“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Late Monday evening we were stunned by the news that another mass shooting had taken place. This one was in Boulder, Colorado, about 25 miles north of Denver. A lone gunman opened fire in a grocery store, of all places, and left 10 people dead in the wake of his rampage. One of the dead was a police officer.
At this time no one except the killer knows the motive for the shooting, but what does that matter? The bottom line is that ten people are dead. Never in their wildest imagination did any of these victims leave their home – to go grocery shopping, of all things – and not expect to return!
Perhaps we are not shocked. Massacres like this have become all too commonplace. Colorado has had more than its share. The litany of senseless criminal acts of gun violence in that state goes back to Columbine High School in 1999, where 12 victims were killed before the two assassins committed suicide.
Twelve died and 58 others suffered gunshot wounds in a movie theater in Aurora in July of 2012.
Another shooting, in Colorado Springs at a Planned Parenthood clinic, left three dead and nine injured in November 2015.
And in May 2019, one student was killed, and eight others injured, at a school in Highlands Ranch, a Denver suburb. The two gunmen were fellow students.
As we try to make sense of all this violence, what can we find in God’s word that has meaning for our lives?
I have to admit that it was really difficult for me to find words of comfort in today’s scripture readings immediately after such a horrific act as this, just as it was last week (March 16) after the dreadful carnage in Atlanta.
God, through the voice of the prophet Jeremiah, talks about waste and devastation in the first reading. Jesus continues his arguments with the religious authorities after healing a man born blind on the sabbath. And Paul speaks to the Romans about salvation.
But what does salvation look like, especially in light of such heartbreak?
A quote from the late Mr. Rogers comes immediately to mind. He would tell children on his television program that in times of crisis and anxiety, his mother would remind him to, “Look for the helpers.”
In times of tragedy, you can always find people who are helping. And usually it is people of faith who are first on the scene of many a disaster.
In the reality of the violence in our sinful world, people of faith do not focus on the suffering. People of faith focus on the cross. It is from the cross that our faith emerges, and puts us in solidarity with the suffering. It is that emergent faith that gives us the strength and the courage to survive events such as what happened last night in Colorado.
In the cross, we are reminded that Jesus came to earth, not to take away our suffering, but to enter into our suffering and suffer with us. That suffering came to its conclusion by his death on the cross.
But death did not have the last word. He rose again and promised us that we would rise with him.
We focus on the cross in this season of Lent, because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
I close with a prayer for a time such as this, from our Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnal, found on page 77:
God our creator, through whose providing care we enjoy all goodness and life, turn our eyes to your mercy in this time of confusion and loss. Comfort this nation as we mourn; shine your light on those whose only companion is darkness; and teach us all so to number our days that we may apply our hearts to your wisdom; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
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