Friday, December 21, 2012

Violence Spirals

As I was reading a post by my friend Mark Holland, he put his finger upon something that has been disturbing me in a sort of subconscious sort of way. Each time I hear someone make the case that teachers in Newtown should have been armed, or that teachers now should be armed, it would not sit well in my spirit. But I could not articulate well as to why this is. I would think of Jesus' teachings on forgiveness, and turning the other cheek, but I still was not satisfied.

Today, Mark posted a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. and when I read it, I thought "yes, this is what has been churning in my mind, that I could not quite articulate. Thanks Mark.

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, 
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. 
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar, 
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. 
Through violence you may murder the hater, 
but you do not murder hate. 
In fact, violence merely increases hate. 
So it goes. 
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, 
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. 
Darkness cannot drive out darkness: 
only light can do that. 
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Prayers from the Vigil for Newtown

It was good to gather on Sunday night at 5:00 for the Vigil to remember and to pray. Below is what we used to guide us in prayer; perhaps you would like to continue to use some of these prayer resources. 

PRAYER VIGIL Dec. 16, 2012
Wesley United Methodist Church

A word of welcome: you are welcome here. All are welcome here. Tonight we gather in the ancient practice of holding vigil. We watch and wait in hope, even as we grieve. We light candles to protest the darkness that pervades, especially the darkness that has befallen Newtown, CT. You may stand, or be seated. Be a part of this gathering as you feel comfortable. It is not necessary to close your eyes and bow your head for each prayer. You may prefer to look at the flickering candlelight, or at the stars, or at the leader. Do what feels comforting and right for you in the presence of God, as together we join our hearts in lament and prayer.

Everliving God, in Christ’s resurrection you turned the disciples despair into triumph, their sorrow into joy. Give us faith to believe that every good which seems to be overcome by evil, and every love that seems to be buried in death, shall rise again in life eternal; through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you for ever more. Amen. (UMBOW164)

Matthew 2: 13-18
We remember this night the slaughter of the innocents that took place in Bethlehem after Jesus’ birth.

Now after the wise men had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
   “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation,
          Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled,
               because they are no more.”

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents in Bethlehem by King Herod. We remember the slaughter of innocents in Newtown, Oak Creek, Aurora, Oakland, Toulouse, Chardon, Rio deJaneiro, Omaha, Baku, Winnendon, Oxnard, Tuusula, Blacksburg, Columbine, and too many more. We pray into the arms of your mercy, all the innocent victims. By your great might, frustrate the designs of evil people and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(Christmas Sourcebook, p.81, Collect for the Holy Innocents, adapt.)

Let us remember the names of those who have died. As each name is read, and the bell is rung, let us pray for all who grieve their passing, even as we give thanks for the hope of eternal life.

  Rachel Davino
  Dawn Hochsprung
  Anne Marie Murphy
  Lauren Rousseau
  Mary Sherlach
  Victoria Soto

  Charlotte Bacon
  Daniel Barden
  Olivia Engel
  Josephine Gay
  Ana M. Marquez-Greene
  Dylan Hockley
  Madeleine F. Hsu
  Catherine V. Hubbard
  Chase Kowalski
  Jesse Lewis
  James Mattioli
  Grace McDonnell
  Emilie Parker
  Jack Pinto
  Noah Pozner
  Caroline Previdi
  Jessica Rekos
  Avielle Richman
  Benjamin Wheeler
  Allison N. Wyatt

Almighty God, in your keeping there is shelter from the storm, and in your mercy there is comfort for the sorrows of life. Hear now our prayer for those who mourn and are heavy laden. Give to them strength to do your will. Lighten their darkness with your love. Enable them to see beyond the things of this mortal world the promise of the eternal. Help them to know that your care enfolds all your people, that you are our refuge and strength, and that underneath are your everlasting arms. Amen.

Gracious, loving God, you are ever more ready to hear than we are to pray. You know our needs before we ask, and our ignorance in asking. Give to us now your grace, that as we shrink before the mystery of death, we may see the light of eternity. We lift before you our schools and all of the people who learn, teach, and serve within them. We pray to you for one another in our need, and for all anywhere who mourn with us this day. To those who doubt, give light; to those who are weak, strength; to all who have sinned, mercy; to all who sorrow, your peace. May our schools be filled with learning, laughter, and joy and may they be freed from sorrow, grief, and pain. Surround them with a hedge of your protection. Bless our children that every day they may grow more and more into the persons you have created them to be. Bless our educators, administrators, and support staff that they may know be filled with your grace and comfort, for we pray in the precious and holy name of Jesus. Amen.
(UMBOW adapt.)

Psalm 28: 1-2, 6-9. NRSV
Leader: To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest if you are silent to me, I become like those who do down to the pit.
People: Hear the voice of my supplication, as I cry to you for help, as I lift my hands toward your most holy sanctuary
Leader: Blessed by the Lord, who has heard the voice of my supplications!
People: The Lord is my strength and shield in whom my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to the Lord
Leader: The Lord is the strength of the people, the saving refuge of the anointed.
People: O save your people, bless your heritage; be their shepherd, and carry them forever.

Lord of all nations, keep our country under your protection. Wipe out sin from this land. Lift us up from the depth of sorrow, O Lord our shining light. Bless us in the midst of our grief. Grant us your wisdom, so that we may learn your ways of peace. Free us from the vain belief that violence is a solution. Strengthen our leaders with courage and discernment as they consider policy changes. O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Expected of the nations, and our Savior:
Come and save us, O Lord, our God.
(UMBOW and UMH, adapt.)

The season of Advent is one in which we seek to open our hearts afresh to the transforming love of God. As we grieve the sin and evil that has wrought such heartache, let us pray for the mind of Christ to be in us, knowing that is through the power of the Spirit that sin is defeated.

We believe in a bright and amazing God,
  who has been to the depths of despair on our behalf;
 who has risen in splendor and majesty;
  who decorates the universe
with sparkling clear water, clear white light,
  twinkling stars and sharp colors,
   over and over again.

We believe that Jesus is the light of the world;
  that God believes in us, and trust us,
  even though we make the same mistakes over and over again.

We commit ourselves to Jesus,
   to one another as brothers and sisters,
   and to the Creator’s business in the world
We thank you for the gift of salvation,
    for we cannot save ourselves.
May the mind be in us which was in Christ Jesus.
50 Great Prayers from the Iona Community, Helen Lambie (adapt.)

Saturday, December 15, 2012


I did not sleep well last night. I went to bed heart broken, lamenting the tragedy of Newtown. I have been thinking and praying and crying, along with the rest of our nation.

As a pastor, my next response has been to help organize a prayer vigil. That will be Sunday at 5:00 at Wesley Church on Lookerman St. You are invited. So is everyone you know.

Now, as I sit at my dining room table, watching my two precious children play with their friend from down the street, I am struggling to re-finish my sermon for tomorrow. So I share with you some of the thoughts, theological and otherwise, that are running through my mind.

1. Ben Gosden's blog post was excellent... here is an excerpt:

If Advent teaches us anything, it’s that One is promised to us who will bring salvation to the world. And if this tragic event teaches us anything, it’s that we are NOT the authors of our own salvation. It’s hard to admit that we cannot save ourselves no matter how hard we try.

Today families are hurting because their babies didn’t come home from school. Today children are without parents and spouses are left without partners. Today a nation is crying out for salvation from the evil that is all too real among us. The time for abstract discussion about policies can wait until tomorrow (note: tomorrow is about right). Today God is busy weeping with us. Our congressmen and senators cannot save us. President Obama cannot save us. Only God can save us — and we have to come to terms with that.

If this season of Advent means anything, it means we are preparing for the coming of a Messiah — one who will save us — in the form of a helpless and vulnerable baby. And that baby is to be found lying in a manger. Or maybe nursing at the loving bosom of his mother. This mother will tenderly hold that baby not knowing that one day she will also lose him to the violence of this world. And we cannot explain the mystery of why this event is so beautiful, but it just is. Maybe it’s because if violence, tears, and heartache are to be defeated, then they will be defeated by One who knows all too well the consequences of such evil realities.
In the meantime, we grieve with those who are grieving this day. And in our grief we sing the words of the carol when it says says: And in despair I bowed my head. There is no peace on earth, I said. For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to men.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. We need you more now than ever. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

2. I received an email from a clergy colleague, with a suggestion that perhaps tomorrow, we should not light the third candle. This candle is traditionally known as the candle of Joy. I can certainly understand the sentiment. It does not feel appropriate to be joyful in the midst of this tragedy. Indeed, this is a time of lament and sorrow.

But I am actually looking forward to lighting those Advent candles tomorrow in worship. Here's why: the overall message of the Advent Wreath is to light candles in the face of the growing darkness of shorter days and thus proclaim that the darkness can never overcome the light.  I think it will be important to proclaim that this Light is the light of hope, and darkness does not overcome it.

I was reading Adam Hamilton this week. In his book The Journey, he noted that "joy, unlike happiness, can come to us independent of our circumstances. It comes not from changing our circumstances but from viewing them through the eyes of faith."

Even as we are deeply sorrowful and unhappy in the face of this tragedy...and we are right to lament and grieve.... we are not without hope... or even joy... because even in the midst of our profound sorrow, Emmanuel is among us.

3. I have been thinking about an email exchange I had with a friend. After a teen's death in a car accident, she kept hearing people make comments about God needing another angel in heaven; how she had accomplished her purpose on earth. It was driving her crazy. I replied in agreement that God does not cause such tragedy to happen. Here is what I wrote:

I am reminded of Dr. Larry Stooky threatening us in worship class in seminary (and he is a gentle sweet man) "If I ever hear that you preach a child's funeral by saying 'God needed another angel in heaven' I will come to your church and shout you out of your pulpit"

I think it reflects a poor understanding of what we mean by God's purpose. We all have an overarching purpose in life: To love God with all our being, to love our neighbor as ourselves...especially the overlooked, to care for creation (our first charge in Genesis), to use our spiritual gifts for ministry and service, and thereby make disciples of all nations.

I do not believe that these are accomplished on only "one path" or "plan"...but are the overarching purpose that is supposed to inform our journey.. and may be accomplished on a myriad of "paths" through choices.

To say that she had accomplished her purpose on earth and therefore God called her home is to have a poor understanding of God. As Leslie Weatherhead writes, it is frankly to accuse God of murder. His book on this topic is short, sweet, and well written.

Yes, I believe God welcomed her home. Yet no one was more sad than God to see her die so young.

I remember a sermon, which I wish I could find. It was preached by Peter Gomes, the late chaplain at Harvard. He lost a son to a car accident. He preached that "God wept the first tear when my son went over that bridge" He railed against the idea that God caused it and celebrated God's presence and comfort in the midst of it.

I think that people want to believe that life has an unerring order to it. The idea that her death was "God's plan", especially if there is any sense of fault or blame or grey area, want to find comfort and certainty. For the driver especially this may be comforting.

But in general, I find it damaging to the do you my friend.

I do not believe, cannot believe, that the deaths of these children and teachers was "a part of God's plan." They are evidence of the evil, sin, and death which Jesus came to end. Although the Kingdom of God is not yet complete, it has begun.

And so in this season that is proclaimed by the Church as a time to watch and wait, in hope and expectation, for the Holy One to return, I groan with all of creation and say "Come, Lord Jesus."