A Pastoral Letter in Response to the San Bernardino Mass Shooting

Posted on December 8, 2015

San Bernardino

“Bless the Lord God of Israel because he has come to help and has delivered his people.” (Luke 1:68, CEB)

The scourge of gun violence and terror has come into our lives again – this time 14 were killed, 21 wounded. We mourn for the people who have been killed or injured by the shooting last Wednesday at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California. One of those murdered, Harry Bowman, grew up in York, PA. He was 46. Our hearts ache with empathy. Once again, we have been rudely awakened from the dream of invincibility and security, robbed again of a certain innocence about violence in our communities. While “It” didn’t happen here, we are all affected.

I was born and raised in Southern California – about a 2-hour drive from San Bernardino. I have a childhood connection with this place. Close friends of our family had a cabin in Crestline, California, located in the mountains directly above San Bernardino – in fact they are called the San Bernardino Mountains. I spent many happy weekends there as a child, hiking, exploring – and swimming in little Lake Gregory. The San Bernardino/Redlands area was familiar territory to me back in the ’60s and ’70s.

Every mass shooting is shocking, chilling, and heartbreaking, but this one happened in an old stomping ground – and moved me to offer a few words to you.

There are necessary discussions to be had about complicated issues like gun control, or questions regarding what price we are willing to pay as a culture for greater perception of personal security. From a Brethren in Christ viewpoint, the question arises about what it means to be a peace church in an age of terror and fear. People are anxious and fearful in light of recent terror events. What does the church – local and denominational – have to say about this? As a church, we should be able to talk about all these complicated issues, but I wonder, does the church have the grace to talk about such things? Can we talk about this as a church community safely – able to agree to disagree, but still value each other? Can we handle differing viewpoints (political, personal, or theological) and still love one another?

While that would be healthy and helpful if done in the right spirit, such discussions, however useful and appropriate, are not enough. I do not know what we can do in a practical way, other than pray, to address the wounds inflicted on San Bernardino – or, in a larger sense, on our national community, on December 2. However, we can resolve to address the woundedness in our homes, our church, and community. We will find healing and hope in direct proportion to our commitment to be on our knees in discerning prayer and to roll up our sleeves in thoughtful action in our particular communities here.

While we should offer “heartfelt prayers” for the victims of San Bernardino, and also pray for our nation’s leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2), we must at the same time personally attend to the true consequence of all righteous prayer, the pursuit of God’s Shalom (peace and justice), and a deepening commitment to God’s mission of reconciliation. Yes, now is the time to pray fervently, but also for us to act justly so as to make visible, tangible, the kingdom of God now as instructed – and prayed for – by Jesus:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

– Matthew 5:14-16, NIV

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.”

– Matthew 6:9-10, NIV

The chief job of this, or any other church, is to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). At Pequea Church, we seek to develop fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. I ask Pequea Church to remember that “discipleship” includes serving our community (Matthew 20:28) and peacemaking (Matthew 5:9). Faith, hope, and love are stronger than fear.

To think seriously about these things, to talk about it together, and then practice these aspects of discipleship is one way we can all “do something” to give away the love of Christ to the people around us.  I call on Pequea Church to not let our fears paralyze us from this mission.

What will serving and peacemaking and reconciliation look like at Pequea Church in the years to come? What do these things look like in our homes – and in our church – now? Let’s start there. I pray it will start there.

The old priest Zacharias (See Luke 1) had seen his people beaten down by the violence of imperial Rome – saw his own people whose hearts were far away from God. Then he received a glorious visit: an angel told him that, despite his advanced age, he will father the forerunner of the Messiah – the one we call John the Baptist. Zacharias had his doubts, and he was silenced for the duration of his wife’s pregnancy.  But the day came that his voice recovered and Zacharias announced God was at work transforming the world.

We’ve received the same good news – the Messiah has come – and is coming again. We’ve got our doubts – and our silence – in the face of this most recent calamity. But the days are coming when our wounds will be healed and the horrors of violence are perpetrated no more.

Until that Day, let us recognize, like Zacharias did, that God is in our midst now, even though these are distressing times for our country and our world. As I said earlier today in the message, “true patience invites us to find the life in the waiting – to live creatively now. You’ll never be able to live well in the future until you live well in the present (in your current circumstance). True patience realizes that the most important thing in life is to tend to your relationship with the Savior Jesus – even in the midst of waiting and difficulty, even tragedy.”

The only way to maintain hope, overcome fears, and stay on mission, is to tend to our relationship with the Savior. So let us all freshly receive – and share with others who are afraid – the gospel of grace and hope in the midst of tragedy. God is at work, not in the violence of gunfire, but in the reconciling power of the Cross – and through you! (See Colossians 1:27)

“Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly…” (1 Corinthians 13:13, MSG)

Peace to you,

Pastor Rick

Date Written: Sunday Evening, December 6, 2016

One Response to “A Pastoral Letter in Response to the San Bernardino Mass Shooting”

  1. avatar
    Dec 08, 2015

    Thank you Pastor Rick. This was comforting to me.

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