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"Hope for Mozella"

“Before settling in to talk about John the Baptist, or Mary’s song, or an angel delivering messages, the church skips ahead to talk about the day when God will step into history again.”

artwork "The Good Shepherd" by Sieger Koder

Isaiah 2:1-5 and Romans 13:11-14

November 27, 2022

Dr. Todd R. Wright Have you ever peeked at the last pages of a book to see how it turns out? The first week of Advent does something like that. Before settling in to talk about John the Baptist, or Mary’s song, or an angel delivering messages, the church skips ahead to talk about the day when God will step into history again. It is a significant jolt of hope for those who have a hard time waiting, or maybe just a hard time living in the world as it is. It is that message of hope that we can deliver to people who desperately need it. And there are a lot of people who need it!

 

Like many of you, I was caught off guard by reports of a shooting at the University of Virginia. Three members of the football team were killed, others were wounded, and all students had to shelter in place while police searched for the killer. We now know his name was Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., that he was a former member of the football team, though his time on the team did not overlap with any of the victims, and that he was invited to be part of that class trip by the professor even though he was not part of the same class as the others. We do not know his motive. We may never know. Still, his story got me thinking about the story of another shooter – Mozella Dansby.

 

Her story was re-told on the Protestant Hour 25 years ago by a pastor named Kathlyn James.[1] It was a Friday in April when Mozella Dansby, a bookkeeper at the Georgia Power Company, walked into her office, pulled out a gun, and shot and wounded two of her supervisors. And then the 31-year-old wife and mother pointed the gun at her own head and pulled the trigger. The newspaper reports said she’d been distraught because she’d been passed over for a promotion once again. But that’s not the whole story. An acquaintance wrote: “Almost a week elapsed between the time Mozella found out she’d been denied the promotion and the time she fired those shots. A week is a long time to dream of killing someone. Didn’t anyone sense her torment? Wasn’t there some friend somewhere who suddenly felt compelled to call her in the middle of one of her restless nights; ‘Girl, you’ve been on my mind. Something told me to call you.’” Why couldn’t Mozella find solace in the talks she had with her husband? According to Dwight Dansby, she had taken the day before off from work to look for a new job and had come home cheerful and optimistic. He later discovered that was the day she bought the gun. Why wasn’t the sight and sound and smell of her two small children as she prepared them for bed that Thursday night, or the touch of her husband’s lips on Friday morning, enough to pull her back from the abyss? Without a lifeline, Mozella wrapped all the hopes she’d once had for a better life around a 38-caliber revolver and stuffed them in her purse. In that same pocketbook she left a note that read, “I think this was something that needed to be done. They didn’t do me fair about the job and they had to be stopped. I know everyone is saying this goes on everywhere and always will. But I think this will give other supervisors and managers something to think about before someone else is done unfairly.” It wasn’t just the fact that she’d been passed over for a job, which was given to a white man, though her employer later admitted she was eminently qualified for it. That was crushing, but survivable. What drove Mozella to pick up that gun was the belief that there was nothing to look forward to except more crushing. She was being told, “That’s just the way things are. There is no use fighting it.” “There is no justice in this world, and there never will be.”

 

The prophets we read during Advent disagree. Paul does too. They stride into history and announce, in no uncertain terms, that there is one God in this universe, and this God is not neutral on matters of good and evil. This God places moral demands on human beings and holds us accountable for our lives. Isaiah says, in the days to come, the nations who had chased after every other god, spread evil, and mistreated their neighbors, will turn to the Lord and rush to Zion to learn how to walk in God’s ways. God will act as judge, and they will beat swords into plowshares! Paul says, the night that gives cover to injustice and sin, that blankets people with fear, and snuffs out hope, is far gone. Dawn is already on the horizon. You can’t stop the sun’s rising! I wish Mozella could have heard those words. I wish she could have been embraced by them like a hug full of comfort and courage. I wish she could have lived as if she believed them. It is too late for Mozella, but maybe not for not for Christopher, or for us, or those we care about. That’s the gift of Advent for another year. Amen.

[1] The story of Mozella is from a sermon by Kathlyn James on the Protestant Hour, 6/29/97
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