Last Sunday morning I drove over to our church facility, unaware of the mass murder at the nightclub in Orlando. As different leaders and volunteers showed up to help prepare for the worship service, someone shared the news. We made some quick adjustments to the worship service to allow for recognition of the tragedy, and for a time of prayer.
During the worship service, I made three specific comments.
The first is a caution to all of us. We live in a digital age. The race and competition to share "news" is so intense that details are often overlooked, omitted, or distorted. As followers of Jesus, we have a high ethical and moral standard. At the very least, we should be cautious before we spread as "fact" information that has not been verified.
The second is a reminder about jumping to conclusions. In particular, on Sunday morning I predicted that we would hear from the "we need more guns" group; and we would hear from the "ban the guns" group. We have indeed heard from both groups, and in my opinion not much has shifted deeply polarized people from their opinions. More importantly, I don't think we are very thoughtful at all about the causes and contributing factors to such terrible crimes and heinous acts. It is just too easy to label someone. So, the shooter is a "terrorist," or an "ISIS sympathizer." He may indeed have been those things, but I suspect his story is much more complex, like yours and mine. Culture and religion play a role, as do relationships and education. Mental health may be a factor, along with a thousand other things. Labeling another person probably gives us some sense of control in an uncontrollable world. We are shocked by the atrocity, but at least we can explain it. There are, however, significant dangers to labeling, including the quick jump to an easy "solution." Thoughtful followers of Jesus will be more reflective, and hesitant to join the reactivity of the culture around us.
My final comment on Sunday morning concerned repentance. When I consider the big stories of Scripture, and the significant moments of God's people in the Bible and throughout history, it seems to me that the first response prior to a moment of spiritual awakening was the repentance of God's people. I consider the stories of Ezra and Nehemiah in the Old Testament, and I'm moved by their refusal to pass the blame on to others without first shouldering their own responsibility. It would be easy for me to dismiss another story of tragedy in the world. But spiritual wisdom compels me to look in the mirror. "I and my family have sinned." (Nehemiah 1:6)
Putting that all together, I am not helpless in response to terrible evil that seems so very powerful. I can be thoughtful before I speak or label. And I can take responsibility for my life before God and before others. I can offer the gift of love to others. I can offer acts of humble service. I can look for opportunities to join God in God's mission. I can look for opportunities to face injustice right here, and right now. Such responses of faith may never gain much in the way of national attention, and we may be tempted to think they are small acts. We would be mistaken. The good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that the reign and power of God is active in our world. God is calling us, in the words of the book of Esther, "for such a time as this." (Esther 4:14)