“Witnesses of Truth”

Image of a green palm on the left with a cross engulfed in a bright light on the right.

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem, NH March 28, 2021

In March of 2019, we had 100 victims of “mass shooter” events in the United States; and we argued about the misleading truths that caused these atrocities. In March of 2020, we had 139 victims of “mass shooter” events in the United States; and we argued about the misleading truths that caused these atrocities. As of March 27th, of this year, we have had 196 victims of “mass shooter” events in the United States; and we are still arguing about the misleading truths that cause these atrocities. In fact, 55 of these 196 individual human beings became the victims of nine different individuals since last Sunday and this is the truth we are called to witness before the kin-dom of God.

Before we continue would you pray with me:

Holy Creator who created each and every one of us as wholly complete and beautifully broken individuals reveal to us Your Truth once more so we will become one with Your Mission to bring us ALL home along the road of palms leading to Your kin-dom. May the words from my lips and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing to You God.

Now, beloved, we have all heard the vastly different arguments surrounding the causes of a “mass shooter” event in the United States. We have heard arguments about what constitutes a “mass shooting”; but individual people are dying from individuals who have resorted to violence. We have heard arguments about how a “mass shooting” is possible; but individual people are dying from individuals who have resorted to violence. We have heard arguments about who is doing the “mass shooting”; but individual people are dying from individuals who have resorted to violence. Therefore, I wonder – I wonder if we are missing the actual cause of these “mass shooter” events because we are focusing on truths which seem to be misleading. 

And these truths are misleading. For, what constitutes a “mass shooter” event depends on the research. There is no one definition. How these events can happen depends on the research you find. There is research supporting both gun rights and gun reform. Even who the identified perpetrator of these atrocities is depends on which research you read. There are people of all genders and all ethnicities who have and are committing these acts of violence. When we miss this truth, we are doing the same thing as saying All people of one identity are the same according to one stereotype or one researched truth.

This reality is particularly important – today on Palm Sunday. But to understand why today is so important, we must recall how Holy Week will end. It ends, as we all know, with the execution of Jesus on Friday and the resurrection of Christ on Easter. That day alone will be a celebration as Christ becomes one with the kin-dom of God. But before this blessed event Jesus is tortured and executed, an atrocity of violence. This said, I wonder if you recall who causes the violence against Jesus – our Christ and Messiah? Do you remember? Some of us may say Pontius Pilot and some may say Caiaphas; however, the Gospel according to Mark clearly states that it is “The chief priests and the scribes” (14:1-2) who plot to kill Jesus. This statement is true, but it is a misleading truth; for, many people throughout history have placed the blame not on the chief priests and the scribes or even on Caiaphas, but on all the Jewish people. This misleading truth became a driving force of the anti-Semitic discourse in the later Gospels, in the atrocities of the holocaust, and even today amongst many of our Christian sisters and brothers who still blame all Jewish people instead of the individual people who resorted to violence.

This issue is what we are seeing today, not just in the “mass shootings” but in many areas of life. We are making logical fallacies by using one truth which one individual did – to misrepresent truth by comparing said person to a larger group. In other words, the Jewish people did not kill Jesus – Caiaphas, the chief priests and scribes caused this atrocity – Just like not all of any one group are the cause of a “mass shooter” event – the cause of these events begins with the individual mass shooter – themselves. When we witness this Truth, we are ready to see the full glory of Palm Sunday which is the Good News.

For, Jesus came to Jerusalem that day knowing that these events would happen, just like we do today. He knew these truths and still came to Jerusalem. He still came to save ALL people no matter who they were individually. This Mission, beloved, is witnessed clearly in our reading this week. To explain, Judas who will betray Jesus is with Jesus as he rides on the palms. Though our Christ does not judge the rest of the disciples for what Judas will do. Jesus will also share many of his beautiful teachings with all the Jewish people throughout this Holy Week. Though our Christ does not judge all Jewish people as sinful even though some individual Jewish priests and scribes will cause his death. In fact, Jesus comes on this day for all of us even though we are all broken individuals. Though our Christ still does not judge all people for the sins we commit individually. This Good News is the Truth of Palm Sunday, one which is witnessed throughout the synoptic Gospels. 

This Good News is also confirmed in our reading from the book of Isaiah. Here professor Christopher Seitz points out that our scripture reading is a poem called the “servant’s song” which details the suffering that an individual servant must endure. I can only imagine that Jesus knew these words well as he is a Rabbi, i.e. a teacher of the Bible. Words which continually ask us to open our ears to witness the Truth – endure the adversaries and do not be put to shame when you follow the Way of God. The beautiful aspect of this poem is that there is no malice or even “complaint” by the servant. The individual servant is not lamenting but revealing “God’s sustaining attention and strengthening presence.” This truth is best stated in the last stanza which says, “It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?” The Lord God who declares each of us individually as guilty or innocent for our sins. I imagine that these words were well known to Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on his Mission to show All people the Way to the kin-dom.

But we are not Jesus. We are his disciples fumbling around trying to find the cause of these “mass shootings” before it reaches us here in Salem, New Hampshire. Because that is what is at stake, beloved. The violence of these mass shootings is becoming more and more prevalent. Thankfully, these atrocities of violence have not happened here in this small town – in this community; but I imagine that is what the 2,486 people in Aliceville, Alabama believed last Sunday – only days before four people were shot, two of which died. 

So perhaps, the answer lies not in the systemic issues we love to talk about today but in the individual person who is committing these atrocities. Is there a link between these souls which would drive them to such violence? The truth is that I am not sure. I am not sure if the people who are resorting to violence and “mass shootings” are people who are socially, spiritually, or mentally ill; for, this part of God’s Mission is what I have been working on throughout Lent. However, what I do know is that they are individual people who needed help before it went too far, before they chose to pick up a weapon, before they committed their sin. Maybe we start with this idea on Palm Sunday and help the people – the individual people find their Way to the kin-dom. 

Reach out to one another throughout our community as you do with one another in this fellowship. Share our love and acceptance of all by being there for everyone. This can simply be awareness and a welcoming presence with the person next to us in the grocery store and in our schools. To a gentle inquiry in a private message for a person on Facebook who is acting irrationally. Mind you, I would never say put yourself at risk but perhaps the kindest thing we can do is sometimes make others aware that we are individually here without judgement, loving everyone, and witnessing the Truth that Jesus came for all people. May each of us be a blessing of this Truth as we witness all people as individually created and perfectly created in brokenness throughout this Holy Week. Amen.