Once again we hear of a mass shooting where innocent people are killed. Once again we try to understand why. And this time it seems closer to home. Twenty six people killed while they are praying at church.
How many more times will we mourn the loss of infants, children, mothers fathers, grand mothers and loved ones? The evil forces of this world would have us believe that there is nothing we can do about this. The adversary whispers in our ear, “You are powerless, give up, give in. Despair.”
There are those who claim that our prayers are meaningless gestures that prevent us from action. They are wrong. Our God gives us power against evil and over death.
So first we pray. We pray to express our grief. We pray to express our love. We pray to acknowledge that this world is filled with sin. And we pray to declare death is not the end. And then we pray so that we are empowered to act according to God’s will.
There are actions we can take. We can address the issue of domestic violence. While few who commit acts of domestic violence become killers, according to the FBI, 54% of those who committed mass killings had a history of domestic violence. How long will the church remain quiet about domestic violence?
Why is it that we need a license and insurance e to own and operate a car, yet not an assault rifle? Surely there are some sensible gun laws we can agree on as a nation. This is a complex problem that will require a complex answer. But to decide that because it is complex, we cannot address it ignores the complex issues we have addressed, illnesses we have cured, challenges we have faced.
Perhaps it is time that we look at the security of our churches. My former church in downtown Los Angeles had a guard in the parking lot. He did not have a weapon, but he did have a uniform. Other churches have talked about metal detectors, evacuation plans, and workshops on how to spot potential problems.
What we cannot do is what the Attorney General of Texas suggested. He has said that churches will need to start being armed to prevent such attacks. Our answer to this must be NO. While I appreciate the value of police and others who protect the innocent, I do not believe that arming our church members is consistent with the teachings of Jesus.
When Jesus was arrested in the garden, some of his followers wanted to take up arms to protect him. And he did not allow them to resist. He even healed the ear of a servant of the high priest that was cut off in resisting his arrest. .
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:52-54)
Jesus intentionally reached out to reconcile and heal those who had tortured and oppressed his people. The stories told in the gospels were told in a time when cruelty and slaughter were fresh in the listeners minds. And yet his message was not to passively submit to their oppressors, but to aggressively love them.
This is not easy to do now, or nor was it then. So when we speak of radical hospitality, it does not just mean greeting the stranger after service with a cup of coffee and a donut. It means opening our doors to those who would denigrate us, harm us or even kill us. It means trusting not in side arms but in God’s everlasting arms. Because we need never fear the powers of this world. We serve the Lord who has the power over life and death, who is the resurrection and the life.