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The Surprising Thing about Mass Shootings and Violence in America

I think baptism is surprising.

We've grown so used to the idea of it, but if you really think about the claims we make about baptism, it upends our expectations. God meets us there with completely undeserved, unmerited grace and forgiveness. We're told our old self needs to die so that a new self can rise in Jesus, and we often say this about an innocent newborn. We enter into water so we can rise up out of it in a combined metaphor of washing and resurrection. It's really a strange practice that seals our new life in Christ in a surprising and strange ritual.

The Gospel is constantly upending our expectations, and in that way, baptism is only the beginning. God's messiah is not what the people expected, a military leader gathering an uprising against the oppressive Roman empire to set the people free from political persecution. God's pronouncement is made not to the wealthy King Herod but to the poor and simple, to a teenage girl and her betrothed. This new prophet Jesus shows up not in Jerusalem but in Galilee.

Matthew's gospel is constantly presenting God upending our expectations and surprising us, and the Sermon on the Mount is no different. Here, God's blessings pour out upon those you least expect: when you're at the end of your rope, when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you, when you’re content with just who you are, when you're humble, when you're poor in spirit, or even when your commitment to God provokes persecution. Just when the world would look down on you and your situation, that's when you're actually blessed!

This isn't simply a pronouncement by Jesus but a call to action. We're called to live the reconciling, peacemaking life of the Gospel. Just as Jesus has been pronouncing repentance, healing, and freeing people from their pain and suffering, he's now calling others to follow. He's declaring God's blessing but so that in turn, his followers may be a blessing.

We are all called in our baptism to become peacemakers for God's kingdom. Jesus calls us to repent, to literally turn away from the way we've been living into a new way of living, one that is reconciling and healing not just for ourselves but for others and the world.

What is not a surprise, in the most tragic way imaginable, is that once again in the United States of America we're talking about mass shootings. There were two very publicized mass shootings in California in the last week as I write this blog post and once again our national conversation is back to gun violence. While it's crucial for us to use these opportunities to talk about gun violence and guns in the US, gun violence is so much more than when there's a mass shooting. Most gun violence in this country is the daily violence happening in neighborhoods, homes, and families. What does it mean in this context for us as followers of the way of Jesus to be peacemakers?

We cannot be followers of Jesus if we are not living as peacemakers. If you claim to follow him, you must bring this blessing into the world.

Peacemaking is not simply the absence of conflict. Peacemaking is doing things that reduce the brokenness in people’s lives. It’s not just the end of conflicts, arguments, fighting, violence, or war. It is the healing of disease. It is the offering of comfort to those who are brokenhearted. It is lifting up those who have been oppressed. That kind of action brings the fullness of peacemaking, and it is that way we are called to live as followers of Jesus, to reconcile the world in his name.

You might have no idea what you can do to make peace in our country, or to bring an end to gun violence, let alone mass shootings. However, the surprising and challenging message of the Gospel is that God calls us to do so by actively working our daily lives. By following the way of Jesus, but walking humbly, doing justice, and practicing kindness, we are working to make peace. This is not just a pronouncement by God but a call to follow. We must take the blessings we've received and work to actively bless others in our daily lives. Every day we are presented with opportunities to be reconcilers and peacemakers. It might not feel like doing that is making some big, world-changing difference, but in so doing we are participating in the salvation of the whole world, and yes, the end of this kind of violence and death.

That does not get us off the hook for actively trying to end mass shootings and gun violence. Our country has a serious gun problem and we must face it. We must use our voice and our vote to say, enough is enough, this must end. But those opportunities will be rare. What we can do every day is work to reduce brokenness in people's lives, offer forgiveness when people do us wrong, lift up the hurt and oppressed, extend comfort to someone in loss or mourning, and work every day as a peacemaker.

The world expects us to work for our own good, power, and privilege. Let's surprise everyone and follow the reconciling way of Jesus. What is one way this week you can make peace and reconciliation in your daily life? Who is one person you can bless with the blessings you've been given?

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