“Eat, drink, and be merry.” At 1:00am last night, right around the corner in the Oregon District, people were probably doing just that, when their life was demanded of them—not demanded by God, but by someone who had no right to demand a life. In the middle of the night, the street erupts in a barrage of high-velocity people-seeking missiles, coming from a weapon designed for a war but aimed at a party. And God’s heart breaks again.
Can you identify these numbers from the past week? 3 and 10; 20 and 26; 10 and 26. Gilroy, El Paso, Dayton. I am sure that this morning, almost all pastors in the Dayton area woke up groggily, checked the news on their phone while eating breakfast, and then realized that their sermon, that they spent fifteen hours working on, no longer works.
I have my scripted sermon printed, and you can pick up a copy or I can put it online, but this is not the time to talk about the worthlessness of an abundance of possessions. These people who died or were injured, and their families—their sin was not believing that their life consisted of an abundance of possessions, although they may have had much. When their life was taken from them, yes, their homes and cars and stuff was lost to them. But what was taken from them was their family, and friends. Children and parents and grandparents.
We may be inclined to despair. Because the violence gets closer and closer, and where are we ever safe? If not in a neighborhood, the Oregon District of Dayton, that is normally a place of joy in eating, drinking, being merry together in friendship, where else? Is this just the way things are now?
These people, these victims, have names, and lives, and lives shared. We don’t know their names yet. But they are your neighbors. Malinda and Al live only three blocks away. These are people whose lives were cut short, and many others who have been grievously wounded, and the family, friends, witnesses, and wider supportive community who have suffered the loss of so many of their own.
And then there are those who continue to be scapegoated in this fearful and frightful world where walls are being built to separate us from each other, but boundaries of civility and kindness are being broken to make it easier to harm one another. So many victims. So many potential victims.
This has happened so often, the violence, the slaughter of innocents, but the sorrow is always new and the grief is always raw. This is the new normal, and there is nowhere to hide anymore. I give up, we think. That’s the despair, and it’s so easy.
So often in our spiritual history, we have given up. But God won’t let us. In our Scriptures, God gets tired of seeing us try and then mess up and then give up and go our own ways, giving in to hatred and vengeance and violence.
So God will never give up. God is never resigned to the way things are. God will always weep for God’s children, and rage against the violence that is perpetuated against God’s children, and rage against the injustices of the society that let Gilroy, and El Paso, and Dayton happen..
God will weep for Gilroy, and El Paso, and Dayton, and all those cities and towns too many to even remember, that have suffered violence from other human beings, just in this country alone. It’s a field of nightmares, threatening to obliterate God’s field of dreams. There’ve been so many, we lost count. But God is still counting. And God is still weeping.
This time, I sense that we too, like God, are tired of giving in to this field of nightmares. This time, we are inclined to despair, and feel hopeless, and get lost in grief and bewilderment. But l also sense a defiance in our grief. I see in our love for the victims a defiant love. In coming out with our love and support, I see a subversive stand against the world of violence and hatred that wants to eat us up. Defiant grief and love say, I will not give in. I will hold fast to what God created us for, for love and relationship with God and one another. No massacre machine can kill that, the foundation of our existence in God.
That machine –it was a machine made by us and designed for war. One person looked at this country of neighborhoods and communities where people work and play and laugh and celebrate, and apparently saw a war arena. Saw something he didn’t like, and decided to declare murder.
But for people of faith and hope and justice—there is another reality. There is a world where God belongs. It’s not up in heaven, it’s right here. It’s in Dayton. If we look past what the visible world seems to show us, if we look through a wider lens of faith and justice,—you know that there is something more. Through this lens, you can see a reality that is beyond the reality of guns and violence and hatred that has been spit into our face. If you look past the veil of fear and through the lens of faith and justice, you can see a reality that pulses with affirmation and celebration of one another. A living, loving community, with a pulse that beats from the very depth of God’s heart. That pulse will never die.
There is a hole in God’s heart. But not just the way you think. God has left a hole in God’s heart for us to fill. It is so much bigger than a barn. And it wants more than just our earthly treasures. It wants more than our tears or even our prayers. Today it is filled with sorrow and grief, but the hole in God’s heart is also a place, a room prepared for us. Jesus gave us that promise. And the hole in God’s heart is a hole that we are invited to fill with treasures that matter, not to our bodies, but to God. Treasures like compassion, welcome, forgiveness, dignity, generosity, respect, and reconciliation. These are the treasures that God gives so freely to us. The real treasures aren’t in what we see but in what we embody and who we embody—the face of Christ to the world. That’s how we can respond to today’s tragedy.
The good news, the good news is that the essence of our life here on this earth is not empty desert waste at all, as the Psalm today hints. Nor is it hidden anymore, as the writer of Colossians says. Jesus Christ has revealed to us the essence of our life, the substance of our life, the backbone of our existence, which is that we would love God and others, as God has loved us.
We need always to keep that vision ahead of us. That vision gives us the courage to refuse to accept gun violence and the targeting of innocent and vulnerable communities as the “new normal” for our society. Instead, in defiance and in hope, we will stand and advocate for God’s beloved community as the true new normal—a new earth, where we of all colors and faiths and orientations and identities and beliefs stand together, not in simple tolerance, but in celebration, in solidarity.
In solidarity, in communion with God and with one another, we can erase the culture of hate and fear, and bring about a world of understanding and appreciation of the gifts of our differences. That’s the expansive, extravagant, lavish imagination of our Creator God, who would so enrich us beyond our little selves, beyond our imagination, to give us the hope of a world where LGBT, African American, Muslim, Native American, and yes, Democrats and Republicans and everyone in between, and all peoples can live together not only in harmony but dancing in celebration with the pulse of God’s loving heart.
By The Rev. Joanna Lesierson
Sunday, August 4, 2019