Yesterday, Emma Gonzales, student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, spoke powerfully, demanding an end to gun violence. Have a watch: We Call BS.
Our children are rising up. Will we?
This sermon was preached at Northside Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan and is based on Matthew 5:21-43. A recording is above, and the written text is below.
Last Wednesday, just four days ago, Ash Wednesday and Valentines Day met up. They coincided. They aligned.
Collectively, our community in this congregation and our larger Christian community around the world spoke and heard these liturgical words again: “From dust you were created, and to dust you will return.” Certainly, those words remind us of our own finitude. But at the same time, of course, they also call forth life and love. “In life and in death, we belong to God,” we often say. “In love you were created, and love calls you to live,” we often say.
These are all liturgical words — words of truth held in community, words that are spoken both to reflect and participate in the recognition of a reality, a reality that God loves us through and through no matter what, and that in the face of disarray, and at times, even death, we are called to love and to live. We are called to reflect and participate in the creation of a world where all can love and live.
And so, it was jolting to hear the news on Wednesday, the day when Ash Wednesday and Valentines day met up. Whether we learned of it before the Ash Wednesday service, or immediately after, it was remarkably painful to learn what had happened hours before at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. A young man with a dangerous assault rifle killed 17 people, most of them students, and he traumatized all of them, along with their families.
Today, around the nation, some people are in worship services, others are at home, others are out in the community doing any variety of things, perhaps also feeling traumatized today by what happened, even if they don’t know anyone close to Parkland personally. That’s because we believe this should not have happened. It’s because we are tired of hearing headlines like this, knowing that human lives, including young, human lives, are behind those headlines. It’s because we love our children. It’s because we feel a calling to love all children.
“In life and in death we belong to God.” This should not have happened. We know this in our bones. Yet today, we are bold to proclaim that these beloved ones are not lost to God. And their worth and value, their personhood, and their belovedness will not be lost on us either. Because this should not be happening anymore.
This morning, the story of scripture says,
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ So Jesus went with him.
On Wednesday, outside that school building, a crowd gathered around — parents filled with love, standing with worry. Perhaps we have seen that photo which will undoubtedly become iconic — a woman with ashes on her forehead in the shape of a cross, crying as she holds her crying child. “Come lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” This is the calling for all of us now. Will we go with them in this calling?
The story of scripture continues,
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him I the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’ He looked all round to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’
The crowd is growing and pressing in. Our days are often filled with headlines of needs, of losses, of injustices. And when it comes this injustice — when it comes to gun violence — how often have we felt as though we have endured much? That we have spent all that we have — our emotions, our voices, our arguments, our statistics, our phone calls to leaders, our marches, our contributions, our demands, our condolences, our questions, our exclamations, our proclamations — only to discover that we are not better, but rather, we have grown worse. We are desperate.
And so, we come to this one who calls us into a ministry of healing, and we not only touch his cloak, but we hear his voice: “Daughter,” he says. And though there is fear and trembling, we hear this recognition of worth. “Daughter,” he says. We tell the whole truth — what it is like to live in a society that is addicted to violence; what it is like to live in a society that values the rights of weapons above the rights of students. Yet we hear this recognition of worth. “Daughter,” he says. We hear the worth and recognition of our children. Will we go with them in this calling?
The story of scripture continues,
While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ But overhearing what they said, “Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, and the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with them, and went in where he the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum,’ which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
‘Why trouble the teacher any further?’ we might ask. Perhaps we feel as though all hope is lost. We certainly hear people weeping and wailing loudly. And oh that we could bring these lost ones back into life! We surely would. . . They should be in this world today.
And even here, especially here, in this longing, trauma, and pain, Jesus says, ‘Talitha cum.’ ‘Get up!’ May we we hear that message for ourselves and our nation and our world. ‘Get up!’ ‘Rise up!’ Create a different reality! Transform this world of pain. Rise up! Become partners in life and in love! Act! Be free! Live! Resurrect! Go into peace and create peace every step of the way. You and me, and all of us together. For our children, together.
After all, they shouldn’t have to bear this, but this week, the growing children of a school in Parkland are rising up. They are saying, No more! We won’t be silenced! We will not stop until you protect our lives! “For in love we were created, and in love, we are called to live.” Talitha cum! Our children are rising up. Will we go with them in this calling?
We hear it again, these words we often say. “In love we were created, and love calls us to live.”
For them, for the one who created us, for this great, beloved world. Talitha cum!