The law never has the last word

Photo by William Fonteneau

Welcome to my ‘Layman’s Lectionary’ series where I stumble my way through the liturgical year and share my layman’s testimonies and confessions on modern culture and daily life as it corresponds to scripture.

Second Sunday in Lent
Click here for Revised Common Lectionary readings.

If I were preaching out loud, I’d offer a moment of silence for those gunned down in this week’s tragedy in New Zealand. I’d share how heartbreaking it is knowing our siblings have suffered one of the most horrifying acts of senseless violence imaginable.

And then I’d lay down the law. I’d share this Tweet from Bishop Talbert Swan…


And this one from Frank Schaeffer…


I’d ferociously condemn white supremacy and nationalism along with the evil and backward theology that has perpetuated it over the decades and centuries. I’d point out that our president is an active accomplice in this demonic spirit of white supremacy that they somehow justify in Jesus’s name. I’d cast all of this out with every fiber of my being.

This is a time of profound mourning and loss. A time that begs us to name what needs to be named. A time, even, to shake our fist at God and ask where in the hell he/she/it is. Like this week’s psalm so boldly proclaims —

Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!

And I’d really want to leave it there. I’d want to drop the mic and end on that law-slinging note. And maybe I’d be justified in doing so.

But then, unfortunately, I’d have to switch gears. Because the law never has the last word. The gospel does.

And here we have the inconvenient thing about the Grace of the gospel. Not only does the God portrayed in the gospel extend grace towards us progressive, socially conscious, politically correct, #woke, righteous ones. Not only does God swoop in to try to enfold the wary and terrified souls of the victims. But we can’t ignore the promise that God also extends God’s merciful Grace and unconditional love towards — yes, I have to say it — the shooter.

As an American progressive riddled with white guilt, it kills me to the core to say that this white man who mercilessly gunned down innocent people of the Muslim faith is loved by God. Because that might make me… Like him. A fellow bad guy. An accomplice, perhaps. It might make me a white supremacist sympathizer.

I mean, would I say this if my wife and daughter were gunned down by anyone of any shade of skin? Would I be so quick to jump to the gospel?

Hell no. No way. I plead guilty in my hypocrisy here. I can’t jump that fast from law into gospel as others have.

But this isn’t about me. It isn’t about any one/group of us being the righteous ones. Or any one/group of us being the condemned ones.

Yes, this is what our dualistic minds do — it’s where we always start. Maybe it’s where we need to start. Who’s right and who’s wrong? Take the people doing blatant harm and lock them away so they can’t hurt anymore. This all makes sense at a practical level and I’m grateful for the law.

AND (not ‘but’) this has never gotten humanity very far. It seems that all that happens is this: one group feels great for a while, one group feels condemned for a little while, and then the cultural narrative shifts back and forth throughout time with one side attacking and the other side reacting. Ping pong, ping pong.

If I were preaching, I’d condemn this shooter and everyone in his psychographic category. But all I’d be doing is preaching to the choir. Even now in this post, I’m merely shouting into the echo chamber of my own algorithmic bias. Other raging progressives might rage out with me as we have this big giant ragefest. And maybe this is fine. I’m sure God is working through this rage-loop in some way.

But God isn’t just going to change the world through progressives like me preaching at each other. Because the more we ‘win’ — if the people on the ‘other side’ still have hardened hearts — all they’ll do is dig their heels in and the cycle will continue (sound familiar?).

In my heart of hearts, I know that God, in God’s mysterious and dauntless ways, is mostly going to change the world through people like the gunman of this horrific act. God is going to change the world through entering into and softening/transforming the hearts and pulling the testimonies and confessions from people just like the man who killed so many in this ruthless act of violence late last week.

This God, as Jesus showcases in this week’s readings, only desires to gather us — all of us — like a mother hen gathering her brood under her wings. Jesus is rabid in his determination to get to Jerusalem so he can demonstrate his most epic act of love. And along the long and daunting journey there, he goes about his work.

Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.

Jesus the Christ was never in the condemnation business. He was about what love looks like in action. In his death, he took the violence out of circulation entirely. No more. This God would rather suffer and die than perpetuate the finger-pointing sin accounting business as his culture commanded him to do.

But we are not willing. No… At least I know I’m not. I’m not seeing how it’s possible to seek and share refuge under the warm wings of our divine creator when something like this happens. I’d rather instead turn towards those who share my hatred and rage against ‘them’.

And so, I pray for us all…

May God enfold the victims of this horrendous act with her love and healing. May they know that God herself cries with them in every single teardrop.

May we find the courage to name and put language to our rage, our condemnation, our suffering, our grief, and our sadness. May we shake our fists and embody the pain of this world in full color. And then…

May we accept the guidance of the holy spirit to find that slight crack in all of our hardened hearts to open up to the love, mercy, grace, and peace our creator extends to every single one of us, no matter our transgressions against God, self, or the other. And may we let the softening of our hearts lead our feet in the actions we take to heal this world in partnership with God through Christ…