by David Sisler

It was the only time I have attended a worship service that was rated PG-13. No one actually used that term, but at the top of the morning's printed order of worship a warning advised: "Today's Service will focus on recent tragic news events. Though the service is a service of hope and healing, some children may not know of the events or may be frightened by these events. Parents may chose to send their children to church school or nursery programs."

At the beginning, a man prayed as though he were intimately acquainted with the Living God he addressed. He prayed from his heart. He spoke to a Friend. When he asked God to bless us, I knew that the God of all of this heard him.

Then three candles were lit, one for Atlanta, one for Birmingham, and one for Los Angeles. As the names of those who were gunned down were read, I remembered the candlelight vigils and the reading of names from the years of the Vietnam War protests, and I prayed these lists will never be that long.

Our pastor said, "Murder was introduced in the second generation of the human race. God never promised us a non-violent world, but we have God's hope. We ask, ‘Why?' I do not know why, but I do know God."

If you are in your home, or your work place, or a day care center when the shooting starts, probably the last thing on your mind will be the song that Ethel Waters made popular during many Billy Graham crusades. But as we sang "His Eye is on the Sparrow," I thought particularly of the young victims of Mark Barton, in Atlanta, and of Buford O'Neal Furrow, Jr., in Los Angeles — "'Let not your heart be troubled,' his tender word I hear, and resting on his goodness, I lose my doubts and fears. Tho' by the path he leadeth but one step I may see, his eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me."

Retailers know the secret of "buy one, get one free." That idea predates shopping malls and strip centers. In Matthew's gospel, Jesus said, "Two sparrows are sold for only one penny, but not one of them falls to the ground unnoticed by your Father." On another occasion, as recorded by Luke, Jesus noted a special on sparrows. That day, five sparrows were sold for two pennies. Two for one penny, five for two — the fifth sparrow was simply there to "sweeten the deal," an extra sparrow, of no noticeable value. But God's eye is on the sparrow, each of them. And I know he watches me, even if bullets are flying, discharged by maniacs.

Such news is becoming all too familiar. We are in danger of no longer being shocked or horrified. As the violence becomes commonplace, we lose our sensitivity amid a growing sense of powerlessness. In response to that threat of powerlessness, we prayed a prayer of St. Francis: "Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love... where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light... "

Our source of strength is not in Congress passing one more gun control law, or in a school board mandating one more dress code. Our place of power is in reordering ourselves through Jesus Christ and becoming peacemakers. Where there is hatred, I am not powerless. I can sow love. Where there is darkness, I am not powerless. I can light one candle.

As people of God, we have to proclaim God's Word, and live God's Word. We blithely quote The Beatitudes, but we are called on not to be pleasant sounding words, but yeast to give life to something that is otherwise flat and tasteless, to be light transforming the darkness, to be salt, preserving what would otherwise decay.

I attended another church service this week, where many people came seeking a personal word from God. You do not need a prophet from South Africa. Your personal word is in God's Book. Start with, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, mind, soul, and strength, and thy neighbor as thyself." If you successfully live that one, then you have a right to seek for another word.

We have such great power. It is the power to live as God's children. God's children have no place for hatred, because love is the sole outside indicator of membership in his family. Jesus said, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 8/21/99

Copyright 1999 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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