“Bless the Lord God of Israel because he has come to help and has delivered his people” (Luke 1.68, CEB)
A pastoral letter to the Madison Street Church community on the San Bernardino mass shooting | December 3, 2015
The scourge of gun violence has come into our lives this week. Directly and indirectly, we know people who have been killed, wounded, and injured by the shooting yesterday at the Inland Regional Center. Our hearts break with empathy, and our egos have been robbed of the arrogance of our former attitudes of invincibility. “It” happened. Here. To people we know and love. The 355th mass shooting in America in the 336 days of 2015. The epidemic of viciousness reached into our lives and at the very least has robbed us of an innocence about violence in our communities.
The time will soon be upon us to have the necessary discussions about the politics of guns, or the possibilities of Islamic radicalization, or the need to trade off basic freedoms of assembly for greater perception of personal security. But that time is not now. Nor is it a time to escape the pain of our community by flinging our “best wishes” and “heartfelt prayers” out into the space of social media without personally attending to the true consequence of all righteous prayer, namely our on-going conversion to God’s design of Shalom and ever deepening commitment to God’s mission of Reconciliation. No, now is the time for a different reckoning. Now is the time of the Third Way. For we who claim the mantle of Jesus – who dare to self-identify as Christians – now is the time to bear the cross. Now is the time to pray fervently and to act justly so that the Inland Empire becomes more of a model community of the holy city that is to come, as prayed for by Jesus in the Gospels and as promised by Jesus in Revelation. Moments of silence offered in public spaces and heated discussion over coffee at the local diner, however useful, are not sufficient. The wounds inflicted on our community yesterday will find their ultimate healing in direct proportion to our commitment to both be on our knees in discerning prayer and to roll up our sleeves in thoughtful action.
The old priest Zechariah had seen his people beaten down by the violence of imperial Rome and its corrupt collaborators. Then he receives a glorious visit: an angel tells him that, despite his advanced age, he will father the forerunner of the Messiah. He has his doubts, and he is silenced for the duration of his wife’s pregnancy. But the day comes, and Zechariah’s voice recovers and he announces God is at work transforming the world.
We’ve received the same good news – the Messiah has and is coming. We’ve got our doubts – and our silence – in the face of the difficult season. But the days are coming when our wounds will be healed and the horrors of violence perpetrated are no more, and like Zechariah, we recognize the hand of God at work in our midst.
In the days ahead, we will need to pray and talk and be silent together. I find myself conflicted this weekend, because I made plans with family months ago to be away for the weekend, and today I especially feel the weight of responsibility to be present with my own son, who, as a San Bernardino county employee and member of the State Council on Disabilities will be confronting, personally and professionally, the aftermath of yesterday for the foreseeable future. Yet, as a church striving to be “multi-voiced”, we are blessed to be multi-voiced in our pastoral care capacity. Our Deacons: Dan Weatherford, Beth West, James Ball, and Christine Martin, and our Pastoral Team: Greg Jones, Matt O’Brien, Gary West, and Karina Rappe, are all available to be present over the weekend, and beyond, as any might have need.
So let us receive the gospel in the midst of tragedy: God is at work, not in the violence of gunfire, but in the hopes of reconciliation to come. Let us sing and pray and silently meditate on the possibilities expressed in the Advent hymn, “Come, thou long expected Jesus/Born to set thy people free…”
Pastor Jeff Wright