This sermon was originally planned to be on the theme of “Animals in Creation” as part of a ten-week sermon series on Creation and Climate Change this summer. However, with the events of multiple mass shootings in one week I altered the sermon however was still able to weave in a portion of what was originally planned. The specific scripture readings are Genesis 8: 1-12 & Mark 1: 1-11 and this sermon was offered at First Congregational Church in Williamstown, MA.
I would be remiss if I did not begin today by acknowledging that yesterday at least 20 people were killed and multiple others injured by a white supremecist, a domestic terrorist in El Paso, Texas – the killer drove to the specific mall he targeted because of the high number of Latinos present in that community. His online profile shows that he was active in white supremecist chat rooms, that he was an active follower of KKK leader David Duke and seemed to celebrate online Dylan Roof, the shooter in Charleston, SC a few years ago who targeted one of our countries most important historic African-American churches – Mother Emmanual. Just a week ago another gunman opened fire at a garlic festival in Gilroy, California, killing three people and injuring many others. The victims in that shooting were two children, a 6 and 13 year old and a young adult who had just graduated from college barely two years ago. And this morning as I woke up to edit my sermon and prepare for worship I did what I always do: turn on the news to see if anything has happened overnight. Since the time I went to sleep last night and the time I woke up this morning, there was another mass shooting, in Dayton, Ohio – leaving at least 9 people dead and others injured. The information about that shooter has not yet been identified, only that he was also a young man. The shooters in the other two mass killings this week were also young men, both radicalized online, both white, and both specifically targeted people of color.
We are all on edge.
We do not know where the next salvo will come from, and we do not know if it will be someone we know or love the next time. I let my teenager go to the mall last night with her friends. That’s something I should let her do. But if I am honest, I do not want her going to public places, I don’t even want her going to school most of the time. Because these are all dangerous places now. Her generation has grown up with active shooter drills as a regular feature of their academic experience. For the ones that our district announces, for the past few years she has opted not to go to school those days and we let her stay at home, the drills themselves are too scary and upsetting. And I know from talking to other parents, that we are not alone in having a child who doesn’t want to go to school on those days or who on the days when the drill is unannounced, sometimes has to be picked up early.
Theologian Walter Brueggemann gave a speech a little over a year ago in which he discusses his theory of prophetic imagination. He offers the idea that both progressive Christians and evangelical Christians have the same problem, it is just two sides of the same coin. These are generalizations, but he talks about how for evangelicals, their sense of who God is is locked in, cannot be moved around and for progressives, they are locked into the worldview that they are the ones who are to live out God’s vision today.
These worldviews are all encompassing and they keep us from being able to be fully imaginative, and fully alive in seeing what God is doing and inviting us to do. He suggests three ways to get out of this box (and we’re all in a box of some kind!):
- Acknowledge that the theological frame you are in the midst of is all-encompassing and is completely limited in the face of God’s abundance
- Acknowledge that the theological frame you are in the midst of and believe very deeply in and have lots of evidence for contradicts God’s purpose for us (he says this is the hard step because it means we have to judge ourselves and most of us don’t like that)…..and
- “articulate the alternative world that God has promised, and that God is birthing before our very eyes.”
What is very hard in the moment that we are in is the third task – articulating the future world.
Originally this morning I was going to talk about animals as we consider climate and ecology in our planned summer worship series but I must after this week, also talk about guns and violence because it is the immediate that we carry into worship with us this morning. It is one of the things breaking our hearts and God’s this morning. I will pick up the animals (the theme planned for today) later as we continue on in our series through the end of this month.
But let me leave you with one thought from the sermon I wrote on the planned scripture readings for today and mostly let go of last night and this morning as I watched the news:
Doves are a symbol of peace.
And they are present in Scripture today when the Flood is over and when the Holy Spirit descends to dwell with Jesus during his ministry which will be hard and end with his killing and the violence of his death. [Note: Also at Pentecost, but not in the readings for today.] I imagine that both Noah and then later the people Jesus led felt stuck in their theological boxes at some point in time. Having prophetic imagination was probably something they both struggled with deeply.
Like us, they also felt stuck.
It is comforting to me to also acknowledge that doves are about as ordinary as you can get in the bird-world. They are part of the larger pigeon family which boasts 42 genus and 310 species worldwide. Until I started researching these birds this past week, it never occured to me that God chose an ordinary bird to be present in some of the most extraordinary moments in the biblical narrative and as a sign both times of God’s love, grace and the promise of a future of abundance and new life. The ordinary bird, a dove, a pidgeon with white feathers…..holds the invitation to prophetic imagination.
I want to urge you today to push past feelings of ordinary-ness and also feelings of hopelessness.
I want to urge you to push past feelings of stuck-ness and insignificant-ness in the face of overwhelming violence.
Because you are a Child of God.
And God’s imagination and God’s plan is much bigger than our boxes can hold. No matter what is going on and no matter what we think is intractable, it is not. And the boxes we have created for ourselves, the boxes of racism, and white supremacy and the addiction to violence are boxes God wants nothing to do with. These boxes contain gun violence but they also contain Creation-violence. And these boxes speak to us and tell us that they are so big and so strong we cannot break them and we cannot escape them. These boxes invite us to be so hopeless that we fail to care for those who are in pain and those who are suffering.
What want to say today is that these boxes are a lie, they are false and they are nothing of what God designed for us. That is why I imagine that God had Noah outside in the vastness of the Creation when Noah realized the dove wasn’t coming back to him. And that is why I imagine that Jesus was baptized outside and Jesus never built a building and instead preached on mountainsides and on boats in the middle of deep waters because Jesus also wanted to get people out of their boxes and the confinements they put onto their theological imagination.
The covenant after the Flood is to people and animals.
Jesus said he came to save all of Creation.
One commentator writes:
The sign of this covenant, God’s bow in the clouds, is precisely the bow of battle. Ancient depictions of a deity armed with bow and arrow are not unusual. To hang up one’s bow is to retire from battle. That bow in the clouds is the sign of God’s promise that whatever else God does to seek our restoration, destruction is off the table. An implication of this promise is that God will try everything else. God will seek us and seek us, despite or perhaps because of God’s knowledge of every sin, every grief, and every shame that veils our vision of God’s reality and of our own as God’s creatures. Whatever dwells in our hearts that keeps us from hearing the harmony of all life in God’s care, God will not give up on loving us into restoration.
Good news in the midst of the flood of daily life.
Transforming news that invites a resurrection.
Ordinary news that comes to us like the dove of peace.
Image Link: https://feederwatch.org/learn/tricky-bird-ids/common-doves/