Sermon of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton VA
May 28, 2017
Pastor Robert McCarty
You rejoice in Christ your savior. We rejoice in Christ while we gather and lament. Though even as we lament, we rejoice in the glory that is to come from our savior who reigns in heaven and on earth.
You saw this week the power that sin has in the world. It seems that sin and hate have become an epidemic, but then our nation is no stranger to sin and hate. We have had our own experiences, many of them internal fights. History reminds us of the Trail of Tears, the Civil War, Civil Rights March, Desegregation of Schools, Vietnam protests, Oklahoma City Bombing. Moments that make us say woe and remind us of the power of sin. And we realize, you realize, that Manchester is not alone.
Photos and video images pull on our heartstrings. I saw video footage from Manchester this week. I usually don’t look, but I watched the evening news on Tuesday night and so I saw footage from a parking garage of the flash and the sound of the explosion. I saw people climbing over railings rushing to get out and first responders doing triage. Then a few pictures of victims identified and the sadness and anger of grief began for people I never met.
Earlier in the day, Tuesday, while driving to a Legacy Board retreat, I heard them talk about how popular this concert was with young girls, how parents were waiting outside to meet their daughters. Another reminder that children are vulnerable. It made me think of Oklahoma City where the rental truck was parked by the building’s day care. This all made me think of the Church’s Festival of the Holy Innocents.
The Festival of the Holy Innocents occurs on December 28. It remembers the young boys killed by Herod around Bethlehem because they happened to be born close to when Jesus was born. These boys weren’t Christian, may not have even been Jewish. May have been born to pagan families, and yet the church remembers them as martyrs of the faith. The festival serves the church as a Memorial Day in our conflict with sin and power and hate.
My reflection on the Holy Innocents continued as I started reflecting on our scripture for this Sunday. 1 Peter, our second lesson, also happens to be the second lesson for the Festival in December. Three verses for this Sunday overlap with three verses on December 28. They read:
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing in Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4: 12-14
God knows that sin tests us. God created a perfect garden where sin had no power over humans, but man and woman chose something different. They chose poorly. And sin tested them, and sin has tested every generation since then, and sin tests us as well. And as sin tests us, God grieves.
I suppose I accept this suffering that we have to endure—Christ’s sufferings that we share—but I know that I do not rejoice in it. Though to be clear, the scripture calls on us to rejoice in the sharing, not rejoice in the suffering. That we can come here and lament together, there is kernel of love in our gathering for that purpose that is worth celebrating. If nothing else on this memorial day weekend, I want you to hear that distinction to rejoice not in the suffering, but in the sharing—in the sharing of the cross.
We do not rejoice in the suffering. In fact, we take stands against the suffering against the sin and the hate. We take a stand against the fiery ordeal that takes place amongst us and tests us. And as we take these stands, God stands with us. We teach that murder is sin. That hate is sin. We teach that evil exists and that hating someone because of what they believe, or hating someone because of what they do not believe is also wrong and sinful. And I believe and have said this before that Jesus’ teachings clearly shows us that a lack of compassion is the worst of sins.
While we do not rejoice in the suffering, we recognize the beauty of coming together around the cross as we lament and grieve and we share that grief with one another. We know that some have already, if not forgotten about Manchester, moved it to the back burner of their consciousness. Others still feel helpless about it. Others feel sadness or anger as I mention it. Also, this is Memorial Day Weekend, a time when we remember other wars that our nation has fought. And a time when people often decorate graves of those they have loved and lost.
[And that love,] love is what we want to have power over us. That love leads this congregation to say (as our mission statement) that “The Holy Spirit leads Christ Lutheran to love and serve all.” We love, because with some people love comes easy to us. And (we love) because Christ taught us to love even when it does not come easy to us—to love those who are difficult to love. Those folks are included in the love and serve all statement.
Interesting story, the heroes of Manchester are two homeless men who had hunkered down in the railway station for the evening, to get some sleep. When the bomb went off the instinct is to run off, run away, but then both Stephen Jones and Chris Parker turned and ran into the chaos. They wiped blood away from faces, they pulled shrapnel off of wounds and covered wounds with souvenir t-shirts that lay on the ground. They reassured people until help arrived, even held a women while she died.
Jones said, “Just because I am homeless doesn’t mean I haven’t got a heart, or I’m not human still,” he told ITV News. “I’d like to think someone would come and help me if I needed the help.” Since Monday, the people of England have responded to help the two of them as well as the families of those killed and injured.
The cost of love is grief, but we do not, none of us grieve alone. And in the midst of lament and grief, we gather together and remind one another of the victory won for us by Christ our savior. With the victory comes the freedom to love and the freedom to gather and the freedom to hope. We remind one another that between dying and ascending to heaven, Jesus returned to us on earth and not only spoke of his power over death, he promised that we shall not be alone, and that Christ shall come again and reveal his glory in full and bring us together into that glory.
This is Memorial Day weekend, a three day holiday that marks the start of summer. A weekend that has the joy of children at the end of school, the gathering of communities and picnics and commemorations. [A weekend set aside] when we remember those who responded to the call to serve, and tend to the graves of those who have died before us, even if they did not serve in the military. A weekend with a full spectrum of emotions and love.
We share this weekend together, with both its pains and its joys because we are community. Despite sin in the world, we know the power of love in our community is strong and in that we rejoice. And we know that the victory won by Jesus has power to make love stronger than death. In this we rejoice fully and we praise the risen Christ together with heart and soul and voice.