Just realized I never posted last week’s sermon!
The Fourth Sunday After Easter, Year C, April 21, 2013
Acts 9:36-43, Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9-17, John 10:22-30
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
It’s been quite a week, hasn’t it? The Boston Marathon was bombed, triggering a city-wide manhunt. Someone tried to poison the President. A factory in Texas exploded. High tempers and harsh rhetoric over a gun-control. Floodwaters rising in the Mississippi River. And America is not the only place in the world having a tough time. Yesterday there was a deadly earthquake in China. This last week, there was a coup in the Central African Republic, and so the people of our companion synod there are endangered. A child was viciously raped and held captive in India, and police tried to bribe her parents into not filing charges, triggering massive protests.
Of course, horrible things have happened before, but they don’t usually come this close together. And we’ve never been as instantly connected as we are now. When the Twin Towers were attacked, I spent most of the day wondering what had happened, knowing only bits and pieces. Even turning on the news gave little information, compared to today. A few clips of the towers collapsing, the same speculation repeated over and over. And if those few images got to be too much, it was easy to escape them: just turn off the television. Today, you don’t have to seek out pictures and information on such tragedies. Today, you have to work hard to escape, because they’re everywhere. Not just on television, but online, on Facebook and Twitter and spread by email. The computer age has given us many, many more ways to communicate, but that comes at a cost. And one of the costs is that when evil things happen, they are shoved in our faces in ways they never were before.
How do you deal with the problem of evil? Why does God let such horrible things happen? Why do the innocent suffer? What happens to people to cause them to do such things, and how can we prevent it? Why are things so bad these days? Are things worse than they used to be, or is it just that we are more aware of suffering in the world, and that victims of horrors are more likely to speak up and demand justice?
We are not alone in asking such questions. People have been trying to figure out how to deal with evil since the world began. People have suffered from injustice and natural disasters since the first human beings. And people have suffered from all manner of physical and mental and emotional problems since there have been human beings on this Earth. I don’t think people treat one another worse today than they did two thousand years ago, though I do think we are more likely to see and be haunted by the evils that happen to other people in the world. But all these questions, important as they are, are not the most important ones to ask. The question we as Christians must ask is this: what does God have to say in response to such horrors?
First of all, we are not alone. We are not abandoned to muddle through in a world falling to pieces. God came to us in the person of Jesus Christ, who lived a human life and who suffered just as we have suffered. Jesus was no stranger to pain or grief. He wept when his friend Lazarus died, and he himself ministered to those in grief. Jesus spent his time with those who were sick, injured, dying, outcasts, sinners—all who suffered. He brought hope and healing to all he met.
And we are not alone because we are called to minister to one another in pain and grief. We see an example of this in our first lesson. A woman named Tabitha died. We aren’t told how or why, but medical care was almost non-existent at the time, and what little there was probably wouldn’t have been used for a woman. She seems to have been of no particular merit or value in society—except to her friends and those she helped. And when she died, her friends grieved, but the town probably didn’t pay much attention. Unlike today’s world, where social media shoves tragedy in our face and there are funds and campaigns to send help to those who need it, Tabitha’s life and death were not something the larger society cared much about.
But the family of faith cared. The family of faith cared even about this woman that society said wasn’t worth worrying about. Tabitha’s friends cared, and so did Peter, and so did God. Tabitha’s friends, both those who were within the Christian community and those who weren’t gathered to mourn her. They let their grief at her passing come out and be seen and heard. They told stories about her. They told of the people she had helped, the things she had made. They cried together. And when Peter heard that someone had died, he went. He joined them in their grief.
Now, Peter had a power I don’t have, and neither does anyone here that I’m aware of: God worked through Peter to raise Tabitha from the dead. Such things have only happened a bare handful of times, and we can’t pin our hopes on an apostle like Peter happening by at the right time. The victims of the bombs in Boston probably aren’t going to sit up out of their coffins at the funeral.
But Peter points to something greater than just one faithful woman being raised: Peter points to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. You see, Jesus Christ lived and died in a world just as messed up, as violent, and as unjust as the one we live in. Jesus Christ lived in a world of casual brutality and callous disregard for people outside one’s own group that we can’t even begin to imagine. And Jesus Christ stood up to that brutality, that violence, and that evil and said NO. No, evil does not get the final say. No, Jesus says, you can’t just ignore people you don’t like because even the greatest sinner is one of my flock. No, you can’t use “they’re not like me” as justification for hatred and violence, for discrimination and abuse. No, Jesus says, you can’t just shove aside those weaker than you, because they are mine, all of them. No, Jesus says, the pain you have suffered is not an excuse to go out and inflict suffering on others. But most importantly, Jesus says no—death doesn’t get the final victory. Jesus’ NO was so loud that it scared people. Jesus’ refusal to go along with a corrupt and callous society threatened those in power, and so they reacted as scared, callous people do in a violent world: they killed him. And they thought they’d won.
But Jesus was not done. Jesus was greater than that, and when Jesus said “no” to the evils of the world, that “no” was stronger than anyone could possibly imagine. And when Jesus rose from the grave, he broke the powers of darkness. He burst the gates of Hell so that it could not keep anyone imprisoned. From that second on to this very day, evil and violence and brutality and callousness and abuse and injustice are on the defensive, fighting a losing battle. They may seem as powerful as ever—and God knows that this week, they’ve seemed to loom over everything—but we are people of the Resurrection, and we know that in the end, they will be destroyed. In the end, the Risen Christ will come again and all people will be raised from the dead. Not just a faithful few like Tabitha, but everyone, from every time and every place. Evil will be purged, and in its place will be only goodness and love. In place of hunger and thirst, there will be good food and drink. In place of hatred, there will be love. In place of mourning, there will be joy. God himself will wipe away every tear from every eye.
And while we wait for Christ to come again, while we wait for the general Resurrection, while we wait for the world to be made new, Christ calls us to join him in ministry. Christ calls us to grieve for the dead, and for what has been lost. They rest secure in Jesus’ care, but we will miss them and we are less because they are not with us. Christ calls us to support those who grieve, just as the faithful in Joppa did, telling stories and crying together and simply being there.
Jesus Christ calls us to stand up in a world full of death and destruction, and proclaim the Good News. Jesus Christ calls us to stand up in a world of violence and proclaim the coming of the Prince of Peace. Jesus Christ calls us to stand up in a world of injustice and hatred and proclaim the coming of the Lord of Love. And we are called to do that not just in word, but in deed. We are called to live out our faith in the light of the Resurrection, to let every action, however small, and every word, however insignificant it may seem, proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are called to let God’s love flow through us and in us and around us. We are called to bring healing and hope to those who walk in darkness, whether that is the darkness of what has been done to them or the darkness of their own hate and fear. We are called to tell the whole world what it means for all people that Jesus Christ is risen.
He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!