Today’s message centered around the candle of Peace. I couldn’t help but bring in some events that happened in the USA this week and this year and back and back. I did a disclaimer for my congregation before I spoke. I wanted them to be clear to know that I was NOT in anyway trying to preach an underlying message about gun control. I don’t own a gun, but my family and I are supporters of hunting. I am not though a supporter of unreasonable violence and I guess that will come through here. May we all be part of God’s plan to bring about peace.
The scripture used were: Malachi 3:1-4, Philippians 1:3-11 and Luke 3:1-6 with the title of “God’s Peace.”
On Wednesday when I was digging around in the office looking for something in the library that could work for our liturgy this morning, I came across a book with sermon ideas for the scriptures that we have today. The writer of this particular sample sermon had chosen to look at this week in history and noted that Dec. 7, which is tomorrow, is the day that Pearl Harbor was bombed. In light of the many wars that we have gone through and are going through and will continue to go through (English grammar teacher’s delight to use all those tenses) we could spend this morning in a great comparison between the wars of our day and lighting the Peace candle this morning. It could be a little lesson in irony.
Paulina called me the other day and when I asked how school is going she mentioned the presentations they are giving in their North Dakota studies class. She said one of the presentations that day had been so boring. It was about the Cold War and its affect on North Dakota. I remember growing up about that time. It was a time of great fear; we were so afraid of what Russia, the Soviet Union, might do at any given moment, but there really wasn’t a shot fired. We didn’t watch the news to find out what the day’s body count was, like we did during the Vietnam War. We didn’t cringe to see what terror attack has happened and where/ as we do some days in our current time.
We have had far more warlike situations in the past 20 years within our national boundaries than we ever experienced during that fearful time of the Cold War. We are “hit” sometimes in ways we can’t even begin to fathom. We had a German foreign exchange student in Montpelier in the mid 1990’s who was just astounded by our freedoms to walk around without police at every corner. He told me straight out that such freedom is dangerous. Another little irony, or maybe a paradox.
But I think the real irony of Wednesday’s readings hit me when I got home that night and turned on the television and plugged into my iPad and heard and read some of the news feeds of the day. See! When I am here in the office, I don’t let myself have access to the events of the day. I don’t turn on a radio, and I don’t look at the news feeds on the computer. I am not capable of the “multi-tasking” that so many of our younger or maybe I should say connected-generation claim is the way they function best. When I need to read something to understand it and especially when I need to make sense with what I am writing I can’t handle outside distractions, especially when there is talking involved. I should be honest and tell you that I am too often distracted by the voices in my own head to need something from outside.
But back to the matter at hand, Wednesday was a horrible day in the life of our country. [A worker at the public health department for San Bernardino County in, California left their holiday banquet to return fully armed with his wife and together they proceeded to spray the hall with gunfire until 14 people were killed. Police later found them, and they too were killed in the standoff.] It is a day that will go down in the history books, yet in reality it might not be much compared to the horror of Dec. 7, “a date,” as the President FDR said, “which will live in infamy.” Of course we have had plenty more of those days since Dec. 7, 1941, but my question, our question today is why? Why do we have to ponder or talk about events such as these? Why is there so much hate in our world?
I took to the computer on Thursday morning after watching a bit of the Today Show. One of the reporters sparked a “need to know” in me that morning. He said that to date there were more acts of mass shootings in the US than we had days in 2015. I became curious; I wanted to know what qualified, what was on that list. [http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2015/12/02/list-more-mass-shootings-occurred-in-u-s-in-2015-than-there-are-calendar-days-in-the-year/]
The criteria for the list I found at losangeles.cbslocal was that at least 4 victims needed to be involved, dead or injured. One thing I noticed about that particular list was the deaths and the fire in South Dakota was not included. It certainly met the criteria of 4 or more dead, yet it wasn’t there for whatever reason.
But, this listing for 2015 didn’t seem to hit what I was curious about. I searched further; I narrowed and expanded it at the same time. I wanted more time, more years, but with fewer incidents that were personal or family related. See, I didn’t want that family stuff because that was too personal. I could have been that family. It wouldn’t have been me and it wouldn’t have been my brother. I was away teaching and my brother was in college the day my father pulled a gun on my mother when our three sisters were at home. We were lucky, my mother was able to talk him down, but it could have been us.
On Thursday morning, I wanted to know about the killings that were in schools or movie theaters or on military bases. I wanted to know about the “big” ones in the past few years. This is what I found, [http://timelines.latimes.com/deadliest-shooting-rampages/] Working backwards, I will share some from the list: *find list at the end.
And today we light the candle of PEACE!
Jesus when he came into this world in human form was born in a lowly manger because the city was too crowded to house his family in a room, and they were likely too poor to pay a little extra to find a better place. He could have been, and he should have been born in his own home, where Mary would have been surrounded by people who loved her and would have supported her and talked her through all the pain and incidentals of a birth. But they were in a far away city because their country was under siege by the Romans. They had to travel at the time when Mary was about to give birth because the foreign ruler wanted to take a count of the people.
The day that Jesus, the Prince of Peace was born, was a time without peace. He came to change that. Yet here we are 2000 years later and on last Thursday morning the headlines of the New York Daily News read: “God isn’t fixing this.” I guess that was written in response to the words of some of our politicians, but seriously, what a comment. What a thought!
I thought God fixed this when Jesus was born. Most Christians in the first Century believe this kind of hatred and cruelty and workings by the Prince of Darkness was nearly over. But in truth, it probably just made him dig his heels in a little deeper, which makes our jobs, our purposes here on earth, just a little more challenging.
As we light this candle of Peace/ for Peace and in hopes of peace, I believe that we need to believe that God is about fixing this. But it won’t happen without our serious offering of ourselves to be the instruments of that peace. Unless we as Christians are willing to promote hope and peace and love and joy around ourselves and throughout the world; it won’t happen. Just as John the Baptist was about proclaiming repent from his spot in the desert, so too we must be about proclaiming peace and love to those around us.
Yes God can step in to end all this chaos and bring about the peace we so desperately long for. But in fact God has already stepped in. It happened 2000 years ago when a baby was born in a manger to a poor carpenter and his young wife. And, God stepped in again 33 years later when Christ accepted his role, his place in creation and allowed himself to be crucified and die on the cross.
Peace can come. It can come in our place in our time. It can come with our prayers, but it also must be our actions. Peace is about how we treat our family, our friends, our neighbors, and the stranger we meet on the street. And Peace also depends on how much we are willing to support those who work with the people we don’t even know, those people who live in a different place and time.
This week as I was reading in my devotions, I found some instructions that Paul gave to Timothy and I think they are somewhat fitting for today. [Read II Timothy 2:20-26.]
Today we light a candle for Peace while all around us there is so much strife. Sometimes we would rather just hide out in our houses or here in our sanctuary. We would rather just come and think about the joy we will experience today working together to make this building festive. We would much prefer to think of how we will celebrate this upcoming Christmas season. We would rather think of the gifts we will get and maybe more so the ones we will give and the looks on the faces of our loved ones as they open them.
Instead God reminds us that there is still much work to be done to share the Good News of Jesus with this world. There is much to be done to make God’s creation a place where we can live in harmony. “Let there be Peace on Earth, let this be the moment—now. Let there be peace on earth in all places at all times, that needs to be our pledge not just our hope. Go this week with that thought in your heart. Go this week with the intention of making sure that we are doing our part to help God with “fixing” this problem, so that no one can report again that such an event is just another day in the life of the USA. Amen.
Dec. 2, 2015, San Bernadino, CA 14 dead 21 wounded
Nov. 29, 2015, Planned Parenthood Clinic Colorado Springs, CO 3 dead, 9 injured
Oct. 1, 2015, Umpqua Community College, Roseburg, Oregon 9 dead, 9 injured
July 16, 2015, 2 military bases, Chattanooga, Tenn, 5 dead, 3 wounded
June 18, 2015, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Charleston, SC 9 dead
April 2, 2014, Ft Hood, Texas, 3 killed 16 injured
(there were three different incidents at Ft. Hood
Dec. 14, 2012, Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, Conn, 27 killed, 1 injured
July 20, 2012, Century 16 Movie Theater, Aurora. CO, 12 killed, 58 injured
Jan. 8, 2011, outside a supermarket in Tucson, AZ, 6 killed, 11 injured
April 16, 2007 Virginia Tech, Blacksburg. VA, 32 killed 17 injured
April 20, 1999, Columbine High School, Columbine, CO, 13 killed, 24 injured.
I skipped several of the listings. It actually goes back all the way to 1984.