Mark 11:1-11 “Save Us”
Everyone thought things would be different now. Everyone thought the tide had turned, the power had shifted, their salvation had arrived. They shouted and waved palms and pushed their way to the front to catch a glimpse of the one they wanted to call King. So convinced they were that their savior had arrived they shouted “Hosanna” which means “Save Us!” “Save us, Jesus.” It was a shout of prayer, a plea, and a hope that finally everyone would be alright. Jesus went through the gates of Jerusalem and was greeted just like a king. But what the people didn’t understand was that Jesus’ arrival wasn’t the moment their suffering ended, rather his arrival was an invitation to a movement that was just beginning, a movement that would be require a lifetime of commitment.
In 2018 I walked with the crowds and thought things would be different now. I thought the power had shifted and salvation had arrived. We shouted and waved signs and pushed our way to the front of the crowd to hear speakers. So convinced were we that everything would be alright now, we were jubilant and felt invincible. Across the country, indeed across the world, millions of people joined together in the March for our Lives, a movement of hope and a call to action prompted by the shooting at a high school in Parkland, FL. The sheer numbers of people, we thought, the over-whelming passion and conviction, the wisdom and the vitality – it couldn’t be ignored. Everything would be alright now, we thought.
What I didn’t realize, just as those who lined the road into Jerusalem didn’t realize, is that this wasn’t a moment in history, it was a movement, and movements require constant work. Movements require focus and attention and a relentless call to create change. And it requires all of us. The people who shouted ‘Hosanna’ as Jesus passed by wanted him to do it all – to save them from their oppression, to bring down the Empire, to return the people to a place of power and privilege. They greeted him in the same way they would have greeted a king riding in on a steed, brandishing a sword, and marshalling an army. But what they failed to notice was that Jesus didn’t arrive like that – he arrived on the back of a borrowed donkey, brandishing nothing but a promise of God’s redemptive love. He didn’t come to marshal an army and destroy the Roman Empire by whatever means necessary. Instead, he came to teach, to call out hypocrisy, to offer a different path, and to point to God. He didn’t arrive in Jerusalem to end the violence of oppression with more violence, instead he arrived to tell the people that the power to end oppression relies on them and that their liberation will never be complete until everyone is liberated from the power of evil, violence, and greed. This isn’t what the people wanted, and soon their shouts of ‘hosanna’ turned to shouts of ‘crucify him.’
On March 24, 2018 I joined with millions of people to lift high the voices of high school students who survived mass shootings and demand legislation that would limit the number of guns in the United States and ultimately save lives. I had such high expectations. The voices of our leaders were compelling and brilliant. I cheered and danced and cried tears of relief as I listened to them. Except, I now realize, I didn’t listen. What I thought I heard were promises. Promises of a shift in power. Promises of the end of oppression and violence and fear and easy access to weapons. But – that is what I wanted to hear, I wanted to hear a promise. But in fact what those leaders told me that day wasn’t a promise but it was a call to action. It was invitation to join a movement that would require more than showing up to march and waving a sign. It was an invitation to begin the work with them. I returned home and when the promises I thought I had heard didn’t materialize, when things in fact got worse, I thought it was others who had failed. In fact it was me who had failed to listen to the voices of justice, the voices urging me to put down my sign and get to work.
The United States experienced two mass shootings in less than a week. The man who killed 8 in Georgia last week purchased his gun the same day he used it to murder. The same day the shooter in Georgia purchased his gun, the man who murdered 10 in Colorado purchased a semi-automatic rifle. Now following the shooting in Parkland, the Boulder City Council passed an ordinance that made it illegal to purchase that type of weapon. But just nine days before the Colorado shooter purchased that rifle, a judge in Colorado overturned the ordinance, saying the ban on sales of semi-automatic weapons was illegal and the ordinance could no longer be enforced. “The judge cited a 2003 Colorado law that prohibits cities and counties from banning firearms that are legal under state and federal law.” It was illegal for the city of Boulder to make it illegal to purchase a weapon which is designed to do nothing but kill as many people as possible.
But, it is not just mass shootings that demand our attention. It is true that mass shootings are a terrifying problem in our country. Since 2009, there have been over 254 mass shootings in the United States, resulting in nearly 1,400 people killed and an additional 950 people wounded. But mass shootings are just a tiny part of the problem. Gun homicides are 25x higher in the United States than that of other high-income countries[i] In 2020, over 43,000 people died as a result of gun violence and an nearly 40,000 more were injured by gun violence By ‘gun violence’ I am referring to all gun related deaths, including suicide. However gun homicides increased 25% in 2020 from just one year prior. And in 2019, firearms were the leading cause of death of children and teens in the United States[ii]
It wasn’t the leaders who failed. It was all of us.
When we hear the all too familiar recitation of statistics that prove what a problem guns are in our country, how do we respond? Do we cry out “Hosanna!”? Do we cry out “Save us” to God? Do we cry out “Save us” and look to the teacher of our faith and find there an invitation to join a movement to liberate ourselves from powers of violence, hatred, fear, and greed. Do we cry out “Save us” and hear God respond with a promise – not a promise that fix it all, but a promise that in our Creation we were given the power to create change, to create the Kingdom of God? Do we cry out “Save us” and hear it as a cry for salvation that is directed right back at us, a salvation that we know, we know, is possible because our faith has shown us a different possibility and God has given us the ability to make the possibility real?
Or do we cry out “Save us” and wait for change to happen. Do we cry out “Save us” and demand action from everyone else but ourselves? Do we cry out “Save us” and then go back to our comfortable lives, lived inside of shells that we think protect us, but instead just keep us isolated from the source of hope around us. Do we cry out “Save us” and then do nothing but offer our thoughts and prayers? Thoughts and prayers followed by zero action is a lot like shouting ‘Hosanna’ one week, and ‘Crucify him’ the next.
Jesus didn’t travel through the gates of Jerusalem with reassurances that nothing was required of the people who were waving palms and shouting ‘Hosanna.’ Jesus traveled through the gates of Jerusalem with no power of his own, just a promise that God stands with the oppressed, the victims of violence, and with those who seek and create justice. Jesus’s power lied with God and with the people. And that power is our heritage.
Faith communities have inherited a power that is rooted in justice and realized when we work together to make real the Kingdom of God. The problem of gun violence, indeed of all the injustices that plague us, feels overwhelming and at times out of our ability to change. But just because the problems are big doesn’t excuse us from beginning. We each have a role to play: some can give money to organizations like Faith in Public Life, a lobbying group that demands gun control legislation amongst other social justice focuses; or Everytown, which compiles research and data about gun violence in addition to educational opportunities, lobbying efforts, and support groups for survivors. We can write and call our local, state, and federal officials – not just once, but relentlessly – and demand they enact laws that limit the sales of guns. And then we can tell our neighbors, friends, and families to do the same thing. We can educate ourselves about white supremacy and white privilege and how systemic racism creates incentives to keep Black people in poverty, which has a direct correlation to an increase in gun violence. We can volunteer at organizations that support those with mental health disorders or substance addiction – surrounding some of the most vulnerable in our community with a ring of people who love and support them. We can attend marches and listen, really listen, to the voices calling for justice, even when those voices make us uncomfortable. We can raise funds for gun buy-back programs and destroy the guns in our own homes.
The problems are big, and they are beyond the ability of any one person to fix. But the scale of the problem is not an excuse to do nothing. We each have a role to play and an action that is completely within our abilities. For some it is to give money, for some it is to lobby elected officials, for some it is to volunteer, for some it is to march, for some it is to teach, for some it is to learn and share new knowledge, for some it is to speak out, and for some it is to call people to action from a pulpit entrusted to her. We each have a role to play and an action that we can do. What can you do? What will you do? Let us be a people of ‘Hosanna,’ a people who shout ‘save us’ not to abdicate responsibility, but rather to claim it.
God of Justice and Hope, the problems of this world seem overwhelming and at times they seem so constant that we wonder if you are paying attention at all. Forgive us our doubts and show us your presence by enlivening our Spirits and drawing us nearer to you in the community of those who seek to do good in this world.
On this day God we pray for all of the victims of gun violence in our country. All of those who have been killed, those who have been wounded, and those who have terrorized by guns. The effects of gun violence ripple out into each community, and so we pray for all of us, because we are all effected.
As we hope the victims in our prayers, we ask that your still-speaking voice whisper in our ears possibilities of what we can do. We know the problem is bigger than one of us, but we are community of your people – and there is nothing that we cannot do when we serve you and work together. Give us the courage to listen for your voice and the audacity to act on your call.
We prayer all of this in the name of Jesus Christ, the one who taught us violence is not the answer to any of the worlds problems, and the one who taught us to pray together by saying…Our Father…
[i] Grinshteyn E, Hemenway D. Violent death rates in the US compared to those of the other high-income countries, 2015. Preventive Medicine. 2019; 123: 20-26
[ii] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) Fatal Injury Reports. Data from 2019. Children and teenagers aged 1 to 19, number of deaths by known intent (homicide, suicide, unintentional deaths). Age 0 to 1 calculated separately by the CDC because leading causes of death for newborns and infants are specific to the age group