Special e-letter 8/6/19

On Sunday, we all woke up to the news of two mass shootings that had occurred in less than 24 hours leaving 31 people dead. The horrific events that occurred in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, came on the heels of another shooting in Gilroy, California on July 28 where 3 people were killed and 12 were wounded. To say that this loss of life is shocking, and horrifying is an understatement. It doesn’t begin to explain the weight, fear, trauma, and absolute terror that those who were present at these events, those who were wounded, those who lost loved ones and those who responded to this terror are feeling. And it doesn’t begin to describe the fear, shock and disbelief that the rest of us feel as we watch these horrific events unfold time after time in our country and in our own back yard, as was the case with the Pulse Night Club shooting in Orlando and the school shooting at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

So, what do people of faith do with all these emotions, questions, fear, anger, heartbreak? How are we called to respond? That is the question that has been heavy on my heart since early Sunday morning. Over the last 24 hours, after much prayer and conversation with other leaders here at Suntree, two things have emerged for me. One is that we must come together to pray. We must pray for the victims of this horrific violence: for the families of those who have been lost, for those who have been injured, those who are caring for the injured, both physically and emotionally, the communities that are living through these long, difficult days, and the churches that will help people mourn, grieve, and pick up the pieces.


We must pray for those who committed these heinous acts because Jesus called us to do so. That is hard. It is always hard. But we worship a savior who said, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”


Finally, we must pray for ourselves, as we seek to understand the ways we have been complicit in the creation of a society that perpetuates and tolerates such violent disregard for life. As a church, we need to offer prayers of confession and repentance as a way of acknowledging our need to turn, to change, and to walk in a new direction.


Which leads to the next thing we are called to do in response to these events, and that is action. We are called to pray and to act. We must allow our prayers to lead us to constructive action – that is the fruit of real repentance and can lead to real change. As followers of Jesus Christ we must recommit ourselves to working for change in the way that we see gun violence, perhaps beginning to own it as a national health crisis rather than simply a matter of gun ownership. We can write our legislators asking them to enact simple legislation that can potentially close loopholes in our current background check laws to help keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them. We can be advocates for change in the ways we provide funding and support for the treatment of mental illness. Our Mental Health Task Force is already seeking to lead us in engaging those issues in the future. And we can seek changes in the ways our society is willfully soaked in a culture of violence. These are just a few of the avenues that can be explored.


The point is that we must begin with prayer, but we cannot stop there. The lectionary OT reading for this week is from Isaiah 1:10-20. In it, God is chastising God’s people through the prophet Isaiah for offering empty prayers and worship without caring for the most vulnerable among them. The words used are a disturbing, even brutal commentary of how God experiences prayer without just and merciful action. “When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doing from before my eye; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” Isaiah 1:15-17.


These are hard words. But there is hope in them. Thank you, God, for that hope. There is still time for us to cease from doing evil. There is still time to learn to do good, to seek justice and to do the work of protecting vulnerable people, which includes all of us, from the scourge of violence and I would add, white supremacy, that is being played out in our society. But we have work to do.


We will begin that work this Wednesday evening with a time of worship and prayer. We will gather in the Worship Center at 6:30pm for a simple prayer service that will include music, scripture readings and a variety of prayer experiences. Then those who are interested will be invited to the Dining Room where information will be available for those who would like to write their congressional leaders, urging them to act in response to these shootings. Addresses, phone numbers, and suggested template letters will be provided. You will also have the chance to sign up to engage in future conversations around this issue as we seek to pray, to listen to one another, and to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in how we can affect real change.


If you cannot join us Wednesday evening, I invite you to be in prayer with us, wherever you are, during that time.


And thank you for being a church that continues to wrestle with what it means to love God, love each other, and love our neighbors in extraordinary ways.


Grace and Peace,