I’ve written so many of these posts over the years that I’m tired. So tired, in fact, that I contemplated not doing it. You no doubt noticed that I skipped it yesterday. I just couldn’t bring myself to write another post about another mass shooting. I was on vacation the week that Las Vegas happened. I posted on Facebook, but didn’t have a chance to write anything here.
But honestly, after Sandy Hook and the Pulse Nightclub, I really thought I had written my last post about people being slaughtered in a place where they should have been safe from the evils of anger, mental illness, domestic violence, and semi-automatic machine guns. And then Sunday happened, and while the people of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs were saying their prayers, at least 27 of them were killed by an angry white man hellbent on destroying the world as he had come to understand it.
The doors of FBC Sutherland Springs are red, just like the doors of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green and thousands of others around the world. The red doors can symbolize many things, from a mortgage free church to a welcoming congregation, but if you ask around, you are most likely to hear that it means a place of sanctuary. Soldiers and law enforcement, it is said, are unable to pursue someone inside the red doors of a church. It is supposed to be a place of safety. While harm has come to worshipers inside the safety of the red doors before, this time, we have a 24 hour news cycle and social media to ensure that every person on the planet knows that it happened. And, as if like clockwork, the various sides began to circle their wagons.
As has been a growing trend of late, the zero sum game between those who would offer prayer and those who would work for change has come to the forefront in the aftermath of Sunday’s tragedy. It has become as if praying for the victims of such events is now offensive while only those who are actively working for reasonable gun control are real disciples of Jesus. This is, of course, absurd. The zero sum game between prayer and work is a falsehood, most likely handed to us by the devil himself, to make sure Christians continue to present in the wider culture as angry, ill mannered, and hypocritical.
Sunday’s Gospel lesson invites us to consider that famous seminary phrase, “both/and.” In the parable of the foolish and wise bridesmaids, Jesus gives us a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven. In it, Jesus seemingly admonishes his disciples to not be like either set of bridesmaids, since they all fell asleep, but rather, we are called to keep awake for the return of the bridegroom. For those who know the larger story, this will immediately bring to mind the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night Jesus was arrested. Despite Jesus imploring them to keep awake and pray with him, they fell asleep. Three times, they failed to stay awake.
In times like these, disciples of Jesus are certainly called to stay awake and pray, but I think we are also called to the obvious meaning of the parable as well. In order to be like the wise bridesmaids, we are called to do the work required to be ready when Jesus comes. That work of preparation means working toward just solutions on topics like common sense gun control, funding for mental health, social safety nets, and quality public education. Can we just pray? Probably not. Can we just call our Senators? No, that won’t work either. It is only through both prayer and work that we will be able to join with God in building the Kingdom Jesus describes in his parables.