Sunday, July 22, 2012

There is another way!

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Delray Beach, Florida
8 Pentecost – Proper 11 – Year B – July 21/22, 2012
Ephesians 2:11 – 22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Preacher:  The Reverend Canon William H. Stokes, Rector

There is another way!

As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things…(Mark 6:34).

Once again, we are a nation in grief. The events in Aurora, Colorado are heart-breaking.  12 dead and 58 wounded by 24 year old James Holmes, dressed in black camouflage, protected by a bulletproof vest, and wearing a gas mask to shield him from the two tear gas canisters he exploded to begin the melee.  His victims? A group of people who had gone out to the movies, who wanted to see the premier of the newest Batman Movie – The Dark Knight.  It was a dark night indeed.  Sick, sad, twisted, heartbreaking.
            On Friday, President Obama had a scheduled campaign event in Fort Myers. He made an appearance before campaign supporters and spoke to those gathered, and to the nation, about the Aurora horror. He was also speaking to the victims who survived and to all the families and loved ones of those who were killed. The President spoke movingly and compassionately.[1] So too did Governor Mitt Romney.[2]  Both men suspended most of their campaign activities for the day. I was thankful for that. These gestures were important. They helped us to all stop for a time and reflect on the preciousness of life and on our deepest values and priorities.
            Our sorrow and grief for the victims and families of the Aurora shootings are important. We are a national community. What effects some affects us all. In his address, Governor Romney alluded to the Apostle Paul’s well-known sentiment from Romans 12, concerning community, Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).[3] And so today we are weeping and that is right. But it needs to be said, our tears and sorrow are not sufficient; we should also be concerned about ourselves as a nation…deeply concerned . 
            Of all the industrial nations in the world, our country is the most violent and has, by far, the highest number of gun deaths per year.[4]  I was Rector of this church when the Columbine Massacre took place in April of 1999.  Since that tragic occurrence, there have been at least 28 mass killings in the United States.[5]  8,700 people plus per year have been murdered in firearm  related deaths in this country.  This doesn’t include an additional 11,000 or so who commit suicide each year using firearms.[6]  By way of comparison, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, there were 17 murders by guns in Finland in one year, 39 in England and Wales, 194 in Germany and 200 in Canada.[7]  Approximately 25,000 – 30,000 people a year die from firearm related injuries in the United States and we as a nation don’t do a thing about it.[8] We went to war over the deaths of 3,000 persons on 9/11, but about the deaths of ten times that number of our citizens by firearms each year, we do nothing…
A James Holmes has access not merely to powerful and efficient handguns and abundant ammunition, he also has access to an AR-15 assault rifle.  The AR-15 was not legal to own under the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban[9] but, after intense lobbying by the NRA and gun manufacturers, that law was allowed to sunset in 2004; sales of the AR-15 became legal again, against the overwhelming objections of law enforcement officers and police chiefs around the nation.  It is reported that Holmes bought all his weapons legally at a Ganders and at Pro Bass Sporting Goods store. He purchased 6,000 rounds of ammunition on-line, and his combat gear, legally, without attracting any attention.
Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker Magazine posted a sobering article on-line Friday about the Aurora shooting, writing:

The truth [of the Aurora shooting and its circumstances] is made worse by the reality that no one—really no one—anywhere on the political spectrum has the courage to speak out about the madness of unleashed guns and what they do to American life. That includes the President, whose consoling message managed to avoid the issue of why these killings take place. Of course, we don’t know, and perhaps never will, what exactly ‘made him’ [meaning Holmes] do what he did; but we know how he did it. Those who fight for the right of every madman and every criminal to have as many people-killing weapons as they want share moral responsibility for what happened last night—as they will when it happens again. And it will happen again. The reality is simple: every country struggles with madmen and ideologues with guns, and every country—Canada, Norway, Britain—has had a gun massacre once, or twice. Then people act to stop them, and they do—as over the past few years has happened in Australia. Only in America are gun massacres of this kind routine, expectable, and certain to continue…But nothing changes: the blood lobby still blares out its certainties, including the pretense that the Second Amendment—despite the clear grammar of its first sentence—is designed not to protect citizen militias but to make sure that no lunatic goes unarmed.”[10] 

Gopnik concludes, “In America, it has been, for so long now, the belief that guns designed to kill people indifferently and in great numbers can be widely available and not have it end with people being killed, indifferently and in great numbers. The argument has gotten dully repetitive: How does one argue with someone convinced that the routine massacre of our children is the price we must pay for our freedom to have guns, or rather to have guns that make us feel free?”[11] 
We can no longer pretend shock when these horrific events take place.  28 mass shootings have taken place since Columbine. These kinds of mass shootings have become a grim and predictable norm. Unless we as citizens insist on significant gun law reform, we can merely wait for the next brutal incident to occur. And it will, inevitably. Where will it be?  Who will be its victims?  It could be one of us, or our children, or our grandchildren.  How can we not be concerned? Deeply concerned!    We are in desperate need of healing, but we do nothing….nothing, except mourn and lament, and express our shock and disgust when it happens again.  As a nation, we are sick. We are far too violent. Sadly, too many are in denial of this. What can we do?  An evil spirit needs exorcising from our nation’s soul.
Today’s Gospel reading is a little awkward. The context is not readily apparent to us, so I’ll try ot clarify it.  In the verses just before our Gospel reading began, Jesus sent his disciples out two by two and gave them authority to cast out “unclean spirits.”[12]  Mark tells us, “So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”[13]  They could do it…They could do what Jesus did….They really did have both his authority and his power…and he had given them courage to do so.
Mark interrupts his telling about the disciples and their mission with an account of John the Baptist and his execution by Herod. [14] We heard that story last Sunday.  After the account of John’s death, Mark goes back to the disciples and their return to Jesus following their mission.  That’s where our Gospel picked up today…. The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.[15] 
I can picture them, excited about their success, filled with pride as they tell Jesus of all they had done, of how successful they had been...And Jesus is, no doubt, pleased, and likely lets them know it….But he also knows they need a break, some time and space to rest, pray and reflect on their experiences… So Jesus says to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." Mark adds, “For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.”[16] 
According to Mark,  “they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.”[17]   But “many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.”[18]  When they get ashore in their boat, Mark tells us that Jesus “saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd…”[19]  So much for rest…Jesus “began to teach them many things.”[20]
This is when our Gospel reading gets a little choppy.  Our reading, as we have it, skips from Mark chapter 6:34 to Mark 6:53. It’s the story of the feeding of the 5,000. We will hear that story next week, only from John’s Gospel instead of Mark’s.  Besides the feeding of the 5,000 something else was omitted from our reading today in the skipped verses. Jesus instructs his disciples to get into a boat and go to the “other side” which means to go to Gentile territory on the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  And they do, but as they go, they find themselves straining at the oars against an adverse wind.  Mark tells us that “Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. Mark writes,  “…when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’  Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded.”[21]
It is immediately after that, that our Gospel reading for today picks up the story…. When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat.  When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he wasAnd wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.[22]
So a few observations about all of this.  To begin with, Jesus empowers his disciples to do what he does; to go out into the world,  to heal, to cast out evil spirits; to boldly preach and teach about the Kingdom of God. He gives them courage to do this.   The Kingdom of God represents an alternative reality to the violent and ugly world in which the people of his time lived.  Jesus directs his disciples to invite people to accept his Kingdom reality in place of the lesser realities to which they too often succumb, compromising their souls and bodies.  This is as true for us as Jesus’ modern day disciples today as it was for those who first followed him. Jesus empowers us to go out into the world,  to heal, to cast out evil spirits; like the evil spirits which make our nation so violent, so often ugly, to boldly preach and teach about the Kingdom of God as an alternative reality. He gives us power, authority and courage to do this. 
It is often the task of Jesus’ disciples to row our oars against adverse winds…The construal of the Kingdom of God is often at odds with the dominant modes of being in which we live; modes which dehumanize us, cheapen life and often threaten our very existence.  It is no different for us than it was for Jesus and his followers who posited their vision of the Kingdom of God as an alternative to the kingdom of Caesar and the Roman Empire. At times, our mission as Christians seems impossible and we are easily tempted to give it all up.  But in the midst of the greatest adversities we can count on Jesus’ presence and power with us and in us, saying always, “Take heart; it is I, do  not be afraid.”[23]
Lastly, as the message of Jesus and the Kingdom went forth, people heard it and in hearing it recognized both how sick they were and how much in need of healing, and also how different their lives and their world could be if they accepted Jesus and his vision of the Kingdom, accepted his healing and his words and they went to him; just getting to him to be healed, even if it meant merely touching the hem of his garment.  It is striking in both parts of today’s Gospel how much energy people show in reaching Jesus. The text clearly says, “and all touched it and they were healed.”[24]
Today, a significant obstacle facing the Christian message is indifference and apathy. We live in a nation that, all too often, doesn’t realize its disease. We are a nation in denial, as if, for example, we can continue to ignore the gun violence in our country and believe that there will not be further Auroras and Columbines and Virginia Techs, or accept the false and nonsensical notion that we are powerless to do anything about it.  It is worth noting  that gun deaths, and all murders, in this country are tracked by the Center for Disease Control.
It is our task as faithful Christians to go out in to the world, and especially to the sickest and most hurting places in the world, and wherever we go, wherever we are, to represent Christ and his Church,[25] to proclaim his Kingdom message…to work toward the goal of restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ….
This vision is captured well in today’s reading from Ephesians…. It is a circular letter written to several churches…Its theme is likely the unity of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, but that theme of unity and oneness in Christ and Christ’s love extends to all people in all times…

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.  In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God…(Epheshians 2:19-20).

Our selves, our Church, our nation, our world, as a dwelling place for God; a God who loves, a God who we believe with all our hearts and souls and minds is a God of love and mercy. This is the Kingdom vision. This is the alternative we offer…It is a stark alternative to the awfulness of the world in which we too often live and which we too often accept without protest or push back.  It is a stark alternative to the dark night in Aurora this past Friday.  It is an alternative we should long for, hunger for, thirst for, and work for, with every fiber of our being.  It doesn’t come easily, this alternative vision.  To get there we often have to row hard against adverse winds, against hostility directed against us and against the vision.  Still, how could we desire, work for, or accept anything less? 

There is, indeed,  another way.

[1]  See
[2]  See
[3]  Governor Romney said, "Today we feel not only a sense of grief, but perhaps also of helplessness.  But there is something we can do. We can offer comfort to someone near us who is suffering or heavy laden, and we can mourn with those who mourn in Colorado…”
[4]  See ‘List of countries by firearm related death rates at
[5] See “Timeline:  Mass Killings in U.S. Since Columbine” – Newsmax, Friday, July 20, 2012 at
[6] See  “Gun Crime Statitistics by U.S. state: latest data in The Guardian Datablog at  These statistics appear low.  See “Gun Violence in the United States” at
[7][7][7] See “God bless America” on the Brady Campaign to Prevent  Gun Violence” at
[8] See “Gun Violence in the United States” at
[9] See “Federal Assault Weapons Ban” at
[10] Gopnik, Adam “One More Massacre” The New Yorker On-Line website, Friday, July 20, 2012 at
[11] Gopnik
[12]  Mark 6:7 - 13
[13]  Mark 6:12-12.
[14]  Mark 6:14 – 29.
[15]  Mark 6:30.
[16]  Mark 6:31.
[17]  Mark 6:32.
[18]  Mark 6:33.
[19]  Mark 6:34.
[20]  Mark 6:34.
[21]  Mark 6:45 – 51.
[22]  Mark 6:53-56.
[23] Mark 6:50.
[24] Mark 6:56.
[25] See “The Ministry” in Outline of the Faith – Book of Common Prayer, p. 855. 

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