Sermon: What More Can We Do?

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Father Jerry Racioppi, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, delivered a sermon on gun violence on Sunday, May 29. The church had planned to make the day an occasion to wear orange for National Gun Violence Awareness Day well before the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas:

“Nevaeh Bravo, 10
Jacklyn Cazares, 9
Makenna Lee Elrod, 10
Jose Flores, 10
Ellie Garcia, 9
Irma Garcia, 48
Uziyah Garcia, 10
Amerie Jo Garza, 10
Jayce Luevanos, 10
Xavier Lopez, 10
Tess Mata, 10
Miranda Mathis, 11
Eva Mireles, 44
Alithia Ramirez, 10
Annabell Rodriguez, 10
Maite Rodriguez, 10
Alexandria “Lexi” Rubio, 10
Layla Salazar, 10
Jailah Nicole Silguero, 10
Eliahana Cruz Torres, 10
Rojelio Torres, 10

“I’m sure all of us know that these are the names of the 21 souls that were murdered this week in a town called Uvalde that probably none of us had heard of. I’ve been to Texas a few times, but I’d never heard of Uvalde and my guess is none of us had until Tuesday when these 19 very young children and two teachers were murdered at Robb Elementary School.

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“It’s not like this is how we’d like to come aware of this town in Texas. But this isn’t the first time we’ve learned of cities we’ve never heard of before. Once again, the United States has allowed the purchase of a semi-automatic rifle to be used in war to weigh more important than the lives of our children.

“This weekend coming, June 3rd, 4th and 5th, is the National Gun Violence Awareness weekend for our country. It is the eighth marking of that weekend, which typically has taken place the first weekend in June. Now in the Christian church, next weekend is the Feast of Pentecost and it is our feast day as being named Church of the Holy Spirit. So a few months back I decided I would move our Wear Orange Sunday and thank you for those that have marked that, together with Reverend Catherine and I. I moved our Wear Orange Sunday to what is our Memorial Day weekend here in the United States. I thought it was important to still mark the weekend and be I didn’t want to intermingle it with Pentecost.

“I had absolutely no idea that we would be reading off the names of 21 souls that were murdered the Tuesday before and have candles on our altar for each one of their lives snuffed out much too early. Also, this happened right after the Buffalo grocery store and the California church.

“We had this weekend plan before any of that. Why? Well, because of the other too-long list that, if you’re on Facebook, you probably saw many people share. I’m not familiar with half of those gun violence instances. And yet we all know the pain that they cause. Whether it was Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, movie theaters, and public events. We continue to have the same conversation in a country that is supposed to be one nation under God. And yet it is the United States that has the biggest problem with gun violence.

We continue to have the same conversation in a country that is supposed to be one nation under God. And yet it is the United States that has the biggest problem with gun violence.

“In our Gospel of John today, Jesus prayed for his disciples. He prayed by using the words I asked not only on the behalf of those that are here, but on behalf of all those who believe. And so today I pray on behalf of those of you that are here or online, but also everyone who believes in this country and believes in some type of higher power.

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“There has to be a better way.

“Jesus said that he would let us know God’s love, his father’s love, through him and through the Holy Spirit. And, typical of the gospel writer of John, he puts in lots of ‘I know him’ and ‘he knows him’ and ‘I know him and the Holy Spirit will get to know Father.’ We get it. You’re connected, Jesus.

“Thank you to the gospel writer of John. We understand that, somehow, the Father and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are connected. But what we don’t seem to understand as a society, and I know I’m probably preaching to the choir in this room, we can’t seem to send that message of God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit of Love.

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“Somehow we’re still talking about Jesus 2,000-plus years after he walked this earth so there’s something there. We can’t just ignore that. It’s been said that three generations from now no one will remember who we are. None of us in the pews. None of you online or myself. We will be forgotten in three generations. That’s just a matter of fact. And yet we continue to talk about Jesus Jesus, his story and his message of love.

“In this prayer that Jesus shared with His disciples, he was praying for unity. He was praying that it was the witness of God’s love that would bring unity. Now Jesus had a vision of a united church, and a reconciled and just and peaceful world. I want to believe that can happen. But the last word that Jesus gave was love.

“Jesus isn’t necessarily calling for a united doctrine or an agreement within organizations or, heaven forbid, a political unity. That’s probably not realistic. But Jesus was calling for the unity of God’s love. He was praying for his disciples.

“Here’s a question for you, that’s probably for a different sermon, but I’m gonna put it out there anyway, and then I’m going to move away from it. But here’s a question for you to wrestle with: Would You rather Jesus pray for you or talk to you? Would you rather Jesus pray for you or talk to you? As an Episcopalian, my answer is, I want Jesus to both pray for me and talk to me. I don’t know if that’s possible. Perhaps maybe it is.

“What would happen if we share this love of God that Jesus is praying for and talking to us about over and over again? What would happen if that love of God was shared deep in the hearts of all of us, regardless of our understandings, beliefs, political affiliations, or what have you? Would the world be different? Would people perhaps have less fear and allow less weapons of war to be so accessible? Hey, look, if you hunt, God bless you. It’s not the thing I want to do, but you do what you need to do. But none of us need to have rifles or ammunition that are only used in war. And yet, an 18-year-old boy and yes, he was a boy, had access to such things. How can we make a difference in the future? Thoughts and prayers are great; we’ve all heard this before. But what else can we do?

“Jesus, in his prayer, tries to close together this idea of needing to have a life with God. Again, whatever you define that, as we as the United States say that we are one nation under God. What does that mean for each of us? Jesus uses the word love six times in five verses. He talks about this relationship with God as being based in love, that love is the bond, love is the gift, love is the grace. Love is the opposite of fear. And yet we seem to forget that this is the last Sunday of Easter. We have been saying Allelujah, Allelujah, Allelujah, Allelujah for the past seven weeks and yes, we will continue to do that because we are a Christian people.

“I don’t know the end result of gun violence and I don’t quite know how to make the powerful difference that I want to make, but marking it by wearing orange, preaching about it, praying over it, feels a little bit better. I would love for the end of gun violence to be something like what Jane read in this Acts reading; perhaps lots of big things and an earthquake happens and all of the rifles and guns of mass destruction are disappeared. They’re gone.

“It’s not going to happen. Probably what will happen is little steps, small actions, slight little caucuses of people and policy changes. That’s what will make the difference. I’d prefer the earthquake option, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. Because we continue to light the candles, pray the prayers, and read the names. And I’m tired of it.

“Next week, we do celebrate the birthday of the church, we celebrate the coming of that Holy Spirit that helps connect us to Jesus and God. We will continue our song of Allelujah until we are all six feet under. That is what we believe as Christians. So maybe as we mark the anniversary of the church, we can find a way to share that love of God to those who need it most. Maybe to that 18 year old boy who perhaps was lost. We need to focus on love and not hate you all know this, but also grace and not fear. May it be so.”

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