At first, I did not pick it up, it was on the other side of the room, and I only had a few more things to fold and then that task would be complete. I finished up, took my now empty coffee cup to the kitchen, and returned to the living room and picked up my phone. I pressed the small button that activates the screen and there it was, another mass shooting in America. Details were still unclear but, at the time of the alert message, at least five people were confirmed dead in a shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. My heart sank, and I began to pray. Dear Lord, not again.
I resisted the urge to turn on the news, and I decided that I would just wait for more messages to come through on my phone while I continued the wedding preparations, and, there was more laundry to fold. Messages started to come in fast and furious and the number of the dead and injured, including the police officers that responded, began to rise. I kept praying…..
This has been a bad week here in America. An unstable man, filled with rage and hate towards those he disagrees with, mailed at least six bombs to high profile people. One report stated that so unstable were those bombs that authorities were surprised that had not gone off. Imagine, a postal worker, just doing their job, killed because someone decided that the only way to deal with those deemed enemies, was to kill them. An innocent struck down because of someone’s warped sense of political ideology.
This past Wednesday, while the rest of the world was going about their business, a man walked into a Kroger grocery store in Kentucky and shot two people. The victims were black and the gunman, who just minutes earlier had tried to force his way in a predominately black church, was white. Reports are that the 51-year-old had a long list of racist remarks online and in other forums.
I drove to the wedding thinking about what I was going to say this morning. My mind was racing while I was trying to concentrate on the road and the wedding, and what I would say to all of you this morning. As the spiritual leader of the community, it is my job to stand here and try to make sense of all of this. It is my job to help you understand what motivates people to kill others, well I know what motivates them, hate, but I stand here this morning failing at my job because I just cannot make sense of any of it. I just cannot wrap my mind around how we got here or how we are going to get out of it.
In the Gospel this morning we heard the story of Bartimaeus, the blind man, who wanted to meet Jesus so he could be healed. He shouted from the side of the road, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” Scripture goes on to say that “Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus wanted to see again but those around him, who had their sight, told him to shut up. Bartimaeus wanted light and understanding, and those around him, walking in darkness, told him to shut up.
There are voices in our world right now telling us to shut up. There are voices, on both sides, that do not want to hear the message we have the message of Jesus Christ that commands us not to hate those we disagree with, not to make fun of them and call them names, not to send them bombs and shoot them down, but to love them and pray for them.
Hours before the gunman walked into that synagogue in Pittsburg he has written in several online forums that he blamed Jews for funding the caravan of people seeking a new life in a better place. You can agree or disagree with their motivation but killing people at worship is not that way to solve problems. Jesus, son of Dave, have mercy on me!
Yesterday morning, people just like us were gathered in prayer in their house of worship. The congregants of the Tree of Life Synagogue were going about their day, when a man walked in and shouted, “all Jews must die” and began to shoot. I understand that a baby dedication was taking place at the time.
My niece and nephew, as well as my sister-in-law, are Jewish, and that could have been them. Each week when they attend services they have to walk through armed security just to enter their worship space, I’m sorry, but this is not the America I want to live in. By the way, my sister-in-law’s mother and her family fled France in the 1940’s when another crazy man yelled: “all Jews must die!”
Scripture tells us that Bartimaeus wanted to see again, in other words, he had not been born blind but became blind sometime during his life. He remembered the sights, the colors of the rainbow, the faces of his loved ones, and he wanted to see them again. Bartimaeus is a symbol of all of us, like him we were not born blind, but we have become blind, blind to what is happening all around us. Some of us a blind because we just do not know what to do. Some of us are blind because we are afraid of the crowd telling us to shut up. Some of us are blind because of hatred towards those who are different then we are. Some of us are blind because we agree with what is going on. Some of us are blind because we choose to be blind because being blind is much easier than doing something.
Jesus heard the cried of Bartimaeus and asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus responded, “My teacher, let me see again.” The time has come for us to open our eyes wide and take it all in. We just cannot let hatred win, we just cannot stand by and watch as the extremists cause terror for people worshiping, or shopping, or going to the movies, or going to school. We cannot allow these extremists to continue their trail of hate just because they disagree.
Last night, in the middle of the wedding ceremony, as I often do, I asked the couple to look at their hands. I told them that these are the hands of your best friend. The hands that will work alongside yours as you build the future. Hands that will cherish you through the years. Hands that will hold you when you fear or when you grieve. Hands that will wipe away tears of joy and of sorrow. And these are the hands that, even when aged, will still reach out to you with that same touch that comforts you this day.
In the middle of all of that my voice cracked and I had to pause for a moment. As I was standing there in a moment of absolute pure love, and stilling thinking about my words this morning, I realized that all hope is not gone because no matter what anyone does, love still exists in the world, and it is love that will win because it always does.
Beloved, let us resolve to open our eyes to one another to honestly see them as beloved children of God and love them no matter what. Love them no matter who they voted for. Love them no matter what color their skin is. Love them no matter their life choices. But love them unconditionally, because that is the way that God loves each of us, unconditionally.
I usually end these sermons with a prayer so today I would like us to finish with the Jewish Mourners Prayer known as Kaddish, a prayer that praises God and a prayer for peace. Please stand with me and let us pray:
Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will.
May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.
Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.
May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.