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God in the Face of Unspeakable Tragedy
October 14, 2018, 12:00 AM

Good Morning, Grace and Peace to you from God and may the words on my lips and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in the sight of God.

Panama City & Mexico City is destruction close to home. I have friends who live there. There is a Lutheran Church there that was flooded and is missing large sections of the roof. Entire neighborhoods are flattened. I must admit my heart lifted a little when I found out my friend had a home still and that the power had come back on for her. Yet, there are still all those other people in the area who suffered the loss of their homes, which grieves me. And then there are the memories of homes flooded during hurricane Sandy for me. I must admit the first thing I thought when they talked about the flooding at the church was, “Give me a circular saw and a hammer so I can get rid of the wet sheet rock before it becomes moldy.” Sadly, these are things I know because I have seen this before and I already had learned about from time in North Carolina even before Sandy. For some here it will bring back memories of hurricane Andrew no doubt. But then there was Katrina and it seems like the list goes on and on and on.

We could get a little closer to home and talk about the loss of Pete and how hard it is to watch one from the community pass away and especially at such a young age. And then our hearts grieve for Helen and the rest of the family. No one should have to bury their child, it is something that we as human beings were not designed to do, and yet we know that many have done it. One of the great blessings of modernity for those of us who get to enjoy it is that infant mortality has been greatly reduced and that alone has raised the age of mortality by a lot. And yet there are areas of the world where that has not yet become a reality. And so this brings me to think also of all the parents who dealt with still birth and infant deaths but that brings me to remember the teenagers that I have buried, too many to name here. And that brings me to the friends my own age who I have lost, again too many to name here. And that brings me to the mothers and fathers I have had the privilege to walk with, people like Helen, who are burying their child, that act that we should never have to participate in.

Then there is the national and international news. How about that Journalist who went to the Embassy to get paperwork so that he could marry his fiance and it would appear, “never came out again.” There is the head of the Interpol, who went from his home in France back to his home country of China, and found himself arrested and brought up on charges, which sadly we tend to think might relate to his not being useful to “the Party.” And the list of those public figures suffering persecution, which we know now because of the internet and instant communication, that list goes on and on and on.

Governments seem to think they are never going to be accountable for their actions and enough of them seem to get away with it that maybe they are largely right. And how sad that makes me and how deeply that grieves me, which also leads me to the question of those in this country who think that their privilege will make them immune, sometimes because they think they are too valuable to the country to actually suffer the consequences of their actions. And that reminds me of the discussion in El Salvador that the difference between us and them was that we lived under the rule of law and that people actually thought in the United States that if they did something they would be held accountable, but in El Salvador if you had enough money the law was always on your side. And so my heart is deeply grieved as I look around our country at what is happening and what is not happening, but particularly at the simple meanness toward those who are not part of “my group”, because I have been able to dehumanize them and deal with them as a group not as individual people and thus generalize and thus not engage or challenge my own view point or compromise with anyone, which might make me appear weak.

And then we have the audacity to wonder, why we are anxious for our future and afraid of the present. And that anxious and afraid moves us into our amygdala, that little part of the brain that has two responses, fight or flight and so we treat our neighbor as an existential threat because they might be part of the group of bad people trying to ruin us. Instead of Debbie who helped me rotate the tires on my car or Tom who lent me a cup of sugar, whether or not we agreed politically. And I think of this and grieve for the loss of a time when things seemed kinder and gentler.

P.S. The internet has helped make possible the dehumanization of the person who lives in the house next door because I no longer go out in the yard and talk over the fence to hear the latest gossip and so while gossip is bad, it is better than not knowing who lives in the house next door and being suspicious of those who live immediately around us. And I grieve for the combativeness and I grieve for the loss of community and I grieve for the loss of civility and thus I get overwhelmed and so I freeze. When I freeze I stop doing anything productive, and instead spend my time worrying when the tiger is going to eat me.

My friends, there is an answer to all of this and it is very simple. The answer is God. In our text today we heard about all that God had done for the Hebrew people and the text concluded with “and therefore as for me and my house we will serve God.” My friend who is in Panama City who I know serves God, I commended to God's care. The Church destroyed, I pray that God will use this as an opportunity to rebuild the body that resides inside it stronger than ever. Helen and the other parents who have lost their children, if they have a strong relationship with God, they are not happy about what happened, they are deeply grieved and they keep moving forward and doing mostly OK. I, having buried far too many teenagers and young adults, I can keep going because I know, love and trust God. The friends I have lost, especially the ones to poverty, suicide and addiction, leave me deeply saddened but not paralyzed, because of my relationship with God.

The world news that is deeply troubling and which I can do very little about, I can leave in the hands of God, because I trust the long arc of history to God and I trust that God will show me how to do my little bit to help. The problems in our country could leave me paralyzed or they can be the impetus to do something good, like get to know my neighbor, and because I have the directive from Jesus to love and serve my neighbor, I start by getting to know my neighbor and learning what they love and why they think things need to be done in a particular way, which by the way may then lead to finding the common ground. And I do this because of my relationship with Jesus. I do this not by my own strength, but by the strength of the Holy Spirit, which leads me, guides me and supports me.

I don't want you to think for a minute that I think everything is OK. I don't want you to think for a minute that I plan to do nothing. I don't want you to think for a minute that I plan to bury my head in the sand. No, I have found a way to have a good cry because of all the pain and suffering and then to dry my tears and ask the question, “Is there is anything I can productively do to make the world a little better today?” That, my friends, is possible because of my relationship with Jesus and because I know the body of Christ, (the Church) walks with me. Yes, because I am here and I know you and you also have a relationship with Jesus and thus are part of the body, because of that I keep going. And so, not that we are not sad, and not that we are not deeply grieved, and not that we don't need a good cry many days but we get to have all of that and have the strength to do what little part we can, because of God's love and care for us and because of our relationship with God. And therefore we are changing the hymn of the day and invite you to rise and sing together “Give Me Jesus.” #770