Attached is the sermon by the Rev. Canon Lucinda Ashby that was read by the Rev. Ken Brannon at the 8:00 A.M. service on Sunday, March 18.
The Rev. Canon Lucinda Ashby
Lent 4B—Trinity, Pocatello
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Growing up as a missionary kid, in Latin America and Northern New Mexico, I was surrounded by vast theological differences. And these differences existed mostly among the Methodist missionaries themselves.
It was kind of a strange upbringing, being surrounded by these rather eclectic people who had responded to the call to be missionaries. They were an interesting bunch, ranging from people who were literal and deeply fundamental about their desire to bring the salvation of Jesus to “heathens,” to those who were liberation theologians, believing that you lived among and advocated for those who were oppressed and needy. We called them all “aunt” and “uncle,” and each of them imprinted us with their interesting theologies and their zeal to make a difference.
As I said, it was a strange upbringing. I knew pretty much from the time I was 6, how to sing the songs that all missionary kids know, and that I could memorize Bible verses with the best of the rest– and that John 3:16 was a favorite quote of everyone: “for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
By the time I was in sixth grade, I had figured out that in order to receive an “A” in religion class, all I had to do was to go to my missionary teacher, say that I believed that Jesus Christ was my personal Lord and Savior, and then quote John 3:16.
I hear myself say these things now, and wonder at my own craftiness at manipulating the concept of salvation in order to further my own achievements. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I didn’t believe in scripture, I just didn’t buy into the idea that reciting a phrase or saying a verse was what it was all about.
I was not one who believed in magic. And I didn’t think that being saved was magical.
This morning’s reading from the book of Numbers reminded me of that human desire for magical salvation. In this reading, the Hebrew people are wandering around the wilderness, without water, with bad food (manna), and they complain. Poisonous snakes appear and bite some of them, and they die. So–and here’s where my amazement comes in–out in the middle of the wilderness, Moses suddenly becomes a sculptor of bronze, and he fashions a poisonous snake on a pole, so that everyone who is bitten by a snake can look at this sculpture and be saved.
We humans have always desired these magical fixes for things when they go wrong. This ancient story from Numbers really is about a Hebrew people early on in their wilderness experience that has not yet matured in their view of God—God is seen as magician, or fixer, rather than God as savior.
Yet you and I know that even though we may yearn for easy solutions when things go wrong or get uncomfortable—like having a pill we could swallow to make it all go away—that isn’t the way that things are in this faith that is ours.
The fact that I can quote a Bible verse, for example, isn’t going to fill an empty belly, or put a roof over someone’s head. ///// Nor will it fix the deaths that occurred in Florida on Ash Wednesday, or those at the Veteran’s Home in Northern California this past week.
In fact, the only Bible verse I can think of that applies to these tragedies ironically also comes from John: Chapter 11, verse 35: Jesus wept.
And when Jesus is weeping, the Church needs to respond.
There is a lot of rhetoric, some of it downright cruel, that is being tossed around about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida. In the depth of their own grief, and despite the voices that would discourage them, the kids from Florida are standing tall and righteous. They simply want to live. They want to be able to attend school to learn, to do science experiments, solve math problems, read literature, play sports, sing in the choir, to debate. They want to complain about their parents and teachers, and moan about having their phones taken away or their internet privileges suspended.
They want to stand around their lockers and talk about boys, or girls, and try to run for class before the bell rings. They want to dream and hope.
They want their lives, their safety and their future to be a priority for people who have power. And they know there are no magical fixes.
So, I read in the New Yorker Magazine, that in Florida, at West Boca Raton High School, after 17 minutes of respectful silence for the 17 students who were gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, the West Boca students simply left and started walking. Because despite the kind attempts of school administrators and teachers, students knew that thoughts and prayers and respectful silence weren’t going to be enough. In an unplanned act of courage, a thousand students walked 12 miles to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, where they gathered and kept moving. Spontaneously, thousands of students joined to form the “Never Again” movement, which keeps going–speaking to politicians and lobbyists, telling their story, demanding that people pay attention to their lives and their need for safety.
And with this, a date is set for a nation-wide protest called “March for our lives.” Organized by students, it is a call for people to care more about our children and youth, than personally owning assault weapons. We live in Idaho, and we know what guns are for. And they are not for killing our children.
The church is being asked to do something important and simple. To stand beside our children and grandchildren, and to stand behind them. They don’t need us to take this over. The students of Florida don’t need us to tell them about their tragedy, or just keep them in our thoughts and prayers.
They need us, as people of faith, to advocate for their lives. Our House of Bishops which seldom acts with a fast pace, is calling for us, right now, Episcopalians, here in Idaho and all over the country, to join in and not only stand with these students, but to make a path so that their voices can be heard respectfully with dignity, and given value.
March for our Lives takes place nationwide on the 24th, and a March, right here in Pocatello is on March 31st.
The students in that school, right across the street, need the people of this parish to walk with them, beside them, and behind them. They are children of light and we are needed to make a path that will let their light of their truth shine.
There was a song written Carolyn Gillette about shootings and her lyrics are quite pointed: “If we just talk of thoughts and prayers and don’t live out a faith that dares……..our thoughts and prayers are fleeting breath.”
Fleeting breath is like empty phrases–and sometimes quoting scripture can be just as trite. We can do better than that.
Let us dare to live into our faith and live out our baptismal covenant.
Because Jesus is weeping, the youth are marching, and the church is called into action.