Quit Blaming the Kids

In the aftermath of an atrocity such as the massacre last week we enter into the Facebook and other social media debate. One unfortunate aspect of that debate inevitably is one that argues that the young people themselves are at fault…or if not the young people, then the culture around these young people.
 
I always want to comment, “I never knew you had such a low opinion of your own children.” Of course the response would be, “oh, not my children…the problem lies with other people’s children.”
 
This argument is offensive and lazy. It naively posits that “if the children weren’t such disrespectful jerks, we wouldn’t have _______.” (In this case yet another gun massacre).
 
Are there problem children? Of course there are. Just as there are problem people in every generation. And if we truly have a generation of children who are so bad that it is there generation that is at fault for what ails us, then we must point the finger of blame squarely upon ourselves…the parents of this generation.
In year’s past I tried to engage with people who view the necessity of guns differently than I do. I did this because I believe that those who, “like their guns” and those of us who don’t see the necessity, both need to be part of the solution. Sadly, such encounters never produced anything. Those I engaged with did not want to change anything…unless the change was to put more guns into the hands of more people. Some of these are the very same people who are now blaming the younger generation for violence that they are too ready to accept because their guns are more important than making any needed change. I wish this were not so.
The problem does not lie with young people! It lies with people of my generation and with those who are older than me. We have failed those who are younger. Personally, I am thankful for the young people who are so eloquently, strongly, and emotionally raising their voices. I am proud of them, I thank God for them while I mourn the necessity of their voices, and I will follow. We all should.
Please share some stories of the strong young people in your life.

The Landowner’s Response – A Sermon on Matthew 21:33-46

October 1, 2017 ended up being a horrible day. It’s just that most of us didn’t know this until Monday morning because the massacre of 58 people and the injuring of about 500 more occurred after most of us had gone to bed.

Do you remember getting the news? I was up early on Monday because I go to a strength training class at 6am. So, at approximately 5am, I sat down with my coffee to watch the news and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Did any of you have this initial reaction of disbelief?

Megan texted me just before 7am to say that Ethan had gone to Vegas and to the show and that he wasn’t responding to texts. I told her to call his mom. About 10 minutes later she said he was ok…he hadn’t been at the concert when it happened.

Later in the day Matt, texted to say that Andrew, one of “the kids” from our old Simi Valley neighborhood was shot in the back. He survived. A friend’s niece was shot in the arm. Her dad prevented her bleeding to death with a correctly applied tourniquet as she had a severed artery.

This was very close to home for us. So close, that five of people who lost their lives Sunday night were from Ventura County. I don’t know how many from our county were injured. Pastor Bill Hurst at First Lutheran in Torrance wrote of the death of one of their former students. He also stated what has made this so personal, “everyone knows someone who knows someone.”

Do you?

A theme in our texts for today is the vineyard. It was a metaphor for Israel… for God’s people. But being the fallible human beings they were and we all are, they had great trouble living as God’s chosen people. It is hard to be a people set apart…to be an example for the world… to model justice. They struggled mightily.

Our text from Isaiah tells the story…”My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.” But unfortunately the fruit from this vineyard wasn’t good…so the story describes the destruction of this vineyard…because God “expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!”

These are incredibly painful words for a people in exile. They are incredibly painful words for us today.

The psalm(80:7-15) that we read together is a prayer for restoration of the vineyard… for a restoration of a people. It is a prayer of hope.

Fast forward to Jesus and his disputes with the religious leaders in the temple and we get this parable about the vineyard. And maybe this is a parable for our day because, tragically, it is a story of fruitless violence.

It is a story of tenants having everything they need to prosper, yet not satisfied, and not willing to pay their share of the harvest, or rent. Instead they beat, kill and stone the first bill collectors. A second set of bill collectors received the same treatment as the first. I wonder, if the parable were told today… what weapons would be used?

Now in that culture the landowner would not have sent that second group of bill collectors. He would have sent an army and would have destroyed those tenants. But this landowner does something crazy and he sends more people. They meet the same fate. The he does something even more crazy and he sends his son. This would have been seen as foolish behavior. Sadly, this son is thrown out of the vineyard and killed as well.

What would you do if you were the father?

Today we have lots of fathers and mothers who are heartbroken over the deaths of their children. We have children lost and bewildered over the deaths of their parents. We have sisters and brothers and friends in great anguish this day. What would you do?

Jesus asks those religious leaders what the landowner would do. They respond as we might, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” Violence to repay violence… the human way.

But the father/land owner didn’t do this.

It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t really respond to their assumption that violence will beget more violence. Instead, he criticizes their inability to recognize they were standing in the presence of, and arguing with God’s son. Contextually this whole encounter began with their wanting to know who gave Jesus authority to say and do the things he said and did.

Jesus then gives an ominous warning that the kingdom will be lost and given to others for one reason. Those in the kingdom were not producing fruit.

I wonder if this causes you as much discomfort as it causes me.

It certainly caused discomfort among the religious leaders. Their discomfort lead to intense anger. These men (it would only have been men in those days) were so angry that they wanted to arrest Jesus. The only reason they waited was their fear of the crowds.

But later, when the crowds had dispersed, they arrested him. And they conspired with the Roman occupiers to kill him. Jesus’ words and actions angered them that much.

But still, Jesus didn’t say what the landowner did after the death of his son. I think that his response came later… when the parable became reality and the son of God was up on a cross dying. And from there he gives his opinion… his verdict… his plea:

“Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

That was Jesus’ response. What about the father? How did he react when his son was murdered outside the walls of the city?

From Matthew’s gospel.

Darkness came over the whole land for the last 3 hours of Jesus life. Three hours in which he suffered on the cross. Can you imagine that darkness? I think many can today.

When Jesus died the “curtain in the temple tore in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.” Can you imagine the intense feeling that would literally shake the earth? Maybe some can today.

But the father did not do what was expected. Nobody was killed in retaliation. Violence did not beget violence.

Instead, those who did not flee in fear cared for Jesus. They took his body off the cross and as best they could prepared it for a proper burial. They weren’t concerned for themselves but for what was right. Some of them, the women, were blessed to be the first witnesses of Jesus resurrection.

This care is the father’s response to horrendous violence.

We saw it this week when people ignored their own safety as they tried to help others. We saw it this week when strangers used their own vehicles (or borrowed what they could) to take the injured to the hospital. We saw it this week when so many people tried to donate blood the collection centers were overwhelmed. We saw it this week when people brought food to the hospital for waiting family members and to those who were waiting to give blood. We saw it this week when people donated funds to ease the financial burdens that accompany senseless violence. We saw all this in the past week, just as we always see people pull together in the midst of tragedy.

This is the response of the father…not vengeance but loving care among family, among friends, and among strangers. May this empower us to make needed change.

Amen

Waking to Bad News

Like most Americans I woke this morning to the horrible news of the massacre in Las Vegas. More death at the hands of a man with a gun. The news was so shocking that I had trouble believing it. Maybe you felt that also.

A few minutes later I was surprised at my shock. Why be shocked when these violent events happen with regularity? A pastor friend posted this comment,

I want someone to explain why the right to bear arms is more important than the right to not be shot dead.

I would also love to have an answer to that question. As I contemplate this latest shooting I hear in my mind the prophet’s call, “How long?” How long will such violence terrorize and destroy? When will we as a people choose to lay down our arms? When will peace prevail? Will it ever in our lifetimes?

I saw a headline from someone’s opinion piece on today’s events. His opinion is that massacres such as this are “our price for freedom.” Really? Is this freedom? Or is it idolatry?

Idolatry may be thought of making a nice golden statue and worshiping such thing. We can believe that idolatry is an old concept from an old time. But I fear that far too many worship guns rather than God. While I don’t believe this applies to all gun owners, I’m frustrated that we hear very little from responsible gun owners. Instead we continue down the blood soaked road to better and more lethal weapons in the hands of murderers. It’s as if guns are valued more than life. That is idolatry. Will we ever repent?

Part of my sermon yesterday was about changed hearts. After every massacre I wonder, will this violence cause changed hearts? Will we now, finally, at least have a national discussion and research and change so that we can reduce the carnage?

At mid-morning, I saw the headline that the stock prices for gun manufacturers had increased 5% on the news of the massacre. Increased! Increased because in our national sickness we go out and buy more guns after such event. Lord have mercy. Will we ever change?

Many of the thoughts running through my head are angry thoughts. Frustrated thoughts. Intersperced are feelings of great sadness. Tears. For those who lost loved ones. For those who were injured. For those who were terrified as they ran for their lives. I wish I could be there for them. Hugging and holding hands. Listening to their stories, their grief, their pain. Comforting. Being present.

I’m not there. So I pray. I invite others to join me in prayer. I remember the promise of God’s love and God’s presence. I know that those who suffer don’t suffer alone.

This morning I went to my regular 6am exercise class. It was hard because I was weary. Then I went on my regular post-class run. It was hard because I was weary. I only went 3 miles. But as I returned to my car I saw the most amazingly beautiful early morning sun interacting with the clouds (I have no photo because I didn’t take my phone).

The clouds were blocking the sun. But its light was much more powerful. Glowing along the clouds edges, casting beams of radiant light to the ground. I was thankful for this reminder that the darkness of this world cannot overpower the light.

Then, when I arrived home I saw the long lines of those donating blood…an 8 hour wait they said. This too is light overpowering the darkness. This is hopeful. This is a reminder of the goodness in people. It is a reminder of our connectedness. It is a sign of hope.

So today we mourn. And I hope that tomorrow we, as a nation, choose to do something different.

Meanwhile we can take solace in the words that Jesus uttered from the cross as he was dying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

Thankfully that forgiveness is for you and for me. May it empower us to change.

Sowing to the wind

“For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” -Hosea 8:7

Sowing to the wind… the prophet Hosea was protesting the political systems and religious practices of the time, especially in trusting “things” and people rather than God. As someone who doesn’t practice the discipline of scripture memorization, I’m intrigued that this is a verse that has ingrained itself in my mind.

When I think of it though, I’m usually thinking of it in terms of being caught in the whirlwind. One could say that suffering the ill effects of someone’s bad decision or bad action or even lack of action is suffering the whirlwind. As a society we all are caught in the various whirlwinds created by our politicians (in unjust policy), our decisions (in our voting, consumer habits,etc), our privileges (in our inability to truly see those around us), and the crimes of others.

Today I’m thinking of the whirlwind of gun violence. As I think of the latest shootings I remember Sandy Hook. I’ll never forget reading of that tragic event while waiting for our preschool Christmas program to start. I could barely speak words of welcome to the parents who’d gathered to hear their own precious children sing. I later preached on this tragedy, using the words of a Christmas hymn, “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.” The first half of verse 3 speaks to our nation:

And you, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow…

The seemingly never-ending cycle of gun violence, of mass shootings and massacres bends us low even if we don’t realize it. The pain associated with such tragedies should propel us towards a better way but unfortunately we are right now politically unable to to move.

After Sandy Hook. After Charleston. After Orlando. After San Bernadino. After. After After. After all these, I’ve found myself in “discussions” with gun advocates, as I try and implore them to be part of the solution. Sadly these discussion have never gone anywhere. I am as guilty as anyone else in my inability to engage in constructive dialogue here (and elsewhere). I continue to believe that those of us who see no need for guns must work with those who are responsible gun owners to find ways off this painful and crushing road.

Now we have a mass shooting of politicians. Specifically politicians who oppose gun control, along with a lobbyist and two police officers. Yesterday morning, upon seeing the news my first thought was, “we continue to reap the whirlwind.” I prayed for those who were injured and for our nation. And I entered the surreal experience of having a totally unproductive argument with gun control advocates.

This happened on Facebook (which is also the location of my other unproductive “discussions” with gun advocates). Specifically, I looked upon my Facebook feed and saw the following:

Congress passed a Bill allowing mentally ill to purchase guns. I’m not saying they deserved it, but at least no one innocent was shot.

I immediately objected to the statement that “no one innocent was shot.”

The truth is that innocent people were shot. The capitol police officers were innocent. I kept trying to make that point and a couple people conceded. But the reality is that even if one qualifies as statement to say, “I’m not saying they deserved it”, by saying “no one innocent was shot” is indeed inferring that they deserved it.

Were the politicians innocent? I disagree with just about everything Steve Scalise stands for and advocates for, especially when it comes to race. But my disagreement does not mean I can dehumanize him or others. They are victims of a man who set out yesterday to create mayhem and to further damage our nation. To say they were not innocent does nothing except further divide our nation.

In following the commands of Jesus to “love my neighbor as myself,” I will choose to pray for the injured; have compassion for the injured; and continue to advocate for the removal of these weapons of mass carnage from our streets.

The second half of the third verse:

Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh, rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing!

This song is of the angels singing of the peace that accompanies Jesus’ coming. Maybe as we all pause, and rest alongside the weary road of gun violence we can learn to see one another a valuable human beings. And when we see one another we can learn to listen to one another. And in listening may we find peace. That is my continued prayer.

On Killing, #3

41Bu29eZsZL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_This is part 3 of my interaction with the book “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society” by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. It’s been awhile sense my last post. Today I’m writing about Section II of the book, “Killing and Combat Trauma: The Role of Killing in Psychiatric Casualties.”

As I read this section of the book I couldn’t help but think of the debates regarding guns that are happening in our country. What I suspect that some don’t understand is that it is not so easy to kill. So, to have the idea that a response to gun violence is to have more people carry weapons would result in more safety is naive. Maybe someone who is properly trained can help to increase the safety, but then that is the role of our police. If combat is as difficult and traumatic as described, then untrained civilians, whose idea of combat is gleamed from movies and television, have no clue as to what is really required. 

Last, I grieve for all the soldiers through the centuries who’ve experienced the trauma of war and combat. As I grieve I continue to pray and hope for that one day we will experience peace in our world.

Following are highlights of the section.

We start with a telling quotation:

“Nations customarily measure the ‘costs of war’ in dollars, lost production, or the number of soldiers killed or wounded. Rarely do military establishments attempt to measure the costs of war in terms of individual human suffering. Psychiatric breakdown remains one of the most costly items of war when expressed in human terms.” -Richard Gabriel, No More Heroes (page 41)

The author then goes on to describe the stressors that cause psychiatric trauma. I was surprised to learn that the chance of being a psychiatric casualty is”greater than the chances of being killed by enemy fire.” (p43)

As the goal of combat is to kill the enemy one would think that fear would be the biggest cause of psychological trauma. However fear of death and injury are not the primary problems. This is evident in that the majority of civilians who suffered bombing campaigns during WWII did not exhibit the same psychological breakdowns and neither did those who served in combat but did not directly face enemies. The difference between soldiers and civilians was that civilians did not have the “responsibility of (1) being expected to kill and (2) the stress of looking their potential killers in the face. (page 65)

Factors that lead to psychological trauma:

  • Physical exhaustion. I know exhaustion from running marathons, but a marathon doesn’t even come close to the physical exhaustion experienced by soldiers in combat. Their physical exhaustion entails: lack of sleep; lack of food; and the impact of the elements. (pages 71-72).
  • Then there is the sheer hell of it all. This quote is telling:

“I am sick and tired of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.” – William Tecumseh Sherman. (page 73)

  • Another psychological cost is in dealing with hate. Here not some much in hating others but in being the recipient of hate. The trauma felt here is one that sadly can be readily transferred to civilian life away from the battlefield. Sadly the author notes, “Many medical authorities believe that it is the constant hostility and lack of acceptance that they must face – and the resulting stress – that are responsible for the dramatic rate of high blood pressure in African Americans.” (page 76)

    The “one historic circumstance  in which noncombatants did suffer a horrifyingly high incidence of psychiatric casualties and post-traumatic stress,” was among the survivors of Nazi concentration camps. (77)
    As I review this material I am saddened by the hate that we are seeing today exhibited toward Muslims.

  • Still the biggest source of stress is in the act of killing, or needing to kill. “The media’s depiction of violence tries to tell us that men can easily throw off the moral inhibition of a lifetime – and whatever other instinctive restraint exists – and kill casually and guiltless in combat. The men who have killed, and who will talk about it, tell a different tale.” (87)

    For many a coping method is to use euphemisms for killing, so that “most soldier do not ‘kill’, instead the enemy was knocked over, wasted, greased, taken out, and moped up.” Soldiers throughout the world use alternative words for this, as well as dehumanize the enemy by using negative pejoratives.

For the author, non-soldiers do not understand the reality and stress of war. I agree with him that we who have not experienced combat are clueless as to the realities of war, of combat, of killing.

“A culture raised on Rambo, Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker, and James Bond wants to believe that combat and killing can be done with impunity – that we can declare someone to be the enemy and that for cause and country the soldiers will cleanly and remorselessly wipe him from the face of the earth. In many ways it is simply too painful for society to address what it does when it sends its young men off to kill other young men in distant lands.” (page 94).

On Killing, #2

41Bu29eZsZL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_My second post on the book, On Killing, covers the first section. I liked this section of the book (probably much more than I think I’ll like what’s coming next). The titles of the section and each of its chapters actually provide a pretty good summary of what will be found.

Section I: Killing and the Existence of Resistance: A World of Virgins Studying Sex

  • Chapter One: Fight or Flight, Posture or Submit
    Most of us are familiar with fight or flight, but before that comes posturing… seeking to scare the enemy away. Interestingly, this week I read advice, before going on a trail run, about how to react when encountering a mountain lion. The advice was all about posturing. Apparently we do it with one another as well.
    One form of posturing is to fire one’s weapon over the heads of opponents. This quote describes a firefight at Vicksburg in 1863, “It seems strange that a company of men can fire volley after volley at a like number of men at not over a distance of fifteen steps and not cause a single casualty.” (p11)
    Another quote “‘One of the things that amazed me,’ stated Douglas Graham, a medic with the First Marine Division in Vietnam, who had to crawl out under enemy and friendly fire to aid wounded soldiers, ‘is how many bullets can be fired during a firefight without anyone getting hurt.'” (p13)
  • Chapter Two: Nonfirers Throughout History & Chapter Three: Why Can’t Johnny Kill?
    While some soldiers fire and miss their targets, some never fire at all. Sometimes these men provided support to the ones who would fire their weapons.
    S.L.A. Marshall, studied the firing/killing rates of soldiers throughout WWII He concluded, “the average and healthy individual… has such an inner and usually unrealized resistance towards killing a fellow man that he will not of his own volition take life if it is possible to turn away from that responsibility… At the final point… the soldier becomes a conscientious objector.” (p30)
  • Chapter Four: The Nature and Source of the Resistance
    I’ll let the author speak, “We may never understand the nature of this force in man that causes him to strongly resist killing his fellow man, but we can give praise for it to whatever force we hold responsible for our existence. And although military leaders responsible for winning a war may be distressed by it, as a race we can view it with pride.” (p40)

I would summarize this entire section as an introduction to, and an explanation of the reality that most human beings are not able to kill their fellow human beings. As I was reading this I was thinking a couple things. First, this instinctual aversion to killing is a good thing. The second thought is a bit related in that I continually thought back to the words found in the very beginning of the bible. These words have always guided me to think about my “enemy” as one who also bears God’s image.

26Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”27So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” -Genesis 1:26-28

Some additional thoughts/questions:

  • Often in times of social upheaval, or war a group of people is made to be the scapegoats for whatever problems are faced. These people are then dehumanized in the most horrific ways. The Nazis did this with the Jews. It happened in Rwanda. In our history we’ve done it to justify slavery and the genocide of the indigenous populations. I think that the making the “other” as less than human then makes it easier to kill or in other ways treat that person as less than human. I don’t know if this will be addressed in this book. But as people of faith we must continually speak out against these messages to remind ourselves and others that all human beings are worthy. This I know is not easy, especially when we look at all the horribleness in our world. To which I must cry, Lord have mercy.
  • My other observation is in regards to those soldiers who are trained to kill. I’m anticipating that I will read about how we have conditioned and trained our soldiers in ways that improve their ability to kill. Before reading this my question for today is… At what cost?

A sermon from December 2012 that is sadly still relevant today

Hi friends,

Today I feel an incredible weariness as the news tells us of yet another massacre. I feel as if I have no words and can even sense a loss of hope. Not  in God, but in the collective will of the people of our nation. Here is a sermon that I preached a few days after so many precious children were killed. Sadly nothing has changed.

This sermon was part of a series where we looked at a verse each week from the song “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”. This was week three of the series, verse three of the song.

And you, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow:
look now, for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing;
oh, rest beside the weary road
and hear the angels sing!
(verse 3, It Came Upon the Midnight Clear)

This week our preschool had their Christmas programs… those cute little events where children stand up and sing and their parents act like unruly children as they jostle with each other trying to get a better look. Our last program was on Friday at 10am. I usually come in about five minutes early and sit in my usual chair.

Just before the Friday program I looked at the newsfeed on my iPhone. And so it happened that as the little children were making their way into the church I saw the headline: 26 dead; 18 of them children (that would later become 20). I had already planned to share these words from my favorite Christmas book:

“You know you have the Christmas spirit when the sight of loved ones brings tears to your eyes and you are thankful to God for them and for you.”

I barely got through these words and I am sure that many parents were wondering why the pastor was getting choked up over a preschool Christmas program. I will never forget watching all those little ones sing while thinking about the tragic events three thousand miles away.

This is a weekend when a sermon is not that easy. Because really, what do you say in the face of unspeakable tragedy, unspeakable evil?

Last Christmas Eve, I was inspired to use the song, “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”, as a theme for Advent this year. It was a few weeks ago that I sat down and coupled the words that we just read together with texts that to me seemed to capture the feeling of the songs verses.

And what is that feeling? In verse three, it is weariness of life where the worries and disappointments and unspeakable evil and incomprehensible tragedy weigh upon us so heavily that we feel as if we are being crushed. Look at the words again of the song, the first half of the verse…

And you, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow:

What is a crushing load? Before Friday I was thinking of my own woes, but they do not seem as important today. The poet paints a word picture of someone stooped under such a heavy load that he or she can barely move… But move this person must… Upward with painful step after painful step.

What is a crushing load?

Violence visited upon our children and their teachers in the places of learning.

Violence in a shopping mall, a movie theater, a place of worship, a place of relaxation, on street corners, in homes.

Violence… violence… violence.

We as a nation are bent low… with painful steps and will see more and more tragedy until we as a people stand up and say, “enough!”

Today we mourn… today we try to understand. Why did all these children die when they should be playing and singing and preparing for Winter break, which is really Christmas vacation. They should be preparing to celebrate the birth of another child, a different child, a child who will save us all. These children should be home with their parents and now their parents are preparing funerals. That is not the kind of funeral anyone wants to plan.

I am sure that many are saying words similar to that found in our reading from Isaiah,

“God pays no attention to us! He doesn’t care if we are treated unjustly.”

What do we say to that? How can we take away the pain contained in these words? The truth is that we alone can’t. We don’t have the words… but I believe that our scripture has words that remind us that we are not alone… and the God will give us strength…

The Lord gives strength to those who are weary.”

Can that strength inspire us to action?

And you, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow:

You… that you is you and me… it is all of us and we are called to attention:

Look now, for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing; oh, rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing!

Look… change is coming… so take a moment to rest beside the weary road upon which we all travel… stop, rest, and listen. When we listen to the angels we hear words of peace… but maybe that peace seems elusive. So what other messages does God send our way?

We have the words of Jesus…

“If you are tired from carrying heavy burdens, come to me and I will give you rest. Take the yoke I give you. Put it on your shoulders and learn from me. I am gentle and humble, and you will find rest. This yoke is easy to bear, and this burden is light. (Mt 11:28-30).

A yoke is that thing that is placed on the back of a work animal… it keeps it in line. Jesus’ yoke is that which guides us. One could say that his yoke is the law… and when we really think about the law it is concerned with how we treat one another… it calls us to love.

In times of tragedy we feel love toward our neighbor more acutely… why else do we shed tears for those we don’t know? In times of tragedy we might wonder, where God is in all of it? Don’t think that God condoned this… or wanted it to happen… don’t listen to those who say it is because God wanted those children… don’t listen to those who say it is because we don’t pray enough.

We live in a fallen world where tragedy happens… where evil happens. God did not create us as puppets and so we live in a world where we have freedom to choose our behavior and sometimes we use that freedom to do the most heinous things. The events of this week are a sad reminder of that.

We also have the freedom to love… to care for strangers… and to come together as a people and find ways to protect one another… to stand up for one another. Together, as God’s children we can be powerful in our love.

It is Advent… we await the coming of Jesus, to save us… to bring peace to the world. In this we are no different than those who came before us. We long for the day when violence and sickness and hunger and hardship will cease.

We long for that day knowing that today we are not alone… remembering the words of Paul…

I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Romans 8:38-39) 

And it is for this reason that even in the midst of tragedy and with broken hearts we can sing of our joy that the Lord has come. May our Lord lead us to work together so that no more children need to die.

Amen