This morning I deliver a sermon I don’t want to preach. You’ll see what I mean in a bit.
We have now begun our 40 day Lenten journey to Holy Week, Good Friday, and Resurrection – “new life in Christ.” Most of us in the room here have been around for a while. We completed our youth a long time ago. We’ve been through marriage and family and career, and now maybe grandchildren, and we wonder “new life in Christ?” Is there anything “new” at this point? Haven’t we just about seen it all? Can there be any growth, any progress, any deepening of our Christian faith? Or has our faith become as calcified as our knee joints sometimes feel? When we learned to balance a check book did we also learn who Jesus was for us and it hasn’t changed much since?
It matters who we think Jesus is, and what is important to him. If you’re going to follow someone you better have a pretty good idea of who he or she is or you might find yourself in a place you never intended to go. And, of course, Jesus is not the same person for everyone – not even for everyone who claims to be a follower.
“What would Jesus do?” That’s what it all boils down to, and unfortunately he is no longer in the flesh to tell us straight out. So, we have to keep our ears and our hearts and our minds open and pray that we get it right, always mindful that we might not.
In today’s gospel we hear that Jesus is baptized by John and receives God’s holy spirit. He returns to his homeland of Galilee up north and begins to proclaim the good news. Now not everyone agrees today on what that “good news” looks like. For example, some people think it means doing away with abortions, but others disagree. Some people think the good news means strictly following the law of the land, while others claim to act out of a “higher law.” Interpretation is everything.
Now in spite of all the various interpretations of who Jesus is and what he would do, I believe there are a handful of basic interpretations upon which all of Jesus’ followers would agree. For example, every person is to be respected by virtue of their creation. If God saw fit to bring someone into existence, we must show that person respect. Even the worst, most heinous criminals must be respected as human beings and given due process under the law. And with respect comes consideration for everyone’s unique and specific personality. (You know you are the only person like you in the entire world, right? Unique and specific.) There is no level playing field in this life. Instead everyone has been dealt a hand and like master poker players our job is to play the hand we’ve been dealt to the best of our ability. There are other things we all agree on, but this morning I would like to focus on just one – in fact, we said it just a few minutes ago when we recited the Ten Commandments, and that is: murder is wrong.
Now “murder” and “killing” are not the same thing. We sometimes kill animals for food or protection, but that’s not a sin, not evil. We kill human beings sometimes when they become a danger to themselves or others, and in times of war. In such cases it is always a tragedy but its not a sin. “Murder” is defined in the religious community as the “wanton destruction of innocent life.” Even when there is no immediate threat or danger, a murderer will take a life because he or she decides it would be better for them to do so.
In a few minutes we will pray for the 17 teenagers and teachers who were murdered in Florida this past week. They posed neither a threat nor a danger to the shooter, yet their lives ended. They had families and friends. The were making plans for college and work. They were just beginning their lives and then, in a moment, no more. This is not the sermon I want to preach, yet I feel to keep silent dishonors those who died. What would Jesus do? The coach who took the bullets so his students could escape – he is the Christ. He gave his life as a ransom for many.
But what about us? What us as followers of Christ? What would he have us do? Here’s my answer:
I don’t claim to know what a legislative correction looks like. I don’t think changing our laws, by itself, will solve completely what’s going on. And I’m not opposed to guns. If people want to hunt, or if they live in an unsafe neighborhood and feel they need a gun for protection, I see nothing wrong with that. In fact, I wish the hunters would take out a few more of the deer that eat the flowers and shrubs here in our churchyard. But an assault rifle in the hands of a troubled and unstable teenager makes absolutely no sense to me. As I read the Constitution that’s not what the 2nd Amendment is about anyway. Some may disagree – okay.
But something needs to change, and we, as followers of Christ, need to be part of it. What would Jesus do? Overturn the money exchange in the Temple courtyard. Make a fuss. Speak out. Call. Write. Visit. Demand saner laws. I don’t have the whole scenario worked out, but we need to start because if nothing changes, nothing will change. If nothing changes now, we cannot expect a different outcome in the future.
Finally, what’s at stake here? Were the teenagers who died “our children” or were they “Florida’s children?” If we answer “Florida’s children” we are in trouble. Those teenagers were ours. They were family, our sons and our daughters, and they must not die in vain. Columbine. Sandy Hook. Benton, KY, San Bernardino, Marysville, WA, Knoxville, Parkland, and that’s just a partial list. Who’s to say Saugerties won’t be next? Do you think we are immune? Do you think we are special or more favored than those other communities? Who’s to say some troubled person down the street is not storing up guns and ammunition right now? It’s legal.
What would Jesus do? Act. The time to act is now, not when they start carrying the body bags out of the high school. I’m sorry to be so graphic. Remember, I didn’t want to preach this sermon and I hope I never have to again. But if we sit idle and silent, when another shooting occurs, the blood of the murdered will be partially on our hands.
We follow someone who believes that every life is sacred and worthy and valuable. Let’s prove him right. In His name. Amen.