Sunday, June 21, 2015

Honoring Charleston's Church Shooting Victims With Our Father's Glory In the Story

I headed to church Wednesday to pick up my son.  His middle school youth group was celebrating summer with an outdoor movie night on the front lawn.  I got there a little early, so I sat down on the steps of the historical sanctuary to enjoy a few minutes of quiet in the thick heat of the night.  The sounds of nature serenaded me.  It was peaceful, and I was thankful.

Photo credit: shared on FACEBOOK
Little did I know, just on the other side of the Arthur Ravenel Bridge, 5.72 miles from where I was sitting, all hell was breaking loose.  Nine good people while studying God’s Living Word at Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston were taking their last breaths.  This, after welcoming in an obvious stranger who deliberately murdered them in their house of worship, a place that is supposed to be a safe haven for renewing their minds in this busy and broken world.

It is unthinkable, and yet we cannot stop thinking about it.  

Since then, nation-wide reports of the latest details in the Charleston church shooting flood the airways, newspapers, and social media.  I keep watching as the headlines pour in relentlessly.

It was no accident.  It was an evil act born of hate.

But, evil does not win for God’s precious children.  And that’s the part of the story the media dances around.  We won’t see God’s promises in the headlines, but it’s what we, as believers, will cling to right now.
That’s faith.

Rev. Clementa Pinckney 
Tywanza Sanders 
Cynthia Hurd 
Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton 
Myra Thompson 
Ethel Lance
Rev. Daniel Simmons 
Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor 
Susie Jackson

They had faith.  

They loved God.  They weren’t afraid to share God’s love the way Jesus did over and over again in the Gospels, and we saw that in the very way they left this earth.  That kind of love is not the kind of love that comes from human possibility.  That is the kind of selfless love that can only come from our Sovereign God who transforms and empowers human hearts, including the most broken ones.  

So to share their story without taking the time to focus on God and continue what they were in the midst of doing would be a real injustice.

What happens when we move from what is seen to what is unseen?  What if, in addition to the hard facts of the story, we allow ourselves to search for God’s glory revealed in the story?

Hearts are broken and heavy.  Tears are streaming.  And God’s love is overflowing.

The radical hospitality that embraced the underserving stranger for almost an hour as they read, shared, and studied Mark 4:16-20 together is God reminding us it’s never too late to sow seeds of faith on good soil, to believe in Him and bear fruit beyond what we can sow with our own hands (The Post and Courier).  

Dylann Roof was standing on good soil when he chose to sit in the historical Emanuel AME Church with the faithful.

The overwhelming sense of love and support, the unity that has risen up, in the same community Roof meant to divide, is powerful.    

The unexpected and immediate forgiveness and prayers extended to Roof by loved ones in the valley of raw grief at the bond hearing... friends, that is God’s grace in action.  It’s the same grace Jesus offered on the cross as he hung innocently between two criminals.

As hard and ugly as all of this tragedy has been for individuals, for families and friends, for our community, for the Church, and for our nation, God promises all of us, as brothers and sisters who love Him, that He will work ALL things together for good.  

Faith in God, His power, is what makes the nine victims, the three survivors, their families, and this community so special, so full of life.  It’s what makes Charleston strong.

Lives have been lost here, but their legacy of unending love is alive and well.  And their eternal life in Heaven begins where all their tears are wiped away.

We hurt, but God is here hurting with us.  We are broken but God is more powerful than all of our brokenness.  We are struggling, but God is making us stronger in our weakness.  We are angry, but we are in awe at the way God brings people together at times like these.  We are in need of healing and God is using ordinary people to be His hands and feet in ways we could never imagine, fighting racism and violence as instruments of His peace.  

I can’t think of a better way to honor the victims of this terrible tragedy than to share the same love they believed in so strongly, to renew our minds in the same Living Word they took time to study, to practice the same radical hospitality, to extend the same forgiveness, to pray for and encourage each other the way they would want us to, to be so moved that we live life to the full with God. 

When we look at this tragedy through the lens of faith, we find hope.  As Rev. John Hage points out in his sermon "Putting Fear In Its Place", "We trust that God's power in Jesus Christ is stronger than the fear and the situation we face." 

Love wins.

 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching...

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

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