Sermons

Got Hope? by Rev. Roger C. Peltier, 11/12/2017

posted on November 12, 2017

Sermon on YouTube

Just hours after the Nov. 5 mass shooting at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, about a hundred people held a vigil for the victims.

Some mourned, some prayed, some held candles high.

To one local resident, Mike Gonzales, the vigil’s purpose was both simple and grand: “to show the world that now, in the midst of darkness, there is light.”[1]

They gathered to show the world that there is still hope.

They gathered to echo Anne Frank’s sentiments that “in spite of everything…people are really good at heart.”[2]

Of course, that’s hard to remember when you look at your phone and the text message from your husband says:

‘Roger I’m okay.

There is a guy shooting up downtown, right outside.

One is dead with multiple injured.

I’ll try to call you…”[3]

That false safety thought that we all have, the one that says,

“That wouldn’t happen here,” or

”That won’t happen to me”—that thought was just shattered.

I raced home, only to be met with the accumulated traffic that came with shutting down the city’s roadways.

From where I sat I could see a lot of the action:

Several police cars were stopped, doors open, officers behind them with rifles pointed.

Apparently, while the shooting was going on near the Providence Place, someone stole a State Troopers car—so two violent crimes ensued.

BANG! BANG!

That’s the scene in Providence, with guns everywhere, right before my eyes.

I had never seen the police shoot at anyone before.

I had never witnessed the panic, the chaos, the fear…

Somehow, knowing that the “bad guy” would be stopped did not make all of this feel better, or right.

Don’t get me wrong; I was deeply relieved to know that John was alright definitely made me happy.

But beyond that, in the stunningly surreal scene before me, I couldn’t really tell who was “us” and who was “them”—who was the good or the bad guys.

And I didn’t know how to feel.

Bible going people might well have followed Paul’s admonition to “Stand and fasten the belt of truth around your waist,

and put on the breastplate of righteousness.

As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.”[4]

Put on armor to proclaim peace?

I remembered this time a few years ago at the UUA General Assembly:

I was getting into an elevator, when I looked up to see none other than the UUA President, Bill Sinkford.

I couldn’t believe my luck.

Being a newly minted minister, I thought to myself,

“Gee, I wonder if he’s going to ask me for my elevator speech –my one-minute-description-of Unitarian Universalism.”

“Well I’m ready,” I thought.

Knowing you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression, I stood straight.

Right then Bill looked at me and smiled.

“So how are things going at church” he asked.

“Not bad,” I said. “I’m keeping up the good fight.”

“Oh,” Bill said quizzically.

“If ‘fight’ is a word you use to describe church work,

 I want you to rethink your theology.”

Well didn’t that do it!

There I stood red-faced, feeling [this] small.

So much for my elevator speech! or a good impression.

I think I was red-faced not so much with the blush of embarrassment as with the heat of anger, at Bill for his challenge,

and at myself for not having a better answer.

And you know what the worst thing is:

I carried that feeling with me for years!

Anger works like that.

It wasn’t until this one Christmas that I got a letter from Bill.

It quoted Paul’s remarks that I just read.

“Is this letter really from Bill?” I puzzled.

What’s all this about “putting on the breastplate and readying ourselves for the struggle against the present darkness…?”[5]

Bill’s note confirmed the quote.

“I have said there’s something incongruous about a battle metaphor for spreading the good news (like using fight in church work).

We would argue against those religious fundamentalists who wield religion as a weapon, wouldn’t we?

But on the other hand, I have “fought” for peace, and I know you have as well.

This paradox is understandable. Nothing inspires a fighting spirit like witnessing the true cost of gun violence.”[6]

“Hmmm. Maybe ol’ Bill’s been revisiting his theology, too;

just like he suggested to me,” I thought.

And likewise, I am suggesting the same to you.

Some of you know that I had a different topic planned for this morning.

And I debated NOT commenting on the church shooting last week in Texas.

But, I landed on the thought that what is happening in the world can not be ignored.

They say what we resist persists.

Not wanting any of the vile, humiliating, inhuman acts of the present administration to persist, I have not called us to resist, to fight, and the like…

In a sense, I have been resisting resistance.

I realize now, that this is a mistake.

It is true that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.”[7] 

I want us to do something — because this is where hope comes from.

But I don’t want us to do what you might be thinking: I don’t want us to call for retribution; or to wallow in fear; or to seethe in anger.  No.

Hope lies at the improbable intersection of despair and love. 

So I want us to start with love.

I know outrage sells, but rage is out.

Most any time our righteous anger becomes righteousness it makes fiends out of us, even unwittingly.

To make this point, I have another story…

During a transit strike, a young man was walking home from work through the park.

It was late and he was alone.

In the middle of his trek, he saw someone approaching him on the path.

There was, of course, a spasm of fear: He veered the stranger veered.

But since they both veered in the same direction they bumped in passing.

A few moments later the young man realized that this could hardly have been an accident and felt for his wallet.

It was gone.

Anger turned to rage and he turned and ran.

When he caught up with the pick-pocket he demanded his wallet: “Give me the wallet!”

The culprit hesitantly surrendered it.

Satisfied the man got home and started getting undressed.

The very first thing he saw was his wallet lying on the bed.

There was no way of avoiding the truth: He had just mugged somebody.[8]

The fear of being mugged turned him into a mugger. Just like the fear of being in some way taken advantage often leads us to hurt others.

So again, resistance and rage and the like are not the answer.

But this being Veteran’s Day weekend, I honor the fighting spirit.

Only let’s choose different tools for the job.

One of my colleagues is preaching a sermon called: Thoughts and Prayers and the M16.

I think we can do without one of those.

Much more powerful, all alone, is prayer…

(My mentor says, prayer doesn’t change things, but prayer changes people; and people change things.)

So yes, prayer, and kindness and simply showing up

are what I am preaching this morning.

Maybe our one righteous act is held in this invitation:

Fear, impatience, anger,

resentment, doubt, greed,

you are welcome here.

We will hold you until you soften.

We will love you until you begin to melt.

We will sing to you until you remember hope.[9]

It is time for us to reconstitute the world, and not to just arrive at it but to CREATE a new normal.

We can do that! Just as we have done in the past.

And there have been others to show us the way.

We have many spiritual companions…

Do you remember the Nickel Mines shootings in which Five Amish girls were killed and five were wounded?

This was the result when a gunman opened fire inside the one-room schoolhouse in Bart Township.

The shooter, Charles Roberts IV, killed himself inside the school immediately after.

What was not so well publicized was that before the sun set on that awful October day, three Amish men went to express their sorrow to Roberts’ widow.

They finally tracked her down at her parents’ house after going to her and her grandparents homes in Georgetown.

At the same time, about four miles away in Strasburg, an Amishman visited Robert’s mother and father, a former policeman, who provided a taxi service to the Amish.[10]

They showed up and reached out to FORGIVE the killer of their children.

“In theory, all religions guide their followers to forgive those who injure them. But no one does it like the Amish,”[11] said sociology professor, Donald Kraybill.

Really?

One Sandy Hook shooting victim’s parent (who is not Amish) is healing after her worst tragedy in which her precious little boy, Jesse,

along with 19 other first graders and six teachers and administrators, were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School by a disturbed young man who mercilessly gunned them down in the hallways and classrooms.

As she worked through a multitude of raw feelings, she said: “I knew that force of hatred [I was feeling] was the same emotion that contributed to Jesse’s death, and so many others.”

Along with other acts of kindness, like baking pies for their childrens killers, She started a foundation—JESSE-LEWIS-CHOOSE-LOVE-ORG—that aims to foster forgiveness and compassion.[12]

In Orlando, Daniel Alvear started the hashtag #HUGS-NOT-HATE in response to the death of his daughter at the Pulse night club shootings to Pray together and to let others record their thoughts for their lost loved ones.

And even in Texas, many are finding hope in the wake of last week’s shootings again by showing up in vigils, in community, in the light of hope.

The Christian Science Monitor reported that the motives of such killers matter much less than how the faithful respond.

After the Texas church massacre, locals turned to qualities of thought that deny a place for hate.

Because houses of worship play a larger role in society than merely a place for people to attend religious services.

They are practical purveyors of hope, forgiveness, and love in everyday life.

And when a sacred place, whether it be a church, temple, or mosque, is the scene of violence, those qualities of thought are evermore present and in demand.

They allow people to displace the hate behind a killing rather than respond with hate.[13]

Which is the point, entirely.

My friends,

When faced with false security,

Let us remember that what we resist persists,

Outrage sells but rage is out,

Prayer and kindness and showing up are in.

Let us show the world in the midst of darkness there is light.

When it looks as fragile as a trembling bird in the hand,

Let us say, “You’ve got hope!”  Amen.

 

© Roger C. Peltier

11/27/2017

 

[1] The Christian Science Monitor https://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/the-monitors-view/2017/1106/Why-mass-shootings-at-a-church-are-different

[2] Good Reads: Anne Frank https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/441565-in-spite-of-everything-i-still-believe-that-people-are

[3] See 11/10/17 www.turnto10.com

[4] Ephesians 6:11-15

[5] Ephesians 6:11-15

[6] Rev. William G. Sinkford, 2007 Holiday Pastoral Letter (http://www.uua.org/news/newssubmissions/60365.shtml)

 

[7] See https://tartarus.org/martin/essays/burkequote2.html

[8] Joseph Sittler, The Anguish of Preaching (Philadelphia: Fortress Press)

[9] See http://www.kaikarrel.com/blog/prayer-for-releasing-anger/

[10] Robert Kraybill, The Riddle of Amish Culture http://lancasteronline.com/news/book-details-amish-forgiveness-after-nickel-mines-school-shooting/article_41dc51a3-4550-54ae-acd8-4a7a45c36e09.html

[11] Ibid.

[12] See http://www.womansday.com/life/real-women/a7152/sandy-hook-victims-parents/

[13] Ibid.

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