During the afternoon of this past Sunday, June 2, there was a shooting at the Midland Olive Garden. According to the Midland Police Department, around 4pm a domestic dispute between two 41-year-old people escalated into gun violence, with the victim being shot in the neck area. She was transported to the Midland hospital for treatment. The suspect was quickly apprehended by the police and taken to the county jail where he awaits arraignment.

This event is obviously tragic and shocking, because shootings in public areas don’t happen very often, especially in Midland. Clearly, this will be traumatic for the victim who was shot, but it will also have a lasting impact on the other customers and staff members who were present at the time.

An act of public violence like this might also raise questions about our general safety as we go about our daily lives. Our congregation has a few members who work in the food service industry not far from the Midland Olive Garden, so those kinds of questions might be particularly important to them.

Also on Sunday, after morning worship, several of us were engaged in a conversation about a potential ministry opportunity. During that conversation, one person commented that “we are not so isolated” out here in Mt. Haley Township – meaning that acts of violence can occur anywhere, even in a relatively remote location like our church building.

Is nowhere safe? Are we constantly in danger? How should we respond to acts of violence and threats of violence?

These are age-old questions, and, frankly, it’s a sign of peaceful privilege that we don’t have to think about violence on a daily basis. There are millions of people in various parts of the world (Gaza, Sudan, Ukraine, Yemen, and Haiti, among others) who are constantly enduring horrific tragedies much worse than a domestic violence shooting in a local restaurant. There are parts of our own nation in which public acts of violence are an everyday occurrence, not a front-page news item.

What is a faithful response to the violence of this world?

Let me point to two passages of scripture. First, Psalm 20, which will be our responsive reading during worship on June 16. The psalm begins with the words, “May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.” Toward the end of the psalm, we read, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

It’s a psalm asking God to protect the King of Israel, but its principles can transfer to regular people like us, too. When danger threatens us, do we trust in chariots and horses? Do we trust in our military strength? Do we trust in armed guards and metal detectors? Do we trust in our own weapons and our right to defend ourselves?

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Now, certainly, that didn’t mean that the ancient nation of Israel got rid of its chariots and horses. But the starting point for ancient Israel’s self-understanding was its trust in God, not its own ability to wield weapons of war.

The other passage of scripture that comes to mind is the Great Commandment, found in Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-34, and Luke 10:25-28. Jesus summarizes the entire law of God with two simple (yet difficult!) commands: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. The teaching in Luke 10 leads right into the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which Jesus tells a story about what it looks like to love your neighbor as yourself.

In a world filled with violence and chaos at every turn, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. We love our neighbors because we are connected to our neighbors; we are fellow human beings on this giant and amazing planet. We are each created in the image of God who created us all. Our responses to threats and acts of violence – both to its victims and to its perpetrators – should be guided by our love for our neighbors.

Trust in God and love for our neighbors: these are two faithful responses to the violence of the world.

My suggestion for you: the next time you go to a restaurant in Midland – perhaps even the Olive Garden – take note of the other customers and staff members in the room. You might even strike up a conversation with your server and ask them, respectfully, how they are doing in the aftermath of Sunday’s shooting. Show honest concern for your neighbor – and leave them a good-sized tip, while you’re at it.

Two remarkable things happened in my life this past weekend: card games and a choir rehearsal. Now, in and of themselves, playing cards and singing with others are not unusual activities for me. But the specific things we were doing? Those were noteworthy to me:

On Saturday evening, we played euchre in our church’s fellowship hall. On Sunday evening, we had the first rehearsal for the upcoming “Lamb of God” choral/orchestral production.

The last time both of those things happened was three years ago, immediately before the covid-19 pandemic began.

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The news coverage is nonstop. Twenty-four hours a day, we can find the latest information, gossip, analysis, and arguments about why Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump (or Gary Johnson or Jill Stein) should or should not be our next President. One presidential debate took place earlier this week; two more will follow in the next month. As a nation, we can hardly contain our excitement Рnot to mention our hopes, our disillusionment, our fears, and our anger Рabout this whole process.

Honestly, I have grown weary of this political season. As I scrolled through my Facebook timeline last night, I saw nothing but aggressive, one-sided posts (supporting either major candidate). I saw people arguing angrily with their friends about one issue or another. I saw memes and jokes that belittled one candidate or another. I saw long, thoughtful articles explaining why we should all vote for one candidate or another.

But I didn’t see much of Jesus in the discussion. Continue reading