SERMON 7/22/12 Pentecost 8B Proper 11
2 Samuel 7:1-14a; Psalm 89:20-37; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 By Wednesday each week, I usually have a rough idea of how the sermon for the upcoming Sunday will unfold. So, by mid-day on Wednesday, Teresa will receive from me a picture for the bulletin cover. I have to tell you, I had to set that sermon aside after I heard the news of the horrific tragedy in Aurora, Colorado. Like many of us, I woke up Friday morning to a nice cup of coffee and I turned on the news and sat in my easy chair. The Special Report banner was flashing on the screen and I had a sick feeling in my stomach, similar to the one I experienced when I learned of the tragedies of September 11th, eleven years ago. The broadcaster announced with great concern in her voice, “ At 12:30 a.m. in the morning, on Friday July 20, 2012, at a normal annual event( a summer movie release) one of largest mass shootings in US history took place.” She continued to report that there were “ 71 victims, 12 killed, and 59 injured in a movie theatre in Aurora, CO.” The alleged assailant was “24 year old James Holmes a PhD student at the University of Colorado.” The rest of the newscast included some details of the tragedy, some information about the shooter, and then came what for me, was the most emotional part of the newscast: the pictures of people in tears holding each other, and the desperate pleas and cries from friends and family who were asking this question, “Why?”
As I watched the interviews of the victims and family, I heard how raw and ripe the emotions of anger, helplessness, sadness, grief, and confusion abounded. “Why,” seems to be the question we all want to ask. There are not many words of comfort in times like these although we try. Sandy Phillips the mother of Jessica Ghawi, an aspiring journalist who was killed, said, “”I’ll never have her to hug again, or get a text message again or get a funny Facebook picture.” “That’s the hard part right now … knowing those are things I’m never going to experience again.” Many of us saw the video of Tom Sullivan, whose plea for news of his son was so heartbreaking. His son, Alex was celebrating his 27th birthday the night of the movie, and we find such irony in his son’s last text message, “‘Oh man one hour till the movie and its going to be the best BIRTHDAY ever.’ There are so many stories that will be told over the next few weeks; stories of loss, anger, pain, broken hearts, and blame.
We also wrestle with trying to understand how a bright, intelligent honors PhD student, could do such a hideous act? We wrestle with our own feelings toward him, feelings of anger, disgust, and possibly even a secret desire for vengeance. Then, we imagine what his parents are feeling as they learn of what their son did to so many people. “Why,” is our question as we reflect on this event. We may be asking other questions as well, “Why would God let this happen?” Maybe we ask, “What good could come of such a tragedy?” Some religious folks may even say, “God has a plan in all this and there has to be a reason.” Really? We are wrestling with a mystery here, and we should be cautious about trying to seek answers where there may be no clear answers to find. Do we really believe that the God of the cross, would somehow want this to happen?
Jesus’ ministry is surely a ministry of liberation, of the resurrection but we must know that creation is, by definition, limited. Jesus, in his ministry, consistently sought to free people from life’s diminishing forces (illness, mental and spiritual afflictions, demonic spirits, even death). Jesus never says “just suck it up,” although he does say “do not sin anymore.” The heart of our “Why” question seems to rest in the nature of creation itself and the nature of human freedom, and not why God would make this happen.
“Creation is not the Creator, and doesn’t share in the Creator’s perfection. Our universe and we as creatures, are still in process. We are by God’s salvation work, moving into greater perfection in God’s creation. However, Paul asserts in Romans 8, that there is a tendency in all of creation to fall back into decay. There is an interplay within the created order of itself, a moving towards perfection, and at the same time falling back again. God allows this freedom to play itself out, but God doesn’t stand by, as impersonal, because God of the Bible is the one who saves us and saves us in history, in the workings out in time of our movement towards life, even in our falling back into decay. This work of creation, this struggle of moving toward the perfection of God, and the falling back into decay may not be apparent in any individual life because some it may be, that in some unknown mystery, it is God’s very long-range perspective at work.”
Tragedy, pain, anger, loss, human evil all seem present in tragic events brought about by human decay, evil, and sin, and yet we ask, “Why, God?” Maybe a glimpse into this awful mystery emerges if we can accept that “Moral evil is the tragic implication of creaturely freedom.” “Creation is the creation of finite freedom; it is the creation of life with its greatness and danger . . . The creation of finite freedom is the risk which the divine creativity accepts.” God took a risk with human choice so that love would be a matter of freedom and not coercion. It is not a cut and dried answer, it does not fulfill the desires of our modern predispositions because we are still left with “Why.” That my friends, may be all we have. We don’t know the answer, and honestly it is okay to be in a situation of darkness and mystery. Maybe mystery sometimes is good, because that’s where in our suffering we are forced to reach out for God’s presence. We reach out to sense God’s touch and if we are honest, we need tell God what is on our hearts, we need seek answers that come only from beyond ourselves.
I find great comfort in our President’s wise words the other day, when he reminded us of the uncertainty of our lives. The President said, “Life is fragile, our time is limited. “We’re going to stand by our neighbors in Colorado during this extraordinarily difficult time. Such violence, such evil is senseless; it’s beyond reason.” He continued, “What matters at the end of the day is not the small things; it is not the trivial things … Ultimately it is how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another.” As Christians, our response should be to stand by our sisters and brothers, because how we love one another is what is important.
We all have had experiences of suffering in which, we know we have in some way, experienced grace. Maybe in the mystery of the “Why,” we can be present for each other as Christ is present with us in the tragic. When we have experienced God’s love, it is so important to let God’s love be incarnated in us. The more we ourselves have experienced salvation, the more confidence we have to carry it into situations like these. When we consider the cross, we know in the suffering of creation that God is with us. The shadow of the cross extends forward and backwards in history and in a a paradoxical way, we are united with Christ precisely when he cries out “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” God identifies with our “Why” questions, God knows our pain, and God cries out too. Many of us may stand in the midst of this tragedy and cry these same words. The reality is the God who is the ultimate giver of freedom, has not abandoned us. In our human freedom to choose love, life, and peace, or to fall back into the decay of death, tragedy, and evil, Immanuel stands with arms wide open, and says, “I am with you.” We may not know the reasons, we may not know the why, but we can know that God is with us in the riskiness of freedom and love.
So what can we Christians do in the midst of the lives lost, the families broken, the death, the pain, the anger, and the desire for answers? We need to do what we do best, pray. We need to be present in prayer, as God is present with us. Our hearts can join with the hearts of those in pain who cry, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken us?” We can allow the grace of God in us to be incarnated in our presence with them. Do we load up and go to Colorado? No, but maybe we make it known that we love them, we pray for them, and we join them in their grief and pain.
In the Gospel reading today, people were bringing the sick before Jesus knowing that if they would but reach out and touch him, they would find healing. Maybe that is the only answer we have today, in the midst of the Colorado tragedy. Maybe what we must do is in prayer, bring the victims, the survivors, and our own broken hearts before the Master, and trust that in some way and in some mysterious time to come, he will bring healing, peace, and rest.
 Excerpts from Notes taken in lectures from Pastoral Theology class 2007, The Rev. Dr. Julia Gatta, Professor.