This past Thursday, a local man shot and killed his three sons and brother. He also shot his wife, who is hospitalized. While they weren’t members of our congregation, many members new them, worked with them, taught the children, and were friends with them.
Here are the words I used to comfort the sheep entrusted to my care.
Text after the jump.
For the last nine years, we have been able to live with the delusion that somehow we were set apart. After all, we live in a small town. We all know each other. Keys left in cars, doors unlocked – commonplace here. It’s a nice safe place to live. We are god-fearing people. Satan doesn’t get much of a toehold here. From 2002 until about a month ago, it seemed true.
Four weeks ago, we were jolted out of our stupor. The headlines in the paper showed that It can happen here. But not often. A once in a decade sort of thing. A event that only goes to show how happy we are to live in a town where this sort of thing doesn’t happen too often.
And then, Thursday evening. We have been forced to recognize that evil exists in the world. Not just the big bad world out there, where congress and the president do things we don’t like, and the evil people halfway around the world do things that are evil. This happened on Oak street, in our town. CNN, Foxnews. Suddenly, we are the ones the world is talking about. The evil is here. It turns out that Satan doesn’t stop at the border, he doesn’t give up at the town limits.
Of course, we could try and wiggle out of it. They only lived here a few years. They weren’t long time residents. They weren’t natives. Which begs the question, how many years is it exactly that you have to live in a small town before sin no longer plagues you. How many generations does it take in one place before the devil just gives up and goes home. How long until evil is no longer a problem.
There is evil in the world. Here. Thursday night. Young lives snuffed out.
Dear God, we cry, why. How could you let this happen. Because if God doesn’t go around and stop every sinful thing from happening in this world, then we are going to let him know that he really isn’t a very good God. Never mind that the sin is not from God. That it is our doing. The evil does not begin with him. It begins in the heart of sinners. And that’s what we are. Every one.
There is a reason that when our Lord taught us to pray, he ended with the words, “Deliver us from evil.” We can pretend that we are above it all. That somehow our position, our ancestry, our strength of character will see us through, will give us what we need without having to ask God. But we need that petition. The violent and senseless actions of Thursday night only show us how very much we need those words. How very much we need that prayer.
We can try and weasel out of it. “It can never happen here. Oh, that’s for others to deal with.” But there is evil in the world. And this town is part of the world. We try to deny the sin, to escape its effects. To try and ignore it. Like a person who is deathly ill but refuses to go the doctor, figuring that if the doctor can’t tell him how sick he is, he must be OK. But eventually you have to wake up and face reality. We live in a world of sin and death.
Saint Paul says in the Epistle reading, “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.” This week, those words are hard to believe. It’s hard to believe that Saint Paul is worse than what we have seen and heard. And yet, Paul knows the evil in his own heart. He knows the sinful thoughts that give birth to sinful action.
It doesn’t take a doctor of theology to look at God’s law and see that we are sinners. That the sin, the evil in the world, can be traced right back to our own black hearts. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and brought sin and death into the world. Now, we sinners live in that sinful death-filled world. A world that, like our sinful flesh, rejects God’s word out of hand. Rejects his law. Rejects him. We don’t need a degree in theology to see that. All we need is a little bit of honesty. All we need is to stop lying to ourselves and to God, and face the truth. We are sinners.
Jesus says that he came to find the lost. To bring forgiveness to sinners. That’s what he does. Jesus came into the world to save sinners. When we come into God’s presence the first words out of our mouths are a recognition that we are just such helpless sinners. We deserve the full wrath of God. We start the service by putting aside the lies we tell ourselves, and facing up to the truth, “I a poor miserable sinner … justly deserve your temporal and eternal punishment”
And yet, God shows you mercy. He sent his son to suffer the agony for you. He was abandoned, he was alone, he was left with no one. He took the place of a murderer. Barabbas got off scott free, and Jesus was condemned to die. He was unjustly condemned. Pilate knew he wasn’t guilty. Herod knew he wasn’t guilty, the chief priests and leaders of the people knew he wasn’t guilty. And yet, he was condemned to die anyway. He suffered not only the shame of the cross, but the agony of death as well. The wages of sin is death, and yet Jesus did not sin. But he went into death anyway. He suffered unjustly, so that you would not suffer what you justly deserve.
Jesus seeks out and finds the lost, because if he doesn’t, you have no hope. None at all. He saves us all. If you will not let him do the saving, you won’t be saved. If you insist on finding yourself, and getting back to safety on your own, you won’t do it. If you think that you can add one bit of worthiness because of what a great person you are, you will find yourself on the outside of his kingdom, looking in.
This past week, we were awakened to the fragility of life. We were reminded that the world is evil, that, whatever pleasures the world offers us, they are fleeting. They can not last. We need a savior who can save us from our sin. We need Jesus.
He suffered for you. He took the penalty you deserve. He promised you life. A life that can not be taken away with old age, or cancer, or senseless violence.
And the life he gives you is the life that he is. He is the life which God gives. Just as any merit you have is given by Christ, and not your own, so any life you have in you is from God, and any life in you that is not sinful and headed for death is from Jesus. It is the life he gives you.
When Jesus friend Lazarus died, Jesus went to visit Mary and Martha, to show them God’s glory by raising Lazarus from the dead. Before he left Galilee to go to Judea, he told his disciples, “Lazarus is sleeping and I must wake him.” And yet, when Jesus comes to Bethany, when he sees Mary, and Martha, and their friends and relatives, we are told, Jesus wept. Even thought he already knew that the day would have a happy ending, he was not some superman that could simply conquer whatever came against him because of some sort of special powers he had. Jesus was a flesh and blood person. He saw the grief. He felt the sorrow of the moment. He wept with his friends in their sorrow.
We do not have a God who sits enthroned in glory above the heavens out of reach out of touch, out of our lives. We have a God who was made flesh and became one of us. Who went to the funeral of a dear friend, and wept for sorrow with them. We have a God who became one of us and was tempted in every way that you are – he was tempted to get angry with God and say, “Why have you done this.” And yet he was without sin. He did not get angry with his heavenly Father, but submitted himself to his father’s will. Because he knew that his heavenly Father loves you, and wants to save you. And there was only one way for that to happen. His death. He gave up his life for you. That’s how much he loved you. He gave up his life, so that you could have yours. So that you – who rebelled against God, who broke his law, who were an enemy of God, could be reconciled to God. Jesus was the only one who could do it. So he did. And now he promises that, even in the midst of the sin and death that surrounds us, he will never leave you or forsake you. He went into death for you. There is nothing that can make him stop loving you, stop taking care of you. Stop holding you in his hand. There is nothing that can separate you from the love of your heavenly Father that is yours through Christ Jesus. No matter what may happen, no matter what life throws at you. No matter how evil the world around you gets. No matter how much sin and death you see. Know that his death has saved you. It has given you new life. Life that begins in your baptism, and lasts through all the sin and the evil that this world can throw at you, and when this world melts away, that love that forgiveness, that life, is still there.
IN the Divine Service we have the feast of victory for our God. The world calls is simple and foolish. The world thinks it is nothing. But we don’t care what the world says. We stand surrounded by the evil world, having a victory fast, because our Lord Jesus Christ has won the victory for us. He has triumphed. And he has promised you that same victory. One day, the graves of the saints will be opened, and all those that he has saved will be raised to be with him. Joy in the presence of the angels over one sinner who repents. Let us pray that God would keep us faithful to his word, that we would repent of our sin and be given life. Let us pray that all people everywhere would do the same thing. From the greatest saint, to the worst sinner. That we would all be taken to be with him in his kingdom, which has no end.
In Jesus name. For his sake, he has won the victory over sin death and devil. Amen.