This week our nation mourns the terrible shooting deaths of 9 children of God, gathered to study the Bible together at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. I will add my voice to that of many, many others, asking you to join me in prayer for the families of the victims, for the congregation, for the city of Charleston, and for our nation as we are once again reminded of evil and its power in the world. If anyone is interested, I will be purchasing several cards and bringing them to worship this Sunday. I think it would be great if the folks at New Summit and Summit Springs would sign them, include our messages of compassion and encouragement, and send them to Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston.
What I won't do is make an attempt at social or political commentary, using this shooting as a platform for one view or another. But I will say this:
My Scripture reading this morning took me to Matthew 14. The first 12 verses tell of the execution of John the Baptist. The following 9 verses describe the feeding of the 5000. I am certain that Matthew included these stories back to back to make a point.
John is beheaded because people of power and privilege find it easy to get lost in selfishness, and selfishness leads to actions that demonstrate a lack of care for others. So Herodias' daughter dances, and Herod offers her anything she wants, and she asks for John's head. And no one seems to care, or even notice that this decision may be more than a slight inconvenience for John. He is, after all, disposable, right?
Humility and love, however, notice when others are in need. So Jesus had compassion on the crowd that gathered to hear him. His first thought was to care for them, and to make sure he emphasized the point, he asked his disciples to be the instruments of that care. "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." (Matthew 14:16)
The early audience to Matthew's gospel would have immediately picked up the contrast, and the challenge. The question for followers of Jesus, when faced with evil and suffering, is never, "I wonder what someone else will do?" The question is always, "What can I do?"
Jesus hasn't stopped asking us that question, or inviting us to answer by shaping our lives into his image. That question transcends political agenda and the polarized debates accentuated by the media. That question cuts past indifference and selfishness, and makes each of us responsible. We are responsible for the neighborhoods in which we live. We are responsible for the communities of which we are a part. We are responsible to represent Jesus in the face of evil and suffering, wherever we find it and in whatever ways it is expressed.
There was a terrible shooting this week. What is God asking YOU to do to advance his kingdom where you are? Now, go do it.