As the time came for our prayer on Sunday morning, we couldn’t help but pray the news – for the victims of gun violence across the nation, for those trapped in the cycle of racism, and for those whose call to protect and serve left them exposed, threatened and afraid.
One day removed from the horrors of another terror attack in France, a week from the awful events in Dallas, the horrible images of the deaths of African-American men at the hands of police in St. Paul and Baton Rouge still on our minds, the carnage of Orlando still in our hearts and souls – to be the church, we had to pray.
We prayed not to prevent action but to ask God to propel us to it. We prayed that we might have the courage to live into our ministry of reconciliation. We prayed that somehow and someway our nation might trade its current ways for a new way of justice and peace. Mostly we prayed for all of this to stop. We prayed for a way to settle differences and perceived scores that didn’t include unleashing death and destruction upon innocents.
But within five minutes of getting back to my office after church, the five minutes it took to sit down and turn on the computer, I slumped in my chair. Because before we had even finished asking God for help, there had been another one – another shooting, another attack on police officers, another declaration that life didn’t matter.
It is awful to watch and even more gut wrenching to live. America is on fire – full of rage and stocked up on anger, plenty of it righteous. We’re long on shouting and justifying and knowing just who is to blame, but we’re short on relationships and kindness and ways that lead to life and peace.
Our parents told us stories of how frightening it was to live through the 1960’s. We ignored them them, but we’re paying attention now.
And as a church leader I know that people are paying attention to us now, too. They are listening to what we say and watching how we live.
They know that the solutions to the presenting problems – circles that combine race and violence and inequality and neighborhoods and the cops – aren’t going to be found in political ideologies intent on assigning blame. They know that the way forward won’t come from blasting each other on Twitter or limiting ourselves to the echo chambers of those who see it the same way that we do.
And so, looking for something else, they come back to us again. They listen again because they want to know whether the church they grew up going to or pass on the street every day has a message that’s big enough for this. They want to know whether we have a way of life that can transform such a time as this.
They listen because even if a lot of them aren’t in our buildings on Sunday mornings, they know there is power in our story. They know that our message is about light overwhelming darkness and that we put our trust in a life more powerful than death.
They know that when we quote Scripture we quote words of equality. They know that in our story the logic of creation denies the logic of racism – no dark claim to racial superiority can withstand the light of Genesis 1:26, that everyone, male or female, black or white, rich or poor, is created in the beautiful and beloved image of God.
They know that we claim that our identity isn’t tied to our appearance but is formed by who loves us and how far He went to prove it. To deny that everyone has the right to live without fear and to seek joy is to deny the fundamental truth of our faith – that no life is worthless and that every life can be redeemed.
They know that our mission is reconciliation, to bring those who are far apart together. They want to believe it when we remind them that this is what God is all about and this is the mission we can all be a part of.
And yet they aren’t quite sure about us. We have to admit there’s good reason for that.
They’ve seen us give up the essentials of discipleship for the convenience of an attractive consumer-driven faith. They’ve seen us shy away from calling sin what it is so we can stay comfortable. They’ve seen us trade our mission of transforming the world for resting in the status quo. They’ve seen us praise God’s way with our lips and turn from it with our lives. They’ve seen us give up our convictions far too quickly when power and influence can be had.
To be a church for a time such as this we have to tell the old story but we also have to live it with truth and courage and conviction. We glorify God as much with how we enter difficult conversations and contested places as we do when we sing our songs and say our creeds.
We spend a lot of time talking about how the church can bounce back, how we can connect with generations and groups that don’t seem to pay us much attention.
People are paying attention now. They are longing for a community of faith to live out what it believes. They are desperate for a path forward and for leaders who can help them find it. They are seeking those who can remind us of what we have in common, who can help us listen to one another and who can do the work of reconciliation, not by making an easy peace that denies the problems, but by forging a real one that can make all things new.
The good news is that we do have a way of life for such a time as this.
The question for us then isn’t what shall we say. It’s more important than that.
How then shall we live?