On Ash Wednesday each year, we are invited into a season of self-examination and repentance. This is meant to be a season of turning, from the meaning of the word repent. Turning away from sin and turning back towards the path which God wills us to walk. Turning away from death, and towards the life God invites us into.
We mark this season with a stark, visible reminder: an ash cross rubbed onto our foreheads, often with the words: “From dust you come, to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19b).
I cannot hear this reminder of our mortality apart from the creation story from which they come. The story which reminds us that God lovingly and carefully shaped us, molded us, and breathed into us the Spirit of Life.
I hear the words of the African American poet James Weldon Johnson, in his poem “The Creation” (1927), a favorite of my grandfather’s. The conclusion of Weldon’s poem speaks to the creation of humanity:
“Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;
Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
And God said, That’s Good!
With these words of life and death on my heart this past Ash Wednesday I received the news we all received that day. 17 people were killed. Fifteen were students, one a coach, another an athletic director. Parkland Florida has joined a list none of us want to exist. Our nation is mourning a school shooting.
And here is the hardest word for me: Again. Our nation, the people of Parkland are mourning because there has been a school shooting - again.
As Christians, we are all created by the God who calls us to stop the violence that kills and maims God’s precious children.
The prophet Isaiah speaks of a vision of God’s Kingdom, where all peoples of all nations are coming to God’s house. In this vision of the future, Isaiah tells us that the people will transform their weapons of death into tools for sustaining life. “They shall beat their swords into plows, and their spears into pruning hooks.” (Isaiah 2:4).
We know that God’s vision is for life abundant. It is not for 30,000 people a year to die in the United States from gun violence. It is not for children to wonder if their school will be next.
United Methodists, as a global church, affirm “Our Call to End Gun Violence” (2016 Book of Resolutions, #3428). The Church calls upon us as United Methodists:
To make the prevention of gun violence a regular part of our life as a Christian community;
To support those who have been victims of such violence;
To support those who own guns to safely and securely store their guns and teach about the importance of practicing gun safety;
To lead or join with other people of faith in efforts to reduce gun violence;
To advocate for laws that will reduce gun violence.
I urge you, in the name of God and for the sake of our children, to call or write our state and national leaders about the urgency of ending this epidemic of violence in our nation. Contact our civic leaders even if you have no solutions to offer - urge them to open new avenues of exploring solutions.
And I urge you to carve out time to listen to one another. I have great faith in the people of God, and the people of St. John specifically, to use our diversity of experience and perspectives to think not in terms of partisan affiliation but in terms of Christian compassion.
Our Sunday morning Women’s Discipleship group is doing just this, and inviting all people from St. John to join them this Lent. You can find them on Sundays at 10:30 in the conference room (#112).
I have great faith in the people of God to advocate for the God’s vision for the future, where all of God’s children can experience the fullness of life.
May it be so.