May 29, 2022: Sermon by the Rev. Rilla Barrett

SSEC 5/29/22


7Easter C

Acts 16: 16-34

Psalm 97

Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

John 17: 20-26


“So, dear friends, keep going.  Say your prayers, Work for change, Rest in God, no matter what.”  William Seth Adams, 5/25/2022


Words this week from our dear friend and pastor, Bill, The Rev. William Seth Adams.  Bill always is a vessel for wisdom, and for that I give thanks - regularly .  But, this last week, after yet another mass shooting in a school – and just ten days after a mass shooting in a grocery store , we all need substantial pastoral care.  I was so thankful for Bill’s Lament for Uvalde.

 A school – an elementary school!  A grocery store, places where we and our beloveds spend regular amounts of time.  Places that bring out the familiar sense of life’s day-to-day  ebbs and flows – groceries and books, backpacks and basketballs, lunch bags and grocery carts  – things we take for granted in places in which we feel safe.  But, events like Tuesday’s  (and even the week prior in Buffalo, NY) cut into our sense of safety and make us doubt.  Events like these make us wonder about our own day-to-day safety..  They make us wonder about the regularity of events  like these that could harm us or those whom we love. And we have wondered this before – and here we are again.  And, the larger question  astutely posed by Bill, “How do we keep existing in a world like this?”

 According to NPR, there have been 213 mass shootings in this country just since the beginning of the year.  Shocking.  And, for me, even more profoundly sad is that we seem to have become further divided, as a country, as to what to do about it. Some say that there needs to be more common-sense gun control: things like background checks and no automatic weapons sold to civilians.    Others say that it is not a gun issue.  It is a problem with mental illness and the breakdown of society.  Still others point their finger at the political party that is not their own. It’s hard to believe that we slip so easily into political finger pointing when children died in their classrooms just this week. Now, we all have beliefs about what is right, but in times such as these, we are called, by our faith, to stand together and to engage change- through acts of love.

Paul and his companions were in Philippi, a Roman colony in Macedonia.  This was the place of a Christian colony that Paul had founded and was quite fond of.  There, they met a slave girl who had the gift of divination.   With that, she knew who they were, and followed them around proclaiming their good work. That was great advertising I’d say, but Paul saw something else.  He saw that her owners were making money off her gifts and was not happy about financial profit from faith. (Personally I wish he had expressed that same disdain over the fact that she was a kept as a slave in the first place, but then never mind.  It was a different time.) To end their little business, Paul ordered, in the name of Jesus Christ, the spirit to come out of her, and it did.  She was then no longer able to tell fortunes and her owners were no longer able to make money off her gifts, and that, of course, angered them, so they filed a suit against Paul and Silas.  The two were charged with  promoting activities and customs  that were considered unlawful for them to do, as Romans.  Paul and Silas were stripped of their clothing, flogged, and thrown in jail.  Once in their cells,, they continued to pray and sing hymns of praise,  and the jailer  and the other prisoners could hear them!  Then a miracle, perhaps?  An earthquake so severe that it rattled the doors open and unfastened the prisoners’ chains.  Upon awakening from the great shaking, the jailer took in his surroundings:  the open cell doors and so on, and responded by drawing his sword with the thought of doing himself in.  (Any jailer not able to keep track of his prisoners would have faced the ultimate punishment, anyway, so why not beat them to it?) Then he noticed Paul and Silas -still in their cell.  They had remained, you see,  because they knew that if they left it would be the end of the jailer.  They chose to stay in jail because of the consequences of lost prisoners for the jailer. The earthquake, open cell doors and disconnected chains that they may well have seen as of God, would have resulted in the loss of a dear fellow human being – and so it could not have been from God. It was not love.  The jailer rejoiced and became a Christian – along with his family. 

Paul understood the nature of God through the ministry of Jesus.  Paul understood that we are called to acts of love – of willing good for our fellow humans – even as we may disagree with them during extreme and difficult times.

So, what are we to do, as a people, knowing that a disturbed young man first shot his own grandmother and then proceeded to kill 19 school children, and their two teachers?  Children who had two days left before summer vacation. . .now  they are being prepared for burial.  When God calls us to acts of love in all of this, how can we proceed? We mourn the loss of life of those beloved children and their teachers and pray for the peace of God for their parents and friends.  We pray for the children who survived, who witnessed such carnage in their classroom and among their friends.  And we pray for our own peace so that we may greet each other with that same peace.  We pray, but so to must we act – putting feet to our prayers as we do.  From the book of James, “Faith without works is dead.”

One of the many images I’ve seen in this week of such sad news is of a group of adults in Uvalde standing in a circle there under the blazing-hot Texan sun, holding hands.  Tear-streaked faces, emotional pain so very evident, but they stood together, as a body, holding the hand of the person next to them, holding that person up, united in an act of love for each other – despite their own pain.  Standing as one. 

How do we exist in a world where such tragedies can happen with such seeming regularity?  We engage in acts of love, we support our neighbors, and we work for change – in whatever way that makes sense to each of us.  Some will write cards to those they know are suffering, some will write strongly worded letters to their law makers.   Some will drop by and visit those for whom events like this are especially hard.  Some will pray for our community’s teachers, especially at the end of the school year, a challenging time anyway.  Some might drop off snacks for the teaching staff in their neighborhood school.  But, they will keep going.  Say their prayers, Work for change, Rest in God, no matter what.”    I bid God’s peace for each of you.