A sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 29, 2022
Our country is broken.
For most of this past week, I have felt broken.
19 children and 2 teachers died this week because they went to school to count the final days to summer break but another child, freshly 18, decided to buy a couple of guns, enter their classroom, and shoot as many children as possible.
It’s not the first time this has happened.
It’s not the first time this year this has happened.
This is at least the 27th school shooting this year, and one of at least 213 mass shootings that have been recorded this year as of Tuesday, the 144th day of the year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. A mass shooting being defined as one in which four or more people were injured or killed.
I am of the generation of school shootings.
Most lists of school shootings you have likely seen in the wake of this week’s tragedy take us back to Columbine in 1999 or Thurston High School in Springfield Oregon in 1998. My first experience of a school shooting is from 1996, when I was 9 years old myself, the same age of many of the victims this past week.
In 1996 at Frontier Middle School in Moses Lake Washington, a child brought a gun to school and killed two children, one teacher, and permanently injured a third child.
Being teachers, my parents knew the teacher who was killed. My parents knew one of the parents of one of the children who was killed.
Then Columbine when I was 12. I remember watching the news reports on that day, the tension raised in Moses Lake from our own trauma experienced only three years prior.
When I was 20, in college at Gonzaga, a gunman went on a rampage at Virginia Tech University.
When I was 25, the massacre in Newtown Connecticut.
When I was 31, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in Florida.
That event in spring of 2018 hit especially hard, because I’d been touched by another school shooting just a few months prior.
In September of 2017, a child brought a gun to Freeman High School, just south of Spokane, killed one child and injured three other children before the shooter was subdued.
One of my longest lasting friends is a teacher at Freeman High School, who knew the shooter, who knew the victims, had had them in her classes. Who still experiences trauma from that day, trauma that is torn open anew each time another school shooting occurs.
Earlier this spring I received the news from my parents that a child had brought a gun to Chief Moses Middle School in Moses Lake, with every intention to use it, but thankfully was stopped before he had a chance to commit his act of violence.
Now I’m 35, and another senseless massacre.
Our country, our society in the United States, is broken.
Poet Amanda Gorman wrote the following poem on Tuesday:
Schools scared to death.
The truth is, one education under desks,
Stooped low from bullets;
That plunge when we ask
Where our children
The Onion, the satirical news site, filled their front page with the many many different iterations of the same story they publish each time our nation experiences a school shooting that makes national news, the headline reading: “No way to end this”, says only nation where this routinely happens.
Our country, our society in the United States, is broken.
I am broken by our collective brokenness.
Why do we insist on subjecting our children to a society where they must practice active shooter drills because the reality is school shootings will happen?
So that they may be among the lucky who aren’t murdered when a shooter comes to their school?
I have never understood our societal infatuation with machines whose only design function is to kill as efficiently as possible.
And, we know they are efficient and successful at that purpose, taking life away.
Gun violence is now the leading cause of death for US children age 1-19, surpassing car accidents and all other forms of natural causes.
Guns are the most efficient cause of committing suicide in our country with over half of all suicide deaths coming from guns, suicides accounting for ⅗ of all gun deaths in our country, with 9 out of 10 attempted suicides by gun resulting in death, while other frequently used methods have at most a 50% lethality rate with many methods holding a less than 5% lethality rate.
How can we as a people of faith stand on the sidelines while these events, while these methods of taking away sacred life, continue to happen, are allowed to exist in this creation?
We are told by those in power that it isn’t the fault of guns for this plague on our society. It is mental health access and awareness. It is the actions of disturbed individuals who are uniquely racist or sexist or radicalized. “Guns don’t kill people,” we’ve been told, “people kill people.”
As Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut said on Tuesday: “Guns flow in this country like water and that’s why we have mass shooting after mass shooting and you know spare me the bullshit about mental illness. We don’t have any more mental illness than any other country in the world.”
We are broken open and made raw each time a mass shooting occurs in our country, knowing that it could easily happen amongst our own neighbors, because all it takes is easy access to a gun for this violence to be taken out upon another.
Just 15 days ago we reeled from the violence targeted against black bodies, the taking of 10 lives via a gun by another child (also 18), all for the act of trying to buy groceries while Black in Buffalo New York.
But, we as a people are so broken that we had largely already moved past it.
We had already moved past it because we feel a complete inability to do anything about this.
We feel defeated, broken. We have come to accept that guns continue to, will continue to, kill and kill and kill.
And for what end?
This certainly isn’t protecting the sanctity of life, this isn’t honoring our shared values of life and love of neighbor.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote this week:
“There is no such thing as being “pro-life” while supporting laws that let children be shot in their schools, elders in grocery stores, worshippers in their houses of faith, survivors by abusers, or anyone in a crowded place. It is an idolatry of violence. And it must end.”
“It is an idolatry of violence. And it must end.”
So what do we do?
What can we do as Christians?
We have to demand change in this society.
We have to scream into what appears to be a never-ending void.
“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
If we hold the love of Christ within us, if the love of God has been made known to us, how can we let this continue to happen to our neighbors, happen to our children?
I have anger, rage even because we are so broken, because I am laid broken by these events, and it feels like it is impossible to enact any change, to put faith into political leaders to take any action that protects our neighbor, that protects our children.
But sometimes that’s what faith is, that’s what faith calls us into, it asks us to stand up against the impossible, it asks us to scream into the void, it asks us to acknowledge our brokenness and seek to change this world so that we may be put back together, piece by piece.
Faith asks us to see Christ, see God, in one another, and love one another because of that.
Faith asks us to see Christ, see God, in one another, and act to honor that presence in each other by protecting one another, by seeking to heal the brokenness amongst us.
Saint Oscar Romero once wrote:
“The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of brotherhood, the violence that wills to beat weapons into sickles for work.”
So, what can we do today in response to the brokenness of our world, the brokenness of our neighbors, the brokenness we feel as these events continue to happen?
We spread love.
And, we advocate from that source of love.
The Episcopal group Bishops United Against Gun Violence, the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations, The American Academy of Pediatricians, Everytown for Gun Safety, and many other organizations that address the issues of Gun Violence in our country all agree that the only way to protect our neighbors, to protect our children as we send them to school, is to enact common sense measures that we can all advocate for:
Gun violence prevention research: Federally funded research helping us understand what puts children at risk for injuries and deaths from guns so we can keep children safe. We need to continue federal funding for this vital work.
Stronger gun laws: Enacting common-sense firearm legislation, including strengthening background checks, supporting effective extreme risk protection orders, encouraging safe firearm storage, banning assault weapons, and addressing firearm trafficking.
Violence prevention and resilience: supporting programs addressing the needs of at-risk children and children exposed to violence to address trauma and promote healing.
If we hold the love of Christ, the love of God, within us, then we must be willing to stand up and advocate for an end to this specific ongoing presence of violence in our society.
We must lean into our faith for strength in this work. We must lean into our faith at times like this so that our own brokenness can be acknowledged as we turn to God for healing for ourselves and for our world.
We must pray to God:
Almighty and most merciful God, we come to you with heavy hearts and troubled minds after the ongoing presence of mass shootings in our society. We pray today especially for the victims of the shootings in Buffalo New York and Uvalde Texas. We bring before you all the men, women and children who were innocent victims of these children who embraced evil. May the souls of all these innocent victims, through God’s mercy, find eternal safety and rest. We lift all families who are facing ordeal and turmoil, and we place them into your loving arms.
We implore your divine help, O God, for our nation at this time. We pray for our legislators to commit to sensible policies and laws regarding the ownership and use of guns, and that they also will provide resources for better mental health diagnosis and treatment. Finally, we pray for the children who inflicted such harm on others. We pray for perfect mercy and justice and for repentance. Amen.