Eighteen Hundred and Thirty-Two: 1 Timothy 6.6–19

Delivered at Ames UCC
on August 11, 20192019.8.11 x everywhere
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness . . . be rich in good works, generous . . . and (be) ready to share . . . take hold of the life that really is life

In this letter to his co-missionary Timothy, Paul directs members of this new Jesus Way to

pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness . . . be rich in good works, generous . . . and (be) ready to share . . . take hold of the life that really is life

As the oldest preserved theologian of our faith—Paul’s letters being older than the written version of the gospels—Paul lays out what God needs of us and what we need of each other. For example, don’t make gaining wealth your priority. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with money, but when we love money, we get into trouble. The love of money distracts from the love of God and each other. Instead, again,

pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness . . . be rich in good works, generous . . . and (be) ready to share . . . take hold of the life that really is life

Likely dictated to a scribe on one day and carried by courier an unknown number of miles and additional days, Timothy was lucky to have ever received this letter.

I wish I could say the same about this letter:

[I unfurl down our sanctuary’s center aisle and beyond over 144 feet of taped-together pages.]

MASS SHOOTINGS
This isn’t a letter in the sense of one-to-one communication, or even a group of authors with a singular intent. This is a letter in the sense that it is a form of communication. It is a message, a dispatch, created by thousands of voices unwilling and rejected by millions of ears unhearing.

These 158 pages list the locations of the 1,832 mass shootings that have occurred in our great country since 2014, the year in which the nonpartisan Gun Violence Archive began their work. The GVA defines mass shootings as events in which four or more people, excluding the shooter, were shot but not necessarily killed at the same general time and location.”

You might think, for a moment, that four people injured by gun violence does not a mass shooting make. What is four wounded in the face of 22 dead in El Paso, 26 in Sutherland Springs, 50 in Orlando, or 54 in Las Vegas?

It is still four people maimed all at once.

If that does not shock us to the same degree as the other totals, that is a symptom of how numb, even how callused we have become in order to protect our hearts and our minds from going mad with rage and fear.

But the dead and the wounded are not interested in our protection, for they had none themselves. Final breaths and ones struggling to be made composed this letter.

OTHER AUTHORS
They are not the only authors.

Eye witnesses have written this letter about panic and guilty relief.

Police wrote this letter about having to hunt and to kill.

EMTs wrote this letter about triage and pools of blood.

Physicians, nurses, and custodial staff, and physical and occupational therapists, wrote this letter about surgery and lost limbs and used-up dressings.

Coroners wrote this letter about the path each bullet took.

Families—like that of two-month old Paul in El Paso who is alive today because his mother Jordan shielded him and his father Andre shielded her, because both of those parents died to protect Paul’s brand-new life—that family contributed to this letter without words, with only wails and keening.

White supremacists, white nationalists, Christian nationalists, homophobes, the isolated, and the alienated wrote this letter, and so did we.

Whatever our understanding of the reason for mass shootings occurring at all, and having become increasingly more lethal over time, we have in our failure to slow down or stop the gunmen in their carnage, we have written this letter of death.

Which takes us back to Paul and his letter.

URGENCY
 Paul was not worried about death so much as he was worried about how people were living in preparation for what he believed was the imminent return of Jesus Christ. Soon, very soon, Paul believed God would return through Christ, in a final collision between human history and divine will. And so he was anxious that people be ready. His teaching to

pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness . . . be rich in good works, generous . . . and (be) ready to share . . . take hold of the life that really is life

was not a mere suggestion, but an urgent directive.

And it still is.2019.8.11 hear
My theology does not fully align with that of Paul as I do not understand the Christ to have left, to be somewhere else, only to return at an unknown date. The Easter mystery, in my experience, prayer, and study, is an ever-rising power, the Christ rising again and again when life persists in the face of oppressive death.

Jesus didn’t go anywhere so much as the Christ went everywhere.

But I do share Paul’s sense of urgency, an urgency about the ongoing collision of bullets and bodies.

Paul writes that those who love money “pierce themselves with many pains.” So has our nation in our love of everything but each other. Our nation, in our love of everything but each other, has pierced itself with many pains—and bullets.

LOVE
But bullets have no voice. And bullets have no independent agency. We do.

Paul believed that the ordinary people of the world had the capacity to so change their hearts and lives that they would meet God and be joined in eternal union. I believe that through the eternal bond we already have with God, that covenant God tattooed on each of our hearts, we ordinary people have the capacity to meet each other and be joined in unity.

We already have the tools to deliver us from our own evil, to see a way out of this “no way,” to refuse to author yet another line of this bloody missive, and to begin a new letter of redemption.

So hear again with the apocalyptic urgency of Paul of Tarsus and the fierce protectiveness of the parents of small, infant Paul in El Paso:

Commit to and unite in the pursuit of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness; the richness of good works, generosity, and sharing; and the sacrifice of our wealth and our egos and our comforts and our distractions for the preservation of this life, which is real life.

AMEN

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