Re: Church Shooting in Texas
My heart is broken this morning in the wake of the tragic news of the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. By now you are most likely aware that on Sunday morning at 11:20am, a gunman entered their church and began a shooting spree resulting in at least 26 deaths and another 20 severely wounded. Those killed range in ages from 5 years old to 72 years old; among those who died was the pastor’s teenaged daughter. There just aren’t enough words and there aren’t enough tears to adequately behold this horrific circumstance. I know you agree.
As your Pastor, I feel I need to reach out to you this morning and offer you a way to think about how we should respond to such an event. This raises issues that might confuse you and I just want to offer some help. Here are 3 Biblical responses, which may help when we are faced with violence:
1. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus declares, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This is so difficult for any of us who have ever experienced being wounded by others. I can only imagine how difficult it will be for those who lost people in the shooting yesterday to come to grips with this reality. Yet, love is still the most powerful thing on earth. God is love and by some means, He seems to want us to be engulfed by it. So today, we are asked to pray for our enemies. Will you join me in making that a tangible response?
2. It is absolutely OK and Biblical to defend ourselves from the onslaught of evil. Understand we are not talking about revenge, or retaliatory behaviors. Consider, for example, Luke’s words found in the Gospel 11:21, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe.” Also, Psalm 82:4, “Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” I don’t think we are asked to allow evil to have its way with us. I think we are called to be aware and vigilant!
3. Make the difficulty of adversity become part of our strength and our testimony. Consider 1 Peter 4:16, “Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name.”
I am aware this tragedy also raises another issue for every Christian. The church sanctuary has been largely considered a safe place, a sacred space no matter where you are. This tragedy, along with what happened not long ago in a small church in Charleston, SC, and others, would have us doubting whether coming to church is even safe anymore. Danny Moore’s sermon yesterday was fitting, “What do you Expect?” Indeed, we have been blindsided by this event. However, let me say to you the reality of violence in our churches is not a new subject to be evaluated. We have been forewarned of persecution and trials of every kind. 2 Timothy 3:12 reads, “Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Or in Mark 13:12-13 Jesus declares, “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name.” I don’t say this to alarm you or in any way advocate that we should expect this to happen at Stallings! Yet, it might help us to frame our difficult emotions when we know that evil is still real and it has the ability to penetrate even the doors of a church.
My dear friends, God is still on the throne and we have victory in Jesus. Let us not be discouraged, afraid, or detracted from the mission God has placed before us. And by all means, let us pray for the healing of lives that have been utterly devastated by this evil.
Know that I am here for you if you have questions or just need to pray with someone. We are a strong family, we have an AMAZING God and we must remain a strong Church for the sake of the Gospel!!
Blessings to you always,
Rev. Scott E. Ireland
Pastor Stallings UMC