Yesterday Morning

Yesterday morning.  

They gathered together Sunday morning for worship. 

They gathered just like they had every other Sunday for as long as most of them could remember.  

They were all (from the oldest to the youngest) greeted by name when they came into the church and handed a bulletin, which they didn't need because they knew the order of worship by heart.  

Some of the men were in their best jeans and dusted-off boots, a few of them wore a tie and jacket because that's how they'd dressed for church since LBJ was president.  

A young mom tried to keep her little five-year-old occupied by giving her the pencil from the hymnal rack so she could doodle.  

An older lady smiled at the little 18 month-old peeking over the edge of the pew at her. 
They started off the service with announcements and probably a song or two that everyone knew by heart. 

And then the Devil walked in, and the world turned upside down. 

In the small town of Sutherland Springs, Texas, just a little more than an hour from where I now live, all hell broke loose in the First Baptist Church, and when it was over twenty-six souls were taken in just a few moments of gunfire.  Twenty more were left wounded and scarred for life.  

My heart is broken thinking about it.  I know that church--even if I have never set foot in it.  I've been in churches like it so many times in my life.     

Just a small church, in a small town, filled with family.  The more I think about it, the angrier I become, and I don't even know how to direct my anger anymore.  

A friend on Facebook wrote these angry and broken-hearted words:  

"I'm sorry - but I can't believe in a supposedly omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent God who can't (or won't) stop a mass shooting in His own house of worship. You can keep your 'our thoughts and prayers are with the victims...' for as much good as they have done for each of our recent 'worst shooting in a ___ in US history'."
As someone who often is asked to defend God in these kinds of moments, I don't have much to say in response to my friend's gut reaction---because I find myself struggling with similar feelings.  

Today I am with the psalmist who asked this question of God when he prayed: 
"Why, Lord, do you stand far off?    Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?"
Yet, in my grief and in my sorrow at yet another mass shooting, I cling to the belief that I keep clinging to over and again in recent days, despite my doubts and questions:  

It's the belief that God is lying broken and bleeding on the floor of that little church... 

The belief that God is present with the wounded, and the terrified and the grief-stricken...

The belief that God is standing with those who are praying in prayer vigils...

The belief that God is present with those who chose to risk their own lives to end the carnage...  

And in the words of the psalmist I will cry out in defiant, tearful hope:  
But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;    you consider their grief and take it in hand.The victims commit themselves to you;    you are the helper of the fatherless.
 Beloved, may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you on this sad and sorrowful day of loss, and forever more. Amen. 

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