“Multiple people dead in mass shooting near San Jose light rail yard.” This is the headline I read in a newsfeed just minutes ago. Another headline on Monday reported that there were 12 mass shootings across the country over this past weekend. (A mass shooting is defined as four or more people killed or wounded in one incident.)
Violence, including but not limited to gun violence, has become a regular, even predictable part of our culture these days and it only seems to be getting worse as we open up from the Covid-19 pandemic. We may not have as many of these type of incidents in Montana/N. Wyoming (yet) but that doesn’t mean that violence doesn’t affect so many of us where we live and work.
It seems that too many people believe that violence, against others or themselves, is the standard solution to whatever problem they are facing in their lives. Violence is the answer, they say, and with few other answers to the contrary shared in the public sphere, it’s considered more and more to be an acceptable answer by too many. In fact, the violence – physical, emotional, psychological, verbal, spiritual -- has gotten so prevalent that we are becoming numb to the horror it causes in the lives of too many people.
So what are we as Christ’s church supposed to do in the face of such violence? How do followers of Christ respond to the different forms of violence plaguing the world we live in? Do we hide from it? Do we fight against it with more violence? Do continue to offer our thoughts and prayers until it happens to us?
Often after these acts of violence, we hear people say, “our thoughts and prayers are with you.” But what should we be thinking and praying before, during, and after these events? Do we bother to pray to God at all or has it become one of those nice things we say but never really follow up on because we think that, since nothing is changing, God doesn’t care or isn’t planning to do anything about it?
As followers of Christ, we believe that God’s message to us in and through Christ is clear. The answer to the problems we face in life is not more violence. The answers to our problems are found in God’s good news to us in and through the cross: new life, resurrection, love, hope, faith, reconciliation, compassion, forgiveness and so many more gifts, all of which are non-violent.
But we also believe that God works through us in this world, that we are to be God’s hands, mouths, and feet, participating with God to create a more peaceful, non-violent place to live. It does us no good to pray to God to fix things if we aren’t willing to participate in God’s solutions.
So yes, first let us pray against the violence in the world. In faith, we know that God weeps and groans with us with sighs too deep for words in the face of such violence. And God responds to our prayers with divine power, the Spirit’s love, and new life in Christ.
Let us pray for the victims of the many shootings and other forms of violence, those who have died and who are still alive fighting for their lives. Let us pray for the far too many families and friends who are grieving the loss of their loved ones’ lives and those who are waiting by the bedside in the hope that their loved one will regain a life beyond their injuries.
Let us pray for all who have been traumatized by or live in fear of violence in body, mind, heart and spirit as well as for those who face violence and its consequences in their homes, communities, jobs, schools, streets, celebrations, and gathering spaces.
Let us pray for our leaders at the local, state, and national level to work with God’s Spirit to create change instead of choosing apathy, greed, grief, anger, or ignorance. May they respond actively and helpfully to seek the best solutions to this epidemic of violence.
Let us pray for ourselves in our own grief, anger, fear, apathy, or unwillingness that we may use the mouths, minds, hearts, spirits, hands and feet God gave us to honestly and lovingly think about, pray for, talk about and enact healthy solutions to our nation’s worship of violence as the solution to our problems.
And then let us live out those prayers, empowered by Spirit and renewed in the new life of our baptisms to continuously find Christ-centered alternatives to the violence that engulfs our nation and attacks our lives.
May God bless and keep us in these days!
What does it mean to be called by God? This is a season of graduations, whether from college, high school or kindergarten, and many seniors or their parents may be wondering about what is next in their lives. “Where is God calling me to go? Who is God calling me to be? What is God calling me to do?” These are questions our graduates as well as many of the rest of us post-pandemic may be asking as we move through transitions in life.
One misconception church members tend to have is that only pastors and missionaries are called. Or that God calls us to only serve the church on Sunday mornings and gives us the rest of our lives with which to do whatever we want outside of the church. We as Christians have too often separated our callings into Church (which God cares about) and the rest of life (which we mistakenly think doesn’t really matter to God). But that’s just not true.
Now don’t get me wrong. God indeed calls people to serve Christ’s Church and its mission in a variety of ways: pastors, deacons, LPAs, musicians, council officers/members, committee members, youth leaders, chaplains, Stephens Ministers, Bible study leaders, theologians, teachers, and the list can go on and on. I give thanks for each one of you who continue to serve faithfully in these callings across the church in the MT Synod and the ELCA. Your ministry is very much appreciated!
But we need more! The church is currently in great need of people to serve the church as pastoral leaders. In particular, the need for pastors and LPAs to serve congregations in the Montana Synod is overwhelming.
At this moment, we have far more openings in congregations than we have available pastors to fill those openings. And this is happening across the church in many denominations. We as church together are going to have to find innovative and creative ways to do ministry that might involve changing how we think about what it means to be church in order to fulfill God’s ongoing call to proclaim the gospel, equip followers of Christ, and serve the neighbor in these places.
But in the meantime, we need more people to listen for and seriously consider the Holy Spirit’s call to be a pastoral leader. There are so many ways to seek ordained ministry now, for example the three candidates who went through the TEEM program and will be ordained in the next two months. Congratulations Tim Tharp (Savage/Skarr), Wendy McAlpine (Sunburst) and Cheryl Muncy (Joplin) and thank you for your willingness to serve the mission of Christ’s gospel in the MT Synod!
There’s also the LPA program in the MT Synod which is going to start up again in the fall and will only be getting stronger as we prepare lay leaders to serve their congregations. Thank you to all of our LPAs who contribute to the life of the church in so many ways. We in MT wouldn’t be where we are without you!
In the end, though, Jesus’ call to follow him directs us out from the church into the world in which we live. In and through the church we are empowered to live as disciples -- “followers of Christ” – in every nook and cranny of our lives, no matter where we are, who we are, or what we’re doing.
The Spirit’s call does send us into our congregations to be nourished, equipped, encouraged and inspired by the gospel message of “new life in Christ for you.” But then we are called out of our congregations to bring Christ’s gospel into our communities, our state, our nation, and our world whomever we are, and whatever we say, think, feel and do.
So as we emerge from the limitations of the pandemic, think about what God may be calling you to seek, be and do with your lives to serve Christ’s gospel. And may the Holy Spirit inspire you always to follow Jesus’ call wherever it may lead.
God’s blessings be with all who are graduating this season as you transition into the next part of your lives.
Bishop Laurie Jungling
Elected June 1, 2019, Laurie is the 5th Bishop of the Montana Synod