Yesterday’s sunlit beauty was penetrated by the darkness of violence in this beloved community. It came as persons gathered to celebrate the season of joy, peace and love. In a tragic moment the lives of 14 persons were cut short unnecessarily and that of 17 other persons were terribly afflicted as bullets also riddled their bodies and troubled their souls in ways that no one should ever have to endure. The families, friends, neighbors, congregations, and communities of these 31 persons were also deeply and sorrowfully affected. Two perpetrators also died. We remember that their families weep as well.
Of all the communities that this could have happened to, I mourn that it happened to you. San Bernardino is a community full of wonderful and loving people, but I am aware of the struggles that you faced even before this latest tragedy occurred, extreme poverty, homelessness and violence among them. Yesterday was just one more burden for this beloved community of God. May God be compassionate towards the families and community of San Bernardino.
Yesterday, San Bernardino joined the 354 other communities in this country that just this year have also experienced the deadly trauma of such violence. The impact of gun violence in this country is like a dark wave that is spreading its reach throughout the land.
But brothers and sisters, we do not need to receive the cruel wave of violence that has reached even this community as a given, as just the way things are, or as the new normal. You and I can give witness to the higher values of love for neighbor and peace rather than violence.
I do not know why this shooting occurred yesterday in San Bernardino. What I do know is that you and I can make a difference going forward. We must act with compassion and strive for justice. Let us continue to pray for the victims and their families. Let us pray for the perpetrators and their families with special prayers for that baby that was left behind because of the violence of its parents. Let us pray for this community in the shattering of its safety. Let us pray with grateful hearts for the first responders – police officers, emergency medical teams, doctors and nurses among others.
We must also strive for justice. It is abundantly clear that we must advocate for gun control in this country. We must proactively teach all our children how to live lives of love and peace, rather than hate and violence. We must hold each other accountable for respecting the sacred worth of each God-given life. And, we must seek to root out and respond to the causes of the violence our communities are suffering here in San Bernardino, across this country and around the world.
We do know that the human tendency to bend towards sin, religious discrimination, some born of religious fundamentalism, racism, and economic poverty, are some of the root causes of the violence we see around us and that we are called to respond to. Friends, I am praying that come tomorrow, we will arise and face the day and the challenges that plague this community knowing that God is with us. God is with you!
Our praying together this night is a response that I believe makes a difference. In darkness we all need to hear a word of light and hope. As people of Judeo-Christian faith we believe in the words of Lamentations. God’s mercy and loving compassion are always with us, especially in our suffering and in our death. God never fails us. Without a doubt, tomorrow morning we will experience God’s mercy and compassion and faithfulness anew. It is why we place our hope in God. And so we pray confidently together that God who is ever faithful will extend mercy and compassion to all who suffer this night because of the violence that has come to San Bernardino. Let us also pray that God will prepare us to more fully live lives of compassion and justice.
I do want to share with you that persons around the world are praying for this beloved community. We have been receiving calls, texts and emails from all over the world. Persons praying with us even now have expressed love and care for you, and extended their commitment to be in prayer for you in the days to come. You are being held in the hearts of many. Above all, I believe that you are being held in the very palm of God’s hand; God whose tender heart hurts this night with you. This same God will strengthen you and bring healing to your hearts.
This statement was originally delivered at the San Bernardino Prayer Vigil on Thursday, December 3, 2015 at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church of San Bernardino.