My sermon title this morning was supposed to be “Rich Towards God.” I was going to talk about the parable of the rich fool, which you all just heard read. That was the plan. And then yesterday and today happened. The 249th and the 250th mass shooting in America— just in 2019.
You heard me right. 250 shootings this year alone. Do you know what that number means? It means that there have been more mass shootings then there are days that have passed in the year 2019. It means, that’s how many times— 250— someone with a gun has gone into a public place, and starting indiscriminately shooting and often killing people. 250 times.
So this happened, and I thought to myself, what do I do? Do I preach the sermon I prepared, which leaves no room for us to talk about this? Or do I bring it up? Because something is wrong here. Something is very, very wrong. And the truth about me, right now, is that I’m angry. I’m angry and I’m also heartbroken. I’m heartbroken at the place we’ve come to— that these are normal, run of the mill events. I’m angry that it’s normal for someone to go into a public place with the sole purpose of killing random strangers. I’m angry and heartbroken that we, as a country, have refused to do anything about it. And I suspect many of you are angry and heartbroken as well.
And so, as uncomfortable and hard as it may be, I believe we need to talk about it. Not because yesterday and this morning’s shootings are particularly unique, but because they’re not. We are becoming too used to this. We are almost numb to it. But friends, this cannot be our new normal. We cannot allow these shootings to go by as if they are just the price of doing business in America. And if they are? Then friends, the price has simply gotten too high.
I know a lot of preachers are probably going to talk about guns today. And so they should. We do have a gun problem in this country. But that’s not really what I want to talk about today. That’s not what I want to talk about, because what is perhaps an even larger problem in our country right now is hate. And while details about yesterday’s shooting are still coming out, the picture is becoming more and more clear, and it seems more and more evident that this shooting, like so many others in recent months and years, was motivated by hate, and specifically, hate fueled by white supremacist ideology. We know that the shooter was a young white man who lived in Dallas, in a mostly white, upper middle-class neighborhood. Why, then, did he choose to drive all the way to El Paso— a nine-hour drive— to a mostly Hispanic part of town to commit his crime?
The answer to that question appears to have come in the form of a manifesto that showed up online just moments before the shooting. The title of the manifesto is “An Inconvenient Truth,” and it appears to outline the shooter’s motivation. Authorities are still working to determine if the shooter was the author of the manifesto, which was unsigned, but if he was, the implications are pretty scary. The manifesto outlines fears about Hispanic people gaining power in the United States. At one point it actually says, in regard to immigrants, “if we can get rid of enough of them, then our way of life can be more sustainable.” Even if it turns out that the gunman did not write this manifesto, I think its very existence is proof of the hate and white supremacy problem we have in our country right now. Even if yesterday’s gunman didn’t write the manifesto, it is still symptomatic of the larger problem, which is that white supremacy is a cancer in this country. And it is growing. It has metastasized in our bones, and our lungs, and our blood, and our hearts.
So what do we do? What does our faith have to say about all of this? What does our scripture have to say? What does Jesus have to say? Are there words in our sacred stories and teachings
that can be offered as an antidote to hate? There are indeed many, but perhaps in this time and place, simplicity is best. And for me, I find power in the words of Christ that come almost immediately after our reading for today, also in the 12th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, when he says to his disciples, “do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Do not be afraid. These words are both a balm and an antidote. They are a balm because they are reminder that no matter what happens, we belong to God. In all our living and in all our dying, we belong to God. In times of peace and in times of violence, we belong to God. In joy and in sadness, we belong to God. In times of stability and in times of fear, we belong to God. We belong to God and there is nothing— “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,
that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” So there’s the balm. We are in God’s hands— all of us. God is our refuge and our strength a very present help in times of trouble. Do not be afraid, little flock.
These words are also an antidote, because nine times out of ten, where does hate come from? It comes from fear. People are afraid that their country is changing, and unfortunately, that fear sometimes becomes so all-consuming that it becomes more comfortable for some people to let that fear manifest itself as hate. Hate for immigrants, in this case. Hate for Muslims in another. Hate for people of color. Hate for the LGBTQ community. Hate for Jewish folk. These are all communities that have been targeted by hate and white supremacist violence. Why? Because people are afraid. People are afraid that they are losing the country they know. People are afraid of those who are different. People are afraid that the world is changing too fast. People are afraid, and fear can be unbearable sometimes, and so they turn that fear outward in the form of hate.
So I wonder, if, more than anything else right now, we all need to be reminded of Jesus’ words— “do not be afraid, little flock. do not be afraid.” So maybe you all can help me with a little experiment this morning. A little experiment to put this antidote out there into the world.
At this point there was a break in the sermon as people decorated rocks with the words, “do not be afraid.” Worshippers were then instructed to leave these decorated rocks in public places for other people to see them and take them. After the rocks were decorated, the congregation engaged in conversation about their feelings about the shootings and the content of the sermon.
There’s just one more thing I want to say before we move on with the service. It’s important to counter messages of hate and fear with messages of love and hope. And it’s good that we are trying to do that, in some small way. But these small tokens are not enough. We also have to be brave and stand up to voices of hate and white supremacy in this country. These voices are growing bolder, and they are often coming from people in positions of great power. We need to stand up to that. We need to recognize it and call it out whenever we hear it and regardless of who we hear it from. Our words matter. Our voices matter. We are called to use them to preach love and peace in all times and in all places. May it ever be so, Amen.