I read there was a guest preacher preaching at The First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas yesterday. I, too, was a guest preacher yesterday at a small close knit church community in Corpus Christi. I had been with this group before. They are a warm, vibrant, loving, and faithful community. From what I heard on the news, the church in Sutherland is such a community. I’m guessing they welcomed the guest preacher yesterday morning much in the same way I was welcomed. With open arms.
Where I was, we wrestled with the challenge of staying centered in the love of Christ as we seek to navigate the world of chaos around us. We talked about how many ways the message of Christ, the unconditional love of God in Christ, has been distorted in such negative and destructive ways and how important it is to remember that the true message of Christ is one of grace, hope, love, inclusiveness, and service.
I read aloud the passage when Jesus spoke of what it means to be blessed. Those to be blessed might be different than expected. The poor in spirit. The pure in heart. Those who thirst for wholeness with God. The peacemakers. The meek. Jesus said they would be filled. Filled with things like mercy. With God. He said they would be satisfied. Today, I think of all of those in Sutherland Springs who were seeking God and yet were, in those horrific moments, filled with shock, fear, and pain.
There is no easy formula in the harsh realities of living out the journey of faith. No transaction of security in the here and now. And yet, I remember Jesus also said that those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, those who are persecuted for their yearning for wholeness with God and one another, they would receive the kingdom of God. And those that mourn will be filled with comfort. Something to cling to in the aftermath.
We shared communion with one another yesterday, and prayed for our country, for peace for all. We prayed prayers of gratitude for our loved ones who are now in the arms of eternal unconditional Love. I noticed the emotions of these beautiful worshipers as they listened to the scripture washing over their souls and as they lifted up names of loved ones. I, too, felt an unusual amount of emotion during the service yesterday. Unknowingly, I guess we were also crying prayers for those who were at those same moments being terrorized and murdered. No doubt Jesus was weeping with us.
During communion a woman came forward pushing an infant, in a stroller. I had baptized this infant in this church a few Sundays ago. As she gave him a piece of the broken bread I knelt down and blessed him with the sign of the cross and whispered to him he was a beloved child of God. Today I think of the eighteen month old in Sutherland Springs who was met, instead, with a weapon of death.
We were vulnerable before God and one another yesterday. And, we connected in the sweet tenderness of joy. The folks at Sutherland also worshiped in vulnerability. Only, the cruelty of violence turned their songs of joy into tears of the broken hearted.
I, like all Americans I’m sure, am heartbroken. My two granddaughters, 4 and 5, spent the weekend with me. I can’t even let my mind…I can’t understand it. I can’t understand it. Thank God, I can’t understand it. Because, if I could get my head wrapped around it. If it, in any way, made sense to me, I’d lose hope. We must not loose our inability to understand such horrible and senseless violence. These actions must not be normalized or justified. Forgiven, yes, with God’s grace. Healed, hopefully. But never understood or justified.
Today, our president offered condolences and promised solidarity and support. And, said it wasn’t a gun issue, too soon. Said it was a mental health issue. (Although at last week’s massacre in New York he immediately called for revoking diversity visas because the killer had entered the US on such a visa…). Labeling the problem one thing does not eliminate another. Why does it have to be either or! Hell yes, it is a mental health issue, based on everything we are learning about the young killer. And, a gun issue, that such a weapon meant for killing was his means. And, stunningly, a domestic violence issue. And, maybe a military veteran issue. And, definitely, a hate issue. And, it is a United States issue as we are at crisis level of violence in our country.
It is a human issue, What happens to one of us happens to all of us.
When we will understand this reality? When will we even try to understand what loving our neighbor means and how all encompassing that command really is? It is complex and we need to be able to wade deep into the complexities if we have a prayer of stopping the madness. Our very lives, and the lives of all we love, are at stake. We must start talking to each other, instead of at each other. We must, together, seek the healing of the disease of hate and all of its consequences. We must stop the debating and see the conversations through to the solutions. If we don’t all win, we all lose. Please, let’s stop the madness. Our government should wade in before us, but regardless, we must all be willing to do our part. Laws may be legislated, but, changing lives requires transformation of the heart. We must keep showing up.
This coming Sunday I will be the guest preacher at another faith community. And, along with churches and faith communities throughout the world, we will gather together in vulnerability and hope and we will once again be reminded and remind each other that God’s love heals all and that we are called to be a part of the healing process. I think this Sunday our prayers may be more fervent, more urgent, more of a pleading perhaps.
I was inspired by the words of the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs when he addressed the public in a news conference earlier today. In the midst of his acute grief at the loss of his daughter and so many of his congregation, he talked about leaning in to love of Christ as his centering strength in the midst of all that is impossible for him to understand. Something to cling to in the aftermath.
To understand this love it is helpful to understand the cross of Christ. For some, the cross of Christ is about some kind of twisted violence required by God in order to be loved by God. Just like all other violence, I hope I never get my head wrapped around that kind of thinking. This is a violence of our own projection, not God’s. This is the kind of thinking that perpetuates and justifies violence.
The cross of Christ is proof that in spite of even the most violent actions we, as humans, might afflict upon one another, and, in doing so, on God, there is a Love that holds us securely in the center of Grace. A Love that says yes to all our nos. A Love that lives even through death. A Love that saves us from ourselves. This is the love of Christ who has loved us all the way to the cross and beyond. This is a Love that holds us now in spite of all of the horror we feel. A Love that gives us hope of a better way of being. This is the thing to cling to in the aftermath.
Something to chew on…