Brothers and sisters,
It could easily have happened in Laurel, at Our Savior Lutheran Church. It did happen in Charleston, South Carolina at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday night. Hatred erupted in one young man, and nine lives were taken, and many other lives changed forever.
We mourn today, as we have for the last couple of days, because when one part of the body of Christ is hurt, the whole body suffers with it. People were engaged in Bible Study and prayer on Wednesday night, as we so often are at Our Savior, and a visitor to that group took advantage of the situation to target people his heart was hardened by sin to hate.
What stands out to the world in this moment—as we watch and listen to the stories that are coming on the news feeds from Charleston—is the story of God’s grace.
As the accused stood before a room of victims’ families, we heard the voice of Jesus! “I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you,” a daughter of Ethel Lance said. “And have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but God forgives you, and I forgive you.”
The word we translate into English as “witness” is from the Greek word “martyrion,” a word which we also translate as martyr. The people who died were at that church to study and pray together. Their presence was a witness! And the victims’ families are now witnessing and shining brightly in the darkness of the shadow of death for Jesus with the love they have first been shown by Him.
The power of forgiveness is an awesome force. The shooter hoped to start a race war. He wanted to undo the type of church that we are trying to be where all races and nationalities are welcome to worship as one under the God who unites us under one Head—Christ. Let’s not be discouraged, but rather be energized in pursing what the Enemy hates. Let’s pray for the families and friends of the victims as they grieve and as they witness to their faith in the Lord of forgiveness. Let’s also pray for the accused shooter, Dylann Roof and his family and friends, that God would be merciful, that God would melt his heart with love and comfort them with the Gospel that makes a difference.
We stand together in Jesus Christ with Emanuel in Charleston today. We pray for them. A part of the body of Christ has been wounded, and we all are sympathetic to their pain. Have no fear! The voice of Jesus is still being heard. The one who calms storms is with us—always! See you Sunday.
Ever in the grip of God’s gracious hand,