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Message Feb 18, 2018  Time to Leave the Wilderness - Following the shootings in Parkland, FL

On the morning of February 19, 2015 I awoke to news that in the wee hours of the morning a murder had taken place in the house next door to this church.    Just a few hours before the tragedy we had gathered here in this sanctuary…just a yards away from that house.  It was Ash Wednesday when we ponder our own sin and death.  On that morning we were made shockingly aware of the truth, the reality of sin and death.

This week we again gathered to commemorate Ash Wednesday and within hours, on the morning of February 15, now three years after the neighborhood murders, I awoke to the news of another shooting, or rather shootings.  This time not next door but in Parkland FL.  But they are our neighbors none the less.  I was sickened by the news of more broken bodies and broken hearts.   Once again the ashy cross and the holy meal were joined by the images of the victims of these shootings and so many others in between as reminders of our mortality and our sinfulness.

In the face of the violent Ash Wednesday deaths we find ourselves driven into the wilderness.  We find ourselves confused, disoriented, helpless, lost, angry, and incredibly sad. We want to turn back but don’t know really where to turn. We want “someone” to do something so that this will never happen again and yet fear at the same time that nothing will be done.  And so we succumb to the temptation to simply throw up our hands.   The social issues that led to the deaths are too complex, too deep seated…and the path to a solution is not clear or easy and so we continue to wander in circles in the wilderness shaking our heads and getting nowhere. 

The social spider web of Jesus day was just as complex as it is today.  The Romans ruled with a cruel, violent, oppressive hand.  The Judean religious cult burdened God’s people with numerous laws that were impossible for even the most righteous man to keep.  The temple hierarchy colluded with the Romans. If you were not wealthy and powerful…if you were poor, broken, sick, a widow, a single woman, even a child you were of little value and cast aside, cast out, thrown away.  It was very different from world God intended.  A world where all would live in harmony.  It was to change this broken world that God came in the flesh to show the world a different and better way.  God’s way.

The wilderness in which Jesus faced Satan prepared him to be able to walk among the wild beasts that he would soon face in Galilee and Judea.  He spent 40 days there, time to prepare, to ponder, to pray.  But Jesus did not stay in the wilderness. The same Spirit that drove him there called led him back out. When the time was right Jesus, knowing that he was carrying the kingdom of God on his shoulders…left the wilderness and began the work that needed to be done.  Jesus knew it would be hard, he knew his revolutionary ideas would be met with resistance even anger and yet he began to proclaim the good news of God anyway.  He was not paralyzed by the resistance or the threats.  He faced the opposition head on and he began to show the world what it meant to love…really love not just with words but action.  He began with one wedding, one blind man, one thirsty woman and the fabric of the world began to change.  Because it was time and the reign of God had begun!

Today it is time, and God is here.  And we are the ones that are called to proclaim the good news of God.  Though we find ourselves once more wandering in a wilderness of fear and frustration in the face of the senseless deaths in Parkland, for the sake of the world we cannot remain in the wilderness.  Like Jesus we are called out into the world to continue to proclaim the good news of God in both word and action.  Like Jesus we will be challenged by those more powerful or more wealthy who want us to go back to the wilderness.  But if we gather with others and explore ideas, if we are not paralyzed by the resistance and the threats with the help of God we can and will find a way to wholeness and hope. A way to stop the senseless deaths.

There is not a simple solution to the complex problem of the rampant violence in our country.  The easy thing is to pull the covers up over my head and go back to sleep but when I wake up more children will be dead.  I can stay in the wilderness wandering and pondering and throwing up my hands in frustration.  But when and if I emerge more children will be dead.  If like Jesus we watch for the broken places in the world and work toward healing. If like Jesus we gather friends to join us in the work. If like Jesus we remain close to God and depend on God’s hand to guide and God’s angels to aid us we will find a way to save our children.

One of the things that keeps us from finding a solution to any problem is spending all our time pointing our finger at others and attempting to lay blame. 

Some even try to blame God either because someone has to take the blame or because the violence and destruction is easier to accept if it is at the hand of God.  
They will say God is testing us or punishing us or teaching us a lesson.  But we know that that is not the God we meet in Jesus Christ.  We know that the God who loved us into existence and himself gave his life to heal the world did not cause the brokenness - the sin that led these young men in Syracuse and in Parkland to kill.   What led to their actions is a complicated path that is difficult to follow. But it was not God who chose that path for them. 

If blame is to be laid, may we place it on ourselves who for so long have turned a blind eye or a deaf ear to the social deterioration that has fed our fascination for violence.  This is not political, I don’t pretend to have a solution nor laying blame other than on myself.  But I am preaching as Jesus did, as I have been called to do, as we are all called to do the good news of God which is to turn to God and God’s ways of love and peace that will bring healing and hope to the world. 

The time is now and the reign of God is near and we are being called out of the wilderness to change the world so that, God help us, no more children will die.