The scriptural theme for this week is comfort, which seems appropriate based on recent events. Following the news of the school shooting in Texas I felt detached which bothers me because it means I am becoming desensitized, even jaded about it. I have not engaged with the social media discussion about it because there’s no point. Posting memes on social media is not going to change anything, calling our representatives is not going to change anything, nothing, not even the death of a million children is going to change the minds of the people who believe that gun ownership is a sacred right and that enacting laws to regulate the flow of guns is an affront to their rights.
The number of mass shootings in this country has tripled in the last decade, and the number of people killed annually by gun violence has almost quadrupled and every time there is a shooting, most of which we never hear about, a third of us take to social media and say we need to change the laws, a third says ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people, the problem is mental health’ and the third just keeps their mouth shut. I used to be in the first category, but I am quickly becoming a member of the silent majority because I have come to believe that there is no argument that is going win the day and I am tired. I am tired of the fight; I am tired of watching innocent people die and I am tired arguing with the same people over and over again.
Of course, the death of 19 children and their teachers is not the only sadness many of us experienced this week. On the very same day we received word that Bill Phelps the beloved husband of Cat Munz, the retied rector of St. John’s, had passed away. I did not know Bill well, but I do remember him as a warm and caring person. When I was at St. John’s for my internship, I was very nervous because I didn’t really knowing anyone and I found Sunday mornings both invigorating and overwhelming. Bill picked up on this and talked to me about it, he noticed that I seemed drained after the 10 o’clock service and he was right. His ability to notice, but also to gently approach me about it, is a sure sign that he was and is with God.
So here we are, four days later wondering how God fits into the equation. Where is God in the murder of innocents? Where is God in the death of a gentle soul? Where is God in our anger and sadness about it all? I can tell you for sure that God is not in the death part of any of it and God is not in the anger or the sadness, but God is there and before we explore where I want us to take a moment to find God here.
When I tell you to, I would like everyone to close their eyes and take a slow deep breath for the count of 4, hold it for the count of 4, and then release it slowly for the count of 4. I will count for us, so you don’t need to worry about that part. Ready? In 2, 3, 4. Hold, 2, 3, 4. Out 2, 3, 4. Did you feel it? Did you feel the moment when your entire body rested and relaxed? We are going to do it one more time and this time pay attention to what your body does. Here we go. In 2, 3, 4. Hold, 2, 3, 4. Out 2, 3, 4. Did you notice it this time? It only lasts a nano-second, if you didn’t, don’t worry, you just need more practice. That moment, the moment when every muscle in our body is relaxed is what is means to draw comfort from and rest in God. In that nano-second the weight and worry of the world is lifted from our body and mind and that my friends is what it means to in tune with God’s will.
With every beat of our heart the Holy Spirit, God the Creator, and Jesus, the three who are in one another and completely one is reminding us that we are loved, that we are never alone, that we have purpose. And that purpose is to be creatures of Love, not passion or puppy love, but love so deep and broad that it motivates us to not give up hope that the world can be better, that we can do better, that we can experience the kingdom now. The comfort that God provides is not about God making everything better, the comfort of God requires that we, from time to time, take Gods advice; that we slow down and examine our lives and the world from God’s perspective. Which means that we need to examine those things through a lens of Love. Paul and Silas did it when they remained in their prison cell, even though they could have easily escaped. By staying they saved the life of the jailer and were able to bring God to him and his family. Bill Phelps brought comfort to many of us with his gentle and calm demeaner. Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia brought comfort to their students as they covered them with their bodies, hoping beyond hope to save their lives. An anonymous donor has released the families of those children from the worry of finding a way to pay for their children’s funerals. I could list many more things, but I suspect that you get the point. God is present in the words and actions of the people through whom God does their work.
We are God’s instruments, we are God’s hands and feet, so it is through us that God brings comfort and change in this world; but to do that we need to take a few moments to occasionally remind ourselves that a life rooted in God is not about us. It is not about how we feel, our feelings are about us. God asks us to not give into the temptation of anger and sadness, and instead look past it and see the potential for goodness and love. An individual life rooted in God will not end gun violence, but if we root our lives in God then that may influence another person to do the same and so on, so eventually most of us will be approaching life through the Godly lens of Love and at that point the world will be a very different place. Additionally, rooting our lives in the love of God brings us comfort in the knowledge that when we or our loved ones die, we know that it is not the end for them because the Love that we shared continues. It has been seven years since my grandfather died and I can still feel his loving presence; it has been four years since Bill Phelps talked to me about the burdens of ordained ministry, and I can still feel the tenderness of that conversation. Knowing that the love we share continues after death does not make the experience of loss any less painful, but it does remind me that regardless of how hard it can be to live a life rooted in the love of God, it is worth it because that love has and continues to shape me, and I find comfort in that.