The Rev. Melanie McCarley
Surely, what is on our hearts and minds this morning is the shooting on Tuesday of this past week, in Uvalde, Texas, where an 18 year old gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary School. Nineteen children were killed as well as two teachers. Multiple others who were injured are being treated at regional hospitals. The school year was due to end just days later. Words fail to paint the horror of this event—the fear of the children, the despair of parents, the physical, psychological and spiritual toll of catastrophic loss.
During the news on Tuesday evening, broadcasters from multiple stations referred to the shooting as “unspeakable” and “inconceivable.” Such words are inaccurate. These events are routine. Mass shootings have become normal. They’re ubiquitous. I would go so far as to say that they have become a part of our culture. While mass shootings occur across the globe, the number of them occurring in our society make them a uniquely American facet of life; rather like baseball, apple pie…and mass shootings. In this month alone, a gunman opened fire outside Tops Friendly Market, killing ten people, in a racially motivated mass shooting. Two days later, on May 15th in Laguna Woods California a gunman motivated by political hatred against Taiwan chained shut the doors of Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church. Armed with guns and four Molotov-cocktail type incendiary devises and extra ammunition, he opened fire on parishioners. A member of the congregation, Dr. John Cheng, age 52, attacked him, dying in the process. As a result of his swift action, parishioners were able to hold the shooter down until police could arrive. All this, before Tuesday. In the past ten years there have been 65 mass shootings in America. We must as ourselves why. What is it about who we are as individuals, communities and a nation, that we find ourselves willing to live like this? That we find it impossible to effect change?
Some people say that we should be outraged at these events. Maybe not. Part of the problem is that Americans thrive on outrage. The more outrageous the better—Outrage sells, and has become part of the everyday-- from politics, to television, to social media, music, art and even religion. People are both outrageous and outraged. That’s how we get noticed; that’s how we trend upwards in social media, that’s how we make money! We have become a people who thrive on extremes and polarization. We are outraged at everything from racism to abortion, to the political left or right, gun control, social security, inflation and the Kardashians. Look around and within. Who isn’t outraged?
What we aren’t, as a nation, is loving. We Americans do not love enough. We do not love our neighbors of races different from our own enough to prevent such shootings from occurring; we do not love those struggling with mental illness enough to provide them accessible and adequate care; we do not love our elderly citizens enough to protect them while grocery shopping, we do not love our children enough to enable them to go to school without fear of being murdered. Oh, we give talk to liberty, justice and the Constitution; but the truth is, our problem is not any of these. Our problem is a lack of love, which manifests itself in apathy—the failure to do anything to effect meaningful systemic change. Goodness, we are a people who have turned out political process over to ideologues and lobbyists, no wonder we feel powerless. We are a people who have made violence a way of life. We are a people who do not love enough.
In the Gospel for this morning, we find ourselves in the upper room with our Savior and his apostles. It is the night on which Jesus will be betrayed, handed over to his enemies, deserted by his friends, tried, convicted and ultimately crucified. And knowing all that is to come, he gathers his closest friends, offers them words of encouragement and hope, and prays for them. The reading today is part of what we call the “High Priestly Prayer of Jesus.” Here, Jesus prays that his disciples will be drawn together as one as Jesus and the heavenly Father are one. His is a prayer for unity. Listen to these words: “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them … so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
This is a prayer of unity and it is based upon self-giving and sacrificial love. The unity about which Jesus is praying isn’t about oneness of opinion, nationality or political party. This is a unity found in love. It is a unity which crosses all barriers, be they racial, national, political or economic. It is a unity which draws us all into the love of God in Christ.
The hope of combatting mass shootings in an increasingly violent America is to work toward cultivating a societal shift, one which values unity of vision and love and respect for all people rather than fomenting divisiveness, anger and rage. Take a pro-gun proponent and a gun control advocate and ask them to debate—and odds are good that no one’s mind is going to be changed. But ask them each if they would like to see fewer mass shootings and if they want their child to attend school without fear—and I suspect both of them will agree. Unity isn’t going to be found in a single opinion, or even a single legislative action, but in a united hope and vision. We must love more. We must be brave enough to allow love to outweigh fear.
Nelson Mandela once said “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” I would add to this the witness of Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr., both of whom who effected great societal change, not by meeting violence with violence and hatred with hatred; but by meeting hatred with love. Hatred, anger and outrage make perfect sense in a world dominated by fear; but this isn’t the world which Jesus envisions for us. Instead, we must hold fast to what our Scriptures tell us: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.” (1 John 4:18)
There is no single solution to the problem of mass shootings in our society. There are many solutions. We must expect more of ourselves and more from those whom we elect to represent us. We must be willing to demand change not based upon fear; but upon a vision of a better future. Not a future that has us armed to the teeth, sending our children to schools which resemble supermax prisons in order to learn about the virtue and pride of living in a free country; but a future where peace is valued more than rage, and love is the supreme value. That is a society where all people are of worth; be they the elderly black woman purchasing groceries on Tuesday morning, the person of Taiwanese descent going to their place of worship on Sunday and the second grader in pig tails, carrying her lunchbox and headed to school. In Jesus’ name. Amen.