I saw on the news that President Obama has had to do 16 speeches following mass shootings during his presidency. He doesn’t come out and talk every time there is a shooting, otherwise he would never get to not be at that podium, but just at the ones that are absurdly depressing. And he’s had to do it 16 times. We have in our country a weird mindset where we are simultaneously outraged and completely numb to these acts of violence. I was meeting with some of the area pastors and one had a list of all these mass shootings, and we realized that we had even forgotten a majority of them, because they have become such a piece of our national fabric. We are sadly used to them.
So in this world that is filled with sin and pain and violence, where this kind of thing becomes normal, we ask ourselves “where is God?” Where is God in all this pain and suffering and hate? Why doesn’t God stop these things from happening? The answer to why God doesn’t stop it can be quite unsatisfying, but it is that God gave us free will. We have the ability to do amazing things or terrible things, because God has given us the ability to make decisions for ourselves and how we want to act. Sadly, people will use this to cause pain and destruction and then we are left to pick up the pieces and try to move forward.
The good news though is that God is indeed in all of this as well. God does not just leave us to suffer on our own. God was in Pulse that morning, suffering alongside the victims, giving hope and love in the midst of tragedy. God is with the victims and their families, and even with the family of the shooter, loving all in the midst of mourning and confusion. God is in the midst of us in our greatest of sorrows, because God is not one who just sits off in the corner or who set the world in motion and walked away. God is invested in us. God took upon himself mortality so that God could die on the cross and forgive us our Sin and know our pain. God knows suffering, and loves and supports us through it all.
God is also in us, in the voices that cry for justice, in the arms that hold one another, in the love that is shared, God is in it all. We are never abandoned by God, even though it times we may feel distant. As Christians we are called to make that love known, to battle hate with love and fear with hope. Our battle is not against people, but against that which breaks relationships and divides people, that which tears people down and that which brings despair and hopelessness. My prayer is that through us we may help people to see the loving God who unites and brings hope and purpose.
1st Reading – Isaiah 56:9-12 – All you wild animals, come and devour Israel, because their leaders are too busy drinking and sleeping to pay attention, or are completely not up to the task of protecting the people, unable to bark or bite.
What responsibility do leaders have to their people? Many of us are leaders, whether it be in our homes, jobs, schools, or congregations. God proclaims that Israel’s leaders are blind, mute, lazy, gluttonous, drunk, and without knowledge. Not exactly the highest or praises. Due to all of this, the people are now in danger and will be gobbled up by the wild animals, by Israel’s enemies.
Our responsibilities then are to see, to look around and see what is going on around us, what dangers lurk and what opportunities arise. To see where it is that God is calling us to go, instead of closing our eyes so we can try to find the way on our own. We are meant to speak up when we see injustice and we see our brothers and sister in danger and hurting. We have been given voices and we need to use them. We need to stay active, not rest on the successes of the past or mope because of failures, but engage in the life that God has given us. We need to focus not on those things that bring us the most pleasure and have a life focuses on “Me, Me, Me,” but rather care for those who we are responsible for, care for all who are suffering. And finally we are to continue to learn and to grow in our faith and in our responsibilities. We can never assume that we have enough skill or knowledge, instead we need to keep searching for ways to improve and to discern God’s calling for our lives.
2nd Reading – Romans 2:17-29 – How can you call yourself a Jew and a follower of the law, lift yourself up as a teacher and corrector, while all the while committing every sin you say not to commit? Gentiles blaspheme God because of your actions! What matters is not what you proclaim, but how you act and sincerely following God.
What does it mean to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ? I have heard it said that it is about what we believe, making it a head condition. If we have the right thoughts and we know that God is going to save us, then we are saved and fine. But that feels like this Romans reading, where it has to do with belief and telling other people they are wrong, all while doing things incongruent with God’s purposes.
I have also had people say that it means that they “belong” to a particular congregation. But just being in a location doesn’t make us something, just as standing in a garage won’t make me a car. Having a membership doesn’t really mean much in the grand scheme of things if we don’t live out God’s purpose for us and act in God’s love.
I’ve referred to it as a heart condition, it matters what is in our hearts, in our feelings for others. And to a point this is true, especially when it is the heart that affects how we treat one another. It is also that the desire to serve God does indeed please God, even when we fail miserably.
But I believe that really it is a full body experience. Everything that we have and everything that we are is wrapped up in our identity as a Christian. Experiencing the love and grace of God changes how we think, feel, and act. Every action and word is to be wrapped in the love of God. The problems in Romans are the people are stuck in knowing what the right things are, or at least thinking that they do, and judging others when they don’t act as they think they should. We need to escape that judgment an instead give our arms wide open to welcome the stranger, offer our shoulders as a place to rest heads when they are bowed down with tears, speak the worlds of love and grace and fully live them out as well. Use our minds to learn as much as we can, while also finding ways to get out the message of God’s forgiveness and mercy in ways people can understand and latch onto. The faith is all about seeing someone else as a brother or sister, a family member in need of love, not judgment and condemnation. We are the Body of Christ in the world, so let’s use every part of our bodies to serve the One who made and redeems us.
Lord, we give you thanks for being with us through all things, for holding us in our fears and tears. Help us to be open to one another, to share that same love and care for one another. Be with all who are suffering this day, from so many acts of violence, disasters, and accidents. Move us to be people of healing and hope for all, that your light may shine through us into the darkest places of this world.