Like many of you I have spent this week watching the events unfold around a small Amish community in Pennsylvania. There is a part of us that can rationalize the idea of shootings in crowded inner-city communities where our children walk to school through all the horrors that modern urban life has to offer, but who among us ever thought that Amish country was also a breeding ground for this kind of behaviour?
Even more remarkable than the fact that such an event would take place in this small rural community lost in time, is the response of that same community. It is a response that in many ways is also lost in time. It is a response that has caught the attention of many people in North America and has them wondering about their own responses. And I would like to suggest that the people who should be paying the most attention to the gentle ways of these gentle people are the Christians of Canada and the United States.
It has been somewhat disheartening for me to watch the behaviour of my fellow Christians in the press of late. It seems that the default reaction by many believers to people who disagree with them is to unload all of the bile and hate they’ve been storing up. Condemning people to any or all of Dante’s 9 levels of hell, wishing disease and calamity upon them, questioning their humanity, comparing them to various tyrannical dictators (Hitler remains the favorite), even death threats are among the list of responses the practitioners of “Christian Love” levy at those who would dare to oppose them. It all calls to mind the lyrics of an old song by the Christian rock-band Petra…
“Seen and not heard, seen and not heard
Sometimes God’s children should be seen and not heard.
Too much talk and not enough walk
Sometimes God’s children should be seen and not heard.”
Not so the people of faith in this Amish community that has suffered so devastating a blow. The people of Lancaster County took a very different view.
“The grandfather was there and he made a point. They are instructing their kids not to think evil of the man who did this. I think that was the most moving of all,” Rev. Rob Schenck of the National Clergy Council told CBS.
“I don’t think there’s anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts,” Jack Meyer told CNN.
“The hurt is very great,” she said, “but they don’t balance hurt with hate.”
Today’s pastors and Christian writers have a great deal to say about how to live the Christian life in the modern world. They spend a lot of pulpit time and ink on paper trying to re-create the Gospel in a flavour that the ‘post-moderns’ can find easier to swallow. But in a small community that for the most part is still in the 18th century, the teachings of Jesus are being lived out for all the world to see, and the world is listening.
This small community that has rejected cell-phones and computers, even gas engines and the automobile has refused to reject the man who committed this terrible act (Charles Roberts). They get ‘closure’ on the matter not by seeing that the shooter is vilified and the world never forgets how evil he was; but rather by forgiving what many consider unforgivable. They reach out not to obtain revenge, but to extend compassion and comfort to the Robert’s family in the understanding that they too have suffered loss – a husband and father. They do not alter their view of the Gospel to address a circumstance they never imagined facing, instead they cling to centuries old teachings from the scriptures to get them through whatever happens no matter how unfamiliar.
It truly speaks to the power of the Gospel itself to make a louder statement than any preacher or evangelist ever could. We don’t need special effects or a New Testament re-written in text-message style wording. We don’t even really need to trip over ourselves trying to be seeker-friendly. What we really need to do is live the life we have been called to live — honestly, every day. We need to remember that the timeless message we have been called to share with the world is just that — timeless.
That doesn’t mean we need to get rid of the tools of the electronics age, but we do need to remember the message we are called to deliver. Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message,” and nowhere is that more true than in the case of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is because we are the medium by which the message is transmitted. It is not the computers, the Internet, the new translations, the church programs and activities that communicate the gospel — It is us! And as we’ve learned this week, a gentle word, a firm resolve, and a forgiving embrace speak louder than anything sermon we might preach.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
You can’t say it any better than that.