We are all still mourning and praying for the families and community in Parkland, Florida, where three adults and fourteen students were killed on February 14, 2018. This is one of those horrific and heartbreaking events that will stay with us for a long time.
In 1999, my candidating sermon—the sermon you preach to a congregation about to call you into a position in ministry—was just two weeks after the Columbine shooting, when two students literally hunted down and slaughtered the Christians they knew in their school. It had to be addressed, but I had no easy solutions to offer.
Pastors and leaders often wonder what is expected when a tragic event happens. How much should the worship service change? Can we even hold church this week? Here are a few thoughts.
Should we change everything? Pastors will wrestle with changing their message or the worship service plan. If it is way off, there may need to be some changes. But mostly people want to see that you have compassion. A mention and a moment of silence is often enough.
Do I have to be the expert? No. Just because a terrorist attacked, you are not an expert on terror. Just because a shooting occurred, you are not an expert on the Second Amendment. Just because an international debate is raging, you are not the subject matter expert on immigration patterns and needs. If you pop off an opinion based on a few articles you read, you will lose credibility when it comes time to present the Gospel.
Do I have to defend God? Pastors feel they have to defend the character of God when bad things happen. You don't. God can handle himself! Don't allow that anxiety to creep in.
When the church gathers after a tragedy, we are more than mourners. We are the people of God gathering to offer a sacrifice of praise to the Lord, to whom praise is due. We are the inheritors of Christ's coming Kingdom rehearsing our place in the coming order. We are those who know that a world is coming where there are no more instruments of violence and pain, where there is no more death or dying, where the tears are wiped away by the Lord himself, and where peace reigns with joy. We mourn. Yes. But we do more than that. We glimpse a coming Kingdom in Jesus Christ, and what we see give us hope and inspiration to change what we know now in this broken world.
When I preached my first sermon shortly after Columbine, I did not have solutions but I offered what I had: the good news of the gospel. God loves you. We are lost in our sins and suffering the evils of that sinfulness. But God sent his Son Jesus, who suffered and died on our behalf. His resurrection is the beginning of the end. It is the beginning of the end of death, the beginning of the end of suffering, the beginning of the end of the murderous spirit of a fallen mankind. So we can put our faith in him and know hope past the horror we see.
So this Sunday in my church we took time to mention the killing in Parkland, Florida. We took a moment of silence in all four services and made mention of it in our prayers and messages. But we also continued on in our mission to worship God well and rehearse the realities of His Kingdom together. We are more than mourners. We are those who see a new world coming in Jesus, and we ready ourselves to be a part of it.
“On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.” – Isaiah 25:6-8