44 [Jesus said,] “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then Jesus opened the disciples’ minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you the Spirit, that God promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
50 Then Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into the heavens. 52 And the disciples worshiped Jesus, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Please pray with me this morning, church:
Holy and mighty God,
Sometimes our sighs are too deep for words.
Thank you for your Spirit,
Who intercedes on our behalf,
When we are unable to even muster a prayer.
Hold us tightly, God.
I’m so tired, church… So tired…
Aren’t you? In the words of Viola Davis, playing Aibileen Clark in Kathryn Stockett and Tate Taylor’s seminal film The Help, “Ain’t you tired…?”
Yes… Bone tired… Down to my soul tired… Worn, weary, crushed…tired…
The last time I brought out these candles was 4 years ago, May 20, 2018, Pentecost Sunday that year, after a 17-year-old brought a shotgun to Santa Fe High School and murdered 8 classmates and 2 teachers. And now, just over 4 years later, here we are again, with countless murders, mass shootings and otherwise, in between. Just 2 years after the murder of George Floyd. The massacre in Uvalde happening just 10 days since a horrific racially-motivated, white supremacist rampage in Buffalo took the lives of 10 others. But did you know, church, that in those intervening 10 days, in the 10 days in between Buffalo and Uvalde that 15 other mass shootings occurred in this country, according to gunviolencearchive.org…? 15…!
Ain’t you tired…?
Hell yes, I am! I ran out of candles! I ran out of places to put them! That’s obscene!
The prayers that we used at the beginning of worship come from a Prayer of Lament for Gun Violence from our newest worship resource from our denomination, the ELCA, called All Creation Sings. Hear that again…there’s a litany of prayers, in a denominational resource, the largest Lutheran denomination and one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, there’s a litany of prayers for victims of gun violence! Please let that sink in! That is obscene!
How are we ok with this?
Every single time we want to say, “This is just not who we are.” when I am very sorry to tell you, church, it very clearly is. It is exactly who we are. It may not be who we want to be, or who we hope to be, but I’m devastated to tell you that it is exactly who we are.
We have accepted it.
Because if it wasn’t who we are, if we hadn’t accepted this, we would do something to change it.
But we don’t. So we offer “thoughts and prayers” and we ask questions to the wind and to no one in particular like “How could this happen again?” and in less than a week something new will overtake our news feeds and we’ll move on just like we have for over 20 years since Columbine High School.
But there are those who can’t move on. There are those who are too close to these endless tragedies that can’t simply move past it. We must be aware that every single one of these instances leaves a devastating wake of communities, neighborhoods, schools, families, and people.
Every single one of these massacres leaves a wake of destruction.
I ran out of candles to tell you about Ms. Katherine Massey, 72, who was a civil rights activist who called for stricter gun laws in Buffalo.
I ran out of candles to tell you about Andre Mackniel, 53, who was at the grocery store picking up a birthday cake for his 3-year-old son…who wouldn’t make it home for his son’s birthday party.
I ran out of candles to tell you about Ms. Ruth Whitfield, 86, who lived in Buffalo for more than 50 years and loved to sing in her church’s choir.
To tell you about Roberta Drury, 32, who was a caretaker for her brother and was buying groceries for them.
About Eva Mireles, 44, who taught in Uvalde schools for 17 years and used her body to try and protect her students.
About Irma Garcia, 46, who taught at Robb Elementary for 23 years, co-taught with Ms. Eva for 5 years, and whose husband of 24 years, Joe, died of a severe heart attack just 2 days later. They had 4 children.
Xavier Lopez, 10, who had just found out he made the honor roll.
Amerie Jo Garcia, 10, who just celebrated her birthday and gotten a phone she wanted, and tried to use that phone to call for help.
Lexi Rubio, 10, who made the All-A Honor Roll and received a good citizen award.
Tess Marie Mata, 10, who had been saving her money for Disney World and who loved doing TikTok dances.
Babies… Educators… Mamas… Daddies… Grandparents… Hermanos… Hermanas… Primos y primas…
Ain’t you tired, church…?
Of course you are. We all are.
It’s not part of the lectionary readings for today, but they are some of the most potent words in Scripture, from the prophet Amos, chapter 5: “Thus says the Lord, I hate—I despise—your festivals. Your worship is worthless. Even though you bring me offerings, I reject them. I refuse to listen to your songs and music. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
God desires oceans of justice and raging rivers of righteousness. And the best we can do is offer thoughts and prayers?!
We can and should be sad. We can and should lament. Sorrow is holy.
But we must not remain in despair. We cannot stay in our sorrow. Because if we remain in that despairing place, we are incapacitated to do the work to which we are called. Pray and then act. This is the work to which you are called: the holy work of healing, of binding up the wounds of the broken, of repairing that which has been torn, and delivering love and mercy to those most in need of it. God desires justice. God desires righteousness. God desires so much more than thoughts and prayers.
The Sunday of the Feast of the Ascension is the time in the church that we commemorate Jesus leaving the disciples. The day always happens 40 days after Easter. And for those who are paying attention, 40 is an important number, biblically speaking. 40 days of rain and flood. 40 days in the desert being tempted by the Accuser. 40 years journeying in the desert, traveling from slavery toward freedom. 40 is a good, long time. 40 is the amount of time it takes, biblically, to arrive at the moment you throw your hands up and cry, “Enough!” 40 is the time it takes to be done.
Ain’t you tired, church…? Haven’t you had enough? Of course you are. Of course you have.
In some ways, Jesus has had enough, too. He’s spent time with the disciples, he’s taught them things again that he’d already taught them. He’s been with them, but now it is time for Jesus to go. Because if Jesus doesn’t go the book of Acts doesn’t happen. Acts is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke, written by the same person or group of people, and there’s a reason it is called the Acts of the Apostles. This is the disciples getting on with the work—with the acts—of being the church. And if Jesus doesn’t go, they, and we, might be tempted to cling tightly to what we know, stay where we think it’s safe, and not get on with the work and the acts of being the church.
Jesus is tired… But if Jesus doesn’t go, the church doesn’t spread. If Jesus doesn’t go, the work of the church can’t begin.
“You Galileans, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”
Church, why do we stand looking up toward heaven? What exactly are we waiting around for? Are we waiting for someone else? Waiting for Jesus to come back triumphantly in the same way in which he was taken?
Church, I have good news and bad news… The bad news is that Jesus isn’t coming back in the same way in which he ascended. The bad news is that no one else is coming to bail us out of this mess. The bad news…is that you are the ones God has called in this time and in this place to do the work of mending this horribly broken world. The good news…is that you are the ones that God has called in this time and in this place to do the work of mending this horribly broken world.
And the good news…is that you do not do this work on your own.
God has given you the Holy Spirit. You have been clothed with power. And God has given you one another. You do not do this work on your own. But you are called to do this work.
There is no one else. You are the ones.
Why do you stand looking up toward heaven? Look out. Look at your neighbor. Look at the kids across the street. Look at the people in your cul-de-sac. Look at the people in line at the grocery store with you. Look at the babies out at the restaurant with you. These are who you are called to, church.
Our legislators will not save us. The people that we elected to represent us and make and pass laws to protect us and our babies have abdicated their responsibility. This is on us.
I’m so so sorry to tell you that help is not coming. But we do have what we need for this fight.
We do have the good news of God’s vision for the world, God’s hopes and dreams of a restored and whole and well earth. You have been given the Holy Spirit. You have been clothed with power.
And we have each other.
Of course you’re tired. I am, too.
Rest when you need to rest.
But do not stay at rest.
This fight is a holy and righteous one and the forces that would seek to deny life to God’s people can not stand against you when we stand shoulder to shoulder.
You have been blessed. You have been called.
You have been strengthened and nourished.
You have been blessed.
You have been anointed for this fight.
And you will prevail.
You will be victorious.
We must win. We must.
And we will.
We will because our kids are begging us to.
We will because our babies demand that we do.
We will because this is the promise of the resurrection. That death does not win. Death does not get the last word. God has promised life and life abundant, and you are the vessels and the messengers through which God is working and redeeming the world.
This is the work of the church.
Rejoice, people of God.
This is the work to which God has called you.
This is the work for which you have been clothed with power and blessed and anointed
Go and do likewise.
If you’re wondering where to start, if you look at all that’s happening and think, “There’s just no way I can effect any meaningful change.” I invite you to start with a prayer. Pray and beseech God that God would break open your heart and cause your heart to break for that which breaks God’s heart. Pray that God would give you the same eyes of love, tenderness, and compassion with which God looks upon the world. And then I invite you to start. Start somewhere. Start small. But start.
As a bit of Rabbinical wisdom goes, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work. But neither are you free to abandon it.” Or a Mother Teresa reminds us, “Not everyone can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”
If you can find one hour a week in your schedule, I’d love to introduce you to some of our friends at Armstrong. Reading buddies, mentors, teachers’ aides… Young people having positive influences in their lives is the single biggest influencing factor in them being successful in their education and not growing up resorting to violence to solve their problems. That’s not made up, that’s research-backed.
Look, this is convicting for me, too. I haven’t made the time this year to volunteer. Will you join me? Will you commit with me to signing up to volunteer just one hour a week next year as a Reading Buddy or a Mentor at Armstrong? And will you hold me accountable?
We can effect change in our world, church.
We can and we will because we must.
Be of good courage, people of God. Do not be frozen in place by this enormous task.
Pray, and then act.
The crucified, risen, and ascended Christ has empowered, blessed, and anointed you for this work, and joins you in this fight.
Death does not get the last word, praise God.
Take heart. Hold fast to faith.
This is the hope to which you have been called.
God’s resurrection promise for a weary and downtrodden world.