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Reflecting Upon Newtown

Note: I offered these words during the prayer section of worship Sunday, December 16.

Last Friday was a day full of surprising ministry. After I wrote my usual Friday email devotion to the church, I received a call from Byron Proutt, our missions coordinator. He and others had recently partnered with Park Cities Presbyterian on a project, and their missions director called Byron to say another ministry was unable to pick up several boxes of food for their pantry—could we use it? Of course we could! So Pastor Gregg, Mr Johnny, and I rolled out to the warehouse and hauled back 80 boxes of food. Praise God! After we unloaded it Gregg and I went to Kroger to give them a letter of appreciation for making our Thanksgiving baskets for hungry families a priority. After I dropped Gregg off at home, I turned on my radio for the first time that day and heard the reports of the shootings in Newtown, Conn. I could not believe what I heard, especially as a father of young children.

I came back to my office and started to write something to offer words of comfort. After about a paragraph, my computer froze, as if the Holy Spirit was saying more time was needed to process what had happened. So I went home and embraced the quiet as much as I could. I was angry and disgusted. I still am. I did not watch anything on TV because I did not want to participate in the media frenzy. The few posts on Facebook and Twitter I saw were mixed. Some expressed outrage; others withdrew to their political positions—gun control! This isn’t about guns!; others simply offered words of scripture. Pastor Kerry posted from Psalm 23: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid.” This morning I turned to these words:

Psalm 5

Give ear to my words, O LORD;
give heed to my sighing.
Listen to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.
O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice;
in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.

For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil will not sojourn with you.
The boastful will not stand before your eyes;
you hate all evildoers.
You destroy those who speak lies;
the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful.

But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love,
will enter your house,
I will bow down towards your holy temple
in awe of you.
Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness
because of my enemies;
make your way straight before me.

For there is no truth in their mouths;
their hearts are destruction;
their throats are open graves;
they flatter with their tongues.
Make them bear their guilt, O God;
let them fall by their own counsels;
because of their many transgressions cast them out,
for they have rebelled against you.

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
so that those who love your name may exult in you.
For you bless the righteous, O LORD;
you cover them with favour as with a shield.


And

1 Corinthians 2:2-5

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom,* but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power,so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

The words that really stuck with me over the weekend, however, first came from the White House, then others: “This is not the time to discuss _____.” This is not the time to discuss gun control. This is not the time to talk politics. This is not the time to worry about the 2nd Amendment. This is not the time. And I began to think: “When is the time, then?” It wasn’t the time to talk about gun control after Columbine, Virginia Tech, or after any other fill in the blank mass shooting. When will we have the conversation? It’s never the time to talk about teen suicide or domestic violence or any other tragedy where human agency is the primary actor. It’s never the time to talk about the disconnectedness we feel, the abandonment, the sense of loss of community. Listen to neighbors and acquaintances of folk who are interviewed about the people who commit such horrifying acts: “He seemed so normal.” “They seemed so quiet.” They seemed—I didn’t know them, but I assumed they were as normal and you and I.

I wasn’t supposed to preach today since the choir is offering their cantata for Christmas, but we can’t let tragedy like this go by unnoticed or ignored. Who knows? Someone may have come here today because of the events 48 hours ago: explain this to me. Help me understand why God would allow such a thing to happen. The murder of so many children. What kind of world is this? All I can say is I share those same questions—except the one about God allowing it to happen. We’ve allowed this to happen because we have become so disconnected from one another. The next tragedy, and the one after that, will continue until we make the decision to stand together and adjust our moral compass. All the metal detectors in schools, posting armed guards and whatever other quick fixes we can come up with will not protect us by themselves.

If you haven’t seen Lincoln, I urge you to—the timing of its release could not have been any more fitting, considering the brokenness we are experiencing. The last scene in the movie is at President Lincoln’s second inauguration, still a few months before the Civil War ended. He finished the speech with a vision of unity and healing of wounds:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

This is the work we must do: bind up the nation’s wounds. No more talk of “This is not the time.” No, this is the time. Today. Right now.

As I was driving in this morning I was stopped at the light at Lemmon and Turtle Creek. Across the street, a man was lowering the flags at Lee Park to half mast to observe the national pain of the shootings at Newtown Connecticut. He carefully measured each flag so it was in its right place. It will take this same thoughtful, focused effort to establish a new vision of what it means to live in community with one another. For today, know this truth: God’s grief for this tragedy is as acute as it is for those parents and loved ones. Throughout the season of Advent we have looked into God’s vision for the future—what Paul called the Day of Christ—with expectation of renewal and hope. We have heard words that looked beyond current pain and suffering and embraced a world full of promise. We must train our eyes to see as God sees.

I’m going to extinguish the altar candles and the three purple candles for the remainder of the service as a sign of our grief and solidarity with all who suffer this morning. I will also light the Christ candle to remind us that while the darkness has surrounded us, it is never more powerful than the One who said, “I am the Light of the world.”

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