On a Wednesday evening in June, evil entered a church in Charleston, South Carolina. What followed serves as a testament to the healing grace of God.
At 8:05, a young man stepped out of a dark Hyundai sedan. He entered through a side door of Emmanuel AME church. He sat just as Bible study began.
An hour later, he stood up, pulled out a concealed handgun and began firing.
Nine people died. One of the victim was the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a state senator and pastor of the church. As a final insult, the man spewed ugly words at one victim, before escaping.
At 10:38 Thursday morning, police identified 21-year-old Dylann Roof as their suspect. An intense manhunt began. It ended one hour later with his arrest in nearby North Carolina.
By 12:27 pm, officials still had no motive. Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley called it as he saw it: “pure, pure concentrated evil”
As fellow Christians, we grieve for Emmanuel AME and Charleston. But sadly this is but one of the human tragedies we face everyday.
Jesus Calms the Storm
Turn on the news and you’ll likely hear stories of:
- Violence by and against police officers
- Families and couples disputes that turn ugly
- Trusted leaders caught with their pants down
Put all the world’s problems together, and you have a hot mess. It’s no wonder people fear that the world is getting worse by the second.
We respond just as the disciples do in our gospel (Mark 4:35-41):
A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
And how does Jesus respond? He gets up, calms the storm down and tells the group: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
In this exchange, Jesus teaches us two things about dealing with fear and tragedy.
First, do not let your circumstances control your response. Do not respond with fear or anxiety, no matter how horrible a situation might be.
Fear is an emotional reaction to circumstances we didn’t expect or plan for. When we allow our emotions to rule over our head and hearts, we cannot think clearly.
Notice in our gospel the fear in the hearts of the disciples. Afraid they might die, they become irrational. They think Jesus would do nothing to save them.
It’s no wonder the phrase “Have no fear” is the most common phrase in Scripture.
But faith is an intentional act independent of our circumstances. Unlike his friends’ emotional reaction, Jesus’ response came from an inner confidence.
He doesn’t deny the significance of their dilemmna. He simply reminds them that God is in control. And if we believe this to be true, we must act accordingly.
Second, notice that Jesus himself calms the storms. In doing so, Jesus leads the disciples to wonder about their friend:
And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Could he be God himself?..
Faith Does Triumph Over Fear
In the aftermath of the massacre, consider how the people of Emmanuel AME and Charleston might’ve heard Mark 4:35-41.
They’ve been deeply hurt; they seek justice. After all, they are human beings.
No one would question any desire for vengeance. Dylann killed in cold blood. It’s an eye for an eye!
But they also knew that God created us to be better people than to allow ourselves to sink that low.
Instead of lashing out in anger and fear, the community came together in a vigil and did something bold. Something that could only come via the Holy Spirit.
That night they became a testament to the power of the Gospel.
They began to pray for the soul of a bigoted murderer. Together they asked God to help them to be strong enough to forgive him.
It couldn’t have been an easy thing to do. But they knew in their hearts that God will always prevail. They chose to have faith, rather than to allow fear to rule their thoughts and actions.
One person there shared the sentiment of many:
“This is all surreal but what I can say to that young man is that in time I will forgive you. I won’t move past this but I will forgive you…I would love to hate you but hate’s not in me. If I hate you I’m no better than you.”
No hate-filled man could ever take God’s spirit away from them. Prayer and forgiveness denied Dylann Roof any power he might’ve held.
If we can learn anything from this tragedy, it is this: faith does triumph over fear. As Christians, God gives us the power to calm the storms in our lives through much prayer and forgiveness of others.
In the words of the late Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a man that fear and hate shot down but faith resurrected into eternity:
Together we come together to bury racism, to bury bigotry and to resurrect and revive love, compassion and tenderness
Have faith. Don’t be afraid. Let’s let our lives be a living testament of God’s love and power over fear. Amen.