Note: Much of this sermon was delivered from notes; what follows is a “recreation” of the 11 am se5vice from the notes used.
Tragedy In Newtown
Sometimes events occur which require that a minister change the sermon topic for a Sunday. The tragedy in Connecticut this past week is such an event.
What happened is heartbreaking, all the more so because the dead were children. This is a day for tears and I will undoubtedly cry during this sermon. There is a deep sense of helplessness that I feel.
I have become almost inured to mass shootings. How sad that this could be the case.
In recent years we have seen shootings in malls; in movie theaters; in the buildings of religious communities; in colleges, high schools and middle schools; and now in an elementary school with terrible results.
The most recent shooting is one of horror piled upon horror since the majority of victims were so young.
For me there is an additional sense of connection because I have been inNewtown, I have driven its streets. The nearest UU congregations are inWoodbridge,CTand inDanbury,CT. Danburyis the congregation where I did my ministerial internship. We do not yet know whether anyone in either of those congregations was among the dead or injured.
The surviving children will certainly be emotionally scarred by this throughout their lives. This kind of shocking event must leave lasting damage
I am mindful of the fact that for generations there have been children in our inner cities who have lived with what we might call slow motion mass killings where gang violence takes as many lives, maybe more, but does so over a period of years. What kind of damage does that leave?
And I know that around our planet there are children growing up in war zones and that children in places likeIraq,AfghanistanandPakistanhave known fighting and killing for over a decade now.
I do not want it to be the case that I am more affected by the deaths of some than others. It should not be that the deaths of American children, or of middle class American children, or of New England American children touches me more deeply than the deaths of children anywhere. To the extent that I am touched by these deaths, that emotion should then lead me to greater connection with the deaths of other people in other places. If I have not felt the grief and pain of the children and parents in killing zones around the world let my consciousness and compassion now encompass them.
We do not know why this happened. We have only a few press reports about the killer and the killings. People will jump to their pre-set conclusions.
Some will call for greater restrictions on the purchase of guns;
Some for greater training for gun owners;
Some will call for more resources for mental health;
Some for more personal responsibility;
Some will say this is because we took God or discipline out of the schools;
Some that our society lacks sufficient human care for the emotionally isolated;
Some will blame television, video games or other media.
Perhaps all of these claims are right; perhaps none are. I would caution against leaping too readily to easy conclusions.
How do we explain this to ourselves and our children? I know what I do not want said to our children—or to ourselves. I do not want the answer to be that these things happen because there are bad people in the world. The alleged shooter in this case sounds more tragic than evil. And that is true for all or nearly all of the alleged shooters in these mass killings.
They are sick people, perhaps. There is more of the tragic here than of evil. So they are sick but not bad. To declare them to be “bad” is too easy.
And so I count twenty eight lost, because we lost the shooter as well. We may have lost him years ago, but he is among those whom we have lost.
Our Unitarian Universalist theology believes in the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
That is based on the old liberal theology that people are inherently good.
Despite all evidence to the contrary I believe that; I believe that people are inherently good. Things can go wrong, as they certainly did in the case of the shooter. But people are inherently good unless something goes wrong.
The very fact that our hearts are filled with sorrow is proof of the goodness.
Why didn’t God stop this from happening? Is God guilty here?
For those of us who believe in God, I believe that God mourns with us this day; that God stands next to the parents of those children and holds their spirits in his loving arms.
For all of us, it is our human task to build a world of love and inclusion for all. it is our human task to support one another in the midst of tragedy, to be present, to care.
And it is our human task to love one another, to say to friends and family, “I love you”; the three most powerful words in the world. I love you.
Every human heart can be reached by love–or at least we can try.
Let us do so today and every day. And let us seek comfort from one another.