My friends, I’d like to tell you a real-life story today as I begin that I think speaks well to the overriding themes of this weekend in Lent. This story is one that you know, but I tell it again, so that we won’t forget it.
This past Wednesday, March 14, 2018, marked one month since the tragic shooting of 17 students and teachers at Margory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Some were maybe prone to notice this event, but then move quickly on, thinking there was nothing to be done to end this violence. How many such shootings have already occurred? Does anyone of us really know?
Yet, amid the suffering that this high school in Parkland, Florida was enduring; they found the strength from within to stand up to and for our country and say, “Enough is enough, no more!” They asked students who wished to stand with them to join in a walk-out from school on the month anniversary of this devastating tragedy to show their resolve that these lives taken were not in vain and of how much they want Congress and all in our society to get motivated in order that change can happen.
In addition, these young leaders from Florida have mobilized the country to a March on Washington on the 24th of this month to implore, but more so, demand that those in Congress, our so-called leaders would finally do something to bring about change.
The prophet Jeremiah speaks the words of God, “The days are coming…I will put my law on your hearts.” God, through the prophet was telling the people in Jeremiah’s time, well before our brother, Jesus walked the earth, that for all the covenants and promises made and broken by the people, now was the time when they needed to change, for good, once and for all.
The words of the prophet seem appropriate for us now, at this time when our country so needs change so that our school children and young people can learn in settings free from fear. This is what Winona’s high school students told us most eloquently on Wednesday morning.
There was no doubt that these students had placed this concern “on their hearts,” letting all of us standing in support with them, know that they would not quit until some change happens.
Beyond the very moving way that the Winona Senior High School students chose to remember those slain at Margory Stoneman Douglas High, there was a sense of sincere, yet gentle outrage for what happened in Florida, realizing that this tragedy could have happened just as easily in Winona. Their sense of sincerity, urgency and outrage that this not happen again was evident in their demeanor and in the words of those who spoke.
The reading to the Hebrews today lets us know that “Jesus was heard because of his reverence.” In that light; I give a word or two about the demonstration of remembrance that the students used on Wednesday. Each victim’s name was read aloud and short bios shared for each of the 14 students and the 3 faculty members. As each name was read, a student presented him/her-self and lay on the concrete in front of school and had their form traced there. A very poignant piece was that after the tracing, the student was able to get up and walk away. That wasn’t the case for the students in Parkland, Florida.
It is said that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and this was certainly true on Wednesday morning. I believe all of the community members who came to support the students’ efforts on Wednesday thought of their own children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and friends and could perhaps imagine if what happened in Parkland and so many other places—too many other places, happened to their loved ones. The horror of receiving such a call from your children’s school is unimaginable, unthinkable; but in this day and age, possible!
The student speaker who concluded the program challenged her fellow students to do more, challenged the adults, present, to do more, realizing and expressing the fact that everyone in our country doesn’t agree on the solutions to this violence epidemic, but stressed that there are many things people are in agreement about and that much must be done!
Again, that reminds me of Paul’s words to the Hebrews—for people to hear us; reverence is required—we have to listen to others, try to understand when we disagree and see where we can possibly come together. The battle to make our country safer will not come through angry words and actions, but through listening, understanding and treating our adversaries with as much respect as possible. A very positive action that adults can take is through our right to vote—something not to be taken lightly.
The students who organized and facilitated the event on Wednesday, last, are to be commended! It is always easier to stand back, let others do it. Putting ourselves on the line is always the harder part. Sometimes it may mean ridicule, but it is the right choice to make as followers of our brother, Jesus.
He says in today’s gospel that “unless a grain of wheat fall and die—it remains only a single grain.” We may agree that change is needed, but unless we place our commitment “on our hearts,” making it part of our flesh and bones, it can’t help others to grow. Sometimes our word and our action is the impetus to get others moving. We cannot underestimate the power of one person to bring about change when our commitment to do what is right and good in our world is laid “upon our hearts” which basically solidifies the words of our mouths. And when are actions are done “with reverence” with care for all, only good can come from that! Amen? Amen!!