Summary: Some events in human history impact us so greatly, that we will forever remember the circumstances of where we were when we heard the news. This is true on both a personal and international level.
Title: A Tragedy Remembered
Opening Statement: Some events in human history impact us so greatly, that we will forever remember the circumstances of where we were when we heard the news. This is true on both a personal and international level. For me personally, one of my earliest memories of tragedy was when my grandmother came to spend the night with us. I woke up the next morning with ambulance lights flashing through my bedroom window. Then I overheard someone say, “She’s gone.”
Then, there’s the infamous day at junior high school. After classes were dismissed to go get on the bus to go home, I remember like it was yesterday how that my bus driver had the radio volume turned up on her radio and as I got on, she said, “President Reagan has been shot.”
Then, there was my senior year in high school. I watched with a group of students and school administrators as Christa McAuliffe began her journey to be the first teacher in space, only to have it end so abruptly and tragically.
And then, there was that incredible, unbelievable morning on September 11, 2001. I went into the living room after Donnette had mentioned that a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York. I didn’t even make it to the sofa. I wanted to be as close to the TV as I possibly could be, so I sat on the coffee table which was just a few feet from the TV, and watched as the first tower burned. A few moments later, the second plane hit and all doubt abouta possible accident was forever removed and I was left to come up with some answers.
Explanation: We all struggle (pastor’s included)with how to interpret these events; how to explain them to our children; how to reconcile them with what we know about a kind and loving God; how to live our lives without answers to some of our deepest hurts.
Observations: I know what we in Christian circles often say and conclude in trying to come up with appropriate words in a time of tragedy.
1. We say “It is a fallen world and evil happens in a fallen world.”
2. We say “In the final day, justice will be done at the judgment.”
3. We say, “God must be judging America.”
4. We say “God must have a purpose for all of this. Everything works together for good.”
Clarification: You see, sitting in a living room on a coffee table hundreds of miles away from the tragedy, it’s easy to offer such quaint responses to such a horrible event. We hear people say, “Yes, some died, but more were spared. There could have been fifty thousand people and only a couple thousand died.” We hear people say, “This is God’s judgment on America.” And these explanations make perfect sense, unless you were married to one of the few thousand that died. When one of your own children, your own spouse, your own best friend, perishes in an unnecessary tragedy, then suddenly your coffee table theology doesn’t work anymore. I’m not saying that these “prepackaged answers” aren’t in some measure, useful to us, but they are not sufficient.
Notation: In trying to make sense of horrific tragedy, I need to know that God not only knows in his divinity what will happen in a fallen world, but that He also cares about what has happened. I need to know that He has experienced the reality of misery, as I have come to know it.
Text: There are two words in Scripture found in John’s Gospel that addresses this issue and that perhaps is the greatest commentary on the humanity of God. John 11:35 says that “Jesus wept” when He was on his way to see his friend Lazarus in the tomb. It was obvious, open grief that prompted John to make this statement about Jesus.
Exposition: When Jesus wept he was saying to us “I know what grief is all about. I know this is not the way it was meant to be. I know that death is awful. I know that separation from those you love is horrible, especially when their time is cut short due to the irresponsibility of other free-will human beings.”
Illustration: One pastor tells about the time that he was involved in the discipline of a minister because the minister had done something sinful. He said, “We did all we were supposed to do for his sin. In every step of the way we said, ‘We do this because we love you, because this is good for you, because this is for the glory of God and the testimony of this church.’ And he believed all of that. But some years later, when he had been restored and was in the ministry again, he said, ‘I never understood the love of God in that process until I went to a distant church. The pastor there knew my situation, and as soon as he saw me come through the door, he walked quickly to me and without a word put his arms around me and wept on my shoulder. Then I knew about the love of God.’”