Advent 3, Proper C3
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 11:32-36 Sermon
December 16, 2012
Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
TLH 60 "Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding"
TLH 413 "I Walk In Danger All The Way"
WOV 731 "Precious Lord, Take My Hand"
TLH 59 "Hail To The Lord's Anointed"
MAKING SENSE OUT OF A SENSELESS TRAGEDY
(The Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre)
TEXT: 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
Today as we gather together in God's house, we are all still reeling over the tragedy that occurred this past Friday, December 14th in Connecticut. In the city of Newtown, which is approximately the size of Fremont, one of the worst school massacres occurred that this country has ever known. In the past, there have been worse incidents that have claimed more victims. But the sheer brutality of this latest mayhem adds a particularly sharp edge to it all.
I know that pastors in pulpits all over the world are talking about this today to one degree or another. And I also recognize that there is a need for me to talk about this today. People all over are trying to make sense out of this senseless tragedy. Perhaps you aren't directly involved with this situation, but many people are. We must realize that our audience extends far beyond the walls of our building. People will tune in one of our two weekly TV broadcasts. In various parts of the world, people will watch our service on the Internet. People will read transcripts of my sermon today on our website. And I have to believe that somehow, somewhere, these words will find their way to someone who is hurting, someone who is grieving, or someone who has been personally and deeply affected by this tragedy.
In order to bring this just a bit closer to home, I received an Email from President Russ Sommerfeld from the LCMS Nebraska District Office yesterday. Included with this Email is the prayer we will be using at the close of our service today. So allow me to share some of President Sommerfeld's words with you:
"Thank you for your prayers for the families of those traumatized and killed in Newtown, Connecticut, for the entire town, for Christ the King Lutheran Church and Pastor Rob Morris, and for all those suddenly confronted with this horror of violence and grief. Even though we know that our dear Lord Jesus hears the anguished cries of the grieving and will heal their broken hearts, this senseless and violent tragedy leaves us numb and shocked.
Communication has been received from New England District – LCMS President Tim Yeadon, and Synodical President Matthew Harrison. A prayer vigil was held at Christ the King last night. It appears that one of their newest members, a young girl, was killed. And the grandchildren of the former pastor, Greg Wismar, were at the school. One of them, a young boy named Matthew, escaped by avoiding a bullet intended for him."
In his Email, President Sommerfeld also included the picture you see on the front of your bulletin this morning. He said it was particularly meaningful to him.
As we look at this topic today, I'm going to share a story that I have used in the past, 2005 to be exact. This is a story about another tragedy that happened in a person's life.
This story comes from Dr. Dale Meyer, the former speaker for The Lutheran Hour. Up until 2003, he hosted a TV Talk Show, entitled "On Main Street."
In one episode, Dr. Meyer's guest was a woman by the name of Judy. Now I don't know Judy personally, but she had an interesting story to tell.
The topic of discussion for this one particular program was capital punishment. Two of the guests were for capital punishment, two were against it, and Dr. Meyer was the moderator, sitting right in the middle. Judy was one of the guests who favored capital punishment. Here’s the reason that she was for it:
In August of 1986 Judy's 15 year-old daughter Stacey was baby-sitting a 3-year-old boy named Tyler. Somebody broke into the apartment where they were, tortured the children, and then drowned the two children in the bathtub. The murderer was caught, tried, and found guilty. There was no doubt about his guilt.
The prosecutor asked for the death penalty but the jury decided instead to sentence the guilty man to life in prison. And that's where he is today; he is alive. Stacey and Tyler are dead. The whole terrible story can be found in a book written by Charles Bosworth, Jr. Entitled, "Every Mother's Nightmare." Indeed, that would have to be any mother's nightmare.
And so, here’s Judy, on TV, and she’s recounting this real life nightmare. Dr. Meyer asked her the question, "Was your faith shaken?" He admitted later that it was probably not the best question to have asked. However in answer, Judy stared at Dr. Meyer with an intense but yet empty look and said, "My faith was taken. The murder of my child took away my faith. Two innocent children were beaten, tortured, and drowned. I haven't come to terms. Where was God?"
Where was God? Judy wants to understand. She wants to make some sense out of her nightmare. I think we all would. Where is God? Where is God in Sandy Hook Elementary School? Where is God when a terrorist bomb goes off in Oklahoma City? Where is God when airplanes go crashing into the World Trade Center in New York City? Where is God when a young person with life and great possibilities commits suicide? Where is God when a drive-by shooting takes an innocent life? Where is God when a single parent is caving in under the pressures of trying to provide love and a stable home for their children? Where is God when an airplane crashes and hundreds of lives are lost? Where is God in Iraq? Where is God in the Middle East? Where is God in the streets of American inner cities?
Where is God? Judy wants to know. I think we’d all like to know. When tragedy or adversity hits, it almost seems as if we took a picture of God and the print came back blank, nothing there. Where's God when life is cruelly unfair?
It's not that we want life to be painless, even though that would be nice. We’re not asking for the proverbial rose garden—that’s just not realistic. We simply would like to understand how our real life nightmares fit into the grand scheme of things. Is that asking too much?
There’s a Latin word that I learned when I first started Seminary. The word is, "nescio." The word simply means, "I don't know." Granted, there are a lot of things that I do know, things that God has revealed to us in the Bible. However there are those things that God has chosen not to reveal to us on earth. And so, as much as I would like to, I can't give a satisfactory answer to everybody’s questions. There’s no embarrassment in simply saying, “I don’t know.”
There is, however, one thing that is abundantly clear to me. When a nightmare becomes real, you've got two ways you can go. You can turn and walk away from God in anger and hatred because you’ve been dealt a cruel blow; OR you can acknowledge, as hard as it may be at the time, that the God revealed in the Bible is still your God, and that he is in control. That can be a very hard thing to remember at times.
When we struggle to understand the ways of God, it becomes more and more clear that he's going to do things his way. God insists on being God. Now, we can either believe that and have faith in him, or we reject him.
As a text for today, I have chosen a portion of the account of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha in the town of Bethany. This family was particularly close to Jesus, and he was a frequent guest in their home. It's also apparent from the text that Lazarus had become quite ill with an unnamed but fatal condition. So the family sends an urgent message to Jesus. They want him to come and do a healing miracle. They don't want their loved one to die.
When Jesus arrives, it is seemingly too late. Lazarus has been dead for four days, and his body was decomposing in the tomb. The odor was unmistakable.
At this point, there are several things we should note. When Jesus arrives, Mary and Martha run right to him. "Lord, if you would have been here, our brother would not have died." This was a real statement of faith on their part. They knew what Jesus could do.
They might have been tempted to be angry. "Jesus, what took you so long? It's too late now, he's dead, so why don't you just go and leave us alone? You obviously don't care enough to come when we need you, so you can just pack your bags and leave the grieving to us."
But they were ready to accept whatever Jesus had in mind for them, even if it meant Lazarus would remain dead. They weren't at all expecting Jesus to raise him from the dead, especially under those circumstances!
Another thing to note is what Jesus did. John 11:35 is the shortest, but one of the most powerful verses in Scripture. "Jesus wept." He shared their sorrow and sadness. He loved Lazarus, and he loved the whole family too. He was not ashamed or embarrassed to show his emotions. He was right there along with the rest of the family, experiencing exactly what they were experiencing.
This goes along with what we read in Hebrews chapter 4, verses 15-16: "15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
When tragedy strikes, we know that Jesus is right there with us. He is able to identify with what is going on in our lives and how we are feeling during those moments. And when we weep, Jesus weeps right along with us.
The tragedies we experience in this life are because we live in a sinful world. The perfect world God originally created was spoiled by man's rebellion and disobedience. And after that original fall into sin, mankind has continued to rebel and be controlled by wicked thoughts. After Cain murdered Abel in a fit of jealous rage, things have continued to go downhill from there on out. The very first murder was as tragic and senseless as any have been since.
People continually do things and act in ways that are not God's will. That happens all of the time. You and I are also sinners. We're guilty of doing things that aren't God's will. And because we are sinful, we are in constant need of a Saviour, especially a Saviour who knows and understands how we feel. He's been where we are, and he's always there right along with us to help us in our time of need.
When we come to him, we approach him in faith, just like Mary and Martha did. Certainly we may have questions, some of which we'll never know the answers to this side of eternity. But we know that through faith, Jesus accepts us just the way we are. He wraps his tender arms around us, forgives us, and holds us close to him. Because he loves us, he laid down his life for us. He died at the hands of cruel men so that we could receive the forgiveness he won for us. Jesus endured a death that can only be described as a senseless tragedy, so that we would have eternal life in heaven for all eternity.
So here we sit, trying to make sense out of a senseless tragedy, and it's not an easy thing for us to do. On December 14, 2012, sometime in the morning hours, 20 year-old Adam Lanza took a gun and shot his 52 year-old mother Nancy in their Newtown, Connecticut home. After that, he put three guns into his mother's car: a .223 caliber Bushmaster rifle, a 9 mm Glock handgun, and a 9 mm SIG Sauer handgun.
He then drove his mother's car to the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Shortly before 9:35 am, he forced his way into the school, wearing a mask, black military-type clothing, and even a bulletproof vest. Without saying so much as one word, he began to open fire with his guns. Most of his activity was confined to two rooms, where 15 were killed in one room, and 5 in another.
The whole incident lasted only a few minutes, ending with Adam Lanza turning a gun on himself and taking his own life. When it was all over, 28 people died. Lanza's mother was the first, then 6 adults at the school, then 20 children at the school, 8 boys and 12 girls, ranging in ages from 6-7 years old. The adults that died were killed either in trying to subdue the gunman, or in someway trying to protect the children. When the autopsies were done, the bodies of the children contained anywhere from 3-11 bullets each.
When we attempt to make sense out of a senseless tragedy, it is virtually impossible to do so. We cannot crawl inside of Adam Lanza's head to figure out what he was thinking or how he justified his actions. We can only make guesses as the pieces of evidence are put together and examined.
Tragedies do happen in our society. This isn't the first, and I'm sad to say it probably won't be the last one either. And if we try to make sense out of the whole thing, we'll wind up being frustrated. We can increase security, we can control guns, we can look for signs of mental instability, we can incarcerate offenders, and we can even put people to death. We can do everything in our power, but we cannot prevent tragedies by outward means. It's the heart that needs to be changed, and only God can accomplish that. But even that can be rejected.
The key thing here is how we react when tragedies do strike. Do we run away from God, or run to him? Running away from God only isolates us and makes matters worse. The emptiness of loss is compounded greatly when we attempt to do it on our own.
When tragedy struck the home of Mary and Martha, they discovered what a blessing it was to run to Jesus and put things in his care. And that's the lesson we need to learn as well. The only way for us to overcome tragedy is with God's divine help in our lives. Remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
In the midst of tragedy we often ask the question, "Where is God?" We know that he has never left us or forsaken us. But many people have left him and have gone their own ways. Those who have wreaked havoc in our society show that they have deserted God by their actions. We just have to remember that we cannot do likewise, because as the Psalmist says, "Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth." So the only sense there is in a senseless tragedy is to turn to our Lord for help during these times. Our Lord promises to always be with us, to strengthen our faith, and to help us cope with whatever tragedies we experience during our lifetime.
In closing today, let us remember the families and friends who are grieving over the loss of a loved one in this tragedy. We pray that the Lord will give each and every one comfort, strength, and hope in the days to come, and keep them strong in their faith.
Nancy Lanza, 52, perpetrator's mother; Rachel Davino, 29, teacher,;Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, 47, principal; Anne Marie Murphy, 52, teacher; Lauren Rousseau, 30, teacher; Mary Sherlach, 56, school psychologist; Victoria Soto, 27, teacher; Charlotte Bacon, 6; Daniel Barden, 7; Olivia Engel, 6; Josephine Gay, 7; Dylan Hockley, 6; Madeline F. Hsu, 6; Catherine Violet Hubbard, 6; Chase Kowalski, 7; Jesse Lewis, 6; Ana Marquez-Greene, 6; James Mattioli, 6; Grace McDonnell, 6; Emilie Parker, 6; Jack Pinto, 6; Noah Pozner, 6; Caroline Previdi, 6; Jessica Rekos, 6; Avielle Richman, 6; Benjamin Wheeler, 6; and Allison N. Wyatt, 6. Blessed be their memory.