Do Not Leave Jerusalem: A Sermon on Gun Violence
May 29, 2022
The happiest people I’ve ever met, regardless of their profession, their social standing, of their economic status, are people that are fully engaged in the world around them. The most fulfilled people are the ones who get up every morning and stand for something larger than themselves.
– Wilma Mankiller, the first woman elected to serve as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation
Next Sunday, as we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, we will be hearing about the rush of a violent wind that fills the entire house and breathes the power and wisdom of God into everyone who was present. This is the Pentecostal moment of baptism when the Holy Spirit makes herself known to people from many nations in many languages so that all… all people on the face of the earth… know what God’s Love is and what God’s Love is capable of. That when God’s Love is channeled, bound to us as our own flesh, nothing is impossible.
Today, however, we have a different celebration, the Feast of Ascension. In our Christian calendar, this is the moment when we realize that the person of Jesus is gone from us. But because of the Resurrection, we have come to believe that death is not the final word. Love is always the final word.
And in this moment, Jesus offers us a kind of spoiler – an anticipation of what will happen next week. He says, “do not leave Jerusalem,” but wait for the promise of God, “… for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
Do not leave Jerusalem, this troubled city, where corruption runs deep and people feel helpless in the face of oppression.
Do not leave Jerusalem, this ancient holy place, where God has come to be known through Christ’s presence.
Do not leave Jerusalem. Wait for the promise of God. You will be given what you need to spread the Good News of God’s Love.
Jerusalem, the holy land, the city of God.
Jerusalem, the place in all of us where God resides.
Although the colors on our altar are Easter white in this Easter season, I’m wearing an orange stole today… taking for my inspiration my friend Terri Hobart, who wears an orange stole every Sunday after a mass shooting. You see, the color orange is worn by hunters in the woods to protect themselves from being shot. And now, the color orange has come to signify the effort to end gun violence in this country. Especially, this week of the year because the first weekend in June is set aside for gun violence awareness.
From this point forward, I too will wear my orange stole after a mass shooting. It’s a gesture, I realize. Not an action that is designed to change anything. But this gesture is meant as a reminder that the specter of gun violence continues raging.
People disagree on the cause of gun violence, of course, because there isn’t just one cause. What troubles the minds of those who choose to buy guns just because it is fun to do so or those who choose to buy guns in order to end another life… because, let’s face it, that is the only thing a gun is built for – to end a life. What troubles the minds of these people is legion, a Biblical term meaning a great number of demons. So, of course there are many causes for gun violence.
Is it about mental health? Yes, it is. It most certainly is. Is there more we can do to support mental health? Yes, there most certainly is. As I said, the troubles are legion. Diabolical. Evil.
And that truth leaves us with nothing but a big gaping hole… between this moment and the moment when there are no more troubled minds. Which is, frankly, not a realistic possibility.
And into this big gaping hole, people have poured rhetoric and power and money and corruption, all hiding behind the second amendment. Something that, by the way, was never intended to create the devastating nightmare the parents of 19 elementary school children are now living, or the families of 10 black people killed by a white supremacist, or the loved ones of the victims in Parkland, Orlando, Las Vegas, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Pittsburgh, and on and on and on and on.
Politicians posing with guns in their Christmas photos as if a gun is some kind of prop. Well, unfortunately, that is exactly what it has become to politicians – a prop, this thing designed to do nothing except kill. Politicians are paid by gun lobbyists to keep gun laws intact. They are speaking at the NRA national convention in Houston TX this very weekend in order to make sure that happens.
Why bring politicians into a sermon? Because Jesus was dealing with the very same thing, my beloveds. Politicians. Remember Pilate? Remember Herod?
Herod Antipas was a politician and was one of the most corrupt of his time. Doing anything he had to do in order to keep his hands on power in Jerusalem so that the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus would name him King of the Jews, a title he desperately sought because he was jealous. King of the Jews was a title his father had and he was not his father’s choice for heir. Herod Antipas was a politician capable of doing anything, including the oppression and killing of his fellow Jews to ensure he stayed in power, backed by Roman centurions, as Rome’s mouthpiece in that region.
Of course, we know from scripture and from the historical record that it was John the Baptist who was the voice that cried out in the wilderness against the corruption and oppression of Herod Antipas. This John the Baptist, for whom this parish was named. John the Baptist who baptized Jesus and first witnessed, in him, the Christ, the incarnate Love of God. And Jesus carried on that ministry of baptizing people to bring them back to God amidst the corruption and oppression of the powers that be.
In Jesus’ ministry, he did all that he could to draw attention to systemic sin. He worked tirelessly to heal the effects of that sin in individuals and, in his teaching, also worked to heal the wounds left by corrupt leadership on an oppressed people. He sought to teach people that God does not want the hollow sacrifices of corrupt people who are willing to sacrifice the innocent in order to make sure the money keeps flowing.
God wants a sacrifice of the heart, the changed heart. Broken open by the wild, unbounded Love of God that seeks to uplift the oppressed and stand in the gaping hole where corruption and rhetoric and power and money always find their way.
This was always the purpose of Jesus’ life. His ministry is foreshadowed in the words we attribute to mother Mary in the Magnificat:
God has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of His servant Israel
for He has remembered his promise of mercy
God’s promise of mercy. Do not leave Jerusalem but wait for God’s promise.
Jesus is our teacher, the one who taught us that death, even death by the barrel of a gun, is not the final word. Love is always the final word. This is God’s promise.
How does this promise of mercy, this promise of Love have anything to do with the specter of gun violence?
We might weep in response. I know I do when I think about it too much. We might prefer to find something happier or nicer to think about so that we don’t become maudlin and morose. I know I do. We might choose to give some money to make ourselves feel better or to assuage our rage… and then move on. I know I’m tempted to.
And, possibly the worst option, we might get into arguments with and harbor judgment about those with whom we disagree. I know I’m guilty of this. But this is not only a waste of time, it is a form of violence in and of itself.
What is God asking of us? Because it surely cannot be to let this violence continue.
How do we work for real change? Because what has God given us this Holy Spirit for if we are not to continue the work of Christ Jesus? This gift from God, given so that all nations in all languages can know that Love is always the final word.
And people DO know this. I looked up some statistics yesterday. Did you know that there have been 214 mass shootings (that means an event where at least 4 people were shot) in this country in the first 145 days this year. But in developed economies, meaning those that are not overrun by drug trafficking and gang violence, the countries that the US considers to be its peers… among those, the United States ranks highest in gun deaths. And not just highest, we have almost 4 times as many deaths as those that we would consider to be a peer of ours.
source: Guns and Mass Shootings: Data Show Why US Is Outlier on Deaths From Firearms (bloomberg.com)
People DO know this in other nations in other languages.
But here… we hear the rhetoric of the pundits in our media, the ones who are paid to make programming so divisive and enraging that people will watch. We hear the rhetoric of politicians, paid by the gun lobby to claim the right to carry a weapon is worth more than the life of another human being because we “can’t blame the gun.”
And all this rhetoric drowns out the voice of love… the memory of love… the act of love… making us think we have no power.
But we do have power.
Jerusalem, the holy land, the city of God.
Jerusalem, the place in all of us where God resides.
The question we have before us is, are we willing to do something about it?
Are we willing to pray… to ask for God’s guidance and then really do something about it?
Until we have no more left to do?
Do not leave Jerusalem, this troubled land, where corruption runs deep and people feel helpless in the face of oppression. Do not leave Jerusalem to the gun lobby and the corrupt politicians.
Do not leave Jerusalem, this ancient holy place, where God has come to be known through Christ’s presence. Do not leave your own soul behind.
Do not leave Jerusalem. You will be given what you need to spread the Good News of God’s Love. Do not deny God’s Holy Spirit present in your own being, asking to be given voice and action.
Do not give up your power. Do not give up Jerusalem.
For when God’s Love is channeled, bound to us as our own flesh, nothing is impossible.