It is with a heavy heart that I write you today following the tragic events yesterday in Uvalde. Like so many in our San Antonio and south Texas community I cannot fathom something so awful falling upon innocent children simply going through their school day. As a father of two kids myself, who drops them off at school each morning, I am shaken to my core by such a thing. Please join me in lifting the entire community of Uvalde in prayer. We pray for the families affected by the tragedy, the law enforcement doing their difficult work in that community right now, and for the churches and others who are responding with help and care at this tragic time.
When we witness events like this, events like we saw in Buffalo, NY last week and in our own region yesterday we naturally wonder “where is God in the midst of this?” There is lots of conversation around this tragic event and there will be even more as politicians get involved each with their own ideas, and those discussions are necessary. But the question of where God is in the midst of this is one that only the church of Jesus Christ can answer. The church has something to say today because if the good news of Jesus Christ is not good news for the people in Uvalde today than it is not good news for any of us.
Everywhere we look in scripture that talks about the birth of Jesus we find that it is described as “Good News”. The Greek work is “euaggelion” and it literally means “God’s good news to humanity.” The angel that visited Mary said that Jesus would be called Emmanuel, which means “God is with us” and that’s why it is good news. God’s good news to humanity is that in the midst of the fallenness and evil that is present in our world, God has come to be with us – and he promises to never leave us. So, when we go through tragedy such as we have witnessed recently, God is still with us, holding the wounded, comforting those who mourn, and even weeping alongside those who weep. We do not have a God who is distant and doesn’t care, we have a God who stepped out of heaven to be with us, a God who wept at the tomb of his friend, and weeps alongside us even now. Our God is with us, he is with each family as they grieve, he was with each of those children in Uvalde as they stepped from this life to the next and he has wrapped them in his arms.
When I arrived home last night and my wife and I were discussing what had happened, Brittney looked at me and said, “My first reaction was that we should just home school.” That’s a reasonable reaction from a mother of a 4th and 7th grader, given the circumstances. But, last week’s shooting in Buffalo was at a store. There have been mass shootings at a movie theaters and concerts. There have been shootings at churches and temples as well, so what are we supposed to do and where are we supposed to go? What does it mean that God is with us?
It means this, as much as I want to believe I can protect my family from anything, I can’t. As much as I want to think that the safety measures instituted by schools and airports, etc. are going to fully protect us they can’t. When I take my children to school and leave them there, I am so thankful for the faithful, even heroic, teachers and administrators who work to protect them, however, it is still no guarantee of safety. When I leave my kids at school, I trust Jesus to be with them. When I leave my family to go on a speaking engagement or to a conference or something of the sort, I’m not trusting the neighborhood watch to protect them – I trust Jesus. And that’s not to say that I think nothing bad will ever happen to them because Jesus is with them, of course bad things will happen to them. But when I remind myself that God is with us, I remember that no matter what happens to my family or any of my loved ones, Jesus is there for comfort, for direction, for healing, for peace, and even for welcome when it is time to walk into his presence. Jesus is there – in good times and in tragedy, in life and in death – Jesus is there. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
I invite you to read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. It says that we do not grieve as those who have no hope because we know this world is not the end. As followers of Jesus, we look at a situation like this and proclaim that God is with us now, AND God is coming back to put everything right again. We are a people who believe and proclaim that Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again! Tragedies like this do not quiet our proclamation; no, as we grieve, we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Tragedies like this only add urgency to our prayer – “Come Lord Jesus, come.”
I do not want the voices on TV and radio to be the only voices speaking into this moment in history. It is my responsibility to help the followers of Jesus at Coker process this tragedy through the eyes of faith – not to understand it or explain it – but process it through the lens of the God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ. Not all theologians are preachers, but all preachers are theologians; and now it’s your turn, as you live this day in your neighborhoods, your offices, your schools – as you move about in the places that life plays out for you and you are around those whom God has blessed your life with – it falls to you to share this one simple message, Emmanuel, God is with us. Cry with those who are crying, talk with those who just need to talk; but in all things, remind them that God is with us even now and this is not the end of the story. If the church of Jesus Christ isn’t going to share that message right now, then nobody is. And if there is no good news from God in the face of the evil in this world and this awful mess specifically, then that is the biggest tragedy of all.
As I dropped my 4th grade daughter off at school this morning with a lump in my throat, I gave God thanks for the truth that He is with her, today and every day. Thank God we are a people of the incarnation, a people of the cross, a people of the resurrection – thanks be to God that even in the face of tragedy such as this we are a people of hope, because Emmanuel, God is with us.
With hope in the face of tragedy,
Sr Pastor, Coker UMC