I struggled with the overwhelming pain brought on by these horrible incidents, as I am sure many of you have done as well. I was brought back to today’s gospel. I read the passage again, and this time I found not just meaning – I found hope.
The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, Gun Violence Archive1 defines a mass shooting as an incident with at least four injuries, not including the shooter, regardless of the number of fatalities. 1 Using this definition, there have been 215 mass shootings through the 21st week of 2022, including 51 so far in the month of May. This means we are averaging about 10 mass shootings per week so far in 2022. The Uvalde shooting has had the highest number of fatalities with 21. This data - along with the unprovoked war in Ukraine, the unwillingness of political and corporate leaders to make concerted efforts to curb climate change, and the sad unwillingness of our own political leaders to work together to achieve anything truly meaningful for their people – point to the brokenness of our world.
So how does this take me back to the gospel reading? And how can the reading possibly give me hope? I went back to the gospel reading and decided to ask myself the three questions we use for our Bible Study. The first question is: What word or phrase stands out for you in this reading? That did not take much thought for me. The word is “one”. This word is repeated four times in this relatively brief gospel. Jesus says the goal for the disciples is to “be one heart and mind” in Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message. 2 Again, the word ‘one’. I do not think that in using this word, Jesus is asking us to be a single being, all the same, or even all agreeing on everything. If that were the case, I sincerely doubt that God would have created us in all our beautiful diversity. So many colors of hair, eyes, skin. So many body types, cultures, languages, skills and ideas of beauty. I think that what Jesus is asking of us is unity – a proactive and purposeful unity, meant to move us into full acceptance of one another as children of God. The Trinity in the persons of creator, redeemer and sustainer, invites all of us, each and every one, into the amazing love of God.
We have a choice, likely one we make many times over in our lives, about whether or not to accept this invitation. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try to make good choices, we fall short. We are, after all, human. We are not required to love God as creator, redeemer or sustainer. Does this mean that sometimes, in practicing our God-given free will, we will ultimately make truly terrible choices? Sadly, yes it does.
The second Bible Study question is “What do you notice about God in this reading?” This, too, came to me quite quickly. I see God in Jesus as the great inviter. We are all invited to live in the love of God. All we are required to do is invite God into our hearts. Make room for God to be a part of who we are. Once God resides within us, we become a vessel for the love of God. In this reading, I see Jesus as
the one who longs for us to rest in him. To bring our broken hearts to him for healing and love. In this reading, I notice a God who will not give up on us. Throughout the gospels, there are so many places that I can almost imagine Jesus dropping his face into his hands and wondering how these disciples were missing the point so often. His frustration must have been overwhelming at times. But he never gave up on them. This ragged group of followers who seemed so lost sometimes, were the great hope for the future. And more than 2000 years later, here we are – still speaking of Jesus, still receiving the sacraments he instituted, still believing that following his footsteps is the best way to live. God in Jesus did not give up on his disciples, and God does not give up on us. Ours is a merciful and forgiving God, one whose love is never-ending.
The third question is typically the one with which I have the most difficulty. It requires an “I” statement. The question is, “What does the God you see in this reading make you want to do and/or be?” My answer to this question requires some action of me – some real commitment. If I answer the question honestly, it is a call. Our group typically challenges me to answer as honestly as possible. Offering up a vague, “God wants me to be a better person” is not an adequate response. As I read this gospel over and over, I realized that the answer to question one informed my answer to question three. God wants me to become part of the oneness of God’s people. Not a carbon copy of someone I admire, but authentically myself. My best self. The self who looks at all God’s other people, with whom I can experience this oneness, this unity, this strength in God’s abiding love, and this wonder and awe at the great diversity of God’s own people, and feel hope for the future of humankind.
This is the seventh and final Sunday of Easter. This is a season of hope renewed following a time of sadness and pain. Right now, I feel deep sadness in our world. An unprovoked and horrific war in Ukraine; record numbers of children suffering from depression as a result of the isolation of the pandemic; over a million deaths – some surely preventable – from Covid; the terrifying predictions about climate change; and over 200 mass shootings so far in 2022. So where is the hope? Throughout the Scriptures, we are told of the many mistakes made by the God’s children, of whom we are a part. Going as far back as Cain’s murder of his brother Abel, human beings have been messing up with stunning frequency. Yet every time we have messed up, our God has given us another chance. God has loved us through all kinds of terrible behaviors and has not turned God’s back on us. So, my hope lies in the fact that just as I am willing to take my place among the people of “one heart and mind” and bring with me an acceptance of all of God’s people, regardless of who they are, I believe others are willing to do the same. My hope lies in looking out at you and realizing that I love who you are and what you do in God’s name. You and I are, in fact, my hope for the future. I hope as you leave here today, you will bring with you renewed hope in all of us to bring change to a world in pain.
1 Pittsburgh Herald Tribune, 4/24/2022, Paula Reed Ward
2 The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, Eugene Peterson, pg. 1961
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