Der Vasken’s Sermon on April 28, 2024

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

In preparing for the program this afternoon in our Cultural Hall, I came across the words of a mother who lost a child on that tragic day. In her story, she tells the story of her 6-year-old son’s last Mother’s Day card to her. Here is what she said: “On my last Mother’s Day with my son Dylan, he proudly presented me with a handmade card with a drawing of us and these words: “My Mom is special because she sends me to school.” “Seven months later, I sent him to school and he never came home.”

We all remember the terrible school shooting that occurred at a Sandy Hook Elementary School in New Town, Connecticut about twelve years ago. Since that dark day, we have been confronted with tragedy and sorrow many more times around our country. Unfortunately, I remember that terrible day well. I felt stunned by the utter evilness of killing innocent children who simply went to school that morning like every other child in America.

It was a time of fear, sadness and uncertainty. It was a time where parents held their children closer and children felt the need to stay near their moms and dads. Our country felt like a single family after that tragedy and that single family shared their grief and sorrow over the young victims just starting out in life who come from families very much like ours. When it was confirmed that the victims were most 6 and 7 year old children, our hearts broke and our prayers increased. May God continue to embrace them all and continue to bring comfort to their families and help us see a day when this type of darkness no longer blankets our world.

Today is the Feast of the Holy Cross and the Bible reading I chose for today offers us a very important commandment of Jesus. He says three words in this familiar passage that are comforting and commanding. I’ve repeated these words in the past and will continue to do so from time to time going forward because I think we all need to hear them so we can face the world we live in.

“Be Not Afraid” are my favorite words in all of the Bible. Jesus spoke these words in today’s reading. “Be Not Afraid.” These three words are the answer to the darkness of this world. One thing is certain in this world. There will be days when the Light of Heaven pours into our lives and there will be days when darkness makes it hard to see. These three words acknowledge that God is aware that there is darkness in this life and tragic events and school shootings show us that darkness is real and without mercy.

Just looking at the last number of years, we see the darkness of disease and death, the darkness of war with all its senseless killings, the darkness of injustice or hatred or greed or pain or suffering and so much more. There is much darkness in this world of ours but the main point of those three words and the main point of the Christian faith is that the darkness does not last. Instead, we proclaim that life and light and love have the final word. That these are the things that last, but we have to be honest. The darkness of this life is real. The Feast of the Holy Cross proclaims that the darkness does not win. The Holy Cross is about hope. Hope in the promises of God.

Today is the Feast of the Holy Cross. It is a day to celebrate the triumph of Jesus Christ over evil. After church today, a mother is coming to speak to us about facing the worst kind of evil in this world—the shooting of children in their classroom and how faith helped her deal with the loss of a child. Terrible events like that challenge us to face our faith and ask ourselves: Are Jesus’ Words to “Be Not Afraid” real to me? If so, do I keep them alive in my heart every day to help me help the world heal?

Tragedies will happen again, but that is why Jesus left us those three powerful words to “Be Not Afraid” because the Kingdom of God is greater than this world so “Be Not Afraid” because darkness will overshadow this world from time to time but “Be Not Afraid” to shine God’s Light into it because God’s Light is the Light of Hope. God’s Light is the Light of compassion and love and service to others and that is how good overcomes evil.

Today, during Fellowship Hour the mother of a child who perished in Sandy Hook Elementary School will share with us how she did that and how it has made all the difference in her life. May God comfort those whose lives ended all too soon and those whose lives are forever affected because of a tragic event. May God’s Light shine ever brighter in this world.

Amen.

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