We Need To Do More Than Just Pray

The “unthinkable has happened” was how one government official responded to the latest school shooting in Sante Fe, Texas this past week. And yet, is it really “unthinkable?”  Unfortunately, as a parent of four school age children, we realize that these horrific, mass killings are NOT so unthinkable anymore. They have become too common, and we all are just waiting for the next one to happen. And we all realize, it may happen closer to home, in our own schools, among our own people, sooner than later.

Think about the perpetrator, Dimitri Pagourtzis, a Greek-American, someone who the local Greek Orthodox priest, Fr. Stelios Sitaras affirmed had danced in a Greek dance group at the annual festival, and whose family was a part of a Greek Orthodox church. That’s pretty close to home for us, and it makes me realize this illness of brokenness and darkness, violence, confusion and anger that is leading some people to commit horrendous crimes, is all around us.

Texas governor Greg Abbott stated, “We need to do more than just pray for the victims and their families.” But what must we do? What can we do?

As a society, we have turned away from God and his ways. We no longer live in a Christian world, but in a post-Christian society. Our society no longer offers a strong community foundation, where we know one another, take interest in one another, reach out and care for one another. Our hyper-individualistic society leaves many people feeling alone, lonely, separated from others. How often do I even hear in our own community, how years ago families used to spend time together, visit one another for each other’s namedays and for the major feastdays. Families would come together, and people were connected with one another. And yet, now, so often I hear our elderly talk about how they are all alone. Just come to our Living Bread Luncheon any first Saturday of the month, and you will see some people in our local community who come, not because they necessarily need a free meal, but maybe more so because they want some company.

And then our society is so focused on violence – from the violent video games our kids constantly play, to the violent movies whose images fill our minds, to the violent news we read daily. With each school shooting, confused and lonely people just get more and more ideas for what they can do!

“We need to do more than just pray for the victims and their families.” But what must we do? What can we do?

This past week in the church, a day before the shooting in Sante Fe, our Church celebrated our Lord’s Ascension into heaven. Jesus completed His mission of love to the world – He experienced the human condition, with all its darkness and evil, He confronted and conquered death itself, in the process taking the sins of the world upon Himself, and He gathered people who wanted to follow Him, to believe in Him, and not only inspired them with His life and teachings, but empowered them with His Holy Spirit, and then commanded them to continue His mission on earth.

In today’s Gospel reading, we hear Jesus praying for His followers, and in this passage from John, Jesus says to His Father, “As you sent me into the world, so I send them [his followers] into the world.” He doesn’t take His followers out of the world. He doesn’t command His followers to form communities apart from the rest of the world. He isn’t interested in a cult, seeking out its own salvation. Instead, He says, “You are in the world, but not of the world.”

Christ also emphasizes that His sending of His followers into the world will be difficult and dangerous – “you will be lambs among wolves” – yet He promises to be with His followers each and every day. He promises that “You will receive power from on high, and you will be my witnesses.” And then He commands His disciples to “Go and make disciples of all peoples.” I emphasize this many times in my sermons, but I can’t repeat it often enough.

When we think about the latest mass shooting, and hear the Texas governor say, “We need to do more than just pray for the victims and their families,” we need to turn to our Christian faith and ask God, “What is it that you want ME to do?” Of course, our government officials need to address the issue of gun safety, and school safety, and other such things. But we can’t just wait for others to do something!

Individually, how can each one of us try to reach out to those who are lonely, those who may seem lost, those who may seem overwhelmed with life, those who are broken and confused, and even those who may seem like they are on a dangerous path of destruction – self-destruction or communal destruction. Can we keep an attentive eye out for such people in our midst? Can we reach out in love and befriend them? Can we be the one that fills up some of the lonely space they have in their lives?

To reach out to others takes effort, it takes time, it takes a commitment, it takes a serious understanding that this is a responsibility and calling each of us have as followers of Jesus Christ. He asks us first of all to create communities that care for one another. We are asked to cultivate this Saints Constantine and Helen Church to become truly a family where we know one another, enter in the lives of one another, care for one another, sacrifice for one another, and be there for one another. May our Church Family be a witness of community and love to the world around us!

Yet, we can’t stop only with this goal. As a Church Family, we then are placed in a particular community in Webster, in Central Mass, or wherever else we live. Can all of our members reach out to the larger community, and create the same type of loving spirit where we reach out, care for, and love others?!?

And can we do it in a way where we are trying to befriend others, mentor others, become lights in the dark lives of others.

What can we do in the aftermath of another school shooting? Can we make a decision to become a big brother or sister to someone, truly mentoring them and becoming a friendly influence in their lives? Imagine if someone did that to Dimitri Pagourtzis? Imagine if he had a whole community reaching out to him, trying to love him, guide him, care for him, and influence him!

“We need to do more than just pray for the victims and their families. We need to fulfill our calling as followers of Jesus Christ, and truly begin reaching out to a hurting world all around us!

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