Note: this is not my own sermon, by one written by my wife, Heidi Carrington Heath. Heidi is a seminarian under care of Old South Church in Boston, the church located at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The first worship service of that congregation was this Thursday night. Due to the fact the area is still considered a crime scene, Old South worshipped at the neighboring Church of the Covenant. She had already been scheduled to preach before the bombings. This is what she said to a congregation still in shock:
I love to preach at this service. I had a text all picked out. My sermon was well planned. The ideas were percolating. I knew exactly what I wanted to say to you tonight. And then, it was Monday. Beautiful, sunny, Marathon Monday. It is practically a High Holy Day here in Boston. I was sad to be away from the city for the first time in a number of years. While I mumble and moan about the traffic on Patriot’s Day, and the ways it clogs up my commute, I not so secretly love the marathon. I love what it stands for. Dedication, hard work, determination, the resilience and perseverance of the human spirit.
This year I was almost through a full day of work wistfully wishing I was spending my sunny afternoon at the marathon when my phone buzzed. The words on my screen read as if in slow motion. A text message from one of my best friends said this: “Hi. You are going to hear soon there was a bomb at the marathon finish line. I am okay. I wanted you to know before the news broke. I love you. Don’t worry.” I read the message over and over almost unable to process it. Bomb. Finish Line. Don’t worry. It couldn’t be…
I turned on the TV and the images came. Fast. Furious. Heartbreaking. Our beloved city being attacked in this way. There was blood and devastation on our doorstep. It didn’t feel real. How could this be happening? My co-workers and I held hands and shared a Kleenex box in the main part of our building as we watched in disbelief. Almost immediately, I began watch social media and news reports with rapt attention for information of our beloved Old South. It was a rare moment of joy when I discovered our church was safe.
A well meaning colleague of mine wrote me an email on Thursday night. She said: God has a purpose for all of this, we may never understand it, but there is a reason for everything.
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t find those words very comforting.
My words of comfort look a little more like tonight’s scripture passage: The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want. (Do you know it? If so, won’t you say it with me?) She makes me lie down in green pastures. She leadeth me beside the still waters. She restoreth my soul.
Now, I understand where my friend was coming from. I really do. When the world feels too hard, too big, too awful to understand, it is our instinct to rush to quick, accessible theology in an effort to make sense of it all when things seem so senseless. It is somehow easier to attribute the horror of something like a bomb to God than it is to another human being.
But here’s the thing.
I don’t believe that God causes bombs to explode. I don’t believe that God sends attacks on our city as the result of some kind of celestial revenge for bad behavior, or in a wrath of heavenly anger. That’s not the God I know and love.
William Paul Young, author of the popular book The Shack says it like this: Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.”
I don’t believe that God causes bad things to happen, but I do believe that God can work for good even in the midst of something unspeakable.
Here are a few examples of what the Holy One looks like to me as she works in our midst…
He looks like a lot like 1st LT Stephen Fiola and 1st Sargeant Bernard Madore of the Massachusetts national guard who ran into the flames when the first blast came to help the injured.
She looks a lot like the countless, tireless first responders who have worked around the clock since Monday.
Or how about the marathon runners who had just run TWENTY SIX POINT TWO MILES and kept running another mile and a half to Mass General Hospital to donate blood for their fallen and injured community?
I see it in the countless neighbors and community members who were Christ to each other in these recent days: offering food, shelter, safety, even the clothes off their backs to help the stranger in a time of need.
This is the God I know, beloved. Our tender shepherd who does not leave her sheep alone, even and especially in times of great trial. On a less than ordinary April night when we cry out: my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? God is Emmanuel, God with us. She is living out her promise: I will be with you always.
That is why we gather here tonight. We gather not to pretend that what has happened on our doorstep did not happen. But to remind ourselves that death will never have the last word. We gather tonight to be in communion with the one whose rod and staff comforts us in times of great. We come to rest our weary hearts on the font of God’s still speaking love. We come to be with the one who does not and will not leave us alone.
Smoke may have clouded the finish line one sunny, Monday afternoon. But it is not the end of the race. Tonight, we lace up our running shoes, and begin anew. We walk and run with steps of mercy, love, justice, and compassion.
Though the road seems long, and the journey may make us weary…
Though right now it may seem that we are running up heartbreak hill for miles and miles…
We are not alone.
To that end, will you join hands with the person next to you? Let us pray.
We have so many questions and so few answers.
Our pain is raw and our tears are fresh.
We cannot see the road ahead.
And yet, we give you thanks for your presence with us in these dark days.
We have seen you move among us in powerful ways.
Help us to turn away from darkness and toward the light that we might see you in one another.
May we seek solace in community, knowing we are not alone.