It’s been one year. It’s been one hell of a … year.
Some days I feel the intensity, the rawness, and the pain of what has happened and what we’ve lost like it happened just yesterday. Other days it feels like it’s been twenty-one years, even a lifetime. It never goes away. I suppose this past year might feel like that to you too.
A year ago I stood here and read to you the words of the Prophet Jeremiah:
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.
I said then that we were Rachel weeping for those who died, for the injured, for what has happened and what we’ve lost, for Uvalde, for one another and ourselves. Today we are still weeping. We are still Rachel. How could we not be?
I’ve wondered when — if — the crying will end. Maybe you’ve wondered that too.
Early Monday morning I was driving to Mustang Island for work and somewhere in the middle of nowhere, for no apparent reason, I started crying. I just lost it. Sobbing and driving, driving and sobbing.
I say it was for no apparent reason but I know the reasons and so do you: May 24th, grief, sorrow, loss, pain, fear, anger, disappointment, frustration, powerlessness, despair.
We are continuing to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. But — we are still walking. We have not given up. We walked on days when we didn’t think we could and we even walked on days when we didn’t want to. We are more than what has happened to us. Every step we took was a commitment to those we lost, to ourselves and one another, to Uvalde and the world, that we will not be defined, identified, or limited by May 24, 2022. It happened to us but it is not who we are. We are people of the light.
One of the things I’ve begun to realize over the past year is that the light has always been present to and with us. There is no place in which there is no light. We may not see it, we may not feel it, we may not believe it, but it is there — even in the valley of the shadow of death. It has always been here and it always will be.
Yes, the shadow of death is real. I know that and so do you. That has been our reality the past year. But it has not been our only reality. What do you have to have in order to create a shadow?
Light always preexists a shadow. If there is a shadow there is also a light. And every now and then we catch a glimpse of that light.
I’ve seen that light in moments of tender compassion, abundant generosity, and endless love that have shined on and in Uvalde. I’ve read that light in e-mails and text messages of love and support. I’ve seen that light in the people and work of the Children’s Bereavement Center. I’ve seen the light of courage in the faces of Gloria, Javier, Kim, and other parents who continue to speak and work for justice. I’ve seen some dedicated journalists continuing to shine the light of truth into the darkness of what has happened. But here’s the one that strikes me.
A week or so ago a gentleman told me his granddaughter had been going to the Bereavement Center for a few months. Her mom asked if she thought the counseling was helping. She said, “I’m a whole lot less mad than I used to be.”
That young girl has seen and is moving toward light. She is a witness to the light. She is a carrier of the light. That doesn’t mean she isn’t angry. It means that her life is beginning to grow a bit larger than her anger. The light of hope shines brightly in what she said.
I don’t think we will ever come to a day when we no longer feel the hurt, loss, and a thousand others feelings about what has happened. That would be to turn back time and undo May 24th. That will not happen. The feelings will always be with us. But here’s the paradox: our grief, loss, and tears are crying out and begging for light. I suspect, that’s why you showed up here tonight.
Every time we catch a glimpse of the light we are reminded of and called into a life that can grow larger than what has happened to us. And that is not easy or painless work. It is, however, our work to do. That’s why in a few moments I will invite you to come forward and have your hands anointed, blessed, and empowered to offer healing, bring peace, and change the world. You are the light of the world. And the world needs your light. Uvalde needs your light.
When you hold out your hands let go of any bushel baskets that would hide your light. Receive the oil. Receive the light that is larger than and beyond you. But know this. When you hold out your hands it is not just to receive. It is also an offering.
It is an offering of yourself and a commitment to do something, to make a difference. We can offer our thoughts and prayers all day long. I can preach sermon after sermon. But unless you and I do something our words and prayers are empty, hollow, and faithless. It is time to act, to live and embody the words we speak and pray. I wonder what that means and looks like for you? To what work or action is the light calling you?
You might feel small and insignificant against the needs and the pain of Uvalde. You might wonder what difference you can possibly make. A woman once posed that question to the Dali Lama. He said to her, “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito.” Mosquitos of light – present, persistent, pestering. We can make a difference.
For the past year the eyes of our nation and much of the world have been on Uvalde. I don’t think they are looking to see what we will do and I don’t think they are listening to hear what we will say. They want to know if there is light in the darkness. They want to be reminded that the darkness, as real as it is, cannot overcome the light.
This is our time to shine. You are the light of the world.
And a little bit of light goes a long long ways.
This service and the call to service with anointing of hands was quite meaningful to me. I recommend your congregation consider a study on Scott Black Johnston’s book “Elusive Grace”. It is an invitation to be the church in the midst of diverse and strong beliefs. Given that your community still has so many who would vote back into office our present Governor who would prefer to reduce funding for mental health and public schools but is not willing to let the legislature even have an open conversation about gun violence is a sign to me that our churches MUST continue to be the light were we are but also learn how to interface with other children of God who still do not see the light. My prayers remain with your community and your congregation.
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Sharyn, thank you for your presence and support, and the book recommendation.
Peace be with you,