Sermon for a Community Time of Prayer and Action, an interfaith service in response to recent mass shootings. Grace UMC, June 1, 2022.
He shall judge between the nationsIsaiah 2:4
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation;
neither shall they learn war any more.
It was late afternoon when I got the news. I was making my family dinner while holding a toddler in one hand and scrolling on my phone with the other (typical millennial dad stuff). My wife walked in from work and our four year old ran into her arms. She looked up at me and could tell something was wrong.
“There was another shooting,” I said, “This one at an elementary school.”
The prophet Isaiah said “In the days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains. Then you shall beat your swords into plowshares, your spears into pruning hooks (and your guns into gardening tools).”
I had to ask, aren’t we there yet? Haven’t we had enough?
Our seven year old was at dance class so I handed off the toddler and the supper and drove to pick her up. On the way I listened to the news and cried. Because I could come up with no words of my own, I prayed the Psalms.
“Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord. Lord, hear my voice. Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”
I sat there in the car outside the dance studio in silence. That’s when I received a word from the Lord. It’s important to note… this doesn’t usually happen to me.
First I heard just two words… “I’m sorry”
I once heard a father who lost his son in a tragic accident say that these are the words he wants to hear when he meets his maker: “I’m sorry.” That day it was what I needed to hear too. These are the words of a God who knows, who sees, who understands, who rejects the world as it is, and who is near to the broken hearted.
Then I heard another word, the words of Jesus. “As you have done it to the least of these my children, you have done it to me.”
Immediately I remembered an image, the “Pieta.” It’s a Michelangelo statue, but it’s imaged in lots of other ways. It depicts Mary, the mother of Jesus, holding in her arms the body of her boy, her son.
These are the words of a God revealed in the suffering servant, the slaughtered, the shot: “As you have done it to the least of these my children, so you have done it to me.”
Notice it’s not “as they have done it,” it’s “as you have done it.” In our tradition there is no “them” problem that is not also an “us” problem.
As one church member mentioned to me on the way out of church this week, “Preacher, almost all of these shooters are white men like us. That means this is our problem. As we have done it to the least of these, we’ve done it to him…”
Our seven year old bounced out of her dance studio and hopped in the car. She asked me why my eyes were red. I smiled and told her we’d talk about it later. She buckled up and I reached back and kept my hand on her knee the whole way home.
While we were still in the car there came one final word from the Lord. It was resolute, firm, loud even. Four words: “This shall not stand. This. Shall. Not. Stand.”
That word, “shall,” in our culture, it’s the language of contracts and constitutions:
“Congress shall make no law…”
This or that right “shall not be infringed…”
Yet in the Bible “shall” connotes the language of divine commandments, commandments which override all other contracts and constitutions.
“Thou shalt not steal.”
“Thou shalt not kill.”
“You shall have no other gods but me.”
What’s more, John Wesley once said that in the Light of the Lord “there are no commands of God, which are not also.”
There are no commands of God which are not also the promises of God.
In other words, in the Light of the Lord, every should becomes a shall… a promise.
Not only should we not steal, says the Lord, but “by my might, there is coming a day when you shall not steal, for in my kingdom there is no need for theft.”
Not only should we not kill, says the Lord, but “By my might there is coming a day when you shall not kill, for in my kingdom death will be no more. You will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain.”
Or take this passage from Isaiah 2, “In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established. There you shall beat your swords into plowshares and your spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall you learn war any more… There is coming a day when you shall beat your guns into gardening tools.” This is not only a divine command. It is a divine promise.
This Shall Not Stand. It’s not just a command. It’s a promise. And we, as people of faith, are the bearers of this promise.
We are the ones who bear this promise into the world, offering it to one and all because it is ours. This divine promise has been given to us to enjoy and share even now. We are the ones called to walk in the light of this promise, because on us this Light has been shone.
In the Light of the Lord, every should becomes a shall. There is coming a day when we shall beat our guns into gardening tools.Tweet
A world without gun violence is coming, and is here now. And it’s free! It doesn’t cost a thing! Not one more person needs to die. No person needs to pay for this day that is coming with their life. It’s all been paid for already, and it is ours right now by faith.
“So come,” says Isaiah, “let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
People of faith, hear the word of the Lord. What we have done to the least of these we have done to God. But by Grace, what we have done shall not stand. We, with our sin, our hate, our guns, our war, we shall not have the last word. God will get the last word. God will. God shall.
A day without racism, a day without gun violence, is not only what God commands. It is what God has promised.
It shall be done.
It is here.
It is ours.
It is free.
So, let us not delay, but begin anew today. Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord. May God grant us faith to believe this promise, and the courage to live in its light even now, as it ever shall be, world without end. Amen.