What is a "gospel" response to the tragedy that tore through the small community of Newtown, CT today? Gospel, meaning Good News, what "Good News" could their possibly be? All I hear, all you hear is bad news, horror, evil, pain, suffering and tragedy...not good news. But this evening, as I sit in my home office, heart hurting for the parents who lost children the same age as Amanda and I's baby Rowan, I have to believe there is gospel. Many people this evening especially the families of the murdered children are asking why, why God, why innocent children, why does this always happen to the innocent? This is a fair and just question and God is not afraid of the "Why?" Why didn't God stop him, why does God allow all this to happen, why do evil people prosper? This is a question the Psalmist asked 1000's of years ago and a question that has been asked for as long as there has been time.
First of all I'd like to say that God is not responsible, that this is not God's will, this is not God's judgement on our nation. If you hear a minister say this or imply this, call bull shit, because that is precisely what it is. We make our own choices, we are all given free will and chose whether or not to be bearers of heaven or hell everyday. This all goes back to the lesson the bible teaches us through the story of Adam and Eve. God gives us boundaries and then gives us the freedom to live with in those boundaries or cross them. Each choice, whether to live with in them, or to violate them comes with consequences and the consequences are heaven or hell. Please don't mistake what I am saying as some religious cleche about choosing to spend eternity in heaven or in hell, because thats not what this is about. This is about real life choices that we all make everyday either bring us and those around us hell or bring them heaven or in Jesus words. "the kingdom of God."
I prefer the term "reign of God." A life or away of living that demonstrates and incarnates the will of a loving and benevolent God. This evening we ask, "where is this benevolent God?", we'll get to that in a bit, but first we need to understand how people can be so evil and why innocence suffer. Again, it goes back to Adam and Eve and a choice...heaven or hell. Adam and Eve were given heaven and they shared that heaven together. They worked together and lived for God and for each other. They were given the limitation of only being forbidden from one fruit and they both knew the limitation and perhaps lived with the limitation for years, decades, centuries maybe. How? They bore the burden of that limitation together. One day they chose to no longer live for God and each other, they chose to to live for themselves and to ignore the needs of each other. Yes the snake temped them, maybe this was the first time, maybe it was the 1millionth time, but this time they took the bate and while Adam looked on Eve crossed the boundary, and right afterward Adam crossed it willingly himself. Adam knew what Eve was doing would hurt her, he know it would have dire consequences, yet he stood their and let her destroy herself and as if that was not enough Eve knowing what she had done was evil, invited Adam to join her and he did so with out reservation!!! They stopped living for God and most significantly, they stopped living for each other. They became drunk with self desire and hubris and they not only ruined there individual lives, but each others lives and every life around them. They effectively turned the heaven around them into a living hell.
We do this everyday. Everyday we chose, not just for ourselves, but for everyone around us, heaven or hell. Why does evil happen, why do the innocent suffer, because of this truth. People, not God, not Satan, people chose to live out heaven or hell and an unfortunate consequence of those choices is that the other people around us are often effected by either our heaven or our hell. We can blame society, we can call for stronger gun laws, which I am in favor of, we can do all these things, but until we realize just how connected we are, and just how much our choices effect each other, this will never change. So what's the good news I promised earlier? It's this. Jesus said to Peter, who upon a profession of faith, a profession that stated that Jesus was the answer, or better...the way, that it was upon this "way"that God would build God's kingdom and, are you ready for this, for this is the good news, the gates of hell will not prevail!! There you have it. The good news is that no matter how evil, no matter how tragic, no matter how much hell an individual or group perpetrates or perpetuates, it can never over come love. When evil strikes, when the unthinkable like 20, 4 and 5 year olds, are gunned down in cold blood, God is there and heaven is one word, action or event away.
This weekend and in the weeks to follow we will discuss, argue and morn over this event, but I hope more than anything we can learn from it. Learn that our actions, that our choices have consequence, not just for us, but for other as well. The "way" that Jesus speaks of, is a life lived loving God and most importantly and most prevalent, loving each other. If we loved as Jesus taught us, if we bore each others burdens and carried each others limitation, we would never taste hell. Let us push back the gates of hell with love, charity, kindness and grace and trust that no matter how the evil may prosper, it will never prevail against love.