Sermon: That They May All Be One

May 29, 2022

Acts 16:16-34
John 17:20-26

by Eric Anderson

It’s Memorial Day weekend. This is the first Memorial Day in quite some time that the United States hasn’t been directly engaged in an armed conflict: twenty-one years, in fact, since Memorial Day of 2001. It is a day to remember the 2,420 American servicemembers who died in the Afghanistan conflict, as well as the other conflicts of US history. It is a day to remember and to grieve.

Unfortunately, it is also a day to remember and to grieve for those slain in the Tops Supermarket in Buffalo, New York, people killed by a white supremacist because they were Black, just fifteen days ago. It is a day to remember and to grieve for Dr. John Cheng, killed by a politically motivated gunman in a Taiwanese language church in Laguna Woods, California. It is a day to remember and to grieve for nineteen children and two teachers gunned down by an eighteen-year-old with an AR-15 in Uvalde, Texas, this past Tuesday. It is a day to remember and to grieve.

It is also a day to remember what Jesus told us to do in that upper room, during that Last Supper, before he prayed the prayer whose conclusion we heard this morning. John 15:12: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” And the next verse, John 15:13: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

In these last few bloody days, we have heard of people living – and dying – that truth, even to laying down their lives for strangers. Aaron Salter in Buffalo. Dr. Cheng in Laguna Woods. Teachers Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles in Uvalde. It is a day to remember and to grieve.

It is also a day to remember Jesus’ commandment and to renew our resolve to live out our love for one another. That means, among other things, that we have to confront this rising tide of violence in the United States. We have to confront the worship of the gun.

It is 277.5 miles from Uvalde, Texas, to the city of Houston, where the annual convention of the National Rifle Association has been under way since Friday. As part of that event, they have invited pastors to pray in blessing of their gathering and of their membership. That’s all well and good. But they have also been praying for the unrestrained power to hold other people’s lives in their hands. They have been praying that guns and ammunition will be easily obtained. They have been praying that the instruments of slaughter will be nearby when someone is moved to slaughter.

That, my friends, is not “Love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus did not lead an armed resistance to those who came to arrest him that very night. Instead, he ordered an armed disciple to put his sword back in its sheath. I do not use this word often or lightly, but the prayer to be armed and dangerous and deadly is nothing short of blasphemy.

When Jesus prayed, “that they may all be one,” he did not mean, “that they may all be ready to kill.” He meant, “May they all be ready to love.”

The unity of Jesus’ prayer isn’t just any unity. It’s a unity of love. It’s a unity of compassion. It’s a unity of grace. As Meda Stamper writes at Working Preacher, “The oneness of the Father and Jesus is synonymous with love in John, and what the world is to see in our display of that oneness is the love of God miraculously made manifest.  Our love for God and one another becomes then an offering in and for the world to experience the love through which all creation has come into being.”

I’d have thought it obvious that this commandment to love would imply, “Don’t kill people because they’re black. Don’t kill people because they’re from Taiwan. Don’t kill people because you’re angry and frustrated.” I guess it’s not so obvious.

These are some statistics from the Brady Center to prevent Gun Violence:

  • Each day – each day – 321 people are shot in the United States. 111 die. 42 die from homicides, 65 from suicides.
  • Access to a gun in the home increases the risk of death by suicide by 300%. That’s a factor of four.
  • Every 16 hours a woman is shot dead by her current or former partner.
  • Americans kill each other with guns at 25X the rate of other high-income countries.

The mass shootings grab the headlines, but most of those lost each day are killed one at a time, and most of them by their own hand. One of the most effective ways to prevent death by suicide is to make sure a gun is not accessible.

Why? Because guns are tools designed to do a job. The job is to take life. Why do more hunters use guns than bows? Because guns do the job better. And they do the job better on human beings, too. Ten years ago the killer at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, fired 155 shots in five minutes to claim the lives of six educators and twenty children.

So what are we to do?

We could follow the advice of Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who has suggested that schools be limited to a single entrance. Which is monumentally stupid given that fire is a far greater risk to schoolchildren than gunfire. We could follow the advice of a raft of people who think teachers should be armed. Oddly enough, that approach is generally rejected by teachers themselves. Lauren Casteen, who teaches high school in Durham, North Carolina, wrote in a widely shared Facebook post this week:

“Well, I’ll tell you what won’t help.

“1. Thoughts and prayers.

2. Increased policing in our schools. School resource officers and Border Patrol responded to the Uvalde school shooting and it didn’t prevent loss of life.

3. Arming teachers. (I trip over air. You don’t want me to have a gun.)”

So what will help?

According to reporting by NPR’s Nell Greenfieldboyce, research favors two actions immediately.

“One was a requirement that a gun purchaser go through a licensing process. ‘A licensing process requires someone to, you know, directly apply and engage with law enforcement, sometimes there’s safety training and other requirements,’ says [Daniel] Webster [of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions].

“Another approach that seemed to reduce deaths from mass shootings was state bans on buying large-capacity magazines or ammunition-feeding devices for semiautomatic weapons.”

Further, NPR reporters Jeffrey Pierre and Cory Turner write,

“A lot of the conversation around making schools safer has centered on hardening schools by adding police officers and metal detectors. But experts say schools should actually focus on softening to support the social and emotional needs of students.

“’Our first preventative strategy should be to make sure kids are respected, that they feel connected and belong in schools,’ says Odis Johnson Jr., of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Safe and Healthy Schools.

“That means building kids’ skills around conflict resolution, stress management and empathy for their fellow classmates – skills that can help reduce all sorts of unwanted behaviors, including fighting and bullying.”

You know, that sounds just a little bit – just a little bit – like “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Reducing gun violence and its oh-so-effective harm is, in part, about reducing the number of guns in people’s homes and hands. Just Thursday night three people were shot and hospitalized in a single incident in Honolulu. The current suspect, by the way, is also eighteen years old. Without a gun there would have been a conflict, but one with less potential for grave injury and death. Reducing access to the high capacity magazines, reducing easy access to the easy tool that kills and maims – this makes a difference. It has made a difference in other nations around the world. You know what else Canada and Japan require of gun purchasers before they can obtain a weapon? They have to buy safe gun storage equipment first. In the United States, there is no federal law requiring safe storage of guns and no standards for locks.

Reducing violence is also about developing those skills so often sneered at by those who espouse aggression as the proper way to deal with life and people. Conflict resolution. Negotiation. Managing disappointment. Encouraging empathy and compassion. Rewarding the behaviors that build up other people and discouraging the behaviors that tear them down.

Something like, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

That is a long term effort, and to give you an idea of how long term, Jesus gave his followers that commandment nearly two thousand years ago and we have not lived up to it yet. Now have we? So reducing easy access to death-dealing firearms has to be part of the mix. In 2020, for the first time the leading cause of death for children became firearms, surpassing automobile crashes. Is this the world we want to live in?

Is this the world in which we “Love one another as I have loved you”?

No. It’s time to lay down the swords, beat the spears into plowshares, and lay aside our guns, so that we might all be one.


Watch the Recorded Sermon

Pastor Eric does tend to stray somewhat from his prepared text (above). He doesn’t do it with quotes and statistics, however.

The image is The Last Supper, a mosaic in the Monreale Cathedral, Palermo, Sicily, Italy. Photo by Sibeaster – Own work, Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on May 29, 2022

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