Sermon for Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath
December 13th, 2015, St. James Episcopal Church, San Francisco
by the Reverend Ayanna Moore
This morning, we are one beloved community, joined in solidarity with people of faith, and people of good will all over this city and our nation to participate in National Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath.
I invite you to raise your hand if you long for a day when not one more person will be lost to gun violence in San Francisco. You see, for people of faith, and people of good will, Advent is about longing--longing in the dark of winter for what we cannot see, but for what we KNOW is coming.
I long for a day when not one more child, adult, or group of people die in San Francisco and in our nation at the hands holding a gun. The scourge of gun violence has touched me up close and very personally. My uncle died from gun violence. Like some at St. James, he was a veteran. Like many of you at St. James, he served for years as a public servant--and also like many of you-- when he retired, he had such a strong work ethic that he became an entrepreneur. He built his own limousine service. One night, before he picked up his last fare, he called my aunt. " Honey, I have one more pick up, and then I'll be home." He never made it home. He was killed by an unknown assailant with a gun. The lives of my aunt and my cousins were irrevocably changed.
The scourge of gun violence has also touched me professionally. I can't get away from it. In the past 3 years, I've served San Francisco's children and families traumatized by gun violence. Children in the Bayview, children in the Mission, and yes-- children in middle and upper class neighborhoods like the Richmond and lower Pacific Heights.
Do you know, my friends--what it's like-- to lead a children's grief group-- some of whom have lost relatives to gun violence? To watch a child work through the trauma of living in a gun-violent neighborhood? Or what it's like to try to support Millennials scared to go to work
serving this city because almost every few days there is a shooting from gun violence?
My friends, do you hear the cries of high school students who protested the death of Mario Woods at City Hall-- one of them saying " we're scared..."
Yet...on this Third Sunday of Advent, we light the pink candle. It represents joy.
It is hard--to trust and not be afraid, as the prophet Isaiah says to us this morning-- when we've been flooded 24/7 with images of the gun violence which took the life of Mario Woods; the faces of the victims of San Bernardino-- all public servants.
It is hard-- as we hear the words of Zephaniah to " sing and rejoice and exalt with all our hearts," as we watch media reports of a deluge of Bay Area residents of all races--Black, White, Asian, Latino-- rushing to buy guns, even assault weapons. Fueled by fear, there is a knee-jerk reaction that the only way to stay safe is to pick up and buy a gun.
In Luke, that wild man of the wilderness-- John the Baptist-- boldly calls out those hiding behind their identity as descendants of Abraham. I don't know about you, but my impulse is to turn away from images of " brood of vipers" and scripture with metaphors of " being thrown into the fire." John the Baptist comes across as downright mean-- even punitive. But, maybe we can move through that to see that John is simply " afflicting the comfortable"--much the way protests to end the gun violence in San Francisco may afflict our faith, and our moral conscience-- yours and mine --and the moral compass of our city leaders and those in blue uniforms who take an oath to serve and protect.
John the Baptist was a truth-teller. He says that it's not blood ancestry that identifies a person or a community as beloved people of God. He boldly says that beloved people of God are those who live out their faith in action by how we treat one another. By sharing our resources. And those who have the most bear good fruit by sharing with those who have the least.
Preparing for the Christ means turning away from what is life-denying-- gun violence. It's not enough, John says --to rest in the comfort of rituals -- or to stay in our comfort zone. I don't know about you, but I need truth- tellers who care enough about me to " afflict my comfort level". Who call me out-- gently-- when my behavior doesn't line up with my faith. Truth- tellers call us to be our best selves in service to the most vulnerable in our community. To let go of our self- interest and self- preservation to seek and DO what is best for the common good.
The Reverend Diane Weible, Conference Minister for my denomination the United Church of Christ, joins with Bishop Marc Andrus in issuing a call to me to join with St. James and all people of faith and good will to embody faith in action to end gun violence to usher in peace and justice.
St. James, there ARE actions we can take together to birth anew the light of Christ and peace.
Write our mayor, asking him to take action to end gun violence. Call your Congress leaders letting them know you support background checks for all gun purchases. Peacefully join in prayer vigils protesting the death of young men by gun violence.
My friends, dare to imagine a San Francisco where one day not one more person dies from gun violence. We CAN be joyful, as Isaiah calls us to be. We CAN sing because of what is to come but is not yet-- a city of reconciliation and peace. A city where not one more mother's son like Mario Woods dies from gun violence - where not one more father's daughter, like Kate Steinle, dies from gun violence. A nation where not one more group of good people at a Bible Study die from hatred and gun violence and not one more group of public servants lose their lives to automatic weapons.
We CAN, --as St. Paul urges us-- " let our requests be known to God" and let go of anxiety and violence to reach across our differences to build a city and nation of peace.
We CAN. We WILL-- together. We MUST. Because the Christ is in our midst. Christ is ready to walk beside us to re-imagine and rebuild our city and our nation into a place where not one more life is lost from the violence of a gun. May it be so. Amen.