June 18, 2015
Like me, most of you woke up this morning to the terrible news of the shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, my home state.
I am saddened and angry to hear that a gunman sat through a Bible Study and then took out a gun and killed the pastor and eight other people; nine lives of God’s children taken in cold blood!
I am especially sickened that this heinous crime occurred in a church, in a sanctuary. Lord, if we cannot be safe in our churches, where else can we go? But painfully enough, this is not the first time such a crime has violated the sanctuary of God’s space.
Even as people of faith who share the Wesleyan tradition of grace, we feel doubt, anger, sorrow and sympathy collide in our hearts. We may be wondering where God is at this moment.
It is okay to struggle with doubt at moments like this. Yet we must remember that what we are struggling with is not necessarily God. What may be hard for us to do is to see the image of God in the face of the person who committed such a crime.
Even with our anger, our doubts, our sorrows and our pain, we must not abandon our faith in our loving and caring God.
Let’s remember God’s promise that love will overcome hate. I find hope in Jesus’ words that we should continue to love one another as God as loved us (John 13:34). I am also confident in God’s call in Romans to “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good,” and in 1 Peter 4:8, to “above, all love one another deeply.” My own faith is deeply grounded Romans 8:37, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
The pain, the grief, and the feelings of helplessness we feel today may seem unbearable. Jesus knew the pain of losing someone in death, his friend Lazarus. The Bible tells us that Jesus joined Lazarus’ relatives and friends as they grieved over this loss. Seeing them, Jesus was deeply moved. He “groaned in the spirit and became troubled.” Then, as we know very well, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:33, 35) Even though Jesus knew that he was about to resurrect Lazarus, still, he felt the pain and sorrow that death brings.
Yes, I join you in weeping for the lives taken. I weep for violation of the sanctuary. I weep for my home state of South Carolina. But we should not stop with weeping.
We must turn our grief and our pain into action. In the light of this hate crime, the escalating murder rate in Baltimore and violence throughout our nation, we must do something to stop these acts that break God’s heart.
We will honor the men and women who died when we follow their example, claiming the love of God and making it manifest in the world. It is in times like this that we are called to be the church and to speak God’s name boldly. We must condemn such acts and work to dismantle the systems that produce such acts. We must stand up and call out evil in whatever shape and form it rears its ugly and hateful head.
God did not so this, friends, and that is why we should not let this or other such acts take away from loving our God and neighbor.
We should stay motivated today more than ever to be God’s love in this hate-filled world. We have to continue to shine the light in the darkness of hate.
That is why I am asking all churches to symbolically light a candle of love during this Sunday’s worship service in memory of the nine lives taken at the Emanuel AME Church and as a symbol of our determination to tackle hatred with love.
Hold on to the promise that our God of love will not let hatred triumph over love. Love always prevails.
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Marcus Matthews