On Sunday night as many of us were sleeping in bed, Stephen Paddock opened fire on a crowd attending a concert in Las Vegas, killing 59 people and injuring more than 500. Investigators and journalists, politicians and ordinary people, immediately started looking for the cause. Why did this happen? What motivated Stephen to take so many lives, including his own? In the coming days, I am sure we will hear many different theories about what caused Stephen to commit this heinous act. All of us are searching for answers and explanations about how someone could commit such an evil act.
Tragedy, unbelievable suffering, cruelty, murder, none of these are new territory for the Christian. We follow a Lord and Savior who was a victim of cruelty, hate, and murder. The Holy Scripture tells us much about the goodness of God, but it also tells us much of human evil. In all of our searching for answers, I wonder if we overlook the one that is staring us right in the face. We are always surprised by sin.
Sin is a mystery that the best investigator cannot unravel. Sin is a story the best journalist will never break. Sin is a massive problem no politician can fix. Sin is us. All have sinned.
I wonder if the reason we search for the cause of this tragedy is to show that Stephen is fundamentally different from us. We are terrified of seeing in his actions our own dim reflection staring back at us. As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:22–23) We may not be mass murderers like Stephen, but perhaps our hearts are not so different from Stephen’s.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t look for answers and solutions which could help prevent or limit the impact of a future attack. But all of our solutions only address symptoms and not the cause.
For several years our altar guild has noticed that the floor of the sacristy was bubbling up which prevented the door from opening and closing smoothly. Last week when a workman lifted up the flooring and looked underneath he discovered that the entire floor was black with mold and completely rotten. There were many different theories about how moisture had gotten into the floor and caused such extensive damage. It wasn’t until he cut away the wall that a leaky pipe was revealed. For 8 years, water was saturating the floor every time someone used the sink. It would have been foolish for us to replace the flooring and not fix the leak. The first step is to fix the leak.
Anglicans have some resources to help us start to repair the leak of sin in our lives. We repent corporately each Sunday. But we also have specific resources for times of national tragedy. One of these is The Great Litany found on page 148 of the Book of Common Prayer. I commend this resource to you. Not only does it point us to the real cause of this heinously evil shooting, it points us the solution: Good Lord, deliver us. May the Lord give us eyes to see our own sin and send the Holy Spirit to give us new hearts, freed from sin. And may the Lord have mercy on the victims of this horrific tragedy.