No Sides

On Friday night, a young man and a teenage boy were killed.  No, they were assassinated.  They were targeted and shot in their heads, in a home.  The young man struggled his whole life to live with a chronic disease and to work when he could to help support his mom.  The boy was a good student.  Why them?

On Saturday afternoon families and friends gathered for a vigil. Teenage girls and boys were inconsolable over the loss of their friends and in the realization that they might be the next targets.  This did not make sense.  Children cried because grown-ups cried.  The crowd would sit with the bodies until it was time to go to the cemetery.  Twenty-four hours.  The loved ones must be with their boys until they are sleeping in the earth.

On Sunday morning a small group gathered for worship in the Lutheran Church.  The 5-month calm had been broken.  A community which seemed to be rising up into a peace and sense of hopefulness now felt the familiar weight of grief and fear. Mothers of sons and daughters lost to violence felt the pain in their hearts sharpen.  Rumors were running through the community as people sought to make sense of what happened - rumors fueled by an enforced, physical division in the community.

...I ask you one thing, brother and sister, to pray for the life of your neighbor.  Before you pray for yourself - of course you pray for your own safety because you are afraid every time you go out or your children go out.  But I ask you:  before you pray for your own safety, pray for your neighbor.  Pray for the people who live down there [on the other side of the gang boundary].  

We have to pray for the life of our community, for the boys and the girls, the youth and those who are running the streets. We must ask for the spirit of God to fill us with the love and power of God.  There is no other way.  

In the midst of grief, feel the presence of God.  Feel the spirit of all in the community who want to live in peace.  Take in this air [everyone takes in a breath]...

When a mother has angry words or hits her child, she is hitting God.  If everyone in the community learned this - that God is love - then we would not be beating each other up or insulting one another, spreading talk about one another, much less murdering each other.  

We are sitting here in grief.  We are not thinking about hatred, revenge, finding the guilty.  We are the church and the mission of the church is to pray for the families, to break down the barriers that we have put up so that we can all share in the love of God...

Thanks be to God for life!  God is the God of the beginning, of Genesis, and of the end.  God is the owner of all the universe, all life.  God made a covenant with Abraham saying "I am the God who will raise you up like the stars."  What God wants for us is to grow and believe in his Word, to have a covenant with us.  Say this, "God, I want to make a covenant with you - I want to live in peace, grow my family, have a little house, value education, and enjoy some free time and fellowship with my neighbors."  God wants this just like we do, and God keeps his promises.  Our part is to have faith and prayer and the Word.

We need to show our love to these families [on the other side of the community], to bring them a pound of sugar for their coffee.  They are crying.  God in this moment is crying.  God cries for the hard hurts and evil we live with in this community.  Do you believe this?  [To a father whose son was killed last summer]: The day after [your son] was murdered, God passed by crying, right? [The father says yes.  Everyone says yes.] God does this every day.  Why?  Because God made his creation and wants his creatures to live in peace.  From the beginning God made everything good.  

Artwork created by Vonda Drees
God did not create "sides" in the community.  There are no "sides" in grief. There are no "sides" in creation.  There are no "sides" when we are filled with the spirit of love.  We can work for unity when we are filled with the power of God.  The pastor invited the people gathered to do something besides "sitting there with arms crossed."  He invited them to make a covenant with God and to write it down - just a few words.  How am I working with God at school, at home, in my work, in the streets?  This is the way to align yourself with the community - with people who pray for others, who love, who want peace..  

The pastor concluded with the image from Luke 13 of God as mother hen gathering her children safely under her wings.  What do we do if someone is behaving a little badly?  We walk with them and invite them under the wing.

Sermon given by a Lutheran pastor of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church.  Transcribed and translated by Linda Muth.


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