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A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Gale Davis on the Sunday following the Sandy Hook killings, December 16, 2012

Advent 3C   2012
Christ Church Andover
The Sunday after the Sandy Hook killings

Zephaniah 3:14-20; Canticle 9; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

Two weeks ago I remarked how nice it is when the lessons we hear on Sunday and the church season of the year are in sync with what is happening in the world and in our lives--when what is happening in church mirrors what we are celebrating in church.  Two weeks ago that was true--we were beginning a new year--we were preparing for the birth of Jesus and a year of preparing for the coming of a new rector....even as many were mourning Jeff and Carolyn's move to Seattle. But the lessons fit the mood...encompassed it.

I am feeling that we  are miles from that place today--I cannot stand up here and call you a brood of vipers--”children of terrible parents or snakes”--or in a more familiar vernacular “you sons of---you fill in the blank”. I even wonder if John who was so single minded and austere could have been such an angry preacher given the sadness in our hearts over the shootings in Sandy Hook.

John's message from today's gospel is one of repentance. As I am, myself, trying to make sense of this tragedy, what I need and think perhaps might be helpful for us all is to know how we can somehow make sense of this terrible tragedy of Sandy Hook in a way that allows us to sleep at night and even relieve our doubts about God. I wonder--what does repentance have to do with finding that sense? 

On Friday morning a broken human being blasted through the doors of a grammar school, an excellent school, in a quaint, picturesque New England village--thought to be well protected from unwanted intruders. The broken human being murdered 27 people--including 20 children. It is an act so brutal and unholy that there really aren’t any words that can be said to make it any better. There are no pat phrases of spiritual niceties to explain such horrific evil. 

That is because there is no sense to be made of it. Not to God, not to sane human beings, not to the community of Sandy Hook --and all of us who now feel a kinship with them. And certainly no sense of it to be made by the parents who will never hold their children in their arms or hang their stockings by the fireplace again. Even our faith cannot make sense of it--our faith can only hold us in our grief and mourning. Our faith can help us hold out the hope that we will not be alone in our devastation.

How does our faith help us at times like these? Well, there are some things we can claim to be true --even now. For instance: We should never infer that this or any tragedy or disease or evil that befalls us or anyone else happens because it is “God’s plan” for us. This tragedy was certainly NOT “God’s plan” for anyone’s life--not the lives of those beautiful children, nor their parents, nor the teachers nor the first responders nor even the tragic soul who pulled the trigger. NO! God does not plan evil--God stands with us in the face of it. God Redeems it.

As people of faith we know that “God’s plan” for all of humanity is to know life fully and abundantly, that each of us might become fully the creation God intends us to be. And God does not encourage us to become that fully alive creation by manipulating terrible tragedies to befall us so that we might “learn from them” or be “made stronger” or “be refined by the fire” of them. Such thinking is contrary even to John the Baptist’s urgent call in the wilderness for repentance. 

The truth is that we live in a broken, not yet fully realized “Kingdom of God” world--that forces us to face such tragedies as this one in Sandy Hook. 

But--God does not make such things happen. Evil does. And because we and the whole world are given free will, God knows--we know--such things can happen. Evil does seduce human beings.  And we -- by faith -- know that God weeps and mourns and grieves with us when evil spews its venom. Then, in time, God’s time, God redeems what that broken world has wrought..

When someone asks us “why does God allow this to happen to the innocents? to the babies?” Our only answer is the truth we know by faith...”God didn’t allow it, we allowed it.”

If you, like me and many I have spoken with in the past 48 hours, are angry and maybe beyond angry to enraged by what has happened--if you or I want to blame God or tax cuts or gun laws or the liberals or the right wing conservatives for not stopping it...I dare say we are all missing the point!  This is not a time to look beyond ourselves to blame someone else.

What we can do in this not yet Kingdom of God world in the face of such tragedy and terror is to consciously, deliberately, prayerfully become the heart and hand and voice of Christ here and now and not wait until Christ comes again, in whatever form, to usher in a new reign of God. 

We could talk about gun control--but that would be too simple and too polarizing, wouldn't it? Guns are only part of the problem...and we are already polarized about guns, and every side has valid points to be made.

We could make our schools and other institutional buildings, including our churches, into fortresses, with armed guards at every door 100% of the time -- guards that will protect us and separate us from each other even more profoundly than our current culture is conspiring to do now. Or, perhaps we could deal with our rage by pointing a finger at government or the mentally ill, or other religions or races or socioeconomic classes or countries and say if we eradicate “THEM” or make laws enough to force ”THEM” to do something or separate “THEM” from the rest of us...

But we know what such terrible finger pointing can lead to next.  Some group or another will be tagged as the root cause and we will demand that they -- what? stay out of our country? wear a yellow star? carry a bell and cry “unclean” wherever they go? and who decides who carries those bells or wears those stars?  

NO! Good People -- more laws and further isolation and bans and finger pointing will not help US to become the heart and hands and voice of God who loves all people equally...nor will any of this prevent evil from circling around and spewing venom again...indeed it might do the opposite and escalate it.

The only answer for people of faith is -- and with full acknowledgment to John the Baptist I say this -- Our only answer is to change ourselves.  God is not to blame, “they” whoever “they are” are not to blame.  We are...We allowed this tragedy and we, as God’s hands and heart and voice, are the ones -- the only ones -- who can prevent it from ever happening again. 

God is with us and will guide and help us, and we have to truly listen to each other and be ready to compromise, because it is in the compromises that we will find God’s truth. The kind of repentance John was calling the people to in the desert is no different for us really, though I would hesitate to say there is a viper among us.  We are still human, as were those who followed him into the desert.  In these times, as in the time of Jesus, the world needs to change--and the only way it can is if the people in it change.  Dare I quote John?  “We need to repent.”

We can all be more aware of folks who are hurting.  We can all make sure that any guns we are aware of -- or even own -- are locked and hidden and used only as we intend. We can know our neighbors well enough to know when they are hurting or “a bit off.”  We can pray constantly for guidance --and count on getting it!  We can talk to each other here and in other safe places when our rage over such tragedy makes us feel like we are going to implode.

But when we seek direction the most, we can pick up our baptismal covenant and pray about how we can live it more fully -- because when we do live it fully, then we are far closer to becoming the person God would have us be.

God is with us -- even in the aftermath of this terrible tragedy -- God is with us, loves us unconditionally, and feels the same pain and outrage that we do.  May we have the courage to change our hearts and minds enough -- repent enough -- to make a world where such a tragedy cannot possibly happen again. 

Sometimes it just helps to have names -- like the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.  So by name this morning I ask you to pray with me for the repose of the soul of each of these innocents, for God’s presence with those who loved them, and for all of us, that this time we will not forget to work for change so this horror does not happen again.

Charlotte Bacon, 6;

Daniel Barden, 7;

Rachel Davino, 29;

Olivia Engel, 6;

Josephine Gay, 7;

Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6;

Dylan Hockley, 6;

Dawn Hocksprung, 47;

Madeline F. Hsu, 6;

Catherine V. Hubbard, 6;

Chase Kowalski, 7;

Jesse Lewis, 6;

James Mattioli, 6;

Grace McDonnell, 7;

Anne Marie Murphy, 52

Emilie Parker, 6;

Jack Pinto, 6;

Noah Pozner, 6;

Caroline Previdi, 6;

Jessica Rekos, 6;

Avielle Richman, 6;

Lauren Russeau, 30;

Mary Sherlach, 56;

Victoria Soto, 27;

Benjamin Wheeler, 6;

Allison N. Wyatt, 6

Nancy Lanza, 52

Adam Lanza, 20

God is with them. God is with us. God will Guide us. God will redeem this. Amen.

Last Published: December 18, 2012 1:55 PM