with hope for God’s promises to be fulfilled. It’s not a passive activity, nor an individual one. We wait together, as a flock. We become sanctuary for eachother until we can breathe again. Speak through the voice of God’s love. Care for those who are suffering. Feed the hungry. Spend time with those who are lonely or grieving.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that,” Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr. said.
We lift our face looking for the light of Jesus, and discover that in our holding on to each other, we become light, too, and our blessings are as numerous as the stars in the sky.
~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin
For details of mass shooters and shootings, see the web site https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/12/mass-shootings-mother-jones-full-data/
Those who are still at VT are reminded every time they open a door from the inside because the push bars on the doors were all replaced with safer ones. Just so you know, our exit doors are in accordance with current safety standards. Several members and I attended police led workshops on church safety. A police officer has toured our facilities, and we have implemented those recommendations. A task group has recently been formed to further study and report on security and safety.
Mass shootings are defined as 4 or more people shot or killed, not counting the shooter.
This statement is found only in Luke’s Gospel.
Buechner, Frederick. Beyond Words. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2004. 160.