The following is an excerpt of the sermon I preached on December 16, 2012, the Sunday following the shooting at the elementary school in Newtown, CT. The Scriptural basis for the sermon was Matthew 18:10 – “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”
One of the biggest mistakes we could make in our response to the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School is to say to ourselves, probably more to comfort ourselves more than anything else, “Oh, that’s up there in Connecticut. That’s a long way away. Things like that don’t happen here.” While I pray that you are right about something like that not happening here, my guess is that some of the people of Newtown, CT have said in the past something like, “Oh, that’s way out there in Columbine, CO, or way down there in Blacksburg, VA, or that’s over there in Amish country, in Nickel Mines, PA. Those places are a long way away. Things like that don’t happen here.” And after each of those equally tragic campus shootings, after feeling terribly upset about the children and young adults who lost their lives in those equally senseless events, after offering prayers for the families of those who died they went back to their normal existence and did nothing special to try to ensure that something was done to change the circumstances and the culture that have somehow come to view this kind of violence as just another thing that happens in places somewhere far away.
But in Newtown, CT today, right now, there are people whose lives have been unalterably changed. The town itself will never be the same. People will think differently. People will behave differently. And some people will say to themselves, “Enough! I will no longer participate in a popular culture that glorifies violence, and I won’t allow my children and/or grandchildren to participate in it either. I will turn my television to channels not filled with violent programming, channels that have something socially redeeming to watch, or I’ll simply turn my television off if I can’t find that kind of programming. I’ll no longer buy or play video games where the blood flows and the shooting and explosions and crashes of vehicles treat human life as if it were worth nothing, nor will I allow them to be bought by my children or played in my home. I’m giving up any kind of music that devalues other human beings in any way. Not only that, but I’m going to do everything I can possibly do to see that kind of popular culture come to an end. I’m going to change, and I’m going to find others who are willing to change or have already changed and, together, we’re going to change our culture.”
My hope is that there will be many others around our great country who will join them, including some of us. Because, friends, as far as I can tell we’re beyond the point of simply going on with business as usual. That would, I hope, be especially true for the people of God. How many children, how many of those little ones whose guardian angels look continually into the face of the Father, how many of them have to die before we say enough is enough. And please don’t trot out your partisan political arguments on this one. I might lose my religion if you do. If I hear one more television commentator or see one more email, or tweet, or Facebook post saying something like either, “It’s time to get serious about gun control,” or “When guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns,” I think I might lose it. Most of those filling the airwaves and the cyber world with those kinds of comments don’t care one iota about those precious children or their grieving families. They’re only trying to score political points, and using a tragedy such as this for those petty purposes makes them devoid of love and caring for their fellow human beings as far as I’m concerned.
All I know is that Jesus said clearly that those who choose to live by the sword will die by the sword, and our popular culture seems to have chosen to live by the sword with its love affair with violence. All forms of media and entertainment are filled with it. Movies, television, gaming, music, sports, you name it and the more violent it is the more it sells. And we, the people of God, gobble it up as fast as those who claim no God at all. Then we expose our children to it and wonder why they behave the way they do. Duh!
We’ve got to change, friends. We’ve got to repent, and feeling bad about something isn’t repentance. Feeling guilty isn’t repentance. Saying we’re sorry to God for something isn’t repentance. Repentance is a change of heart with an accompanying change in behavior. In this season of giving gifts, let’s give to God our repentance for our participation in the popular culture of violence in which we live. Let’s change and then find others who have changed and, together with them, let’s change the culture of violence that surrounds us. Let’s change ourselves and our culture so that one day, and one day soon, the guardian angels of precious children won’t be looking into the face of the Father in heaven with tears of sorrow and sadness flowing from their eyes because their special child was gunned down or in some other way a victim of a culture of violence that devalues human life.
I hope you’ll join with those who’ve made a new or renewed commitment to establishing a culture of peace. It happens one person at a time.