I have been reading through my sermons and reflections written during the past few years in ministry, and I am consistently finding references to the latest bad, horrifying, or tragic news. Sometimes as I read, I don’t even fully remember the tragedy that I’m referencing and trying to encourage my congregants through. As a pastor, I’ve created and attended vigils, led special prayer services, and have signed a number of official UMC and Cranford Clergy Council statements denouncing acts of violence, hatred, and other kinds of evil. The streets of Baltimore, a club in Orlando, a church in Charleston, a community college in Oregon, a softball field in Alexandria, Ferguson, Charlottesville, Paris, Fort Lauderdale, Elizabeth, Las Vegas, and the list goes on…
How many statements will I write or sign in my career?
How many vigils will I prepare?
I want to be surprised, shocked, and outraged by the news of the largest mass shooting in modern American history, but I mainly just feel tired. There is only so much tragedy that the human mind can comprehend before numbness begins to creep in. It’s self-preservation in a way, if any of us were to fully feel and grieve for every tragedy that’s taken place in the past few years, then there would be no time for anything else.
Even if we can drown out the tragedy with any number of distractions when we are physically far from it, we as Christians must resist the temptation to numb ourselves from the presence of evil in our lives. In our numbness, we normalize evil, and when we normalize evil, it only begets more of the same.
So what shall we do? The Bible says that we overcome evil with good and that love is what triumphs over evil. So rather than letting ourselves be in a state of constant shock about what heinous acts people commit--rather than figuring out what affiliation or group we can be angry with--rather than numbing the pain with memes or cynicism; I say that we double down on love and take it to the streets.
No, not necessarily in protest, but as an embodiment of the perfect and perfecting love of our God. In a world that is saturated with reminders of the real and sinister nature of evil, we as Christians can not simply live out faith for an hour, in a building, on Sunday. Our faith must turn into loving action. It must. Love the people that you encounter as if they were going through a struggle similar to yours, as if they have fears like you do, as if they have insecurities like you do...because they do. Love like life depends on it...because it does. Love like you know what power you have in your words and actions...because you do.
Surely our hearts hurt for those who have been affected by yet another senseless act of violence. We pray the timeless prayer of the church, “Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison.” “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.” But I am done being shocked by evil. It’s time to do something, and it starts with you and me embodying the love that we know to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Christ Changes Everything,
Rev. Cameron Overbey