Easter 6 / Year C
Sixty-three times. Seven at a school or college. Four at backyard parties. Five in places of worship. Four at entertainment venues. Three at a military base or installation. Twelve at a workplace. Another twelve at a store or mall. The rest at various locations. Sixty-three times, and this is just since November 2018. Sixty-three mass shootings in our country, each one is listed in A Litany in the Wake of a Mass Shooting on a website hosted by Episcopal Bishops Against Gun Violence. The list is staggering, sobering.
One line of the litany reads:
Thirteen dead at a municipal building in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Give to the departed eternal rest.
Let light perpetual shine upon them.
It falls just after a shooting in Solon Township, Michigan and just before a shooting at a Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California. The latest addition – ten dead at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
It is truly difficult to make sense of things so senseless. Some of these acts of violence are rooted in mental health issues, some in hatred, some in pure evil, and some in a combination of the three. When Jesus says, “Not as the world gives do I give,” I feel a sense of relief because what the world gives is pretty overwhelming at times.
“Peace I leave with you, my own peace I give to you.” Writing on his blogsite In the Meantime, David Lose, a Lutheran pastor and former Seminary professor, notes this:
Too often… we think of peace as simply the cessation of conflict. And clearly an end to violence is a good thing… But I think the peace Jesus offers is more than the absence of something negative. Indeed, I think it has its own presence and gravity.
That Jesus gives us peace tells us it is a gift. That he tells his followers not to let their hearts be troubled and not to be afraid suggests we receive the gift of peace even when the world around us is doing everything it can to upset us. Jesus’ peace helps us to feel settled when things are unsettled, to feel whole when life is fragmented, to feel contentment when discord is the norm.
I suspect most of us come to church hoping to find a sense of peace, to reconnect with Jesus’ gift to us. Often we end the service with the blessing “The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” We don’t come here to assess the current status of the world, weigh the consequences, and make a rational, reasonable decision to be at peace. God’s peace, as Lose says, has its own presence and gravity. It finds us. We do not find it. And most of us find God’s peace often finds us when we are here in this place.
As with any gift, the recipient must accept it. Just because Jesus offers us his peace doesn’t mean we are going to take it. We elect to take matters into our own hands; attempting to micromanage the world around us and fretting at our ineffectiveness. The more you try to control things, the less at peace you will be. This is why literally millions of people have found Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer to be life changing:
God, give me grace to accept with
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
When we let go and let God by accepting the peace offered by the Holy One an interesting thing begins to happen. We find ourselves enabled to act in the world in a new way by, as Niebuhr says, taking the world as it is, not as we would have it be. The goal of God’s peace is not to numb us to the reality of mass shootings, for example. Rather it invites us to respond with courage and determination by bringing to bear the Gospel’s message of God’s love for all people.
I have known about the notion of Replacement Theory for some time, but came across it with more clarity by reading an op-ed a few weeks ago. It came to the forefront last Sunday when a young man attempted to solidify his control of the world by killing those he deemed to weaken his hold. For the past few weeks our readings from the Book of Acts have highlighted what the early Church could have viewed as Replacement Theory. First the gospel spreads from Jesus’ initial followers to thousands and then to Gentiles and then (today) into Europe. Each movement created conflict within the Church, which eventually was resolved as the faithful recognize this is the will and work of God. They embrace the changes and challenges brought on by diversity as something God desires.
One of my favorite prayers in our prayer book is found on page 840:
O God, who created all peoples in your image, we thank you for the wonderful diversity of races and cultures in this world. Enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of fellowship, and show us your presence in those who differ most from us, until our knowledge of your love is made perfect in our love for all your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This prayer, and living into its vision, is one way I accept the peace Jesus offers to me and it is one way I am responding the sixty-three heinous acts, not just in my prayers, but also through my actions. I invite you to allow the peace which passes all understanding to rule in your heart and to ponder what the presence of this peace might enable you to do.