God is With Us

By Amber Richardson

Since the mass murder of 17 people on Feb. 14, I have seen the debate renewed. It has been renewed after every mass murder in a school.

The debate is whether these murders could be prevented if God were allowed in schools.

First of all, let us deal with a fact. While it is true that teachers/coaches/administrators can not lead prayer or require their pupils to participate in prayer, it has never been said that the students can not gather for prayer on their own. It has never been said that a student could not bow their head and pray that God help them remember the facts for a history test. It is not the place of the public school system to impose one tradition or theology on all people.

Second of all, let us deal with theology. It says in Psalm 139:7-8: “Where can I go from [God’s] spirit? Or where can I flee from [God’s] presence? If I ascend to heaven, [God is] there; if I make my bed in [hell], [God is] there.” There is no place that God is not. God is in all of creation. This includes churches, schools, music festivals, malls, movie theaters. You name it, God is there. The issue, I believe, is that we do not always acknowledge that God is present with us, no matter what.

I am sure there were people inside the walls of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who, whether or not they went to church on a regular basis (or ever) were praying to God that the shooting would stop. I am sure there were people there pleading with God that their friends might live. You can not tell me that God was not in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14. You can not tell me that God was not in Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012. You can not tell me that God was not in Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. God was there weeping with the children as they ran for their lives. God was there shedding tears with the parents whose children did not run from the building and into their arms. God was there with the first responders as they faced a bloody scene of mass murder.

On June 17, 2015 nine people died inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church during an evening prayer service at the hands of one young man (who I will not dignify by naming). These people and three others were in a church building invoking the power of God during a prayer service. It is hard to believe that someone would say that if God were allowed in the church, this would not have happened. If there is one place everyone can agree God is, it is in a church during a prayer service.

God has been and always will be in every classroom, in every hallway, in every sporting event, if only we would acknowledge God’s presence more often.

Jesus suggested that when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned (Matthew 25:31-40) we are doing these things to God. Each of us has God in us. When we welcome the people of the LGBTQI community, we welcome God and acknowledge God’s presence in them. When we feed people who do not have enough to eat, we feed God and we acknowledge God’s presence in them. When we take care of those who are sick, we care for God and we acknowledge God’s presence in them.

There are always people who feel as if they are not welcome. It is our call to seek those people out and make sure they know they are welcomed with open arms. There are always hungry people, especially kids, who need food.

Just ask the people at the food bank. It is our call to give from our abundance to those who wonder where their next meal will come from.

There are always people who are sick (mentally, physically, spiritually).

It is our call to help those people in whatever way we can.

I could give hundreds of examples of how to acknowledge God’s presence, but I am sure you get the idea by now.

Each time there is a mass murder, there is a call to change, but nothing seems to change. We need to stand behind the high school students from all over the United States who are making their voices heard. These kids, some of whom can not yet vote, will not stand down until there is change.

They are not going to sit silently while we adults tell them we value our right to have assault weapons over the lives of their friends. The kids know that each life has value and purpose. They recognize God in each person.

Perhaps if we did a few more of these things, we would realize that God is everywhere. Perhaps if we do a few more of these things, we will see God everywhere.

(Rev. Amber Richardson is a pastor at the United Christian Church in Miles City.)

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