Occasionally this sin-soaked world reminds you it doesn’t stop just because you’ve taken a break. So I write this while still on vacation, but realizing the yoke I wear since my ordination vows still rests on my shoulders.
In a peaceful neighborhood in my diocese that peace was shattered when a gunman burst into the Sabbath rest of Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill. Full of hate, equipped with legally obtained firearms, and inflamed by constitutionally protected free speech of the vilest, most incendiary form – a white man blind to the common humanity he shared with those before him callously executed multiple fellow citizens. And once again the cycle of thoughts and prayers goes through the airwaves and cyberspace. Wash; rinse; repeat.
I remember within weeks of my first full time ministry position standing around a grainy broadcast on a tube tv brought into the church office so we could watch a pair of planes slam into the Twin Towers. Quickly the local ecumenical ministerium organized a prayer service. Some even wondered if that tragedy would bring Americans to church…or at least to Christ. It didn’t.
Today there will be two interfaith services to mark the shooting of which I am aware – one in Pittsburgh at 5pm at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, and one at 7pm at the Indiana County Court House. I don’t have sweeping expectations that these remembrances will be a turning point for our national discourse. We’re too ensconced in our ideological echo chambers with no shared public forum for discourse to pretend otherwise. We should also quit pretending that we’ll solve the problems of hate with law and order pronouncements from politicians or frustrated cries for government to “do something.” Only God can change men’s hearts. And St Paul was clear they can only meet that God if someone is sharing the Good News with them. News that a Savior died and rose again to deal with all our enemies.
So that means we who have a vision of justice tempered with mercy, of swords beaten into plowshares, of children of every hue and creed holding hands to sing, “Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last” – we are the ones who bear the burden to break through the barriers of class, political party, race, and religion to declare a better way. And what’s more, we need to model that better way for others. Jesus left a Church, not a handbook, to bring the Kingdom of God into Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. We say we love God. Obey him! We say we love our neighbor. Show them! The greatest message, that the root cause of all our ills – sin and death – is taken care of by Jesus, needs to be on our lips constantly and shown by our actions incessantly! We are the ones responsible for loving the unloved and unloveable. We bear the burden of being a friend to those who are enemies of all Jesus stands for. We need to debunk conspiracy theories, show compassion, and counter every inkling of bigotry with the declaration that in Christ the common divisions we strive to maintain are simply and utterly abolished.
That takes courage to confront evil. That takes self-examination to root our your prejudices. That takes divine love within us overcoming our reticence, hopelessness, and anxieties. You may not think you’re up to the task. You’re right! But that’s why we are given the Holy Spirit and one another, so we have strength from within and support from without to live out our baptismal promises. That’s the yoke every Christian carries – ordained or not. And it’s time for all of us to return from our decades-long vacation from the public square. We need to quit pursuing political power and expecting someone else to do what God has called us to do. Be the Church, fight hate, and pray for your enemies!