Short sermon for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) from worship services at the hospital chapels commemorating those lost or hurt in the wildfires in the West, the hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, and the shootings at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ and the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas.
“Be worried for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you” (Philippians 4:6-9).
A week ago today, members of this community gathered right here in this chapel, gathered around this altar to worship, to proclaim Jesus Christ as Savior of the world, to offer thanksgiving and take inspiration. The community gathered here just like similar gatherings around the Lord’s Table in chapels, churches, homes, and store fronts all over the country and all over the world, just as Christian people have done for twenty centuries. Already then, we were in the midst of difficult times. Already then, the praise may have felt a little muted, lasting peace of heart a little harder to come by. Already then, the days and weeks prior to worship had seen the devastation of hurricanes destroying the lives of our countrymen in Texas, in Florida, and in Puerto Rico. Fires wreaked havoc throughout the West, and the news told of the blasphemy and horror of a man walking into worship services at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee and opening fire, wounding eight, including the preacher, and killing one. Still, we gathered. Still we joined the angels in their unending hymn of praise, still proclaiming: “Holy, holy, holy! Hosanna in the highest!”
That evening, when the chapels and churches had emptied and shut out the lights, as many of us were sound asleep getting recharged for the week to come, a man in a 32nd floor Las Vegas hotel room rained hellfire down on a crowd of innocent men, women, and children enjoying a concert. Fifty seven lives were lost.
When Paul urges us to think on true, honest, just, pure, and lovely things, few may come to mind. When Paul directs our attention to “whatsoever things are of good report,” we recoil: Paul had not seen this week’s reports, but they are not good.
With so many large-scale tragedies in our country, it’s possible that right here, right now in this room is someone who was personally impacted by one or more of them. But maybe we weren’t. Still, our hearts break over all the suffering. They break, because we suffer, too. We suffer not only with those harmed by hurricanes, fire, and mass slaughter. We all have our own hurricanes, our own fires that may never make the news. Hurricanes of our own grief, our own illness, our own lonliness. Fires of our own traumas, our own addictions, our own devastated relationships.
Where is this peace which passeth understanding? Where are the good, true, and beautiful things to think on? They are to be found rising forth from the smoldering ashes of our own pierced and broken hearts. We have named Jesus Christ as our Savior. Perhaps you’ve seen the images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, images which show his heart wrapped in thorns, bearing the wound of the soldier’s lance, and topped with flame. It is an image which illustrates who this Savior, this Jesus of our Christian story, really is.
As the incarnation of the God who is love, Jesus is self-giving love for others. Jesus is the heart that bleeds with compassion for the suffering of others. Compassionate, self-giving love is the world’s only Savior. Now, perhaps at any moment, the sky may open up, and Jesus may step down from his throne and right all the world’s wrongs. In times like this, many certainly may find themselves wondering why he hasn’t yet. I suppose he may well do that. But then again, he may well not.
It’s not Jesus enthroned at the right hand of the Father that has the most to say to us as we grieve. It’s the Jesus who really is present right here, right now. Present among us. And present as us.
The Apostle Paul assured the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ, yet I live. I live, yet ’tis not I—Christ liveth in me.” The Christ who truly lives today in this world is you and me. We are the living, moving, breathing Body of Christ. When our hearts break at the suffering of so many people, the true, honest, and pure reality we’re called to think on is that the suffering of one is the suffering of all, that we are all in this life together, and that we are all each other have.
That’s not always easy to see. We’ve done a great job blinding ourselves to how deeply connected we are to one another. We’ve done a great job erecting barriers to keep us separated from one another. Yet from the flames of heartbreak, if we look around us, we see illuminated how false those walls are.
The hurricanes don’t ask whether we’re black or white. They don’t ask whether we’re people of faith or not, whether Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, HIndu, pagan, or Jewish, or what name graces the signs in front of our churches. The wildfires don’t ask what side of the border we were born on, whether we voted for Clinton or Trump, or whether we’d prefer our football players to stand or take a knee for the national anthem. Bullets don’t ask those questions. Neither does cancer or heart disease or miscarriage or dementia or addiction or grief over a lost loved one or regret over years we feel we wasted.
One and all, we face these demons. What matters is that we work to face them together. When tragedy strikes, we may look around us, trying to catch a glimpse of Jesus to make sense of it. But if we want to see Jesus, we have to be Jesus.
You and me. We’re all we have. We are the hands and feet of Jesus Christ, and we must answer the call to embrace one another with self-giving love. Around the altar, we will observe a moment of silence for those lost. But only a moment. More importantly, let us commit this day to not a moment but a lifetime, not of silence but of action, to be people who use whatever gifts we have to sow peace around us, whether on the world’s great stage or in the quiet of our homes.