LOVE ONE ANOTHER – August 11, 2019 – Pastor Donna Doutt

I don’t go in too much for statement t-shirts, but I bought this shirt last week.  It says, “Break the Rules. Love everyone!” Anybody here wonder why I would want to make that statement clear?

Well, you know I’m going tell you! Here’s why. Because as a United Methodist clergy person, and you as United Methodists, we should all be followers of the United Methodist Book of Discipline and the United Methodist Book of Resolutions, and our United Methodist Social Principles.

In fact, a direct quote from our Social Principles states, [1]“We commit ourselves to the rights of men, women, children, youth, young adults, the aging, and people with disabilities; to improvement of the quality of life; and to the rights and dignity of all persons.”

Our United Methodist Book of Discipline has a concluding paragraph of [2]“Our Social Creed” that states: “It is recommended that this statement of Social Principles be continually available to United Methodist Christians and that it be emphasized regularly in every congregation. It is further recommended that “Our Social Creed” be frequently used in Sunday worship.”

But here’s the thing, I don’t think many of you even know that we have policies and statements regarding everything from genetic modification of food to immigration and gun violence. So, in light of the events of the last few weeks, I think it’s important that I share these things with you, as called for by our Book of Discipline.

So let’s talk about guns and gun violence. Our scripture today from [3]“Micha’s prophetic dream points to a time when all peoples will journey to God’s presence so God “may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths” (4:2). Micah describes God as the final judge and the nations will travel to God’s presence out of their desire to live in peace without violence and bloodshed.

The stunning imagery of Micah’s dream is the transformation of weapons into instruments of harvesting food that occurs after the judgments are handed down to the nations. The transformation is not complete until the nations participate in their own transformation. The work that went into creating the weapons will be matched by the human effort it will take to transform those weapons into peaceful instruments. God does not collect or hide the weapons from the nations, nor does God transform the weapons outside of human effort. The text states that the nations themselves “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”

Violence, in so many ways, is fueled by fear and self-protection. Iron plows and pruning tools can be used as weapons. Yet, in Micah’s vision, genuine peace and security are given to all people by God after the weapons of violence are transformed: “they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.” Culture as well as weapons will be transformed: Indeed, “neither shall they learn war any more.”

Whether it happens in the El Paso, Dayton, Pittsburgh, or Sandy Hook, gun violence has become an all-too-often frightening phenomenon. We question our safety and whether to go to community events, malls, or even school or church. We need the reality of Micah’s vision more than ever.

Small arms include assault rifles, submachine guns, light machine guns, grenade launchers, portable anti-aircraft guns and anti-tank guns, among other weapons.

  • Armed violence contributes to crime, human trafficking, drug trafficking, gender-based violence, racial and ethnic conflicts, systemic economic inequalities, persistent unemployment, and human rights abuses among other social maladies.

  • In many countries small arms are the greatest hindrance to food security.

  • Gun violence also greatly affects families and individuals. One of the most prominent forms of gun violence is suicide.

  • When domestic violence incidents involve the use of firearms the results are often deadly.  A US-based study of mass shootings between January 2009 and January 2013 revealed that 57 percent of the incidents involved the killing of a family member, or a current or former intimate partner of the shooter.
     

As followers of Jesus, called to live into the reality of God’s dream of shalom as described by Micah, we must address the epidemic of gun violence so “that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in God’s paths.” Therefore, we call upon United Methodists to prayerfully address gun violence in their local context. You will find in your bulletin today a list of ways you can help curtail gun violence.

One of the most disturbing facts that came out of the manifesto of the El Paso shooter is that it was his mission “to kill all Mexicans.” This mindset is being fueled by the hatred that is sweeping across this country these days.

As United Methodists, we need to be aware that [4]“Regardless of legal status or nationality, we are all connected through Christ to one another. Paul reminds us that when “one part suffers, all the parts suffer” as well (1 Corinthians 12:26). The solidarity we share through Christ eliminates the boundaries and barriers which exclude and isolate. Therefore, the sojourners we are called to love are our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, our sons and daughters; indeed, they are us.

Throughout Scripture the people of God are called to love sojourners in our midst, treating them “as if they were one of your citizens” and loving them as we do ourselves (Leviticus 19:33-34 NRSV). Love for the sojourner is birthed out of the shared experience the Israelites had as a people in sojourn searching for the Promised Land. The attitudes and actions required of God’s people were to emanate from the reflection of their liberation from slavery by God’s hand. As the people of God were liberated from oppression, they too were charged to be instruments of redemption in the lives of the most vulnerable in their midst-the sojourner (Exodus 22:21; 23:9; Leviticus 19:34; Deuteronomy 10:19; 16:12; 24:18, 22—all NRSV).

In the New Testament, Jesus’ life begins as a refugee to Africa when he and his family flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s infanticide (Matthew 2:13-18). Jesus fully identifies with the sojourner to the point that to welcome the sojourner is to welcome Jesus himself (Matthew 25:35). Jesus teaches us to show special concern for the poor and oppressed who come to our land seeking survival and peace.

In Scripture, Jesus continually manifests compassion for the vulnerable and the poor. Jesus incarnated hospitality as he welcomed people and ministered to their greatest need. Jesus’ presence on earth initiated the Kingdom reality of a new social order based on love, grace, justice, inclusion, mercy, and egalitarianism, which was meant to replace the old order, characterized by nepotism, racism, classism, sexism, and exclusion. The broken immigration system in the United States and the xenophobic responses to migrants reflect the former social order. The calling of the people of God is to advocate for the creation of a new immigration system that reflects Jesus’ beloved community.

The fear and anguish so many migrants in the United States live under are due to federal raids, indefinite detention, and deportations which tear apart families and create an atmosphere of panic. Millions of immigrants are denied legal entry to the US due to quotas and race and class barriers, even as employers seek their labor. US policies, as well as economic and political conditions in their home countries, often force migrants to leave their homes. With the legal avenues closed, immigrants who come in order to support their families must live in the shadows and in intense exploitation and fear. In the face of these unjust laws and the systematic deportation of migrants instituted by the Department of Homeland Security, God’s people must stand in solidarity with the migrants in our midst.”

You can read our United Methodist Call to Action regarding immigration also in the bulletin insert.

But I want to conclude with a message from our District Superintendent, Rev. Eric Park last Sunday. He has a way with words that never need to be edited. His eloquence is always on the mark, so please hear his words, and I ask you to take them to heart. He writes:[5]“I can’t keep up with the carnage.

Last weekend, four were pronounced dead (including the gunman) after a mass shooting at a festival in Gilroy, California.

Today, at least twenty dead (and several others injured) after a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. Early reports, based upon the shooter’s commentary on social media, tell us that the attack was likely racially motivated.

My words sound like a broken record, even to my own ears. But I offer them anyway, if only to remind myself not to allow despair to dominate my spirit.

Like you, I am wearily mystified and cripplingly horrified by the violence. I don’t know what to say anymore. I don’t know how to feel, how to act. Sometimes I don’t even know how to pray. I simply get quiet in God’s presence with a numb kind of silence, trusting in the Holy Spirit to intercede on my behalf—trusting him to take the deepest groans of my soul and bring them to the heart of God as understandable petitions.

We are confronted by violence that will not be eradicated by political policies and strategies. And yet, I desperately want our politics and legislation to be bold and proactive, persistent and visionary, perceptive and prophetic, attentive and responsive. I long for political leaders who will settle for nothing less than the kind of action that will give peace with justice the best chance of finding dynamic expression.

We are confronted by violence that will not be ameliorated by fiercely-held viewpoints and vitriolic Facebook posts. And yet, I desperately want heartfelt dialogue between truth-seeking souls—souls who are not so bitterly entrenched in their position that they cannot appreciate the limits of their own vision and understanding.

We are confronted by violence that, in the case of today’s shooting, is racially motivated in a world where many refuse to acknowledge that racism is a very real issue. And yet, I desperately long for all people (from the President to the parishioners in the pews) to commit themselves wholeheartedly to the urgent work of opposing and decrying all expressions of bigotry and racial hatred instead of denying or emboldening them.

We are confronted by a violence that prayer may not extinguish. And yet, I desperately and frantically pray. I cry out to God with wordless screams, begging for a grace that saves, a love that heals, and a Spirit who whispers beautiful life into places of incomprehensible death.

I recently wrote down the following words as a challenge to myself. Perhaps the words will challenge your spirit as well:

“Do not lose heart. Do not allow cynicism, hatred, resentment, bigotry, or an unadulterated sense of your own rightness to harden your heart to the kind of life we have been created to live. Work for peace, even when it seems unattainable. Pursue justice, even when the answers are not clear. Live dynamically into a risky and sacrificial love, thereby reminding the world that violence and hatred are not humankind’s defining narrative.”

Tonight, I join many of you in praying for devastated families and traumatized survivors and first responders. I also join you in leaning more deeply into the abiding presence of a weeping and grieving God—a God who breaks and bleeds with us; a God who cares about our suffering far more than we do; a God who sustains us with the blessed assurance that hatred, bigotry, violence, and death are never given the final word to speak.”

POWERFUL WORDS AREN’T THEY?


To you, my beloved congregation, I tell you I am proud to be a United Methodist. We are not without our flaws, that’s for certain. The events of this last year have shown. But let us not be subsumed by the rhetoric and the violence of this nation. Let’s keep ourselves scripturally focused, as our Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions asks us to be.

Let us welcome the stranger. Let us beat our swords into plowshares. Finally, let’s go from here today and remember John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Amen.

 

[1] The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church.  Nashville:The United Methodist Publishing House. 2016. Print.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Book of Resolutions: Our Call to End Gun Violence. ADOPTED 2016/See Social Principles, ¶ 162/ From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church - 2016. Copyright © 2016 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.

[4] Book of Resolutions: Welcoming the Migrant to the U.S.A  ADOPTED 2008/AMENDED AND READOPTED 2016/RESOLUTION #3281, 2008, 2012 BOOK OF RESOLUTIONS/See Social Principles, ¶¶ 162H and 163F. From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church — 2016. Copyright © 2016 by The United Methodist Publishing House.

[5] Used by permission. https://www.facebook.com/eric.park.33/posts/10218005196268824

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