July 22, 2012
Isaiah 61:-2; Roman 12:9-18
Dr. Michael Dent
Trinity UMC, Denver, Colorado
[ Listen to Podcast of this Sermon ]
Stunned…shocked…saddened…angry…anxious…afraid. These and a myriad of other feelings flooded our hearts and minds Friday morning when we first heard the word of the theater shootings in Aurora. We were numbed by the news and perhaps even denied that another senseless shooting rampage had taken place in the greater Denver community.
The nightmare of the Columbine killings 13 years before immediately echoed in the minds of many – another demonic, deliberately planned attack with a stockpile of automatic weapons in familiar public settings filled with young people resulting in double-digit deaths.
What do you say at a time of such tragedy? How do you respond to this latest in a sporadic series of mass murders by a deranged, deluded, detached individual or pair of deviant human beings?
On July 29, 1999, three months after the Columbine School shootings, a 44-year-old Stockbridge, GA day-trader named David Barton entered the offices of two Atlanta day trading firms. There he shot 22 persons, killing 9 of them. He had already murdered his wife and 2 young children, ages 10 and 12, the day before. When police finally closed in on Barton, he took his own life.
One of the persons David Barton shot and killed that day was 38-year-old Kevin Dial, the office manager of the Momentum Securities Atlanta branch. 800 miles away in Tyler, Texas, lived Kevin’s brother, David Dial. Both were the sons of former all-pro wide receiver Buddy Dial of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys. David was the manager of the Momentum Securities day-trader branch in Tyler, Texas. Because of the trauma of the mass murder at his brother’s Atlanta office, David invited me the next week to come to his office three blocks from my church in downtown Tyler and visit with his staff and conduct a de-briefing session on grief and coping as a disaster survivor. As you can imagine, it was not an easy thing to do. The grief was palpable.
Great is our grief today. We are secondary survivors of Friday’s tragedy. Perhaps we knew some of those killed or wounded or we know some of their families. Whether we did or not, we feel their pain. We have seen their faces and heard their voices. Governor John Hickenlooper spoke well for all of us in his words in the front page headline of yesterday’s Denver Post, “Our Hearts Are Broken.”…. “Our Hearts Are Broken.”
Our hearts and those of many others around the world are broken by the massive loss of life in our community – a dozen persons killed and at 58 more shot or injured, and many others traumatized. Deep anguish and despair have been felt in every human heart – near and far.
The call we share is the same one this community had after Columbine 13 years ago and I had following the mass shooting in Atlanta, and our nation had after the 9-11 attack, and every similar devastating loss – it is the word of the Lord to Isaiah the prophet. The command is this:
To bring good news to the oppressed
To bind up the brokenhearted
To comfort all who mourn.
God does not call us to explain or justify suffering. God commands us to care for the suffering…to help heal broken hearts…to care for the bereaved…to bring a word of hope to those victimized and oppressed by hatred, evil and sin…
There is no rational explanation of WHY bad things happen. I shared with you last Sunday of my brother’s homicide, my sister’s sexual assault, and my son’s violent attack – the last happening here in Denver. As we often have random acts of kindness in the world, we also sometimes have random acts of violence. If you want a theological expression of why there is evil and suffering in the world, I find Paul Tillich’s concise thoughts to be helpful. He wrote:
“God made the world finite and free. Physical evil (such as earthquakes and cancer) is the natural implication of a finite world. Moral evil (such as murder and child abuse) is the tragic implication of a free world.”
So the question is not why do we experience broken hearts, but how do we respond? Where do we turn for comfort, hope, and assurance?
We begin by giving thanks. Remember while there was one perpetrator of evil, destruction, and pain Friday morning, there were countless persons who responded with courage, determination, and commitment to rescue, care for, and bring hope and healing to those who were suffering. We are grateful for many good things happened 2 days ago:
Within 90 seconds of being called, dozens of Aurora police officers were at the Century 16 Theater around 12:35 a.m.
Within minutes the 24-year-old suspect was in custody.
Police officers and ambulances were on the scene soon to transport the wounded to hospitals.
Health care professionals were prepared to receive and treat the wounded as they arrived at area hospitals….A team of 6 physicians and as many nurses at Children’s Hospital were ready to welcome and work on woman in full cardiac and respiratory distress. They immediately took her into the operating room worked for more than an hour. All but two of the rampage victims brought to the hospitals have survived the shooting and other injuries.
More than 100 FBI agents and 25 Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosive agents have come to assist local law enforcement officials.
Spontaneous prayer services have been held.
Bonfils Blood Center has filled its donor appointments through the rest of the month.
As we give thanks we are also are reminded of how fragile and unpredictable life is, and therefore how precious it is. The Book of James says our human lives are like a mist. They can here today and gone tomorrow. This tragedy teaches us this is a dozen times true.
One of the identified victims of the massacre is Jessica Ghawi. She was 24 years-old, grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and was an aspiring sports journalist with a passion for hockey. Just last month she was in a Toronto Shopping Mall. She was in the food court and just happened to leave it moments before a gunman shot seven people there, killing one and wounding six others. In her June 5 blog, Jessica wrote of how that experience reminded her “How blessed I am for each second I am given...So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift…I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am given.”
Today at 2:00 p.m. many of us will gather back in this room to worship as we remember and give thanks for the life and faith of our brother in Christ, George Barr. As you remember, George died rather suddenly last month on the Chancel Choir Tour in Italy. The last thing on any choir member’s mind when they left on the trip is that one of them would not be coming home alive.
Life is fragile…life is unpredictable...life is precious. Next Saturday we will celebrate the life of another Trinity member. Carol Carlson passed away early Tuesday after a brave battle with cancer. She was only 54-years-old and brought joy to all who knew her.
The good news today is that we have good news is the face of suffering and death. Violence does not have the last word. Evil does not prevail. Suffering is temporary. In the promise and mystery of grace we live and we die. We experience triumphs and we experience tragedies. God’s people across millennia have traveled through crucibles of water and fire, exile and oppression.
We have endured hurricanes, tornados, wars and wildfires. We have had our hearts broken by rejection and grief, by the suffering of children and the rampages of sick, lost souls.
We can be angry and anxious by what has happened. We can remain distressed and depressed. We can wallow in in shame and blame.
Or we can we respond with audacity of hope and help, of grace and good news.
In the midst of our broken hearts is God’s bountiful hope.
In the midst of our great grief is God’s greater grace.
In the midst of tears and fears is the good news of One comes to comfort all who mourn.
What is our mission in life? What is our calling as disciples of Jesus of Nazareth? How do we respond to the brokenness, pain, suffering, and evil in this finite world? And especially in our own backyard?
Paul gave us some timeless counsel in these terse commands:
Let love be genuine – hate what is evil – hold fast to what is good…
Love one another – rejoice in hope – be patient in suffering – persevere in prayer…
Extend hospitality to strangers – bless those who persecute you: bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice – weep with those who weep.
Live in harmony with one another…
Do not repay anyone for evil – live peaceably with all...
Never avenge yourselves…
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Friends, we are here for good.
George Strait sings in a recent popular country song, “I ain’t here for a long time - I’m here for a good time.”
You and I may not be here for a long time on this earth, but we are here to do good – to do good in the face of evil – to overcome evil with good.
Friday morning our phone rang earlier than usual. It was our daughter calling from Texas. Martha, 31-years-old said, “I just wanted to hear your voice.” Sharon and I were not aware of the tragic events that had taken place ten miles or less from our home. Our child needed some reassurance from her father that all was well.
As you and I seek to come to terms with this latest senseless act of violence, we need to hear our Father a word of assurance:
A word of bountiful hope for our broken hearts…
A word of amazing grace for our agonizing grief…
And a word of lasting love for our lamentable loss…