Of Breaking Hearts

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings: 1 Chron 10-12; John 6:45-71

130 I cry out to you from the depths, Lord
my Lord, listen to my voice!
    Let your ears pay close attention to my request for mercy!
If you kept track of sins, Lord
    my Lord, who would stand a chance?
But forgiveness is with you—
    that’s why you are honored.

I hope, Lord.
My whole being hopes,
    and I wait for God’s promise.
My whole being waits for my Lord—
    more than the night watch waits for morning;
    yes, more than the night watch waits for morning!

Israel, wait for the Lord!
    Because faithful love is with the Lord;
    because great redemption is with our God!
He is the one who will redeem Israel
    from all its sin. (Psalm 130:1-8, Common English Bible)

For you who are working on the “Journey Through Scripture” challenge I have included the scripture readings for today above.  I cannot write on either of those lessons today. Perhaps tomorrow I will get back on track but for today, I have something I need to say and this is the venue where I choose to say it.

This past Friday, as it has in previous such events, my heart broke when I heard about the tragic events at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas. In every occurrence, but especially when there are schools and children and youth involved, my heart breaks. It tears at me. The loss of life is so tragic. The pain these children and also their families experience these last few days, is inconceivable to me. Every time I walk away saying, “We have to find a way to solve this problem. We have to make our schools safe for all our kids.”

There is much I could say about gun laws and what I think we need. I will save that for another time. That is not what this is about.

Yes, my heart broke Friday morning when I learned about the tragedy in Santa Fe. It broke as it has so many times before. But, this one was different. Santa Fe High School is 50 miles from the church I currently serve in Sweeny. That is MUCH closer to home than any of the previous shootings.

Still, for me, there was more. I served as pastor at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Santa Fe from January 2005 through May of 2008. This is an area I know. There are still people there I know.

There was a great deal of relief when Cindy and I learned that our friend Susan, a sign-language teacher at Santa Fe High School was OK, at least physically. I think it will take some time for Susan to be OK emotionally. I am so grateful that Susan was on the opposite end of campus and upstairs from where the tragedy occurred.

While my heart was still heavy, I was feeling better about things. I did still feel a twinge of pain when I read Susan’s Facebook post that said, “Today I lost two colleagues and two students.” I don’t think you can read something like that and not feel the raw emotions behind it.

Then, on Saturday afternoon, I saw the list of the dead. I read the name, Jared Conard Black. The name sounded familiar. I told Cindy that I was pretty sure it was the name of a boy I remembered from our Santa Fe days. The more I thought about it, the more I knew there was something more than just familiar with the name. I pulled out my pastoral record book and looked at the baptismal entries during the time I was pastor at Aldersgate. I found his name. I baptized young Jared Black, along with his brothers and his mother in March of 2006. Jared was five years old.

The memories started flooding back. I remembered a little boy who would run up only to jump back in an effort to get me to grab him. When he jumped back and I missed, he would laugh and laugh. Many times, when he was there I actually would grab him, throw him over my shoulder and carry him around the church building asking people, “What should I do with this?” Jared would start laughing again. When I would put him down, the whole process would start again.

I feel pretty certain Jared wouldn’t have remembered me. He was five and I was nothing more than somebody who showed him a little attention, just as I did with his brother and numerous other kids over past years. I love the children of the church and I consider it such an honor to be their pastor.

Two times in my career I have become keenly aware of what it means to lose a child of the church. I have not lost one of my own children or grandchildren. I pray they outlive me. Parents and grandparents aren’t supposed to bury their kids. Their kids are supposed to bury them. In the coming days, Jared’s family will have that unenviable task, just as Russell’s parents (died in a lightning strike while running into the locker room from the football field when the coaches first got the warning signal. Being a true leader, he stayed back, making sure his teammates all were in ahead of him) had the same experience.

No, I don’t know what they have experienced or are currently experiencing. Still, I know the pain I feel. I know the heavy feeling deep within me. On the advent of adulthood, two very promising young men have had their lives cut short. For Jared and the others killed last Friday, it is a loss of potential in the present age. What might one of them grow up to do? Could there have been a cure for cancer in the future of one student? Could the next Billy Graham have come from their midst? What difference might one of them, upon entering a career in education, have made in the lives of children and youth who follow them. It is potential cut short.

The same could be said for the young shooter. We don’t usually look at the bad guy with an eye toward compassion. Still, in him, there is unrealized potential.

The psalmist writes he both cries out for God and he waits for God. In the current time, when tragedy strikes, we cry out to God. Yet when we recover enough to stop, evaluate and rethink the experience, we quickly come to realize what the psalmist knew and wrote. There is hope in God.

Someone said to me earlier, “We need to get God back in our schools.” That friends is weak theology. We believe God is omnipresent. That means right here, right now, wherever you are reading this, God is there. On Friday, God was at Santa Fe High School. God was there in the custodian that ran down the hall telling approaching kids “Gun, go back.” God was there. The attack happened on the part of the school campus where the fewest number of students was present. How high might the dead and wounded gone had he picked another part of the school to attack? God was there in the school district police officer who placed himself in jeopardy, even getting shot himself, to protect the kids of the school. God was there.

The psalmist understood that. In Psalm 139:7-12 we read these words,

Where could I go to get away from your spirit?
    Where could I go to escape your presence?
If I went up to heaven, you would be there.
    If I went down to the grave, you would be there too!
If I could fly on the wings of dawn,
    stopping to rest only on the far side of the ocean—
10         even there your hand would guide me;
        even there your strong hand would hold me tight!
11 If I said, “The darkness will definitely hide me;
        the light will become night around me,”
12     even then the darkness isn’t too dark for you!
        Nighttime would shine bright as day,
        because darkness is the same as light to you! (Psalm 139: 7-12, CEB)

The psalmist knew of God’s omnipresence. The psalmist knew God was there. We should know the same. During events like the Santa Fe shooting, we tend to want to blame God. The truth is, GOD, DID NOT DO THIS! Evil is never part of God’s will. Evil happens because of what is in the hearts of people like us. People like the person who walks into a classroom full of students pulls out a gun and starts shooting. That is free will. That is a human choice. It is a human choice that contradicts the will of God. (For more see The Will of God, by Leslie Weatherhead).

God was there on Friday. God is with the families of the victims right now. God will continue to be with the victim’s families and friends in the days and weeks to come. And, let there be no doubt, now or ever, where God is, there is always a reason for hope.

I would ask you to please pray for Santa Fe. I have talked with a few people I know who have little to do with the school. They too are experiencing pain. Pray for the students of Santa Fe Independent School District and particularly Santa Fe High School that they will seek comfort from the one who offers the best comfort and the best hope. Pray as well for the families of the victims. They will have to deal with this most.

I heard one family member of a victim say on the late local news, “If I could sit down across the table from him (the shooter), I don’t know if I would bless him or attack him. I would hope I would bless him but I know that even if I were successful, it would be through clenched teeth.” That is a start.

Please also pray for the shooter and his family. Yes, there is anger. But we all must realize this was not a decision the shooter’s family made for him. It was his and his alone. We need to pray that he will come to repent his actions of May 18.

Most of all, pray that each of these will allow themselves to accept the comfort God offers to each of us in times of tragedy and difficulty. God is with them and where God is, there is always hope.

I pray God’s blessings on you this day.

With a Thankful Heart,
Keith

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

 

Author:

Spirita Spiro (Esperanza for "Spirit's Breath) is rather new in my life. But the blog is not. I began writing a blog several years ago. It lived under the title, "The Pastor Ponders." Over the years I have tried several different names and "The Pastor Ponders" always seemed to fit best. I am trying again with Spirita Spiro. For 27 years I was a full-time pastor in the United Methodist Church. This year, August 2018, I semi-retired (I can't actually retire quite yet) and began teaching social studies. It is something I have always wanted to do and if I was going to do this, I needed to make it sooner rather than later. So, I made the move. I thought with the career change there also needed to be a name change to the blog and other things, such as spiritual direction. Spirita Spiro is my attempt to share some of my thoughts. I often share what I am thinking with my dog "Bishop," but he keeps his thoughts to himself. He will even go to sleep sometimes while I am sharing my thoughts with him. The truth is, if it doesn't involve getting his ears scratched, his belly rubbed or some kind of treat, he really doesn't care. I will say this for him, he never argues with me or tells me I am wrong. So, I decided to share some of my thoughts with whoever might come across this blog in their ramblings around the Internet. I live with my wife Cindy and our little dog in Lufkin, Texas. I spent the past 27 years as a full-time United Methodist pastor. Most recently I served as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Sweeny, Texas. I have also served United Methodist congregations throughout East Texas including rural Madison County (Elwood UMC), Lovelady (First UMC) and Kennard (Center Hill UMC), Canton (First UMC), rural Smith County (Mt. Sylvan UMC and Union Chapel UMC), Grapeland (First UMC), Tyler (Pleasant Retreat UMC), Santa Fe (Aldersgate UMC), Freeport (First UMC) and Oyster Creek (Oyster Creek UMC), Diboll (First UMC), and now Sweeny (First UMC). My wife Cindy and I have been married for over 40 years. We have two grown sons. Wayne and his wife Nikki and all our grandsons (Kaleb, Noah, and Jaxon) live in Southern California. Christopher and his wife Morgan and both our granddaughters (Jenna and Natalie) live in Tyler Texas. I enjoy preaching and all aspects of preaching from research to writing to the actual preaching event. I also love writing, reading, playing the guitar as well as a bit of drawing. I have spent quite a bit of time over the past two years working with paracord on various projects, mostly prayer ropes I usually give away. I sing bass with a local barbershop chorus called The Coastalaires. I have also recently begun doing a little wood carving. I also enjoy playing with Bishop, something he likes a great deal better than listening to my thoughts. I hold an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Business Data Processing, specializing in Microcomputers from San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas, a Bachelor of Science in Political Science with a minor in History from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX, a Master of Divinity from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX and a Doctor of Ministry from Carolina University of Theology. When I was a student at Carolina, the school was in Iron Station North Carolina. They have since relocated to Manassas Virginia (Yeah, go figure, a school named Carolina geographically in Virginia). This blog is mostly devotional writing, but there are other things here too. Just about every week I will either post my sermon manuscript or a video of the worship service. On occasion, I will post something I see in society. Occasionally I write a short story, a poem, or a song and will post it here too. I will say this, my motivations for writing this blog are really selfish. I write it to get what I am thinking out of my head and onto something a bit more permanent. They say, after all, once something is on the internet it never really goes away. Still, I hope you enjoy reading it. And, should you desire, you can one-up Bishop and actually tell me what you think. Who knows, it might generate a bit of discussion between you and me and anyone else who might make their way here. With Joy and Thankfulness, Keith Sweeny, Texas May 2018

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