Dear Friends in Christ -
The litany of pain and destruction affecting our country and the world grows: Massive fires and earthquakes and hurricanes and flooding. Persistent wars, and talk of nuclear war. Systemic white supremacy. Political polarization. Famines. And now another mass shooting. The brokenness of creation, the fragility of existence and the depth of human sorrow are a fresh oozing wound.
What are we followers of Jesus to do? Of course we feel it. We grieve. And we pray. Half the Psalms in Scripture are prayers of lament “for crying out loud.” We let God have it. And we respond, we help. Historian Rodney Stark reports that during the dark times of the Roman Empire when the Plague raged, when attempts were made to quarantine whole populations of infected cities, leaving people to suffer and die, the only people willing to care for them were Christians, even at the risk of their own lives. Stark notes, “This heroic example was one reason the empire took a second look at this outlandish sect.”
But when “stuff” happens do we Christians really face it?
Sometimes our tendency is to assure people, especially our kids. We boldy claim, “Well, honey, it won’t happen to you”, or “I won’t let it happen to you”. What? Like Jesus-people are exempt?
But how about if we were to claim that God is our refuge? That Jesus Christ is the Sovereign Lord and Ruler of the universe, that he is our security? What if we tried to say that sometimes it is not until we get to the place where God is all we have that we come to know that God is all we need? That’s not glossing over it. It’s the truth. It’s a call to trust.
The person who has helped me find the words I most want to learn to say in the face of tragedy is a theologian named Gilbert Meilaender; they are words he offered in the wake of September 11, 2001:
“My child, the world is always a dangerous and threatening place where death surrounds us. [But] When I brought you for baptism I acknowledged that I could not possibly guarantee your [earthly] future. I handed you over to the God who loves you and with whom you are safe in both life and death. There is no security to be found elsewhere, certainly not from me or those like me. Live with courage, therefore, and, if it must be, do not be afraid to die in the service of what is good and just.”
Ultimately that’s what the church says, and what the church does: With God’s help, we continue to live with courage. We refuse to limit the loving-kindness of God only to people who look and think like us. We continue to pray and work joyfully and relentlessly for the coming of God’s kin-dom – the kin-dom of the poor, the marginalized, the discouraged and devastated. Following Jesus we continue to make our lives a protest against all that is evil and trivial and tyrannical in our world and in ourselves.
Worshipping God together in community helps us stay on track, to keep God at the center of it all.
The sermon text this week is Matthew 21:33-46. I admit, at first read it’s more than a little unsettling, but ultimately I think it’s full of hope as well. Hope you can come be a part of it this week!
Be the church!