Since I always preach without notes, this is an approximation, as clearly as I can remember, of what I actually said.
The sermon you are about to hear is not the sermon I intended to preach. Rather, at 11 o'clock last night, I chucked the whole thing and started over. It seemed clear to me that the events of the day in Tuscon could not go without comment or reflection in this place, with all of us together.
I first learned about the shooting on Facebook. As the day unfolded, I found myself returning repeatedly to the TV to learn more. I thought about my good friends who live in Tuscon. I hoped they were OK. I prayed for the victims and the perpetrator. And, as news commentators struggled to fill airtime and began rushing to judgement about what happened, I began to wonder how we look at this heinous event from the perspective of people of faith. As Christians?
Our lectionary gives us help in this regard. Both the Acts of the Apostles and the Baptism of Jesus give us some guidance. I'd like to look at both passages, in reverse chronological order.
Our reading this morning from the Acts of the Apostles begins with Peter saying, "Truly, I understand that God shows no partiality." God shows no partiality. This is an remarkable statement coming from Peter. Peter grew up in occupied Israel. He grew up in the small town of Capernum. David and I have been there. We saw the remains of the stone foundations of the small houses where people lived, and the remains of the synagogue where Peter worshiped. We know that Peter grew up under Roman occupation. We know that his life was often in danger because of the Roman occupation. It was the Romans who crucified his friend and teacher, Jesus.
In the early days after Jesus' death, there was real tension about who Jesus message was for. Was it a Jewish message or a broader message. Paul was the spokesperson for the spread the news far and wide camp, while Peter really believed that it was a message for the Jews alone.
One night, Peter had a dream. In that dream, God lowered a sheet down from heaven. That sheet was filled with all of the animals the Jews considered unclean for eating. Peter heard God's voice saying, "Peter, eat." Peter, repulsed, denied the invitation several times. Finally, God told Peter that nothing God makes is unclean. Immediately, Peter woke from his dream to a knock at the door. Messengers from Cornelius, a Roman soldier, were at the door, asking Peter to come and see Cornelius.
Peter went with them. Once there, he began to teach about Jesus and told Cornelius, this soldier who was occupying Peter's country, this foreign Gentile, "Truly, I understand that God shows no partiality." Wow.
I have been increasingly horrified in recent years at the way our discourse has deteriorated in this country. We have lost the ability to be civil. To disagree without being ugly. We have set ourselves into camps: liberal, conservative, progressive, evangelical, democrat, republican. The list goes on. And, we have become totally disrespectful in how we talk with one another across our imaginary divides.
I was reading several different news sites posts about the shooting last night, and already the ugliness had started. One person used the word "demoncrats" to describe a democrat, while more progressive folks were saying equally ugly things about conservatives. And, if you don't go online, you can see the same uncivil discourse in the letters to the Editor in the Berlin Daily Sun.
Friends, it must stop. It's far too early to say what caused an ill young man to go on a violent rampage. But, whatever happened, it cannot have been helped by our violent discourse.
The other way our scripture helps us to reflect today is through the baptism of Jesus. The next thing that we will do after the sermon is renew our own baptismal promises. Among the promises that we will make, we will promise "to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourself" and "to strive for justice and peace, and respect the dignity of every human being."
Friends, our role as Christians is to be role models. In this congregation we have folks from both sides of the political aisle. We are liberal, progressive, conservative. Our baptismal promises call us to a higher ground. A higher stance.
Today, and from this day forward, I invite you to do your part to make a difference in how we interact with one another. AMEN.