Two pastors die tragically in just a few days of each other. One is gunned down in the church he serves, along with other church members, by a “stranger” they welcome into their midst. The other sets himself on fire, and dies as a result of his injuries, to “inspire justice”. Both stories are painful, tragic, heartbreaking. And yet, they seem to come from very different understandings and motivations.
As you might imagine, I am especially impacted by the tragic death of a pastor. It doesn’t mean I care more about those deaths than others- not at all. But it DOES mean that it “hits a little closer to home” when it’s a pastor that’s involved.
The gentleman who set himself on fire absolutely breaks my heart. I A. know nothing about the man and B. will NOT cast any stones about his decision. I don’t know why he did it. I know what I read…but I don’t really know why he did it. But I DO know that it is heartbreaking.
And then there are the folks in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. A total of 13 people, including the shooter who was unknown to the others, gathered for a Bible study. About an hour into the Bible study, the shooter opened fire. Ten people were shot- nine of them, including the senior pastor, state senator Clementa C. Pinckney, died while a tenth person survived. The other victims were Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton and Myra Thompson. The shooter escaped and was arrested the following day.
You may have noticed that, while I mentioned the names of all who lost their lives, I did NOT mention the shooter’s name. Not an accident. I refuse to give him any more publicity that he has already received. But the folks who lost their lives- well…that’s a different story. Those folks welcomed this man in their midst. They could have just as easily said, “We don’t know you, therefore you are not welcome here.” And in the current world climate, few would have blamed them for that choice. But…they didn’t. Instead, they welcomed him to their Bible study. And because of that choice, nine people lost their lives.
And while I didn’t know any of those folks, my gut tells me that, if given the opportunity, they would welcome a stranger into their midst all over again. Why? Because it’s the Christian thing to do. These folks gave their lives doing what they thought…felt in their hearts…to be the right thing. And their families publicly forgave the coward who took the lives of people they loved. Forgave him. Publicly. An amazing show of what it truly means to be a Christian.
It hurts my heart to think that I have to worry about some disturbed individual coming in the church I serve and doing something like this. And when I started in the ministry, it really wouldn’t have been much of a consideration at all. But now…it is a reality of life. Places that we have always considered safe are simply not that any longer.
But you know what? I don’t care. Oh, don’t get me wrong- I care GREATLY about those innocent folks who were just going about their lives, trying to be the best people they could be, not hurting a soul and died because of it. But I don’t really care about what COULD be. If I live my life, if I carry out ministry day to day, constantly worried about what the next person walking through the door might do…then I am of no earthly good to anyone.
Do I try to be careful? Yes. Have I been involved in training on what to do if something like that happens? Yes. Am I literally in the middle of setting up MORE training along those lines? Uh huh. But I refuse to live in fear. That is NOT the way God made us. Fear is not of God. So I, for one, will continue to do what God has called me to do…only I will do it with a greater understanding of what it really means to commit to God thanks to folks like those in South Carolina.
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again and stick with Jesus!
Tomorrow- Healing Rain: Sickness