Meeting us in the madness

Pittsburgh was on edge last week, the result of mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, when a man walked up to a woman, stabbed and killed her while she sat at a bus stop. That bus stop is about 150 feet from my study.

In that very moment, a police officer had been checking on the woman, who seemed to be asleep.

The assailant had to reach around the officer to hurt her.

He then stabbed another passer-by before the officer could stop him, without a fight.

The woman who died was known to the downtown churches who had been ministering to her.

She was totally unknown to her assailant.

Mass shootings always set off the debate about gun control. We process our helplessness by raging against politicians we don’t like. We imagine that we can create policies that will stop the madness.

But what policy, what law, could have stopped the madness out on the street here last week?

Late in his career as an evangelist, the Apostle Paul found that God’s Spirit had so filled his work that handkerchiefs and sweat rags that Paul had touched had healing properties. A travelling band of exorcists took note of this power and tried to invoke it. “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches,” they would say.

The thought of travelling exorcists invoking the name of Jesus for profit is bizarre. What kind of dark humor is this? Why does the Bible give us this image at the climax of Paul’s ministry? I’m not sure, but I do know I feel helpless sometimes. I call out to Jesus, and the call seems so weak, so imperfect, I almost sympathize with the exorcists.

That’s why Jesus had to come, to step into the madness, to do what only he could do.

Come, Lord Jesus. Give us courage as we serve on these streets in your name.

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