Sermons

pastorEric aug2014Sermon for 23rd Pentecost

Do Not Lock Your Doors, Do Not Sit In The Dark
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -

Do not look your doors. Do not sit in the dark.

 

Another mass shooting. This one, again by a white male domestic terrorist, this one in a church, during worship, with seemingly random victims from young children to elderly adults. And it turns out the shooter, even under our current, lax gun laws, this shooter should not have been allowed to purchase a gun because of past criminal and mental health issues which somehow did not get into the federal database which keeps guns out of the hands of some people who should not have them.

 

After the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 I shared with you my disgust with praying and preaching after mass shootings in this country. “I am done,” I said then. “This senseless violence must end,” I concluded.

 

But, as you all know, it has not. Mass shootings continue. Just let this statistic sink in a minute – thus far in 2017 there have been 307 mass shootings in the United States – 307 shootings of four or more people, according to the Gun Violence Archive. And we are so used to these, numb to news of mass shootings, you and I could probably only name a couple of these.

 

And here’s another very sobering statistic – on this Veterans Day Sunday, 22 veterans will commit suicide, mostly with guns. And this happens each and every day.

 

This latest mass shooting in Southerland Springs, Texas, left 26 dead and many injured. It was the worst mass shooting in modern Texas history.

 

Do you know what sort of emails I received this week? Emails from insurance agents, wanting to sell me mass shooting insurance! The fact that these were couched in language of prayer for the Southerland Springs victims made my stomach turn.

 

On Facebook, in the Facebook group for ELCA clergy which has 7,000 members, pastors discussed locking the church doors during worship! Of course, those who asked about this soon realized that would lock everyone in if there was a shooting or a fire, but the discussion seemed to fit the feeling of the week – lock all the doors. Be afraid.

 

And fear is real. Even for me. In the last two years I have been fearful during worship for the first time in my life – the threats from a large anti-gay male visitor were real. I have also have had to file a legal restraining order against another person, this one a woman who spewed anti-Jewish hate and who threatened to burn down our church. So, I do have a sense for what fear, even fear during worship, looks and feels like.

 

Some years ago, I did some sabbatical teaching in Madagascar, a very poor country where the Lutheran Church is growing so quickly they do not even know how many members they have, and they have had to found four or five new seminaries just to provide needed clergy.

 

And, one of the reasons for the growth of Christianity in Madagascar is fear, or, more accurately, lack of fear. Traditionally, Madagascar is full of taboos and fears. Many homes do not have windows on the first floor, out of fear that evil spirits will come during the night and steal their souls through first floor windows.

 

The Christians in Madagascar have windows in their homes, even on the first floor. And, despite their abject poverty, they do not live in fear.

 

The bridegroom in our Gospel lesson parable by Jesus lived in fear. He locked his doors. He kept out half of this bridal party who arrived late for his wedding banquet. He cut himself off from them. Even said, “My doors are already locked” and “I do not know you.” The bridegroom left half of his wedding guests to sit in the dark.

 

This is not the way of Jesus.

 

This is not the way of Christians.

 

Despite any and all evidence to the contrary, we do not live in fear. We do not sit in the dark. We do not lock our doors. We do open our windows. We cannot live in fear.

 

Again and again in the Gospels, Jesus tells us not to be afraid. Not to live in fear.

 

Do not be afraid. Do not live in fear.

 

That is the call of God in Jesus Christ. Our call. Not an easy call sometimes, but ours nonetheless. This Jesus who died brutally on the cross for us, this Jesus is continually assuring us of his love for us, his presence with us. Even in the worst of times.

 

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil for you are with me.”

 

This week we are called, once again, to believe those words from the 23rd Psalm. We fear no evil, for God is with us.

 

However, as I pointed out after the Pulse nightclub shooting, we Christians also must not remain silent in the face of the rising tide of gun violence. It long past time for responsible gun laws in this country. Most Americans favor these in poll after poll.

 

As I also noted then, we, as Christians, we do not have the right to remain silent. At our baptism, we or our parents promised “to work for justice and peace” and to “care for others.” We cannot keep voicing kind sentiments and kicking action down the road. We need to call on our elected officials to help end senseless gun violence by passing common-sense gun laws.

 

This senseless violence must end.

 

One of my new favorite hymns is “You Are Mine.” Its chorus resonates with me every day, but especially when I am most fearful:

Do not be afraid, I am with you. I have called you each by name. Come and follow me, I will bring you home; I love you and you are mine.

Do not lock your doors. Do not sit in the dark. Do not be afraid, God is with you. Today and every day. Even in your darkest times, God is with you.

 

Amen.

(With thanks to the Rev. Dr. David Lose for many of these thoughts).

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Nov. 11&12, 2017


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