Today was a day of struggle with the Scripture passages, especially in light of the shootings in Orlando yesterday. The horrificness of what took place has stayed with me all day today (side note – I also kept getting this message throughout the day about how, in the midst of the awfulness and horror of what took place in Orlando that there are tragedies that happen every day in the world that we don’t know about – young girls being trafficked and forced-addicted to drugs, child soldiers being brainwashed to fight, refugees dying by the hundreds on overcrowded ships in the Mediterranean, innocents who are imprisoned and executed, people dying because of no access to clean water or food, and the list can go on…end of side note). I kept having words from my sermon in worship yesterday run through my head about the laments we find in the Psalms, including Psalm 5 which was our focus Scripture yesterday. I spoke of how lament is an absolutely faithful response to God in prayer and worship – our worship can’t (and shouldn’t be) all “Shine Jesus Shine” or “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” as there are times that the words we have to lift up to God are “I just don’t get it.” Today is one of those days.
I read the Scripture passages from Ezra 9-10 and then from Acts 1 and I just felt my heart sink lower, especially as I read Ezra. In those chapters (and I understand the theological and interpretative ideas behind it, I do) we read about Ezra and the leaders of the people returning from the exile and rebuilding the temple commanding all the people to end any marriages and families between them and people who are not of the nation of Israel. Its not only a “don’t do this any more” but its a sending away of spouses and children. Again, I understand this with the cultural background of the time, a call to holiness and purity and so forth – I understand it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it today. It feels to me like so much of what we hear around us and have heard once again today – so much fear and hate and dividing that continues to foster the fear and hate and division that has already built up. The cycle just continues and gets deeper and deeper.
When I came to the passage in Acts 1, I was struck by the change in the disciples we read of in Acts 1. They are optimistic, they are hopeful, they are strong, they are looking ahead. Just a few chapters before in Luke’s Gospel, they were locked behind closed doors in fear, afraid to go out because of their enemies. Even after the news of the resurrection comes, they continue to be locked away until Jesus breaks into their midst and changes everything. Then suddenly we come to what feels like a new group of people in Acts 1. A radical change has happened. When we read Acts 2 tomorrow, we’ll hear of the Spirit filling them and Peter (formerly the one who denied Jesus three times, who was a broken man) standing in front of hundreds or thousands and proclaiming a hope in Christ. Its incredible the change that comes. But what is coming through that is not a further separating, but a bringing together. No longer would the message be to just one select group of chosen people but instead a message that is for all through Christ.
So into that comes something that happened to me overnight. My wife is out of town on a mission trip with two of our kids so she is probably grateful she was not sleeping next to me. I slept quite fitfully as I had an incredibly vivid dream.
I dreamt I was flying somewhere and the plane suddenly went down and skimmed across a snowy field and (sort of) crashed. It wasn’t a “serious” crash in that the plane was all still intact but suddenly we were back in the air and then there was another crash and this time it was far more serious – the plane came apart and people were injured. There was more in the dream but I didn’t remember the details of it when I woke up other than those two parts.
Maybe this dream was just the (amazing) ribs I had at a dinner last night at a friend’s but maybe there was something else here. I had gone to bed having read about and prayed about the shootings and so it was likely on my mind and in my heart as I fell asleep. What I have been reflecting upon with the dream is that the second was worse than the first and it feels like these events (Orlando and the many others) continue to happen with nothing changing. Are they getting worse? Well, in terms of numbers yes they are. But is one death somehow less tragic than 50? Not to the one who has died or to her/his family. Is the death of a 6 year old at Sandy Hook more tragic than that of a 30 year old named Miguel who died yesterday in the early morning hours?
In worship yesterday, I quoted John Bunyan who wrote “You can do more than pray after you have prayed but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.” So, tonight we will be gathering at a local church for a prayer vigil where we will begin in prayer. We will be naming all the names of those who were killed last night (including the shooter), we will be praying for the families and friends of those killed, we will be lifting up our lament to God about the violence that we perpetrate upon one another, we will be praying for our leaders in our country and around the world as they confront these senseless acts of violence whether here in the US or in so many other places in the world, we will be praying for the church of Jesus Christ in our witness to the world about a new way of being in relationship and community with one another and we will close with the words attributed to St Francis that say,
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred let us sow love, where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
So, we begin with prayer but tomorrow I will be calling my representatives and senators and writing the president. I’ll probably also send messages to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump expressing what I feel needs to take place from here. But tonight we pray and pray and pray some more in hope that the next “crash” is not worse than what we have witnessed here but that we can begin to go in a new direction. And it is a choice on my part, on our parts, on our leaders’ parts about whether we will seek to move forward in a new direction.
But there is one other piece for me in this that I cannot leave behind and that is where the picture for today comes in. It is in how I approach this and approach each day. It is very easy to fall deeper into a vortex of fear because of what has taken place. If ISIS can strike in Orlando then they can strike anywhere. If someone can do this there, then they can do it here. Yes they can and probably will. However, I continue to go to the words of Paul in 2 Timothy 1:7 that God did not give us a spirit of fear but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline. To listen to CNN, to MSNBC, to Fox News, or to any of a host of other “voices” out there, we can fall deeper and deeper. We can label so many people as our enemies and paint them ALL with a broad brush that because someone is a Muslim they are automatically a terrorist or so many other broad brushes. But those are responses of fear and not responses of what God has infused into our hearts. I do not want to live in that kind of fear. I don’t want my children to view the world with that kind of fear. I don’t want disciples of Christ that I am called to shepherd as a pastor living into that kind of fear.
So today, I could have put a picture up of darkness or a single candle or any of a host of other images, but instead I wanted to reflect the hope that I do have in Christ regardless of the circumstances of my life or of the situations of the world. Regardless of what is taking place, we can take it to Christ, we can look above to the one who created it all, to the one who mourns with each death that happened in Orlando yesterday, and each child who died today of malnutrition, and each young girl caught in the web of trafficking, and each person whose life is not as it could be. I can look above with the hope that is in me not because of what I have done but because of what Christ has done.
A friend of mine posted the following on Facebook tonight that spoke deeply to me:
Leader: It is not true that this world and its inhabitants are doomed to die and be lost;
ALL: This is true: for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him shall not die, but have everlasting life.
Leader: It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction;
ALL: This is true: I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
Leader: It is not true that violence and hatred shall have the last word, and that war and destruction have come to stay forever;
ALL: This is true: for to us a child is born, to us a son is given, in whom authority will rest, and whose name will be Prince of Peace.
Leader: It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil that seek to rule the world;
ALL: This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth, and lo, I am with you always, to the end of the world.
Leader: It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted,who are the prophets of the church, before we can do anything;
ALL: This is true: I will pour out my Spirit on all people, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young people shall see visions, and your old folk dream dreams.
Leader: It is not true that our dreams of liberation of humankind, our dreams of justice, of human dignity, of peace, are not meant for this earth and its history;
ALL: This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that true worshippers shall worship God in Spirit and in truth.
Iona Abbey Worship Book (Glasgow: Wild Goose Publications, 2007), p. 20.