Der Vasken's Sermon on November 4, 2018

Nov 7, 2018

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

"Troopers and first responders don't do a lot of crying at scenes like this, but today...tears were shed."  Indiana State Police Sgt. Tony Slocum

It was a difficult week for our country these last seven days--a tough week.  These words were the emotional words of a State Police Sargent from Indiana.  This state trooper was referring to a heart-wrenching tragedy that occurred in his jurisdiction early last Tuesday morning. In a very sad event that brought the first responders to tears, he reported that a 9 year-old girl and her twin 6 year-old brothers were killed while crossing the street to board their school bus.

Early in the morning a pick-up truck hit the siblings because someone chose not to stop for a school bus that had its red flashers flashing and tragedy struck.  Today our world is filled with less joy.  Ali-via, Xavier and Mason, little children who were full of life. Ali-via always watched out for her younger brothers.  And apparently, they held hands every day on their way to the bus stop including that horrible day.  It was reported that, as the big sister, Ali-via stepped in front of the truck to save her brothers.  Her uncle is quoted as saying: "It looks like Ali-via saw what was happening and stepped up to protect her brothers like a hero.  They all died but she's still our hero," he said.  

Although it is illegal in all fifty states to pass a school bus when it is stopped with its lights flashing, more than 15 million Americans did so during the last school year.  That's nearly 85,000 times every school day.  And similar tragedies occurred to a 9 year-old boy in Mississippi while he crossed the street to join his friends as his school bus arrived and to a 7 year-old boy, who was found dead at his bus stop by the school bus driver in a small town in Pennsylvania--the apparent victim of an early morning hit-and-run.  All in all, car crashes at school bus stops this past week alone claimed the lives of five children from Indiana to Florida.

And last week, the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, also, saw pointless tragedy--senseless, meaningless, avoidable death.  We all saw the story unfold throughout the week and as the eleven names of the victims were being released, we learned a little bit about them--all people in the later stages of life:

  • Two brothers devoted to each other;
  • An elderly couple;
  • A beloved physician;
  • A woman of ninety-seven years;
  • And the others, all who shared a common gentleness, piety and desire to help others.
As the story unfolded, I kept focused on the name of the temple--the "Tree of Life" Synagogue--how powerful a name.  The "Tree of Life" is the name given to the Cross upon which Jesus Christ was crucified.  And as I said last week, He turned that dead piece of wood into a life-giving tree for all who believe.

Why do I share these events today?  Because at some point, tragedy finds people.  For each of us, the tragedy will be different and yet the same.  It will leave us with tears in our eyes and pain in our hearts.  They are called tragedies because they turn lives upside down.  Hopefully, we will never see a tragedy similar to the ones I just shared or like the one that the widow suffered in today's Bible story, but tragedy finds us.  

  • Someone close to us--someone we love dearly--may die unexpectedly.
  • Or our tragedy might come in the form of a broken relationship.
  • Or a body broken down by disease.
  • Or there are broken hopes and dreams.
  • It might be that our tragedy takes the form of severe financial loss.
Too numerous to list all the possibilities, but tragedies are often a part of life.  And families are often left to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives as they grieve and try to start again.  It was a difficult week in our country.  We are in the Church Season of the Holy Cross.  It's the time when we remember the Cross of Jesus Christ as the symbol of His victory over evil. 

The terrible events of this past week challenge us to face our faith and ask ourselves:

  • What do we do when tragedy strikes?
  • Do we try to find someone to blame?
  • Or do we respond with prayer and faith?
It takes faith to overcome the darkness around us and to see God standing with us even in the events 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 where needed.

Tragedies like what happened last week may happen again.  Tragedies, like the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut or the Parkland High School in Florida, or at the Mandalay Resort in Las Vegas or in the streets of Paris three years ago, or at a theater in Aurora, Colorado six years ago, or right here during the Boston Marathon five years ago, unfortunately, may happen again.  Earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural and man-made disasters may find their way to uproot lives again and again.

But that is why Jesus put life back into the widow's son in today's reading.  That is why He was born in Bethlehem and that is why the Tomb was found empty on Easter morning. So that His Love brings hope into the world, may God comfort those, whose lives ended all too soon and those, whose lives will be forever affected by the past week.

  • What do we do when tragedy strikes?
  • Do we try to find someone to blame?
  • Or do we respond with faith and help bring hope into the world?
It was a difficulty week.  Let's keep the souls of those five children and the victims of that synagogue in our prayers.

Amen.