On July 22 I had planned to preach a sermon about lessons learned from Mary Magdalene and the recently completed General Convention of the Episcopal Church. I had it all outlined, organized and titled "Climbing the Fence Between Fear and Possibility." And then Aurora Colorado happened.
It quickly became clear that nothing I'd prepared ahead of time was going to speak to the challenges of the news of yet-another act of senseless gun violence ending precious lives and grieving the heart of the human family. And yet, when I turned to the quote that inspired the title of my not-going-to-be-preached-after-all sermon -- words from the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori -- I found that they were just as relevant to our post-Aurora world as they were before the gunman armed with an arsenal of assault weapons opened fire in that crowded movie theater:
Until we can see the chasm between what is and what ought to be, we don't have any hope of changing. Indeed it is the act of crossing that boundary between what is and what ought to be that is so characteristic of prophets ... Prophetic words of comfort or challenge urge a kind of frontier work -- getting across the fence between fear and possibility, reconciling division, transforming injustice, urging the lost onto the road home.
Bishop Jefferts Schori preached those words to us in the context of a General Convention wrestling with the challenges of re-imagining and restructuring our church to meet the challenges of mission and ministry in the 21st century. She was preaching to a congregation of people who love their church and strive to live out the Gospel while not always agreeing with each other about how to do both of those things. And she was challenging us -- and, I suspect, challenging herself (because we know all the best sermons are actually the preacher preaching to the preacher) -- to suck it up and get over that fence between fear and possibility in order to bridge the gap between what is and what ought to be in our church and in our world.
What "is" is that the arsenal of weapons the gunman used to kill 12 and injure nearly 60 others were obtained legally. And what "ought to be" are reasonable gun control laws making the kind of carnage we saw in Aurora Colorado not only unimaginable but impossible. In the words of satirist Andy Borowitz, received via Twitter early Sunday morning: "Maybe I'm a dreamer, but I wish mental health care were as easy to get as, say, a gun."
And that -- as I said to the congregation gathered at All Saints Church in Pasadena -- is a tweet that deserves an "Amen."
It not only deserves an "amen" but it deserves our best energies committed to getting over whatever fences stand between what "is" -- a world where fear dominates our discourse, pollutes our politics and feeds violence -- and what "ought to be" is what Jesus called "the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven."
I have often quoted biblical scholar Verna Dozier, and I'm going to do it again. Dr. Dozier famously said, "Don't tell me what you believe. Tell me what difference it makes that you believe." And on Sunday morning in the All Saints Church chapel we gathered to be fed by word and sacrament not just because we believe -- but because we believe we are called to make a difference. Called to climb the fence between fear and possibility. Called to refuse to settle for what "is" but to work together with God to create what "ought to be."
One more Dr. Dozier quote to conclude:
Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Fear is. Fear will not risk that even if I am wrong I will trust that if I move by the light that is given me, knowing that it is only finite and partial I will know more and different things tomorrow than I know today, and I can be open to the new possibility I cannot even imagine today.
There is a fence between that new possibility we cannot even imagine today: a future without assault weapons, without gun violence and without waiting for the next shoe to drop in the next explosion of rage and carnage in a movie theater. Or a college campus. Or a shopping mall campaign stop. Together let us climb that fence. Together let us claim the future. Together let us make the impossible possible as we work to reconcile division, to transform injustice and to urge the lost onto the road home. And together we -- like Andy Borowitz -- can do more than dream of a world where mental health care is as easy to get as, say, a gun. We can make it happen.
Follow Rev. Susan Russell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/revsusanrussell