Broken Hearts: In Response to Gun Violence

This sermon was preached at Knox Presbyterian Church of Santa Rosa on February 18, 2018 in response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fl where17 people were killed.

The scripture reading for the day was Joel 2:12-17

The communion table is set with 17 tea light candles and the large Advent “Christ” candle. Pastor Emily lights them one by one.

“Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep.”

17 candles for 17 people.

What is a broken heart, really? When we talk about broken hearts, the heart muscle itself isn’t broken. It feels like it is though.

A broken heart.

Having a broken heart is a common human experience. Something everyone in this room can probably relate to. Something all the people driving by on 3rd and Stony Point. The people worshiping across the street at Resurrection. People across the world, going about their business. People across all time. The ability to have our hearts broken is one thing we all share.

The prophet Joel in the scripture for today speaks of broken hearts. Through him the Lord says, “Return to me with all your hearts...rend your hearts and not your garments...return to me.”

Rend your heart. Rend means tear. Tear your hearts into pieces. Tear open your hearts and go back to God.

It’s not really known when the prophet Joel was preaching. The book is little; you can read it in one sitting. Even though not much is known about the circumstances, it is clear in reading it, that is was a time of great national tragedy.

Joel is calling out to a nation in pain in the face of some sort of tragedy to tear their hearts and not their clothes.

What is Joel talking about?

Back in the ancient days people would tear their clothes and wear sackcloth and ashes as a sign of mourning or repentance. That way you would know, looking at the outside of someone that they were hurting on the inside.

Except, it’s easy for people to put on a great show of being sad on the outside by wearing the clothes, without actually being in sorrowful on the inside.

Rend your hearts and not your garments is about breaking your heart - in a time of national tragedy, allowing your heart to be broken on the inside - and returning with the broken pieces to God.

I was thinking about this: something broken is easier to share. At communion, if I have the whole loaf up here and I say “Jesus took the bread and he gave thanks to God” ...that’s the end of the story.

“Jesus took the bread, and having given thanks to God, he broke it, and gave it to the disciples.”

You could say, that on the cross Jesus took his heart, and having given thanks to God, he broke it, and gave it to the disciples. The sharing is made possible by the breaking.

Jesus broke his heart for his love for other people, so that they might be saved.

Heartbreak is something Jesus shared with us, and that we share with each other. In reading Joel in light of our own national tragedy, I think God is calling us to return to Jesus by breaking our hearts out of love for other people.

Through the prophet Joel, God says, “Rend your hearts and not your garments.”

Right now when children are dying in preventable tragedies, publicly announced “thoughts and prayers” are today’s equivalent of rending our garments. “Thoughts and prayers” is an outer show that allows the inner heart to stay protected.

People in power tweet out “thoughts and prayers” while the inner heart stays solid as a rock, protected in by a case of wealth and power, untouched by heartbreak.

We’ve had 19 years of school shootings since Columbine. 19 years of children dying in the classrooms built to educate them. 150,000 American children have experienced a school shooting since Columbine in 1999. 150,000 children.

What can we do? We don’t have power, do we?

In a time of tragedy, the Lord spoke to the people through the prophet Joel saying “Rend your hearts and return to me.”

150,000 children experiencing a school shooting is a national tragedy. We must break our hearts over this, even though it hurts, because it’s the only way. If we’re going to pray, we must pray for the hearts of those with the power to make a change, pray for their hearts to be broken.

Right now, we don’t have all the answers. We’re facing a very complicated problem but the first step in a solution, for Christians, is this:

Like Jesus, we must break our hearts for God’s sake. We must return to God in order to break from whatever sin it is that binds us to instruments of death. We do not have the power on our own to break the bonds of sin, because when we get power in our hands, we always corrupt it.

In the video we watched earlier, Jesus meets temptation in desert. Do you remember what form evil took in the artist’s depiction? Evil comes to Jesus in the shape of himself with all the power of God in his hands.

Change starts returning our broken hearts to God, and Lent is a good time to do that.

Maybe sitting with the heartbreak of 17 children dying in school is where God is calling us to be. We are in the wilderness of heartbreak. Called to rend our hearts, admit we need to change, and ask God to lead us on a path to salvation.

Pastor Emily snuffs out the candles, slowly, one by one, leaving on the Christ light burning.

It’s Lent. Easter will come. That’s the promise.

Let us pray. Almighty God, Prince of Peace, We ask that you break open our hearts to you, Guide us to return to you, Show us where you will us to follow in your ways. May the peace you left us, the peace you gave us, be the peace that sustains, the peace that saves us. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.

What can you do next?

1. Gun violence is a national disaster and a public health crisis. Advocate for reform at the national level. Pastor Emily will host time together for action with supplies and information to advocate to reduce gun violence in the USA. Respect for varied viewpoints is encouraged. We can - we must - uphold our constitutional rights AND protect our children.

We will gather at Knox Presbyterian Church on Friday 3/2 @ 9 am. You do not need to be a member of Knox to attend this gathering. Supplies for contacting government representatives will be provided. Bring a laptop & cell phone, if you have one (NOT required). If you would like more information or you are unable to attend but would like materials (such as letter templates and a call script for contacting your representatives), email

2. Links to websites with resources to end gun violence: and

3. Learn what to do in the event of an active shooter. Watch: "Run, Hide, Fight"

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