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Guns, “Thoughts and Prayers,” and Baptism // M-Note 8.6.2019

Dear Gathering,

I was out of town this weekend officiating a wedding of a friend, and as a result, was unplugged for a day or two. When I woke up Sunday to learn of not one but two more mass shootings, I didn’t know what to feel. One week, three shootings, over 30 people dead, and dozens more wounded. Worst of all, it hardly seems unprecedented anymore. Mass shootings are becoming a tragically familiar part of our country’s landscape. It feels hopeless and inevitable. I told Jessica that as a pastor, I run out of things to say about such violence. I just want it to end. I want us to collectively wake up, get over our disagreements, and do something. Words seem to hold little weight against the reality of mothers, fathers, kids, friends, and coworkers dying needlessly. 

In the wake of every shooting public figures and politicians begin acting out the same old script. They don’t offer change, take responsibility, or seek real solutions. Instead the offer “thoughts and prayers”. People have rightly begun to question this now familiar gesture. To those that are hurting, “thoughts and prayers” seem like meaningless words that are powerless to change the reality of tragedy. To the skeptical, these words seem like an easy way to dodge actually doing something. As a person of faith I get why well-intentioned people offer thoughts and prayers. Yet in our current climate, “thoughts and prayers” seem to fall short. It leaves many faithful people wondering what to do, or if there is anything we can do. 

With all this on my mind, I am now preparing for a huge baptism Sunday here at The Gathering. This weekend we already roughly 100 people who will be remembering their baptism or being baptized for the first time. To some this may seem disconnected from the realities of the world. In actuality, I think our baptism reminds us of our responsibility in this broken world.

When we remember our baptism, we remember that we are called to be people who don’t just talk but act. We don’t just confess faith but we live it out everyday. We don’t just offer our “thoughts and prayers” but we promise, in the name of Jesus, to “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves” (yes, that includes getting political at times). We not only commit our lives to Jesus as Lord, but we also commit to follow him. 

When we go under the water this weekend, it is not an empty ritual. It is a commitment and a commissioning. It is a commitment to not give up, to trust in the goodness of God, and to believe that God is present and at work through Jesus in our lives and in the world. It is also a commissioning. It is a promise to be the hands and feet of Jesus wherever we find ourselves. In baptism we are promising to do more than offer “thoughts and prayers”, we are promising to be peacemakers and justice-seekers. We promise to act, to work, to challenge, to forgive, to advocate, and ultimately to love.

I hope that no matter what you are going through, you will plan to be in worship this weekend. We need you, and so does our community, city, and world. If you haven’t done so, sign up to be baptized or to remember your baptism here. I’ll close with the words of Paul, which I repeat like a mantra during times of test and trial. 

Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up. (Gal. 6.9)

Peace,
Matt