Today we stand with all those who are grieving the deaths of police officers Nicholas Smarr, of the Americus Police Department, and Jody Smith, of the Georgia Southwestern State University Department of Public Safety. When I heard of the shootings in Americus my first thought was, “Oh no, not again.” I remembered the recent shooting deaths of two deputies in Peach County, Patrick Sondron and Daryl Smallwood, and I was also reminded of other acts of violence around the country.
My initial reaction of shock and sadness carried me to Matthew 14. This chapter has become a major source of direction for me as I pray for God’s guidance in the face of violence around the world as well as in our own land. The chapter opens with the sad story of the shocking death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod the ruler. Matthew says that John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it; then they went and told Jesus.
How did Jesus respond to the death of John the Baptist? “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” Jesus learns of the death of John and immediately knows he needs to be alone in a time of solitude and silence. When we are in a situation of grief, it’s time to grieve. But the crowds came looking for Jesus and he had compassion on them and cured their sick. That evening Jesus’ disciples wanted to dismiss the hungry crowds but Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.” Then Jesus took the loaves and fish and fed 5,000 people. Jesus’ response to a senseless act of violence (the beheading of John the Baptist) was to express his own grief and then get to work healing people and feeding 5,000!
When tragedies like the one in Americus occur I find Matthew 14 calling us to grieve and then let the energy of our grief fuel our commitment to create environments of healing in each of our local churches. Jesus’ response to the death of John the Baptist was to feed 5,000 people.
This Sunday I encourage all of our churches to grieve the death of these dedicated public servants and then take the next step of renewing our commitment to follow Jesus’ example by directing our grief into acts of healing and hope in the community. We can do this. It’s who we are. It’s in our DNA as United Methodists.
In times like these the world needs us to be Alive Together in Christ -- Immediately.R. Lawson Bryan