First reading: Isaiah 58
6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator[a] shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
We have just entered the season of Lent. The purple call to reflect, repent, fast, pray and give alms to the poor. Lent is a call to prayer and self-examination, to charity, and to fasting from that which keeps us from God. None of this is easy, but who says being Christian is easy or convenient? The time of Lent is a time to reflect on exactly, what it means to be Christians, and what it means to believe in the power of prayer, the repentance of fasting and the charity of giving. Pray, fast, and give. This is the trinity of Lent. Pray, fast, and give.
Let this evening be an invitation to observe Lent and through prayer, fasting and giving and to focus our lives, as we live them right here and now on engagement, love, and responsibility for the world around us.
Last week and this past Sunday the flags were on half here at the church.
The Danish Flag was on half in honor of late Prince Henrik, who passed away on Feb. 13th . He lived a long life, that began in France and Vietnam and ended in Denmark. He was the supportive spouse of our beloved Danish Queen Margrethe II, and he represented Denmark through his entire life. He was a Frenchman though and as it was said at the memorial Tuesday: “The prince was colorful, unpredictable, unafraid and French.“ But because of love he lived most of his life in Denmark, served Denmark, represented Denmark and supported our Queen, his wife. He lived a long life, and we honored this life and his role in the Danish monarchy with the Danish flag on half.
Then we had the American flag on half too. To mourn the 17 young lives that were cut short, because of yet another terrible school shooting. His Royal Highness Prince Henrik lived a long full life, but these 17 young beautiful lives were just beginning. And they just happened to do what all our kids and grandchildren do every day year after year; they attended school. And we did not protect them as we should and as we could.
As a mother and as a pastor, I am heartbroken every time. And every time I hope and pray that this will not happen again. But it does, and it will if we do not change our ways. We all send our thoughts and prayers, and we all do pray for this to stop. But we also have the hands, the voices and the responsibly to act too.
Bishop Guy Erwin: “Christians pray without ceasing, bringing both their rejoicing and their despair before God. We do this, I hope, instinctively, at all times and in all places, living in a kind of dialogue with God each day. But we don’t do this to get what we want or to save ourselves, but to help ourselves understand better how god loves the world – the whole world, not just us. Prayer helps give us in our limited ways a Gods eye view of the society around us, and teaches us that we too, have a role to play in God’s world as exemplars of God’s love. Prayer teaches us to love, to stand up to evil, and to reach beyond ourselves to help our neighbors. If it doesn’t do this, it is empty and selfish. Lent helps us learn the difference.”
So, we all send our thoughts and prayers to the victims and families of the last terible shooting that we hope and pray may be the last. But as Christians we need to do more, we need to act, to help, to change our ways, our culture, and our thinking to make this wonderful country a safe place for the best in our lives and the future of our country: our children.
So, we send our thoughts and prayers, but we also try to change and make this world a better place. “Prayer teaches us to love, to stand up to evil, and to reach beyond ourselves to help our neighbors. If it doesn’t do this, it is empty and selfish.”
This next hymn is so appropriate for Lent and for today in the aftermath of the school shooting.
2nd Hymn: # If we just talk of Thoughts & Prayers
1.If we just talk of thoughts and prayers
and don't live out a faith that dares,
and don't take on the ways of death,
our thoughts and prayers are fleeting breath.
2. If we just dream of what could be
and do not build community,
and do not seek to change our ways,
our dreams of change are false displays.
3.If we just sing of doing good
and don't walk thought our neigborhood
to learn its hope, to ease its pain,
our talk of good is simply vain.
4.God, may our prayers and dreams and sings
lead to a faith that takes on wrongs
that works for peace and justice, too,
then will our prayers bring joy to You.
( Text 2017 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette)
Second Reading: 1.John 3.18-20
18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
Lent is the time of praying, fasting, and giving. It is a time to focus on praying for a better safe world for our children and us, it is a time to fast from everything that keeps us from God and our neighbors, and lastly it is a time to give and to help our neighbors. This last shooting reminded us, that we need to help, protect, and respect our children.
Lent is about giving up what keeps us from God. Giving up what we indulge in or maybe worship more than God. What do we have too much of that keeps us from God? What do we have that takes our focus away from the truth, so we can act?
Fast is about less. And that less is better for us. Tonight, I am thinking about what we have too much of in our society. Too many homeless people living on the streets or the riverbeds. Too many drugs and a growing opioid crisis. Too much violence on the streets, in our movies and culture. Too many conflicts and too much hate between them and us, me and you. Too many mentally ill people left alone and with no proper care. And too many guns. Too many guns. Other countries have drugs, mentally ill, violence and crime. But not other civilized country has so many guns among its citizens as US.
I grew up in Denmark. My dad was an avid hunter, so was my grandfathers and uncles. There were hunting riffles in my childhood home, but safely locked down. My dad was also an avid Home Guards man for many years, and he kept a semi-automatic rifle hidden in the closet. Precaution. Safety. Regulations.
Growing up in Denmark, I have never been afraid of guns or shootings going to school, church, concerts, sports or parties.
But our sons have. And we have to worry day after day that maybe – God forbid – maybe the next shooting will be in Yorba Linda or San Marcos. And I share this fear and worry with millions of parents and children of this great country.
I am not talking as a Republican or a Democrat on guns. I am reacting as a mother, a citizen and as a pastor, that we have to protect our most vulnerable.
I mourn the loss of the 17 young lives. And this Lent I will pray for change to come and that this will be the last school shooting.
This lent I will fast not from coffee or chocolate, but from every thought that might prevent me from acting.
Finally this lent I will give: I will give my voice to say enough is enough, - we need to protect our children.
As we sang, I will pray:
God, may our prayers and dreams and songs
lead to a faith that takes on wrongs –
that works for peace and justice too
Then will our prayers bring joy to You.