Rev. Sandy Johnson
October 4, 2015
No video available for this sermon
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen
I had every intention this morning of preaching directly from the scripture and having a lengthy teaching about divorce. I had intended to share that divorce is complicated and contrary to Jesus teachings. While it is widely accepted, it grieves God to see his covenantal relationships crumble. When I think of family drama that is what comes to mind. The intense drama that is played out when families are torn apart by divorce. In many cases divorce is justified and necessary, but it is still against Jesus’ teachings. Being divorced is a call for us to repent and be cleansed of our sin. I stand before you as a divorced woman and pastor who has been forgiven of the sin of divorce.
I was going to preach that.
However this week another drama played out in front of our very eyes in a small town in Oregon. The families of the nine victims and a perpetrator are embroiled in the most horrific family drama imaginable. Families were torn apart, never to be the same. God is grieving with us, as people try to make sense of this tragedy.
When I first hear the news of the shootings at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, I was sad and said a prayer for everyone involved. Then Friday my day was busy and I hardly thought of the incident. It was a blip on my radar screen and then it was gone from my consciousness. But then Friday evening, Bishop Bob sent a letter to all of the clergy calling us to action. He asked that we consider seriously what our response will be.
We have to avoid the temptation to pass by the horrific shooting in Roseburg with barely a glance. Sort of like how we slow down for an accident and then 5 miles up the road it’s already forgotten. It is easy to follow the news and when a new story breaks, the old story becomes passé and is put in the background of our minds.
People are dying in horrific gun battles and we have come to believe there is nothing we can do. We have become desensitized to violence and we have to give up our own helplessness in thinking that violence is unavoidable. We have to stop being thankful that it isn’t our town.
Because it is our town! It’s as if it has happened here in Boulder City and we must not be complacent. I am not here to argue gun control but I do believe there are things we can do to keep this type of violence from happening. I may wish that guns would be outlawed in the U.S. and in doing so would save 30,000 lives each year.
I may believe that if we didn’t have guns these senseless acts would cease to happen because in countries where guns are outlawed the deaths by gun violence are miniscule compared to the U.S. Japan has less than 50 deaths a year, Germany, Italy and France, less than 150 deaths; Canada less than 200. Compared to 30,000 in the U.S. each year. Outlawing firearms would certainly reduce the number of deaths but I also understand and respect those who desire to own guns and who hold onto those rights. I understand that most gun owners are law abiding citizens.
But there must be more that can be done. There must be a balance of allowing our citizens the right to own and use guns but somehow prevent them from using them on each other. I don’t know the answer and am in prayer and discernment for guidance to what our response as Christians will be to yet another tragedy.
This morning I want us to pay attention to this tragedy and I want us to be uncomfortable. I want us to be sad and even shed a tear for the parents whose children are now dead. I want us to remember the four people who were treated at Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg and the three women who were airlifted to PeaceHealth Medical Center in Springfield.
I want us to know that one woman who was shot in the head will have lasting neurological damage. Lives are shattered in an instant and we must not sit here and do nothing. Because when we do nothing, it’s as if we condone it because we feel we are unable to prevent future violence.
I want to take a few minutes to remember those whose lives were cut short. I want to move them from being just a name on the page, I want us to remember the person behind the name.
- Lucero Alcaraz, 19, of Roseburg. Her sister posted on Facebook that she won scholarships to cover the cost of Umpqua Community College. She hoped to study medicine and work in pediatrics.
- Quinn Glen Cooper, 18, of Roseburg. His family said he loved dancing and voice acting.
- Kim Saltmarsh Dietz, 59. She was an outdoors lover who was taking classes at the same time as her daughter.
- Lucas Eibel, 18, of Roseburg. He was studying chemistry and loved volunteering with animals.
- Jason Johnson, 33, of Winston. His mother told NBC News that he had successfully battled drug abuse and was in his first week of college. In a statement distributed by the sheriff’s office, Cooper’s family said their lives “are shattered beyond repair … no one should have to feel the pain we are feeling.”
- Lawrence Levine, 67, of Glide. Lawrence was an assistant professor of English at the college and an avid fly fisherman. He was the instructor for the class where the attacks began.
- Sarena Dawn Moore, 44, of Myrtle Creek was originally from Reno. She has two sons and is a member of the Seventh Day Adventist church in Grants Pass.
- Treven Taylor Anspach, 20, of Sutherlin. His family said that he was “one of the most positive young men, always looking for the best in life.” They said he was “larger than life, and brought out the best in those around him.” His parents described him as the perfect son.
- Rebecka Ann Carnes, 18, of Myrtle Creek. Rebecka had just started classes at Umpqua Community College. She loved softball, country music, sausage pancakes and the movie “Happy Feet.”
- Chris Harper Mercer, 26, native of California. He appeared to have been driven by religious rage and a fascination in the twisted notoriety of high –profile killers. He committed suicide after killing nine and wounding ten others.
These men and women were children of God. They had futures ahead of them. They didn’t deserve to die. “Roseburg now joins Charleston, S.C., Newtown, Conn., Blacksburg, Va., Aurora, Colo., and many more on the roster of places where troubled men with firearms — almost uniformly men — have uncorked their rage through mass killings.”
Church, what is our response? As Christians are we to stand by and weep and mourn but nothing more? Bishop Bob has asked that we do more than that. Jesus Christ asks us to do more than that. We must stand in for those who can’t speak for themselves and we must do everything in our power to make our world better.
First we must pray. We must pray for the community of Roseburg and the congregations and leaders of the First United Methodist church of Roseburg and the whole Oregon-Idaho Conference. We must pray for those who are injured and those who have lost loved ones to this violence. We must ask God to bring comfort to those who have lost loved ones in this tragedy. We must ask God’s forgiveness for the shooter and his family who also mourn this day. We must advocate for sensible laws that are designed to keep weapons out of the hands of those who would use them for evil. We must speak up for the need to strengthen the care we provide for those with mental health issues that make them prone to violence and harm against others and themselves. Finally, Bishop Bob asks us to dare to pray for a miracle: that we will see a time when violent massacres will cease.
It is time for us to be in conversation together, to study the bible and to seek God’s wisdom, that he would reveal to us the solutions to this violence. I have received a three session bible study to be used to facilitate this conversation. I invite everyone to sign up once it is scheduled.
We must be willing to discuss the problem and to come up with solutions that we can implement today. We must consider what things we can do here in Boulder City to avoid a mass shooting here as well as in other communities. That is what it means to be the church.
Family drama surrounds us and many of us are caught up in it. What I want all of us to take away from this worship service today is that our God is bigger than any drama you have going on. Our God is able to lift us up and dust us off after we fall and point us in the right direction.
It is time for us to get angry, to lift our voices together and work toward a just resolution. We have learned over the years what we can accomplish when we work together for the greater good. It is time to add gun violence to this list of social evils and do everything in our power to make the necessary changes.
It won’t be easy. In fact it might be downright difficult, but when has that stopped us? We are here to bring light to those who suffer, to lend a hand to those who are in need. Let us not be those people who turn their back and walk away because the sight is too gruesome. Let us be the ones who push up their sleeves and get to work, working with God to bring healing and hope to a broken world.
Let us pray: God of healing and grace, we come before you this morning fed up with the violence against your children. We come before you asking for your direction, your encouragement and the will to do what you call us to do. The violence must end, give us the tools we need to make it so. Amen.