Last night I sat in the auditorium of my youngest son’s school. He completed fifth grade, the last of my children to walk the halls of that school. It was the end of an era. I cried, remember all the great things about our 11 years at that school. Six of my kids went there and “graduated” from the 5th grade.
When I got home and could reflect and think and read more about the terrible news out of Robb Elementary School in Texas, I couldn’t help but think of the parents that were crying because their child would never graduate from 5th grade. As I remembered all the love and care of the teachers at our school, I couldn’t help but think of the teachers that gave their lives trying to protect the students entrusted to them. The paradox of yesterday is not lost on me.
As I pastor, what do I even say? This Sunday when I lead worship, what do I pray? I’m not going to give platitudes that make everyone feel better but really mean nothing. I’m not going to simply send “thoughts and prayers” and then pretend that there is nothing else to do. And I can’t explain evil and suffering and brokenness in a way that makes any sense in the midst of heartache. There really isn’t anything to say that will make this tragedy any less of a tragedy.
And so, I turn to Scripture. I turn to words that have challenged me and encouraged me and comforted me time and time and time again. Romans 12 is one I turn to a lot. So, as I have no words of my own to offer you, I offer you the words in Romans 12. May they bring you comfort and encouragement and challenge you to something more than “thoughts and prayers.”
So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. 2 Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.
3 Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. 4 We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. 5 In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other. 6 We have different gifts that are consistent with God’s grace that has been given to us. If your gift is prophecy, you should prophesy in proportion to your faith. 7 If your gift is service, devote yourself to serving. If your gift is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. 8 If your gift is encouragement, devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. The leader should lead with passion. The one showing mercy should be cheerful.
9 Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12 Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. 14 Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16 Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. 17 Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good.
18 If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. 19 Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord. 20 Instead, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head. 21 Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good.Romans 12, CEB