Worship in Church & Mass Shootings Outside

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August 11, 2019

We’ve had quite a week in our country. The aftermath of two mass shootings took place just last weekend. CBS news presented this definition of a mass shooting: a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms. In 2019 in America so far, we have had 219 mass shootings according to this definition. As of last Monday, this averages out to one a day – an average of one time each day this year four or more people have been murdered with a gun in one-time incidents.

Notice I used the word “we” when I described this – “we” have had this. It can feel a bit frayed in this time, but our nation is a “we.” There is a corporate identity. We mostly see this in tragedy, but also, in celebration. Last week there were tragedies - we saw two mass shootings within 13 hours. Two young men. Two cities. One: Hate. Hatred of Hispanics. Another: speculation of bitterness toward women. Does that mean the worst thing to be today is a Hispanic woman?

Ethnicity. Gender. People grocery shopping, people relaxing and having fun with friends. Places that are supposed to be safe: a Walmart and an entertainment district in the mid-west.

This “we” identity is what we have been hearing about in our Sunday readings – it’s more attention-getting through the Old Testament lately. We have been hearing of hard times in Israel. In today’s reading, we’re at a time where Israel is split into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and Judah. This was a time of decay in character, behavior, and religious commitment. It was a time of hardship and fear where self-preservation informed decisions. Isaiah’s audience we hear in verse one is Judah and Jerusalem – both kingdoms, but it’s not too far to stretch to see some comparisons of culture in our own nation today.

In the time of Isaiah, through the words of the prophet, God is giving some bad news. We hear of the emotional life of God in this passage and God sounds angry and hurt. God says: “I have had enough of your burnt-offerings,” “bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me.” “Your appointed festivals my soul hates, they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them.”

God is reacting to the worship of Israel. Where they come with their best to offer to God. Worship God. Relate to God. And God does not like it, does not want it, and is tired of it. The corporate identity of Israel was tethered to worship. God seems to be attacking their identity.

What would that sound like today for us? Maybe something like God saying: “Your prayers are futile. I have had enough of your hymns and music. The sermons make me weary.” And I guess we’d just keep your “incense is an abomination to me.”

Hard stuff to hear as a community. But, let me tell you, as a priest, hard stuff as part of the leadership of such gatherings.

God is sad and mad…God has an emotional life.

As we talk about these intense emotions of God. My desire is not for us to become afraid, but for us to take in that we are truly made in God’s image. We feel deeply and intensely and God, our maker, does too. Sometimes we can make God a bit sterile - in God’s otherness to us, God may become bland, distant.

But God is not bland, and God is not distant. It’s important to point out God’s righteousness as we consider God’s emotional life. Righteousness has to do with being in a right relationship. A right relationship is at one – together, opposed to separated – in pieces. God is righteous within God’s self. This includes God’s emotional life. God is all things at all times without contradiction or separation. It’s hard for us to take this in, though we are made in God’s image, we are often in contradiction or separation with ourselves and with others. But God in God’s perfection cannot contradict God’s self. What this means is that God holds at one anger and love. Grace and consequence. These emotions and actions of God are never out of sync or disconnected. God is righteous all the time.

We take that in as we consider our Old Testament reading together with our gospel reading. In the Luke passage God is gentle, loving, and generous: “Do not be afraid, little flock,” Jesus says, “for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

We are a people individually, but corporately also, in relationship with God. Who we are individually matters and who we are corporately matters. That’s part of what’s sticking out in our Old Testament reading – and has been for a while as we just finished Hosea.

Corporate identity matters. Not just who am I, not just who you are, but who we are. And I would like to think this we are America – this country founded on Christian beliefs, doctrines, and traditions.

And that is what’s come to head in our Old Testament reading. The corporate identity of those following God had stirred God’s emotions to a place that seems like complete rejection is about to happen…but then there’s hope. Instruction. What do we do?

What is it God is looking for in their gathering for worship – which is taking place as God had instructed – but is offensive to God?

The language of the gospel may be more approachable to us, easier to understand, as we consider this. Jesus says, and he’s not talking to a single person, but persons – a “we”: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Heart. Kardia in the Greek. A familiar word. But here, it’s not merely our physical heart beating within us. Here, and many places in the New Testament, it refers to the seat of the life. The fountain of thoughts, passions, actions. It involves the will and our character. The heart can be seen here as the control center of the life in motion.

This makes sense with what Jesus is saying: Where your treasure is, your heart will be also. Life moves according to its treasures: those things that are valued, good, laid up, kept.

What we see in our Isaiah reading is that there is a disconnect in the corporate life of the people. They are coming to God like God’s their treasure, but in reality, God is not their treasure. Their lives are not congruent, or as we’ve defined it: righteous. They do not match. Who they are when they come to worship is not who they are in their moment to moment of their lives each day.

God wants our hearts – the wellspring of our very lives. Wants to be treated like God’s valuable - all the time.

So, coming back to these shootings. We. Americans. Are not congruent. It doesn’t mean that you’re not congruent. Or I’m not congruent. But we are not congruent. Our corporate identity calls for congruence. Treasure and heart together all the time: in church, outside of church.

There’s worship in God’s house and mass murder because of hatred and bitterness, right now, toward those who are Hispanic and those who are women.

Our corporate identity needs to respond, but how? Our Isaiah passage tells us – it starts off sounding a bit abstract but progresses to specifics:

16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
   remove the evil of your doings
   from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
17   learn to do good;
seek justice,
   rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
   plead for the widow.

And notice: these are not actions and attitudes of fear or self-preservation, but of inclusion, contribution, and help.

Let us be conscious of being a “we.” 

May we as Americans know congruence as a people.

And we have an expression of that happening today. Today we esteem children and families among us. We bless beginnings of school years as we pray for our Early Childhood Education Program and bless backpacks today.

Our commitment to children through this preschool and our formation programs for children on Sunday mornings helps us grow into a “we” that is beyond our doors. Thank God for the privilege of this participation.