Der Vasken’s Sermon on May 29, 2022

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

“Dear children of the world. It’s not supposed to be like this.”

I came across this quote a few time this week. Our nation is devastated for the children and families of Uvalde, Texas, after an 18-year-old gunman entered an elementary school and shattered the lives of so many families. When this horrible act occurred, the Governor of Texas said the gunman “shot and killed, horrifically, incomprehensibly, 19 students and 2 teachers.” The death of innocent children and their teachers is undeniably horrific and incomprehensible, but let’s be honest. We have seen this horror before.

Barely a week ago, ten people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York were killed in a similar act of brutal evil and last Tuesday, America confronted another deadly mass shooting that is horrific and incomprehensible.

Parents cannot send their children to school or a movie theater or a concert or even to church without worrying whether they will come home alive. This is horrific and incomprehensible.
Not too long ago, the names were Sandy Hook Elementary School, Parkland High School, Buffalo, New York, Las Vegas, Virginia Tech, San Bernadino, The Mother Emanuel and the Tree of Life House of Worship.

Apparently, none of these were enough to satisfy evil’s thirst for death. Sadly, Robb Elementary School may not be enough either which is horrific and incomprehensible. This was a tragedy of the worst kind as it happened to 10-year-old children.

A nephew of one of the teachers who perished wrote this: “My Tia did not make it. She sacrificed herself protecting the children in her classroom. I beg of you to keep her family in your prayers. Irma Garcia was her name and she died a hero for trying to shield her young students with her body,” he wrote.

We all heard the details of this awful school shooting. Nineteen children, mostly in the fourth grade, laid dead on the floor of their classroom and more are badly injured in a period of forty minutes. After it was over, we saw images of parents rushing to the school shielding their children under their arms, sirens blaring, red and blue lights flashing in the air. We saw it all. In a quiet little town in southern Texas, it was pure chaos.

In our homes, it was pure silence. We sat. Stunned. We sat and when we were finally able to speak, we stayed silent, realizing there are no more words left to say. We have said it all before, but we wondered. Hasn’t there already been too much sadness and tragedy? And now, young families are left to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives, trying to comprehend what is truly incomprehensible.

Two days after that shooting, the Christian Church celebrated a feast day that is important for all of us to remember, especially after the week we just had. Thursday was the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ. (Hamparstoom in Armenian.) We talked about this a little bit last Sunday but I want to point out three words from within this passage that are comforting and commanding. I have 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. In today’s reading, they were spoken by Jesus Himself, “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 as we saw last Tuesday, the darkness is real and without mercy.

Just looking at the last couple of years, we see the darkness of disease and death, the darkness of war with all its senseless killing, the darkness of injustice or hatred or greed or pain or suffering and so much more. There is so 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.

We have to be honest that the darkness of this life is real, but the Feast of the Ascension proclaims that the darkness does not win. Ascension is all about hope and hope is the promise of God. We are in the Season of the Ascension of Jesus Christ. It’s the Season when we celebrate God’s triumph over evil. The terrible events of this past week challenge us to face our faith and ask ourselves:

• Are Jesus’ Words to “Be Not Afraid” real to me?
• If so, do they live in my heart and mind?
• How will His Words help me help the world heal?

It takes faith to stand up when confronted by the darkness of this world and to hear God say to us: “Don’t fear for I am with you always and forever” even when life is horrific and incomprehensible. Tragedies like what happened last Tuesday morning may happen again, but that is why Jesus left us His final commandment on the day of Ascension so that we shine His hope 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 and may we pray for their spiritual and mental health.

Amen.

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