The Rev. Peter M. Carey
16 December 2012
Advent 3 – 8am – Sermon
St. Paul’s Memorial Church - Charlottesville
We are all in Newtown
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
On this day we all are in Newtown, Connecticut.
We grieve for the loss of these wonderful people, we are angry, scared, frustrated, sad, confused….
Our hearts are with those in Newtown, today, and our prayers go out to them.
My own heart is with all those in Newtown today, and when they sometimes say, “this hit close to home,” I would say that is this case, Newtown is one of the places of home for me. I spent some significant time in Newtown, where both of my parents grew up, and my mom went to Sandy Hook Elementary School. My aunts and uncles were married, where many thanksgiving meals were eaten, where I used to bake with my grandmother and hike with my granddad. Newtown is also where I mourned the death of my grandparents, and where I led the funerals for them both.
Newtown, for me is a place of warm Thanksgivings, of joyous Christmases, of kickball games behind my grandparents house, of games with cousins, of marvelous 4th of July parades, and of God’s love pouring out through the love and life of family. Saturday mornings were full of granola and fresh donuts that Granddad would go and buy in the wee hours of the mornings. For me, Newtown was one of the places where God’s love was made manifest in the lives of family and friends. My grandmother, before she began to decline, was the quintessential “church lady” and I was really thinking about what she would be doing today. I have a feeling that she would know these families, and she would be out serving them.
My own heart and mind are having trouble catching up with the news of the last two days. Images of warmth and love and kindness are in conflict with images of pain and evil and death. My own heart is broken with grief for all those who have died, and for those families whose hearts must also be broken.
I have trouble finding a way to wrap my mind and my heart around these events. And I’m sure I’m not alone. However, the sadness, grief and anger are real, and I have a knot in my stomach about all of this.
In the midst of this event, our hearts are broken, and we mourn for all those who have died. We turn to our loved ones and we hug our families and friends. We also reflect on all that we have, and on all of those who we love. Our hearts are broken, broken open. One thing about a broken heart is that we become vulnerable, and even if we tend that open heart we can be open to one another’s pain and suffering. A broken heart, when it heals, the question will it become hardened, with scar tissue? Will it become hardened (like Pharoah’s), or will it be open, soft, supple, vulnerable?
I began to think about responses to this event, and of course I thought about my own kids. I think about the ways that we are vulnerable to folks who slip into extreme mental illness and get their hands on guns. We know that we cannot stop every evil, but there is much that we can do. Surely we need to have a serious discussion about guns in our society, and about access to mental health treatment. Will this prevent all these tragedies from happening? Probably not. But we do need to get busy. There is much we can do, and that we should do. As Christians, we have a specific call to remind the world that we are called to create a world of love, compassion and reconciliation, even in the midst of tragedy.
On this day, we are all in Newtown, Connecticut, and our hearts are broken, broken open.
We can allow our hearts to be broken open, so we can respond to a world in need.
In this time, we turn to God so that we can be reminded of that wonderful sentiment from William Sloan Coffin who said “Hope is a state of mind independent of the state of the world.” We cannot allow what we see around us to determine our hope, for our hope is in God; is in Christ. We can embody this audacious hope, hope, even in the midst of sorrow and pain. This audacious hope. Hope that things will change, especially when we turn our open hearts to one another and to God, and when we get busy. As Dave Matthews sang in concert here in Charlottesville on Friday, “We gotta do much more than believe, if we’re going to change things.” And obviously we have to begin with our belief, and our hope, but then get busy.
We are not alone, as we approach Christmas, we are reminded of the audacious hope given to us in Jesus. As God became human, as a vulnerable child, God showed his love for us. The love of a daddy; the love of a mommy, for the likes of us. God entered this world. Jesus entered into this world, this world of tragedy and turmoil, this world of sorrow and pain, but also this world of hope and love, despite all the odds.
My own mind and heart are still trying to wrap around the events of Friday in Newtown, Connecticut. But I do feel that we have a call to let our hearts be broken, and let them be open to one another, and find ways to get busy, and keep our hearts supple and vulnerable, even and especially, in this difficult time.
Almighty God, we thank you that in your great love you have fed us with the spiritual food and drink of the body and blood of your Son, Jesus Christ, and you have given us a foretaste of your heavenly banquet Grant that we may receive this as a comfort in affliction and a pledge of our inheritance in that kingdom where there is no death neither nor crying and the fullness of joy with all your saints, through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen