Before the next Las Vegas happens, and it will, can we be honest with each other for just a moment or possibly longer?
I’m going to take that as a yes.
I’m sickened by these shootings. I’m also sickened by all the distractions that we pay attention to and claim are important, but really aren’t. Are you?
I’m tired of responding. If all we ever do is respond, we’ll never lead and offer an alternative. We’ll be too busy responding to each violent action that happens. And it will never change.
I refuse to be afraid. Afraid of death, afraid of ridicule, afraid of having someone being upset with me over something I say or write.
This is the time for the church to be church. To stop being a social club and to start living out the mission that Jesus sent us out on.
The culture has stopped giving preference to the church. And that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned. We don’t end up with cheap membership that way – a whole bunch of people who come to church, but refuse to be church.
What does it mean to be church, especially in the age of mass shootings and terror? It means that we tell the truth – that many humans are violent and destructive when left to their own device. It means we offer confession and forgiveness. We can’t shy away from sin. It is real, just like evil. Sin is a broken relationship, or rather many broken relationships. And these breaks aren’t just metaphorical – they are real. They rear their ugly head in yelling and screaming, in abuse, in violence, in manipulation, in addiction, and in death. These are very real in our society and in the world.
To be church doesn’t mean we go around pointing the finger of blame. It means that we offer the gift of forgiveness and a changing life and world.
Being church doesn’t mean we focus our effort on making the bad good, but rather on showing how Jesus brings the dead to life. If Jesus is just a nice guy who had nice things to say, then he’s no different from any other guru who walked the face of the earth and hawks a book on self-help. But that’s not who Jesus is and it’s not who the church worships.
The church is a beacon of light in the midst of darkness. The church offers a message of hope in a hopeless world that would rather point the finger of blame, throw money or legislation at the problem as the sole solution, and then distract people from the pain they are experiencing. There’s another Tweet or celebrity break up or sporting event to talk about don’t you know.
Here’s something else – the church exists to point out the reality of pain and suffering, not change the subject. Forcing us to deal with the pain and suffering and death is a gift that this society doesn’t appreciate, but people desperately need.
We see this in every funeral. As a pastor, part of what I am called to do is point out the reality of death in our midst. The body is right there in front of us – either in a coffin or in an urn. The person hasn’t been whisked away to a magical place. No, they are right there in front of us. Death is real. It’s painful for those who are looking at it in the face. It sucks. And we shouldn’t distract ourselves from that either. We should look at death in the face and be uncomfortable by it.
Because it is in being really uncomfortable that we finally let the walls that protect us from reality down – the walls we build around our hearts and ears. We are finally ready to hear that death is there and that at some point death is coming for us and will get us. It’s at this point that we can admit that death scares many of us. It feels so final.
It’s when we are most uncomfortable, most hurting, most suffering in life that we know the reality of death. And that’s not the end of the story. God is the end of the story. God’s promise of resurrection is the rest of the story. The amazing power of God isn’t the miracles we experience throughout our lives – although they are amazing. No, rather, I argue that the most amazing thing is resurrection – bringing the dead back to life. Not just picking up where we left off, but rather in a renewed life where death will be no more because death does not have the final say.
The church has a message that is truly transformative – that an encounter with Jesus changes lives. That an encounter with Jesus means the dead will be brought to life. That an encounter with Jesus means that the status quo isn’t satisfactory any more – Jesus presents an alternative.
Church, now is the time, if ever there was a time, for us to be church. To claim the mantle of sinner and saint. To live lives of confession and forgiveness. To proclaim the reality around us and the alternative that God is unfolding before us. To do all this in the midst of the chaos of sin and death.
God is changing our lives as we speak. Are we going to respond in doubt because we can’t see it and so we don’t live out this faith that is given to us because we just aren’t sure? Are we going to respond in doubt because God isn’t doing it the way we would prefer and because God is messing up our comfortable lives? Or are we going to respond in trust, not knowing what the path forward will look like, but knowing full well that God’s unfolding reality is far better than the alternative that this world offers?
Are we going to respond by trying to be safe? Or are we going to risk it all? The safe choice leads to more of the same. It leads to certain death. The risky response means we recognize we aren’t in control. That God has a mission for us. And that it is costly. We’ll experience death – death of control, death of certainty, death of egotism, death of safety, death of more. But in those deaths, Jesus will bring new life – life so much better than anything we try to hold onto. Life in the Spirit, life in love, life in community, life in forgiveness, life in mercy, life in grace, life in care, life in peace. Life.
God promised life. God invites us to participate in that life. How will you respond?