Just pay attention
Here we are, reeling from another school shooting. Usual post-tragedy rants about what should be done is in full gear, at least for now. As more information about the shooter emerges, there are endless questions and debates about school safety, guns, mental health, thoughts and prayers, politics, rights and legislation.
As I was working on my sermon this past week, I found a disturbing connection between an ancient moment and current events. It seems that asking parents to drop their kids off at school isn’t much different than God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac in Genesis 22. I know it’s a harsh comparison. But in that comparison, I found some things worth thinking about.
Both situations require trust – trust in God. Abraham followed instructions trusting that God would provide the sacrifice. Even before there were school shootings, it was hard to leave a five-year old in a classroom, away from our sight. Or put them on a bus and watch it drive away. We had to trust that God had provided good teachers, administrators and bus drivers to educate our children and get them safely through the day.
I can hear some of the responses now: “Those parents trusted God and the schools, and their children didn’t come home alive!”
Yes, I know. And I know something else. We’re all going to die. At the hand of cancer. A drunk driver. A heart attack. A shooter. A tornado. An overdose. A terrorist. And when that happens, whose fault is it? The government? The doctor? An unhealthy diet? Someone in your house who smoked?
What about you? Could you be to blame? (I’m a pastor; you should expect me to get all theological.) The bible tells us that sin came into the world through one man (the disobedience of Genesis 3), and that brought death into the world. “And death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Unless you’re perfect, your death is your own fault. You can blame others all you want, but ultimately it’s on you. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
No one likes walking through the valley of the shadow of death, which is a pretty good description of our world as seen through the news. The key is paying attention to the one walking with you. It’s Jesus, who very frankly said, “You’re going to have trouble in this world.” And by trouble, he meant big trouble. Like bombs and shooters and tumors. “But,” he added, “I have overcome the world.” Who’s got the answer to death? Jesus. He died and came back to life. You want some answers when death comes along? Maybe you should pay attention to him.
When Jesus saw a crowd of people who were hurting, he didn’t tell the disciples to send their thoughts and prayers. He told them to pray that God would send some people in there to help. And then he sent them! We want to outsource the job, mostly to the government. Jesus outsources it to us.
I just finished the youth protection training that the Boy Scouts require of all their adult leaders. I am now better prepared to recognize, respond and report abuse among young people. But the lessons I learned can apply to all people. After a shooting, all kinds of people say they saw and heard things that should have alerted them to possible violence and danger. But no one said or did anything.
I’m not going to pretend to know all the nuances of gun control, mental health, and school safety. But if we all paid attention to the people around us and said something when we saw a change in behavior, we would be way ahead in preventing violence. It could be a neighbor you haven’t seen leave their house in several days. A classmate who suddenly seems quiet and withdrawn. Sudden weight loss or bruised arms. A church member who seems nervous and agitated. A child whose grades suddenly drop.
The other day, a friend of mine stopped by Starbucks when I was giving out ashes for Ash Wednesday. He asked me, “How are you doing?” He asked because he noticed I didn’t seem myself the previous Sunday.
The bible reminds us if we see someone in need but don’t do anything about it, our faith is pretty useless (that’s in the book of James). Let’s learn to pay attention, let’s get people the help they need, let’s be useful and let’s show people what it means to trust God.