It has been a long week in Lafayette. Last Thursday, the city that was selected in 2014 as the happiest city in America was shaken and laid bare for the world to see. John Russell Howser, a man with a deeply grieved soul, shot and killed 33-year-old entrepreneur, Jillian Johnson, and Mayci Breaux, a 21 year old woman beginning to make her way in the world. Nine others were injured before he took his own life. Our police, our medical system, even our local news stations acted professionally, compassionately, and faithfully.
As with other similar incidents in our nation, this has sparked conversation, arguments, and accusations between friends and enemies over gun control, mental illness, and the presence of evil in our midst. I’ve heard it said that the shooter’s name should not be spoken, but instead let us only honor Jillian and Mayci. There is some wisdom in that, but there is also wisdom in finding out what we can – if it will prevent another tragedy. We need to know where we went wrong. Perhaps there are enough guns out there that he would have found a way no matter what, but we do have laws and systems that are supposed to help prevent these types of things. We need to know where we went wrong.
Of course, the national news and social media pounced on the event like buzzards. Sadly, I must admit that I was one of them. After making a comment about opportunists I was called to account by one of our elders with the realization that one of my comments had more to do with my own opinion rather than the facts of the event. Sorting out what you feel and believe in community can be a slippery slope sometimes. And although we can sometimes delete a comment on the internet, we cannot take back words we’ve given away.
And so this week, as I have been wrestling with the scriptures and the week’s events, I believe that God wants us to consider the reality of evil and the opportunity of faith. We sometimes talk about sin and evil as ideas or things that bad people do. Sure, we confess our sin, and we acknowledge the part we play in the sins of the world as members of the human race. But let’s face it folks, most of us do not normally think of sin and evil as something that we do – at least not intentionally – but rather something that we endure (or maybe just watch on the news networks). We think of sin and evil as the result of the actions of those with no common sense, or maybe just the result of senseless acts. Yet sin and evil have nothing to do with a rational process. They are the result of self-centeredness, like a broken compass that points to wherever it wants.
This week has certainly been about senseless violence. This week has been about endurance. Thousands of lives have been made to endure the repercussions of one man who acted as though he had power and authority over life itself. I think it is somewhat providential that today we have a story of King David doing the same thing. David was supposed to be a man after God’s own heart. Saul was the bad king that God warned about – the one who would take your women, send your men into battle, and use your land as his own.
As unsettling as it is, in this passage David breaks at least 4 commandments – directly or indirectly – to satisfy his own needs without concern for anyone else. It all begins with David sending out Joab in a time “when Kings go out to battle” so that he can lie on his couch and survey his domain. By contrast it is Bathsheba and Uriah, foreigners who are outside of the covenant, who follow the rules of purification and self sacrifice that God demands of God’s people. Uriah clearly cannot be bought off or persuaded. Even though all we hear from Bathsheba is her admission, “I am pregnant,” we are definitely dealing with an imbalance of power. When the king says jump, you say, “How high?” or else you may not get to jump again.
While there is so much more to this passage, essentially we have a parable to remind us that everyone is corruptible, and that the result of selfishness is pain and suffering for others – pain and suffering that we must also bear. And so we must ask ourselves, “Where does my selfishness become a burden to others?” And we must ask ourselves, “What are the opportunities to deny myself that will benefit others?” And we must ask ourselves, “Where do I see faithfulness happening in those that I do not think of as faithful?”
As if it were an answer to these questions and to the sin of David, we have received John’s telling of the feeding of the five thousand. John tells the story a little differently than the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). In John’s gospel the story is set as a prelude to the Passover, and over the next few weeks we’ll be talking about Jesus as the bread of life. Today, Jesus is concerned with feeding people. He’s concerned with the way we see scarcity when there is actually a great deal of abundance.
I love this version because it is the one with the boy who shares his lunch. I’ve heard it said that the miracle may not have been some mystical metaphysical trick as much as it was the breaking of hearts that encouraged them all to share. While I think there is something to that, I don’t have a need to de-mystify or rationalize the miracle. Certainly we can be called to greater equality and sharing of resources by this passage, but I think there is something more to it than that.
That something more is that it is the presence of sin and evil that makes us believe that we never have enough, that we ourselves are not enough, and even that God is not enough to answer the place of need we find ourselves in. And yet Jesus told this crowd of five thousand to sit down, for there was much grass. And Jesus confronted his disciples with the need around them. Then Jesus honored and blessed and distributed generosity – the smallest kindness he could find.
And because their needs were met, the people wanted to make him king. They wanted him to keep meeting their needs. And Jesus stepped away. Then we have this weird telling of Jesus walking on the water and the boat arriving on the shore. John’s gospel tacks this story onto the end as if to say that making Jesus king is missing the point.
It’s not enough to say, “OK, Jesus, you’re in charge now.” The opportunity of faith does not begin and end with realizing that there is a God and it is not me. The opportunity of faith is with us throughout, and it moves us to the shore when we recognize that Jesus is so much more than “in charge.” Jesus reveals to us the height and depth and breadth of God’s love so that we become aware of the part we play.
I don’t think that we become any less opportunistic. I think we just become more aware of the opportunities that reflect the heart of God. And the heart of God is broken when we are broken. The heart of God limits the powers of those that claim to have authority over life. The heart of God inspires us to feed, love, and share well beyond our means – to “accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”
Sometimes we accomplish these things together. Like when the shots rang out in the Grand Theater, and on the other side of town the Lafayette High Band closed their practice session by singing the hymn, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”
Precious Lord, take my hand,
Lead me on, let me stand,
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn;
Through the storm, through the night,
Lead me on to the light:
Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home.
Sometimes we have work to do on our own, but I believe that everything we do impacts others and echoes in eternity. One such echo was posted by John Petersen as he reflected on the loss of his friend, Jillian this week.
John wrote, “Do good work. I remember reading those words in Jillian’s ‘Be You’ feature in 2012 and thinking about how well they embodied her, both personally and professionally. I saw her as a sort of den mother to the growing community of young entrepreneurs and creative professionals in Lafayette over recent years.
I never told her I viewed her that way, but I wish I had; and I’m sure many others admired and respected her similarly. She had a self-assuredness, wisdom, and clarity of thought that are rare—and it was clear within minutes of meeting her.
She was an inspiration for how to live well—how to create, and explore, and build something meaningful—to do good work, and do it joyfully.
I’m also determined to see Jillian’s legacy live on; that we continue to become the community she envisioned and helped to pioneer; that we all live the values she should still be here to demonstrate through her amazing example:
Be nice. Do good work. Try hard. Listen. Love.
If there is a solution for ending senseless acts like this one, those values are a good starting point for reaching it.”
Be nice. Do good work. Try hard. Listen. Love. That sounds like the type of opportunistic behavior that Jesus demonstrated for his disciples. Let us resolve to seek opportunities to demonstrate God’s love in all that we do. Let us resolve to challenge systems of power that limit and destroy life! Let us resolve to answer the questions of sin and evil with the expectation of God’s abundant love that is so big that even the scraps can fill you up!
In all that we do, let us continue to look for ways to move from selfishness to service and from an expectation of scarcity to an experience of abundance. And to God be the glory, now and always. Amen.