Thoughts After the Las Vegas Shooting: “And much it grieved God’s heart to think what man had made of man”

Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + 18th Sunday after Pentecost + October 8, 2017

Readings: Isaiah 5:1-7; Matthew 21:33-46


It was Sunday night, before any shots had been fired in Las Vegas, before the news had come pouring in over phones and radio and television. I was watching one of my regular TV shows, and it was getting to be that point in the season where things were really ramping up as some evil plans were thwarted and some reached their crescendo: there was fire, and yelling, and violence, and betrayal, murder. And over all those images one of the characters recited a poem. I caught one line – or maybe it caught me, because it stuck with me even after the episode had ended: “…and much it grieved my heart to think what man has made of man.”[1]

Maybe it caught me because it made me think of this week’s gospel reading: these tenant farmers beating and murdering groups of slaves, then beating and murdering the landowner’s own son. It made me think of how that parable points to the violence humans have inflicted on God’s messengers throughout history: the ridicule and persecution of prophets; the torture and execution of God’s own Son. “…and much it grieved my heart to think what man has made of man.”

The next day the news coverage of the shooting in Las Vegas poured in to my ears over the radio: stories from the scene of the violence; reports of the insane amount of guns found in Steven Paddock’s hotel room; the death and injury count rising. “…and much it grieved my heart to think what man has made of man.”

And as part of the coverage, reporters recounted the mass shootings of recent years. Pulse. San Bernardino. Military centers in Chattanooga. Santa Monica. Sandy Hook. Virginia Tech. Charleston. The Navy yard in D.C. The movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado. The political meet-and-greet in Tucson. Just a couple weeks ago, a church close by, in Antioch, TN. Other shootings which didn’t make such headlines.[2] My friends and colleagues talked about how we didn’t even really feel anything when the news alerts started coming, besides, “Oh, another one,” and how terrifying that was in itself. “…and much it grieved my heart to think what man has made of man.”

At times like this Christians often talk about how God’s heart is grieved at such tragedy. God suffers with those in pain, weeps with those who mourn, knows death with those who die and holds them until they rise to new life. God is the source of comfort, consolation, and even hope. All this is true. Beautifully, powerfully true. Amen and amen.

But this morning’s Bible readings remind us that when God’s heart is grieved, God also gets angry. And hear the way I’m saying this carefully, because I’m not trying to scare anybody: it’s because God loves us so much that God gets angry when we mistreat one another, when we hurt one another.

In today’s Old Testament reading, we see how God spoke in compassionate anger through the prophet Isaiah. The leaders of Israel were greedy and corrupt, ignored the word of God, and treated the people of Israel unjustly (see Isaiah 5:7-24).

Comparing Israel to a vineyard, God said through Isaiah: “When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down…God expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” (Isaiah 5:4b-5, 7b).

God was angry at the leaders not just because they disobeyed God, but also on behalf of those who suffered underneath their rule. And much it grieved God’s heart to see what man had made of man.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus shows that same anger. He had just swept into Jerusalem like a one-man riot, overturning tables in the Temple, publicly criticizing and condemning the leaders (Matt. 21:12-13). Those leaders had not believed and repented when they heard the word of God through John the Baptist (Matt. 21:31-32). They belonged to that same line of leadership that had ignored and killed the prophets; they were the ones who would ignore and kill Jesus. Jesus gathered crowds of people and told them that those leaders were greedy hypocrites and that all their religion was only a show. He said their teachings actually hurt people and took them farther away from God (Matt. 23). And much it grieved Jesus’s heart to see what man had made of man.

And in today’s reading, we heard him say angrily to the leaders: “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom” (Matt. 21:43).

This week, as God looks on the U.S. and the tragedy of the Las Vegas shooting, as God looks back on all these mass shootings, I think God is grieved. And I think God is also angry with that same compassionate anger we see in the prophets and in Jesus. Angry at what man makes of man throughout history. Angry at the violence committed over and over again, since the time of the prophets, the violence which God experienced in God’s own human body in Jesus’s torture and execution, the violence that continues to happen over and over again in our world and our country. And angry that we keep making a way for it, like it ought to be the status quo. Angry and hurt, like maybe you are angry and hurt.

But in God’s anger there is always a hope. It is the hope that when God tells God’s people that they are doing wrong, they will repent; they will change their ways; they will do what is right in God’s eyes. That is the hope and purpose of God’s anger: not condemnation, but change for the better. Not punishment, but reformation.

So how do we, as a nation, repent now? How do we break this pattern of violence, and particularly this pattern of mass gun violence? What is the right thing to do in God’s eyes?

I think our hearts — the law and the love of God written on our hearts — pull us towards what is right by the heroic stories we lift up out of the wreckage of this tragedy. People helped others find a place to hide in the midst of the violent chaos. Someone literally gave the shirt off his back to bandage a stranger’s wound. A nurse from right here in Tennessee died shielding his wife. Countless first responders and trained military people immediately started helping even in the midst of the shooting. People used tables as makeshift gurneys and pick-up trucks as makeshift ambulances to get others to hospitals.[3]

We lift up these stories because these are the sorts of acts that remind us of what is true, what is worthy, what is holy. They give us glimpses of the Kingdom of God, built on Jesus Christ the cornerstone: a world where strength is seen in sacrifice, where love of God and neighbor rule the day. A kingdom where idols like pride and greed and fear are left behind for the sake of the true God and the people and the world God created.

How does God call us to help build that heavenly kingdom right where we are?

Gift_of_USSR-medium

“Let us Beat Swords into Plowshares” scultpure by Evgeniy Vuchetich. Located at the United Nations north garden area, a gift from the Soviet Union, presented in 1959. Via Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s Art in the Christian Tradition.


[1] William Wordsworth, “Lines Written in Early Spring.”

[2] “Deadliest U.S. mass shootings, 1984-2017,” Los Angeles Times, October 2, 2017.

Online: http://timelines.latimes.com/deadliest-shooting-rampages/

[3] Amanda Lee Myers and Jocelyn Gecker, “’There was Blood Everywhere.’: Acts of Heroism Saved Countless Lives During Las Vegas Shooting,” Time, October 3, 2017.

Online: http://time.com/4966656/las-vegas-mass-shooting-acts-heroism/

“Las Vegas shootings: Tales of heroism emerge from aftermath,” BBC News, October 3, 2017.

Online: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-41478630

 

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