I have not posted to this site is some time.  But I continue to meditate upon the events of a little over a week ago when a small Christian congregation was forever wounded in a community not very far from me.  This sermon I preached last Sunday in light of recent events but in the greater light of God's Holy Word.

Thank you Father in heaven for Jesus.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope… Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Dear friends in Christ,

Last Sunday as many of us were gathered together in worship a single man entered into a house of Christian worship and left an imprint in our memories that may haunt us for some time.  Our hearts are broken for the people of Sutherland Springs. 

Some fifty people had gathered in their small church to worship and pray
only to have a man enter and kill 27 of them, including an unborn child, and wound 20 others.  Only four escaped physical harm but their hearts are not unscathed.  Indeed the wounds extend beyond this small community. 

Where was God?  This is the question in the minds of some folks.  Why would he let this happen?

Was it a problem with our laws, with our keeping up with people who have indicated they have problems, with our mental health care system? 

What went wrong that this could happen?

But one thing we know.  Shattered are our illusions that evil is far away.   Shattered are our illusions that we are each of us completely safe and secure.  We read about the horrors of history like the holocaust but that is safely far away in distance and time,  Then evil comes knocking at our door and it isn’t just an idea anymore.  People just miles away are right now grieving the murder of their loved ones just a week ago.

We are left with questions.  How could this happen?  How could a human being point a rifle at innocent people in a church of all places and kill them?  How can anyone shoot and kill a child, or a pregnant woman?   That anyone could do this shatters our illusions. 

We wish we could help and change things.  There is no way that this can be undone.  Evil had made itself known at terrible unfathomable cost.  Why?  Scripture gives us one reason.  Sin infests this world and each and every person who inhabits it.  But by the grace of God this would be far more common.  The world is not as God created it to be. 

Last Sunday in Bible class I stressed that a key component to Luther’s theology is that life is not fair because this world has descended into sin.  Things happen to people that should not happen.  Luther wrestled with this because he loved his flock and he saw tragedy strike them for no apparent reason.  It is almost as if life itself rises up and says no, God does not exist or No God does not love you.  Luther says that over and above these “No’s” we experience, we hear God say Yes in His Word. 

This is what St. Paul is doing in his pastoral letter to a church.  Brothers do be uninformed.  We grieve but not as if we have no hope when we lose loved ones.  Jesus is Risen and He has promised that He will come for us.  And will shall rise again.  Paul tells us to encourage one another with these words. 

These are God’s “Yes” that cry out against the “NO” of life in this world. 

Sunday a man took the lives of Christians in prayer.  Some said, see God does not exist or God does God.  Against this NO the Word of God says Yes, God does care.  Jesus already died so that these who lost their lives to evil in this world are already with Him in a place where all things are as they should be. 

Sunday the world said to Christians you are nothing special, you are not safe.  But God says in His Word, Yes you are.  You are redeemed.  You are  loved.  You are adopted children of God.  And when the time comes not matter how it comes, God will bring you home to Himself.

Meanwhile, here we are.  Not quite the same.  A week later we are getting back into our normal routines and somewhat putting out of mind what transpired a week ago today.  We reminding ourselves that it was just one man out some 350 million who live in the nation and that chances of it happening to us are so very slim.  We tell ourselves we can go on and live assuming such things cannot happen to us. 

But… we know it could, unlikely, but possible.  Indeed we know evil is out there.  That’s why we lock our doors at night and why we are thankful for all those who stand to protect and serve, whether they be police and other first responders or those who wear the uniform of military service.  We are thankful for those who heard the call of God through vocation to serve others putting their own lives at risk.

I remember so many times that brothers and sisters in uniform put themselves into harms way to make a difference.  Perhaps because of last Sunday the memory that is most fresh in my mind is in the middle of the hot desert of Iraq in a small trauma center.  The call that casualties were coming had gone forth and we had gathered to wait.  The emergency bay was eerily quiet.  Everyone was already at their station. These men and women knew their jobs.  They stood waiting for the dam to burst, to go from stillness to fervent activity. And then we heard it.  The roar of a  humvee as it came flying in and the doors sprang open and we had our first wounded child.  A very small Iraqi boy with a beanie baby tucked into his shirt, probably placed there by a medic.  And they cut away his clothes and the gaping wound in his side was revealed.  And they went to work and they saved his life.  And I learned later how evil had lifted its head.  How an insurgent had deliberately thrown a grenade into a school to shake off his pursuers.    

I am no longer surprised by what this world throws at us.  But I am thankful for all those who stand to make a difference. 

What can you and I do in such a world to make a difference in such a world?

First, we can make a difference for one another.  We are here today, together.  WE are worshipping.  We are praying because we know God hears us.  There is not any “NO” that can counter God’s “Yes” in Jesus.  When we grieve we can comfort one another.  We grieve when a loved one dies.  We grieve when things like last Sunday happen. But we do not grieve as if there were no hope an no meaning. 

For Jesus is Risen.  Jesus is mighty and victorious.  Events like evil, tragedy and death do not change that.  That is why we encourage one another with the Word of God. 

Jesus is Risen.  Jesus is returning. This sad shadow of a world will not last.  A new heaven and near earth are coming.  Each day that passes it is closer.  Soon we shall be with Him.  Soon all shall be right with the world.  It’s going to happen because Christ has promised so.

Jesus is the only answer to a sinful world fallen into darkness. 

What can you and I do to make a difference in such a world? We can make a difference for others.   Bring the light.  Bright and clear and bold.  Proclaim Christ and Him crucified and risen to redeem the lost sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.  Proclaim the promise of forgiveness.  Proclaim the promise of everlasting life.  Proclaim the promise of a new heaven and near earth. 

Jesus said the enemy comes to kill, steal and destroy but He has come that we may have life and have it to the full. 

This is God’s Yes in world that screams NO.  But the world and the devil do not get the last Word.  The last Word is the only Word that matters.  Jesus says come to me all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest. 

The Lord is coming.  He will bring Him all those who have died in faith and together those who have died in faith and those who are alive shall experience all the promises of God come true.

In Christ’s name,