Rev. Izzy Harbin
Love One Another
There was another mass shooting today, the 146th mass shooting this year. Mass shootings are defined as a shooting death where four or more individuals are killed. One hundred forty-six times four at a minimum – that is 584 people dead since January 1, 2023, at a minimum. In reality, more than 11,500 people have been killed as a result of gun violence in 2023. That is 115 individuals killed every day in this country due to gun violence.
How are we not getting the message that gun violence is an important health and safety issue in this country?
Before I go any further, I probably need to state for the record that I am NOT anti-gun. I don’t want to take away your “right to bear arms.” This is not an attack on the 2nd Amendment. What I want to say in this post really doesn’t have anything to do with owning guns, it has to do with how we treat one another.
As I watch what is happening in our country regarding this polarizing issue, we always try to make it about gun ownership and the rights of the individual. What I want to drill down and touch today has more to do with how we choose to live in community.
We just celebrated Easter yesterday. We talked about the resurrection of Jesus, about the power of change and transformation. When it comes to this issue, however, we are unyielding. No one wants to find any kind of middle ground.
The numbers I gave you in the first paragraph represent those who are now no longer with us. Regardless of the circumstances of their deaths, gun violence does not have to be our legacy. As a community, we can change and be transformed into something wholly different than what we are now.
Hear the words from Ephesians 3:14-19, 4:1-3, (The Message) —
“14-19 My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
20 God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.
4 1-3 In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.”
Scripture calls us to be firmly planted in love. It is hard to love someone when you have a gun pointed at you. It is hard to “live and let live” when you are walking in fear every time you walk into a school building worried that it might be your last. Scripture is putting us on notice that we are to love with humility and discipline. We are to remain teachable and to stick it out until we get it right. This is what it means to live in community, a real community. For the sake of each other, we offer love not hatred. We learn to listen to one another without judgement. We begin to act in the interest of the whole community, not just our own self-interest.
To be followers of Christ, we have to be willing to put the interest of others ahead of our own. We need to see the needs of the people living all around us and ask how we can be of assistance to them. Trust me, if this were easy or simple, I wouldn’t need to write about it. This is something that we all must learn and practice. It isn’t our natural inclination. No, we are actually hardwired for survival. Our biology wants us to live, amidst all kinds of threats – mastodons come to mind. I hope you just said to yourself, “But mastodons don’t exist anymore…” Exactly. The kinds of threats that we faced in our humble beginnings don’t exist anymore, but our bodies don’t know that.
When we perceive threats everywhere, we are likely to act on that perceived threat by protecting our lives at all costs. Jesus walked into danger by leaving the safety of Galilee and traveling to Jerusalem. His disciples tried to stop him. He insisted on going. Jesus knew what was going to happen if he went to Jerusalem for Passover. He knew that he would be killed. But he did it anyway. Jesus didn’t “protect” himself or prevent his own arrest, and he told Peter point-blank to put down his sword. Here is the moment when his disciples could have created such a ruckus that Jesus could have escaped, but that isn’t what Jesus demonstrated. Instead, he took it all.
I know you aren’t Jesus; neither am I. Faced with that kind of decision, I’m fairly certain I would chicken out. Still, Jesus provides us with the ideal. He is showing us what it means to live a faith that is grounded in compassion. This is our best hope for the future, to always begin with compassion. Maybe it is time to re-evaluate how we talk to one another, how we listen to one another, and most importantly, how we behave toward one another. The love that Jesus calls us to exhibit is never easy, but we have to start somewhere, if for no other reason than to reduce gun violence in this country.
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”