Message- Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012
Zion Lutheran Church, Hoople, ND
And the crowds asked Jesus, “What then should we do?” And the tax collectors asked Him, “Teacher, what should we do?” And the soldiers also asked Him, “And we, what should we do?” And the parents, family, and friends of all those affected by the recent tragedy in Newtown, CT asked Him, “And we, what should we do?” And the intern in rural Hoople, ND – thousands of miles away – asks Him, “What should we do?”
Like all of you, it has been a difficult few days. I’ve been following the news almost constantly since the announcement of the tragedy in Newtown, CT on Friday. And for me, it hits very close to home. Too close. I grew up less than 30 minutes from Newtown, CT. Several of my best friends lived in Newtown and I spent a lot of time there with them while growing up. Some of them still live very near to Newtown. CT. It’s not a big state like the vast open spaces of the West – and almost everyone seems connected in some way. Personal friends of my family have children who went to school with one of the victims. The quiet peaceful town of Newtown that I knew is now spread all over the news never to be the same again. It hardly seems believable. It hardly seems real, yet it is.
We live in a society filled with violence and hatred and innocent lives are taken every day and we can hardly make any sense of it. Yet if we look into Luke’s gospel this week, it honestly isn’t any different. At the time this gospel was written the people lived under Roman occupation. Soldiers were everywhere. There was suffering, killing, and persecution on a daily basis. It was part of the human condition – part of the sinful, and broken world we live in. It still is.
The people were waiting for a Messiah, someone to rescue them from all of that. And John the Baptist was preaching of repentance. He was asking people to turn from their hurtful ways and prepare the way for that Messiah. They asked, “What should we do? What should we do to bear fruit worthy of repentance?” John’s response was to radically share their resources with the poor, to show fairness and restraint in dealing with people, to treat people with compassion.
Here we are in the season of Advent, over 2000 years later, still waiting for a Messiah to rescue us from all of this suffering. While we’re waiting to celebrate the birth of that Savior in a manger, we’re also waiting for that Savior to come again. To come and bring all of creation back to God. There is a darkness and a sickness that still covers this earth – a sickness called sin and when faced with evil we so often ask God, “What are you going to do about this. Where are you God?”
Yet, God is with us. Emmanuel, God With Us – in our darkest moments, in our lowest places that we think no one can reach. God reached down from heaven and sent us a Savior so that when we are going through hell, we know we have a Savior who has been there. Who went even there for us.
So the question is not what is God going to do, but rather – like those who asked John the Baptist – “What should we do?” What should we do while we are waiting for that Messiah to come again? When faced with evil we must love even harder. We must hope even stronger. We must believe even deeper. Through the power of the Holy Spirit our Savior is ready to reach out to all people through us. When people look for God we as the church need to be there to show them God is here. We must show the world that love is stronger than hatred and that goodness is stronger than evil. Yet don’t be fooled, love is not easy and it is not without danger. Jesus suffered and died because of love, but it is also love that redeemed us! That kind of love means – as Jesus said – we must love our enemies. Yes, we must love those who hurt us.
A father of one of the victims in tragedy in Newtown said yesterday that he is not angry. He realizes that people have free will and God is not responsible for the free will of the person who took away his six year old daughter. He says he is praying for the family of the person who is responsible because they must be grieving too. What faith! This father says he wants to use his free will to do something good in this world, to help others, to live out his faith.
What should we do? We must do the same! We must love as Jesus loved. And this means standing up for justice. It means speaking out when laws are unjust. It means speaking out for those who have mental illness and are not getting the help they need. It means writing letters to our senators, and legislators who have the ability to change laws and policies that are unjust. It means doing what we can to end homelessness and hunger and poverty. It means giving to organizations that have the power to make effective changes – organizations like our own synod and the larger synods of the ELCA who support programs that change lives.
Don’t think that one person can’t make a difference. One person can listen to someone who is calling out for help. One person can support another when they are lonely. One person can write a letter or make a phone call. One person can reach out their hand. And when all these single individuals begin to believe that they can make a difference, soon you have a whole group of people who have an impact. Speak up; do not be silent.
One young single woman said yes, over 2000 years ago and became the mother of the Savior. One small baby was born, the Savior of the world, and changed all of our lives forever. Do not underestimate the power of one small act. That is the good news John the Baptist proclaimed. That is the good news I proclaim to you today. Amen.