Country Parson does not feature guest columnists, but I am making an exception today. My friend and colleague the Rev. David Sibley sent a powerful letter to his congregation that has to be read by a wider audience. Here it is.
Beloved in Christ,
In two days, we will celebrate Ascension Day at St. Paul’s. In the Acts of the Apostles, just as Jesus is about to ascend into heaven, he says “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Ascension Day reminds us that God entrusts God’s work to our hands. It also reminds us that God promises us the power of the Holy Spirit to do the work God gives us to do. And what is God’s work? Jesus says he comes “that [all] may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) Today we witness again tragedy that reminds us that the image of abundant life for all remains painfully out of reach in our society.
“A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” (Jeremiah 31:15)
Earlier today, at least nineteen children lost their lives at the hand of a gunman at a school in Uvalde, Texas. It comes only one week after a gunman, inspired by racial hatred, animus, and prejudice killed ten people at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York.
I was in eighth grade when a gunman opened fire at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in 1999. I had just graduated college when thirty-two people were killed at Virginia Tech. I was a newly ordained priest when a gunman murdered twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012. I hadn’t even celebrated my second wedding anniversary when seventeen were murdered in Parkland, Florida. Now, with my daughter scarcely 8 months old, we weep for more lives lost to an epidemic of gun violence. For my entire adult life, gun violence and mass shootings have served as memorable milestones just as much as any other moment. This paragraph alone contains the memory of 108 lives lost to gun violence in schools and universities.
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
It is tempting to seek to explain away the many lives lost to gun violence in the United States each day. We wish to ascribe the fruits of our very American addiction to violence to failures of mental health and crazed personalities. It is often argued that the solution to an epidemic of gun violence is simply to arm more people. As we make these excuses and the years pass, the lives of more and more children like those who died today are sacrificed upon the altar of our desire for power, violence, and control. They are martyrs to our very American addiction to guns and violence, and their lost lives profit us nothing.
Beloved, the Gospel is not silent in moments like these. If we claim to follow Jesus, we must deny ourselves and pick up our cross – we must give something of ourselves up so that something more of God may fill our hurting souls. We must understand that as Christians, we are called to give something of ourselves that others might live. In moments like these, the things we have to surrender to God’s holier purposes actually doesn’t entail a sacrifice of all that much. We can do something as simple as asking a person to wait 48 hours longer before acquiring a firearm that can expend 48 rounds in a minute. We could take up common sense firearm restrictions, understanding that the freedoms guaranteed to us in secular law cannot be of more value than the lives of our children; that our weapons cannot be of more value to us than our future. And as Christians, shaped by the gospel, we can advocate for them.
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Many people would prefer their clergy to stay out of politics. But the Gospel is political – Jesus was executed by the Roman state, and politics, at its heart, is about how we live together as human beings and order our affairs. Beloved, in this moment, I cannot be silent. You may disagree with me in this moment; yet my charge as your priest is that I will care alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor, and by my words and life proclaim the Gospel. In this moment, the Gospel to which I have vowed my life is not silent.
And that Gospel is this: Christ came that all might have abundant life. If we would come after him, we must deny ourselves and follow him And we, and we alone, are his witnesses to the very ends of the earth.
Last Sunday at St. Paul’s, we were urged to be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves (James 1:22). We heard that pure religion is to care for the orphan and widow in their distress (James 1:27). On this day in which weeping is heard, once again, in Ramah, it is my prayer that we will have the courage to be Christians not simply within the walls of our church, but outside of it as well. It is my prayer that we will be found worthy of our calling, and be doers of the word, not merely hearers.
As we weep and mourn, and then as we answer the call of Jesus, what will our witness be?