This past Sunday, in the aftermath of two mass murder events in El Paso, TX, and Dayton, OH, I stood in the pulpit with a breaking heart. I wasn’t sure at all that I had any words of hope or good news to speak into being. But I preached anyway. I started the sermon by telling a story from C.S. Lewis’ book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, of how Eustace the self-focused boy became a fire-breathing winged dragon. Then I went on to say the following:
Of course, this is just a story, and in our world human beings aren’t transformed into hideous dragons just because they are greedy and selfish. Or are they? We all could probably name someone in our society right now – celebrity, or politician, or CEO, or military leader, or crime boss – who seems transformed from human being into hideous dragon. They seem to dwell inside thick scaly skins of sinfulness. They sit, dragon-like, on treasure piles of material wealth and personal privilege. They wallow in self-righteousness, feeling that they deserve whatever they can get their hands on to meet their own needs – whether it’s more power or more status or more money. They gather their resources and hoard them selfishly in the dark, fearful that they might be used or stolen by someone else. They turn their hearts and minds from God and others, and they begin to think only of themselves. And with each passing day, their claws grow sharper, their breath becomes more fiery, and their skin thickens and turns green. They are the ugly dragons of our world, and their hearts are as hard and cold as the treasure they hoard. These monsters are easy to spot; we all see them and we try to stay out of their way, lest they turn their gaze towards us and scorch our lives with their destructive behaviors.
If we live too long without loving God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, neglecting our Creator, taking grace for granted, denying the very presence of grace in our lives at all, then our hearts are no longer able to find joy in the beauty of the world in which we live. If we forget the mercy that calls us beloved children of God, if we refuse the steadfast love that draws us into a relationship with a gracious and loving God who longs for us to return, then it becomes all too easy to also neglect the justice that reminds us to whom we belong and how we should live toward others. If we dwell too long apart from God, then our hearts harden and we are no longer able to love our neighbors as siblings, we no longer see others as precious and beloved children of God, and we treat them only as a threat, someone who, by their very existence, diminishes our well-being.
You and I are not dragons like Eustace; we are not greedy and selfish and destructive. And yet, aren’t we sometimes tempted like Eustace to focus our hearts on ourselves and our own desires and, in the process, neglect the needs of others all around us? And, don’t our institutions fall into these same temptations, serving the shareholders and stakeholders instead of serving the common good? Don’t even our faith communities sometimes focus our efforts on ways which tend to build up our barns instead of inviting in those around us and sharing our abundance in celebration with them? Our actions seem well-intended, like the man in Jesus’ parable who seems to be planning wisely for the future. And yet, our good intentions don’t ameliorate the devastating impacts of our policies and actions.
As I have lived into this week, these words are still resonating in my heart and soul. I believe we have to do better, as human beings, as a church, as the beloved people of God, and as a nation. When mass murder is committed and the explicit reason given by the murderer is racial hatred and the impulse to protect white privilege, then it is clear that dragons live among us! Jesus told his listeners, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be.” I pray that we will have the courage and strength to make the precious life of every child of God our heart’s treasure, regardless of skin color or national origin or gender or sexual orientation or expressed religious belief or political party of choice or city in which they live.