Last week we all heard the horrible news of the shooting in Arizona killing 6 people and wounding 13 others including Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford.
Since then there has been a lot of talk about what caused this horrible event.
The sheriff in Pima county got the ball rolling by stating that, "When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government.
The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous, and unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."
The sheriff was then attacked for making a political statement.
Sarah Palin said, “Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own.
They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio, not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle, not with law-abiding citizens who respectfully exercise their First Amendment rights at campaign rallies, not with those who proudly voted in the last election.”
Who is right?
Who is wrong?
To ask this another way is sin simply personal or is it societal?
Am I an individual or a product of my environment?
I would like to argue that it is both.
There is no doubt that I carry personal responsibility for my actions.
My parents from an early age taught me that there were consequences for my actions and that I would have to live with those consequences.
I was to blame for the decisions I made.
There is no doubt that the shooter in Arizona is responsible for his actions and will have to face the consequence of those actions.
But to say that outside forces have no bearing on who we are, the way we think, and the way we react to stimuli would be an equally ridiculous thing to say.
We are all tied together.
We react to certain things partially because of the times in which we live.
People of other times thought differently about the universe and our place in it.
I am a product of my upbringing both good and bad, and the society in which I am a part.
We cannot divorce ourselves from the reality we find ourselves.
Our sin is always tied up with the sins of the entire world.
And my sin however personal affects more than me.
For example, I am sometimes rather lazy about my environmental responsibilities.
It is not that I don’t agree with the scientific evidence of global warming or that I don’t believe in being a good steward of God’s creation it is just that sometimes it is more convenient to drive then to walk, or just throw out the can of soda in the regular trash rather than recycle.
It is my own love for conveniences, and yes that has some consequences for me, but it also affects all of you.
I believe that how we act, or don’t act, is about more than an individual choice but has communal consequences.
And sin is bigger than one person.
The sin of the shooter was about more than a bad choice that he made, about more than he had some serious psychological problems.
He lives in a world where we tend to settle disputes through violence.
He lives in a world where guns are made that are able to take out a lot of people in a small period of time.
He lives in a world where we ignore the signs of people in trouble because, “We don’t want to get involved.”
We live in a world where politicians take the quick route to sound bite instead of the thoughtful way to understanding.
We live in a world filled with inflamed rhetoric, and vitriol.
He lives in a world where you can buy ammunition at Wal-Mart like a pack of gum.
And this world has been around a lot longer than merely what happened last weekend in Arizona.
Consider that tomorrow is Martin Luther King day.
On April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King was shot to death by a man who did not like his politics.
This despite the fact that Martin Luther King preached non-violence, love of enemy, and peace.
You can go back even further 2,000 years ago on a hill outside the city walls the place called the skull.
Jesus was hung on a cross in a most savage and violent manner.
This despite the fact that he raised no army, never hurt anyone, and was God’s son.
This despite the fact that he preached to the poor, welcomed sinners, and talked of God’s love.
For a long time we have lived in a world filled with sin and death.
We have lived in a world where people solved problems with vitriol, hard words, and violence.
The question that we are left with this morning is what shall we do?
What is left to be said or done?
As Christians, as people who follow Christ, we have to look towards Jesus.
We have to see the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.
Jesus on the cross became the symbol of the violence and hatred in the world.
Jesus became the one onto whom we put all of our hate and violence in order to redeem that world.
Dr. Martin Luther King knew this truth.
He knew that Jesus was the source of his strength, life, and courage.
For us it has to be too.
And this is our way out.
We can be part of this world.
The world that filled with sin.
The world that speaks in vitriol tones.
The world that allows a man to kill 6 people and wound 13 on a Saturday morning at a grocery store.
Our place in the world is in the middle of all that mess.
It is in the middle of the debate.
We enter that debate with a great sense of humility knowing that we are not perfect, knowing that no human endeavor is perfect, and that only in working together are we made whole.
And it is always with the knowledge that Jesus is the one who takes away the sins of the world.
That God has called this world good.
That Jesus Christ pointed us toward the light and what is good.
And maybe we can help the debate be about something more than winning elections, but about the way we care, the way we serve one another, the way we love our enemies, and show empathy.
As Mother Teresa once said, "Words which do not give the light of Christ increase the darkness."
Our role in the world can be to spread the light.
We can remind people that we are tied together in this world.
As Martin Luther King once said, “All life is interrelated, that somehow we're caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
Because we look not to ourselves, but we look towards the one who takes away the sin of the world, and replaces it with love, understanding, and peace we can help point others towards the light of Christ.
I want to end today with a video I made for the worship tomorrow at Concord’s Martin Luther King day service sponsored by the Greater Concord Interfaith Council.