April 22, 2007

Why I Didn't Pay Any Attention to the Virginia Tech Shootings at This Morning's Divine Service

I think I disappointed a few people today. I deliberately chose to ignore the Virginia Tech massacre. One church I drive by every day had a special message about it; I received "resources" for prayers and such from the Southeastern District. But I ignored it.

It's not that I don't care. The whole matter is horrific. (The word "tragedy" doesn't seem appropriate to me. When I hear "tragedy," I think "terrible accident." A bridge collapsing, a hunting accident, a woman cutting off her finger while chopping vegetables - these are tragedies. What happened in Blacksburg was not an accident, it was a crime of monumental proportions; to me, tragedy conveys the thought that there are only victims, but no criminals.)

I don't know a great deal, really. I'm not a scientist, an artist, an historian, or a medical doctor. I am terrified of preaching - because having studied theology, I realize more than ever how little I know even about that. I struggle to keep up my Greek and Hebrew chops. I struggle to find time to read the Confessions and other theological works. What business do I have to say anything at all? "Ah, Lord God, dear Father, Thou seest how unworthy I am of the office and ministry in which I am to make known Thy glory and to nurture and to serve this congregation. But since Thou hast appointed me to be a pastor and teacher, and the people are in need of the teachings and the instructions, O be Thou my helper and let Thy holy angels attend me..." (Luther's Sacristy Prayer). I am even more unfit to speak about the events of the past week; for to educate myself about the inner workings of Mr. Cho's psyche and the details of the murders would be to spend my energies on something that would be, for the purposes of my congregation, pure sensationalism.

Had someone from the congregation died, or a friend or relative; had it happened in a nearby town; or had there been some other deeper connection to the congregation, that would be different. And I do not condemn anyone who chose to spend time on the matter this morning. There simply seemed no point for me to dwell on it.

Because I'm not sure people come to Divine Service to hear my commentary on the news - or at least, that's not why they should come. Why should people come to Divine Service? To hear the Law and Gospel directed at them. The media has whipped people up into a frenzy over this matter, to the point that some people are incapacitated by it - they can ponder nothing else. I think it's my job as a pastor to help them think about something else, something that truly makes sense of it all. I'm not sure you need a special sermon or prayers to do that.

So I chose to write my sermon just as I planned: about Jesus the Good Shepherd. In the end, what could I add to Jesus' promises to us in that Gospel? There are tragedies and horrors in the lives of so many of my parishioners, most of them hidden. Sins committed and sins suffered touch the lives of every hearer each Sunday. What they don't need is me blathering about bad things happening elsewhere. What they need is their own lives seen in view of the Gospel of Jesus.

This doesn't mean I never put current events into the context of the Word of God. But it does mean that the Word of God sets our agenda, not the deeds and misdeeds of man. I'd welcome your thoughts on the matter.

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