Orlando and Charleston, SC Anniversary

The following is Bishop Michael’s article for the upcoming Lutheran Letter. He is reflecting on the shootings in Orlando and the anniversary of the murders in Charleston, SC.

Dear Friends,

     May God’s grace and peace be with you. I write to you after a terrible tragedy in Orlando. As you know a gunman killed 49 people, injured dozens more and traumatized the country. The killer targeted an LGBT dance club and murdered innocent people. This attack came a few days before the one-year anniversary of the murders of nine people studying the Bible at Mother Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina.

     Hate and evil killed both groups. The sin and self-absorption of these murderers is what allowed them to take these innocent lives. These gunman, and we could argue that all killers who do such things, were convinced that their victims were unworthy and didn’t deserve to live. It is sin and evil that drove them to their actions.

     In both of these attacks the killers decided they were better than their victims. In Charleston the murderer believed his white skin meant he had the right to murder people with darker colored skin. In Orlando, it appears that this killer considered himself better than the people of the LGBT community. Though he apparently frequented this club regularly, he decided that these people didn’t need to live.

     These murderers decided they had the ability to pronounce judgement on other people’s lives. This action is an affront to God who creates and loves all people. Again, these killers in their selfishness and arrogance decided that they knew better than God. Therefore, in both of these massacres they decided to kill people that God loved and that Jesus died to save.

     My heart breaks for those families in Orlando who have lost loved ones. We remember all those who were lost in Charleston and pray that God’s peace and presence has been with them.  I ask you to join me in continuing to pray for all victims of violence.

      I know that you will pray and that you will remember these people, but is this enough? There is nothing more valuable than prayer  -- but I believe that the power of the Spirit also calls us to action.

      First we must examine our hearts. These murderers were sure that they were different from their victims and this difference gave them a right to commit these atrocities. But Jesus Christ shows us that this type of thinking is wrong.

     God created all people in his image. God didn’t divide us by race, but created the human race. All people are beloved children of God. No matter where we are from, what we look like or whether we believe in God. God loves all people and calls all people to this life with God. This means that everyone, regardless of their race, culture, nation of origin, gender, background, sexual orientation or economic status is loved and beloved by God. We are all known, loved and cherished by the creator of heaven and earth.

     That means that everyone on the face of this earth is someone who God loves more than you can imagine. God even loves and cares for the bad people. God wants them to stop being bad and turn to the light. If God loves them that much, so should we.

     But the problem is human sin. We make lines and divisions between each other. We divide and separate ourselves from God’s other  children. God only sees his children, while his children only see the differences between them.

     When Jesus came he showed us that we don’t have to live separated from each other. He came and loved the lost, the forgotten and the ones the world said were beyond the pale and of no count. Jesus showed us that the outsider and the foreigner and those who the rest of the world would turn their backs on were, in fact, beloved by God.  That is where Paul is trying to point us to in his text from Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male and female” (Galatians 3:28.) In Christ there is a restoration of the original order that God intended.

     So I believe we are called to examine our hearts. Do we see other people and divide ourselves from them because of differences of race, ethnicity and economic standing?

     The second thing that I call us to do is what I held up last year in the wake of the Charleston murders. I invite all of you to reach out to your community and world with acts of love and mercy.

     In the face of tragic events that happen thousands of miles away from us, we may often think there is nothing we can do. But we can make a difference. We have to understand how God works with us. God puts us in a particular place and in a particular circumstance. Part of our call as Christians is to love and care for the people and the community around us and with whom we come in contact with. Individually we won’t heal all the problems in this world. But all of God’s people working together to share the love of Jesus Christ with this broken world can make a tremendous difference and change.

     What can you do in response to this type of evil? Love someone. You can show the darkness that sin, and death and fear will not win. But in reaching out in the love of Jesus Christ to those around you, you can be a part of what God is inviting all of us to do; to be instruments of his peace.

      Death and sin and destruction will come again. We will see places where evil raises its head and tries to tell us that the darkness will have the ultimate victory. But don’t believe it. The ultimate victory has already been won through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What you and I are called to do is to stay faithful, to keep holding up the light, to pray daily that we might turn from our own sins and to ask that our God who first blessed us will allow us to be a blessing.

    So dear sisters and brothers, let us together push back against this evil. Let us pray for those who have lost loved ones and who are still traumatized by these events. Let us look at our own hearts and ask that God will shine the light of Christ into our lives and help us see in God’s eyes how all people are beloved children. Let us go forth to share that love and light and hope of Jesus with this world. Together we will make a difference and show this world that the dark does not win.

May our Lord Jesus Christ bless you now and always,

  +Bishop Michael Rhyne