Der Vasken's Sermon on February 2, 2020

Feb 3, 2020

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

This week was a week of sadness and sorrow in our country.  It was a week where many of us counted our blessings and felt the sorrow in each other's heart, and we even spoke with each other a little more often to gain strength.  And if you were like me, you probably hugged your child or children a little more often than usual as well--not quite sure if the hug was more for you or for them.

I, like so many of you, watched the coverage following the tragic helicopter crash in California last Sunday, taking the lives of nine people heading to a basketball tournament.  At first, we all learned that a state-of-the-art helicopter went down in foggy weather in the hills north of Los Angeles, and then like wild fire, word spread that a very famous, very popular basketball player was on that helicopter and that he, too, perished, and for a while, that is most of what we heard, but then more information began to emerge.  Along with that famous athlete, others died, and that among the others was one of his children.  And then, with each passing hour, more information revealed itself that actually nine lives in total perished in that tragic crash.

Tragedy struck and we learned that, along with this famous athlete, whose name is known all over the world, was his thirteen-year-old daughter.  And with them was another thirteen-year-old, a friend of hers, as well as three mothers, a father, another child and the pilot--nine people in total.  Many of us sat riveted to our iPhones and TV's grasping on to new information as it was being made available.  I heard this from a number of people.

From one end of our country to the other, and from what I hear, across the world people were shaken and shocked last Sunday afternoon.  We became one in our sorrow.  We shared in the shock that Kobe Bryant and eight others were dead.  We shared in the grief of those families left behind trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.  These families now are very different than from a week ago--families, who we don't know personally, but who come from homes very much like ours.  The photos, plastered all over the media last week of those nine innocent victims, look very much like the people, who live next door to us.  We shared in their grief and sorrow.

While all this was going on, I thought about the Bible story for today. It is a very familiar story--one we have heard many times before.  It is the story of the Apostles being caught in very strong winds at sea.  They were all alone, or at least they thought they were.  Their attention was focused on the wind and the waves and trying to survive so much so that they didn't see Jesus walking toward them from across the water, but when they eventually saw Him, they couldn't believe their eyes.  What happened next is the main reason I am sharing this story with you today.

The story is very clear.  Jesus didn't leave His disciples there in the boat alone in the middle of a storm.  That is not what he did.  What He did do was walk toward them and then He got into the boat with them.  That is the difference.  That is one of the reasons this story is written about in the Bible.  I share this with you because, in the midst of all the news stories that came out this past week about this tragic accident, I read one story about the faith of Kobe Bryant.  His faith was firmly founded in the Christian tradition.  He rose to the highest level of his sport.  Fame, fortune and honor were his, but as happens all too often within the world of professional sports, at one time in his life, he fell to the dark temptations that surrounded his fame.  But how he found his way out of that dark hole, to me, shines brighter than all his championship rings and gold medals.  

He turned to his faith.  He turned his life to the faith of Jesus Christ and faith is the brightest light of all. On the morning of the helicopter accident, Kobe and his family went to their local church to receive Holy Communion as they did most every week.  I found great comfort in knowing this because when I heard that his little daughter was sitting with him in the helicopter that morning, I envisioned him embracing her and comforting her in those last moments.  He was not a sports champion at that moment.  He was his daughter's champion and he did what I can only hope all parents would do in a similar situation, think not of himself, but of his child.  They were not alone.  They invited their Lord Jesus Christ into their hearts when they received Holy Communion and as this father embraced his daughter, their God embraced them.  They were never alone.  We are never alone.

Once more--on the morning of this tragedy, Kobe and his family went to their church to receive Holy Communion.  Before he traveled with his daughter, he took her to church to receive the Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  And by doing so, he showed his little girl the powerful meaning of today's Bible reading.   No matter what storm they face in life, as long as Jesus Christ is in their "boat," they can overcome anything.  Fear and death and tragedy belong to this world, but eternal life and joy and the promises of Christ belong to the world of Heaven.  That is my silver lining in this very sad event.

At the end of this month, we will enter the Season of Great Lent.  It is the season to prepare ourselves to celebrate the victory of Jesus over death.  The terrible event of this past Sunday challenges us to face our faith in Him and ask ourselves:

  • Is eternal life in Heaven something I believe with my whole heart or does this thought cause me doubt?
  • And knowing that God stands with me every day and at all times, does that reassure me or am I too distracted by my worries and fears to even notice Him?
Tragedies like what happened to that small helicopter in California may happen again, but it takes faith to see God walking towards us in times like these.  May God comfort those whose lives ended all too soon last week and those grieving family members now left to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.