It’s not about me.
These are words I find myself repeating in my head these days.
Yesterday, I selfishly thought, “no!
I cannot go through another worship service
and preach another sermon
after another massacre
of precious human beings.”
And as soon as the thought appears, I remind myself, “it’s not about me.”
I remember in December 2012, sitting in our church while waiting for our preschool students to sing Christmas songs for their parents. I looked at my phone, just for something to do while waiting, and saw the horrific news of the Sandy Hook massacre. Getting up and greeting the parents, who were mostly unaware of what had just transpired, was so hard. I could hardly speak through my emotion. After the concert, our preschool director asked me what was wrong. I choked out the words, “A massacre of little children just happened.”
That Sunday, I changed my sermon. That year we were looking at the verses of It Came Upon the Midnight Clear, and that week we were looking at verse 3:
And you, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow:
Look now, for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing;
Oh, rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing.
I remember preaching about the continued gun violence crushing us and bending us low. That was the first sermon where I began with hands that were shaking, while telling myself to stay calm as “it’s not about me.”
Then more massacres. After the massacre at Charleston, we attached ribbons to a cross and after worship put it on the lawn. One ribbon for each precious life. Honoring the dead. Following the Charleston massacre we changed the memorial by changing the number of ribbons in correspondence to the number of those killed. Eventually we stopped making memorials… not because we didn’t want to but because we couldn’t keep up with the number of massacres. Then the big cross that we’d erected outside succumbed to termites and had to be removed.
The last memorial that we made was after the Pulse Massacre. This combined homophobic hate with gun violence. We made crosses, painted them in the colors of the rainbow and placed them on our lawn. Many people appreciated the gesture. For me it feels empty. But it’s not about me.
The most common reasons for changing a sermon at the last minute in my 12 years as a pastor are gun massacres. I don’t want to preach about guns and violence and death. But it’s not about me. Two weeks ago, I had to change my sermon yet again. The text was about idolatry, so how could we not address the god of guns to whom precious people of all ages are sacrificed?
This week, although I have an outline in my head, I haven’t yet written my sermon. It was to be about a call to prayer for our city. I was planning to talk about how our ministry can be strengthened as we pray more intentionally together. It was to be hopeful.
As I reread the text for Sunday, words the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, I realize these words speak to the unspeakable horror that has become life in our country.
“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” -Philippians 2:1-4
In reading these words I am reminded that it is indeed not about me. Nope, not me. But it is my call to speak into the pain and the hurt and the frustration and the anger and all the other feelings as I remind us that really, It Is About Us. All of us. What will we do? I wish I had an easy answer.