This is not my first on any given day blog post. It’s likely not my last. On Any Given Day is the title I’ve given to several sermons themed around gun violence and our response as people of faith. This past Sunday, I was the guest preacher at a church in a small town in Ohio. It’s a town that has been touched by gun violence. It is also known to be gun-country. It could have been a less-than-friendly congregation to hear this message.
I say could have been because I really didn’t know how my message would be heard and received. I never do really. I can say that the hospitality shown to me when I arrived was as good as it gets. I can also say that no one walked out! Afterwards, no one seemed reluctant to shake my hand, though not everyone gave me the opportunity. Thankfully, there were a few who wanted to ask more questions about God Before Guns. A couple who were interested enough to ask for our brochures and to be put on our mailing list. Many others said nothing. Several said noncommittally thank you for coming today. That’s all pretty typical of any Sunday morning in any church no matter the sermon topic! The preacher might be the last person to know how people really felt. Good or bad.
Sometimes preachers are given the gift of knowing. And it is a gift. To know that our words touched someone. To hear the words, that was exactly what I needed this morning. You were talking directly to me. How did you know I needed to hear that? It’s always refreshing to know and it most definitely helps the spirit when sermon writing comes around again the next week and the next, and the next. Soothes the ego and encourages us to put ourselves out there again.
But an even bigger question preachers struggle to know the answer to is: will anything I say make a difference? The answer to that has nothing to do with personal ego. That’s about something happening between our mouths and the listener’s ear. That’s the Holy Spirit at work.
That happened on Sunday.
It began with the children. This church is blessed with 15-20 young children who came forward for Children’s Moment with the Pastor. I read them a book. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. I’ve used this book as illustration in several other gun violence sermons saying: these are the things that should define a child’s bad day! A child’s worst day should have nothing in it that has to do with a gun. These children loved it — as did their parents and grandparents in the congregation. Reading the book leads to questions like: What makes it a bad day for you? Who helps you when those things happen? Where is God on a bad day? We say a prayer together and they’re off to Sunday School. Two brothers dressed identically in bright safety green t-shirts were sitting right in front of me. They warmed to me right way. They started joining in on every other page with their sweet voices: it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Sweet-faced and yet a little mischievous — I know the look well from my own two sons when they were small.
Then at the door after worship, near the end of the line of parishioners, a 30-something woman said to me: I’m sorry but I cried during most of your sermon.
No apology necessary, the sermon must have touched you in some way.
May I have one of those Gun Safety Cards you talked about?
She was talking about the cards that God Before Guns is distributing to day cares, churches, pediatrician waiting rooms, etc. here in Cleveland. I’d held one up during my sermon. We work together with other organizations in getting these cards out in the community. We’re always looking for more organizations to partner with us. I take some with me wherever I go. Of course, here’s one for you. And then she said:
I want to give one to my ex-husband. She said through more tears.
And then I looked down and saw those same two little boys in their neon green shirts standing with her. I can’t stop thinking about these two little boys. They are now part of my daily prayers, together with their mother. And their father. For these little boys to grow up safe — for nothing worse to happen to them than what happened to Alexander. They deserve that. And they have the right to expect that adults will give every effort to make sure that happens.
Sometimes God shows up. Sometimes we’re in the right place at the right time with the right message. Sometimes we can make a difference.
It can happen. On any given day …
Pastor. Parent. Activist.