Reflection on Gun Violence
The Rev. Ryan Scott Trinity of UMC in Toledo, Oregon, recently preached this sermon at Church and Society.
It is the nature of ministry that we are often thrust into moments when we don’t know what the hell to do.
Some of us read stories in newspapers and on line or hear them on the evening news while others of us hear the gut-wrenching sound of gunshots as they echo through our neighborhoods.
That happened to me a few years back in Eugene, Oregon when a teenage boy was shot and killed at the local park mere steps away from a playground filled with children playing that evening.
A group of teenage boys were enjoying the playground and the skate park next to it. They were loud, as teenage boys are likely to be. They attracted the attention of a deeply hurting man from across the street. He came out of his house and walked to the park while shouting at the boys.
They ignored the man and this enraged him. He continued his approach while yelling. When he was close enough he pulled out a handgun then shot a 19-year-old boy and himself.
No one should have to hear the alarming sound of gunfire cutting through the noise of children laughing and playing.
As people engaged in ministry, we often hear of stories like this and occasionally experience them first hand.
And the system that perpetuates this type of violent cycle seems so overwhelming at times that we don’t know what to do.
When it comes to gun violence, there’s no shortage of events over which to be outraged. And yet each time we lament, “I don’t know what to do about it.”
What is our Christian response?
Part of it is recognizing what we are responding to. If we’re responding to the use of a gun, we aren’t going to get far.
If we value the imago dei in every individual, then someday that value has to be put into action. What enrages me most about gun violence is its complete disregard for human life and dignity. Guns take away life carelessly. Guns don’t give violent people pause to consider their actions. A split-second rash decision often leads to death – to the destruction of families and communities.
In Luke 22: 49-51, Jesus rebukes his disciples and says “no more of this” when they act out in violence. Jesus’ words live on today written on protest signs and yelled in chants. Enough is enough.
So where do we go from here? Our faith calls us into action, but we don’t know what the hell to do.
But then again, maybe we do. Jesus said enough is enough and we too, can yell that from the streets. We can even do better than yell from the streets, we can put our love for human life into action. We can use that deep passion for the fundamental gift of life beyond platitudes and overtures and sermons.
Loving human life and desiring human life to go on is a choice we have to make. It’s not passive. This love requires us to decide to act.
It is our faith that propels us to declare that murder, theft and adultery are crimes. It will be our faith that drives us to dismantle the systems that perpetuate senseless gun violence.
Our faith is one that leaves us asking, “What should I do?” and then compels us into action, often in a direction in which we really aren’t sure about. This task requires faith and conviction.
Our faith enables us to move forward even when we feel like we don’t know what we’re doing. And conviction like Jesus to proclaim that enough is enough.
Because we have a problem. There’s gunfire on the playground. And our current systems of power ignore the plight of the people while there’s gunfire on the playground.
As people play politics, there’s gunfire on the playground. Gun lobbyists work around the clock while there’s gunfire on the playground.
People are getting rich, yet there’s gunfire on the playground.
Vote after vote is taken in the halls of Congress, and still there’s gunfire on the playground.
We remain complacent and because of that, there’s gunfire on the playground.
My prayer for us is this: May God find us when we lament, “I don’t know what the hell to do,” and stir us into active love and convict us with the power to topple oppressive systems of violence.
Because Jesus is Lord, not the NRA.
Jesus is Lord.
So, I pray we echo Jesus’ words in a voice of mighty love, enough is enough, “no more of this.”
May it be so.