Sheep without a Shepherd

Sermon for 8th Sunday after Pentecost
July 22, 2012
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The world woke up Friday morning to horrendous news. Another act of mass violence had been committed. In Aurora, Colorado a gunman, lethally armed and clad in combat gear, entered a movie theater and wrought destruction and death. I do not need to go into the details of the grisly affair – we have all heard more than enough about this kind of violence.

In the aftermath of this awful massacre, our culture reacts predictably. We begin to blame. We blame the shooter and his desire for violence. We might blame the owners of the gun stores where such weapons can be purchased. We might blame our correctional facilities or mental health institutions for negligence. We could blame the pervasive violence on our televisions, our video games, and our movies. We can point our collective fingers in a million different reactions.

This seems to help. We can breathe again. This wasn’t our fault; it was somebody else’s. I’ve never sold a gun. I’m not in world of mental health. I’ve never produced a violent TV show or movie. We’re not culpable. Somebody else is to blame. Don’t look at us.

But this illusion only works for a while as the events escalate. Slain high school students in Columbine. A massacre at Virginia Tech. Violence in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia; bombings in London and Spain; a sniper in Virginia; planes flying into buildings in New York and Washington, D.C. We are awash, no drowning, in violence here and abroad. And at some point, it becomes too much, and the blame game stops working. Our fingers that have been pointing the finger at others, begin to point upwards.

There is no shame in admitting that you’ve done it, that you’ve blamed God, that you’ve questioned the whole enterprise. You read the newspaper, you listen to the radio, you watch the nightly news – you ask, “God, how could such things happen? How could you let that happen? God, where are you?”

So our wheels start spinning. Does God care about us? If God could do something about all of this, why doesn’t he? Where is God in tragedies and violence? Is God safe in heaven, and we are here to suffer? Or is it all made up? In the light of such senseless acts of violence, is there anything that really can be considered good? Is God even there?

As Christians, we bear the brunt of this skepticism. Our society questions us, they want to know how we could possibly worship a God who allows such things to happen. They want to know why we still believe in God. They want to know why we bother to wake up on Sunday morning and go to church. They want to know why we waste our time in prayer. They want to know why… We want to know why…

Our society, riddled with violence and shame, is like sheep without a shepherd. We are collectively lost. We run after one ideal or leader, and place our hope there. It might be in strict gun control, or it might be in loosening gun regulations. But we find that those ideas have their limits. So we hope in a politician, or a leader, or a president. But we know that every politician and president, regardless of political party, will fail us. As a last hope, we begin to follow ourselves. We think that we can be our own shepherds. That we don’t need ideas, we don’t need leaders, we don’t need God. I’m fine, thank you very much, now mind your own business.

We are sheep without a shepherd.

The Good Shepherd

Jesus stands on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. He sees a great crowd of people. They are hungry. They are sick. They are diseased and wounded and hurt by the evils of this world. They have run after other leaders, other messiahs. They have placed their hope everywhere, anywhere. Jesus sees the great crowd for what they are. He sees the sheep without a shepherd.

Take note, then, of how Jesus responds to such human suffering. Jesus doesn’t tell everybody that their worries are meaningless. No, their agonies and injustices are important in the eyes of God. Jesus doesn’t say to them that if they had been better people, then they would’ve been safe. No, Jesus understands that the rain falls on good and evil alike. And Jesus doesn’t hop in the boat and run away. He stands in the midst of all that awfulness offering the healing and wholeness that can only come from God.

And eventually, Jesus comes face to face with violence and cruelty. He is betrayed and arrested. Rather than responding with violence, he tells his followers to put away their swords. Rather than running away from injustice, Jesus allows himself to be tortured and executed. God is not a god who is unaware of suffering and pain. God too is a victim of senseless violence. Jesus then, because of his grisly experience on the cross, has compassion on those people suffering in Syria and the Middle East. Jesus is alongside those who died on September 11. Jesus is with the victims, the families, and communities in Aurora, Colorado. Jesus stands crucified with every one who died, and everyone who was wounded. And of course, God is bigger than we can imagine. So we hope that the arms of Jesus, stretched out on the cross, are wide enough for mercy on that young man who committed this atrocity.

So why do evil things happen? Where is God in all the awfulness of this world? The impulse is to say something – to give an answer. We want to explain things away, we want to blame somebody else, we want to fill the world with words. But our words will fall short. Our theological explanations will never say everything.

I believe the only thing we can do in times like this is to be like Jesus. To go to the suffering, to the go to the hurting, to go right where the violence is happening, and stand there. We stand with Jesus, arms wide open in love. We keep our mouths shut, and our let our embrace do the talking. We stand with those outside a movie theater in suburban Denver, and open our arms. We cry and mourn with anybody and everybody who have lost loved ones to such indifference and cruelty.

And what our words could not say, our embrace will explain. With arms wide open we will say that Jesus has suffered and died with you. We will say that God dwells in pain. And as the victims of violence stagger about like sheep without a shepherd, scattered by the madness of it all, our embrace will show them the true shepherd: Jesus.

“Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross…”

If you came here this morning looking for answer to explain why evil things happen, all I can say is this: evil things happen. Nevertheless, God loves us, and God continues to reign as the King of all creation. Our hope is that one day, all those evil things will be abolished and erased and put away. As Christians, we can look forward with joy to that great day, Judgment Day, when all is sorted out. When evil is relegated to the past, and tragedies are no more.

Evil things happen, and evil things will continue to happen. And the people with whom we live and work are like sheep without a shepherd. But you know the shepherd. Open wide your arms of love, with Jesus on the cross. Remind them, and remind yourselves, that through it all, God is love.

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