Sample Sermon: Gun Violence Sermon, Rabbi David A. Lipper


Shabbat Vayigash

December 21, 2012

Rabbi David A. Lipper

In the Shadows of Sandy Hook

remember a story of a father who wanted to entertain his little daughter so he could have some private time. He cut out a picture of the world from a newspaper and gave her the pieces to put together. “It's like a jigsaw puzzle,” he told her, and he figured it would keep her busy for a while so he could sit and read the rest of the paper. But, in only a few moments, she proudly brought it to him all put together. “How did you get it together so quickly?” he asked. “Well,” said the little one, “on the other side of the picture of the world was a picture of a person. All I had to do was put the person together and the world took care of itself.”

I've been thinking about that story in recent days because the person and by extension, the world, is not together. Because it's not as easy to put the person together as we thought — because there is a deep brokenness, and that brokenness has exploded in violence and in rage and in terrible pain. The reality is that that brokenness and that violence, that rage, and that pain exist within each and every one of us.

The conversation has exploded on Facebook and even in the street. Just this week I was in a restaurant at lunch when 3 men were discussing the news. Another diner, unhappy with their take on the issue finished her meal and confronted them and began to share her ideas. Everyone is voicing their opinions and sharing their favorite views. No one is settled … no tranquil moments this week. The images from the news and the threads of loss fill all our hearts with heaviness.

There are those who would have us imagine that we can live in this world with just love. It's a wonderful image, except it’s like living on in a world with just light and no darkness. It's like living just being able to inhale and never having to exhale, or having a heart that can expand and never has to contract. But in our lives there is light and there is dark. There is love and there is hate. There is sweetness and there is bitterness. There are peaks and there are valleys. Our task is really not to deny one in favor of the other. Our task is to hold both in the arms of a greater compassion. And while it may sound callous to deny the world of our dreams, it is the reality in which we live that is the most meaningful. As our tradition has taught over and over again, it is easy to live in covenant in the garden. The test is to live in covenant when you are outside.

This is a week where we were all too aware of our living on the outside. The chilling reports and the crushed hearts too often filled our ears and eyes. We often hoped that it was all a dream, that the media was wrong, that so many families wouldn’t have to hear the awful news. But as recent history has shown, even in the brightness of the day, the darkness of night can set in. And darkness came like the rolling waves crashing on the shores of our lives over and over again. Just as we emerged to catch our breath, another wave rolled in and over we tumbled once again. How to confront the horrible darkness has been the question asked repeatedly? And the answer lay in the now silent sea. When all the waves subside, and the crush of emotion settles, our hearts turn to our hands and our hands reach out for one another. And here we are on this Shabbat, a time of celebration and rejoicing, beautiful music, stirring words of prayer and the hopeful voice of a new generation coming of age before our eyes. Yes, my friends, when the darkest days come and the world seems to come crashing in on us, we find the light of Shabbat and faces of our children and the hope of our future.

The Sabbath is a symbol of that wholeness in which both light and dark, up and down, soft and hard, pain and happiness can all be held as one. Shabbat is a vision of a world in which the violence doesn't have a voice because it is silenced by prayer and light. We seek to affirm that wholeness in ourselves, that wholeness in each other, that wholeness in our world. Though it's a wholeness we do not yet see, we are among those who choose to affirm it, who choose to open to it, who choose even to celebrate it.

It's too soon for us to know the full impact of that which is unfolding. We are all touched, we are all involved. One would have to be truly cold hearted to be unfazed by the events of the week. And, if we are not ourselves to be part of the problem, we must dare a greater vision. We must open our hearts to the suffering, and we must open our hearts to the deep joy, and we must learn ourselves to treasure each moment we are given, to treasure each other, to celebrate ourselves as family and as friends and as community.

According to our tradition, Shabbat is a time of deep rejuvenation, a time of letting go. Ideally, it is a time when we let go of our regular work and allow ourselves to reconnect with the essential nature of our own being, with the natural rhythms of the whole of creation. Ideally, Shabbat is a moment that reminds us of the incredible beauty we each carry within ourselves, of the incredible beauty that is reflected in every other being. And it is a reminder of the integrity and the wisdom, of the love and the compassion that yearns to bubble up from the spaces of the heart and the spaces of the mind and the very cells of the body.

What Jewish mystical tradition adds is that our observance of Shabbat not only supports our own healing and our own growth. Kabbalistic tradition says that our observance of Shabbat supports the healing and the expansion of creation itself. In the Kabbalistic scheme, God needs persons as much as persons need God. We are co-responsible for the blessings as well as for the curses, for the peace as well as for the violence, for the possibilities as well as for the stuckness. And so to celebrate Shabbat in Kabbalistic terms is literally to partner with the universal. It is to allow ourselves to understand that behind our apparent separateness and behind the apparent fragmentation of our world, we are connected.

So as you enter into Shabbat, as you light the Shabbat candles and speak the blessings that welcome the Sabbath, you might imagine that not only are you allowing your own souls to rejoice, not only are you allowing yourselves to rejuvenate from the inside out, to reconnect to the source of your own being, but that you are contributing to Creation itself. You are righting the wrongs in the world and raining divine blessings down in all the darkened places. You are not only sharing blessings, you become the blessing that God has dreamed.

Blessing means acknowledging the beauty and the truth, the rightness of ourselves and of each other and, most especially, of the moment. Let your own consciousness be filled with blessing. It is your gift to the universe.


Young Life Cut Short

by Unknown Author

Do not judge a song by its duration

Nor by the number of its notes

Judge it by the richness of its contents

Sometimes those unfinished are among the most poignant…

Do not judge a song by its duration

Nor by the number of its notes

Judge it by the way it touches and lifts the soul

Sometimes those unfinished are among the most beautiful…

And when something has enriched your life

And when it’s melody lingers on in your heart.

Is it unfinished?

Or is it endless?


Our souls have been touched forever by these young lives and their grieving families, by the lost innocence of the survivors and the forever changed world of the community in which they lived. Our Shabbat brings its light and blessing and hope to the world. May the brightness of our Shabbat and the renewed spirit it brings, empower us to use our God driven lives to bring change to our world. And may the memories of the brave and innocent never fade from our minds.

Choose light …