Jan. 17 sermon

17 Jan

(… shout out to my friend, Elisabeth, if she is reading this … I hope it’s okay I used you in my sermon!)

I had read through the lectionary texts for today more than a week ago and was prepared to preach this Sunday on something completely different than what follows.  But suddenly, with the events of the past week, my sermon seemed inappropriate.  It seemed small.  It wasn’t where I was pulled to go.

The way we hear scripture changes.  The words stay the same but based upon where we are in life and what is going on in the world around us, scripture speaks to us in different ways.  A seminary professor of mine makes the claim that we interpret scripture and scripture interprets us.  Both of these interpretations are subject to change based on where we are on our journey.  After a certain event in our lives, scripture may sound different.  It speaks to us in different ways.  We all know this well – a scripture passage read at the bedside of a dying parent or the passage read at a funeral suddenly seems different to us.  The Spirit works through the words and through us.  After Tuesday’s events in Haiti, I looked at the lectionary texts differently.

I felt suddenly connected to the psalm for today.  Psalm 36, verses 5 – 10.  If you would like to read along with me, you can find it on page 473 in your pew Bible.  I read it as a prayer, as hope, as trust in God.  It is a psalm full of promise and I don’t know about you, but promise is exactly what I long to hear right now.  Listen and see how it speaks to you.

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,

Your faithfulness to the clouds.

Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,

Your judgments are like the great deep;

You save humans and animals alike, O Lord.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!

All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

They feast on the abundance of your house,

And you give them drink from the river of you delights.

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.

O continue your steadfast love to those who know you,

And your salvation to the upright of heart!

The scenes from the streets of Port au Prince are heart wrenching.  I cannot watch the news and hear the stories without crying.  Thousands upon thousands of people have been thrown into the worst nightmare possible.  Uncertainly regarding the lives of loved ones, no food or clean water, hurt, crying, desperate.  People estimate that the death toll could approach 100,000 people.  A country that has already known its share of pain and tragedy.  What do they have left to cling to?  I cannot imagine in the slightest what it would be like to be in there, to be amid the destruction and brokenness.  The pictures and video clips on the news can be nothing compared to what it is actually like to be in the midst of it.

Questions flood my head and heart – similar questions to the ones that may be on your hearts and lips.  Why?  Why did this happen?  Why are people suffering?   Why was I born in the United States with a roof over my head and clothes to wear when the people born in Haiti struggle to earn $2 a day?  Why didn’t God stop this?  Where is God in all of this? 

I won’t pretend to know the answers to these questions.  No one can know the answers.  Just like other natural disasters, we cannot know why a tragic event like this has shaken the country of Haiti and the world as a whole.  We don’t know the answers.  But we can stand together in our questions, in our anger and in our doubt.  It’s okay to be angry, to question God, to be in doubt.  The psalm writers are perfect examples of this; we lament.  We lament and are saddened together, and that brings us in closer relationship with the God who hears our lament and prayers of sorrow, our prayers of questioning.

I traveled to Minneapolis on Friday to be with a community of people.  People lamenting, praying and singing for the people of Haiti and for Ben Larson.  Ben was the son of two Lutheran pastors, originally from LaCrosse, WI, and more recently from Duluth.  Ben was a senior at Wartburg Seminary and was in Haiti at the time of the earthquake, teaching leaders in newly formed Lutheran church of Haiti.  The news was released on Thursday that he was killed in the earthquake.

Suddenly, this tragedy I had watched on the evening news hit much closer to home.  It had a familiar face.  Ben and I were classmates at Luther College.  He always amazed me with his musical skills and the way of his interactions with people.  He walked around campus with a smile on his face, always singing to the music in his head.  He could make anyone feel at ease in his presence and gave wonderful hugs when sharing the peace after church services. 

Ben’s is a face that I recognized, a person I knew.  But he is only one face.  One of tens of thousands.  And for each person who died, there are parents, siblings, husbands, wives, children, friends who grieve.  The death, the destruction, the desolation in the streets of Haiti are hard to take in.  They can’t be understood or explained but yet, that is the reality of today.  The reality of the weeks, months, and years to come.

I struggled to write this sermon, to know where to go, and maybe I’m jumping here too quickly but – there is promise.  The psalm for today is full of it.  It may be difficult to see but we remember that in the times of suffering, there is promise.  In these days of death and tragedy, there are babies being born, people being married.  Life isn’t neat and orderly.  It doesn’t follow our timeline.  Earthquakes are an unfortunate reality, relationships are broken, jobs are cut.  We don’t always know why.  But even on the days that these things happen, babies are born and successful surgeries happen in hospitals.  People pledge their lives to one another in love.  Life isn’t neat.  What we do in the midst of the joys and in the midst of the sorrows is trust that God is there.  God is in the midst of the good days and the horrific natural disasters.  God’s steadfast love extends to the heavens.

I reconnected with a college friend, Elisabeth, while at the service on Friday.  She is also a seminary student, currently doing her internship in Montana.  She was planning to come home to Minnesota this weekend to baptize her godchild when she heard the news about Ben.  And so Elisabeth said farewell to a dear friend in Ben on Friday evening but also helped welcome a new member into the family of Christ through baptism today.  What a stark contrast.  The tragic beauty of life – there is death but there is also life.  Joy and sorrow are intertwined and comingles and God is in the midst of all of it.  God is with us and holding us under his wings, in refuge, in times of suffering; giving us the fountain the life in times of joy.

God is here, God is in Haiti, and there is hope.  We are so saddened by the events in Haiti because our brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering.  A part of the body of Christ is hurting.  When they hurt, we hurt too because we are all one in Christ.  The people of the world have gathered together for the people of Haiti, sending financial help, medical supplies, and qualified people to aid in the efforts.  We contribute financially, we voice prayers, and we do all that we can to bring hope and the promise of love to the people of the nation.  God works through us, here in Dawson, to send us into the world.  Christ is active in and through us, bearing his love and compassion to those who mourn, those who suffer, and those who need healing.

Ben Larson’s mom was quoted as saying that if you want to know Ben, listen to his music.  One of his songs include the lyrics – “in times of sorrow/and in times of pain/when sensing beauty/or love’s embrace/whether we suffer/or sing rejoices/we belong to God/we belong to God.” God’s steadfast love has a claim us.  God claimed Ben at his baptism and claims us at each of our own.  God’s love extends to the heavens and God calls each of us his child in our baptisms.  Ben knew and understood the promise of God.  Ben sang ‘we belong to God.’  In living.  In dying.  God’s faithfulness extends to the clouds.  The love of God extends so far into the sky that we cannot know or grasp the expanse of it.  We are God’s and know that he is with us in the midst of all of it.  We belong to God.

On my drive back to Dawson yesterday, I stopped just outside of Silver Lake.  On my drives back and forth to the cities on highway 7, the cemetery just outside of that small town has always caught my eye.  It’s set just off the highway, up on a tiny hill.  In the center of it, is the scene of the crucifixion.  The cross extends high above the hill, the white sculpture of Jesus nailed to the cross.  The women at the foot of the cross, crying, lamenting.  The cemetery has always intrigued me and yesterday I pulled off and stopped.  I put my car in park and walked in front of the scene.  And there, I broke down.  I wept.  I lamented for the people of Haiti.  I prayed for the family and friends of Ben.  For the family and friends of all people whose lives have ended in the midst of this disaster.  I prayed for the body of Christ, for the swift and necessarily help to arrive to our brothers and sisters.  I prayed to feel God’s presence.

We can be certain that we belong to God and that he is with us in the midst of the joys and the sorrows of life.  We are certain because of Jesus Christ.  Because of the incarnate God.  Because God became human and dwelt among us.  And in our suffering, we know God is there because of the cross, because of the scene that is represented in that cemetery.  The incarnate and crucified God is present.  That is the promise we cling to in the midst of tragedy.  God is with us in this and in every day.  We look to God, to the cross, and take refuge in the shadow of his wings in the days and weeks ahead.  Amen. 

2 Responses to “Jan. 17 sermon”

  1. Kara Donahue January 17, 2010 at 6:28 pm #

    Beautiful.

  2. mahzzot January 17, 2010 at 6:31 pm #

    Lindsay, thank you for sharing this sermon. You have poignantly expressed some important points at a difficult juncture of faith and life, thank you.Blessings,Justin

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