Dear Sister CPC Congregations,
The October 1 massacre at Umpqua Community College was a shock to everyone in Oregon, but perhaps especially to us here at the Medford Congregational UCC, because of our proximity and the connection several of our people have to the college and the Roseburg community. Our first response to the murders was to develop petitions to Gov. Brown and to our state senator for new gun control legislation, and then to participate in the anti-hate rally in Medford on October 3, but we came to realize that there is some rather powerful inner work that we can do as Jesus followers. The attached sermon lays out the plan according to Jesus’ promise in Matthew 18:18-20 (the prayer of agreement) and then corroborated by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:1-5 (pulling down strongholds).
We at the Medford Congregational UCC would like to invite you to agree with us in prayer that the stronghold of gun worship be pulled down, that the false god of gun security be bound in the name of Jesus, and that the power of the gun lobby be bound in the name of Jesus.
We will do this prayer of agreement again on October 25, and if several congregations do something similar on that morning—whether in your pastoral prayer, prayers of the people, or however it fits in your liturgy—then the spiritual field will be multiplied! Let’s work together, not only in the outer work we’re so good at,, but in the inner work of the spirit.
with thanksgiving for you all,
Rev. Kurt Katzmar, Medford Congregational UCC
“Pulling Down Strongholds”
Transcript of Sermon by Rev. Kurt W. Katzmar, October 11, 2015
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
Teach us to pray, O God, really teach us. And when you have, teach us to pray again, with new words, new music, new confidence, new faith, new power, and new feelings, so that your freshness will be made clear to us, as it was so clear to Jesus. AMEN.
SERMON and SCRIPTURE
Well, since the massacre at Umpqua Community College, just ten days ago, there have been at least two other murders by firearms at college campuses in the United States. An 18- year-old college student shot four members of the Delta Chi fraternity at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff in the early hours of Friday morning. One student died; the other three are wounded. The shooter, a freshman, survived and was taken into police custody.
At around noon on Friday, when President Obama was in Roseburg, meeting with families of the murdered students, after having been warmly welcomed to our state by a posse of people packing heat, three suspects shot and killed a student and wounded another at an apartment complex on the campus of Texas Southern University, in Houston. Two suspects were taken into police custody. The third suspect still remains at large.
And that’s a typical, normal week in these United States. In the first 238 days of the year 2015, there were over 247 mass shootings of various kinds and in various places in the U.S. — more than one per day, on average. Almost 150 school shootings in the U.S. have been documented since 2013, an average of almost one per week.
As I said last week, just after the Roseburg shootings happened, politicians, college presidents, talk-show hosts, and preachers all stopped what they had planned to say that day to offer thoughts and prayers. President Obama’s angry and frustrated speech a week ago, showed how exhausted he was with pulling out the old boilerplate “Thoughts and Prayers” speech, something any of us could deliver these days, so familiar are we with it.
“Thoughts and prayers are not enough” he said. And he’s partially right. Thoughts are just nothing at all, and prayers for the comfort of family members of victims are fine, but probably only comforting to the pray-ers, because we don’t believe that there is any other kind of prayer available to us.
Let‘s face it: there is no way to stop these massacres in our current national environment. They will go on and one, each one a mere prequel for the next one, the only question being: Who’s next?” What students, teachers, passers-by, or first responders will be next to be riddled with bullets from an semi-automatic weapon wielded by some troubled guy who can’t get a date?
But come on: Roseburg? This is getting really close to home now.
The U.S. has, by a very wide margin, the highest private gun ownership rates in the world. And it’s clear that our nation as a whole (not us sitting in these pews this morning, of course) loves its guns far more than it loves its children, its schools, its churches, or its communities. We’re turning our schools into prisons. Locked doors, guards, bullet proof glass, metal detectors, searches, and now we’re talking of arming teachers. Was it like this when you grew up?
No, it wasn’t, and an argument could be made that the world was a far more contentious and dangerous place back then. Something has changed; America is nothing like what we thought it was. We have over 300 million guns in our nation, yet the pro-gun crowd says it’s still not enough. How many will be enough? Five hundred million? A billion? A twenty-weapon arsenal for every man, woman, and child? Would that be enough?
Instead of providing a laptop computer or iPad for middle schoolers, maybe a Berreta 92 nine-millimeter automatic pistol with a 15-round clip and holster would be more appropriate and useful.
Do we really want a society where everyone is walking around armed to the teeth and eyeing each other, thinking the guy next to them might start shooting? Do we really want to have to live in constant fear that there will be a gun battle at the mall, the grocery store, the gas station, and everywhere we go? Do we really want an America where you have to carry your gun just to walk out to get the newspaper?
Do we really want an America where an apparently serious presidential candidate suggests that he would have organized a group to rush the shooter rather than just stand there and be shot? That candidate’s comments, delivered in such a soft, mild-mannered voice, sums up the strongly held national delusion we’re living in here.
Americans love a cold piece of steel that fires hot lead into soft flesh more than we love the lives of our fellow human beings. No one who calls the U.S. a “Christian nation” can be taken seriously! There is nothing remotely Christian about what this nation worships and serves.
That’s clear, if we look at what is really going on. It’s clear that this fearful, violent country, far worse than any Old West shoot-em-up movie you can name, is the country we live in, the country that many of us served so faithfully in the military, where guns are responsibly and respectfully handled.
Let me get down to it: I believe that our malignant gun culture is a spiritual issue involving a fearful delusion, an enchantment, a belief in demonically false propaganda. It may be a mental health issue and a political and constitutional issue as well, but those are far less important that the the spirituality of the gun culture, the glorification of violence and death, the devoted worship of assault weapons, rifles, pistols, and revolvers.
There is nothing new, really, about a nation being held in thrall by illusion, false worship, and misplaced trust. That’s been going on for thousands of years. The only difference is that this American fetish can kill so efficiently and easily and frequently.
We’ve talked about this quite a bit these past few weeks, in our discussion of the powers and principalities, the inner spirituality of human institutions that counter the power of God and the perceivers of God’s realm.
And there’s a good deal of hand-wringing out there about what can be done to come against the power of the NRA, gun manufacturers, and the politicians and citizens, like those who greeted the president in Roseburg, who are held in their thrall.
“Thoughts are prayers are not enough,” says the president and the creative writing teacher at Umpqua Community College, who wrote so eloquently this past week about the need for action.
But I’m not sure I agree with that, entirely, There is something we can do, and it involves prayer—active, powerful prayer, prayer full of faith and full of strength. Prayer can be enough, if it’s the right prayer, backed by faith and the express promise of Jesus.
Let’s hear the Apostle Paul lay this out for us. This is from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, a contentious, infighting congregation in the wildest, wooliest city in the Mediterranean 1,950 years ago. Paul seems to be replying to charges of weakness and cowardice. He repeats criticism said about him: “Oh, his letters may be strong, but in person he’s just a little weakling and he mumbles when he talks. He’s a loser!” (Not much has changed; our presidential campaigns sound just like that!)
Here is his answer to this criticism:
I myself, Paul, appeal to you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!— I ask that when I am present I need not show boldness by daring to oppose those who think we are acting according to human standards.
Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:1-5)
The world doesn’t fight fair, Paul is telling the uber-macho Corinthians. But we Jesus-followers don’t live or fight our battles the way the world does. The tools of our trade, the weapons of our warfare, aren’t for marketing or manipulation, or for propaganda and profit. They’re to be used for demolishing the entire massively corrupt culture!
Paul says that we can use our powerful God-tools for pulling down a stronghold—ochurōma in Greek, meaning a warped philosophy, enchantment, illusion, or a greedy barrier erected against the truth. That’s what this out-of-control gun culture is: an ochurōma, a stronghold of ungodly spirituality.
Now, as a Just Peace Church, we don’t really like to talk about weapons and warfare, particularly when it has to do with our wielding weapons. “We’re peaceful people! We’re pacifists! We’ve laid down weapons!”
But using the tools Jesus placed in front of us to use is what we’re called to do, and not doing it is to ignore the totality of the gospel. Picking up these spiritual weapons, over and above signing petitions and going to public protests, as so many of us have done in these past days, is what we are to be about, whatever the cost to our comfort.
And what is that weapon? It is prayer, specifically, the prayer of binding, and the prayer of agreement that Jesus laid out for us in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 18. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Two or three or fifty or a hundred people coming together in the name of Jesus have great power, the kind Annie Dillard meant in the quotation we used last week: “Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats or velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.”
That’s the kind power we’re talking about if we work with the prayer of binding and loosing and the prayer of agreement!
We forget this: people covenanted to Jesus praying together and agreeing in prayer creates a field, a field of Holy Spirit power that has a powerful, multiplied effect. This gets intellectually complicated, of course. There may well be, this very morning and in this very valley, churches of 800 people, churches more aware of the power of prayer than we generally are, agreeing in prayer that the right of individuals to bear as many arms as money can buy will not be infringed. “O God, we agree in prayer that the government will never be able to take away our guns…“
But maybe that prayer is based in fear, fear of the government, fear of The Other— Muslims, Communists, “liberals,” whatever the fear du jour is in those churches. But it says in the 2nd Letter of Timothy that for God did not give us a spirit of fear, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. When we pick up the power of this kind of prayer, we need also to lay down the spirit of fear and cowardice.
So what I’d like us to do this morning, is agree in prayer that the false security of individual weaponry, the stronghold of gun worship in the country be pulled down, be destroyed! Let me be clear: I am not talking about hunters, skeet-shooters, or pistol-range hobbyists. There is no stronghold involved with keeping your skills sharp by aiming a shotgun at a clay pigeon. Even if you own a gun, or ten guns, you probably don’t love them more than you love your children, more than you love peace and health and wholeness, and you may be able to agree with this prayer. And if you can’t agree with what I am about to prayer, then don’t, and just sit there quietly.
Ready? Let us pray:
O God, we who are gathered in this place of your worship, in the name of the Prince of Peace, stand on Jesus’ promise reported in Manhew 18:18-20. We have heard the cries of the murdered calling to us from the bloody ground. We gather to remember all the lives lost to the firearms that have flooded our communities. We gather to be reminded of the millions of people held in thrall to the power of the gun lobby, the gun manufacturers, and those who mindlessly and heartlessly profit from them.
We know that you take no pleasure in the violent death of children, or young people, or police officers, or first responders, or teachers, or anyone else. So we boldly come before you, agreeing in prayer that the stronghold of gun worship be pulled down, that the false god of gun security be bound in the name of Jesus, and that the power of the gun lobby be bound now in the name of Jesus! Wipe off the face of the planet the love of gun violence!
We cry out to you in faith: heal the soul of the nation from the scourge of gun violence. Give us and our elected leaders the courage to pray boldly and the act with wisdom to seek true peace.
We apply our faith with confidence this morning. Use us, work through us and, if necessary, work in spite of us to mend our nation’s hideous wounds.
All of those who agree with this prayer shout: Amen!