Posts Tagged ‘Tragedy’

Wrong Place Wrong Time 3-24-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 13:1-9, I explore Jesus brief but important teaching on the question of tragic deaths being the result of judgment on sin.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/wrong-place-wrong-time-3-24-19

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

May the grace and peace of our Triune God be yours, today and forever. Amen

Out of curiosity…how many of you have had the unfortunate experience of hitting a deer with your car? (pause) Anyone out there had it happen more than once? (pause) In my immediate family, my older brother holds the record…you won’t believe this but its true…he’s made contact with not one…not two…not five…but…12…12 different deer.  Honestly makes my number of 4 seem almost quaint. But that’s my number. In the roughly 25 years that I’ve been driving, 4 times I’ve smacked a deer.

But in addition to the 4 deer that I have hit…I know there have been quite a few close calls…times when one ran across the road in front of me…or it was in the ditch and it stayed put…and in addition to that…I sometimes wonder how many close calls I had that I wasn’t even aware of…like the ones I don’t see, but unwittingly drive right past…or the ones that crossed the road a minute before I got there…and if I’d left a minute earlier, I’d have hit it. It’s probably a weird thing to consider, but sometimes I think like that…the what-ifs. The disasters that were averted or avoided out of dumb luck.

Lord knows I’ve had my share of close calls…you might have heard the story of the wreck I experienced with three of my friends the summer after I graduated high school…how we rolled a car down the middle of the highway, but beyond a few pretty superficial cuts and scrapes, we were all ok…but if something had gone even slightly different any of us or all four of us could have died…but we didn’t.

When I think about moments like that…I can’t help but think of the flip side…those times when it didn’t go okay…and I know many of you have seen this type of thing before. We can call it a lot of things…bad luck…being in the wrong place at the wrong time…tragedies of one kind or another…and when they happen we begin to ask the question of why? Or how…what does it mean…or what are we supposed to think?

I’ve had that conversation with many of you over the past few years when tragic events have happened…like the death of a high school student in a car wreck last fall.  Or countless others in surrounding communities in the last few years.

I’ve heard the questions around the diagnosis of cancer…and in the death of those we lost to it…I’ve heard it in conversation about the mental decline of loved ones…when we see their personality disappear and the person we knew isn’t there anymore.

We ask it when we hear news of children fighting diseases…knowing they might not beat it.  Or when natural disasters rip through an area leaving devastation…you name it…these tragic events and moments happen all the time and they take many forms.

And that’s nothing new…because the same sort of thing happened during Jesus’ time as well…and we hear about it in today’s gospel lesson.  Two different events that resulted in tragic death. Now we don’t really know the details of either one of these events that Jesus references…those details have been lost to history…but we can make some assumptions.

The tower of Siloam…likely some sort of a watch tower or observation point along the wall that surrounded the city of Jersualem…we don’t know quite what happened beyond the tower collapsing…probably some sort of freak accident…but due to a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, 18 people died…either crushed under the collapse or perhaps inside the tower when it fell. A tragic accident.

The other one…well that one seems a little more devious.  Jesus is told about a batch of Galileans whose blood was mixed with their sacrifice.  Again…we don’t know the details, but we can make assumptions.  There was only one place where they’d be making sacrifices…and that’s in the temple there in Jerusalem…we don’t know why Pilate targets them…perhaps thinking they were involved with a treasonous plot…but for whatever reason…Pilate decides to put his cruelty and absolute authority on display by having them killed…in the midst of their act of worship.

And that’s the thing that makes this one sting even more than the other…this was act of terrorism…designed to instill fear in a group of people…in a culture…done so in a place and time of worship…the one place where no one should feel unsafe.

And that one hits close to home…because how many times have we seen it in recent memory?  More than I can count…acts of terrorism, perpetrated on people because they are different…because they look different or act different…because of a different race or different faith. We saw it cross racial boundaries when 9 people were killed during a Bible Study 4 years ago in Charleston.

We saw it cross faith boundaries when 11 were killed in a synagogue in Pittsburgh last fall…and we saw it when 50 people died in New Zealand, as they gathered to pray in 2 different mosques less than 10 days ago. (pause) I wish I could say these are the only examples…but we all know better…because evil has permeated our world with lies that say different is bad…or lies that say being a non-white non-Christian equals a death sentence…Now in hindsight, these lies are utterly absurd aren’t they? In fact they are stupid…and they are dangerous…and they result in tragedies like this.

But in the moment when these tragedies happen, there seems to be a question that surrounds these things…the question that begins “why?”  But then it seems that human nature tries to find a reason when there is none…and that question will usually find its way around to asking “Did they deserve it?” I believe its true now…and it was true in Jesus’ day…and we find that in his response.

Do you think that these Galileans suffered because they were worse sinners than all others?  Do you think that the 18 killed in the tower collapse were worse sinners than anyone else living there? Jesus offers a resounding No to both of these questions and I believe that he would offer the exact same response if he was here in the conversations that we’ve been having.

Did they deserve it?  Why would they? Because they look different?  Because they worship differently?  Because their understanding of that which is divine is expressed differently?  Or because they’re bad people?   Do we hear how ridiculous that sounds? (pause)

Whenever stuff like this happens…whenever there are questions that have no good answers…or we find ourselves just a little bit off because of the way things are going…what do we do with that?  I wish I had a good answer…some little nugget of wisdom that I could pull out like a magic pill that would just solve everything, or tie it all up in a neat little package.

But the world doesn’t work like that…and sometimes that only thing we can say in face of tragedies that lead to questions with no answers is to acknowledge that the world is a broken place and it is filled with broken people.  Did those people die because they were sinners? Jesus says no…and in doing so Jesus reminds us that if death was the result of a person’s sinfulness then we would all be dead already.

But that’s not what Jesus says…he tells us to repent…and maybe, just maybe what he’s saying is that those people are dead and that is a tragedy….but you are still alive to hear this news…so repent. (pause)

None are righteous, not one…but God loves us anyway…and God gives the opportunity to turn away from the brokenness that has permeated our world and our relationships and even ourselves…and to turn back to the good existence that God desires for all of humanity. That’s what repentance means…to quite literally turn away from…and to turn back to something else.

Now this is not to say that we will be perfect and will in some way earn salvation or righteousness or God’s favor…this is to say that we recognize the brokenness as it is…and we turn to the one who is able to do something about it. Because as much as we shake our heads and ask what’s wrong with this world…we have a God who seems to do the very same thing…but this God is also capable of more…and through whatever it was that God was accomplishing through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus…God is bringing this broken and flawed reality towards something new.

We are not there yet…and that is painfully obvious more often than not…but in the act of repentance, which we are called to every day…we are also accepting the invitation of our Lord to join together in the work of reconciling this broken world back to the one who made it Good in the first place.

And that one is the only one who is righteous enough to say whether or not “they deserved it.” That’s not our place to say…whether we like it or not…but we are honest with ourselves, we place ourselves in that judgement seat don’t we?  Maybe, just maybe, that’s why we’re being called to repentance on this day, and in this time. (pause)

This is pretty heavy stuff…but maybe its exactly what we all need to hear now during this season of Lent…as we continue to look towards the cross…the cost of what Jesus will endure to begin this work of reconciling this broken world back to God. We’re all a part of it…but God has offered the solution to the world…let’s all turn ourselves back to that…remembering that in the face of death, whether it is our own…or someone that we care about…or some faceless stranger on the other side of the world…that death has not come to spite us because of our sin…sometimes we’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time…but the promise of the gospel…the promise that we cling to, is that God is bigger than death…and that no matter the circumstances, God will always get the last word. Amen.

This Is Not Normal 10-21-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 10:32-45, I explore Jesus’ final Passion Prediction and the strange way that the disciples continue to react to it. It shouldn’t be normal…and in light of a tragedy in our community, it seems quite fitting.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/this-is-not-normal-10-21-18

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

The grace and peace of the Triune God is yours, now and forever. Amen

Yesterday I spent I pretty big portion of the day in the car, as my family road tripped up to the central part of the state for the funeral of my wife’s aunt. As we were driving in the morning, both my wife and I commented that it was strange that there weren’t very many farmers out in the field yet…with the mild dry and breezy weather that we’ve had the past few days finally making harvest work a possibility.

But that was the case…very little activity in the fields as we traveled in the morning.  But then on the way home, it was the polar opposite. Combines in almost every field…the tell-tale presence of a large dust cloud as the crops are pulled out…and as we drove along, it crossed my mind “now that’s more like it….this is what I expect to see this time of year…this is normal.” Year after year of history all adds up for us to build these images of normal, as we witness or even experience those things that just end up being common.

Now that being said…I can’t help but think that today’s scripture reveals something else that is starting to become normal. Now, as I mentioned, I included an extra couple of verses in the reading today…because the setting is important.  For the third and final time, Jesus has shared the prediction of his pending passion…his betrayal and arrest…his persecution and torture…his death on the cross…and perhaps most importantly…the good news of the resurrection that he will also experience.

We’ve heard the other two predictions in recent weeks…as all three occur in a fairly brief portion of Mark’s gospel…now here’s the thing.  Jesus doesn’t deviate much in terms of the details that he shares each time…but the thing that’s starting to become familiar…that’s becoming…normal…is the reaction on the part of the disciples.

The first time Peter makes a proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah…and Jesus responds “You betcha…now here’s what that means.” And Peter oversteps his bounds…rebuking Jesus, likely due to an misplaced expectation of just what the earthly Messiah means.

The second time around…Jesus predicts it again…and this time the disciples sorta clam up in front of him, but as they continue walking along they start bickering about who’s the greatest among them…and Jesus has to stop and redirect them again.

And now today…he makes the same prediction for the third and final time…and this time, its James and John who come up to him with this off-the wall request…now…I can’t help but think that they know this probably isn’t the smartest thing to be asking for…so maybe, just maybe they have been paying attention to what happened the first two times…but they come up to Jesus and say “Teacher…we want you to give us whatever we ask of you.” And Jesus…who probably already has a pretty good idea of what’s coming, poses quite the question back at them…What do you want me to do for you?

And with that…we hear this request to hold the places of honor, at the right hand and the left hand of Jesus when he comes into his glory. (pause)
Seriously…its bad enough that the disciples never seem to fully grasp what’s going on…and not only in these three instances…but honestly throughout the course of the gospels it constantly seems like they lack any shred of comprehension…like their boneheaded responses are just the normal thing that we come to expect from them.

But you know what…it shouldn’t be.  These 12 guys…these men who follow Jesus around to witness the ministry first-hand…never seem to get it…and what’s worse…in two out of the three passion predictions…it’s the big 3…Jesus’ inner circle of Peter, James, and John…who misread things…and honestly…the gospel of Jesus Christ…the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near to us through the incarnate word of God made flesh in Jesus…that’s WAY to big to get brushed off with these boneheaded responses of the disciples…maybe we think its normal…but it shouldn’t be normal. (pause)

Now with this…I need to switch gears…Friday morning, I walked into the office with an expectation in mind…but I was a little off…because as I had taken my kids to school, I had seen and heard several patrol cars as well as the firetruck and ambulance go flying up the hill out of town…and for some reason, the thought went through my head…this is a big one.

Admittedly…I was already a little edgy going into the day…many of you sitting out there probably know the significance of October 19th here in our community…but I sat down at my desk and started working…only to get a message a few minutes later with some of the worst news we can get.

There’s been a car accident…and a student from the high school has been killed…now at this point it was only a rumor…but one that prompted me to reach out to the principal up the hill…and to quickly receive confirmation that yes…that’s what happened…and with that I jumped in the car to go be present and help out at the school in any way that I could.

When I arrived, the students were all in their classrooms…and they were being told what had happened…and as I sat there in the commons, talking with a few of the administration, I knew what I was going to see next.  I was going to see students come back out into the hallways crying…I was going to see them utterly devastated…clinging to one another in the shock…some would continue to walk around the school with that shocked look on their face…some would call their parents and go home…and over the course of the next couple of hours, the school day would continue on as many of them defaulted back into the familiar…upset and shaken…and yet trying their best to go on with things.

And that’s exactly what happened…now here’s the painful thing about this…I knew what to expect…because this isn’t the first time I’ve been at that school when something like this has happened. 3 times in the past 4 years our high school has experienced the tragedy of the death of a classmate…a life lost far too soon…and this should not be normal.

(pause) Now please don’t think that I’m trivializing this in anyway…its heart breaking…utterly devastating…and I know enough of those kids up the hill to feel the anguish of having been through this, not just once, and not twice, but now three times.  And to know that as devastating as it might be for the school and the community…that there is a family who has now experienced the nightmare that you don’t wish on anyone.

And if you have heard the news report about the accident…you know how bad this is without me needing to say it…and I’ve had conversations with several different people in the meantime…conversations that pretty much end up saying “this doesn’t make sense?” or “I want to know why?” And usually once they say that, they follow it up with “and I know I can’t know, and that’s not right.”

There’s a lot of truth in that…when a tragedy like this happens…something that we can’t make heads or tails of…it usually leaves us with a bitter taste in our mouths…and we’re either really sad or we’re really angry…and often we look for someone or something to aim that emotion at.

And as we consider that…maybe, just maybe…Jesus response to James and John is fitting today…what do you want me to do for you? The quick answer…is that we want God to take it away…to snap his fingers and make it just a bad dream that didn’t actually happen…but our broken reality has also shown us that this is not what’s going to happen…because Jesus did not come into our reality in order to serve as something of a magic lamp…to grant wishes to us…I can only think that Jesus had something much bigger and more profound in mind, not only as he predicted his passion…but as he actually experienced it.

Because in the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus…God was doing something about this broken reality that we live in…a reality that includes pain and suffering and death…whatever it was that Jesus was accomplishing…the promise of the gospel assures us that whenever death rears its ugly head…it doesn’t get the last word…God does…because God mourns this reality just like we do…and God knows that while it might feel normal…it shouldn’t.

This is the gospel…that while we were sinners, Christ died for us…and this is true whether we feel good about it or not.  I don’t know about you…but in light of this tragic death…just like the others like it that our community has experienced…sometimes these promises of the gospel feel kinda bitter…but the truth is that the promises don’t change based on how we feel. (pause)
Once more, our community has experienced a tragedy…and now together, we will all try our best to find the new normal going forward…and as we do, whether this feels trite right now in the moment, or if it is a comfort…we have a God who is walking this road with us…a God who has promised to never forsake us even in the times when we find ourselves hollering and screaming at him…God will take it…so if that’s what you need to do…if that’s what you need to feel…feel it, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

This is not normal…nor should it be…but regardless of how we find ourselves feeling right here, right now…know that God doesn’t think its normal either…and even if it doesn’t feel like it, God HAS already done something about it. Amen.