Der Vasken's Sermon on October 8, 2017

Oct 10, 2017

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

"This was a tragedy of the worst kind--man did it to man."

These words were said at a news conference last Monday morning because again we were confronted with tragedy and sorrow in our country.  It was a week that began in chaos and that chaos turned into fear and sadness and grief.  It was a week where parents drew their children closer and children felt the need to stay within eyesight of their moms and dads.  We all heard the details of the awful Las Vegas mass shooting.  Tens of thousands of people of all ages gathered into a crowded casino parking lot for a late night country music concert.

Everything was going well.  Excitement was in the air.  The music was great.  The crowds were full of joy.  And then the gates of Hell broke open and evil raised its head.  When all was said and done, fifty-nine people laid dead and more than five hundred people were badly injured in a period of ten minutes.  Concert goers ran in every direction possible to escape the non-stop flood of gunfire.  Parents shielding children with their bodies, spouses running hand-in-hand with spouses, sirens blaring, red and blue lights flashing and spinning in the air--we all saw it.

In Las Vegas it was pure pandemonium.  In our homes it was pure silence.  We sat stunned.  We sat riveted and when we were finally able to speak, we realized that there are no more words left to say.  We've said it all before.  Which was the last tragedy?  Sandy Hook Elementary School? San Bernardino? Paris?  And what ever became of the island of Puerto Rico and the smaller islands of the Caribbean?  Hasn't there been enough sadness and tragedy?  And now families are left to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives, trying to piece together what had happened last Sunday night.  Our country became a "single city" and our "single city" shared pain and sorrow.  On Facebook that evening, posts claimed that "seconds after the shooting began, people were helping people, strangers were assisting wherever assistance was needed and many were saved because of these selfless acts."

While all this was going on, I thought about the Bible story I chose for today.  It's a very familiar story--one we've heard many times before.  It's the story about the Apostles being caught in a storm at sea.  They were all alone, or at least they thought they were all alone. Their attention was absorbed by the storm and trying to survive, so much so that they didn't see Jesus walking toward them from across the water, and when they eventually saw Him, they didn't recognize Him.

Evil is just like that.  Whether we watch the news reports of massive hurricanes; whether we hear of road-side bombings in the Middle East; earthquakes across the world; meaningless and horrific school shootings or concert shootings; or we hear of bombings at the end of a celebrated marathon, the evidence of evil at work is real and it carries an addictive quality.  It lures us in.  It not only manipulates the perpetrators and the victims alike, but it affects the onlooker as well in very profound ways.

What do I mean?  Simply this. Each time evil raises its head in this country, it is quickly replaced by the countless miracles that follow it.  These are the countless miracles that come from the heart of good and caring people--the onlookers.  That's the kind of selfless service that blossoms in the wake of terror.  So as the onlookers, how should we deal with evil?  What's our role as the ones who watch these terrible events unfold?  I think that our role is the role of being that Christian example--the ones who know God through their prayers and who turn those prayers into Christian compassion for others because we do so knowing that God is walking towards us. 

  • We can become the spark of faith that brings God's hope and strength to the world.
  • We can be the love that will heal the world.
  • And we can be the faith that brings God's hope to others.

We are in the Season of the Holy Cross--the Season when we celebrate the triumph of Jesus Christ over Evil.  The terrible events of this past week challenge us to face our faith and ask ourselves:

  • Is Jesus's Cross real to me?
  • And if so, then how real?
  • And how can we carry that Cross into our everyday lives and into the world around us?

It takes faith not to be devastated by the darkness around us and to see Jesus Christ walking towards us even in the circumstances of last week. It takes faith to leap into action when we see the innocent fall victim to evil.  It takes faith not to take our eyes off of God in times like these.  And it takes faith to put our feelings aside and spread the compassion of God into the world.

Tragedies like what happened last Sunday night might happen again.  Tragedies like the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut may, unfortunately, happen again.  Earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural and man-made disasters may find their way to ruin lives again and again.  But that's why Jesus walked across the sea and calmed the storm.  That's why He was born in Bethlehem and that's why the Tomb was found empty on Easter morning so that we shine His Light on darkness and spread His Love where hatred destroyed.  

May God comfort those whose lives ended all too soon and those whose lives will be forever affected by the past week.

Amen.