On the heels of the Va Tech tradgedy, I wanted to re-post a sermon from September of 2006 which was after the plane crash here in Lexington. The killings at Va Tech were a senseless taking of human life. My prayers go out to the families of the victims and the family of the purpotrator. What an awful thing to go through to know that your son was the reason for so much death.
Psalm 121 says, “TNK I turn my eyes to the mountains; from where will my help come? 2 My help comes from the LORD, maker of heaven and earth. 3 He will not let your foot give way; your guardian will not slumber; 4 See, the guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps! 5 The LORD is your guardian, the LORD is your protection at your right hand. 6 By day the sun will not strike you, nor the moon by night. 7 The LORD will guard you from all harm; He will guard your life. 8 The LORD will guard your going and coming now and forever.
My God is so big, so strong and so might there’s nothing my God cannot do. The mountains are his, the valleys are his, the stars are his handiwork to. My God is so big, so strong and so mighty there’s nothing my God cannot do.
When I view the events of the past few months and even this entire year through my earthly, fleshly eyes, I want to say in response to the above. NO WAY! I have seen with my own eyes your pain. I am keenly aware of the loss that many of you have experienced. I question how can God’s hand be on us after seeing the destruction of flight 5191 last Sunday and all those on board. That event, to me, served as an exclamation point to a very long stretch of hard times for this church family. We as a congregation (and you as dear parts of this body) have experienced this summer in terms of death, bad news and sickness that seemed to know no measure of letting up.
My heart has been totally crushed with your pain. Not only my heart, but Paul’s, Billy Ray, and the entire staff have been carrying your pain around with us this entire summer. I want to, in the worst way, convey to you that it will be alright. That God is in control of your life. That God’s love will never leave or forsake you. That you will be okay. Better days are coming.
But the pain is so fresh, I realize that we may not be ready to hear such words because we may still be stuck on questions like, “Where is God’s protective hand?” “Why would God take my loved one?” “Can God really be loving and still allow tragedies?” We cry out for answers. We question God in ways we might have never before. And it is only natural and fitting to do so. Questions for God lead to truth about our life. It is the very beginning of the healing process. God is plenty big enough and patient enough and willing to hear all of our questions, objections, and pain.
Even through all of this, I still can’t shake wanting to let you know that Jesus knows our every weakness. He himself bore a tremendous load of pain and suffering for our sake. He will never forsake you. But how do I tell you? What do I say, when I know how inadequate words are at a time like this. My reading of the sermon on the mount found in Matt 5-7 leads me to believe that Jesus dealt with this kind of message as well. He saw the masses gathering around him, climbed a hill, turned to his disciples and began to give them these words of instruction while the masses listened over their shoulders.
Blessed are the poor in spirit. You will see people who are poor in spirit and downtrodden. Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase from the Message is, “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” Poor in spirit is the direct result of being broken. But Jesus says that in the midst of their despair and hopeless earthly state, God is at work in their lives and has provided the kingdom of heaven for them.
Blesses are those who mourn. You will see people who are mourning. Know that beyond a shadow of a doubt that your father in heaven will comfort them. For it is in that empty space that God is able to embrace you and bring you comfort.
The same goes for the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, peacemakers, the persecuted and those who seek after righteousness.
As a matter of fact, Jesus calls all of these ‘blessed’ meaning divine favors and benefits. The recurrence of this word speaks volumes to its emphasis. Jesus wants the disciples to realize in the strongest of terms (consider this pounding the pulpit) that the more dire circumstances in life are times when we are the most sensitive and open to divine benefits. God’s grace is always poured upon those willing to accept. And in the end, instead of being removed from our pain, God, in fact, is in the middle of it. He emphasizes this, in my opinion, because it will be difficult for people to believe it in the middle of a painful circumstance just as it is with us today.
If the recurrence gives us emphasis, the conflict of Jesus’ words brings understanding. Poor in spirit, blessed. Mourning, blessed. Persecuted, blesses. No word is mentioned about God’s divine providence that enables God to stop all the circumstances which cause pain. In order to fully understand God’s love and to fully live in relationship with Him, God has given you and me the ability to choose our own path in life. The reality is this, “humanity creates the suffering, pain, and trials it lives in and not God.” This is the divine order in which we live. While this is true, let’s face one thing, it is not comforting. This is why Jesus emphatically states that God plans to see us through whatever comes our way. His perfect plan is not suffering but comforting; not destruction but building up; not despair but hope for now and eternity.
So, if our help comes from the hills, what should we be looking for? How does God bring about comfort, healing, and wholeness?
2 Corinthians 1: 3-4 says,
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; 4 who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.
God has created us to live in community so that we might comfort one another. Permit me to re-write Psalm 121 this way, “I look to the pews, from where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth and those sitting next to me.” Our help comes from God through one another. We were created for times such as these. We are given gifts such as compassion in order to identify with each other and thereby be present. I still remember being in the receiving line at my Mother-in-laws funeral visitation and seeing the chemo-nurses that worked with her for over two years. She did not have cancer, but required blood transfusions on a weekly basis. These ladies cared for Wilma Lee in a way that only can be described as Christ-like. My wife Susan would drop her off in the morning and they would take care of her every need for the day. They became a bright spot for all of us in the midst of a very dark time. And seeing them continue to give of themselves at the funeral by taking time from their family brought an immense amount of comfort to me, Susan and the entire family. The greatest gift we can give one another is our presence during life’s difficulties. We have no words that will help, we have only our tears, our hugs, and our acts of kindness. Our help comes God using the body of Christ for one another. God has given us to one another for times such as these.
God also provides relief directly through his Holy Spirit. When I was growing up, my brother Mark and I liked to play in the rain. In particular, we loved to build “dams” along the curb. The water would rush down the street, hit our dam and begin to pool up. This worked really well until one of our neighbors came out and threatened to call the cops on us for attempting to damage her property. So we ended up tearing down our dam and allowing the water to flow. I believe this is what the hymn writer intended to convey through the words, “like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace.” God’s grace is always flowing toward us. Waves of mercy. Streams of comfort. We so often are unaware because we build dams in our lives that prevent it from reaching us. It is during these unbelievably difficult times that we are going through that the dams are torn down. Our natural tendency toward self-reliance is gone, God’s grace flows into our lives bringing exactly what we need for comfort, healing and wholeness.
I know no other way to say this. God loves you. It may be trite. It may be too simple. But it is the truth to which I cling and the truth to which we will find some semblance of peace in the chaotic time we are in. May God bless you. May God bless us all. Amen.