On May 31, 2009, Dr. James Tiller, a longtime member of Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, KA, was serving as an usher in the lobby of his church. His wife, Jeanne, was in the choir. Shots rang out, and Dr. Tiller sank dead to the floor. Reformation Lutheran Church had been somewhat uncomfortable about Dr. Tiller’s profession as a late-term abortionist. Nevertheless, he was described as being incredibly compassionate toward his patients.
The assassin, it turned out, was a self-professing born-again Christian who had become consumed by the legalism of protesting against abortion. Scott Roeder had been listening to the 700 Club one evening, knelt down in his living room and accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior.
A person of violence took the life of another person of violence, both of whom justified their actions on the grounds of their religious convictions. Dr. Tiller justified his actions, in all likelihood, on the grounds of Christian compassion. Scott Roeder justified his actions on the grounds of Christian obedience. A place of peace became a scene of violence in the name of God.
In Matt 25, Jesus gave us His vision of the Day of Judgment when all our works are held up to God’s microscope. He said, “Inasmuch as you have/have not done it to the least of these MY BROTHERS/SISTERS, you have/have not done it unto me.” We are called, then, as minister to the brothers and sisters of Jesus, not as violent revolutionaries to the whole human race.
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7), Jesus preached about the transformation of people who were to become citizens of a new nation – the Kingdom of God. I refer to it as the “…but I tell you” counter offensive: “…but I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother may be guilty of murder”; “…but I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully commits adultery…”; “…but I tell you, ‘Love your enemies.’”
Jesus slips in 2 verses (5:13, 14) that tell us not what we are to do but who we already are as the King’s Kids: “You ARE the salt of the earth. You ARE the light of the world”. That is the message of hope that keeps us pressing forward as the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount increasingly become a natural way of life. If we truly “are”, then we are living reflections of those precepts.
The word “earth” reminds us of our origin and all those responsibilities in between, like work, love, play and family life. By being the salt of the earth, we as God’s children are being mixed with earthy things such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But Jesus doesn’t just leave it there.
The earth needs salt to preserve the best of life and humanity. The world needs light to give glory to God. What it comes down to is this: salt and light work best when they and we are subtle, unobtrusive but present in an enriching, enhancing, transforming way.
Going back, then, to this tragedy of Dr. Tiller, Scott Roeder and the Reformed Lutheran Church, it is easy to see that the Church of Jesus Christ has a challenge and responsibility to help us keep our salt pure and our light shining bright. You can’t let people just float around out there with some sort of good housekeeping seal of eternal approval but no direction; no focus; no hope of transforming grace. If every believer is salt and light at varying levels, the task of the church is to keep the salt preserving and fertilizing and enhancing and disinfecting the earth so that we become light shining in a dark world to show the way to life abundant.
In the words of Jesus, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16). That ought to have been the focus of those two violent men involved in this tragedy. And that ought to be the mission of every one of us who profess belief in Jesus Christ as Lord.