Saturday, November 11, 2017

Justice, Righteousness, and Mass Murders.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
“Let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”
These are the words of Amos.
Another prophet, Micah, wrote similar words:
8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Karl Marx famously wrote:
“Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
“The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.[2
OK, so by now, having quoted two Old Testament prophets, and Karl Marx, a founding father of communism, you are probably wondering where in the world this sermon is headed.
Well, let’s start with last Sunday.
While Christians across the nation gathered for worship on All Saints Sunday, many taking time to remember the loved ones that have died, a gunman, Devin Kelley, entered First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas and killed 26 of the parishioners worshipping there.
It’s not the first time Churches have been targeted.
Parishioners at a Bible study in Charleston were gunned down, not so long ago.
And though another shooting took place at a school back in 2006, it was the Amish people that were targeted.
When Christians become a target for mass murders, there are countless questions that are raised.
One is, are we safe as we gather here for worship?
Another is, how do we respond?  What should we do.
I was asked this week if I'd start packing a weapon in Church to protect my flock. My response: "Hell no."
I wrote on Facebook:
“I refuse to surrender to fear.
I refuse to resort to evil.
I believe that peaceful resistance is the only way to follow Jesus.
I believe that two or more shooters will do more harm than one.
I believe that policing the community, including the Church, is a government responsibility, not something to be assumed by everyday citizens.
I believe that the only way the frequency of violence will change is if we finally realize that reasonable gun controls are our moral mandate and do something. (Which we won't because we love guns more than we desire to protect one another.)
But most importantly, I believe that selling one's soul and adopting a reliance on violence to counteract violence is worse than being a victim.
In other words, I'd rather die than sell out and become one of "them". Yes, there is a fate worse than death, and that is to become the very evil you abhor. This I learned from a Quaker friend.”
There is another response that has become too frequent as our nation has dealt with one mass shooting after another.
Politicians and religious leaders alike have declared to the survivors: “our thoughts and prayers are with you”, as though saying that in some way makes anything better.
I rather imagine that if the prophet Amos was alive today his words might be:
“I despise your thoughts, and take no delight in your prayers, but let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”
This is where the critique of religion that Karl  Marx comes in.
Too often, religion is used to comfort people in their suffering, and as a result, to prevent  people from taking appropriate action to actually end the suffering.  It’s a pain killer, an opiate.  It relieves the pain, but does not address the underlying issue.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with you”, but, we’re not going to do anything else.
There is a part of me that wants to say “No!”
We cannot with integrity consider ourselves to be Christians if all we are willing to do is think and pray, but not take any action in the face of such evil.
But the problem for many of us is that we simply do not know what action we can take.
Every time such a tragedy happens many people raise the issue of gun control.
There is some legitimacy to that concern.
I mean, if I wanted to commit such a crime, all it would take is a fifteen minute drive over to Cabelas and I’d have access to a full arsenal of the type of weapons, assault rifles, that are being used in these mass shootings.
Reasonable gun controls might not eliminate the problem entirely, the argument goes, but on the other hand we don’t need to make it so easy to get those guns. 
Others lift up the issue of mental illness in our society, and the need for a greater emphasis on taking care of the mentally ill.
The problem with using mental illness as an explanation is that the vast majority of people who are mentally ill are not a threat to anyone, except in some cases to themselves.
The truth is that these people committing mass murders are not insane, they are enraged.  Anger, not mental illness is the problem.
But there is a deeper issue, and one that we don’t want to face.
In ‘family systems theory’, there is an “identified patient”,  a term used in a clinical setting to describe the person in a dysfunctional family who has been unconsciously selected to act out the family's inner conflicts as a diversion.
In other words, often the family prefers to identify one member of that family who has been acting out as the problem when the real issue is that there is a greater problem that involves the whole family.
And so you might have a child who has developed behavioral problems, failing in school, or doing drugs, and the family identifies that person as being the problem.
What they don’t see is that the identified patient, the problem child, is merely reflecting the sickness that permeates the entire family.  It’s much easier to say “Johnny has some issues” than it is to say “we have a problem”.
I believe that these people committing these horrendous crimes are actually acting out the sickness that pervades our entire society.
In the church, we call that sickness “sin”, and we are all guilty of it.
“Let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”
These words of the prophet Amos are a call to repentance.
What does sin look like?
Part of the problem is that it is easier to say that we have all sinned and fallen short of the will of God, than it is to actually identify the ways that we have sinned.  Not only that, but even when we try to identify the sin that pervades our society our perspective is colored by the very sin that is part of who we are. 
Having said that though, I’m going to be bold and identify three things that I believe run deeply throughout our society, and which are at the root of the problems.
First, we are a divided people.
This polarization pits one against another and it affects our families, our churches, our governments, in fact, the entirety of our society.
Secondly, we are an angry people. 
And we seem to have lost the ability to deal with our anger in responsible ways.  You don’t have to seek out these murderers to find this anger.  All you have to do is drive across town.
You want to make people angry?  Try getting in line in the express lane at the supermarket with more than ten items in your basket.  Try driving the speed limit in the left hand lane of the freeway.
And thirdly, we are a fearful people.
I work with a number of people who are so afraid that they will not drive anywhere without a loaded pistol in their car.  Think about that.  In order to go out of their house, they have to pack a weapon.  That’s fear.  And then, knowing that the roads are full of people with loaded weapons in their cars, the rest of us have reason to be afraid.
Divided.  Angry.  Afraid.
That’s the sin that permeates our society.
We view others as an enemy, we too often get angry, and our fearful response can be devastating.
The mass murderers who make the headlines are simply acting out the divisiveness, anger, and fear that permeates our society.
That’s a tough pill to swallow.
“Let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”
Those are the words of God given to Amos.
Jesus put it differently.
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
And love does more than offer “our thoughts and prayers”.
Love overcomes all divisions.
Love dispels anger.
And love casts out all fear.
But most important of all, love is more than an emotion.
It’s more than just how we feel toward one another, its about how we act. 
So here’s a challenge for you, a way to make a difference.
Instead of viewing others as the enemy, instead of allowing anger to run rampant, instead of being afraid—find a way, anyway, to act toward one another with love.

And see what happens.

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