Bob Chell, Sioux Falls, SD

Warm-up Question

What event has shaped and changed your life more than any other?

Transforming Moments

Yet again the nation is dealing with a school shooting, this time on the campus of UNC-Charlotte.  On May 1, a young man entered a classroom and began shooting.  Two were killed and four were wounded.  Police were unclear as to the possible motives of the shooter.

According to one news account, Sophomore Joshua Ayers, 20, was in the classroom when the shooter entered. The liberal studies class has about 100 students, but only about 30 were on hand Tuesday for final presentations, one of which was underway when the shooting began, he said.

“All of a sudden, the door on the north side of the room slams open. A guy rushes in, pulls up a gun with his right hand … and began firing at the far north corner table,” Ayers said. “He didn’t speak a word — just ran in and started shooting.

Public officials from around the country decried the new violence, but it was not obvious what changes, if any, might be undertaken to prevent or minimize the impact of such random acts of violence in the future.

Discussion Questions

  • This event will shape and change the rest of Joshua Ayer’s life.Will this event shape his life for better or for worse? Why?
  • How could this event have a negative impact on Josh’s life?
  • How could this event have a positive impact on Josh’s life?
  • How could this event have a negative impact on YOUR life?
  • How could this event have a positive impact on YOUR life?

Fifth Sunday of Easter

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

You may know the name Riley Howell. Or perhaps the name is vaguely familiar.  Riley Howell, a student at the University of North Carolina, rushed a shooter, knocking him off his feet as the shooter took Riley’s life. One can’t help but ask, “What would I have done?” or “If I am in a similar circumstance what will I do?” Nearly all of us would begin our answer both questions saying, “Well, I hope I would…” Hopefully, that is a question we will never have to answer.

However, there is a second question we must answer. How will tragic events shape and change my life?  I wish I could tell you it will shape your life in positive ways if you make good choices, or draw positive meaning from an horrific event but this is only partially true.  I suspect there wasn’t much of a decision process for either Riley or Joshua that day and perhaps if the places they were standing or sitting in class that day were reversed their responses would have been reversed as well. We can speculate and imagine and hypothesize all day but we won’t be any closer to knowing.

Initially, all any of us can do is react when tragic events occur and persevere in their aftermath. If the event is across the state or across the world, no matter how tragic it may be, it rarely disrupts our daily lives. But when we are Joshua Ayers, the one who was there, we cannot escape it’s impact.

There may be a day when Joshua will utilize this event to motivate himself to a life of service to others. Or, perhaps he will try to numb his pain with chemicals, or things or experiences and fill his days and his life so full there is no room for the pain.  We can’t know, even he can’t know at this point. He, like all of us, will do the best he can.

So, you may wonder, what does this have to do with Jesus command to “Love one another.”?  The real question isn’t what impact this event will have on Joshua’s life or yours, the real question is the one young adults come to hate. The question that comes from your parents, grandparents, and every relative and family friend over twenty five years old—and nearly every time you see them—“So, what are you going to do with your life?”

Sadly, this brief reflection will not answer that question for you.  But I can tell you there are events and experiences in your life that will bring meaning and purpose into focus, if only for a short time.  When Jesus died scripture says the curtain in the Jerusalem temple was torn from top to bottom. The temple was where people worshiped and the curtain was to protect people from stumbling into the “Holy of Holies,”because confronted with God’s power and majesty they would die.  The significance of the curtain tearing is that God’s power and majesty is most clearly revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now the transcendent is accessible and God is here.

When we celebrate Holy Communion our liturgy speaks of “a foretaste of the feast to come.”  We believe God’s Spirit is present in the water of baptism and the bread and wine of Holy Communion. Yet, God’s Spirit is not shackled to the font and the altar. Scripture compares the Spirit to the wind, blowing where it wishes.

You may have experienced the wind of the Holy Spirit in your life already. Great tragedies or great joys reorient our lives as we suddenly see things as if we’ve never seen them before. The birth of a child or the death of a loved one transforms what we thought important minutes before into insignificance. We realize it was never as important as we thought.  These are times when the curtain is torn in our lives and catch a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven and the true value of things.

Jesus says the words in this week’s lesson to his disciples just prior to his death, his crucifixion, and the tearing of the temple curtain. He is not giving his disciples a final order he knows they cannot fulfill, but an invitation. An invitation to a new way of seeing the world and a new way of being in the world.

No one seeks suffering, yet it comes to each of us. When it comes your way listen for the wind, watch for the the breath of the Spirit leading your through the suffering into God’s good promises.

Discussion Questions

  • What does it mean that Jesus has been glorified?
  • The author of the reflection above says Jesus gives the disciples an invitation but Jesus says it’s a commandment, which is it and what difference does it make? Can it be both?  How do you hear it for you, as a burden or an invitation to a deeper more meaningful life? Something else?

Activity Suggestions

  • Is there someone you know whose life has been shaped and changed by tragedy? Did anything good come out of that event or experience?
  • Ask an adult who you have deep respect for, “What was the worst thing that happened in your life and how did it shape and change your life?”

Closing Prayer

Loving God, you have blessed us in too many ways to count, yet we still struggle. We struggle to comprehend evil in the world and why we sometimes say and do hurtful things. Pour your healing Spirit into our hearts when they are broken and give us wisdom to discern your Spirits presence in the midst of deep and unremitting suffering.  Amen.