Someone responded to my post yesterday that said I was waiting for Christians to act in the face of the massacre of innocents in Uvalde by writing, “So what should we do, Bishop?” It’s a fair question. It’s also fair to acknowledge that I don’t pretend to have the answers about how to fix it. But there are some steps that, working together, may begin to change things. And so I share them. If you have ideas, share them. Even better, start doing them.
First, pray. Pray for the families. Pray for Uvalde. Pray for our nation. Pray for everything related to the epidemic of gun violence. Do it by yourself. With others. And in your church. Second, change the conversation. Identify this for what it is – a moral issue of deepest importance. Refuse to let it be turned into a political issue. Refuse to allow people to hide behind the second amendment and say any conversation about sensible gun availability is therefore off-limits. Refuse to allow someone to tell you that it’s not yours to address. Challenge every pastor in this nation to stand up in front of her or his congregation this Sunday and proclaim, “This is a moral outrage in the eyes of God. We will address it as such.” Third, work for common sense laws that address the number and kind of guns that are too easily available to too many. It’s not about taking away guns. It’s not about doing away with the Second Amendment. It’s not about an agenda. It’s about liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, gun owners and those who don’t own guns reaching a consensus to solve a particular problem. It’s about saving lives and, perhaps, saving our nation’s soul. It’s about the children. Fourth, help people who need help get help. We are in a mental health crisis that is greater than we can begin to imagine. The church knows how to do this. The church can take the lead in this. Starting right now.
I am all too aware even addressing this issue in this way is offensive to some of you. Indeed, I expect to hear that I have no business doing anything more than calling for prayer. But here’s why I am compelled to say what I am saying. It ultimately is a spiritual issue that permeates every crevice of our life, both individual and corporate. And addressing that is always the work of the church. And that means it involves every single person who calls Jesus Savior and Lord.
Sometimes It’s Easy, Most of the Time Not
I do a lot of writing. Sermons, Episcopal Addresses, presentations on the current landscape of the United Methodist Church, articles, daily devotionals and on and on. On rare occasions, the words flow freely and easily. Most of the time, however, it is a painful and lengthy process to conceptualize what I want to say, put it into words that at least somewhat resemble what I’m trying to say, make it concrete enough to be understood and nuanced enough as to not be simplistic, and edit, edit, edit. And in the end, I’m seldom satisfied with the words on the screen. Yet I’ve come to accept this as normative, at least for me. And so even though writing still takes its toll, I know it’s a process to go through to get the result I desire. The same thing is true with being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Sometimes it comes easily, with little effort. Most of the time, however, it takes hard work, significant commitment, a willingness to learn from mistakes, and a passion that keeps you going when you seem to be stuck. And in the end, you’re probably seldom satisfied with how you’re doing. But here’s the thing. What you do matters. But what Jesus matters a whole lot more. And ultimately it’s his grace that will get you where he knows you need to go.
I was blessed yesterday to help a church celebrate its 75th Anniversary. It was a wonderful morning filled with memories and joy, including using an older form of the liturgy the church used the first time it celebrated the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Perhaps the most striking thing about that service is the prominent role the Prayer of Confession plays with words that might seem harsh, or even offensive, in today’s world. But I was struck by the truth of the words. And their power. And how I felt free saying them. All of which makes me wonder what would happen if we Christians spent a whole lot less time trying to fix other people and a whole lot more time confessing our own sins to God and to one another.
May the prayer I pray today, be the prayer I offer everyday.
May I experience Your love more fully.
May I follow Jesus more faithfully.
May I love others more completely.
I pray this in the strong name of Jesus.
It’s one thing to know intellectually that life changes, and that it often does so unexpectedly and quickly. It’s another to experience it in real time. It’s one thing to believe with all your heart that Jesus’ grace is always sufficient. It’s another to experience it in every fiber of your being when you need it most. The fact of the matter, however, is that sometimes you don’t experience it in those most difficult moments. So you work harder trying to get it, and the result is that things seem to go from bad to worse. But here’s the thing. Jesus is already right in the middle of all that is going on in your life. Every bit of it. And the more you are willing to trust that, the more you will experience the most powerful reality in all of life – he’s already at work giving you what he knows you need.
The Arkansas Annual Conference held our Clergy Session last night, just as Methodist preachers have been doing for nearly 280 years. However, we did it via Zoom. There were significant upsides to meeting online. We were able to get our work done efficiently, put people on screen to speak and answer questions using a Q&A feature. What is more, we saved untold gallons of gas and thousands of dollars, not to speak of all the time people would have spent traveling. There was also a huge downside. We missed out on the fellowship that is such a vital part of conferencing. Deciding when to meet using technology and when to meet in person is a balancing act that is as much art as it is science, and as much intuition as it is data analysis. But that’s not surprising, because life is always a balance between competing interests, each of which has some validity and some liabilities. That’s why what Jesus says in the Gospel of John is so instructive. He talks about both abundant life and eternal life. And what you discover is that both are part of the salvation he offers every human being. Both are essential. And both are a gift.