7 Israel, wait for the Lord!
Because faithful love is with the Lord;
because great redemption is with our God!
8 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,
7 Where could I go to get away from your spirit?
Where could I go to escape your presence?
8 If I went up to heaven, you would be there.
If I went down to the grave, you would be there too!
9 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,
Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved