May our grief and hope empower us to act

Bishop Stephen Lane shared the following sermon at the Service of Lament for Gun Violence at St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland on March 14. The service, one of many across the Episcopal Church, marked one month since the shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Channel 13-WGME-TV covered the service and interviewed Bishop Lane.

Bishop Lane’s sermon

Psalm 23; Isaiah 61:1-3; Matthew 2:16-18

[Bishop singing] – Trisagion, Archangelsky
Holy God, Holy and Mighty
Holy Immortal One, Have mercy upon us

Thank you for coming out this evening. A Service of Lament is not an easy thing to sit through, and I thank you for your courage and your hope in coming here.

We all know the little metaphor about the frog and the pot. Put a frog in a pot, so it’s said, and turn the heat up slowly, and the poor frog slowly cooks to death without ever trying to escape. The heat rises so slowly that the frog never notices until it’s too late.

I think something like this has happened to us and to our country in relation to gun violence. For the most part, gun violence is so dispersed, so private, that it goes unnoticed. A large number of gun deaths – half – are suicides. Another large number of deaths are the result of domestic violence. We read about them here and there without putting together the reality that the number of deaths across our country now exceeds 30,000 a year, more than 38,000 in both 2016 and 2017. It takes something like the mass shooting at Parkland High School to get our attention, to tell us that the pot is at full boil.

And it is at full boil. The Las Vegas music festival shooting resulted in 58 dead and 851 injured from a single gunman… Some folks are still hospitalized. Full boil.

Yet, awareness of the boiling pot is not enough. What’s needed is time to count the cost, to feel the loss. The response to any death, to every death, must be grief.

A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and much grieving.  Rachel weeping for her children, and she did not want to be comforted, because they were no more. Or as Andrew Pollack said in testimony to the President about his daughter, Meadow, one of 17 killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, There should have been one school shooting and we should have fixed it. And I’m pissed. Because my daughter, I’m not going to see again. She’s not here. She’s not here. She’s in North Lauderdale King David cemetery, that is where I go to see my kid now.

A time of lament is deeply embedded in our Judeo-Christian tradition as the appropriate response to the infinite value of every human life, lives bearing the image of God, and deeply related to our own. We stop tonight to think of the lives that are here no more, that are gone from us forever.

Lament faces the reality of loss and death. Lament gives voice to grief. Lament gives human voice to the pain of God over the loss of God’s children. It is fundamental to our humanity that we take time to lament.

Holy God, Holy and Mighty
Holy Immortal One, Have mercy upon us

Lament is not, however, hopeless…

In a private letter to the House of Bishops, Episcopalians Philip and April Schentrup wrote about their daughter, Carmen, and called us to action. They write: Our hearts are saddened for the loss of our beautiful little girl and the absence of her amazing presence, but we cannot be sad for Carmen. We believe that Carmen’s murder was not part of God’s plan and that God is saddened by the violence in this world more than we can know. We know that God’s promise is for us to be with him in heaven, and in faith, we believe that Carmen is in heaven, in the loving embrace of God. She awaits us, loved and cared for.

And so we believe. God is doing more for Carmen than we can ask or imagine. God has received Carmen and holds her forever. God’s love gives us hope that all is not lost and that hope compels us to action.

As Carmen’s parents went on: As our family struggles to pick up the pieces of our shattered lives, we ask the Good Lord daily for the strength to fight the good fight, to finish the race. In our attempt to heal from despair and grief, we are compelled to try and make the world a better place for our two remaining children and for all children.

The time has come for those of who believe in God to say that gun violence is not of God. It is not acceptable to us as God’s people. Whoever the victims, however the death, sudden death is not what God wants. Whatever the remedies needed, and there are many, the time is passed for us to pretend we don’t know the water is boiling. The time is now to tell the truth and to act.

Isaiah proclaimed, The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God.

We are the Lord’s chosen. We are the people called and baptized to carry the Good News of the coming kingdom. We are the ones called to prepare the way… and the time is now.

May our grief and our hope empower us to act. May we crawl out of the pot and speak, not only to save ourselves, but all of God’s children. May we recognize that unfettered access to guns, access that exceeds anything we would consider for cars, is blighting our lives and killing our neighbors. Even in the valley of the shadow of death, may we be voices for hope and for peace and for the infinite value of every human life.

Holy God, Holy and Mighty
Holy Immortal One, Have mercy upon us

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