Source: Sherman Publications

Spiritual Matters
Challenging times call for faith

April 24, 2013

It has certainly been a week of disturbing news and events with the Boston Marathon bombing, the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas, a devastating earthquake in China, and more all in the headlines, as well as in our hearts and prayers.

In such times I reflect on how we, as people of faith, are called to respond. I ask myself that familiar, but always challenging question, “what would Jesus do?” Here are a few reflections on the topic that have come to me these past few days. I hope they might be helpful to you as well.

First and foremost, in the wake of any tragedy I believe it is important to be reminded that God is with us. While we may wish that God would not allow such things to happen, God’s promise in our broken and fallen world is to be with us in the midst of the storms. Psalm 91 reminds us that, “You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.’” Our faith does not protect us from crises, but reminds us that in the midst of them we can trust that we are truly safe.

Because I believe this is true, I can go about living positively and not give in to anxiety or ambivalence, hatred or despair, or fear. Martin Luther once said, “If I believed that tomorrow the world were to end, I would plant an apple tree today.” Now I don’t believe the world is about to end, but I do know that I want to live my life today and everyday according to my values and faith no matter what is happening in and around me.

Challenging times reveal our true character, as individuals and as a nation. This past week I have been inspired by many moving stories of heroic acts and bravery among first responders and bystanders alike. This is especially helpful to point out as we process such events with our children. Fred Rogers writes: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers-so many caring people in this world.” (Mister Rogers’ Parenting Book)

So in the wake of this tidal wave of “bad news,” I am praying for the victims, giving thanks for the heroes, and I have renewed my commitment to live my faith and values as best I can, no matter what. This includes Jesus’ call to love, forgive, and to be peacemakers as we combat evil with good and work together to build a more just and secure world. Cardinal O’Malley at an interfaith healing service in Boston put it this way: “In the face of the present tragedy, we must ask ourselves what kind of a community do we want to be, what are the ideals that we want to pass on to the next generation.  It cannot be violence, hatred and fear.” And I would add that it also cannot be prejudice and unfair stereotyping of ethnic or religious groups.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” So I leave you with this challenging idea of putting these words into action from a colleague, Pastor Rich Melheim. He posted on the internet a children’s message he planned to share encouraging kids to write “Jesus kind” of letters to victims as well as “to the boy who did this terrible thing.” Melheim writes: “ If you dare, explain that you are a Christian, and since you follow a Jesus who teaches you to love and forgive, you love and forgive him. Close your letter saying Jesus loves him, and that you are praying one day he will know love and forgiveness. Tell him you hope and pray that one day love will crowd out the hate in his heart, and that he will be known as the kindest, most loving person in prison.”

I hope and pray, no matter where we are, that we are the kindest, most loving people we can be!

The Rev. Jonathan Heierman is pastor of Calvary Lutheran Church.