In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.
If it's all the same to everyone, I'd prefer not to have to preach yet another sermon from yet another headline involving yet another violent tragedy involving guns in America ever again. I have had just about enough of this. I hope you have too.
I don't know exactly what motivated Mark Barton to kill his wife and two children, plus nine workers in two Atlanta securities firms, and to wound 12 others before killing himself on Thursday of this week. The only human being who can give a definitive answer to that is dead by his own hand, and I don't think he really knew.
What I do know is this: It's time to get rid of the guns. Now. If you want to keep a hunting rifle to hunt for food, fine. Lock it up away from your kids -- and other peoples' kids, too. Otherwise, turn your guns in and have the cops beat them into plowshares. You don't need an assault rifle to bring venison home for dinner.
I know about the Second Amendment to the Constitution. I also know that it was written in a very different country from the one we are living in now, which has a standing military instead of a militia. And I know that if our Government some day decides to take all our freedoms away, as some gun advocates argue, handguns won't do much good against tanks and helicopters. For all their bravery, the "freedom fighters" of Hungary in 1956 and the Bay of Pigs in 1963 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 didn't achieve their objective. By contrast, the Berlin Wall came down without a single shot being fired.
I know the killer in Atlanta used a hammer to murder his immediate family before he used two handguns to kill the rest of his victims. I know some pundit is going to make some kind of sarcastic remark about "hammer control," if she or he hasn't already. I don't understand the thinking that says if someone is inclined to kill using blunt objects, it stands to reason they should be given access to weapons that can kill more people even more easily. Why not legalize concealed tactical nuclear weapons, if that's the case? After all, bombs don't kill people -- people kill people. Right?
I also don't understand the idea that if every law-abiding American just carried a concealed weapon, mentally disturbed mass murderers would think twice about committing their crimes. In the last few mass shootings we've had, the perpetrators have committed suicide. Mark Barton's last written words were: "You should kill me if you can." I don't think the prospect of facing a firing squad of his peers would have stopped Mark Barton from drawing first. This doesn't sound like a man who would necessarily see going down in a hail of gunfire as a bad thing. That is, if they can hit him. According to an FBI study,
. . . where police officers were victims of shootings, 85% did not have the chance to fire their own weapons, and 20% of the 85% were shot with their own gun. Police know the dangers associated with the use of firearms; they are extensively trained and retrained on the use and security of their service weapons, yet many are still killed every year by guns. However, the training required of average citizens by [carry-concealed-weapons] laws is minimal or non-existent. For example, in 15 "shall-issue" states [where a license must be issued unless the applicant is in a prohibited category], no safety training or education in the use of deadly force is required for licensure. Of the others, most don't even require the licensee to ever handle a gun. . . . A study in The New England Journal of Medicine reported that there are 43 suicides, criminal homicides or unintentional gunshot deaths involving a gun in the home for each case of homicide self-protection.
Some of us in this congregation know those bitter facts all too well.
Most of all, I am sick and tired of hearing and reading and seeing people invoke their Christian faith as their justification for having handguns, preaching that God is against gun control, that God intends for Christians to have guns to "protect" themselves and their families and their property -- even that it's acceptable to bring handguns into the Church. You think I'm kidding on that one? Earlier this year in the Episcopal Diocese of Utah, they had to distribute a new kind of "Episcopal Church Welcomes You" sign with the added phrase: "But Not Your Handguns!" The reason? Let me quote from the Episcopal News Service article which ran in late May:
In its zeal to protect the members of religious communities in the State of Utah, the State Legislature in January passed a statute addressing Utahns' closely held right to carry concealed weapons. Churches--and private homeowners, for that matter--who feel that their buildings are not places to carry concealed guns are now required to post notices specifically prohibiting people from carrying weapons inside. . . . In response to the new statute, the Diocese of Utah has produced a sign stating that guns are not welcome in its church buildings. Each congregation in the diocese has been asked to put the sign in a visible place on its property, in keeping with the requirements of the new statute.
In other words, in the state of Utah, if you don't notify your parishioners not to pack heat in the pews, you may be passing the peace with a walking arsenal. Bear that in mind if you plan to visit the Olympics in Salt Lake City next year.
I can't speak to those who are not followers of Jesus Christ. But I can say to Christians: If you claim to believe in the God who raised Jesus from the dead, you have no business relying on a gun for the protection of yourself, your family or your property. Do you think I'm being unreasonable? Do you think I've gone overboard? So be it. Did you read this morning's Collect? "Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church . . . because it cannot continue in safety without your help." Precisely whom do you think constitutes "the church"? You and I and every baptized believer in Jesus Christ. Any religious leader who teaches that "protecting" your life or your family's life or your property is more important than your steadfast witness to God's ultimate victory in Jesus by not meeting violence with violence has departed from the ancient Church's understanding of the Gospel. The proper word for that is "apostasy."
The vision of the Reign of God that we have in the Bible, despite what you may have heard or been taught, is not one of stern patriots armed to the eyebrows, defending their turf against the godless Satanic hordes, while the angels nod approvingly from on high. It is one of Jesus, who, after hearing that his friend John the Baptist had been beheaded by the evil, sadistic ruler, did not call for a revolt, but withdrew from the crowds to pray. When the crowds followed him, seeking an answer to why John had to die, Jesus did not organize them into a militia to avenge his cousin's death. When the crowds became hungry, he did not urge them to storm Herod's palace for food. He quietly took what was there -- five loaves of crusty bread, two salted fish -- and from that tiny offering filled their hunger, for sustenance and for justice. In that act he showed himself to be the King of all creation -- who feeds us here, now, in just the same way in the Eucharist, with the sacrifice of his own Body and Blood.
Are you frightened by the violence in this country? Don't buy a gun. Send the money you would have spent on firearms and ammunition to an organization that works to eradicate poverty, or war, or prejudice. Give it to your church. Do you fear for your personal safety? Tell a co-worker or a fellow student who seems troubled, "I'll pray for you -- or with you, if you'd like." Meet violent words with a soft answer. Meet violent actions with nonviolent resistance. If you don't know how to do that, learn -- there are nonviolence training courses everywhere. Take your family with you when you do. Do you worry about being robbed? Trust me: you own absolutely nothing that is worth the price of your soul. When you are afraid, try to remember that you are a member of the Body of Christ. You are not merely a conqueror. Conquerors only get to put their feet on the necks of the conquered, and to wait for the foot of the next conqueror on their own. You are more than a conqueror, through Jesus -- which means you get to watch as Christ gathers together even his enemies and makes of them friends.
That's how you and I can say with Paul: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Amen.
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