When I was Pastor in Cresaptown, MD., and later in Marilla, NY, we often would begin our worship services singing a "welcome song" such as I'm So Glad I'm a Part of the Family of God. People would walk around greeting one another, sharing the joy of the Lord. These were happy moments for all our church members, and it made those who were visiting the church feel welcome, too.
Last Sunday morning, in a little town in Texas called Sutherland Springs (about the size of Cresaptown or Marilla!), a deranged and disgruntled gunman entered the First Baptist Church and began to systematically shoot every man, woman, and child who was attending the worship service that day. The shooting began, according to reports, when the people were singing and shaking hands. It was only a church of about 50 people and 26 of them were killed and most of the others seriously wounded. Survivors told how the shooter moved from the front of the church to the sides, and then to the back shooting people systematically, starting with anyone who dared to try to use their cellphone to call for help. Little children (one was 18 months old) were not spared either. Small children that were crying were shot at point blank range. Entire families were senselessly slain.
The church used to be a place of refuge from the evils of this world. But not any more. Terrorism has now entered the sacred sanctuary. If people are not safe inside their local church, there is no place of safety left. Every church in America will now have to reevaluate their security policies.
We don't know if this man was motivated by politics, by some unresolved family conflict, or by his general hatred of Christians because he was an atheist. We may never know the answer to that question. We do know he escaped from a mental institution, that he was dishonorably discharged from the military, and that he harbored some ill will against his mother-in-law.
But how could anybody do what this guy did? It goes beyond belief, and all attempts to explain it. The degree of evil in this man's heart and mind defies all imagination and bounds.
We have been inspired by the faith of the people affected by this tragedy, and how their strong faith has helped them overcome this horrible massacre. Our nation has had an opportunity to see real Christian faith in action, love in the face of hatred, and triumph in the midst of tragedy. Only a deep, personal faith in Christ could get anybody through this.
I challenge all of you to remember this church in your prayers, especially the survivors who now have to go through life carrying the terrible grief of the loss of their loved ones. Lord, wrap your arms around these poor grieving people.
As for the atheist shooter, he is not an atheist now. Like the rich man in the parable of Luke 16, he is now "being in torment in hell". He may have denied the existence of God in this life, but he isn't denying the reality of that God, or the fairness of His justice, any longer.