Yesterday marked the close of Castle Church’s first ever Synod Assembly which was themed “Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters” (Amos 5:24). In the words of our Bishop, “I have no doubt tonight that God’s tears are rolling down following our nation’s worst mass shooting in history.” We as Christians do not have the luxury to remain silent in the face of evil. We are called and empowered through Christ to speak up and act in the face of evil, and let’s face it, evil manifested itself in Orlando over the weekend. What we experienced and witnessed was more than a disaster…
it was evil. And although Facebook reported many of us as being “ok” we are by no means all ok. This is an evil that has touched the lives of us all, whether at the club that night or not. This is our community, #WeAreOrlando, and what afflicts one of us affects us all. We are all joining in prayer for the victims of this atrocity, their families, the family of the shooter, and that justice may at least roll down like waters.
Those at Castle Church, and I’m assuming many others as well, have asked what our prayers can do. Well, what is prayer and how are we praying? Prayer is not passive; it is requesting God to help us with our needs. When we pray and expect God to answer our prayers, we can anticipate an answer. We read in Mark 11:24 that we need to believe that what we are asking for in prayer has already been given to us. So how is God speaking to us and answering our prayers? How are we being called to act in the face of this evil? Are we being called to honor and stand up for the basic human rights of the LGBTQ community and reasonable gun control in this country? Our church is clear: every human being shares in the image of God and therefore shares the same dignity without regard to racial or ethnic distinction, family status, age, economic status, gender, sexual orientation, or differing abilities. This senseless violence must end.
The word “Amen” that we use to end our prayers is best translated, “Yes, I hope it happens!” If we are truly praying with a belief that our needs have already been met, and we’re closing the prayer with a hope that it happens, how then are we called to act? We have been saved by Grace through faith so that we can be free to participate in Christ’s mission of reconciliation which is making all things new. If our prayers are for peace, we dare to find ways to bring about that peace. If our prayers are for comfort to the victims of this attack, we dare to seek ways of providing comfort. If our prayers are for an end to hate or other –isms, we dare to speak up when they become manifest. We are empowered to live daring lives because God has already done the most daring. We have faith that God is peace, comfort, and justice to those in need and we dare to follow our God. The Biblical response to those in pain is simple, but profound. Cry with those who cry. Show our love by listening.
We are urging the Castle Church community to take time for prayer, grief, compassion, and love without agenda. We live in a sinful and broken world, and at times that can be overwhelming or confusing because evil has no reason and is not supposed to happen. The central principle of the Gospel is how Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection overcame evil with good. In the face of massive loss due to horrifying evil, we need to concentrate on and lift up our common bond. For us, being baptized into God's eternal family means forfeiting all prior identities. The Apostle Paul says it this way, "In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ" (Gal. 3:28). And at Castle Church, we insist this family also includes all sexual orientations, for "we are all one in Christ." God shares our tears and knows our suffering, but God also offers hope and the vision of an empty tomb. To the families, loved ones, and friends of those affected by unspeakable evil, there is no way for us to know what exactly you’re going through. Our prayers for comfort and love mean we’re listening for ways we can offer you comfort and love. We dare to do this because of our hope and faith in what God has already done. We’re listening and we’re crying with you. And when you are ready, we will work with you to rebuild and strengthen our shared community, because God has already begun.
Grace, Peace, and Healing through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior,
Aaron Schmalzle is a mission developer in the ELCA and, along with Pastor Jared Witt, is a Founding Director of Castle Church Brewing Community and Castle Church Faith Community.
How Castle Church is stirring up a new spirit in the church from a brewery in Orlando, FL.