A couple of years ago I was window shopping for kayaks in a large sporting goods store on a summer evening, when from somewhere on another level, in another part of the store, someone yelled, “Everyone get out!”
Nothing else was said. But anyone who heard that voice, that brief phrase, knew that the what the woman was really saying was, “Gun! Gun! Gun!”
So, that incident turned out to be a false alarm, as regards the gun. Fortunately, every came out of the situation in one piece. But it left me wondering at the way in which my mind instantly and correctly (it was what she meant, even if she was mistaken) translated, “Everyone get out!” to, “Gun! Gun! Gun!”
How did we get here? How did our garden of democracy, with its high aspirations to liberty, life, and the pursuit of happiness, become infested with gun violence to such a deadly extent?
The serpent has been at work, tempting us to believe that we have the power of life and death, and the authority to wield it at will, instead of submitting our will to the One in whose image life was made.
“Madness!” we say of the call of Christ to lay down arms, to refuse the way of war and choose instead the way of the Cross. “Madness. That’s not how things work in the real world.”
But Jesus came into our very real world in a very real way and suffered very real consequences for our sake. And he was resurrected to new life, proving that the way of death-dealing is not the way of victory.
The pervasiveness of guns and gun violence in this country leave some of us numb, some of us afraid, some of us despairing, some of us determined.
Hadiyah Pendleton was only 15 when she was shot to death while hanging out at a local park after school. Her family and friends launched #WearOrange to raise awareness of the effects of this pervasive gun violence, because it is the colour that hunters wear to say, “See me, don’t shoot me.”
I’ve been reading a brilliant and devastating book about the effects of gun violence on our children – Children Under Fire: An American Crisis, by John Woodrow Cox. It is a difficult read, but it is hopeful, because it points to ways in which we can begin to change our landscape of violence. I recommend it, and I hope that we can continue to work together to raise awareness of the effects of our relationship with the gun, and the spiritual work of our disarming gospel, our maddeningly peaceful Messiah.
When they said that he was mad, Jesus retorted that they had better watch whom they were calling mad! (Mark 3:20-35)
When they said that he was on the wrong side of God, he laughed at them.
When they said that he should toe the family line, Jesus responded that those who follow him are his family. Those who travel in the pathways of love: loving God, loving neighbour, without exception.
This is also our graduation Sunday, and we have young people among us who deserve a better landscape in which to pursue life, liberty, and happiness than one littered with the fallout from gun violence.
Whatever we do to change our landscape of guns and gun violence – whatever policies we support or initiatives are inspired – it begins with our conversion, our repentance, our turning from the tempter’s whispers to the Word of God.
We can plant peace. We can convert hearts to love instead of fear, if we remember, constantly and repeatedly, the love that God has for us, in creating us, sustaining us, redeeming us, living as one of us, without violence, without retaliation, with resurrection.
“Madness!” the neighbours might say. But then, they said that about Jesus, too.
This is also our graduation Sunday. But for anyone who is embarking on something new, trying some new way of being in the world, remember that Jesus is family for you. He has called you his own.
When there are difficult times, remember that he has been there first and for you. He knows how to help you through them. He is your family.
When you need him to, remember that Jesus knows how to bring people together. He is your family.
And because of him, we are your family, with all of our quirks and foibles, and we love you.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy Spirit.