Sermon after Newtown: What I’ll Be Saying on Sunday

For what it’s worth, these are the thoughts that I will be offering to my congregation on this Third Sunday in Advent, in light of the tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut two days ago.

John Fairless (aka, Bubba #2)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I will admit that dealing with a biblical text that concerns rejoicing in the Lord seems especially difficult during a time in which our nation has experienced such sorrow and heartbreak.
We are all citizens of Newtown, Connecticut this week – and, as our President stated so poignantly on Friday – “Our hearts are broken…” at the tragedy that took the lives of so many young and innocent human beings.
Though it has only been two days since tragedy struck yet again in the form of a lone gunman in a public place, the questions have been ceaseless; the speculation is rampant.
Who was Adam Lanza? What was wrong with him? How could he do such a thing? What made it possible for him to bring such terror and evil into a place dedicated to life, to learning, to the safety of our children?
As prominent as any question I have heard has been the theological one: how could God let something like this happen? Has God left us? Has God somehow been “removed” from our schools and our public life to such a point that God is somehow now “powerless” among us?
I share the sense of anger and frustration that so many feel. We want to do something to make this hurt go away – perhaps if we had someone to blame, or some way to “take it out” on a mental illness or societal flaw.
When I manage to begin working past the raw emotion of the moment, I feel drawn by suggestions to find some way to do something that is positive. My friend and colleague Rev. A. Joseph Smith wrote this week – “…don’t allow ideologues & pundits to steal energy from you in tragedy’s wake. Spend energy on volunteering at a local school.”
I feel, in the passion of the moment, that I might like to take him up on his offer – that if I knew my presence would make a difference, I would be willing to show up at my local school every single day – perhaps offering a hug or a word of encouragement to every child and teacher.
I want to feel like I could say to them, “You will be alright now – I am here – we are here – we will keep the bad things away from you. Your life will be just fine.”
But I would be making a promise that I know I cannot keep.
Life is hard; bad things do happen in our world. They do not mean that God has left us or abandoned us. They do not mean that we are without hope.
Rather, times like these cause us to dig deeper, to think more carefully, to look harder at what it is that we believe, and in what – or in whom – we place our trust.
Why is it that generation after generation of faithful believers have claimed that they could trust the God that is revealed to us in Jesus Christ – the God for whom we wait and long – whose coming we beseech in our cries of anguish and through the the bitter tears of our grief?
Ours is not the first generation ever to know hard times; we are not the first parents ever to have lost children. We are not the first victims of senseless violence, nor are we the only generation ever to have questioned the presence of God with us.
There is something about the promise of God that endures; this faith that we share is more than some communal fairy tale, a diversion that keeps us numb to the pain that surrounds us and threatens to overwhelm us.
There is, in the words of the apostle to the church at Philippi, a “peace that passes understanding” that we find in Christ. It is no mere prop for our souls, not just a guard of denial or ignorance that keeps our darkest fears at bay.
No, there is something quite genuine that happens to us, even in the midst of unspeakable horror. We find ourselves praying – we find ourselves looking outside of ourselves for both help and hope.
And, when we endure through the long night of the soul – when we take the hand of another who is beside us, when we share the bread of suffering and drink the tears of sorrow together – we find that the sun of God’s presence does shine on us again.
God has given us a world of freedom – which we do not always use wisely. God has also given us gifts of accountability and responsibility. These we may choose to exercise for the purposes of good or evil.
Adam Lanza in Newtown; Sung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech; Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at Columbine – human beings who chose to use their freedom, accountability, and responsibility for great evil. They will have to be judged by history and, one day, by God.
But what about you and me? What choices do we face this day? How will I – how will you – use the gifts that God has given?
Let your gentleness be known to everyone,” the apostle says, “for the Lord is near.”
Gentleness is not simply meekness, or weakness, as some might seek to portray it. No, gentleness is actually a quiet strength that simply will not be deterred from doing what is right.
You see, God was not absent from Newtown, Connecticut this week.
God showed upin the faces, hearts, and healing hands of every teacher, rescue worker, fellow student, family member and friend who chose to act with bravery, with compassion, with love and honor and responsibility.
Whenever evil shows up – good must show up, too. And what is evil will never overcome or out-do what is good and right.
God has placed that within us – and God calls us to the patient exercise of that kind of faith, those kinds of gifts – even and especially when evil has appeared and done its best to shake the foundation of our lives – and our peace.
It is in the practice of that very presence of God among us – in prayer, in faith that helps and hopes, in solidarity that stands together with every shattered life and hurting heart – it is there that we begin to find our peace again.
It is a peace that we are hard-pressed to explain with mere words. Even if I could understand it, I don’t know how I could begin to say it.
All I know is that we are called to live it – to believe it, to trust it and try it, and to share it with the world around us until everybody knows it and believes it for themselves.
May the God of unsurpassable peace descend and live among us and through us, this day and on all days.

7 thoughts on “Sermon after Newtown: What I’ll Be Saying on Sunday

  1. Well said, John. Good words of comfort and hope are aways in order. I'm praying as I know you are that God will use this to Awaken this Nation that we can't live a joyous life without His Goodness!

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