The Tragedy of Parkland, Florida

I meant to get word out to you yesterday, something of a comfort following the events in Parkland, Florida. And while I managed to tap away at the computer for a few minutes, seeing a scrap of my thoughts end up on Facebook, I hadn’t yet finished what I intended to share with you, my Christian family. There certainly was a lot more on my heart and mind.

And so, with that…

Once again as a nation, as a community, as individual members of the fellowship of human depravity, we find ourselves shaken by a horrific school shooting. Together, our guts are turning inside out as we watch the newscasts, read the articles, see the images—the terrible images—of one weeping parent’s outstretched arms as she receives her child with thankfulness while another portrays a parent wincing in collapse, embracing the pavement of the crime scene’s perimeter, having just learned her child is gone—snatched away so violently, so unjustly, so unfairly.

And what are we to do? Just like you, I ask myself this question. Of course, as a Christian, I know that God is the only One to whom we can turn. We do so in prayer. And this is good. But it is something that happens most often while we’re alone. We turn to our God in worship, too. We receive there the gifts that sustain not only for the good times, but also, and perhaps most importantly, for the bad. And we do it together. We stand beside one another, not necessarily knowing the deepest concerns, but more than able to admit to being equals in this world before God.

This is good, because even as we gather before him in the unified confession of our sins, we leave His presence as a holy people, justified by His grace, empowered by the Holy Spirit with hope, and enabled to endure in a world of uncertainty, sorrow, and pain.

There’s a lot to be mined from this divine reality.

The faith that is comprised of these things has eyes that are open to see what the world cannot see. It has ears to hear what the world cannot hear. It has a heart that is willing to admit to what is truly happening in this world and what is at stake.

I speak this way having participated in a press conference yesterday afternoon in which I stood beside a group of fellow Christian pastors in support of another pastor who’s received death threats from the LGBTQ community for, in essence, his biblical stance on sexuality. No, I am not in fellowship with this man theologically. He and I have very different views on any number of theological things. And I can say the same of a majority of the Christian pastors who stood there at the podium in solidarity. But that wasn’t the point. The point is that we have a common, external goal that involved protecting a Christian pastor’s freedom to submit to and ultimately proclaim the Word of God as the standard for faith, practice, and life in this world.

But here’s the more simplified take-away of my participation in the press conference as it relates to the events in Parkland, Florida…

If we as a society are willing to allow (and perhaps even applaud) any community to threaten another in such ways over such things—for what in the midst of common discourse would be considered differences of opinion—should we be surprised when the society’s children kill one another? Something else is behind this. So much more is going on.

I think that the most honest answer to this particular question was penned by Rev. Dr. Peter J. Scaer, a professor at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne and a friend of this congregation. Perhaps you remember him being with us last year to preach and to lead Bible study. I encourage you to read his words. I’ve shared them here. They beg you, the reader, to assess with honesty the compilation of situations in our culture and then to dig deep enough to admit to the findings—the God-awful findings.

Still, we’re asking, “What do we do?”

Go to church.

Heed the biblical mandate to be present in the house of God to confess your participation in sin. Be absolved of your failings, and then receive more and more of His blessed forgiveness by the Gospel gifts that preserve through this world’s darkness. Don’t look upon your time with God in holy worship as something so easily traded away for anything else in this life, no matter what it may be. Everything else is transient, and in an instant can be snatched away. Eternal life is just that: Eternal. Be immersed in the Word of God proclaimed and the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood administered for the forgiveness of sins. I’m absolutely certain that God will open your eyes in ways that such tragedies won’t surprise you, but also, they won’t overwhelm you to the point of uncertainty or despair. Instead, you’ll be equipped to grieve for and with others. You’ll be able to shine the light of Christ to those who need it. And if, God forbid, such a tragedy happens to you and your family, you’ll most certainly mourn deeply, but not as one with no hope. And I’ll be willing to bet that same hope will burst into a bright-burning pyre in others in your Christian family, folks who will wrap their arms around you, who will come down to you in your sadness, who will point you to the One who has borne your grief and sorrows in a way that certifies them as temporary and never permanent.

God be with you, my dear friends. Know that I am praying for you and your families.

The Tragedy in Las Vegas

Last night in Las Vegas, a gunmen on the 30th floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino opened fire on an outside gathering of concert goers below. The last I heard, 50 people were killed and over 400 were seriously injured. The news report I was just listening to said that even as this is already the largest mass-shooting in America’s history, with the condition of many of the injured, most likely the death toll will continue to rise.

Why…?

What…?

How…?

We’re left breathless and without words.

Just this morning, I was sitting with the school staff, and after reading a portion from Ephesians 3 (v. 16 in particular, where Paul speaks of the strength given by the power of the Holy Spirit), these were the words from Luther that I shared as they related to the text:

“Worldly people are full of courage and of high spirits, and so are Christians. Christians are much stronger through the Holy Spirit, for they fear neither the world nor the devil, neither death nor misfortune. This is called spiritual strength… Worldly courage endures no longer than there is some earthly good on which to rely; but the true courage trusts in God alone and has no other good or gold than God alone; in Him it withstands all evil and wins an altogether different heart and courage from that of the world.”

It would seem that we need that unearthly courage more than ever before these days.

I read another report from, of all places, CNN, which is a news network that is typically hostile to Christianity. Interestingly, the reporter was speaking with a survivor of the incident whose words came back as rather startling, “I arrived at the concert an agnostic. I’m leaving a believer.” While I don’t know the fullness of what he means, I’m going to assume from the context that his agnostic beliefs—that is, the belief that it’s impossible to know whether or not there is a God, and so the person neither claims faith or disbelief—this man’s agnostic position changed to one that admits God is real. Whether he saw God at work through the people involved in the rescue and caring for others (Matthew 5), or he’s willing to admit that only devilry could move a heart to such darkness, thereby inferring such evil must have an opponent, either way, this man took a step toward recognizing this world is coming undone and it needs rescue.

Yesterday, Sunday, those of you who made it to church, you heard of that rescue. You met with and received from the One who provides that rescue. You were forearmed for today’s news. You were fed by His Word and Sacraments for the courage Luther described in the portion above. This supernatural food met you where you were, and it instilled the very message that supersedes the world’s hope and gives true Christian hope. You heard, quite literally that Christ, on the cross, gave Himself over—horrifyingly, grotesquely, vividly. He plunged into Death’s mouth, down its throat, and into its belly to be digested. From there, he was the poison that killed Death. And then He tore back up and out of Death’s corpse by way of His resurrection at Easter. You learned that never before has there ever been someone who could contend with the terrors of this world, namely Death, and win. And yet, the Gospel declares that the day has come, and that One is Jesus.

My prayer for you—dearest Christian of Our Savior Lutheran Church and School—is that even as you watch and listen to the newscasts, as you behold the sadness, the terror, the hopelessness, that you would first be calmed by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel—a message not just of God’s existence, but one that actually displays and works His wonderful love revealed in Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection. Sturdied by this, emboldened by this, made courageous by this and by this alone, go out into the world to be salt and light. Be the ones whom God will use to show a suffering world that He exists, He loves us, and He has reached out to us in our greatest need. In Him, no matter the terrors that appear to consume this fallen world, we are and have been well cared for in and through Jesus Christ.

This is who you are in the Savior, someone with a resilient hope that not even a barrage of bullets can kill.

Share that hope with others right now. We all know they need it.