88 people will be shot and killed and 7 of them are likely to be children and 151 more will be treated for a gunshot wound in an emergency room. More than 30 have been murdered and 50+ are suicides.
On any given day …
The US firearm homicide rate is 20 times higher than the combined rates of 22 developed nations that are our peers in wealth and population.
There could be a school shooting. Somewhere. There have been over 100 since Sandy Hook 21/2 years ago.
On any given day …
There is the possibility of a shooting in a house of worship
In 2014, there were 176 deaths at a religious institution. Over 60% of the deaths by a gun.
We remember the mass killing at at a Sikh temple outside Milwaukee in 2012 in which 6 people lost their lives and 4 others were wounded.
That was the last mass killing until Weds, June 17 in Charleston when 9 people were gunned down at a Wednesday night bible study by a man who had been at the table with them for an hour before he started shooting.
On any given day ...
Communities of color bear the brunt of this gun violence.
Black men are 10 times as likely to be murdered with a gun as white men; black women are 3 times as likely to be murdered with a gun as white women. For the age population of black males, 18 to 34, gun homicide is the leading cause of death.
On any given day …
You could find a man carrying a loaded gun inside a Wal-Mart, but you could also see someone buying ammunition, loading the gun in the store and cocking it. It’s been done and it’s legal.
In another Wal-Mart, you could find a young black man who picked up a toy gun from Wal-Mart shelves who was shot and killed by police responding to a false accusation on a 911 call. It happened just outside of Columbus, OH to John Crawford. His last words were: It’s not real.
On any given day …
Some celebrities so famous that you don’t need a first and last name. LeBron. Beyonce. Sadly, first names are also all we need when we’re talking about Trayvon. Or Tamir. Their celebrity is that they died at the wrong end of a gun and they were children.
On any given day …
A state legislature will be considering even fewer restrictions on guns than the few that are in place. Ohio is prepared to vote on its own version of a Guns Everywhere bill. Stand Your Ground laws have been passed in 22 states, including Ohio, with those laws now being associated with a 53% increase in what a judge or jury can call justifiable homicide, particularly among African Americans.
On any given day …
You could access the website of the Council of Conservative Citizens that opposes “all efforts to mix the races,” and believes “that the American people and government should remain European in their composition and character. The shooter at Charleston was a regular visitor to this website. According to the First Amendment, you have that right as does their founder.
But you also could be represented in Congress by someone who accepted donations from this organization, and there is the potential that our country could elect one of them as our next President.
On any given day …
You could hear President Obama speak to the nation about another mass shooting. He’s done this now 15 times in his time in office.
It is estimated that there are 270 to 310 millions guns in our country. The entire population of the US is under 320 million. That’s about a gun per person except the population figure includes children and a whole lot of people who don’t own any. It’s estimated that these 300 million guns are present in 37% of households.
As some of you know since my retirement, I am now engaged in full-time activism in the issue of ending gun violence with several different groups and most particularly the organization my husband I co-founded, God Before Guns. I bring the voice of that organization to the pulpit this morning. I also bring a pastor’s heart which does not allow me to preach about anything else but the ramifications of the tragic loss of life of the faithful in Charleston, SC at Mother Emanuel AME church. I preach today because God has afforded me this opportunity to honor the lives of ..
The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, The Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Depayne Middleton Doctor, The Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., and Myra Thompson.
Honoring lives can be done in a multitude of ways. Our President did so by delivering the eulogy for Rev. Pinckney on Friday. I strongly encourage you if you have not already, to watch the YouTube video of his words. We prayu and sing and shed tears. We light candles and read names even when we are a thousand miles away. But we also honor lives by deciding to do. Something. Speaking out is something I can do.
In truth, I can’t NOT speak out. And that brings me to this morning’s text. I rarely preach from Revelation. And I do not preach from it this morning because I believe the Apocalypse is near or to prepare us for streets paved with gold and the pearly gates. I preach from the text in this way: as a lens through which to view our history and as a gateway to a greater understanding of our current reality, divine and human, spiritual and political, that includes and also transcends the understanding by our human senses. What comes from God does indeed transcend our human abilities. The bible scholar goes on to say that When Revelation says this is what must happen soon – it is a way of illuminating the nature of politics and religion in every age.
John has received a revelation from Jesus Christ, and he passes it along in the form of a letter. A different letter to six different churches. We read a portion of one of them this morning which happens to be the most negative of the six. There is no mention to this church of a job well done. No commendation before he launches into really tough words. What is this people’s greatest crime? It’s not that they’ve done anything horrible. It’s that they’ve done nothing at all. It’s not that they’ve been spewing hatred. They’ve been silent. They’ve committed the sin of being lukewarm. And in this revelation from Jesus Christ that John delivers to them: it’s a grievous sin not to choose, and it’s an un-Christ-like place to sit, if you’re sitting on the fence. Even cold can be understood – for cold is when we do not yet know God through Jesus Christ. But once we know, when we say we believe, when we promise to follow we can no longer be excused to be cold. And if we are lukewarm, it’s worse.
The first century church folks who had this letter read to them would have recognized themselves in it. You know how you know something about yourself – you just hope it’s not obvious to anyone else? They knew their sin was being comfortable and complacent. This letter nailed it. Comfortable and complacent comes about because of compromise. Compromise with contemporary culture. There’s a name for that in the bible. That compromise is named in the bible, and it’s called idolatry. The first commandment: thou shalt have no other gods before me. The second: thou shalt not make any graven image.
As an aside: our organization is named God Before Guns because we believe that guns have attained the status of idols in our country. That the 2nd Amendment is worshipped in ways that the 1st, 2nd, and 6th Commandment of thou shalt not kill are not. Any times in the work we do we hear that owning a gun is a “God-given right.” It is not.
In the larger context, idolatry isn’t just about guns or any particular golden calf; it’s about accepting the world as it is and following blindly the values of our culture. Before we know God, how else would we behave? But once we do, ….isn’t that why we are baptized? To symbolically die to our old way of life – saying no to the gods we have previously followed – and rising up out of the waters in order to commit ourselves to a new way of living? Isn’t that why we continue to study the stories of Jesus again and again, to learn from his counter-cultural message and to model his activism against the status quo?
It may be human nature to be lukewarm about God because we care too much about what other people think. But what does God think about us? Isn’t it in Luke that we read the words: Woe to you when all speak well of you. (Luke 6:26)
I can honestly say that not all speak well of me. I’ve learned that since I started being a voice against gun violence. The Internet and social media can be a hateful place to clergywomen who dare to challenge those who believe that the answer is always more guns. I’ve been part of peaceful demonstrations that are protected by the First Amendment when the other side shows up, and the other side is armed. Big assault rifles slung over their shoulders. There are places where my voice is not welcome.
But I’ll tell you this: I’ve found a new normal in body temperature, and I am actively doing the work that I believe God calls me to do, if you were to take my temperature? I think it would register well above 98.6.
Is it warm in here? I know it’s summer and there’s no air conditioning in this sanctuary, but can you feel the temperature rising? Is your temperature rising? If a current-day prophet had a revelation from Jesus Christ and decided to write you a letter, could he or she start off the letter with: I can’t say you’re doing everything right, but thumbs up for the heat that you are generating. I can feel it. Your temperature is rising so much that it’s being felt outside this building. Heat like that is contagious.
I’m one who believes that positive change is possible, because I believe in the Gospel which is the epitome of change for the better. I believe that temperatures are rising for positive change in our country, and I have seen some of that happening since the shootings in Charleston.
For now on any given day in our country…
The Confederate flag no longer flies over the Statehouse in Alabama, and South Carolina has pledged to work on taking down their own. God help us, may that be soon. Major retailers like Amazon, E-Bay, Sears, Wal-Mart, and NASCAR have stopped selling Confederate flag merchandise. Now if we could just work on Wal-Mart to not sell guns ….
92% of all Americans of voting age favor universal background checks – including a majority of gun owners and in both political parties. (It just does not seem to include our Congress!)
Churches all across the country are hearing messages today about racism and guns. Houses of worship are #RisingForCharleston. Some have been engaged in this work of racism and violence for generations, others are just beginning. But on any given day, the temperature must be rising for there is much to be done. People of faith ought to be leading the way. After all, we’re the ones who got the letter!
On any given day, just as we heard in this morning’s scripture, even when Jesus may not be real happy about our lukewarm approach, he still knocks. If we open the door to him, he’ll come in. He’ll stay long enough to break bread at the table with us, and he will leave behind his Spirit. His Spirit of Peace. His peace that transcends time and place, and replaces our limited human nature with a peace that is beyond our understanding. The peace that he lived and expects us to live in his name.
On any given day, Praise God, may it be so.
Rev. Kristine Eggert
Pastor. Parent. Activist.
Note: All statistics came from the following sources: #RisingForCharleston, Everytown for Gun Safety, from E.J. Dionne, Jr. "Charleston and the politics of evasion, and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and The Washington Post. These resources were duly footnoted and can be provided upon request.
Rev. Kristine Eggert is Co-Founder of God Before Guns and serves on its Steering Committee.