I was to begin a new sermon series this morning, "Life in 140 Characters or Less-- Relationships in the Days of Facebook and Twitter". In light of yesterday's events in Arizona yesterday, I offered this reflection instead. The Facebook/Twitter series will begin next Sunday, January 16.
The news out of Tuscon, AZ yesterday had a profound impact on me. US Representative Gabrielle Giffords, and several others were seriously wounded. Federal District Judge John Roll was killed, along with five others, including a nine year old child—the granddaughter of former baseball man Dallas Green—who was born on September 11, 2001. It appears Congresswoman Giffords will survive, although she is still in a very serious condition. The gunman, a 22 year old high school dropout and US Army reject, was arrested. Another man is considered a person of interest. The shooting happened at a grocery store, a scheduled “meet and greet” many of our elected officials host to interact with their constituents. Our prayers go out for all who were involved and their families. May the God of comfort and grace be made real to them in their time of grief and suffering.
Rep. Giffords was a Democrat who supported health care reform. She narrowly won reelection last November. The day after health care reform passed, someone shot out her office window. She had been threatened many times. Evidently the shooter was a radical, unstable individual whose political views were extreme.
We were meant to begin a new sermon series on relationships in the days of Facebook and Twitter today, but it seems inappropriate to do so in the face of such heinous and evil acts. But even here we see the power of social networking. Rep. Giffords tweeted an hour before the event an invitation to the meet and greet. The gunman posted youtube videos expressing his radical views. We’ll start the Facebook/Twitter series next week, but in a way it’s already started. Information, prayers, blog posts, were all over Facebook and Twitter over the last 24 hours.
Public service was once perceived by just about everyone as an honorable profession. Sure, our leaders make decisions we disagree with. That does not make them evil or objects to be targeted. A civilized society cannot tolerate such events as we witnessed yesterday. Conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, we must come together as citizens—and persons of faith—to say, “NO” in the face of such evil. In an age of constant commentary, more and more negative emotion and images, speaking louder and angrier to get the attention we feel we deserve, reasonable, thoughtful folk like you and me cannot remain silent in the face of such tragedy and terror. Disagree with the President if you like. Vote for someone else. Don’t like what Congress is doing? Call, write, or email your elected officials. I recently did this myself, and received correspondence that was thoughtful.
Today is traditionally the day to commemorate the baptism of Jesus. (read the Matthew text). Jesus came to John at the Jordan river and asked to be baptized. John protested: “I should be baptized by you!” Jesus replied: “There will be time for that later. I must do this.” As he came out of the water, he saw the Spirit of God descending upon him in the form of a dove. And everyone heard a voice from heaven: “This is my Son, the beloved. My favor rests on him!” At our baptism we hear the same words spoken to us.
Baptism is our invitation to new life, a gracious gift of God. When we are baptized we are brought into the communion of the church worldwide. Our sisters and brothers in our particular community surround us with love and prayers, promising to uphold us in our spiritual growth. We say “YES” to God just as we say “NO” to evil: “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil?” “YES I DO!” So today, on this day of remembering the gift of baptism, we join our hearts and mind, standing for the one we can the Prince of Peace and standing against the forces of evil. One way to observe the Baptism of the Lord is for those who are baptized to renew or reaffirm their baptism. And so on today, a day of grief and anxiety not just for those involved in the Arizona shootings but for all who value a society where the free and safe exchange of ideas and actions is valued and encouraged, we join together in this simple act of remembering our “YES” to God. And listen for the voice of the Lord: “This is my son!” “This is my daughter!” “My favor rests on you!”
The service of remembrance of baptism was then offered, followed by the Lord's Supper.