“Let the…children come to me,” Jesus cried out to His disciples long ago, but He didn’t have this in mind: a gunman standing only feet away sending ten of them into the darkness of death, where only Jesus Himself can save them. The story in the Gospel this morning shows our Lord overcome with uncontrollable excitement at the thought of children coming into His midst, but last Thursday Jesus wept seeing His precious children of God at Umbqua Community College endure a rampage of bullets; some of whom with no chance to escape death far too soon in their lifetime.
Unfortunately we have reached the point in this country where it is no longer “breaking news,” no matter how much it scrolls across the bottom of our televisions, no matter how bold the font is on newspapers across the nation the next morning. Mass shootings happen far too often now to qualify for any kind of headlines.
I still remember when I was in elementary school, when bombings shook Oklahoma City to the core, leaving nearly 200 dead and over 600 injured. After hearing the news from our principal our teacher stopped us in our tracks before going up the stairs back to our classroom in shock and despair, because that senseless tragedy took away a sense of peace and tranquility we thought we had in this nation. Now just over twenty years have passed since that horrific day near the center of this country that was felt through every state across the land. And yet my 4th grade teacher and all Americans had no idea what was about to happen over the next two decades, not just by terrorists from beyond the borders, but by fellow Americans, by people we, their fellow classmates, their own family, never expected.
Colleges and universities, movie theaters, Amish schoolhouses, elementary schools, high schools, community colleges, are evidently all fair game now for violence of the most catastrophic proportion, and it feels as if it’s an unrelenting tide we can’t do anything to stop from crashing into communities far too similar to our own. I obviously didn’t understand the full gravity of the Oklahoma City bombing in the 4th grade, but the truth is I still don’t. I have no idea what the families of the students killed at Umpqua Community College are going through today. I don’t realize how much this shooting spree makes those of Sandy Hook and Columbine relive the nightmare all over again, when a normal day at school turned into the most shattering experience of their entire life. The closest I ever get is through a computer screen, and see the images of delirious parents and frightened classmates. That obviously does not do near the justice to their pain and anguish realizing their children were forced to witness a terrifying massacre right in front of them, not to mention many of them injured and several killed. Some of the reports from the scene reveal the gunman telling students to stand up and answer whether or not they were a Christian. A “yes” resulted in death. For others it still resulted in the most intense pain piercing their entire body.
“Let the…children come to me,” Jesus said, and they did. They reached out to Him in spite of their own life, and grabbed onto the Good Shepherd in the darkest valley of the shadow of death. Evidently they feared absolutely no evil, for they knew God was with them. His rod of love and staff of compassion somehow comforted them in the face of indescribable horror.
Except the true power behind the Gospel is that God loves those who couldn’t say, “yes” that day too. The divine love is not limited to a certain group. Nevertheless far too many of them in Roseburg, Oregon, were forced to choose in the heat of a most awful moment, deciding not only about their own life, but their families and friends. God never intended to bless us with faith for such moments, but instead for life, for healing, for joy, for freedom over and against sin and death.
The not so young children came to Jesus in a way that should never happen. This did not happen for a reason orchestrated by God. This happened because a madman yearned for power over others, and not because God told him to: in order for us to learn from the dead students’ example of amazing faith, in order for us to live life to the fullest. God has plenty of other precious ways to make us realize that in this lifetime.
However, no matter how much people take advantage of free will to the unexplainable detriment of human life, Jesus still shows up in ways only God can pull off. Jesus still cries out in the deepest darkness of death to the children of all ages, “Come to me!” So He said, “Let the children come to me, do not stop them, [for the Kingdom of God belongs to them].” And just as our Lord said it would be, nothing can stop them: no bullet, no terror, no hatred, nor life, nor death, nor anything else in all Creation will be able to separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord. So let it be, oh God. So let it be for all your children. Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon