In times of tragedy the pastor often plays the role of comforter. And we should, reminding people that in the midst of the pain of life God is there.
But in times of tragedy there are times when the people need to hear a prophet. They need someone to have righteous indignation at what we are becoming. Yet to do such runs the risk of being viewed as a political hack for the right or the left. But I do want to say something—bold, something which needs to be heard, I want to do more than simply comfort.
If all the church ever is, is the comforting, hand holding, carrying a casserole bunch then I’m afraid the world is in trouble. Our casserole will arrive with the funeral home director, after the need for help has passed. If all we bring is comfort and a casserole then we can be replaced with a Hallmark card and a call to the restaurant.
If we ever hope to be the fireman running into the burning house to actually save people from these perilous times we need more boldness. As the church, and the clergy, we need to start bringing more than comfort, we need to start bringing some truth.
Someone attacked my God this week. They sent it in a Facebook post. It was also on the evening news and on the internet. I imagine it was an accident, because these were nice folks and the kind who usually protect God. It was just someone trying to offer a reasonable explanation for the massacre of the innocents last week. When you think God controls everything and something like this happens you feel as if you have to defend God. So these well meaning folks were saying that this troubled man shot and killed these innocent children because God had been locked out of the school. God was too much of a gentleman to go where he was not wanted.
I have two words. Christmas and Emmanuel. God is with us. God was so unwanted that when he sent his son, we first marginalized him, then we suppressed his message, then we spread rumors about him, then we imprisoned him, and eventually he was so unwanted we killed him. God loved us so much he sent his son and then when we killed him, he sent him again! God’s been going where God’s not wanted since the beginning of time and we can’t stop God not even with a cross and nails.
If Christmas reminds me of anything it is that God is with us. With us in a stable, with us on a donkey, with us in our sorrow, and with us in our schools.
So—what happened last Friday had nothing to do with the absence of God. God was the first responder—-he cried first. Please don’t say God was not there or that God has been locked out of anywhere. The God I’m familiar with goes to the hypocrites, the whores, the tax collectors, the Pharisees, the children, the sick, and the mourning. You can try but you can’t get away from this God, if you roam away God will wait, and if you hide behind locked doors he’ll come through the wall. God can’t be kept out.
As the Psalmist wrote, “If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” (Psalm 139:8).
Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit.