On Sunday, November 5, 2017 there was a group of people who gathered as a community of faith at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. At some point in their morning service there was a shooter who entered the church and 26 people died. This epitomizes evil. If people are created in the image of God, this is the devaluing of God as well as a low view of the value of human life. The responses that have been shared range from grief, anger, shock, and fear.
What is to be the response of followers of Jesus in light of the third deadly church shooting in the United States in the past 3 years? Should we be afraid to attend a church? Should we be cavalier with a call to armed defense? Should we ignore and assume it will never happen to “us?” What if the Scriptures are pretty clear on what our response should be?
What if the words of Jesus are to be our words, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.?”
I know, it looks easy to say that from the outside. I wasn’t there in Texas. I pastor a church in another state. My kids are okay. Unlike the pastor of that church who has to bury his daughter, I will tuck my kids in tonight. But, does that lessen the call for us to not let evil win?
My heart breaks for the pastor of that church, I have cried and prayed for he and his family. He and I are co-laborers in the same cause, pronouncing hope and life in the face of evil and death. He and I both proclaim the same message, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection changes everything! His resurrection conquers even death itself! We proclaim the same thing: sin, evil, and darkness do not have the last word.
How then are we to respond? As loving, communities of faith. With the words of 1 John 4:18 ringing in our ears, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” We are called to be a part of communities of faith, a part of the great Church, that is to be defined by radical love.
We will continue to gather, week in and week out, not out of fear, but out of love. We will “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15)We will gather as a reminder that hope wins. We will gather as a reminder that love wins. We will gather as a reminder that perfect love drives out fear. We will gather as a symbol that ultimately life wins. Death does not have the last word, because we have hope in the One who conquers the grave. As a community of faith, we will not bury our head in the sand, but we will find our hope and strength where we have always found it, in Jesus. Love Wins.