In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
We all heard those words as children. I remember hearing them after being teased by a classmate when I was younger. They were helpful at the time because they gave me a sense of power where I had otherwise felt only powerless.
But though we all heard those words as children, we also all came to a point in our lives, at one time or another, where we realized that those words of comfort to children weren’t exactly true, either. At least not completely. Words do have power - as proven by the comfort that that little proverb gave us when we were feeling vulnerable. Words have the power to hurt or they have the power to restore and to heal and to create. It’s one of the central tenets of our faith. One of the basic stories of our tradition - a story of how the world came into being - is that God spoke all creation into being out of the chaos. But the power of the word didn’t end there. Throughout the stories of our faith, the word is seen to be living and full of power. Just two weeks ago, in this very place, we heard that “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” A Word of God that would restore all the world into right relationship with God.
So words do have power - in our faith, and in our daily lives.
Lately, in our culture, the power of the spoken word has been often abused. Words of anger and frustration have been spoken in the political spheres that have planted seeds of violence; and unfortunately, some of that violence came into full bloom yesterday in Arizona.
Representative Gabrielle Giffords, a US Congresswoman from the Eighth Congressional District in Arizona, was meeting with constituents outside a grocery store in her district yesterday when a 22 year old gunman - and possibly another accomplice - attacked. Giffords was critically wounded. Six others were killed. A dozen more were also injured. The dead included a Federal District Court judge, a 30 year old Congressional staff member, a Church of Christ pastor, and a 9 year old girl - born eerily on September 11, 2001 - a life more explicitly defined around incidents of violence than any should be.
With vilence in the world like we saw yesterday in Arizona, it’s never been more appropriate to remember the promises of our baptism. For us as individuals, to be sure - in our statement of faith and in the vows that we make. But it’s not simply an individual commitment. In every baptism, commitments are made and reaffirmed by this community as a whole. Part of the commitment of baptism is that we, as a community, vow to do all in our power to support the baptized in their lives in Christ.
It’s a tall order. We’re affirming our commitment to be responsible for one another and to be accountable to one another.
Violence didn’t just happen yesterday in Arizona. That what made the news around the world, and it was tragic, to be sure, but we be fooling ourselves if we let ourselves come to believe that the only violence worth our attention is that violence that breaks into the focus of the mainstream media.
Violence happens every day, all around us. Sometimes we notice and sometimes we don’t. How many people are killed or attacked every day in our region only for us never to notice?
But there are also smaller instances of violence that happen around us all the time. We see people growing frustrated with one another, we lose our patience, we tolerate the inhumane treatment of our neighbors - either in explicit incidents or through our complicity with unfair policies and systems. Even if these so-called “smaller things” don’t always rise to the level of incidents of violence, they are most certainly contributing factors. They are part of a system that’s propelling our society to and past a breaking point.
It can feel insurmountable. Who are we? Who are we to stand up against a broken culture?
We are the ones St. Peter said were “chosen by God as witnesses… [Christ] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.”
Furthermore, we are the ones who made solemn vows to God and to each other to do just that: “To persevere in resisting evil” and in our occasions of sin (because they WILL come) “to repent and return to the Lord.” “To proclaim by [our] word and example the Good News of God in Christ.”
These are our vows. That, and to support each other and to hold each other accountable to these vows - as individuals and as a community.
The problems of violence and brokenness and the epidemic of inhumanity may seem insurmountable, but they’re not. They are big, but they’re not too big. They’re too big for any one of us, but less so for us as a community. Together we are greater than the sum of our parts. Together, we are the Body of Christ - broken, and yet more whole.
Our prayers are with Congresswoman Giffords and all who were injured and killed yesterday in the Arizona tragedy. We pray for those who mourn and for those who now live with new fear.
And I pray that all of us - both in this room and everywhere around the world - will take this all-too-blatant reminder of our duty to support one another and to hold one another accountable. Not just when it’s too late to it was yesterday, but all the time - before “too late” ever has a chance to bloom amidst the seeds of violence that we all-too-often scatter.
It’s the duty of all people to trample the seeds of violence that we see, whenever and wherever we see them. We cannot continue to look the other way.
But for us as Christians, it’s not only our duty as members of this society, but it’s our calling as we’ve accepted it in our baptism. We promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving [our] neighbors as [ourselves].”
We can’t just look away anymore. Amen.
On our next phone call remind me to talk about how the Holy Spirit showed up at the early service that day...