So, I was going start today’s sermon about Joseph, Mary’s betrothed with a joke. However, it feels like we are in a different mood from the time I outlined this sermon on Thursday, wrote it Friday morning and sat down Saturday afternoon for a final edit. Yesterday, I marked my original sermon unused and put it in a file. Then spent the afternoon trying to have my faith speak to what happened yesterday at Sandy Hook Elementary School. If our trust in Emmanuel, God with us, is going to mean anything of value for our lives, it must have something to say not just in the midst of joy, but great tragedy, too.
The two questions I ask of God when trying to get my head around tragedies like this is why and what now. Honestly, the first question seems the most troubling to me and the answers I find the least satisfying. While the answers I find for the second question, what now, give me hope and leave me thankful for my faith.
I believe my mother in law, a faithful Christian, was right when she called yesterday, upset over the news and said for her it was a sign of how messed up the world has become. What happened is simply evil. The power of evil in individual lives, can lead to horrific decisions that rob others of life, wholeness and well being. Institutional evil in our society that allows someone bent on causing harm the means and ability to do it. Evil in our communities, that leads us to focus on our own needs, desires and well being over and above the needs and well being of our neighbor.
When I ask the why question, I don’t see God in the answer but rather the absence of God. If God’s voice had been heard cascades of maybes follow, including our primary regret that this young man may ever began his shooting spree. It is too early to tell and we may never know when God’s voice was ignored, but God’s presence was in Adam Lanza’s life and the Newton, Connecticut community. There were opportunities in his life that robbed so many others of life, to hear and trust God. There were opportunities for neighbors, classmates, parents, therapists, teachers, politicians even anonymous store clerks to speak God’s love and they failed. Evil happens in a toxic stew caused by our actions, our inactions, our selfishness, and our inability to love another as God loves us.
I reject that God would do this or allow this to happen. It seems impossible to me that God whose core nature is love, would punish America, this community, or these families by having a lone gunmen execute children. Our bad decisions likely contributed to the stew that caused this evil act and others, but the evil results are clearly our choices not God’s.
This act is part of God’s plan, but it is a plan of redemption and salvation. God’s plan is revealed in Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. God chooses to be in a loving relationship with us. God comes to us in Jesus to lead us into that relationship. God chooses a relationship centered on love, not fear so we have been give the free will to be in love with God or go it alone without God. Most of us are somewhere in between, like fickle teenagers falling in and out of love. Whenever any of us falls out of love with God, a little piece of brokenness sends ripples of pain throughout a world God hopes would be marked by peace. Why did this happen? Because of missed opportunities to trust God’s plan for us, to bear Christ and trust God’s love.
While the why question leaves me with regret. The what now question gives me hope because it speaks to a future that can be different. What now might be the most faithful question any of us can ask today.
Immediately, our thoughts, concerns, tears and prayers must be directed towards the families who are grieving this tragic loss. I heard a short clip of a Roman Catholic priest’s sermon at a vigil held in Newton, Connecticut Friday. In it, he said his congregation is missing the little boy who would have been the angel in their Christmas pageant next weekend, an empty space in the pew where a little girl would have sat in her beautiful white dress to receive her first communion in May. There are no words we can say to take away the pain these families feel or this community is experiencing. We can only listen to their anguish and let our own tears mix with their tears. We can pray from this distance that Emmanuel, God with us, will be present in the church they worship, the friends they rely upon, the family they have left huddling in their grief. These prayers are important, because our prayers of love are the voice of God whispering in the silent wind around us.
Just as important as prayer, we can promise to remember the result of evil, of not accepting or bearing God’s love. We can remember the lives that were robbed of living, the families whose world changed radically at 9:30 Friday morning, the children and teachers that survived but will be haunted by nightmares forever, the community whose identity will be forever known by this tragedy. We remember in order to remind ourselves of the power of evil and that evil will not have the last word. We believe that Emmanuel, God with us, is with us now. We believe that the Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near in Jesus and that death, tragedy, and violence do not have power over us.
Remembering this pain we trust in our faith and resolve to be part of God’s plan for redemption. We participate in redemption by bearing God’s word of love and compassion to the troubled souls that populate and yes, irritate our families, classrooms and neighborhoods. Maybe, our presentation of God’s love can deter the next Adam Lanza. Remembering this pain and trusting in our faith, we demand our political leaders have a responsible debate over how best to maintain our liberties and protect the most vulnerable. Surely, there are ways to keep us safe without making America a prison. Remembering this pain and trusting in our faith, we make sure our church is a community where God’s love can be found. Anyone troubled by voices calling them to hate and hurt will hear words in our worship, teaching and preaching of invitation, comfort and acceptance. Those whose grief is inestimable will find arms to hold them, and prayers to lift them up in our sanctuary.
Why? God’s creation is not as God hoped. Evil exists and it touches the lives of every one of God’s creatures. What now? We declare with our words and actions what we know. Emmanuel, God with us, is here now to give us hope in hopeless situations, calling us to love in a world where love seems trumped by hate. Goodness is stronger than evil. Love is stronger than hate. Victory is ours. Amen