photo taken from the website of St. Philip's Episcopal Church in Marysville, WA
In June, I was asked to write a sermon for the 9 month mark after the shootings at Marysville-Pilchuck High School. This sermon was to accompany a service for healing and was intended to be heard by a community of many faiths and backgrounds. The service was never held and so the sermon never preached, but I thought today, at the one year mark, the words might offer hope as we continue to walk toward healing.
May Creator guide, heal, and sustain us. Amen.
(Please read Psalm 46 and John 1:1-5)
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change…”
And change it has.
Nine months ago, we could pretend that we were just another all-American town (whatever that means…I’m not sure exactly). Nine months ago, we hung Halloween decorations, brought out our heavier sweaters, and watched our young people head out to Homecoming games and parties and dances. Nine months ago, we prayed for the people on the other side of the world, for those who don’t have it as good as we do. We worried for Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan as Muslim killed Muslim in power struggles masquerading as religious difference. We thought about Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone. Countries which were being ravaged by Ebola. We prayed for girls in Liberia who were kidnapped and sold into slavery. We prayed for Ferguson, Missouri, where an unarmed black man was shot to death by a police officer, and for Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, where a gay couple was severely beaten because of the person they loved. Nine months ago, we thought tragedy belonged somewhere else.
Today marks nine months since our little community was rocked by violence. Nine months since that crisp autumn day in October when a smiling, bright eyed, and laughing teenage boy walked into the cafeteria at Marysville-Pilchuck High School and murdered his friends. And took his own life. And shattered the illusion that our world is predictable, that our town is safe from seemingly random acts of violence. It shook us to our very core. Our hearts melted.
The questions of how this happened have been mostly answered. The questions of why this happened may never be. Sometimes there are no answers. And that space between knowledge and understanding is a difficult space in which to stand. No man’s land. A place where we feel lost and desperate and as though the world shifts under our feet. A place where we get so off kilter that it may seem the whole world is slanted or crooked or wrong. A place where the seas in our souls rage and where we tremble in tumult.
But God is present even here. Even in the places where we think or we feel impossibly alone, desperately abandoned. God is here. God has always been here, “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God.” God present from the beginning of time and through all of time since the world was new. And God promises to remain here with us and to give some measure of calm.
As I was reflecting on the seasons that have passed since those five children walked into spirit country and only one remained here, I was able to see streams of calm, rivers of gladness, pockets of hope…places where the light of God shined so brightly that it became our strength.
The tribes, the city, the schools came together to help guide our people toward recovery. Other school systems sent guidance counselors to assist our children. Grocery store managers provided food for rescue workers and school and city officials. Churches opened their doors for safe harbor and reunion. Children offered flowers and prayer flags and song and embrace. As morning dawned, it was clear that God was in this place. Here in Marysville, WA.
And there we found hope.
And as the days since October have passed, some bright and some bleak, we have discovered that hope comes abundantly to those who are open to receive it and hope is offered continually for those who are not quite ready.
It is in the prayers of our neighbors of all faiths, 40 of whom were represented in the Interfaith Prayer Service, in the postponement of a high school football game as rival teams granted our team mercy in the week that followed, it is in the songs of school children as they offer their voices in prayer and lament, in the dances of rainbow children as their movement proclaims death does not have the final word, in the return of the butterfly which announces the running of the salmon…a sign that all will be well.
The Creator breathes into our midst, in the middle of our suffering, and we find strength and refuge in the Word of our Creator’s lips born in the lives of one another and in the renewal of creation
And there we find hope.
Hope that God will take this vile action, this loss of life and beauty and joy, this ruin, and continue to shatter it…to burn it. To destroy weapons of war and destruction that this may never happen again in this place…and, we pray, in this world.
Hope that we can still our quaking souls and remember and understand that God is God! God is with us; God is our refuge. God who is here and promises to remain here. Creator who is life and light to all people. From before the worlds began.
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not and will not overcome it.