This morning’s sermon …
To Live In Suspense
On Friday night, President Obama said, “All in all, this has been a tough week.”
You can say that again.
I do not need to recount the specifics of this week’s tragedy and chaos in Boston for you. We have all heard stories, told stories and watched and listened in horror, suspense and relief as details emerged.
Let’s talk about that word for a second.
I looked it up in the dictionary and found the following definition:
A state or condition of mental uncertainty or excitement, as in awaiting a decision or outcome, usually accompanied by a degree of apprehension or anxiety.
Show of hands: How many of you – at some point this week – felt suspense?
I think I would like to raise two hands.
Suspense is an emotion that we often like to create in our own lives – through movies, books and amusement park rides. But it is rarely an emotion that we actually like to experience in our own lives. We do not like living in the fear of the unknown. It is scary to have our lives suspended in such fragile ways.
Suspense is a word that actually appears in this morning’s Gospel reading. The Jews had gathered around Jesus at the festival of the Dedication in Jerusalem and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
How long will you keep us in suspense?
Many of us probably asked some version of that same question at various points through the week. How long will we be kept in suspense? When will we know if our friends and our loved ones are okay? When will we know if we are safe? How are we supposed to know how to move forward? Who is going to tell us where to go, what to do and how to respond?
We had to live with the discomfort of suspense this week. To some extent – despite the sense of joy and relief we all felt on Friday night after the second bombing suspect had been caught – we still do feel a sense of discomfort. Violence and tragedies are often a reality of the world that we live in; we do not know what the future holds. If you really think about it, we live in a constant state of suspense.
It is not easy, you know – sitting with the discomfort of suspense. We live in a society obsessed with instant results and quick fixes. But when tragedy strikes – when we are confused, worried, overwhelmed, scared, upset and helpless – we often have to sit and feel suspense.
And it is not fun.
President Obama hit the nail on its head when he said that it was a tough week. In addition to the bombings that occurred at Monday’s marathon, the death toll continues to rise in the town of West, Texas, following an explosion at a fertilizer plant, nearly 200 people are dead and thousands injured in china after an earthquake hit the Sichuan province and several died in an avalanche in Colorado yesterday afternoon. Truth be told, I did not even know where to start this morning.
Where do we go from here?
The Sunday after the tragic shootings in Newtown last December, we asked ourselves this same question. I said at the end of that sermon:
God’s light does shine in the midst of devastation and tragedy … But we have to carry that light with us out into the world.
We are not that far from Bethlehem … from the peace of the quiet manger … from the violence that Mary and Joseph fled from and … from the discipleship that Christ called us into.
We are not that far from the violence that we have all witnessed throughout our lives. And we are not that far from Friday’s tragedy in Newtown.
These are the roads that we have travelled to get to this point in our journeys. We cannot change them.
But we can decide what the road ahead looks like.
As we gather together as a community of faith this morning, I want to share with you similar sentiments that I shared then.
We live in a world where tragedies strike. Violence is real, weather is unpredictable and accidents happen. We are all traveling along a journey. And while we cannot change the roads that have brought us here and we cannot change the obstacles that may lie on the road ahead of us, we can decide how we will act and react as we travel along.
Jesus answered the Jews, when they asked him how long he would keep them in suspense, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me.”
I think Jesus was trying to say that answers and truth do not often come in the form of words; they come in the form of actions.
It is really interesting, especially in light of this week’s events all, to look at where this exchange between Jesus and the Jews happened. Jesus was attending the festival of Dedication, which commemorated the rededication of the temple by the Maccabeans in 164 BCE. Today, we know this festival as Hanukkah. By placing Jesus within the context of a traditional Jewish festival, you really start to see the huge dichotomy between Jewish law and tradition and Jesus’ call for a personal faith that included communion with God and tangible works.
The Jews were frustrated because Jesus’ ministry was threatening the stability of their lives and their histories – which, up until that point, had been defined by a particular religious structure. They liked that structure. After all, traditions and laws give us black and white answers. They give us rules to follow, consequences to hold us accountable. They take away suspense.
But life does not necessarily work like that. Jesus knew that; and he tried to show us another way.
“The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me.”
How do we respond to the evil, hatred and violence that we saw in Boston this week? How do we respond to the evil, hatred and violence that exists in our country and around the world every single day? How do we take away the suspense of not knowing what the future might hold?
There is no easy answer to that question. Truth be told, I am not sure that there is even one right answer to that question. But I keep coming back to Jesus’ response at the festival that day, “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me.”
Actions, not words – these are the stories that need to be told.
Everyone has their own “Boston” story to tell from this week. And while most do include fear, sadness and confusion, those are not the ones I think need to be held onto and told. I think we need to tell the stories about the runners who – after running 26.2 miles – continued to run to the nearest hospital to give blood as victims were being treated. I think we need to tell the stories about the Bostonians who offered comfort and direction to visitors lost in their city amidst the chaos. I think we need to tell the stories about the runners and spectators who – instead of fleeing for safety – tended to the injured. I think we need to tell the stories about the first responders, police officers, federal agents, doctors and nurses who worked around the clock all week.
These are the stories that need to be told. Because these are the works that need to be celebrated.
The works that we do testify to the type of people that we want to become.
There is no one, right way to respond to evil, hatred and violence in the world. But I know one thing is for certain: We must rise above it. Amidst the suspense of life, we have to live our lives as tangible expressions of the Jesus’ message.
And words are not enough; our actions need to reflect the beliefs we proclaim.
We have been reminded again this week that life is precious and that evil, hatred and violence is real. But we have also been reminded that God needs us now, more than ever, to be open vessels ready to be transformed as ministers in this world. We can resist evil. We can rise above the hate. We can choose peace over violence.
Jesus said, “What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”
Always remember this: No matter what happens in your life, no one can take away your faith. God is always with you. No one and nothing else can dictate the type of life that you lead, the words that you speak and the actions that you take. You can carry God’s light in your life and into the world.
May the lives you lead become stories that should be told.
May the message of the Gospel shine in your words, actions and steps.
May you feel comfort in times of suspense.
May love always win.
And may peace prevail on earth.
Thanks be to God!