Sanctuary: a response to the violence in a local congregation

Yesterday, Pittsburgh was rocked by a terrible and violent terrorist act. At around 10 am, a man entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill and opened fire on the worshiping community on their sabbath day. Even as he was apprehended by police and the FBI, he was uttering anti-semitic hate speech.


11 worshipers died.


6 people, including four responding officers, were seriously injured.


In a place of worship.


In their sanctuary.


The word sanctuary means “A place of refuge or safety.” That’s where the word for the space in which a community worships got its name. It’s our place of refuge and safety. For one local congregation yesterday, that sanctuary was horrifically violated.


Those of us who gather in our sanctuaries today to pray must remember that we gather as a people of peace in a place that is meant for peace. When fear knocks on the door, we cannot allow it to seep in. When hate barges in, we must shower it with messages and actions of love. Because as Martin Luther King Jr said: Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love…  


To all those who are afraid, all those who feel beaten down, pushed to the edges, dropped through the cracks, and just plain hurt, let me be among those who sincerely say:


I am sorry. This is not God’s intention for the world. And those of us who have watched this sort of behavior happen without speaking out boldly in truth and love and working together to change the script are part of the problem. I am sorry.


Jewish, Muslim, Presbyterian, Catholic, atheist, black, white, young, old, gay, straight, whoever you are, you are welcome here. You are welcome to seek peace and rest with us in this sanctuary. Come here for refuge and safety in a troubled time.


Each week for a few weeks now, we have sung the same song at the beginning of every worship service.


Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary,


pure and holy,


tried and true.


With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living




For you.


To those who are in a position of privilege and safety, those who are not on the margins but have lots of space on the page, I challenge you to go to your sanctuaries this morning. Seek that peace for your own troubled soul, but when you go out, go forth as a living sanctuary. BE the place of refuge and safety for those around you.


Be the sanctuary our world needs right now.


Pittsburgh: I know you. You are so full of love. Now is the time to make that more real and apparent than it’s ever been.


Be the sanctuary.


May God bless you and keep you.

May God be kind and gracious to you.

May God look upon you with favor and give you peace. Amen.