Like many of you, I couldn’t believe the news coming out of Texas. Another school shooting! Another day! Different city! What is going on? As I reflected on this tragedy, a hymn, Fairest Lord Jesus, came to mind. It was a surreal moment. I found myself singing it. I didn’t remember all the words, but that wasn’t a big deal. I sang what I could remember.
I have no idea why that particular hymn came to mind. Just out of curiosity, I decided to do some research. I learned that the hymn is generally referred to as Beautiful Savior or Crusaders’ Hymn. The author remains unknown. Some associate it with the Crusades and claim that it was sung by German Crusaders as they made their way to the holy land. Others dismiss any association with the Crusades.
Again, I do not know why this particular hymn came to mind - you may call it an inspiration, you may also call it a re-awakening to the words of the Beautiful Savior who frees us, saves us, and empowers us to be witnesses of a love that overshadows everything and invites us to love our enemies.
In my sermon this past Sunday, I said this about the 18-year-old who killed innocent shoppers at a grocery store: “For the life of me, I cannot imagine why a young man could do something as heinous as walking into a grocery store and killing people because of how they look. For the life of me, I cannot imagine how a young man could be imprisoned by so much hate for people who don’t look like him. I cannot imagine how a young man who should be thinking about prom and who it is that he will be taking to the prom, what he will wear to the prom, whether he’s paid his prom fees, and which limousine he would want to ride to the prom be so captured by such hate that he would drive, not to his prom but to another place, four hours away to kill because of hate.”
This week, we have another 18-year-old boy who was supposed to be thinking about prom. He also shot his grandmother and killed two teachers and 19 children. It is crushing. It is devastating. It is unconscionable. What is going on in our society? Who is leading us? People are being shot for simply going grocery shopping. Children are being shot while simply attending school. A gentleman who was riding the subway got shot and killed by another man for no reason. Many are the people who are being killed or maimed in our neighborhoods and streets for insipid reasons. But we stand powerless in the face of all this escalatory trauma. We pretend that we can’t do anything about it and that our prayers and thoughts are enough. See, prayers and thoughts are only enough until tragedy hits close to home.
I often tell the story of a senator who was against gay marriage. A few years after his son came out as being gay, this senator reversed his stance. And this is what he said, “It allowed me to think of this issue from a new perspective, and that's of a dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister would have -- to have a relationship like Jane and I have had for over 26 years," This is the point that I want to make with this story. This man taught me that when the issue is close to home, it may not be some principles that matter, but love should be the overarching principle.
If that, then, is the case, shouldn’t our love for each other and ourselves, granted that we do not know where or when a gunman would strike, drive us, even at the barest minimum, to draw up policies that would guarantee our safety and of our loved ones?
I tell this story because we all hang on to the Second Amendment as some holy grail that cannot be messed with or is so sacrosanct to the extent of being absolute. I don’t own a gun but I know a lot of law-abiding citizens who own guns. And I honestly do not want any law-abiding citizen to be deprived of his or her right to bear arms. But who said we cannot change our minds on issues that hold dear to us? Who said that principles should be absolute? Who said that we cannot change public policy for the sake of everyone? If this senator could change his mind because of his son, why can’t we change our minds because of an issue that affects all of us? See, the point is that you don’t want it to reach close to home before you change your mind. By then it may be too late!
I understand those of us who argue that a gun by itself cannot shoot and kill children unless someone pulls the trigger. That is absolutely right. But the question is, what if the gun is unavailable or inaccessible? I have never in my short life heard of anyone who has ever used an object which is unavailable or inaccessible to him or her.
Sometimes I tend to believe that the fragmentation of our society has been all too cruel for everyone. We all suffer under the burden of those sharp divisions. We have grown suspicious of each other and the views of the other appear like an abomination. Don’t we all belong to the same country? The fact that we believe differently doesn’t mean we cannot agree on a sensible way in which we can govern our common life.
This is what saddens me - our suspicion of each other has grown over time and deepened to a perilous extent that we cannot summon the moral courage to do what we know to be right. We cannot summon the moral courage to do what we know to be necessary. We cannot gather the moral courage to do what we know to be expedient. We cannot gather the moral courage to offer to the vulnerable sick among us, the necessary care that they need. We cannot gather the moral courage to say that an 18-year-old doesn’t need an assault rifle, let alone two of them. For what?
I am sure many of you miss the days when it wasn’t scandalous to share the good news of God in Christ with anyone and anywhere, even in public schools. It wasn’t the case that there were saints walking around with no crime, but at least we chanced upon the idea, and we were all reminded, not only of the dignity of the other but about being compassionate and caring. As traumatic as those days were over Slavery and Jim Crow, at least we could still hear the good news which challenged our assumptions and created the narratives upon which we could make some necessary changes. These have brought relative tranquility to our nation.
How I wish we could all avail ourselves to the good news, hear the good news of God that changes lives and offers meaning to our broken lives. The good news which assures each that it isn’t about how bad a situation may be or even how damaged we are, but it is about the redemptive power of God. The good news which invites us to love, even when we have absolutely no reason to do so. The good news which helps us to realize our purpose in life and assures us that the ultimate gift of that purpose is service to the other. The good news that empowers us to look at each other through the prism of grace - just so we may come to appreciate that our stories, experiences, circumstances, and situations are not so different from the other. The good news which constantly reminds us of the primacy of love. How I wish we could all hear the good news once more!
In celebrating the lives of the children killed in Uvalde, Texas, and of those killed in Buffalo and New York, Christ Church will offer a Prayer Vigil this Sunday at 7:00 p.m. It will be an opportunity for us to grieve together as a community, pray for the families who have lost loved ones, and pray for our nation. I hope you will all make it a point to be with us.
Beautiful Savior, your wounds remind us of your love for us. May the blood that flows from your wounds not only cleanse our sins and mend our hearts but may the blood heal us as well. May we find deep comfort in your abiding presence.
May members of these 22 families find in you, the God of grace, the strength to cope, now and in the days to come.