I don’t know if my pastor realized it, but he was on trial today, the first Sunday after the deadliest church shooting in U.S. history. I read comments this week on social media from purported Christians that were quite disturbing. So at 9:00 am this morning, I was anxious to find out if my church would respond in a way that is consistent with the word of God. I wanted to know, 1) will my pastor acknowledge this tragedy and 2) will he guide his flock to respond in a way that is consistent with God’s word?
My pastor is preaching a series of sermons based on a book of the Bible that he had never preached on before – the book of Obadiah. At one chapter, it is the shortest book in the Old Testament so it is understandable that it would be overlooked. It proved to be relevant to our times this week. Obadiah delivered a message from God to the people of Edom. The Edomites were descendants of Esau, Jacob’s twin brother. Obadiah predicted that God would destroy Edom for not aiding its northern neighbor, Israel (descendants of Jacob).
Pastor Brad used the book of Obadiah to make three points that are relevant to our own nation. One, the people were prideful and self-centered (verse 3). Two, God was not happy about their violence (verse 10) and three, the people were aloof or indifferent to the suffering of others (verse 11).
My pastor assured the congregation that the church does take measures to protect our safety. The church pays for the county sheriff to come to the services and sit outside. I see them, not just guiding traffic, but sometimes coming in and walking down the children’s wing. He said there are panic buttons or alarms in different places that can be used to summon help quickly.
I am happy to say that Pastor Brad did not tell us to come to church armed. If he had said that, I would have walked out. Instead, he had us sing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” He gave us scriptures about not fearing, like 1 John 4:18. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
My pastor did not lay the blame for the tragedy in Sutherland Springs, Texas on guns. He admitted that he owns a gun himself. He said that the problem is a heart problem and not a problem of weapons. I acknowledge that there is some truth to this argument. There is something very wrong with the hearts of Americans. In some situations, we can be very compassionate. For example, witness the American response to natural disasters or the illness of a stranger.
But when it comes to the right to own the weapons that take 33,000 lives a year, many Americans turn into rabid defenders of inanimate objects. They are so afraid of losing the right to bear arms that they won’t consider even commonsense controls to protect us from the worst and most sick among us. Why is that? When did this nation become so hard-hearted and self-centered and fearful?
More importantly, when did so-called Evangelicals become so hard-hearted, self-centered and fearful? We’re supposed to be a light in the darkness and I’m sorry to say that we are not. I had to admit that truth to myself a year ago when I saw that the majority of “Christians” were willing to cast aside everything that Jesus taught us in exchange for political power.
My pastor did lay some of the blame for violence, and rightly so, on individualism. Individualism defines American culture. Pride defines American culture. Violence defines American culture. But Christianity is not based on individualism. It is not based on pride or violence.
I said my pastor was on trial today because I was watching him to see evidence of something different. I didn’t want to hear NRA or Fox News talking points. I wanted to see light in the darkness. I wanted to see hope. I wanted to hear the word of God preached. Thankfully, I was not disappointed.
The world is watching all of us who claim to follow Jesus. Jesus is not prideful and self-centered. Jesus is not violent. Jesus is not aloof and indifferent to pain and suffering. When we are tested by trials of these times, how will we respond?