Greetings in Christ, friends! Memorial Day weekend has begun. But even with what the weekend ordinarily includes, who ever would have thought that our nation would once again have to come to grips with another school shooting?
And with the latest tragedy comes both the usual hand-wringing and the predictable finger-pointing – and an insistence that we can and must do something to stop it – although there is never agreement on what that might be.
But school shooting or not, one thing this should remind us of is that we are gripped in a world that is filled with evil, senseless death, and tragedy – in so many forms. I don’t want to make this morbid, but think about it – on average, approximately 3,000 people who have only reached the age of adolescence die each day around the world. Abortion, just in this country, has taken over 60 million lives, almost 1/3 of which are black babies, a group which represents a percentage of the population of less than half that.
Lives are being lost in war, skirmishes and ethnic battles. Here in the U.S., rare does a weekend go by without news about gang violence in many of our big cities. Despite tons of ongoing research and the dollars to fund it, the need for cancer centers, even in our locale, seems to be spreading exponentially, and as it does, it cuts short the lives of way too many of our loved ones.
Don’t misunderstand. I don’t want to dismiss or diminish the tragedy of what happened in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 young students and 2 teachers lost their lives. The black hole where a soul should have been in that young man’s heart is something we are seeing way, way too much of.
Think of some of the other news stories in just the past six months. The tragic shootings in Buffalo, New York. The senseless carnage left by a crazed man driving through a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Parishioners killed in churches in Texas and California.
And then we get the reaction of people who are trying to come to grips with this. One TV personality suggested that she wanted to “punch anyone who calls for thoughts and prayers” in such situations. Is this what our world is coming to?
This world is a dark and evil place. And in the face of sheer evil comes about people with only evil in their hearts, all the time. Sadly, a lot of the (mostly) men that we are to remember this weekend were willing to give up their lives to combat evil. They considered their lives worth sacrificing so we could enjoy the freedoms we have today.
Does that sound familiar? Yes, even in the face of what has happened this week, we dare not forget that a Savior came into this world as a solution to all the evil, all the sorrow, all the tragedy, all the suffering.
Even if He has now ascended into Heaven, He has neither left us behind nor forgotten us. And in fact, now more than ever, He has plans for each of us, and for good reason.
In the face of the myriad blessings the Lord God has given us, after the sacrifice of His Son for our sins, there are two that really stand out – two blessings that He has given for His sharing and nurturing His gifts and grace for us.
One is the blessing of family – the unified, nuclear family, headed up by two parents, and including a God-fearing father. When you see all that is going on in our country, you are seeing the abandonment of the traditional family – and the horrific price we are paying because of it. Fathers especially are absent in the lives of so many children – and this should not be.
While tragic circumstances do occasionally force one parent, or grandparents or whomever, to have to raise families, God gave us the gift of family as the primary way by which all of His gifts and grace are dispensed. And what a blessing it is when two parents are raising their children in the nurture, knowledge, love of the Lord, and in the setting of His Church.
But look what happens when that does not take place. I know the world can at times be harsh for young men, but a good Christian father can and is supposed to be the young man’s source of security, strength, faith, and a teacher for how to regulate your emotions in stressful situations. Most crucial, the father is the son’s purpose compass as he helps guide him throughout the trials of adolescence. It is no wonder we see such troubled young men when more and more, there are no men – father or otherwise – in their lives.
Which brings us to the other gift – the gift of the church – HIS Church. Although there are many definitions of church, in this case, we will refer to His graciousness that has joined us together as a Christian congregation, and places us in a community where we can serve and become the salt and light that is more and more lacking in our midst. And as a part of that, He has blessed us with many such churches, a fellowship of churches we call a ‘synod’ which allows us to not only work together in Word, sacrament and purity of doctrine, but also allows us to pool our resources to combat evil and to promote goodness.
In this church, we are taught right from wrong, given resources to take out into the world, and utilize regular opportunities to give God our thanks, praise, service and obedience, beginning in worship, but extending from worship into the world. But the Lord Himself protects His Church and the people that are in it.
When I was growing up, this was referred to as an “umbrella of grace”. And as I have pondered what an umbrella actually does, I now realize this is an excellent description of how He protects us from falling into such dark and devious evil as we see outside of this umbrella.
Living in this area, I have to believe all of you have had to use an umbrella, and know how effective it is. Small or large, it certainly does not stop everything that comes your way – you will still get wet. And yet, if you pull the umbrella back, even for an instance, it is amazing what that umbrella protects you from. That is the Lord’s protection that is grafted into our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are certainly not insulated or isolated from all sin – it will still afflict and cling to us every day. And yet, it will not devour us.
And because it does not, now we stand – or sit or kneel – and devote ourselves to prayers and supplications to our Almighty God. Yes, all of us are getting tired of hearing these things. Yet Paul reminds us to persevere in goodness. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6 : 9, E.S.V.). But who of us does not grow weary? Good citizens, teachers and small children are murdered in cold blood. Our world grows more and more divided. Indeed, we pray with the psalmist, “I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.” (Psalm 69 : 3, E.S.V.)
So what do we do? Even as we make more and more concessions to evil (for example, we MUST take more steps to ensure that our schools – and the children we send to them – are kept safe), there are many things we can and must do.
But it starts with understanding how evil this world is. When God destroyed the world by flood, save for eight people, He had seen then already how bad things had become: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” [Genesis 6 : 5, E.S.V.] But even after the flood, the Lord said: “I will never again curse the ground because of man, even though the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” [Genesis 8 : 21, E.S.V.]
Evil exists – it is everywhere. Its potential exists in every moment. But while evil will always be a part of this world, and even try to rip out our own hearts, it dare not define us. And to make sure of that, we have a loving heavenly Father who is there with us – who sent us Son to be with us to the end of the age.
I quote a communique sent out from our church body this past week: “We must thank God that in this dark world of sin and hatred, we are called to be light in Christ. Jesus says, “I AM the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (John 14 : 6, E.S.V.). Paul says, “The fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.” (Ephesians 5 : 9, E.S.V.). Peter reminds the church, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (I Peter 2 : 9, E.S.V.).”
I close with these words that we have quoted in a couple of different settings recently, Hebrews 6:9-11: “We feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love that you show for His sake in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end.” [E.S.V.].
“SHOULD YOUR MERCY SEND ME
SORROW, TOIL AND WOE,
OR SHOULD PAIN ATTEND ME
ON MY PATH BELOW,
GRANT THAT I MAY NEVER
FAIL YOUR HAND TO SEE;
GRANT THAT I MAY EVER
CAST ALL MY CARES ON THEE.” [James Montgomery, 1834] .
Pastor Tom Wenndt