Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Sermon for Children's Sabbath

The 22nd Sunday after Pentecost
Children’s Sabbath
October 20, 2013
Micah 4:1-5, Luke 18:1-8

May the Word of God be spoken, and may the Word of God be heard. Amen

Ten months ago I stood in this pulpit
and began my sermon this way:

‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
   wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
   she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’ Jeremiah 31:15

This haunting lament from the writing
of the prophet Jeremiah was,
of course, in response
to the senseless and brutal killing
of 20 elementary school children
and their teachers in Newtown,
just a few miles down the road
from where we sit.

Ten months later, most of us have moved on.
  That’s what humans do;
  that’s how we cope.
Life goes on, and memories fade,
and we move on.
But for the families of those 20 children,
and those teachers,
it’s not that simple;
memories may fade,
but the pain never completely goes away.
Life is not and never will be the same.
The world has been irrevocably changed.

Like Rachel, they are weeping for their children, still.

The brutal death of 20 innocent children
was dramatic enough
to capture the world’s attention.
We vowed that this should never happen again.
Nonetheless the deaths from gun violence continue
in Hartford, in Bridgeport, in New Haven,
in Chicago, in small towns and large cities,
and many of them do not make the headlines.
Do you know how many individuals have died
since the Newtown tragedy
as the victims of gun violence?
Although statistics are surprisingly
difficult to come by,
and the best data likely under represents
actual numbers
the figure as of yesterday is at 9563.
Yes, 9563 gun deaths in the United States
in the last 10 months
more than the number of US service people killed
in either Afghanistan or Iraq;
actually more than the two combined.
One source estimates that an average
of 7 children a day die from gun violence.
And over the past 50 years,
 three times more children and teens
 died from guns on American soil
than U.S. soldiers were killed in action
 in wars abroad.
Between 1963 and 2010,
an estimated 160,000 children and teens
died from guns on American soil,
while 52,820 U.S. soldiers were killed in action
in the Vietnam, Afghanistan,
and Iraq wars combined.
That is sobering.

Like Rachel, we weep for our children
children (and adults who are still
someone’s children)
 who die
from senseless gun violence.

Now you might be wondering
why I am bringing this up today.
This is a sermon, and we’re supposed
to be talking God stuff, right?

We are getting to that, I promise.

This morning we are joining congregations
of all faiths across the country
in observing the National Children’s Sabbath.
This is the 22nd such observance,
and each year a theme is chose to draw attention to
the needs of children in this country.
This year’s theme is
“Beating swords into plowshares:
Ending the violence of guns and child poverty.

If that sounds familiar,
it’s because it comes from the passage
we heard read from the prophet Micah
a few moments ago,
and it echoes a similar passage
found in the writings of the prophet Isaiah.
Micah  is proclaiming a vision of a world to come,
a world in which God truly reigns,
a world in which wars are no more
and swords are beaten into plowshares
tools of death become the tools of life,
tools that ensure that all will be abundantly fed.

Can you imagine such a world?
A world of peace?
A world in which we need not fear for our children?
A world in which everyone is fed and fed abundantly?

That is, my friends, the world God calls us to.
That is the world God promises.

And yet like Rachel we still are weeping for our children.

We weep for our children,
and as much as we long for change
we feel powerless to make that change.
In the face of powerful cultural forces
that not only shape our world
but also insist that it MUST be this way,
we feel helpless; we become resigned
to the ways things are,
and we just quit trying to change them.

This morning’s readings, however,
give us a different message.
If there is one theme that runs through
all of our readings today it is persistence.
That persistence is reflected in Jacob
wrestling with the stranger in the night.
Somehow Jacob recognizes
that he is in a wrestling match with God
and he persists until he receives God’s blessing.
 In a way Jacob represents
the whole people of Israel,
a people who although often recalcitrant
are still willing to struggle
to receive God’s blessing.
Even when they stray
the persistence of a faithful few
sustains them in relationship with God.

That notion of persistence is even stronger
in our gospel reading
where we find Jesus,
still on his way to Jerusalem,
teaching those around him
with yet another parable.
Jesus tells the story of a widow
who repeatedly brings her case
to a judge so that she might receive justice.
This judge, we are told, respects
neither God nor humans,
 and he turns her away time and again.
The widow, however, does not give up.
She comes back over and over
until the judge,
possibly just to get rid of her,
gives in.
Persistence, it seems, pays off.

It’s tempting to hear this parable
as a promise that if we just pray
hard enough and long enough
we will get what we want.
And while we are certainly called
to be persistent in prayer,
the lesson in this parable, is I think,
more complicated than that.

The widow comes before the judge
seeking justice against an undefined opponent.
We don’t know exactly what is going on,
but we do know that widows
lived in precarious circumstances,
and that in Luke’s gospel
widows are often representative
of the oppressed,
so it’s not hard to figure out that her need is dire.
Through her persistence this widow gets justice,
more than likely something that allows her
to continue to survive.

Because it fits with our idea of how prayer works,
we tend see ourselves as the widow,
asking for what we need,
with God responding
more quickly than did the unjust judge.

But this is a parable…it’s open to interpretation;
let's look at it from another perspective.
What if God is actually the widow
and WE are the unjust judge?

What if God is crying out to US
to do justice in the world
and we are failing to heed that call?

What if God is coming to us over and over again
begging for justice from us
and we are turning deaf ears to God's plea?

Think about it.


At the end of my sermon 10 months ago,
I said that God is weeping with us
as we weep for our children.
God is present for us in our grief,
and in our outrage.
God calls us to a different world.
I believe that God is with us
as we seek justice for our children as well.
On this Children’s Sabbath
we are reminded of God’s vision
for a world in which war and violence are no more; we are reminded of the persistence of Jacob
in seeking God’s blessing,
we are reminded of the persistence of the widow
in seeking justice.
We too are called to be persistent,
persistent in prayer
AND persistent in working for justice,
justice and peace for all of God’s children.
We must act to end gun violence
We must act today, now,
persistently, until our children,
the world’s children are safe.

In April, four short months after the tragic shootings,
Mark Barden, father of one of the children killed,
  addressed the nation after legislation
to tighten registration requirements
for gun purchases failed
to pass through Congress.
He concluded this way:

“We return home with the determination that change will happen -- maybe not today, but it will happen. It will happen soon. We've always known this would be a long road, and we don't have the luxury of turning back…

We will not be defeated. We are not defeated, and we will not be defeated. We are here now; we will always be here because we have no other choice. We are not going away. And every day, as more people are killed in this country because of gun violence, our determination grows stronger…

Our hearts are broken. Our spirit is not.”


I will not presume to offer solutions
for the issue of gun violence from the pulpit;
I will only contend that such solutions must be found.

God is calling us to seek justice,
God is calling us to be persistent.
God is calling us to beat our swords into plowshares,
to live in peace,
to reflect to each other
the abundant love God holds for each of us,
for all of God’s children.
God is calling us to the day when we no longer
have to weep for our children.

May it be so.