Brothers and sisters in Christ,
The Lord is with you this day, even as you most likely have awakened to some terrible news.
Last night in Las Vegas, a gunmen on the 30th floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino opened fire on an outside gathering of concert goers below. The last I heard, 50 people were killed and over 400 were seriously injured. The news report I was just listening to said that even as this is already the largest mass-shooting in America’s history, with the condition of many of the injured, most likely the death toll will continue to rise.
We’re left breathless and without words.
Just this morning, I was sitting with the school staff, and after reading a portion from Ephesians 3 (v. 16 in particular, where Paul speaks of the strength given by the power of the Holy Spirit), these were the words from Luther that I shared as they related to the text:
“Worldly people are full of courage and of high spirits, and so are Christians. Christians are much stronger through the Holy Spirit, for they fear neither the world nor the devil, neither death nor misfortune. This is called spiritual strength… Worldly courage endures no longer than there is some earthly good on which to rely; but the true courage trusts in God alone and has no other good or gold than God alone; in Him it withstands all evil and wins an altogether different heart and courage from that of the world.”
It would seem that we need that unearthly courage more than ever before these days.
I read another report from, of all places, CNN, which is a news network that is typically hostile to Christianity. Interestingly, the reporter was speaking with a survivor of the incident whose words came back as rather startling, “I arrived at the concert an agnostic. I’m leaving a believer.” While I don’t know the fullness of what he means, I’m going to assume from the context that his agnostic beliefs—that is, the belief that it’s impossible to know whether or not there is a God, and so the person neither claims faith or disbelief—this man’s agnostic position changed to one that admits God is real. Whether he saw God at work through the people involved in the rescue and caring for others (Matthew 5), or he’s willing to admit that only devilry could move a heart to such darkness, thereby inferring such evil must have an opponent, either way, this man took a step toward recognizing this world is coming undone and it needs rescue.
Yesterday, Sunday, those of you who made it to church, you heard of that rescue. You met with and received from the One who provides that rescue. You were forearmed for today’s news. You were fed by His Word and Sacraments for the courage Luther described in the portion above. This supernatural food met you where you were, and it instilled the very message that supersedes the world’s hope and gives true Christian hope. You heard, quite literally that Christ, on the cross, gave Himself over—horrifyingly, grotesquely, vividly. He plunged into Death’s mouth, down its throat, and into its belly to be digested. From there, he was the poison that killed Death. And then He tore back up and out of Death’s corpse by way of His resurrection at Easter. You learned that never before has there ever been someone who could contend with the terrors of this world, namely Death, and win. And yet, the Gospel declares that the day has come, and that One is Jesus.
My prayer for you—dearest Christians—is that even as you watch and listen to the newscasts, as you behold the sadness, the terror, the hopelessness, that you would first be calmed by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel—a message not just of God’s existence, but one that actually displays and works His wonderful love revealed in Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection. Sturdied by this, emboldened by this, made courageous by this and by this alone, go out into the world to be salt and light. Be the ones whom God will use to show a suffering world that He exists, He loves us, and He has reached out to us in our greatest need. In Him, no matter the terrors that appear to consume this fallen world, we are and have been well cared for in and through Jesus Christ.
This is who you are in the Savior, someone with a resilient hope that not even a barrage of bullets can kill.
Share that hope with others right now. We all know they need it.
— Pastor Christopher Thoma+