The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


  

    
Sermon - September 18, 2016
Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 8:19-9:1
Sermon Title:
“Just Peace



The Rev. Robert Vodra


     I am tired of the violence.  The first one I remember was the first bomb that went off in the parking garage of the World Trade Center.  I remember seeing the smoke, on TV, but not many details. A few years later I remember sitting in Keri’s apartment in West Virginia when the Federal building in Oklahoma City was bombed.  I remember walking out into the yard and Keri’s neighbor coming outside.  I said “Did you see what happened?”  She said that she had, and could not believe it.
 

     And honestly I could not believe it either.  168 people killed.  I had protested war before that.  When I was in college the first gulf war was started.  The night it started I was in Boston at a youth event.  Our activity that night was to go and stand with those who were protesting.  Things were heating up, and we were all worried that the US was going to war.  When we went back to the church whose floor we were sleeping on, they had a TV on, and the war had started.  But that was far away, Oklahoma City was in our country, much closer. 


     Then we had Columbine High School in 1999.  To think that would happen in a high school.  12 students and 1 teacher were killed.  Started to realize that safe places were not what I once thought.  Places like Federal buildings could be dangerous, but why would someone want to shoot people in a high school?


     When we got to September 11, 2001 I was living in Michigan.  I was a fire fighter.  I was headed to a Presbytery meeting that day, and getting dressed I flipped on the TV.  I saw a building in New York on fire.  I had seen, or maybe just heard, about a plane that flew into the Empire State Building in the fog, so just assumed it was some historical story on that.  I remember leaving the TV on, and as I was getting out of the shower, I realized that the empire state building was pointed on top, this building was flat on top.  That plane hit the Empire State building was because of clouds and fog, but the picture I saw was a clear sky.  I got back just in time to see the second plane hit the second building. 


     I could tell that lots of people would be killed, but it didn’t really occur to me that those above the floors that were hit would also be killed because they could not escape.  I had no idea that the buildings would collapse, just figured that the fire fighters would get up there, put out the fire, those above would climb down all those steps and get out, the buildings would be repaired.  As the estimated number of victims kept climbing, I also was watching the number of fire fighters and first responders who had died.  I remember watching and thinking that maybe there would be air pockets where they would find survivors.  Maybe down below the building in the parking garage or subway they would find a large group of people.  Of course that never happened. 


     As terrible as that was, it was foreigners.  These were not Americans killing Americans, these were foreigners coming in and doing terrible things.  Oklahoma City and Columbine were singular events, happened once, never would happen again. 


     Sandy Hook happened just after I arrived in New Hampshire.  I grew up in Brookfield, which is right next to Newtown.  Part of Newtown is Sandy Hook.  We used to go to the Newtown town hall where they showed $1 movies.  My first paid job, for a short time, was as a custodian in an office building in Newtown.   20 little children, ages 6 and 7, and 6 adults.  This made no sense to me.  Glenn was in Kindergarten.  Before that, I could at least imagine that these acts were done out of anger.  Anger at the government, anger at the big businesses that would be in the World Trade Center.  How could a 6 or 7 year old be guilty of anything?  What would possess a 20 year old to even think of doing that?


     My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?


     And since that time, honestly, I have become numb.  Aurora, Colorado, 12 killed, 58 wounded.  San Bernardino, California 14 dead, 22 wounded.  Colorado Springs, Colorado 3 dead, 9 injured. Roseburg, Oregon 9 dead, 9 injured.  Chattanooga, Tennessee  5 dead, 3 wounded.
Charleston, S.C. 9 dead. Washington, D.C. 12 killed, 3 injured. In Orlando, Florida 50 people were killed and 53 injured.  That is not all.  There are many, many more.


     My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?


     It is not just mass shootings and acts of terror.  At least 102 black people were shot by police in 2015.  Over 30,000 people are shot and killed every year in the United States.  4,491 U.S. service members were killed in Iraq between 2003 and 2014.  Estimates for Iraqis killed during that same time are about 500,000.  Isis has killed about 19,000 people in the past 2 years, and as of this summer were killing others at a rate of about 30 each day. 


     My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?


     When I was young we were worried about the USSR pointing nuclear weapons at us, and us pointing our nuclear weapons at the USSR.  Although we have lowered the number of nuclear war heads, they have become more powerful.  Each of our countries can blow up the whole world many times over.  Today nine countries have nuclear weapons: Russia, the United States, France, China, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea.  Iran maybe close.  While not every country has enough to destroy the entire world, any one of those countries could start a war that would probably result in the destruction of the whole world.  In the United States a missile shot from Russia would reach us in about 30 minutes, from a submarine in a little as 15 minutes. 


     My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?


     What kind of world are our young people growing up in?  They can get shot at school, at a concert, at a church Bible study.  A plane can fly into the building they are working in, or a truck carry explosives can be driven right up next to a building.  They could be one of the 30,000 shot and killed every year.  The United States, Russia or one of the other 7 countries we know to have nuclear weapons could, even by accident, start a nuclear war.  Even if they were not killed in the actual explosions, the nuclear winter that would follow, and the radiation in the air would kill them. 


     My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?


     I was always taught to preach upbeat sermons.  What is the good news, what is the gospel message?  Certainly the gospel message is one of peace and love for each other, but it is hard to see.  Certainly in our congregational meeting today, we will talk about a small step we can take to create a little bit of peace.  In our talking about race relations, we may be able to take a small step.  In Jeremiah’s time there was the threat of Jerusalem being destroyed, and it was.  In Jesus time the rebuilt temple was threatened, and shortly after Jesus death, it was destroyed.  I am not sure what the temple is today, but fear that it may be destroyed.


     As much as I hope, I don’t think that it is helpful to create false hopes.  I don’t think it is helpful to feel helpless either.  I find my guidance from the prophet Micah. “ And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”


     That is not going to solve the world’s problems.  Isis will kill about 30 people today.  In the United States about 82 people will be killed by guns.  According the United Nation about 21,000 people will die of hunger today.  About 117 people will commit suicide in the United States. 


     My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?  “ And what does the LORD require of me? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with my God.”


Amen


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