18th Sunday after Pentecost
Special Sermon on Tragedy
October 8, 2017
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Well, it’s happened again. On the heels of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria that took lives and destroyed property, came the earthquake in Mexico which killed hundreds, and now our nation reels from yet another heinous and cowardly attack which killed 58 and wounded another 500. Are you like me, have you had enough? Are you, like the families of those who were lost, asking that painful question of “Why?” They want answers. They want someone to blame. Is this you? You probably want answers too, right?
One day, when Jesus was teaching the crowds, He was asked about a terrible event that occurred not too long before in the Temple. Some Galileans, people from the same region as Jesus, were murdered by Pontius Pilate as they offered their annual sacrifices. The details aren’t recorded anywhere, but history tells us that Pilate was a man who frequently went to extremes to maintain his control over the people. But to murder people in God’s house, while they were worshiping, that was over the top. The average Jew assumed this happened because the Galileans had done something wrong, not illegal, but immoral. God was obviously punishing them for some sin they had committed. Jesus though shoots this theory down right away. He says, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you.” Then Jesus refers to another tragic event, a construction accident. He says, “Those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you.”
What Jesus said is just as true today. Those killed by the hurricanes or the earthquake or by the bullets that rained down were sinful human beings, we all are, but they’re weren’t punished by God for some unconfessed sins or sinful lifestyles. They didn’t die because, somehow, they were worse than you and me. Jesus tells us that’s not the case at all.
We could blame outside influences for the deaths that jump off our television and computer screens. We could blame mankind for the storm fatalities. Some experts assert that global warming is causing the polar icecap to melt which is causing the sea to warm which is causing more frequent and powerful hurricanes. This is debated, but the scientific data may not support this theory.
Is it gun control or rather the lack of it? If only people weren’t allowed to buy guns, or if they were restricted to what they could have, then mass murders would stop. Is that the answer? Some say yes, some say no. Although we are rightly shocked and deeply saddened by the horrible events of recent days, we who know what God’s Word know that we shouldn’t be shocked at the depth of human sin and depravity.
Was the shooter in Las Vegas insane? Was he overflowing with hate like the 9/11 terrorists? There was something wrong with him, we can all agree on that, but it doesn’t fully answer the “why” question. We might find a motive but what ultimately led him to gun down innocent people so callously, we’ll never know.
We still don’t have our questions answered and we’re running out of things to blame, so I guess that leaves God. Is God doing all this because He’s evil? Why didn’t He make all the shooter’s guns inoperable? Why didn’t He lead Harvey and Irma out into the middle of the ocean where they would eventually fizzle out? We don’t have all the answers, but we need to remember that God’s not evil. Evil is Sin, and God is sinless. God love us, He is good, He promises us that. St. James says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil.”
So maybe God isn’t evil, He’s just angry. Maybe He’s tired of all the garbage going on so He’s letting us know what He thinks. It’s true, the Bible records instances where God is angry, but it’s a righteous anger and not one that He quickly shows. David, who wrote Psalm 145 says, “The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” The Lord would be justified in His anger, but we don’t know if this was the reason.
I know, maybe God just doesn’t care. Could that be it? He’s tried to love us, He’s tried to take care of us, but we’re ungrateful. We sin repeatedly, so like a scorned love, He washed His hands of us? You can only be rejected so many times before you give up, right? I don’t know about you, but I don’t like this idea. If God doesn’t care, we’re in a lot of trouble, far worse than hurricanes or nut-jobs with guns. But Jesus says, “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Does this sound like a God who doesn’t care? Hardly. He created you and provides for you, that’s proof He cares.
If God’s not evil or angry does that mean He’s powerless to stop evil? That’s a common accusation, but does that ring true with what we know about God? He created the universe and everything in it. He’s not a demented scientist who created the weather, only to lose control over it. He’s not scrambling to keep up with the evil that’s in our world. He’s not always one step behind. Solomon said, “No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can succeed against the LORD.”
There’s one last possibility, one that I know some people have expressed and that many believe, that’s the opinion there is no God. Do you find yourself contemplating this possibility even as you sit in His house? I hope you’re not! But if you find your thoughts creeping that way, listen to what Paul says, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” Look around! Look at the miracles that happen every day and you’ll see proof that God exists.
God doesn’t have to explain Himself to us, and sometimes He doesn’t, but He does give us one thing to take away from all the death and sorrow that we see in the world. Going back to the murdered Galileans and the people crushed by the falling tower, Jesus says, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Jesus is saying that we shouldn’t speculate on why things happened or on whom to blame. Rather we need to look at the events that have occurred and see them as signs from God. They remind us that Sin permeates our world and our lives, that we’re mortal, that our lives can change in a second, and that we need a Savior. Look at all that’s going on, look at the hurricanes, the aimless violence, the loss of life and realize that God is using these events to lead you to repent of your sins. He’s not saying “Repent, so you don’t get shot.” Rather He is saying, “Repent, that you would know the joy that comes from being God’s children.” Repent of your sins and turn back to God, and when you do, you find the loving God who works all things for the good of those who love Him.
So now when you see these things happening, you know it’s not because God is evil or vengeful or uncaring or nonexistent. He uses these events to bring people closer to Him, so that they would see that He is our only source of hope and help in this world. There’s a great example of this coming out of both the hurricanes. In Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, churches, including the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, including Emmanuel, are volunteering and donating money and supplies which show the people that God cares and that they can look to Him for help.
An even better story is coming out of the Las Vegas shooting. A man named Taylor was being interviewed on live TV when he said, “I was agnostic going into that concert and I’m a firm believer in God now, because there’s no way that all of that happened and that I made it and I was blessed enough to still be here alive talking to you today.”
This is God at work; using tragedy to show His love and draw people to Himself. It’s true! The horrible events happening all around us and our world can cause us to despair or lead us into fear, but we don’t have to! You don’t have to fear God’s anger or judgement! When you’re afraid, when you’re heartbroken, when you’ve got your own “Why” questions, run to God. When you’re horrified and terrified by the sin and evil of this world run to the shelter and safety of Christ’s cross. Look to Jesus who knows more the horror of sin and evil than anyone who has ever lived, because He took it all upon himself when he hung on Calvary’s cross. He drank the cup of the Father’s wrath, so you don’t have to! Instead Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” In a chaotic and sinful world, He is the one who gives forgiveness and peace. And while we don’t have all the answers, we have Him, and that’s really the only answer we need.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen