A brief word at a Vigil Against Gun Violence: Prayers for Our Lives, on the eve of the anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999
The text is the story of Simon the Magus in Acts 8
Simon wanted to buy God’s power from the apostles.
But Peter said to him, ‘May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money! … Your heart is not right before God.’
We cannot buy our salvation.
We cannot purchase protection at the price of our souls, still less at the cost of our children’s lives.
Gun violence is stealing the gospel from us at an alarming rate. It ruins lives, it enables despair, it facilitates fear. At its root are the things we were warned against long ago: the greed that money-making breeds; the divisions increased by suspicion and the evils of isms: sexism, nationalism, selfish individualism, and especially racism. It branches out into paranoia, deluding us into trusting in our own handiwork instead of the hands of our creator, who gave us life and taught us how to live, if we would but listen.
More guns bring more violence, and we have had enough of the ‘gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness.’
We cannot buy our way out of the mess that we have bought ourselves into, by selling our votes and our souls to manufacturers of domestic war. But we do not have to stand idly by while the gospel is stolen from us and our children.
As Christians we hold one another accountable to Christ and to the gospel. So we get to ask the difficult questions.
If a child in our care is going to play somewhere, we get to ask the impolitic question, “Are there guns in the house? If so, exactly how are they stored?”
As friends, we get to ask the impossible questions: “Are you depressed? Where are your guns? What are you doing to keep yourself safe from using them?”
As family, we get to ask the invasive questions: “How often does he get angry? Is there a gun in the house? How can I help keep you safe?”
As citizens, we get to ask our representatives, “What are you doing to rein in the flood tide of guns sloshing about this country? How are you turning the tide on gun violence?”
As Christians, we get to say, “Jesus died for us, but he didn’t kill anyone for us. What makes anyone more of a good guy than Christ?”
In the past nineteen years, since Columbine, school shootings have become part of our national storyline, no longer unthinkable, instead, our administrators and enforcers spend their time and energy strategizing for something that now seems almost inevitable. It should not be this way. Our children should not be living under threat, as though in a war zone. The gospel – good news – should not have been stolen from them so cynically.
We need to give it back. We need to build them up. We need to open our hearts and minds to a world, a kingdom of God in which the answer to violence is not more weapons but fewer, and the answer to insecurity is not to retreat but to embrace one another, to strengthen the bonds of community, of love, of life, trusting not in metal or money, but in the living heart of God.
We may think it is impossible. But we thought it unlikely that Jesus could rise from the dead. And yet here we are, gathered in his name.
We need to keep that surprise before us, to excite our hearts to hope and open our minds to new ways of thinking. Because God will not let the gospel be traded for silver or stolen from God’s children, because God is always on the side of the meek and the lowly, because God is love, and love can ever be defeated by death. That much we know, and it is the gospel of Christ. Amen