It hasn’t been three days yet since Devin Patrick Kelley walked into First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX and opened fire during Sunday morning worship, killing 26 people and injuring about 20 more. You won’t browse the web, watch TV, listen to the radio or talk with family and friends for long before hearing about the incident. Though more information rolls out hourly, there are still so many questions.
“Who was this guy”
“How did he get a gun?”
“Why did he choose this place to kill?”
“What could we have done to prevent this?”
“What should have been done to prevent this?”
We could go on and on. Experience tells us it will take a long time to sort through all the information and unravel the mysteries behind this and so many other shootings.
Of course, we also have to ask, “Could this happen here? Are we safe when we gather for worship?”
I’m a math guy, and I believe the math gives us perspective. There are about 350,000 churches in the United States. Most meet on Sunday mornings for worship. How many had a shooting? Just one. Doesn’t sound like we need to worry about security, metal detectors and locking doors just yet.
On the other hand, 18,000 people are injured and die at home every year. Sounds like you better get out of the house and get to church, where it is much safer! But walk, don’t drive. 3,000 people die in car crashes every day!
Are we safe when we gather for worship? Of course not! “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Don’t you think he knows where to find prey on a Sunday morning?
But that’s not where the greatest danger lies. To discover that, we ask a more penetrating question: how many people have you killed on Sunday morning?
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder’…but I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the fire of hell'” (Matthew 5:21,22). That’s terrifying. Our worship services, bible classes and council meetings are filled with serial killers.
I know Jesus is right, because I’m guilty of anger, gossip and name-calling on a weekly basis. So are you. And my attitudes and words aren’t just killing others. They are killing me. The wages of my sin is death.
What was the first sin outside the Garden of Eden? Murder. Cain kills his brother. Why mess with little sins? If you’re going to sin, you might as well make it a big one.
Here’s where it really gets interesting. How does God respond to this tragedy? How does God respond to the first mass murder? Think about it: Cain kills 25% of the earth’s population. God asks a question, “Where is your brother?”
God knows. He knows Abel is dead. He knows Cain killed him. What does God want? An admission. A confession. Why? Because if we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from unrighteousness (1 John 1:8,9). Because God doesn’t despise broken and contrite hearts (Ps. 51:17). God doesn’t want the wicked to perish. He want them to turn to him and live (Ezekiel 18:23). He wants us to turn to him and live.
A church sanctuary might very well be the most dangerous place to gather for worship. Despite it’s name, it will never be our safe place. You see, our refuge isn’t a place. “God is our refuge” (Psalm 46:1). Only in the arms of his mercy and grace are we safe.