As everyone in our nation now knows, a troubled, hate-filled person opened fire on a group of unsuspecting Christians who had gathered for prayer and Bible study in their South Carolina church last week.
I am sure that those nine souls who entered eternity that evening never imagined that in the span of an hour, they would leave this world and be gazing into the face of the very One they had come to worship.
The bullets that stopped their hearts ended their earthly lives but ushered them into a world more beautiful and glorious than their deepest imaginings. They are Home and they are forever free of this broken world.
As C.S. Lewis has said, “All their adventures in this world…had only been the cover story and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.”—The Last Battle.
How much would it change things if when we walked into church on Sunday mornings, we behaved as if we might see the face of our Savior before we left that place? If when we showed up for Bible study, we faced the very real possibility that the Author of those precious pages could usher us into His Presence at any time?
We should live all of life that way because we are incredibly fragile and the number of our days on this planet are known only to the One who created us. We dare not take our hours and minutes and seconds for granted. This life is not a game. Our choices in this life have eternal and fixed consequences in the next world.
It has been said that the gunman had hoped to start a race war with his heinous actions. I imagine that we are all very glad that his demented hopes were a pipe dream and a miserable failure.
This Sunday morning, the doors of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were thrown open wide and the Rev. Dr. Norveel Goff Sr. gave a hope-filled, joy filled sermon that rang out loud and clear and gave notice to heaven and earth, angels and demons and every person within the sound of his voice that our joy in our risen Savior is defiant and blazing, triumphant in even in the face of the greatest acts of evil.
Our joy is not dependent on circumstances.
Our joy cannot be contained, no matter how fierce the opposition.
Our joy cannot be silenced.
Our joy is not wispy but solid as a Rock.
Nothing that happens on this broken, fallen earth can touch our joy because our Joy IS the Person of the risen Christ. He is the very eternal personification of joy and He offers it to us freely.
And we can never lose Him.
Rev. Dr. Goff shared that this morning (and indeed, every morning), he praised God for the fact that he woke up to live another day and that he spent his life in praise and joy, daily thanking God for the gift of his salvation.
When we choose to live that way, we, too, are living in such a way that we are ready to come face to face with the risen Christ at any moment.
He reminded his congregation that this world is ever-changing and our hope must be in God alone.
Thunderous applause greeted his declaration that “The open doors of this church say, “NO weapon formed against us will prosper!”
Then he ended his sermon with these jubilant words: “We are serving notice on evil-doers who think they have the victory: HE IS STILL GOD!”
Amen and amen.
This is what true Christian joy looks like.
Yes, there is weeping and there will always be questions that cannot be answered when such evil is unleashed.
But because of the cross, evil does not triumph. Hope and joy blaze brilliantly in the face of the darkness.
The Light shines on in the darkness, for the darkness has never overpowered it.—John 1:5
No matter what is happening in your life right now, no matter what headlines you read, remember this: His Light shines on.