I woke up this Sunday morning to this headline staring at me on my I-phone:
72 hours in America: Three hate-filled crimes. Three hate-filled suspects.
Consider the past week in America.
Wednesday, a white man with a history of violence shot and killed two African-Americans, seemingly at random, at a Kentucky Kroger store following a failed attempt to barge into a black church.
After mail bombs were being sent to people who’d been criticized by the President, a suspect was arrested Friday — a man who had railed against Democrats and minorities with hate-filled messages online.
And Saturday morning, a man shouting anti-Semitic slurs opened fire at a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 people attending Jewish services.
Those three incidents in 72 hours shared one thing: hate.
As I sat in my comfortable living room chair this morning, looking out my window, I did what CNN asked me to do:
I considered this past week in America.
Admittedly, it’s common for me to take the numerous news reports of the day, push them aside and go on with things that are more immediate in my personal life. This morning, however, I just couldn’t shake the horror I felt within as I reviewed the violence that has befallen America over the last 72 hours.
Not only have all Americans been subjected to such horrendous reports of violence, but for me, a pastor, I was struck by the fact that all three acts of hatred have a religious slant to them as well…
The hate-filled murderer in Kentucky first acted on his hatred by attempting to enter a black church, and when that failed he randomly murdered two African-Americans: a 69-year old grandfather shopping for school supplies with his 12-year old grandson, and a 65-year old woman who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The hate-filled bomber in Florida sent over a dozen mail-bombs to those he perceived in politics as evil. The man had a long history of spewing his hatred for other Americans while driving a van that was covered with right-wing political messages, including artwork of a white Jesus holding the world in His hands.
The hate-filled murderer in Pennsylvania acted on his hatred by entering The Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, spewing anti-Semitic slurs and killing 11 innocent people who were peacefully worshipping God.
As I opened up my Bible, as I normally do when sitting in my comfortable chair in the early morning light, I thought about the words of Jesus. I turned to Matthew 24 and read from Eugene Peterson’s Message Bible:
It’s in Matthew 24 where Jesus gives His first-century disciples His take on what you and I call the End Times. Quite honestly, it’s a frightening chapter of the Bible that I usually pass over when looking for comfort for my troubled heart. But today, as I pondered on the last 72 hours in America, I was drawn to Jesus’ words.
Over the first 9 verses of Matthew 24, Jesus warns His friends, who are looking for signs of the end, that world history will be filled with horrible things, ranging from wars to famines to earthquakes. Oy Vey!
And then we get to verses 10-12:
…And then, going from bad to worse, it will be dog-eat-dog, everyone at each other’s throat, everyone HATING each other. In the confusion, lying preachers will come forward and deceive a lot of people. For many others, the overwhelming spread of evil will do them in—nothing left of their LOVE but a mound of ashes.
And there we have it, my friends. I sat there in my comfortable chair and realized that we just might be there. As the CNN article stated, the common piece in all three of these horrendous events is HATE.
One man hates people of a different race.
One man hates people with a different political view.
One man hates people with a different religion.
HATRED, you see, causes our LOVE to turn into a mound of ashes. Race. Politics. Religion. Three arenas of life we just can’t escape. In truth, there will always be people around us who are…
The answer, you ask?
For me, I go back to Jesus’ words. In verses 13-14, He tells His disciples…
Staying with it—that’s what God requires. Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry, and you’ll be saved. All during this time, the good news—the Message of the Kingdom—will be preached all over the world, a witness staked out in every country. And then the end will come.
So what is the “it” Jesus talks about here? What is this “Message of the Kingdom” that will be preached all over the world?
For me, it’s all contained in one little word. LOVE.
It’s the complete opposite of HATE.
As I see it, it’s the cure for our ills.
My prayer: Jesus, I’m troubled by all the HATRED I see around me. At times, it becomes so ugly, I’d prefer to turn aside, put my mind on other things, and do my best to grunt my way through life. But as I see it, You ask us to not let our LOVE turn into a mound of ashes. You ask us to “stay with it” to the end. Holy Spirit, flood me with your LOVE so that I might remain in that LOVE despite all the HATE around me. Fill us, oh Lord, with your LOVE. Let us live out of that LOVE. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: Where, in this crazy world of race, politics, and religion, have I allowed HATE to sprout in my life? Am I aware of places in my heart where coldness has slipped in, dimming the fire of LOVE? Am I, intentionally, staying with it? Staying with LOVE when everything around me seems to be promoting just the opposite?
So, what is Jesus saying to you as you ponder the last 72 hours in America?